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Orthodox Jewish Protests Erupt in New York Over New COVID-19 Restrictions

Hundreds of Orthodox Jewish community members have protested in the streets of New York City Tuesday and Wednesday evenings following an announcement by the state about new COVID-19 restrictions.

On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo announced heavier restrictions in certain neighborhoods and zip codes in New York City due to a spike in infection rates. In specific hot spots, schools and non-essential businesses have been closed and religious gatherings limited to no more than 10 people.

Many of the neighborhoods targeted by the state have large Orthodox Jewish communities.

This follows statements made by the governor on Monday, painting New York religious communities – specifically, the Orthodox Jewish community – as the “greatest potential” for the spread of infection. He threatened that if religious communities didn’t begin to cooperate with COVID restrictions, he would “close down the religious institutions.”

The Orthodox Jewish community began immediate protests following Tuesday’s announcement. Hundreds gathered in Borough Park, chanting “Jewish lives matter” and burning face masks in the street.

Interactions between the community members and police officers have been tense, and on Wednesday, a Jewish reporter was attacked by the crowd.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned protesters this week that there will be no tolerance for violence.

“People have and will protest, and we understand that there is a place for peaceful protest, but the NYPD will not tolerate people doing harm to others,” he said. “There’ll be no tolerance for assaults, for damage to property, for setting fires – anything like that is unacceptable.”

City Councilman Kalman Yeger joined the protests and spoke to the crowd: “We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, the right to observe our religion.”

State Senator Simcha Felder and State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein released a joint statement in which they condemned Governor Cuomo’s actions toward the Orthodox community: “His language was dangerous and divisive and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State.”

Videos have captured violent behavior, but also dancing:

Governor Cuomo reportedly met with members of the Orthodox community on Tuesday prior to the announcement. Cuomo called the meeting productive. However, David Zwiebel, the executive president of Agudath Israel of America, called the meeting “a one-way monologue, and contained no mention of this new plan.”

The Orthodox Jewish community is not a monolith of views on this issue, however. In response to the state’s actions and the protests, the New York Jewish Agenda released a statement in support of the restrictions, signed by over 400 rabbis and other Jewish religious figures.

The New York Jewish Agenda President, Matt Nosanchuk, said of the statement, “We support the governor’s and mayor’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 by using a data-driven, geographically based approach.”

Still, there is strong resistance against the new restrictions from religious groups.

Two separate lawsuits have already been filed against the state for the new restrictions. Agudath Israel of America has requested a temporary restraining order against the new regulations, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is suing for violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee to freedom of worship.

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