A 34-year-old Hasidic man was beaten unconscious by a crowd in Brooklyn angry over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s actions to limit synagogues in COVID-19 hot zones to 10 people and close schools in the area, according to videos from the scene and the man’s brother.
Berish Getz was standing on top of a container on the side of 13th Avenue in Borough Park videotaping and photographing the crowd of mostly Hasidic yeshiva students near 46th Street early Wednesday morning, videos posted online show. Many were not wearing masks.
Getz, who was wearing a mask and has advocated for people in the community to take similar safety precautions, stepped off the container after the crowd began to throw bottles and other objects at him, according to a witness who spoke to Getz’s brother, Mordy Getz.
The crowd was chanting in Hebrew: “All the wicked should be cut!”
Berish, who jumped off his perch in the apparent expectation that police nearby would protect him, tried to run away from the crowd, according to the witness, who asked to remain anonymous.
Mayor Bill de Blasio denounced the violence.
“Assault is not going to be accepted,” he said Wednesday morning. “Assault on anyone, ever, and I want to make very clear to everyone, even folks who disagree on the rules to get out this crisis: respect the laws, respect the specific instructions of the NYPD. And if anyone doesn’t there will be consequences.”
Asked what could be done to prevent further incidents, Cuomo defended the restricted zones as based on COVID case-specific information and noted that protests have accompanied government restrictions throughout the pandemic.
“Most New Yorkers are smart and have common sense,” the governor said of mandates to wear masks and socially distance. “There’s always opposition, and we move forward from there.”
Berish Getz regained consciousness in the hospital and is currently undergoing testing, his brother told THE CITY.
Hundreds of Hasidic protesters took to the streets hours after Cuomo released maps of areas in Brooklyn, Queens and the city’s outer suburbs where schools, businesses and other activities are to be put on lockdown this week as COVID-19 flares.
More than 8% of COVID tests in Borough Park’s main ZIP code, 11219, have showed positive results in the past week, compared with 1.65% citywide, the city’s health department reports.
‘We Are At War!’
The governor’s restrictions ban mass gatherings and cap attendance at houses of worship at 25% of capacity and no more than 10 people — just as Jews prepare to celebrate the holidays of Shemini Atzert and Simchat Torah starting on Friday night.
On Simchat Torah, a celebration of the completion of reading the sacred text, Jews dance with Torahs and all men are called to say a blessing before the Torah.
Four Jewish elected officials who represent the areas slammed the plan, saying that Cuomo initially told community leaders during a conference call on Wednesday that shuls in the area would be allowed to continue to run at 50% capacity.
“We are appalled by Governor Cuomo’s words and actions today,” the statement issued Tuesday night said. “He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities.”
The statement was signed by state Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, and City Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger, who all represent areas affected by the new restrictions.
Yeger joined the crowd Tuesday night as it gathered on 13th Avenue, including many men not wearing masks.
“We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, to observe our religion,” Yeger told the crowd. “I don’t care who in government thinks that they can stop us. They are wrong.”
Yeger was flanked by area resident Heshy Tischler, a City Council candidate who has vocally advocated against mask and other COVID-related mandates.
Tischler urged the crowd to defy any government restrictions. “You are my soldiers! We are at war!” he told the crowd, adding, “we are going to have a peaceful protest.”
Tischler has bragged about not wearing a mask and shouted down the head of the city’s public hospital system during a press conference in Borough Park last month.
NYC Health + Hospitals CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz and other city officials came to the area to urge residents to wear masks and keep six feet apart.