Amidst the joyous display of rainbows, music, and dancing at the New York City Pride parade on Sunday—a celebration of LGBT rights that was extra joyous because of the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality—there was a group of protesters spewing hate.
Unfortunately, the fact that a group of bigots attempted to rain their hatred on the parade is unsurprising. However, that the group was comprised of Mexican laborers paid to disguise themselves as ultra-Orthodox men certainly was.
The New York Times reported that the Jewish Political Action Committee (JPAC), which it described as “an Orthodox Jewish group based in Brooklyn,” had paid the Mexican workers to protest on their behalf.
The Times interviewed Heshie Freed, a man who identified himself as a member of JPAC. “The rabbis said that the yeshiva boys shouldn’t come out for this because of what they would see at the parade,” he said as an explanation for why the group hired Mexican laborers.
This wasn’t the first time that JPAC had used mercenary protesters. Haaretz reported that at last year’s Israel Day Parade in New York City, the group had the “novelty of hiring Hispanic day workers, some masked as Orthodox Jews, to hold up the signs in lieu of actual protestors.” JPAC was apparently protesting because Jewish LGBT groups were marching in the parade.
These incidences have earned JPAC a spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) list of Active Anti-LGBT Groups.
The reporting on JPAC has depicted them as a group, never citing membership numbers but implying they are a concerted collection.
But JPAC may actually be a one-man show, orchestrated by a hate-filed person who has managed to spin his homophobia into the impression of a larger, more powerful contingency.
When I asked the SPLC’s press office about whether they had any contact information for JPAC, they could not give me any.
An SPLC spokesman told The Daily Beast that little was known about the group, which holds public demonstrations and publishes material demonizing the LGBT community with false propaganda.
The spokesman said the only person specifically mentioned in connection to the group was “Heshy Friedman.”
Articles on multiple news outlets have identified an ultra-Orthodox anti-LGBT crusader as: “Heshie Freed,” “Heshi Fried,” and “Heshy Friedman.” The similarities among the man described in the report suggests they may be referencing the same person.
Who is Fried/Friedman?
The Daily Beast found a 2005 post on the Canonist, a Jewish blog formerly run by journalist Steven I. Weiss, featuring a man protesting at that year’s pride parade in New York City.
The post identified the man as Heshy Friedman and provided an address. A public records search of that address led to an Abraham I. Friedman, a now-58-year-old man in Brooklyn who went by multiple names, including Heshy.
The Daily Beast called a number linked to Abraham Friedman but asked to speak to Heshy, which appears to be his more common name. The person who answered said Heshy was not available but that our contact information would be passed along to him.
In April 2013, Gothamist tracked down a Heshi Fried (same name, different spelling as what was cited in the Times) as the owner of the “world’s most offensive car.”
It was a blue Scion plastered with bumper stickers that conveyed an array of lovely sentiments, including: “G-d send AIDS to punish male gays,” “Hurricane Sandy is G-d’s response to gay marriage,” and “A good woman is a subservient frum [Yiddish for religious and traditional] housewife.”
When Fried spoke to Gothamist, he “confirmed he used to be a member of the fringe Hasidic group Jewish Political Action Committee.” However, he claimed to Gothamist the group no longer had a website because “[The rabbis] didn’t want us to have anything that may cause religious kids to go look at the internet to see what’s going on. So that’s one of reasons we removed the website.”
While the Canonist appears to no longer be active, the post still has a photo in which Friedman is identified carrying a placard that says, “Judaism Prohibits Homosexuality Leviticus 20:13 That is why G-d sent AIDS to punish male gays.”
In the Canonist post, the photo of the man identified as Friedman appears to show him alone. That may explain why he currently needs to pay people to protest for him.
The sign in the photo on the Canonist blog is the same text and print style as one that was featured in a 2011 FailedMessiah, a blog devoted to exposing corruption and abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The post was about JPAC’s desire for warning signs to be placed on male mikvehs, Jewish ritual baths.
The post noted that Heshy Friedman is the only known leader of JPAC and linked to a blog that Friedman reportedly authored, Heshy’s House.
The blog is certainly filled with ample bigotry toward many groups, not least of which the LGBT community. They contain the run-of-the-mill nonsensical vitriol that wingnuts too often find a platform for on the Internet.
The last post is from June 17, 2011 and titled “GAY MARRIAGE WILL DESTROY AMERICA.” It states that
“The most dangerous issue facing America today is not terrorism. It is homosexual marriage. WHY because after gay marriage comes incestual (sic) marriages, followed by polygamy marriages, followed by beastiality (sic) marriages. Why cant (sic) a brother marry a sister after all the wealth will remain in the family. And why cant (sic) a man marry seven wives or a woman marry seven men. And why cant (sic) a man marry his pet dog and receive free vet care as his dog is his wife or maybe a male gay dog spouse. America will fall each passing day as the wrath of heaven comes down like it did on Sodom which today is the dead sea. The moslems (sic) will take over America without even having to fire a shot. Obama was sent by heaven to continue destroying America for its support for gay marriage. WAKE UP and get rid of every liberal democrat.”
As the diatribe suggests, Friedman’s vitriol was not limited to the LGBT community.
It appears that JPAC has also protested the teaching of evolution, bizarrely melding its anti-evolution beliefs with its anti-LGBT ones.
One of the posters attached to a car affiliated with JPAC, which looks like the blue Scion in the Gothamist article, read: “Today man marries man. Tomorrow man has civil union with his dog. Followed by man marrying his dog.”
Efforts to reach out to Friedman/Fried and JPAC for comment have proved fruitless.
After emailing the account affiliated with JPAC with a request to speak with “Heshy Fried,” the response was: “Sorry he’s out of town.” It came from an iPhone.
Efforts to get in touch with other members of JPAC were also rebuffed. The Daily Beast was told in an email that (all the grammar is the sender’s): “The rabbi directing Jpac is in meah shearim israel area and speak only yiddish.” JPAC refused to answer my request for the rabbi’s specific name.
It has yet to respond to my latest request to speak to any member of JPAC.
Shmarya Rosenberg, the man behind FailedMessiah, told The Daily Beast that JPAC isn’t a functioning organization— it’s simply Fried.
“There is no ‘they,’” Rosenberg wrote in an email. “It’s Heshy. He pays people to protest, lies about who they are, sends emails to media pretending to be random people who saw the ‘protest,’ all to get his name—and his hate—in the paper. Occasionally, one or two guys from his synagogue help him. Sometimes Yeshiva students help him—but they’re likely paid to do so, as well.”
Rosenberg says he has stopped covering Friedman and his JPAC antics on FailedMessiah because “all he wants is media attention.”
According to Rosenberg, Haredim, a group of more traditional Orthodox Jews who are also sometimes known as ultra-Orthodox, “generally don’t protest, except for Satmar’s anti-Israel protests and the like.”
The Satmar sect is known for its anti-Zionist beliefs. “For those, [the] Satmar simply empties out its yeshivas and study halls, and runs free buses from Brooklyn to the demo site and back. Because the rebbe [rabbi] wants the protest made, thousands of Hasidim show up.”
While Rosenberg believes that JPAC is a lone wolf posing as a group with larger Orthodox Jewish support, he also felt the Haredi community should do more to condemn him.
“The truth is, most of the top Haredi rabbis agree with Heshy’s message, are glad it is getting out,” Rosenberg said.
Additional reporting by Brandy Zadrozny