Rapaport Hosts all Candidates for the NY10 Democratic Primary to his Home to Shmooze with his Neighbors
by Yehudit Garmaise
When Yeruchim Silber, the director of New York Government Relations at Agudath Israel of America, briefly posted a photo last night of Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, holding up a freshly baked challah as if to take a big bite, many Yidden on Twitter wondered what was going on.
Just days ago, Niou, who is polling second in the Congressional race to represent District 10: the most Jewish district in the country, had announced to the Jewish Insider her support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement.
Weeks ago, however, she had been invited to the home of Alexander Rapaport, who for years, has been inviting candidates who want to represent Chassidism in Boro Park, not as part of his work in which he feeds thousands through Masbia, but to provide a calm, heimishe environment for neighborhood people to meet the candidates who want to represent them.
Call it the anti-Twitter.
“In my home, we have open, person-to-person, heart-to-heart conversations about the issues among regular voters: not machers,” Rapaport said. “Here, we can be very direct and practical in a cozy environment.”
Niou, who is the second District 10 candidate to be invited to Rapaport’s warm dining room for schmoozing, was given the freshly-baked challah, as gesture of hospitality by Silber, who had previously lobbied Niou at the NY Assembly.
Assemblymember Niou had found a welcoming refuge from bullying at school at Camp Shemayim, a Jewish overnight camp in Texas, where she first enjoyed challah, she once told Silber.
Silber was merely following up a long-promised loaf of his wife’s challah, but some Jews on Twitter thought a top Agudah representative was given Niou “a pass” on her BDS views because he didn’t mention them while giving the assemblymember a nice photo opportunity.
Many Yidden felt that Niou was expressing enthusiasm for Jewish foods to show solidarity with the Jewish community she had just offended.
“Is eating challah the new whitewashing for supporting the anti-Semitic BDS movement,” tweeted Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein.
Many in the community are closed off to Niou because of her views on Israel, but Rapaport told BoroPark24, “The trick is not to write off people, but the trick is to engage people, and that engagement should not look like giving people as ‘pass.’ It’s a tricky balance that is too nuanced for Twitter.”
Although the meeting’s participants spoke about “traffic on the BQE, any bullying going on by Amazon, bail reform, and why the rest of NYC is so against yeshivas, we spoke to her in depth about BDS,” Rapaport said. “We were 20 Boro Parkers. No one is going to let her get away with stuff.”
The assemblymember has warm feelings about the Jewish people from her experiences at camp, however, she also said she tragically lost a close friend who was a peace activist in Israel to an Israeli bulldozer.
What mostly concerned the meeting's participants about Niou saying that she supports BDS is that doing so can sometimes be considered “dog whistles that signals to the haters that they should come to your camp, rather than hinting to haters to run away from you,” said Rapaport, who said that the District 10 candidate “seemed to understand very well.”
“After speaking to us, the next time Niou speaks to a reporter, we all felt that she indicated she would clarify that BDS is anti-Semitic, so that Yidden are not confused and hurt by her inconsistencies.
“The participants of the meeting are waiting for Niou to clearly state her positions on Israel.”
One of his success stories, however, Rapaport reported, took place a few years ago after he hosted far-left candidate Lindsay Boylan, when she was challenging US Rep Jerry Nadler for the 10th district seat.
While some in the community had written off Boylan as too progressive, others were scared to meet with her because they were intimidated by Nadler, said Rapaport, who said his informal schmooze-events allows for constituents to meet all the candidates in low-key, non-threatening environments.
Candidates asked what they can prepare in advance of the meetings at Rapaport’s house, but he tells them to just share what they want to share, but also to listen.
Likely, what Boylan heard about yeshivas were that they produce, “Hasidic-populated neighborhoods that shine with peace and tranquility,” as Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council co-founder Yossi Gestetner wrote, “strong family and communal foundations, employment, charitable institutions, volunteerism, civic engagement, low crime rates, and almost no homelessness, nor youth criminality.”
“After a few-hours of conversation with regular Chassidic people, she came out on the debate stage sounding more pro-yeshivas than Nadler,” said Rapaport, who attributed Boylan’s change of attitude to her “exposure to regular, working-class Chassidim in my dining room, months before the debate.
“We express our views as voters, but we are not deciding whether to endorse anyone. We are just having a conversation. Everyone goes home and makes his or her own decisions. I am just getting people engaged."
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