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Brooklyn pol criticized by activists and former schoolmates for yeshiva comments on corporal punishment

ALBANY — A Brooklyn assemblyman is being called out by activists and former classmates after claiming he is “not familiar” with the use of corporal punishment in Hasidic Jewish religious schools in New York.

Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn) set off a social media firestorm last week with a tweet insisting he was unaware of such problems at schools, known as yeshivot, in the Empire State.

“As a yeshiva parent/alumni, I am not familiar with the use of corporal punishment in yeshiva, nor would I condone it,” Eichenstein wrote.

His comments, in response to a new bill by his fellow Democrats that would explicitly ban the use of physical or violent methods to discipline students in private schools, drew criticism from dozens of advocates and several people who claimed to be former classmates.

“This is such a blatant 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. “A second grade rabbi picked me up and threw me against a blackboard. In third grade, I was dragged across the floor by my arm and physically thrown out of a classroom, crashing into desks and chairs along the way.”

Some said they attended school with Eichenstein, while others detailed the abuse they or their children suffered at the hands of teachers and rabbis.

“Simcha, we were in the same yeshiva, you saw what I saw,” Mordy Getz wrote, 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 in Hasidic schools and accused the lawmaker of turning a blind eye to the problem.

“This is denying people’s lived experience,” Leifer told the Daily News. “It’s like being gaslit, and it’s too much.

“He is lying, and who is going to denounce him? He is relying on the fact that no one will refute him, ”he added.

Under current New York law, corporal punishment is prohibited in public schools, but it is not explicitly prohibited in all private schools.

A bill authored by State Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher, both Democrats from Brooklyn, would define corporal punishment as “an act of physical force on a student for the purpose of punishment” and would prohibit its use in disciplining students. students. .

Both legislators represent parts of Williamsburg, a neighborhood that includes a large Hasidic population.

A yeshiva in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Salazar has repeatedly said that the bill is not intended for yeshivot, but for all schools where mistreatment of students may be a problem. However, the legislation was introduced shortly after a New York Times investigation detailed problems at several Hasidic schools, including teachers who regularly use corporal punishment.

“We introduced this bill because the law should *explicitly* prohibit 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 that it’s a pattern in yeshivot.”

Eichenstein stood by his comments, telling The News that he never experienced or witnessed corporal punishment as a student and that he believes there is not a widespread problem.

“I understand that there are those who are raising unique events that happened decades ago,” he said. “Today, the yeshivot have a zero tolerance policy for corporal punishment. I will not question the experience lived by anyone. I have made my position clear: There should be no corporal punishment in any school.

“As a yeshiva parent, I would not tolerate anyone touching my children. Any educator who puts their hands on a child should not be able to enter the building let alone the classroom,” she added.

The social media spat comes amid a broader fight over yeshivot and new rules set last year by the state Department of Education and the Board of Regents to ensure that private schools offer an education substantially equivalent to what is taught in public schools.

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