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Friday, April 24, 2015

Gym and Yoga Studio in Brooklyn Cater to Hasidim 

On the top floor of a brownstone, a dozen women were getting ready for a yoga class at the Space, a fitness studio in Crown Heights. Each woman removed her wig and replaced it with a bright scarf in one swift, fluid movement.

This could be any yoga studio in Brooklyn: understated, with large bay windows (curtained at night to discourage onlookers), brick walls and wooden floors lined with yoga mats. Except here there’s no chanting, the sun salutations are slightly modified and are not spoken of as such, and the religious iconography is absent.

“Obviously, no Buddhas,” said Sarah Chanie Benarroch-Brafman, 30, who started the Space to cater to the women in her community, many of whom belong to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a Hasidic sect. Ultra-Orthodox women can’t exercise with men, so classes are for women only.

Most students live nearby, like Bassi Werde, 36, who has attended classes since the Space opened two years ago. “It feels like family,” she said after a yoga class on Sunday morning. Her children have taken gymnastics and ballet at Gymies Gym, a sister business for children, on the first floor of the brownstone, also owned by Mrs. Benarroch-Brafman. From the Space’s waiting room you can faintly hear the squeals of delight that often accompany the cartwheeling downstairs.

It started with Gymies. After testing classes with some of her nieces and nephews — she currently has 32 — Mrs. Benarroch-Brafman started Gymies nearly seven years ago. The gym filled a need she saw in the neighborhood: a place for Orthodox children to be active while respecting the laws of their religion. Among the Hasidim, school usually runs until 4 p.m., and religious studies play a prominent role, so there is not much time for athletics.

Few teachers are ultra-Orthodox themselves, so Mrs. Benarroch-Brafman supplies new instructors with a kind of sensitivity training, covering everything from pop culture — try to avoid any reference to it — to tznius, or modesty laws.

“Complementing tznius with positive body image talk,” Mrs. Benarroch-Brafman said, is crucial to counteracting a negative body image, which can be an issue among the Hasidim. “If I’m a 15-year-old girl and everybody’s telling me to cover up, I’m not hearing positive stuff about my body,” Mrs. Benarroch-Brafman said by way of example, adding, “We’re very conscious of using the right terms.”

Teachers have become adept at these adjustments. Kristin Dowdy, 23, a transplant from St. Louis, noticed the boys in her class struggling to hold their skullcaps on their heads while somersaulting. Problem easily solved, with bobby pins.

“We’ve done a lot of work on reshaping how people look at bodies and how they look at working out,” Mrs. Benarroch-Brafman said. And she now has so many students that she is looking for a bigger space. One family had eight of their nine children enrolled in classes, which cost around $19 a session.

Now many women do yoga upstairs while their children are in classes at Gymies. And a prenatal yoga class has recently been added to the schedule.

“I feel like a normal person,” Chana Milecki said after finishing her first prenatal yoga class. Mrs. Milecki, 33, was expecting her fourth child in a few weeks, which made it difficult to get to the class, but she was glad she had made the effort. “I needed this to happen,” she said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/26/nyregion/gym-and-yoga-studio-in-brooklyn-cater-to-hasidim.html?_r=0

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Orange County to hire consultant for EIS on proposed KJ land annexation 

The Rules Committee of the Orange County Legislature voted on Wednesday to appropriate $200,000 to hire a consulting firm to prepare an environmental impact statement and complete other analysis pertaining to the proposed annexation of 500 acres of land into the Village of Kiryas Joel.

County Executive Steven Neuhaus told the committee that the company selected to do the work will take a look at a number of issues.

“We need to run a parallel thing to make sure that we cover all the issues that are affected – infrastructure, roads, sewer, water, the amount of growth that goes on in that southern corridor,” Neuhaus said.  “Is it going to be all for one area? These are important issues that we are going to have to think about.”

The county planning department is also conducting an environmental impact study.

The annexation issue has been rather contentious as local Monroe area residents who oppose it say it will double the size of the Hasidic village.

http://www.midhudsonnews.com/News/2015/April/23/OC_KJ_EIS-23Apr15.html

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rabbis convicted of Sopranos-style New Jersey divorce kidnap plot 

Three Orthodox rabbis have been convicted for a Sopranos-style plot in which they planned the torture of Jewish men who refused to divorce their wives.

Rabbis Mendel Epstein, Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler were found guilty on one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping in a New Jersey federal court on Tuesday.

Rabbi Goldstein, 60, and Rabbi Stimler, 39, were also convicted on an additional charge of attempted kidnapping.

The rabbis were part of a gang accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars to torture men with electric cattle prods and screwdrivers for refusing to grant gets to their wives.

They were arrested in October 2013 after an undercover FBI operation in which an agent posed as an Orthodox woman.

The sting ended in a warehouse with two of the rabbis and six other men wearing ski masks, and carrying surgical blades and a 30-foot nylon rope.

Rabbi Stimler's lawyer, Nathan Lewin, said the verdict was "shocking" and said his client had been at the warehouse to witness the ceremonial signing of the get.

Aidan O'Connor, lawyer for 60-year-old Rabbi Goldstein, said: "I don't think this was a traditional kidnapping."

Robert Stahl, defending Rabbi Epstein, said his client "still firmly believes that he was protecting women's rights".

Rabbi Epstein's son, David Epstein, was cleared of kidnap on Tuesday.

He called his acquittal "bittersweet" following his father's conviction.

The rabbis, who plan to appeal, are due to be sentenced on July 15. They face life in prison.

In a Sopranos episode broadcast in 1999, mafia boss Tony Soprano becomes engaged in a row with Hasidic Jews over a man's refusal to give his wife a get.

http://www.thejc.com/news/world-news/134620/rabbis-convicted-sopranos-style-new-jersey-divorce-kidnap-plot

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New York Subway Use Rose in 2014, Especially in Growing Neighborhoods 

The number of people riding New York City’s subway system continued to rise last year, with some of the biggest jumps in ridership occurring in Brooklyn and Queens.

Millions of riders squeezed onto crowded trains to travel to work each day. And they also increasingly rode the subway at night and on weekends. Over all, the system handled 1.75 billion rides last year, an increase of 2.6 percent from 2013, according to statistics released by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Monday.

More riders are taking the subway outside the typical morning and evening rush periods, a trend the agency has seen for more than a decade, said Kevin Ortiz, a spokesman for the authority. Many customers are using the subway for fun, he said, to see plays or movies or for other activities.

“People are really ditching their cars in record numbers,” Mr. Ortiz said.

The subway system's base fare will rise to $2.75, from $2.50. More increases are expected.
Credit Yana Paskova for The New York Times
Crowds and Long Delays Fray Subway System and Riders’ NervesMARCH 19, 2015
Richard Barone, director of transportation programs for the Regional Plan Association, said some New Yorkers were commuting to offices less often and working more flexible hours.

“We’re seeing some different patterns than we used to see because people are not as chained to their desks as they used to be,” he said.

Some of the highest increases in ridership last year happened at stations in Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn and in Long Island City in Queens.

Mitchell L. Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University, said the new figures showed how central the subway system was to people’s lives.

“The subway is far more than just a method for getting to work,” he said. “It’s the way people organize their lives — where they shop, where they visit.”

Officials at the transportation authority have cited the city’s population growth, an improved economy and more reliable train service as the major reasons behind the increase. While celebrating the subway’s popularity, they have cautioned that the aging system is struggling to keep up with the growth. The subway often handles more than six million riders a day, officials said.

The authority’s chairman, Thomas F. Prendergast, said on Monday that the agency was working to combat delays, to improve maintenance and to install a more modern signal system on additional lines.

“The renaissance of the New York City subway is a miracle for those who remember the decrepit system of the 1970s and the 1980s, but moving more than six million customers a day means even minor disruptions now can create major delays,” Mr. Prendergast said in a statement.

At the Marcy Avenue station in Brooklyn on the J, M and Z lines, serving a rapidly developing area in South Williamsburg with a mix of young newcomers and Hasidic Jews, ridership grew by 23 percent last year on weekdays. On the L line in Brooklyn, the number of riders increased by nearly 5 percent on weekdays, with the biggest bump at stations on the eastern part of the line.

In the Bronx, more riders took the 2 and 5 lines in the southern and northeastern parts of the borough. In Lower Manhattan, more riders are using the Bowling Green station on the 4 and 5 lines and the Bowery station on the J and Z lines.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“These are terrific indications of the neighborhoods that are thriving,” Mr. Moss said. “These are the places where the growth is the greatest.”

The authority has proposed a $32 billion five-year capital plan to pay for many of the improvements the system needs, but it has a $15 billion funding gap. On Monday, transit advocates again called on state and city lawmakers to help pay for the plan.

Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for the Straphangers Campaign, an advocacy group, said that several factors had contributed to increased ridership, including the creation of the unlimited-ride MetroCard, which encourages people to use the system more, and a major drop in crime on the subways since the 1990s that made riders feel safer.

“Whether it’s a hipster going clubbing along the L line,” he said, “or tourists from Texas trying a new budget hotel in Queens, we welcome you — and demand that transit officials take action to make our commuting lives bearable.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/21/nyregion/new-york-subway-use-rose-in-2014-especially-in-growing-neighborhoods.html?_r=0

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Lakewood residents upset over loss of Kosher ShopRite 

When the ShopRite of Lakewood closes Tuesday and moves 2.5 miles to Howell, the Kosher Experience will not be joining it.

"I'm devastated," said Esther Ottensoser of Lakewood, a loyal ShopRite customer who enjoyed the selection of kosher food. "I'm not happy about this."

The Kosher Experience is the store's name for their deli and butcher section. Kosher refers to certain types of foods that meet the standards of Jewish dietary laws, known as kashrut. In order for meat to be kosher, it must be slaughtered by a shochet, who received special training for butchering and inspecting meat.

The new ShopRite of Howell contains an extended kosher department featuring a larger offering of products, according to Santina Stankevich, a spokesperson for ShopRite. The store also accommodates customers with a separate kosher frozen case. However, the new 90,000-square-foot store will not have a kosher deli or butcher department, she said.

The new ShopRite opted not to offer the Kosher Experience because it was "just a business decision," Stankevich said.

"The nearby ShopRite of Neptune, which features a full Kosher Experience department, will offer ShopRite from Home to Lakewood area customers," Stankevich said. "Between the two locations, the needs of Lakewood customers can still be met."

Shoprite from Home allows customers to order their groceries online with the option to receive delivery.

Neptune of ShopRite is approximately 15 miles away from the ShopRite of Lakewood location. The ShopRite of Marlboro, approximately 17 miles away, contains a Kosher Experience, but lacks the ShopRite from Home option. The Jewish population in Lakewood is estimated to be 60,000 of the 100,000 residents. Marlboro has about 40,000 people, with an unknown number of Jewish residents.

Mayer Bender, a loyal shopper in Lakewood, noted that while a lot of people from the community purchase products from ShopRite, he believes that they are not bringing in enough business when it comes to kosher food.

"I guess the community is not big enough," Bender said. "Truth is, there are lot of grocery stores, maybe ShopRite feels it is not worth it for them. Maybe they feel they can't compete with the competition in the Kosher Experience."

Many Lakewood residents visited their ShopRite one final time during the last week before it closes.

"Pretty sad that ShopRite is moving," said Lakewood shopper Baruch Abitan. "It was a very good store. It helped us out a lot."

The grand opening for ShopRite of Howell, located in the Friendship Plaza at 4594 Route 9 South, is slated for Wednesday.

Kosher supermarket Gourmet Glatt is expected to move into the vacant spot created by the Lakewood of ShopRite. No opening date has been set.

Shoppers in Howell will also face a higher sales tax on taxable items. Lakewood, which is an Urban Enterprise Zone, had a sales tax of 3.5 percent, half of the state sales tax. The normal sales tax of 7 percent will be charged at the new Howell ShopRite.

http://www.app.com/story/news/local/jackson-lakewood/lakewood/2015/04/20/lakewood-shoprite-moves-howell-loses-kosher-deli/26096461/

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Professor presenting lecture on Kiryas Joel 

History professor Richard Hull will speak at SUNY Orange Tuesday night in the latest of a series of lectures he has given on Kiryas Joel and its Satmar Hasidic population, tracing the movement from its origins in Eastern Europe centuries ago to its place in contemporary Orange County.

His talk, titled "The Satmar of Kiryas Joel: An Historical and Cultural Perspective," will take place at 7 p.m. in the large conference auditorium at the Rowley Center for Science & Engineering in Middletown. It will be the fifth such talk Hull has given, following speeches in Warwick, Cornwall, Woodbury and Monroe.

Hull, a longtime Warwick resident and author of the book "Jews and Judaism in African History," has embarked on his lecture series to promote greater understanding of the history and culture of an insular but rapidly growing community, one whose growth has put it in conflict with neighboring communities. He talks about the formation of Hasidic enclaves in Europe in the 1700s, the migration of the Satmar Hasidim to New York City after the Holocaust and then to Orange County in the 1970s, and some of the political rifts Kiryas Joel has since been involved in - up through the present debate over its potential expansion.

http://www.recordonline.com/article/20150418/NEWS/150419321/101019/rss02

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Rockland's rising tensions and anti-Semitism 

Let's be clear off the top: It is not O.K. to denigrate Rockland County's Hasidic and other Orthodox Jewish communities because of frustrations over ongoing political and social conflicts.

No matter the tensions, it's wrong to belittle observant Jews (or anyone) for their way of life, their appearance or their family structure. It is not acceptable to broad-brush them as deceitful, conniving, corrupt or worse, or to loosely refer to Jews or Jewishness in connection with questionable behavior or tactics.

It's 2015. Everyone should know that these things are wrong. And almost everyone does.

Denial of anti-Semitism's existence feigns ignorance. Worldwide, nasty hatred still lurks. Locally, vandalism, like that found last week in Upper Nyack, can still strike an anti-Semitic chord.

But blaming all tensions on deep-seated religious and cultural hate eschews the complexities of co-existence in Rockland's diverse communities, which struggle with limited resources.

http://www.lohud.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/04/18/anti-semitism-politics-rockland-east-ramapo-orthodox-school-funding/26014469/

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Friday, April 17, 2015

‘Kosher’ light switch sparks a religious debate 

It promises a revolutionary innovation that could transform Jewish Sabbath observance.

By changing the way a light switch works, the patented Kosher Switch offers a novel — and, its backers say, kosher — way to turn light switches (and, perhaps, other electrical appliances) on and off during Shabbat, circumventing one of the Sabbath's central restrictions: the use of electricity.

In just three days, the product's backers have raised more than $45,000 toward a $50,000 fundraising goal on Indiegogo, the crowdsourced fundraising website, to start manufacturing the device.

Menashe Kalati, the device's inventor, calls it a "long overdue, techno-halachic breakthrough." (Halachah refers to traditional Jewish law.)

But critics say the Kosher Switch isn't really kosher for Shabbat at all – and that Kalati is misrepresenting rabbinic opinions on the matter to give the false impression that he has their endorsements.

At issue is whether the device's permissibility for Shabbat relies on a Jewish legal loophole that applies only to extraordinary circumstances like medical or security needs. The loophole, known as a "gramma," allows for indirect activation of electronic devices on Shabbat.

How does gramma work? If, for example, a non-life-threatening field fire is burning on Shabbat, jugs full of water may be placed around the fire to indirectly cause its eventual extinguishing. Dowsing the fire directly — a Sabbath prohibition — is permitted only in life-threatening circumstances.

Kalati, 43, says his switch does not rely on the gramma loophole. When the switch is in the off position, a piece of plastic blocks an electronic light pulse that when received turns on the light. Turning the switch on moves the piece of plastic, which is not connected to anything electrical, so that it no longer obstructs the pulse. Because the light pulse is subject to a "random degree of uncertainty" and won't instantaneously kindle the light when in Sabbath mode, it is kosher for use on Shabbat, according to the video.

This "adds several layers of Halachic uncertainty, randomness, and delays, such that according to Jewish law, a user's action is not considered to have caused a given reaction," the company says on its website. (Kalati's office did not respond to phone calls or emails from JTA).

In the Indiegogo video, Kalati says his team has spent years on research and development, during which "we've been privileged to meet with Torah giants who have analyzed, endorsed and blessed our technology and endeavors."

But Yisrael Rosen, head of the Zomet Institute, the leading designer of electronic devices for use on the Jewish Sabbath, says the Kosher Switch is unfit for Sabbath use.

"Today, Israeli media reported the invention of an electric 'Kosher switch' for Shabbat, with the approval of various rabbis. This item was recycled from 2010 and already then denials and renunciation by great rabbinic authorities were published regarding everyday use for this product," Rosen wrote Tuesday on Zomet's website. "No Orthodox rabbi, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, has permitted this 'Gramma' method for pure convenience."

Rosen appended a letter from Rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, the first rabbi whose endorsement appears in the Kosher Switch video — in a one-second pull quote reading "I, too, humbly agree to the invention" — suggesting that his endorsement was misrepresented.

"To allow one a priori to turn on electricity on Shabbat — impossible, and I never considered permitting except for the needs of a sick person or security," reads the letter, which bears Neuwirth's signature and letterhead and is addressed to the manager of Kosher Switch. "And please publicize this thing so no [Sabbath] violation will be prompted by me."

The son of another rabbi whose endorsement appears in the video, Rabbi Noach Oelbaum (who says it does not violate the prohibition on Sabbath-day labor), told JTA that his father's position was distorted.

"I regret that my father's position on kosher switch was misrepresented by stating that he endorses it l'maaseh," the son, Moshe Oelbaum, wrote in a statement, using the Jewish term for "regular use."

Oelbaum said his father's true position is that while the switch does not involve a technical violation of the Sabbath prohibition against labor (which forbids electricity use), it is a desecration of the Sabbath spirit. Oelbaum advises consumers to consult their own rabbis on the question of whether or not they may use it on Shabbat.

Kosher Switch is hardly the first technological innovation devised to ease Sabbath observance. For decades, Sabbath-observant Jews have used electronic timers set before Friday night to control lights and appliances like air conditioners or hot plates. Multistory buildings throughout Israel and some in the United States have Shabbat elevators that can run on autopilot. In 2004, Canadian rabbi and entrepreneur Shmuel Veffer invented a bedside-style lamp called Kosher Lamp that could be "turned off" by twisting a cylinder encasing a lit bulb so that the bulb was completely concealed.

The Zomet Institute, located in the Jerusalem suburb of Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, has invented baby sensors, sump pump gadgets, hot water heater contraptions, and special switches that modify wheelchairs, hospital beds, electronic scooters and staircase elevators for use on Shabbat. However, many of these devices rely on the gramma loophole and are permitted only for medical or security use.

Many observant Jews also rely upon non-Jews for help circumventing Sabbath restrictions, though such requests for help are forbidden from being expressed explicitly. The Kosher Switch video parodies this problem of using "Shabbos goys" [non-Jews] with a staged scene in which a bearded Orthodox Jewish man wearing a black hat stands on the steps outside his house and flags down a young black woman passing by. They have this exchange:

Man: "Excuse me, ma'am? Hi. I need a big favor. My bedroom – the lights are on, so I was wondering if maybe you could come up to my bedroom and …"

Woman (in a West Indian accent): "Are you crazy!? I ain't coming up to your bedroom!"

Man (nodding suggestively toward his open door): "Yeah but, the lights are on …"

Woman (walking away): "You're crazy."

Rabbi Mordechai Hecht, a Chabad rabbi from Queens, New York, who appears in the Kosher Switch video saying "I was mesmerized to be blessed to see such an invention in my lifetime," says the controversy surrounding its permissibility isn't simply a fight over Jewish law.

"There's politics in halachah," he said. "The conversations they have are often money-related. Everyone has an agenda."

Hecht said he cannot endorse or reject the product because he is not a halachic authority.

"Is there one way in halachah? Of course not. That's why the sages say, 'Make yourself a rabbi,'" Hecht said. "I think the rabbis need to be brave. A conversation needs to be had, and maybe this is a good place to have it. If there's really a halachic issue, let's talk about it. This is an amazing invention. The question is, can it enhance the Shabbos?"


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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Controversy Over $13 Million Sale Of Lower East Side Sages Of Israel Synagogue 

Congregants who worship at the Ger Hasidic sect's synagogue "Sages of Israel" located in Manhattan's Lower East Side are furious over the impending sale of their building. Now the US attorney's office is getting involved.

The building, located at 25 Bialystoker Place, is set to be sold to investor Peter Fine for $13 million. But the congregants will not get the money for their community. $10 million of the sale price is set to go to the Ger community in Israel. The self-proclaimed leader of the Ger sect, Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, will take the other $3 million.

He has opened a new synagogue in a private house in queens.

The problem for Ashkenazi is that since the synagogue is a non-profit a court must sign off its sale. The sale price is well below market value for the area which set off a lot of red flags.

The lawyer representing the congregants who wish to stop the sale, David Jaroslawicz, told the New York Post, "This is a money grab and its offensive. The synagogue allegedly had a member meeting to pass this deal — even though the 'members' were people from Queens who had never stepped foot in the synagogue to worship there."

Rabbi Aschkenazi also earned hundreds of thousands of Dollars from a charitable trust run by his late son which was supposed to take care of elderly rabbis. But his son was arrested and sued by New York State for fraud in relation to that charity and died before he could be prosecuted.

Now here's where things get complicated. Rabbi Ashkenazi has also been accused by Jaroslawicz of using funds from the sale to in effect pay himself $45,000 a year to lease space in his Queens home to the congregation. Apparently, Ashkenazi's wife was the one who signed the new lease with the synagogue.

In another strange twist the judge, Arthur Engoron, who was set to preside over the preliminary court hearing in New York yesterday, recused himself from the case without saying why.

Now the New York Observer says that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is handling the prosecution of former NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, has decided to investigate the sale of the building.

And the New York Post has also reported that Peter Fine is also in contract to a parcel of land adjacent to "Sages of Israel" and air rights from the neighboring Bialystoker Synagogue.


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Teen Arrested in Groping of 11-Year-Old Brooklyn Boy: Police 

Police say they've arrested a teen who was captured on surveillance video groping an 11-year-old boy waiting for the bus in Brooklyn Sunday morning.

Brian Montes, 16, is charged with attempting to lure a child, forcible touching, endangering the welfare of a child, sex abuse and stalking, according to police.

The boy was waiting in front of 551 Flushing Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant at about 9:30 a.m. when Montes approached him from behind and touched him in the groin, police say.

The boy ran down the block crying until he found a school bus driver he recognized, according to neighbors in the tight-knit Hasidic community, who did not want to speak on camera.

The two of them drove back to Flushing Avenue and spotted the suspect, who then ran into the Marcy Houses development and disappeared.

Another neighbor, Leah Mezei, told NBC 4 New York: "It's very uncomfortable for the community. We are very safe and we take care of our kids, so we hope he will be off the streets as soon as possible."

It was not immediately clear if Montes, who is being charged as an adult, had an attorney.


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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Driver sentenced to life term for killing Hasidic couple 

The driver of a car in an accident that killed a young Hasidic couple in Brooklyn was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Julio Acevedo, 46, was sentenced Monday in New York State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

He was convicted in February of two counts of second-degree manslaughter, one count of criminally negligent homicide and two counts of leaving the scene of an incident without reporting.

Acevedo was speeding through the streets of the New York borough’s Williamsburg section at nearly 70 miles per hour when his BMW plowed into a livery cab that was transporting Nachman and Raizy Glauber, both 21, to the hospital early on March 3, according to reports.

Raizy Glauber was pregnant with the couple’s first child, which briefly survived an emergency C-section. The Glaubers were killed instantly.

Acevedo fled the scene of the accident and was apprehended several days later in Pennsylvania.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/driver-sentenced-to-life-term-for-killing-hasidic-couple/

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mamakating, Bloomingburg officials file racketeering lawsuit against developer 

The town of Mamakating and village of Bloomingburg have filed a lawsuit under a federal racketeering law against developer Shalom Lamm alleging, among other charges, corruption, bribery and mail fraud, according to a spokesperson for the town.

The lawsuit ranges over a number of years, according to Samantha Friedman, including "false claims" made by Lamm and his supporters that the communities' opposition to his Chestnut Ridge housing complex is the result of anti-Semitism. The 396-unit complex has been marketed to Hasidic Jews.

The federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations law, known as RICO, has been used primarily over the years to combat organized crime syndicates. The suit was filed Tuesday, Friedman said, in U. S. Southern District Court in White Plains.


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Lawyer protests town's hiring of PR firm 

The town board is paying a Washington, D.C. public relations firm $25,000 to handle questions surrounding the controversial Chestnut Ridge housing complex and local lawyer Gary Greenwald is challenging the move.

In an exchange of letters with town supervisor Bill Herrmann, Greenwald, a Mamakating resident, called the unanimous decision a month ago by the town board to hire West End Strategy Team a waste of money. Greenwald said was improperly approved without prior public notice or a public hearing.

"It makes no sense to me," Greenwald said Monday. "It's absolutely unprecedented."

Greenwald complained about the hiring in a letter to Herrmann, questioning why it was necessary "to hire a press agent and what specific job is expected to be performed so that the community can comment on it."
In a written response to Greenwald, Herrmann said a public relations expense was not subject to bid but was rather "a one-time expense recommended by our attorneys as part of a legal support strategy."

Herrmann also said no public hearing was required, while noting the resolution was passed unanimously.
The town hired the firm, Herrmann said in the letter because a "certain plaintiff" and their associates "regularly make statements that the town's conduct is motivated by anti-Semitic animus and has publicized those false claims in the media."

The town and village of Bloomingburg has been sued in federal court by supporters of developer Shalom Lamm's attempt to build the 396-unit Chestnut Ridge housing complex. The project has been marketed to Hasidic Jews. The suit alleges the town and the village's opposition to the development has been motivated by anti-Semitic bias, a charge the communities have strongly denied.

Greenwald subsequently wrote back to Herrmann, saying that most of his letter was "simply puff."

"More to the point," he wrote, "what are these individuals going to do with you on the town board that you cannot do, and, secondly, why can't you do it?"

The website for West End Strategy Team describes itself as understanding "what our clients want to achieve and we create strategies to produce results that matter."

The firm accomplishes these results, through "our strong ties to journalists and our knowledge of the media landscape."

The firm's clients include Amnesty International, the American Council for World Jewry and Physicians for Human Rights.

Herrmann did not return several requests for comment on Monday. But Samantha Friedman, a managing director of the PR firm, did.

Friedman said Monday she was not a spokesperson. She was, instead, "helping them."

"We are not the story. It's about a way of finding ways to communicate a town transformed by others."

She forwarded two prepared comments attributed to Herrmann which repeated his arguments to Greenwald.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

Man couldn’t report jewelry theft for days because of Passover: cops 

An Uber driver stole $5,000 worth of jewelry left behind in his car by an Orthodox Jewish man — who couldn't report the theft for days because it took place just before sundown on Passover, cops said.

The victim forgot the jewelry bag in the Uber car on April 3 but waited until after the holy day on the morning of April 6 to report the incident, according to JP Updates, which first reported the the story.

By that time, driver Juan Morales, 51, had already sold the items — including a bracelet and pin worth $2,500 apiece — to a pawn shop, police sources said.

According to an Uber spokesman, the company did not receive a complaint about the incident, but the driver was removed from service.

"Immediately upon learning what happened, the driver was removed from the platform," said Lane Kasselman, Uber head of communications for North America. "This is an unfortunate incident and we are gratified that the authorities were able to quickly apprehend the suspect. We stand ready to assist them in any investigation."

Morales was charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property, cops said.


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Feds dismiss one kidnapping count in Lakewood rabbi conspiracy trial 

Federal prosecutors in the conspiracy and kidnapping trial of a Lakewood rabbi on Monday dismissed one of the charges in a case alleging the religious leader arranged for Orthodox Jewish husbands to be held and tortured until they gave their wives religious divorces.

The announcement came hours before federal prosecutors were set to deliver closing arguments in a two-month long trial in which the government claims three rabbis and the son of one of them distorted Jewish law for their financial gain.

The dismissal of the single charge still leaves jurors to consider four other counts in the indictment against Rabbi Mendel Epstein, his son David "Ari" Epstein, and rabbis Jay Goldstein and Binyamin Stimler.

The government dismissed the charge pertaining to Usher Chaimowitz, a Brooklyn man whose roommate testified they were ambushed, bound and beaten on Aug. 22, 2011, until Chaimowitz agreed to give his wife a religious divorce, known as a get.

David Epstein's attorney had sought dismissal of that charge after he presented witness testimony, phone records and photographs of his client on a business trip in Ohio when that incident occurred.

That charge also pertained to Stimler and Goldstein, who both live in Brooklyn, but was dismissed against them as well because the charge was based on a federal law requiring suspects to cross state lines to commit a crime. David Epstein, who lives in New Jersey, is the only one of the three who would have had to travel to another state to commit the Chaimowitz beating.

All four men are charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping between 2009 and 2013 and with attempting to kidnap a husband who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent in a federal sting in October 2013.

David Epstein is charged with participating in the beatings of two men in Lakewood on Dec. 1, 2009, and Oct. 17, 2010.


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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Kosher Deli in Copenhagen Vandalized With 'Jewish Pigs' Graffiti 

A Jewish deli and kosher supermarket in Copenhagen was vandalized.

A window of the store was smashed and anti-Semitic epithets were scrawled on the wall, including “Jewish pigs,” The Local reported, citing the Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

The attack, which was discovered on Thursday at Slagter & Delikatesse, comes less than two months after a terror attack on a Copenhagen synagogue during a bat mitzvah celebration left a Jewish volunteer security guard dead.

The deli had been protected by a guard during business hours, in the wake of the synagogue attack, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“All vandalism is serious, but it is obvious that when it comes to this particular location, there will be an extra focus on it,” police investigator Kenneth Jensen told Berlingske.

Also on Thursday, Denmark marked the 75th anniversary of the German invasion of the country, flying its flag at half-mast in front of the Danish Parliament.

http://forward.com/articles/218447/kosher-deli-in-copenhagen-vandalized-with-jewish-p/

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let’s keep all our kids safe 

All children deserve to be safe at school.

Yet it turns out that New York City does not provide kids who attend private schools with the same level of protection as those at public schools. That’s not only unfair, it’s unsafe. And it ought to change.

As matters stand, only public schools in the city are eligible for NYPD school-safety agents. Private schools must provide security officers on their own dime.

And while child-safety is an issue no decent school would ignore, the fact is many private schools struggle to cover the costs of adequate security — and sometimes the safety of their students suffers.
Surely no one disputes the need for comprehensive measures to guard against threats, especially in the post-9/11 world. The tragic massacre a few months ago at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a bitter reminder that violence can erupt at any time in any place.

In America, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that more than 1 million non-fatal criminal acts took place on school grounds in 2012 alone, including 749,200 violent incidents. This does not include the many school shootings in the two years since the horrific massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Along with ensuring children’s physical well-being, adequate security is also vital for their mental and academic development. Children need to feel they are in a safe environment to thrive at school.

The most effective security: on-site personnel whose sole responsibility is safety. Here in New York, the city pays to place uniformed NYPD school-safety agents at the entrances of all public schools.
These safety agents provide an important physical presence and act as a deterrent to would-be trouble-makers. Unfortunately, no such provision exists for the city’s non-public schools.

Yet private schools often do not have the funds to hire private guards on their own. The tragic truth is that, right now, most private schools have far too few guards on duty — and many have none at all.
Having the city provide safety personnel isn’t just the right thing, it’s the fair thing. After all, the city covers busing costs for private-school kids and, along with the state, helps with the financing of other school-related expenses, too, like library books, nurses and extracurricular programs.

That’s because it would have to pay these costs if the kids went to public schools, and they are not religion-based. But why leave out something as important as school security officers?

There’s good news: Officials have begun to listen. City Councilman David Greenfield’s bill, Intro 65, would require the NYPD to provide all schools — public or private, religious or secular — access to school-safety agents at the city’s expense. It now has support from 46 of the 51 council members, guaranteeing it a hearing; one is slated for Tuesday.

Even staunch foes of funds for private schools should agree the safety of all children is paramount. A student’s life does not have less value merely because he or she attends a private school. And ensuring safety is a public responsibility — with a cost that should be shared by the community.

We urge the city to pass Councilman Greenfield’s bill. We seek parity, because private-school students’ lives matter, too.

http://nypost.com/2015/04/09/lets-keep-all-our-kids-safe/

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Thursday, April 09, 2015

Many Jewish-owned businesses believed among victims of massive London jewelry heist 

Dozens of Jewish-owned businesses are likely to be among the victims of the audacious safety deposit box heist in London's Hatton Garden district over the Bank Holiday weekend, the Jewish Chronicle reports.

Up to £200 million (1.16 billion shekels) worth of diamonds and jewelry may have been stolen when thieves ransacked some 300 safety deposit boxes on the premises of Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd, according to Scotland Yard.

It is believed that the thieves entered the building from the roof, abseiling down the lift shaft before drilling through the wall next to the vault door using heavy equipment.

They may also have set the simultaneous underground fire in Holborn train station, which could have disrupted power to the vault and disabled the security system, according to John O'Connor, former head of Scotland Yard's Flying Squad, the Independent reported.

Hatton Gardens is London's premier diamond district. Diamond mounter Michael Lynton, 66, told the Jewish Chronicle last year that he estimated that 70 per cent of the area's traders are Jewish.

"Everyone knows everyone," he said. "We give our word on deals. You stick by your word. If you don't, you're not considered a gentleman. If we had a load of paperwork there would be complete chaos."

Today, in addition to its jewelry shops, the area boasts more than 300 ancillary enterprises ranging from one-man artisan businesses to companies employing between 10 and 20 people.

Many of them were customers of Hatton Garden Safe Deposit Ltd and this week they will be waiting in trepidation to find out if they are among the victims of the Easter weekend heist.

The Guardian reported on Thursday morning that police had begun informing the owners of the ransacked safety deposit boxes.

"A lot of Jews will probably be affected by this – many local businesses keep deposit boxes there," a local trader, identified only as Shauli, told the Jewish Chronicle.

"There are many Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Hasidic guys who work there, too," Shauli said ."I believe there are around 50 or 60 Jewish businesses there."

Hatton Garden's association with gold and diamond-dealing was established at the end of the 19th century, when the South African mining giant De Beers picked London as its sales base.

It was an industry that soon grew to be dominated by Jewish refugees, who arrived in Britain after fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe and later the Nazis.

Formally or informally excluded from other trades and professions many Jewish people gravitated towards the world of gems and precious metals.

Fears of a rise in anti-Semitism also made it an attractive sector.

As one Hatton Garden veteran once put it: "When you're persecuted you need something you can carry. You can't carry a house in your pocket."


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Aboard Flights, Conflicts Over Seat Assignments and Religion 

Francesca Hogi, 40, had settled into her aisle seat for the flight from New York to London when the man assigned to the adjoining window seat arrived and refused to sit down. He said his religion prevented him from sitting beside a woman who was not his wife. Irritated but eager to get underway, she eventually agreed to move.

Laura Heywood, 42, had a similar experience while traveling from San Diego to London via New York. She was in a middle seat — her husband had the aisle — when the man with the window seat in the same row asked if the couple would switch positions. Ms. Heywood, offended by the notion that her sex made her an unacceptable seatmate, refused.

"I wasn't rude, but I found the reason to be sexist, so I was direct," she said.

A growing number of airline passengers, particularly on trips between the United States and Israel, are now sharing stories of conflicts between ultra-Orthodox Jewish men trying to follow their faith and women just hoping to sit down. Several flights from New York to Israel over the last year have been delayed or disrupted over the issue, and with social media spreading outrage and debate, the disputes have spawned a protest initiative, an online petition and a spoof safety video from a Jewish magazine suggesting a full-body safety vest ("Yes, it's kosher!") to protect ultra-Orthodox men from women seated next to them on airplanes.

Some passengers say they have found the seat-change requests simply surprising or confusing. But in many cases, the issue has exposed and amplified tensions between different strains of Judaism.

Jeremy Newberger, a 41-year-old documentary filmmaker who witnessed an episode on a Delta flight from New York to Israel, was among several Jewish passengers who were offended.

"I grew up Conservative, and I'm sympathetic to Orthodox Jews," he said. "But this Hasid came on, looking very uncomfortable, and wouldn't even talk to the woman, and there was five to eight minutes of 'What's going to happen?' before the woman acquiesced and said, 'I'll move.' It felt like he was being a yutz."

Representatives of the ultra-Orthodox insist that the behavior is anomalous and rare. "I think that the phenomenon is nowhere near as prevalent as some media reports have made it seem," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, which represents the ultra-Orthodox community. Rabbi Shafran noted that despite religious laws that prohibit physical contact between Jewish men and women who are not their wives, many ultra-Orthodox men follow the guidance of an eminent Orthodox scholar, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who counseled that it was acceptable for a Jewish man to sit next to a woman on a subway or bus so long as there was no intention to seek sexual pleasure from any incidental contact.

"The haredi men I know," Rabbi Shafran said, using the Hebrew word for the ultra-Orthodox, "have no objection to sitting next to a woman on any flight."

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
But multiple travelers, scholars and the airlines themselves say the phenomenon is real. The number of episodes appears to be increasing as ultra-Orthodox communities grow in number and confidence, but also as other passengers, for reasons of comfort as well as politics, push back.

"It's very common," said Rabbi Yehudah Mirsky, an associate professor of Judaic studies at Brandeis University. "Multiculturalism creates a moral language where a group can say, 'You have to respect my values.'"

Anat Hoffman, the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which has started a campaign urging women not to give up their seats, said, "I have 100 stories."

And Rabbi Ysoscher Katz, a Modern Orthodox Talmud scholar who grew up in the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, said, "When I was still part of that community, and on the more conservative side, I would make every effort I could not to sit next to a woman on the plane, because of a fear that you might touch a woman by accident."

Airlines, and flight attendants, are often caught in the middle. Morgan Durrant, a Delta Air Lines spokesman, acknowledged the phenomenon, saying: "This is a dynamic of some customers who utilize our service. We're aware of it, and we do what we can to get ahead of it prior to boarding."

Other airlines had little to say about the situation, other than to agree that a variety of passengers make a variety of requests when traveling, and that carriers try to accommodate them.

It is not an entirely new issue; some ultra-Orthodox travelers have tried to avoid mixed-sex seating for years. But now the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population is growing rapidly because of high birthrates. Ultra-Orthodox men and their families now make up a larger share of airline travelers to Israel and other locations, and they are exerting their economic influence more often, making their views more widely known in response to what they see as the sexualization of society.

The issues on airplanes echo controversies over efforts to separate men and women on buses and streets, as well as to remove women from some news photographs.

"The ultra-Orthodox have increasingly seen gender separation as a kind of litmus test of Orthodoxy — it wasn't always that way, but it has become that way," said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College. "There is an ongoing culture war between these people and the rest of the modern world, and because the modern world has increasingly sought to become gender neutral, that has added to the desire to say, 'We're not like that.'"

Some passengers are sympathetic. Hamilton Morris, a 27-year-old journalist from Brooklyn, said he agreed to give up his seat on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Newark via Chicago because it seemed like the considerate thing to do.

"There was a Hasidic Jew sitting across the aisle, between two women, and a stewardess approached me and quietly asked if I would be willing to exchange seats because the Hasidic Jew was uncomfortable sitting between two women," he said. "I was fine with that. Everyone was trying to be accommodating because on airplanes everyone is anxious about offending anyone for religious reasons."

And yet Ms. Heywood, a paralegal from Chula Vista, Calif., said she declined to give up her seat for reasons of both politics and seat preference — her husband finds flying less stressful in aisle seats. "I wasn't going to put his comfort for no good reason above my husband's," she said.

Other passengers, like Andrew Roffe, a 31-year-old writer based in Los Angeles, said he and a friend wound up debating the ethics of the situation after Mr. Roffe described his experience on a United Airlines flight to Chicago. When they started to board, he said, an ultra-Orthodox man stood in the aisle, refusing to move and delaying the departure for 15 to 20 minutes until another passenger volunteered to switch seats.

"My buddy who is Orthodox was saying this is a traditional thing — he doesn't want to be tempted when his wife wasn't there. And I said, 'Are you kidding?' This was just some woman flying to work or home and minding her own business."


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Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Second Israeli trampled at rabbi’s funeral succumbs to wounds 

An 18-year-old man who was critically wounded earlier this week in a stampede that erupted at the funeral of a prominent Hasidic rabbi in Bnei Brak died of his injuries on Wednesday morning.

He was the second person to have died as a result of the chaos at Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner's funeral before dawn on Sunday, as tens of thousands of people crowded into the procession toward the Hazon Ish Cemetery in Bnei Brak.

Motti Gerber, a 27-year-old resident of Elad, succumbed to his wounds on Sunday morning. More than a hundred people were treated by Magen David Adom paramedics over the course of the night. Four, including the 18-year-old, were hospitalized.

Only a limited number of people were initially allowed to enter the yeshiva building where the procession left from, but there was massive overcrowding at the entrance. One of the participants tripped and several others fell with him and were trampled by the large crowd. At about 1:30 A.M. paramedics were summoned to the scene.

The other two who were injured included a 14-year-old boy and a 36-year-old man with serious head injuries.

The commander of the Tel Aviv District Police, Bentzi Sau, has ordered an investigation of the events of the funeral and the conduct of the organizers, on suspicion of negligence. Sau has transferred the investigation to the district fraud unit in order to avoid a conflict of interest and to enable an examination of the conduct of the police as well. The Dan Region police said that they prepared for the funeral as well as possible together with the organizers, within the limited time frame at their disposal.

http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/1.650959

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Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Rockland official questions employee's Facebook page 

The Rockland County Legislature's chairman is questioning whether James Foley's role as administrator of the "Block the Block Vote" Facebook page comes into conflict with his job as a social worker for the county's Mental Health Department.

Foley, whose page primarily advocates against what it says is "undue political influence" by the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, told The Journal News he's been a social worker for the county for more than 17 years.

Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe, D-Suffern, said Monday he has concerns over whether the strong point of view displayed on Foley's Facebook page could affect his job.

"It's clear from the content of the page that he has some measure of hostility toward the Orthodox community in Rockland County," Wolfe said. "I question whether he's able to provide objective service to members of this community who he might encounter in his daily work."

Wolfe added that he was also concerned whether Foley has been engaged in the social media activities during work hours.

Foley's Facebook page, which had 9,546 "likes" as of Monday, became embroiled in controversy when the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council posted a video, "The Jew in Rockland," on YouTube, taking particular aim at the page. The video compared rising anti-Semitism in the county with that in Nazi Germany, citing derogatory comments against Orthodox and Hasidic Jews found on the Facebook page.

The video, which had 25,317 views as of Monday afternoon, angered Holocaust survivors and their relatives who thought the video's use of Holocaust imagery was disrespectful to those who were killed in the genocide.

Since the video went viral, Foley has updated his page to emphasize that it's a "political effort" against "bloc voting."

As a county employee, Foley said, he has been careful not to appear that he is representing the county in any way, noting that his Facebook activities are limited to his private time, using his own devices.

"I do it on my own time. I have a friend who posts for me," Foley said, adding that he also uses a scheduling function on Facebook to manage advance posts.

"When I signed up for this job, I didn't give up any of my rights to democracy. I didn't give up my free speech. I didn't give up my rights to participate," Foley said. "I don't feel I have less rights than anybody else in terms of opening my mouth."

At work, he doesn't talk about his Facebook page, he added.

"I help people. I'm a social worker. I'm a therapist. I help people who come out of prison. I help people to stay out of trouble. I help people who nobody wants to talk to," he said.

Wolfe said he expects County Executive Ed Day to take appropriate steps to make sure county employees are performing their duties properly.

But civil service law prohibits the county from limiting its employees' speech outside of working hours unless it "substantially interferes with the operation of government or delivery of services," said Scott Salotto, Day's spokesman.

"That hasn't been determined in this case here," Salotto said. "If somebody is doing this during work hours, that's problematic. If it's done outside of the work hours, ... you can maintain blogs, or you can maintain Facebook pages related to your hobbies or political affiliation. ... It has nothing to do with your government position."


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Monday, April 06, 2015

Mourner trampled to death at funeral of prominent Bnei Brak rabbi 

One man was trampled to death and four others were wounded before dawn on Sunday in Bnei Brak amid the hordes of mourners gathered at the funeral of prominent Hasidic Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Wosner.

More than a hundred people were treated by Magen David Adom paramedics over the course of the night.

Motti Gerber, a 27-year-old resident of Elad, was killed as tens of thousands of people crowded into the funeral procession to the Hazon Ish Cemetery in Bnei Brak. Only a limited number of people were initially allowed to enter the yeshiva building, but there was massive overcrowding at the entrance. One of the participants tripped and several others fell with him and were trampled by the large crowd. At about 1:30 A.M. paramedics were summoned to the scene.

Gerber, who initially was in critical condition with injuries to his chest and stomach, was sent to Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv where his death was confirmed.

The other three who were seriously injured include an 18-year-old who is hospitalized in Beilinson Hospital with critical head and chest injuries, a 14-year-old boy is in serious condition in pediatric intensive care in the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, anaesthetized and on a respirator, and a 36-year-old man with serious head injuries, anaesthetized and on a respirator in Beilinson.

The commander of the Tel Aviv District Police, Bentzi Sau, has ordered an investigation of the events of the funeral and the conduct of the organizers, on suspicion of negligence. Sau has transferred the investigation to the district fraud unit in order to avoid a conflict of interest and to enable an examination of the conduct of the police as well. The Dan Region police said that they prepared for the funeral as well as possible together with the organizers, within the limited time frame at their disposal.

Prior to event, police feared that there would be overcrowding in the area of the cemetery during the funeral. In order to prevent overcrowding at the cemetery, district commander Nitzav Mishne Shimon Lavi ordered police to break down a wall at the site broken in order to prevent the participants from trampling one another.

However, a police source said that it was impossible to relieve the crowding next to the yeshiva itself. In events of this type only with horses and other means of crowd dispersal are effective, the source said, but in this instance they could not be used because the narrow streets in the area were so crowded that any introduction of additional teams would have caused greater damage and greater harm to the participants.

Rabbi Wosner, who died over the weekend at the age of 101, was one of the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community and an authority on religious law considered by Hasidic communities to be a "posek hador" – a leading halakhic authority of the generation. He had been hospitalized Bnei Brak's Mayanei Hayeshua Hospital since March.

Though the general Israeli public is unfamiliar with Wosner, he held lofty status amid Hasidim not only due to his halakhic writings, but also because he was identified with the founding generation of Israel: He was one of the last survivors from the world of Haredi yeshivas in pre-Holocaust Europe.

As a young man, Wosner had contact with the generation of legendary European rabbis, such as the "Hafetz Haim" (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan) and Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin, and when he arrived in Israel he was among those who rehabilitated the Haredi community, alongside the Hazon Ish (Rabbi Avraham Yishaya Karelitz) and the rabbis of the old Yishuv. His most important work is "Shevet HaLevi" – a series of volumes of responsa on matters of halakha, many of them concerning technology.


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Sunday, April 05, 2015

Crown Heights Children’s Museum Strives to Keep Jewish History Alive 

There aren’t many Jewish children’s museums throughout the U.S., but the largest one in the country lies right here in Brooklyn, New York.

The Jewish Children’s Museum is for both children and parents alike, open to all religious and ethnic backgrounds, offering a rich and interactive experience to explore Jewish history and heritage.

With hands-on exhibits focusing on Jewish holidays, biblical history, the land of Israel, contemporary Jewish life and more, the Jewish Children’s Museum celebrates and explores many aspects of Jewish culture.

Through innovative multi-media technology, Jewish history, values and traditions come to life at the Museum, according to the Jewish Link.

One of the most fascinating sections would be on the third floor, titled “Exploring Jewish Life.” Children get the opportunity to operate a real kosher supermarket, stocking up on kosher products with scaled-down shopping carts, artificial food, working scales and scanners.

They can also climb through a giant Challah in the life size Shabbat room, create a “Get Well” card to be delivered to the children’s hospital and step back in time to explore the Jewish Holidays.

In the “Voyage through Jewish History”, young visitors can travel from Abraham and Sarah’s tent to the Kotel in Jerusalem and place a prayer in the wall. Activities along the way include giving water to Rebecca’ s camels, playing the strings on David’s harp (a high-tech version with beams of light that emit sounds when struck) and tracing the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah through the Sinai Peninsula, Jewish Link.

The Jewish Children’s Museum is located at 792 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Tickets can be purchased online at www.JCM.museum or by calling 718-907-8833. General Admission for adults and children ages 2+ is $13, Combo: Admission & Show is $15, and includes all activities.

http://www.bkreader.com/2015/04/crown-heights-childrens-museum-strives-to-keep-jewish-history-alive/

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Friday, April 03, 2015

Chag Kosher V'Sameach 

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and Kosher Pesach.

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American Jewish group denounces decision by Belgian company to refuse insurance coverage for Jewish kindergarten 

The firm denied the school's request, saying "it is too risky to insure a Jewish kindergarten these days.

"This is another ominous sign that can only deepen Jewish fears about their own security in Belgium," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. AJC, the global Jewish advocacy organization, maintains European offices in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, and Rome.

"At a time when Jewish communities in Belgium, indeed across Europe, are on edge due to rising anti-Semitism and violence against Jews, requiring additional protection by police and soldiers, the insurance company's decision to deny coverage is unconscionable," said Harris.

Rabbi Menachem Margolin, Director General of the European Jewish Association (EJA), which runs the kindergarten in the EU area of Brussels, told AJC he is hopeful that another insurance company will be found soon to provide the general coverage requested.

Margolin called the company's decision a ''scandal," "First and foremost, not enough is being done in order to secure Jewish institutions throughout Europe, despite our repeated requests and warnings, and then insurance companies are using the security situation as an excuse in order not to insure kindergartens,'' he stressed.


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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Wieder: Jews 'frightened' but video should be removed 


Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder on Thursday expressed concern about the level of hate toward Rockland's Orthodox and Hasidic Jews on a local Facebook page, but said a video drawing parallels between that page and Nazi hate speech should be taken down from YouTube.

Wieder, D-Spring Valley, the Legislature's majority leader and its only Hasidic member, spoke publicly for the first time about the video, titled "The Jew in Rockland," which provoked criticism because of its reference to Nazi Germany.

He acknowledged some in his community said they felt unsafe although he didn't personally feel that way. But Weider said most in Rockland would stand up to anti-Semitism and called the United States "the greatest Democracy" as he held a copy of the Constitution he says he carries with him at all times.

Weider began the news conference by reading some of the comments he said found on Facebook, and said the seeds of the Holocaust were planted with "hateful and derogatory words" that went unchecked for too long. "We need to defeat hate in its infancy," he said.

Speaking about the video, Weider said he would not have used the imagery that has come under sharp criticism.

The video was produced by Colossal PR on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, taking particular aim at a Facebook page that advocates against the influence of the Orthodox bloc vote on Rockland politics and government. Since it was posted on YouTube on March 22, it had 23,799 views as of Thursday morning.

Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of OJPAC, said the 5-minute, 43-second video was produced to bring attention to increasing hatred against Rockland's Orthodox and Hasidic communities. The video showed harsh Facebook comments against those communities, including ones mocking their lack of hygiene.

James Foley, who started the Facebook page, "Block The Block Vote," admitted that some remarks posted by commenters can be offensive. He since updated his page to emphasize that it's a "political effort" against "bloc voting," which he believes gives certain groups "undue political influence in Rockland County politics," including the East Ramapo school district. The district's Board of Education is dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish members who send their children to private schools.

Comparing the ongoing tension in Rockland to the anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany was criticized by some community leaders, including some Jewish organizations.

Rabbis Paula Mack Drill and Craig Scheff of the Orangetown Jewish Center wrote a letter to congregants stating that "equating the organized, government-sponsored anti-Semitism of the Holocaust era to individuals' inappropriate use of social media is an alarmist and inappropriate comparison to make."

Andrea Winograd, executive director of the Holocaust Museum in Suffern, issued a statement that said the memory of the Holocaust's victims "forces us to infuse respect, tolerance and eduction back into our dialog which is what is missing from the conversation in Rockand today."


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Judaism and the Twice-Born 

I did not grow up in a religious family, but now, upon waking each morning, I whisper a little prayer called the Modeh Ani, in which I thank G-d for returning my soul to me after sleep. When I eat breakfast, I say a blessing over the food, a different one depending on what I'm having that morning, whether it's made from grain or milk, and I make sure to wash out a bowl used for yogurt with the appropriate dairy sponge. Throughout my day, I declare at least three times that G-d is G-d, that He is One being, and that I love Him. On Friday evenings, I light the ceremonial Sabbath candles and try, despite my anxieties, to rest, to think, and to ignore what I'm sure are the thousands of urgent text messages I am receiving at that very moment.

For much of his life, Shulem Deen, the author of the new memoir "All Who Go Do Not Return," did these same things. As a man and a Hasid, he in fact observed far more religious laws than I am ever likely to. He donned phylacteries during morning prayers and dedicated years of his life to studying tractates of the Talmud. He refrained from tearing off a square of toilet paper on Shabbat, since tearing qualifies as work, and he let his sidelocks grow long in accordance with the Levitical mandate not to round the corners of your head. As a member of the strict Skverer sect of Hasidism, and a resident of the sect's home base in New Square, New York, he walked on the men's side of the street, which is marked with a blue sign.


Then, as he describes in his book, it all stopped working. It wasn't a single moment of epiphany: Deen chipped away at his faith like he snipped at his sidecurls, "a few millimeters each time." He allowed outside influences—television, the Internet, books by atheists and Conservative Jews, newspapers, talk radio—into his life, and then the secular world, which he had once thought brimming with sin, began to seem like an idyll he couldn't resist. The process of unburdening himself of his religious beliefs, which he eventually renounced entirely, and extracting himself from the insular community where he lived, was devastating. He lost any semblance of a relationship with his five children. He lost the ability to forget himself in the joyous group worship integral to Hasidic faith, because he saw the desires and delusions that can lie beneath any euphoric experience. At the end of his memoir, he offers a statement of his new credo, his replacement Shema, if you will: "I now lived deeply and fundamentally suspicious of any hint of dogma or ideology, of subjective values presented as Great Truths."

Deen is my opposite in many ways, and yet I found in his memoir a story not entirely unlike my own—a conversion narrative of sorts, with secular humanism as the destination rather than Judaism. Though my course is the reverse, I too had to leave aspects of my former life, to escape the nihilism in which I felt I might drown. An atheist from childhood through my early twenties, I noticed that my motivation to find joy in life—to live at all, really—was waning year by year. Perhaps I could have found an antidote other than Judaism, but no other faith accounted so thoroughly for the questions I had, or balanced so well the priorities of an earthly as well as a spiritual life. Though the decision to convert came slowly and deliberately, it also felt, at times, like the simple and irrational process of falling in love.

The stories of such spiritual transformations have always been beguiling to me—from Leo Tolstoy, who was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church for fashioning his own brand of ascetic Christianity, to Mary Karr, a convert to Catholicism. "I feel Him holding me when I'm scared," Karr writes movingly in "Lit," "the invisible hands I mocked years before." These are the people the philosopher William James dubbed the "twice-born." In "Varieties of Religious Experience," he writes that,"in the religion of the twice-born, the world is a double-storied mystery. Peace cannot be reached by the simple addition of pluses and minuses to the equation." Such people know what it means to change, to insist on beliefs that many around them find unfathomable or even ridiculous. When Deen is expelled from New Square for heresy—a severe sentence even in a place where harsh decrees are not unusual—the most galling of all his crimes is that he has ceased to believe in God. "How does one not believe in God?" a member of the rabbinical court asks him. Deen writes, "He said this as if he were genuinely curious."

In his book, Deen confronts some of the most upsetting events of his life without flinching. He retraces his intellectual path, reading atheists like Richard Dawkins and Modern Orthodox luminaries like Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik—both equally taboo in New Square—and contemplating the Kuzari principle, the Big Bang, and evolution. "I looked inside my heart and discovered there was no truth, anywhere," Deen writes, "only the scalding furnace in which my beliefs were now smoldering embers." As a critic, I can say that "All Who Go Do Not Return" is not only the most lyrical but also the most searchingly spiritual of the "ex-frum" memoirs that I've read to date. As a potential Jew—conversion dates aren't set ahead of time, but mine will probably arrive in May—I find my feelings are more complicated. On some level, I feel obliged to disapprove of Deen's decision to become irreligious. In the Talmud it says, "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh," which means that all of Israel is bound up together. Some believe that if one Jew stops keeping the commandments, the coming of the Messiah could be delayed. This concept is at the heart of a tension in Judaism between the rugged individualism of the Biblical patriarchs, who went against the idol-worshipping people of their age, and the groupthink that can creep into any religious community.

But that Talmudic tenet also means that Jews are responsible for one another's quality of life. Typically, this mandate is taken to refer to the bottom tiers of Maslow's hierarchy: food, shelter, physical and financial security. But one might read in it a commandment concerning higher needs as well: a sense of self-worth, a feeling of belonging, the ability to pursue one's true vocation. Deen would never have had those things had he remained Hasidic. He felt emotionally distanced from the Skverers for many years before he left, and he would not have been able to write honestly and critically surrounded by the conformist pressures of New Square (or, in his view, had he remained religious at all). In Deen's former world, questions, particularly those put down in writing, are considered dangerous weapons. Once, when riding the bus home to New Square from New York City, a neighbor noticed him reading a book called "One People, Two Worlds: A Reform Rabbi and an Orthodox Rabbi Explore the Issues That Divide Them." "I explained that I was curious to hear different views," Deen writes; his neighbor, screaming, attempted to rip the book from his hands.

Again, I think of William James, who in "The Varieties of Religious Experience" asks, "Ought it, indeed, to be assumed that the lives of all men should show identical religious elements?" His answer, and mine, is an emphatic no. "The divine can mean no single quality," he continues. "It must mean a group of qualities, by being champions of which in alternation, different men may all find worthy missions." Deen's mission and mine are different, clearly. But I hope that they are both worthy.


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