The Rise of Or­tho­dox Re­sis­tance to Trump

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Blima Mar­cus

Ever since the elec­tion, as an ul­tra-Or­tho­dox Jewish wo­man, I had be­gun to feel more and more iso­lated.

In my po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive com­mu­nity, too few around me took is­sue with the saga un­fold­ing in Wash­ing­ton — the racist slo­gans and shock­ing vul­gar­ity emerg­ing from the White House. A few fam­ily mem­bers (all Ha­sidim) were my staunch al­lies, as were two of my mod­ern Or­tho­dox friends, but that was about it.

I soon dis­cov­ered that there are rip­ples un­der­neath the sur­face of the fer­vently Or­tho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity.

Re­cently, I was ush­ered in se­crecy into a pri­vate Face­book group which was cre­ated on Novem­ber 10, 2016: A clan­des­tine, vir­tual gath­er­ing place for ob­ser­vant Jews who op­pose Trump. Many of these peo­ple are Or­tho­dox, some more and some less. They needed a space to share their thoughts and con­cerns, where they wouldn’t be drowned out by the loud con­ser­va­tive voices in their com­mu­ni­ties, where they could mo­bi­lize to protest and join ral­lies across the coun­try.

It’s here that they feel safest stat­ing their opin­ions – be­cause in sy­n­a­gogue sanc­tu­ar­ies and at Shab­bos ta­bles, op­pos­ing Trump is an un­pop­u­lar po­si­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted in Au­gust 2016 by the AJC Survey of Amer­i­can Jewish Opin­ion, Or­tho­dox Jews fa­vored Trump at 50% over Clin­ton at 21%. Per­haps most tellingly, 69% of vot­ers in Bor­ough Park, a largely Ha­sidic neigh­bor­hood, chose Trump.

But I’ve found a fas­ci­nat­ing, un­der­ground move­ment grow­ing on so­cial me­dia and mes­sag­ing apps. As of mid-Au­gust, the pri­vate Face­book group I was added to had grown to over 1,300 mem­bers.

The most com­monly shared theme is angst at the com­pla­cency of fel­low Jews. Mem­bers

mourn lost re­la­tion­ships, sev­ered ties and their in­abil­ity to re­late to close fam­ily and friends who no longer share their world­views.

The sec­ond most com­mon theme is fear for the fu­ture and anx­i­ety over how things will play out. This fear has now be­come more pro­nounced, with the rise of white supremacism and the Pres­i­dent’s alarm­ing re­sponse to the KKK and neo-Nazi protest in Vir­ginia.

Amid the de­s­pair we felt after Trump’s in­fa­mous press con­fer­ence in which he equated the alt-right with the so-called “alt-left,” group mem­bers com­mented on the first sparks of hope at see­ing our Or­tho­dox com­mu­ni­ties be­gin stir­ring. Or­ga­ni­za­tions like the Or­tho­dox Union and the Rab­bini­cal Coun­cil of Amer­ica is­sued state­ments con­demn­ing vi­o­lence and call­ing on the Pres­i­dent to “heal the rifts” in this coun­try, while Rabbi Haskel Look­stein, the rabbi who con­verted Ivanka Trump, wrote a let­ter to his Up­per East Side con­gre­ga­tion, con­demn­ing the “moral equiv­a­lency and equiv­o­ca­tion Pres­i­dent Trump has of­fered in his re­sponse” to Char­lottesville.

In Au­gust, Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a Ha­sidic rabbi in Mon­sey, New York and dean of a yeshiva, posted on Face­book:

I used this space nu­mer­ous times dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign to protest and ex­press my deep con­cerns over Trump’s shame­ful com­ments about mi­nor­ity groups. After Elec­tion Day, I pulled down all those posts, and hoped against hope that the awe­some re­spon­si­bil­ity of serv­ing as Pres­i­dent will bring about pos­i­tive change in Mr. Trump.That clearly never hap­pened, and I feel com­pelled at this time to speak out again. I do not think that Mr. Trump has ever in­ter­nal­ized the no­tion that a por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion elected him to serve the en­tire pop­u­la­tion. I worry about the fu­ture of our great coun­try and hope that the checks and bal­ances that our bril­liant founders put in place will kick in and help chart a more sta­ble, peace­ful and in­clu­sive course for our coun­try in these trou­bled times.

Slowly, the Or­tho­dox Jews who were pre­vi­ously ret­i­cent about pub­licly crit­i­ciz­ing the pres­i­dent have be­gun to sig­nal their will­ing­ness to talk, to march, to con­demn.

I knew these peo­ple must ex­ist, and I wanted to find them.

I ap­proached Alexan­der Ra­pa­port, an ul­tra­Ortho­dox fa­ther of seven in Bor­ough Park, who runs Mas­bia, a chain of kosher soup kitchens. Fol­low­ing his at­ten­dance at protests of the ban on Mus­lims, Ra­pa­port re­ceived let­ters of dis­ap­point­ment from donors. How­ever, he con­tin­ues to openly share his po­lit­i­cal views and ap­pear at demon­stra­tions.

When I con­tacted Ra­pa­port to see if I could help or­ga­nize a larger Or­tho­dox pres­ence at a rally in New York, he re­sponded by adding me to a pri­vate mes­sag­ing group aptly named “The Re­sis­tance”— an ul­tra-Or­tho­dox, Ha­sidic, male-only group of par­tic­i­pants who are vig­or­ously op­posed to the pres­i­dent and his poli­cies.

The ad­min al­lowed me to join only tem­po­rar­ily, in or­der to bet­ter un­der­stand their work, and mes­saged me pri­vately ask­ing that I switch my pro­file photo to some­thing gen­der-neu­tral, so that the men would feel more com­fort­able in my pres­ence. (In the Ha­sidic world, men and women who are not re­lated have lit­tle con­tact with each other.) He also told me to let him know if any­one made any un­to­ward com­ments to me. He then posted a mes­sage to the group of men to re­quest re­spect­ful dis­course and to re­mind them that their pur­pose in this group was solely to dis­cuss re­cent po­lit­i­cal events.

Once I was in the group, the posts came fast and thick: News ar­ti­cles, memes, rel­e­vant events, talk of meet­ings and protests. Through­out, there is ex­as­per­a­tion with fam­ily and friends who still stub­bornly refuse to ad­mit Amer­ica has a prob­lem and it be­gins with their pres­i­dent.

I asked them why they think their com­mu­nity is so ret­i­cent about adopt­ing new view­points about the ad­min­is­tra­tion and its poli­cies. One man noted that pol­i­tics can be­come like a re­li­gion for many. Just as the re­li­gious com­mu­nity will ad­here to a rabbi and his coun­sel, once they’ve found a can­di­date to sup­port, they will be fiercely de­voted to him.

Yosef Ra­pa­port, another mem­ber and fre­quent civil rights ac­tivist, men­tioned that men of­ten lis­ten to ra­dio talk shows, in­stead of read­ing sec­u­lar books or watch­ing tele­vi­sion, which is

frowned upon in these com­mu­ni­ties. Even men who do not own ra­dios at home lis­ten while driv­ing or work­ing, and they grav­i­tate to­wards talk show hosts whose views mir­ror their own. Another Ha­sidic mem­ber, ML, stated that he thinks there is an “urge to be part of some­thing out­side the realm of Jewish Ortho­doxy. They want to feel as they be­long to the broader Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. And the only group they can re­late to is the far po­lit­i­cal right.”

Alex Ra­pa­port told me that, as a vis­i­ble Ha­sidic man, he ex­pe­ri­ences nu­mer­ous anti-Semitic in­ci­dents weekly. The re­cent rise in anti-Semitism doesn’t move him as quickly as it may move oth­ers. “Do you know how of­ten I get spit on, or have taxis not stop for me?” he asked. He ex­plained that to him, anti-Semitism in Amer­ica isn’t new. It’s only new to oth­ers who are less vis­i­ble, and now feel at­tacked.

These “re­sis­tance mem­bers” are pas­sion­ate about ef­fect­ing change — less fo­cused on be­moan­ing their own com­mu­nity’s com­pla­cency, and more in­ter­ested in real change on the ground.

Two group mem­bers or­ga­nized a rally in sol­i­dar­ity with the Ye­meni bodega strike in Fe­bru­ary, and a third, Shaya Bodansky, a Hasid of the Pupa sect in Brook­lyn, per­son­ally went to lo­cal bode­gas to voice his sol­i­dar­ity with his Mus­lim broth­ers.

One Ha­sidic mem­ber who asked to re­main anony­mous said he dragged his brother to Wash­ing­ton to attend the Women’s March in Jan­uary. “We wore our bek­ishes,” he said, re­fer­ring to the tra­di­tional Ha­sidic long black coats worn on the Sab­bath.

One re­cent morn­ing, I awoke to 64 new posts in the Re­sis­tance chat group, in­clud­ing an ur­gent voice note, re­mind­ing ev­ery­one that the dead­line for voter reg­is­tra­tion was soon and to spread the word. A se­ries of “thumbs-up” emo­jis fol­lowed, and ef­forts to en­cour­age reg­is­tra­tion be­gan to ma­te­ri­al­ize, be­tween plans of dis­cussing vot­ing on the Yid­dish news sta­tion “Kol Mevaser” known for its po­lit­i­cally di­verse opin­ions, which reaches from Brook­lyn to the Ha­sidic en­clave of Mon­roe, NY, to word-of-mouth per­sonal en­cour­age­ment of fel­low com­mu­nity mem­bers in syn­a­gogues and study halls.

One man ques­tioned whether he should change his voter reg­is­tra­tion from Repub­li­can to Demo­crat: “Do you think I should? I’ve never been a Demo­crat be­fore.”

Still, many mem­bers still fear the costs of speak­ing out in their con­ser­va­tive com­mu­ni­ties.

Bodansky stated that he voiced his po­lit­i­cal opin­ion in Der Voch, a weekly Yid­dish news­let­ter which pub­lished his photo, and said he ex­pe­ri­enced back­lash when he ar­rived at his sy­n­a­gogue the next day.

One mem­ber of the Face­book group wor­ried about “be­ing mocked at minyan by the patho­log­i­cally over-con­fi­dent and snarky smug Trumpers. Which would hit the hot but­tons of my ex­ist­ing in­se­cu­ri­ties about be­ing part of (some of) the re­li­gious cir­cles I traf­fic in.”

Another anony­mous group mem­ber, a lo­cal busi­ness owner, said that he fears he has al­ready lost cus­tomers due to his out­spo­ken­ness on pol­i­tics.

“I can­not af­ford to be vo­cal any­more,” he said.

Blima Mar­cus is a doc­toral nurs­ing stu­dent at Hunter Col­lege, an on­col­ogy RN at NYU Perl­mut­ter Can­cer Cen­ter, and pub­lished au­thor at Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Nurs­ing. She lives with her hus­band and chil­dren in Brook­lyn, New York.


HAVE SIGN, WILL TRAVEL: Shaya Bodansky protests a Pres­i­dent Trump ap­pear­ance at the U.S.S. In­trepid in New York.


SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Ul­tra-Or­tho­dox Jews leave post-it notes of sup­port at a Brook­lyn bodega owned by a Ye­meni im­mi­grant.

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