By Mili Chizhik, News Editor
After his humiliating failure to bring a suitable sacrificial offering, Cain felt enmity towards his younger brother Abel, the one who was able to bring a suitable, as well as accepted offering. As a result of his distress, he killed Abel in the field. When asked by God where Abel can be found, Cain famously said, “I do not know, am I my brother’s keeper?” God punished Cain for the rest of eternity for his sins of murdering his brother and ignoring God’s words. It is hard to be able to connect many biblical stories to life in the 21st century, however, despite the seemingly antiquated stories that originate in the bible, this story — in the Torah reading of Genesis read two weeks ago — is ageless, and history repeats itself time and time again.
On October 5, New York City officials announced new policies to restrict public activity and the spread of COVID-19 in nine hotspots throughout the city, seven of which have large Jewish communities. Officials mandated remote learning for schools in these zip codes and limited public gatherings to ten people.
In response to this crackdown, hundreds of observant and religious Jews fled to the streets of Borough Park to protest. They declared that these new policies were antisemitic and were infringing on their freedom of religion. Many believe that these policies are only targeting Jews and are being unfair and prejudiced toward these Jewish communities. In addition to their mask-burning demonstration during protests, protesters chased down reporters and attacked their fellow Jews.
Heshy Tischler, an Orthodox activist who lives in Borough Park, Brooklyn was one of the major instigators of these protests. He spread words of agitation during these protests as well as through Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. For example, on one of @schtickydude’s (Tischler’s twitter account) posts, he compared the requirement of wearing masks to the yellow star of David with the word “Jude” (German for “Jew”) that the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the holocaust. He also said that the NYC officials have “perpetuated the old Nazi trope that Jews spread disease.”
Jacob Kornbluh, an Ultra-Orthodox Jew who tried to spread information on COVID-19 safety guidelines, was violently assaulted on October 7 by the protestors for being an “informant” on the Orthodox community’s activities to the authorities and journalists. The perpetrators yelled, “min darf eim hargenen” (We need to kill him). Tischler posted a video threatening Kornbluh and his actions, thus leading to his assault. Kornbluh said he was “hit in the head, and kicked at by an angry crowd of hundreds of community members of the Boro[ugh] Park protest — while yelling at me “Nazi” and “Hitler” —after Heshy Tischler recognized me and ordered the crowd to chase me down the street.” He later announced that he would be filing charges against Tischler, who was arrested on October 11.
Berish Gertz, another Ultra-Orthodox man, recorded videos of the protests, and then the protesters then called him a “snitch” and beat him, leaving him critically injured. After not being responsive, first responders transported him to Maimonides Hospital in Borough Park. Berish’s brother, Mordy Getz, also received death threats in response to his advocating for COVID-19 health safety guidelines in the spring.
It’s quite apparent that the crackdown on Jews in these areas is intentional but solely based on the increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and the usual large public gatherings that occur within these communities. While some may believe that these policies are antisemitic and politicize mask-wearing, these same people deny the fact that their actions are causing spikes of COVID-19 and that wearing masks is needed to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 particles, in addition to physically distancing from others.
Many in these communities have claimed that there is herd immunity because of the large percentage of those who already had COVID-19 earlier in the pandemic and assume that it has all passed. The misinformation and conflicting sources of health information have led many to disregard the need for masks and social distancing, leading to a higher number of new cases in these areas. Also, many do not understand that the presence of antibodies is not foolproof prevention to COVID-19 and that these antibodies can wear off with time, leading to reinfection of the disease.
Rather than deny the data and science, these communities must follow the guidelines set by the health officials to prevent further transmission of the virus and help save lives. The only way to encourage these changes is by having the rabbis of these communities encourage them.
People must stop feigning ignorance of the consequences of their actions and acknowledge the community’s dangerous behaviors. Denying that this virus is present does not affect its potency, and denying that these regulations will help people will only be damaging in the future. It will cause more cases and more deaths. It will also elongate the spreading to be in a consistent cycle of increasing and decreasing cases for months, if not years, on end. The transgression of the law of Chillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name) is written all over these protests and disregarding authorities’ regulations.
One would think that we, the Jewish people, have progressed past the times of Cain and Abel, and we would listen to the higher authorities. Instead, many harbor so much hate towards their fellow Jews that they unflinchingly attack innocent people and spread damaging and life-threatening misinformation. Many bite the hands that feed them (hands being the experts, while feeding is their attempt to help the health crisis), thus further violating both the “Dina de-Malkhuta Dina” (law of following the law of the land) and the law of Ahavat Yisrael (loving your fellow Israelites).
When Cain was asked about where his brother was, God knew the real answer. Now, what will you answer when God asks you where your fellow citizens — whose health progressively declined due to the viral coup that overthrew their lungs while their bodies become depleted of oxygen and the necessary components of life — are? All of which could potentially have been avoided with a mask and self-isolation.