What broke New York? Pandemic, protests, and failed leadership - opinion

Go to Florida and you’ll see it’s really beginning to seriously compete. Why were people attacking New York, literally?

A MAN plays with a soccer ball in a field at Central Park on spring equinox, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, last week. (photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)
A MAN plays with a soccer ball in a field at Central Park on spring equinox, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, last week.
(photo credit: CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS)
I grew up in Los Angeles, then Miami Beach in the 1970s. Nearly all of my friends from school ended up leaving the beautiful retirement community and moving to greener business pastures in the northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey.
Perhaps we should have stayed. Then at least we might have been able to afford a house in Florida, as a mass wave of émigrés now takes over the Sunshine State.
It’s not just the coronavirus that is decimating the northeast, particularly the densely populated areas of New York and New Jersey. Even as, thank God, the population is inoculated with the vaccine and we push this disgusting and deadly virus out of our lives, New York and New Jersey will continue to hemorrhage vast numbers of citizens, particularly from the Jewish community.
I’m kind of in shock to see how many of our friends and neighbors are leaving, to move mostly to Florida but also to Texas and Nevada.
The weather alone cannot account for the tsunami of émigrés, since huge numbers are now moving out of California, in general, and Los Angeles, in particular, where the year-round climate is arguably better than Florida, without the sticky, muggy summers.
California used to be the state everyone moved to. No longer. Masses of people are headed out. Why?
The reason is government overreach, plain and simple. People in New York and New Jersey have seen the arbitrariness with which governors and legislators can control their lives – without any basis in science – and tax them up the wazoo while doing so. They feel they have far fewer rights in California, New York and New Jersey, so they’re moving to states that have no state income tax and cannot just arbitrarily shut everything down at a whim.
And if governors Gavin Newsom, Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy of California, New York, and New Jersey, respectively, don’t wake up to it soon, they’re going to see vast numbers depart to the Sunshine State, causing massive income tax losses to their states that will not be made up, let alone continuing to lose congressional representation in every 10-year census.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in lockdowns where the coronavirus is raging. I believe in protecting and safeguarding life. I just don’t believe in stupid lockdowns that have zero basis in science and simply destroy jobs, businesses, and undermine the people’s freedom.
No city has suffered more unnecessarily than New York, where Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have fiddled while the world’s greatest city has been brought to its knees.
Why Cuomo decided that bicycle stores, alcohol outlets and acupuncture clinics can operate with zero restrictions while at the same time he tried to limit the size of prayer services at certain synagogues and churches – including those built to house hundreds and where there could be ample social distancing – was government overreach pure and simple. It caused many religious Jews to think of moving to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Florida instead.
Thankfully, the United States Supreme Court stepped in and struck down the governor’s order.
Restaurants in New York are back to being allowed indoor dining at a limited capacity. But hundreds have closed.
Were all these measures necessary? Were they merited? Sometimes yes, and sometimes not. But when you go to Florida and see that there are the most minimal restrictions amid a pretty similar infection rate, it makes you wonder. California has imposed the most restrictive laws of all. Yet, its infection rate, tragically, went through the roof, which just goes to show you that the rules should be based on science and not a government’s arbitrary right to simply extinguish businesses.

BUT THAT’S not the reason I’m penning this column, as scientists and statisticians far more knowledgeable than me have already addressed these issues all over the country.
Rather, I’m writing as someone who loves New York City, its diversity, its museums, Broadway, and its vibrant Jewish life. And I’m writing as someone who loves New Jersey, its green spaces. Its rivers. Its parks and bike paths. And as someone who was born in Los Angeles and loves the beaches, bike paths, and mountains of the City of Angels. And I’m in shock that no one seems to give a damn about how rapidly they are losing residents.
In 1963 when he gave his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech at the wall dividing the German capital, John F. Kennedy famously said that East and West have long argued as to who has a better system. But, Kennedy concluded, the debate was adjudicated by the Soviet need to build a wall to keep their people in. In the final analysis, people vote with their feet. And if they’re abandoning New York, New Jersey and California in large number because they can’t handle the government restrictions and the insane taxes, then the matter has been decided. These states will suffer unnecessarily.
I know, I know. Everyone believes that New York and New Jersey, and especially California, will bounce back, as they always have in the past. I hope so, God willing. New York is currently the world financial capital, with Wall Street, the world media capital, the world diplomatic capital, with the UN, and, arguably, the world performing arts capital with Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Broadway. Yet so much is now closed, and no one knows when they will reopen.
And then you have Jewish life, where New York and New Jersey are easily the places of greatest Jewish vibrancy in the country, with the massive Jewish communities of Brooklyn, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, Manhattan, Monsey, Lakewood and countless others comprising the largest Jewish community on earth outside of Israel. Incredible yeshivot, day schools and shuls have long served as a magnet for a more than fulfilling Jewish existence. Los Angeles has the incredibly vibrant communities of Pico-Robertson, and California has arguably more Chabad Houses than any state in the Union.
But go to Florida and you’ll see it’s really beginning to seriously compete. When I grew up in Miami Beach, there was only the Hebrew Academy and Chabad day schools. Today, there are too many to count, along with massive concentrations of shuls and Chabad Houses throughout the Sunshine State.
Which leaves the job market as the principal reason to be in New York. But The Wall Street Journal recently reported that between federal, state and city taxes, New York is pushing the highest tax rates to some 68%, with New Jersey not far behind. California is right up there with them. Good luck trying to keep anyone there, when Zoom, along with broadband, has dramatically changed the calculus of where one must live in order to do one’s job.
Indeed, in New York City, the Upper West Side is mostly alive because it’s residential. But walk a few blocks south of Columbus Circle and the Midtown resembles a ghost town.
It really makes me sad.
I’m someone who sees in New York City – easily the most diverse metropolis on earth – almost something messianic in the diversity of every ethnicity living, mostly, harmoniously side by side.
During the summers riots I lamented that New York was being targeted. It didn’t make sense.
Yes, there is racial injustice everywhere, and it must be strongly and robustly challenged. The World Values Network Gala, our signature annual event, was this year dedicated to African-American and Jewish brotherhood, and I believe the Jewish community must be at the forefront of joining our African-American brothers and sisters in protesting injustice.
But why were people attacking New York, literally? In New York, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists and everything in between live together as family. America needs to be more like New York in its complexion, not less. So why were demonstrators tearing down a truly diverse city?
Thank God, those protests have passed. But what has not passed is the damage being done to America’s greatest city by government edicts and insanely high taxes that say to the citizens that their voices don’t matter, that lockdowns can often be determined not by science but by pressure groups, like teachers unions, which shut down all of New York City’s schools even when the science showed that the rate of infection at schools was incredibly low.
So more and more people are moving south, where the taxes are more reasonable, where citizens seem to have more rights, and where, yes, the weather doesn’t require putting on 15 layers before you go outside.
The last can be remedied with good clothing. But the first two can be remedied only with good governance.

The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” is the author most recently of Lust for Love, coauthored with actress Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.