The following statement was written by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Rabbi Jay H. Rosenbaum of Temple Israel of Lawrence, N.Y., regarding the recent riots in the Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood of Borough Park over new coronavirus restrictions.

Rabbi Wohlberg is a founder and member of the executive board of the North American Board of Rabbis, while Rabbi Rosenbaum serves as the organization’s president.

What has happened to 13th Avenue?

Having grown up in Borough Park in the ‘50s and ‘60s as students at Yeshivas Etz Chaim and Toras Emes, we looked upon 13th Avenue as our people’s answer to Rodeo Drive, Oxford Street, the Champs Elysees and Via Veneto all wrapped up into one.

Now, we see pictures that make 13th Avenue look like a combat zone, with Jews hurling rocks, calling police Nazis, beating up a reporter and cursing fellow Jews. All this during our Zeman Simchatenu (time of rejoicing)!

What has happened to 13th Avenue?

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (File photo)

We are told that all this is in response to the provocation of government officials insisting on masks, social distancing and limiting synagogue attendance to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

This is considered a provocation requiring a violent response? Perhaps the best response came from Rabbi Mayer Twersky, a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, who made it clear to one and all: “Provocation does not mitigate or excuse a chilul Hashem, a desecration of God’s name.”

Were these actions a desecration of God s name? What shall we call a front-page headline in the New York Daily News quoting one of the protestors as saying, “Here in Borough Park, we don t go by the laws of America, we have our own laws.”

What should we call it when a situation has been created requiring Dr. Deborah Birx, the nation’s COVID-19 czar, to comment on the Borough Park protests with the words, “I think that community needs to understand they are within the United States in a community of others, and it’s our job to protect one another by doing what we need to do to ensure others stay safe, and to ensure we don t spread the virus to others.”

How far we have come from a rabbinic tradition that stressed the importance of even going beyond the necessary law in order to avoid eivah (enmity), and to do everything possible to follow darkei shalom (ways of peace) in our dealing with the world around us.

What does the world think of us now? And not just the world — the Jewish world!

How do we explain to our children the acts of hooligans from amongst the Jews who are considered the “most” religious, especially when the pictures from Borough Park are the mirror image of pictures from Bnei Brak?

Rabbi Jay H. Rosenbaum (Photo Facebook)

All this because government authorities, perhaps in a bumbling manner, are trying to help save the lives of Jews and of the greater world in which Jews come in contact.

“What has happened to 13th Avenue?” is perhaps not the right question. The real question is, “What has happened to us?”

Let us remember and remind the world of the mandate God gave to the Jewish people to share with the world: “U’vcharta ba chaim — and thou shalt choose life.”

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