New Agudah billboards suggest Haredi yeshivas teach children to be proud Americans

In the latest installment in its ongoing “KnowUs” campaign, Agudah’s ads over Times Square and several New York City highways say yeshivas won’t teach boys to “hate America”

One of Agudah’s new billboard ads, in a still from their latest video release

Feb 22, 2024 12:00 PM


In a new twist in an ongoing campaign, Agudah launched a series of billboard ads that suggest Haredi yeshiva education promotes American patriotism — despite the fact that many Haredi yeshivas offer little to no instruction in American history or civic engagement.

“Our boys will not be educated to hate America,” say the billboards, which are sponsored by Agudath Israel of America, an organization that advocates for Haredi interests. 

According to a press release by the organization, the billboards have been placed over Times Square and three highways in New York City’s outer boroughs. The message is part of Agudah’s longtime objection to media coverage about insufficient secular education in some Haredi boys’ schools. This time, the messages seem geared toward concerns many conservative Americans have about the state of American education.

In a video accompanying the press release, Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudah’s executive vice president, says, “Children are going to school and are learning about what a terrible country the United States is. That’s not what’s taking place in our yeshivas.”

Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudahs executive vice president, in a still from Agudah’s recent video release

In the same video, Avrohom Weinstock, director of the “KnowUs” campaign, points to TikTok videos that appeared last November in which young people praised Osama Bin Laden’s “Letter to America,” which sought to justify the 9/11 attacks. “Perhaps it’s not in style today to say, ‘I appreciate living in America,’” Weinstock says, “but with this billboard we are saying it, and we’re saying it loud and proud.”

The TikTok videos raised alarm among many Americans, leading TikTok to remove many of the videos and ban the #lettertoamerica hashtag. The Guardian, which had Bin Laden’s letter posted on its website since 2002, subsequently removed it from the site. 

Agudah’s video also includes screenshots of articles by conservative pundits who believe that American history education should have limited emphasis on the enslavement of African Americans and other forms of discrimination. “My generation is being raised to hate America — it’s time to stand up for our history,” one headline of an article written by a then-student at a Catholic college said.

The conservative authors Agudah cites in its video seem to believe that schools should teach some form of U.S. history. One New York Post article referenced in the video laments the fact that “eight states don’t even make the study of American history a graduation requirement.”

However, Agudah’s claim that Haredi yeshivas do a better job teaching students to appreciate America might raise some eyebrows. A New York City investigation into dozens of Haredi schools found that many Hasidic boys’ schools offered no instruction at all in American history or social studies.

The recent billboards are part of Agudah’s “KnowUs” campaign, which launched last year after the New York Times published a series of articles about Haredi yeshivas in New York State. The campaign placed billboards in Midtown Manhattan, including one outside the New York Times office, suggesting that the newspaper’s work led to increased antisemitism. 

In April, Agudah also sent a letter to judges of the Pulitzer Prize asking them not to award the Times for its yeshiva coverage.

The most recent billboards may also be misleading. In a speech delivered last August, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who leads one faction of the Satmar Hasidic community, told his American followers to “remember that we do not reside in America.” “We are only in America at present,” he said. A similar remark was made by his brother Zalmen Teitelbaum, who leads the other major Satmar faction, in Dec. 2020.

Still, Agudah leaders present the issue differently. “Yeshivas’ proven ability to raise generations of caring, patriotic human beings is something in which we take great pride, and indeed something other educational systems would do well to model,” Zwiebel said in the press release. 

Chaskel Bennett, a member of Agudah’s board, said, “At a time when our cathedrals of higher education, especially the most elite, have devolved into bastions of anti-American and anti-Israel fueled confusion, yeshiva education stands in sharp relief.”