New York Mayor Bill de Blasio doubled down on Wednesday on his controversial tweets about the city’s Jewish community, accusing mourners who gathered at the funeral of a rabbi in Brooklyn the previous day of spreading “a disease that will kill other members of the community” even if “they didn’t mean to.”
On Tuesday night, de Blasio posted a tweet in response to a gathering of Hasidic Jews in the Williamsburg neighborhood for a public funeral honoring the late Rabbi Chaim Mertz, held amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups,” he wrote.
Jewish leaders and organizations reacted with outrage, saying de Blasio was singling out the entire Jewish community and potentially stoking an already-volatile situation in which many were scapegoating Jews.
On Wednesday, he declined to apologize, saying in a statement, “I spoke last night out of passion, I could not believe my eyes. It was deeply, deeply distressing. Again, this is a community I love, this is a community I have spent a lot of time working with closely, and if you saw anger and frustration, you’re right.”
At a press conference held later on Wednesday, de Blasio appeared to blame Orthodox Jews for spreading the coronavirus and causing the death of others. “I have a long, deep relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community,” he said. “I have a lot of love for the community. The notion that people would gather in large numbers, and even if they didn’t mean to, would spread a disease that will kill other members of the community is just unacceptable to me.”
“We’re not going to be allowing these kinds of gatherings in any community,” he said. “This was by far the largest gathering in any community in New York City of any kind that I had heard of or seen directly or on video since the beginning of this crisis, and it’s just not allowable.”
New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea also spoke about Tuesday’s event, and said that, as community leaders had claimed, the funeral was coordinated with the NYPD. However, officers intervened when members of the crowd appeared to violate social-distancing regulations.
The synagogue that organized the funeral, Tola’as Yaakov, issued a statement, saying, “We regret that the funeral today of our Rabbi of blessed memory ended in chaos and in controversy, and we feel that it’s incumbent on us to explain what happened.”
“Our Rabbi was revered by thousands as a holy, humble and caring person, and they wanted to participate in the funeral,” it added. “We came up with a plan to have many streets closed, so that people (could) participate and walk the coffin while following the social-distancing rules and wearing masks. People walk the streets daily, thus, a funeral — we thought — shouldn’t be different, as long the rules are followed. Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out, and NYPD had to disperse the crowds.”
“We shall note that everyone followed the police officers’ orders and the vast majority had masks,” it said. “Yet, the confusion and chaos led to scenes of large crowds.”
“We understand Mayor Bill de Blasios frustration and his speaking out against the gathering,” the synagogue continued. “As said, we thought that the procession will be in accordance with the rules, and we apologize that it turned out otherwise. It also hurts that this led to singling out the Jewish community, and for that we apologize to all Jewish people. We know that the mayor’s reaction came from his concern to the health of safety of our community and the entire city, and it wasn’t ill-intentioned. We share that concern. Health and life takes precedence to anything else, and we shall all follow those rules.”