How the Hasidic Jewish Community Became a Political Force in New York

Posted By on February 25, 2023

Their former leader, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, emigrated from Eastern Europe after escaping a concentration camp and settled in Williamsburg. Satmar leaders believed that the United States represented a kingdom of grace, said David N. Myers, a history professor at UCLA and co-author of a book about Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic community in New Yorks Hudson Valley.

Leaders sought benefits housing and other subsidies and quickly realized that they needed to understand how to navigate the political system, concluding that that this was the American way and they needed to do so in order to preserve their communities, Mr. Myers said.

The Hasidic community began to carefully build relationships with elected officials, starting in the 1950s, when Rabbi Teitelbaum found common ground with Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr.

A pivotal moment came in 1991 when the Crown Heights riots shook the city.

The violence and chaos was almost unimaginable. Overnight, Brooklyn streets had turned into combat zones, pitting groups of Hasidic Jews against mostly Black men some holding longstanding grudges over what they saw as the Hasidic community receiving preferential treatment from the police and the city. Racial and antisemitic epithets filled the air alongside hurled rocks and bottles.

A police-led motorcade of the Lubavitcher grand rebbe had fatally struck a Black child, and in the melees that followed, a visiting Australian Hasidic scholar was stabbed to death. Hasidic leaders in Brooklyn pleaded with city officials for more police intervention and protection, but the help did not come until days later.

Two years later, those wounds were still raw enough to galvanize Hasidic voters who rallied around Rudolph W. Giuliani, the Republican mayoral candidate. Mr. Giuliani played on the widely held perception that his opponent, Mayor David N. Dinkins, had not acted quickly enough to quell the violence, which Mr. Giuliani characterized as a pogrom.

The community voted as a unified bloc, developing a political voice and muscle that it had not demonstrated before, recalled Dov Hikind, a longtime Democratic state assemblyman from the Orthodox community.

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How the Hasidic Jewish Community Became a Political Force in New York

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