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About 200 young men pray in Crown Heights despite Cuomo ban on public gatherings

A group of at least 200 young men gathered Friday night to pray outside 770 Eastern Parkway, the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, despite the announcement earlier that day by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that nonessential gatherings of any size were banned as part of a broader effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

A uniformed police officer acknowledged that the event, during which one man led prayers at a lectern for a loose crowd that spread over two blocks and into the service road, shouldn’t be happening, and said she was calling her superior. Another officer said he knew better than to try to disperse the crowd, because he didn’t want to expose himself to the virus, and because he had been roughly treated in the past inside the building.

Several of the participants in the service didn’t know about Cuomo’s directive, and felt that they were complying with the rules because the only people allowed were young men without families — a more robust population that didn’t need to worry about infecting anyone else, they said.

Rabbi Yosef Yitchok Kratz, a Chabad administrator, said that wasn’t true. The men were defying the rules and knew it, but it was difficult to make them comply, because they were at a rebellious stage of life, he added.

They also said they were being careful to maintain the appropriate distance between them of about six feet, and that was true for some, but not all.

Daniel Kirschbaum contributed reporting.

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