Great reporting by Josh Nathan-Kazis at the Forward, on the life of Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, tough Jew. Excerpts:
Wiesenfeld declined to speak to the Forward for this story, referring all questions to [Hank] Sheinkopf.
“There are people who don’t like the fact that there are tough Jews,” Sheinkopf said. “I’ve been a tough Jew all my life. They don’t like it. They think we should be accountants and lawyers and get smacked around.”
Wiesenfeld was of a generation of working-class sons of Holocaust survivors growing up in New York’s outer boroughs who struggled to reconcile their parents’ persecution with their own experiences on the city’s rough-and-tumble streets. His mother was from Romania and survived a Transnistria concentration camp; his father, from Poland, spent the war in a Soviet slave labor camp.
Wiesenfeld’s first language was Yiddish.... Wiesenfeld has served for nearly a decade as the chair of the board of New York’s Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre — an ironic association in light of his current clash with one of the country’s most prominent Jewish playwrights. ..
Koch, known for holding generally conservative positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has clashed publicly with Wiesenfeld twice over related issues in recent years. Wiesenfeld was a major opponent of the plan to open a dual-language Arabic public school in New York City — a plan that Koch supported. Wiesenfeld served as New York chair of the Stop the Madrassa: A Community Coalition, the group that spearheaded the drive against the school.
Debbie Almontaser, who was slated to be principal of the school before being removed at the last minute by the Department of Education, alleged that Wiesenfeld was motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. “Jeffrey Wiesenfeld opposed the idea of having an Arabic dual-language school in New York City based on his own personal hatred for anything Arab or Muslim,” Almontaser said. “His argument was that [the school] would radicalize students and therefore shouldn’t be permitted to open.”
“He’s obsessed. He’s obsessed with the issue of Israel,” said [Ed] Koch, who publicly criticized Wiesenfeld’s stand against Kushner. “I’m a very big supporter of the State of Israel, but I understand that there is dissent on a whole host of issues. It isn’t evil to be supportive of the Palestinian cause…. He’s a nice guy, but he’s obsessed.”