Last month some 10,000 chassidim participated in an unmasked ball in Williamsburg Brooklyn. The occasion was the wedding of a grandchild of one of the two rival and virtually fratricidal brothers who claim leadership of the Satmar dynasty.
Several days ago a virtually identical wedding celebration took place in the Boro Park neighborhood. This too was the marriage of a grandchild of one of two competing claimants, this time to the Bobover dynasty, whose mutual hatred is not quite as inflamed as that of the Satmar brothers, perhaps because they are not siblings.
These events are a commonplace. Whether it is weddings or funerals, jam-packed shul services or desk-to-desk cheder classes, charedi society in America, as in Israel, thumbs its nose at both the law and common sense, blithely burying its dead and its collective head in the sand.
It has long been an open secret that members of ultra-orthodox communities – often the communities themselves – play fast and loose with the law. In this they have had an active and complicit partner in the local, usually Democrat, political machine.
The catalogue of questionable practices is long. It includes working off the books while claiming welfare benefits; couples going through legal divorce while staying Jewishly married (or never getting legally married in the first place) in order to get allowances for female-headed households; enjoying Section 8 Housing intended to help poor families rent quality housing, usually in a property owned by the ostensible renters, but registered in the name of parents or in laws; flouting zoning and safety regulations for new homes, schools and synagogues; using non-profit organizations for money laundering purposes; receiving government funding for non-existent school programs; inflating head counts in order to be eligible for more funding than they are entitled to. The list goes on.
All of this has been an open secret. Just like in Israel, where a self-serving Bibi Netanyahu capitulates to wholesale charedi extortion in exchange for a guaranteed voter block in Knesset, corrupt American politicians have also been active partners in the shenanigans and larceny of their local charedim. The pols have been happy to give the chassidic and yeshivish communities whatever they ask for, and to turn a blind eye. After all, chareidm – Satmar especially – offer an unbeatable prize, namely a guaranteed bloc vote of tens of thousands of registered voters.
Virtually any mayor, councilman, commissioner or judge could guaranty his or her election simply by playing footsie with Satmar. Why? Because in Satmar – and not just in Satmar – the people vote as instructed by their rebbes and rosh yeshivas. And the rabbonim know very well on which side their challah is buttered.
This systemic corruption might have continued blissfully unabated in communities like Boro Park, Williamsburg, Monsey and Lakewood were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charedim have grown so accustomed to having their way – or rather getting away with having their way – that they are now overplaying their hand by insisting on flouting the health regulations meant to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Suddenly there is an issue that has nothing to do with fiscal shmei-drei and everything to do with the general public welfare. For the very first time, even the sleaziest and most corrupt Democrat officials from Governor Cuomo to Mayor deBlasio and down to the local ward heelers are drawing the line in the sand and saying “NO”. But the charedim don’t seem to be getting the message, evidence the two massively attended weddings.
By refusing to obey coronavirus regulations, the ultra-orthodox community will lose the cozy convenience of endemic corruption that has connected it at the hip with the Democrat establishment. Once that goes – and it is going fast – it will be only a matter of time before prying eyes start looking into all of the questionable activity that has, for so long, been given a free pass. When that volcano erupts, it won’t be the charedim who are blamed, but the Jews. And that means all the rest of us.