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Orthodox activist Heshy Tischler makes peace with the Jewish reporter who was caught in his riot

(New York Jewish Week) — Not quite two years ago, the Orthodox provocateur Heshy Tischler pled guilty to riling up rioters against the Jewish journalist Jacob Kornbluh during protests against pandemic restrictions in Brooklyn. On Wednesday night, the duo were locked in a more genial altercation — on Tishler’s radio show, where Kornbluh was a guest.

For more than an hour, Kornbluh, senior political reporter at the Forward, batted down a litany of far-right talking points offered up by Tischler and his co-hosts: about election denial and supporting the Jan. 6 insurrection, questioning vaccines and warning against sex education in schools. 

In one representative exchange, Tischler praised the ex-president he wishes still occupied the White House: “We all think Trump did a good job,” he said.

Kornbluh responded quickly: “Yeah, he also dined with antisemites and Holocaust deniers,” referring to Trump’s recent dinner with Kanye West and white supremacist Nick Fuentes that drew widespread condemnation, including a resolution by the Republican National Committee this week.  

In the course of their conversation, both men offered apologies.

“I apologize if I didn’t satisfy everyone on this radio show, but the opinions that I expressed are not necessarily my own opinions,” said Kornbluh, one of the few haredi Orthodox journalists to cover the community for a non-Orthodox news outlet. “It’s backed by facts.” 

Tischler’s expression of regret was more personal. “As a fellow brother and a fellow Jew, I’m going to fight with you,” he told Kornbluh. “We are allowed to fight with each other. We are allowed to disagree. Maybe sometimes we go a little overboard. I’m sorry about that, but both of us do it.”

It was a notable public detente for two men whose conflict came to represent a moment of painful polarization in the Brooklyn Orthodox community they share. Back in 2020, Tischler burst into public view after he agitated against pandemic restrictions, cutting the locks on a closed playground and organizing protests against required masking and other public health measures.

Kornbluh, who then worked at Jewish Insider, was reporting on how the Orthodox community bucked the rules and continued to hold large gatherings. The pair clashed.

Their conflict came to a head in October 2020 during a pro-Trump, anti-mask rally that Tischler organized in Borough Park. There, dozens of Orthodox men surrounded Kornbluh after Tischler directed the crowd to attack the journalist. Kornbluh said he was punched and kicked.

Tischler was arrested and charged with incitement. After his arrest, dozens of his supporters waving Trump flags gathered outside of Kornbluh’s home. As part of his plea agreement, Tischler had to perform 10 days of community service.

Nearly two and a half years later, Tischler says that painful moment is in the past. 

“Our wounds have been healed,” he told the New York Jewish Week. About Kornbluh, he said,  “He’s very knowledgeable and he was a very good and interesting guest.”  

Tischler added that while “everybody in the Orthodox community has seen that we have made peace,” the radio show appearance was the first time the two were seen talking publicly in the media. 

“We bumped into each other many times in the last year, at synagogues, kiddushes, and weddings,” Tischler said.

Kornbluh declined to comment about his appearance on Tischler’s show, which the host opened by alluding to their past tension.

Their community “went through a tough time during Covid,” Tischler told Kornbluh. 

“Maybe both of us didn’t really understand what was going on,” he added. “Maybe now we understand.” 

Tischler has sought to springboard into politics now that he is a household name in his community. He ran for City Council in 2021 and last year sought a state senate seat — losing soundly each time. (He had also lost a City Council race in 2017.) But he plans to run City Council again this year — and said in an interview that he is working on himself in preparation.

“I’d like to be able to make better judgments in the future on how to control myself,” Tischler said. “I’ll make sure to control and keep myself intact and make sure that I never ever create something where my words incite anybody ever. I’m going to try to do better.” 

Amber Adler, a Brooklyn Orthodox activist who ran against Tischler in the 2021 City Council Race, told the New York Jewish Week that if Tischler’s apology is sincere and Kornbluh is accepting of it, then “that’s a unique milestone.” 

“What I hope it is for the community is an example of two people trying to work something out and come into some type of agreement to move past it in a productive matter,” Adler said, who is also running for City Council again this year. “I really do genuinely hope that it inspires people to apologize to those people that they’ve hurt.” 

Adler also said that a public apology — just as much a public conflict — fits into the antics that have made Tischler famous in his community and beyond.

“With Heshy, you never know what you’re going to get,” she said. “That’s why he’s very watched in general. People listen to what he says, but I think everyone is just hoping for the best with the apology that just happened.”

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