NYC Jews optimistic after de Blasio landslide

Though the mayor-elect’s support was lowest among Jewish voters, the community is ‘looking forward to getting to know him’

By Rachel Delia Benaim

Originally published in The Times of Israel, November 7, 2013

NEW YORK — On Tuesday, New York City elected Bill de Blasio as its first Democratic mayor in two decades with 73% of the vote, the largest margin of victory by a non-incumbent mayor in NYC history. The former councilman for the city’s 39th district (Park Slope, Brooklyn) will serve as NYC’s 109th chief executive.

De Blasio, 52, garnered votes from across ethnic, religious, age, and gender lines, but his support was weakest among Jews, at 53 percent, according to exit polling by Edison Research for The New York Times. Despite the numbers, Jewish reaction to de Blasio’s win seemed generally positive.

Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, spiritual leader of the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan, said he’s “sure that the new mayor will be sympathetic to Jewish groups and the Jewish community.” He pointed out that due to the large Jewish presence in the city, “It’s impossible to be the mayor of New York without doing so.”

On the topic of the outgoing mayor, Michael Bloomberg, Hirsch, who had been executive director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, said, “I think the Jewish community was very respectful of Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure, and like all such relationships, 12 years was a long time.”

He added, “I think there was pent up energy in the city and the Jewish community to start in a new direction.”

De Blasio may be that new direction. “The Jewish community is looking forward to getting to know him,” Hirsch said.

Rabbi Joel Rosenfeld, a government liaison for Brooklyn’s ultra- Orthodox Bobov community, noted, “for the last few years, we had Mayor Bloomberg. He promised a lot and then slapped our community in the face.”

Bloomberg had been outraged with the ultra-Orthodox at points throughout his tenure as mayor, particularly with respect to the way the community treats sexual abuse, and the fact that women were forced to sit at the back of the bus in certain areas. Bloomberg had also made the circumcision ritual, metziza b’peh, increasingly difficult for the community to practice.

Rosenfeld is happy with the new mayor and notes that, unlike Bloomberg who made things difficult for his community, “Bill de Blasio is not that kind of person.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Fleischer, the founder and executive director of Bikur Cholim D’Bobov, a Hassidic aid organization, and a well known friend of de Blasio’s, expressed delight at the election results, saying de Blasio had “helped us [the Bobov sect] out, and I think he will continue doing whatever he can for us according to the law.”

Fleischer noted that it was de Blasio, as the Bobov community’s local councilman from 2002-2009, “that originally got the [yeshiva] vouchers for us.” De Blasio, however, said publicly this weekend that he “does not support vouchers or tax credits for yeshiva parents.”

Fleischer was unaware of de Blasio’s statement, and was surprised to hear about this shift in policy. “I know that while he was councilman, he got us the vouchers,” Fleischer said, confused as to why the mayor-elect would change his policy.

According to Matt Taylor of Tablet Magazine, because of Fleisher and the Bobov influence, de Blasio won the endorsement of prominent members of Agudath Israel, the central organization of the ultra-Orthodox community, including representatives from Williamsburg’s Satmar community and the Gerer Hassidic dynasty in New York.

Jeff Leb, the New York state director of political affairs for the Orthodox Union, a modern Orthodox organization aimed at engaging and inspiring Jewish leaders and the greater Jewish community, welcomed the new mayor on behalf of his organization. “The OU is excited about the opportunity to work with mayor-elect de Blasio.”

In terms of education, the Orthodox Union is “very pleased that [de Blasio] has a deep understanding of the issues that parents of non-public school kids face on a daily basis.”

The UJA-Federation of New York, an organization that works with a variety of synagogues, schools, and other Jewish groups around the city, declined to comment.