Leaders of the Skver Hasidim have an unusual message to their devoted followers: We may have backed the losing ticket for president, but it was all part of our plan.
“We gave our endorsement to [Hillary] Clinton … only after we spoke it over with the Trump campaign,” Sholom Moshe Spitzer said on a recorded message that was distributed to to Hasidic Jews in the insular community of New Square, according to a translation on the website ThinkingYid.com.
In the message, Spitzer appears to be speaking on behalf of spiritual leaders who want to bolster their authority after Trump’s win cast doubt on their ability to pick a winning candidate.
In the days before November’s election, Hasidic leaders of the Skver Hasidim, based in Rockland County, New York, urged followers to cast their votes for Clinton. Though ultra-Orthodox Jews regularly vote Republican in national elections, Clinton has long enjoyed the support of the Skver Hasidim since her time as a senator in New York. As president, Bill Clinton pardoned four men from the community who had been convicted of fraud.
Among New York Hasidim, the Skver and Satmar Hasidim backed Clinton. Lubavitchers favored Trump and the candidate’s daughter even visited the grave of Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson in the closing days of the campaign.
Hasidic groups are traditionally organized around a religious leader, or rebbe, and take their political cues from that leader. In the end, rank-and-file Hasidim in New York City largely voted for Trump — but Clinton took 95% of the vote in New Square.
Having backed the losing ticket, Skver leaders are apparently trying to convince their followers that they had been working with Trump’s campaign all along — and that the community would still enjoy a close relationship with the president in years to come.
“We spoke to one of the closest people to Trump, someone who is in his inner chambers,” Spitzer went on, according to the same online translation. “We discussed with him the whole situation and told him what we are planning to do. He responded in the strongest way possible, that it is a chov kodosh [holy obligation] that we vote for Clinton.”
Spitzer said that this unnamed Trump associate said that the campaign respects and honors the Skver community and they will always have an “open door” with the campaign.
Spitzer also appears to make a mystical reference to Kaballah, Jewish mysticism that teaches there are many layers to reality other than the material world. The Skver community, Spitzer said, “goes in hidden ways.”
Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond for comment.
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This story "Skver Hasidic Leaders Who Backed Hillary Clinton Now Claim They Were With Donald Trump All Along" was written by Sam Kestenbaum.
Sam Kestenbaum is a contributing editor and former staff writer for the Forward. Before this, he worked for The New York Times and newsrooms in Sana, Ramallah and Beijing. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @skestenbaum and on Instagram at @skestenbaum.