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Some Orthodox Jews bristle at NYC's response to virus surge

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2020, file photo, two women walk with children during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Amid a new surge of COVID-19 in New Yorks Orthodox Jewish communities, many residents are reviving health measures that some had abandoned over the summer social distancing, wearing masks. For many, theres also a return of anger: They feel the city is singling them out for criticism that other groups avoid. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

NEW YORK – Amid a new surge of COVID-19 in New York’s Orthodox Jewish communities, many members are reviving health measures that some had abandoned over the summer — social distancing, wearing masks. For many, there’s also a return of anger: They feel the city is singling them out for criticism.

The latest blow: an order Monday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo temporarily closing public and private schools in several areas with large Orthodox populations. It will take effect Tuesday.

“People are very turned off and very burned out,” said Yosef Hershkop, a Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who works for a chain of urgent-care centers. “It’s not like we’re the only people in New York getting COVID.”

Over the past few weeks, top government officials, including Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, have sounded the alarm about localized upticks in COVID-19 after several months in which the state had one of the nation’s lowest infection rates. Officials say the worst-hit ZIP codes overlap with large Orthodox Jewish communities in the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and in a couple of nearby counties.

The goal is to head off a feared second wave of infections months after the city beat back an outbreak that killed more than 24,000 New Yorkers.

Under the shutdown plan submitted to Cuomo by the mayor, 100 public schools and 200 private ones would be closed in nine areas that are home to close to 500,000 people. Those areas represent 7% of the city's population but have been responsible for about 1,850 new cases in the past four weeks — more than 20% of all new infections in the city during that span.

De Blasio had proposed the shutdown on Sunday, the second day of the Jewish holiday Sukkot, when Orthodox Jews would not be using telephones or computers and thus wouldn’t have heard the news until sundown.

“Announcing this in the middle of a Jewish holiday shows City Hall’s incompetence and lack of sensitivity towards the Jewish Community,” tweeted Daniel Rosenthal, a state Assembly member from Queens.