Yeshivas

Mayor Eric Adams brushes off yeshiva critics at South Williamsburg event

Adams lamented “intrusion in your ability to educate your children in your yeshivas”

Mayor Eric Adams visiting the grand rabbi of Pupa. Credit: Office of New York City Mayor

Oct 23, 2023 3:00 PM

Updated: 

Oct 23, 2023 3:00 PM

In a speech given in South Williamsburg on Sunday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams condemned “intrusion in your ability to educate your children in your yeshivas,” seemingly referring to efforts by the city and state education departments to enforce standards for secular education in Hasidic schools in response to activism by graduates of such schools.

“I have been clear that the yeshivas should have the right to respect the religious values and to educate your children,” the mayor said before the speech at his visit to the home of Rabbi Yaakov Yehezkiya Grunwald, the leader of the Pupa Hasidic sect. “Every elected official who says they support you, they should stand up and say the same thing.”

The mayor and other elected officials gathered in South Williamsburg on Sunday to name a segment of Penn Street “Rabbi Joseph Weber Way,” after religious and political leader affiliated with the Pupa sect who passed away in 2020. For decades, Weber was a leader of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, a social services organization serving the local Hasidic community.

Though the South Williamsburg Hasidic community is led by members of the Zalmanite faction of the Satmar Hasidic sect, other, smaller Hasidic sects, such as Pupa, are also based in Williamsburg and are served and represented by the UJO.

Videos of the mayor’s public remarks and his remarks at the rabbi’s house were posted by Williamsburg News, a Twitter account that posts content related to that neighborhood’s Hasidic community. City Councilmember Lincoln Restler, State Senator Julia Salazar, and State Assemblymember Emily Gallagher were also present at the outdoor event, though photos and videos suggest that Salazar and Gallagher were not on the stage, which appears to have been all-male.

Despite the mayor’s condemnation of intrusion into Hasidic schools, the New York City Department of Education has been working to enforce state education standards that require private schools to provide instruction that is “substantially equivalent” to what public schools provide.

In letters sent on June 30, the DOE told the leaders of four Hasidic schools in Brooklyn that they’d been determined not to provide a substantially equivalent education, and that they would need to make a plan for reaching that goal. The DOE also recommended that the New York State Education Department make negative determinations for 14 other Hasidic schools.

One of the schools for which the city made a negative determination, Yeshiva Bnei Shimon Yisroel of Sopron, is located less than two blocks from where the mayor made outdoor remarks. When city officials visited that school, they “did not observe instruction, taught in English, in any of the common branch subjects of English Language Arts (reading, spelling, writing, and the English language), arithmetic, geography, United States history civics, hygiene, the history of New York State, science, and physical training, including the four core subjects of English, mathematics, science and social studies,” according to a letter sent to the school’s principal.

During his mayoral campaign, Adams joined State Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein for a visit to a Haredi private school in Boro Park that he declined to name, according to The Forward. Adams also visited Yeshiva Darchei Torah, a Litvish school in Queens that was not the subject of a complaint.

Adams was criticized during the mayoral primary for saying he would comply with state education guidelines. “It’s not up to the city,” he told Hamodia in February 2021. In May, he changed his tone, calling activists who support secular education in Haredi schools “disgruntled” in an interview with Mishpacha Magazine.

Read more in Shtetl: In speech, Mayor Eric Adams says public schools should "duplicate" yeshiva achievements

Lauren Hakimi is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, New York Jewish Week, WNYC/Gothamist and more. She graduated from CUNY Hunter College with degrees in history and English literature. Hailing from an Iranian Jewish community on Long Island, she looks forward to shining a light on stories that matter to the Jewish community. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_hakimi.