The Oxford Language dictionary translates backstabbing as “the action or practice of criticizing someone in a treacherous manner while feigning friendship.” NYS Governor Cuomo’s duplicity in what he did to the Jewish communities in New York City, Rockland and Orange Counties would by all accounts be characterized as a classical case of treachery and deceit.
On Monday, October 5, Governor Cuomo publicly stated that he would be speaking to leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community on Tuesday, and specifically stated that he would work with them to enforce the guidelines, or he will have to close the shuls, implying that with enforcement, the shuls would remain open at 50%.
During the governor’s conference call with the leadership of the Orthodox Jewish community in the “hot spot” areas, he began by sweet talking them about the relationship he and his father, the late NYS Governor Mario Cuomo, had with the Jewish community. Governor Andrew Cuomo then elaborated on the fact that he wanted to keep the shuls at the current regulatory rate of 50% capacity.
On the call, Governor Cuomo said, “And the next step in New York City, will be for them to say close down the synagogues, as opposed to the 50%. I don’t want to get there. That’s what I am saying, no, we’re going to enforce the rules but the 50% is okay. And no more than 50 people at an outdoor gathering, that’s the current rule. If I can’t demonstrate that we can comply they’re going to start advocating for total close down. And that’s going to be more disruptive. That’s why I’m asking you out a friendship, for your help. That we do this together.”
The governor also admitted that the uptick was not a result of school openings nor of non-essential businesses. At the same time, religious leaders, community advocates and elected officials which represent the areas in question have extended themselves in their efforts to educate their constituents in the need to adhere to health guidelines which have shown to help flatten the curve.
Yet all this was to no avail, since Governor Cuomo seemingly had made up his mind to chastise and penalize these communities.
After reassuring the leaders of the Jewish community that he would not advocate closing our shuls, and ceding that schools and businesses are not at the forefront of the uptick, he nonetheless announced at a press conference a few hours later that he was reducing capacity at houses of worship in the “hot spot” areas, during the Jewish festivals, to a maximum of 10 people, knowing full well that it would strike at the heart of the devout residents of these ZIP codes. In addition, for good measure he threw in the closure of non-essential businesses on top of Monday’s school closures, which by his own admission are not the cause of the uptick. His duplicitous public announcement of these punitive measures proved that his overtures to the community were insincere and deceitful.
Blowback was fast in coming, as both community leaders and elected officials decried both the actions of the governor and the offensive manner in which they were executed. Despite their frustration, they rightfully called on the residents not to imperil the health of the citizens of New York by weakening their compliance with good health practices, and encouraged total compliance with mask-wearing and social distance guidelines in our communities.
While responsible residents raised their voices in peaceful protest, as is their right, some young agitators took to the streets displaying belligerent behavior towards law enforcement, blocking a city bus, attacking and hospitalizing a counter protester, and harassing a press photographer. Such actions are reprehensible and are to be roundly denounced, as such is not the way of Torah Jews.
The “good conversation” our governor claims to have had with our leaders has resulted with him sending into our communities with some of New York City’s Finest, Department of Health employees and officers from the NYC Sheriff’s Office. There is nothing “good” or “conversational” with such a response.
It isn’t too late for Governor Cuomo to reverse this draconian route that severely infringes on the religious rights of the Jewish residents of New York State. Instead of trying to implement outrageous restrictions that are unacceptable and intolerable, he should enter into a genuine dialogue with the community and work together to fight the spread of COVID-19.