WEST RIDGE — A wedding ceremony at a West Ridge house was broken up by police last week, and drew condemnation from the area’s alderman and religious leaders grappling with one of the biggest coronavirus hot spots in the state.
A Jewish Orthodox wedding ceremony was held in the 6800 block of North Francisco Avenue the afternoon of April 23. Eventually, dozens of guests congregated on the home’s front yard and in the street, according to sources and video of the event.
Police were called to the block and helped to disperse the crowd, Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) said in a note to constituents. Chicago Police said it received two calls about public safety concerns at the wedding, a department spokesperson said.
“I am absolutely horrified,” Silverstein wrote on Facebook about the wedding. “Selfish gatherings of people, whether in celebration or in prayer, not only give our community a bad name, but they send our neighbors and loved ones to the hospital or morgue.”
Data released on April 6 showed West Ridge’s 60645 ZIP code having the highest count of coronavirus cases in the city. As of Monday, the area has 580 confirmed cases, making it the seventh largest coronavirus hotspot in Chicago, according to figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
West Ridge’s Orthodox Jewish population has been hit particularly hard. The virus struck Chicago during a busy time in the Jewish calendar, with major holidays falling in the weeks before and right after stay-at-home measures were enacted.
Jewish community leaders have worked hard to respond to the outbreak, creating public service announcements tailored to the community and forming a $1.5 million fund to help those impacted by the virus.
In a letter to West Ridge’s Orthodox population, the Chicago Rabbinical Council and Agudath Israel of Illinois scolded those that gathered at the wedding and urged neighbors to stay indoors.
“This was an unjustifiable and dangerous error,” the letter reads. “This celebration was an egregious breach of those [public safety] standards. It was the first such breach, and we are committed to ensuring that it will be the last.”
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The wedding ceremony was meant to be an intimate family affair, and neighbors and friends of the couple were to drive by the home to wish the couple well, said a West Ridge rabbi in attendance, who asked not to be named.
But instead of just driving by, people parked their cars and gathered near the house, the rabbi said. Video of the event shows wedding congregants dancing on the home’s front lawn with music playing in the background.
The gathering was broken up after about 10 minutes, the rabbi said, while the wedding carried on with a small, indoor meal.
“It was not intentional,” the rabbi said. “People did not expect it to get so large.”
Chicago’s Jewish population celebrated Passover, normally a celebratory and communal holiday, under stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines. Synagogues have been closed since mid-March, causing Jewish residents to deal with the virus’ deadly impact under social isolation. Such factors have taken a toll on the tight-knit, community minded population, Orthodox community leaders have told Block Club.
“There’s been deaths in the community. People haven’t seen each other,” the rabbi said. “It’s very hard for a community like this. People are looking for something just as a break, something positive.”
West Ridge’s coronavirus curve is “flattening,” a city health official said last week. But the community is still at a “critical juncture” in its fight against the virus, Silverstein said.
“Social distancing is not a suggestion,” the alderman said on Facebook. “Please, for the sake of our community, stay home and save lives!”
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