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Thursday, February 26, 2015

KJ Mayor urges Maloney to not attend Netanyahu’s address to Congress 

Saying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not the spokesman of Jewish people and "Neither he nor his state represent world Jewry," the mayor of the Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel has urged Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney not to attend the prime minister's address next week at a joint session of the US Congress.

"Your absence would send a clear message that your constituents want no part of Netanyahu's callousness toward the office of the President," Mayor Abraham Wieder wrote to Maloney in a letter dated Tuesday, February 24.

At issue is Netanyahu's acceptance to speak to Congress without first obtaining the President's consent "and without even the courtesy of consulting with the White House," Wieder wrote.

The prime minister's "acceptance signaled his intent to challenge the President's foreign policy on American soil. His unprecedented actions are a direct insult to the office of the President," the mayor said.

Maloney responded to Wieder's letter saying, "Congress has traditionally set aside partisanship to come together to promote the safety and security of our strategic ally, and I strongly disagree with Speaker Boehner's partisan and poorly timed decision. I continue to hope that all parties can make adjustments to ensure all supporters can be in attendance at this joint meeting of Congress."


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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Mayor de Blasio Is Set to Ease Rules on Circumcision Ritual 

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox rabbis, is set to ease New York City's regulations on a controversial circumcision ritual that has been linked to herpes infections in infants.

The city is seeking to waive a rule that requires parents to sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves the circumciser using his mouth to suck blood away from the incision on a boy's penis. The ritual is common among some branches of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

Administration officials on Tuesday announced a new policy that they described as a compromise between reducing health risks for infants and protecting the religious freedoms of those who cherish the ritual, known as metzitzah b'peh, or oral suction.

The policy, which must be approved by the city's Board of Health, involves a series of medical tests when a baby is found to have herpes. A circumciser who is proved through a DNA match to have the same herpes strain as the baby's would be banned for life from the practice.

Health organizations, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, have long warned that the ritual significantly raises the risk of herpes infection among infants; since 2000, the city's health department has linked it to more than a dozen cases of infection, including two deaths.

But the consent rule, introduced under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an independent, prompted fierce objections from Orthodox leaders, who called it an infringement on their religious rights. The city also encountered problems with enforcement: The consent forms were rarely used, and the number of herpes infections linked to the practice jumped last year.

Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, views ultra-Orthodox New Yorkers as a key political constituency, and he pledged to rescind the consent rule on the first day of his administration. His aides have spent months conferring with Orthodox leaders on a compromise.

Still, the mayor's team did not exactly trumpet the new circumcision policy on Tuesday.

In an unusual rollout, aides to Mr. de Blasio announced the policy in the early evening, typically a time when City Hall releases information that could be construed as sensitive.

The administration did not allow city health officials to speak on the record during a briefing about the new policy. Instead, reporters were asked to attribute quotations to "Official 1" and "Official 2."

Those health officials, speaking on Tuesday, said the new approach would ensure more cooperation from the ultra-Orthodox community, and they argued that banning or further restricting the practice would result only in driving it "underground," potentially generating more risk.

The health officials said they were still finalizing some elements. For instance, under the current proposal, a circumciser, known as a mohel, who is found to have herpes would still be allowed to perform the ritual, if a DNA test does not match his virus with the strain present in the infant. It can sometimes require multiple DNA tests to establish a match.

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The administration will also ask hospitals and doctors in the community to distribute information about the risks associated with the ritual.

A similar policy, recently enacted in Rockland County, has resulted in at least one circumciser recusing himself after testing positive for herpes. No cases of herpes transmission through oral suction have yet been proved there.

Rabbi David Zweibel, leader of an ultra-Orthodox group that sued the city over the consent rule, praised its repeal. "It is to Mayor de Blasio's eternal credit that he recognized how profoundly offensive the regulation was to our community," he said.

Mr. de Blasio, for his part, has appeared eager of late to show respect to the ultra-Orthodox community.

On Monday, the mayor, along with two aides, attended a wedding in New Square, N.Y., a largely Hasidic village in Rockland County. He received a blessing from the town's grand rabbi before making the 45-minute drive back to Gracie Mansion.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio Kisses Ring of Skver Rebbe David Twersky 

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio appeared to literally kiss the hand of a controversial Hasidic leader last night at the rabbi's son's wedding in upstate New York, the Jewish blog JPUpdates reported.

In videos and photos posted on the blog, de Blasio can be seen shaking the hand of Rabbi David Twersky, the rebbe of the Skver Hasidic sect. In a one-second video, the mayor can be glimpsed bending to kiss the rebbe's hand.

The mayor's press office did not respond to an question about the visit. The mayor's trip to New Square was not mentioned on his public schedule, which is circulated the to the press daily.

Twersky rules the Rockland County village of New Square with an iron hand. A Forward expose by Frimet Goldberger published in December found that Twersky, who is seen as nearly godlike by his followers, failed to act on allegations of sexual abuse in his community. A New Square resident who bucked an edict to pray only in Twersky's synagogue was the victim of an arson attack perpetrated by a young man who lived in Twersky's house.

It's unclear why de Blasio would have attended the wedding. The Skver sect is a powerful voting bloc in state and national politics, but it has relatively few followers in New York City. Still, Twersky has drawn a steady stream of high-profile politicians to his enclave.

De Blasio himself has a long history in New Square. In 2000, when the mayor was working as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager in her race for U.S. Senate, Clinton visited New Square on a campaign stop. When she received nearly all of the village's 1,400 votes in the Senate election, questions were raised about whether Bill Clinton's 11th-hour grant of clemency to four Skver members had been part of a quid pro quo deal.


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Why Jewish Poverty Matters Now — More Than Ever Before 

The long and painful demise of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (still underway) and the shockingly speedy death of FEGS is a staggering blow to the entire New York community and especially to the Jewish community. State and city agencies and UJA-Federation are working hard to ensure continuity of service for many thousands of New Yorkers of every ethnic and religious group. But that is not enough.

We know what happened to Met Council, with its leader now in jail. But what happened to FEGS? The reported deficit of $19 million is less than 10% of its annual budget. In New York City's 1975 fiscal crisis, the deficit was proportionately much larger. That and other turnarounds point to short-term financing, a hiring freeze, pay cuts and layoffs as part of a five-year financial plan. Programs that run substantial deficits need to be eliminated unless they have the highest relevance to the mission.

If FEGS cannot be rescued, then it may be time to think about creating an agency focused on the specific employment needs of Jews. FEGS served the general population and served it well; service to Jews was a byproduct.

But what about Jewish poverty? Can the New York Jewish community flourish without a central address for combating poverty?

In a 2011 study published by UJA-Federation which I authored, we found that the scale of Jewish poverty and near-poverty in the eight-county New York area far exceeded expectations. More poor and near-poor Jews live in the New York area than the number of Jews in any American city except Los Angeles. Over the past 20 years, Jewish poverty has grown seven times as fast as the Jewish community as a whole. The Jewish poor and near-poor are seniors, Hasidic families, Russian speakers, people with disabilities, single-parent families and others.

In presenting the 2011 poverty report, I argued that Jewish poverty needs to be a higher priority on the already-crowded communal agenda. With the loss of Met Council and FEGS, there is every likelihood that it will be lower. This situation is intolerable. For centuries, never has a Jewish community neglected Jews in need. There is much to be proud of in what this community has done for its poor and near-poor, but we have not had, and badly need, a community-wide strategy for combating Jewish poverty.

An articulated strategy starts with clearly defined outcomes. Given its enormity, we know that Jewish poverty cannot be eliminated. But can we reduce it or merely maintain current levels? Can we help all Jewish poor and near-poor or do we have to practice triage and only ameliorate some aspects of poverty for some populations?

A Jewish poverty strategy will have to answer some tough questions:

What should be the relative balance between serving the poor and serving the near-poor?

How should the overall strategy be segmented among types of poverty and parts of the metropolitan area?

How much should we focus on helping people get out of poverty, and how much on mitigating the misery caused by poverty?

New York needs a new central address to develop and guide a community-wide strategy for combating Jewish poverty. UJA-Federation cannot fulfill this role — it has too many other legitimate priorities. Unlike Met Council, this new agency would not be involved in direct service; therefore it would not seek state and federal funding for its own programs.

Its mission would be to expand the reach and improve the effectiveness of Jewish programs to reduce the impact of poverty on Jewish households. It would undertake strategic planning, research and development, evaluation and advocacy. It could pilot innovative models of excellence, to be handed over to service agencies when proven.

The first priority is helping people climb out of poverty.

Most poor Hasidic households have at least one person working full time, but the level of secular education is very low. Leaders from within Hasidic communities need to be engaged in upgrading secular education in culturally sensitive ways.

Poor Russian-speakers are highly educated, but relatively few work full time. Russian-speaking leaders and others need to be engaged in the effort to provide jobs and training.

The second priority is advocacy. No matter how heroic the efforts of the Jewish community, the primary poverty safety net is the public sector. The Jewish community should focus its advocacy on more resources for the most critical needs — low-income housing, transportation for seniors and child care.

Advocacy goes beyond trying to influence the public sector. We also need advocacy within the Jewish community. Middle-class and upper-income Jews are ignorant of the extent of Jewish poverty. Many have never met a poor Jew; they tend to live in different neighborhoods. Some wealthy donors believe that poverty is the fault of the poor — not a perspective that would have appealed to our prophets.

We need to rebuild the Jewish communal infrastructure to combat poverty, making a new system out of the ashes of the old. Let us create opportunity out of adversity.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

Ukraine grave of Breslover founder’s daughter torched, vandalized 

The grave of a daughter of the Breslover movement's founder, Rabbi Nachman, was set on fire and daubed with a swastika.

The 1831 grave in the central-Ukraine city of Kremenchuk was set ablaze sometime after the completion last month of its renovation by the Oholei Tzadikim association, which works to restore Jewish burial sites throughout the region. It was discovered on Feb. 16, the association wrote in a statement.

"The damage is very extensive," Rabbi Shimon Buskila of the World Breslov Center told JTA on Sunday. "They destroyed the structure that was only recently erected."

Pictures of the site supplied by Oholei Tzadikim showed the charred interior of a small structure constructed around the headstone. A swastika was drawn in black ink on the exterior of the structure along with a face and the words "Office Man Serega" in Latin.

According to Oholei Tzadikim, the area was designated to become a construction site, but the association cited its sanctity in preventing the project.

Police have been informed of the incident and are working to prevent its recurrence, Rabbi Israel Meir Gabai, the association's director general, said in the statement. He added that the group will repair the damages.


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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ads highlight poor secular education at Orthodox Jewish schools 

Ads highlight poor secular education at Orthodox Jewish schools

These Brooklyn kids aren’t learning their Oy-B-C’s.

The battle over secular education for ultra-Orthodox Jews has flared in the Hasidic enclave of Williamsburg after a reform group unveiled a massive billboard questioning the quality of a yeshiva education.

Young Advocates for Fair Education’s controversial cartoon on a Flushing Avenue building shows a young boy learning in a yeshiva in 1988, disgustedly saying in Yiddish that “English is profane.”
The next panel shows him as an older man wrestling with a mountain of unpaid bills — presumably because the shoddy schooling he received as a lad prevented him from making enough dough as an adult.
“Oy, what was I thinking?” he kvetches.

At issue is the education that kids receive in some of the city’s 250 Jewish private schools, particularly in ultra-Orthodox enclaves such as Williamsburg and Borough Park, where Yiddish is considered the primary language and English classes end for boys at age 13.

“Most of them provide maybe 1.5 hours of English and math at the end of an already tiring day, taught by nonprofessionals,” said Young Advocates founder ­Naftuli Moster.

“They are just a mess when it comes to providing a proper education,” added Moster, 28, who is working on a master’s degree in social work and is a former member of the Belz Hasidic sect.

Young Advocates was founded in 2011, but this is the first time it has put a billboard in a neighborhood it is targeting for change. When one went up along the Prospect Expressway near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in 2013, members of the insular ­Orthodox community were outraged because it aired the community’s dirty laundry to a wider audience.

“So this has to be done from the inside,” explained Moster, who promised more billboards in Williamsburg soon.

Some passersby were less than impressed.

“It’s disgusting,” seethed one woman. “Our secular education is good enough that if someone wants to, they can go to college, too. This is horrible.”

A man who only gave his surname as Lefkowitz said, “I know that by my family, people are successful without all the education.”

But others cheered the call for change.

“I pay big bucks for their non-education,” griped one member of the Satmar sect who wishes his kids could receive a better secular education. “This is ISIS ignorance.”

But the man, who attended area yeshivas and said he can’t name a president before Ronald Reagan, cannot put his kids in public school.

“I will be shunned by my family if I give them a secular education,” he said. “I am only part of my society. I can’t fight it by myself. I would lose everything.”

The state Education Department requires local public-school districts to certify that private schools are “educationally equivalent” to a public school, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

The city Department of Education said that while the state sets the standards, district superintendents do have the authority to assess yeshivas.

But without a specific issue, “it’s neither reasonable nor appropriate” for superintendents to visit every nonpublic school in their district, a spokesman said.

http://nypost.com/2015/02/22/ads-highlight-poor-secular-education-at-orthodox-jewish-schools/

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jewish Studies to Bring Antisemitic Opera to UC Davis 

In the wake of a week where the student senate voted to support boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel, where Jewish students were greeted by the Jihadist war cry, Allahu Akbar, and where swastikas appeared on a Jewish fraternity house, it was unimaginable that the situation at the University of California, Davis could get worse for activist Jewish students. It did.

The Jewish Studies Department announced that it is sponsoring the antisemitic screed posing as opera, The Death of Klinghoffer.  Leon Klinghoffer was an elderly, wheelchair-bound, Jewish-American whom Palestinian terrorists threw into the sea from a hijacked cruise ship.

Klinghoffer was murdered because he was a Jew.

The controversial opera drew thousands of protesters when it opened at the New York Metropolitan in 2014. As a concession to outrage from the Jewish community generally and the Klinghoffer family specifically, Met General Manager Peter Gelb permitted a statement from Klinghoffer’s daughters to be included with the program. It stated that the opera “rationalizes, romanticizes, and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”

It also rationalizes, romanticizes, and legitimizes Palestinians killing any Jew, for Klinghoffer is merely a stand in for the collective guilt, as the opera portrays it, of the Jewish people for Palestinian suffering. Ironically, the underlying theme of collective guilt was precisely the same used in the South to justify lynching of any African-American for a crime that some African-American allegedly committed. The social psychologist Hadley Cantril delineated this phenomenon in his seminal work, The Psychology of Social Movements.

At UC Davis, there has been no shortage of antisemitic incidents. In November 2012, pro-Palestinian demonstrators kept Jewish students from going to class and pushed them into a corner while verbally and physically harassing them as five of the campus’ administrators looked on, apparently with approval, for not one of them took any action to come to the aid of the Jewish students.

Imagine if a gang of white activists kept black students from going to class while verbally and physically harassing them as campus administrators looked on and took no action. They would be asked to clean out their desks within hours and would never again find a position anywhere in academia. But administrators looking on while Jewish students were harassed did so with impunity.

So, against this background why would the Jewish Studies program sponsor the Klinghoffer opera? The answer to that begins with an examination of the political horizon in Northern California, where Jewish political identity is generally progressive rather than even liberal. Judaism for most Jews has little to do with their religion and less to do with Israel.  Jews, as Ben Shapiro, empirically documents are largely secular leftists. Progressivism, for them, is a calling, a sense of personal definition, an identity that is the mapping for personal interrelations.

The Klinghoffer opera is not the first instance where the Jewish community in this area chose to highlight their progressive commitment. At the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, in 2009, the film, Rachel – a paean to Rachel Corrie, the naïve, erstwhile Marxist and International Solidarity Movement activist who put her life on the line to protect terrorist tunnels bringing in arms to kill Jews in Israel’s south – was shown.

She has since taken on virtual sainthood among the anti-Israel left as a peace activist, whom the Israelis wantonly “murdered.” Why a Jewish film festival would not only show a propaganda film about her, but also invite a speech from her mother, who has made a crusade out of her daughter’s death in an effort to delegitimize Israel, is a question that regrettably almost answers itself.

For most progressives, bashing the United States is a sufficient to affirm one’s political identity. The most common explanation here for 9/11 is that we are the victims of our own foreign policy. We did it to ourselves. But for progressive Jews, traditional America bashing is insufficient. Progressive Jews most also bash Israel, and in doing so, they experience an addiction to self-loathing. With it comes a denial of the fundamental principle of normal politics, which is self-interest.

Ask yourself, would a black studies department sponsor an opera about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. that provide a justification for King’s death and a rational for James Earl Ray carrying it out?

Of course, not.

Progressive Jews are still cowering in their mental cellars as their forbearers physically cowered in their cellars during the 1903 Kishinev pogrom. The Hebrew poet Chaim Nachman Bialik captured it in verse, and was unforgiving in his contempt. Modern progressive Jews are still cowering in fear that if they embrace Israel, they will no longer be viewed as good progressives.

They will bring Klinghoffer the opera to campus as they brought Rachel, the hagiography, to their film festival. And they will rejoice in the sublime contemplation that like Klinghoffer, perhaps, they too deserve to be pushed into the sea.

http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/02/20/jewish-studies-to-bring-antisemitic-opera-to-uc-davis/

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Friday, February 20, 2015

Driver peered into mangled cab before disappearing: witness 

An accused hit-and-run driver on trial for killing a pregnant woman and her husband in Brooklyn got out of his BMW and peered into the windows of their crumpled livery cab before disappearing into the night, an eyewitness testified at his trial Thursday.

"He started walking back towards the black car . . . He looked into the driver's-side back door and the driver's window and looked very distressed and dismayed by what he saw," said Heidi Lauren Duke, describing how she watched Julio Acevedo, 46, before he allegedly ran off.

Duke also drew a sketch of Acevedo's chubby body after she heard the crash was fatal.

"He's tomato-shaped," Duke said, describing to The Post outside Brooklyn Supreme Court how she identified Acevedo in a lineup.

Duke expressed her condolences to relatives of the tragic couple, Nachman and Raizi Glauber, whom Acevedo is accused of killing in March 2013.


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Manslaughter charge added in NY hit-and-run case 

A motorist already accused in a horrific hit-and-run traffic accident that killed a pregnant ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman and her husband in Brooklyn was charged Tuesday with three counts of second-degree manslaughter, including one for the death of the couple's premature child.

Julio Acevedo was also indicted on three new counts of criminally negligent homicide to go along with a lesser charge, announced earlier this month, of leaving the scene of an accident. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

"While we knew it was a snowy evening and the defendant was speeding, our investigation has developed additional information concerning the nature of Mr. Acevedo's conduct leading up to the fatal crash," Brooklyn District Attorney Hynes said in statement.

Hynes cited evidence that Acevedo was traveling nearly 70 miles (110 kilometers) per hour — more than twice the legal speed limit — on March 3 when he crashed into a hired car carrying Nachman and Raizy Glauber, who were on their way to a hospital. Police had previously put his speed at about 60 mph (97 kph).

In addition, firefighter and civilian witnesses described Acevedo driving a borrowed BMW recklessly and accelerating as he passed their vehicles and rounded a curve moments before impact, prosecutors said.

Good Samaritans who stopped to help the crash victims told investigators that Acevedo assured them he wasn't hurt. Prosecutors allege that he slipped away on foot, fully aware of the carnage.

The Glaubers, both 21, died that day. Their son, delivered by Cesarean section, died a day later.

The deaths left the couple's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn grief stricken and touched off an intense manhunt for the 44-year-old suspect, who served time in the 1990s for a shooting conviction. He surrendered after five days on the run.

Defense attorney Kathleen Julian said Tuesday that her client would continue to fight the charges.

"The case should be decided on the facts and not on public outcry," the lawyer said.

Acevedo's family has described him as a dedicated family man who quit his job to become a stay-at-home father. His mother told the Daily News he's "not the monster they're portraying him to be."

Acevedo is being held without bail.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

D.C. Rabbi Barry Freundel scheduled to enter guilty plea 

Barry Freundel, a long-time D.C. Orthodox rabbi, is expected to plead guilty Thursday afternoon to dozens of charges involving the secret videotaping of nude women as they prepared for a sacred bath, Freundel's defense attorney said.

A D.C. Superior Court hearing in the case, initially set for 10:00 a.m., was pushed back to 1 p.m. and moved to a larger courtroom to allow enough space for any victims who wished to attend.

Freundel's attorney, Jeffrey Harris, said his client planned to plead guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism. A guilty plea is not final until a defendant formally enters it in court and it is approved by a judge.

Freundel, 63, was arrested in October on charges that he videotaped six women in the nude while he was at Kesher Israel Congregation in Georgetown.

At a meeting at the U.S. Attorney's Office last week , prosecutors said there may be as many as 150 women allegedly videotaped by the rabbi as they prepared for a private bath known as a mikvah, according to three people briefed on the investigation.

A mikvah is used most frequently by people converting to Judaism and by observant Jewish women seven days after the end of their menstrual cycle as a way of becoming closer to God. Prosecutors have alleged Freundel hid a camera in a clock radio in an area where the women changed for the baths.

Since Freundel's October arrest, prosecutors have twice asked D.C. Superior Court judge for extensions at previous hearing as they continued to investigate the case. During earlier hearings, some people displayed signs outside of the courtroom urging District prosecutors not to offer Freundel a plea.

For 25 years, Freundel served as the rabbi at Kesher Israel, where prosecutors say the videotaping occurred. The synagogue's board fired Freundel in November and told him to leave the synagogue-owned home by Jan. 1, which he hasn't, leading to another dispute.


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Long Island doctor mocked employee for having cancer and fired her when she complained: lawsuit 

Her brain surgeon boss didn't have much of a heart.

A woman who worked at Neurological Surgery in Long Island says her doctor boss tormented her after she got cancer, and then fired her when she complained about the sickening treatment.

"He just belittled me," Hilda Mayer, 47, said of Neurological Surgery CEO Michael Brisman. "It was very difficult."

In papers filed in Brooklyn Federal Court Wednesday, the divorced mother of two said Brisman was obsessed with keeping employee health care costs down at his clinics — he'd once complained at a staff meeting about the cost of having an employee who gave birth to premature twins.

So when the marketing rep was diagnosed with stage-three cancer in December 2013, she said she was "worried" about telling him about her condition.

The suit says she was right to be concerned — after she told her boss of six years her devastating news and asked him to keep it confidential, word spread around their Rockville Centre office like "wildfire."

"Within two weeks, everyone in the office knew," Mayer told the Daily News. Soon everyone in the high-end surgery group's other offices knew as well.

"I couldn't walk into a place where I didn't feel like I had 'cancer' tattooed on my forehead," she said.

Brisman "openly mocked Ms. Mayer for her disease" and "blamed her throughout the office for causing the company's insurance premiums to increase," the suit says.

She underwent surgery in April 2014, and was back on chemo that May, when her hair started falling out.

Brisman, she said, told her to wear a wig because her thinning hair was making "other people uncomfortable," the suit says.

She said she'd never heard any complaints from any of her colleagues. "More likely, the only person uncomfortable was Dr. Brisman himself," the suit says.

She followed his direction — and at their next staff meeting, Brisman said she "looked good" — "just like one of those Hasidic girls from Williamsburg," Mayer recalled.

"It was a joke to him, but humiliating to me," she said.

She had another surgery in July, and said Brisman complained the office insurance premiums were going up because of her.

When she needed time off for a third round of chemotherapy last October, the doctor snapped, "When is enough enough?" the suit says. "You know who pays for it?" he said, pointing to his pocket. "I do!"

She complained about the comments repeatedly, but was ignored until she hired a lawyer in December.

Brisman, she said, told her she was overreacting. "I think it's your medication or you're taking new meds," he said, according to the suit.

The Roslyn woman was fired weeks later, one of four people who were let go in a "reorganization" of the marketing department. The suit says the firing was actually retaliation for her complaints. It seeks unspecified money damages.

"Our feeling is none of these claims are true," Brisman said Wednesday.

Mayer's lawyer, David Gottlieb of Wigdor LP, said the suit should "send a message to all employers that this is an unacceptable way to treat employees."

Mayer declined to say what kind of cancer she had, but said she is now in remission. "I'm looking for a job," she said.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Are Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Trying To Destroy This Hasidic Pop Star? 

On the sixth night of Hannukah last December, about a thousand Hasidic and Orthodox Jews came to Queens College for "Following the Stars!"—a concert featuring four Hasidic singers. Three of them dressed conservatively in black and white as they belted out stale religious tunes from the stage of the Kupferberg Center. As the intermission came to an end, a stooped figure covered in a white prayer shawl made his way across the stage. A hush swept the crowd as the figure was revealed to be the evening's headliner, Lipa Schmeltzer, arguably the biggest pop star in Hasidic music.

Under the prayer shawl, Schmeltzer wore a shiny frock coat and his signature funky glasses (he wears a different pair for every occasion). A yarmulke and short curly side locks completed his look, the shawl casually draped over his shoulders in a shockingly transgressive manner.

"Thank God, I'm going for higher education!" he announced, referring to his recent decision to pursue a college degree, unheard of in Hasidic circles. The crowd applauded vigorously. "They're teaching me nice stuff, but I'm teaching them nice stuff too. That people with these"—he flicked one of his side locks—"can also be normal, and learn English!"

The crowd went wild, and Schmeltzer launched into a Hebrew song about not judging a person until you've been in their shoes. His dance moves alone—a mixture of energetic stomping and a series of high jumps—were enough to distinguish him from the openers. Another song, based on Judaism's holiest prayer, the Shma, ended with Schmeltzer on his knees, his hand over his eyes.
He left the stage to the sound of the crowd chanting his name.

Schmeltzer has aptly been called the Lady Gaga of Hasidic music. Known mononymously as "Lipa" in Orthodox and Hasidic households from the U.S. to Israel, Schmeltzer's catalogue is widely played at Orthodox weddings, from the most conservative to the most modern. His music videos have hundreds of thousands of hits, his songs have millions of downloads. He is perhaps the only celebrity who transcends the many divisions of the Orthodox and Hasidic communities.

And yet, since the beginning of his career, Schmeltzer, now 36, has been dogged by opposition, his name virtually synonymous with controversy.

Schmeltzer hails from one of the most stringent Hasidic sects, the Skver sect. He was raised in New Square, a Hasidic enclave in Rockland County with a population of 7,000 predominantly Skverer Hasids, where the powerful Skverer Rebbe reigns supreme, and where the most stringent opposition to Schmeltzer's music took root.

The eleventh of twelve children, Schmeltzer had a troubled childhood. He was abused by his teachers, emotionally and physically. "I got nicknames, and smacked up every week," he recalled when we met on the Columbia campus, where Schmeltzer is now a student.

"When it was time to get married, it was an arranged marriage, took twenty minutes to meet my wife," he explained. "I had no idea what marriage was all about. All I wanted was a car, and you couldn't drive if you weren't married. And I wanted to have a shtreimel," the round fur hat Hasidic men wear on Sabbath and holidays, also the purview of married men.

His early influences were Jewish singers, but after getting married at age 20, Schmeltzer worked as a delivery man for a meat and fish store. It was driving around making deliveries in a smelly little truck, hoping for a dollar tip here and there to make the rent, that the singer first heard "Hero" by Enrique Iglesias, and "I Need to Know" by Marc Anthony. Schmeltzer soon found himself devouring other other pop standards—Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears.

"I couldn't live without music," he told me. "And I wanted to upgrade Jewish music."

When he began to sing at weddings and bar mitzvahs, Schmeltzer's talent was obvious, and yet he was met with derision from within the Skver community; his music was too different, too new, too challenging. Though his songs were in Hebrew and Yiddish, mostly with words culled from religious texts, people called him "this new talent who sings like a goy," Schmeltzer recalled ruefully.
Two weeks after the release of his third CD in 2001, Schmeltzer says the rabbinical court called him in for a hearing and told him there was too much "disco beat" for their conservative tastes. He was forced by powerful community members to place an ad in one of the Hasidic papers apologizing for the CD, which had taken him five years and all of his savings to produce. The album's title—"Gam Zu LeTovah," or "This is also for the best"—now seemed painfully ironic.

"They felt that I am bringing them shame," Schmeltzer explained. And he believed them. He was plagued with feelings of guilt about the talent he couldn't deny or reign in. In hindsight, Schmeltzer says, "I had guilt about things I should have pride about."

The rabbinical court also made Schmeltzer promise that his future records would be more conservative, and for a while, Schmeltzer complied with their demands. It was a losing battle. As Schmeltzer put it, "my art bust forth" and with it, further bans. A network of "activists" went from school to school, pressuring principals to ban his music. Signs went up around the neighborhood depicting Schmeltzer's face with a line drawn through it; his sister spent days tearing them down. Schmeltzer choked up when describing the shame that his father—a Holocaust survivor and great adherent of the Skverer Rebbe—felt during this time.

"He never kissed me," Schmeltzer said. "He said, 'By the Hasidim, we don't kiss,' but now I know it was because he lost his father, it was very hard for him to connect. And he did show me love. His love was to daven [pray] for me."

Schmeltzer faced so much harassment in New Square that he finally left, moving his family to neighboring Airmont. He started a new Synagogue built on his own property, the "Airmont Shul," a place where all are welcome (even secular Jews, and even women, as I found out during a visit) and where regulars are greeted with a plastic cup of wine with which to greet the Sabbath

But the controversy surrounding Schmeltzer only ballooned: Children whose parents attended his Synagogue were not welcome in Monsey schools. More edicts came out against him in the Orthodox and Hasidic papers, no one was willing to stand up to the powerful rabbis that opposed him.

Eventually his life became dogged by people like Avraham Schorr, a Borough Park rabbi who seemed intent on his destruction. In 2008, when Schmeltzer was supposed to sing at a concert called "The Big Event" at Madison Square Garden, 33 leading rabbis, with Schorr at the helm, signed an ad in a popular newspaper banning their followers from attending the concert. They claimed that Schmeltzer's unique brand of music would lead to "ribaldry and debauchery," despite the organizers' promise to provide separate entrances for men and women. The concert was cancelled, prompting an estimated $700,000 in losses.

On another occasion, Schorr went as far as grabbing a microphone from the singer's hands at a wedding where Schmeltzer was a guest. (Neither Schorr nor the Skverer Rebbe returned requests for comment.)
The controversy took a heavy psychological toll, leaving a deep void and an urgent need for validation, which Schmeltzer wears nakedly to this day. The only person he spoke of with envy was another singer from the less extremist Chabad sect, Avraham Fried, who had the blessing of his sect's leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to pursue music in the name of God.

Throughout all this, Schmeltzer maintained a level of support among Hasidim but also among more modern Orthodox Jews (he encountered a group of dedicated fans in Columbia's Hillel). Still, he suffered financially from attempts to end his career. Where he used to perform at a hundred bar mitzvahs and weddings a year, he was now down to five. Clients would call and apologize; their son's principal had said that Schmeltzer's music was verboten.

Things got so bad that Schmeltzer worried about whether he had a future in the music industry, and if not, how he would support his family. One day, while driving in Monsey, he passed Rockland Community College, and decided he needed a back-up plan. He enrolled, eventually graduating with an Associates degree and winning the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence.

Now getting his bachelor's degree at Columbia, Schmeltzer wants to major in something that combines creativity with counseling, like drama therapy. He also supplements his income from gigs and CDs by doing marketing and musical performances for the sick and elderly.

A short, intense man with seemingly boundless energy who invents his own expressions in his musical, Yiddish-accented English ("You can't plant cucumbers and expect strawberries to grow"), Schmeltzer is now the father of four. His wife Miriam, one of his biggest fans, comes to most of his concerts with his children, who sing along to the songs. When Schmeltzer took the stage in the prayer shawl in December, his son asked his mother who the figure was. "Who could that possibly be?" she replied with a wry smile.
How to explain the rabid opposition to this wholesome, campy character who sings songs about being less judgmental, praying to God for help being a better person, and spending less time on your cellphone ("Instead of searching Google, I'm busy making Kugel")? What could possibly account for sentiments so rabid that, as a Hasidic friend who lives in Monsey put it, "If they would find you in a Church, they wouldn't be as upset as if they found you in the Airmont Shul"?

"Self-expression is very suppressed in that community," says Chaim Einhorn, a congregant of the Airmont Shul who hails from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem. "So when Lipa does his music like he wants and it's about self-expression, not what the Rebbe wants, it's very threatening." The rabbis like older music, Einhorn explained, and they don't understand the desire young people have for new kinds of music, and because they have the power to do so, they enforce their tastes.

"It's the way he sings, the way he dances," another Hasidic friend who lives in Williamsburg explained. "It's kind of goyish. The way he is changing his glasses, he's going and coming. It's outside the box. But he is sincere. And that is what is bothering the establishment."

And because he stays within the religious world, Lipa Schmeltzer is more of a threat to the Hasidic way of life than those who up and leave the faith.

"It's like a bone that you can't swallow and you can't spit out," he told me, standing in his living room under a painting someone had given him depicting three great rabbinic authorities sitting in a dark room and Schmeltzer standing on a balcony in the sun wearing a bright blue coat. "I'm that bone."

Very recently, Schmeltzer has gone from controversial singer to iconoclast, a man on a mission. In a radical break from his previous reticence to speak openly about flaws in his community, Schmeltzer has started to vocally criticize the fundamentalism of the Hasidic community. His critique comes not just as one who was once part of the community, but from someone who remains part of the Orthodox community and wishes to influence it.

He laments what he sees as the crisis of leadership in the Hasidic community, engendered by rabbinic dynasties that flow from parents to children, making it impossible to ensure that the best person for the job is the one who gets it. "And if you know anything about sociology," Schmeltzer went on, his college education sneaking out, "the social cultural upbringing plays a major factor on the behavior. I was brought up that the Rebbe is next to God. If the Rebbe said eating banana is healthy for the brain, I blindly believe him. I don't even investigate, maybe he never looked into nutrition and he doesn't know."

Schmeltzer also objects to the rigorous gender segregation. "I always tell these activists who are very strong against ladies and make segregations, that it's their problem," he said. "Their problem is they should go for therapy. I tell people, you know who you need to protest? Protest God. God created beautiful people that make you crazy."
 
He says that ultra-Orthodox Judaism is full of fanatics who are power hungry and who use religious zealousness as a form of control. "The desire for control is a disease, it's not Judaism," Schmeltzer insisted. "It took me years to realize I didn't need anybody's approval, only to listen to my inner voice," he said. "No other human being knows better than me what I should be." He explained this thought with a Lipa-ism: "They want to put everyone in a painting. How about I should be a new painting, not for people to follow, 'I'm going to follow this painting,' but rather, a painting to say, don't follow a painting."

Schmeltzer now sees his talent as a stepping-stone towards something bigger, though he's not yet sure to what. "What makes somebody into a leader, if not the feeling and the power that [God] is giving him?" He said. "What do you think, in our century, you have a prophet coming down, and tell, I want you to be a leader? It's the willingness," he said, which he says he has plenty of himself.

A recent Schmeltzer song exhorts people not to judge others by external signifiers of piety, such as the length of one's beard, but rather by what's inside ("Jew, Jew, where's your beard? Beard, beard, where's your Jew?" goes one chorus, in Yiddish). "I'm really proud of him," his fourteen-year-old daughter ZC told me at the concert in Queens. "In his new songs, you see who he really is."

Walking down the street with Schmeltzer in Borough Park, you wouldn't know he'd ever been condemned by powerful religious authorities. Children's eyes went wide at the sight of him, and adults routinely stopped to thank him for his music, and to tell him how he'd changed their lives.

In a café where the owner wouldn't take Schmeltzer's money (he was a fan), three Hasidic boys in matching outfits shuffled over at the behest of their father to shake the famous singer's hand with a mixture of shyness and delight. Schmeltzer seemed to take the attention seriously, and after greeting the boys, he went quiet for a while. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he said, "You can't buy this feeling with any amount of money."


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Expert questions ‘high speed’ in fatal hit-and-run crash 

A Brooklyn hit-and-run driver who plowed into a livery cab, killing a Hasidic Jewish man and his pregnant wife, was going much slower than the 70 miles per hour prosecutors claim, an expert said Tuesday.

A crash investigator who testified at the trial of Julio Acevedo said that the ex-con was likely going half that speed when he slammed into the cab carrying Nachman Glauber and his pregnant wife Raizel.

"From my experience, as soon as I looked at it, it's not really a high speed crash," testified crash investigator Gregory Witte, who was called to the stand by Acevedo's defense attorney.

"To me, this is a 35 miles per hour impact."

Acevedo, 46, faces life in prison if convicted of manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident in the March 2013 crash.

He allegedly crashed into the cab and then fled.

Prosecutors have said the livery cab came to a full stop before driving through the Williamsburg intersection.

"The Toyota was in continuous motion for 5 seconds prior to crash," Witte testified, calling the livery cab's pause at the stop sign a "rolling stop."

Acevedo's trial started two weeks ago and both sides are expected to give closing arguments this week.


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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Organiser of Stamford Hill anti-Jewish march ‘barred from London’ 

Joshua Bonehill-Paine revealed on his blog he was arrested and then bailed on Friday - but the conditions of his release prevent him from attending the planned anti-Jewish in north London march next month.

The 22-year-old was held at his home in Somerset on suspicion of racially aggravated harassment and malicious communications, in connection with a stream of racist tweets sent to Labour MP Luciana Berger.

He put a picture of a police form online which said he was 'not to enter the area contained within the M25 motorway except to answer police bail', and not to contact Ms Berger.

In the reasons for the condition it says: "The offence related to organising an anti-Jewish march in the London areas and targeting an MP at Westminster."

The planned march, called 'Liberate Stamford Hill', is organised for March 22 - meaning Mr Bonehill-Paine will seemingly be unable to attend when it starts on Clapton Common.

Police in Hackney confirmed on Twitter he had been arrested, adding: "Any breach of those bail conditions will be dealt with appropriately and proportionately."

After it was revealed the far-right nationalist was planning on marching through Stamford Hill earlier this month it was instantly condemned - with north London anti-fascists planning a counter-demonstration.

Mr Bonehill-Paine criticised 'Shomrim', the community Jewish police force, and said he wanted to 'liberate' the Hackney community - which has a large orthodox and Hasidic population.


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Monday, February 16, 2015

Kosher food-cart vendor says he‘s blocked by ‘halal mafia’ in NYC 

There is no peace in the Mideast — or Midtown.

A Jewish kosher-food purveyor says he’s being prevented from settling in the heart of Manhattan by the “halal mafia.”

Yisroel Mordowitz insists he just wants to peacefully peddle sandwiches piled high with brisket or pastrami from his Holy Rollers cart in the lucrative Rockefeller Center area, 48th Street off Sixth Avenue.

But a group of irate Egyptian competitors block the kosher vendor from setting up on the sidewalk, literally squatting on the curb or placing umbrellas and beverage cartons to cordon off the space.

“This guy is hungry — hungry for money,” bellowed 48th Street Sabrett-slinger Mohamed Mossad, who along with nearly a dozen others successfully kept Mordowitz off the block. “I have a family, too!”

“Why doesn’t he go to 47th Street?” Mossad shouted, referring to the Hasidim-heavy Diamond District. “He’s just coming to this particular spot, and he wants to grab it from me — and kill me, actually. Kill my business.”

The Holy Rollers adhere to strict kosher guidelines, and their Muslim rivals sell halal food prepared in accordance with Islamic law. For both, pork is a no-no, but there are differences in how meat must be slaughtered and prepped.

Escalating tensions so concerned Avram Wolpin, the mash­giach — or on-site supervisor who certifies food as kosher — that he feared a veritable falafel fatwa. He told Mordowitz he was worried he would “disappear.”

After two unsuccessful attempts to work on Sixth, Mordowitz made his exodus southwestward to 35th Street and Ninth Avenue, near B&H Photo, the Hasidic-run electronics megastore.

“I thought I could bring peace to Midtown,” lamented Mordowitz, 30, of Queens. “I’m not an enemy — I’m a friend.”

The Holy Rollers opened without incident on 48th Street on Monday, raked in about $2,000 on Tuesday from tourists and Midtown office workers, but were under blockade by Wednesday.

“This is not Palestine!” one vendor shouted, according to Mordowitz.

The kosher vender said, “They’re trying to say that the Jews in Israel are pushing people out, so don’t do it here.”

Mordowitz said one rival even followed managing partner Yosef Salzbank around in a Jeep Cherokee, making sure he parked the cart far enough away.

“I said, ‘Why are you terrorizing me?’ ” Mordowitz recalled.

But the halal hawkers say they’re not the haters.

“He said I am a terrorist. He says I bombed the Twin Towers. That’s racist,” recalled Mossad, who insisted his objections have nothing to do with religion.

“To me, it’s not about him being a Jew.”

Licenses granted by the city do not specify where vendors must locate, but the city can force vendors to move for a variety of reasons, including being parked too close to a subway entrance.

Intense competition prompts vendors to arrive with their carts by 3 a.m. to claim a spot, with some camping out overnight.

Even though customers who eat strictly kosher food can’t eat halal — let alone a boiled wiener — a peace agreement, for now, seems remote, leaving the cart to wander the Midtown desert.

“Running corner to corner like this,” Salzbank said. “It’s crazy.”

http://nypost.com/2015/02/15/halal-and-kosher-food-cart-vendors-argue-over-city-streets/

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Unabashed, rabbi who resigned over abuse coverup blasts critics’ ‘defamation’ 

Rabbi Yosef Feldman, whose endorsement of leniency for pedophiles shocked Australia last week, hit back at his critics.

Those who spoke out after he testified before a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse are guilty of defamation, the rabbi told ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster.

“I feel that they are unfit to be leaders. They haven’t read the transcripts, because they only came out after they gave their pronouncements,” Feldman said on Thursday of community leaders who denounced him. Speaking before the commission, he called for “leniency on people who have shown that they haven’t offended in the last 20 [years] and they have psychological analyses [showing] that that is the case.”

Feldman admitted that he had failed to report allegations of abuse and spoke out against media coverage of molestation cases.

Community leaders immediately distanced themselves from him, who until last week was a member of the board of the Sydney Yeshiva Center, with one figure calling his positions “repugnant to Jewish values.”

Feldman’s lawyers, he told ABC, consider the criticism against him to constitute “fullon defamation.”

“I think that every single one of them that came out with an announcement is unfit to be a leader of that organization,” he claimed.

He said he did not believe that what he said was wrong, even if that was the how his statements were viewed. It was this perception, rather than any wrongdoing on his part, that prompted his resignation, he explained.

He did not intend to give up his position as the rabbi of a local synagogue, Feldman added.

Several victims and family members testified before the commission that elements within the Chabad hassidic community worked to ostracize those who came forward and prevent public disclosures regarding abuse.

On Friday, Melbourne daily the Herald Sun reported that Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, who heads the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia, sent a text message denigrating the father of one of victim’s.

Zephaniah Waks testified that three of his children, including prominent victim’s advocate Manny Waks, had been abused while in yeshiva.

Following Waks’s, testimony, Australian Jewish News editor Zeddy Lawrence received a text message from Kluwgant stating that Zephaniah is killing us. Zephaniah is attacking Chabad, he is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?” Waks recounted becoming a social pariah after encouraging Manny to come forward.

Addressing the commission, former Rabbinical Council of Victoria head Rabbi Yaakov Glasman said that “there are members of the ultra-Orthodox community... who don’t quite get it, who perhaps are living in a previous generation in terms of their mindset,” the Herald Sun reported.

The facts that have come out before the royal commission provide a “complete justification against ultra-Orthodoxy,” Zephaniah Waks, who remains Orthodox but has split from Chabad, wrote on Facebook.

A number of Australian ultra-Orthodox rabbis posted a video to YouTube on Friday calling on abusers to come forward and seek help and encouraging victims to turn to the police without fear of reprisal.

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Unabashed-rabbi-who-resigned-over-abuse-coverup-blasts-critics-defamation-391076

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Braving the Freezing Temperatures for Religion 

On Friday morning, a group of 3,000 Hasidic women in New York for a Chabad-Lubavitch conference visited the tomb of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens. The temperature was around 10 degrees.

“I was physically cold, but spiritually warm,” said Chani Levertov, who lives in Phoenix and was among the intrepid pilgrims.

The women spent only 10 or 20 minutes outside, visiting the grave site, before going back inside. There were outdoor heaters, but Ms. Levertov said she bundled up and would be spending the rest of the day “mostly — no, definitely” indoors.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/14/nyregion/braving-the-freezing-temperatures-for-love-religion-and-chocolate-sales.html?_r=0

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Friday, February 13, 2015

City Hall proposes warning about dangers of Orthodox Jewish circumcision rite 

The de Blasio administration wants to swap the signed consent rule for a controversial Jewish circumcision ritual for a verbal warning to parents, sources said Wednesday.

But the plan is on hold because a group of rabbis opposes forcing the circumcisers, or mohels, to tell parents of the potential health risks involved with oral suction, according to a source briefed on the situation. The centuries-old, ultra-Orthodox practice associated with the bris is known as metzizah b'peh.

The city's Health Department has criticized the procedure, arguing it carries "inherent risks" for newborn babies, citing multiple cases of herpes over the past decade.

"We believe the right policy here raises awareness of parents to the risks but is also respectful of religious freedom," mayoral spokeswoman Marti Adams said. "We continue to discuss what this policy will be in conjunction with community leaders."

A small group of leading rabbis has held many meetings to discuss the proposed changes, according to multiple sources. The rabbies are vehemently against any agreement that hampers religious freedom, and many have questioned the scientific evidence.

"This is a delicate negotiation and we are not going to comment," said Rabbi David Niederman, who heads the influential United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

There were four cases of newborn Jewish boys who contracted herpes last year, and 17 since 2000, records show.

As a result, the city's Health Department quietly issued two cease-and-desist letters to suspected mohels last year, according to a City Hall source.

The city's latest effort comes as Rockland County health officials recently disclosed that they made a deal with local rabbis. Under that nonbinding pact, if a baby is found to have contracted herpes the county can then test the mohel. If the mohel is found to be the cause of infection he can be banned for life from performing the procedure.

But city Health Department officials believe that in rare cases even strenuous testing will not prove there's a direct link to the mohel, according to the City Hall source.

Instead, city health honchos automatically believe that any Jewish baby boy who contracts genital herpes shortly after his bris by a mohel proven to have herpes got the sick due to the circumcision.


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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Rabbi Berland Extradited From The Netherlands To Israel To Face Sex Assault Charges 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who left Israel fleeing accusations of sex crimes, is being extradited back to the Holy Land from Holland, Israel Radio reported.

Rabbi Berland, 77, was accused by several women and one minor of sexually assaulting them.

Berland, a member of the Breslav Hasidic movement, is considered the leader of the Shuvu Bonim community in Israel, with an estimated few hundred followers. At the time, he claimed he was being persecuted in Israel because of his support for Palestinian statehood.

Berland was arrested in September during a layover at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, on his way from South Africa to the Ukraine. Since running away from his accusers in Israel in 2012, the rabbi has visited the U.S., Morocco, Zimbabwe and Switzerland, according to JTA.

Several dozen of Berland's followers have settled in the Netherlands to be near their rebbe.

Now they can come home.


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Forum a 'great beginning' for East Ramapo 

Nearly 200 people gathered for a set of workshops Wednesday night aimed at overcoming stereotypes and promoting understanding between the diverse and often divided groups that make up the East Ramapo school district.

Organized and hosted by the private Green Meadow Waldorf School, the two-hour event was the first of its kind for the East Ramapo district, which includes 9,000 mostly black and Latino public school students and some 24,000 private school students, mostly from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

"We may not understand each other's cultures, identities … before we start talking about it," said co-facilitator, Randolph Carter, of the Eastern Educational Resource Collaborative, a national organization that provides diversity consulting for schools. "This is an opportunity to connect, learn and grow and we believe that we have the best interests of everyone at heart."

Many participants and organizers acknowledged that there was little representation from the Orthodox, black and Latino communities; many said they hoped the event could be a trial run of sorts that would lead to more opportunities for interaction between the factions.

Emily Alvarado, a junior at Ramapo High School, was among about 20 East Ramapo students at the event. She expressed disappointment that yeshiva students who were invited did not attend, despite Green Meadow organizers' outreach efforts in the ultra-Orthodox community.

"It would have been nice to talk to them," Alvarado said. "I would have told them all the conditions (in our schools), the classes that are being cut, how our ceilings last year were caving in … I would have told them all of that."

Still, that Green Meadow students and staff held the forum at all "meant a lot" to Ramapo students, considering how divided the district is, she said.

In small discussion groups, students proposed ideas to "break out of their bubbles"; Green Meadow kids were invited to Ramapo High School's drama club crew nights as they prepare for the spring musical. Another student suggested similar forums should be held at East Ramapo public schools and yeshivas.

Green Meadow lies within East Ramapo's boundaries and students and staff there have looked on with concern for years as their neighbors in the public schools endured the loss of sports, music, art and other programs.

Chestnut Ridge resident Rose Fitzgerald has two children at Green Meadow and is a guardian to a child at Spring Valley High School.

"I've seen how this issue has really affected the whole community and it feels quite sad on so many levels, and so I'm curious to hear other perspectives," Fitzgerald said, as she headed into the adult discussion room.

Fitzgerald said she's met teachers and administrators who are struggling because of a lack of funding for the public schools. "It's really heartbreaking for them to know that they can't do the work that they really want to do," she said.

Much of the fighting between the public school community and the largely white, Orthodox and Hasidic school board, whose children attend private religious schools, has stemmed from claims supported by a state fiscal monitor that the board favors private schools when allocating shared resources, leading to glaring inequities for public school students.

But on Wednesday, the bitter accusations often shouted at school board meetings were put on hold as participants followed the ground rules for a calm and civil discussion.

Izzy Landau, a Monsey resident who left the ultra-Orthodox community and now sends his kids to East Ramapo public schools, walked out of the adults' forum feeling optimistic.

"It went better than expected, actually," he said. "It kind of breaks the barriers and lets one group say, 'it's not so bad on the other side.'"

East Ramapo Schools Superintendent Joel Klein said the forum is a starting point for the divided district to work toward consensus for the benefit of students.

"It was a wonderful opportunity. I think it's a great beginning. We'll see what happens," he said.

Klein also acknowledged the lack of diversity among participants and said he'd like to see greater representation from the community at future events.


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Decades of Yeshiva Daycare Rape Shocks Aussies 

It is as disgusting as it is ironic that the mikveh—the ritual baths where Jews and converts to Judaism immerse to purify themselves—was one of the places Manny Waks says he was sexually abused as an Orthodox Jewish teenager in Melbourne. According to him, Shmuel David Cyprys, the head of security at Yeshivah Centre—the school Waks attended—instructed him to go to the mikveh with him in 1990.

"During the abuse I became very dizzy and told him that I needed to get out of the water. I went over to the drying area and sat down on the floor. Cyprys came over to me and continued what he had been doing in the bath," Waks remembered. "I remember feeling very dizzy to the point where I blacked out briefly. Soon after I got up, dressed myself and walked home."

Waks shared this account last week at the start of the Australia Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse. The Jewish community is hardly the only group that the Australian government is probing. It has, however, warranted two weeks of specific scrutiny as more people like Waks, who kept their abuse hidden for decades after their rabbis allegedly failed to respond, have decided to go public for the entire Jewish community and the country to hear their stories.

According to Waks, this chilling incident was hardly the first abuse he suffered at the hands of Cyprys—or, for that matter, an adult male in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Australia. Waks alleged in testimony before the Royal Commission that, from the age of 11 in 1987 through 1990, he was sexually assaulted by not only Cyprys but Zev (Velvel) Serebryanski, a man in his twenties who was the son of a respected rabbi affiliated with Chabad, an international organization of Orthodox Hasidic Jews.

The details of the alleged abuse are horrifying but the reactions from the yeshivahs and the Chabad community in Melbourne are just as—if not more—disturbing. In fact, it is the response—or more accurately, the lack of one—from Jewish communal leaders that has warranted the Royal Commission investigation.

At the time that Cyprys allegedly abused Waks, he had full, unfettered access to all of the classrooms at the Jewish day school. According to Waks, Cyprys had this privilege despite the fact that a student had told the man in charge of the yeshiva, Rabbi Yitschok Dovid Groner, about his abuse experiences with Cyprys in 1984. "It should have been preventable," Waks told The Daily Beast.

Waks himself told both Rabbi Groner, who passed away in 2008, and St. Kilda police about the abuse towards the end of 1996. Neither religious nor law enforcement authorities, he claims, responded particularly vigilantly. "The police said at the time 'It's your word against his, and we'll keep it on file until other information comes to light,'" Waks said.

In fact, the police did have other information against Cyprys: Another child came forward with sexual abuse claims in 1991, but when Cyprys pled guilty a year later to a sexual offense against another child, he received only a fine—and the Yeshivah Centre continued to employ him, in a security capacity no less.

"It was very clear when I went to the late Rabbi Groner that they weren't going to do anything about it," Waks told me. "They claimed he [Cyprys] was seeking help and that was it."

According to Waks' testimony before the Royal Commission, Cyprys was employed in various security capacities at the school through the middle of the 2000s despite the decades of complaints made against him.

In the case of Cyprys, justice was ultimately served. He was sentenced to eight years in prison in December of 2013 after a jury found him guilty of five charges of rape against one student. He pled guilty to 12 charges of assaulting eight others, including Walks, who was the only one of the victims to go public. Cyprys is currently in jail, although he will likely only serve five-and-half years before he is up for parole.

Serebryanski, on the other hand, is living as a free man in the U.S. The man that Waks says was the first to molest him was safely shuttled off to the States, specifically to Brooklyn. Paul Berger of the Jewish Daily Forward tracked him down in 2012. According to Berger's report, Serebyanski, who goes by Zev Sero, did not deny the sexual abuse allegations, though he would also not speak to Berger on the record. Waks says he still considered Serebryanski to be "one of the biggest perpetrators," but admits that at this point that "it's my word against his."

The Australian Chabad community has faced accusations of letting—or even helping—child molesters get out of the country and into Israel or the U.S. instead of turning them over to law enforcement authorities. Not only do these men escape punishment, but they are then capable of abusing new victims.

David Kramer at Yeshivah College, a Jewish all-boys secondary school in Melbourne, left Australia after being accused of sexually assaulting students. Manny's father, Zephaniah Waks, spoke before the Royal Commission about how two of his other sons were abused by Kramer. When families went to the rabbis who oversaw the school and threatened to go to the police, Kramer was given assistance to move to Israel, according to reports about testimony given at the Royal Commission.

Kramer relocated to St. Louis where he began volunteering as a youth leader in the Orthodox synagogue, Nusach Hari B'nai Zion. In 2007, St. Louis County prosecutors charged Kramer with sexual misconduct and statutory sodomy for fondling a 12-year-old boy and mastubrating in front of him in a University City apartment. He was sentenced to seven years in prison after pleading guilty and was subsequently extradited to Australia. He pled guilty to five counts of indecent assault and one count of an indecent act with a minor.

Chabad operates in the U.S., and for that matter all over the world, but it forms a nearly-inescapable network in Australian Jewish life, according to Waks. As hard as it is for victims of sexual abuse to ever come forward, Waks believe it is even harder for Australian Jews because of Chabad's strength.

"In Australia, the Chabad community dominates the rabbinic scene. The vast majority of rabbis serving the country are from Chabad. The yeshivas are connected through Chabad. If you go up against an individual rabbi, you're up against the entire system," Waks said.

In his own experiences in coming forward with abuse, Waks said he often felt "it was me against Chabad," which is not the message he intended to convey.

"I admire and respect certain aspects of Chabad, but it happened at a yeshiva that was part of the Chabad institutions," he said.

The problems examined in the Royal Commission are also not limited to Australia. There is a well-documented history of ultra-Orthodox rabbis not responding adequately to abuse and—even more problematically—district attorneys doing in kind in the U.S.

Both Australia and the U.S. ultra-Orthodox Jewish community share a culture of concealment which can be just as damaging to abuse victims.

"The first time, they are traumatized by the abuser. The second is by the community leadership" said Waks. Recalling his own abuse at the hands of his school faculty, Waks absolutely believes adults knew what was going on at the time. "People deliberately chose to turn a blind eee. Many people knew of at least some of the allegations, but no one acted—and that is astounding," said Waks.

Both communities are also filled with congregants who are only beginning to consider going to police, rather than their rabbis, when they suspect abuse. It has long been considered an affront to the the community to go to secular law enforcement due to the tradition of mesirah, not turning a fellow Jew into secular authorities.

This tradition has been codified in some religious institutions. Agudath Israel of America, the leading ultra-Orthodox institution in the U.S., instructed parents to gain permission from rabbis before going to the police as late as 2012.

Unsurprisingly, adherence to this tradition has created massive problems for adequately responding to the needs of sexual abuse victims. Testimony during the Royal Commission has revealed some rabbis in power to be anywhere from inept to sinister in their response to sexual abuse allegations.

Rabbi Yosef Feldman, the rabbinical administrator at the Yeshivah Centre in Sydney, testified last week that he did not notify police when a mother told him a teacher had massaged her son's genitals. This was his defense during testimony at the Royal Commission: "I didn't know it could have been a crime. I didn't see that as necessarily being sexual… (but) it could potentially be something which is highly inappropriate. I don't know what the criminal code is and what's a crime and what's not a crime. A lot of things could be a crime (when) I don't think it is."

Whether Feldman was pleading ignorance or trying to cover for his behavior is unclear, but other comments he has made during the testimony reveal an egregious level of insensitivity. "I was worried the publicity would bring about fake victims," he said to the Royal Commission about his decision to discourage other rabbis from making public statements about sexual abuse. "The reality is they make a whole issue of child abuse and it encourages people to accuse people of abuse when… they are really innocent."

While much of the Royal Commission's probe centers on the Chabad community, advocates stress that the problems are not exclusive to the ultra-Orthodox or Jewish world. Prior to the testimony devoted to the Jewish community, the Royal Commission was investigating the Catholic Church and other institutions plagued with sexual abuse problems.

"Chabad is not unique," said Shmarya Rosenberg, a blogger who documents the abuse problems within the ultra-Orthodox community at Failed Messiah. "There's sex abuse everywhere—public schools, private schools, religious schools. Wherever you go this exists. The question is: what do you do to prevent it and what do you do to punish it?"

Still, while the Royal Commission is examining sexual abuse in a number of institutions, Waks has received criticism from fellow Jews who are fearful that the probe will spark anti-Semitism. It is well-documented that anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. Last month's attack on a kosher supermarket in France—which the U.S. State Department yesterday falsely claimed did not target Jews, before taking back that statement—and Germany's recent court decision that firebombing a synagogue is not considered anti-Semitic only make Jews understandably feel more threatened.

Waks empathizes with this concern, but refuses to cower to it.

"There are some people who think I'm doing the Jewish community a disservice. There are some people who think that airing the Jewish community's dirty laundry in public is something that needs to be stopped at any cost and feel that by doing so contributes to anti-Semitism," said Waks. "They feel to realize this issue could have been deal with quietly but no one did anything."

His unwillingness to back down has cost him stability and his personal homeland. Because of the backlash he faced for speaking out about sexual abuse, Waks and his family have decided to relocate to Europe, where they will remain for the foreseeable future. Waks feels his family is more secure there.

"At this stage, it's too difficult after the years of challenges we faced. I wouldn't want to put my wife and kids through it again," he said.

He says he was still hesitant to leave Australia.

"For me, personally, Melbourne is home."

Waks, however, is hopeful. While not a solution, the Royal Commission is hopefully "a catalyst for other changes," he said.

In fact, there has already been a noted shift in attitudes in the Australian Jewish community since the start of the Royal Commission's probe. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry released a statement denouncing Feldman's comments and his leadership last week:

"Yossi Feldman's statements are repugnant to Jewish values and to Judaism, which is centered on the sanctity and dignity of individual life, especially the life of a child. We believe his position as a religious leader has become untenable."

As of Wednesday, Feldman had officially resigned from his post as Director on the Board of Management at the Sydney Yeshivah Centre, a move that appears to be a direct response to his comments at the Royal Commission and the outrage they sparked.

"I apologize to anyone in the Rabbinate, the Jewish community and the wider Australian community who may have been embarrassed or ashamed by my views, words, understandings, recordings or emails about child sexual abuse or any other matter," stated Feldman's official resignation.

The change occurred so quickly following his Royal Commission testimony that it offers hope for concrete improvements in the reporting and response to child sex abuse in the Australian Jewish Community.

While Waks has personally paid for his advocacy, he believes speaking out has been a wakeup call that is finally starting to effect change, while providing the needed support for other victims. "No one stood up for us. The victims had not voice in this country. Thankfully, now I know many feel they do," Waks said. "The tide has changed."


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