Pandemic Tensions Set Off Fireworks Beween Mayor, Orthodox Community


JTA  They set off car alarms, honked car horns and set off air horns. If they can’t sleep, they reasoned, the mayor shouldn’t either.

Dozens of Orthodox Jews demonstrated outside Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York City’s mayor, Monday night in a protest over the fireworks that have become a nightly ritual in Brooklyn and beyond. Brooklyn residents — Jewish and non-Jewish alike — have complained for days that fireworks are set off until the early hours of the morning with little action by law enforcement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary indicated Monday on Twitter several hours prior to the protest that the city would announce “a multiagency crackdown on illegal fireworks suppliers.”

Still, the protest opened a new front in a deepening battle between the city’s Orthodox Jewish communities and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. The relationship between the mayor and his Orthodox constituents, once cozy, has soured in recent months as some Orthodox Jews have alleged that the city enforced social distancing regulations unevenly and targeted the Orthodox community disproportionately.

(According to city data, most citations were issued to black and Latino New Yorkers.)

“People that have come out from communities in Brooklyn, from all different communities, with one unified message, and that is: De Blasio must go,” one man said over a loudspeaker to cheering protesters and honking cars. The mayor’s term ends next year.

Last week members of the Orthodox community turned their attention to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ban on overnight camps, issued to keep the coronavirus pandemic in check.

A lawsuit filed June 18 by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, which represents dozens of camps serving Orthodox children in New York, charges that Cuomo’s ban should not apply to Jewish camps because they fulfill a religious need. (See story, p. 1.)

That lawsuit followed on the heels of another lawsuit about the impact of New York’s coronavirus restrictions on Jewish communities. Three Orthodox men from Brooklyn are suing the state over restrictions on the number of people who can attend religious services during the pandemic.

Three Orthodox lawmakers have been leading the charge against the de Blasio administration. Last week State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, City Councilman Kalman Yeger and State Sen. Simcha Felder joined local radio personality Heshy Tischler on June 16 to cut the chains off a Brooklyn playground gate that was still shuttered by the city.

At a daily media briefing, de Blasio was asked about the chain cuttings.

“We’re not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands,” he said, though he was not asked and did not comment on the fact that elected officials had participated in the chain cutting themselves.

It was unclear who organized the fireworks protest but it appeared to draw a range of New Yorkers. One video from the protest showed an Orthodox man in a white button-down shirt and black kippah sitting cross-legged in a crosswalk with a black man.

While some protesters wore masks, many in the videos did not.