How Andrew Yang won ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn
Campaign material began appearing in Yiddish earlier than usual this year, stating that the best defense ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City could have against a hostile world would be to elect Andrew Yang as mayor. .
An ad, citing a passage from the Babylonian Talmud, told voters that Mr. Yang was the kind of honest man who is loved by God, not someone “who says one thing with his mouth but wants another in his mouth. heart”.
Another ad expressed the choice in existential terms, urging people to vote for Mr. Yang because only he supports “our right to educate our children according to our fundamentals” and “values our way of life.”
With the June 22 mayoral Democratic primaries in about a month, Mr. Yang, a former 2020 presidential candidate, has been able to rise to the top of the contest thanks to a potent mix of celebrity, optimism and tireless outreach, in person and in person. social media.
As he did during his presidential run, which had the backing of a wide range of disgruntled voters, Mr. Yang was able to broaden his appeal in New York City, attracting a large following of ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders. influential.
There are at least 500,000 Orthodox Jews in the New York area, by some estimates, and the endorsement of ultra-Orthodox leaders is highly coveted as the community is seen as a formidable electoral bloc, especially in a race that does not. has not yet energized the electorate.
The key for Mr. Yang was his early declaration that he intended to adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards the Hasidic yeshivas, the private schools to which almost all ultra-Orthodox families send their sons, as well as towards the schools where they educate their daughters. .
The yeshiva system has faced strong criticism over the inability of some schools to provide basic secular education. Some also operated covertly during the pandemic, in violation of public health rules.
“We should not interfere with their religious and parental choice as long as the results are good”, he told The Forward, a Jewish publication, in February.
This approach has helped him undermine his rivals, particularly Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former state senator who has a long working relationship with the Orthodox community.
During the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary, Hasidic groups in Borough Park, Brooklyn, backed Bill de Blasio, who previously represented the area on city council.
But in the last two presidential elections, neighborhoods with large ultra-Orthodox populations were deep red islands in an extremely blue Brooklyn. Some constituencies in Borough Park voted over 90% for President Donald J. Trump in 2020.
It remains to be seen what influence the Hasidic rulers will have in the Democratic primary; most ultra-Orthodox Jews support the Republican Party, according to one study published last week by the Pew Research Center, and the results of the 2020 presidential election in Orthodox Brooklyn seem to confirm this.
Nonetheless, for Hasidic rulers, the decision to endorse a newcomer like Mr. Yang over an amount known as Mr. Adams highlights their anxiety after a long series of calamitous events: a devastating pandemic, an increase in crime of anti-Semitic hatred and a long history of clashes with secular authorities over issues such as social distancing, measles epidemics and high school curricula.
Mr. Yang approaches city politics without the baggage of these past clashes. Capitalizing on this blank slate, he won over his allies with well-honed rhetoric on religious freedom, a sophisticated messaging campaign in the Yiddish media, and a willingness to adopt the hands-off approach favored by Hasidic rulers.
“The most pressing issue is the yeshivas,” said Alexander Rapaport, a community leader who has organized voter registration campaigns in Borough Park in the run-up to the primaries. “It’s not like anything else is number 2. Everything else is number 25. The first 24 numbers are yeshivas, yeshivas, yeshivas.”
In previous elections, yeshiva debates often centered on allocating public funds to religious schools, which receive millions of federal, state and municipal dollars through education and childcare programs.
But the political conversation changed after a legal complaint filed in 2015 by yeshiva graduates who said they had received little secular education. This complaint led the city to launch an investigation which found that 26 of the 28 yeshivas investigated did not meet a legal requirement to provide education “substantially equivalent” to that provided in public schools. from the city.
No action was taken, but it sparked a city-wide dialogue that struck at the heart of the yeshiva’s role in Hasidic society and deeply insulted many members of the community. There are more than 50,000 students in Hasidic schools in New York, according to a 2017 report by Young Advocates for Fair Education, an ultra-Orthodox advocacy group.
“The perceived threat to the autonomy of the yeshivas is greater than it has ever been, in part because there are critics within the community who publish what they see as problems with the yeshiva system in a way that has never happened before, ”said Nathaniel Deutsch, professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Mr. Yang’s approach to the community was fully exposed to the a recent event in Midwood, Brooklyn, where he was endorsed by two local politicians, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and City Councilor Kalman Yeger.
Standing in front of a crowd of reporters, Mr. Yang vowed to fight anti-Semitism and told Hasidic voters that they were part of New York’s “beautiful mosaic”.
But when asked by The New York Times about the yeshivas, Mr. Yang stood quietly behind Mr. Eichenstein and Mr. Yeger as they vehemently defended schools, attacked “so-called supporters” of reform, and denounced the investigation. from the city.
Mr. Yang appeared baffled by their anger – at one point, Mr. Yeger accused city council members of “okay with our exploding children” – and sought to calm tensions with a joke about the “added value” they made his campaign.
He then took the microphone and criticized the city for allowing investigators “to check for all kinds of offenses” in the yeshivas. He said he would take a different approach as mayor.
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“As there are issues in individual schools, I think we need to unite with the community and say, ‘Look, is there anything we can do to help? Mr. Yang said.
“When there are problems, the approach should be one of correction and collegiality rather than litigation and confrontation,” he added. “Which, unfortunately, I think, has been the dynamic the city has created for far too long.”
Mr Adams also praised the yeshivas, saying he was “really impressed” by one of the schools the city studied when he visited in March. But he insisted they must meet city standards and seems to favor intervention when they don’t.
“We have to make sure that these yeshivas – the ones that fail, which are not all yeshivas, but the ones that fail – we have to make sure that they meet minimum standards,” he recently told The New York Times. .
The mentions of Mr. Yang were notable for how quickly they arrived. Hasidic leaders tend to wait until the polls establish a favorite so they can try to back the winner, said David M. Pollock, director of public policy for the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
But just because ultra-Orthodox voters have voted en bloc in the past doesn’t mean they’re a monolith, Pollock said.
This was particularly clear at the local level. Even in 2013, when Mr. de Blasio won the Borough Park neighborhood, he did so only by a slight margin over William C. Thompson Jr., who beat him in other neighborhoods with large populations. ultra-Orthodox.
“The dynamic is not that there is a bloc vote, but that there are several political actors who can deliver votes in bulk,” Pollock said. This can be especially powerful in an election with a priority vote, which this race in town hall is using for the first time.
“If you don’t approve of someone as your No.1, you can say, ‘You’ll be our No.2,’” Mr Pollock said. “It’s not bad if you can influence 6,000 votes.”
Mr. Yang has sought to appeal to Hasidic voters on issues other than education, including supporting the right of parents to choose a circumcision ritual, metzitzah b’peh, which is used by a minority of Hasidic mohels and transmitted herpes to babies, and support Israel in its conflict with Hamas.
But the yeshivas have become the dominant issue in part because they play a more important role in Hasidic society than schools in the secular world, Professor Deutsch said.
They employ many Hasidics, act as a social network that connects people with jobs and marriage prospects, and are a primary means by which the history, values and Yiddish language of the community are passed on to new generations, a he declared.
They are also an important lever of power for community leaders, who can threaten to forbid a child in the yeshiva to enforce standards of behavior on their parents, such as a ban on renting property to gentrifiers, said the Yeshiva. Dr Deutch.
Indeed, Yoel Greenfeld, a young man leaving prayer at a 24-hour synagogue in Borough Park, said he would vote for Mr. Yang in the general election because Hasidic leaders approved him. But he can’t vote in the primary because he’s a registered Republican.
“I will vote for Yang because the community here wants Yang, and when people say they mean the leaders want Yang,” Greenfeld said. “My opinion is nothing compared to theirs. But personally, I want a Republican.