This past Monday afternoon, June 15, residents of Kew Gardens Hills gathered at the Queens Valley Playground at the corner of 76th Avenue and 137th Street, commonly referred to as the Shabbos Park, to rally for its overdue opening. Queens Borough President candidate Elizabeth Crowley organized the gathering, where she voiced her concerns about the city’s mismanagement, which is forcing children to continue suffering the effects of quarantine. At the park, residents were angered that their children were barred entry. “Rioters did not have to social distance and we are locked out of our own ball field?” questioned one neighborhood parent. Rachel and Yisroel Orenbuch brought their family along to show support for the movement underway to reopen our parks. “A ball field is meant to be played in; we have sidewalk chalk and the kids want to color,” explained Mrs. Orenbuch. “Most residents of Kew Gardens Hills live in 18-foot attached homes or apartments and have been cooped up for nearly three months and need to get out.” Others explained that the big open space of the park can be used by families at the discretion of their parents, not government officials. “It is contingent on mother and fathers to set boundaries, not our politicians,” explained one working mother from the area.
At the rally, one saw kids climbing the fence, wishing they could be inside. Teenagers were seen playing catch outside, which would have been much safer from inside the park. Crowley explained that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has given permission for our playgrounds to be opened, but they remain shuttered by the de Blasio administration. “So many families are looking to have their children play in the playgrounds again,” said Crowley. “Our kids live on top of one another in our crowded borough and we always must put our families first.”
“As New York City parents and children enter the summer months under pandemic precautions, a seemingly arbitrary set of standards has begun to emerge. As City parks and beaches reopen, we have seen hundreds of residents take advantage of public space. However, schoolyards remain closed to our children. After months of Zoom classes and social isolation, our students deserve the opportunity to safely enjoy recreational space. For many neighborhoods, particularly in Eastern Queens, school playgrounds offer the only public parks space accessible to thousands of families. This unbalanced approach to openings deprives children of a healthy and safe opportunity for exercise. I call on the Mayor and the Parks Department to reopen the City’s playgrounds immediately,” read a statement by Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal of District 27.
A local babysitter commented, “Hand sanitizer stations can be stationed throughout the park and children will be safe.” Another parent explained that the basketball game H-O-R-S-E can be played with minimal to no passing contact amongst the participants.
The situation in the Brooklyn communities of Borough Park, Midwood, and Williamsburg, among others, took a different spin, as Orthodox leaders, led by Heshy Tischler, a local frum radio personality and former political rival of Councilman Kalman Yeger, took matters into their own hands by breaking off the locks of community playgrounds on Tuesday. Tischler was joined in various parks by New York City Councilman Joe Lentol of the 50th district in Williamsburg, Senator Simcha Felder, who represents the 17th Assembly District, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who represents the 48th Assembly District, and Yeger, who represents the 44th Council District. “Individually, each of us exhausted every avenue of diplomacy in our effort to open our playgrounds for the families and children in our city. We advocated sincerely and respectfully, hoping for a willing partner,” read a statement by the latter three. The trio first called on the Mayor to open the gates a day prior and clearly stated their intention to unlock the parks for the children. “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?” continued the memorandum. Even Senator Ted Cruz offered his support for Tischler’s actions, retweeting a video of Tischler opening a park with the comment, “Bravo.” Two NYPD officers confronted the group at one of the reopening ceremonies and summoned their sergeant. Later in the day, city employees relocked the parks, but the politicians vowed to again remove the chains.
“The time has come for our playgrounds to be reopened in a safe, clean manner with the children wearing masks, and the time to make this happen is now,” noted Crowley.
By Shabsie Saphirstein