Cuomo and Jewish Leaders Strike a Conciliatory Tone, Agree to Further Work Things Out Today
On a conference call tonight during which Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Jewish leaders sought reconciliation, Rabbi Yaakov Bender, the Rosh Hayeshiva of Yeshiva Darchai Torah in Far Rockaway, asked Gov. Cuomo whether he could give him a little mussar.
“You know what mussar is?” asked Rabbi Bender, before explaining that mussar is rebuke.
“You are taking [all of the criticisms] too personally,” Rabbi Bender warmly suggested. “There are more than a million and a half Jews in New York City. Don’t paint us all with the same brush. You don’t know how wonderful we think you are.”
Before making a plaintive plea to reopen the schools, Rabbi Bender pointed out that he does not allow people in his community to say bad things about the governor, and that they love and respect him, just as they did his father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.
“I say this as the head of a school of 2,600 kids,” said Rabbi Bender, who said that both Far Rockaway and Queens each have only one person hospitalized right now with COVID. “It is terrible what is happening. The kids are running around the streets, there is damage being done. For 80% of our parent body, both parents are working, [which makes it difficult to watch the children.] Please help us to open our schools. There has got to be a way, governor.”
One source said that no one from the Boro Park yeshivas wanted to participate in the call because they didn’t like the idea that they would be muted and only allowed to ask pre-approved questions.
City Councilman Kalman Yeger, however, said that elected officials of Boro Park were not invited to participate in the call,
“The governor obviously knows what we have been saying, and he didn’t want to hear from us personally,” Councilman Yeger said. “He is not a big fan of criticism.”
Yesterday, Assembly Simcha Eichenstein said he had recently “attempted to engage in good faith with the Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s senior officials in the hopes of a constructive dialogue on a path forward,” however, “the governor’s rhetoric has become darker and his tactics more heavy handed.”
Other Jewish leaders on the call aimed to rectify the bad feelings that occurred after the conference call took place right before the last days of Yom Tov when the red zone restrictions were intensified.
Rabbi David Niederman, the president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, for example sought a conciliatory tone when he asked the governor whether a small committee from some representatives of the Jewish institutions “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 [we will] try to work something out.”
“The protests were condemned,” said Rabbi Niederman, hoping to decrease tension with the governor. “The Central Rabbinical Congress and… many responsible leadership rabbis [have been] coming out [to] condemn these types of behavior[s].
Rabbi Niederman also pointed out that tweets often contain false information, and he asked the governor to not take the often-scurrilous information contained in tweets to be taken as factual.
For instance, Niederman said that the information that a reporter had this morning was false when he asked the governor about a protest that was supposedly taking place to protest the governor’s shutting down a 10,000 person wedding in Williamsburg.
“You know 10,000 people do not have the space in the synagogue, [which] went out of its way…to basically scrap for now all the plans for any public participation in the wedding,” said Rabbi Niederman, who asked that the governor check and verify claims about our communities before engaging with questions with incorrect and inflammatory accusations.
After saying that he “understood that [false] things are said,” also said that it would be “his 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.”
Although Gov. Cuomo was intransigent on changing the restrictions that he put into place to contain the spread of COVID, he did say that he will change the color of any zone, as soon as its positivity numbers drop.
“Our hospitalization data is so specific,” explained the governor, who pointed out that the law [for most] gatherings has been at 50% for months. “It goes block by block.”
Gov. Cuomo said that he does not want to close anything, but that what he wants to do is to reduce the amount of people who are going into hospitals.
“I want to open everything as fast as we can,” said the governor. “It’s not just the synagogues in those areas. Y’know…a Catholic church sued me, and y’know I’m Catholic.”
“It is all about the [positivity] numbers and the hospitalization rate,” Gov. Cuomo said. “That is what this is all about.
If we want to go through how we make it better together, I would love to do that. If you want to talk through the numbers, let’s do it tomorrow.
We get the numbers down, we open everything up 100%: that is what is best for members of your community. We all want the same thing.”
.(Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)