N.Y.C. Orthodox Jews Accuse De Blasio of ‘Double Standard’ on Shuttered Parks

The city has officially closed all playgrounds in effort to slow spread of coronavirus, but Orthodox elected officials say rules are being enforced differently in various parts of the city

Danielle Ziri
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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio welcomes medical members of the US Navy at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York, April 5, 2020
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio welcomes medical members of the US Navy at the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York, April 5, 2020Credit: AFP
Danielle Ziri

Orthodox Jewish politicians serving Haredi neighborhoods in Brooklyn are calling New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio out once again for what they say is a double standard, as gates to parks and playgrounds in their districts are locked as a coronavirus precaution while in other areas of the city, residents seem to be allowed in.

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said city officials could begin allowing children to use playgrounds, but Mayor de Blasio said he was not yet prepared to do so.

The city has officially closed all playgrounds to children and their families — and has on occasion also barred entrance to surrounding green space — in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

But Orthodox elected officials say the rules are being enforced differently in various parts of the city.

“I don’t understand the double standard,” State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein told Haaretz on Tuesday. “Why don’t I have a single park open in my district, and when I drive around in the rest of the city I see parks open?”

Eichenstein, who has also called out the Mayor earlier this month for allowing protests to take place while keeping places of worship closed, went on Tuesday morning to cut the chains off the gates of a park in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, along with State Senator Simcha Felder and City Councilman Kalman Yeger.

As the gates were opened, some of the people present were heard cheering “Mazel Tov!,” on a live video posted on Twitter. 

Activist Heshy Tischler was also seen saying: “The only way you’re getting this chain back Mr Mayor is if you come get me,” as he held up the metal chain.

According to videos posted to Twitter, locks on multiple recreational areas in Brooklyn were cut open by Orthodox residents over the past few days. Other videos taken in different parts of the city showed some playgrounds open with kids playing inside

People engage in social distancing as they enjoy weather at Empire Fulton Ferry Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, June 9, 2020.
People engage in social distancing as they enjoy weather at Empire Fulton Ferry Park in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, June 9, 2020.Credit: Frank Franklin II,AP

When asked about the issue at his daily briefing on Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio said: “We’re not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands, it just doesn’t work.”

“People are not allowed to open up a playground that is not yet available to the public,” he said.

“I was very sympathetic in the beginning to every parent, as a parent myself, as to why people wanted to be on these playgrounds,” the Mayor added. “We tried to make it work, it wasn’t working effectively.”

De Blasio added that the city is not going to change the policy on playgrounds until it reaches phase two of the reopening process, which he said “could be as soon as June 22nd,” although he believes it will take longer.

“Until the order is given that playgrounds are open, people need to stay off the playgrounds, it’s not appropriate to take their own action,” De Blasio continued.

He did not address the claim that parks outside Orthodox neighborhoods were open.

“Around the city NYC parks are open to the public,” Councilman Yeger tweeted on Friday. “Well, not everywhere. If you live in Midwood, Boro Park or Williamsburg, the city has chained your park, and if you’re in one, you’re treated like a criminal.”

The Orthodox elected officials, Felder, Eichenstein, and Yeger released a statement saying that: “Individually, each of us exhausted every avenue of diplomacy in our effort to open our playgrounds for the families and children in our city.”

“The people have spoken, and they are sick and tired of being ignored,” they wrote. “With everything going on in the world, why is our Mayor intent on making criminals of mothers and children in need of a safe space to play?”

“If they lock these gates, we will cut them open again tomorrow, because we serve the people,” they warned. “Who do you serve, Mr. Mayor?”

On Sunday, they had gathered with neighborhood residents and their children at Kolbert Park in the Midwood section of Brooklyn to protest the closures. Some held signs saying: “Give kids summer” and “Let the kids be kids.”

“The Mayor resides in Gracie Mansion, but you know what? Not everyone has a huge back lawn and on the other side of the house an even bigger park,” Assemblyman Eichenstein said. “We live in small apartments, we’re cramped together, we need to give our children their parks back.”

A man walks past a group of women waiting in line to enter a women's clothing shop in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, June 8, 2020.
A man walks past a group of women waiting in line to enter a women's clothing shop in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York, Monday, June 8, 2020.Credit: Kathy Willens,AP

“We are opening beaches for thousands of people to come to the beaches, the Mayor has called for thousands of people to protest in the street with no regards to social distancing,” he added. “Why is it that our children are always the ones to be punished?”

“Our kids need to be able to come out in a safe place and play,” Eichenstein added. “Are there sanitary guidelines that may need to be followed? Let’s do it.”

“The governor said the subways are being sanitized every single day, great, let’s do it with our parks too,” he continued.

Earlier this month, De Blasio was also criticized by some in the Orthodox Jewish community who asked why the city is allowing large-scale demonstrations despite restrictions still being in place to combat the coronavirus pandemic, while houses of worship are shuttered.

In April, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio sparked criticism for a tweet singled out “the Jewish community” against violating coronavirus guidelines after a large Haredi Jewish funeral was held in Brooklyn at the height of the outbreak and was perceived to contravene lockdown guidelines.

De Blasio’s controversial statement came after he had threatened city synagogues a month earlier that they may be shut down permanently if they continue holding services and violating lockdown rules.

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