Antisemitism toward Haredim discussed at ADL’s ‘NeverIsNow’ summit, but few Haredi leaders in attendance

At the annual conference, held at New York’s Javits Center, panelists spoke of the unique challenges with antisemitism faced by Haredim, whose Jewishness is highly visible

NYS Attorney General Letitia James speaking at the ADL’s “NeverIsNow” summit. Photo: Shtetl

Mar 8, 2024 3:00 PM


At this week’s “NeverIsNow” summit organized by the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL, there was a sprinkling of Haredim in attendance but few Haredi leaders were present. This despite the fact that Haredim are disproportionately targeted in antisemitic incidents.

The annual conference, billed as the “World’s Largest Summit on Antisemitism and Hate,” was held on Wednesday and Thursday at New York’s Jacob K. Javitz Convention Center. Over 3,000 attendees were expected. The event focused on a broad range of issues related to the post-Oct. 7 environment, including feelings of isolation and fear by Jewish students on college campuses, antisemitic comments on social media, and more.

Attendees at the ADL’s “NeverIsNow” summit. Photo: Shtetl

But despite Haredim bearing the brunt of antisemitic attacks, Haredi participation at the conference was sparse. Still, the Haredi experience didn’t go without mention.

One session, entitled, “The Unique Threats of Antisemitism on the Orthodox Community,” included Chabad activist and founder of the Jewish Children’s Museum Devorah Halberstam, whose son was murdered in an antisemitic attack in 1994, as well as Rivkie Feiner, a Haredi activist who lobbies alongside Agudath Israel. Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, was also on the panel.

While the panelists highlighted the experiences of Haredim, who often stand out due to their traditional garb, the session was meant to be broader and encompass all Orthodox Jews. Modern Orthodox Jews, too, tend to wear at least some item signifying their Jewish identity, such as a kippah for men or a headscarf for women.

“This is one of the properties, one of the aspects, which defines Orthodoxy,” Hauer said. “We can’t hide. We don’t just have, like, a Magen David, which we can choose to tuck into our shirts in strategic times, and, quote unquote, disappear into the environment.”

Hauer also emphasized the particular challenge of visibility facing Haredi men, with one example eliciting laughter from the audience: “The Hasidic gentleman who’s wearing a long black coat, has a long black beard, has sidelocks and everything else, and he’s walking through Penn Station, but he’s made sure he’s wearing a Mets cap, so nobody will realize that he’s Jewish.”

From left, panelists Rabbi Moshe Hauer, Devorah Halberstam, and Rivkie Feiner, with moderator Sara Scheinbach at ADL’s “NeverIsNow” summit. Photo: Shtetl

During the summit, the ADL announced a new partnership with Chabad on Campus to combat antisemitism on college campuses. Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Chabad On Campus’s COO spoke about the rise in antisemitism following Oct. 7, saying this has resulted in Chabad houses around the country being “flooded with students yearning to connect.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James delivered brief opening remarks at a panel for lawyers discussing how to use the legal system to fight antisemitism. James zoomed in on some of her office’s specific battles, including action taken regarding various Haredi claims of discrimination, such as those in the towns of Monroe and Chester, in Orange County, N.Y. The Attorney General’s Jewish liaison, Yoel Lefkowitz, who is Haredi, accompanied her to the presentation but left immediately after.

Especially surprising was that discussion of Haredim appeared limited precisely where it might’ve been expected most.

At a panel about how Jews are portrayed on screen, there was little mention of common Haredi criticisms about various Netflix television shows, such as “One of Us,” “Unorthodox,” and “My Unorthodox Life,” all of which describe negative experiences with Haredi life. In a 2021 letter to Lohud, a news outlet that covers the Lower Hudson Valley region, Feiner, a resident of Monsey, a largely Haredi enclave in Rockland County, N.Y., described the last of the three as “outlandish misrepresentation and disinformation.”

But in a brief aside during the panel discussion, actress Ginnifer Goodman offered a different take. While she said she found shows about ultra-Orthodox life to be “completely fascinating,” she lamented the fact that the most Jewish-related shows are, to most viewers, “so unrelatable and ultra-religious, or people escaping from that” or “just about a history of misery.”

Social media figure Miriam Ezagui surrounded by fans at the ADL’s “NeverIsNow” summit. Photo: Shtetl

A panel of social media influencers drew a large number of attendees, with many other influencers among them. Among the panelists was one Haredi woman, Miriam Ezagui, who has nearly a half a million followers on Instagram and whose TikTok videos attempt to show a rosy version of Haredi life. But in discussing her experiences with antisemitism on social media, especially in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks, Ezagui made little mention of Haredim in particular.

In recent years, the ADL has worked hard to make inroads into the Haredi community by addressing issues that affect it specifically. One example was a mass rally against antisemitism in early 2020 following a shooting attack at a Haredi supermarket in Jersey City and a stabbing attack at a Haredi Chanukah event in Monsey that same month. The organization has also submitted amicus briefs in several cases of alleged discrimination against Haredi synagogues and schools.

The ADL also weighed in last year on the New York Times’s coverage of Haredi yeshivas. In comments to the media, the ADL appeared to adopt the Haredi narrative that the Times’s coverage was not only motivated by anti-Haredi prejudice but that it also leads to antisemitism. In an interview with Fox News, Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, said, “It is not just disappointing, it’s irresponsible that the New York Times took an issue that merits investigation, that necessitates serious exploration, and framed it in such a way, which I think, again, isn’t just unhelpful, it can encourage more antisemitism.”

Shortly after, the ADL opened an office in Borough Park, a heavily Haredi neighborhood in Brooklyn. The step might’ve seemed incongruous in years past, given the ADL’s strong pro-Zionist stance, in contrast to the Haredi non-Zionist or even anti-Zionist leanings, but it appeared to be a recognition of the disproportionate number of antisemitic incidents suffered by Haredim as well as the Haredi community’s extraordinary growth. In a press release at the time, Greenblatt said, “Visibly Orthodox Jews were targeted in 64 percent of all antisemitic assaults” during the prior year.

A communications official at the conference had a Shtetl reporter escorted from the premises after the reporter asked the official for an interview. It remains unclear whether the official was singling out Shtetl due to criticism of the outlet by some Haredi leaders. The ADL could not be reached for comment or clarification on the incident.