New York State health officials have taken extraordinary steps to close a super-Orthodox wedding scheduled for Monday that could have brought 10,000 guests to Brooklyn, near one of New York’s coronavirus hotspots.
The state health commissioner personally intervened to get the sheriff’s deputies to hand over the order to the Hasidic synagogue on Friday, warning that it must follow health protocols, including limiting meetings to less than 50 people.
On Sunday, the synagogue, the congregation of Yetev Lev D’Satmar, accused government officials of “unjustified attacks”
The wedding will continue, the synagogue said, but will be limited to a smaller group of family members. “It is sad that no one confirmed our plans before attacking us,” Haim Jakobovitz, the assembly’s secretary, said in a statement.
The state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, has taken the rare step of personally issuing what is known as Section 16, which could carry a $ 10,000 daily fine if violated. During the pandemic, the state issued dozens of orders from section 16.
Dr. Zucker moved quickly in issuing it for fears that the state’s normal first course of action, which includes a letter of termination and a refusal to hear, would be too late to prevent a big wedding, according to someone familiar with the action. Government officials received an invitation to the wedding late last week and confirmed that some guests would travel there from hotspots in the state.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that the big wedding was too risky and could lead to a so-called over-spread event. Government officials said they thought the wedding, which was to take place in Williamsburg, could have been attended by up to 10,000 people.
“My suggestion: have a small wedding this year,” Mr Cuomo told a news conference on Sunday. “Have a big wedding next year. Invite me and I will come. ”
The episode highlighted tensions between the governor and the Hasidic community as public health officials try to control growing coronavirus cases in some neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens and in counties north of New York.
Some Orthodox voices, including a growing faction of angry young men, accuse the government of directing them because of their faith and religious life. Earlier this month, the governor imposed new suspension restrictions in areas where cases are on the rise.
Orthodox Jewish leaders announced a large community prayer scheduled for Tuesday in response to the suspension of the wedding and wider restrictions. The event, which will take place over the phone, is not a protest, leaders said.
Mr Cuomo said on Sunday that the state’s efforts to control the outbreaks have been successful in reducing positivity in the target neighborhoods it has divided into zones. As of Saturday, the overall state infection rate was 1.08%, the governor said, significantly lower than other states. But the rate is 3.19 percent in the areas with the highest rates of infection or “red zones,” which include neighborhoods near Williamsburg. The synagogue itself is not in a hot place.
“We are so aggressive every time we see a virus popping up – we run and hit it,” the governor said of the state’s strategy to control outbreaks. “It’s exhausting, but it’s effective.”
A number of factors – including distrust of scientific communications and secular authority, a commitment to common life and dense living conditions – are fueling the rise of the city’s ultra-Orthodox community.
While New York State has one of the lowest levels of new cases, health officials are worried about a new jump in the colder months, when people are largely indoors and can more easily spread the virus indoors. Mr Cuomo noted on Sunday that even relatively small events, such as the Sweet 16 party on Long Island last month, could be contagious.
The birthday party had more than 80 guests – over a maximum of 50 people – and resulted in at least 37 cases and many more people forced into quarantine.
In a similar episode, the New York Sheriff’s Office said that early Sunday morning, lawmakers smashed an illegal party of more than 215 people in a banquet hall in the Ozone Park area of Queens. Those present danced, not socially distanced themselves or wore masks, authorities said.
On Sunday, officials announced seven more coronavirus-related deaths across the country, killing more than 26,440 people.
“We had the worst problem in the world at one point,” Mr Cuomo said. “All numbers are moving in the right direction.”
Liam Stack contributed to the reporting.