(JTA) — On Saturday night, shortly after observant Jews went back online after Shabbat, Orthodox media outlets, Twitter accounts, and WhatsApp groups were ablaze about news that had broken several hours earlier.
At his afternoon press conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that his office would shut down a planned wedding for the grandson of Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the Williamsburg Satmar Rabbi, which organizers said would attract as many as 10,000 followers. In the days leading up to the governor’s statement, I was the sole voice warning, both on social media and via private channels, about this upcoming potential “super spreader” event.
But here’s how the popular Orthodox news site Yeshiva World News reported on it:
“YWN notes that the rabid self-hating Jew Naftali [sic] Moster of the YAFFED Organization who has been working for years b’mesiras nefesh [with relentless zeal] to destroy our Mosdos Hatorah [Torah institutions and schools], has the past few days been alerting the media and the authorities about this wedding.”
YWN is keenly aware of the dangers of whipping up the crowd against individuals with such language. Just in the last two weeks they reported on the brutal attacks against Berish Getz and Jacob Kornbluh, a former YWN journalist now with Jewish Insider, who were both accused of being “mosers” (snitches). Following the incidents, YWN was widely praised for publishing an op-ed by Yehuda Rechnitz, an influential Orthodox millionaire, in which he denounced the main inciter of those attacks, Heshy Tischler.
As expected, a torrent of hateful messages toward me followed the YWN article. I was called a “Nazi,” a member of the “Judenrat,” and a moser. One commenter on Vos iz Neias, another Orthodox news site, wrote that I “must be taken out.”
My motivation for reporting such irresponsible behavior outweighs the unpleasantness of the online harassment, although I am unfortunately well aware that it could escalate to physical violence.
A week ago on Monday, I received the first tip about the planned wedding from a Hasidic friend whom I had gotten to know through my work at Yaffed, the organization I founded, that aims to increase secular education standards in Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox schools. In recent months, the tipster’s greatest frustration has been the haredi Orthodox leadership’s failure to serve as role models to the community members who take their cues from them, as well as the media and government’s failure to see through the blatant deceit and doublespeak of community leaders.
He sent me a picture of the wedding announcement featured in a Hasidic newspaper.
The announcement read, in part, “Friends near and far, dear students, please participate in my celebration.” It provided the address of the big Satmar Shul of Williamsburg, and it was signed by Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the grand rabbi of Satmar of Williamsburg.
Despite having every reason to be jaded, my first reaction upon seeing the invitation was disbelief. By then, the city and the state had already implemented new restrictions to