EDITORIAL: Stop Blaming Orthodox Jews. Blame Trump For Brooklyn COVID Spikes

Mayor Bill de Blasio visits the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island to pack food packages for senior citizens ahead of Rosh Hashanah, on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

This summer, much of Southern Brooklyn defied COVID-19 related rules, and a lot of life went on as normal. In the mostly white communities south of Prospect Park, summer camps started early and playdates and birthday parties are common, still. Local public schools’ parent Facebook groups are split along party lines when it comes to reopenings, and on taking the pandemic seriously.

The city has done little enforcement, though on Friday DOH issued a strongly worded executive order mandating COVID-19 rule compliance at the area’s private schools, of which there are many. Despite the city saying there will be more monitoring, Southern Brooklyn is a large area to cover, ensuring a sporadic effort at best.

And so for about a week now, we have been receiving emails from the DOH warning about a rapid increase in the infection rates in what they call the “Ocean Parkway Cluster,” along with notes of some concern in Williamsburg. Some of these neighborhoods are home to large Haredi, or Orthodox Jewish, communities, prompting a round of media tying the new spikes to Jewish community gatherings.

But if you look closely at the map of where the communities are, it includes areas that aren’t Haredi neighborhoods and excludes some that are. And there is just one map the recent infection rate surges resemble closely: the 2016 election results. Mostly white areas that went hard for Trump appear to be still listening to Trump when he downplays the seriousness of coronavirus, and are suffering as a result.

Incredibly detailed map NYT put together of the 2016 election results. Red areas went for Trump, blue for Clinton.

The above screenshot links to the detailed map NYT put together of the 2016 election results. For those of you not familiar with Brooklyn’s geography – Ocean Parkway connects Prospect Park in the center of Brooklyn with the ocean at Brighton Beach. It is also bright red, indicating support for Trump in 2016.

Brooklyn areas that went hard for Trump include the following zip codes: 11219 (Boro Park), 11204 (Boro Park/Mapleton), 11223 (Gravesend), 11230 (Midwood), 11210 (Flatlands/Midwood), 11235 (Sheepshead Bay), 11234 (Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Mill Basin), 11211 and 11249 (Williamsburg). To a lesser degree 11213 (Crown Heights).

Compare that with the areas of concern for rapidly rising COVID-19 infection from NYC DOH:

Via NYC DOH

Gravesend/Homecrest (6.75%), Midwood (5.34%), Borough Park (4.63%), Bensonhurst/Mapleton (4.41%), Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay (3.91%), Flatlands/Midwood (3.85%).

As of Saturday night, September 26, these areas accounted for over 23% of new cases citywide over the past two weeks despite representing just under 7% of the city’s overall population, DOH informed. They also flagged the following areas for rapid increases in infection rates, though still below 3%: Kensington/Windsor Terrace (2.45%) and Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach/Sheepshead Bay (2.74%) in Brooklyn as well as Rego Park (2.34%) and Kew Gardens Hills/Pomonok (2.71%) in Queens.

While some of these areas of concern are dominated by the Haredi (for example Borough Park, and parts of Williamsburg), others are home to many immigrants from the former Soviet Union – Russians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Georgians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, among others, including a few Latvians like myself. None of them Haredi. If COVID was tied exclusively to Haredi neighborhoods, then one would expect to see Crown Heights lit up as well. It is not.

It may be that the DOH has data that says that some high percentage of those testing positive are Haredi – but when my family got tested, they only asked for home address – not one’s ethnic or religious background, and not even race. It may be that the Test & Trace efforts have tracked some clusters to a private school setting – it would be rather surprising if that had not been the case – since private schools opened for in-person instruction this school year, unlike the public schools. It’s also unsurprising that some private schools have been shut down – so have public schools, as cases get confirmed among teachers.

However, if there is data on the ethnic or religious background of those tested, that data is not public, and to infer otherwise would be a leap in judgment. Those of us residing ‘south of the park’ know full well – this rise is not just because of what some of our Haredi neighbors did or did not do.

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Liena Zagare

Editor of Bklyner.com. Tips? Complaints? Suggestions? Email me at Liena@bklyner.com.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this astute analysis. I was puzzled by some of the non-Haredi areas disproportionately affected by COVID; like others, I assumed that those Haredi groups who continued large gatherings for worship, learning, and religious rites like weddings and funerals, had self-inflicted higher infection rates. But Gravesend? Homecrest? and now, Windsor Terrace? How do these non-Haredi neighborhoods match this profile? You’ve nailed it. Trump supporters want to believe he’s right (in the face of all science and common sense) to ridicule masks, to minimize the severity and scope of the disease, and to encourage premature school and business reopenings as well as large social and political gatherings; they’re rewarded for their credulity by getting infected. I hope they recover to see more clearly and vote more sensibly by Nov. 3rd.

  2. Thank you Liena – this is such an extremely important analysis that is missing in all other media. We know that scapegoating is bad public health, and we also know it can lead to violence as well as distracting from all that needs to happen to address COVID-19. I would also add that Far Rockaway has consistently had higher rates and is also now on the rebound list — it is a geographically-isolated, marginalized neighborhood of people of color, with high proportion of people recently released from jails and prisons, where there has been very little done to protect people from COVID-19.

  3. Thank you for this editorial. Neighborhood pages on social media are unfairly coming down hard on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn while neglecting to mention problems in other areas or demographics. I’ll be linking to this editorial right now.

  4. If you want to blame Trump supporters you need to acknowledge the fact that there’s plenty Trump-supporting orthodox Jews in the worst-affected areas, as evident from the article below, which incidentally includes a tweet from your own reporter:

    https://gothamist.com/news/orthodox-heshy-tischler-campaign-covid-denial-borough-park

    Maybe as a city we should not seek out whom to blame but instead how to function, given that educating children is a must for most, participating in religious rituals is a must for many and the outcomes for those sick with COVID had improved. Maybe you can produce an editorial focusing on that.

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