CULT FAIL: Washington Post Reports on Embarrassing Brooklyn Anti-Vax Event that Drew 35 People

Anti-vaccine activist Del Bigtree speaks with journalists before entering an anti-vaccine symposium in Brooklyn on June 4, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Yana Paskova.
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Anti-vaccine activists held their second rally in several weeks Tuesday night, questioning vaccine safety in a community battling its most widespread measles outbreak in nearly 30 years, amid protests by health officials and pro-vaccine parents.

The event, which barred reporters, featured conspiracy theorist Rabbi Hillel Handler and Del Bigtree, head of one of the nation’s most active anti-vaccine groups and producer of a film alleging the government suppressed a link between the measles vaccine and autism. Studies involving hundreds of thousands of children have repeatedly disproved such a link.

“They should be allowed to have the measles if they want the measles,” Bigtree told reporters outside the meeting. “It’s crazy that there’s this level of intensity around a trivial childhood illness.”

New York City’s top health official emphasized that measles is a serious and potentially deadly disease, and she condemned the event in unusually strong terms several hours before it took place.

“To hold an anti-vaccination rally in the middle of an outbreak is beyond irresponsible; it is downright dangerous,” said Oxiris Barbot, the city’s health commissioner. “New Yorkers are being put at risk by this spread of misinformation, including children who are too young to get vaccinated or those who have medical conditions that make vaccination impossible.”

“As a pediatrician and public health leader, I am beyond frustrated that such misinformation is causing fear and hundreds of innocent children to suffer,” she wrote in a Health Affairs blog post. She criticized anti-vaccine activists for “manipulating public opinion in lieu of the facts” and “targeting certain communities in Brooklyn with false claims that the vaccine is unsafe and causes autism and autoimmune disorders.” She added: “They are adept at using strategies – from anonymous robocalls to transmitting false information through the web – with impunity because they have no one to hold them accountable for misinformation.”

New York and federal health officials have blamed anti-vaccine groups for the measles outbreaks that have spread through ultra-Orthodox communities here and in Rockland County. The anti-vaccine groups rely on aggressive social media, pamphleteering and traveling road shows that pop up in receptive and often insular communities. As a result, parents hesitate or refuse to get their children vaccinated, and as immunization rates drop, the highly contagious and sometimes deadly virus can gain a foothold and spread quickly.

As of Monday, there have been 566 cases in New York City since the outbreak began in October, with 42 hospitalizations and 12 admissions to intensive care units. Most of the cases have been in four ZIP codes in Brooklyn. City officials issued an emergency order in April requiring everyone who lives, works or attends school in these sections of the city to be vaccinated or face a possible $1,000 fine. As of Monday, the city has issued 145 summonses. The meeting was not in one of those ZIP codes.

Bigtree denied that he had influenced New Yorkers to stop vaccinating. “I think it’s absurd to say that I’ve had any effect on this community whatsoever.”

But he also declared his support of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, citing an event in Austin, Texas, where he gave a speech in which he displayed a yellow star. “I pinned it to my jacket, and I said I stand with the Orthodox Jewish community in Rockland County.”

He also said “consensus thinking” led to “things like Nazi Germany. When we feel safe because we’re in numbers, we do really atrocious things.”

As the sun began to set on Brooklyn, bouncers directed attendees, many wearing Orthodox Jewish clothing, to entrances segregated by gender. Some attendees shielded their faces, and a woman taped a garbage bag to the hall’s glass doors to block cameras.

A man named Isaac, who declined to give his last name, said his brother-in-law owned the event hall. Isaac said he supplied 1,300 chairs for the rally, but more than 30 minutes after the event was scheduled to begin, about 100 people were sitting in the chairs.

Isaac said he and his family, who are vaccinated, had been misled by the rally organizers. “They said it was education for youngsters” to protect children from “internet pornography,” Isaac said. “By the time we found out, yesterday night, it was too late” to cancel the event, he said, because they’d accepted a contract and deposit.

Pro-vaccine protesters and members of the local Jewish community watched from the curb.

“Measles is a disaster. I’ve seen kids die of it,” said Susan Schulman, a pediatrician who has worked in Brooklyn since 1976 and said she came to dispel misinformation peddled by the “evil men” at the rally. “I’ve seen the kids on respirators from it, and I’m not talking only 40 years ago. I’m talking about now.”

Schulman said her biggest worry was that parents who listened to anti-vaccine activists like Bigtree would decline MMR vaccinations and others, such as protections against bacterial meningitis.

“If this becomes a movement in my population, I can’t practice medicine,” Schulman said. “I’ll be up all night, every night, with the kids who call in with fever.”

Ben Rivlin, 30, a caterer from the nearby Midwood neighborhood, stood by the women’s entrance to the rally and held a sign that read: “Vaccination is important! Stop the propaganda and lies.”

“I’m just here to make a little noise,” Rivlin said. “This is not a representation of the Jewish community.”

On Wednesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the number of measles cases nationwide was 1,001 as of June 5. That’s a disturbing trend because nearly 1 to 3 in 1,000 children who become infected with measles will die from respiratory and neurologic complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total of 1,001 cases is more than any year since 1992, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New York City and Rockland County account for 660 of this year’s total. Azar warned of “concerning signs that there are pockets of undervaccination around the country.”

City officials have sought to combat the spread of misinformation. They launched an ad campaign on bus shelters, newspapers and online publications, and met with rabbinical and community leaders to highlight the importance of getting vaccinated and the dangers of measles. The educational materials distributed include about 29,000 pro-vaccination booklets geared to the Orthodox community in English and Yiddish. At the end of April, health officials hosted a telephone town hall to “counter anti-vaccination propaganda,” officials said.

Four women stood with their children on the side of the street opposite the rally. One of them gestured toward the hall and said, “Because of them I had to vaccinate my 6-month-old premature baby.”

An unvaccinated woman who lives near Coney Island said she just deliberately got the measles at age 25. “My nephew came into my house, and I drank from his cup,” she said, to catch the disease “on purpose.”

(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Ben Guarino, Lena H. Sun



  1. Embarrassing? It’s vaxxers who should be embarrassed for the name they got themselves.

    Who can blame anti-vaxxers when the vaxxers who have become like the Democrats; wild, irrational, uncivilized and dangerous, were lying in wait for them at the event?

    It was very dangerous for any anti-vaxxer to show up, and foolish were the ones who did. While anti-vaxxers have proven themselves as intelligent and rational, vaxxers throughout all these months have not come down with a single research or proof other than what Big Pharma’s salesmen, the CDC, or their family doctors have told them. All they can do is pounce on anti-vaxxers with crude remarks on this site and other websites. As the saying goes: If you can’t join them, fight them.

    GOOD NEWS: Mandatory injections of dangerous vaccinations will all stop by December iy”H, as President Trump promised.

    • don’t believe anything Trump ever says ever.

      Just shows how unintelligent pro-diseasers can be

      ” and foolish were the ones who did. ” – Isnt that redundant labeling, anti-vaxxer as “foolish” ?

      • I find it very interesting that all Fake News, Propaganda Media, encourage vaccination and every single Real News, Censored Media, dissuade people from being vaccinated.

        Apparently, eingeredt is what you read. If your head is still deep in Fictitious Propaganda, no amount of reason and testimony will alter your brainwashing about vaccination. On the other hand, those who have lost their trust in Fake News (which, I think, is over 65%) and only follow Real News and their clear authentic proof would never vaccinate again.

        • Real news, fake news… one thing I know for sure. I live and most that vaccinate live with the guidance of daas torah; like any chareidi should. Just like we don’t always understand the chukim of the torah and we do it so too when it comes to the gedolim and rabbanim of this generation. To me, thats just about enough news I need to hear to look at it as Real News.

  2. I wasn’t there, but from the pictures, there were more than 35 people just outside. They couldn’t have been the pro-vaxxers as there weren’t even 35 people at the pro-vax Atrium event on Monday. Nothing in the article indicates that there were 35 people there. Sounds like fake news to me….

      • Are you saying that whatever WP reports, does not actually happen? So why does Matzav bring them down? And a bigger question, why do you read it?

  3. Your headline “Cult Fail” is disgusting. If someone studies an issue and comes to a different conclusion is a cult ???? How do you talk about yidden like that? Or are you part of the “media cult” who just follows the crowd????

  4. I’m seriously disappointed at Matzav here.

    1) Your headline claims that thirty five people were there, which is contradicted just a bit lower on the page by the report under it, which gives a figure of about one hundred. So there alone, you are way off the mark in terms of attendance, contradicting yourself on the same page.

    2) In today’s Wall Street Journal, a story on a related matter gives a figure for the event of two hundred and fifty.

    3) I personally was there, and I can say for certain that the WSJ number is more accurate than either of your figures. I personally surveyed the crowd on the men’s side multiple times (not the women’s side, however, it seemed that the number on that side was significantly greater, perhaps around double as much) to get an idea of the attendance.

    However, I want to explain something which may shed light on some of the conflicting figures.

    On the signs, a starting time of 8:00 PM was given for the event. However, it actually started a lot later, around an hour later, if not more. So therefore, a photo of the hall at 8:30 does not show all the people who came and were there later. The event ended late, perhaps around 12 (I left earlier, so don’t know for sure).

    Before the event actually started, there was activity outside the hall. That was when Del Bigtree did extensive interviews with gathered media, some of which can be seen online.

    It was also stated by one or more of the speakers that they are not against vaccines. They are just pro-choice.

    Rabbi Handler also called for peace, and sang למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך, along with another song.

    • “Rabbi Handler also called for peace, and sang למען אחי ורעי אדברה נא שלום בך, along with another song.” How nice, not to mention inspiring. We endanger you, and you make peace with us. Not quite.

  5. Hate mongers! Why are they afraid from symposiums! Why don’t they send down a great debater (one who must know all the facts and will not use any fear or scare tactics) and let the people understand it. I for one am not an anti vaxer, we do get all the vaccines the dr. orders without argument. However what baffles me is how the pro vaxers are obnoxiously using only fear tactics. I want to see them explain the study with 600k kids where they found a slightly lower rate of autism in the vaccinated group. I don’t want to hear any demonetization of any human as part of proof. Don’t sell me the brooklyn bridge. You could explain that this is very highly contagious, and that symptoms only show after some time. This means that anybody with a compromised or weakened immune system has to be secluded for more than the duration of the outbreak. This means a father that has a kid a cancer survivor can’t come in contact with anybody, cant go to shul etc and then be in the vicinity of their kid.


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