Williamsburg Funeral Draws Large Crowds & No Social Distancing

Williamsburg Funeral Draws Large Crowds & No Social Distancing
Funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz in Williamsburg. Scott Stein/Bklyner

WILLIAMSBURG – About 2,500 people gathered on a Williamsburg street last night at a funeral for Rabbi Chaim Mertz who had died from the coronavirus. People were wearing masks, but there was absolutely no social distancing.

At around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28, mourners filled the streets including Bedford Avenue and Rutledge Street, despite gatherings of any sort having been banned by the City to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The pandemic has killed 3,678 Brooklyn residents so far. This isn’t the first time such a large gathering has taken place after the social distancing rules went into effect. At the beginning of April, dozens of mourners gathered in Boro Park for another rabbi’s funeral.

After the pictures of yesterday’s funeral spread on Twitter, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary Tweeted, “I empathize with the desire to mourn those we’ve lost, but this is absolutely unacceptable. The Mayor is on the scene and the NYPD is breaking this up.”

Shortly after, de Blasio was on the scene while the NYPD dispersed the crowds. He later Tweeted, “Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic. When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus.”

“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 this disease and saving lives. Period.

“We have lost so many these last two months + I understand the instinct to gather to mourn. But large gatherings will only lead to more deaths + more families in mourning. We will not allow this. I have instructed the NYPD to have one standard for this whole city: zero tolerance.”

It turns out, the crowded Hasidic funeral was approved and coordinated by the NYPD itself, Gothamist reported. “We had an understanding with the police department that the Shomrim patrol would have 50 members and make sure everyone is wearing masks,” Rabbi Abe Friedman, a Williamsburg community leader, told Gothamist. “We can’t cancel a funeral of a very prominent rabbi, it’s not realistic.”

Central and Southern Brooklyn have Brooklyn’s highest shares of patients testing positive for the coronavirus, new data released by the NYC Department of Health shows. In fact, Boro Park, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Bushwick, and Greenpoint had over 51.26% of patients testing positive for the coronavirus.

Congregation Kahal Tolath Yakov, the late rabbi’s synagogue, released the following statement after the events took place last night, saying they “regret that the funeral… ended in chaos and in controversy.”

“We came up with a plan to have many streets closed, so that mourners can participate and walk the coffin while following the social distancing rules and wearing masks. New Yorkers walk the streets daily, thus, a funeral — we thought — shouldn’t be different, as long as the rules are followed,” the statement read. “We shall note that everyone followed the police officers’ orders and the vast majority wore masks. Yet, the confusion and chaos led to scenes of large crowds.”

On social media, some, like Councilmember Yeger, who represents Haredi enclave of Borough Park, called the Mayor out for singling out the Jewish community:

And Councilmember Brad Lander agreed:

According to the Congregation’s statement, “We understand Mayor Bill de Blasio’s frustration and his speaking out against the gathering.”

Though it hurt to see him single out the Jewish community, “We know that the Mayor’s reaction came from his concern for the health and safety of our community and the entire city, and it wasn’t ill-intentioned. We share that concern.”

“Health and life take precedence to anything else, and we shall all follow those rules.”