Zeldin Spends Day in Orthodox Community, Promises Support for Yeshivas, Racks Up Endorsements
By Reuvain Borchardt and Rabbi Binyomin Zev Karman
BROOKLYN — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rep. Lee Zeldin spent Sunday in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish communities, holding meetings, rallies and fundraisers, and getting endorsements from rabbanim and political activists largely due to his promise to oppose recently passed state regulations on yeshivas’ curriculum.
“To us, it’s yeshivas, yeshivas, yeshivas,” said Harav Yisroel Reisman, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaath and Rav of Agudas Yisroel of Madison, at an event in his home in which he and other prominent Flatbush rabbanim endorsed Zeldin. “We spend a lot of money to send our children to yeshivas. It’s the future of the Jewish People. We believe in yeshivas, yeshivas are successful, and the fact that you’re here, and you’ve somehow pulled off this miraculous climb, to be able to G-d willing become the governor, is something meaningful to us.”
Other Rabbanim endorsing Zeldin at the event included Harav Moshe Scheinerman, Harav Dovid Ozeiri, Harav Meir Platnick and Harav Ezra Rodkin, as well as Rabbi Avrohom Fruchthandler, president of Yeshiva Chaim Berlin.
Also Sunday, three prominent rabbanim from Upstate — Harav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, rosh yeshiva of South Fallsburg Yeshiva; Harav Rafael Schorr, rosh yeshiva of Vizhnitz-Monsey and rav of the Tiferes Gedalya shul; and Harav Chaim Flohr, rosh kollel of Zichron Menachem — signed a letter endorsing Zeldin and expressing their concern over the education regulations
“The New York State government has now declared itself in charge of, and responsible for, the education of our precious sons and daughters,” reads the letter. “This situation, in and of itself, is a tremendous danger to the chinuch (education) of our children, and who knows where this will end.”
The state Board of Regents passed regulations in September that would, for the first time, give the state Education Department the power to mandate a specific secular-studies curriculum on private schools.
The incumbent governor, Democrat Kathy Hochul, has remained neutral on the issue, noting that the Education Department operates independently of the governor, despite repeated requests from Orthodox leadership to use her influence to prevent the regulations from being passed. But Zeldin, whose mother was a a fourth-grade teacher at a yeshiva in Brooklyn, has repeatedly said he would use his influence as governor to fight the regulations.
It is extremely rare for rabbanim to make political endorsements, and but these rabbanim have made an exception this year, viewing the education regulations as an existential threat to the community.
While no Republican has won statewide office in New York in two decades, Zeldin has made this a close race — many polls show him within single digits — primarily by repeatedly hammering Hochul over rising crime in the state. Zeldin is also benefitting from national anxiety over inflation, high fuel prices, and a poor economy while Democrats have been in power in Washington.
Zeldin also received the support Sunday of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, as well as a group of Crown Heights community activists.
Zeldin held rallies on Sunday at Midwood Field and on 13th Avenue in Boro Park, each drawing several hundred participants.
At the Midwood rally, Zeldin attacked Hochul’s refusal to take a position on the yeshiva issue.
“A governor has an ability to have a belief that you can be outspoken about to move public opinion on any issue,” Zeldin said. “And even if you’re not willing to take a public position, what is stopping you from talking about everything that is good about a yeshiva education?”
“There are times you feel like your wallet, your safety, your freedom, your kids’ education are under attack. You look for people in government to courageously stand up and fight for you, but at times you’ve been filled with disappointment because they’ve failed you,” Zeldin said the the Boro Park rally. “There are “nine days until an election where you have the power — you have the power — to change the trajectory of New York State.”
Zeldin also held private meetings with the Vizhnitzer and Skulener Rebbes of Boro Park, the Kashau Rebbe in Red Hook, and the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Williamsburg.
The Vizhnitzer Rebbe, who does not make endorsements, said at the meeting that Zeldin would have success if he fought the education regulations.
Media was not permitted in the room during the meeting, but a chassid who was present described the conversation to Hamodia.
“The Rebbe, speaking through a translator, told Zeldin, ‘My main thing, and the only thing, I want to ask you, is the Jewish education issue, which is heartbreaking,'” the chassid told Hamodia, adding that the Rebbe was “crying a little” as he spoke.
“Then the Rebbe challenged Zeldin. He said, ‘If you as governor don’t have power over the Board of Regents, how can you promise to deliver? Zeldin answered that first of all, Governor Hochul should have said something about the situation. And he said that as governor, he can explain the issue and change public opinion, and that he has influence over the Board of Regents, since he is the most powerful elected official in the state, and that always makes a difference.
“Zeldin pledged he would definitely do whatever he can to fight the regulations, and the Rebbe told him, ‘If you will help in the matter of chinuch, you will have success.'”
Also Sunday, Zeldin held private meetings with community leaders in Boro Park, and held several fundraisers at Orthodox Jewish homes.
Zeldin, who previously received the endorsements of Jewish activists in Central Queens and Far Rockaway, is expected to get nearly all endorsements in the community, a rarity for a candidate challenging an incumbent who has generally been friendly to the community — underscoring the centrality of the yeshiva issue.
Community politicos tell Hamodia that regardless of endorsements, Zeldin is expected to win the overwhelming support of the Orthodox Jews, due not only to his stances on yeshivas but his law-and-order views of crime, displeasure over a Democratic-run economy, and the socially conservative views he shares with the religious community.
Zeldin has campaigned aggressively in the Orthodox community. Hochul has held meetings and gone to events with community leaders — including a visit to the Ohel Chabad in Queens on Sunday — but has not campaigned publicly in the community since she won the primary election in June.
There is some evidence the Orthodox may turn out in large numbers this year: in the 48th Assembly District, which covers most of Boro Park and a large portion of Midwood, 844 people participated in early voting on Sunday, which one community leader described to Hamodia as a “crazy high” number.
Early voting is available through Sunday, Nov. 6. New York City voters can find their early-voting site (generally a different site than their Election Day voting site) by clicking here.
Rockland County has seven early-voting locations, any of which can be used by any registered voter in the county. Click here to view the locations.
Election Day is November 8.
Photos and videos by Reuvain Borchardt/Hamodia
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