There are some aspects of life which are constants, as reliable as the sun rising each morning in the east and setting each evening in the west. Hatred of the other is one such constant. Even during a pandemic, prejudice against my community and racism against the Black community just doesn’t take a break.
Of course, with social distancing mandates, hatred needs to find a more creative way to manifest. But Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York Police Department were, perhaps unwittingly, up to the task. Their unequal enforcement of social distancing has targeted two communities — African Americans and Hassidic Jews.
Over the past few weeks, as the mandated government lockdown has begun to crumble in places like New York and New Jersey, people have flocked to the outdoors, seeking desperately to recapture some semblance of the normalcy the virus has robbed them of. Every weekend now it seems, images of young people in parks flood social media.
And who can blame them? It’s been a surreal existence over the past few months, and the instinct to try and relax, at a time when all the metrics are looking better, is very human. It would be hard to find anyone who can’t relate to that.
And yet, when it comes to Orthodox Jews and Blacks, all empathy goes out the window.
The New York Times reported that an incredible 87% of people arrested for social-distancing violations were Black. Social media is filled with videos of enforcement in Black neighborhoods, which have often turned violent.
Meanwhile, in Williamsburg, a respected Rabbi’s funeral was shut down after it was initially cleared by local police, whereupon Mayor Bill de Blasio fired off a now infamous tweet calling out “the Jewish community.”
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
The days after the mayor’s tweet saw increased enforcement of social distancing violations in Orthodox areas, with troops of police taking to the streets – and sometimes the rooftops – handing out violations for walking in the street unmasked.
Here an officer from @NYPDnews is looking for violations in Hasidic-populated areas of Williamsburg. Just because not enough people speak up now in defense of Hasidim does not mean that this is right, legal or ethical. pic.twitter.com/eRScTcSs2h OJPAC (@OJPAC) April 30, 2020
Social media – already filled with bigots blaming “the Jews” for spreading coronavirus, got a second wind, riding the coattails of the Mayor, cheering on the enforcement, and pointing to it as validation of their bigotry.
I heard that many Conservative and Orthodox Jews in NY dislike the Hasidic Jews for their lack of care regarding the spread of Coronavirus. And whom Bill De Blasio was referring too in his poorly worded tweet. YellowLantern15419ѣ (@TIMYLantern154) May 3, 2020
And then, that Saturday, the parks filled again with non-Orthodox white people, often unmasked. And once again, they got a pass.
It’s hard not to compare. The Hasidic community and the Black community both suffer from the fruits of the same poisonous tree: bigotry against the other. Of course, the double standard against Hassidim and against African Americans is in no way comparable. I’m not saying in any way that the Orthodox community in America has suffered nearly as much as the Black community has. That’s just stupid. The systemic racism against Blacks dwarfs anything we’ve been subjected to, and continues to do so. Hassidim were dispersed; they weren’t attacked.
And yet we, too, to a lesser degree, have had our rights suspended, have been denied equal treatment before law enforcement, and know what it’s like to be looked down on to the degree that we are seen as less than human.
We are in this together.
Last year, as violent attacks against Orthodox Jews plagued the streets of New York and New Jersey, many cast the Black and Orthodox communities as somehow in conflict with each other. The truth is, we are united by those who seek to exclude us and deny our humanity.
I want to see the same outrage people had about @BilldeBlasio warning the Hasidic community to not thumb its nose at social distancing, I want to see that here about police beating the shit out of black people for existing— Ferrari Elite Sheppard (@stopbeingfamous) May 5, 2020
It’s a divide and conquer game that they are playing with our lives, and it’s dangerous. Those who push it minimize the abilities of both communities to rise above the hatred directed at both of us from those who discriminate against us, and at a certain point, we need to invoke the maxim of Lucius Cassius when we see them doing it: Cui bono? Who benefits from this?
Opinion | Blacks and Orthodox Jews are being unfairly targeted. It’s a reminder that we’re in this together.
It certainly isn’t any of us.
The fact is, society has different sets of rules for different people. It’s true about the visibly Orthodox Jewish community, especially we Haredim, who through our distinct dress and the way we live our lives entirely based on a moral and ethical code which stands athwart much of modern culture stand out in the crowd as markedly different.
And it is even more so the case about the members of the Black community, who have been victims of vile, violent, murderous racism and systematic prejudice more than anyone else in the history of this country. We’ve come a long way, to be sure, but the same underlying cause of all that racism remains with us, whether overt or in the subconscious.
Society isn’t – and will never be – perfect. The different sets of rules, the subconscious stereotyping of the many based on the actions of the few, the exclusion, even the denial of humanity, all flow from this.
Blacks and Orthodox Jews are in the fight to be treated as equals and respected as humans together. The NYPD’s unconscious bias provides a useful reminder.
Eli Steinberg lives in New Jersey with his wife and five children. They are not responsible for his opinions, which he has been putting into words over the last decade, and which have been published across Jewish and general media. You can tweet the hottest of your takes at him @HaMeturgeman.