(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – In the same week he rallied against a natural gas company’s expansion plans, Lincoln Restler repeatedly condemned a series of anti-Semitic incidents in Brooklyn. .
Such positions may be comparable to the journey of a New York City Council member, but they also reflect Restler’s unusual ability, as a newly elected council member, to to build coalitions among progressive groups and the larger Orthodox community in his Brooklyn neighborhood.
Restler won the November election with a wide 63% of votes cast in District 33, which encompasses the haredi Jewish stronghold of Williamsburg along with Greenpoint, Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and parts of downtown Brooklyn.
Since then, Restler, 37, has been busy. Last week he helped restore water to more than 500 families at Gowanus Houses, a public housing complex, and rallied against improvements to National Grid’s Greenpoint Energy Center which he and other politicians claim would expand fossil fuel infrastructure and contribute to climate change.
On Monday, he and other members of the council’s Jewish Caucus issued a statement condemning what they called an “increase in anti-Jewish attacks in our city.” On February 4, a man dressed in Hasidic garb was punched while walking in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Over the weekend, vandals spray-painted anti-Semitic graffiti on school buses belonging to a local yeshiva. Both incidents occurred in or around Williamsburg.
Progressive values and Jewish identification come naturally to Restler. He had previously been elected district chief and worked as a community activist. As a young child, he participated in acts of service at the Reform Brooklyn Heights Synagogue with his parents.
“This commitment to the Jewish faith to care for those in need has informed my values and my commitment to public service,” Restler told New York Jewish Week. “It’s one of the threads that runs through the Jewish community, left, right and center.”
During his campaign, Restler received endorsements from Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who represents Borough Park, and several Satmar Hasidic leaders from Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community.
Rabbi Moishe Indig, a Satmar community leader, said Restler was already a fixture in Brooklyn, with years of public service under his belt.
“He’s not like other politicians,” Indig said. “He is still on the street. Whether it’s snow, power outage or flooding, it doesn’t matter, he’s here to help.
Indig said it wasn’t Restler’s Judaism that won him Satmar’s endorsement, but his background throughout Brooklyn.
“We have all kinds of different communities and people in Brooklyn,” Indig said. “He knows how to balance it all.”
During the same campaign, Restler was endorsed by The Jewish Vote, the political wing of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a progressive Jewish organization in New York.
JFREJ political director Rachel McCullough said Restler’s ability to listen and engage with the community was a big factor in receiving support from progressives and the Orthodox community.
“We noticed right away that he had clearly established the right set of relationships with the right set of leaders in the Jewish community,” McCullough said. “He made it clear that he was running to represent the entire district.”
McCullough added that Restler’s election to city council demonstrates that progressive politics is alive and well in the city. Many progressives were disappointed when centrist Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President and former New York City cop, was elected mayor in November. (The Jewish vote approved Maya Wiley, a progressive candidate.)
“There is a really important role for Jewish leftist politics to play in New York, home to the largest Jewish community outside of Israel,” she said. “Lincoln really embodies that, and I think he’s going to make the whole community proud.”
Restler said one of the most important parts of the job is building bridges between different groups of people and helping them find common ground.
“I hope to be a board member who has enough credibility in different camps that even when we disagree, we can give each other the benefit of the doubt and work together towards a compromise,” he said.
While orthodox and progressive groups have different views on many issues — such as the police and Israel — both sides agree on ending anti-Semitic and other hate crimes.
“It’s all in my head,” Restler said. “I focus on bringing together all groups in the Jewish community to engage with people of other backgrounds and build tolerance to eradicate this violence.”
Restler added that Orthodox Jews, in their recognizable attire, are disproportionately the targets of anti-Semitic attacks.
“When I walk down the street, I don’t feel at risk of anti-Semitic violence because people don’t even know I’m Jewish,” he said. “If you’re wearing a yarmulke and traditional attire, that sends a very different message.”
Where the city’s progressives and Orthodox Jews may disagree is over tactics for combating anti-Semitism. In January, amid calls from the Jewish mainstream for tougher law enforcement and security, JFREJ waged a canvassing campaign in Williamsburg in response to a spate of anti-Semitic attacks, hoping to defuse tensions between various local groups.
“We recognized that policing alone is not an effective approach to preventing hate-motivated violence,” McCullough said. “We believe Lincoln is committed to investing in restorative community approaches to hate violence.”
Restler participated in the solicitation and, speaking to a New York Jewish Week reporter at the time, said he was seeking to balance calls for an increased police presence to respond to and prevent attacks with community responses like those of JFREJ.
Affordable housing was another issue at the forefront of Restler’s campaign. He said Jews and Gentiles alike were being pushed out of the neighborhood because of the steep rise in rents.
“We need to get a much better deal with developers to make sure that when new construction is happening in our communities, we get the affordable housing we need,” Restler said.
He also noted the lack of affordable, high-quality childcare and wants to expand the good ones, not just in the Jewish community, but across the district.
“That’s one more month’s rent for many working families to pay for child care in our city,” he said. “Expanding affordable child care options in Williamsburg and throughout the district is an urgent priority.”
Indig said it was important for Restler to recognize housing and child care because many families in her community are in need.
“We have big families,” Indig said. “They need to be able to feed their children. We just need a lot of help with their daily needs.
McCullough attributed Restler’s success to a cultural competence that can only come from being a Jewish kid in Brooklyn. According to Restler’s biography, he “grew up in a tight-knit community on Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights in the 80s and 90s,” and now lives in Greenpoint. After graduating from college at Brown University, he worked as a financier pprogram officer in New York consumer department.
“He knows how to chat,” McCullough said. “He knows how to present himself to people, which ultimately is what city council members have to do.”
Restler shared an anecdote about his grandparents, who he says were founding members of Judaism’s reconstructionist movement. His family still uses their haggadah during Passover, which dates back to the 1930s.
“In this Haggadah, the experience of Jews fleeing Israel is explicitly compared to the challenges of African Americans in the United States,” Restler said.
“This commitment to social justice informs my family history over generations, and it is the part of my Jewish faith that I am most proud of,” he added.