Hasidic Fixer Key to Sprawling Corruption Probe — But Are They Dying Breed?

Ancient Aversion to Public Life Fades Among Ultra-Orthodox

Changing Times: Grand Rabbi David Eichenstein, a Brooklyn Hasidic spiritual leader meets with state Senate candidate Simcha Felder. Such overt political activity was once unheard of for the ultra-Orthodox. But things are changing.
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Changing Times: Grand Rabbi David Eichenstein, a Brooklyn Hasidic spiritual leader meets with state Senate candidate Simcha Felder. Such overt political activity was once unheard of for the ultra-Orthodox. But things are changing.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 16, 2013, issue of April 19, 2013.
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Tensions between the Orthodox school board members, who send their children to private religious schools, and the non-Orthodox community members and parents are high. School board meetings often devolve into shouting matches.

It’s perhaps not the best advertisement for Hasids in public office. Yet at least one member of the Belz Hasidic sect has used the school board as a springboard for further political involvement. Aron Wieder is a former school board member and a former staff member in the office of Noramie Jasmin, the Spring Valley mayor indicted in the Stern corruption case. Wieder was elected to the Rockland County Legislature on the Democratic line in 2011 to represent parts of the town of Spring Valley and a corner of the Hasidic village of Kaser.

“He’s a typical politician, just like any secular politician,” said Joseph Meyers, another member of the Rockland County Legislature and a member of Preserve Ramapo, an activist group known for opposing the growth of the Hasidic community in Rockland County. “As far as I’m concerned, he fits in very well at the legislature from a standpoint of temperament and thinking the way politicians think.”

Also in Rockland County, a Hasidic trustee of the town of Spring Valley named Joseph Gross has announced plans to run for mayor. Spring Valley has large Hasidic and Haitian communities.

Neither Gross nor Wieder could be reached for comment.

It’s not only upstate that Hasidic Jews have begun to change their attitudes toward open political involvement. In Boro Park, the head of the Burshtin Hasidic community, Grand Rabbi David Eichenstein, was photographed this past October hanging a mezuza in the campaign office of Simcha Felder, who at the time was a candidate for New York State Senate.

“That was probably unheard of 20 years ago or 10 years ago,” Rapaport said. “The rabbis are getting somewhat more comfortable, but it’s still very far.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @joshnathankazis

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