Brooklyn Orthodox fail to vote in Israel as predicted

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NEW YORK — The long-anticipated Orthodox pilgrimage from Brooklyn to Jerusalem to vote in Israel's national elections seemed never to have materialized.

There are an estimated 500,000 Israeli citizens who live outside the Jewish state, and though some of them are ultra-religious, or charedi American Jews, no one knows how many have returned home to cast their ballot.

Only Israelis serving abroad in an official capacity are eligible to cast absentee ballots.

The situation this year appears to be in sharp contrast to four years ago, when ultra-religious rabbis, including the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, were accused of meddling in Israeli affairs when they encouraged their followers to fly to Israel to vote in the elections.

Contrary to some accounts in the American media, sources in Brooklyn say no planes were chartered for the purpose of ferrying back charedi Jews this time around.

"I don't see an onslaught of people going," said New York City Councilman Noach Dear, a Brooklyn Democrat whose district includes the Orthodox strongholds of Boro Park, Flatbush and Bensonhurst.

"People went for Shavuos and stayed, but a lot of people who want to go aren't eligible because they're not Israeli," said the councilman, who, though not an Israeli citizen himself, was scheduled to leave for the country Tuesday night.

"I'm going myself just to be in solidarity with the people of Israel," he said.

Simcha Felder, chief of staff in state Assemblyman Dov Hikind's office, said, "It's hard to tell how many people went" just to vote in the election "because a lot of people went for Yontif ," the eve of the holiday.

Hikind, a Democrat whose district also encompasses Boro Park and Flatbush, was already in Israel for the election though he is not a citizen and cannot vote.

The executive director of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Boro Park, Rabbi Morris Shmidman, said no group trips of Orthodox Jews were organized.

"If anyone went, they were going for some other reason. There has been no charter of any kind."

The council represents the 100,000 ultra-religious Jews of Boro Park, most of whom are connected with the Chassidic communities of Bobov, Ger, Satmar, Munkacz and Karlin-Stolin.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, a national group representing the charedi community, said that even though there had been rumors that his organization was providing cut-rate fares to Israel, they were in fact false.

He said Agudah, which is an arm of the Agudath Israel World Organization, as is Israel's Agudat Yisrael political party, worked as a clearinghouse only for about 60 people who had the documentation proving their eligibility to vote.

"Then we directed them to various airlines," said Shafran.