De Blasio is the wrong messenger, but has a point: All Jews are responsible for each other.
Never tweet angry. It’s a trite commandment, but like many clichés, it sounds a universal truth.
Mayor Bill de Blasio violated it last night, when he infamously proclaimed, “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed.”
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.
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) April 29, 2020
What made Hizzoner so upset was a chaotic scene last night in Brooklyn — hundreds of Satmar Hasidim gathered for the funeral of a prominent rabbi, dispersed by the NYPD with the Mayor himself at the helm. Reporting that the NYPD granted initial approval for the funeral only adds to a sense of mayoral malice on top of bureaucratic incompetence.
The response to the mayor’s singling out of “the Jewish community” has been fury and outrage, and de Blasio is a messenger whose credibility was lost somewhere between his commute to the Park Slope YMCA and Prospect Park. And for so many Jewish New Yorkers, the slow-motion pogrom that unfolded over months and the inability of our government to stem its tide will remain an indelible stain. As for the pandemic, like all of our elected officials, de Blasio will stand in judgment, before history if not before voters, for his sins of omission and commission that have failed to prevent the death of thousands. We have lost too much for any politician to take full credit, for anything.
As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.
But here’s the thing: Those who are outraged about directing blame at “the Jewish community” are muting the voices in Jewish tradition that insist that we are one family and one tribe, regardless of whether we are from a Hasidic enclave or the Hamptons.
I understand the impulse to isolate Jews who look and dress differently than us, and insist that what happens in Williamsburg has nothing whatsoever to do with Great Neck or the Upper West Side. We want to insist that there are a million Jews in New York, and how can the many be blamed for the few? This was Abraham’s question, after all.
But in this scenario, I don’t think that’s the right response, partially because it’s the easy one. Unquestionably, de Blasio should be more careful with his words at a moment when fear and suspicion are cresting and scapegoating has never been more tempting. It’s not for him to school us on taking responsibility for reach other.
But it’s something we should remember, something we should insist upon for all the corners of our diverse community. At our best and our worst, we are one community.
Just as an anti-Semitic attack on one Jew threatens Jews everywhere, so too the idea of holding a mass funeral, approval received or not, in the midst of a pandemic should trouble each one of us.
The Torah teaches that each soul, of every creed and color, is created in the image of God. That is why the holy work of saving just one of them is galaxy-rescuing. And when a part of our community risks the lives of others, some small part of God’s name is erased.
Those of us who watch and laugh with “Shtisel” and gasp and cry with “Unorthodox” cannot then turn and say “not us — them.” Our geography of concern does not stop at the border of Crown Heights. We cannot gerrymander who represents us and who does not. We all have the same grandparents, and our children will share a common destiny.
This kind of solidarity must exist at every level. The vast majority of Jews of all kinds, not to mention Hasidic Jews, have responded to these trying times with not only compliance, but frequently with heroism. They, too, are tarred with a collective brush when events like those that transpired last night are allowed to occur.
It’s not fair. But neither is anything right now. And the truth is that Jews, like every other people, are not as a group entirely virtuous or completely sinful. We give plasma and violate the law. We adjust to what is needed, and we occasionally fail to adjust. We are not more special than anyone else, except in our relentless commitment to hold ourselves to the highest standards.
We are not many lights to the nations, but one singular light. And each and every one of us is responsible for how brightly we shine. That task is the project and the aim of Jewish history.
Blaming the Mayor is fine. He’s a fool. But figuring out what to do with our weird and wild and infuriating and beautiful people — that’s the real work.
Ari Hoffman is a contributing columnist at the Forward, where he writes about politics and culture. His writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Tablet Magazine, The New York Observer, Mosaic Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, and The Tel Aviv Review of Books. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Harvard and a law degree from Stanford.