Hassidim get behind their candidates in heated NYC council race

The Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan is seen from a helicopter in New York City, April 22, 2010.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan is seen from a helicopter in New York City, April 22, 2010.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
NEW YORK – On Thursday, long after midnight, Yoni Hikind’s “mobile headquarters” was parked on a central avenue in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood in front of a Jewish restaurant. The restaurant was packed with Jewish and some non-Jewish patrons and served cholent and other traditional dishes in a kind of culinary preview to Shabbat.
The young Hikind, who is running for the New York City Council, sat in the restaurant facing a table full of food surrounded by people, some supportive, some curious. Like the rest of the candidates in the 44th City Council District, Hikind employs Hassidic Jews in his campaign for the upcoming local election this Tuesday. The signs on Hikind’s mobile headquarter feature several languages, all of which are common in the center of Brooklyn, but the most visible is the slogan saying, in Yiddish: “Yes! You matter!”
The local elections usually cause a yawn in New York, given the expected reelection of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Even before the deadly terrorist attack last week in lower Manhattan, which has dominated all the headlines, it seemed as if the city was indifferent to who will get a seat in the city council. All this applies to most of New York, but definitely not to Borough Park, a mainly ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, where the battle between two candidates has gone out to the streets, complete with slandering flyers and pashkevilim and kids tearing down posters and lots of traffic on social media.
The NY 44th District is made up of Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Gravesend, Kensington, Midwood and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. Hikind and his main rival, Kalman Yeger, seek to replace retiring City Councilman David Greenfield. Greenfield supports Yeger as his successor. Daily on his Twitter account he reveals his negative opinion of Yoni Hikind, who is also the son of Greenfield’s political rival, New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind. The third candidate, with no sponsor or realistic chance of winning, is Harold Tischler.
All three are interested in the ultra-Orthodox vote, the main component of the Borough Park neighborhood, but they officially refrain from presenting themselves as exclusive Haredi representatives on the city council. Last Sunday, hundreds of people gathered in a Borough Park hall, part of a Bais Yaakov girls’ school, for a public debate organized by Hamodia newspaper.
According to Hamodia’s website, Yeger emphasized his experience in the political arena, while Hikind talked about seeking to bring people together. Asked whether the government should be able to dictate yeshiva curricula, particularly secular studies, all candidates stressed their opposition. The three candidates remained polite and respectable, saying they represented all the groups in the district, as the real battle stayed outside the hall.
In recent days, Hikind supporters have distributed videos filmed last Saturday by security cameras, in which Haredi children wear Hikind election posters, despite the fact that it was Shabbat. On the other hand, in posters that were distributed in the neighborhood by Hikind supporters, a photograph of Yeger appears with the caption “Kippa, where are you?!” and “Yeger Shleger” – Bully Yegar.
Another flyer presented Kalman Yeger as someone who actually opposed yeshivas, whereas Yoni Hikind was defined as faithful to yeshivas. Yeger supporters are even more active in the poster front, printing a series of posters mocking Hikind under the heading “Where is Yona’le?” He is portrayed in the posters as lazy and inexperienced and hostile to the yeshivas, with comments such as: “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” The posters, for the most part, are written in Yiddish.
While Hikind and Yeger are doing their best to get the support of rabbis and congregations – or at least a photo with a rabbi to post on Twitter – the rumor industry surrounding them is flourishing. In the past few days, Yeger had to deny rumors he had ties with and is been supported by the anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour.
The lowest political attacks by both camps have been about the candidates’ families. The Yeshiva World web- site attacked Hikind by saying: “We do not pretend to be the arbiter of all things politics, but attacking a candidate over his dealings with his family is a bad strategy, guaranteed to create a public backlash.” The article concluded: “We again call on the two campaigns to stop the personal attacks and play nice. We are all watching.”