An Instagram video posted by Jose Cruz, 32, on Tuesday showed him driving through Brooklyn’s Borough Park – a predominantly Orthodox Jewish community – shouting at the man, who appeared scared by the abuse. ‘Put your fucking mask on,’ Cruz screamed. ‘Put your mask on. There’s Covid cases. Hurry up.’ The frightened man looked at Cruz’s car and quickly scrambled to put on his mask, seemingly in fear of this stranger swearing at him.
New York officials have decided to all but shutter houses of worship in zip codes in Brooklyn and Queens with elevated COVID rates. Whether as a cause or an effect of the disappointment in containing coronavirus, communication between local and state governments and a segment of the population has broken down, spawning public outbursts bordering on riots. This goes far beyond restrictions on secular activities, and clearly targets religious practice—something that unfortunately has happened in other parts of the country, most notably California.
“To save a single life is to save the entire world.” Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community, I heard this Talmudic expression countless times. It may have even influenced my decision to go to public health school and medical school, and to eventually become an emergency medicine physician. Ironically, the same culture that prioritizes human life has played host to disturbing scenes of mask-burning and shameful violence in response to new gathering restrictions imposed to curb the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.
The spike in Covid cases show that the pandemic hasn’t gone away. Telling our congregants how to fight the pandemic may not be popular, but we still have to do it.