What does “Never Again” mean? For many people, it is seen as a phrase in opposition to genocide. Yet for many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, it has become a rallying cry to oppose what they see as antisemitic COVID-19 rules that have been directed towards predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, mainly in New York. These regulations, directed at areas designated as “Red Zones,” closed yeshivas and limited synagogue capacities to just 10 people. Governor Andrew Cuomo established the “Red Zone'' following a summer where many ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York continued to attend synagogue and gather at large weddings.
In response to these restrictions, Harold “Heshy” Tischler, a 57-year-old landlord and radio show host, became a leading advocate for many in the Haredi community, although many others in that community are appalled by his actions and rhetoric. Tischler, who is also running in the 2021 City Council elections in New York, first gained prominence this summer for his vocal support of Jewish weddings and reopening playgrounds during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, he heckled medical professionals and accused them of being “Nazis” at a New York City COVID-19 press conference.
Tischler’s rise to fame came in October when New York labeled primarily Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn as “Red Zones.” Tischler, who rarely wears a mask, led protests against New York officials, such as Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill DeBlasio, where he made statements to his supporters such as, “You are my soldiers...we are at war!” Flags bearing the words, “Trump 2020,” were a common sight at the protests, as well.
However, the protests did not remain peaceful. On October 7th, Jacob Kornbluh, a Hasidic journalist for the Jewish Insider, was surrounded by protestors, pinned to a brick wall, and then kicked and punched. Those attacking Kornbluh called him a “Nazi” and “Hitler.” A day earlier, Tischler had labeled Kornbluh a “moser,” a Hebrew term for snitch, and a “rat.” Similarly, another journalist was chased down and attacked by members of the Hasidic community. Protestors also blocked city buses from coming into their neighborhoods and burned masks.
Tischler was arrested on October 11th and charged with unlawful imprisonment and inciting a riot following the violence. Tischler’s lawyer, Sara Shulevitz, called the arrest “politically-motivated.” In response to Tischler’s arrest, Hasidic Jews took to the streets chanting, “No Heshy, No Peace.” Tischler was eventually released from police custody, but the charges remain.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the ultra-Orthodox community in New York. In addition, many people inside and outside of the ultra-Orthodox community feel that both the governor and mayor have made COVID-related statements that border on antisemitic. With much of the Jewish community’s eyes on New York, Tischler has emerged as a loud, controversial and influential figure in the Haredi community.