Cuomo Threatens to ‘Close The Synagogues,’ Uses Old Photo Of Orthodox Jews Gathering As Reason

New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo blamed the Jewish Orthodox Community for the latest surge of coronavirus in New York City due to the large gatherings in attending religious institutions and used a decade and a half old photo to make his case in threatening to “close the synagogues” if they don’t comply to his conditions.

During his coronavirus press briefing on Monday, Cuomo announced that he shutting down school starting Tuesday in certain New York City COVID “hotspots” neighborhood. Only two of the cities boroughs — Brooklyn and Queens are seeing the surge of outbreaks with those areas being homes to predominately Orthodox Jewish populations.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was looking not only to close schools down but was also forcing a lockdown on non-essential businesses and struggling indoor and outdoor restaurants. Cuomo ignored the Mayor drastic lockdown measure, opting to only shut down in-classroom learning for 100 public schools and 200 private schools in those “cluster zones.”

The governor then blasted de Blasio’s lack of enforcement that has led to a surge of outbreaks in certain areas, stating that the state will now be taking over the effort to tamper down the flare-ups. Cuomo targeted religious institutions, specifically the Orthodox communities as being the “super spreader” in having large gatherings events in recent weeks. 

To validate his point, Cuomo pointed to two photos he said were taken “from the past couple weeks” that was used in his PowerPoint presentation with the headline “Gatherings — Especially Religious” saying “religious institutions have been a problem.”

“Religious gatherings. The city’s proposal does not close religious institutions. We know religious institutions have been a problem. We know mass gatherings are the super spreader events. We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks,” Cuomo said. “These are pictures from the past couple weeks. And these are just emblematic. You’ve seen pictures like this for weeks. What did you think was going to happen? Religious institutions are mass gatherings and raise the greatest potential. Its schools and its large mass gatherings.”

However, one of the photos Cuomo used, the picture on the left is 14 years old that was taken at the funeral of Hassidic Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum in April 2006. Also, the image used wasn’t shot in Brooklyn as Cuomo claimed, but 45 miles away from New York City in the Orange County village of Kiryas Joel.

Screenshot from AP Photos

When a reporter noted that at least two major Sukkot religious holiday events are set to occur this weekend, Cuomo threatened the leaders of the Orthodox community ahead of their schedule meeting tomorrow, saying if they don’t enforce the coronavirus guideline rules then he will “close the synagogues.”

“I’m going to meet with members of the ultra-Orthodox community tomorrow. I want to have that conversation directly myself,” Cuomo said. “If you do not agree to enforce the rules, then we’ll close the institutions down. I am prepared to do that.”

“I have to say to the Orthodox community tomorrow, if you’re not willing to live with these rules, then I’m going to close the synagogues,” Cuomo added. “I am prepared to do that.”

The picture error from Cuomo staff received fierce backlash from Jewish advocate groups. 

“WILL CUOMO APOLOGIZE?!?” a headline in The Yeshiva World screamed as it revealed the old photo.

A federal judge in June blocked de Blasio and Cuomo from enforcing restrictions on religious gatherings amid the pandemic while allowing mass protests to rage and cause havoc in the city.

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