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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

East Ramapo monitor Dennis Walcott: 'Our goal is for action' 

In the 17 days since he was appointed East Ramapo school district monitor, Dennis Walcott has had eight conversations with the school board president, visited parents at coin-operated laundries and grocery stores, sat in on staff development sessions and even climbed onto the roof of Ramapo High School to inspect a leak.

He doesn't have all the answers yet, he said during a meeting Tuesday with the editorial board of The Journal News, but he is gathering the information he needs to complete a report on the district by December.

"Our goal is not just to issue a report," he said. "Our goal is for action to take place long term and short term. We will not accept anything else."

Walcott, a former New York City schools chancellor, is leading a team named by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia last month to monitor district operations to ensure students get a good education and taxpayer money is spent appropriately. Both are big issues in a district plagued by mistrust between a Board of Education dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic men who send their children to private yeshivas and parents of public school students who are mostly black and Latino.

Walcott was accompanied to The Journal News by a second member of the monitor team: Monica George-Fields, an expert in turning around failing schools and a former New York City school principal. The team has a third member, John W. Sipple, an expert in school finances.

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/education/2015/09/01/east-ramapo-monitor-dennis-walcott-interview/71508530/

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Judge to dismiss RICO lawsuit against Bloomingburg developer 

A federal judge indicated that she will dismiss a federal racketeering lawsuit filed against an Orthodox Jewish developer building a housing development in the upstate New York village of Bloomingburg.
 
The civil lawsuit by the Town of Mamakating and the Village of Bloomingburg alleged that developer Shalom Lamm engaged in fraud, bribery, racketeering, voter fraud and corruption of public officials in order to create the conditions necessary for the erection of the development, called Chestnut Ridge, which is being marketed to Hasidic Jews.
 
The housing is being built on agricultural land that had been part of Mamakating but, due to Lamm's efforts, subsequently was annexed to Bloomingburg and rezoned for residential development. Bloomingburg is located about 80 miles north of New York City.

The lawsuit alleged that Lamm bribed a former mayor, used a frontman to help mislead the village about his intentions for Chestnut Ridge and engaged in racketeering by promoting an enterprise that was corrupt on multiple levels. Lamm denied the accusations and filed a motion to dismiss the civil suit in June.
 
On Aug. 27, the judge in the case, Katherine Forrest, informed the defendant and the plaintiffs that she intends to grant Lamm's request for dismissal.
READ: How to build an American shtetl — See: Bloomingburg, N.Y.
 
Though some of the 396 units planned for Chestnut Ridge have been completed, no one has moved in and construction has been suspended due to the plethora of lawsuits surrounding the site.
 
Lamm has filed his own lawsuit against Bloomingburg and Mamakating claiming they are obstructing the completion of the development, impeding the opening of a Hasidic school in Bloomingburg, preventing a property in the village from being converted into a mikvah and engaging in a "program of harassment and discriminatory building code enforcement aimed at Jewish residents or prospective residents of Bloomingburg."

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Meet the Hasidic-slogan-tagging Jew fighting in Syria 

His story is truly something out a movie: He has spent the last six months fighting alongside the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) against ISIS in Syria. He has tagged every house he has liberated with the Hasidic saying Na Nach Nachman, in order to –  as he calls it –  "Bring some light into the darkness."
 
In one of his more popular posts on social media, he posted a picture of a building he and his comrades had liberated, saying: "ISIS turned this school, 50 km from their capital in Raqqa, into a prison. I was part of horrible fighting in the area, my friends and I fended ISIS off when they tried to recapture the prison from the next village."
 
The post continued, "ISIS left women's clothes and underwear on the floors of the cells, a lot of it, evidence of unholy crimes. I wrote Rabbi Nachman's name here to bring some light in to this black sink hole of torture, rape, murder and savage war. Amen."
 
But Jacobs-Wordsworth's story did not start in Syria. The 37-year-old is a British citizen, and the grandson of a holocaust survivor who made it out of Dachau after losing his mother in Auschwitz, and his father at Theresienstadt. "My grandfather converted to Christianity, and I grew up as a Christian," he says.
 
Although his grandfather passed at the age of 96, Jacobs says he "always knew he was from a Jewish family, and heard stories about my holocaust survivor grandfather. My mom is a Zionist, and she taught me to love Israel and hate cruelty. She always told me the due to the suffering incurred by the Jews and my family during the Holocaust, made me feel physically ill."

Jacobs Wordsworth did two central things with the education he received growing up: He joined the British army in order to fight against evil, and travelled to Israel with the goal of live here.
 
"I wanted to help the people of Bosnia, whom I saw as undergoing another sort of holocaust and genocide," he says. "That's why I joined the British army in 1996, and served several years in the British forces under NATO in Bosnia and Kosovo."
 
10 years ago he made his dream a reality and visited Israel, believing he could become an Israeli citizen without too much fuss, however things didn't work out like he planned: "I asked for Israeli citizenship, but I was deported from Israel in 2005 because my visa had expired," he says. "Because I grew up as a Christian in a Christian family, I couldn't make aliyah through the law of return, although with god's blessing I will be able to return to Israel this year, because my 10 year entrance ban expires soon."
 
During his stay in Israel, he was exposed to Breslov Hasidism – and immediately fell in love. "I saw Nachman Hassids dancing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but it was an Orthodox friend in London who convinced me to travel with him to Uman. It was during Rosh Hashana in 2012, and since then I have been to Uman three times."
 
In the meantime he got married, and joined the Kurdish forces battling against ISIS in Syria. "I got to them through a Facebook page called the 'Lions of Rojava,' which helps smuggle international volunteers into Syria, most of whom are former soldiers from the Kurdish forces in northern Iraq," he says.
 
"I fought in Syria for six months, and I wrote Rabbi Nachman's name in a bunch of places where we beat ISIS," he added. "I have met Jewish soldiers with strong Jewish roots from around the world among us here."
 
Jacobs-Wordsworth tends to close every sentence with "Am Israel Chai," and Rabbi Nachman from Uman stars in many of his Facebook posts. But he does admit that his beliefs are somewhat complex: "I believe that there were two messiahs, as it is written in the Talmud: The messiah Ben Yossef, and the messiah Ben David. I believe that Ben Yossef was already here, and his name was Jesus. I believe that the messiah Ben David will come soon.
 
"I plan on filling a request to make Aliyah again," Jacobs-Wordsworth says, and adds that he has undergone a Reform Judaism conversion in London a few years ago. "I am a member of the North Western Reform Synagogue in London," he said.
 
In November of last year, Gill Rosenberg , who made aliyah from Canada in 2006, made her way to fight with the YPG in Syria. She returned safely to Israel earlier this year, but it was reported that she was in Iraq this week.
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4696101,00.html

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cemetery controversy ‘Much Ado about Nothing,’ say Lithuanian Jewish leaders 

The ongoing controversy over a government plan to build a convention center in the middle of Vilnius’s old Jewish cemetery is “much ado about nothing,” the local Jewish community asserted, only days after an international delegation of rabbis arrived in the Lithuanian capital to protest the “desecration.”

The plan is opposed by many prominent leaders of the Lithuanian stream of ultra-orthodox Judaism around the world but is supported by the local community and the hasidic Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries. Before the Holocaust, Vilnius was the center of opposition to the spread of hasidism.

In an article on its website, the Lithuanian organized Jewish community minimized the concerns of opponents of the plan, calling it the “best way to honor the memory of the dead buried” there because the construction will allow the government to “maintain a site for public use kept up with public funds.”

Describing how the cemetery was paved over by the Soviets, who built a sports complex on the grounds where the current government wants to erect its convention center, the community asserted that there would be no disturbance of territory in which remains can be found.

“The entire facility and grounds is falling into ruin,” the community asserted, stating that the only alternative to the government plan is to “allow the territory to become either a garbage dump or a place where youth and homeless people gather to drink, do drugs and paint graffiti.”

“At this point the building itself is still in passable shape and is being maintained to some degree, but it is only a matter of time before people force their way in for whatever reason, and then it will be open to the weather and more molestation by trespassers…A garbage dump does not serve the memory of the many and great Jewish figures buried there.”

Leading Lithuanian orthodox figures in Israel and the United States have said that they believe that it is disrespectful to the dead to allow a convention hall on hallowed ground.

“We went there to explain to the government that this is not permissible to do,” one of the members of the delegation told The Jerusalem Post last week.

The delegation “basically relayed to the government that this is not appropriate and we asked the government to nullify these plans.”

Asked about the delegation, Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg, executive director of the CPJCE said that given the “nature and language” of the Post’s coverage of the controversy, he felt that it was “below our dignity to respond” because his “time and energy is much too precious and is dedicated to preserving and safeguarding Jewish cemeteries all over Europe.”

“Thanks to the policy of the CPJCE and its esteemed Rabbinical Board, we have never been dragged in to belittling and shaming others who think other than us and we intend to continue this policy,” he said.

In a letter to one of the members of last week’s delegation earlier this month, the Lithuanian government stated that the territory on which it plans to build the center has become “a shabby place” and that after the new structure is built “only prestigious and important events will be held there.”

Stating that construction would only go forward after the CPJCE has been informed and that the ground outside the construction area would not be disturbed.

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Cemetery-controversy-Much-Ado-about-Nothing-say-Lithuanian-Jewish-leaders-413731

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hinei Lo Yanum - Sung Like Never Before 


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Friday, August 28, 2015

Trending: Ex-hassids tell all in rash of memoirs 

In recent years, several memoirs have been written by those who have left haredi Orthodox Judaism. Books by Shulem Deen ("All Who Go Do Not Return"), Deborah Feldman ("Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots") and Leah Vincent ("Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood") all have had mainstream publishing success.

 Interest in the ex-frum memoir continues, as demonstrated by the release of three new titles. Leah Lax's "Uncovered: How I Left Hasidic Life and Finally Came Home" (She Writes Press), Judy Brown's "This Is Not a Love Story" (Little, Brown) and Chaya Dietsch's forthcoming "Here and There: Leaving Hasidism and Keeping My Family" (Schocken) are introspective tales of survival and, ultimately, triumph.
 
Collectively, these books could be described as "off the derech" literature. In Hebrew, "derech" means "path"; the phrase "off the derech," or OTD — once a derogatory term used to describe Orthodox youth who experimented with secularism — has been reclaimed recently by some ex-acolytes who have forged their own path in the world.
 
The OTD experience is undergoing intense scrutiny since the suicide of Faigy Mayer, an ex-Hassid who jumped 20 stories to her death in Manhattan last month. Mayer left the Belz Hassidim when she was 23 and had been on her own for five years. Media reports speculated that she was mentally ill, estranged from her family and struggling to survive in the secular world.
 
For some, Mayer's death may appear to be a cautionary tale about those seeking to leave their haredi Orthodox sects. For others, the media spotlight may have generated intrigue about these secretive communities. Whatever the perspective, the new OTD memoirs provide a compassionate and compelling way to understand the tragedy beyond the headlines.
 
"Uncovered" captures the irony and pain of how prescriptive yet predictably comfortable a haredi life can be. Lax offers a front-row seat to the joys, perils and overall hardship of Hassidic life, where running a large, busy household and undertaking the scrupulous observance of labor-intensive holidays always fall to the mother.
 
But as the subtitle implies, her story is distinct from the pack of recent OTD memoirs. Lax grew up secular in Houston in the 1960s and '70s, discovering Lubavitch Hassidism when she was 15. The Hassidic life presented an attractive alternative to her chaotic household in which her mother was a hoarder and her father was mentally ill.
 
However, the religious life was one in which she was forced to suppress her sexuality. "My greatest secret for over 30 years was being a lesbian," Lax said in an interview.
 
Lax entered an arranged marriage when she was just 19. In the book, she captures the complexity of her relationship with her husband, Levi, as well as the intense friendships she formed with other women around motherhood, observance and the mikvah.
 
Over the years, Lax recognized and eventually accepted her burgeoning lesbian identity through rituals associated with the ancient ritual bath.
"I slip my head under again, again to raise my feet to sink beneath the surface," she writes in her memoir. "I die here. I become a single drop in the greater pool of women, of history, of God. Under water, I am surrounded by floating female figures from my people's past, praying, drifting, hoping. I am at the vortex of a vast funnel; I see I'm not alone."
 
In the interview, she said, "I accepted my physical self in the mikvah. It was a place where all of me was not hidden."
 
Hiding is one of the book's strong through-lines. As a married woman, Lax hid herself in modest clothing and headscarves. Only in the deepest night — while her husband and seven children slept — did she gradually dare to reveal herself by recording her life in journals and fictionalizing it in stories.

 Her writing life became public when she entered a master's degree program in creative writing at the University of Houston. During that pivotal change, she "uncovered" again and again as she removed her head covering and changed into jeans in her car just before attending class.
Lax and her husband inevitably divorced. She has been with her partner, Susan, for a decade, and the couple married in April. Susan converted to Judaism before she met Lax; they now belong to the Reform synagogue where Susan began her Jewish journey.
 
"There's so much community there," said Lax, who remains close to all her children, four of whom also left Hassidim.
 
The complicated, sometimes ferocious role of community in Hassidic life is something Brown explores in "This Is Not a Love Story." The book — her second following the much-acclaimed young adult novel "Hush," which tackled sexual abuse in the haredi community — chronicles growing up with her autistic older brother, Nachum.
 
Brown and her family were often ostracized in their Brooklyn community because of Nachum's unpredictable behavior.
 
"Having an autistic brother was very isolating in the [Hassidic] community," Brown said. "Autism was not part of the communal conversation."
Adding to the feeling of otherness, Brown's parents fell in love outside the structure of an arranged marriage. Their lack of a proper shidduch, or matchmaking, spurred gossip that the family was cursed.
 
"The rumor that my parents fell in love became intertwined with the fact that I was the only one who had this [autistic] brother," Brown said. "But I think my parents' love helped them get through the situation without falling apart."
 
To share her story, Brown, 35, brilliantly conveys the magical thinking that distinguishes a child's inner voice. Amid the family's crisis with her brother, Brown promised God to fast for 40 days and 40 nights in return for heart-shaped earrings.
 
"I figured if the saints could get Hashem to listen when they asked for rain after a long drought, or for an end to a terrible plague, it would certainly work for me," she writes. "Earrings were a simple miracle."
 
Like Lax, Brown's writing aspirations began slowly and methodically. As one of the few women in her Hassidic community to attend college, Brown notes that she didn't grow up reading English literary classics.
 
"I found myself in a void, lacking basic words because growing up I spoke Yiddish, Hebrew and English," she said. "My college professors thought I was an immigrant. Reading books by Mark Twain, Elie Wiesel and Toni Morrison was a huge milestone in my life."
 
Despite her educational evolution, Brown, who considers herself Modern Orthodox, is quick to point out that her story is not about leaving observant Judaism.
 
"People make certain assumptions about the Hassidic lifestyle, and that's not really my story," she said. "My story is not about leaving. It is about the larger issue of embracing my brother."
 
To that end, Brown points out that her former community has made a "U-turn" in many ways.
 
"There are now resources, and [special needs] children are fully embraced as special with higher souls," she said.
 
And yet, acceptance may be slower in coming for those, like Faigy Mayer, who have stepped off the path of haredi Orthodoxy.
 
"For Hassidim, group identity is core," Lax said. "When they leave the fold, finding themselves without community is sudden and shocking. At first you don't know who you are. Writing helped me in a lot of ways."

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Coming up: East Ramapo monitor team visits lohud 

At 11 a.m. Tuesday, the Editorial Board will sit down with two members of the East Ramapo monitor team, recently appointed by the state Department of Education. We'll discuss the team's work with Dennis Walcott and Monica George-Fields, and want to include your questions.
 
Walcott, a former New York City schools chancellor and deputy mayor who once led the New York Urban League, has been tapped by SED Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to lead the deep-dive investigation into the troubled Rockland County school district. George-Fields is considered an expert in turning around failing schools; she's a former New York City school principal who now leads REACH, a private consulting firm that aids schools. The third member of the monitor team is John Sipple, a Cornell University professor and New York Rural Schools Association member.
 
In the best of circumstances, East Ramapo school district would face educational challenges; many public-school children are English language learners, and most come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. But a deep cultural divide creates more challenges, and tension.
 
The school board, run by members of the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish community who use private yeshiva schools for their children, has slashed budgets and mismanaged severely limited resources. Public-school parents accuse the board of favoring the yeshivas at the cost of public schools. A 2014 report by a state-appointed fiscal monitor echoed such concerns, and called for increased oversight, along with more state aid. State legislation to appoint a monitor — with real-time veto power over school board decisions — failed to pass in Albany.
 
The monitor team has pledged to have a strong presence in the district; indeed, Walcott and his team have already spent several days in the district, and Walcott and George-Fields attended a recent school board meeting.
 
We'll be asking about what the team has seen so far, what they still need to find out.
 

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

British-Jewish Watchdog Group Takes Legal Action Against ‘Antisemitic’ Council’s BDS Campaign 

A Jewish group in the U.K. has petitioned the High Court to review a local council's decision to boycott Israeli goods, the Express reported on Tuesday.
 
Jewish Human Rights Watch (JHRW) was outraged after England's Leicester City Council agreed to a motion last November to boycott items produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, on the grounds it was showing solidarity with the Palestinians.
 
JHRW director Jonathan Neumann accused the City Council of taking "steps down an antisemitic path," and said the embargo "amounts to a get-out-of-town order" for Jewish people in Leicester, a city in the East Midlands of England.
 
He believes the boycott was put into effect "under the guise of helping community relations" in the city.
 
"Leicester City Council has started a campaign against the Jewish community that has to be stopped," he said. "Our solicitors have tried to persuade the council at least to engage with us and they have refused. They have left us with no choice but to seek legal redress."
 
A decision on whether or not the judicial review will be granted is expected in September, Neumann told the Express.
 
A spokesperson for the Leicester City Council said the motion is not a boycott of Israel, but rather a decision that specifically relates to the council's "procurement policy and produce originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank."

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Appellate court removes restrictions on Certificates of occupancy in Bloomingburg 


An appellate judge sided with a Bloomingburg developer Monday when he removed any legal restrictions that were preventing families from moving into controversial Hasidic residences.
 
Certificates of occupancy issued a week and a half ago for 24 homes in Chestnut Ridge on the edge of Bloomingburg are once again valid, after developer Shalom Lamm and his company Sullivan Farms took their case to appellate judge Michael Lynch Monday afternoon. The decision comes as the latest stage in a string of court appearances between the Town of Mamakating, the Village of Bloomingburg and Lamm over the last month.
 
Mamakating tried to have a temporary restraining order issued against Bloomingburg to prevent the village building inspector from issuing any certificates of occupancy. After declining to address the issue until certificates were granted, Sullivan County Judge Stephan Shick issued a temporary restraining order last Thursday that prevented anyone from moving into the homes, and he set a hearing for Sept. 8.
 
Lynch essentially issued his own temporary restraining order Monday, restraining enforcement of Shick's order, explained Bloomingburg village attorney Steve Mogel. As of Monday afternoon, there is no more restriction on when people can move in. A previous agreement that no residents would move in until after Aug. 27 is no longer in effect.
 
Now that the certificates of occupancy are again valid, Lamm said he will continue the process of obtaining certificates of occupancy for the other completed residences in Chestnut Ridge, and families under contract for their homes can work on finishing their mortgage and title paperwork. The Sept. 8 hearing is still in effect, and Mamakating's lawsuit will continue, but Lamm said he believes he is on the right side of the law.
 
"We really feel confident that we are well within the bounds of the spirit and the letter of the law," Lamm said.
 

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Yosi Piamenta, a Virtuoso Guitarist Who Reshaped Jewish Music 

Legendary Jewish guitarist Yosi Piamenta died on August 23 after a difficult struggle with cancer. He was 64.
 
Piamenta was a virtuoso guitarist who had a long career performing original music as well as traditional Jewish, Israeli and Arabic songs arranged in his signature style.
 
Born in Israel on November 29, 1951, Piamenta moved to the U.S. in his mid-20s to play and record with saxophonist Stan Getz, but their collaboration was never commercially released.
 
Shortly afterwards, he abandoned his focus on secular music, became a Lubavitcher hasid, and together with his brother Avi, a virtuoso flautist, became popular on the Jewish music scene, releasing numerous albums through the 1980s and '90s, including "Mitzvah," "Tismach," "As You Like It," "1990" and "Strings of My Heart."
 
Piamenta's guitar sound was immediately recognizable, not just because of the gear he used, such as a Fender Stratocaster and Mesa Boogie amplifier, but because of his tone, articulations, and ornamentation, which were deeply rooted in Middle-Eastern music. Loud, extended guitar solos and jams were also signature elements of Piamenta's sound.
 
Piamenta's look was also unique; he was proud of his Judaism, and always wore a large colorful Sephardic kippah, with his tzitzit hanging out, and a large bushy beard. A genial man, he was always accessible at his shows, willing to talk to fans, and even to invite them back to the dressing room for ma'ariv prayers.
 
Music writers often referred to Piamenta as "The Hasidic Hendrix" or "The Sephardic Santana," but to me, those titles always rang false. Although Piamenta's guitar tone was rooted in psychedelic rock, his sound and approach were individual, blending rock timbres with Arabic modes in a very personal style. A pioneer of the electric guitar in Jewish music, Piamenta influenced many Jewish musicians, including virtually every religious guitar player active on the New York bar mitzvah and wedding circuit.
 
Many highlight his collaboration with Stan Getz as "proof" of how good he was. But this misses the point of what he was about. Piamenta wasn't good because one jazz legend heard something in his playing. He was good because he had soul and serious chops, passion, creativity, and energy, and he always played his heart out. In an era of cookie-cutter performers he broke the mold, producing compelling Jewish music that was both fresh and traditional in the deepest sense.
 
Piamenta took his musical vocabulary and applied it to a variety of Jewish music styles: old nigunim , Sephardic pizmonim , Arabic songs, and Hasidic pop. No matter the genre, his sound and approach was always immediately identifiable. I am hard pressed to pick another Orthodox instrumentalist who can be identified with only a few notes.
 
The first time I heard Piamenta play live was when a high school friend decided to pick up the electric guitar, learning Piamenta's riffs and solos off of recordings by ear. Shortly afterwards, his father hired Piamenta to perform at a private birthday party for him. There were about a dozen of us in attendance in a synagogue basement in Kensington for that show. Piamenta and his brother Avi, together with a bassist and one of our friends on drums, proceeded to perform with the same energy and enthusiasm they'd have given at a large concert. It was incredible to see and hear the sounds that I knew from the recordings come alive in front of me.
 
In yeshiva afterwards, we spent months playing Piamenta's arrangements of Israeli tunes like " Vayiven Uziyahu, " " Eretz Zavat Chalav U'Dvash ," and Sephardic pizmonim like " Ozreini Keil Chai ."
 
I also saw Piamenta perform with his band at Wetlands in New York City numerous times, playing burning modal guitar solos over Middle Eastern tunes, a cigarette clutched in his picking hand or stuck into the strings at the top of the guitar neck, while the entire room grooved along to his music on the dance floor. A flashy performer, Piamenta would sometimes play solos with the guitar held upside down behind his neck.
 
Over the years, the Piamenta brothers had a few dance hits, mainly using borrowed pop songs like Men at Work's "Land Down Under," which they released as " Asher Bara, " and Tarkan's "Turkish Kiss," which they released as " Kol Hamesameach ." They also had a dance hit with a samba-esque setting of " Siman Tov ." All three of these tunes are still played at weddings today. In fact, the wedding band I played with on the afternoon of Piamenta's passing threw "Siman Tov" into their second dance set, before they heard news of his death.
 
Piamenta leaves behind a rich musical legacy including recordings, an influence on many musicians, and an enhanced repertoire of Arabic and Middle Eastern tunes that are, thanks to him, now familiar to the Ashkenazi community as well.

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NYC To Probe Secular Education at Yeshivas 

There was no science, no geography and no math past multiplication at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish school Chaim Weber attended. And the only reason he ever heard of the American Revolution was that a seventh-grade teacher introduced it as "story time." 
 
Naftuli Moster said he never learned the words cell or molecule at the ultra-Orthodox schools he attended, where secular subjects were considered "unimportant or downright going against Judaism."
 
Now young adults, the two yeshiva graduates echo complaints critics have made for years about the rudimentary level of secular education at private schools serving New York's Hasidic communities. Now, for the first time, the city Department of Education is investigating more than three dozen of the schools to make sure their instruction is up to the most basic standards.
 
But even the advocates who called for the investigation question whether the city will be able to pierce the insular Orthodox community to force meaningful change.
"These schools have been operating for a very long time," said Weber, one of 52 former students, parents, or former teachers who signed a letter requesting the investigation into 39 yeshivas.
 
The names of the yeshivas being targeted have not been released because of fears of retaliation. Aside from Weber and Moster, who agreed to speak out, the names of those who called for the probe have also not been publicly released.
 
"I'm worried for my kids. They could be kicked out if I named the school," said Weber, who said his 10-year-old son has learned simple addition but not subtraction.
 
State law mandates that the instruction in private schools must be at least substantially equivalent to what can be found in the area's public schools, and the local district, in this case New York City, is given the oversight power.
 
Calls to several Brooklyn yeshivas and messages to community representatives were not returned.
 
The push for secular education at the yeshivas has been spearheaded by Young Advocates for a Fair Education. Moster, its executive director, became an advocate for education after he enrolled at the College of Staten Island and saw how far behind he was. A lawyer for his group says he will file a lawsuit if the city investigation does not produce changes.
 

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

N.Y. Lawmaker Nadler in Most-Jewish District Backs Iran Deal 

A key Democratic congressman said Friday he is backing the nuclear deal with Iran after President Barack Obama wrote him a personal letter saying the U.S. has options to curb Iran if it violates the agreement.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement he will support the deal. Nadler, who wrote an opinion piece on his reservations for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, said the Aug. 19 letter from Obama allayed his worries.

“Although we know that Iran will remain a major menace to the region and the world, even without nuclear weapons, a nuclear armed Iran would represent an unacceptable threat to the United States, to Israel, and to global security,” Nadler said in the statement. After studying the pact and the arguments from all sides, he concluded that the deal “gives us the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Accordingly, I will support the agreement and vote against a Resolution of Disapproval.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2015-08-21/n-y-congressman-in-most-jewish-district-said-to-back-iran-deal

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Saturday, August 22, 2015

Jews still leaning Democratic 

If the 2016 presidential election were held today, Jewish voters nationwide would probably split 70-30 for the Democratic candidate, much as they did in 2012. Including the undecided respondents, 58 percent of American Jews prefer the Democrat, 18 percent the Republican, and 24 percent are not sure whether they lean one way or the other.

These results emerge from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal Survey conducted under my direction by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) between July 16 and July 20. SSRS interviewed 501 Jews by phone (almost a third of which were cellphones). Researchers weighted the sample to reflect chances of being called and socio-demographic targets drawn from the 2013 Pew Research Center Study of Jewish Americans. The margin of error is 6 percent (to see methodology description, visit jewishjournal.com/iransurvey).

Regarding presidential preference, interviewers asked, “If the 2016 presidential election were held today, do you think you are more likely to vote for the (Democratic) candidate or the (Republican) candidate [order was rotated], or are you not sure if you’re leaning one way or the other?” (See the full questionnaire at jewishjournal.com/iransurvey.)

Younger Jews are more Democratic than older Jews. The details: Those younger than 40 are more firmly in the Democratic camp (69 percent to 12 percent, with 19 percent undecided) than Jews age 65 and older (56 percent for the Democratic candidate, 24 percent for the Republican, the rest undecided).

The most highly educated are the most highly Democratic. That is to say: The Democratic-Republican gap is truly huge among Jews with a post-graduate education (76 percent versus 8 percent, Democrat versus Republican), contrasting sharply with those who have no college degree (49 percent  to 25 percent).

The most affluent are more Democratic. The Democrat-Republican presidential preference gap is higher among those earning $150,000 annually or more (61 percent Democratic, 9 percent Republican) than among the least affluent: those earning less than $50,000 per year (49 percent, 24 percent).

And family matters. As in the larger population, the unmarried without children at home are especially prone to lean Democratic (60 percent to 17 percent), as compared with married people with children at home (57 percent to 26 percent, for the Democrat and Republican respectively).
As might be expected, self-identifying Democrats almost uniformly prefer the Democratic candidate. Self-identifying Republicans express similarly favorable views of the Republican candidate. Among Jewish Independents, the Democratic candidate outpolls the Republican 32 percent to 24 percent, with 44 percent undecided.

Israel attachment is modestly correlated with Republican preference, although the Democrat continues to lead even among the more Israel-connected. The Democrat-Republican divide is 54 percent to 22 percent among those who have been to Israel. But it is somewhat wider — i.e., more Democrat-leaning — at 61 percent to 15 percent, among those who have not. Similarly, among those “very attached” emotionally to Israel, the Democratic candidate leads 51 percent to 26 percent, but the lead is wider among those only “somewhat attached”: 63 percent to 15 percent.

A more striking pattern emerges when questions about Israel shift specifically to “the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.” Among those who sympathize with Israel “a lot,” the Democratic-Republican split is 55 percent to 24 percent. But for those who say only “some,” the split is 64 percent to 5 percent. Similarly, among the few Jews who most sympathize with the Palestinians, none voiced support for the Republican candidate. Among the many who said “not at all” to the question on sympathizing with the Palestinians, the Democratic-Republican divide was 47 percent to 27 percent.

Certainly, much can happen to change the overall results between now and Election Day 2016. But the findings do point to the persistence of Jewish voting patterns heading into the next presidential election. The current level of support for the theoretical Democratic candidate over the theoretical Republican candidate matches that recorded in recent elections. Moreover, the socio-demographic variations mirror those in earlier elections and the American population generally.

Of particular interest is the pattern of weaker support for the Democrat among those more closely attached to Israel. They are consistent with previously noted differences among Orthodox,

Conservative, Reform and nondenominational Jews, in that the more religious and more traditional evince higher attachment to Israel and more support for its policies (the two are not the same). And the results seen in this most recent survey of American Jews are consistent with an emerging trend that bears close watching: The increasing political polarization of Israel support, be it among political elites, the American public or among American Jews.

Most broadly, the political polarization in the United States, marked by greater partisan divides on more numerous and potentially incendiary issues, is also coming to characterize views related to Israel. Post-baby boomers may not remember that, at one time, left-leaning Americans held more favorable views of Israel than their conservative and Republican counterparts. Today, poll after poll shows Israel doing better among conservatives, Republicans and the religiously committed. As goes America, so — in some measure — goes American Jewry. An Israel that is more popular on the right and less popular on the left is an Israel that is especially appealing to Jewish conservatives,

Republicans and traditionalists, but one that is less attractive to Jewish liberals, Democrats and less religiously engaged. The end-point of these processes is still murky and undecided. But the current trends are far clearer to all who pay attention.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/election2016/article/for_now_jews_still_leaning_democratic

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Still no high hopes for East Ramapo schools 

The selection of Dennis Walcott to lead a committee that will only advise the East Ramapo school board is a political smokescreen. It is probably also a way to redeem Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the eyes of the Orthodox community after his committee's devastating report about the district's control by a Hasidic majority.
 
Dennis Walcott used New York City public school funds for public and private charter schools. The result in other New York City public schools didn't differ from what occurred in the East Ramapo school district.
 
Walcott's advocacy for public school parents ended where Mayor Michael Bloomberg school policies began. For example, when an allegedly failing large high school was closed, those students who did not apply or were not accepted at smaller newly-created high schools were transferred en masse into another large high school, causing that school's achievement statistics to fall. It created a domino effect to implement a policy to close large high schools. Appeals to stop that practice fell on deaf ears.
 
The practical solution, if Walcott were still the organizer on which part of his reputation rests, would be to enroll parent voters and get a positive election participation and result.
 
Until that happens, "local control" will be what it is. A committee like Walcott's can't supersede the school board without legislative approval.
 
This committee is a sop to that portion of the community whose children are being educationally disenfranchised. Makes for a big story but is, after all, a smokescreen for no change at all.
 

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Vandals attack east London Jewish memorial with raw meat 

Vandals have desecrated a Jewish memorial statue with raw meat in an apparent anti-Semitic attack in London.
A drinking fountain, paid for by local Jewish residents to honour Edward VII in the early 20th century, in Whitechapel, east London, was seen covered in chicken and slabs of red meat on Thursday morning.
 
The inscription on the sculpture, designed by William Silver Frith, says: "In grateful and loyal memory of Edward VII, Rex et Imperator, Erected by subscriptions raised by Jewish inhabitants of East London, 1911."
 
Lauren Justice, who took pcitures of the statue, posted the images online.
 
She told the Evening Standard: "I was just coming into Whitechapel for work this morning - usually I do not see the memorial because it is concealed by market stalls, but today it was just covered in meat.
 
"I just think it is disgusting. It is a memorial. I do not know if they think it is funny or what, but it cannot be allowed to stay up like that. I find it offensive."
A spokeswoman for Tower Hamlets Council thanked Ms Justice on Twitter for alerting them to the issue and said it would be cleaned up shortly.
 
A spokeswoman for Scotland Yard has said they have received no reports of the incident.
 

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

First E. Ramapo board meeting with monitor draws crowd 

Dennis Walcott, the new state-appointed monitor to the East Ramapo school district, attended his first board of education meeting Tuesday night. He wasn't surprised by the raucous crowd, he told The Journal News.
 
"There is a lot of passion coming from people who want to get a solid education for their children," he said. "That is natural."
 
Flanked by Monica George-Fields, a member of his three-person monitoring team, and Douglas Gerhardt of Harris Beach, the district's new counsel, Walcott listened intently as waves of spirited community members — in both English and Spanish — poured out their frustration to the board during the 90-minute meeting at Chestnut Ridge Middle School.
 
More than 200 people, many bearing signs that called for a full Albany-sanctioned monitor bill, chanted and yelled encouragement behind various community speakers.
 
Walcott sat attentively, his ear pressed against a headphone to listen to the translated comments from Spanish speakers. When audience members noticed that board president Yehuda Weissmandl and other trustees were not wearing headsets, they shouted, "They don't care!"
 
The district has witnessed a steady diet of protests by parents, who have called for the resignations of both the Superintendent Joel Klein and the ultra-Orthodox-controlled school board. Parents  have complained for years that the board has diminished the  quality of education in the public schools by cutting programs and staffing. Many of the Hasidic students attend yeshivas, while the public school population is mostly Latino and African-American.
 
The meeting was a first-hand look for Walcott, who is expected to be on site regularly to meet with stakeholders and then formulate an action plan for the district. Since his appointment Thursday, Walcott has met with Weissmandl and visited Spring Valley High School, Ramapo High School, Kakiat Elementary School, and the First Baptist Church in Spring Valley to begin to formulate solutions, he said.
 
One theme that surfaced during his meetings with the community: parents' desire to bring back art and music to their children's education.
Of the overall situation in East Ramapo, Walcott said, "I feel it's manageable."
 

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review issued in proposal to grow New York Hasidic enclave 

A decision on a petition to annex land adjacent to a Hasidic Jewish village in the Hudson Valley is a step closer.
 
Officials from Kiryas Joel in Orange County are overseeing an environmental review of a request to annex up to 507 acres adjacent to the village in the town of Monroe, about 50 miles north of New York City.
 
The village said Monday it has approved the issuance of a final generic environmental impact statement, a necessary step under the review.
The boards of Monroe and Kiryas Joel are expected to vote on annexation by Sept. 8.
 
Leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews say the village needs the additional land. Some opponents in the surrounding suburbs fear more congestion.
 

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Monday, August 17, 2015

American Jewish singer Matisyahu disinvited from Spanish music festival 

Matisyahu, an American Jewish reggae singer, was disinvited from a music festival in Spain because he would not publicly endorse Palestinian statehood, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported Sunday.
 
The famous singer was supposed to perform close to Barcelona at the Rototom Sunsplash festival in Benicassim. However, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain said that his show was cancelled after he did not agree to release a statement supporting a Palestinian state. The Federation called this incident "anti-Semitic cowardice."
 
The report said that the organizers of the event had felt pressured to disinvite Matisyahu by anti-Israel activists who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
 
"As Spaniards, we are ashamed of the organizers," The Federation's statement said.
 
"In this case, the BDS movement employed all its anti-Semitic arsenal against the participation on Matthew Paul Miller," it continued, using the singer's full name.
 
According to the Federation, because he is Jewish, Matisyahu was the only one of the performers who was asked to say that he supports a Palestinian state. The singer used to be Hasidic (a branch of Orthodox Judaism).
 
"Such acts violate fundamental human rights guaranteed by our constitution," the statement by the Federation added.
 
Other performers said they would cancel unless Matisyahu made the declaration, reported the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
 
Matisyahu is not a citizen of the State of Israel.
 
On Saturday, the festival's Facebook website mentioned its "sensitivity to Palestine, its people and the occupation of its territory by Israel."
 

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Sunday, August 16, 2015

We Must Seek Common Ground in Fight for Oversight of Yeshiva Curriculums 

It has come to our attention that Mr. Ezra Friedlander, of the public relations firm The Friedlander Group, is circulating an article that attempts to negatively brand Yaffed and its efforts.

Several times in his piece, Mr. Friedlander accuses Yaffed of not caring about community youth or the quality of the yeshiva education system. It is unfortunate that Mr. Friedlander resorts to such inflammatory rhetoric, because beneath his bluster there is potential common ground.

Mr. Friedlander essentially agrees with Yaffed’s mission. He concedes that our “proposal seems fair” and that we “raise points about our system that do indeed need to be addressed.” But he objects to “the messenger,” asserting that change must come from the parents themselves.

In fact, like Mr. Friedlander, a majority of parents do support improved education within yeshivas. But they do not speak up because they feel hopeless about the prospects of meaningful change. Yaffed is currently working with dozens of parents, trying to figure out a way to break this cycle of despair. So when Mr. Friedlander writes that parents should bind together to create an improved curriculum, we are in full agreement and are actually taking steps to create that reality.

Mr. Friedlander claims he wants change, but by attempting to stamp out any such efforts, he is perpetuating the problem. He serves as a perfect example of why Yaffed is taking up its case with the government for failing to enforce education standards.

Community elites like Mr. Friedlander have simply been unwilling to take up the cause. By condemning Yaffed and its efforts, Mr. Friedlander demonstrates just how out of touch he is with the average struggling members of our community. He couldn’t be more misguided when he accuses Yaffed of intending to “besmirch our community’s reputation.” In the latest letter campaign, Yaffed withstood significant pressure from the mainstream media in choosing not to reveal the names of the yeshivas listed. This utterly discredits his claim that our goal is to malign the community’s reputation.

The reality is that Mr. Friedlander could be an important voice in the fight for better general education and Yaffed welcomes him to join the coalition. Every movement encounters resistance at first and it takes courageous leaders to speak up. On public radio, I recently invited Mr. Friedlander to have a conversation about this issue, and I am hopeful that he will return my request. Mr. Friedlander must choose between dialogue and monologue; he can continue defending the unjust status-quo or he can join the grassroots coalition that is demanding a better future. In short, he can either choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem. We hope he makes the right choice.


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Saturday, August 15, 2015

Meet the Hasidic Lady Gaga 



Traditional Hasidic Jewish music is typically mournful. The kvetchy tunes and OY reverberations are meant to awaken the Jewish soul, to inspire piety and spiritual yearning. Enter Lipa Schmeltzer, the Hasidic superstar whose music has earned him titles like “The Jewish Elvis Presley” and “The Hasidic Lady Gaga”

That last one has something to do with Lipa’s impressive collection of outlandish eyewear. In the realm of the ultra-Orthodox, he’s different, even revolutionary, and he embraces it.

Lipa has amassed a tremendous loyal following, but he has also been the subject of controversy and rabbinical bans ever since he popped onto the scene over a decade ago.

His music and concerts are routinely banned in many hardline Hasidic communities, and he has faced hostility at every step of the way.

Lipa grew up in New Square, a small, insular Hasidic enclave in upstate New York. This isolated village, less than 50 miles from Manhattan, is a relic of pre-Holocaust European shtetl life. There’s one road leading in and out of the densely populated village. Its suburban streets are exclusively inhabited by Hasidim of the Skverer sect. Their spiritual leader, or “Rebbe,” is revered and keeps a tight control over the village. Anyone who doesn’t follow his rules risks expulsion from the village; members loyal to the Rebbe have resorted to violence to keep nonconformists in line.

In New Square, boys and girls attend sex-segregated religious schools, typically marry at a young age through arranged marriages, and have an average of eight to ten children. There are no TVs and no access to the internet, or any outside influence that religious authorities deem a potential threat to impressionable minds.

The 11th child in a family of 12, Lipa showed great musical talent from a young age. Like all the boys from the community, he attended the village’s cheder, or boys’ school, where Yiddish is the primary language; English studies are almost non-existent. It’s limited to one hour of basic math and vocabulary in the afternoon. When they leave for yeshiva (essentially high school), many of the boys are illiterate in English. That was true for Lipa.

He admits he wasn’t a good student. He struggled to sit still for hours and read from the ancient Hebrew texts, and he often found himself on the receiving end of the rebbe’s (teachers) spanking stick. He was on the same course as the other boys — to study Talmud, get married and find a job that doesn’t require a good command of the English language, or a secular education.

But Lipa wanted something else. At first, he yearned to be a wedding singer at Hasidic weddings, conservative enough for the powers that be. But as his taste in music evolved, he ached to color outside the lines — to be creative and push the boundaries.

When Lipa got his first car as a married man, he started playing around with the radio dial, listening to tunes by musicians like Faith Hill and Shania Twain. He drew inspiration from their lyrics and beats, and created kosher versions of pop music.

http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-08-14/meet-hasidic-lady-gaga

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Certificates of occupancy issued for Hasidic development in Bloomingburg 

Certificates of occupancy were issued Thursday morning for 24 units in a controversial residential development designed to accommodate Hasidic families in the Village of Bloomingburg.
Certificates of occupancy have been delayed repeatedly over the last year as the village board and the Town of Mamakating board have battled with each other and developer Shalom Lamm in court over various aspects of the Chestnut Ridge development, which would add 396 homes to a village with a current population of about 400.
The Mamakating town and planning boards filed suit against Bloomingburg and its building inspector in July to prevent the village from issuing certificates of occupancy until Lamm meets all planning code requirements. In multiple court appearances in Sullivan County, two judges refused to grant temporary restraining orders that would have prevented Bloomingburg from issuing any certificates of occupancy.
Judge Stephan Schick told Mamakating at its last court appearance that he would not issue a restraining order to prevent the certificates from being issued, but as soon as they were issued, Mamakating could file another petition to the court.
John Henry, attorney for Lamm's company, Sullivan Farms, confirmed that 24 certificates of occupancy were issued Thursday.
Mamakating Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann said Thursday afternoon that he had heard the certificates of occupancy had been issued, but it had not been confirmed for him.
"As soon as they're issued, we're back in court," Herrmann said.
Lamm has not complied with several legal requirements, Herrmann said. Lamm does not have a license for his water transportation company, he has not received town permission for a well that is located within 200 feet of town property, and the height of the development's buildings and the width of its streets do not meet the state fire code, according to Herrmann.
Steve Mogel, Bloomingburg village attorney, said the village believes, under the guidance of its building inspector, engineer and other experts, that the development meets all legal requirements, and everything has been done to ensure the health and safety of its residents.
The village board held its regular August meeting Thursday night and allowed public comments about the certificates of occupancy.
Though the small meeting room was almost full, fewer than 10 residents asked questions of Mayor Frank Gerardi and Mogel about the certificates. Several residents questioned Mogel about letters he sent to four property owners, asking the residents if they would consider giving an easement along their property line to accommodate a sidewalk from the development to the village center. When the residents expressed concern about the placement of the sidewalk, Mogel said his only obligation was to ask residents if they would consider an easement, but the negotiations regarding the easement and the sidewalk will have to be finalized between Lamm and the residents.
One resident asked if the certificates of occupancy carried a maximum occupancy for each residence. The 24 issued did not, but Mogel said he could look at that possibility for future certificates.
The village expects to be back in court with Mamakating soon, Mogel said, and in the meantime attorneys for all the parties have agreed that no one will move into the units for at least two weeks, allowing time for court arguments.
 

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

NY schools chief intervenes in district run by Orthodox Jews 

The state education commissioner is stepping into the bitter battle over control of an unusual New York school district.
 
Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has scheduled an announcement for Thursday afternoon involving the East Ramapo district in Rockland County.
 
The district has a board dominated by Orthodox Jews who don't use the public schools. Most public school pupils are black or Hispanic.
 
Many parents have complained that the board shortchanges the public schools while supporting Jewish yeshivas.
 
The board blames state funding.
 
A report commissioned by the Education Department concluded last year that the board favored Jewish schools. It called for a state monitor who could veto the board's actions.
 
The state Legislature, however, failed to pass a bill that would have installed a powerful monitor.
 
East Ramapo has been in crisis for years, with public school parents at odds with a school board controlled by Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews who send their children to private schools, The Journal News reported. Last fall, state fiscal monitor Hank Greenberg issued a scathing report citing fiscal mismanagement and governance problems, and called for long-term oversight of the district, the Journal said.
 

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jewish families purchase old rehabilitation centre 

MEMBERS of the Hasidic Jewish community, turned away by the town's university after a health and safety row in 2013, have returned in larger numbers this summer after buying a disused rehabilitation centre outside the town, the Cambrian News understands.
 
The annual visitors from the Hasidic Jewish community — mostly from north London — have been coming to Aberystwyth for more than 20 years for their summer holidays.
 
Large numbers of the community have been left out in the cold for the past two years, however, after being blocked from staying in their usual holiday accommodation at Pentre Jane Morgan student village following a "minor fire" caused by a lit candle.
 
The incident led university bosses to say the visitors could no longer hold candle-lighting ceremonies in the houses because of health and safety concerns, despite the community arguing it was "integral to their religion".
 
The stand-off led to the Jewish community making alternative holiday plans in 2013 and 2014, alth ough some families continue to rent properties in Aberystwyth to carry on the tradition of their regular holidays.
 
After staying in and around the town in significantly smaller numbers in the last two years, some families in the community are now understood to have taken matters into their own hands by buying the £435,000 former Rhoserchan rehabilitation centre in Penrhyncoch.
 
Senior member of the community Myer Rothfeld told the Cambrian News that they were "still looking" to come back to the town in larger numbers and were "explo ring options".
 
"We are still not all here at the moment," he said.
 
"As far as I understand, it is two or three families that are there now."I'm not sure about the place [in Penrhyncoch] but we are still looking to find a way for all of us to come back if we are welcome."
 

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London Hasidic School Denied Funding After Mothers Driving Flap 

A request for state aid from a Belz Hasidic school in London was rejected weeks after the school's threat to ban students whose mothers drive stirred controversy.
 
The Hackney Council said it decided not to grant the Beis Malka School Voluntary Aided status due to the amount of money the school requires for new building construction, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
 
The council said it also rejected the request due to the school's inadequate teaching of the national curriculum, its inadequate provisions for special educational needs, and "serious concerns about health and safety." The school's "compliance with the Equality Act 2010" also was a factor, the Jewish Chronicle reported.
 
In May, Belz rabbis in London issued a letter saying that female drivers violate "the traditional rules of modesty in our camp" and that children would be expelled from Belz schools if their mothers dropped them off by car beginning in August with the new school year. Many Hasidic groups in the United States also frown upon women driving.
 
In response to the letter, the Equality and Human Rights Commission wrote to the schools to say that it would be against the law to deny children entry on such grounds, according to the Chronicle.
 
The commission later said that it has received a "satisfactory response" from the leaders of the Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass boys school and the Beis Malka girls school over the threat after the schools had offered assurances that "they will not exclude or refuse admission to any child or apply any other sanction on the basis of their mother driving."
 
Both schools have been rated "good" by Ofsted, Britain's Office for Standards in Education.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Brooklyn teachers killed in car crash while on vacation 

Brooklyn teachers killed in car crash while on vacation

Two young female teachers from Borough Park were killed in a car crash while sightseeing in Arizona on Monday night, devastating their Brooklyn Jewish community.

The dead women were identified as Hindy Spira, 27, and Raizel Morgenstern, 24, who were on a weeklong vacation in the rugged wilderness with two other Brooklyn teachers, Miriam Meyer and Suri Mayerovitz, 26, cops said.

Their rented Jeep Cherokee was broadsided by a tractor-trailer near Holbrook around 11:30 p.m. after turning into its path, police Lt. Jack Arend told The Post on Tuesday.

“They misjudged the distance between the tractor-trailer and themselves,” Arend said.

Morgenstern, who was driving, and Spira, who was in the front passenger seat, were pronounced dead at the scene, he said.

Meyer was taken to Flagstaff Medical Center and Mayerovitz to Little Colorado Medical Center in Winslow with unspecified injuries, Arend said.

Meyer’s dad, Rabbi Yanky “Jack” Meyer, is the founder of the Brooklyn-based Misaskim Organization, which assists victims of tragedies in the Jewish community. It arranged for a private jet to pick up the bodies.

The driver of the 18-wheeler, a 46-year-old man from Whiteriver, Ariz., suffered neck and back injuries.

The four women had rented the Jeep on Aug. 5 at Los Angeles International Airport. They then set off on their sightseeing jaunt, which included a stop at the Petrified Forest, a picturesque park covering almost 150 square miles east of Holbrook, Arend said.

Morgenstern was making a left turn from Route 377 onto Route 77 just south of Holbrook when she entered the path of the southbound tractor-trailer, which struck the Jeep on the left side.

Spira taught at the Bais Yaakov School in Brooklyn. Mayerovitz also teaches at Bais Yaakov. Morgenstern’s and Meyer’s schools were not known.

A fellow teacher who declined to give her name said Spira “was really sweet, very organized and capable.

“She ran the after-school program; she was very energetic. Her students loved her and her songs.”
Morgenstern’s brother said the four women were on a “very simple nature trip.”

“They wanted to travel, just to see Arizona, the Grand Canyon, just to see the sights, the desert, just seeing nature,” said the brother, who also declined to be named.

“She wasn’t the party type or the wild type,” he said of his sister. “She was just a good teacher, a kind person.”

Rabbi Meyer asked for prayers for the victims.

http://nypost.com/2015/08/11/brooklyn-teachers-killed-in-car-crash-while-sightseeing-in-arizona/

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Thousands expected at annual pilgrimage to Kiryas Joel 

Thousands of visitors are expected to descend on Kiryas Joel Tuesday for an annual pilgrimage to the burial site of the founder of the Satmar Hasidic movement on the 36-year anniversary of his death.

Community leaders expect thousands of their own residents and visitors from Rockland County, Brooklyn and other places to visit the mausoleum of Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. Teitelbaum was a Holocaust survivor who led his followers to Brooklyn after World War II and died two years after the Village of Kiryas Joel was created in his name in 1977.

Orthodox Jewish worshipers travel to Orange County from as far as Montreal and Toronto each year for Teitelbaum's death anniversary, or yertzheit, to beseech the late rabbi for his blessings.
 

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Monday, August 10, 2015

“Friends” Star David Schwimmer Producing TV Pilot “Big Love” Style About Ultra Orthodox Jews 

Does this sound Kosher? I'm told "Friends" star David Schwimmer is producing a TV pilot about ultra Orthodox Jews who live in the insular community of Fishkill, New York. He thinks it could be the "Big Love" of the Hasidic community.
 
The show will be called "Fishkill" I'm told, and Schwimmer's Dark Harbor Productions has optioned it through their partner Tom Hodges. Lisa Davis, a writer from Providence, Rhode Island, wrote the script. The great actor-director Bob Balaban has signed to direct the pilot.
 
The main characters in "Fishkill" are named Moishe, Lev, and Bathsheba. I'm not making this up, and this isn't a Mel Brooks skit. Lev is a diamond dealer in the city. Bathsheba supposedly meets a transgender person while shopping for wigs. There is going to be nudity and sex among the wigs, they say. I do hope there's a suped-up Mitzvah mobile, and a hora here or there.
 
The word is, they're looking for actors who speak Yiddish. Oy vey!
 
Hey, you never know what will work!
 

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

Cuban Jews manage with the kindness of strangers 

Adela Dworin, whose parents came from Eastern Europe after World War I, sounds a lot like a Borscht Belt comedian. Even if only a part of a conversation she had with Fidel Castro some years ago is true (it’s impossible to verify), what you quickly realize is that, at 70-something, she isn’t afraid to say anything.

As president of Havana’s Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba, the Jewish community in the capital, Dworin was one of six Jewish leaders invited to meet with Castro after 40 years of watching him on TV. Here’s how she tells it.


Dworin: “Why you never visit our synagogue? You visit churches.”

Castro: “You never invited me.”

Dworin: “I know he likes revolutions, so I said, ‘We’ll have a revolution of Jews.’ ”

Castro: “I’ll come!”

This was last spring and she was talking to 35 travelers from Temple Israel of Boston, a group that included Senior Rabbi Ronne Friedman and Cantor Roy Einhorn, who were in Cuba to visit synagogues and the people who run the institutions and lead its services. Those are typically lay people, since there are only visiting rabbis in Cuba, mostly from Argentina, and none who work there full time. Rabbi Friedman writes in an e-mail that there is a Talmudic principle “Kol Yisrael aravin zeh bazeh” (“All Jews are responsible for one another”). Also, he adds, church groups visit Cuba, and he sees both as “a source of pride.”

Dworin, who has counterparts in other cities, meets us at Bet Shalom Synagogue, also known as El Patronato, of which she is also the president, and tells us that Jews in Cuba exist on the kindness of strangers, who send prayer books and the ritual foods for holidays like Passover (“Canada sends so much matzo, we eat it all year,” she says). Outsiders also bring clothing, toys, vitamins, and medicines, which go to clinics that the Jewish community has set up for themselves and a wide cross-section of people who come for medical help.

Our tour was organized by Batia Plotch of New York-based travel company Global Gallop (www.cubawithbatia.com). Plotch works with Cuban guide Alexis Rodriguez (think Desi Arnaz), who manages to keep up a weeklong running commentary on his country, its history, historical sites, and translates simultaneously for anyone we’re meeting who does not speak English.

Cuba at its peak, when casinos and showgirls were commonplace, was a magnet for high rollers and pleasure seekers. Now you see beautiful buildings crumbling, the famous cars – in intense colors of eggplant, metallic navy, bittersweet chocolate, bottle green, aqua — and very skinny men and women with swollen abdomens. You also hear music on every street. Two people stop on a sidewalk and someone playing music becomes a third. We hear everywhere about President Obama’s decision last December to restore diplomatic relations. The people seem hopeful, though at this point they do not know about the flights or cruise ships that will be coming.

The Jewish community was never large — 15,000 before the Cuban Revolution that culminated in 1959 — and now numbers about 1,500. Dworin oversees a poor and aging population, and she worries about getting them enough food and basic services. Cubans are paid little; there are no taxes, rents, or tuitions. Citizens use coupon books for rations, such as rice, sugar, beans, coffee, eggs, cooking oil, and pork. (Jews get beef, which is hard to come by here.) Half the population was born after the revolution and raised in a make-do society, where artwork can be fabricated from old photographs or discarded equipment, and families engage in a barter system for food.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/travel/2015/08/08/cuban-jews-manage-with-kindness-strangers/74lbT3XhUjMGTr05WxfOlO/story.html

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