De Blasio Regrets How He Handled Chasidic Funeral in April


(JTA) — With tensions high between Orthodox Jews and New York officials, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio expressed regret Tuesday for how he handled a large chasidic funeral in the pandemic’s early days.

Back in April, after a large funeral for a local rabbi in Brooklyn drew thousands of Orthodox Jews into the streets of Williamsburg, de Blasio visited the scene himself and called out “the Jewish community.” His tweet was widely criticized and damaged what had been a relatively close relationship between the mayor and the city’s Orthodox community.

Now, with Orthodox neighborhoods again among the city’s virus hotspots and residents chafing at restrictions imposed to curb the disease’s spread, de Blasio says he regrets what he said — and how he said it.

“I look back now and understand there was just more dialogue that was needed,” de Blasio said during a press conference Tuesday. “I certainly got very frustrated at times when I saw large groups of people still out without masks but I think more dialogue would have been better so I certainly want to express my regret that I didn’t figure out how to do that better.”

The comments came in response to a question about a call he held with Orthodox leaders from Brooklyn and Queens Monday night, which he said was meant as a “reset” in the relationship between city government and Orthodox communities.

De Blasio noted that he had previously expressed remorse over his reaction to the gathering, but he said he would seek to improve communication going forward.

“That one night in Williamsburg I let my frustration and concern get away with me and I should have been more careful in my language and I’ve expressed my apology for that before,” de Blasio said Tuesday. He added, “The number one takeaway from the meeting is more dialogue. More communication is the way forward.”

Earlier this week, a wedding in Brooklyn’s Satmar chasidic community was held for family only after New York officials warned that large crowds would violate coronavirus restrictions.

The state must be far more transparent and clear in how it uses numbers and not politics.

State health officials had issued a formal public health order putting a stop to the large gathering expected at the Williamsburg wedding of the grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum.

The synagogue where the wedding took place, Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar, issued a statement over the weekend saying that the wedding would be for family members only, with a telephone hookup for well-wishers — and said, despite earlier notices to the contrary, that that had always been the plan. “It’s sad that nobody verified our plans before attacking us,” the statement said.

Michael A. Helfand, a law professor and vice dean at Pepperdine Caruso School of Law and fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, says tensions between local government and the Orthodox community are the result of opaque messaging on the part of authorities.

“The state must be far more transparent and clear in how it uses numbers and not politics to identify which neighborhoods are being subjected to increased regulation,” he wrote in an oped for JTA.