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Jewish Politics: After Marrying a Non-Jew, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz faces Frum Jewish Challenger

This was supposed to be a watershed year in politics. After years of frustration with dysfunctional Albany politics, the voters were supposed to “throw the bums out,” as Mayor Ed Koch, leader of New York Uprising, likes to say. However, this isn’t exactly shaping up into a watershed year. Except for the disgraced Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, no New York City legislator has lost a primary and aside for a handful of competitive legislative races, most incumbents are considered “safe.” However that trend is about to be tested this Election Day in the heart of the Jewish community in Flatbush, Brooklyn in a different way.

One of the traditionally “safe” incumbents is a Democratic Assemblyman by the name of Steve Cymbrowitz. Steve represents most of the predominantly Frum Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush in Brooklyn. Before taking office, Mr. Cymbrowitz was married to an observant Sephardic Jew – Assemblywoman Lena Cymbrowitz – who by all accounts was an impressive woman. Sadly, she died, rather suddenly, less than two years after being elected to the Assembly.

As befits the corrupt image of Albany politics, her late husband Steve “inherited” her seat through a back-room political deal. In fact, since Steve “inherited” his late wife’s seat 10 years ago, Steve has rarely been challenged by anybody – Republican or Democrat in any election. Well, that’s par for the course for Albany politician. After all, incumbents have more money, name recognition and establishment support than challengers. So that’s not surprising.

What is surprising is how out of touch Steve has become from the district he represents in Albany. For years, non-observant Jewish politicians tried to appear observant out of fear of offending the observant Jewish community. The best example of this is the popular US Senator Chuck Schumer who ends every address to his observant Jewish constituents with the Hebrew salutation of “Am Yisrael Chai.” However, Steve has openly flouted this tradition. For example, for many years Steve would eat at treif (non-Kosher) restaurants in Brooklyn and would report on this experience by “reviewing” those treif restaurant in a local newspaper.

Perhaps as a result of flouting this tradition of respecting the community, Steve has never been the “go-to” guy for the Frum community that he represents. Maybe because of the easy access that the community has to observant Jewish Speaker Sheldon Silver it didn’t make sense to bother the relatively low-level legislator. However, over the years, Steve has grown even more distant from the community he represents.

Most recently, Steve has taken the most distinct step in permanently severing his ties from the community by re-marrying a non-Jewish woman. After all, Steve’s entire claim to this Assembly seat was the fact that he was continuing the legacy of his departed religiously observant wife. While inter-marriage is an accepted fact of life in much of the United States, in Frum Jewish Flatbush it is sacrilegious. In fact, if Steve were really Frum, like most of his Flatbush constituents, his family would likely sit shiva for him and he would be expelled from the community.

Enter Yoseph Hayon. Yoseph is a 33 year old Frum Jewish married father of two young children. Yoseph has been active in Republican and Conservative politics all of his life and has now taken on the uphill challenge of running against Steve on the Republican and Conservative lines.

To his credit, Yoseph doesn’t differentiate himself from Steve based on religious views. Rather he differentiates himself from Steve based on his political views. The political differences could not be more stark: Steve personally supports gay marriage, Yoseph does not. Steve personally supports abortion, Yoseph does not. On the flip side, Yoseph supports school vouchers, Steve does not. Yoseph supports unlimited charter schools, Steve does not. And so on and so forth.

Yet despite his religion, his values and his conservative political positions (all of which are attuned to the Frum constituency) Yoseph faces an uphill battle. After all, beating an incumbent, even one who has lost touch with his constituency, is difficult. Steve has a lot more money, a lot more institutional support (for example, Speaker Sheldon Silver and several major Jewish organizations that rely on the Speaker for funding, are supporting Steve) and a lot more name recognition – even if much of that that name recognition is negative.

It remains to be seen if “Jewish politics” matters anymore. Will the Frum community allow Steve Cymbrowitz to openly defile its traditions? Will the Frum community ignore Steve Cymbrowitz’s transgressions for the handful of government dollars given to its major Jewish organizations? Can Yoseph Hayon – a Frum Jew – beat Steve Cymbrowitz – an intermarried secular Jew – in the heart of the Frum community in Brooklyn? Do religious values matter any more to the Frum Jewish community? This upcoming Election Day, Tuesday, November 2nd, we will find out.

Daniel Miller for YWN

Jewish Politics is a new opinion column by veteran political strategist Daniel Miller. The views and opinions reflected herein are solely of Mr. Miller and are not necessarily those of Yeshiva World News.

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12 Responses

  1. Yossi, you have my vote. Hatzlacha Rabbah!

    Enough with these self-hating jewish democrats like Cymbrowitz. I’m voting straight Rs this November.

  2. Hey, where were you in September for the Democratic primary in Queens where we could have chosen a frum, ehrliche yid like Isaac Sasson if Yeshiva World would have given him some publicity. Instead we end up again with that dinosaur reform jew Stavisky. Thanks for nothing.

  3. I agree! Yoseph Hayon has got my vote! I am sick and tired of these Democrats who pretend to have my best interests in mind but vote against every I want!

  4. “Steve has never been the “go-to” guy for the Frum community that he represents. Maybe because of the easy access that the community has to observant Jewish Speaker Sheldon Silver it didn’t make sense to bother the relatively low-level legislator.”

    Just curious. Who does Assemblyman Silver endorse in this race, Cymbrowitz the Democrat or Hayon the Republican?

  5. If the frum population of Brooklyn were to turn their backs on the Democrats (and that would mean giving up the patronage that buys our support), it would revolutionize New York politics. A good many of the white ethnics (who aren’t super liberals either) would also switch, and the change would guarantee Republican control of the Senate, and perhaps lead to the Assembly being less of a “lock” for the Democrats.

    But since when have principles (rather than patronage) ever motivated our community.

  6. #5 – I would guess that Silver endorses the member of his own party, but don’t quote me on it.

    Check out Mr. Hayon’s website.

  7. We need to let people know that there are alternatives to the incumbents.
    By the way, of all people on October 18, 2010 Mr. Steven Cymbrowitz is slated to be honored by the Rachel’s Children Reclamation Foundation an organization involved with the revitalization of Kever Rochel.
    There should be a protest of this.
    Email a protest to [email protected]

  8. You forgot to mention that back in 2004, Russian Jewish Republican/Conservative Arthur Gershfeld, a criminal justice lawyer from Manhattan Beach, ran against Symbrowitz and received surprising 32%.

  9. Cymbrowitz should be thrown out with the rest of the DemoRats. They’re worthless to us and only work against the Torah Community’s agenda.

    Cuomo should also be thrown out.

    There are major policy difference between Paladino & Cuomo.

    Andrew Cuomo is NOT Mario Cuomo. Andrew Cuomo (AC) was the HUD Secretary who was a major influence in creating the mortgage meltdown which ignited the latest recession. AC supports toyavoh marriage and all the other toyavoh that those sickies stand for. He hints at funding major organizations and has openly pandered to the heads of those community organizations and moisdos. Obviously, He is trying to buy votes. Unfortunately, most community organizations will fall for his promises of support and end up with a few dollars while the State of New York and all the taxpayers and residents will suffer.

    Paladino can’t keep his mouth shut. But at least he says most of the things that the Torah Community believes in but is afraid to say publically. Rabbi Levin is one of the the only Rabbeim who tells it like it is. I respect him for that. Always look at the underlying reason a “Rebbe” or “Community Leader” endorses a candidate and you will usually find a link to some benefit to a specific organization or individual instead of the community itself.

    Yidden, open your eyes!! Use your brains!! We’re not lemmings. Study the candidates positions from “reliable” sources not from the Times nor from any self serving organizations or individuals. Make your own intelligent choices.

  10. I’m no fan of Cymbrowitz who rode in on the coat tails of his late wife. But who says his current wife, Vilma Huertas (who worked for Cymbrowitz prior to his wife’s death when he was a director at NYCHA and she is now the secretary of the board of NYCHA), is not Jewish?

  11. If you support Jewish ideals you will vote republican I know Yoesf Personally. As a candidate myself in the 27th District for State Senate, I endorse Yosef Hayon.
    He will, have our voice in the Government, and be a true defender of Torah Values

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