De Blasio blasts Williamsburg funeral, Israelis mark Independence Day under curfew


Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized the “Jewish community” for defying social distancing orders when mourners in Williamsburg held a massive funeral for a rabbi who died of coronavirus, the New York Post reports. Hundreds of haredi Jews gathered in the streets near the intersection of Rutledge Street and Bedford Avenue to pay their respects for the rabbi, identified by The Yeshiva World as Chaim Mertz.

“Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter. “When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus.”

In response, the Anti-Defamation League and Councilman Kalman Yeger criticized the mayor for singling out one ethnic group that had defied the city and state guidelines.

Photos from the funeral show that while most mourners wore face masks, the crowd far exceeded 50 people. The throngs of people were also crammed together on the sidewalks closer than the recommended six feet apart.

The mayor said he instructed the NYPD to enforce social distancing violations with summonses, or even arrests.

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,.” he tweeted. “I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”

An Israeli firm Israel firm has raised $5 million to market a technology to recognize faces concealed by masks, goggles and plastic shields.

Awz Ventures, a Canadian fund focused on intelligence and security technologies, is providing the funding for Corsight AI to continue development, Reuters reports. “The technology can be used to issue alerts of people who are in violation of quarantine and have gone outside to public areas while covering their faces with masks,” Corsight said, according to Reuters.

The United States has reportedly cancelled a work visa for an Israeli man who flew home from Newark last week despite knowing that he had tested positive for the coronavirus, the Times of Israel reports. According to the paper, the man, from the largely haredi Orthodox Jewish settlement of Beitar Illit, works in kosher supervision. He did not notify the United Airlines crew that he had the virus when he boarded the fight.

The Israeli passenger had taken a Covid-19 test in Israel, and was informed of his positive test result while in the United States; he flew back to Israel because he did not have insurance for health care in this country.

The 50 passengers on his flight were taken to a hotel, allowing them to remain in isolation for 14 days, as is required for all new arrivals in Israel. The infected man was taken to a separate hotel for people who are carrying the virus, and he could face criminal charges in Israel.

In celebration of Israeli Independence Day, some 13,400 students representing more than 200 middle schools and high schools from around the world are competing April 29-May 1 in OpenDor Media’s Global Trivia Challenge. The students will participate in an online quiz with questions based on OpenDor Media’s six-part Israeli history video curriculum they have viewed in previous weeks. And for the first time, the International Bible Quiz will not be held in person on Independence Day in Jerusalem. Instead, the teen competitors will be videoconferencing in from around the world.


The total of people in Israel who have succumbed to COVID-19 reached 212 on Wednesday. The overall number of cases stands at 15,782.

Israelis marked their 72nd Independence Day under curfew.

Official ceremonies went ahead, the Times of Israel reports, though in a subdued format. Traditional outdoor barbecues, street parties and general public revelry have been canceled to avoid a fresh flare of the pandemic.

The nationwide Independence Day curfew went into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday. During the curfew, which will be in effect until 8 p.m. Wednesday, Israelis will not be permitted to travel more than 100 meters from their homes except for medical and other vital needs.

While difficult, it is still possible for Jews in the diaspora to arrange for loved ones to be taken to Israel for burial, the Times of Israel reports. From the start of February until late April, 353 bodies (100 Israeli citizens and 253 foreigners) were brought to Israel from abroad for burial, many of them on specially arranged flights, and some making several stopovers on the way when no direct flights to Tel Aviv were available. (Last year, approximately 1,500 bodies were flown to Israel for burial.)

Of those 353 people whose bodies were flown to Israel since the beginning of the pandemic, 55 (10 Israelis and 45 foreigners) had Covid-19, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said. Most of the burials were of Jews from the US, Canada, France, Britain and elsewhere who were not Israeli citizens but whose last wish was to be laid to rest in the Holy Land.

Burial plots in Israel are not cheap — between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on the location. A small number of very wealthy or prominent families are chartering private jets to bring their deceased to a final resting place in Israel.


Dr. Irving Engelson, a Holocaust survivor who led a successful career in engineering in this country, died on April 21 at 89 from complications of Covid-19. He lived on the Upper West Side.

Born Icek Engelczyn in Poland, he was smuggled out of Poland with other Jews by truck through the Russian Zone in Germany after World War II and arrived in the American Sector of Berlin in an UNRRA Camp called Schlachtensee, where he helped out in the Camp Theater with stage lighting, studied radio repair and with a friend organized a radio repair shop and school.

After he moved to the United States, he began a career in academia, culminating in a position as dean at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Later he was recruited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to serve as staff director for Technical Activities.  He testified before a Congressional committee on international technology transfer, lectured on six continents, and served as a linguist with the US Army.

He was an active member of Congregation Shaare Zedek.

Dr. Engelson is survived by his wife Mina; two daughters, Iris and Delia Igo; a brother, Morris; and a grandson, Martin Rosen.


Jewish Federations of North America and more than 30 partner organizations are sponsoring a global celebration of Israel’s 72nd birthday during a virtual one-hour event on Wednesday, April 29 at 2 p.m. In addition to exclusive footage of Israel’s official Independence Day Ceremony on Mt. Herzl, the virtual celebration will include performances by Dear Evan Hansen star Ben Platt and his brothers, Broadway star Caissie Levy, Israeli pop singer Rita, and Jewish rapper Matisyahu. The ceremony will also feature a cooking demonstration by cookbook author Adeena Sussman, and appearances by West Wing actor Josh Malina, sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

IsraPalooza – an Israeli Independence Day Celebration sponsored by Tablet Magazine, Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan and The iCenter – will take place today at 10 a.m. The event will feature a session with violinist Itzhak Perlman, a live concert with David Broza, and discussions with such people as architect Moshe Safdie, cookbook author Joan Nathan, and Gil Shwed, inventor of the modern-day firewall.

The America-Israel Friendship League will sponsor an online Independence Day performance by the Israel Opera on Wednesday at noon.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will host a Facebook Live in-depth discussion on “Antisemitism: Here and Now,”  with historian Deborah Lipstadt today at 9:30 a.m. The virtual program is part of the Museum’s weekly Facebook Live series, a component of the Museum’s expanded digital and educational offerings while the building itself is temporarily closed. Viewers do not need a Facebook account to watch the programs live or on-demand on the Museum’s page.

Hadar is sponsoring a series of webinar lectures in the coming weeks on such topics as the Torah portion of the week, Talmud and the counting of the Omer.

UJA-Federation of New York has compiled a guide to help the Jewish community find advice, resources and volunteer opportunities for learning during the virus outbreak. UJA and the Jewish Board also have listings of volunteer opportunities.