Fifteen men were charged with violating Gov. Phil Murphy’s ban on large gatherings during the coronavirus crisis after they attended an Orthodox Jewish funeral Wednesday in Lakewood, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday.
The gathering was one of several in Lakewood in recent weeks in which police were called to break up large groups of people. Other events included a bat mitzvah over the weekend; four separate weddings in which four people who hosted them were charged with a disorderly person offense or with maintaining a nuisance; and a gathering of about 25 young men at a school in which the headmaster was charged with maintaining a nuisance.
Lakewood Township police responded about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to a report of a large gathering at Eighth Street and Madison Avenue and found about 60 to 70 people, the Prosecutor’s Office said in a news release.
The funeral was for Rabbi Chaim Moshe Strulovics, who died Wednesday morning, family members said Thursday. According to the news website matzav.com, he headed the Daas Kedoshim-Butcatch synagogue at Eighth and Madison in Lakewood — the county’s largest municipality, with more than 100,000 residents — where he had settled many years ago.
Matzav.com reported that Strulovics was 73 and “had contracted the coronavirus.” An 18-year-old grandson of the rabbi, who spoke to The Inquirer on the condition that his name not be published, said Strulovics had been in contact with someone who had the coronavirus, and thus was tested for it, but had “tested negative” the day before his death. He said his grandfather was 72. The rabbi’s age and cause of death could not immediately be confirmed Thursday.
Wednesday’s funeral violated Murphy’s March 21 executive order banning gatherings of people for “parties, celebrations, or other social events,” which includes weddings and funerals, authorities said.
“Any place people congregate is a place where coronavirus can be spread,” Murphy said that day. “This is no time for people to be acting selfishly.”
As Lakewood officers tried to disperse the gathering Wednesday, “the crowd became unruly and argumentative,” and officers from the Prosecutor’s Office and Sheriff’s Office helped to disperse the group, the Prosecutor’s Office said.
One man refused to identify himself but later was identified as Samuel Manheim, 27, of Brooklyn, N.Y., authorities said. He had given a false name and Social Security number, authorities said, and was charged with hindering his own apprehension and violating the governor’s rule during a state of emergency.
The others charged with violating the governor’s rule were identified as: Shimon Hus, 18, and Joel Jakubowitz, 36, both of Brooklyn, and Lakewood residents Mordechi Strulovics, 18; Moshe Friedman, 20; Solomon Strulovics, 21; Mitchell Strulovics, 24; Nossom Strulovics, 25; Shimon Cardozo, 25; Yosef Kohn, 35; David Kaf, 37; Joel Strulovics, 39; Marcus Strulovics, 43; Bernard Strulovics, 45; and Alexander Ellison, 64.
Nossom Strulovics, another grandson of the rabbi, said that although “maybe a few [people were] standing 10 feet apart” outside the synagogue, he and others were sitting in vehicles when police approached and asked to see their licenses.
“We know what social distancing is,” he said.
Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer said in a statement: “The governor has banned all public gatherings during this state and national public health emergency. This ban applies to everyone.
“To be blunt, ignoring the governor’s order places lives at risk — not just the lives of everyday citizens, but the lives of our brave men and women in law enforcement who are required to respond in order to break up these unlawful gatherings. I am imploring everyone to abide by the governor’s order and stay at home, so that we might all get through this very difficult time together — as painlessly as possible.”
Bryan Huntenberg, spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office, said Thursday that inaccurate police paperwork had caused his office to report in an initial news release that Nossom Strulovics was 100 years old.
Voice messages left for a captain in the police department were not returned.
Lakewood has the nation’s second-largest population of Orthodox Jews outside of Brooklyn, with about 70,000 among the township’s 110,000 residents, Mayor Ray Coles said Thursday.
Coles said he did not know Rabbi Strulovics, but said he heard that another Orthodox rabbi, Zeev Rothschild, died Wednesday from the coronavirus. Rothschild was a prominent rabbi, and more than 10,000 people attended an online virtual funeral for him Wednesday night, Coles said.
NJ.com reported Tuesday that at least five other Lakewood rabbis had died after contracting coronavirus.
Coles noted that not all of the thousands of rabbis in Lakewood lead large congregations.
The mayor said most residents have taken the governor’s ban on large gatherings seriously. In the Orthodox community, leaders have told people not to gather for Passover, weddings, or funerals, he said.