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Adam’s campaign claimed that at least one of the dozen and a half rabbis who advocate Yang was “not authorized” to speak on behalf of their communities. “The person listed under ‘Munkatch’ has no institutional authority to support Yang,” said Adams advisor Menashe Shapiro.
David Schwartz, Yang’s Orthodox liaison officer, denied the allegation that Munkatch’s endorsement of Yang was unlawful, citing reports in Jewish media that the rabbinical endorsements alleged in Adam’s campaign had been falsified.
The intensity of the struggle for Orthodox support underscores the political importance of New York rabbi. And after the increased state and municipal control of the yeshiva in recent years, the religious education approach is central to their support.
“The yeshiva issue has gained more visibility than ever before,” said David Bloomfield, professor of education at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center and an advocate for better control of secular education in yeshiva.
He criticized what he sees as “political catnip” used by candidates to “attract a small number of ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders whose approval could easily lead to thousands of votes”. He said the emergence of yeshivas as “a major political issue in this campaign” was a first – and evidence of the growing importance of “attracting voting blocs with a single interest”.
Yang first plunged into the yeshiva secular education debate in February, reiterating the “choice of parents” and calling for what he sees as a “total lack of trust” between the Haredi Orthodox community and the city government to be repaired.
Adams visited a Boresh Park Yeshiva in March, one of the schools that was the subject of a 2019 city ministry of education investigation because some schools did not meet secular educational standards. He got away from his visit to the Brooklyn Yeshiva, “really impressed with what he sees”. Shapiro said. In April, Adams followed up with a series of visits to Orthodox communities in all five counties in hopes of building a coalition of support.
“As president of Brooklyn Borough, Adams already has a natural relationship with that community,” Shapiro said. “He’s been working closely with this community for years.”
But Adams also isolated certain leaders.
In 2008, he defended Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam known for his anti-Semitic comments, by criticizing the late MP Major Owens’ decision to denounce the controversial figure. In 2015, Adams upset residents of Chassidic, South Williamsburg, by backing an offer to license a liquor license to a local function space in the former Williamsburgh Savings Bank, even after hundreds of neighbors resisted. And in 2017, Adams’ opposition to a 1,146-unit apartment complex in the Broadway Triangle was condemned as barely veiled anti-Semitism by Orthodox community leaders such as Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations in Williamsburg and North Brooklyn.
“No other politician has been as disrespectful and meddling in our community as he is,” said a community insider – who asked for anonymity to speak freely – adding that Williamsburg rabbis will be approving in the coming weeks tend to yang.
Shapiro said the allegations were “a false and defamatory lie that is most likely being spread by the reeling Yang gang”. He said, “Eric has a great relationship with the Williamsburg leaders,” and will likely be back in the neighborhood this week to meet with community leaders.
Although the Williamsburg Satmar Hasidic community has deep internal rifts, Yang’s targeted appeal to community interests – mainly a hands-off approach to Yeshivas – may be enough to unite factions in the community that were previously politically divided.
“There is usually a political détente between the two sides of Satmar,” said councilor Steve Levin, whose district includes parts of Williamsburg. “It will be interesting to see if the opposing Satmar camps come together to support a candidate for mayor.”
Levin, mayoral candidate Maya Wiley, said he was “not surprised” that his neighbors in Hasidic Williamsburg found a “compelling candidate” in Yang.
“His moderate positions are attractive in this community and the fact that he is clearly willing to enter into them and try to understand their problems,” he said.
When Yang was pressed last week on certain promises he made to the Orthodox community – including how or if he would react to an investigation by the city’s Ministry of Education in December 2019 that found a number of yeshivas failing to meet state education requirements – said Eichenstein. “Numerous conversations” with the former presidential candidate convinced him that Yang would be a “non-apologetic” lawyer.
“Andrew Yang has shown that he understands the uniqueness of our community and wants to work with us,” said Eichenstein.