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Orthodox Men Dominate Mayor Adams’s New Jewish Advisory Council

Mayor Adams in a dark blue suit at a city hall lectern.
Mayor Adams’s new Jewish Advisory Council is being criticized for being unrepresentative because of its Orthodox tilt. Credit...Benjamin Norman for The New York Times

If there is an archetypical Jewish New Yorker, that person might be found on the Upper West Side, somewhere between Zabar’s and Barney Greengrass.

But when Mayor Eric Adams recently announced the creation of New York City’s first-ever Jewish Advisory Council, that type of Jewish New Yorker was in short supply. Instead, at least 23 members of the 37-member council are Orthodox, and only nine are women — a makeup that has drawn criticism from a number of prominent Jewish leaders and groups.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, the House’s most senior Jewish member, excoriated Mr. Adams, the mayor of the country’s most Jewish city, for failing to “adequately represent the demographic diversity of Jewish New Yorkers.”

“I encourage the mayor to work to better account for that diversity with changes to the council’s membership so that it can be balanced appropriately to properly reflect the community’s full range of views and needs,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement provided to The New York Times.

Mr. Nadler’s views were echoed by rabbis at Congregation Beth Elohim, a reform congregation in Brooklyn where Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, worships, and Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a gay congregation in Manhattan. Mr. Nadler was also backed by Ruth Messinger, global ambassador for the American Jewish World Service and the former borough president of Manhattan; and David Saperstein, a prominent reform rabbi and the nation’s former ambassador at large for international religious freedom. Mr. Schumer declined to comment.

The dispute comes just a week after Mr. Adams got into a verbal altercation with a Jewish housing activist whose family fled the Holocaust, and whom Mr. Adams compared to a plantation owner.

While Mr. Adams is the first mayor in decades to have no Jewish deputy mayors, he does have several Jewish commissioners, and, like mayors before him, cultivated close ties to the politically potent Hasidic community, which tends to vote in blocs. Many of the Jewish leaders now criticizing him are of a progressive bent, and Mr. Adams is not popular with progressives.

A City Hall spokeswoman noted that within Orthodox ranks, there is a great deal of diversity — there are both modern Orthodox, and Jews associated with the Lubavitch movement, for example.

“This esteemed council comprises a diverse assembly of Jewish men and women hailing from various religious and cultural backgrounds, including Chabad, Conservative, Hasidic, nondenominational, Modern Orthodox, Reform, Sephardic, and Yeshiva Orthodox affiliations,” said the spokeswoman for the mayor. “Collectively, they bring a wealth of experience and expertise, addressing the diverse array of issues impacting New York City’s Jewish community.”

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, a Conservative rabbi and a council member whom the mayor has called “a longtime friend and adviser,” said on Wednesday afternoon that he planned to meet on Thursday with the mayor’s senior adviser, Joel Eisdorfer, who is Hasidic, to discuss potentially broadening the council’s membership.

“We’re not going to be fully effective if we’re not fully representative,” said Mr. Potasnik, who described the council as “very diverse.” “And we are working with the mayor’s office to make sure that that is the result.”

The council also leans on New York Jews who have expressed support for the mayor, including Mr. Potasnik; Moishe Indig, a Hasidic leader who joined Mr. Adams onstage the night of his election victory; and David Greenfield, the Orthodox leader of Met Council on Jewish Poverty, a Manhattan-based Jewish charity.

As of 2011, roughly 40 percent of New York City Jews identified as Orthodox, according to a study by the UJA-Federation of New York.

Any preponderance of Adams supporters would itself be unrepresentative of New York Jewish Democrats, according to John Mollenkopf, the director of the Center for Urban Research at CUNY. In his survey, only 12 percent of those Democratic primary voters listed Mr. Adams as their first choice in the 2021 primary.

“So if being an Adams supporter is a criterion for service on this Council, it is necessarily going to be unrepresentative of the diversity of the Jewish electorate,” Mr. Mollenkopf said.

Last May, Mr. Adams met with 55 female rabbis and cantors at City Hall, a gathering that arose from concerns from female rabbis that he was viewing the community too narrowly.

After Rabbi Rachel Timoner, of Congregation Beth Elohim, said as much in the Jewish press, an aide to the mayor reached out to her and said the mayor was interested in inviting female rabbis to City Hall, she said.

That meeting, by all accounts, went well.

“He remarked several times at how eye-opening it was for him to meet us,” Rabbi Timoner recalled.

One year later, Rabbi Timoner joined with Sharon Kleinbaum, the senior rabbi at Beit Simchat Torah, to protest the makeup of the mayor’s Jewish Council.

“The Advisory Council is tilted so heavily to one part of the community that it reflects a very lopsided view of New York’s Jewish demography and has the potential to make the majority of New York’s Jews feel underrepresented and unheard,” they wrote in a letter to the mayor.

In interviews, several members of the council, including Rachel Ain, a conservative female rabbi, and Devorah Halberstam, the Orthodox director of external affairs at the Jewish Children’s Museum, said they were satisfied with its composition.

“There will always be the people who will say, if they weren’t included, why didn’t they include them,” Ms. Halberstam said.

Posted on 06 Jul 2023 14:33 link