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Brooklyn Underground Yeshivas Flout Pause Rules, Parents Charge

Borough Park parents said a yeshiva was still being run out of a building on 48th Street during the coronavirus outbreak.
Borough Park parents said a yeshiva was still being run out of a building on 48th Street during the coronavirus outbreak.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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Brooklyn parents say underground yeshiva classes are flourishing in Borough Park — but cops closed a 311 grievance about one in just 16 minutes in the middle of the night, THE CITY has learned.

A father of five said he recently saw a large number of children going in and out of the Sanz shul on 48th St. He filed a complaint with the city’s 311 system on April 26 at 12:48 a.m., records show.

“Seeing our own disregarding basic measures to curb the virus made my blood boil,” said the man, who requested anonymity.

He was shocked when he got a notification at 1:04 a.m. that same day telling him the complaint had been closed because the NYPD “observed no evidence of the violation at that time.”

His complaint had noted that classes appeared to be going on during regular school hours two days earlier.

“The city doesn’t seem to care,” said the father, noting he also has seen multiple synagogue gatherings throughout the neighborhood.

In response to a query from THE CITY, Sgt. Jessica McRorie, a Police Department spokesperson, said: “The NYPD is aware of the 311 call and will be monitoring the location.”

A Hotline Call

Another phone call, placed by a local mother, led to the discovery of alleged classes planned by the Stree Hasidic school.

The mother, whose child attends the Borough Park yeshiva, said she learned via a call-in hotline that school would resume at undisclosed locations on April 27.

“Any boy who still hasn’t gotten the announcement of his place, the place where his teachers are, together with all other announcements, should leave a message with the system,” the phone announcement says in Yiddish.

The mother, who asked to remain anonymous, filed a complaint with the state’s PAUSE website, detailing the name of the school and other pertinent information.

She then got an email from Pinny Ringel, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior Jewish community liaison.

“I was forwarded your complaint about the yeshiva being open, can you please share what time and which days the Yeshiva is in operation?” he asked.

The mother says she googled Ringel and became worried he would use her information to tip off the school.

Parents who go to the authorities are seen by some in the community as a “moser” for reporting alleged bad behavior to secular authorities.

The offense is traditionally punishable by death, according to Jewish law. While that doesn’t happen in modern times, violators are typically ostracized.

“It made me feel very uncomfortable,” the mother said, referring to the Ringel email. She said he didn’t respond to him.

Ringel and a spokesperson for de Blasio did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

No Gathering Allowed

De Blasio has repeatedly said the city takes complaints about social gatherings seriously and that the NYPD will shut down any underground school, shul or other prayer service.

The de Blasio administration previously broke up an unnamed underground yeshiva in Williamsburg. The crackdown came after a report in The Forward highlighted how classes were being held in different locations throughout the neighborhood.

“I think we were very clear…we are not allowing gatherings now,” de Blasio told reporters Tuesday.

“If anyone sees it…you can call 311, you can tell the City Hall team, you can tell the NYPD,” he added. “It will be shut down. Period.”

Hours later, de Blasio rushed to Williamsburg as Hasidic Jews jammed the streets for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who reportedly died of COVID-19.

“What I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus,” he tweeted Tuesday night.

The Hasidic community has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths, Councilmember Mark Levine, the City Council’s Health Committee, noted in a twitter thread Monday. He advocated for “expanding the # of schools offering kosher ‘grab & go’ meals” and for sick people quarantined in hotels.

Levine also highlighted “phenomenally high rates” of plasma donations by Orthodox Jews, according to The Forward.

Still, the father who filed the 311 complaint in Borough Park wishes more people in the community took the health threat seriously.

“The Hasidic community doesn’t live on an island, and whatever we do affects everyone,” he said, “especially given the fact that our communities have been the city’s epicenters of the virus.”

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