Williamsburg

NY Mayor Under Fire After Huge Crowd Gathers for Rabbi's Funeral in Brooklyn

The gathering garnered the attention of the NYPD and the mayor, who joined police in Brooklyn in person to break it up, but it was his reaction on social media that drew scorn and calls for the World Jewish Congress to censure him

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A day after thousands of people lined the streets of Williamsburg for a funeral of a local rabbi, the synagogue that held the gathering issued an apology — while Jewish groups remain upset at the mayor for what they believe was unfairly targeting their religion.

Twelve people were issued summonses for violating social distancing orders and failure to disperse, according to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who spoke out against the event that he said put "cops' lives at risk."

"What happened last night simply cannot happen," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a Wednesday news conference. "That event last night never should've happened. It better not happen again."

The funeral on Tuesday was held for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died at 73 from COVID-19 — one of the city's over 12,500 deaths from the highly contagious virus that has forced nearly the entire country into quarantine.

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His synagogue released a statement Wednesday saying they had a plan in place for mourners to pay respects while observing social distance and rules. They apologized if things didn't work out that way, but said it "hurts" that the Jewish community was singled out. They also said they did not believe Mayor Bill de Blasio's statements were ill-intentioned.

"We understand Mayor Bill de Blasio's frustration and his speaking out against the gathering. As said, we thought that the procession will be in accordance with the rules, and we apologize that it turned out otherwise," said Jacob Mertz, a spokesperson for the local synagogue.

Mayor De Blasio calls a huge gathering for a Rabbi's funeral unacceptable, after thousands showed up and disobeyed social distancing restrictions. Myles Miller reports.

The gathering garnered the attention of the NYPD and the mayor, who joined police in Brooklyn in person to break it up, with the mayor saying the city has "zero tolerance" for such large events at this time.

"I spoke last night out of passion, I could not believe my eyes. It was deeply, deeply distressing," de Blasio said on Wednesday.

But it was his reaction to the funeral on social media that drew scorn and calls for the World Jewish Congress to censure him.

De Blasio called the incident "absolutely unacceptable" and said that he has allowed the NYPD to start issuing summonses or even start making arrests for those not cooperating at such events. On Wednesday he said he was sorry if anyone took his words the wrong way and insisted they were "tough love" meant to help avoid more deaths.

But he also emphasized there would be "no more warnings" and that arrests would happen next time.

"This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period," de Blasio said in a tweet.

Crowds of Hasidic men and women were packed tightly onto sidewalks and in the streets for the funeral, some wearing masks -- but all other social distancing measures were completely disregarded, pictures posted on Twitter showed.

However, with the mayor's criticism aimed directly at "the Jewish community," advocates fear there is a double standard in how social distancing measures are being enforced around the city. Others called out the mayor for singling out Jews, or lumping all members of the faith in with a small minority who belong to the sect and participated in Tuesday's funeral.

A spokesperson for the Orthodox community, Isaac Abraham, claimed that the city knew about the funeral and that as many as five police precincts were involved in putting up barricades to accommodate it.

Abraham says the crowd was given an hour to mourn and that there were patrols handing out masks. "He's a lying s.o.b," he said. "When you say don't kick your friend when he's down, he kicked us twice."

Brooklyn resident Bruce Schaff told NBC New York he was taking a walk up Bedford Avenue towards the Williamsburg Bridge when he encountered the crowd.

"It seemed like the funeral had already ended and the police were trying to get people to go home so they could start reopening the streets that had been blocked off," Schaff said.

Advocates say there is a double standard in how social distancing measures are being enforced around New York City after Mayor Bill de Blasio singled out the Jewish community because of a funeral gathering in Brooklyn. NBC New York's Katherine Creag reports.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said de Blasio failed to enforce social distancing when it came to the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels flyover earlier in the day, an event that brought people out of their homes and in common areas to watch.

"There are plenty of photos of people in ethnic groups violating the rules but how often do you mention them by name as done tonight to Jews?" the group asked of the mayor.

De Blasio's comments also drew scorn from fellow politicians, some on the national level. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wondered if the mayor would have sent the same tweet "with the word 'Jewish' replaced by any other religious minority," and ended his tweet with #ProtectFreeExercise.

New York City Councilman Chaim Deutsch noted the danger in de Blasio singling out "one specific ethnic community," especially because the Jewish community has recently seen a rise in hate crime attacks around the city.

"Every neighborhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned," Deutsch said.

Billionaire businessman and activist Ronald Lauder said Wednesday that the World Jewish Congress would move to censure De Blasio for his remarks. Lauder said the gathering was inappropriate but said the mayor's remarks had gone too far.

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