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Friday, January 30, 2015

‘I want to liberate the children': Man draped in Quebec flag tries to free children from Jewish school in Montreal 

Draped in a flag of Quebec, a middle-aged man tried to enter an ultra-Orthodox Jewish day school on Tuesday, claiming he wanted to 'liberate' its students.

The man drove up to the Yeshiva Gedola school on Deacon Rd. in Park Extension in a PT Cruiser, and rang on the intercom of the daycare run out of the building, said Rachel Schecter, the director of the public Centre de la Petite Enfance.

"[My staff] came to get me to say there was someone very strange at the door," Schecter said. "When I answered through the intercom, the man told me: 'I want to talk to the children because they are imprisoned in this school.' He was speaking perfect French. He didn't sound drunk or anything."

Schecter said she called police because she didn't know the man's intentions, or whether he was carrying a weapon.

"He told me: 'I want to liberate the children. If you don't let me in, I'll protest on the sidewalk.' "

She told the man he could not enter because he was not a parent of a child at the school. He then walked away.

Schacter said the man didn't appear to have evil intentions, but seemed to be concerned about the children who were attending the school.

"I realized it was Holocaust memorial day [on Tuesday], and in his warped way, he wanted to liberate the children, [like the Jews were liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp]," Schacter said.

Rabbi Yehuda Gottesman, the executive director of the school of 400, said there is already a good security protocol in place, and Tuesday's incident shows that system is working well.

Police were called in, but no one has yet been arrested in connection to the incident, a spokesperson for Montreal Police said.

Gottesman said this is the first such incident at this school. Parents were concerned after hearing about the incident, and Gottesman said there were many frayed nerves, as rumours began swirling that the man had gained access to the building. He said the community is on edge after anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in France in recent weeks, including the killing of four hostages at a Jewish supermarket by one of the suspects of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, two days after that attack.

"When you hear these stories in Europe, I think we're all afraid," he said.

Eta Yudin, the associate director of Public Affairs for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, Quebec, said Montreal's Jewish community always has good security measures in place at its schools, and neither this incident nor the events in Europe have triggered heightened alerts.

"We have no reason to believe that additional measures are required at this point," Yudin said.



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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ohio rabbi accused of child sex abuse extradited to Md. 

An Ohio rabbi accused of sexually abusing a girl in Baltimore County was extradited to Maryland on Wednesday.

Frederick Martin Karp, 50, of Beachwood, Ohio, is being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center on $5 million bail.

Karp was brought back from New York, where he had fled after charges of sexual abuse of a minor, perverted practice and second- and third-degree sex offense were brought against him earlier this month.

Investigators said they learned on New Year's Eve that a Baltimore County girl had been abused by Karp over a period of time last year. Police said the abuse happened in Baltimore County, but they didn't reveal any other details.

Police said Karp is a rabbi in Ohio and also goes by the name Ephraim Karp. Detectives said they went to Cleveland in mid-January to interview him. After an arrest warrant was issued, detectives went back Karp's Ohio home, but he wasn't there.

Baltimore County police said he was found at JFK International Airport in New York, where he was taken into custody.

Police said the investigation into Karp's actions continues. So far, they said it has not indicated that there were any incidents of abuse at any Baltimore-area Jewish facility.

Karp was the director of spiritual living at Menorah Park Center for Senior Living in Beachwood.

 

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Kiryas Joel chosen to lead review of annexation request 

New York's top environmental official ended a yearlong impasse in a controversial request to expand the Village of Kiryas Joel by announcing Wednesday that he had chosen Kiryas Joel over the Town of Monroe to lead a study of the potential environmental impact of the proposal.

In a nine-page decision, state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens concluded that Kiryas Joel has greater "authority as the provider of water and sewer services" for the 507 acres that would be shifted into the village from Monroe under an annexation petition filed in December 2013. Most of the land is wooded and would likely be developed as high-density housing for the Hasidic community if annexed into Kiryas Joel.

The choice of which municipality would oversee the environmental review fell to Martens because both Monroe and Kiryas Joel wanted to be lead agency. As the dispute lingered for months with no resolution in Albany last year, property owners filed a second annexation petition comprising 164 of the 507 acres, and another group petitioned to annex 336 acres of Monroe into Blooming Grove. It's unclear how the DEC's determination on the original petition will affect the other two.


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The Catskills Gets Its Groove Back, With Brooklyn’s Help 

Suddenly, "the Catskills" is everywhere, branded and proud. First you notice the word on the cheese at the local greenmarket, then you try Catskills craft brew at your favorite pub, the Catskills then makes the news when its casino plans get the go-ahead, and finally you hear it when Governor Cuomo's passes his anti-fracking legislation.

This sudden omnipresence also reflects the renaissance of the Catskills area itself: around 100 miles north-northwest of New York City, famously home to hundreds of decimated hotels, the Catskills is making a comeback in its own right. It even featured in a New York Times' hotly anticipated list of must-go destinations in 2015.

Tourism statistics furnished by the Sullivan County Tourism Association only showed a 1-2% increase in regional room occupancy and revenue between 2013 and 2014 (which is on par with New York State's overall averages, even when factoring out tourist-magnet New York City). So what has seemingly happened overnight to spark such an instant interest in a region that time had apparently forgotten?

"While it may seem like an immediate success to an outsider, for me it's been 15 years of trying" remarks Sims Foster, 38, who was raised in the town of Livingston Manor in northern Sullivan County.

Foster and his wife Kirsten currently own and operate the Arnold House, a stylish 10-room inn that opened less than a year ago, and hosted the area's first ice fishing derby last weekend.

"Many people have been working hard in the region for quite some time, but it's not quite a tipping point we're experiencing, it's more that we're finally reaching a critical mass of individuals choosing to be here, and everyone's taken notice," Foster adds. "We've reached a point of credibility." And it's taken many years for the Catskills to unfetter itself from the reputation of its previous avatar.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, the area thrived as a summer paradise that teemed with endless opportunities to escape the Big Smoke and enjoy the country air. "There were over 2,000 hotel rooms within a three-mile radius of Livingston Manor," states Foster.

Most of the accommodation catered to the America's northeastern Jewish population in the form of grand, all-inclusive fortresses. Unsustainable purchasing practices married with the proliferation of air conditioning and airfare meant a rapid decline in the area's popularity, and soon nothing but the husk remained.

The next few decades proved rather quiet, further silenced by the fact that the region wasn't (and still isn't) serviced by public transportation. Yet born out of the cinders of the mammoth resorts that seemed so out of touch with the community were small local businesses, like sustainable small farming cooperatives—the seedlings of a homespun Brooklynization trend that, when eventually championed by an army of millennials, would take over the entire world.

"Millennials don't know much about the history of the Catskills," states Randy Lewis, one of the founders of the Catskill Brewery, which also opened in Livingston Manor less than a year ago.

"This new generation is interested in renewing the healthy lifestyle, eating good local food, and getting out of the city. It's a natural fit for them. In fact I see tons of millennials at the brewery on weekends, coming up from their apartments in Brooklyn."

"The Brooklyn influence is definitely present," adds Foster, "I see traces of the North Williamsburg and Dumbo aesthetic everywhere." Even Foster's inn has a palpable Brooklyn-in-the-Woods vibe with ironic splashes of Formica paired with earnest arrangements of mid-century modern furnishings, vintage vinyl, and taxidermic elk.

And the trending beeline between Brooklyn and the Catskills grows unhampered by the lack of transportation infrastructure. In fact, the absence of public transit that once proved an obstacle is now a boon to the region in the form of wildly inexpensive land prices.

"The cheap real estate in the area is really compelling," says Foster, who acknowledges that it might just be the last swathe of ultra-affordable land within 100 miles of the Big Apple. "There's space for a dream project and plenty of fertile ground to explore your passions."

Foster, whose been purchasing additional parcels of land with the help of his realtor brother, doesn't see any current movement in the price of real estate.

However, Roberta Lockwood, the president of the Sullivan County Tourism Association, cites the major casino investment and the anti-fracking laws as the leading factors forecasting the growth of the local market. "People eager to establish a second home in the Catskills are again searching."

"The long-debated rights to a casino has been a controversial topic for over 25 years," states Foster, "and casinos are a controversial in general when weighing the net positive and net negative gains, but an outside investment of $650 million is undoubtedly a big factor in bolstering the Catskills' credibility as well."

For Foster and Lewis both, however, there's one investment that's tantamount to the county's recent cash infusion: time.

"At the end of day it's really not about the money, but about the energy people want to invest. When people see the local bakery, café and brewery they think 'hey, there's a foundation for me to build upon.' I have friends in finance who could have a mansion in Bridgehampton but choose the Catskills instead" says Foster. "The area attracts those who have a desire to make an impact," adds Lewis.

Robin Jones, 32, who currently resides in Brooklyn, is leaving her job in February to do just that—make her mark. After seven years working for a New York City-based NGO, she's planning to open a bed and breakfast with her business partner and friend.

"I'm looking for a change of pace and a life with a bit more balance built in" she says. "I thought opening an inn was a novel concept in the area, and while I still think I'm ahead of the curve, I've seen a lot of places opening up in the last few months. I come from an economically depressed area of Missouri, and see a lot of similarities, but also a lot of opportunities in the Catskills," she says.

"The Catskills often reminds people of where they are from, from before they moved to New York City," says Foster, who draws parallels between the area and many of America's other commercial centers that have felt the fragility of a capitalist boom-and-bust economy over the years.

"What's happening now is exactly what happened after all the old tanneries closed well over a century ago," adds Foster. "The tanneries took all the trees, and the barren region needed some time to regrow before it could become a summer-land", referring to the 500-some hotels that catered to Jewish vacationers.

"Then those cruiseship-y hotels burned hot, could not adapt, and died. And we've been going through another period of regrowth ever since."

"The Catskills is becoming a new brand," explains Foster. "We've swapped gefilte fish with locally cured bacon."


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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Developer faces September deadline 

A group of Hasidic investors seeking to build a 620-unit development on the former Lake Anne property in South Blooming Grove has earned a reprieve from the Bankruptcy Court in New York's Eastern District.

The group, Keen Equities, will have until Sept. 15 to file its reorganization plan to handle its financial obligations, ruled Judge Nancy Hershey Lord. Meanwhile, Keen will pay the Greene family, which holds the mortgage on the 750-acre Lake Anne property - a monthly sum of $37,520. That figure, the court said, is the monthly interest on the approximately $7 million Keen owes the Greenes.

Progress on the approval process for the housing development in South Blooming Grove has been slow. Keen has changed its plans from a mix of commercial and residential, to residential only, said Dennis Lynch, an attorney for the village, though the number of housing units has remained the same.

The current application is the fourth change the group has made to its original proposal filed in July, Lynch said. It has not started the environmental-review process.

The village Planning Board is examining the new proposal, said Lynch. He declined to comment on Keen's financial troubles or what impact that might have on the village's decision.

"The village treats all applications equally," said Lynch. The application is "working its way through the process."

Keen bought the property from the Greene family in 2006 for $15 million, with the aim of building "multi-family housing to accommodate the growing needs of the Satmar Community in Kiryas Joel," according to court papers. However, Keen defaulted on payments and owes the Greene family nearly $7 million. The family has been trying to recover the money since January 2011, when it began foreclosure proceedings.

But the foreclosure was put on hold when Keen filed for bankruptcy in November 2013. The Greene family has said in court filings that Keen does not have the financial resources to go ahead with the development.


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Monday, January 26, 2015

'I'm going to go Jew bashing': What teenage thug texted friend before Muslim thugs beat up Orthodox Jewish man 'in protest against conflict in Palestine' 

An Orthodox Jew was beaten up by a gang of teenagers who said the attack was a protest 'about the Palestinians and the Jewish community', a court has heard.

Balawal Sultan, 18, Kesa Malik, 19, Hassnain Aliamin, 18, all from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and a 17-year-old boy have all admitted attacked the 41-year-old victim in nearby Gateshead.

Sultan, who had hours earlier sent a text message saying he was 'going Jew bashing', lay in wait with the other three behind a van before pouncing on the victim as he walked home to his family.

The victim screamed in fear as the pack chased him down the street, throwing wood at him, before tripping as he fled and being surrounded by the teenagers while stricken on the ground.

One of the thugs was threatening to kick him in the head when the victim was saved by a friend.

The attackers claimed they were only in the area looking for a new mosque but one of them admitted the planned attack was motivated by the dispute between Israel and Palestine.

After all four teenagers pleaded guilty to racially-aggravated common assault, the victim said he has been left feeling unsafe.

In a statement to Newcastle Crown Court, he said: 'I feel shaken and unsafe to walk the streets in my own community. I have never experienced fear and terror like it and I have no doubt I was attacked for being Jewish.

'I was targeted because of my religion and I'm now scared to walk past members of the Asian community with whom otherwise I have no problem. When I come across a person from the Middle East I feel scared and petrified.

'I'm part of a very close community and this has had a far-reaching impact, word having spread and fear having also spread. I think this was because of the coverage of the ongoing conflict in the media, even though that had nothing to do with my community.

'I'm a peaceful person from a quiet and peaceful community and I've never been in that position before. I have been greatly affected by it and but for the intervention of my friend the consequences could have been far worse.'

The man said he has suffered nightmares about the attack and has been left living in fear.

He added: 'Now, coming home at night fills me with fear. The incident has left me annoyed and angry because I used to be able to walk around the area I live without any fear. These men have changed my life and I only hope I'm able to get over this very difficult period.'

The night before the attack, Sultan sent a text message saying 'I'm going to go Jew bashing. Haha'.

Hours later, just after midnight on July 18, he and the others set about carrying out the threat. With Malik driving, they started looking for a victim.

The man they attacked had been at a Jewish study room nearby and was on his way home.

Bridie Smurthwaite, prosecuting, said: 'The defendants had deliberately travelled to the area in Gateshead where there were members of the Jewish community with the particular intention of targeting someone from that community.

'The Crown say the victim was targeted because he was wearing traditional Jewish attire, a black suit and white shirt and a black hat.

'As he walked along (a road) he saw a man standing by a parked van and he felt slightly nervous because he appeared to be looking at him. The man disappeared behind the van and the complainant continued along the street.

'He thought the man had gone but as he reached the van, the four defendants ran out from behind the van charging towards him. He was petrified and started to run and was screaming "Help me, help me".

'He ran away and a piece of wood was thrown at him and landed at his feet. Terrified and running, he lost his balance and tripped. He thinks he fell because of the piece of wood.'

As he lay injured on the ground, he was surrounded by Sultan, Malik, Aliamin and the youth.

The victim screamed 'I have done nothing to you', and one of the men pulled his foot back as if he was about to kick him in the head.

Miss Smurthwaite said: 'He continued screaming for help and fortunately for him the screams were heard by a family friend of his, whose doorway this was happening in.

'The witness saw two men kneeling on top of his friend and two men watching. It was his intervention which caused the attack to come to an end.'

They ran off and the victim was ushered inside by his friend, who said he was dishevelled, unsteady, confused and in shock.

His clothes were dirty and his palms, forearm and elbow were grazed and bleeding. When police caught up with the attackers they claimed they were just looking for a new mosque.

But Sultan admitted when they saw the victim they chased him and threw a stick as a 'protest about the Palestinians and about the Jewish community' but denied making any contact with him.

Sultan, Malik, Aliamin, and the 17-year-old – who was aged 16 at the time of the attack - all admitted racially-aggravated common assault.

Aliamin's barrister said he accepted the attack was racially motivated and apologised. He said Aliamin, who is a delivery driver and college student, had brought shame on his family.

Joe Hedworth, for the youth, said: 'He understands this kind of behaviour is utterly unacceptable.'

Barristers for the other two will mitigate when they are sentenced.



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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Attacks on Jews doubled in London area 

Hate crimes against Jews in London more than doubled last year, according to the Scotland Yard.

The police headquarters for metropolitan London reported 299 hate crimes against Jewish people between the start of April and the end of December of 2014.

This represented a rise of 128 percent over the corresponding period in 2013, when there were 131 hate crimes, The Jewish Chronicle of London reported Wednesday.

Britain’s 300,000 Jews account for 0.4 percent of the total population. Anti-Semitic attacks recorded in Britain during the 2014 period accounted for 3.28 percent of a total of 9,103 hate crimes reported. That figure represented a 22 percent increase over the overall number of hate crimes recorded in the corresponding period of 2013.

About two thirds of British Jewry live in or around London.

Anti-Semitic attacks increased across Western Europe in the summer, during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Attacks-on-Jews-doubled-in-London-area-388742

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dutch Jews demand government deploy troops near synagogues 

Dutch Jews asked their government to post troops outside synagogues to match security measures in France and Belgium.

The plea came in letters addressed to mayors by officials from a number of Jewish communities in the Netherlands following an Islamist’s slaying on Jan. 9 of four Jews at a kosher supermarket near Paris, the De Telegraaf daily reported Thursday.

“Now that Jewish targets in Belgium and France are guarded by the army, we ask why not in the Netherlands,” the report quoted a letter signed by the Dutch Israelite Religious Community, or NIK, as saying. “Surely, the threat is the same.”

Some Dutch synagogues have police protection, while others have no armed guards, according to the daily. Some communities are reporting a drop in synagogue attendance because of growing insecurity, it said.

Several hundred people, including many Muslims and Jews, attended an event in Amsterdam on Monday organized by the Muslim-Jewish interfaith group Salaam-Shalom commemorating the victims of the Paris attack.

Mayor Eberhard van der Laan led a moment of silence in which visitors showed peace signs with their hands.

The victims of the Jan. 9 shooting were also commemorated on Wednesday at a ceremony in Brussels organized by the European Jewish Association lobby group and attended by Frans Timmermans, the Netherlands-born first vice-president of the European Commission.

The event also commemorated another 13 victims killed on Jan. 7 and 8 in attacks in and around Paris by associates of the perpetrator of the supermarket killings.

“If there’s no future for the Jews in Europe, there’s no future for Europe,” Timmermans said at the event.

Earlier this week he said during a debate in Brussels that Jews’ insecurity “forms an enormous challenge for the foundations of European integration.”

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Dutch-Jews-demand-government-deploy-troops-near-synagogues-388740

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Prominent Lakewood Blogger Criticizes Jackson Residents After Posting of High School Student Photos 

JJ-1-112x200   JJ-3

When two neighbors erect a wall, whether it's a social wall or a physical wall, hate and evil can usually be found in the shadows on both sides.

A series photos of a teenager from Jackson Township dressed as Adolf Hitler is rightfully causing a stir this week in nearby Lakewood Township, home to one of the world's largest Hasidic Jewish population centers outside of Israel.

The photos posted by the teen show her wearing a uniform with a swastika, Adolf Hitler style mustache and rendering a nazi salute.   In one photo she is shown holding a lit cigarette lighter, an apparent reference to the burning of Jews.  In another photo she is wearing the cover of a New Jersey State Police officer, but it has not been verified who owns the cover.

Lakewood blogger and former GOP political challenger Harold Herskowitz highlighted and commented on the photos on Twitter saying, "And we wonder why we are not welcome to live in Jackson. We need to invade that town en masse. Show them some jew love."

An attempt was made to reach out to Herskowitz on the issue to discuss with him that a few photos or tweets from a few teens do not represent an entire community of 54,000.

Several of Herskowitz' followers replied, identifying Jackson residents as "they" and "them", an equivalent to some disrespectful comments Jackson residents had tweeted calling Lakewood's Jews, "they" and "them".

Herskowitz responded, "equivalent? You idiot nothing. Own it and shut up."

Other photos posted by Hersokwitz on Facebook included a photo of members of the Lakewood community walking down a street, with the comment, "I really wanna drive around Lakewood and run over every Jew with my car."

On Thursday, Yankel Wenger, a Jewish chaplain for the Ocean County Sheriff's Department and editor of the Lakewood Shopper alerted Jackson Township authorities at the police department and the Jackson School district of the anti-semitic photographs which were possibly posted by students within the district, although one student appears to have already graduated.

The Jackson School District said they are aware of the situation, but could not comment further on any matter involving students.

"We were made aware of this report Thursday and immediately informed the proper law enforcement authorities,'' said Allison Erwin, the district's coordinator of communications.

The photographs, while important and horrific in their own right, exposed the ever-growing rift between two neighboring communities.

This rift was widened in 2014 when Jackson and Lakewood residents squared off in a legal battle over the construction of an all-girls Orthodox high school, which was ultimately rejected by Jackson Township over code and safety concerns.

While some Jackson residents expressed their discontent with the Lakewood Hasidic population, in the end, the board rejected the plan due to lack of fire sprinklers, insufficient traffic safety planning and other items that did not conform to Jackson's strict zoning ordinances.

Tensions have been high between the two communities since the hearings as the growth of the two communities has overlapped in recent years.

In 2013, Herskowitz challenged New Jersey State Senator in a Republican election primary, but was trampled in a landslide win by the incumbent who was sent back to Trenton with a  65% margin.

Herskowitz continued his verbal assault on the Jackson community, saying, "That person is a typical jackson person she is not a radical muslim . She is creme de la creme. Troopers kid."

New Jersey's penal code, 2c:16-1 covers bias intimidation and "hate crimes".

2c:16-1(1) defines a bias crime as one "with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, or ethnicity;"



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Town Of Ramapo Demands Removal Of Path Linking Two Homes 

A path through the wilderness has two suburban families in hot water.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported Thursday night, The town of Ramapo in Rockland County is now demanding the removal of a paved path that links their homes.

The asphalt path winds through the woods, traversing a stretch of parkland that is supposed to remain wild.

The shortcut between two backyards is certainly nothing new in suburbia. It's the unauthorized "improvement" of the path that has the town upset.

"There were trees that were removed, there were bushes that were removed, there were grass areas that were removed. Certainly the neighbors and the town don't think that's an improvement," Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein said.

At one end of the path, the home of Charles Zuckerman is currently unoccupied and under renovation, CBS2's Young reported. The connecting backyard belongs to Yosef and Gieta Metal, but no one there wanted to talk, Young reported.

"We really don't have any more information. Have a good day," they said over their front-door intercom.
The entire neighborhood knows about the path and it has its defenders.

"Everybody was happy, actually, that we could cross over and there is a whole other development there, and the kids play with the kids," one woman said.

"Live and let live — soesn't bother me at all," neighbor Steve Lazarus said.

"It would be nice to find a workable way to find a resolution to this, because it is helpful to our lifestyle," Yossi Garetz said.

The property owners at both ends of the shortcut have until the end of next month to respond to the lawsuit. The town estimates it will cost $50,000 to remove.



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Attempted Robbery of Hasidic Man 

A Hasidic Jewish man was targeted in an attempted robbery on Division Avenue in South Williamsburg on the night of January 16.

The victim was returning home from the synagogue, when he was approached by a man and a woman who demanded money from him. "Don't move and give me your money," the female perp said. "I have a gun," she added pointing her hand, which was in her right coat pocket.

"Money, money, money," yelled her male accomplice.

The victim showed the perps he had nothing on him, and the perps then walked away from the scene.


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Thursday, January 22, 2015

I'm a woman in America, and I wasn't allowed to drive 

I grew up in a small, densely populated village in upstate New York called Kiryas Joel. And in Kiryas Joel, woman don't drive. It's a village of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews. In my hometown, women can't be jailed for driving like they can in Saudi Arabia. But driving is still forbidden. A woman who drives would risk being shunned, and her children expelled from the private Hasidic school. She could be excommunicated from the community.

Growing up, it never dawned on me that driving was a possibility. No woman in my family or neighborhood ever did. We were taught that our tznius, our modesty, would be at stake. But I think there's something else. For Hasidic women, being banned from the wheel means being tied to your husband and to your community. Driving gives you the keys to freedom and independence.

Once my husband and I left the community for a less restrictive Jewish lifestyle, I got my driver's license.

When my father heard, he said to my mother, "She will kill herself and her children."  

I wasn't thinking about this when I made my first long-distance drive to New York City with two female friends from Kiryas Joel. I borrowed a GPS and got on the road in my old, tan Buick. It was dark when we started to head back — not ideal for a new, timid driver. I missed one exit, then the next, waiting for the distressed GPS to reroute.

I was wiping beads of sweat off my forehead while my friends chatted in the backseat.

Suddenly, without warning, lane dividers appeared. Cars started coming from the opposite direction.

The sudden two-way traffic made me freeze. I was going in the wrong direction. I needed to back up, get past a divider, change directions.

In my mind, I saw my father pointing an accusatory finger at me. I saw death. 

Five minutes later, after I honked and blinked my headlights furiously, the cars came to a standstill. I could back up, switch directions and get out of the mess.

My driving has been relatively uneventful since. A few fender-benders here and there, but my children and I are still alive and well.

I still live in Rockland County in New York, not too far from the village where I grew up. But if the mileage on my car is proof of anything, it's that I've traveled far from where I used to be.



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Kippa made of hair allows Jews to don religious headgear without revealing identity 

The history of Jews in Europe is one of a balancing act between assimilation into the local culture and preservation of the unique Jewish identities, an issue galvanized in recent terror attacks which targeted easily identifiable Jewish targets.
 
Trust the "Yiddishe Kopf" (literally, a Jewish head) to find an ingenuous solution: An invisible kippa.

Recent events in Paris, which saw a four killed in an attack on a Jewish supermarket attack, and which followed a year of record high anti-Semitic attacks and incident targeting Jews in the streets of Europe, have recast Jew's historical struggle as one of managing visibility in the public arena.
State of Jews in Europe
 
The new 'Magic Kippa' addresses the issue of Jewish visibility by allowing religious Jews to don the mandatory skullcap without running the risk of being visually identified as Jews.
 
The product, which was being developed even before the attack on the Paris kosher supermarket which saw four people killed, is made out of synthetic hair and seamlessly blends in with the believer's hair, rendering it indiscernible to the untrained eye.

"Because we cannot put on a kippa in these days, he have created a kippa made from natural hair and which can be washed," the creators Haim and Shalom said in a YouTube video in French.
 
The two further claimed the product is already being used by Jewish businessmen wishing to move freely without being hindered by anti-Semitism.
 
They also offer potential clients to send in a few strands of hair and they will match you original hair color and send you a customized invisible hair-kippa.
 
However, for all its pragmatic ingenuity, the 'magic kippa' also entails a problematic position regarding anti-Semitism, and shifts responsibility on to the Jew himself, as many commentators pointed out.
 
"We need to be proud of our Jewish identity, not hide it," lamented one; "An invisible kippa! What are we ashamed of," wrote another.
 
Others took a more lighthearted approach, simply commenting: "This is ridiculous."



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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Kosher market CEO sent family to NYC over anti-semitism in Paris 

The deadly terror attack on a kosher market in Paris has its CEO considering a move to Manhattan — where his wife and kids relocated last year to escape surging anti-Semitism in their native country.

Michel Emsalem, who founded the French Hyper Cacher grocery chain, said Tuesday that his two teenage daughters "are much more secure in New York" and that he's thinking of joining them and their mom.

"God bless America," Emsalem said in broken English during an appearance with Mayor de Blasio at a memorial outside his shuttered store. "We can see the support of America against all of these terrible acts and [for] the Jewish community. It's a big support."

Emsalem's wife, who has been living in an Upper East Side rental since April, said she jumped at the chance to work in Manhattan due to worries about attacks in Paris.

Dinah Emsalem said the Jan. 9 murders of three shoppers and a Hyper Cacher worker by a terrorist "confirmed to me that my fears were real and justified."

"I had expected that to happen for some time," she said. "I had warned [my husband] and I had warned my family."

Dinah, 43, said she, her husband and kids had already applied for immigration green cards and that she went online a day after the supermarket massacre to re-enroll daughters Rebecca, 14, and Sarah, 16, in the private Lycée Français de New York for next year.

"We don't feel protected and welcome in France," she said.

Dinah — who is COO of North American operations for the French fashion firm Sandro, Maje, Claudie Pierlot — said she and her girls have been "quite happy" since moving to New York. "I think the United States is much more open to diversity, and we feel much more comfortable," she said.

Dinah also said she was hopeful that Michel, 50, could join them full-time, rather than just visiting for a week at a time every month or so. But while Michel said he coincidentally sold his stake of Hyper Cacher a day before the attack, he retained the titles of CEO and president and Dinah said "he has to get himself organized" before making a move.

She also noted that they both have elderly parents in France.

"It's not a decision at this stage," she said. "It's more an option that we have been considering and are more considering now."

Paris Deputy Mayor Patrick Klugman was overheard telling de Blasio that New York is the new promised land for disaffected French Jews.

"The Jews used to say, 'Next year in Jerusalem.' Now we say, 'Next year in New York,' " Klugman said.



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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Q&A: Chabad.Org Editor Earns Second Place in International Bible Contest 

The Chabad.org team is blessed with incredibly talented writers, programmers, "Ask the Rabbi" responders, reporters and editors. We were thrilled to learn that Rabbi Alexander Heppenheimer, a copy editor on our editorial team, earned second place in the International Bible (Tanach) Contest for Adults on Dec. 22, the last night of Chanukah.

After he returned home to Brooklyn, N.Y., from the finals at the International Convention center in Jerusalem—attended by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a host of dignitaries from Israel and the Jewish world, and thousands of others—Heppenheimer took some time to talk about his attention to detail and passion for learning, and, of course, about the contest itself.

Q: Can you first share a bit of background about yourself and your family?

A: I grew up in Southern California and then Israel before moving to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn when I was 9. My wife and I have six children, the last of whom was born just a few weeks ago. Aside from Chabad.org, my main employment is tech support for a software company, which is great because it allows me to work at home. At Chabad.org, my job is to comb through the content we generate, carefully looking for grammatical errors, typos and anything else that may seem off, including incorrect citations to Torah sources and adding additional citations whenever possible. I also enjoy volunteering to edit publications for my children's school.

Q: Clearly, you have a passion for getting information right. How did you develop an interest in Bible specifically?

A: The Rebbe writes in Hayom Yom (entry for 19 Adar I) that "even ordinary Chassidim were lucid in their knowledge of Tanach. They had a customary procedure: After davening Shacharit they studied Mishna; then while folding tallit and tefillin they would recite a certain set portion of Tanach, so apportioned that they concluded Tanach every three months." When I was 14, I decided to try to learn the whole Tanach in three months one summer. At that point, I didn't understand a lot of it, but it was my first time completing the entire work. All throughout my childhood, I enjoyed reading translations of Tanach with commentaries, such asTorah Anthology and others. Among my friends, I've developed a reputation as someone who's somewhat familiar with Tanach, so this competition was just something that I naturally gravitated towards.

Q: How did the contest work?

A: First, there was an online exam with 50 questions. Anyone who scored well went on to the semifinals in their region. Here in New York, there were 13 semifinalists, and the competition was already pretty stiff. Yair Shahak, who teaches Hebrew at Yeshiva University in New York, came in first place, and I and another fellow tied for second; the three of us went on to Israel for the international competition. Once I was slated to go to Israel, my wife encouraged me, even though it meant leaving her behind for Chanukah with an infant and a houseful of older children.

Q: How much studying did you do?

A: The contest doesn't cover all of Tanach, but it does include a fair amount of it. There were some parts that I was less familiar with, so I put some serious effort into brushing up my knowledge of the latter prophets, and the books of Iyov (Job) and Mishlei (Proverbs).

Q: How would you describe your experience in Israel?

A: It was wonderful. All in all, it was a wonderful experience of ahavat Yisrael [love for one's fellow Jews];everyone was helping each other, sharing study material and tips, and just drilling each other. Everyone knew that one contestant's gain was another's loss, but no one looked at it that way, which was beautiful. We spent Chanukah going on trips, studying, testing and studying some more. On the final night of the holiday, 16 of us participated in the final round, which was held onstage. I have to admit that I was nervous. Perhaps the most intimidating part was when each of us was presented with a rapid sequence of questions, which we had to answer as fast as we can. Thank G‑d, I did well on that.

Q: Now that you've won, what's next?

A: Well, actually, on the way back from Israel, I was thinking about the Hayom Yom I told you about earlier, and how most people don't follow it. I had the idea of perhaps creating a regular cycle that people can join that will allow them to complete Tanach (except for Chumash and Tehillim, which we complete already as part of Chitas) on a trimonthly basis. At this point, I'm fine-tuning the basic details of the cycle, to make sure that the portions will work out evenly, but I think this can be something that many people will embrace. And for those who feel that an average of 170 verses is too much per day, I propose a yearly cycle, with an average of 42 verses per day.

Q: Thank you so much, Alex, for sharing that with us. Mazal tov on your accomplishment, and good luck with your project. We look forward to hearing more about it.



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Men Pushing Baby Strollers? Only Goys Do That! 

Baseball. Men's briefs. Dogs. Hipster eyeglasses. Motorcycles. Neckties. English. Math. Men's shoes any color besides black. Button-down shirts that flap left-over-right. Fixing your own car. Modern Hebrew.

That's a partial list of "goyish" things Satmar Jews have successfully banned within their flock.

Pretty impressive, right? And yet, challenges remain. The Satmars have so far been unsuccessful at banning such blatantly goyish things as: Lexus cars, Bugaboo strollers, hipster neighbors, Jacadi stores, sex, pants, ghoulash, Brooklyn and Sol a Kokosh Mar. And they've only had partial success with bike lanes and Lipa Schmeltzer.

But there's one particularly vile scourge the Satmars have yet to unscourge, and that is — men pushing baby strollers.

Unable to withstand such goyishness a second longer, they published the following notice in a recent issue of the Satmar advertising circular, D'var Yom B'Yomo:

With regard to the new custom among some men to push the baby carriage when walking on the street: The great Rabbi Nosson Yosef Meisels said in 1968, during a speech to grooms in the name of our holy rebbe [R. Joel Teitelbaum, the rebbe of Satmar], that one must not perform this practice, as it originates among the goyim.

Holy flying sasquatch! It's like I always say, scratch the surface of any old thing and you're likely to find raging goyishness, so pernicious it almost goes unnoticed. It's enough to make a Satmar Hasid throw up his hands in despair.

After all, pushing baby strollers is one of the few small family pleasures afforded to Hasidic men.

These men aren't noted for their childcare skills. Sure, some are experts at feeding bowls of mushed peas and carrots or a couple spoonfuls of applesauce to their infants. Some will delight in pushing their babies on the little swing suspended in the kitchen doorway. If not too tired after a day's work (or a day of non-work at the kollel), a man might bounce his little tzaddik or tzadeykes on his leg for a couple minutes. But the heavy lifting? The diapering, and the 2 AM feedings, and the shopping for baby outfits and the doctor's appointments? That's exclusively a mother's job, Hasidim will tell you.

And yet, Hasidic fathers do maintain certain prerogatives, and one of them is, when out on a family stroll, for the man to push the baby carriage. Especially if the couple is young and the child is a firstborn. It's how it's always been.

It's sweet actually, especially when observing young Hasidic men's one-handed navigational dexterity. See, pushing a baby carriage is really just practice for car-driving, and as every Hasidic man knows, two-handed driving is for chumps. A Hasid typically drives with body slumped slightly to the left, one hand on the wheel, the other on his smartphone, waiting for a text. So too with baby carriages — one hand only. All the while, the wife looks on in silent amusement, as wives do when their husbands are being badass.

Alas, now this badassery has been banned.

But will the Satmars fall into line?

On the one hand, the source for this prohibition — the great Rabbi Nosson Yosef Meisels — was not a nobody. A legendary figure within the post-WWII Satmar community, he was one of the great formulators and expositors of Satmar's anti-Zionist ideology. Rabbi Meisels knew goyish as if he had a PhD in goyishness — if PhDs weren't themselves too goyish. His expertise on Zionism was second to none, and there's nothing more goyish than Zionism, of course.

On the other hand, Rabbi Meisels first noticed baby-carriage-pushing in 1968 — and 47 years later, the practice has yet to be rooted out. So it seems the Satmars may just keep on rebelling. What's next, men arranging babysitters and playdates? Oh, the goyishness!



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Monday, January 19, 2015

Report threats, US Jewish security arm tells groups 

In the wake of the deadly Paris attacks, the security arm of national US Jewish groups is asking Jewish institutions to report any incidents of threats, vandalism or attacks.

The Secure Community Network, or SCN, in a January 18 memo told Jewish institutions that information it gathers could assist national law enforcement agencies in discerning any national trends in threats.

Organizations should first notify local law enforcement of any threat or incident, the memo said, and then SCN.

"This will allow SCN to better identify and assess incidents and trends and share that information back out to our security director and law enforcement network to keep you all better informed of other incidents across the country and assist you in security planning and decision making," the SCN memo said.

The memo also urged institutions to instruct staff and volunteers to review SCN's online training on facing attackers.

The memo described increased security in Europe in the wake of the January 7-9 attacks in Paris on a satirical weekly, a kosher supermarket and police that left 17 people dead.

"While we are not aware of any credible, specific threats against Jewish organizations in the US at this time, in light of the recent attacks in Paris and other counter-terrorism actions against suspected terrorist plots across Europe, it is imperative that we continue our vigilance, security efforts and increased information sharing to stay ahead of this continuously evolving threat," SCN said.

SCN is funded by the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

Separately, SCN distributed a memo at the request of the French Jewish community refuting reports that the Great Synagogue of Paris had closed on the Sabbath immediately following the Paris attacks.

"Our French communal partners advised us that the Grande Synagogue was in fact open with enhanced security measures in place and that the synagogue received more members on that day then in recent memory," the synagogue said. "Furthermore, our community partners consider this to be a significant statement which needed to be conveyed to all Jewish communities and organizations throughout the Diaspora."

JTA was among the agencies that reported that the synagogue had been ordered shuttered by police.




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Sunday, January 18, 2015

49 cars in icy pileup in Howard County; eight people are sent to hospitals 

Icy roads in northern parts of Maryland caused wrecks Sunday morning, including a fatal crash in Harford County and a pile-up in Howard County involving 49 vehicles, police and highway officials said.

The Howard County wreck occurred around 7:15 a.m., along U.S. 40 just west of the Patapsco River. Eight people were taken to area hospitals for what appeared to be non-life threatening injuries, said Lori Boone, a spokeswoman for the Howard County Police Department.

U.S. 40 – in both directions – descends downhill as it crosses the Patapsco, said David Buck, a spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration. “Once people started coming down, they couldn’t stop,” Buck said.

The spokesman said that Sunday morning’s weather didn’t lend itself to pretreating of roads. The freezing rain would have washed away the briny solution that is effective in treating roads prior to snowstorms, Buck said.

Most roads handled the icy rain. But particularly along some bridges and overpasses, roads got slick. Buck said there were slippery, isolated spots in Howard, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford, and Cecil counties.

In the Forest Hill area of Harford County, north of Baltimore, icy conditions along Route 23 caused a Honda CR-V to cross into oncoming traffic and strike a Honda Pilot, according to Maryland State Police. A backseat passenger in the CR-V, identified as David Winiarz, of Staten Island, N.Y., died from the crash, according to the state police.

Highway officials said that by early afternoon, rising temperatures gave rise to improved road conditions.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/at-least-30-cars-in-icy-pileup-in-howard-county-8-people-sent-to-hospitals/2015/01/18/6a4756e6-9f4f-11e4-903f-9f2faf7cd9fe_story.html

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Convicted sex offender Yona Weinberg flees to Israel after alleged assault in Brooklyn synagogue 

Yona Weinberg has twice been convicted of sexual abuse related charges. Weinberg at his trial in 2009.

A convicted sex offender stood to be arrested after he allegedly assaulted an 11-year-old boy in a Brooklyn synagogue last summer.

But when police went to Yona Weinberg’s Flatbush home, they found he had fled to Israel.

Now, child advocates in the Jewish community are throwing up their hands, frustrated that the former bar mitzvah tutor and social worker was allowed to skip the country because prosecutors in the office of District Attorney Ken Thompson appeared to be slow to react.

“He’s making all of us who really campaigned hard for him look like fools,” activist Chaim Levin said of Thompson. “He seems to be playing politics. The outcome of this case is disgusting.”

Weinberg, 36, allegedly slammed the 11-year-old boy against a shelf of prayer books in the synagogue on Aug. 15, witnesses told police.

Police are prepared to arrest Weinberg on a misdemeanor assault charge, records show.

But since Weinberg is only facing a misdemeanor, authorities won’t be able to extradite him from Israel.

“In the event that he returns to New York, he will be charged,” said Lupe Todd, Thompson’s spokeswoman.

The synagogue scuffle occurred two months after the boy told cops he was “forced” to touch Weinberg’s shirt and pants, ostensibly to measure their size, a law enforcement source told the Daily News.

After investigating that allegation, Thompson declined to bring forcible touching charges, concluding it was unwarranted because the boy did not touch Weinberg’s privates.

The boy told police that Weinberg pushed him against the bookshelf, threatening further harm if he continued to talk to authorities.

Police didn’t file an official report about the alleged incident until Sept. 9, 25 days after the alleged incident. The cause for the delay is unclear.

Police went to Weinberg’s Flatbush home to arrest him a day later, but his wife said he was not home and referred him to an attorney.

The next day, Weinberg was on a plane to Israel.

Weinberg’s wife and four children joined him in Israel several weeks later on a trip arranged by Nefesh B’nefesh, a organization that helps Americans move.

Back in Brooklyn, child advocates are still fuming about the situation, calling it the latest sign that Thompson, who just started his second year on the job, has not taken the steps he promised during his campaign.

“The culture in the Brooklyn DA’s office is to discourage Orthodox victims of child abuse from proceeding with their complaints,” said Ben Hirsch, a co- founder of advocacy organization Survivors of Justice.

Weinberg was able to escape closer supervision because he was never sentenced to parole in 2010, when he concluded a 13-month jail sentence for sexually molesting two young boys.

But Weinberg is required, as a Level 3 sex offender, to check in with police every 90 days and verify his address once a year. Failing to do so would amount to a felony offense.

However, the state Division of Criminal Justice Services said a letter sent to verify Weinberg’s Brooklyn address bounced back in December.

“We have not received any information from this offender or the NYPD,” DCJS spokeswoman Janine Kava said Thursday.

Weinberg, meanwhile, has been telling his neighbors in the Jerusalem suburb of Har Nof that it’s all a big mistake, said a community source who has taken steps to notify Israelis about Weinberg’s history.

Thompson’s office said that prosecutors moved to have Weinberg arrested as soon as they heard about the allegations. Todd also maintained that Weinberg notified police he was leaving the country and promised to check in as required. It was unclear whether he had done that.

To community advocates, that came as little solace.

“The way he has been dealing with these cases sends a mesage that he’s not interested in prosecuting Orthodox Jewish sex offenders,” Hirsch said of Thompson. “The victims and their families have gotten this message loud and clear.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/convicted-sex-offender-fleas-israel-new-case-arises-article-1.2080425

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Anti-Semitism at schools a major aliyah factor, French Jewish leader says 

Rampant anti-Semitism in French public schools and threats against Jewish ones are spurring Jewish emigration, a leader of French Jewry said.

"The atmosphere for Jews in France is pretty bad," said Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF federation of French Jewish communities said.

The choice for parents, he added," is either to send children to public schools, where they may be beaten and insulted [for being Jews] or to send them to Jewish schools, where they may be targets for fanatics and murderers. This is why we see more and more people deciding to go to Israel."

Cukierman's comments were made Thursday in a conference call with members of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, an umbrella group representing 50 national Jewish organizations in the United States. On Jan. 9, four Jews were killed at a kosher supermarket near Paris.
Christian private schools are emerging as a preferred choice for many Jewish parents, according to Cukierman.

He estimated that one-third of French Jewish parents send their children to public schools, and that of the French Jews who leave, about two-thirds go to Israel.

Immigration to Israel by Jews, or aliyah, from France in 2014 stood at approximately 7,000 people — nearly four times the number of Jews who made aliyah in 2012.

Cukierman also spoke of mixed feelings regarding the deployment of 10,000 French troops around Jewish schools and institutions following the attack.

"On the one hand, we are satisfied with that, on the other, imagine children seeing in front of the school army personnel with machine guns and imagine the parents when they have to think that they are leaving their children in a situation which may become dangerous," he said.



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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Shigella Bacterial Outbreak Strikes Williamsburg and Borough Park 

Children in parts of Williamsburg and Borough Park have experienced a spike in cases of Shigella — a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, fever and nausea, the Health Department said.

Eighty-seven cases were reported between Nov. 14 and Jan. 13, city health officials said. About 74 percent of the cases have occurred in children ages 5 and younger.

The infection, which most commonly impacts young children, is contracted by eating or drinking contaminated food or water, or by direct contact with someone with Shigella, according to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

The germs themselves exist in intestinal tracts and can be passed through contact with feces, the agency added.

The city has monitored cyclical outbreaks of shigellosis in the traditional Jewish community since the last outbreak between September 2011 and February 2012, where 206 cases were reported, the Health Department said.

The infection is mild, and most people recover on their own, the department said. Symptoms typically start showing up within two to three days, and most people will carry the infection for one to four weeks.

The Health Department previously warned officials of a potential outbreak, first reported by CBS2, and expected to see an increase in the number of reported cases as doctors became aware of the issue.

Gary Schlesinger, CEO of ParCare Community Health Network in Bed-Stuy, said his office has been "swamped with calls" about Shigella over the last two weeks, though he declined to provide a specific number.

The cases at his office, whose patients are 60 to 70 percent Hasidic, have mostly involved children ages 2 to 5, he said. Some parents are confusing the symptoms for the flu, and Schlesinger has been meeting with local schools to help combat the problem, he explained.

"Definitely there is an awareness going on about it," Schlesinger said.



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NYC electronics store earns gelt with Orthodox business model 

B&H is not a shop for idle browsing.

An arterial network of bin-stacked conveyor belts line the ceilings, shuttling merchandise between departments, dumbwaiters transport orders from the basement straight to cash registers for customer pick-up, and lines rope off every step of the shopping experience.

The specialty photo/video superstore's huge selection, low prices, and efficiency of its brick and mortar design is unique, particularly for a non-chain entity. Founded in 1973 and now located in midtown Manhattan, B&H is a Mecca for industry professionals and electronics enthusiasts alike, long billing itself as "The Professional's Source."

The building takes up an entire city block on 9th Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets — not a strip of real estate with heavy foot traffic — and yet, the store is consistently packed with customers.

"It's always busy," one cashier tells me at three o'clock on a Wednesday. "Sunday is definitely the busiest. We've got to make up for Saturday."

B&H is closed on Saturdays. B&H is also closed after 1pm on Fridays, and on all major Jewish holidays, including, but not limited to, Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot. B&H is owned and operated by Orthodox Satmar Jews, and religious observance is one of the company's key defining characteristics.

"Before I went to B&H for the first time, I was told two things," says Zack Akers, a New York-based filmmaker. "It's the only place to go in the city if you're serious about yourself in this business, and it's run by Hasidic Jews."

So, how does that religious identity impact B&H's business philosophy?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin is an Orthodox rabbinic scholar, economist, and author of "Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money" and "Business Secrets from the Bible: Spiritual Success Strategies for Financial Abundance." He sees B&H's dual commitment to religious observance and profitability in the private sector as tandem services to God, where earning power yields both opportunity for charity in the literal sense, and proliferation of goods and services in the broad.

"Even though I'm in business, I'm not in business to make money," explains Lapin. "I'm in business to serve God's other children. The money flows as a consequence." It's impossible, says Lapin, to strip money matters from spiritual life, because the two are so intertwined.

A disproportionate number of B&H's salespeople are also Orthodox Jews, assuming varying degrees of observance clear by their dress. Many have forelocks and tzittzit (ritual fringe) — and speak Yiddish/Hebrew/English hybrids among themselves — while the religious apparel of others is confined to yarmulkes.

There are fewer places in the city outside the Satmar sect of Williamsburg where you'll encounter so many Orthodox Jews, an insular community known to keep largely to itself.

The clientele, on the other hand, is predominantly secular.

No to mark-ups and yes to expert guidance
Commercial editor Alison Grasso cites the knowledgeable staff as B&H's biggest selling point.

"They really have to know what they're talking about," she says. "They also tend to have the best prices, even compared to online sites like Amazon."

It's rare in a competitive market for a non-franchised store to both refuse mark-ups and provide expert guidance, says economist and MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Ezra Zuckerman Sivan. "If they can pull that off, that's a pretty compelling value proposition."

Absolutely zero B&H business is conducted on Jewish holy days
The trade-off, from a consumer's angle, is that B&H is closed for one and a half days every week. Sure, this limitation can be easily remembered, but B&H also closes for Jewish holidays that might not necessarily be on a non-Jew or secular Jew's radar, including a whole week for Passover in the spring, and a week for Sukkot in the fall.

Perhaps more atypical — particularly in the always open age of the Internet — is that the company's online store also shuts down every time the 9th Avenue store closes for religious reasons. Absolutely zero B&H business is conducted on Jewish holy days.

Does this put B&H at a competitive disadvantage?

"People can just adjust," says Zuckerman Sivan, explaining that the situation might be different if B&H were just emerging in the marketplace now. "At this point, they've got a pretty strong reputation" — both in terms of that value proposition of competitive prices plus specialist attention, and in terms of synonymy with religious observance.

"I always check the website first because [I know] they're often closed," says Grasso, adding that B&H's limited weekend hours are not ideal, but she plans her visits accordingly. Holiday hours are listed on B&H's website year round.

Because many products offered at B&H are big-ticket investments like cameras, and hard to find specialty items like photographic paper, consumer trips to B&H are, most likely, not spontaneous.

"These are not time-sensitive purchases," or everyday necessities requiring immediacy, says UCLA Anderson School of Management Professor of Marketing Andres Terech. "Most of us are willing to wait another day to buy the ideal camera that we want to buy."

Orthodox values versus modern egalitarianism
The restricted hours mean increased crowds, a huge stressor for customers, but that congestion — which, Grasso says, can "make for an unpleasant experience" — might also yield an unanticipated benefit for the company.

"People pay a lot more attention to a restaurant that's filled with people," says Zuckerman Sivan. "That kind of set up could make it seem like there's even more buzz, and even more demand than there otherwise would be."

And, there could be an element of value added in who operates this business. "There's nothing kosher about a camera that you can actually say you need to buy in a kosher market," says Terech, who himself is an Orthodox Jew. "But there's community value," he adds, even beyond the Hasidic population.

'I think most Americans have a lot of respect for people who show clear commitment to their religion'
"I think most Americans have a lot of respect for people who show clear commitment to their religion, and are actually willing to accept limitations on their business or professional lives," agrees Zuckerman Sivan, who in addition to his post at MIT is the lay president of Young Israel of Brookline, an Orthodox congregation in New England.

Neither Zuckerman Sivan nor Terech are affiliated with B&H; rather, they speak to their personal experiences and belief systems. So too does Rabbi Lapin.

"I do believe that the spiritual reputation of B&H helps them more than being closed for one seventh of the week hurts them," says Lapin. "Part of it is the integrity spills over."

The integrity of the store, however, is a problematic issue. B&H has been sued multiple times for racial and gender discrimination. In 2007, B&H agreed to pay $4.3 million to settle a case levied by Hispanic employees over uneven pay scale; in 2009, four female employees sued B&H over failure to promote women to sales positions; and in 2011 Hispanic employees Luis Santana and Carlos Marchand sued B&H over denied promotions and raises.

On a recent trip to B&H, the salespeople — designated by their green vests — appear near evenly split between observant Jews and non-Jews. Nearly all are male and only two women are seen in green vests during 45 minutes wandering the store. The few blue-vested managers spotted are grey-haired, Orthodox men. Cashiers and greeters wear red vests. Every red vest is worn by a woman.

'Where in the Torah does it say that you have to pay all employees the same rate? Where in the Torah is equality depicted as a virtue?'
Lapin maintains that none of the aforementioned allegations undermine B&H's integrity. "Where in the Torah does it say that you have to pay all employees the same rate? Where in the Torah is equality depicted as a virtue? The answer is nowhere at all." The company's business model, according to Lapin, adheres to God's plan insofar as it's described in, "His book."

"The notion that there's a moral flaw in people who, because they don't pay all their employees the same — I'm not sure I see the basis for that in morality. It may not be fair, it may not be legal, those are not my areas. But to say that there is a clash with Jewish values simply would not be true," said Lapin.

B&H's business operations team is notoriously private. While representatives have agreed to interviews in the past, director of corporate communications Henry Posner declined participation for this story, citing current company policy to cooperate only with "publications like Popular Photography or Shutterbug who speak directly to our current and potential customers specifically about the products we sell."

However, we can glean from past — albeit rare — communication with the public regarding religious issues that the letter of Jewish law reigns supreme, just as Lapin describes. Posner wrote in a 1999 iteration of "F1RST LOOK," B&H's email newsletter, "We do NOT close as a matter of convenience, nor do we do so out of whimsey. [sic] […] The same requirements dictate that not only must the observant temporarily abjure commerce, but that their enterprises and business activities do likewise. It's not possible, under the ethics which guide our owners, simply to leave non-observant employees at work."

Because B&H is a closely held, private corporation, there is no way to know its gross figures, or whether or not its closures throughout the year negatively affect its sales profits. Likewise, it is impossible to know if the series of lawsuits have made a noticeable dent in attracting new customers, or if the limited business hours present any financial hardship for its employees. The paper trail on B&H's legal issues ends in 2011.

Experts, not salesmen
But perhaps the most surprising revelation, even beyond the theoretical justifications behind the troubling lawsuits, lies in B&H's customer service.

I admit: I fully expected something of a hard-sell experience. However, I feel zero pressure to buy during my time wandering the store. One salesman notices me comparing two sets of headphones, and tells me flat out, "You don't need to spend more money for good quality." Another suggests, "Don't worry about the things you want. Just worry about what you need."

Buy from us or don't buy from us, seems to be B&H's MO. It's no skin off the company's back
A very jolly, Hasidic version of Santa Claus prints out the information on a backpack I'm considering. I overhear another salesman tell a customer interested in scanners that he may be better off purchasing directly from the manufacturer, and still another encourage a married couple to take photos of the printers in contention, and discuss the options at home.

Maybe this is the real secret to B&H's success: upfront honesty. B&H wants your business, but it won't hustle you into a purchase.

How many times can you say you visited a store where the salespeople appeared nonplussed about making a sale? Where you are encouraged to focus on needs, eschewing frivolous indulgences?

Buy from us or don't buy from us, seems to be B&H's MO. It's no skin off the company's back.

B&H's owners, coming from an insular community uninterested in melding with mainstream culture, put a great swath of employees at a severe disadvantage. They also, surprisingly, deliver an unparalleled consumer experience.



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