A very nice Hasidic gentleman who works at one of the delis I take my tours to, told us a story today. He offered the story to me and some of my tourists just as we were wrapping up and heading out, ahead of this pouring rain.

“I have a story for you. You can use it on your tours.” he said.

He likes to tell me what to say on my tours. He isn’t the only one. Hasidim with whom I interact on my tours regularly scold me for not saying this or that. “speak to the charity, speak to the ambulate, the help for the sick, the organizations like Shomrim and Chaveyrim, etc.” It cracks me up; I laugh and say ‘yeah, yeah’ and don’t take it too personally that nothing I will say will ever placate these harsh critics.

Unless I tell the story I was told today, which I will.

Mr. G tells it so:

The other day a non-Jewish gentleman was driving outside of Monroe – maybe route 32 if I heard correctly – when he got a flat tire. It was late at night, he was distraught, and along drives a Hasidic person, pulls over, asks what the matter is. This Hasidic person was from the Hasidic organizations like Chaveyrim who will change your flat for free. (They changed mine several times while I had a car).  The Hasid said “let me fix the flat for you. We do it for free.” The gentile was stunned; “but I’m not even Jewish.” The Hasid didn’t blink. Helping a gentile can result in a kiddush hashem, raising the honor of God, and was a good deed in its own way. So he rolled up his sleeve, got hold of a  fantastic new tire — (Mr. G here told of an incident where he got a new tire from Chaveyrim after mid-night) –and changed it for him. As the two got ready to get back into their cars, the gentile said:

“I want to send a note to your wife to thank her for what you did. Is that okay?”

The Hasid said of course it was! Who wouldn’t want a bit of buttering the marriage.

“And this address you gave me for the note, is that your home?”

“It’s my home, yes, why?”

“Nothing, just curious – you own it? Rent? Just curious.”

The Hasid said he owned, gave his address, bid farewell, and off he went.

A week later the Hasid got a call from the bank. “Mr. So-and-so; we want to notify you that your mortgage has been paid in full.” Yes, kids. The recipient of the act of kindness had sent a check to pay off the entire mortgage. And who was this stranger? None other than Donald Trump!

Some tourists and I gasped. It was an unexpected twist. Trump?

“Yes” said Mr. G. “True story. It was in the Daily News- check it! Trump – I tell you, he’s not as bad as you think.”

And then Mr. G told us some more stories of Trump’s acts of kindness. The stories so emphasized Trump’s miracle making for ordinary people, I had to stop myself from pointing out the resemblance between the Trump stories and the apocryphal miracle stories of Hasidic Zadikkim. In fact, the Trump elevation to Zadik is almost not totally absurd. On Yiddish language forums Hasidic men regularly describe themselves as Hasidim of Trump. They use the term Hasid colloquially as “fans of”, but the similarities to veneration of secular and religious leader is not as different as you’d think.


So on the train ride home, I looked for the Daily News story, and two seconds of googling led me to a number of variations of this same tale. None of them seemed to involve Hasidim, but all involve Trump rewarding a Good Samaritan tenfold for their act of kindness. According to Snopes, this saga is an urban legend. According to Trump, on the other hand, it is true. Matzav.com addressed the story in 2016 with the version in which the Good Samaritan in a Jew, and said it is fake. This story has apparently been attributed to so many celebrities, it is listed in Jan Brunvand’s Encyclopedia of Urban Legend’s, under “Celebrity Car Breakdown“. I find it fascinating that this follows the same pattern of how miracle stories of Hasidic Zadikim spread. One store gets attributed to many different persons of note, almost as if it didn’t matter who it happened with, but rather, that it could have happened with the person it is attributed to.

So there. I told the story but I ruined it too. Fact-checking sure gets all the air out of good old fashioned story telling…

So many people assume that Hasidim, like other conservative groups, vote on religious values issues. They assume that Hasidim care about gay marriage and abortion, because that’s a Christian conservative political issue. I often explain the distinction in Ultra Orthodox Jewish attitudes towards politics and that of the Conservative Right. While the conservative right considers the law as a source of moral law and instruction, Hasidim see the Torah as the source of moral law. They also don’t consider those outside of their community their moral concern. So Hasidim vote largely based on the interest of the community. 

They vote like a union. Collectively advancing the interest of the whole by voting as one, and supporting candidates seen as favorable to their “union”.

Here are some of the pre-primary election (for Governer of New York and Attorney General of New York) posters in Hasidic Williamsburg in 2018.

This poster urges people to vote for candidates who “understand and respect our rights”.
In the red part it cries “we need to ensure that the government officials don’t give in to their provocations!” This refers to Yaffed and other activist efforts that have been trying to force change in Hasidic boy’s schools through legal action with the city and state.
The poster says “in the current elections some far left candidates are running, and it is expected that they will have less understanding of our religious rights, and there is a terrible danger that they will buy into (not monetarily!) the empty provocations.

Another poster appealing to people on the grounds of preserving Hasidic education. It says “our holy education is under attack by vicious elements. The attorney general candidate “Tish James” promised to fight discrimination and vicious attacks on religion in particular.”

Again – it’s about defending Hasidic education status quo. “The future of Orthodox Judaism is on the line! Every registered democrat in the entirety of New Yor State is asked, for the good of the public and the individual, to vote in the primary elections this Thursday for Letitia (Tish) James.

This is from the newspaper and it lists the following reasons to vote for Tish James: “from parks to the eruv (wire to allow for carrying on Shabbes.) From education to building yeshivas. From businesses to social services, there are hateful elements on the street (within the population?) and in the government who aim their hate against pious Jews. An Attorney General has the choice to god-forbid join the hate, or to defend the rights of the local people and to treat with empathy in judgement when someone messes up with the law.” (Gay/abortion/Israel issues much? Ha!)

“investigations! Abloves (??), arrests!” I have no idea what abloves means; I sometimes wonder if some standard Yiddish speaker wrote these because I’ll often have to ask German speakers to translate some words for me, like “tzil bret” in this one, which I didn’t know was a shooting target.

This for Simcha Felder, another warning about the far left’s lack of religious understanding. “if you stay home, you elect left-liberals” The poster warns that this can mean no door to door transportation (for the kids, to school – Williamsburg is known to be a hub of school buses), no millions in funding for the community, danger to the traditional education.

Another ad for Simcha Felder, thanking him for helping the community, especially with the breakthrough of the “school bus transportation program”. The program helps substantially with the safety of our children, and helps with the high transportation costs of the parents.”

​In other words, you can see why people would want to vote in the bloc. Hasidic voters benefit personally from their candidates.

Here is my own opinion on this:
As someone on the very far left of much of American politics (shutter!) I find myself sympathetic to many of the issues covered here, like not prosecuting people for petty crimes and turning them into poster children of “justice” (I abhor this type of “justice”, often for the poor) and I think funding should go for social fabric programs like little children’s educations. The lessons for me is that people vote in their own best interest, if only the candidates actually serve their interests. Hasidim’s candidates often do.

Last Friday, I stopped into a deli and bought a copy of the Hasidic Yiddish paper. The September 21st Der Yid was the hefty Sukkos edition, so thick it felt like holding five newspapers stacked together. I got the paper for the Kavanaugh story on the latest allegations of sexual assault against him. I wanted to see how the Hasidic paper dealt with the taboo topic of sexual assault.

Usually, the Hasidic papers wouldn’t even cover stories about assault, skipping over headlines about Cosby or Weinstein without even bothering with censorship. It’s easy to skip over stories related to entertainment personalities in whom the community has no interest. But the Yiddish newspapers cover politics comprehensively, and stories in politics with sexual “topics” cannot be entirely ignored.

I remember clearly as a Hasidic middle schooler, learning about the Lewinsky saga and about the Bill Clinton impeachment. In fact, it was covered in our Current Events class. I believe censored copies of a news column were handed out to us, and we deliberated over if Clinton or Nixon were impeached and what the word meant. I don’t remember ever knowing why Clinton was impeached, and more astoundingly, I don’t remember ever wondering why either.

So now I wanted to see how this news is made from the other side. Here’s the first part of the Kavanaugh story on page 44.



Brett Kavanaugh’s Nomination to the Supreme Court ‘in Danger’ After New Accusations Against Him

​Trump is willing to accept small delay in the senate confirmation. Trump’s spokesperson: “the president is not yet looking at any new names to replace Kavanaugh for nomination to the Supreme Court.”
Washington – the nomination of President Trump’s Supreme Court selection, Brett Kavanaugh, found itself early this week up in the air due to new claims and the accusations that came out against the nominee.​
In a last minute flaken (?), a leading Republican senator of the Judiciary committee came out Sunday with a request to stop the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
This comes after new information came to light and new ethical accusations against the person whom President Trump nominated to the highest court.The democrats immediately called to halt the Kavanaugh vote.But then several Republican senators also added to the their call, that the senate shouldn’t rush with the vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation to Supreme Court. The most important among the Republicans who support holding off the vote over Kavanaugh is Jeff Flake from Arizona, who has a seat on the Senate Judiciary committee.

Flake said that he needs to hear more about the most recent allegations against Kavanaugh, and a few other Republicans as usual Bob Corker of Tennessee also said they agree. Flake is one of the eleven Republican participants on the narrowly divided committee. Without his support the committee cannot send Kavanaugh’s name to the entire senate with a positive recommendations, although it can be sent without a recommendation.
Flake said Sunday that if the Committee should try to send [Kavanaugh’s name] without an attempt to hear what Kavanaugh’s most recent accusers have to say, he will not be comfortable to vote not, and he is not alone in that.
Dan Corker answered “yes” on the question if the committee should be postponed, saying that it would be the best option for everyone, including the nominee…

[…here I am not translated the opinions of Grassley, Graham and Feinstein…]

Grassley reprimanded the democrats and especially California’s Senator Dianne Feinstein for coming up with their current accusations in the last minute, saying that if it was true what is said against Kavanaugh the it could have been brought up a lot earlier. He argues that the minority side withheld the anonymous claims the entire six weeks, but the minority [Feinstein] said that they withheld it to investigate if it had enough validity and only after they decided that it did, did they come out with it.

[…here I am not translating the opinions of Trump and the White House…]

Analysts call this a smart political maneuver on the part of Trump, to give so much as to postpone the vote a little, so it doesn’t sound like they don’t want to give the accuser a chance to allow for the accusation to be heard. By given some more time, the president has the best chances to try to put the nomination – after giving the person (?) a chance to speak – on the rails.

What’s really fascinating about this to me is that there is no mention of who the accuser is or even her gender, and no attempt to explain what the accusations are about. Aside from a fleeting reference to ‘etish’ (ethical – what does that mean to anyone anyway?) allegations, the writers dive into the opinions of this Senator or that one and avoid the allegations itself entirely.

I often think about the effects this type of censorship has on its readers. The reader of a newspaper that usually provides interesting drama (to postpone or not postpone???) without enough context to help readers understand the various real issues at hand (is the accusation credible and should it play a role in a Supreme Court nomination) leads people to submit their critical judgement when reading. If you read an article about the Higgs Boson, and you know nothing about particle physics, and the article describes the need for a new accelerator, than you will go along with wherever the article takes you because you don’t feel sufficiently knowledgeable to ask questions.

That’s how I was able to read everything on the Lewinsky saga without ever stopping to ask what the impeachment is about. I would guess that during the Trump presidency with all its scandals, and with the #metoo movement bleeding into Hasidic coverage turf, many Hasidic folks (especially pre-marriage/without other access) regularly read the paper without expecting to know enough of the news to question it.

It’s really a question of: if the NYC Department of Education cares, what can they do?

Hasidic groups have a long history of fighting changes to their education, going back to the nineteenth century Europe. As soon as modernity reached Europe, Jewish “reformers” tried to urge the government to intervene with the lifestyle of these “unwordly” Jews and to demand certain rudimentary educational requirements.

The Hasidim saw this as an attack on their faith and began a long tradition of resisting by all means: they would try political intervention from behind the scenes but they would also stubbornly refuse to comply. If it meant the closure of schools, so be it. They would not give in to the attacks on their faith.

From “Hasidism, a New History”:

The supporters of Enlightenment (Maskilim) wanted to reconcile modernization with the retention of unique features of Jewish identity: religion, the Hebrew language, and cultural ethnicity. They advocated secular education, “productivization” (steering Jews into farming and the crafts), and integration with the surrounding Christian society by abandoning traditional Jewish dress, language, and separatist customs.

There were many many instances of Government requirements that rudimentary secular studies be taught in Hasidic hedarim. The book chronicles such instances in Russia, later in Poland, Hungary, Galicia. The results were mixed, but the more zealous Hasidic sects fought this by all means.

Hasidism’s efforts to maintain its power amid the radical changes taking place in modern Jewish society depended heavily on the preservation of its traditional educational system, and its premier institution—the heder (plural: hadarim)…

Often the intervention by Jewish activists met complete resistance.

The unrelenting attempts of the Maskilim and Russian government officials to monitor the hadarim [Hasidic boys’ schools] and introduce changes met with vehement opposition by all the ultra-Orthodox circles. In 1893, the government recognized the futility of this battle and gave up on intervening in the traditional education, which from then on was defined as “private religious guidance” under the jurisdiction of the home and not of the public education system.

When I was a kid, stories of persecution of our faith were all in one category, be they threats that were physical or spiritual. This was one of the biggest genres of children’s books: stories of threats to the Jews (say, by evil gentile decrees, to either rob Jews of their faith or of their lives). We heard dramatic stories of Jewish kids who were forced home from school because of the work of evil-doers. I remember a picture in one of our Dertzeylung Fun Tsadikim Yiddish children’s book (I would have to see if I can find it ) that depicted a Hasidic yeshiva with big planks nailed over its doors, distraught villagers, and the ruthless Czar’s soldier’s (I think it was the Czar) gloating and laughing in triumph.

Today, with the activism by Yaffed (an organization that is agitating the government to force Hasidic yeshivas to provide rudimentary secular education) I see a lot of de ja vu; both in the philosophy of the activists and in the resistance by yeshivas.

Here is a call to the government to force changes in Hasidic education circa 2015 and on:

What I think is: knowing what we know about how deep seated an issue education is for Hasidim, what can the secular department of education do? Lock Hasidic schools? Punish the schools with trials and fines and a lot of actions that will bring to mind the traumas of religious intolerance of the past? Re-enact the Russian nightmares and reinforce a deep persecution complex? Fine the parents? Fine the administration? Which way can you turn this that won’t make the Hasidim resist harder – and hurt the children?

I’m in a minority opinion here. Many people have argued that if you forec Hasidim’s hand, withdraw funding and punish them, they will adapt. I can’t see it happening. Not with such a loaded, sore issue.

Not surprisingly, the Hasidic community is already conflating religious intolerance in Czarist Russia with the efforts by the State of New York and the ex-Orthodox activists.

Street posters recently went up in Williamsburg alarming people of the terrible ‘gezeyerehs’ (anti-semitic decrees) of the past and warning people that when Jews caved to secular authorities and added secular studies, major yeshivas went under. I translated the poster here:

August 14th, 2018

On the other hand, this lovely Yiddish book came out this month, maybe last. It is a really beautifully written, intelligent work. At its core is an appeal to parents in the Hasidic community to wake up to the situation they send their children to. It argues with parents who are very modern, who know modern psychology and are with-it and twenty first century parents. It asks parents to realize the problems with the hedar model in general, not only secular studies. I think change from the inside will go much, much further. I also think that all this agitating from the outside will stunt changes from the inside, but again, that’s my very-much minority opinion.

Many Hasidim did. In Williamsburg, he got a large part of the vote.

I was there the morning after Trump won. People were glad. They said “it’ll be good now, it’ll be good”.

Their optimism was borne out of

  1. Their very skewed/limited exposure to news and Trump. The Hasidic papers are heavily censored and won’t cover details like that of the Access Hollywood tapes. The Yiddish news is often more fox-news-ish than it is complex, if only because you need a certain understanding of the humanity of people unlike you in order to have a complex conversation about issues. Instead, the Hasidic newspapers rarely include pictures of people in the news, so the news becomes distant, not-human, fascinating in a way that doesn’t trigger your empathy. So with such stories — well, I once was crazy about George W Bush and I have no idea why. So I can see why an empathy-lacking news medium will make people gravitate to the more flashy charachter.
  2. A lot of socialization comes into play too. Hasidim are raised to think of a wrinkled old man with a long white beard as saintly and Godly and wise and a wrinkled old lady as — I don’t know — a babushke? In one especially infuriating conversation that was forwarded around among the Hasidic WhatsApp groups, someone described Hillary Clinton as a babichke, an alte babichkeAn old woman. She was reduced to a used-up, demented-like lady because of her age. Trump – the old man himself – didn’t suffer from such sexist preconceptions. I have no doubt that many Hasidim could not wrap their heads around the idea of a woman to look up to. Of a woman to be inspired by. They could see themeselves or their husbands in Trump. But Ms Clinton? There was no cultural framework for her to fit into. She was a babichke. That’s all people thought of when they thought of an older woman with ambitiouns. One person wrote to the paper and suggested ‘she would soon break into tears and run into the kitchen where she belonged.’ With such a toolkit of pre-conceptions, of course many scoffed at her and rooted for Trump; the big macher – a doer. Trump was a macher. Clinton was a babichke(When we were kids, we played ‘alte babichke’, a game in which you wake the old demented lady and she goes nuts and chases the kids all around the house. That’s a babichke for you.)

I just found this in my journal. I wrote it after Trump won the presidency, when I was trying to make sense of why so many of the Williamsburg Hasidim I ran into supported him.

Ways in which Trumpism reminds me of some (many) Satmar Hasidism.

  1. Extreme veneration of the monied, while in theory venerating lofty spiritual ideals.
  2. Extremely limited and self-centered understanding of the world.
  3. Authoritarian tendencies
  4. Media bashing and distrust
  5. Very simplistic solutions to complex problems
  6. Limited understand of history to inform opinions
  7. Truly hard working well meaning people who are impossible to hate but incredibly frustratingly ignorant.
  8. Anti science (yet embrace its fruits when beneficial to them)
  9. A kind of excitement around the political views that can only be borne out of naivete. You can’t be excited about the fabulous Wall and the repealed Obamacare if you are into the nitty gritty.
  10. Embedded mechanisms for discrediting critics and never even listening to them.
  11. Good at forcing the world to listen to them but not listening to others.
  12. Have no idea when they vote against their interest.

Disclaimer to my brother (who this week called Trump a groel – a disgusting) and all other Hasidic folks who will want to hunt me down for this: this doesn’t apply to everyone! (But admit it, you’re the exception to the rule!)

What I also found is that Hasidim are not totally absurd for supporting Trump. He tends to give goodies to his supporters, and Hasidim have gotten goodies. For instance the sentence commuting of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Rubashkin.

Hasidim deliver votes and want special favors in return. Trump wants votes and likes to pick favorites. There is room for agreement here. Maybe it wasn’t totally against the Hasidim’s interests. At least not in the short term.

In the long term, if the deficit leads to a serious reduction in government programs that Hasidim benefit from, it wouldn’t be a very happy tragectory.