BROOKLYN (VINnews/Sandy Eller) – In what appears to have been intended to be a conciliatory move, Governor Andrew Cuomo held a conference call with multiple prominent Jewish community leaders to discuss the ongoing shutdowns in the state’s red zones that have closed shuls, schools and non-essential businesses.
Sources told VIN News that the call took place at 7 PM Sunday night, with clips circulating several hours later on WhatsApp featuring audio of questions asked by three rabbi representing distinctly different segments of the state’s Orthodox Jewish community as well as some of Cuomo’s responses. All three of the rabbis who were permitted to ask questions did their best to distance themselves from the angry rhetoric and insults aimed at the governor since his October 6th announcement that stunned Jewish communities statewide and referenced their long-standing relationships with Cuomo.
Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, expressed his concerns about false narratives picked up by the media, including a supposed protest in response to a state order banning a 10,000 person Satmar wedding. Rabbi Niederman explained that both the protest and the size of the weddings were inaccurately reported and called on the governor to verify potentially sensationalized stories. Saying that it is difficult to tell reporters that their facts may be incorrect, Cuomo turned the tide of the conversation by elaborating on the state’s current gathering restrictions before making an offer to work with the Jewish community to lower its COVID rates.
“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,” said Cuomo. “We can do that as soon as you are available. Put together a group – we will do it.”
Lavishing praise on the governor, Yeshiva Darchei Torah’s Rabbi Yaakov Bender advised Cuomo to look away from harsh words that are being said in anger and to understand that many in the Jewish community support him unequivocally, adding that any parent in his school who disparaged Cuomo would have to find another school for their son. Addressing the issue of closed schools, Rabbi Bender observed that with 80 percent of his students coming from homes where both parents work, many are spending their days on the streets, making school openings of paramount importance.
“We gotta do something governor, you gotta help us,” said Rabbi Bender, adding. “Nothing more [important] than taking care of the children, they’re going backwards in a very bad way.”
Like Rabbi Bender, New Square Mayor Izzy Spitzer spoke warmly about Cuomo’s father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, and he discussed the pain of a relationship becoming so strained that both sides felt the need to prove their loyalty and friendship to each other. Spitzer lauded the governor for his hard work and discussed the importance of having an open dialogue as soon as possible with the governor and his senior staff in order to bring an end to the lockdowns.
“Let’s sit together and am sure in a very, very short time we’ll be able to get the whole thing together,” said Spitzer. “We’re in it together governor. Keep up the good work – let’s do it right away.”
Cuomo ended the call with a pledge to follow up on the matters discussed, saying he would love to work together with the community to bring infection rates down in order to end the lockdowns.
“Let’s do it tomorrow,” said Cuomo. “We get the numbers down, we open everything up 100 percent.”
But there were those who expressed doubts about the call. Journalist Yochonon Donn tweeted that no representatives of any Borough Park yeshivas agreed to take part in the call because all questions had to be approved by Cuomo’s staff and participants had to agree to be muted.
Sources told VIN News that a face to face meeting between Cuomo and Borough Park schools could take place within the coming days.