Firebrand activist defends Brooklyn Orthodox during pandemic

Borough Park, Tischler explained, was under attack by New York’s politicians.

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

Heshy Tischler believes what he did for the Orthodox Jewish community in the fall was the right thing. There is nothing he would change about the way he publicly called out New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for singling out the Jewish community amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

The city council candidate in Brooklyn led a series of maskless protests in Borough Park — a Hasidic neighborhood — just two months ago. Borough Park, Tischler explained, was under attack by New York’s politicians. While he says he doesn’t believe Cuomo and de Blasio were scapegoating the Orthodox Jewish community, he does feel that they wrongly called out the Jews in a public manner.

Tischler still wants to know why the area’s politicians were singling out the Jewish population when minority communities have suffered much greater losses due to the pandemic. In the past, when the Hasidic community did ask for help from the state and city government, Tischler says the politicians were unresponsive. Now, when the community didn’t request assistance, the government shut the area down, and Tischler truly believed he needed to be the voice of the community.

But as Tischler did what he firmly stood for, it landed him behind bars. He was charged for inciting a riot in Borough Park as community members burned face masks. During the protests, Tischler called Orthodox journalist Jacob Kornbluh a “moser” (or “snitch” in Yiddish), sparking even more controversy.

Now, Tischler is telling his side of the story. He wants people to know who he is, the charity initiatives he takes part in throughout the community and why he believes he is the voice of this ultra-Orthodox region.

Q: For those who don’t know you well, who is Heshy Tischler?

“People have asked me for 30-something years, ‘What is your job?’ My job is to help people. Whatever job I’ve had, I’ve always used it to help the community. When I was a travel agent, I always worked with people who had family or relatives that passed away and got them tickets to get to funerals. I helped women get away from their abusive families, get them into shelters or get them tickets to go away.

“When I was a contractor, I helped people who had violations with their homes comply. In my house, we have four little extra apartments where we bring prisoners who were in jail and they have no family, so they live by us for a few months and we get them jobs. We took in 21 kids. These are the things we do.

“For 30 years, I’ve been volunteering at a local hospital, giving out coffee, blankets and I help a nurse. On Shabbos [Jewish sabbath], my son and I go visit people in their homes. An old lady who I visit every week for 30 years doesn’t start her lunch, even with her kids there, unless I come to make kiddush. [ed. note – prayer before the meal]

“We check on people on Shabbos and drop off a bottle of milk. During the pandemic, as a building manager and a city receiver, I carry around a box of food to give out. Heshy Tischler teaches the next generation to pay it forward. I help people from all five boroughs of all different races and religions.

“Everybody gets messages from G-d. He doesn’t call me or text me. What He does is send you messages. He sent me messages when I was in jail. He said, ‘Heshy, you think you’re smart by helping people when they’re in jail, but you don’t know how they feel. Now, feel how they feel. Now, you understand their pain. Now, you can become a king, a leader.’

“I don’t deserve anything, but I take it in stride. You have to learn from your messages. We must fight back. How does a guy like Cuomo think he’s going to boss around a guy like me? I’m 57, a father and a foster father, a man who takes kids in from jail. This guy is foolish.”

Q: So why did you feel like this is the right time for you to speak up for your community?

“I’ve been speaking up for my community for 30-something years. I was behind-the-scenes, working with politicians and volunteering with different organizations. I was one of the first Chaverim volunteers. I always stood up, especially when women have to get divorced, and my niece helps me now. Women who are distressed [in] need gets. I volunteer at the jail every two weeks.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time. I just never needed to be on the scene. But when the mayor and governor shut down a city for weeks and months, it’s just foolish. They closed our parks and schools. I called the people who got elected and promised me they could help, then they were laughing at me or telling me they have no power. I went and opened the parks. Now, people are standing up. Why did I stand up now? I never didn’t stand up and I never didn’t scream. I’m doing it openly now because there’s nobody else doing it.”

Q: Why do you think no one else is doing it?

“People have their jobs and elected officials don’t want to fight the government. The saying is that you can’t fight City Hall, but I can fight City Hall. I’ve been fighting City Hall for 30 years. Worst case, they turn you down. People don’t like to lose. My record isn’t that great. I lose a lot and I win a lot. But I stand up and fight.”

Q: Why do you feel the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was being singled out during the pandemic?

“It’s simple, because we tell the government we don’t need anything. We need money for special needs kids and tuitions. We don’t need money for housing or food because we have our own organizations. The police force doesn’t need to worry about crime because we have our own volunteers. We let you ticket and violate us. We want some dessert, but we don’t want the big meals. We have a very big issue in the Jewish community with postpartum depression. We only get $20,000 from the government. We have one drug center and one youth center. We fight and do things ourselves. We have our own weddings, funerals, kosher stores, our own rabbis and keep our own laws. They’re coming after us because we’re easy. We’re going to do what we want under our own guidelines, and they don’t like that. We’re not dying or falling apart.”

Q: Would you say they’re scapegoating?

“It’s not scapegoating. It’s just that we’re easy pickings. A bully picks on someone who’s easy. He doesn’t pick on the whole class. He picks on somebody and gets everybody to join him. Since I was 13 years and one month old, I never changed my convictions. I know how to help people and if I don’t, I’ll recommend you to someone else. I’m very knowledgeable. I stand for traditional values. Yes, I’m against some things. I love President Trump and everything he stands for. Immigration reform, I’m against him. I’m for everyone who wants to come to this country should have that right.”

Q: After the events in Brooklyn, how do you think it’s impacted the attitudes towards religious Jews in the United States?

“We’ve had more suicides in the last year in our community because of the restrictions. A lot of people can deal with it. The people who were making money with children in private schools and have taxes are now screwed if they don’t have a job or have someone pay you rent. He’s [Cuomo} torturing us. He’s worried about COVID-19 deaths, but what about the overdose deaths? There’s cancers and overdoses. It gets me angry because he doesn’t care. He cares about himself. Heshy Tischler needs no legacy. One of the main commandments is watch out for your fellow man.”

Q: Rabbi Teitelbaum recently said we’re not Americans and we just live here. What was your reaction to that?

“Everybody can say whatever they want. That’s the beauty of this great country. Rabbi Teitelbaum is living here free. He’s allowed to do that and if he wants to use the American freedom, he has that right. But my freedom allows me to be free and fight back, stand up and protest. Some of the laws and restrictions are stupid, and we’re allowed to stand up and change them.”