This picture, of a plaque on Hewes Street in Williamsburg that not only protests the state of Israel but reads “Free Palestine,” made its rounds on the Hasidic Whatsapp. The reason this was newsworthy even to Hasidim is because while anti-zionist Israel may be the attitude amongst many sects, the general sympathies among Hasidim are still not pro-Palestine, especially because many Hasidim live in Israel or American Hasidim have relatives in Israel. The loyalty among many Hasidim I know is to a diaspora type of Israel, but not subsurvients to Palestine or sympathies to Palestinians.

A few individuals are the exception, and in being the exception, they are marginal figures. They not only protest the State of Israel but also loudly support Palestine, and try to even make connections with Palestinians (ie Neturei Karta’s open relationship with Yassir Arafat). They make so much noise that they skew the public perception and make the impression that all anti-zionist Hasidim are pro-Palestine. In reality, these men who make up this pro-Palestine Hasidic faction are a select few, and their voice is not encouraged by the community, as can be seen from the second picture below, taken a few days later, when this pro-Palestine plague was already removed and a small Star of David with a cross over it was inside the window instead.


The people who put up with sign don’t advertise an official affiliation with Hasidism or any sect. On their website, www.dropisrael.org there are many biblical quotes, pictures of the few individuals at protests, and even keychains with pictures of a little Hasidic boy with a Palestinian child that can be bought for $0.00 but while it can be bought, it is also marked “coming soon.”

In a previous post, I wrote about the Satmar Rabbi’s influence on the Williamsburg community, and that his anti-zionist stance can be seen all over Williamsburg, even among non-Satmar sects, in the absence of pro-Israeli symbols in its streets. Where Israeli flags and Jewish Stars were commonplace in Williamsburg before the non-Hasidic Orthodox population left, the Jewish stars have been vanishing. I used the Star of David from the Klausenburg Talmud Torah as an example, but I will follow up on that story of the broken glasswork of that old building in another post. (I know I’ve been a little backlogged in finishing some posts I’ve been working on but I hope to get to it soon. That building is a great story!)

I have been asking if anyone can help me find a Jewish star in Hasidic Williamsburg. This week I finally found one, and even in the heart of Williamsburg, across the street from the Satmar Rebbe’s original house/synagogue on Bedford Avenue! It is on the fence of an empty lot owned by the Vien congregation. Previously, there was the big Clymer Street Shul, an orthodox synagogue, and then Congregation Tifereth Israel on that property. Since the synagogue was demolished and the construction of a Vien building was delayed due to legal disagreements, the original fence is still up.

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The Satmar Rabbi’s opposition to zionism, based the three oath’s cited in the Talmud, could be felt in many ways in Hasidic Williamsburg. This Biblical Hebrew (distinguished from Modern Hebrew) graffiti on a wall on Bedford Avenue reads “A Jew is not a Zionist.”

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But there is a subtler marker in its streets that tells you Williamsburg is now influenced by Satmar anti-zionist ideology. The neighborhood appears Jewish, yet as far as I was able to see, there are no Jewish stars, the Star of David, anywhere on display. That’s because the Star was adopted by modern Israel in its flag and as a symbol, and those who are anti-zionist came to see it as a symbol of Zionism, not Judaism. Slowly, the stars disappeared form Williamsburg, even from institutions that aren’t officially anti-zionist.

I found many, many old pictures of Williamsburg that have Stars on the buildings, shops and religious institutions. Here’s a synagogue on Bedford Avenue corner Hewes that in 1965 had a Star of David in its glasswork. It is a little hard to see in the old picture, but if you look closely you will see it in the center.

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Now, it is the Klausenburg sect’s Talmud Torah. The Star of David was removed along with the old glasswork.

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It is interesting to step back and note how completely different the neighborhood’s past attitude is from its current approach to Zionism: Philip Fishman writes in A Sukkah is Burning “I am told that on the day in 1947 that the UN voted for the establishment of the State of Israel, all of the many synagogues lining Bedford Avenue joyfully displayed the blue and white Israeli flag outside their windows, with the notable exception of the small anti-Zionist Agudah.”

In today’s Hasidic Williamsburg no pro-Israel celebrations are held, and sometimes spontaneous or organized anti-Israel demonstrations occur.