Crown Heights Came Together: Now What?

Following the unprecedented impact the Crown Heights Jewish community had on the recent Democratic Primary Elections, the Crown Heights United group responds to questions submitted by community members.

Following the unprecedented impact the Crown Heights Jewish community had on the recent Democratic Primary Elections, the Crown Heights United group responds to questions submitted by community members.

Q. For the first time in nearly 20 years, The Crown Heights Jewish Community united to create a strong political front. What prompted such a strong unity after years of division?

There was never any division in the community over whether or not people should go out and vote. Community activists may have endorsed different candidates in the past, but everyone always agreed that it is critical that we go out and vote. Still, Anash hardly voted.    

The better question is “Why all of a sudden now, after so many years, did Anash decide to vote?”

The answer to that has to do with the fact that in the past people felt disconnected from city politics and believed that the result of the election won’t affect them. There was no motivation or sense of urgency.  

NYC’s rising tide of violent crime, recent bail reform laws, the pandemic, and attempts by outsiders to control Yeshiva education have changed this mindset. People are beginning to realize that elected officials have the power to make decisions that could affect nearly every area of our lives.  

In addition, we had a candidate that expressed his anti-Israel & anti-Semitic views openly. That really woke people up, especially after what’s been going on for the last year and a half to two years with Jews being attacked and scapegoated. The community said enough is enough. We need to act now to protect the community.

Q. What were the greatest challenges that the group had to face in creating the united front?

A. There were a number of challenges. One of the hardest was getting everyone in the group to agree to endorse the same candidates.

We sat down together as a group and discussed our views, and didn’t leave the room until we came to a resolution.

At the end of the day, we were able to achieve our goal, because everyone agreed that the endorsements were for the benefit of the community and not for anybody’s political or personal agenda.

Q. Do we know the exact numbers of members of Anash from Crown Heights that came out to vote?

A. In the 35th Council District council race (Michael Hollingsworth and Crystal Hudson) which encompasses approximately 70-80% of Crown Heights, approximately 2500 Anash voted. In the Mayoral election for Eric Adams, over 4000 Anash voters came out to vote.

If you are asking for the methodology of how we came to those numbers, we basically looked at the 35th district and all the other races, we looked at the Jewish areas and the election districts to see what Weprin got, what Charles Finkelstein got, and compared it to what Adams got and what the other people we endorsed got. We also looked at how many Anash said they voted.

In early September, we will have the list of people who voted from the NYC Board of election, and we will know the exact number of Anash that voted.

Q. What were the greatest achievements for the community as a result of the unprecedented turnout?

A.  Eric Adams won by under 7200 votes. Adams would have lost had our 4000 thousand votes gone to the other candidate. Our community is being credited with electing the next mayor. Anash also brought out 2500 votes in the 35th district, which exceeded Hudson’s margin of victory.

On a more personal note, the awareness of this campaign was monumental, something we haven’t seen in Crown Heights in a long time. The campaign reached every span of the community from the school buses to the grocery stores. Parents on election day took their kids to vote to show them, to educate them, of the importance of voting.

Q. Can we expect to actually see any changes from this election? What would they be?

We are building trust within the Anash community, and also sending a message to the broader community that moderate democrats who work with the Jewish community could be elected despite the opposition of the DSA and radical left. Other Jewish communities in New York are looking to duplicate in their own respective districts what we have done here.

We are also hearing from those we helped elect as well as many other city and state officials, and they all acknowledge the importance of the Crown Heights Anash vote.

Q. Now that the election has passed, will Crown Heights United keep its unity? Or will the group fall apart?

A. So far we are all united and meeting regularly to see what more we can do for the community. We all realize that the community’s success is only because of unity.

Our biggest focus and drive right now is to build on the voter turnout and to be ready for the next elections. We know that groups such as the Socialists Democrats will be out in even greater numbers next time now that they have seen what we are capable of. They are already talking about next year’s Assembly elections. Our first mission is to ensure we register every qualified voter.

We will have a voter registration drive, creating a database of voter registration, focusing more on ensuring that it is up to date and accurate, and making sure we have voter turnout in every single election.

Crown Heights United is moving in a very positive approach, which is that we have been able to succeed uniting elements of the Crown Heights community for an agenda that is for the benefit of the community, for the future of the community, and this continues to be our goal moving forward.

The goal is to unite the various elements of the community, the schools, the shuls, everybody, — to create awareness and get everyone engaged and active in issues that are for the benefit of the greater community.

Q. With the general elections behind us and proof that the community is willing to show up to the ballot box and vote, why can’t the Crown Heights Community Council have their own elections, which are now overdue by nearly nine years?

A. When it comes to fighting for the benefit of the community, whether it’s for public safety, or to ensure that our Yeshivas are protected, or fighting against BDS, and so on and so forth, those are things we can unite and rally behind. Unfortunately, when it gets to the nitty-gritty in Crown Heights, there is not a united consensus at this point.

There are those who believe the CHJCC is the legitimate representative of the community, and there are those who do not. There are those who are pushing for CHJCC elections, and there are those opposed to elections.  There are those who believe that the Rabbonim should dictate the policy of the community, such as the Vaad Hakhaal and the CHJCC,  and there are those who do not. There are some who believe we should have an election for a third Rov, there are some who say we shouldn’t. It gets convoluted as soon as you start getting into the nitty-gritty of internal Crown Heights stuff, it creates a lot of friction, or should we say, potential divisions.

We, therefore, decided not to focus on the internal, but rather to focus on the external, as this is where we can all come together united, and hopefully, by strengthening and building on these efforts, the community will realize we have more in common and things that unite us than what divides us.

The Rebbe always taught us that whatever happens on the outside is a reflection of whatever is happening on the inside and it is our hope we can bring peace and harmony on the inside and outside.

In the event the larger community asks us to help straighten out things internally, we will sit, meet and discuss whether we feel we can be effective or not.

And if you ask who gave us the mandate for what we did just now, the answer is that there was a fire raging and we came together to put out that fire and mitigate real and imminent dangers the community was facing.

Q. While political activism is necessary and obviously important, why has Crown Heights United not also addressed, in unity, some other internal less divisive Crown Heights issues, including the housing and tuition crisis?

A. It is important that we advocate for issues like tax credits for tuition and address the housing crisis. However, our community’s inability to influence any of these items stemmed from the fact we did not have a strong voting presence which resulted in politicians not taking us seriously.

This is already changing in a very positive way.

Our voting presence increased tenfold, but we should be able to register another five or ten thousand votes, perhaps even more.

Unfortunately, the community doesn’t even know how many eligible voters live in Crown Heights.

Once we get past the registration drive and can prove real numbers, you can be sure we will work with the community and institutional leadership to see what more can be done in terms of grants and other funding opportunities

But first, we must lay the foundation as there is no point in making promises we can’t deliver.

But first, we must lay the foundation, as there is no point in making promises we can’t deliver!

We are doing what we can but we need everyone to reach out to us and to offer their support. Don’t wait for us to find you, rather send us an email to [email protected] and offer to help.

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