N.Y.C. Shul at Center of De Blasio Controversy Faces Shutdown if It Holds Another Gathering

Tola’as Yaakov synagogue reportedly issued with cease-and-desist order by city officials after chaotic funeral for rabbi and subsequent memorial attended by some 100 congregants

Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
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Orthodox community members gathering for a funeral procession in Williamsburg during the coronavirus lockdown, April 28, 2020.
Orthodox community members gathering for the funeral procession in Williamsburg during the coronavirus lockdown in New York, April 28, 2020.Credit: BRUCE SCHAFF/REUTERS
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri

New York City authorities have moved a step closer to shuttering the Orthodox synagogue that held a chaotically crowded funeral in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg last month by issuing it with a cease-and-desist order on Friday.

The funeral procession on April 28, attended by hundreds of Orthodox Jews, resulted in Mayor Bill de Blasio controversially singling out the “Jewish community” in an angry tweet about the gathering.

The order was released Friday by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, citing the congregation’s continued violations of the state’s executive order regarding gatherings and religious service, Jewish Insider reported Sunday.

According to the JI report, despite the controversy surrounding the funeral for Tola’as Yaakov synagogue leader Rabbi Chaim Mertz, the shul subsequently held a second event in the rabbi’s memory that was attended by some 100 participants.

“While we know how important faith is during this time of crisis, this behavior is unacceptable, dangerous and reckless,” Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokesperson for de Blasio’s office, said in a statement to Jewish Insider. “If this house of worship continues to defy the city and state’s executive order, the building will be shut down.”

De Blasio, who attended the initial incident when the police dispersed the crowd gathered on the street, tweeted at the time: “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping the disease and saving lives. Period.”

The statement earned strong criticism from Jewish groups and individuals across the political spectrum, who felt it was generalizing the Jewish community and that it may exacerbate anti-Semitism already spiking online during the coronavirus crisis.

The synagogue released a statement following de Blasio’s tweet, stating: “We understand Mayor Bill de Blasio’s frustration and his speaking out against the gathering. We thought that the procession will be in accordance with the rules, and we apologize that it turned out otherwise.”

Haaretz reached out to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for comment, but had not received a response by press time.

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