AUDIO CLIPS: Cuomo Holds Conference Call With Jewish Leaders Sunday Night

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference Sunday morning. (Office of Gov. Cuomo)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo held a conference call Sunday night with leaders of Jewish communities and schools in Far Rockaway, Kiryas Joel, Monsey and Williamsburg.

Several community leaders from Borough Park had been invited but declined to be on the call, insisting they would only accept an in-person meeting, after tensions arising from the October 6th conference call, including the fact that the governor muted them during the call, and only took several prearranged questions.

Participants afterward described the call as conciliatory. The governor indicated – particularly in response to Harav Yaakov Bender of Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, an area that has been hit less hard by COVID-19 than some of of the other most-restrictive “Red Zones” – that he may allow the yeshivos to reopen soon if the COVID data improved. The governor said he would look at hospitalization numbers to determine if areas can be removed from the Red and Orange Zones.

Hamodia obtained clips of the call. Below are the audio files and transcriptions.

Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman: I appreciate the opportunity to discuss this, and while we are not in a red zone, we are all in a place where we have to follow the regulations, and we want to work with the government, and I believe the only way it is going to work (I won’t speak for Boro Park and Flatbush, Midwood and other places Upstate), I can only suggest that a small committee from institutions that have these issues be able to sit down with your key people, sit down face to face, I’m sure they’ll be ready to do that, and try to work something out.

I’d like to mention to the governor, you mentioned two issues. One issue is the terms that have been used against the governor. I think it’s very clear that it had no representation who did that. The protests were condemned. The Central Rabbinical Congress and so did so many responsible leadership Rabbis coming our and condemned these type of behavior. On the final issue, I wanted to say Mr. Governor, we all know that some press likes sensation, and when somebody tweets something, they contact your office and they’ll ask you questions, and it’s total false. For example, someone associated a protest that was supposed to happen (which was never actually supposed to happen) for tomorrow, with a protest about the wedding, and you responded obviously to that, but this is totally not the case. A) First of all, it will not happen, and was never suggested as a protest, and B) it had nothing to do with the wedding. The same issue is the ten thousand people. You know, ten thousand people do not have space in the synagogue, and the synagogue went out of its way, the congregation, about the wedding, to change and basically scrap for now all the plans for any public participation in the wedding. So I think it’s crucial when some newspapers or tweeters or bloggers try to engage the governor with these types of accusations, that it is checked and verified, and it would be known that it is not true and there is no basis for it.

Governor Cuomo, responding to Rabbi Niederman: You are right, Rabbi. We’ve known each other for over 20 years. And in this crazy world, everything gets blown out of proportion. And you’re right, the press comes to me, they ask me a question, with an asserted fact in it. “There is a wedding that’s gonna have 10 thousand people, how can you let that happen?” They assert the fact, and then it’s hard to say to the reporter, “Well, I don’t know if that’s true.” And I understand that things are said.
On a personal level, I’m the governor, but we are all people at the end of the day. It is hard…We go back to my father’s time, with the Shabbos goy speech. Look, it would be my pleasure to sit down with a small group and work on it. But listen, the one caveat, I can’t change the law for one particular area. The law is the law all across the state, the same law. Now, in these these zones, where we get the numbers down, we can change the zone, because our hospitalization data is so specific, it goes block by block. We make progress, I can change the zone. I can’t change the law of the state. The law on gatherings has been at 50% for months. So, I can’t change the law, but I can work with you on how to get the numbers down, and if we’re making progress in an area…Y’know, I don’t want to close anything, right? I want to open everything as fast as we can. And the Orthodox community, I got sued by the Catholic church. It’s not just the synagogues that are closed in those areas. Y’know, I had the Catholic church and they sued me, y’know I’m Catholic.
There’s no leader who is worth his salt who doesn’t want to reduce the amount of people going into hospitals. So it will be my pleasure. We can do that as soon as you are available. Put together a group we will do it.

Harav Yaakov Bender:
This is Yaakov Bender from Far Rockaway, New York.

Governor: How are you, Rabbi Bender?

Harav Yaakov Bender: I’m wonderful …I knew father very well. He was our hero when we were growing up. And … still
Can you a little bit forgive me? Can I give you now a little bit mussar? You know mussar is? Not “rebuke,” …

You are taking it too personally. There are a million-and-a-half Jews in New York City. There are over a million Orthodox Jews. Don’t paint us all with the same brush. You don’t know how wonderfully we speak about you. You know the speeches we gave condemning, “How dare you say something badly about the governor?!” We have the most wonderful relationship with the governor and your people. And, you know, we really appreciate everything you’ve done over the years.

I know [this has been said] but I want to repeat it. Please remember that when you see some, pardon me, idiots doing silly things, don’t paint us with that brush. We are really beating up on them, we are doing everything in our power to stop these people. At the same time, you know, one thing you mentioned earlier [that] you were sued without anybody talking to you – that’s one thing I feel is unfair. We wanted to meet with you. We wanted to speak with you. We didn’t get the time.

But let me just tell you what I’m calling about: The schools. I have a school in Far Rockaway, 2,600 kids, 80% of our parent body, both parents are working … there’s got to be a way, Governor.

What I’m saying is, in our community, again, I think there’s one single person in the local hospital with COVID. Same thing’s for Kew Gardens Hills. I know the Queens area, right. Same thing. And we’re being painted with a brush, you got to, can’t wait like another week. You have to find people to see what’s going on, send them into the community…the tracers and make the whole community trace. Believe me, we have nothing but the deepest respect for you and I’m see that clearly, and sincerely, a whole lot. I speak for a school of 3000 people, staff and children. If one of my parents in my school would say one bad word, calling you a name, he’d be looking for a new school governor. We have nothing but the deepest respect for you. Remember that, so don’t let emotion get to you either. You know, I’m the head of the school. Where people start up with me also, and I help them all day long. It’s something I call the “lash out back door.” They get upset, they lash out. I’m convenient. So are you. You’re also convenient. I’m not the governor of New York State, I’m the head of a school. They’re going to lash out. Don’t let it bother you. We need for you badly to look at the cases on the ground. The fact of the matter is our schools, even in Brooklyn there are many schools that are doing time today, we can’t wait. The children are home, running around in the streets. The damage being done is so bad…You took charge, and you did the job governor, but right now we have so many people without schools. Now on the streets and parents aren’t there to take care of them. And we’ve done our job. You asked us to leave home, to get to work…I sent you last week the numbers of our community. They are down to way low, under 2% nine days already. We need to get these kids back into the classroom, back into school. And we’re paying the staff anyways. We’ve got to do something, governor, you’ve got to help us. In other words, yes, we want to talk, sure we want to talk. But, you know, I think everyone would agree, I’m not saying the shuls are very important, and the churches and the schools, nothing more than taking care of the children. They’re going backward in a very weird way. And you know better than anybody, including your father…I knew your father…the way we spoke about your father, and the same is true about you. Get it in, governor, you’ve got to hear that, you really do! But we need to have that dialogue that I mentioned earlier, we need to have that conversation going on. Please, get the schools open, and our school. I mean, I’m crying about it, we were shut down in the beginning because of eight cases out of 2600. And the answer we were given, if the school has five cases, it gets shut down. Governor, you’ve got to help us, we can’t wait. The kids are on the streets. It’s a terrible thing. We need your help governor because we love you. And don’t paint…one more time, don’t paintbrush. You have no idea how the chassidim in Williamsburg and Borough Park like you also. They really do. I certainly, speaking to the area I’m in, the Kew Gardens community, that’s my Queens, that’s my area, we have a number of rabbis, put me on the phone call to ask me to speak on their behalf….we love our governor to help us. Get the schools open.

New Square Mayor Izzy Spitzer: Hi Governor.

Gov. Cuomo: Mayor Izzy Spitzer, I knew him when he was a young fellow.

Mayor Sptizer: We’re still both young, governor. Governor, I want to tell you as follows. First I’m going to be very brief, I’m not going to get the details. We had some speakers before, which I second with them and with them together and the best news we could have heard now that based on the numbers ready to open up to school. This week, we couldn’t accomplish anything better on the school. But then we got the governor, you know that, from your father still, Cuomo is a landmark in New Square. I don’t have to say much more, as someone…in Rockland County we experience your friendship, we experience your loyalty, and sharing pain with us whenever we needed you. Believe me, this phone call, and what caused this phone call is very, very painful for all of us. It’s something which we never would expected to have get to such a stage, to have such conversations and to have to prove to each other the friendship and the loyalty and everything else. Governor, one thing I can say keep up the relationship with us. What I would ask, and you already offered. Please, let’s not lose any time, time is of essence to have the communication with your key senior people…Let’s sit together and I’m sure in a very, very short time we’ll be able to get over it together. We’re in together governor, keep up your good work, let’s do it right away.

Gov. Cuomo: We’ll follow up tomorrow. Rob and Jacob, you all know how to get Jacob and you know how to get Rob. It’s all about the numbers, it’s all about the hospitalization rate; that’s what this is all about. If we want to go through how we make it better together, I’d love to do that. We want to talk through the numbers, let’s do it tomorrow. We get the numbers down, we open everything up 100%. That’s what I want, that’s what’s best for members of your community; we all want the same thing. And let’s do it productively, and let’s do it cooperatively.

And look, we have a beautiful story here in New York, what we did. I mean, we went from the highest infection rate on the globe, to now we have one of the lowest infection rates. This was such a terrible, terrible situation. It traumatized people. We lost so many people. And we’re getting towards the end, we’re getting close. I believe there’s going to be a vaccine, I believe’ we’re going to see this nightmare end.

But just down at the end here, let’s do it together, and let’s be proud of each other and proud of the relationship and proud of this state.

Ok, tomorrow we’ll start. Thank you very much, my friends, thank you all, thank you, have a good night. Goodbye.

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