The New York State Department of Health says it is investigating a Hasidic wedding that was scheduled in upstate New York Monday evening at a synagogue where throngs of people were seen gathering without masks and not practicing social distancing.
Officials were so concerned about the event, originally set to take place at the Congregation Yetev Lev synagogue in Kiyras Joel, that they issued a cease and desist order to leaders of the Satmar sect just hours before it was due to get underway. Still, a steady stream of bearded, black-hatted men were seen gathering at the massive synagogue around the event’s originally-scheduled time.
“The order we issued on Monday morning was clear: social gatherings must follow strict protocols regarding capacity limits, mask wearing, and social distancing in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19,” a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health told The Daily Beast in a statement. “We are aware of reports that a gathering was held and are investigating whether there was adherence to the guidelines laid out in the order. If not, we will pursue all appropriate legal remedies.”
Word of the probe came a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a paltry $15,000 fine over another potential superspreader wedding also organized by the Satmar Hasidic community that took place in Brooklyn and drew thousands of people earlier this month.
Video from that wedding, held in Williamsburg, saw people dancing and singing with hardly a mask in sight in clear violation of COVID-19 public health restrictions.
“We know there was a wedding,” the mayor told Inside City Hall on NY1 Monday night. “We know it was too big. I don’t have an exact figure, but whatever it was, it was too big. There appeared to be a real effort to conceal it. Which is absolutely unacceptable.”
“There’s going to be a summons for $15,000 immediately for that site, and there could be additional consequences as well,” de Blasio added.
The potential deterrent effect of such a modest fine for a gathering that was reportedly thousands-strong—in the face of a so-called Third Wave of the coronavirus pandemic nationwide—remained to be seen.
The order for Monday’s scheduled wedding between two members of prominent ultra-Orthodox families called for the congregation “to cancel the wedding ceremonies unless they can be held in strict adherence with safe social distancing protocols.”
It also sought to prevent groups from larger than 50 people of gathering at one time. But large crowds, collectively amounting to well in excess of that number, appeared at the synagogue originally slated to host the wedding. Rumors that the wedding events were ultimately held off-site complicated the picture, but at least some apparent attendees posting on social media suggested it had taken place.
The synagogue, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, and the State Police did not respond to a request for comment, and state agencies spent much of Monday passing the buck between one another over who was responsible for enforcing the cease and desist order.
“When we learned of the wedding the night before it happened, we immediately notified the State and asked that the State Commissioner of Health to issue an Order,” a spokesperson for Orange County health department said in a statement.
“Since then, we have been in constant contact with the State Department of Health and the State Police. The State Department of Health issued the cease and desist order and has jurisdiction for any violations associated with it. We will continue to monitor this situation closely as we navigate through the public health emergency.”