Yeshivas

‘Where’s our presence in the streets?’ Mayor Adams tells yeshiva leaders to get outraged

“You’re making a big mistake,” the mayor told an audience at Agudah’s annual “Yeshiva Summit,” adding, “I am not going to be a silent friend”

New York City Mayor Eric Adams with Agudah leader Chaim Dovid Zwiebel at this year's “Yeshiva Summit.” Credit: Benny Polatseck/Mayoral Photography Office

Jan 22, 2024 4:25 PM

Updated: 

In a speech to Haredi yeshiva leaders earlier this month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams told the audience to object more strongly to the state’s attempts to improve secular education in their schools.

“Which march did we have to fight to protect yeshivas?” Adams said at Agudath Israel’s annual “Yeshiva Summit” on Jan. 4, according to a report in Mishpacha, a Haredi magazine. “Where’s our presence in the streets? Where’s our outrage when you talk about protecting the foundations of your schools as there's a full-frontal assault?”

Adams’ remarks came amid heightened scrutiny of Hasidic yeshivas and increased attempts by state officials to ensure compliance with state laws requiring nonpublic schools to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that of public schools.

Sign outside the “Yeshiva Summit” conference. Credit: Shtetl

“If you believe you can silently say ‘don’t trample on me’ and people are going to listen, you're making a big mistake,” Adams said, according to Mishpacha. “This fight can’t stay in a sterilized environment of this beautiful atmosphere under this tent. It must be out there.” The mayor emphasized that he was issuing his criticism as a Haredi ally. “I am not going to be a silent friend of yours,” he told the audience.

In June, the New York City Department of Education sent letters to leaders of four Hasidic schools in Brooklyn informing them that the schools had been found not to provide adequate education in secular subjects as defined by state law, and that they would need to make a plan to meet that goal. For 14 other Hasidic schools, the DOE recommended that the state find the schools inadequate.

The mayor’s remarks were not the first time he has pushed back against the state’s efforts. Last May, in an address to Orthodox educators, Adams praised yeshiva education, saying, “We need to be duplicating what you are achieving.” In October, in remarks to Williamsburg Hasidic leaders, the mayor condemned “intrusion in your ability to educate your children in your yeshivas.”

Adams is not alone In chiding Agudah for being complacent about the state’s efforts to enforce education laws. In November, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, who leads the Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, urged school leaders to ignore the state education department’s demands. “I call on the leaders of other yeshivas not to be persuaded by those activists who have sold their souls to the devil,” Teitelbaum said in Yiddish.

Protestors outside the “Yeshiva Summit.” Credit: Shtetl

Outside the Agudah summit in January, a small group of Hasidic protesters held up signs urging stronger action. “Judaism Requires Rather Die Than Alter The System Of Torah Education,” one sign read. “We Are Ready.”

Shtetl requested text and audio of Adams’s speech through the New York Freedom of Information Law, but the mayor’s office denied the request, saying that such documents could not be found. Shtetl appealed the denial.

“If an event is closed press, our team typically does not attend and thus we wouldn’t have a recording,” said Fabien Levy, deputy mayor for communications at the mayor’s office, in response to inquiries from Shtetl. Levy did not comment on the content of the speech.

Read more in Shtetl:

State finds another 12 Hasidic schools offer inadequate secular education

Citing past wins, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum once again urges defiance of the state on education demands

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.