De Blasio condemns funeral for rabbi, receives backlash for his comments on 'Jewish community'

Critics said his response singled out Jewish people and invoked "over-policing."

April 29, 2020, 11:30 AM

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vehemently condemned a large funeral for an Orthodox Jewish rabbi Tuesday night amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and received staunch criticism in return for his comments.

In a series of tweets, de Blasio wrote that his "message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed."

The mayor said he instructed the New York City Police Department to immediately summon or "even arrest" those who gather in large groups. New Yorkers have been told to maintain social distancing, or keeping 6 feet away from others, to stop the virus's spread.

"This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period," de Blasio wrote.

The funeral on Tuesday night was for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died from COVID-19 , according to The Yeshiva World. More than 2,500 people in the Orthodox Jewish community were in attendance, police said.

The mayor's comments drew ire from some, who criticized him for singling out the entire Jewish community and invoking arrests.

No arrests were made at the funeral, according to police, but 12 summons were issued.

PHOTO: A crowd gathered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on April 28, 2020, for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, in New York City, despite the coronavirus lockdown and ban on large gatherings.
A crowd gathered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on April 28, 2020, for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, in New York City, despite the coronavirus lockdown and ban on large gatherings.
Peter Gerber

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, a nonprofit, called his comment "bad judgment."

"You're inviting the antisemitic targeting of Jews & ordering a dangerous escalation of policing, all at once," according to a tweet written by the organization.

Brad Lander, a New York City Council member who represents the 39th District in Brooklyn, responded to the mayor on Twitter, writing it was a "really bad response."

"Both for stereotypically lumping together & singling our the Jewish community for criticism AND for threatening arrests, as though over-policing is the solution," he wrote.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said there are more than 1 million Jewish people living in New York City.

"The few who don’t social distance should be called out — but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews," Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

De Blasio responded to the criticism at his daily briefing on Wednesday. While he apologized for offending anyone, he said he did not regret calling out the funeral.

"I spoke last night out of passion. I could not believe my eyes," the mayor said. "It was deeply, deeply distressing."

He also refuted the notion that the funeral was similar to the New Yorkers who have been gathering in parks.

"It's not like people gathering in the park. ... It was thousands of people. Can we just have an honest conversation?" the mayor said, adding that he would not tolerate any anti-semitism.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said members of the Jewish community in Williamsburg contacted police Tuesday afternoon about Mertz's death and what to expect for a memorial. Shea said a plan was in place, but he did not detail what that plan was. He also said that officers were at the scene "in the unlikely event that large numbers came."

When large crowds did surface, the commissioner said they were dispersed in a short time.

"What happened last night simply cannot happen," Shea said at the briefing.

Calls to the synagogue that Mertz led were not answered. The secretary for the synagogue, however, said in a statement to The Yeshiva World that the synagogue regrets that the funeral "ended in chaos and in controversy."

The secretary, Jacob Mertz, noted while the synagogue came up with a plan to have streets closed and encourage social distancing, it "didn't pan out."

"As said, we thought that the procession will be in accordance with the rules, and we apologize that it turned out otherwise," he said in the statement. "It also hurts that this led to singling out the Jewish community, and for that we apologize to all Jewish people. Health and live takes precedence to anything else, and we shall all follow those rules."

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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