Friday, July 03, 2015
Major Jewish Group Offers to Lead Google Team on Tour of Concentration
A leading Jewish group offered to organize a week-long visit to Nazi concentration camps for the team behind a Google smartphone game that included the death camps as points of interest.
“The fact that such as idea would be raised, considered and approved shows that they need to shut off the computer and do some real learning,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner on Thursday. “So if they’re interested, we would be very happy to create an itinerary for them that I think would open their eyes.”
Google came under fire this week after a German newspaper reported that a new augmented multiplayer game developed by one of its start-ups approved the inclusion of the Nazi concentration camps.
In the game, called Ingress, players take on missions to unlock virtual portals and fight for humanity. Ingress adds historic locations to the game after suggestions are submitted by players and approved by staff.
Soon after the uproar, Google apologized for including the Nazi death camps and promptly removed them.
Cooper said the inclusion of the death camps was “totally inappropriate” and added that Google’s apology was “an indication that they blew it.”
Cooper spoke to The Algemeiner from Europe while on a tour this week of Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps in Poland. Google’s managers and the team behind Ingress would “gain a lot” from such a trip, he said.
“This game shows there is something skewed, something missing. There are pieces missing,” he said. “And the best way to fill in those pieces is not by watching two or three movies about the Holocaust, but actually going and spending some time on the ground and to understand the human dimension of what transpired. And that was the spirit in which I made the offer.”
Among its many activities, the Simon Wiesenthal Center works to trace the use of technology as neo-Nazi propaganda. The group condemned the creation of “Holocaust games” in Austria in the late 1980s.
Even if people have heard of Nazi Party leader Adolph Hitler and they are familiar with the happenings of World War II, they still may need to develop a “more profound understanding” of why World War II was different from any other war, Cooper explained. There are so many questions about Jews and Roma being targeted, the gas chambers and other aspects of the Holocaust that can only be answered, learned and absorbed through real life experiences, such as visits to the sites of the concentration camps, he said.
“You’re not gonna get those answers in Wikipedia,” Cooper said.
The Google team, he said, lacked a “deeper understanding” of what took place at the death camps.
“If they would been standing with me this past Tuesday at Auschwitz where you see the thousands of pairs of shoes, the baby clothes, the eyeglasses, human hair… anybody who ever has that kind of experience would’ve stood up at that meeting and said, ‘Look, there may be ways for us to harness this kind of technology and even gain in order to teach new parts and lessons, but this isn’t one of them.'”
Thursday, July 02, 2015
New Square: Court orders resentencing for firebomber
Convicted New Square firebomber Shaul Spitzer will have a chance at being released from prison several years early after an appeals court ordered that he be resentenced in the case.
The Appellate Division ruled Wednesday that Spitzer, who was 18 when he set fire to the home of a dissident member of the Hasidic village in 2011, could have been eligible for youthful offender status when he was sentenced.
The court ordered Spitzer back to court to be resentenced and said the judge must also consider whether he should qualify for youthful offender status. The ruling did not compel the judge to grant the status, but did require the court to address the issue.
Spitzer agreed to a plea bargain that sent his to prison for seven years for the firebombing, which seriously injured a 44-year-old man and gave a rare public view of schisms within the rigidly controlled Skver Hasidic community.
The teenager, who worked as a butler for New Square grand rebbe David Twersky, could have received a sentence of 25 years on an attempted murder charge.
The top sentence for youthful offender for first-degree assault is four years. Spitzer is now in Eastern Eastern New York Correctional Facility in Ulster County, where he is in the fourth year of his seven-year sentence. His earliest release date is 2018.
If he is granted youthful offender status, he could be released immediately.
His lawyer, Ken Gribetz, said he was pleased by the court decision but declined to comment further. The appeal was filed by his law partner, Deborah Wolikow Loewenberg.
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Spitzer set off an incendiary device at the New Square home of Aron Rottenberg, a plumber who was inside the house with this wife and children. Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body and spent months in the hospital recuperating.
Rottenberg had been the target of attacks within the community for months because he chose to pray in a group outside the tiny village, despite an edict from Twersky that all residents pray only within New Square.
At Spitzer's sentencing, Rottenberg said he blamed the rabbinic leadership in the community for creating an atmosphere where violence is permitted to enforce strict social and religious rules.
Spitzer apologized at his sentencing for injuring Rottenberg.
New Square in April reportedly honored Spitzer for his Torah studies while he has been in jail.
Popular rabbi nabbed at airport over sex crimes accusations
A prominent rabbi from northern Israel who was accused of several counts of sexual assault was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport on Wednesday night as he was attempting to leave the country.
The rabbi, who has not been named, was accused Wednesday of sexually assaulting a woman who had approached him for religious guidance 13 years ago. On Wednesday evening, a second sexual assault complaint was filed against him.
Police proceeded to detain the rabbi at the airport for interrogation. A remand hearing was scheduled for Thursday morning.
The rabbi had recently resigned from his position and left his hometown of Safed, under pressure from a committee of local rabbis.
The team of local rabbis, led by Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, began investigating the allegations two weeks ago, and later reported it to the police.
"In consultation with various sources, and psychologists and professionals, the rabbi was asked to resign, and he did so immediately from his role of yeshiva head," the rabbis told Channel 2 in a statement.
"He agreed to leave the city until the facts were clarified," they added.
The rabbi has denied all the charges against him, his lawyer told Hebrew media.
The rabbi was described by Hebrew media reports as a popular Kabbalist, yeshiva head, and respected figure in Israel's national-religious community who also built bridges with the Hasidic public.
The women had approached the rabbinic council some two weeks ago with the allegations, and were directed on Wednesday by the body to report it to the police, the Walla news website reported.
Eliyahu told the news website the women were initially reluctant to report the allegations to the police. The rabbis then turned to the cops with the charges, but were informed they could not file a complaint on behalf of the women, Eliyahu said.
"In light of the numerous complainants, we approached the police this week of our own initiative, and during this meeting, it became clear that only if the women maintain there is something criminal in his actions and complains, can an investigation be opened," the chief rabbi said.
According to Channel 10, the women had approached the rabbi for religious counsel and a blessing for fertility after they struggled to conceive.
Wednesday, July 01, 2015
Welfare fraud sweep nabs 30 Orange County residents, 2 corporations in Kiryas Joel
County officials on Wednesday announced welfare fraud charges against 30 people and two corporations, bringing the amount of fraudulently obtained public benefits wrapped up in three county-wide sweeps since January 2014 to more than $1 million.
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler and County Executive Steve Neuhaus stressed that there is a critical need for legislation to close state and federal loopholes that allow people with substantial income or assets to game the system in ways that allow them to legally collect public benefits.
In this sweep, dubbed "Operation Million Dollar Mark,"officials say the defendants improperly collected $324,000 in public assistance administered by the county. The full total now is $1.07 million.
One in four people in Orange County collects some kind of public benefit, Hoovler said. Many are legitimately eligible and deserving, but fraud remains a serious problem.
"It affects everyday people," Hoovler said. "It affects the taxpayers of the county more than you would think."
The arrests announced Wednesday bring the number of people charged in these sweeps to 97, plus the two corporations. Hoovler put the amount of fraud prevented by the investigations and arrests at $5 million.
The investigations have been done through cooperation between the county's Department of Social Services and its special investigations unit, the county sheriff's office and the district attorney's office, and entail significant legwork and scrutiny of documentation and public records, said Ann Caldwell, the county's deputy commissioner of social services.
In the latest sweep, the largest chunk of fraud - $239,979 - was through Medicaid. Another $63,908 was attributable to fraudulently collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Progam benefits and $20,905 from Temporary Assistance.
So far, the county has received $123,930 in restitution from prior sweep defendants, and $148,390 in voluntary repayments from people who had not been charged.
Both of the corporations involved in the most recent sweep are owned by residents of the Village of Kiryas Joel.
The largest fraud charged was against Mordechai Friedman, 37, of Kiryas Joel, 100 percent shareholder of YMF and Associates. Officials say he fraudulently collected $61,442 in Medicaid benefits by under-reporting his income. He was charged with second-degree welfare fraud, a felony.
Another businessman, Chayim Deutsch, 36, of Kiryas Joel, structured his financial draws from his corporation, KJ Advertising, so he could create false documents and under-report his income and appear to be eligible for Medicaid. He collected $21,133 in benefits, officials said. He was charged with third-degree welfare fraud.
Hoovler and Chief Assistant District Attorney Chris Borek explained that individuals who structure their business corporations properly and who structure the pay they draw from the corporation can actually be eligible for public assistance, even if they own homes and cars and have substantial savings, and it's legal. Those business owners are often instructed on doing this by tax professionals, Hoovler said.
"It cries for a legislative fix," he said. "We need these loopholes closed. ... It's the IRS, it's the state level. There's multiple levels that need to be fixed."
Hoovler and Neuhaus announced that they will be contacting state Assembly and Senate members to address the issues, and a major push by the state's district attorneys' and county executives' associations to close loopholes is coming.
Rabbi Eliezer Berland to Be Extradited to Israel on Molestation Charges
Holland's Supreme Court has ruled Rabbi Eliezer Berland can be extradited to Israel where he faces charges of sexual molestation. This should end an Odyssey which has lasted for several years since Berland first fled Israel and during which time he jumped from country to country in both Africa and Europe.
Now it is up to the Dutch Justice Ministry to decide if it will do so. The Rabbi has said that Israel has no authority to try him for any crimes committed in what he calls occupied Palestine. No one in Israel really believes that he really believes this and is not just trying to avoid justice.
Rabbi Berland, 77, was accused by several women and one minor of sexually assaulting them. He ran from Israel in 2012 and arrived in the Netherlands at the end of last year.
Berland, a member of the Breslav Hasidic movement, is considered the leader of the Shuvu Bonim community in Israel, with an estimated few hundred followers. At the time, he claimed he was being persecuted in Israel because of his support for Palestinian statehood.
Berland was arrested in September during a layover at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, on his way from South Africa to the Ukraine. Since running away from his accusers in Israel in 2012, the rabbi has visited the U.S., Morocco, Zimbabwe and Switzerland, according to JTA.
Several dozen of Berland's followers have settled in the Netherlands to be near their rebbe. Well there is no limit to how far religious fanatics will go or what they will believe about their leaders.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Rebbe’s aide recalls his high-tech savvy
If the Lubavitcher Rebbe were alive today, said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, he'd be active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other forms of social media.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, was so tech savvy for his time, reported Krinsky, his longtime secretary, that he had a car phone installed as soon as the technology became available.
Krinsky spoke June 18 at Chabad of Western Monmouth County in Manalapan commemorating the 21st yahrtzeit of the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement.
"Can you just imagine the Rebbe on social media?" mused executive director Rabbi Boruch Chazanow, who interviewed Krinsky for the program.
Their talk touched on the ways Chabad has integrated technology in their outreach efforts; indeed, the 130 attendees were asked to text their questions to the cell phone of adult education director Rabbi Levi Wolosow.
Krinsky said Schneerson, who was educated in science and mathematics at the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne in Paris, would use a computer when they came on the scene late in his life. Yet the Rebbe insisted on opening all of the many hundreds of letters that arrived daily himself — he was a "speed reader" who could digest a letter in seconds, said Krinsky — so as to be able "to see the tears" with which each envelope was sealed.
Now chair of Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, Chabad's educational and social services divisions, Krinsky served on the Rebbe's administrative staff for more than 40 years.
Schneerson took over the leadership of the Chabad Lubavitcher movement from his father-in-law, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson (both descendants of the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe), in 1951, a year after the elder Rebbe's death.
Under the younger Schneerson, Chabad grew into a force within the Jewish world, sending shluchim, or emissaries, to the far corners of the world to provide outreach to Jews who had become disconnected from their roots.
Although he worked long hours into the night at Chabad-Lubavitcher world headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the Rebbe made it a point to spend 15 minutes each day having tea with his wife, Chaya Mushka, even if he returned home at 3 a.m.
When she died in 1988, Schneerson soon left their home and moved a bed into his office, where he lived the last years of his life. He told Krinsky "he was missing joy in his life."
Krinsky was sent in 1946 to Brooklyn from Boston by his parents to attend the Chabad-Lubavitcher school.
Ironically, it was his driving skills that brought him to the attention of Schneerson. Because he had a driver's license, something of a rarity especially in New York City in those days, Krinsky became the Rebbe's driver.
Krinsky recalled missing his own engagement party because Schneerson, whom he had taken to visit a boys' camp in the Catskills, unexpectedly decided he should also visit a girls' camp. When Krinsky dropped the Rebbe at his house, Krinsky said, he found his brother-in-law waiting to drive him to the party. Unfortunately, it was 11:30 p.m. and the guests had left.
His future wife showed understanding. "She was proud as a peacock," said Krinsky. "We had the party the next night."
Without a job as his wedding date approached, Schneerson offered Krinsky the role of public relations representative, he said, adding, "There was no such thing at the time, as if I even knew what public relations was."
Krinsky became so close to the Rebbe that after Chaya Mushka died, Schneerson asked him to be the executor of his will.
When Schneerson began sending out shluchim to reach unaffiliated Jews in the 1950s, people viewed it as a lost cause.
"Today it has become stylish and very successful," said Krinsky; more than 3,000 Chabad centers and more than 5,000 shluchim are operating worldwide.
They are also perhaps the reason why Schneerson, who died at age 92, was the last Lubavitcher rebbe. "I feel the shluchim are an extension of the Rebbe," said Krinsky.
Jewish group hired Mexican laborers to protest N.Y. gay pride parade
An Orthodox Jewish group hired Mexican laborers to protest for them at the gay pride parade in New York.
A reporter for The New York Times witnessed the group of Mexican men picketing for the Jewish Political Action Committee, a fringe Hasidic group based in Brooklyn, at Sunday's parade in Manhattan.
The hired protesters wore ritual fringes, or tzitzit, and held up signs protesting homosexuality and same-sex marriage, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26.
Heshie Freed, a member of the Jewish Political Action Committee, told the Times that the men were hired to fill in for "yeshiva boys" who would normally protest but were kept away because of "what they would see at the parade."
The group of Mexican men was fenced off from the main parade at Fifth Avenue and 15th Street, and parade-goers repeatedly kissed in front of them.
Later in the day, a fight broke out between a parade-goer and an Orthodox man associated with the group.
"It's been a lot of confrontation," Freed told the Times. "Whenever you have emotions, you have a situation."
Sunday, June 28, 2015
Medieval Biblical scroll shown in Billings
A piece of Biblical history possibly dating back before Columbus discovered America was be seen in Billings on Friday and Saturday.
The Lodz Torah contains five books from the Old Testament, Genesis through Deuteronomy.
Christian Apologist Josh McDowell obtained the Medieval Hebrew manuscript in Poland.
He talked about the precision in writing more than 300-thousand letters on 36 pages of calf skin, covering 72 feet.
A Rabbi certified the accuracy so it could be read by an impoverished Jewish community around 1450.
McDowell said he originally studied artifacts to write against Christianity.
"I concluded I'd been wrong," McDowell said. "They're true. They're accurate and I prayed that some day, can I have artifacts like these that I can help others bridge their faith in history to the way they live today."
McDowell is from Texas and spoke at the Big Sky World View Forum held at Faith E.
Saturday, June 27, 2015
Printers sue Satmar newspaper
The weekly newspaper serving one of two branches of the Satmar Hasidic movement is being sued in Supreme Court in Brooklyn by two printers for nearly $1 million in printing bills that Der Blatt allegedly neglected to pay.
Der Blatt, a Yiddish paper with offices in Kiryas Joel and Brooklyn, faces two separate lawsuits filed in January and March of this year, one by Stellar Printing in Queens and another by Instant Newspaper in Brooklyn. Stellar alleges that Der Blatt owes $628,000 in unpaid bills from 2008 through 2014; Instant claims the newspaper owes $341,000 from 2001 to 2010. Both totals include printing costs for Der Blatt itself and for affliated publications such as the weekly Kiryas Joel Journal.
Der Blatt's attorney, Joseph Haspel of Goshen, didn't respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits.
Der Blatt, which means "the newspaper" in Yiddish, is a thick, tabloid-sized publication read by followers of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the Satmar branch that holds a majority in Kiryas Joel. Started in 2000 as an alternative to Der Yid - the decades-old weekly paper read by adherents of Teitelbaum's brother and rival, Rabbi Zalmen Teitelbaum - Der Blatt costs $3 and bills itself as "The Voice of Worldwide Orthodox Jewry." Last Thursday's edition, fattened with full-page ads and a 32-page section consisting entirely of photos, totaled 172 pages. (Der Yid is a similar-looking publication that describes itself as "The Voice of American Orthodox Jewry.")
Der Blatt is registered as a nonprofit organization based in Kiryas Joel, with Kiryas Joel resident Elimelech Deutsch as its president. Der Blatt is listed in county property records as the owner of two single-family houses located just outside of Kiryas Joel, one of which is included in the pending annexation petition that seeks to shift 507 acres into the village from the Town of Monroe. Deutsch bought the houses for $950,000 in 2006 and $450,000 in 2004 and transferred them to Der Blatt, records show.
Friday, June 26, 2015
Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine
Make sure to pick up your free copy of the Country Yossi Family Magazine and read the brand new original article 'The Gantze Mishpuche' written by Chaptzem
, the only Heimishe
blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.
Lawyer: Yeshiva bus driver denies molesting boy, 4
A private school bus driver denies sexually touching a 4-year-old boy who attended a Union Road yeshiva, the man's lawyer said Thursday.
Shlomo Erps, 27, has been suspended with pay by the yeshiva pending the outcome of a felony charge of first-degree sexual abuse, his lawyer, Keith Braunfotel of New City, said.
"He is denying the charge and is prepared to vigorously defend himself," Braunfotel said. "He's a hard-working family man. One of his children goes to the same school."
Spring Valley police detectives investigated a complaint from the boy's parents and arrested Erps on the felony charge two weeks ago, police said. Erps is accused of sexually touching the child on the bus, Spring Valley police Detective Robert Bookstein said.
Erps has been released after posting $10,000 bail pending a Spring Valley Justice Court appearance scheduled for Sept. 11.
A school administrator for Talmud Torah Khal Adas Yereim, located at 33 Union Road, said it suspended Erps immediately after his arrest earlier this month. The administrator, Tzvi Sternberg, said the "administration did not outright fire the driver because he is not yet deemed guilty in a court of law."
The school has installed cameras in all buses to better protect the safety of the students, Sternberg said.
The school's website states it has an enrollment of 285 students in pre-kindergarten through 8th grade. The school provides secular and religious education.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
KJ forum turns combative, conciliatory
A forum held to address relations between the residents of Kiryas Joel and the surrounding community drew a packed audience of more than 150 people to the campus of SUNY Orange on Wednesday evening, where the discussion was by turns combative and conciliatory, snide and sympathetic.
The forum, sponsored by Orange County Democratic Women and moderated by New York University history professor Richard Hull of Warwick, consisted of a panel of four diverse members of the community at large: Rabbi Joel Schwab of Temple Sinai in Middletown; Gerald Benjamin, professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz; Caren Fairweather, executive director of Maternal Infant Services Network; and Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, who made his comments in absentia through his legislative aide, Cornwall-on-Hudson Mayor Brendan Coyne.
In just over two hours, the discussion covered a far-reaching range of topics, from Kiryas Joel's proposed annexation of 507 acres from the Town of Monroe, population growth, public health, use of social services, employment, religious freedom and cultural tolerance, to political influence, bloc voting, legislation and court fights, among other matters.
It was the sixth such forum Hull has moderated on relations between Kiryas Joel and the surrounding community; new this time was the addition of the panel, which did not include a member from Kiryas Joel. In fact, only two residents of the village were present in the audience, along with three other Hasidic residents of Monroe, who identified themselves by a show of hands.
Each panel member focused on a different aspect of the persistent tension between the two communities.
Schwab spoke passionately about the historical and devoutly religious influences on Hasidic culture, then drew parallels to widely held American traditions. "I don't see any reason why we shouldn't all be curious about a lifestyle based on families," he said. "Isn't that a value that we have? A lifestyle based on religion. Isn't that a value that we have?"
Benjamin spoke of the historical tendency for cultural groups to live apart, and the relative newness of mixed communities in American society. "Municipality no longer means community," Benjamin said.
Fairweather offered a unique perspective on maternal and infant health care in Kiryas Joel, where the rate of caesarean births — 7 percent — is far below the average of 35-50 percent elsewhere. Unintended pregnancies among teenagers are also minimal in KJ, Fairweather said. In this way, she said, "this community does a lot to reduce the cost of health care," an idea that runs counter to common belief.
Skoufis, who has been an outspoken critic of Kiryas Joel's leadership, said through Coyne, "So many others and I want to end the division and want to live in peace. The people of Kiryas Joel are good people, who, I believe, overwhelmingly also want to live in peace."
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Report finds 'serious flaws' in Kiryas Joel's environmental review
A new report released by Orange County is slamming the results of an environmental study done by a Hasidic community looking to expand.
Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus says the report shows "serious flaws" in Kiryas Joel's environmental review.
Kiryas Joel leadership have not returned News 12 calls for comment on the findings.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
East Ramapo rallies for more oversight
The state Senate is thin on time, but East Ramapo school district parents and students are hoping it can find the time — not to mention the political will — to provide the troubled district with additional oversight.
Roughly 200 parents, students and community members came out for a sometimes-raucous, last grasp rally in Memorial Park Monday evening in support of Senate Bill 3821. The bill, passed by the State Assembly two weeks ago, would give the district a special monitor to independently monitor a school board accused of putting private school students ahead of their public school counterparts.
"We are reasonable people, but we deserve better than the crumbs Albany wanted to feed us," said Andrew Mandel, a former East Ramapo student who helped organize the rally.
Senate leadership is loath to vote on the bill as passed by the Assembly, with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, and other Senate Republicans worried allowing a state-appointed monitor with veto power would set a dangerous precedent. Changes have been proposed to the bill, but have not been popular.
The last day of the legislative session is Tuesday.
But Monday, amidst chants of "vote on that bill," East Ramapo stakeholders were less interested in issues of home rule.
"This is not a state takeover," said County Executive Ed Day, earning applause from the assembled crowd. "If the board is doing nothing wrong, the monitor is going to have the easiest job in the world."
Day highlighted many of the issues critics of the school board, dominated by members of East Ramapo's Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, have had since it allegedly began diverting resources from the public schools and the toward private, religiously-affiliated schools many community members attend.
Day said the board does much of its work in closed-door executive sessions, has sold shuttered schools for "discount prices," and levied charges of anti-Semitism against critics.
Board critics also point to a report from Henry Greenberg, former fiscal monitor for the district, that found the board "appears to favor the interest of private schools over public schools," by funneling students with special needs into religious schools and paying high prices for transportation to those schools.
The school board's defenders say the state's funding formula is broken and is shortchanging a district with high numbers of students on free and reduced lunch and a large special education population, which Greenberg's report also found evidence of. A petition with almost 6,000 signatures from school board supporters was delivered to Albany lawmakers earlier this month.
Changes to the bill have been proposed by state Sen. David Carlucci, D-Clarkstown. However, Assemblymen Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, and Zebrowski, D-New City, rejected those changes. Both attended the rally and Zebrowski told the crowd the changes would allow the monitor do nothing more than enforce state and federal law.
Carlucci was not present at the rally. Mendel told the crowd he was traveling to Albany.
Before marching to the district's nearby offices, the crowd also heard from East Ramapo students.
"We walk these hallways that are falling apart, we study outdated textbooks that crumble at our fingertips," said Aleah Green, a rising junior at Spring Valley High School and the secretary of the local NAACP youth council. "My education, and the education of every other Spring Valley High School student, is being tampered with, and that's why we need this bill to pass."
Monday, June 22, 2015
50,000 pilgrims throng to Rebbe’s grave on death anniversary
Wayne Abrahami, a middle-aged real-estate developer from Las Vegas, pays the same visit every time he's in New York. Though bound for an international flight, Sunday morning found him rushing to say a quick prayer at the "Ohel," the burial site of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
"This is where I reconnect," said Abrahami, dressed in a black T-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, white hair showing beneath. The child of Holocaust survivors and a father of three, he said Schneerson's memory gives him strength. "It's not that easy to find inspiration," he said. "I find it here."
Abrahami was among the more than 50,000 visitors who flocked to the "Ohel" ("tent" in Hebrew) in the Old Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York, to mark the 21st anniversary of the death of the Hasidic leader largely considered one of the most influential Jews of the 20th century.
Schneerson (1902-1994), known to many as simply "the Rebbe," was the seventh and final leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty. A pioneer of Jewish outreach, he revitalized the then insular Hasidic group which had nearly been destroyed during the Holocaust, and turned the movement into one of the most powerful forces in world Jewry. Today, there are 4,200 Chabad-Lubavitch emissary families, or "shluchim," who operate 3,500 education and social centers in 85 countries.
Schneerson's grave is now a pilgrimage spot, attracting hundreds of thousands every year from around the world. While graves of famous rabbis and righteous personalities crowd Eastern Europe, North Africa and Israel, this modern-day shrine is unique in America.
His yahrzeit, or the anniversary of his death, always attracts an especially robust crowd and this year's turnout was one of the largest ever, according to a Chabad spokesperson.
Beginning in the middle of last week and continuing through the weekend, a steady flow of visitors waited to pray and deliver handwritten requests for blessings at the rabbi's graveside. Separate entrances for men and women divided the crowd, and groups of about 50 people were permitted to enter the stone tomb enclosure, one group at a time.
Inside the enclosure, visitors were given two minutes on the clock to recite Psalms, pray, and deliver pre-written notes. A buzzer marked the end of the allotted time.
Rhanita, a single mother of four originally from Kazakhstan, said the Ohel represents her connection to Judaism and to her community. With a group of 55 others, she traveled from Toronto on a 10-hour bus ride to visit for the day. After spending about an hour at the site, the group was preparing to board the buses back.
In stilted English, she described how she had been afraid to admit her religion after leaving the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.
"We were scared for people to know we were Jewish," Rhanita said. "We did not talk about our past."
After becoming involved with the Chabad house in Toronto, she began sending her children to Hebrew school. Today, two of her children attend a Jewish elementary school. "I came here to say thank you," she said, describing the visit as "overwhelming."
"The spirit here takes hold of you," Rhanita said, gesturing widely toward the crowd of women writing notes in an air-conditioned room next to the graveyard. "Six years ago I came here in jeans and a tank-top," she said, pointing to her updated garb. Though it was sweltering hot, she wore a hat and a colorful shawl on top of a long skirt and long-sleeved shirt. "Today I feel like a different person."
Despite the euphoric experiences described by many, critics of the mainstream Chabad-Lubavitch movement worry that Chabad's messianic wing, which glorifies the Rebbe, will be permanently severed from the movement, and from mainstream Orthodoxy.
Among other critics, Rabbi David Berger, a historian at Yeshiva University, claimed in a 2001 book that this messianic belief is tantamount to heresy.
In "The Rebbe, The Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference," Berger argued that Judaism rejects the idea that the messiah can be a deceased person. That belief, he wrote, has differentiated Judaism from Christianity for 2,000 years. He admonishes the Orthodox establishment at large for not publicly denouncing the messianic elements in the Lubavitch community.
Even within Chabad itself, there is a plurality of opinion in how to engage its messianic wing. In a 2014 Times of Israel blog, Chabad-trained Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote with a certain jealousy of "the tremendous energy unleashed by the Chabad messianic movement as it congregates and detonates at world Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn."
"Mainstream Chabad is uncomfortable with the messianists, believing they give both the movement and the Rebbe himself a bad name. The messianists are millennial, apocalyptic, and, to many minds, irrational. They want to push both Chabad and Judaism into the end of days.
"But there can be no denying that they have tapped into an energy source that appears near infinite," wrote Boteach.
But not only disciples of the Rebbe visit his grave. Chaim, a 72-year-old Floridian in a floral print shirt, shorts and sunglasses waited in line for his chance to enter the gravesite's stone enclosure, his colorful get-up standing out amidst the black hats and white shirts worn by the surrounding hassids.
"I'm most definitely not Chabad, but the Rebbe was a great man, and praying next to a great man is a privilege," he said loudly, explaining that a trip to the Ohel is a staple of his regular visits to New York.
Chaim took three notes out of his pocket, hand-written by his grandchildren in Florida with prayers and special requests. "They haven't been here themselves yet, but they know I'll deliver these faithfully every time."
Chaim's repeat visits are not unusual here. Tzirel Reznik, a 12-year-old frequenter of the Ohel, said she's been writing prayers to the Rebbe since she can remember.
"I ask him to be healthy and to go to camp, and I asked him for a baby sister last year and I got one!" the New York native said, enthusiastically bopping with the chubby blond baby on her hip. Her family makes the trip at least twice a year.
"We come for engagements, we come for weddings — I can't even count how many times I've been here," she said.
Danielle and Michael Bitton, Moroccan Jews living in Montreal, shared a similar story. The couple had first visited the graveside when they were having difficulty conceiving, Danielle recalled.
"When I came here, 15 years ago, I wanted only one thing," she said, sitting on the curb in front of entrance building, a line of impatient visitors trailing behind her. A scarf covered her head, and she rolled a suitcase packed for the overnight flight. Her 15-year-old daughter, Chaya, named after the Rebbe's wife, wandered over curiously, and took a sandwich out of their backpack.
"Today, I brought my prayer with me," she said, watching her daughter. "Now, I'm here to say thank you."
Sunday, June 21, 2015
‘When Western women stop being objectified, they can criticise us.’ Orthodox Jewish women fight back
The Hebrew phrase “chillul hashem” translates as bringing shame upon one’s community in the eyes of the outside world. It can be invoked by anything from double-parking to failure to observe the complicated latticework of laws that circumscribe orthodox Jewish life, dictating everything from hairstyles to behaviour.
These days chillul hashem is as likely to spark a trending hashtag. Recently, a leaked letter sent by school leaders in the north London Belz sect condemned mothers for their “immodesty” in driving their children to school. Social media was inflamed, while women’s groups drew comparisons with Saudi Arabia.
A few months earlier, a scandal was ignited when an Instagram post of a street sign from a Hackney Torah procession went viral. It read, in English and Yiddish: “Women should please walk along this side of the road only.”
“It was boring,” says Ilana Freedman of the furore, sitting in the flat she shares with her rabbi husband and four young sons, above a west London synagogue. “That sign was intended to make our women feel comfortable,”she says. “But it became part of that tired narrative about Haredi [ultra-orthodox Jewish] women being oppressed.”
Freedman’s pet hate is Western feminists’ reading of an ultra-orthodox Jewish woman’s lot as, “All about wigs, menstrual rites and being downtrodden,” she says. “Belz rabbis themselves don’t drive. But it’s easy to wheel out that tired old story about Haredi women being oppressed.”
Freedman – who migrated from traditional to ultra-orthodox Judaism – is a biology teacher and has written online about issues facing Jewish women. She is “a Facebook-hip Haredi woman”, as she puts it. “A sign our world is changing, I suppose.”
It is a troubled time for women in Britain’s more than 40,000-strong (and growing) Haredi community, and not just because of a rise in anti-semitic attacks. Their lives of strict observance are being assailed as never before, by the pressures of caring for large families in an era of benefit cuts; by rising house prices in the community’s north London enclave of Stamford Hill; and by the emergence in Israelof a reformist brand of “orthofeminism” that is questioning the doctrinal basis for traditional Haredi gender roles.
Haredi – literally “one who trembles before God” – is an umbrella term for the most strictly observant among the modern Jewry. In Britain Haredi communities range from the largely Hasidic, or Jewish mystic, Haredi Jews of Stamford Hill, to Lithuanian diasporic groups in Golders Green and Gateshead, and other communities in Edgware and Salford.
Shared by these groups is a fundamentalist interpretation of the Torah, a physical separation of the genders in certain situations and strictly defined roles for men and women that prescribe an ideal of male religious scholarship and female worldly service.
Saturday, June 20, 2015
Orthodox Jewish schools that teach next to no English are being rated as 'outstanding'
A study of Ofsted reports on independent Haredi or ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools during the period 2007-2014 found they were rated as “good” or “outstanding” 71 per cent of the time when inspected by a member of the Jewish community, but only 22 per cent of the time when inspected by a non-Haredi inspector.
The study was carried out by the British Humanist Association (BHA), which is campaigning against faith schools, particularly their “discriminatory admission, employment and curriculum policies” as well as government financial support for such schools.
They launched the study after hearing evidence given to an All-Party Parliamentary Group last year by a former British-born Haredi school pupil who described how he grew up in north London speaking almost no English and received less than an hour’s non-religious curriculum teaching a day.
Friday, June 19, 2015
KJ group denounces anti-Semitism charges
A group representing part of Kiryas Joel's population waded into the heated debate over the potential expansion of the village on Thursday by publicly denouncing the charges of anti-Semitism that have been leveled against opponents and calling for greater tolerance of conflicting viewpoints.
The Kiryas Joel Alliance delivered that message in a striking, full-page ad in the Times Herald-Record, one that condemned the anti-Semitism accusations and defended several politicians involved in the debate without taking a position on the merits of two pending annexation petitions. The ad called the bigotry claims "baseless and untrue," and warned that they "only encourage those on the fringe to further their hate."
"Our neighbors have a right to voice their opinion regarding the annexation without the fear of being stigmatized as anti-Semitic," the ad read. "The proposed annexation will inevitably have an effect on their lives just as it will on those of us who reside in the Village of Kiryas Joel."
The Alliance represents a minority faction in the divided Satmar Hasidic community and opposes its government leaders. Two Alliance leaders, Lipa Deutsch and David Falkowitz, said in a phone interview on Thursday that they placed the ad in response to allegations of anti-Orthodox bigotry voiced last week at a public hearing in Kiryas Joel on the proposed annexations. Though they criticized the village's handling of the annexation process, they insisted their public statement was a sincere call for civility and not a political gesture.
"Peace with neighbors is a very big thing for us," Deutsch said.
Falkowitz said: "Everybody's entitled to their opinion, even if I disagree."
Their ad also featured the names and photos of four elected officials - Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, assemblymen James Skoufis and Karl Brabenec and state Sen. William Larkin Jr. - and rejected accusations of anti-Semitism against "our political leaders," arguing that the Torah commands "respect and support" for them. Deutsch and Falkowitz cautioned that their statement should not be mistaken for campaign endorsements.
Neuhaus, in a written response, said Thursday: "The proposed annexation is not in the best interests of Orange County and will have a net negative financial impact on the County, according to our independent consultants. Whatever factional differences exist within Kiryas Joel as outlined in the advertisement, the fact remains." He added that the county will submit and publicly release more extensive comments on Monday on Kiryas Joel's environmental review for the annexation proposals.
Skoufis responded: "The overwhelming majority of residents in Orange County realize that there are serious and legitimate concerns with the current annexation process. These residents transcend all municipalities, and we appreciate all the support we've been receiving."
Emily Convers, chairwoman of the United Monroe citizens group, applauded the Alliance's newspaper ad for "turning the conversation back to the topic at hand," the potential impact of expanding Kiryas Joel.
"We're glad that so many citizens of Kiryas Joel are shocked by the rhetoric and hate-baiting that went on at the public hearing," she said.
Apartment residents voice concerns over crowded housing signup scene
Residents of the Evergreen apartment complex said there are several reasons why they are angry about the way signups for Section 8 housing were handled by the Monticello Housing Authority.
When more than 600 people - many of them Hasidic men and women from outside of Sullivan County - lined up to get on the waiting list, residents were upset because it appeared they got more notice than county residents.
But more than anything, residents are upset with how the crowd was handled when it became disruptive.
"If that was a slew of black people, police would have got them out of there," said Evergreen resident Alexis Hill.
The Monticello Housing Authority's Board of Commissioners held a special meeting Thursday to hear residents' complaints following MHA's opening of the waiting list for Section 8 housing on Monday. About 20 people showed up Thursday.
The line for signups began to form around 9:30 p.m. Sunday and continued to grow through the early morning hours. Many residents said they were awakened by the crowd, but said there was nothing done to either keep them quiet or have them go elsewhere.
"Any time we have a barbecue and it hits 10 p.m., the cops are escorting people out of here," said resident Elaine Williams, former county NAACP president and current secretary. "(The crowd) should have been made to get out of here."
MHA Executive Director Anne Johansen said it was out of her control how police handled the situation. MHA Board Chairman Mattie Anderson said it was something residents need to take up with the village.
The majority of the MHA board agreed with residents' complaints. So did Village Manager David Sager, who said the situation would have been handled slightly different had it been a different group of people.
Sager said he will have discussions with village officials, including the police department, about the issue.
Monticello Police Chief Robert Mir, though, said those statements are not true. He said the people waiting in line weren't breaking the law. In fact, they were just following the directions given to them by the housing authority, Mir said.
"For them to imply it would be handled differently because of racial or religious backgrounds is offensive, inaccurate and inappropriate," Mir said.
Johansen tried to quell some of the residents' concerns. She told residents that even though anyone could get on the waiting list - even if they were from out of the county - preference is still given to Sullivan County residents.
Johansen also said she put notifications in local newspapers' legal sections alerting people of the opening of the signup list.
Thursday, June 18, 2015
Now I Know How I'd Answer The New York Times
In 2008 I was busy preparing for one of my biggest shows, which was scheduled to take place in Madison Square Garden. However, the "Big Event," as it was called, did not happen that year. I had to cancel it due to a ban signed by thirty-three rabbis.
The New York Times published an article about why the rabbis were so afraid of my music: "The growing fame of Mr. Schmeltzer, who weaves pop melodies with traditional Hasidic songs, has troubled some Hasidim, who have chided him for introducing Jewish youth to secular musical styles. Others fear his popularity could rival that of the rabbis, who wield spiritual authority over Hasidic daily life."
The Times reached out to me for comment, but I did not respond. I was afraid of further consequences. I was also wary of responding to a non-Jewish newspaper with details about our insular community that should be kept private.
I will not elaborate here on the damage the ban caused me. I will only say that I have been wondering ever since, what is it about my music that can get some religious leaders so excited? Is it a problem because some oppose musical genres due to taste – a matter of subjectivity – or is it because certain musical styles interfere with their version of religion?
Now that I've had a chance to study music and the brain, I know just what I would have told The New York Times. Here is what I think: Whether we love or hate music depends on conditioning. It's not about religion; it's about what we grew up with.
In fact, many things in every culture are conditioned, such as taste, smell, and visual cues. And in the Chassidic community, more things are conditioned than in other cultures. These include certain gender roles and modes of dress. For example, Chassidim are supposed to dress in black and white – a blue shirt can signal an outcast.
I would have explained to The New York Times that when it comes to musical genres, taste lies hidden in several parts of our brain that have been conditioned to our musical choices. Musical conditioning, in fact, occurs as early as the ninth month of a baby's life, according to an article by Daniel J. Levitin and Anna K. Tirovolas that appeared in the magazine The Year In Cognitive Neuroscience (2009).
Levitin and Tirovolas helped me understand that opposition to my music is not necessarily a religious opinion but a brain condition. Their research indicated that people who had no exposure to major and minor modes (associated with brightness vs. darkness, or happiness vs. sadness) showed little or no difference when listening to songs in these modes. We can therefore conclude that perception has to do with the genres of music people have been listening to since childhood.
Much of the opposition to me was due to my performing rap music. Like most Chassidic Jews, I did not know what rap was. I first found out about it when I got a booking from a producer who requested that I do "that rap thing for fifteen minutes."
When I asked what " that rap thing" was, he told me "the fast rhymes you did the other night while the drummer was performing a solo." I said "Oh, that's the rap thing; I can give you more of that."
Nowadays I think that perhaps my free style developed not because I ever listened to rap but rather from a key childhood influence: the sing-song of the study hall where yeshiva students like me debated the finer points of the Talmud in a complex, rapid-fire delivery. Turning that into rap was not such an unusual step; Jews and others have often adapted musical genres from their surroundings.
It is important to recognize that not everyone's brain accepts music the same way, and that acceptance depends, at least in part, on how the brain is culturally conditioned. The way we perceive music has nothing to do with religion.
As someone who stands with one foot in my Chassidic community and the other in Columbia University, I hope to change people's minds. Yes, we can dance on an American hip-hop stage with spiritual movements. If The New York Times calls again, I'll tell them!
Hundreds of Orthodox boys 'missing' from education system
Hundreds of strictly Orthodox boys in north London appear to be missing from the official education system despite attempts by the authorities to register the yeshivot where many are believed to be studying.
New figures issued by the Department for Education reveal the startling statistic that there are roughly seven times as many teenage girls as boys in Charedi schools in the borough of Hackney, home to the largest strictly Orthodox community in the country.
There are just 104 boys aged 14 to 16 in Charedi schools — compared with 721 girls in the same age bracket, according to figures from the 2015 School Census.
Whereas there are 275 girls aged 13 in Charedi schools in Hackney, the number of boys is only 49.
That leaves a difference of more than 800 — compared with the DfE estimates that surfaced three years ago of possibly as many as 1,000 so-called "missing boys".
The DfE also said, in a response to a Freedom of Information request from the JC, that it had registered no new yeshivot in the past two years and none were currently in the process of registering.
But a spokesman for the department emphasised this week that it was "a criminal offence to run an unregistered independent school — alongside the police we take action against any that do not comply".
He added: "We are working with Hackney Council to ensure that all children are safe and receive suitable education."
The DfE has a list of 23 institutions it suspects are unregistered yeshivot where boys receive little, if any, secular education. But the policy has so far been to try to encourage registration rather than take stronger enforcement action.
One former pupil of a Hackney Charedi school said that "all that is happening is passing the buck between the DfE and Hackney Council. Their response has been that they are engaging with the community, but it's been many years now and there's little progress".
He added that hundreds of children were "losing out. When others take GCSEs at 16, they are barely able to write or read English and do basic maths. That leaves them with little opportunity when it comes to employment and many Charedi families end up living in desperate poverty because of it".
According to one Charedi source, the community is divided over how to respond.
The JC has also learned that the department's view that yeshivot should be registered has come under legal challenge.
In a memo submitted a year ago on behalf of the Satmar Yeshivah, lawyer Daniel Greenberg argued that yeshivot provide specialised religious education which fell outside of the remit of the relevant education act.
He said that "only a small proportion of time" was spent in actual lessons, with the rest devoted to prayer, study and contemplation.
The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations declined to comment.
If yeshivot were registered, they would have to undergo Ofsted inspections as independent schools.
But one Charedi source said that the tougher inspection regime employed by Ofsted, which has resulted in highly critical reports on several strictly Orthodox schools over the past year, was discouraging those outside the system from registering.
Compared with Hackney, there is little difference within strictly Orthodox schools in Manchester, Salford and Bury, where there are 393 boys aged from 13 to 16 in registered establishments and 386 girls.
Police: Janitor charged in stabbing at Kiryas Joel synagogue
A 56-year-old man employed as a janitor in Kiryas Joel been charged with stabbing a person while both were inside a synagogue.
Troopers say the 35-year-old person with stabbed in the upper leg with a small screwdriver wielded by Jae Kyung Lee of Monroe. Police said Wednesday the attacked occurred in the synagogue at Kiryas Joel, home to the Orthodox Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews.
Lee was charged with assault and criminal possession of a weapon. He was to be arraigned in Monroe Town Court and is being held Thursday in the county jail. It couldn't be determined if he has a lawyer.
Police couldn't immediately say what led to the stabbing.
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Hasidic Stars Bring Yiddish Soul to Central Park
It's as if the rain knew to stop precisely at 6 o'clock. After one of the wettest days of the month, the sky turned from gray to blue, the clouds parted for the last hour of Tuesday sun, and Yiddish Soul took the stage at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield. The concert, a showcase of cantorial and Hasidic music, kicked off the third night of Kulturfest, the largest Yiddish cultural festival in the Big Apple since the 1930s.
Hundreds of concertgoers gathered in the park's SummerStage venue to hear Hasidic popstars Lipa Schmeltzer and Avraham Fried, and cantors Netanel Hershtik, Joseph Malovany of New York's Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and Yanky Lemmer of Lincoln Square Synagogue. The cantors were joined by a full band – including trumpeter Frank London, a Grammy-winning artist and titan of the Klezmer revival – and by Zusha, a popular neo-Hasidic indie band from Brooklyn.
"We're here in New York, singing in Yiddish for all the segments of our community, right to left, up and down, as I like to say," said the emcee, Nachum Segal, who also hosts the Jewish radio show JM in the AM, broadcast on 91.1-FM from six to nine every morning. Some women wore long skirts and formal dresses, while others wore short-shorts and oversized sunglasses. Some men showed up in gym clothes and baseball caps, while others came in yarmulkes and top hats, tzitzit dangling below their belts.
Avraham Fried sang about the future – what it'll be like when the Messiah comes and when the third Temple is built. Molevany, who sparked a great Jewish musical revival in Russia at the fall of the Soviet Union, wore a white tuxedo jacket and a bowtie. Lemmer also sang about the coming of the messiah – when Solomon will teach us wisdom, David will play the harp, Moses will teach us secrets of the Torah, and Aaron will bless us.
Lipa Schmeltzer, a frum, Borough Park artist with mainstream appeal, came out rapping in jeans and a button down. "When I say oy, you say vey. Oy? Vey! Oy? Vey!" he yelled, pointing at his listeners and banging a tambourine against his chest.
"Keep your eyes and ears and hearts open," said one member of Zusha. The Yiddish band is perhaps best known for its nigguns, repetitive tunes with no words. The melodies loop over and over again to transport listeners to a spiritual place, and as they get louder and louder, they become increasingly uplifting. The music feels at once soulful and exotic.
"I first heard Zusha when I was at Limmud New York, and I fell in love," said concertgoer Josh Krug, 27, a student of Education and Jewish Studies at NYU and resident of Crown Heights. "I like the spirituality, the feel of it, the creativity, the mixing of different influences in the music."
Krug explained that there were no female performers because of kol isha, a tradition that prohibits a woman from singing alone in front of men, in order to maintain her modesty.
By the end of the concert, energy was so high that the musicians were doing cartwheels onstage. And in the back of the crowd, some were reciting maariv, the evening prayer, by the exit gates.
Krug understood very little Yiddish – he's fluent only in Hebrew – but he said the concert was powerful nonetheless. "These cantors have been singing this stuff for generations," he said, "and it's an amazing, beautiful tradition."
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Early-bird Hasidic crowds show at first Section 8 application day in 5 years
More than 650 people camped outside the Monticello Housing Authority on Evergreen Road for as much as 10 hours Sunday night to apply for one of the 50 available subsidized housing slots in Sullivan County. Many were Hasidic men and women from outside the county, according to Monticello Housing Authority Executive Director Anne Johnson.
Monday was the first day county and non-county residents could apply to be on the Monticello Housing Authority waiting list for Section 8 - or federally subsidized - housing, Johnson said. It was the first time people could apply to be on that list in five years.
The crowd formed around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, according to residents of the Evergreen Apartment complex, where the Housing Authority is located.
The authority's office didn't open until 8 a.m. on Monday.
The crowd woke up several residents in the complex. They say those waiting in line were making too much noise and parking in their privately-owned parking spaces. Other residents said there were too many cars blocking Evergreen Drive, preventing school buses from getting in and picking up children.
"They were very disrespectful," said Evergreen resident Elaine Williams, former president and current secretary for the Sullivan County NAACP.
Several Hasidic men and women declined comment.
Monticello Police Chief Robert Mir said police were on the scene early Monday morning. He said they stopped letting cars into the Evergreen complex around 6 a.m.
Police also tried to get some of those waiting in line to park in municipal lots.
But Mir said some didn't follow police requests and began parking in spots owned by residents. Several residents exercised their rights to have those cars impounded by private towing companies, Mir said.
Johnson said they accepted applications from anyone, regardless of where they lived - as long as their applications were complete and they had a proof of residence.
Within the complex requirements, applications are first-come, first-served, Mir said.
However, preference will be given to Sullivan residents, according to Johnson.
Those that are chosen for the housing vouchers can be used anywhere in the county where Section 8 payments are accepted, Johnson said.
She was well aware not all of them will be able to get subsidies. At least, not immediately.
"There's no way we're going to be able to accommodate all of them," Johnson said. "Maybe in a couple of years."
By noon, Johnson said the line shrunk significantly.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Hillel Zeitlin: The Unorthodox Path to Orthodoxy
Hillel Zeitlin died in the death camp of Treblinka in 1942. He was murdered wrapped in a talith and tefillin and carrying a volume of the most important Jewish mystical text the Zohar. Zeitlin had premonitions of the impending doom of European Jewry and was a dedicated "territorialist"—advocate of a Jewish state anywhere in the world, not just in the Land of Israel. This stance was more practical than ideological: European Jewry was in distress and something needed to be done. Still, among Zeitlin's closest friends and disciples was Joseph Hayyim Brenner, the great Hebrew writer who was a Zionist murdered in Jaffa during the Arab riots of 1921.
Zeitlin, despite Brenner's secularism, eulogized his friend although there were ideological gaps between them. Zeitlin's odyssey from a Hasidic upbringing to a movement toward secularism and his return to Orthodoxy constitute a fascinating and unique journey for a traditional Jew—or any Jew for that matter. As a boy growing up in a shtetl in White Russia, Zeitlin became known as a Talmudic prodigy. But over time he began to move away from the traditions of his youth and read works of Western philosophy and literature.
The main figure who dominated Zeitlin's world of thought was Friedrich Nietzsche. This 19th century philosopher impacted European Jewish thought and movements, including Zionism, in a significant way. Zeitlin was no exception. Nietzsche's "Superman" searching for meaning in a Godless world and the attempt to find the authentic self had great appeal to Zeitlin. He wrote in depth on Nietzsche in Hebrew and was mesmerized by this atheist. In fact, he was a disciple of Nietzsche who, in later life, he would overcome but never fully reject.
Zetlin returned with zeal to Kabbalah and Hasidism shortly after World War I. He embraced Jewish Orthodoxy with a vengeance. But the atheist Nietzsche was still a focus of Zeitlin's thought. The individual struggle with faith was not just a philosophical struggle but was at the heart of Zeitlin's return from atheism to traditional Judaism. Zeitlin could only rediscover God after living in a world devoid of the divine presence. He employed Nietzsche's idea that in order to create one had to destroy as a cornerstone of his teshuvah, of his return to God. Faith was never meant to be easy.
The search for God entailed great struggle and effort and a genuine search for human and Jewish authenticity. Zeitlin's overcoming of Nietzsche's atheism did not preclude the existentialist philosopher's continued impact on this traditional Jewish thinker. This is just a thumbnail sketch of Hillel Zeitlin's life and thought. For more detailed information on Zeitlin and other Jewish followers of Friedrich Nietzsche please read Professor Jacob Golomb's Niezsche and Zion, a wonderful and detailed investigation of the great 19th century philosopher and modern Jewish life and thought.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
In the heyday of the Catskills in the 1950s, some 50,000 bungalows blanketed Sullivan County, according to Sullivan County Historian John Conway. Today, they're becoming extinct.
Replacing them are developments filled with new year-round summer homes, townhouses and modulars. All are meant to serve thousands of summer visitors - the bulk of whom are Hasidic and Orthodox Jews - who will be making their way to the county in the next few weeks seeking the open spaces and cool mountain air of the Catskills.
The fact that bungalows - typically a wood cabin structure inexpensively built on piers - no longer measure up to the state building codes is one reason for their demise. Plus, many towns want to preserve the open spaces and rural character they feel the old clustered bungalows destroyed, Thus, those towns have updated their zoning laws to create less density by specifically prohibiting bungalow colonies. Those towns include Sullivan County's largest - Thompson, Bethel, Liberty, Mamakating and Fallsburg.
Fallsburg's updated zoning regulations even went as far as to state, “It is the intent of the Town of Fallsburg to not promote the expansion of bungalow colonies.”
“The bottom line is you can’t do bungalow colonies,” said Town of Bethel Supervisor Dan Sturm. “The ones that exist are fine, but we want to redevelop others."
When Fallsburg was in the process of updating its zoning regulations in October, some developers felt it was trying to get rid of the Jewish communities.
“At the end of the day, nothing can be developed with one unit per five acres,” said developer Sam Charach. “It’s trying to drive out Jewish people.”
But other developers say they're fine with the new regulations.
Abe Grossman - who develops homes for summer communities - says he’s making a better product. And that’s what his customers wanted.
“The lifestyle over the last 30 to 40 years has changed,” Grossman said. “They need air conditioning and upgraded units.”
Late last week, Leo Castillo, owner of L.C. Construction, was putting the finishing touches on 61 summer homes - at 1,500 square feet per unit - on 30 acres of land in a development called Forest Park Estates on Anawana Lake Road in Thompson - the same road that's lined with old, rundown bungalow colonies like Miami Beach.
The single-family homes feature 3-4 bedrooms, 2-3 bathrooms and an unfinished basement. They even have granite-top counters in the kitchen.
They also are built on actual foundations. That’s in contrast to bungalows, which were built on stilts or cinder block piers.
Ben Mossberg, the developer of Forest Park Estates, says he put his “heart and soul” into the project.
“Everyone wants to make sure what they’re doing is perfect and that they do the best they can,” Mossberg said.
But Sullivan is still dotted with scores of old bungalow colonies. And while he couldn’t nail down exactly how many are left, Conway says there are more than people would think.
Conway dispelled the notion that existing bungalow colonies only serve the Hasidim. Some, in places like Lake Huntington or Bethel, are co-ops, where upscale and artsy city folk essentially own their units and transform them into year-round homes.
Thompson Supervisor Bill Rieber is pleased with the recent development of Forest Park Estates - a symbol of the death of the bungalow colonies, and what's replacing them.
“It’s nothing more than an everyday housing project,” Rieber said.
Saturday, June 13, 2015
Spain passes citizenship plan for ancestors of Jews expelled in 1492
Spain's lower house of parliament approved Thursday a law that eases the path to citizenship for descendants of Jews who were forced to flee the country five centuries ago during the Inquisition.
The measure aims to correct what Spain's conservative government calls the "historic mistake" of sending Jews into exile in 1492, forcing them to convert to Catholicism or burning them at the stake.
"This law says much about who we were in the past and who we are today and what we want to be in the future, an open, diverse and tolerant Spain," Justice Minister Rafael Catala said before it was approved.
The law -- which comes into force in October -- grants dual citizenship rights for Jews with Spanish ancestry, who are known as Sephardic Jews.
Under the previous 1924 law the government had discretionary powers to award Sephardic Jews nationality but candidates had give up their previous citizenship and they had to be residents of Spain.
The new law gives Sephardic Jews the same dual citizenship privilege Spain currently grants only to people from its former colonies and neighbouring Portugal and Andorra.
The law had the backing of Spain's two main parties and it comfortably cleared its final reading.
The Spanish government estimates that about 90,000 people will apply for citizenship, although officials admit there is no precise way of knowing how many descendants meet the criteria.
Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely welcomed the passage of the law, saying it "respects the long history of the Jews of Spain".
"This is a historic day, an important day, an emotional day," said the president of the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities, Isaac Querub, whose ancestors took refuge in North Africa after they were expelled from Spain.
Kelly Benoudis Basilio, 70, a retired French literature professor who lives in Lisbon, is already preparing to apply for Spanish citizenship even though she has no plans to live in Spain.
"For emotional reasons it is very important," said Basilio, a descendant of Jews expelled from Spain who was born in Ksar el-Kebir in northwestern Morocco and has Portuguese citizenship through marriage.
She said she learned to sing lullabies in haketia, one of several Jewish languages that is rooted in Spanish, as a child in Morocco.
"Tradition and memory are very important in Jewish culture," said Basilio.
- 'Bureaucratic hell' -
Applicants do not have to be practising Jews but they must have their Jewish heritage vetted by the Spanish Federation of Jewish Communities or by rabbis where they live.
They will also have to pass tests on Spanish language, culture, prove they have a "special connection" to Spain and travel to the country at their own expense to apply.
The law will expire after three years although it could be extended by another year if deemed necessary.
While Jewish groups have welcomed the move, some Jewish leaders have complained that the requirements are too burdensome.
Leon Amiras, who heads an association of immigrants to Israel from Latin countries, said the length of the process and costs involved will deter most Sephardic Jews from applying.
"They will have to go through a Via Crucis, a bureaucratic hell, they will say they don't want it. I am disappointed with the law," he told AFP.
During the debate in parliament Gabriel Elorriaga, a lawmaker for the ruling Popular Party, said the law needed to be "precise" to "correctly identify" the descendents of Jews who were expelled.
Though estimates vary, historians believe at least 200,000 Jews lived in Spain before the Catholic monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand ordered them to convert to the Catholic faith or leave the country.
Many found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, North Africa and Latin America.
They risked the death penalty if they returned to Spain.
Up to 3.5 million people around the world are thought to have Sephardic -- Hebrew for "Spanish" -- Jewish ancestry.
The citizenship law is the latest step in Spain's modern efforts to atone for its past harsh treatment of Jews.
In 1992 Spain's former King Juan Carlos visited a Madrid synagogue to recognise "injustices of the past."