Orthodox Jews aiding NY Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ transition to office

In the crowded primary, Adams was a favorite of Orthodox groups in Brooklyn, along with Andrew Yang.

New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams takes a photo with Yoav Davis, founder of ‘Jews of NY’ on the first night of Hanukkah at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, last month. (photo credit: ALEXI ROSENFELD/GETTY IMAGES/JTA)
New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams takes a photo with Yoav Davis, founder of ‘Jews of NY’ on the first night of Hanukkah at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, last month.
(photo credit: ALEXI ROSENFELD/GETTY IMAGES/JTA)

A record-high number of Orthodox Jewish leaders from Brooklyn were named as part of the transition team for the incoming administration of New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams. Announced on December 3, the team includes rabbis and community activists from the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Flatbush, Boro Park and Williamsburg.

One of those appointed to the influential team is Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, who was the first Jewish leader in Crown Heights to support Adams’s candidacy.

“We broke the ice and a lot of other Jewish communities followed us,” Behrman told The Jerusalem Post. “I supported Eric Adams since day one. When he was up in the polls, down in the polls, it didn’t matter. He was the only candidate running who had a strong and deep friendship with the Jewish community. I’ve known Eric since he was state senator, I’ve known him for close to 10 years. When he represented Crown Heights he was very active, involved in many Jewish events. He was there in both the good times and sad times; Hanukkah events, weddings, he attended my parents’ street-naming [event] after they passed away when we dedicated a street in Crown Heights to them.

“In New York City, there are a lot of issues that must be addressed. In order to address them, you have to include the players from day one and understand the community. Through Eric’s years as a state senator and borough president, he’s always included insight from community leaders and clergy,” Behrman continued.

“For the first time in Crown Heights history, we were able to bring leadership together and go strong with Eric,” Behrman recalled. “Everybody got on board the train and not only did we endorse Eric, but we endorsed Eric as the only option in Ranked Choice Voting. We were certainly the first hassidic community to endorse him.”

 Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor Eric Adams reacts as he speaks after being declared victor at his election night party in Brooklyn, New York, US November 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY) Democratic candidate for New York City Mayor Eric Adams reacts as he speaks after being declared victor at his election night party in Brooklyn, New York, US November 2, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)

In the June 22 Democratic primary election, Adams won by fewer than 8,500 votes, edging out runner-up sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia by a little more than one percentage point.

Adams has long had a strong base of support within New York City’s Orthodox Jewish communities. In the crowded primary, Adams was a favorite of Orthodox groups in Brooklyn, along with Andrew Yang. Though he did not win a majority of the vote in heavily hassidic Borough Park in the November general election, Adams mentioned that community in his victory speech.

“It doesn’t matter if you are in Borough Park in the hassidic community, if you’re in Flatbush in the Korean community, if you’re in Sunset Park in the Chinese community, if you’re in Rockaway, if you’re out in Queens in the Dominican community, Washington Heights – all of you have the power to fuel us,” Adams said in his speech the night of the election. 

Last week, The Forward reported that Adams decided to delay his public inauguration ceremony by several hours on Saturday, January 1, to accommodate his Jewish supporters.

ACCORDING TO Behrman, the Crown Heights community brought out 4,200 votes for Adams.

“That number of voter engagement in this community is also historic,” he said, noting that the Chabad Lubavitch community of Crown Heights had been, over the years, politically ambivalent.

Behrman, a member of the mayor-elect’s clergy committee, expressed excitement about the record-breaking number of Orthodox Jewish leaders, and other faith-based heads, appointed to a transition team.

“I’ve never seen this level of Orthodox Jewish engagement with a mayor-elect in New York City,” he told the Post. “I’ve never seen this level of engagement with other religious minorities as well. It’s not typical to have this many Orthodox Jews on a transition team. But then again, I don’t remember the last time the Orthodox community played such a key role in electing the mayor.”

Behrman, a part-time public relations liaison for Chabad Lubavitch who also runs a drug prevention program, in addition to serving as chairman of the Public Safety for Community Board 9 and founder of the Jewish Future Alliance, called the clergy committee, which is headed by Pastor Gil Monrose, “unique and diverse.”

“It’s beautiful how diverse this committee is,” Behrman, a lifelong resident of Crown Heights, said. “We have rabbis, bishops, imams. Even within the Jewish community there’s a diverse group of leaders.”

“It’s unique and unlike other committees that are set to expire on January 1st,” he continued, noting that increasing cultural competence within COVID-19 policy is top on the agenda.

“We’ll be around throughout the administration to give insight to the city from minority communities and faith leaders about the different challenges facing our neighborhood. In the current administration, I have sat at many state and city meetings in the health department regarding COVID and the challenge always was the city and state came to us after the fact, after policies were published asking faith-based leaders to help them further the agenda, but it was too late at that point,” Behrman continued.

“What’s unique about the mayor-elect is he’s bringing in clergy from the very beginning, from the transition phase for insight and consulting on many issues. Although we don’t have a defined agenda like some of the other committees, our committee will consult with various committees and the administration.”

THREE OTHER community activists from the Crown Heights community were named: Rabbi Chanina Sperlin, inter-governmental liaison for the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council; Rav Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council; and Devorah Halberstam, honorary safety commissioner in the NYPD and cofounder of the Jewish Children’s Museum.

Additional Orthodox Jewish members of the Adams transition team include Menashe Shapiro (a top adviser to the Adams campaign), Rabbi Joel Eisdorfer (a close adviser to the mayor-elect), Rabbi Shmuel Mordechai Stern and Rabbi Naftali Moshe Indig (both of the Satmar Hassidim), Rabbi Chaim David Zweibel and Rabbi Yeruham Silver (both of Agudath Israel), and Rav Yehoshua Mehlman (Flatbush Jewish Community Center).

“[Eric] has the experience from being a police officer and an executive,” Mehlman told the Post following Adams’ primary win in June. “He understands Brooklyn and the city and has the ability to bridge groups together.”

Upon making the December 3 transition team announcement, Adams tweeted: “In order to ensure our administration is ready to lead on Day One, we put together an unprecedented collection of great minds and hard-working New Yorkers from different backgrounds to help prepare us for success – and help guide us well past January 1st.”

Adams, who defeated long-shot GOP candidate Curtis Silwa on November 2 in the overwhelmingly Democratic city, pitched himself as a moderate Democrat who opposes the “defund the police” movement but promises to rid it of racist policing practices. He also portrays himself as a “blue-collar” New Yorker, saying working-class Democrats have been ignored by the party’s more liberal wing. While a member of the NYPD, Adams developed a reputation as an activist after cofounding 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an advocacy group that spoke out against police brutality.

Adams is expected to take office in January from term-limited Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, as New York City seeks to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic. He is set to become the second African-American mayor of New York, after David Dinkins.

“New York is facing very challenging times, both from a public safety standpoint and a small business standpoint,” Behrman continued. “We are all committed to working together to assist the mayor and elected officials in saving New York, or else the city will go backwards. We are all working together for the benefit of New York City. This is New York at its best.”

JTA contributed to this report.