Jews protest against targeting as Covid-19 spike in US turns communal
The resurgence of Covid-19 cases in few parts of New York has led to the communal targeting of the Jewish minority, which countered it with protests and making a bonfire of masks.
After Governor Andrew Cuomo singled out the Jewish community for the Covid-19 clusters of rising infection rates in some parts of the city and state and imposed stringent restrictions on places of worship, hundreds of Jewish demonstrators took to the streets overnight on Tuesday into Wednesday, many defiantly without masks and burning masks challenging police, who stood by.
A Jewish leader, State Senator Simcha Felder said: “Governor Cuomo’s choice to single out a particular religious group… was outrageous.
“His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising Covid-19 cases in New York state.”
While it had been the epicentre in the early days of the pandemic, New York city and state have beaten back the disease with an infection rate of around 1 per cent, while restrictions have been eased with schools reopening for in-person teaching and allowing indoor dining in restaurants.
But in recent weeks, fresh new cases have been reported which were linked to five clusters in the state, three of them with large Jewish populations, one of them in the city and two others outside the city.
Cuomo, a Democrat, and other politicians have focused their criticism on the Jewish community over mask-wearing and social distancing, while there were three other areas without large Jewish population and people of other faiths not adhering to the rules.
“Orthodox Jewish gatherings often are very, very large and we’ve seen what one person can do in a group,” Cuomo said, adding that he will “see if they will agree to live and abide by the rules and advocate compliance”.
At the heart of the clusters known as ‘red zones’, all but essential businesses will be shut, dining indoors will be banned and places of worship will be allowed to have only 10 people.
The restrictions are reimposed on a sliding scale in the orange and yellow zones on its periphery.
The restrictions are being imposed in the middle of the Jewish holidays of Succoth commemorating their wandering in the desert before reaching Israel.
The protesters, most of whom belong to orthodox sects of Judaism that follows a strict interpretation of the Bible, chanted, “Jewish lives matter”.
In a taunt to politicians, that echoed the rallying cry, “Black lives matter”, at the protests against police brutality which were backed by Democrats despite not practising social distancing or strictly adhering to masks.
Besides making bonfires, the protesters beat up a photographer recording the scene and a member of one of their sect who they accused of being a police informer.
Police did not intervene.