A fateful year for New York, and its Jewish community
New York’s Politics Turn Left
he year drawing to a close has been one of the most fateful for New York and its Jewish community.
It was the year that socialism gained newfound popularity. It was the year the city’s yeshivah system faced its first significant challenge since its miraculous establishment in the wake of the Holocaust. It was also the year that measles made a comeback due to the gullibility of a few anti-vaxxers.
Democrats won control of the New York state senate in 5779, remaking a chamber that has served as a moderating force in Albany for the past half century. A group of radical Democrats bulldozed into the senate, decimating the longtime GOP majority and destroying a breakaway group of moderate Democrats in the process. The new crop of legislators included one socialist who fantasized in an interview about a state with no private home ownership.
The consequences of full Democratic control were immediate. The legislature passed laws that made it harder to turn a profit in the real estate market, threatening one of the state’s key industries. The senate also passed the Child Victims Act, a law that gives victims a new window to sue their abusers, but may also threaten the future of the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and some private schools. The senate also voted to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses, and set a hard cap of zero carbon emissions by 2040, a goal considered economically catastrophic and practically unfeasible.
Even Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who made a hard-left turn ahead of the 2018 election to attract progressive support, was out of breath. A fight quickly broke out between the governor and the progressive vanguard, leaving him sidelined for the first time in his nine years in the governor’s mansion.
Hate, particularly hate against Jews, is way up. Boro Park witnessed the uncommon sight of a Jewish man beaten up in middle of 13th Avenue on his way to Shacharis. Residents of Crown Heights, still a tense neighborhood 28 years after the riots, are fearful to walk alone; community board meetings there frequently erupt into displays of virulent anti-Semitism. Williamsburg, the cradle of Orthodox Jewry in the city, saw beatings and attacks in broad daylight.
A little to the north, Rockland County saw the local branch of the Republican Party release a video darkly warning that if “they win, we lose.” And we all know who “they” are. Villages from Chester to Airmont face lawsuits for trying to bar Jews from their borders. In Lakewood, local county officials faced rare rebuke from the State Department anti-Semitism czar over the lack of condemnation for a group called Rise Up Ocean County.
On the other side of the state capitol, things have not gone as well for Simcha Felder, the state senator who has represented Boro Park and Midwood since 2012. A Democrat by party persuasion, Felder made the decision to caucus with the Republicans to better serve his constituents. In 2018, he cast the vote that decided which party controlled the senate. When Democrats took back control, angry liberals renounced him, leaving him party-less until July, when the party accepted him back into the fold.
Fake News Item of the Year
YAFFED founder Naftali Moster claims to represent a “silent majority” in the Orthodox community, but nearly 150,000 people submitted public comments opposing changes to the state’s educational system that would adversely affect the yeshivah system. Moster can safely say he represents himself.
With the retirement of longtime New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Simcha Eichenstein has proven to be a capable and popular replacement. Eichenstein has earned a reputation in Albany as a workhorse, making friends with nearly every one of his 149 colleagues. He has also served somewhat as a spokesman for the community as its faces threats to the decades-old educational system.
Another bright spot was the unity shown by New York City’s frum community in the face of the yeshivah crisis, known locally as the gezeiras hachinuch. And more achdus: Boro Park’s three Orthodox lawmakers — New York State Senator Simcha Felder, Simcha Eichenstein, and New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger (or, as Yeger calls the group, “me and my two Simchas”) — have started a weekly get-together to share ideas and improve their advocacy for their constituents.
Stat of the Year
An average of 277 people leave New York state every day, fleeing high taxes and a poor quality of life. That out-migration rate is the worst in the nation.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 779)