The Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn suffered some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the city, with hundreds of residents who died of the contagion. But leaders now say they have “suffered enough” and want the governor and mayor to allow the opening of local playgrounds and summer camps for their children.
Led by a contingent of children on bicycles, skateboards and scooters, more than 100 marchers from the Orthodox community trekked more than two miles through Williamsburg streets on Friday calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to reopen both playgrounds and children’s sleep-away camps before the summer heat arrives.
Leaders say a failure to reopen activities for children would cause social disturbance in the communities, leaving children with nothing to do for the hot summer months. De Blasio maintains those reopenings won’t come until at least July, with New York City having just entered the first phase of reopening this week.
At the height of the pandemic, with high infection and death rates, some in the community nevertheless resisted orders to close synagogues and yeshivas, forcing the city to move in with police to close them down.
But on June 12, few in the community even wore PPE in the public streets, many believing the contagion had already run its course.
Moishe Levinson, 8, rode his bicycle along Lee Avenue behind police cars from the 90th Precinct, while holding a sign that said “reopen our camps.”
“We have nothing to do this summer and its so hot,” he said. “Why can’t we go to camp?”
Heshy Tischler, a Borough Park Jewish radio personality and opponent of the mayor, said it was unfair not to reopen facilities and camps for children because they have already “suffered enough.”
“We’re gonna shut down the streets and do it peacefully,” Tischler said of the children’s march. “We’re going to tell this idiot mayor that Heshy Tischler has an executive order himself that says we are going to open up all our parks, we will open all the Yeshivas and we are going to open up all our camps – he doesn’t like it, too bad. The police officers are not going to do anything because we like the police officers (when you behave). Let’s show the mayor that we are in charge.”
Tischler criticized de Blasio for shutting down the city and schools, saying the governor said for the schools to reopen. His statement was false; de Blasio ordered public schools to remain close through June, and the September reopening remains uncertain.
He pointed out that Long Island has entered Phase 3 and “every other state is open.” Phase 3, however, has special restrictions on gatherings to keep indoor dining and other activities to less than 5o people and 25% indoor occupancy.
This week, the CDC announced the 22 states were experiencing a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the city of Houston suffering more cases that the entire state of New York. Florida and Arizona were also experiencing a large surge of infections and deaths, according to CDC officials.
“My father passed away from coronavirus and yes, we had it very strong because we go to synagogue – we go to shul three times a day – we’re always together so we got hit very hard,” said Jay Oster, a community activist who claimed that 50% of plasma donors came have been Orthodox Jewish residents. “The thing is, we had it already, so why can’t we open our camps? It’s time.”
The CDC says 113,000 people just in the U.S. have died of COVID-19, and more than 250,000 have died world-wide and growing.
Tischler says the numbers are exaggerated. He claims he went to 13 hospitals in last two weeks and found “zero coronavirus.” He called the virus “a big lie.”
However, in fact, the bulk of new COVID-19 infections are occurring outside of New York, with 23 states reporting higher infection rates on Friday. Still, according to Cuomo’s office, 1.7% of New Yorkers tested on June 11 were found to be infected with COVID-19.
Organizers said they will have other demonstrations in the next few days.