If there is an archetypal 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’s first-ever Jewish Council, that type of Jewish New Yorker was missing. Instead, at least 23 members of the 37-member council are Orthodox, and only nine are women — a composition that has drawn criticism from some prominent Jewish leaders and groups.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the most senior Jewish member of the House, admonished 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 membership of the council so that it can be balanced appropriately to properly reflect the full range of views and needs of the community,” 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. congregation in Manhattan. Mr. Nadler was also supported 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, has cultivated close ties to the politically powerful Hasidic community, which tends to vote in blocs. Many of the Jewish leaders now criticizing him are progressives, and Mr. Adams is not popular with progressives.
A spokesman for the City Hall noted that within Orthodox ranks, there is great diversity – there are both modern Orthodox, and Jews associated with the Lubavitch movement, for example.
“This esteemed council consists of a diverse assembly of Jewish men and women hailing from various religious and cultural backgrounds, including Chabad, Conservative, Hasidic, non-denominational, Modern Orthodox, Reform, Sephardic, and Yeshiva Orthodox affiliations,” said the spokesperson for the mayor “Collectively, they bring a wealth of experience and expertise, addressing the diverse set of issues affecting New York’s Jewish community.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, Conservative rabbi and council member that the mayor has called “a longtime friend and adviser,” said Wednesday afternoon that he planned to meet Thursday with the mayor’s senior adviser, Joel Eisdorfer, who is Hasidic, to discuss possibly expanding the council’s membership.
“We will not be fully effective if we are not fully representative,” said Mr. Potasnik, who described the council as “very diverse.” “And we’re working with the mayor’s office to make sure that’s the outcome.”
The council is also leaning on New York Jews who have expressed support for the mayor, including Mr. Potasnik; Moishe Indig, a Hasidic leader who joined Mr. Adams on stage the night of his election victory; and David Greenfield, the Orthodox leader of Met Council on Jewish Poverty, a Brooklyn-based Jewish charity.
Any preponderance of supporters of Adams himself would 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 will necessarily be unrepresentative of the diversity of the Jewish electorate,” Mr. Mollenkopf said.
Last MayMr. Adams met with 55 female rabbis and cantors at City Hall, a meeting that was sparked by concerns from female rabbis that he was taking too narrow a view of the community.
After Rabbi Rachel Timoner, of Congregation Beth Elohim, said as much in the Jewish press, an aide to the mayor contacted her and said the mayor was interested in inviting rabbis to City Hall, she said.
That meeting, by all accounts, went well.
“He remarked several times about how eye-opening it was for him to meet us,” Rabbi Timoner recalled.
A year later, Rabbi Timoner joined with Sharon Kleinbaum, the senior rabbi at Beit Simchat Torah, to protest the composition of the mayor’s Jewish Council.
“The Council is so biased toward one part of the community that it reflects a very skewed view of New York’s Jewish demographics 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 people who will say if they weren’t included, why didn’t they include them,” Ms. Halberstam said.