NEW YORK — Over a thousand mostly Orthodox Jews gathered for a rally in support of Donald Trump in Brooklyn on Sunday, using the opportunity to loudly air their grievances against Democratic leadership in New York while calling for four more years of the Republican US president.
The demonstration in Brooklyn’s Marine Park came after weeks of tensions in many of the borough’s Orthodox neighborhoods over new restrictions imposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to rising COVID-19 cases in those areas.
Some ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn have found themselves in national headlines due to accusations that their refusal to adhere to coronavirus guidelines led to a spike of new cases in September. Orthodox leaders accuse Cuomo and de Blasio of unfairly singling out their communities and adopting punitive measures rather than engaging with them.
While the infection rate has since waned and restrictions have begun to be lifted in some places, they still mostly remain in Brooklyn, along with tensions between the Jewish community and the city and state leadership.
“Hey Cuomo, you probably wouldn’t have allowed this [gathering]… Come get me!” said the rally’s emcee Nachman Mostofsky, the executive director of the right-wing, pro-Israel policy group Chovevei Zion.
The rally was the final destination of a parade convoy that chugged through the streets of Rockland County’s Monsey, Long Island’s Five Towns, Manhattan, and a number of pre-dominantly Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
Organized by the “Jews for Trump” group, cars in the procession blasted remix versions of the president’s speeches, festive Jewish music and soundtracked campaign slogans. At several locations, the drivers were confronted by anti-Trump activists.
New York City police said seven people were taken into custody in connection with physical confrontations in Times Square. Charges were pending Sunday night.
NY: Photos, Hundreds of orthodox Jews are taking part in today’s pro Trump rally in Brooklyn, event is peaceful and colorful pic.twitter.com/fUOn5Wo2NR
— Yiddish News (@YiddishNews) October 25, 2020
In videos shot near midtown Manhattan, onlookers could be seen throwing eggs and other objects at the convoy. In another incident reported by Fox News, an anti-Trump activist pepper-sprayed a family of seven while they were in their car participating in the convoy.
Organizers said hundreds of vehicles took part in the convoy parade, which have become a staple of Trump supporters nationwide. Unlike many other locations where they have taken place, though, New York is deeply blue and Trump is seen as having only the slimmest of chances of carrying the state.
In a tweet morphing together the last names of the governor and mayor, organizers joked about transforming the Democratic stronghold into a Republican bastion: “Can we turn DeCuomo’s red zones into NY-red?”
While not representative of the political makeup of New York and particularly dark blue New York City, the convoy and Brooklyn rally did appear to accurately represent the extent of Orthodox support for the president, which according to a recent poll stands at 83 percent.
Acknowledging the state’s Democratic leanings, Trump Jewish outreach director Boris Epshteyn told the crowd to focus on getting others in swing states to vote for the GOP. “Tell all your friends in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio to go vote,” he said.
Despite the animosity expressed regularly throughout the evening toward Cuomo and de Blasio, who have pushed for strict citywide adherence to social distancing guidelines, the majority of attendees were wearing masks and people were encouraged to spread out, though crowds were packed closely together near the stage.
In an apparent effort to help the organizers, one of the protesters wearing a Trump latex costume mask shouted, “We’ve gotta social distance from socialism!”
As organizers blasted festive Jewish music in Hebrew and Yiddish, attendees resisted the urge to hold hands and dance the hora, instead waving flags and bobbing along to the tunes.
The gathering featured many Trump rally staples: Several renditions of the Village People’s “YMCA”; participants draped in American, MAGA and Trump 2020 flags; calling out the “Squad” of progressive Democrats; chants of “lock him up” in response to references of Democratic challenger Joe Biden, and even more cries of “four more years” upon mention of the president.
But the Brooklyn rally also boasted its own unique Jewish flair, starting off with mincha afternoon prayers for roughly two dozen worshipers who shuckled through the service before the sun went down.
“What’s a Trump rally without a mincha,” said one of the worshipers as they finished up.
While support for Trump was a major theme, speakers focused much of their ire on Cuomo and de Blasio as they made speeches one by one.
“Why are Black Lives Matter protesters allowed to take to the streets but our community can’t celebrate [the holiday of] Sukkot or bury our dead?” asked Epshteyn to a chorus of boos from the crowd, which subsequently began chanting “Fire de Blasio!”
“It starts with [them targeting] the Orthodox and then they come for the rest of us,” said a booming Epshteyn, wearing a three-piece suit and sounding like a wrestling announcer.
“I know Cuomo and de Blasio don’t want us living in New York anymore. Hey King Andy [Cuomo], sorry to break it to you, but we’re all New Yorkers,” said Mostofsky.
Former New York State assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represented the heavily Orthodox Borough Park as a Democrat for three decades, claimed that in recent years the party has begun to “Embrace Jew-hatred.”
He recalled recent conversations with American Jews concerned about rising anti-Semitism in the US, who asked him “Do you think there’s a future here? How much time do we still have left.”
— Dov Hikind (@HikindDov) October 25, 2020
“If you don’t want to worry about the future, there is no choice but to vote for Donald J. Trump,” Hikind declared to cheers.
Despite the fighting around the convoy, the rally was a far calmer affair than a series of recent protests by Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, which spiraled out of control as demonstrators burned masks and accosted reporters. Those rallies had been mostly attended by young Haredi men, whereas the Sunday event drew a more family-friendly crowd, including young children along with men and women of all ages.
Heshy Tischler, a far-right community leader who organized the Borough Park protests and was charged with inciting a riot for his actions at the demonstrations, was shunned by some as he made an appearance at Marine Park.
When Tischler, a radio show host who is running for city council, tried to address the crowd with a megaphone after the rally had concluded, the organizers began blasting music to drown him out. If that weren’t enough, Mostofsky led another chant of “Four more years!”
Standing near the entrance to the park, a modestly dressed Orthodox woman looked on and shook her head in disgust.
“You don’t agree with them?” a Hispanic woman asked her, seemingly surprised.
“Are you kidding? No way. And I’m quite embarrassed that so many in my community have embraced Trump when so much of his message is embroiled in hate for others.”
“I’m no Democrat, but it’s just too much,” she said, trying to speak above the blasting Jewish music.
Tischler did appear to be popular among the younger set, and was flocked by elementary and high school-aged boys who chanted his name repeatedly throughout the evening.
“He let me film a video of him!” said one of Tischler’s young fans as he ran to his mother in excitement.
Hikind told The Times of Israel that to the adults in the room, Tischler “doesn’t represent anyone but himself.”
He also said he was uncomfortable with Trump’s style and “wish[ed] someone took his Twitter account and flushed it down the toilet.”
Asked if his discomfort was shared by other members of the Orthodox community, Hikind answered in the affirmative. “We wish Trump’s style was different. But we need to look at substance and policies, which are really good.”
Others at the rally were more forgiving of Trump’s temperament. “He speaks his mind when so many of us are afraid to do so,” said Brooklyn resident Sarah Altman, 56.
“Would I speak like that, no, but it’s nice to have a leader who’s not afraid,” she added.
Asked for her thoughts on Trump’s “style,” another demonstrator, Shira Rosen, appeared to take offense to the question. “What do you mean style? You mean the style of making America great again?”
Does The Times of Israel give you valuable insight into Israel and the Jewish world? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.