A Brooklyn synagogue is to be investigated after hosting a secret wedding with thousands of unmasked guests earlier this month.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has criticized the Hasidic synagogue in for hosting a ‘secret’ maskless ceremony at which around 7,000 guests attended.
Cuomo called the nuptials ‘a blatant disregard of the law’ which had the potential to be a coronavirus super-spreader event.
‘It was a blatant disregard of the law. It’s illegal. It was also disrespectful to the people of New York,’ Cuomo said during a press conference on Sunday.
‘The law protects everybody. It protects you, but it also protects me,’ he said.
Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, said wedding was in direct defiance of coronavirus restrictions on gatherings in the state
A Hasidic wedding in Brooklyn slipped under the radar of city officials as it crammed 7,000 maskless people into a synagogue in defiance of Governor Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions
Cuomo is now urging the city’s mayor Bill de Blasio to conduct ‘a robust investigation’ of the wedding which was held at the Yetev Lev temple in Williamsburg.
Videos from November 8th show a packed Satmar synagogue in clear defiance of coronavirus safety restrictions.
The wedding, which saw people standing shoulder to shoulder, had apparently been kept ‘a secret’, however Cuomo questioned how such a feat would have been possible.
‘If 7,000 people went to a wedding, you can figure that out, right? That’s the problem with a ‘secret’ 7,000. It’s hard to keep a secret,’ he said.
Worshipers packed the Yetev Lev D’Satmar synagogue in Williamsburg for the celebration
‘It’s my information the city is investigating. They should investigate, and if 7,000 people were at a wedding, I’m sure they’ll be able to figure it out, and then we’ll bring the full consequences of legal action to bear.’
The organizers are said to have gone to great lengths to hide the wedding of Yoel Teitelbaum, the grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelman, from ‘the ravenous press and government officials,’ according to a report in the Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt, a publication of the Satmar sect.
To keep the celebration under wraps, the community shared information on the wedding only by word-of-mouth as organizers schemed to avoid it being broken up.
Governor Cuomo also noted how in October, the state managed to order the cancellation of another Williamsburg wedding that had been planned for a grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, a brother and rival of Aaron. The event may well have draws up to 10,000 people.
‘If it turns out that, because we stopped that wedding, the reaction was, ‘well we’ll have a secret wedding,’ that would be really shocking and totally deceitful from the conversations that I had, because I had personal conversations with members of the community,’ said Cuomo.
‘Due to the ongoing situation with government restrictions, preparations were made secretly and discreetly, so as not to draw attention from strangers,’ reported Yiddish newspaper Der Blatt, the publication of the Satmar sect. on November 13, according to the New York Post.
‘In recent weeks, organizers worked tirelessly to arrange everything in the best way possible.
‘All notices about upcoming celebrations were passed along through word of mouth, with no notices in writing, no posters on the synagogue walls, no invitations sent through the mail, nor even a report in any publication, including this very newspaper.’
Images of the ceremony show the hall rammed with bodies with no masks in sight as the community celebrated successfully getting away with the gathering.
‘Now that the wedding has passed, thank God, after being held with great splendor and fanfare, the sentiment expressed by all is: how privileged we are, how good our portion, how fortunate our lot, to have merited the experience of such a glorious night,’ wrote Der Blatt.
The large crowds had even slipped under the nose of the local fire station as the organizers moved with stealth to ensure that their cover was not blown.
The FDNY, which is one of a host of city agencies that inspect sites for COVID-19 violations, was not called to inspect the temple despite the large crowds.
However, FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer told the Post that the wedding ‘clearly violated’ restrictions on indoor occupancy.
Religious gatherings can be held indoors, but they must take place in one room and at 50 percent capacity. Masks must also be worn and those who are not in the same household must maintain social distancing from each other.
‘The city performs a tremendous number of inspections daily, and our community outreach team is dedicated to relaying the latest happenings across the city,’ said Mitch Schwartz, the mayor’s Director of Rapid Response, as he admitted he could not explain how the wedding was not caught.
On November 8, crowds gathered shoulder to shoulder in the Yetev Lev temple in Williamsburg to celebrate the nuptials of a grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Aaron Teitelman
The maskless crowds were crammed together in their thousands at the indoor event
‘But let’s be clear: indoor gatherings of this size aren’t acceptable, and they’re offensive to all the sacrifices New Yorkers have made to keep their families and neighbors safe from COVID-19.’
He was not able to say if the synagogue would now face any consequences for hosting the event.
The secrecy around the nuptials was heightened last month after the state caught wind of another wedding in Williamsburg planned for a grandson of Satmar Grand Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, a brother and rival of Aaron, the Post reports.
This wedding was expected to attract 10,000 people but was brought to a halt and changed to a virtual ceremony once heath officials stepped in.
‘We received a suggestion that that was happening,’ Cuomo said at the time. ‘We did an investigation and found that it was likely true. There was a large wedding planned that would violate the gathering rules.’
But the synagogue blasted the order to move online, insisting they had taken special measures to ensure the wedding complied with coronavirus safety protocol and claimed, ‘nobody verified our plans before attacking us.’
The restrictions in Orthodox Jewish parts of Brooklyn caused violent protests in October, as residents objected to their synagogues being shut down during religious holidays
Pictured: Protesters rally in Manhattan against the closing of some schools and businesses in Jewish neighborhoods in the Brooklyn and Queens boroughs due to a spike in the numbers of Covid-19 cases in these neighborhoods, October 15
People gather in front of the Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar synagogue in October ahead of a scaled down Hasidic wedding for a New York grand rabbi’s grandson
They said the cancellation of the wedding was ‘an unwarranted attack’ on the temple’s congregation, causing them to use increased caution for the November ceremony incase authorities would be topped off again.
‘The days leading up to the wedding were filled with tension, not knowing what the next day, or the next moment, will bring; which disgruntled outcast might seize this opportunity to exploit even what hasn’t been written or publicized, to create an unnecessary uproar, and to disrupt the simcha, God forbid,’ Der Blatt reported.
The temple’s decision to host the wedding came despite losing its own president, R’Mayer Zelig Rispler, to COVID-219 last month.
Rispler had openly called for the Hasidic community to abide by state guidelines to cut down spread of the virus after they faced criticism for failing to comply with ongoing efforts to curb the outbreak in the city, where nearly 25,000 people have already died.
De Blasio and Cuomo have attempted extended outreach to the Hasidic community but have fallen short of curbing mass gatherings due to their relationship with Orthodox leaders.
‘The ability of Hasidic leaders to compel their followers to so brazenly violate the rules and norms extends well beyond the pandemic, and is enabled by government officials turning a blind eye for political reasons,’ Naftuli Moster, executive director of YAFFED, a nonprofit that advocates for improved secular education in yeshivas, told the Post.
News of the wedding comes as Mayor de Blasio warned on Friday that the whole of New York City could become an orange zone from the first week of December
Mayor de Blasio says the city’s infection rate is 3 percent – he has used the threshold to close schools. Cuomo on Friday said to put into context that New York’s infection rate was considerably lower than other states and that a lockdown would not be immediate
Yet the leaders and Orthodox community themselves feel that they are being unfairly targeted considering the large Black Lives Matter protests over the summer and the recent large celebrations when Joe Biden was named president-elect.
Tensions between the city and orthodox communities grew in recent weeks after local authorities put nine of their most-populated neighborhoods on lockdown early in October after a spike in coronavirus infections
MANHATTAN – 2.3%
BROOKLYN – 3.9%
QUEENS – 4.6%
BRONX – 5.1%
STATEN ISLAND – 4.5%
NYC WHOLE – 2.5%
NY STATE – 2.6%
CALIFORNIA – 8%
ALABAMA – 24.7%
IOWA – 50%
SOUTH DAKOTA – 55.6%
News of the wedding comes as Mayor de Blasio warns that the whole of New York City could become an orange zone from the first week of December, shutting down indoor dining and certain non-essential businesses.
He revealed in a tweet on Saturday morning that the city’s 7-day average infection rate is now at 3.11 percent, with 1,345 new cases and 118 new hospitalizations.
The 3.11 percent infection rate is according to city figures and not the state’s tally which has the Big Apple at less than 3 percent.
‘This weekend is critical to fighting back #COVID19,’ de Blasio wrote.
‘A second wave is bearing down on us,’ he told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Friday. ‘We need restrictions. It’s just clear that restrictions are the only way to turn back this kind of a surge.’
However, on Friday, Cuomo said there would not be a NYC shutdown anytime in the next 10 days because the infection rate is so low.
The governor did add that he was ‘worried’ Thanksgiving could cause a large spike.
Cuomo hosted a conference call with reporters where he said he wanted to put ‘into context’ how low New York’s infection rate was compared with other states.
Currently, the statewide infection rate is 2.6 percent and New York City’s is 2.5 percent.
That’s compared to more than 50 percent in some Midwestern states.
On Friday, Cuomo said that New York City would not enter an ‘orange zone’ – which is the threshold he has set for starting to close businesses and end things like indoor dining – because the 7-day rolling average infection rate has to be more than 3 percent for 10 straight days to trigger it.
That has not happened and cannot now before the first week of December.