Are the Jews to blame for spreading COVID-19 throughout New York City? That’s what Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested in an inflammatory tweet back in April, which, in his typical bumbling fashion, he defended for six months before kinda, sorta walking it back.
Never mind all that. The city is serious! It believes in science! Earlier this week, the mayor’s office launched its “NYC Vaccine for All” campaign, announcing that it will begin offering the COVID vaccine soonest. Who will get it first? Naturally, the neighborhoods “hardest hit” by the pandemic, the mayor’s office assured us, 27 of them in total.
Hallelujah! So now we have an official record of the hardest hit corners of New York, which means that if the mayor’s criticism was correct, we should find many familiar ZIP codes among those singled out for urgent care. Let us, then, turn to the list and search for the neighborhoods heaviest populated by Orthodox Jews, the clear target of the mayor’s ire.
What about, for example, the venerable 11213, at the heart of which lies 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad’s headquarters? Nope, not on the list. Maybe 11218, 11219, and 11230, representing Borough Park? Not on the list either. Now, surely that massive Hasidic funeral that drew thousands and spurred the NYPD to launch a criminal investigation led to a massive outbreak that sent the neighborhood right into the hardest-hit list, right? Check again: That funeral was launched from the Yetev Lev D’Satmar yeshiva, ZIP code 11249. Good luck finding it on the mayor’s list. You can play this game with most NYC neighborhoods that are home to vast populations of Orthodox Jews; you won’t find them on the list.
None of this is to say that no Jews live in any of the neighborhoods most distressed by the pandemic. Take a close look, and you’ll find some neighborhoods that do have strong Jewish populations, like the border between Bushwick and Williamsburg, say. But look closely, and the picture grows complicated: Wallabout Street, for example, one of the neighborhood’s main Hasidic thoroughfares, is largely uncovered by the mayor’s announcement. So while a significant number of Williamsburg Jews do live in areas that get vaccine priority, the densest part with the largest Jewish population in Williamsburg isn’t in any of the priority neighborhoods. Neither are the central Satmar shuls, or the popular restaurant Gottleib’s.
This exclusion of the lion’s share of the city’s heavily populated Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods from the mayor’s list suggests that one of two things are true.
The first possibility is that the list is an accurate, science-based representation of the virus’s spread rates and patterns. In that case, the absence of most Orthodox Jewish enclaves from the list means the mayor was being both a criminally irresponsible public official for pinning the plague on one blameless minority group, as well as a filthy anti-Semite for picking on the Jews.
The second possibility hardly portrays de Blasio in a better light. According to the mayor’s office—which did not return Tablet’s request for more information—the vaccine’s distribution will be spearheaded by the Taskforce on Racial Equity and Inclusion, which is chaired by the city’s First Lady, Chirlaine McCray, not a medical doctor. In fact, the only prominent physician on the committee, Dr. Raul Perea-Henze, resigned in September, joining a wave of senior officials departing the grossly inept administration.
This means that the decision of what constitutes the city’s “hardest hit” neighborhoods is entirely in the hands of radical ideologues, not level-headed researchers. It also means that predominantly Orthodox neighborhoods may or may not be desperately in need of the vaccine, but none are receiving it because, hey, Jews score low in the great intersectional Olympics of perceived victimhood.
Neither scenario is great, and both confirm what most honest people—but not, sadly, defunct and absurdist communal organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council, which continued to cheer on de Blasio throughout this mess—already know: The mayor hates Jews only a touch more than he hates actually running New York City.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.