My alarm rang at 5:30 AM. I tried to remember why. It was primary day.By a little after 6:00 AM, I was at a poll site on Bedford Avenue. A van pulled up and Rabbi Leib Glanz got out with a group of young men, who he proceeded to instruct in Yiddish. They set up a card table, and nearby stationed workers with palm cards for Dan Squadron and Ed Towns (much to Kevin Powell’s regret, the other side's palm cards were for Marty Connor and Ed Towns).
A prospective voter was given a palm card for the anointed team, and then went inside to cast their vote. On the way out, they presented the card at the table and got it stamped. Later their child would return it at school and it would be entered into a lottery, with the winners receiving trading cards with pictures of the Great Rabbis.
Those who never read HG Wells and want to experience time travel need not endeavor to find a time machine if they are willing to ride up Bedford until they get north of Flushing Avenue and visit Historic Williamsburg.
Like all bad sci-fi, Williamsburg is full of anachronisms. Everyone is dressed like 16th century Eastern European nobility. So why are they all carrying blackberries?
Pupa, Spinka, Sqver, Viener, Klausenberg, Visnitz, Chernobler. I once heard tell that Williamsburg even had a few Hasidim from the Montevidean sect and some Bostoners.
How does one identify a Bostoner Hasid?
He’s the one wearing the Red Socks.
I once conceived of a short story about Hasidic politics where a politician who managed to get elected in spite of them was subjected to their local version of hell night, being feted at a luncheon where no one warned him that the bottles of Mayim Chiam brand seltzer would explode upon opening, purifying him like a trip to the local Mikveh, only wetter.
OK, I’m lying. This was not a scene I made up from whole cloth, but something I witnessed them doing to David Yassky, and I personally was the one who passed him the bottle.
I myself learned long ago to twist the cap off slowly, letting the fizz out before proceeding further. This is the sort of specialized knowledge that has earned me my well-deserved reputation among people who don’t know better as an expert in Hasidic political folkways, which I mostly acquired at weddings, sitting at the dignitaries table with a motley crew of political operatives, non-Hasidic orthodox rabbis and other assorted outsiders.
“Sit here,” I said to Charlie King, attending his first such Simcha. Hey ET”, said someone to Congressman Towns, “tell Charlie what the Hasids call the place where we’re sitting”.
“The white people’s table.”
In my short story, the dominant local sect was the Satnick, who originated in the town of St. Nicholas, and were led by the mysterious Rabbi Tannenbaum. Their rivals in the Hasidic community called them the Santa Claus Jews, and their leader, Rabbi Christmas Tree.
In real life, these Jews were known as the Satmar; urban legend says the town they came from is named for St. Mary, but this is one of the few strange rumors about the Satmar that is untrue (right up there with the one about the hole in the sheet). Their rabbinical dynasty is called Teitelbaum, and the royal family is engaged in its own local War of the Rosenblooms.
Normally, Hasidic communities work out their politics internally before a balloting takes place. In Williamsburg, until last year, with rare exceptions (the two I know of took place in 1989 and 1994), the Satmar political leadership called the shots, and the other sects fell into line. They then deliver margins of approximately 99 to one.
Hasids, almost to a fault, deliver for incumbents who have delivered for them. This is known as “Hakoras Hatov, which is roughly translated as either “thankfulness and appreciation”, or “dancing with those who brung ya”.
In 1999, I had the ignominious distinction of being chosen to run the Hasidic operation in a special election in Rockland County. Our candidate, who had once acquired a case of selective Alzheimer’s during a grand jury probe of a Jewish studies program at a local community college, surely had a right to claim the mantle of “Hakoras Hatov”. Despite their own considerable efforts at tuchis-leching, the Republican couldn’t hope to match such an exquisite dive.
Nonetheless, rumors persisted that the Republicans had won the local bidding war. Undaunted, I put together a breakfast for sixty local Orthodox leaders.
The morning of the breakfast, I was driving through Spring Valley when, stopped at a light, a young Hasid climbed inside my car and asked for a ride. Momentarily shocked, I asked him “where to,” and he told me that Governor Pataki was speaking that morning in New Square.
Visions of uneaten whitefish danced in my head, and were later fulfilled. Fifteen guests showed at the breakfast, most of them Democratic State Senators form the City. The smiles on the fish heads looked up at me with mocking eyes, as I pictured one later wrapped in my vest with a message that Gatemouth was schluffing with the pickled herring.
Hakoras Hatov was one thing, but like Hebrew National, my local Rockland Hasids were answering to a higher authority: one who gave away member items.
I spent much of Election Day riding the Hasidic polls trying to prevent over exuberant gratitude to the Governor. In the Village of Kaser, Marsha Rapaport (alev ha-sholem) was stationed with her husband Jerry, listening to the conversations in Yiddish and last minute efforts to instruct and other illegalities. My cell rang, and it was the County Leader.
“Pull that woman out of Kaser now!”
“Don’t you want to win?”
“Damned right I want to win, but I also need to do business here tomorrow and next week after you go home.”
At 8:30 PM that night, I visited the Village of New Square, a theocracy, ruled with an iron fist by the leadership of the Skver sect. As I exited my car, I put on my white hat as a gesture of respect, and proceeded to deal with the black hats.
The polling place and the politics of the Village were both entirely under the control of Deputy Mayor Izzie Spitzer, who the next year would deliver a 98% vote for Hillary Clinton at a time when the State’s two other Hasidic controlled Villages were delivering 99% votes for Rich Lazio. Coincidentally, this was followed by the Presidential pardon of one of the sect’s leading criminals --care of its reprobates behind bars being a leading Hasidic priority.
There were two lines for each election district, with each having a separate machine for males and females. The inspectors at each table from each party clearly got their jobs from Izzie, as did the cops at the poll site. If a voter approaching the machine appeared to be confused, Izzie would stage whisper a few words in Yiddish, one of which was “Consoivoitive.”
I decided the best posture was to keep him engaged in schmoozing until the clock ran out. Izzie and I synchronized out watches, so that the poll would close at what we agreed was 9:00 PM. At the appointed time, I refused to permit some late arrivals to cast their ballot for Izzie’s choice, and we opened the machines.
The tally was 987 (most of it on the Consoivoitive line) to six.
As I left, Izzie invited me to join them for evening prayers, “So, you wanna daven Maariv with us?”
“Maariv?” I replied, “with these numbers, I should be davening Yisgor.”
And we did. We returned from Rockland empty handed.
Eight and a half years latter, I found myself face to face with Aryeh Leib Glanz.
As far I could suss out the story, Glanz was not really a Satmar, but what the locals called “international.” His religion was much like his politics--he davened in many schuls. He was certainly not a Hungarian (the Satmars were from the Hungarian speaking region of Romania known as Transylvania, which may be why they dressed in black).
He was however, a talented hustler, who got things done. He ran the all-important school system, which meant he could reach every family every day, which meant he was in charge of the all-important get out the vote operation.
Rumors about Glanz abounded. Marty Connor asked me about one of them, which, strikingly, did not involve money. I answered, “If you heard that about Moishe Dovid Niederman (who ran the social services), what would you say?
“That couldn’t be true.”
“With Glanz, I think we ask, ’could that be true?’”
Around 1999, the Hasidim split into factions, and Glanz remained one of the leaders of Williamsburg’s dominant Zalis. Then someone started asking questions about the finances of the school system, whose cupboards were bare and debts enormous, and perhaps combined with other rumors, it was decided that Glanz need to be replaced.
Glanz became a political operative for hire for anyone who could pay.
Eventually, the Rebbe died and the rival Aronis decided they needed their own schools. Only one man could accomplish such a monumental task with so little time. So Glanz became an Aroni.
In 2008, Glanz was down with the community program, supporting Connor and Towns. Nonetheless, though Glanz was Towns‘ Finance Chair, rumors persisted. However, the vaunted fundraising ability of Kevin Powell turned out to be a false alarm and Glanz was safely in place for ET.
Connor had no such worries. He, and not Squadron was the one invited to Glanz’s voter registration rally, and anyway, Connor had been instrumental in obtaining funding for Glanz-related programs.
Then, at the last minute, the Aronis went with Squadron. It is rumored that Niederman told Connor, “You were naive about Glanz.”
“But I got funding for his programs.” said Connor.
“For his programs you got money,” said Niederman, “But what have you done for Glanz?”As today’s Times revealed, Glanz had been gotten to by Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey. The exact outlines of the deal are unknown, but use of City revenue streams, independent expenditures and charitable donations by the Mayor and his friends, as well as other means of persuasion have been documented elsewhere. As with Fred Newman and Leonora Fulani, the money talks. And it even speaks Yiddish.
In addition, Glanz had a nice City sinecure as Chaplain/Dog Robber for the City’s Jewish prisoners, some of whom doubtless were not immune to the concept of wanting to express their gratitude. While jailhouse bar mitzvahs were surely not plagued by the beggars who frequented other Hasidic events, it would be highly unusual if others did not have their hands out. And what if there was a jailhouse bris? Could it be only the mohels who got the tips?
More importantly, if Glanz were not around, who would ensure the right of Orthodox Jewish prisoners to throw jailhouses life cycle events and have sex at exclusive jailhouse parties?
So here I was with Glanz at the polling place. I greeted him, and he smiled broadly.
“Rabbi,” I said, “you know, my Yiddish is better than yours.”
“I know the meaning of Hakoras Ha-Tov.”
Glanz laughed loudly, which I credited to my wit.
I was wrong. Soon, sound trucks appeared booming Glanz’s voice. “Hakoras Ha-Tov?” it asked, followed by complaints. Higher rents, the housing shortage, etc. etc. My Yiddish was poor, but I got the gist.
Some of the complaints stung by their audacity.
There was a complaint about the lack of tuition vouchers and tax credits for religious schools, and complaints about non-Hasidim getting some of the local apartments. Surely, this did not reflect Dan Squadron’s platform.
Then came the complaint about the bicycle lanes and the shameless hussies riding though the neighborhood in immodest dress.
Bike lanes which came courtesy of the Mayor, who was supporting Squadron and the Transportation Commissioner married to the US Senator who was supporting Squadron.
Clearly Marty Connor was not getting 99% of the local vote, and it was once again time for Gatemouth to daven Yisgor.
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