New Square

Speaker Johnson to New Square: We’ll fight for religious education ‘with every ounce of energy we have’

Johnson visited New Square alongside Congressman Mike Lawler ahead of the upcoming general election.

Skver Rabbi, left. Speaker Mike Johnson, right. Credit: Arit126/Wikipedia

Jul 5, 2024 2:15 PM


During a recent visit to the Hasidic village of New Square ahead of the upcoming general election, Congressman Mike Johnson, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, expressed support for religious private schools, “school choice,” and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I have a personal love and respect for your sacred institutions and customs,” Johnson — flanked by Congressman Mike Lawler, State Senator Bill Weber, and New Square Mayor Izzy Spitzer — is heard saying in a video of his remarks posted on social media. Congressman Marc Molinaro, a Republican who represents a new Skver enclave in Sullivan County, was also standing onstage.

The politician was applauded by a crowd of men and boys as he expressed his support for Netanyahu’s upcoming address to Congress and decried pro-Palestinian encampments at American universities.

Johnson then described “the right to religious education, the right to pass our faith along to our children.” “We will fight for that freedom with every ounce of energy we have,” he said.

He vowed to fight for “school choice,” a term used by its proponents to refer to programs that use public dollars to support private school education. Several states have adopted tuition voucher programs in recent years, but recent attempts to bring such programs to New York and New Jersey were unsuccessful.

The grand rabbi of New Square, David Twersky, emphasized education when he spoke with Johnson, according to an article in the Yiddish-language Hasidic newspaper Der Yid.

“The rabbi very strongly emphasized the topic of education, saying that the Jewish schools produce such great fruits compared to the public school system,” Der Yid reported. The rabbi said that “there are no shootings or drugs in the Jewish schools, the kids are taught to be polite and raised to be upright.”

“The speaker was visibly impressed and nodded affirmatively to each word the rabbi said,” Der Yid said.

According to Der Yid, Lawler also spoke, “addressing his accomplishments for the Jewish communities, including New Square. He spoke about the large financial packages he was able to authorize for infrastructure in the Haredi areas."

Der Yid, a Satmar paper, bluntly described the transactional nature of the visit. Johnson came to New Square, Der Yid said, because he wants its residents and other Hasidim to vote for Republican Congressional candidates, allowing him to continue leading the chamber. In exchange, Der Yid wrote, Hasidim want “absolute respect and freedom to practice Judaism, religion, and raising observant generations." The newspaper added: “We want Torah and upright generations, and they need materialistic votes and bloc votes.”

This November, residents of the lower Hudson Valley will choose between Lawler and Democrat Mondaire Jones. Molinaro faces a challenge from Democrat Josh Riley. New Square voters, as well as members of other Hasidic sects, are known to vote as blocs, making rabbinical endorsements a crucial component of candidates’ formulas for victory.

Lawler, who joined Congress in 2023 after narrowly defeating Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, also accompanied former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy to New Square last year, before McCarthy was booted from the post.