Reporter's notebookHasidic 'fixer': 'This George Biden is a danger to Israel'

Same city, different views: Jews in Manhattan, Brooklyn cast their ballots

Jews of Upper West Side hope to send Trump packing, while just 30 minutes away, Satmar Hasidim say backing incumbent is a ‘mitzvah’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent

A small caravan of trump supporters park at a polling station in Public School 160, on November 3, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images/AFP)
A small caravan of trump supporters park at a polling station in Public School 160, on November 3, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images/AFP)

NEW YORK — A majority of Americans say they have few to no friends from the opposing political party, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey.

For some, this has to do with the geographical distance separating many of America’s biggest cities — which over time have become increasingly Democrat “blue” — from rural towns that have remained Republican “red.”

But in New York City, the distance between Republican and Democrat strongholds is just a 30-minute subway ride.

Scenes at polling stations on Tuesday’s Election Day in Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Brooklyn’s Williamsburg were starkly different.

The former, known by some as “Mrs. Maisel Country,” with its high concentration of mostly Reform and Conservative Jews, appeared to mirror findings from an American Jewish Committee survey, which found 75% of American Jews support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Williamsburg, on the other hand, is home to an enclave of some 60,000 Jews of the Satmar Hasidic sect. The scene there appeared to confirm numbers from a poll in the ultra-Orthodox Ami Magazine, which indicated that of the minority of remaining Jews who support US President Donald Trump, 83% are Orthodox.

Poll workers help a senior citizen sign in to vote on Election Day on November 3, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mrs. Maisel Country

By 9:00 a.m. at Louis Brandeis High School in the Upper West Side, there was barely a line outside. Staffers on site said this was because so many Americans had voted early.

Jewish outreach directors from both campaigns told The Times of Israel that Jews made up a disproportionate amount of the early voters.

Larry Fleischer had planned to vote early, but when he arrived at a site last week, the line looped around several blocks. He decided he’d wait till Election Day.

“I only had to wait five minutes!” he said excitedly upon exiting the school with two “I voted” stickers on his sweater. “When I tried to come during early voting, I was told I’d have to wait five hours.”

Asked what issues he was most concerned with when casting his ballot, the 62-year-old didn’t hesitate: “The issue I cared about was voting out Donald Trump.”

Fleischer said he had little problem saying that publicly, given how “heavily Democrat” the Upper West Side leans.

New Yorkers line up outside a polling station at Louis Brandeis High School in Manhattan’s Upper West Side (Jacob Magid)

Perhaps that was why Sarah declined to disclose her last name after revealing that she voted for Trump.

“I wouldn’t share that with a lot of people in the neighborhood,” said the 71-year-old, even though this reporter hadn’t inquired directly.

Sarah said she decided to vote in person on Election Day because she was worried that her mail-in or early-submitted ballot could be tampered with.

“We don’t know what’s going on with those mail-in ballots,” she said, shaking her head as she plugged in her headphones to a handheld radio, echoing unfounded claims by Trump of “rampant” fraud.

Married couple Frannie and Steven said that as “Jewish senior citizens,” the issues on their minds when casting their ballots were healthcare, the environment, and COVID.

“We need new leadership,” said Steven, as his wife nodded her head in agreement.

A polling station at Louis Brandeis High School in the Upper West Side of New York on November 3, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel

At the iconic Barney Greengrass deli just five minutes away from Louis Brandeis High School, friends Eli and Charlie had just sat down for a post-vote brunch.

Though both of them voted early by mail, they said they wanted to use the opportunity to support a local restaurant that’s been hit hard by the pandemic.

“It was nice to have a choice regarding how to vote,” Charley said. “A couple of days ago, I got a notification that my mail-in ballot was validated and that was that.”

As a server brought out servings of applesauce and potato pancakes, Eli, an Israeli, gave his analysis as to why Trump is wildly popular in the Jewish state while Jews across the pond find him far less palatable.

“It makes sense as our interests are different,” said Eli.

“I care about what’s going on here and how the president’s decisions affect my family. And of course, Trump’s an idiot,” added the now veteran New Yorker of 30 years.

Barney Greengrass in New York City. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Trump town

By the early afternoon at the polling station in Williamsburg’s Independence Towers Senior Center, there was barely a line, either. A new voter trickled in every minute or so.

The polling site is located in the heart of Williamsburg’s Satmar Hasidic community, though every tenth voter appeared to be a young hipster or Latinx immigrant.

Rabbi Izzy Rosenberg, who described himself as a macher, or fixer, in the Satmar community, asserted that it was a “positive commandment for all Jews to vote for Donald Trump.”

He then pulled his phone out of his pocket, and scrolled through his extra-large print WhatsApp messages to find one that read: “Attention: Show this to any Jew who is considering voting for Joe Biden.”

Hasidim wait to vote at the Independence Towers Senior Center in Brooklyn Heights on November 3, 2020 (Jacob Magid)

The text that followed was a story of a shouting match Biden had with former prime minister Menachem Begin in 1982 when the former was a young senator.

According to several accounts, Biden slammed his fists on a desk and warned Begin that continued Israeli settlement expansion would jeopardize US support for the Jewish state.

“This desk is designed for writing, not for fists. Don’t threaten us with slashing aid. Do you think that because the US lends us money it is entitled to impose on us what we must do? We are grateful for the assistance we have received, but we are not to be threatened. I am a proud Jew. Three thousand years of culture are behind me, and you will not frighten me with threats,” Begin responded, according to the story, which has resurfaced ahead of the election.

“This George Biden is a danger to Israel,” Rosenberg said, getting the Democratic candidate’s name wrong.

The rabbi acknowledges that most in the Satmar community “don’t support the State of Israel from a religious standpoint but they support the Jews who live there because they are Jews.”

As he spoke, an agitated Hasidic man walked out of the polling site, yelling, “It’s ridiculous.”

Illustrative: An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walks with his daughters in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, Tuesday, April 7, 2020 (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Asked what had happened, the man said he showed up to the wrong station but was annoyed because the staffer inside told him to put his mask over his nose.

“You can’t breathe with this thing on,” he said, declining to identify himself beyond his first name, Moshe. “When there were all those Black Lives riots, I didn’t see masks.”

His comments reflected sentiment in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox enclaves in recent months where frustration has at times boiled over due to state-ordered health restrictions that residents claim single out their communities. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has maintained that the guidelines — which have recently been eased — are necessary for curbing the outbreak of coronavirus in Orthodox communities where cases have spiked. On several occasions, the governor has accused Orthodox Jews of purposefully ignoring the guidelines.

At the Williamsburg polling site, most arrived with their masks on, while a handful of voters pulled them out of their pockets as they entered the door.

A father and son wave Trump flags at Marine Park in Brooklyn, New York on October 25, 2020. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

A block away a truck could be heard rolling through the neighborhood with a Yiddish message blasting on the loudspeaker: “No matter who it’s for, go out and vote!”

Few Satmar voters were interested in speaking to this reporter, quickly pulling out flip-phones from their pockets and taking calls upon exiting the poll site in an apparent effort to avoid being approached.

Those who did, though, had little problem disclosing their support for the president.

“This president leaves us alone and lets us practice our religion without bothering anyone else,” said 44-year-old Yanki. “The Democrats want to interfere with everything.”

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