Despite Mayor's Claim, N.Y.C Orthodox Leader Says 'No Outreach' Made to Community Over COVID-19

Mayor de Blasio claims 'outreach to community has been nonstop,' but Borough Park Orthodox community leader says reality has shown otherwise

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York
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Residents walk by a COVID-19 testing site in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park on September 23, 2020 in New York City.
Residents walk by a COVID-19 testing site in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park on September 23, 2020 in New York City. Credit: SPENCER PLATT - AFP
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK - Despite what Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed during his latest COVID-19 briefing, a prominent Orthodox Jewish community leader in Borough Park told Haaretz on Wednesday that neither the Mayor nor his office had reached out to discuss how to curb the uptick in coronavirus cases in their communities.

During his Wednesday briefing, the Mayor claimed that “outreach to the [Jewish Orthodox] community has been nonstop," adding that the city has "been constantly communicating with community leaders, I have been on any number of calls myself, my team has been talking with community leaders nonstop throughout, and the message has been really clear.”

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However, Borough Park Jewish Community Council CEO Avi Greenstein said in a phone interview that he does not know which community leaders the Mayor is talking about. City officials, he adds, are simply “not doing their due diligence to reach out to the community in a real meaningful way.” 

“The reality is there have been dismal efforts by the Mayor and nothing to show for in terms of real meaningful outreach to this community,” Greenstein told Haaretz, adding that neither the Mayor’s office, nor the city’s Department of Health has ever contacted his office, which provides essential services to the community, since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

“That is a shame because on so many different occasions we made it clear to City hall that we are here as partners and we want to work,” he added. “There is so much we could do and we won’t cost the city a dime.”

Residents walk through the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park on September 23, 2020 in New York City.
Residents walk through the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park on September 23, 2020 in New York City. Credit: SPENCER PLATT - AFP

Over the past few weeks, City health officials have expressed concerns about an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Brooklyn neighborhoods with a significant Orthodox population, which they say accounted for 20 percent of all cases citywide as of Friday. The neighborhoods in question include Midwood, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, and Williamsburg. Two sections of Queens – Far Rockaway and Kew Gardens – have also seen an increase in cases.

De Blasio had also claimed that the City has been issuing robocalls in Yiddish and English, sending WhatsApp messages, communicating with houses of worship, and distributing supplies masks.

The City’s Test and Trace Corp, Greenstein mentioned, only came to Borough Park and “slapped signs all over the place.” The posters, he adds, also included errors in Yiddish – an issue that had been observed in the past during the 2019 Measles crisis.

But Greenstein added there is a “perceived hypocrisy” in the community that “perhaps if it would be different ethnic groups, the mayor would not come out this strong.”

“It’s easy for the mayor to shoot up tweets and to come out strongly as a tough guy against the community but at the same time he failed in reaching out to us and doing something in a proper way,” he told Haaretz.

Back in April, at the height of the city’s coronavirus outbreak, de Blasio came under intense fire for tweeting out a “message to the Jewish community,” which he slammed for violating coronavirus guidelines. The remarks earned him heavy criticism from Jewish community leaders, organizations and elected officials.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio loads food packages at the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, September 15, 2020.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio loads food packages at the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, September 15, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

De Blasio later said, “If the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way.” However, he also justified his remarks, saying that his intent was “to be clear that what I saw I had not seen anywhere else and I was trying to be honest about the fact that this is a problem that people have to come to grips with and deal with.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor’s office said the idea that they have not reached out to community leaders is “patently false.”

“We’ve sounded the alarm loud and clear,” the spokesperson said. “As the Mayor said today, we’re strengthening our outreach and working with community stakeholders to ensure New Yorkers in these neighborhoods have the tools they need to prevent the spread of the virus.”

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