By MIKE WAGENHEIM
One could circle Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School for blocks on Tuesday, Nov. 8. There were no political activists handing out campaign material. A truck with inaudible speakers passed the school’s polling place once in a four-hour window. Neighborhood residents could be forgiven for not realizing an election was taking place.
Voters Feel Forgotten
Outside of the “Vote Here” signs zip-tied to the fence by the entrance to the polls, there was only one glaring reminder for this Midwood community, which is comprised largely of Haredi and modern Orthodox Jews: A sign folded around a streetlight, capturing a headline from a Jewish community newspaper. In bold yellow capital letters, the copy read “GOV. HOCHUL TO YESHIVAS: NOT MY PROBLEM.” It was laid over a photo of New York’s Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul, looking somewhat aloof.
That flyer and its tone summed up the feelings of the voters that JNS spoke with coming out of the polls. Jewish residents didn’t demonize Hochul. There didn’t even seem to be a palpable anger toward her. There was more of a sense of frustration and, greater than that, abandonment, by a figure largely supported by the city’s Jewish residents until recently. That support has come undone, with accusations that Hochul has done little to curb rising violence against Jews in the streets, and that she stayed on the sidelines as the media and her party’s politicians assailed the educational standards of the state’s yeshivas in the face of new state regulations.
Political Silence Unacceptable
“The priorities are the life of our community, Jews in Brooklyn, in New York City, in the United States, but particularly Orthodox Jews in our community that have been attacked and been spit on. And I’m not just talking about physically. I’m talking about verbally by the highest levels of government, by the media,” New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger told JNS as he exited the voting booth. “And it’s time that people stand up, and that’s what you’re seeing in our community. People are standing up and they’re saying enough is enough. We’re not going to take it anymore.”
Though Yeger was clear that he wasn’t endorsing anyone either candidate in the governor’s race, his comments reflected that of his neighbors—an appreciation for the efforts of the Republican nominee, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, in courting the Jewish vote and vocalizing the concerns of the community when Hochul stayed silent.
“I don’t know if I felt a backlash, but I have felt the energy of candidates recognizing that we are a force to be reckoned with. If you’re going to want our votes, you have to make a demonstration of why you deserve our votes. And I’ve seen that from some candidates up and down the ticket. They’ve made the effort to come into our community,” said Yeger. “I’ve seen other candidates who haven’t made the effort to come to our community, and I think the dividends will pay off for those who have tried to get our votes and who have been able to articulate a case for why our community should stand with them.”
It seemed a veiled reference to Zeldin, one of only two Jewish Republican members of Congress, who had narrowed a double-digit deficit in the polls just weeks ago and looked to be within striking distance of Hochul heading into Election Day. Yet Hochul ultimately secured a comfortable victory.
Others at the polls were clearer and more direct about their choice. A voter named Zehava came to the polling station with her three young children. She cited yeshiva education and safety as her two priorities when selecting a candidate. When asked if there was a candidate she felt could provide positive action on her pet issues, she replied “Oh yeah, even the kids know. Who did we choose for governor?” she asked, looking down at her children. In unison, the three of them screamed, “Zeldin!”
Uninterested And Uninvolved?
Chaim Fried said his first priority was yeshiva education, as well. “We feel that the Department of Education hasn’t been very fair to us. The New York Times seems to be taking shots at us and we want to be heard. And so that’s frankly the priority. Everything else is kind of noise,” he said.
A voter identifying himself as Yaakov told JNS that he was voting based on the yeshiva issue and the rising violence in the city. “The uptick of crime is crazy and we don’t think Albany is doing much about it,” he said. Yaakov said that he believed the governor has more power than Hochul lets on, inferring that political expediency is the reason she won’t step in on the yeshiva issue and on the state’s bail reform law, which many blame for the surging violence in the New York subways and streets.
“Whoever’s the governor has control. They could do what they want. So, we’re hoping for a good outcome,” Yaakov said.
Elky Geltach came out of the polling place with a clear message—that she voted for Zeldin, not just because he courted the vote of the city’s Jews, but that Hochul simply wasn’t nearly as interested in doing the same.
“Hochul’s not representing what we need in our community. Primarily, the issue is she said she is not able to get involved [in the yeshiva issue] because it belongs to the Board of Regents,” said Geltach, referring to the body responsible for voting for the new yeshiva standards. “But that’s also another way of saying I’m not interested in getting involved or I want to remain pareve on that subject…We want change and, therefore, we’re voting as a community for Lee Zeldin.”
Not a single Jewish voter JNS spoke with signaled he or she was pulling the lever for Hochul, who noticeably campaigned in the final day with actor Mark Ruffalo and with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both anti-Israel activists who have faced accusations of anti-Semitism.