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Fires set in Hasidic community in NY to protest COVID-19 restrictions

Fires set in Hasidic community in NY to protest COVID-19 restrictions
© UPI Photo

Protesters set fires in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community on Tuesday to demonstrate against coronavirus restrictions scheduled to go into effect on Friday.

Orthodox Jewish and other religious leaders blasted New York Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoCuomo calls a sheriff who won't enforce mask mandate a 'dictator' New York City to reopen field hospital as COVID-19 cases spike White House largely silent on health precautions for Thanksgiving MORE (D) for instituting new COVID-19 restrictions that will close nonessential businesses and schools and limit the number of people able to attend houses of worship. The restrictions will start on the eve of a Jewish holiday Shemini Atzeret. 

Video of the demonstrations show several Hasidic men, most of whom are not wearing masks, taking to the streets at 13th Avenue in the Borough Park neighborhood, The New York Times reported. The protests then turned violent with reports of at least one Hasidic man being assaulted. The man reportedly spent the night in the hospital.

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Four Orthodox Jewish lawmakers posted a letter condemning Cuomo and the restrictions, accusing the governor of lying to the leaders about his plan in a call earlier Tuesday in a “duplicitous bait-and-switch.”

The four lawmakers included state Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and state Sen. Simcha Felder and City Council members Kalman Yeger and Chaim Deutsch, who called Cuomo’s rhetoric “irresponsible” and “pejorative.”

“Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous,” they wrote. “His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State.”

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Cuomo's office and the New York Police Department's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The governor’s new restrictions are designed to stop coronavirus outbreaks in Brooklyn, Queens and New York City’s northern suburbs, which includes areas with high Orthodox Jewish populations. The rules would limit attendance to houses of worship in the hardest hit areas to 10 people and in other areas to 25 people or 50 percent capacity. 

But religious leaders say they were not consulted about the rules ahead of Cuomo’s announcement.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which has 210 churches in Brooklyn and Queens, also condemned the rules, with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio calling them “outrageous.”

“We fervently object to being told to further reduce capacity, because we have strictly adhered to Covid-19 protocols, and the safety measures have been working,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “The safety of parishioners is paramount for the Diocese of Brooklyn, but the religious freedom of our parishioners is being unjustly attacked.”

“A capacity range of 10 to 25 people is disrespectful to Catholics and to the clergy who all have followed the rules,” he added.

On Wednesday, Cuomo acknowledged that some communities were "unhappy" with the rules set to be in effect for two weeks, but said, "these limitations are better than going back to closedown which is what happens when the infection increases."

"To the extent there are communities that are upset, that’s because they haven’t been following the original rules and that’s why the infection spread – because they weren’t following the rules and the rules weren’t being enforced," the governor said.

"A rule is only as good as the enforcement, and if we had enforced the first rule, we wouldn’t be here in the first place so let’s not make the same mistake twice," he added.