Orthodox Leaders Press For Reopening Guidance As Parents Say Yeshivas Are Already Holding Classes

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Members of the Orthodox Jewish community gather on April 8, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York as the Passover holiday starts Wednesday evening and runs to April 16, 2020. - Churches will be empty this Easter and Passover festivities will also take place behind closed doors owing to the COVID-19 lockdown. Christians will be obliged to turn to services broadcast on television or over social media this year owing to the coronavirus and Jews will mark the Passover holiday in their own homes rather than as communities. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) – For weeks, the two boys studied at their home in Borough Park as their teachers lectured through a phone line.

But last Monday, one of the boys’ schools announced that classes would resume at the school building with doors open for just 15 minutes at the beginning of the day. On Sunday, the other boy’s school announced that classes would resume at different locations in the neighborhood.

One school would no longer provide a phone line for classes, forcing parents to decide between attending illegal classes that could put their families at risk of illness or forgoing the only opportunity for their children to receive an education for the rest of the school year.

“Some of these yeshivas have been going on for weeks, but until now most of them also provided a phone line for students to follow along the lessons,” their father told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “This week the underground yeshivas became the norm, and many have stopped the phone lessons.”

Jewish schools, like all others across the state, were ordered to shut their doors in mid-March to stem the spread of the coronavirus. But unlike public schools and private schools that do not serve Haredi Orthodox populations, yeshivas in Brooklyn and beyond did not pivot to online instruction. Instead, they sidestepped the internet and began delivering lessons by phone. Now, as New Yorkers grow weary of a monthslong shutdown, some of the schools are resuming operation in violation of the state’s rules. One was shuttered by police on Monday.

Leaders in the Orthodox community say they do not condone school reopenings in violation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order shuttering schools. But in a statement Tuesday evening, Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization of Haredi Orthodox communities, said schools need guidance about how and when to reopen.

“Religious expression and children’s education should not be last on the list of priorities for safe reopening,” the organization said, while stressing that it does not run or oversee any yeshivas. “In fact, by both legal and moral imperative, they should be among the first.”

Police keep watch at the Nitra Yeshiva on May 19, 2020 in Brooklyn, NY. Police broke up a session of about 60 students at the Orthodox yeshiva. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to shut down and penalize schools that convene students illegally during the pandemic. “There’s been reports for weeks now of quote-unquote underground schools,” he said in an interview with 1010 WINS Tuesday, according to the New York Post. “If we find them, we’ll shut them down and they won’t come back.”

The New York Police Department shut down one school, the Nitra Yeshiva, Monday. An NYPD spokesperson said Tuesday that the department was “not aware of any other school in violation of the orders.”

People with knowledge of some schools characterized their reopenings as below the radar by design.

One mother in Brooklyn told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that her 13-year-old son’s school told the boys to come to class at their school building Monday. While the school didn’t follow its normal schedule, which runs from about 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., it did reopen for about five hours with a break in the middle of the day for students to eat lunch at home.

Today, her son told her, the boys were told that they would study at a different location Wednesday. “My son told me the grand rabbi of his school said they should all go back,” she said.

Many yeshivas remain closed. But images shared by one Hasidic account on Twitter suggested that a campaign to press elected officials to support reopenings could be underway.

“We voted for you to protect our children’s chinuch,” one image said, using the Hebrew word for education. “Why are you silent as they sit home for months?” The image and another calling on Orthodox leaders to emulate the resistance of Elon Musk, the billionaire who resumed electric car production in violation of California’s pandemic restrictions, said they were created by “Parents for a Responsible School Reopening.”

The reopenings come against a backdrop of existing tension between city and state authorities and Haredi schools. The city and yeshivas are embroiled in a tug of war over whether the schools are teaching secular subjects according to state standards. While de Blasio’s administration appears to have delayed and soft-pedaled an investigation into the schools in exchange for political support from Orthodox leaders, the city ultimately found that few of the schools under investigation were complying with requirements — a finding that leaders in the community, including Agudath Israel, have dismissed.

“There’s a sense in the community, handed down from the leadership, that rules don’t always apply,” said Naftuli Moster, executive director of Yaffed, an organization pushing for secular education in haredi Orthodox schools whose complaint triggered the investigation.

One mother who is suing her child’s school and the city over the quality of education provided there told JTA that her son seemed to be the only child still calling into class by phone last week.

Beatrice Weber, whose son attends Yeshiva Mesivta Arugath Habosem in Williamsburg, said there was no class on the phone line Sunday and Monday, and she has not heard any updates from the school.

“When I called the principal, he doesn’t know what’s going on,” Weber said. “But the teacher’s not picking up.”

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23 COMMENTS

  1. So I actually would be interested in getting proof for what educated archer has been saying about most of the yesheivish community In Brooklyn has immunity. Not just “haztalah has had no calls in four weeks”. Is there a way for mass anti body testing? I disagree with reopening schools in general as they can make children rotzchim (really their well meaning and exasperated and frustrated parents), however if it’s true that everyone is immune through hers immunity maybe it’s fair to put some resources into that notion. That being said they shouldn’t travel outside of their immediate areas and infect other New Yorkers.

    • Hey mr toller lair let me get this straight to you. I never said we all have immunity or most have immunity. Who knows if and how long anti bodies help.

      Here is the thing . We CANNOT wait till you prove that noone will get it again or another outbbreak won’t occur. That’s retarded and ridcolus. How can you prove that with so much unknown? If you do wit that would be YEARS not months. Should we close everything for years till you have proof? The answer is you live with what you have. if the curve is down and at near zero you move on and hope for the best. That’s just the reality.

      Now what I did say was, that of you combine a few factros together the risk is sooo low that’s ridiculous not to reopen cheder. let me repeat each factor alone is not a 0% risk rather its minimal. Its the combination that gives us confidence. Those factors are, curve at near zero for us, we all had it already (for sure reduces the risk), only healthy rabbeaim should teach (the under healthy under 60 mortality is less than .1%. 75% of deaths were those with underlying conditions as per the NYC own website). And we know kids get it and spread it less. (Sure kawahski 3 months later, but thats not spreading and is an outcome of an old condition) We also know for a FACT that 90% of kids are NOT social distancing.

      Now once again you start with these silly “rotzchim” lables. You were all liars and proven wrong about porch minyan. Noone died despite the proliferation of them.

      Shame and the nerve of you to look at chinich as just something eaxsperrated parents want so we get kids out of our hair.Its true that it does that. But how dare you to look at our whole future and existance as just a way to get kids of our hair. Without kids in cheder you are a fake jew. You are cold to judiasm. Shame on you for not real zing the essentiality behind it. Unless it pains you that kids are not in cheder you are missing the fundamental of judaism. For your cold comment I don’t even see it disturbing you. Shame on you. You are a reform jew.

      • That’s the truth. People want camp not to save their kids neshamas. They want them away because they are bouncing off the walls and need structure.
        My great grandfather was a cheder rebbe in klausenberg. Please don’t pretend our kids go to cheder now. They go to Yeshiva which is much different. They live mostly in the cocoon of frumkeit. The only reform thing about me may be that my kids rebbe has a live zoom meeting with them daily and they learn hamafkid. We love our elderly Jews and want them to be around longer to learn from them. You are assuming it’s safe because the curve is down instead of looking at the science. Then you went in to attack me. This is literally what trump does, and unfortunately he is running the country. It’s ok for you to have an opinion but trump distracts with nonsense and then attacks with no knowledge of what he is saying is true. SAD!

        • Lets look at the science mr. Zero cases in our community for a few weeks. Thats the science.

          Coumo’s own metric of lower than 3 per 100K new cases was meet today. read up about it. Even outside our community its almost gone. You can’t get to zero.

          I don’t know what your wierd opnions of cheder are. But yehsivas today do a better not worse job than a chder rebbe in der heim. Thise nervoius rabbeim smacked and beat any kid that got them nervous. You think they went to special porgarms who taught them how to teach and reach every child. Rebbaim today are a profession. They are skilled and talented. Why isn’t our yeshivas as good as “cheder” in der alta heim. This notion you say about cocoon of frumkeit stems from your lack of appreciation and care for judiasm. You are some OTD low life the way i see it.

          Our chinuch is beautiful

          We love our elderly jews and say if you are going to be locked down anyhow let our cheder kinderlech be mamshech doros.

          Now re camps, there is chincuch there too. Some kinds thrive more in camp. Plus, as I often mentioned the mortality rate of unstructured kids is greater than covid 19 for kids. However, my focus is the discussion of this article which is yeshivas and more crucial than camp

          Your trump nonsense shows your true colors. Its irrelevant.

          Lets repeat this FACT so we debunk your lies. COVID 19 is BH over. We need to ensure no new outbreak but its over. Its done. the SCIENCE says so. Time to fight and reopen cheder

  2. Though the following news item is from California, it can also apply to NY shuls and yeshivas:

    “The U.S. Justice Department is warning California that coronavirus rules may violate religious freedoms: The department issued a letter Tuesday warning that the state could be violating religious freedoms in its plan to reopen after the coronavirus stay-at-home order….The U.S. Department of Justice warned Gov. Gavin Newsom that the state’s stay-at-home orders have discriminated against houses of worship.”

  3. There is a huge campaign now to raise money to file a lawsuit against Cuomo and NY State.

    We live in almost like a totalitarian state!

    Cuomo is not such a bad person as he comes across with his actions. He is a ego maniac.
     He is in a position now that he became famous in the whole country with his daily news briefings where he talks all kind of non-sense.
    From his mother to the meatballs and the rest of his charming shtosim. And the media covers for him because they feel he is Trumps competitor in popularity.
     From his part the state should be closed for next few years.

  4. Let’s set the record here for all the people here devoid of any Judaism.

    1) Any parent whose children are anyhow not social distancing have no excuse not to send them to cheder . That’s 90% of frum jews.
    2) The goyim and non frum jews have no understanding of the essence of cheder . Klal yisroel needs our children learning Torah and yes with a rebbe in person. We have always gave up our lives for this. This is our future generation and our continuance. Don’t sell me garbage that it can be done via a hotline . Kids barely learn a blasted word there . And don’t you lie and spew stupidity that parents should teach kids . No wrong kids are not equipped to motivate children nor knowledgeable in kria and other techniques. Klal yisroel is built on kids learning with a rebbe .When we are 3 our parents Carry us on their shoulders, to a cheder to learn Torah and make a ceremony . That’s the upserin . It’s not the moon walks and big parties. It’s our son is now going to learn Torah by a rebbe . This is our life and we put all our heart and money in it . It’s been two months already . How have we become so cold to this ? This is more essential than groceries . How dare this shouldn’t at least pain a parent that they can’t send . This is our essence of a Jew . Go find another religion if it’s not you . Shame shame on all you laidegers and apikursim for skewing Judaism into saying this is not essential #1.
    3) covid 19 is over . Yes zero new cases among us jews . Even the concern of Kawasaki is so low among kids . Plus it’s at worse an after effect of covid which doesn’t spread to others. There isn’t a kahawski break out . So it’s not contagious. Plus we have mitigation strategies plus we all got it already .

    Enough is enough . This covid thing is over . Let’s get out of our cave . Klal yisroel needs to maintain its existence . And the cheder is an essential. This is not debatable. At this point where it’s safe we need to fight and resists any govt crack downs. Yes it’s a Kiddush hashem too.

    Ps Had you nay sayers been around you would have all gone to achshavreosh party

      • Zero hatzaloh calls among frum jews. That means it’s over for us frum jews. Just because its still lingering outside our community doesn’t mean we need to stop whats essential for us. Its not a health risk for us. All other social distance rules should be kpet (esp if we go out to the public and mingle i.e. walmart etc) but if we are only socially outdistancing among our own like kids in cheder its over.

        I repeat for us frum jews its over. when something is as essential as yiddisha kinder learning torah we need to get that rolling in phase one. It sphase 1.000000

        Got it?

    • TRUMP said CORONAVIRUS is a HOAX. The WHO and CHINA are to blame for it (YES IT IS A HOAX AND CHINA AND THE WHO COVERED IT UP ALSO). The DEMS want to KILL US. I went to SHUL after the SHUTDOWNS and GUESS WHAT, the OLD MAN who had the BEST SEAT in SHUL is now dead and I GOT HIS SEAT!. ALL YOU FAUXACRATS, I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH already.

      • Don’t know what all your silly caps and yelling is about. But old men in non social distanced shuls when the curve is up and its spreading is completely different , than kids , when covid is at near zero, when we got it already etc..

        Enough is enough on your paranioa.

  5. I’m really think of what you are saying is correct it needs to be proven with testing, otherwise you have no argument. We also don’t know what the immunity is like but assuming that with masks and immunity it’s at least safe.

    • If you wait for that, its never ending. We have to go by the numbers. At near Zero calls and new cases in our community means its over. Lets say they never have enough testing should we never move on?

      When its as essential as yiddisha kinder learning torah and our entire future at sake we CANNOT wait till you prove it. We waited long enough. The uregency is now

  6. @Educated Archy
    Bravo!! I agree 100%.. time for our Askunim, Rebbes, Rabbis, Jewish Organizations ETC., to start advocating to have our Shuls & Yeshivous to open– with firm guidelines to be followed!
    @ henry reitzenstein:
    No your ignorance is dangerous …Here are the NYC facts taken from NYC covid 19 Data web site:
    Total cases: Highest single day: 4/6 6,353 – 5/17 378.
    New Hospitalizations: Highest single day 3/30 1693 – 5/17 28.
    Total Daily death: Highest single day 4/7 590 – 5/17 9.
    These statistics are the latest figures for NYC as it currently appears on their web site… this was the “HOT SPOT!” the rest of the state and other states by know are over.

    While even 1 death is a great loss, it is obvious to anyone with open eyes and a modicum of functioning gray matter (i.e. functioning Brains for the less intelligent) that the “epidemic” is almost if not completely over!

    TIME TO GET BACK TO NORMAL or as close to it as we can do with social distancing etc…

    • Yes and to be clear noone is sugesting no mitgation strategies.

      Open with small class sizes
      Only healthy younger than 60 attend
      Kids whose parents are ill or have even a slight cold should stay home.
      Lots of monitoring for each cluster.

      But we must reopen cheder. And let me be clear, if we weren’t at Phase one, you guys would have a point. But even Irsael understood that Phase 1 needs to include schools.

      • 1) People who are dying from this are not new cases. They are not spreading it. And often they are not dying from Covid any more. They are dying from the effects of covid. In other words the covid by now is gone but unfortunately it left its mark and shut down their lungs.
        2) 1-2K ? thats balony. Fake news. Google it. We had a high of 800. Yesterday it was 114. Sure 100 deaths are alot but in a state like NYS with NYC? That’s very very low.

    • Your data you refer to form NYC.GOV site is incomplete for the most recent days as stated there “This chart shows the number of confirmed cases by diagnosis date, hospitalizations by admission date and deaths by date of death from COVID-19 on a daily basis since February 29. Due to delays in reporting, which can take as long as a week, recent data are incomplete.’

      So just wait a few days and the count of 9 deaths will go up to 50 range and same goes for New cases # of 378 will go up to 1000+. This is just how the data collection works, it takes a few days to enter all the data. So you are using partial data.

      Just remember that 1000 new cases per day in NYC is far more than we had at the time of closing down. Just keep that in mind

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