Hasidic Playground Rebellion Gains Steam

photo 3
City Councilman Kalman Yeger, left, and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, right, push young chilren on the swings at the Dome Playground. Contributed photo.

Call it the Frum Boston Tea Party!

Borough Park lawmakers State Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, and City Councilman Kalmen Yeger took matters into their own hands today after their repeated cries to open up neighborhood playgrounds continues to fall on deaf ears. 

Standing at the opening of the Dome Playground on 38th Street and Dahill Road the three lawmakers took boltcutters to the chained-shut play area so that mothers could take their young children to romp on the state-of-the-art underutilized playground equipment – all while socially distancing.

“This park does not belong to any particular official. This park belongs to our community. Today we returned playgrounds to our children who desperately need them,” Eichenstein stated. 

This was not the first park to be cut open. 

Yesterday evening the chains bolting the gates of Middleton Playground (Lynch Park) in Williamsburg were cut open with a pair of huge bolt cutters in a rally held by Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburg, Greenpoint) and Satmar Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg (UJO). 

A mother with her young child at the Dome Playground after lawmakers took the law into their own hands in snapping off the locks to the playground. Contributed photo.

“This is unbelievable. Our kids have been locked up at home for three months and now that summer is here they can’t even go to a place to play. What kind of a message does chaining up they’re playground send to the world. Is this Egypt? Is this Germany?” Lentol said. 

Helping cut the chains holding the entrance closed to Lynch Park was radio personality Heshy Tischler, an activist who, according to political activist Ushi Teitelbaum helped get the message out. 

Yeger, Eichenstein, and Felder followed in Tischler’s footsteps after realizing that their Sunday gathering at Kolbert Park in Midwood in which they called for the Mayor Bill de Blasio to re-open the parks wouldn’t be enough. 

The Friday before, Yeger posted a video to his twitter feed of an active park at 14th Ave and 86th St. commenting, “Around the city, NYC Parks are open to the public. Well, not everywhere. If you live in Midwood, Boro Park or Williamsburg, the city has chained your park, and if you’re in one, you’re treated like a criminal.”

The three decided enough was enough, stating, “The people have spoken and they are sick and tired of being ignored. With everything going on in the world, why is our Mayor intent on making criminals of mothers and children in need of a safe space to play?”

City playgrounds have been shut since April 1, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo overrode Mayor Bill de Blasio’s authority as the pandemic rampaged through New York. The initial reasoning for the closing, according to the governor’s office, was to prevent gathering crowds and further spread of coronavirus.

Local activist Ushi Teitelbaum couldn’t help pointing out the hypocrisy of the ensued lockdowns of the parks, referring to how the city did nothing to discourage recent people-packed protests demanding justice for George Floyd, the black man that was killed after a white police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes on May 25.

“Isn’t it a double standard? Every cause is good! Protesting, playing in parks, going to camp. What’s the hypocrisy here? This is a few kids wanting to go outside to play after three months of lockdown,” he said.

Eichenstein noted that Cuomo has opened state parks and beaches and has allowed each municipality to decide for themselves on opening local playgrounds, but de Blasio thus far has refused to greenlight their opening.

“The mayor himself has called for thousands of people to come to the streets and protest and there’s no regard to social distancing. Why is it when it comes to our children they are the ones who are always left out,” said Eichenstein.

“Not everyone lives in a mansion on the upper east side with a huge lawn on one side and an even bigger park on the other side of the house. Children have been locked up in their home for three months now. This [Dome] park belongs to the local community. Let’s give the community back its park,” he added.

De Blasio addressed the question today at his morning press conference of what comes next in this saga of Hasidic Jews taking the law into their own hands by breaking into playgrounds so that their children can play.

“I understand people’s frustrations, but if folks act prematurely and that causes the disease to start spreading again, then that’s the kind of thing that will undermine our ability to get to phase two and stay in phase two. So, I know it’s not easy, but people have to understand there’s a reason for these rules; it’s to help us move forward,” he said.

De Blasio stated that phase 2 wouldn’t come before June 22. 

But Echientsein, Yeger, and Felder seemed to anticipate this response, saying in a joint statement, that, “If they lock these gates, we will cut them open again tomorrow, because we serve the people. Who do you serve, Mr. Mayor?”