Orthodox Jewish funeral that drew thousands was ‘absolutely unacceptable,’ NYC mayor says

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Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, wears a protective mask while touring the Malia Mills swimwear factory, which has pivoted to manufacturing polypropylene gowns for medical workers, in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Wednesday, April 22, 2020.

Mark Kauzlarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday a funeral for am ultra-Orthodox rabbi that drew thousands of mourners in Brooklyn “was absolutely unacceptable,” and he warned that people could die from the event. 

“It was a large gathering, again, tragically thousands of people. The amount of danger created by that kind of gathering is inestimable,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “People will die because of it, which goes against everyone’s values.”

Police didn’t issue any citations at Tuesday night’s funeral for Rabbi Chaim Mertz, but that will change, a police spokesperson said. De Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said they are done warning people who violate social distancing guidelines and will start issuing summons or arrest violators. 

Shea said “probably several thousand people” gathered on one block for the funeral, which was broken up by the NYPD. 

“That event last night never should have happened, it better not happen again,” Shea warned. “You are putting my cops’ lives at risk and it’s unacceptable.”

On Tuesday night, de Blasio sent police to Brooklyn where a massive crowd of people could be seen in the streets attending the funeral. The mayor sent a series of tweets scolding the gatherers, saying he went to the scene himself to ensure the crowd dispersed. 

De Blasio said he understood the instinct to gather and mourn, but he has now instructed the NYPD to take a “zero tolerance” policy to large gatherings.

The mayor’s actions, however, also drew criticism on Twitter for singling out the Orthodox Jewish community, including a tweet from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who tweeted, “Laws should be enforced neutrally (without) targeting religious faith.”

De Blasio said he wasn’t singling out the Jewish community for scorn, adding that “there will be no large gatherings of any kind, anywhere.”

“We are talking about thousands of people in close proximity in one site. We will never ever allow something like that to go unchecked anywhere,” he said.

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