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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a news conference declaring a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn due to a measles outbreak. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters/Newscom)

Metro Minute

Rabbis and mayors

Amid a measles outbreak, geniality between city officials and Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn

A New York moment: 

I’ve been covering the measles outbreak in Williamsburg, Brooklyn—a neighborhood with a large Orthodox Jewish population—for an upcoming story, and I’m struck again by the general cordiality between city and Hasidic leaders despite their regular disagreements on various religious accommodations.

A few years ago I wrote about the city taking away women-only swim hours at public pools, a time slot that served ultra-Orthodox women who can’t swim with men. The city ended up compromising and restoring some limited women-only swim hours after pushback from Jewish leaders. 

The city and Haredi communities also had confrontations about parking enforcement on Shabbos, circumcision, and dress codes in Hasidic businesses. Before Bill de Blasio became New York’s mayor, he represented on the City Council a largely Haredi community in Borough Park (an area with recent measles cases). 

Rabbi David Niederman, head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, is working with the city to promote vaccination, although he has fought with some of the same officials on issues like circumcision. I asked him about how the Hasidim have managed religious accommodation negotiations.

“The first thing is, learn not to ask too much,” he said. But he added with a twinkle, “Be tooth-and-nail. Don’t compromise on religion.” 

Worth your time:  

The great Andrew Ferguson writes about the value of print. I recently started getting a paper newspaper again because I was so exhausted from the constant stream of news online. I found print satisfying in the same way he has. 

“It is pleasingly static, momentarily a settled matter,” he writes. “Juan Guaidó, I read, has delayed his return to Venezuela, assuming Nicolás Maduro will allow him to cross the border, and there he will stay until the Journal tells me differently."

This week I learned: 

An MIT scientist thinks we’re all living in a simulation, like the Matrix. As my friend Jeff Walton pointed out: “Interesting how the idea of a designer has entered mainstream secular thought.”

A court case you might not know about:

We covered the debate over cash bail a year ago. The U.S. Supreme Court this month refused to hear a case of a man who, charged with being intoxicated as a pedestrian, spent six days in jail because he couldn’t pay a $160 bail. The American Bail Coalition hailed it as a major victory for its industry.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had also ruled against the man, and the case attracted no amicus briefs from prominent anti-bail organizations. The details of the case probably didn’t set it up well for judicial review. For one thing, the city that held the man on bail changed its bail policy after the case to release individuals in similar circumstances after 48 hours. 

Culture I am consuming: 

For Holy Week: Edvard Munch’s painting Golgotha, which Biola’s Lent series says (in the “about” section of this link) depicts the artist as crucified, with seven deadly sins in the foreground. “Munch uses this as a symbolic representation to illustrate that man can have no identity if he is bound by the sins that confront him in life,” writes Biola professor Alina Beary.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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Image from video

Miss America Nia Franklin speaks with 11-year-old composer Mack Scocca-Ho at a “Phil the Hall” event. (Image from video)

Metro Minute

Songs for the people

The New York Philharmonic hosts a night for nonprofit workers, complete with an 11-year-old composer

A New York moment:

The New York Philharmonic unbuttoned its top button last Friday and hosted a very blue-collar night at the symphony, offering $5 tickets to those who worked in nonprofits across the city. I got to join the party, where instead of martini-drenched season ticket holders, the concert hall filled with symphony neophytes taking selfies and clapping uproariously after every movement. It was pure fun. 

The maestro Jaap van Zweden wore a Yankees ball cap with his tails, the concertmaster wore a Mets cap, and Miss America Nia Franklin stepped out in her crown between songs to provide commentary. The program was a little condescending, with only snippets from hits like Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9. New Yorkers, even us regular folks, can handle a full movement of a symphony. 

The evening also featured compositions from New York students, part of a music program the Philharmonic does with local schools where students compose pieces and the Philharmonic performs them. An 11-year-old from a local public school, Mack Scocca-Ho, premiered his piece “Ociantrose” (the capital of his imaginary country). To introduce the piece, the diminutive Scocca-Ho trotted out on stage carrying the score, which was about half the size that he was. At the end of the piece, the maestro shook the boy’s hand, and the crowd went wild. The Philharmonic does a great job of involving average New Yorkers in its work: Every summer it plays free concerts in parks across the city, one of my favorite things all year.

Worth your time:  

Fashionista interviews the evangelical sneaker nerd behind the Instagram account @PreachersNSneakers that documents how much pastors are shelling out for high-end footwear. 

“I can’t think of a meaningful explanation as to why you would feel 100 percent OK with wearing a pair of boots that probably the majority of your congregation could never afford,” he says. “I am just here to say, ‘Whoa, homie’s wearing $800 track pants.’”

This week I learned: 

Rats are multiplying even more than their usual furious rate because of our warm winter here. Great. Since I’ve lived in New York, I’ve had two incidents where a rat has run right into my foot as it scurried across the sidewalk. A big city rat running into you is a sensation you don’t forget—thanks for the memories, New York. 

A court case you might not know about: 

Parents in Rockland County, just north of New York City, have sued the county over its emergency measures to try to stop a months-long measles outbreak. The county had banned unvaccinated children from schools, a measure a federal judge has upheld for now. Another judge blocked the county’s effort to temporarily ban the unvaccinated from public gatherings. 

Culture I am consuming: 

Us, Jordan Peele’s new film. It’s a lot to unpack (maybe a little overpacked?), but interesting for Christian viewers in that it has a Biblical reference that keeps reappearing throughout the film, Jeremiah 11:11. The themes of judgment and reckoning I found convicting. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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The Henry Rutgers Houses, a public housing development built and maintained by the New York City Housing Authority. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Metro Minute

Houses in the neighborhood

Christians in New York gather to discuss the problem of housing in an expensive city

A New York moment:

On Monday night almost 200 people packed out an upper room of W83 Ministry Center, the Upper West Side building where Redeemer Presbyterian Church meets, to talk about housing. It’s a hot topic in one of the most expensive places to live in the country and where homelessness is at the highest levels since the Great Depression.

Habitat for Humanity’s Matt Dunbar shared a blur of numbers: a third of New Yorkers are spending more than half of their income on housing. Nearly 300,000 New Yorkers are on the waiting list for public housing. Only a third of New Yorkers own homes (on average, two-thirds of Americans do). A record 63,000 are now in the city shelter system, and another 3,000 to 5,000 are homeless on the streets. Event organizers from Hope for New York had posted a phone number where audience members could send questions, and they got a tsunami.

Before the event wrapped up, a pastor in East Harlem, José Humphreys from Metro Hope Covenant Church, gave a theological framework for church members to think about housing.

“There are deep realities of place and belonging throughout all of Scripture,” he said, quoting Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of John 1: “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Humphreys added: “How we show up in neighborhoods is not a neutral or ahistorical or apolitical act. We are connected to redemptive history over time.”

Worth your time:  

Alan Jacobs, one of my favorite cultural commentators, has this brief thought about the vengeance that social media metes out: “When a society rejects the Christian account of who we are, it doesn’t become less moralistic but far more so, because it retains an inchoate sense of justice but has no means of offering and receiving forgiveness.”

This week I learned:

The Mosul Museum has partially reopened following the looting and destruction of its antiquities by Islamic State. From New York I covered the Islamic State looting of antiquities in 2015, because New York auction houses were navigating possibly stolen items. Related to this story was the U.S. government’s confiscation in 2017 of thousands of items from the Museum of the Bible due to the items’ unclear origins in Iraq.

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