For the second night in a row, protests over new coronavirus restrictions in New York grew violent on Wednesday, with journalists describing a terrifying assault by a mob of angry Hasidim in Brooklyn’s Borough Park.
Early this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed new school closures, religious capacity restrictions, and other containment measures on a slew of neighborhoods experiencing surging rates of COVID-19 in New York City. Many of them are home to large populations of ultra-Orthodox Jews, who have often felt singled out for scrutiny by city regulators over the years, especially on issues of health, whether vaccinations for diseases like measles or metzitzah b’peh, a potentially dangerous circumcision ritual.
On Tuesday night, hundreds of protesters, many of them from that community, raged at the crackdown, set to go into effect later this week, in Borough Park. Some burned masks, shouted “Jewish Lives Matter,” and allegedly attacked a photographer and a bystander on the scene, as Gothamist reported.
Wednesday offered no respite from the chaos.
Jacob Kornbluh, a veteran reporter for Jewish Insider who has written for a slew of local publications, appeared to catch the brunt of it when, he said, a mob attacked him at the urging of a local activist.
“I was standing there observing the scene on the sidelines, standing next to some families,” Kornbluh told The Daily Beast late Wednesday. “I didn’t draw any attention, I was just looking at my phone observing the scene when Heshy Tischler recognized me, and directed a crowd to come towards me.”
Tischler, a notorious city council candidate who has made a name for himself as a COVID-19 backlash spokesperson in recent weeks, was also at the center of protests Tuesday, where he reportedly told assembled activists and cops, “You are my soldiers! We are at war!”
Kornbluh told The Daily Beast he attracted Tischler’s ire for doing his job—reporting on the coronavirus outbreak and safety practices—and paid for it.
“Literally hundreds of members of the community tried to beat me up,” he said. “Somebody hit me in the head. I was kicked, dragged, and people were saying I deserved to die... calling me Hitler [and a] Nazi.”
“It took about 10 minutes for the police officers to get me out of the crowd,” he said, adding that he was not seriously harmed, but was in the process of pressing charges against Tischler, as he noted on Twitter.
Tischler could not immediately be reached for comment. Police have not identified him as a suspect.
“A complaint report is on file for assault. I am not going to comment on who an alleged perpetrator is at this time,” NYPD Lt. John Grimpel told The Daily Beast.
Local ultra-Orthodox leaders have expressed frustration at Gov. Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio giving mixed messages on exactly how to contain the outbreak, going back to initial lockdown orders in March. They are far from alone in that frustration, and it should be noted that evidence of a second wave has cropped up nationwide.
Still, experts have pointed to pockets of the ultra-Orthodox community believing a level of herd immunity may have been achieved—and, in some cases, a lack of access to mass media—as driving skepticism of aggressive containment measures.
“Everybody’s frustrated and angry, but they basically have no agenda" except rage “against members of the press who are actually advocating for social distancing measures,” Kornbluh told The Daily Beast. “That’s all I did. I provided information and cautioned the community about those measures, and did my job as a reporter and a member of the community who cares about saving lives.”
“Unfortunately in this process,” he added, “my life is not safe anymore.”