Orthodox Jews worry about widening discrimination over measles scare

Orthodox Jews worry about widening discrimination over measles scare
A Jewish man and his three sons walk down a street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on April 24. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

A bus driver tries to speed past a Hasidic Jew waiting at a Brooklyn bus stop — then holds a scarf over her face when he finally boards.

Worried parents complain about Orthodox students flooding the Bronx Zoo.

Jet Blue flight attendants force a well-known Hasidic singer to undergo an humiliating questioning after fellow passengers suspected his children had measles.

As a measles outbreak grows, Orthodox Jews say they are facing a punishing wave of discrimination and profiling by public officials and ordinary people alike.

“There is this fear of an Ebola-type situation which is just not the case at all,” said Alexander Rapaport, a community activist who runs Masbia, a network of kosher food banks and soup kitchens in Brooklyn. “People are very confused.”

Rapaport and others blame the city for singling out Hasidic neighborhoods and for messaging that encouraged panic in the wider community.

“That’s where the seeds for this were planted,” he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in two Brooklyn zip codes as the nationwide outbreak has grown to 704 cases of the disease which was once eradicated from the U.S. So far more than 50 parents have already been slapped with citations for allowing unvaccinated children in public places like parks.

The de Blasio administration declared a public health emergency in select zip codes in Williamsburg, following a measles outbreak affecting the Orthodox Jewish community.
The de Blasio administration declared a public health emergency in select zip codes in Williamsburg, following a measles outbreak affecting the Orthodox Jewish community. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Jewish leaders say they share officials’ zeal to promote universal vaccination and want to debunk myths spread by a tiny minority of so-called anti-vaxxers in the Jewish world.

But they insist that it’s 100% wrong to profile or discriminate against Hasids or visibly Orthodox Jews because of unfounded suspicions they could be infected or unvaccinated.

And they say the city has contributed to the panic by repeatedly singling out the Hasidic community, without backing up the scare tactics with money to fund education campaigns.

“People are facing real discrimination because of how they look or who they are,” said Chaskel Bennett, an Orthodox community activist who helped organize 500 doctors to back vaccination. “That’s not acceptable in this country.”

Rapaport recounted a story of a non-Jewish client who asked a Hasidic businessman if he was vaccinated — and asked him to email an invoice instead of meeting in person.

“Even a joke can be very hurtful,” Rapaport said.

Ezra Friedlander, a public relations professional who works with ultra-Orthodox organizations, noted that Hasidic Jews already face widespread discrimination from the general public over their distinctive dress and hairstyle.

“They’re already being profiled every day — and this just makes it worse,” he said.

Alicia McCauley, a spokeswoman for the city Human Rights Commission, urged anyone who feels they have been discriminated against over their religious or ethnic background to file a complaint. It was not immediately clear whether any complaints have been filed over the measles issue.

Robert Krakow, a lawyer who unsuccessfully sued to block the city’s emergency declaration, called the trend blatant anti-Semitism.

“Measles doesn’t discriminate between Jews and those of other religions,” he said.