ALBANY — A Brooklyn assemblyman is being called out by activists and former classmates after claiming he’s “not familiar” with the use of corporal punishment at Hasidic Jewish religious schools in New York.
Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn) sparked a social media firestorm last week with a tweet insisting he’s unaware of any such issues at the schools, known as yeshivas, in the Empire State.
“As a yeshiva parent/former student, I’m not familiar with the use of corporal punishment at yeshivas, nor would I tolerate it,” Eichenstein wrote.
His comments, in response to a new bill from his fellow Democrats that would explicitly bar the use of physical or violent methods to discipline students at private schools, drew rebukes from dozens of advocates and several people claiming to be former classmates.
“This is such a bald-faced lie, Simcha, and you know it,” replied Asher Lovy, director of Za’akah, an organization that provides support to survivors of sexual abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. “I was picked up and thrown against a blackboard by a rebbi in second grade. In third I was dragged by my arm across the floor and physically thrown out of a classroom, bumping desks and chairs along the way.”
Some said they attended school with Eichenstein while others detailed abuse they or their children have endured at the hands of teachers and rabbis.
“Simcha, We were in the same yeshiva, you saw what I saw,” wrote Mordy Getz, later clarifying that he and Eichenstein attended the same camp.
Shulim Leifer, an abuse survivor turned activist who said he was friends with Eichenstein growing up, said corporal punishment remains rampant at Hasidic schools and accused the lawmaker of turning a blind eye to issue.
“This is denying people’s lived experience,” Leifer told the Daily News. “It’s like being gaslit, and it’s too much.
“He’s lying, and who is going to call him out on it? He’s banking on the fact that no one will refute him,” he added.
Under current law in New York, corporal punishment is prohibited in public schools but not explicitly barred in all private schools.
A bill penned by state Sen. Julia Salazar and Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, both Brooklyn Democrats, would define corporal punishment as “as an act of physical force upon a pupil for the purpose of punishing the pupil” and bar the use of it when disciplining students.
Both lawmakers represent parts of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that includes a large Hasidic population.
Salazar has said repeatedly the bill is not meant to target yeshivas, but rather all schools where mistreatment of students may be a problem. However, the legislation was introduced shortly after a New York Times investigation detailed issues at a number of Hasidic schools including teachers regularly using corporal punishment.
“We introduced this bill because the law should *explicitly* ban corporal punishment in all schools,” Salazar tweeted last week. “The use of physical or violent methods to ostensibly discipline students has happened in many schools. I haven’t seen any evidence of it being a pattern in yeshivas.”
Eichenstein stood by his comments, telling The News he never experienced or witnessed corporal punishment when he was a student and he believes there isn’t a widespread problem.
“I understand there are those that are raising singular occurrences that happened decades ago,” he said. “Nowadays, yeshivas have a zero-tolerance policy on corporal punishment. I will not cast doubt on anyone’s lived experience. I have made my position clear: There should be no corporal punishment at any school.
“As a yeshiva parent I would not tolerate anyone touching my children. Any educator who places their hands on a child should not be allowed into the building let alone the classroom,” he added.
The social media spat comes amid a broader fight over yeshivas and new rules put in place last year by the state Education Department and Board of Regents to ensure that private schools offer an education substantially equivalent to what’s taught in public schools.
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