Thursday, May 21, 2015

Swastikas scrawled on railing in Borough Park 

A total of six swastikas were drawn using

The NYPD is investigating a possible hate crime after several swastikas were discovered in Borough Park Tuesday afternoon.

A total of six swastikas were drawn onto a metal railing on 49th Street with what appears to be a black marker. Neighbors say the hate symbols are especially unsettling because there are many Jews and even Holocaust survivors living in the quiet residential area.

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind released a statement saying in part, "These things happen way too often and it's a sad commentary."



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Union City man sentenced to 2 years in prison for bogus charity 

A Union City man was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Tuesday for using a fake charity tied to a massive corruption sting to hide millions of dollars from federal and state regulation.

Moshe "David" Schwartz, 34, headed the Gemach Shefa Chaim, a bogus charity caught up in the largest federal money laundering and corruption sting in state history. Schwartz used the organization as an unchartered bank to deposit millions of dollars from more than 350 clients, as well as nearly $1 million of his own money, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said in a release.

The charity purported to provide interest-free loans to needy members of the Sanz Hasidic community in Union City.

Schwartz pleaded guilty in April 2014 to operating an unchartered bank, which allowed clients to evade federal taxes and launder money. He also admitted to lying about his income, reporting that he only made $24,475 in 2007 when he actually made $208, 845, Fishman said.

Authorities seized the charity's bank accounts, along with $500,000, in July 2009. The accounts had been used by three others—Moshe Altman, Itzak Friedlander and Shimon Haber— to launder funds on the behalf of Solomon Dwek, the government informant at the center of the Operation Bid Rig III corruption sting, prosecutors said. More than 40 public officials and other were arrested in the sting, which all connected back to Dwek, who posed as a corrupt developer who offered to pay off politicians in order to get projects speedily approved.

Haber, Friedlander and Altman have already pleaded guilty to various charges, including conspiracy to launder monetary instruments, and have been sentenced, respectively, to five-month, 24-month and 41-month prison terms, Fishman said.

In addition to his prison sentence, Schwartz has to serve two year of supervised release and must pay $74,889 in restitution for what the IRS lost from his 2007 taxes and a $60,000 fee.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hasidic woman has first kid at 65 

After over 45 years of marriage, a Hasidic woman gave birth to her first child on Monday morning at the age of 65.

Chaya Sarah Shachar became the delighted mother of a baby boy at the Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba.

The baby boy is in good health, relatives said.

Shachar and her husband Shmuel had unsuccessfully tried to have kids since they got married at the ages of 19 and 21 respectively. The couple had sought fertility treatments as well as blessings from religious figures.

The proud parents, who are affiliated with the Nadvorna Hasidic dynasty, on Monday attributed the “miracle” to a blessing from their rabbi, who died three years ago.

Last year, a 61-year-old woman gave birth to her first son in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital. The woman, who had been pregnant with twins but lost the baby girl, at the time similarly attributed the rare occurrence to a blessing by the late rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Why Is a Formerly Secular Woman Like Her Running a Chabad Center? 

At the age of 13, Keren Blum told her parents that she was an agnostic. Because she also became a vegetarian at that time, her parents, Conservative Jews, were troubled by what they perceived as rebelliousness. They tried to make Judaism joyous and meaningful for her — in vain, at least initially.

Blum completed her undergraduate degree at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. During her college years she ran Necessities Necesidades, a domestic abuse hotline and women's shelter in Northampton, and wrote a thesis on the nutritional healthcare of pregnant women suffering from HIV.

But her parents had never quite given up on their daughter's return to Judaism. When she was 19, her mother asked the local Chabad rabbi to reach out to her daughter. He invited Blum to a Shabbat dinner at the Chabad House in Amherst. At the same time, a friend struck a bargain with her. If Blum was willing to attend a weekly class about Hasidism, she would get involved in the women's center on campus.

One dinner led to another. As she listened to the Chabad teachers and read the books on the shelves, she encountered a Judaism that she could identify with: "It blew my mind. The Conservative Judaism I knew talked about rules and lifestyle and had no meaning," said Blum, 40, wearing a sheitel, a loose-fitting top and mid-calf length skirt, in the converted brownstone near Columbia University that serves as the university's Chabad center. She has been co-running it with her husband Yonah Blum for 18 years.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a branch of Hasidism, has been around for more than 250 years and now boasts over 5,000 emissary couples or shluchim, such as the Blums, whose mission is outreach and education. They serve an array of populations from students to seniors to people with special needs, as well as new niches as teenagers and young Jewish professionals.

Most Chabad-Lubavitchers are born into it, but Keren Blum is not nearly as anomalous as one might think. There are no surveys or statistics on how many female and male Chabad members are newcomers, but insiders suggest that it is a substantial number. While the growing number of centers has increased Chabad's exposure, the question of what appeals to women, such as Blum, who were far removed from the Chabad tradition, persists.

Newcomers and those flirting with Orthodoxy are encouraged to enroll in classes on the history and traditions of the Hasidim, but there are no formal entrance exams required for outsiders. Nor do special rituals mark the occasion. The desire to live a Torah-observant life as part of the Chabad community is the only "requirement," and the four newcomers I interviewed to speak about their choices and experiences recalled being embraced with open arms.

"Many of these women are drawn to tight-knit communities and the structure they provide," said Sarah Bunin Benor, author of "Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism." "This is especially true for those who feel their lives are unstructured. Some have experienced a major life event and turned to spiritual movements and religions that may not be their own, from Christianity to Eastern religions. In the '60s and '70s, it was not uncommon for members of the counter-culture to end up as Orthodox Jews. Fans of the Grateful Dead became Orthodox."

Chabad's intellectual bent might also attract educated women — and men — such as Blum, said Baila Olidort director of communications at Chabad Headquarters in Crown Heights. "They are in good positions to serve as emissaries, identifying with others who have not grown up with Jewish tradition and they may have better instincts when it comes to distilling and communicating Chabad's ideas," she said.

Rebbetzin Simcha Fine, who has been co-running Montreal's Chabad Community Center with her husband Rabbi Ronnie Fine for 34 years, said that as an adolescent she felt a lack of consistency and meaning in her nominally Conservative Jewish background. Her family kept kosher at home only. "I didn't get that," she said. "It was a missing link."

When she was 12, her father took her and her 15-year-old sister to a Chabad service in their hometown of Long Beach, California. While he enjoyed it, he was no convert. By contrast, the sisters were intrigued. They attended services and Hebrew School, and grew close to the rabbis and their families. Within three years, they were both Torah-observant Jews, a step their parents were not too happy about.

"They were worried about the restrictive life," said Simcha Fine, who spoke on the phone from Montreal. "But they see how happy I've been, so they've changed their minds. And it didn't hurt that they got a lot of grandchildren out of the deal."

The women faced major challenges —losing friends and, in some instances, family members who didn't know quite how to react to their new identities.. Still, Blum of Columbia University Chabad admitted she felt bad that her former friends were no longer comfortable with her since she continues to feel comfortable with them.

Miri Birk, who works under Rabbi Eli and Chana Silberstein, the directors of Chabad at Cornell University, grew up in a Reform Jewish household in the Fairfax, Virginia area. As a teenager she was a competitive horseback rider, and participated in the Junior Olympics; even after she matriculated at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, she had her sights set on competing in the Olympics.

When a fellow horseback rider invited her to a Shabbat dinner, Birk, then 19, was receptive to what Chabad offered. She was already feeling a gap between her politics and that of her Reform synagogue, and felt alienated by the discussion of social activism during services. "I wondered what gun control had to do with Judaism," she said on the phone from Ithaca, New York. She was also losing patience with the moral relativism voiced by her professors and the way they celebrated open-mindedness on every viewpoint short of those they didn't agree with. She was also troubled by what she saw as the secular feminists' rejection of the idea that motherhood should be a priority in their 20s.

"Women were pushed to pursue careers in their 20s that were incompatible with marriage and child-rearing, but at the same time, I was seeing women in their late 30s and 40s unable to have children they always wanted and were promised would still be available to them," she said. "Something just didn't add up."

For some of the women I spoke with, meeting with Chabad women for the first time represented turning a point.

"When I met the Rebbetzin, who had nine kids, I couldn't believe it," said Bracha Leeds, 31, who is now a rebbetzin herself. She co-runs Chabad at UC Berkeley and has five kids. "I expected a woman with nine kids to be in a wheelchair. Aside from how well she looked, she was so energetic and alive." Formerly a musical theater performer specializing in hip-hop, Leeds joined Chabad at 18 and majored in molecular cell biology at Berkeley.

Blum, who also has five children, said she never had any desire to be a mother. "I couldn't stand the noise and I wanted to spend my free time with friends or my husband or reading." She added that not having children would have been the biggest mistake of her life.

Serving as wife and mother is the Hasidic woman's central role, the women said. It's the home — not the synagogue — that is the center of Chabad-Lubavitch life. Not one of the interviewees said they felt discriminated against because Hasidic women don't lead public prayer services or participate in minyans. "You need 10 men to create a minyan and be in the presence of God, but a woman accomplishes it on her own," said Blum.
The Chabad community is not a natural setting for those who choose to remain single. Getting married in one's early 20s or even younger is a goal. The women with whom I spoke quickly met their spouses, none of whom was born into Chabad either, through friends or casual social events. Only Fine was formally introduced to her husband through a shadchan, or matchmaker. Still, she stressed that Chabad is not into "arranged marriages," but rather "arranged dating": When Chabad children are in their late teens, parents ask around, do research on eligible partners and make introductions. Sometimes a matchmaker is brought into the picture. "But no one is forced into anything," she said.

Asked how they'd react if a child of theirs wanted to marry a non-Jew, didn't want to get married at all, or turned out to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, they all voiced broad-minded perspectives. Said Blum: "I'd continue loving them, not only in words, but actions too, and don't delude myself into thinking I control anyone's choices but my own."


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Satmar rebbe: Haredi parties sold Torah for money 

The Satmar rebbe, one of the prominent Jewish Orthodox leaders in the world, slammed the central haredi factions in Israel and their rabbis for joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fourth government and accused them of "selling the Torah for lucre."

He added that Shas and United Torah Judaism's faith in the state's leadership was like "trusting a dog not to bite you."

Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum heads one of the two rival factions in Satmar, the world's largest Hasidic dynasty, which is famous for its opposition to secular Zionism and the State of Israel. Hours after the new government was sworn in, he delivered a firm speech at a special fundraiser in New York for Satmar's institutions in Israel, which refuse to be funded by the state.

The rebbe ruled that even those who don't study Torah are not allowed to join the IDF because "whoever arrives at the army as a haredi leaves half secular."

He added that the Equal Share of the Burden Law was enacted by seculars while the haredim fought it, but that the amendment planned at Shas and UTJ's request would allegedly make it "kosher," thereby preventing a haredi protests against it.

The land owner's dog
"The haredim are ready to sell all this for the money they receive, and in return for that they are selling the entire Torah," the rebbe argued.

He said he believed the move to soften the law would not succeed, as the High Court of Justice would not approve the removal of the criminal sanctions, and then "the haredim, who will have already tasted the taste of money, won't leave the government but will legitimize the draft law."

"They are now trying to explain that it will be handed over to the defense minister, who will decided who to draft and who not to draft," he said about the haredi parties. "But this is a law for generations, not just a law for the current defense minister's terms, and now they are enacting a law and the haredi MKs are handing over the key of the yeshiva students' draft to the defense minister. Who promises them that the defense minister in the next government will not want to draft everyone?

"It's like the famous story about the Jew who arrived at the land owner's home, and the land owner's dog began barking at him. The Jew escaped for fear of the dog. The land owner said to him: 'Don't worry, this dog doesn’t bite, he's a good dog.' The Jews replied: 'Should I trust the dog's integrity that he won't bite me?'

"I am saying the same thing: Can we trust the integrity of the dog, the defense minister, that he won't draft everyone? What if a defense minister with teeth arrives, who is capable of biting?

"We will insist that the agreements won't be implemented, and we won't compromise over any Jews – regardless of whether he studies Torah or not," the Satmar rebbe declared. "As long as he is Jewish, as long as his forefathers' feet stood on Mount Sinai, he must not go to the army, no matter how much money the yeshivot receive out of it."



Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bus company sued over refusal to hire female drivers 

A Hasidic-owned bus company has been slammed with a class-action lawsuit from female bus drivers who claim the firm refuses to hire women.

Brooklyn-based Monsey Trails ferries Hasidic Jews from New York City to Rockland County.

A case led by licensed Staten Island bus driver ­Diana Luckey claims the company has never hired a female driver.

A call to the company was not returned.



Friday, May 15, 2015

With or without annexation 

Making your way through hundreds of pages of Volume One of the Kiryas Joel Generic Environmental Impact Statement, two points come through time and time again: With or without the annexation of 507 acres from the Town of Monroe into the Village of Kiryas Joel, the population affiliated with the cultural and religious mores of village residents will increase by more than 19,000 people in ten years to more than 42,000 people. And more than a dozen times, the document states the situation will not become another East Ramapo, where members of the Hasidic community in that school district have taken controlled of the school board. What follows is a summary and review of the key parts of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the Village of Kiryas Joel by planning consultant Tim Miller Associates, Inc. The draft statement examines growth, water and sewage, traffic, public safety issues, schools and other issues. There are no significant issues that cannot be resolved, the consultant concludes.
Two petitions
507 acres, comprised of 177 tax lots 164 acres comprised of 71 tax lots
"No specific plans for development have been submitted with either petition," the villages says in its press release announcing the public hearing. The Village of Kiryas Joel has a geographic area of approximately 700 acres, or approximately 1.1 square miles. The 507 acres equal four-fifths of a square mile. How big is that? Although the land involved in the petition is not contiguous, in total it would represent 385 football fields, including both end zones. The size of the land also equals 1/28th of Manhattan.
Comparative development analysis
"The DGEIS establishes that continued growth of the area population is inevitable, with or without the annexation proposal," the village's consultants write in the executive summary. A projected 3,825 new families/households will be added to the community by the year 2025. This growth represents approximately 19,663 people to an existing population estimate of 22,634 people. (42,297) "This projection is comparable to the 2009 demographic forecast made for the Aqueduct Connection EIS," the consultants noted.
Population and development"
Since there are no development project associated with the Annexation Petitions, the only action required under Article 17 of the New York State General Municipal Law are the resolutions of the Village of Kiryas Joel Board of Trustees and the Town Board of the Town of Monroe to approve or deny the annexation. "The use and development of lands annexed to the Village will become subject to the Village Zoning."
School districts"
All of the annexation territory is located within the Monroe-Woodbury School District," the report says. "Alteration of the district boundary line between the MWSD and the KJSD will not occur automatically upon annexation, but instead would require separate administrative actions, requiring agreement from both school district's Boards of Education." Without annexation, the consultants said, and with no change in the school district boundary, the Monroe-Woodbury School District "will see growth of the Hasidic population in the annexation territory of approximately 1,431 families." That would generate an increase in revenues of more than $9.2 million; its also would prompt an increase of costs of more than $7.5 million.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hon. David I. Schmidt Joins Resolute’s New York Panel 

David I Schmidt picture

Resolute is pleased to announce Hon. David I. Schmidt has joined its New York panel.  Judge Schmidt served in the Second Judicial District of the New York State Supreme Court, Kings  County since 1995. While a Supreme Court Justice, he presided over the settlement conference part, city and transit settlement conference part, non-jury trial readiness part, IAS part 47 commercial part, guardianship part and election part. 

He is the only Justice to oversee five parts at one time, with over 5,000 cases in his inventory.  He was responsible for managing one of the largest and diverse caseloads in the United States.  His passion is settling cases, and he is credited with more than 15,000 settlements involving all types of civil cases.  Often working late nights and on weekends, he had the reputation as one of the hardest working judges in New York and developed a reputation for settling difficult cases.

Schmidt specializes as a mediator and Special Master for disputes in a variety of areas including personal injury/mass torts, labor law, business/commercial, insurance, professional liability and property. He employs a combination of facilitative and evaluative mediation, supplemented by his 31 + years experience as a litigator and judge.


“He is very good at settling cases and resolving disputes…it is his forte”
“When you get in front of him you will always have a fair shake”
“He knows the law real well and is a tireless worker …a rare gem”
“He is a brilliant judge…known for conferencing three or four cases at the same time, and for being able to recall the specific facts of each case”
More information can be found at his website www.judgeschmidt.com or click here to download his biography.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Matisyahu’s baby gets heart surgery 

Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu let his fans know on Tuesday that his infant daughter was to undergo heart surgery. He asked for people to say a prayer for her, mentioning that her name was Sasha Lil.

Early on Wednesday the singer posted on social media that the operation was successful, writing, “Sasha Lil’s surgery went well. Thank you everyone for your prayers. Amazing!”

While some may have been taken by surprise to know that the little girl had health problems, others may have been taken aback to know that Matisyahu, 35, even has a daughter.

The singer has three sons, Shalom, Menachem Mendel and Laivy, from his marriage to his ex-wife Talia. Matisyahu and Talia divorced after he began to move away from Hasidic Judaism in 2011. The formerly bearded Matisyahu announced this shift by posting a photo of his clean-shaven face on Instagram. He and his ex-wife reportedly remain on good terms and are co-parenting their boys, who attend Chabad schools in Los Angeles.

Sasha was born a little over a year ago from a relationship the singer had with a woman named Toma Danley, a friend living in Bend, Oregon, whom he met when he was a teenager participating in a wilderness therapy program there.

It would seem that Matisyahu and Danley are no longer together, as a man from Bend named Alex C. Meyer recently posted on Facebook—with Danley’s permission—that he and Danley are engaged to be married.

Matisyahu is currently promoting his new album, “Akeda,” which came out a decade after his 2005 breakthrough album, “Live at Stubb’s.” While his relationship with Judaism is reportedly complicated at the moment, the songs on the new album are full of biblical references. They also deal with the frustrations he feels regarding fans’ expectations of him since his leaving Hasidism.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Adventurous Americans taste hasidic delicacies for the first time 

Ashkenazi Jewish food may be undergoing somewhat of a revival within the American culinary scene, but this isn't exactly your bagels and lox: Meir Kalmanson, 25, a director based in Brooklyn, pulled together six friends of friends to try a handful of less well known, traditional Ashkenazi foods, and filmed their responses.

The result? "The Ultimate Chassidic Food Taste Test," a short video released on YouTube late last week.

The foods range from relatively familiar dishes such as herring with crackers ("You could take a girl out for this stuff, they like shiny things") to jiggly calves' foot jelly ("This looks like what I find inside my boot on a rainy day") and two types of cholent ("It looks like the cake your uncle tried to make but put in the oven for too long").

Kalmanson, a member of the Chabad Hassidic sect, says he was inspired by the internet video genre made popular by Buzzfeed that features people tasting foods from different countries or ethnic traditions.

In order to choose the menu, he asked a friend from the Satmar Hassidic sect to draw up a list of traditional foods that wouldn't be typically found in your average Kosher Jewish supermarket. While some of the foods such as cholent and herring were familiar from his childhood, while others were entirely new to him, he says.

He also intentionally chose taste testers who were unlikely to have heard of any of the foods.

The calves' foot jelly, which Kalmanson says his grandmother recalled from her childhood in Russia, proved not so popular. Jerusalem kugel and cholent, however, turned out to be easy sells.

Some of Kalmanson's previous videos have received considerable attention. One video, in which the production team turns a New York subway car into a dance club, pulled in 1 million views over the past month. Another video, in which Kalmanson walks down a New York City street giving high-fives to people trying to hail cabs, racked up 2 million views and was featured in a commercial for Android, Google's cell phone.



Monday, May 11, 2015

Man accused of child sex abuse employed by prestigious private school 

A distinguished Montgomery County private school is on edge after police arrested a longtime employee on charges of child sex abuse.
Julio Cruz, 58, of Rockville, is accused of inappropriately touching, and in one case, having sexual intercourse with his niece, then just 10-years-old.
According to charging documents filed in Montgomery County District Court, Cruz molested the girl, now 20, on four separate occasions during the summer and fall of 2005. The alleged incidents occurred inside of his home and car.
In one case, Cruz reportedly told the girl she "looked pretty" and added that he wanted to teach her how to "deal with [sexual] urges." In another instance, Cruz allegedly fondled the girl before turning red, crying and asking for forgiveness.
Investigators say Cruz attempted to keep his niece quiet, a strategy that worked for 10 years.
"These are extremely serious crimes, especially when there's a child involved. I think that aspect hits home with a lot of people," Montgomery County Police Department spokeswoman Ofc. Nicole Gamard said.
ABC 7 News has learned Cruz worked as a maintenance technician at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville since 2001. He was assigned to the Lower School located along the 1900 block of Jefferson Street in Rockville. Although the alleged abuse took place off-campus, school leaders are taking the criminal case very seriously.
In a letter home to parents, Head of School, Rabbi Mitchel Malkus wrote, "Given the nature of the charges, we felt it was important to make you aware of the situation and the actions the school has taken... [We] immediately suspended Mr. Cruz. He has not been on campus since his arrest and he is no longer permitted on campus."
ABC 7 News visited Cruz's home along the 4800 block of Boiling Brook Parkway. When asked if he inappropriately touched his niece, the 58-year-old shook his head and said, "You want to know, you call my lawyer."
Detectives attempted to interview Cruz at police headquarters, but he invoked his constitutional right to a lawyer, which police say they respected.
"We don't go filing charges just because we feel like it, there has to be very strong evidence for us to file," Ofc. Gamard added. "Mr. Cruz will have his day in court where he can try and prove his innocence."
Although the current allegations of child sex abuse did not happen on CESJDS property, nor did they involve any school children, police are urging any other potential victims to come forward.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Roman-era synagogue desecrated with Rabbi Nachman graffiti 

The grafitti on Har Meron.

A Roman-era, 2,000-year-old synagogue in the Mount Meron nature reserve has been desecrated, with its walls spray-painted with “Nachman of Uman” lettering. A group of hikers discovered the graffiti, and notified the Israel Antiquities Authority. When the authority’s inspectors arrived they discovered graffiti on other historic buildings in the area as well.

Uri Berger, the northern region’s chief archaeologist at the antiquities authority, said that over the last year the authority had invested a major effort in conserving and reconstructing the ancient synagogue in Meron, including erasing previous graffiti that was sprayed on the walls.

“This is the second time in recent years that ‘Nachman of Uman’ has been sprayed on the walls of this synagogue which dates back to Roman, Mishna and Talmudic eras,” said Berger. “Only a month and a half ago we finished conservation work at the site.” At a site further south called Hurvat Shama, where there is a tomb attributed to Mishna sage Shammai, who was Hillel’s adversary, further graffiti was discovered. “It’s sad that these sites were desecrated by people who call themselves believers.”

Nachman of Uman refers to the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, Rebbe Nachman, who is buried in Uman, Ukraine. A group of his followers in Israel regularly paint a slogan with his name in public places.

Berger said that spraying paint “causes irreversible damage to the stones – erasing it causes further damage. The cleaning process demands resources and manpower that could be devoted to other sites, and are now wasted because of this unnecessary vandalism.”



Saturday, May 09, 2015

Refusing to sit next to a woman on a plane isn’t devout, it’s disgraceful 

I was raised in a Jewish modern Orthodox community in the United States. I wear pants and sleeveless shirts, and to the average passerby, look like a secular woman. But I also keep the Sabbath, and I pray at least once a day. I make blessings before consuming food, as well as after. I consider myself religious, even though I may not look it.

While attending university in Canada, I traveled quite a bit between home and school. There was a direct Hasidic bus line servicing the communities of each place. Each time I had to travel, I would weigh the pros and cons of the Hasidic bus over Greyhound.

Pros: The Hasidic bus takes half the time the Greyhound does, and border control is fast. Cons: There are usually crying babies, women sit in the back, and there is a dress code. To travel you need to be dressed modestly and cover your body (women as well as men). I abided by these rules, but I usually wore pants or leggings, technically covering myself but not fully adhering to the dress code.

One time, as I dropped my sister off at the bus after a visit. I was wearing a sleeveless dress without a bra. When I got on to the bus to help my sister find a seat, the woman who oversees payment and seating asked me sternly, “Are you traveling tonight?”

I told her I wasn’t.

“Please don’t ever come back on this bus dressed like that,” she snapped.

At first, I was enraged. Who was she to dictate my clothing choices when I wasn’t even a ticketed passenger? Over time, however, I’ve come to realize that I was in the wrong. I knew that interacting with this Hasidic bus entails dressing modestly, and I should have at least put a cardigan over my dress when I dropped off my sister.

This experience comes to mind whenever I read or hear stories about ultra-Orthodox men asking and even forcing women—both Jewish and gentile—to change seats on airplanes. Orthodox doctrine stipulates that men and women cannot exchange physical contact unless married—a law known as negiah.

When purchasing a ticket for a flight, or a bus ride, you need to respect the rules of the space, which in this case means sitting in the seat printed on your ticket. Just like I needed to follow the rules in the Hasidic bus setting when I chose to travel that way, the ultra-Orthodox men boarding planes owned by secular companies, with tickets they consciously reserved, must respect the rules of the airline and the communities it serves.

According to Jewish law, when one is living in a country, it is a mitzvah (commandment) to follow its laws (“dina demalchuta dina” translated as “the law of the land is the law”). By extension, when purchasing an airline ticket, one is required to follow the rules of the airline.

In order to contextualize the refusal of ultra-Orthodox men to sit next to women we need to acknowledge that they are coming from communities where an intense and all-encompassing gender separation starts at a very early age. It is likely that men who try to switch seats are doing so in order to match the high standard of modesty that is practiced in their home environments and communities. This makes sense when you hear of stories where ultra-Orthodox men are frantically and nervously trying to make seat rearrangements. If this is where it’s coming from, then this issue should not be confused as an issue of the denigration of women.



Friday, May 08, 2015

State to recognize private kashrut supervision 

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein informed the High Court of Justice on Wednesday that the state would no longer fine restaurant owners who claim to be supervised by private kashrut bodies and would cancel finds imposed on them for deceiving consumers. The decision was met with angry reactions in the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

The State Prosecutor's Office announced the decision in a letter to Attorney Riki Shapira-Rosenberg, who is representing two restaurant owners who petitioned the High Court over the issue on behalf of the Israel Religious Action Center: "In the current legislative situation, fines or indictments will not be filed against owners of restaurants who will present a document showing that the place is inspected or supervised by a certain body." 
The attorney general stressed, however, that the restaurants must make it perfectly clear, in a way which will not mislead the reasonable person, that the document presented to the consumers is not a "kashrut certificate" on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate.
In addition, these restaurants will not define themselves with the word "kosher," as demanded by the Rabbinate. "In such a case, it would be considered a criminal offense according to the current legislative situation," the State Prosecutor's Office clarified.
'Decision harms Rabbinate's legal authorities'
Rabbinate officials were furious with the decision, arguing that it would lead to deception and mislead the average kashrut-observing consumer, who only trusts supervisors on behalf of the state religious establishment.
Nonetheless, the Rabbinate officials said they were not concerned, as the ultra-Orthodox parties had already been promised an amendment to the law which would preserve the current situation, as part of the coalition agreements.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Kiryas Joel lights bonfire to celebrate Jewish holiday 

Thousands of people gathered in Kiryas Joel Wednesday to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer.
The traditional bonfire held during the holiday honors one of the founders of Hasidic Judaism, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who died 1,900 years ago.
Teams of organizers spent much of Wednesday readying the bonfire, erecting a stage and setting up barricades for a potentially huge crowd. There were more than 30,000 people who attended in 2014.
While a statewide burn ban is in effect, police say that the bonfire will still go on because it qualifies for a religious exemption.
Extra troopers, along with Kiryas Joel public safety teams, were on hand to help local firefighters watch the blaze and the crowds.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Just-sold Williamsburg property slated for environmental cleanup 

Lightning fast.
Industrial property in the Hasidic end of Williamsburg was on the sale market for a New York Minute before being snapped up for $7.5 million.
There were a dozen or more contenders for the property, all from the Satmar community, said Neil Dolgin, co-president of Kalmon Dolgin Affiliates.
"It was a question of who's going to come to the table quickest," said Dolgin, who represented the sellers in the transaction. "The deal closed in 30 days."
The property includes three locations on one block — 466 Flushing Ave., 11-15 Spencer St. and 21-27 Spencer St.— with low-rise industrial buildings and parking lots. Plus there's one building on the other side of Spencer Street whose addresses are 12 Spencer St. and 735 Bedford Ave.
On some of the buildings, there are faded signs for Delta Metal Products Co., a prior occupant.
Rhonda Friedman signed the deeds for the sellers, as president of two corporations that owned the properties, city Finance Department records indicate.
"This was an estate situation," Dolgin said. The sellers, who were the original owners' adult children, don't live in New York City.
The purchaser, Moses Wertheimer, lives nearby and owns other properties in the neighborhood, Dolgin said. Wertheimer represented himself in the transaction.
Wertheimer bought this property to rent it out, Dolgin said. It could be used for offices or warehouses. He'd like some retail tenants as well.
A current tenant, seafood distributor Aqua Best, will remain an occupant of the property.
Before Wertheimer seeks new tenants, he must do extensive environmental cleanup that's expected to cost a couple million dollars, Dolgin said.
During the sale process, due diligence turned up an environmental problem. There are PCEs in the soil, "probably from 30 years ago," the real estate exec explained.
PCE stands for perchloroethylene, which is also known as tetrachloroethylene. The chlorinated solvent is used in dry cleaning, wood processing, fabric manufacturing and metal degreasing.


State considers intervention in school dispute 

State officials are weighing whether to intervene in a dispute between public school parents in East Ramapo and the public school board run by Orthodox Hasidic Jews.
The parents accuse the school board of favoring private school students.
The state is considering a proposal to appoint a board member with veto power over the democratically elected board.
Attendees say that school board meetings in East Ramapo are screaming matches.


IDT to Start a Cybersecurity ‘Yeshiva’ 

IDT Corp. plans to begin a cybersecurity “yeshiva” in September where 40 students will study computer science and the Torah, the central text of the Jewish religion. A yeshiva is a Jewish school that focuses on the study of the Torah and other texts.

The program is aimed at solving two problems: creating more cybersecurity professionals to fill vacant jobs industry-wide and generating a career path for people who live in economically disadvantaged communities. The school will be held at IDT corporate headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Many of the first students will likely come from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn and the Chabad-Lubavitch community – among the world’s largest Hasidic Jewish groups — where IDT Chief Security Officer and program co-founder Golan Ben-Oni lives.

The industry is lacking cybersecurity expertise and it’s become a problem for companies who are the victims of data breaches, said Nir Zuk, the co-founder and chief technology officer of cybersecurity firm Palo Alto Networks Inc. Whoever gets breached tries to position it as a sophisticated cyberattack that nobody could have prevented, he said. “In reality, at least half of these data breaches are not about the sophistication of the attacker, they’re about the incompetency of the defender,” he said. Mr. Ben-Oni is trying to create a pool of experts that can deal with the really sophisticated attacks, he added. Palo Alto Networks plans to contribute funds to the program but it has not yet revealed the amount, he said.

In addition to housing the program, IDT is contributing its human resources, payroll and secretarial workforce. IDT Chairman Howard Jonas has championed the effort and IDT plans to donate about $500,000, said Mr. Ben-Oni.

“In our culture, during the first year of marriage, generally the men take a year to study the Torah,” said Mr. Ben-Oni.  The Lubavitch rebbe or rabbi wanted the men to do something after that first year such as going out and becoming a Lubavitch emissary to run community programs or to get a job, he said. By combining obligatory Torah study with a much-demanded skill, the cyber-yeshiva improves employment prospects for community members who have had trouble finding jobs. “There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do with themselves – they’re the perfect candidates,” said Mr. Ben-Oni.

At IDT, Mr. Ben-Oni had already helped start a technical program called IDT Yeshiva about 15 years ago to train students to become Cisco Systems Inc. networking engineers. After the dot com bubble burst in 2001, though, that program changed focus and atrophied. IDT’s Mr. Jonas asked Mr. Ben-Oni to get involved to reinvigorate the program. So, over the last year, Mr. Ben-Oni has been working to reset the program with a focus on producing cybersecurity professionals through two-year and four-year programs. Essex County College is providing the new program with the accreditation needed.

Over the years, Mr. Ben-Oni has also taught some of his fellow community members about cybersecurity. He’s discovered that the analytical skills taught to those studying the Torah are a good match for work in the security field. Already, other companies have begun to contact him about hiring graduates, he said. In the future, he’d like to expand the program to women and to target other communities in need. Already, companies have begun to contact him about hiring graduates, he said.



Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Gangbanger-turned-Hasidic Jew gets 2-5 years for cop ruse 

Gangbanger-turned-Hasidic Jew gets 2-5 years for cop ruse

The ex-Latin Kings gang member who converted to ultra-Orthodox Judaism after serving time in ​prison was sentenced Tuesday to another 2 1/2 to 5 years for impersonating a cop.

Roberto Eddy Santos – who legally changed his name to Avorham Gross after being locked up for a string of violent robberies in the ’90s – had pleaded guilty last month in Brooklyn Supreme Court to four charges, varying from possession of a forged device and criminal impersonation.

As part of his plea deal, Gross, 42, admitted to decking his wife’s car out with police lights and sirens and creating bogus Department of Transportation placards over the course of five years, from 2009 to 2014, prosecutors said Tuesday.

He also impersonated a cop several times between January 2013 and September 2014 by signing an official logbook in order to bypass security line at Kings County Family Court, according to court papers.

Gross was charged ​for posing as a cop with the “Child Abuse Task Force of New York City” — a sham organization that his attorney contends is authentic — and using his phony badge to arrest a person, court documents said.

He pleaded guilty to tampering with public records for signing the book, possession of forged devices for creating the DOT placards and criminal impersonation and received two sentences of 2 1/2 to five years and one of 1 1/2 to 3 years, all to run concurrently.

Gross, sporting a thick greying beard and yarmulke in court, did not speak before Judge Danny Chun handed down the sentence.

His attorney, Isaac Tamir, asked the judge to grant him permission to keep his beard when he is transferred to a prison upstate.

“He should make an application [to keep his beard] on arrival [at the prison] to be heard there,” said Chun.

Authorities were investigating whether Gross had genuinely converted to become a member of the Satmar sect but Tamir confirmed that he indeed had.

“It’s very, very hard to get a conversion … it’s a very long, hard process,” said Tamir outside the courtroom.

The attorney added that Gross didn’t pose as a cop for nefarious reasons — that he truly was an anti-child abuse advocate.

“Everybody I spoke to who knows him has good things to say to him. This is an unfortunate circumstance. He’s going to pay his dues and hopefully come out a fresh, new person,” the attorney said.



Monday, May 04, 2015

Kiryas Joel environmental impact study released 

A long-awaited environmental impact study on a proposal to double the Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel has been released.

Kiryas Joel  released the study on Friday, reporting the village will double to 42,000 people by 2025 with or without an annexation.

John Allegro, who lives right on the Kiryas Joel border, says he is against the village's expansion plans to take 507 acres.



Sunday, May 03, 2015

100-plus New Square residents block 4 teen egg-throwers: Cops 

Ramapo police arrested four teenagers for allegedly throwing eggs at residents and shouting a curse word at Jews during an early morning drive through the Hasidic Jewish village.

Those arrested - three males and a female from Nanuet and Pearl River - were detained by more than 100 residents who packed the street and formed a wall around a black 2014 Toyota Corolla until Ramapo police arrived after 2:38 a.m. Sunday, Lt. Rob Lancia said.

"New Square has active volunteers who secure the village and there were hundreds of residents surrounding this vehicle," Lancia said. "They just formed a human wall and prevented them from leaving."

All four were charged with a misdemeanor count of second-degree aggravated harassment, Ramapo police Sgt. Chris Franklin said.

Lancia said the charge references harassing people based on their religion, gender, race and sexual preference. The egg throwing didn't fall under the state's hate crime law, which would rise to a felony.

"The crime was done with hate involved," especially with the shouted comment, Lancia said.

There were no injuries or property damage, he said.

Police only identified the two 19-year-olds: The driver, Daniel Brophy of Pearl River and Catherine Donnelly of Nanuet.

The others - a Nanuet 16-year-old and a Pearl River 18-year-old - are automatically eligible for youthful offender status on a misdemeanor charge and their names would be sealed, Lancia said.

The officers found the four sitting in a car at 2:38 a.m. along Washington Avenue, the village's main road to enter and exit the community.

The four were being held Sunday in the Ramapo police lock up pending arraignment.



Saturday, May 02, 2015

Study: Kiryas Joel will grow by 20,000 in next decade with or without annexation of land 

Kiryas Joel and its planning consultants released a 600-page environmental review on Friday that contends the Satmar Hasidic community will grow by 20,000 in the village and surrounding areas over the next decade regardless of whether the village annexes 507 acres from the Town of Monroe.
The draft generic environmental impact statement prepared by Tim Miller Associates, which is meant to analyze the potential impact of the annexation proposal, is built on an assumption that Kiryas Joel's leaders have long promoted and that their opponents reject: that the community's rapid and continued growth is inevitable. Using that premise, the study looks at the difference in how an anticipated 3,825 new households would be divided between Kiryas Joel and the annexation area, depending on whether the adjacent land is developed under current Monroe zoning or the higher densities that Kiryas Joel would allow if it gained control.

The consultants argue "the potential impacts of annexation relate not to population growth, but to the difference in population distribution" under one development scenario or the other.
The document is posted on a web site created for the annexation proposal (www.kj-seqra.com/507Acres). Paper copies are available for inspection at the Monroe Free Library and at Monroe Town Hall. Village officials said they plan to hold a public hearing on the impact statement in the village on June 10.

The addition of 507 acres of mostly undeveloped land would enlarge Kiryas Joel by nearly 75 percent. The consultants calculate that 3,825 housing units could be built on that land to keep pace with projected growth by 2025, at a density of 6.6 units per acre. By comparison, 1,431 units could be built there under Monroe zoning, leaving 2,394 additional homes that they say would be created inside a 691-acre village that currently has little land available for development.

The analysis attempts to counter strong opposition to the annexation proposal by suggesting that inevitable population growth means the border shift will have no effect in itself on two of the most controversial issues: the cost of social services in the Satmar community and the limited sewage treatment capacity in southern Orange County. Kiryas Joel expects population growth in the village and annexation area to generate an additional 1.3 million gallons per day of wastewater by 2025, regardless of whether annexation occurs. It projects a population of 42,297 by then.

The report calculates that future development of the annexation area ultimately would create a net tax benefit of either $1.7 million a year or $10.4 million a year for the Monroe-Woodbury School District, since households there would pay Monroe-Woodbury taxes while the students attend religious schools. The higher amount would come if annexation occurs, although that also would mean 3,825 Hasidic households "with voting rights" living in the district, according to the document. Monroe-Woodbury officials might prefer in that scenario to cede the land to Kiryas Joel school district, the consultants noted.



Friday, May 01, 2015

Jewish teen from NY makes genetic discovery on cancer she survived 

At 12 years old, Elana Simon was diagnosed with fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma, a rare form of liver cancer that largely affects adolescents and young adults.

“I didn’t know much about [fibrolamellar] and it was pretty scary,” said Simon, now 19. “But I was extremely fortunate to have an incredible surgeon.”

After having her tumor removed, Simon, who grew up in New York, where her family remains active members of Temple Shaaray Tefila on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, has been “totally fine ever since.” Currently a freshman at Harvard University, Simon is majoring in computer science.

During her sophomore year of high school, while interning at a lab working on cancer research, she had the idea to genetically sequence fibrolamellar.

Simon sought the advice of her former surgeon, Dr. Michael LaQuaglia, chief of the pediatric surgical service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and learned that due to the rarity of the disease, not much research had been done.

“Just because no one had done this before didn’t mean it couldn’t be done,” Simon said. “And as someone who had this type of cancer, who better than a patient with a specific interest in this disease?”

Her father, Sandy, a biophysicist, made space in his lab at Rockefeller University, and Simon set about collecting tumor samples from other fibrolamellar patients and survivors.

Fifteen samples were ultimately sequenced by a team at the New York Genome Center, where it was discovered that they all shared the same genetic mutation.

“We were lucky that we found something weird and different,” Simon said of the discovery. While additional research is still needed, she said, interest in the disease has piqued and could lead to improved diagnostic testing and drug treatments.

In February, Simon co-authored a study, published in Science magazine, about the discovered genetic mutation.

Of the research, she said, “I kept asking why. I was willing to ask questions, and we were able to try something different and it was successful.”

JTA spoke recently to Simon about her heroes, her favorite Jewish food and what she hopes to do professionally in a few years.

JTA: What do you think are the important qualities of a hero?

Simon: I think it’s important for a hero to be both brave and determined. A hero needs to care about something, and be bold and willing to work towards their goal.

Who are your heroes?

My father and my surgeon. They are the smartest people I know and dedicate their lives to helping others unconditionally. They are humble and work as hard as they can.

Can you share with us a meaningful Jewish experience that you’ve had?

A meaningful Jewish experience for me was my involvement with Camp Simcha. This is a Jewish camp for young cancer survivors and patients, and it was one of the most fun and uplifting places I’ve ever been to. It was beautiful to see how much joy and hope everyone had, and to see how much strength people derived from their religion.

Do you have a favorite Jewish food?

I do have an addiction to egg challah.

What kind of things do you like to do for fun?

I like performing. I sing, dance and act, do theater and acrobatics. I play with my dog and hang out with my friends.

What do you think you want to do professionally in a few years?

I’m not sure, but I am definitely interested in studying computer science. It’s a powerful tool. Whether it’s doing research using computer science to study diseases or whatever I do, I want to help people.



Thursday, April 30, 2015


Twenty-six anti-Semitism watchdog groups issued a joint letter to Stanford University President John Hennessy, lauding him for condemning the vandalism of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house which was defaced with swastikas this past weekend, and imploring him to take additional steps to protect Jewish students on campus; particularly with the rise of antisemitism throughout many college campuses in California and especially through the strengthening of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movements targeting Israel.

Hennessy issued a response to the vandalism on Monday, stating that he is “deeply trouble by the act of vandalism, including symbols of hate, that has marred our campus” noting that the school will be investigating the incident.

In their letter to Hennessy on Tuesday, the groups encouraged him “to take the following steps to deter future acts of anti-Jewish bigotry” and to demonstrate his “commitment to protecting Jewish students and all students across” Stanford’s campus:

Swiftly, forcefully and publicly acknowledge that swastika graffiti is an act of anti-Semitism and will not be tolerated on campus

Publicly commit to educating University staff, including campus police, in identifying antisemitism and antisemitic hate crimes

Formally adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of antisemitism to fully and accurately identify all future acts of hate toward Jews.

Allocate resources and publicly commit to educating students about antisemitism and anti-Jewish discrimination.

The incident at Stanford took place just weeks after a Jewish student, Molly Horowitz, filed a complaint alleging that her faith had been questioned during her candidacy for a position on Stanford’s student Senate. Prior to that, a Jewish student at UCLA, Rachel Beyda, was targeted for her faith during the nomination process for a position on the student council’s Judicial Board.

Just three months ago, a Jewish fraternity at UC Davis was also defiled with swastikas — the incident took place just days after the student council there voted to endorse divestment from Israel.

The letter to Hennessy details that over 20 college and university campuses throughout the United States have been defaced with swastikas over the course of the last year. In all cases, Jewish students were the direct targets. The swastika is universally acknowledged as the symbol worn by the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler in Germany during the Holocaust, which resulted in the systematic execution of six million Jews at the hands of Nazi guards.



Wednesday, April 29, 2015

School bus driver issued 3 summonses for crash into mini-bus 

Three traffic violations were issued to a private school bus driver who allegedly ran a stop sign and crashed into an East Ramapo school district mini bus, police said Wednesday.

The three elementary school children on the bus who attend New Square's Yeshiva Avir Yakov were not hurt in the crash, which occurred shortly after 7 a.m. Tuesday, when many public and private school buses are on the roads carrying students.

The mini-bus driver, 68, suffered non-life threatening injuries to her upper body, police said. No students were on her bus.

Lt. Charles Schnaars said officers issued Moishe Eisenbach, 39, of New Square, summonses for failure to stop for a stop sign, reckless driving, and speed not reasonable and prudent.

Eisenbach remained at the scene after the crash and there was no evidence of impairment, police said. The village speed limit is 30 miles per hour.

Eisenbach drove the large yellow bus east on Church Street through a stop sign at the intersection of West Street, police said.

The bus crashed into the smaller East Ramapo bus, headed south on West Street, and pushed the vehicle 40 feet into a telephone pole and into the fence of St. John the Baptist Church.

An Orange and Rockland Utilities Inc. crew repaired the damaged pole. No one lost power, O&R spokesman Michael Donovan said.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Yeshiva school bus crashes into East Ramapo bus 

A school bus driver from a New Square yeshiva ran a stop sign and crashed into an East Ramapo school district mini bus in the downtown Tuesday morning, police said.

The driver of the other bus was slightly injured. None of the three elementary school children on the bus belonging to Yeshiva Avir Yakov was hurt in the crash before 8 a.m.

Police said that Moishe Eisenbach, 39, of New Square was driving a large yellow bus east on Church Street and he failed to stop at a stop sign at the intersection of West Street.



Monday, April 27, 2015

Jewish worker's suit in Collier alleges religious bias 

A Collier County Sheriff's Office employee filed a lawsuit against the department Monday in federal court, alleging religious discrimination by the agency.

Benjamin Newmark claims in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers that he endured discrimination from the agency for observing tenets of his Hasidic Jewish faith.

"It involves discrimination based on religious beliefs," said Nancy Abudu, legal director for the ACLU of Florida, who's representing Newmark. "Especially for the Collier County Sheriff's Office to act this way toward one of its employees, we find that to be egregious."

Newmark also alleges that he was retaliated against by the department after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He was forced to shave his beard and was prohibited from wearing a yarmulke, both important parts of Hasidic Judaism, and demoted from the agency's Gang Unit to a jail technician, according to the lawsuit.

The sheriff's office issued a brief statement about the litigation.

"It is not appropriate for us to comment on pending litigation beyond saying that we will defend the case appropriately. Ultimately, the outcome will be decided by the court system," Collier County Sheriff's spokesperson Karie Partington said.

The allegations began in 2009 when Newmark requested religious accommodations, including being allowed to keep his beard and cover his head, along with having certain religious holidays off. Following that request, members of the department made multiple derogatory remarks to Newmark about his religion. The comments include being asked what part of Jerusalem he was from, having a Nazi iron cross flag placed outside his cubicle and being called a "weird, hairy little Jewish man," according to the lawsuit.

Newmark filed EEOC complaints in 2010 and 2012, and in April 2014, the commission found that the sheriff's office violated his rights. The office declined to engage in settlement talks and the case was forwarded to the U.S. Department of Justice for review, according to the lawsuit.

In January the DOJ issued a statement that it found no grounds for discrimination and advised the parties they had 90 days to file suit.



Sunday, April 26, 2015

German police remove Israeli flag from soccer game 'for fear of Palestinian violence' 

An Israeli soccer player in the second-highest level of professional German soccer tweeted on Sunday that security forces on duty at a match between FC Ingolstadt and Union Berlin forcibly removed an Israeli flag that was brandished by a fan in the stands.

Almog Cohen, the Israeli national team player who is also a member of 2. Bundesliga side Ingolstadt, tweeted: “Today, an Israeli flag was removed during an away match against Union Berlin. This was a flag brought by German fans which was removed by local security guards. ‘No Jewish flags,’ they said. This is the only pitch in which this has happened.”

According to the German daily Bild, the decision to remove the “Jewish banner” was made due to “fear of Palestinian violence.”

"I saw how our fans were taking down the Israeli flag,” Cohen told Bild. “They told me that they have done so at the direction of the police.”

When Cohen was told that the police didn’t want political symbols waved at the match, he then asked if other flags were also banned.

"No, only the Jewish flag,”. Cohen was told.

“That shocked me," he said.



Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ultra-Orthodox Jews gang up on IDF officer in Mea Shearim section of Jerusalem 

Unidentified assailants assaulted an IDF officer who came to visit soldiers in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim on Friday.

The officer, who serves in the Givati infantry brigade and even took part in last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, drove in to Mea Shearim to visit two of his charges who are beset by economic woes.

After local residents noticed the officer in his army uniform, he was accosted by a group of would-be assailants, though he managed to evade harm by fleeing the area.

Some vandals then proceeded to smash the windshields and windows of the car belonging to the officer.

The incident was reported by Channel 2. Shortly afterward, the officer filed a complaint with police.

The officer’s mother, a woman identified as “Yael,” told Channel 2 that her son “was hit a few times.”

“He told me that it’s not his body that hurts, but his heart,” she said. “He came away traumatized a bit. He said they tried to lynch him. They threw stones, eggs, used diapers. Some of them even tried to overturn his car. Nobody intervened to try and stop it.”

"He paid a visit to two soldiers who live in Mea Shearim,” she said. “These soldiers are of limited financial means. He went there to see how he could help them with more benefits.”

“At the entrance to the apartment building where they live, two women stood there,” she said. “They were unhappy that he was entering the building while wearing a uniform and the purple beret of Givati.”

“When he came out of the building, he was met by a raging mob,” she said. “He stepped toward his car, closed the door, and locked it. They tried to get at him and pull him outside. They had the look of terrorists in their eyes. They wanted to lynch him.”



Friday, April 24, 2015

Gym and Yoga Studio in Brooklyn Cater to Hasidim 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, April 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rabbis convicted of Sopranos-style New Jersey divorce kidnap plot 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, April 20, 2015

Lakewood residents upset over loss of Kosher ShopRite 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Professor presenting lecture on Kiryas Joel 

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

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

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



Saturday, April 18, 2015

Rockland's rising tensions and anti-Semitism 

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, April 17, 2015

‘Kosher’ light switch sparks a religious debate 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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