Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cohen Hillel students collect Matzah for the Military Read more: Cohen Hillel students collect Matzah for the Military 

Cohen Hillel Academy just completed a Matzah for the Military Campaign to send Passover food to Jewish soldiers and personnel in Afghanistan.

Upper school students collected food, solicited donations at the recent Passover Expo at Temple Sinai, and packed and labeled boxes of matzah, macaroons, gefilte fish, horseradish roots, candy and cakes.

Eighth-grade Hebrew and Jewish Studies teacher Pamela Aranov received a phone call from Rabbi Avi Weiss in Kandahar thanking the students for their contributions and describing the upcoming Seder being planned in Afghanistan.



Friday, March 30, 2012

Right-wingers, Orthodox harming Lakewood schools 

Regarding your series of articles and editorials on Lakewood's public schools: As a proud 1973 graduate of Lakewood High School, after
spending K-12 in wonderful and very diverse township schools, I am
appalled — though not entirely surprised — by their latest state of

The planned destruction of public schools in Lakewood by the majority Hasidic/Orthodox community and
Board of Education reminds me of the concurrent demolition of public
education nationwide by the No Child Left Behind Act, which is basically a Trojan horse.

Whether you believe it's simply the ridiculous goal of 100 percent proficiency or the more likely joint conspiracy of the school-prayer religious
right, anti-teacher union Republicans, closet segregationists,
small-government libertarians and other profit-sector conservatives,
thousands of public schools have been placed at risk of being
privatized, turned into charters or closed all around the country.

In poor Lakewood, this federal assault has been joined by the local
Orthodox bloc to create a failed public school system, in order to
further the implementation of vouchers and the diversion of public
education funds to their private religious schools.

Most whites, including Reform Jews, already have been forced from town, and the black census is also down. This has left the only other population — Latinos — to literally battle it out for decent schools, housing,
health care and work/business opportunities in the town.
Kudos on your impassioned call for the state Department of Education to
finally intervene. The entire town probably requires state control or
receivership to save it.



Thursday, March 29, 2012

No Facebook for Hasidic school students 

For Facebook users at a Hasidic all-girls high school in Brooklyn it's either Exodus -- or expulsion.

Students at the Orthodox Beth Rivkah High School have been ordered to
immediately delete their accounts on the popular social-networking site
and pay a $100 fine, or be kicked out of the school.

"Girls are
getting killed on the internet -- that's the reason for it," Benzion
Stock, administrator of the Crown Heights school, said.

Stock said Facebook is also off-limits because it encourages girls to violate the Orthodox code of modesty.

"The internet is a good way to ruin marriages and families," Stock said. "We don't want them there, period. It's the wrong place for a Jewish girl
to be. Facebook is not a modest thing to do. Socializing on Facebook
could lead to the wrong things."

The edict became the talk of the neighborhood after several 11th graders at the school last week were
found to have illicit Facebook pages and were forced to pay the fine.

Chaya Tatik, 17, said she was booted from Beth Rivkah as a ninth-grader for using Facebook and dressing immodestly.

"It's not right that they're keeping them from such a thing," said Tatik, who is now a senior at Bnos Chomesh Academy.

"Everyone uses Facebook. It's a way to communicate. I communicate with my cousins from Israel, who I don't get to see that much.

"Blocking them from using it gives them hatred ... They want to take revenge and rebel. I know because I've experienced it."

Several students and parents noted that a fundraising plea on Beth Rivkah's own website asks followers to "do a mitzvah!" and sign up for Facebook in
hopes of winning money for the school.



Ramapo residents file suit against state for splitting the town in State Assembly redistricting 

A group of Ramapo Town residents has filed a complaint in US
District Court seeking to have the State Assembly redistricting of the
town tossed.

The town has been split into three separate Assembly districts for the last 10 years with one of those districts encompassing the
Hasidic villages of Kaser and New Square. Under the new plan, there
would still be three separate districts, but the two villages would be

The proposed intervener plaintiff, Yitzchok Ullman, a resident of the Village of Kaser, notes his village would be in one district and New Square would be in another.
Ullman charges in the complaint that the district boundaries were drawn "based on religious considerations."

The suit seeks the districts to be declared invalid and seeks an order directing the special redistricting master to propose new
Assembly lines.



Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Let’s finally stick it to those terrible parking stickers 

New Yorkers are all too familiar with the impossible-to-remove parking stickers that the Department of Sanitation pastes on cars that are not moved properly on street cleaning days. Remnants of these neon stickers often persist on car windows for months, despite vigorous efforts to scrape them off. They add insult to the injury of a fine that can cost as much as $65.

That’s why, back in January, we in the City Council overwhelmingly voted in favor of our legislation to prohibit the use of these stickers by the city — legislation that Mayor Bloomberg promptly vetoed.

The Bloomberg administration would have us believe that without these stickers, the city could not properly clean the streets. In fact, they have gone so far as to argue that if you take these stickers away, we will go back to the mean, dirty streets of yesteryear.

Neither the facts nor common sense support this argument.

When the Department of Sanitation first started using stickers in 1988, the city’s street cleanliness ratings were 73.1%. Eight years later, street cleanliness ratings had gone up — to 73.2%. That’s almost a decade without any improvement. This fact clearly contradicts the mayor’s argument that stickers were responsible for cleaner streets.

Then, beginning in 1996, street cleanliness ratings began to rise. What happened? Well for one thing, the city increased funding for street cleaning and waste collection by nearly $200 million between fiscal years 2002 and 2012. And the Sanitation Department started to make clean streets a top priority, focusing its efforts on identification of problem areas, increasing resources and stepping up enforcement.

That wasn’t all. The Council worked with the mayor to increase collection from corner litter baskets throughout the city. Not surprisingly, emptying trash bins more frequently led to an improvement in street cleanliness ratings: When collection routes increased from 63 in 2001 to 102 in 2005, the city’s overall street cleanliness rating went up almost 10 points.

In addition, the number of Business Improvement Districts has almost doubled — to 67 — in the past 15 years. These BIDs provide valuable funding to supplement sanitation services in their neighborhoods.

And in recent years, the city’s Work Experience Program has placed thousands of additional workers in jobs cleaning litter and maintaining litter baskets.

Finally, the city doubled its efforts to clean up vacant lots to almost 5,000 lots per year and improved outreach and education through city-sponsored litter campaigns while increasing enforcement of illegal dumping laws.

All of these factors contributed to the clean streets New Yorkers now enjoy. To claim that this improvement is based on parking stickers — and to insist that if we get rid of the stickers, we are going back to dirty streets — is disingenuous and insulting.

New Yorkers who park illegally are rightly issued fines. Those fines serve as ample deterrent from repeat offenses. Branding vehicles with stickers is a punitive practice with no measurable results. Today we’ll vote to override the mayor’s veto, and make life a little easier for drivers in all five boroughs.



From persecutor to persecuted 

Pawel Bromson grew up in Poland, where he and his skinhead friends
sometimes roamed the streets of Warsaw, terrorizing Jewish, Arab and
black children.
On one occasion, he and his mates boarded a train to Auschwitz and vandalized the former concentration camp.

They hurled insults at staff members, telling them "the genocide should have been bigger."

Bromson and his peers were suspicious of outsiders and disliked Jews, whom they blamed for Poland's economic troubles under the Communist regime.

"I wasn't just antisemitic, I was anti-everyone," Bromson recalled.

But Bromson's life changed forever 14 years ago, after his young wife
visited a genealogical institute in Poland. His wife suspected she had
Jewish roots and while sifting through papers, she noticed the names of
Bromson's maternal grandparents on a register of Warsaw Jews.

When a stunned Bromson confronted his parents with the news, they acknowledged their Jewish past.

"I thought my life was finished; it was a catastrophe," he said of the news.

Like many Jewish families who had survived the Holocaust in Poland,
Bromson's parents hid their religion from their children in order to
protect them from persecution.
Over time, Bromson accepted the
truth about his Jewish identity and began to explore the religion. He
went to synagogue and spoke at length with a senior rabbi about Judaism.

He eventually took the major step of converting to Judaism and became a Hasidic Jew.

Bromson, 36, will speak about his unlikely journey from neo-Nazi skinhead to
Hasidic Jew on Tuesday night at a fundraising event at the Chabad of
Westmount, an educational centre that teaches about Judaism.

Bromson buried his head in shame Monday afternoon when he was asked about his neo-Nazi past.

"Please, don't ask me," he said in halting English.

"I try to forget, but I can't."

Bromson said the Poland that he grew up in has changed dramatically over the
past 20 years. Over the past few years, some Jews in Warsaw have
rediscovered their roots, and Bromson said there are now about 600
Jewish families in the city.

Before 1939, there were 3 million
Jews in Poland. About 90 per cent of them died in the concentration
camps during the Second World War. Although he said he feels comfortable walking around Warsaw, his long beard and black hat sometimes draw
stares and comments from his fellow Poles.

About two months ago,
he bumped into an old friend from his youth. Bromson said the man's
children were baffled about why their father was talking to a Hasidic
Jew. "This guy is your friend?" they asked.

Deborah Shanowitz,
program director at the Chabad of Westmount, said the centre decided to
bring Bromson to Montreal because he has a very unusual story.
"He was a neo-Nazi who hated Jews and all minorities," she noted. "After
embarking on a path of finding out what it is to be Jewish, he decided
to go back and be like his great-grandfather."

The fundraising
event is part of the Chabad's lecture series. Tickets are $180 per
couple. Bromson's speech will be translated by a Polish interpreter. For more information, go to chabadwestmount.com or call 514-937-4772.



Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bridge-slay mom grieves ‘every minute’ for son 

The grieving mother whose son was slain on the Brooklyn Bridge 18
years ago because he was Jewish said she feels the pain of her beloved
boy's death "every minute" of every day.

"I miss him," Devorah
Halberstam said of her son, Ari, who died at 16 in a hail of bullets as
the van he and other Hasidic Yeshiva students were riding in approached
the Brooklyn Bridge. "He never had a chance."

Halberstam also
blasted the convicted killer, Rashid Baz, saying he should have faced
hate-crime and terrorism charges to send a message to other would-be
"They knew right away this was an international incident," Halberstam said. "But back then, terrorism wasn't on the radar screen."

The Post reported yesterday, Baz has finally admitted that he shot at
the van carrying Ari in 1994 out of revenge for a West Bank attack by
Israeli settlers on Muslims.



Monday, March 26, 2012

Killer: Jews my target 

The livery driver whose two-gun attack on a group of Hasidic students on the Brooklyn Bridge shocked the city 18 years ago has finally
admitted that he targeted them because they were Jewish, The Post has

Rashid Baz was convicted in 1995 of murdering Yeshiva
student Ari Halberstam, 16, and trying to kill more than a dozen others
in a van with a hail of bullets he fired on a Manhattan approach to the
bridge on March 1, 1994.

Baz initially told cops he opened fire
because of a traffic dispute. But in 2007 Baz finally confessed that he
targeted his victims, tailing their van for about two miles before the
shooting, an admission that had never been made public until now.

Since Baz is already serving a minimum of 141 years in state prison,
authorities believe there is no reason to pursue hate-crime or other new charges, law-enforcement sources said.

Detectives never believed Baz's traffic-dispute defense but discounted the widely spread rumors
that he was part of a terror-linked conspiracy.

During a
five-week trial, Baz's lawyer claimed the shooter suffered serious
trauma while growing up during the Lebanese civil war and was suffering
from post- traumatic stress disorder at the time of the slaying.

But in his confession years later, Baz said he first saw the van outside
the Manhattan Eye and Ear Infirmary, on East 14th Street, where
Lubavitcher spiritual leader Rabbi Menachem Schneerson was undergoing
minor surgery.

He said he followed the van and targeted the
occupants because of an earlier West Bank attack by Israeli settlers on
Muslims. Asked if he would have shot at a van of black or Latino people, he told the investigators, "No, I only shot them because they were

Baz fired two guns, blowing out one of the windows of his blue Chevrolet. Then he drove calmly back to his car-service
headquarters in Brooklyn and told co-workers he had shot up the van for
no particular reason.

The other occupants of the van, including two who were critically wounded, survived.

A year later, the bridge's southbound ramp was renamed the Ari Halberstam Ramp.



Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rabbi wins settlement over maiming at slaughterhouse 

A North Texas rabbi whose right arm was nearly severed in a 2010 industrial accident at a Fort Worth slaughterhouse during the processing of kosher beef has won an undisclosed settlement, his attorney said Friday.

Rabbi Peretz Avram Shapiro, a Dallas resident and member of the Chabad, an outreach program of Judaism's orthodox Hasidic Lubavitch movement, had been hired by Alle Processing of Maspeth, N.Y. to oversee production of kosher meats. Alle had contracted with Beltex, operator of a former horse slaughter plant on Fort Worth's north side, which also does business as Frontier Meats and processes cattle, ostrich and wild boar.

Both companies settled with Shapiro, who had his arm reattached after being airlifted to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas but remains permanently maimed, his attorney, Charla G. Aldous, said in a news release.

While hospitalized and under heavy medication, a representative of Alle urged the rabbi to sign a document that identified him as a company employee, not an independent contractor.

Aldous maintains that Alle was seeking to avoid huge costs by having Shapiro covered by workers compensation insurance as an employee.

The lawsuit alleged that Alle was negligent by giving Shapiro no training for his work at the Beltex plant as a mashgiach, a rabbi who oversees the packing process for kosher meat.

"While Rabbi Shapiro was standing where he was told to stand on the slaughterhouse floor, a machine behind him caught and crushed his right arm," his amended petition said. "It took several minutes to get the machine to release Rabbi Shapiro's arm that crush almost to the point of amputation above the elbow."

In its response, Alle said Shapiro was negligent and directly responsible for his own injuries by failing to exercise prudent care and caution. Moreover, the New York company said an unidentified person, who was not a party to the suit, also bore responsibility.



Friday, March 23, 2012

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 'Pre-Pesach Jitters' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Orthodox ‘inevitability’ pushback lifted Storobin 

Yesterday, in the midst of all the SD-27 election discussion, I emailed the Orthodox Pundit to get his sense of what had happened. The discussion led to a post on his website today that argues Storobin's near-win–a victory in many ways, even if he ends up the loser after paper ballots are counted next week–is the continuation of a voting pattern that's seen the Orthodox Jewish community resist the conventional wisdom of the front-runner.

"[M]ore than anything, the last few elections showed that there is a strong anti-establishment mood in the Orthodox community. There is an insurgent segment that hates the inevitability mantle created by politicians around their candidates," OP writes.

The pattern, according to OP, started back in the 2009 city council contest between Brad Lander and John Heyer:

Dov Hikind – and if I recall correctly Agudah leaders — supported Lander, but a group of activists, notably Shia Ostereicher from Belz, supported Heyer, pointing to his traditional marriage stances. Lander is today our councilman and Heyer ended third in the district overall. Still in [another] staggering defeat for Hikind and Agudah, Heyer won Borough Park 74-13 against Lander.

Ostereicher and company were seen as the new kingmakers in town, and some started to count Hikind's days, believing [he was] losing out to the Hasidim who long ago overran the Hikind types in the Borough Park.

Shortly afterwards a special election for Simcha Felder's seat came up. Hikind decided to align with the new Hasidic powers, and they settled on Joe Lazar as their candidate. Ostereicher worked hard for him, even pushing out others from the race[.] Hikind, Lander and Heyer, Agudah leaders and a 'who is who' list of the community also banded together to back Joe Lazar, creating an environment of inevitability. Result: David Greenfield, the insurgent, went on to a landslide in the district, and even the Hasidic BP split their vote almost evenly.

In the current election, Councilman David Greenfield was trying his magic, cloaking Fidler with the inevitability mantle, while Storobin didn't have too many Orthodox Jewish political leaders publicly supporting him. Fidler also had the support of the highly celebrated [Russian kingmater], Gregory Davidzon, whose star rose dramatically thanks to the Turner upset.

I, for one, sensed an atmosphere a lot like the lead-up to the Greenfield-Lazar race, but thought that Greenfield had the advantage of the Bloomberg machine and that he led a more sophisticated targeted campaign than Storobin's. For these reasons, I still felt that Fidler will win the seat and the establishment will win for a change.

OP's time line and thesis were mentioned in more than one conversation I had yesterday. If OP and others sense of things is correct, this should be good news for Democrats. At the very least, it will allow voters–not the county organization–to decide on a candidate. OP sketches out what could be the election strategy for both parties heading into this year's elections.

"My sense is that there is an active Orthodox electorate that hates to be told what to do and that the outcome is pre-determined," OP writes. "They rather like beaten down candidates who fight for their votes – it doesn't matter if it's with substance or with dirty attacks, as long they don't come with high-profile names directing to them how to vote. I'd advise the next candidate to take a more humble approach."



Thursday, March 22, 2012

Smart phone for the Sabbath 

Adapting modern technology to ancient halacha, or Jewish religious
law, is a challenge that Israeli experts have long relished. But the
"Shabbat phone" is in a class of its own.

Orthodox Jews do not make or receive phone calls on the Sabbath
("Shabbat" in Hebrew), as the activation of an electric appliance - so
that a current is introduced to a device - violates rules against
starting or completing a project on the day of rest.

This has posed a problem for key senior military officers and public
servants, who are observant or modern orthodox Jews but need to be on
call 24/7.

The Shabbat phone, from the Zomet Institute, has been dubbed kosher as
the current continuously runs through it, and increases when the call is made.

Twelve Shabbat phones were ordered six months ago for religious personnel among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's staff.

But Zomet head Rabbi Yisrael Rosen said the "halachic approval was only
given for essential workers and important needs like health, security,
public services, water and electricity".



Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Report Names Neighborhoods With Most NYPD Stop And Frisks Incidents 

The N.Y.P.D. stop and frisk program policy has been controversial in
minority communities from the start leading to protests and arrests, but now the New York Civil Liberties Union is coming out with a report
saying the policy was leveled on gentrifying communities as well.

Targeted communities included Williamsburg, Brooklyn home to Hasidic
Jews, Latinos and hipsters where 17,566 people were stopped ranking
fifth on the top ten list.

East Harlem ranked 6th and is
represented by City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito who just last
week tangled with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly over the policy during a
council hearing.

Kelly said "The government has an obligation to try to stop crime. What
are leaders in communities of color saying to get guns off the street?
Don't tell me a gun buy back program." only to be interrupted by
Mark-Viverito who said "Our communities are under siege. And there's
got to be a way of addressing that."

In all the N.Y.P.D. made 684,000 stops in 2011 with the 75th precinct in
East New York topping the list with 31,100 people stopped followed by
the 73rd precinct in Brownsville. The 2 neighborhoods have high crime

The N.Y.P.D. says reasons for a stop could include carrying a suspicious
object, or casing an area or a person or other suspicious activity. The
department says the policy is a valid crime fighting tool that helps to
drive down crime and make people safe.

But the N.Y.C.L.U. says only 3 percent of stops in East New York lead to
an arrest. In East Harlem 5 percent of stops resulted in arrests and 6
percent of those stopped citywide were arrested.



Tuesday, March 20, 2012

French school killer may have filmed shootings 

The French interior minister says that a gunman who killed four
people at a Jewish school in southern France may have filmed the attack.

Claude Gueant says that the attacker "was wearing on his bloody
chest a kind of filming apparatus." Asked whether the gunman recorded
the scene, Gueant responded, "We can imagine that."

He said Tuesday authorities are combing the Internet to see if
the killer posted a video online, but have not yet found any traces.

Gueant was speaking in the city of Toulouse, where an
unidentified assailant opened fire at a Jewish school Monday, killing a
rabbi and his two sons and the daughter of the school principal.

Authorities say the same weapon was used in killings of three French paratroopers last week.

The motive for the killings is unclear.



Monday, March 19, 2012

Gunman Kills 4 at Jewish School in France 

A gunman opened fire on a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse on Monday just minutes before classes were due to start, leaving four people dead and others wounded, before fleeing on a motorbike, police said. The shooting came days after three soldiers were shot by a man on a scooter in the same part of the country, though officials cautioned it was too soon to establish whether the incidents were connected.

Police officers and firefighters gathered at the site of a shooting in Toulouse, southwestern France, on Monday. The unidentified gunman opened fire on a group of children and their parents outside the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, leaving one adult and three children dead and several severely wounded, said police officer Luc Escoda on French television. The dead are a 30-year old religious-education teacher, his two children, aged six and three, and another 10-year old child, said Toulouse prosecutor Michel Valet, according to French newspaper Le Monde.

French media reports said the shooter was armed with two guns, one of which he used outside the school and the other inside the building as he pursued students. The interior ministry ordered security around Jewish schools and synagogues in France to be tightened. The shooting, which comes as French presidential candidates gear up for the final rush of campaigning for elections in just over a month's time, may become an electoral issue in a country that boasts the largest Jewish community in Europe, and where about 5% of the population is Muslim. President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to the school Monday morning, while Socialist Challenger François Hollande is also on his way to the school.

While the Jewish electorate was markedly left-leaning in the 1970s and supported Socialist François Mitterrand in his election in 1981, it seems to have moved towards the right since, according to a survey by polling company Ifop. The Jewish community, which represents less than 1% of the French population, voted en masse for Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, notably because of his pro-Israel positions, Ifop said. According to the poll, Mr. Sarkozy's popularity with practising Catholics and Jews is significantly higher than the national average.

Last week, a gunman shot three soldiers in front of a cash distributor close to their barracks, leaving two dead before leaving on a motorbike in Montauban, a neighboring city. Another soldier was killed by a gunman on a motorbike in Toulouse a few days earlier. "There are some similarities, but it is much too early to say whether there is a link," Mr. Sarkozy said on French radio. The antiterrorist division of the Paris prosecutor's office said it was looking into the three cases.



Sunday, March 18, 2012

Orthodox rabbi ordered jailed for refusing to testify 

An orthodox rabbi who refused to testify before a federal grand jury, saying his religious beliefs prohibit informing on fellow Jews, was ordered jailed Friday by a District Court judge for contempt of court.

Moshe Zigelman, a 64-year-old Hasidic rabbi, was ordered to report Wednesday to a federal detention center in Brooklyn. Until he chooses to testify, he will remain behind bars up to a maximum of 18 months, according to federal prosecutors

Zigelman has previously pleaded guilty and served a prison sentence for his role in a tax-evasion scheme by his Brooklyn-based orthodox sect, Spinka. After his release, he was subpoenaed to testify before a Los Angeles grand jury continuing its probe into the scheme.

Citing an ancient Jewish principle, Zigelman refused to testify, telling a federal judge forcefully during a contempt hearing through a Yiddish interpreter: "Because the transgression of mesira is so dire, my mind won’t change until I die.”

In December, in an order that was sealed because grand jury matters are confidential, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow held the rabbi in civil contempt.

Zigelman’s attorneys, who have maintained that no amount of earthly sanctions will compel the rabbi to change his steadfast beliefs and that his 1st Amendment right to religious freedom was being violated, appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The rabbi had asked that he be allowed to enter custody after observing Passover, in April. Prosecutors objected, saying March will mark one year since Zigelman was first called to testify and additional delays will require extensions to the grand jury’s term of service.

Morrow ordered him to surrender to the prison March 21.

"The government doesn’t want to be in a position of remanding somebody into custody, what the government is trying to seek is to have truthful testimony in court proceedings," Asst. U.S. Atty. Daniel O’Brien said Friday. "All people who are percipient witnesses to facts that are relevant to criminal matters have a duty to testify when called to do so before a grand jury."

An attorney for the rabbi could not be reached for comment.



Saturday, March 17, 2012

Orthodox musicians connect with mainstream message 

With his yarmulke, ritual fringes and lyrics occasionally borrowed from ancient Jewish texts, Grammy-nominated reggae star Matisyahu may be the most publicly observant Jewish performer in the mainstream music scene. But he’s not the only one.

Growing ranks of Jewishly committed performers are finding success on the national stage. Located on both coasts, these independent artists share more with Matisyahu than keeping the Sabbath. They, too, are attracting audiences with compositions informed by their spiritual lives: building connection, meaning and hope.

“The fuel that keeps us going is the feedback we get all the time that says, ‘Your music inspires me,’” says Yehuda Solomon, who with his band Moshav has opened frequently for Matisyahu. “People tell us all the time, ‘I don’t listen to Jewish music, but you guys break all the stereotypes.’ ”

Solomon is the chazzan, or cantor, for the Orthodox Happy Minyan in Los Angeles, dedicated to the lively, liturgical compositions of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. As Moshav’s lead vocalist, Solomon performs original world music, folk and rock in Hebrew and English, as well as “Shlomo tunes.”

For mainstream musicians hoping to make it big, Friday-night gigs help build successful careers. That option is not open to Orthodox Jews, cutting into their ability to make a living. They depend on licensing material and composing; some moonlight behind the scenes, including N.Y. guitarist C Lanzbom, who won a Grammy last year for mixing Pete Seeger and the Rivertown Kids’ best children’s musical album, “Tomorrow’s Children.”

Lanzbom, the son of Holocaust survivors, began his foray into music at age 7. Like Solomon, he was heavily influenced by Carlebach.

Although Carlebach was never as mainstream as Matisyahu, his iconic singing career spanned more than 40 years. Constantly touring, Carlebach performed at Carnegie Hall, the Berkeley Folk Festival and a range of international venues, from coffeehouses to synagogue basements. It was Carlebach who paid for Lanzbom’s first flight to Israel and introduced him to meaningful religious practice.

When Carlebach died in 1994, Lanzbom dedicated his first solo album to him; “Beyond This World” propelled Lanzbom into the Jewish market.

“It might look like I chose to limit myself,” he says, “but it also gave me an identity.”

Lanzbom works with some household names, recently mixing a Seeger track featuring Bruce Springsteen. But he is best known to Jewish audiences as part of the rock-folk band Soulfarm, which he co-founded with Solomon’s brother, Noah, a gifted vocalist and mandolin player. Together they record original compositions, Carlebach songs and Breslov Hassidic tunes.

The Solomons grew up in Israel next door to Carlebach on the moshav Mevo Modi’im. The religious, musical village Carlebach founded in 1976 has spawned numerous bands, including Moshav, which performs worldwide on Jewish and mainstream stages. Its next album, “Light the Way,” will be released in the spring.

Even when the music of these indie artists boasts universal appeal, the spiritual underpinnings resonate as uniquely Jewish. Perhaps the most extreme example is the Matisyahu hit “One Day,” from his earlier Hassidic days, which speaks of yearning for the messianic era. NBC aired the song in promos for its Winter Olympics coverage. Highlights from his forthcoming album, performed in San Francisco on Jan. 28 at the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ Émigré Community Gala, suggest more inspirational material ahead.

The same applies to singer and guitarist Dov Rosenblatt, who with Talia Osteen, his non-Orthodox bandmate in the folk-pop duo Wellspring, has opened for headline rockers Pete Yorn and Ben Kweller. Yorn and Kweller do not keep Shabbat, but they delayed Saturday night shows to accommodate Rosenblatt, who grew up Modern Orthodox, attended Yeshiva University and recorded three albums with his previous rock band, Blue Fringe — an allusion to ritual fringes.

The big money is in licensing, which generates anywhere from a thousand to a few hundred thousand dollars in fees per song. Rosenblatt’s compositions, co-written with Lanzbom or Osteen, have appeared on MTV’s “The Real World,” “The Kardashians” and “Cougar Town.”

Rosenblatt’s L.A. colleagues, musicians Yael Meyer and Cathy Heller, each have a long list of licensing credits, including “Beautiful People,” which they co-wrote. ABC aired it in network promos.

When Heller learned that Arab terrorists had murdered five members of the Fogel family in the Itamar settlement on the West Bank in March 2011, she wrote her ukulele-driven pop song “Gonna Be Happy.” The song will air on the CW’s March 28 series finale of “One Tree Hill.”

For Meyer and Heller, who attend Orthodox synagogues, performing for mixed audiences of men and women once may have raised concerns over kol isha, the religious restriction on hearing a woman’s voice.

That’s what happened to Carlebach’s daughter. As a teenager, Neshama Carlebach performed widely on her father’s last tour. When she was headed to the stage, she says her father would caution religious men in the audience “if anyone has a problem with that, go out for five minutes and then come back.”

After her father’s death, Neshama continued his tour, despite suffering condemnation from the same audiences that attended her concerts and bought her eight albums.

These days, Neshama anticipates performing in “Soul Doctor,” the Broadway-bound, full-length musical she co-created that celebrates her father’s life. She also is touring solo and performing her father’s compositions together with a charismatic Baptist gospel choir on global stages. Their album, “Higher and Higher,” was a sixth-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards.

She says the ongoing criticism won’t stop her.

“I put [opposition to] interfaith and kol isha in the same category: ‘defined by fear,’ ” says Neshama, who identifies as Modern Orthodox. “I will walk where I walk and people will say what they say. I pray that they find their own healing.”



Friday, March 16, 2012

Firefighters battle Yeshiva blaze, students away at funeral 

Firefighters battled a monster five-alarm blaze
at a Yeshiva complex in the Town of Thompson Thursday night while
students were safely downstate paying respects after the death of a
Hasidic leader.

Crews fought the fire at 168
Gibber Road, the former Gibber Hotel, for several hours as it made its
way through the large three-story building. The fire appears to have
started in the upper stories of the former hotel and spread quickly
through dorm rooms now used as a religious school, Monticello Fire Chief Marc Friedland said.



Investigation into baby's death from herpes 

A warning to new parents in some communities. It stems from a baby's death after a religious ceremony.

Now officials are getting the word out for parents to be careful who performs the tradition.

It is a sacred and celebrated Jewish tradition: the circumcision, or bris, of newborn boys.

But among some Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, there is a controversial
element: a mohel uses his mouth to suction blood from the wound.

And it's once again the talk of the town in heavily Orthodox communities like Monsey.

The Brooklyn district attorney is investigating the death of an infant at Maimonedes Hospital.

The 2-week old died last fall after contracting herpes during the ritual which is called Metzitzah b'peh.

Health officials warn the virus can be transmitted during direct oral contact.

Controversy over Metzitzah b'peh erupted almost a decade ago after three newborns contracted herpes.

The state Health Department barred Rabbi Yitzchok Fischer of Monsey
from perfoming such procedures, but there is no official regulation
regarding the practice.

At the time, other mohels told Eyewitness News there are safer ways to perform a bris.



Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thousands pay last respects to Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty leader 

Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral on Wednesday of the long-time leader of the Vizhnitz Hasidim, whose death is likely to set
off a split in Israel's second-largest Hasidic sect.

Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the admor
(rabbinic leader ) of Vizhnitz and head of Agudath Israel's Council of
Torah Sages, was laid to rest in Bnei Brak after 40 years at the sect's
helm. He died Tuesday night at the age of 95 after a lengthy battle with various illnesses.

All of the leading Ashkenazi rabbis in Israel attended the funeral,
including the admor of Gur, Israel's largest Hasidic sect, and Rabbi
Aharon Leib Steinman, a leader of the "Lithuanian" (non-Hasidic )
ultra-Orthodox community. Also present were Hager's three sons-in-law:
the admors of the Belz, Satmar and Skverer Hasidim. The latter two flew
in from the United States, along with many followers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to offer condolences to MK Menachem Eliezer Moses, Vizhnitz's
representative in the United Torah Judaism faction, while Knesset
Speaker Reuven Rivlin delivered a eulogy from the Knesset podium,
calling Hager a "great leader" and a "righteous man."

Even while Hager was still alive, his two
sons - Yisrael and Menachem Mendel - were at odds over who would succeed him, and with his death, the sect is likely to split into two. On
Wednesday, both men were crowned admor by their respective followers.
But most Vizhnitz Hasidim, as well as most of the community's financial
assets and politicians, are following the elder son, Yisrael, who is
considered conservative on religious issues, including modesty and the
use of technology.

Both brothers put on a display of unity
Wednesday: They stood side by side at the funeral and agreed on the
funeral arrangements. Nevertheless the community is tensely awaiting the reading of Hager's will, which may - or may not - crown one of the two
as his successor. Thirty years ago, Hager unexpectedly banished Yisrael
and named Menachem Mendel as heir to his dynasty, but in 2002 he
reversed himself and brought Yisrael back from exile in the United
States, and since then, the elder son has built up a power base.

Though Hager's health problems, which
included Alzheimer's disease, meant his public role has been minimal for the last decade, until then he was considered one of the most important ultra-Orthodox leaders, and was particularly admired for his
contribution to rebuilding the Haredi world after the Holocaust.
"He came to Tel Aviv with his father and
another four disciples, and today, there are tens of thousands of
[Vizhnitz] Hasidim worldwide," said Shlomo Roznshtein, the Vizhnitz
representative on the Jerusalem City Council.

Not everything went smoothly, however. In
the late 1980s, a battle between Hager and the then-leader of the
Lithuanian Haredim, Rabbi Eliezer Schach - over Hager's defense of the
Chabad sect, which Schach sought to excommunicate, among other issues -
contributed to a rift between the Hasidim and the Lithuanians. He also
antagonized the secular community when, in 1993, he blamed the country's security problems on secular education, and was one of the first Haredi leaders to favor buses with separate seating for men and women.

Yet in some ways, Hager was very open to
the secular world: For instance, he regularly hosted secular guests at
his tischen (festive public meals ). And Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief
Rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a relative of Hager's, related that when Hager's own sister left the Haredi world
and went to live on a secular kibbutz, "the rabbi didn't reject her."
Hager's leadership, Lau said, was always characterized by "moderation
and an atmosphere of love for the people of Israel."



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Man pleads not guilty to setting fire to burn victim's car in New Square 

A 22-year-old man surrendered Tuesday to face charges he set a car
belonging to a New Square dissident ablaze during a drunken Purim

Aron Fromowitz, neatly
dressed in black with a trimmed beard, pleaded not guilty through his
attorney to charges of third-degree arson and second-degree criminal
mischief, both felonies.

Fromowitz is accused of setting fire to a car owned by Aron Rottenberg, who was
himself set on fire last year by another young follower of New Square's
grand rebbe for refusing to pray in the Hasidic Jewish village.

Fromowitz, his hands folded behind his back, stood before Ramapo Town Justice Alan Simon for the short session starting at 10:13 a.m., after arriving in
court at 10 a.m., the time promised by his attorney, Gerard Damiani.

After court, Ramapo police took Fromowitz for fingerprints and photographs.
Fromowitz, accompanied by his father, posted $5,000 bail set by Simon,
who also signed orders of protection forbidding him from going near
Rottenberg's home on Truman Avenue or Rottenberg's mother's home on
Jefferson Avenue.

On March 26, Fromowitz is due in New Square Village Court, where the
case will continue pending a grand jury indictment or a negotiated plea
with the Rockland County District Attorney's Office. Prosecutor Jason
Rosenwasser told Simon that time was needed to investigate the case.

The case was moved to New Square because the arson occurred in the village and Simon noted that, as a town justice, his jurisdiction over village crimes doesn't extend beyond arraignment.

Damiani said after court that he expects to talk with the District Attorney's
Office after he gets a handle on the details of the case. He said the
Fromowitz family just hired him.

The top arson count carries a sentence ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

"I don't know what occurred yet and I don't know yet what the DA's
position is," Damiani said. "I am sure there will be some discussions."
Fromowitz, who works for the grand rebbe's kitchen and once prayed with
Rottenberg, is accused of setting fire to the rear bumper of
Rottenberg's 2003 Mazda Protege on Thursday night.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jewish Purim Effigies Confuse And Offend Some In Borough Park 

Last week, Orthodox Jews in a predominantly Haredim part of Borough Park hung eleven mannequins in effigy across 12th Avenue. (Haredi Jews are widely considered the most conservative form of Orthodox Judaism.) The display was part of the Purim celebrations, but some non-Jewish locals who passed through the neighborhood were confused and even offended by the effigies, according to News 12. The local news channel says a viewer tipped them off about the display, and one passerby told them, "I don't know, I think it's kind of like ridiculing."

News 12 claims passers-by told the reporter they were offended, but these interviews are for some reason not included in the segment. But the report does include video of a Hasidic Jewish man wearing a cartoonish cowboy hat explaining the significance of the effigies. "There was a man named Hamman and he wanted to kill all the Jews and at the end they hang him and all his sons instead," area Jew Barry Spira tells News 12. "That's the story of the celebration we celebrate. This is the story that happened in the past."



Monday, March 12, 2012

'Pop Art Rabbi' in Bernards creates works full of color 

Rabbi Yitzchok Moully dresses in the austere traditional attire of
Orthodox Judaism. For Shabbat, he wears a white shirt under a long black coat that drapes below the knees of his black trousers.

Less traditionally, atop his head sits a hot pink yarmulke.

"The pink yarmulke makes me less threatening and more approachable," said
Moully of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards. "It's about finding
common ground."
Besides his full-time rabbinical work, Moully makes art whenever possible.
Through his artwork, as with his signature yarmulke, he proclaims that
behind the black-and-white appearances, the Hasidic world brims with
rich, joyous colors. He has become known as the "pop art Rabbi."

"I see my art as an extension of my rabbinic responsibilities," Moully
said. "I'm a rabbi first and foremost. I make art at night — when I

The art he
produces is going in new directions, and taking Moully in new
directions, too. In the past few months, he has exhibited his work
throughout the metropolitan area, and been featured on a recent segment
of the television program "Oprah's Next Chapter."

The 33-year-old Moully serves as youth director at the Chabad Jewish Center in Basking Ridge with his wife, Batsheva, who acts as program director. They have four children, Mendle, 8, Sholi, 6, Miriam Sarah, 4, and
Mushka, 2. Moully mentors bar and bat mitzvah students, leads a Chabad
teens group and co-directs the Hebrew school, among other duties.

Marsha Nagelberg of Basking Ridge helped found the Chabad center, and met
Moully when he came to the area in 2004. She knows him as a rabbi and
artist, and many of his works hang on the walls of her home.

"The first work I got as a thank-you gift — it's of those dancing Hasidic
guys," Nagelberg said. "Later, while walking through the hall at the
Chabad house, I saw his 'Tree of Life' and fell in love with it."
Nagelberg enjoys Moully's charismatic zeal for his faith, his art and his work
with Jewish youths. He invents innovative ways for making Judaism
exciting and interesting for the young people he mentors, like
introducing drumming sessions at the center. Nagelberg said Moully's art and personality testify that beneath the stark garb, Chabad rejoices in the multiplicity of life and emphasizes making dynamic choices.



Sunday, March 11, 2012

Orange Bureau Confidential: KJ dissidents appeal November ruling 

Kiryas Joel residents who sued to dissolve the village last year, claiming widespread discrimination against dissident community members, filed an appeal last week challenging a court ruling in November that struck down all but one of their claims.

A group of parties brought the case in federal court last year to argue that religious and public roles are so entangled in the Satmar Hasidic community that it amounts to an unconstitutional establishment of religion.

They also claimed they were being denied equal protection, since the village government effectively functioned as a secular arm of the community's main congregation, Yetev Lev. They, too, are Satmar members, but reject the leadership of Satmar Grand Rebbe Aron Teitelbaum.

Attorneys for the village and main congregation called the case a hodgepodge of old grievances that had already been tried and dismissed in state courts — hardly proof of "pervasive discrimination," as the plaintiffs alleged .

U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff largely sided with the defendants. Rather than press the one claim he allowed to stand, dissidents have brought their full complaint to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

"The complaint clearly shows sufficient grounds for the conclusion that the village and congregation, acting together, have established a state religion in Kiryas Joel to the detriment of the plaintiffs," Michael Sussman, the dissidents' attorney, wrote in a brief filed on Monday.

Sussman disputes Rakoff's view that claims had already been tried and therefore couldn't be litigated again. He notes that the village government hadn't been implicated in the alleged discrimination in previous cases, and that doing so now supported the allegation of church-state mingling.



Saturday, March 10, 2012

South Williamsburg gentrification creates tension 

The latest pocket of Williamsburg to get restaurants and pricey new housing developments is South Williamsburg, a neighborhood traditionally occupied by the close-knit Hasidic Jewish community, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the past four months three new restaurants have joined the area’s landmarks, such as Peter Luger steakhouse: the Whirlybird coffee shop, Kabob Shack and Mercado on Kent. The South Williamsburg area is generally defined as east of Union Avenue, south of Grand Street and north of Division Avenue, the paper said.

New residential developments in the neighborhood include the massive Domino Sugar refinery development, which still does not have a date for opening, and 88 South First Street –a development comprised of townhouse homes that hit the market in October.

Some long-time residents of the area are not so pleased with the changes, however.

“Every time I go for a walk around the neighborhood, I see signs for a new place opening where some of us can’t afford to eat or shop,” resident Jose Vargas, told the Journal. “It’s only a matter of time before we can’t afford to live here.”



Friday, March 09, 2012

New Square dissident Aron Rottenberg's car set ablaze 

A car belonging to Aron Rottenberg -- the dissident member of the
Hasidic community targeted and seriously burned in a May arson attack —
was intentionally set ablaze Thursday night.

Hillcrest firefighters responded to Jefferson Avenue about 10:40 p.m. to find the rear of Rottenberg's 2003 Mazda in flames, Ramapo Police Sgt. Blaine
Howell said.
By the time police arrived moments later, the fire had been extinguished. No injuries were reported.

The arson fire started with someone lighting either paper or cardboard
under the trunk near the gas tank, Ramapo Capt. Brad Weidel said this
morning. He said the criminal charge is third-degree arson if someone
is caught.

said Rottenberg told detectives that he doesn't believe the arson was
related to the previous problems with New Square religious leaders or
the attacks on him and his property at his Truman Avenue house. He was
staying with relatives on Jefferson Avenue last night when the fire

Rottenberg feels that this is not connected to the previous incidents
between him and New Square," Weidel said. "It's natural you would think
there's some connection. He's adamant. He doesn't believe that's the

Weidel said detectives are looking to interview witnesses and any suspects who started the fire.

The Ramapo Police Department and the Rockland County sheriff's arson unit are investigating the incident.

The attack follows what many believed was the conclusion of difficult ordeal for the Rottenberg family.

On May 22, the Rottenberg home in New Square was attacked because Aron
Rottenberg refused to pray in Grand Rabbi David Twersky's Truman Avenue
Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns to over 50 percent of his body as a result
of the attack, burns that left him hospitalized for weeks.

Shaul Spitzer, who has admitted to throwing an incendiary device at
Rottenberg, setting him on fire, pleaded guilty to first-degree assault, a felony, on Feb. 7.

Spitzer's plea came as part of an agreement that ended Rottenberg's civil
lawsuit. It is believed that another element of the agreement includes
Rottenberg receiving about $2 million in compensation from supporters of Spitzer and Grand Rabbi David Twersky.

Spitzer, 18 at the time of the attack, lived with Twersky, working as a type of butler.
Spitzer, still being held, is to be sentenced by state Supreme Court Justice
William A. Kelly on April 17. He faces a maximum of 10 years in state
prison. Kelly has already indicated that Spitzer will likely receive a
sentence of at least five years in prison.



Thursday, March 08, 2012

NYC probe into controversial circumcision death 

New York City authorities are investigating the death of an infant who died after contracting herpes last year through a controversial circumcision ritual.

The medical examiner's office determined the cause of death was Type 1 herpes due to "ritual circumcision with oral suction."

The ritual is almost exclusively practiced in ultra-Orthodox communities. The city has tried to work with the Hasidic community to alert it of its potential health risks.

The oral suction ritual involves removing the foreskin of the penis and then sucking the blood from the wound to clean it.

The city reported three cases of Type 1 herpes linked to the ritual in 2003-2004. One resulted in death.

According to The New York Times, the Brooklyn district attorney confirmed Wednesday the investigation into the September death was continuing.



Wednesday, March 07, 2012

In Staten Island's Pleasant Plains section, a religious tradition mistaken for hatred 

What some passers-by have mistaken as an effigy of a Hasidic Jew hung outside a Pleasant Plains home is, in fact, part of a religious
tradition — it was put up to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. 

The effigy, a life-sized figure of a man, is suspended from the front door
of 134 Bloomingdale Rd., across the street from Yeshiva of Staten
Island. It drew a complaint to the local NYPD precinct last week, as
well as a call to the Advance this morning from a concerned citizen
worried that it might have been hung as a bias crime. 

In fact, says Rabbi David Ceder, the Yeshiva's head of security, it's nothing of the sort. 

Rather, the effigy represents Haman, the villainous adviser of Ahasuerus, King
of Persia, who plotted to wipe out the Persian Jewish population roughly 2,400 years ago.

The home belongs to Rabbi Shloma Eidelman,
the Yeshiva's executive director. He did not immediately return a phone
call seeking comment.

"Purim commemorates an amazing escape from
persecution about 2,400 years ago in Persia," Ceder said. "It's a very
joyous occasion for the Jewish people." 

The story is told in
the Book of Esther. Haman, the king's prime minister, is angered because the queen's uncle, Mordecai, won't bow to him, because as a Jew, he can only bow before God. 

He convinces the king to allow him to
kill the Jewish people of Persia, and casts lots to determine the day of the slaughter, but Mordecai and Esther, the queen, are able to turn the tables on Haman. At the end of the story, Esther reveals her Jewish
heritage at a banquet and exposes Haman's plans. The king orders Haman
be hanged, on the same gallows that were intended for Mordecai. 

Purim will be celebrated this year from sunset Wednesday to sunset Thursday. 

The effigy drew the attention of one Prince's Bay resident, who called the Advance after she drove by Bloomingdale Road. 

"I was so upset when I saw it," said the woman, who requested anonymity.
"I'm relieved it wasn't a hate crime.... I'm concerned because it's
right next door to a pre-school." 

She's not Jewish herself, she said, and wasn't familiar with the tradition. 
She's glad, she said, that she didn't rail about the effigy on her Facebook
profile. "I was almost going to put it on my Facebook, but I'm glad I
didn't do that. I would have a lot of explaining to do."



Tuesday, March 06, 2012

‘Unorthodox’ With The Facts? 

Is Deborah Feldman’s “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots” the publishing world’s latest fraudulent memoir, on par with James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces?”

Or has the 25-year-old Williamsburg native simply exercised a little poetic license in crafting her tale of growing up Satmar?

The memoir, published less than a month ago by Simon and Schuster, is currently Amazon’s 55th top seller, and its No. 1 top-selling Jewish book. Feldman has appeared on ABC’s “The View,” WNYC’s “Leonard Lopate Show,” in Salon, The New York Post and The Daily News, to name just a few.

The book has also spurred a cottage industry devoted to dispelling its inaccuracies. Soon after the book came out, this newspaper’s Hella Winston found various holes in Feldman’s allegations of a brutal murder and cover-up in the upstate town of Kiryas Joel. (The coroner ruled the death a suicide, The Jewish Week learned.) Meanwhile, an anonymous blog — “Deborah Feldman Exposed” — has sprung up to respond to the book’s claims (and Feldman’s comments in interviews) about the Satmar world and the author’s family history and childhood.

Aiding in the research — digging up everything from family photos, Feldman’s old blog posts, school photos and Facebook posts of Feldman’s mother, Shoshana Berkovic — is Shmarya Rosenberg’s “Failed Messiah,” a blog that usually focuses on exposing scandals within the haredi community.

Among the findings: Feldman misstates the timing of various news events within the Satmar community and falsely claims that the first Satmar rebbe’s daughter was pushed down the stairs while pregnant (the synagogue where this supposedly happened was not yet built at the time of her death). Feldman, despite claims that her mother abandoned her as a toddler, was apparently in contact with her mother throughout much of her childhood; her parents divorced considerably later than she indicates; she has a younger sister, now 17, whom she neglects to mention in the book; she attended Bais Yakov on the Lower East Side and another non-Satmar but Orthodox school until sixth grade. (Feldman was allegedly expelled from Bais Yakov for telling classmates about sex, a topic that, according to her memoir, she was completely ignorant about until shortly before her wedding.) In addition, Feldman falsely claims that her mother is listed in the closing credits of the 2001 documentary about gay Orthodox Jews, “Trembling Before G-d.”

Feldman’s defenders, meanwhile, have insisted the author is simply being smeared for criticizing chasidic Jews, and have pointed to the book’s disclaimer, which notes that “certain events have been compressed, consolidated, or reordered to protect the identities of the people involved and ensure continuity of the narrative.”

Feldman, who declined to be interviewed by The Jewish Week for this article, posted a statement last week on her blog noting that in the book she has “offered the reader experiences that were most important to me, all the while trying my best to protect the privacy of people I cared about. There are those who object to my decision to omit certain aspects of my life. In response, I can only say that there are matters about which I am not confident I know the whole truth, and I prefer to avoid further speculating on the personal lives of people who have not invited the kind of public scrutiny I am allowing for myself.”

Responding to reports that her mother did not abandon the community until Feldman was a teenager, the author writes: “The idea of community in a religious setting is mutable, and Williamsburg is a big place. My mother may have lived within its bounds, but there was a time early in my life that she no longer adhered rigidly to the Satmar way, and was emphatically not living with me, or raising me. As a child I was often the pawn being pushed around by those fighting a bigger battle, and although my family dynamic didn’t always make sense to me, I knew which adults were in charge, and my mother wasn’t one of them.”

As for the now dispelled claim of murder and cover-up, Feldman downplays it: “I do not state that his father murdered him. I relay a conversation that I had with my husband, showing that my mind went to a certain conclusion and stating that my husband urged me not to jump to conclusions.”

However, in an interview with The Jewish Week shortly before the book’s publication, Feldman was more strident in her accusations about the matter, insisting that her brother-in-law was “the first on the scene” and that the Satmar EMT’s director covered up the matter out of fear that a “full-scale investigation” could affect ongoing lawsuits, including the community’s fight “for the right to have an independent village with funding from the state.”

She also told The Jewish Week that the dead boy’s father is “notorious in the community for being a lunatic.”

In that interview, Feldman also made a variety of other allegations that may raise the eyebrows of her detractors: claiming her ex-husband had an affair with Feldman’s cousin, family members e-mailed her death threats, and that in the Satmar community “the rules are just for show” and “all the young people are either ultra-fanatic or they want out.”



Monday, March 05, 2012

Israeli MKs to vote this week on plans to raise marriage age to 18 

The Knesset is expected to vote this week on two bills that would raise the legal age of marriage in Israel by a year to 18.

The proposals' sponsors say the aim is to prevent the forced marriage of girls, particularly in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, before they have graduated from high school and gained the maturity to make critical life decisions.

The first of the two draft laws is sponsored by MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ). This morning, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation is scheduled to decide whether to give cabinet backing to the second bill, proposed by MK Yariv Levin (Likud ) and initiated by Likud MK and Deputy Minister for the Advancement of Young People, Students and Women, Gila Gamliel.

"In many cases, especially in tribal and traditional societies such as the Bedouin, marriage is forced on young teenage girls, who are viewed as property that is passed from her father to the intended husband," Levin explained.

"Child marriage, even with the minors' consent, often hurts their potential to obtain an education, to develop a career and to break out of the cycle of poverty," he said, adding that research has shown that early marriages have higher rates of divorce, domestic violence and economic problems than other marriages.

Supporters of the bill say that raising the marriage age would end, for example, the absurd situation in which a legally married woman who becomes pregnant before turning 18 must obtain parental consent for certain prenatal procedures.

The Association for Civil Rights for Israel, which has actively supported the legislation for at least four years, recently sent a letter to the chairman of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child, MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi ), urging him to support the bill.

The Central Bureau of Statistics reported that, in 2008, the number of 17-year-old girls who married was 1,455; an additional 636 girls were aged 16 or younger when they wed. Only 69 boys aged 17 or less married in 2008.

The proposal to raise the marriage age was first mooted in 2004, by the National Council for the Child. Since then, a number of MKs, including Zuabi, have tried to promote the amendment, but under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox the cabinet has repeatedly decided not to support it.

A study carried out by ACRI indicated that for years the state did not even enforce the law to prevent minors under 17 from marrying: In 2004, no criminal cases were opened for underage marriage, even though the practice is widespread in certain communities in Israel. Only four such cases were investigated in 2003.

The minimum age for marriage is 18 in most European countries, including Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as other Western states. The bills under discussion would not affect child marriages that have the approval of a family court due to special circumstances, such as pregnancy. In a 2004 Knesset session on the change, Education Ministry representatives affirmed the ministry's support for raising the marriage age.

Numerous social-welfare organizations - including Isha L'Isha, the Haifa Feminist Center, and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel - sent a letter to MKs urging them to vote for the measure. "Marrying a person under the age of 18 (especially a female ) is a direct violation of their fundamental rights, as guaranteed in the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel has ratified," the letter stated.



Sunday, March 04, 2012

Atheists placing Hebrew billboard near hasidic enclave 

An atheist organization says it will unveil a Hebrew-language billboard calling God a “myth” near a Brooklyn hasidic enclave.

The group American Atheists says it will unveil a billboard Monday in hasidic-dominated South Williamsburg. The billboard writes out the name of God in Hebrew, and then features in English and Hebrew translation the phrase “You know it’s a myth… and you have a choice.”

The group is unveiling a similar billboard in Arabic in heavily Muslim Paterson, N.J.

“If there are atheists in those communities, we are reaching out to them,” Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, told CNN last week. “We are letting them know that we see them, we acknowledge them and they don't have to live that way if they don’t want to.”

Silverman said the billboards will be up for a month and will cost his group less than $15,000.

“People are going to be upset,” he said. “That is not our concern.”

CNN noted that the use of the name of God in Hebrew, which Jews traditionally avoid writing out except in sacred texts, may be considered particularly offensive by area Jews.



Saturday, March 03, 2012

Cruising into wedded bliss 

THE Locks are the very essence of the bickering, bantering Jewish couple who drive one another mad, yet somehow love one another enough to stay together for life. Documentary-maker Paddy Wivell first encountered them last year, while making a film about Hasidic weddings.

He was so taken with them -- and they, presumably, with him -- that he joined them on their first every holiday in 40 years of marriage: a 12-day "kosher cruise" around the Mediterranean. The result was the splendid Two Jews on a Cruise, a warm, funny, touching film streaked with undeniable melancholy.

Tikwah is the less adventurous of the two. "I'm scared of anything I don't like," she admitted. The gregarious Gaby loves to talk (and argue) was excited at the prospect of new experiences: "If you don't take no chances, you won't get nowhere."

Still, at least Tikwah was getting away from the pile of junk amassed by Gaby, a serial hoarder with a sizeable collection of worn-out fluorescent bulbs. Apparently, if you put them in the fridge, they come back to life.

Since the 898 other Jewish passengers on the cruise ship, the Golden Iris, weren't as religiously observant as the Locks, it was never going to be an entirely smooth trip. They lasted five minutes at the evening cabaret, where they found the music too loud and the morals (showgirls in skimpy costumes) too loose.

Squashed like sardines in a throng of people eager to get off the ship for an excursion to Crete, Gaby retreated into the peace of his own head and prayed. But he's obstreperous even when being peaceful and loudly likened the jostling crowd to "animals". It didn't go down well.

Neither did the row he sparked at a towel-folding demonstration, where he berated a passenger who was incessantly babbling next to Tikwah's ear. In another port, he mercilessly badgered an exasperated rabbi about whether it was right or wrong to disembark on the Sabbath.

But what was bugging Tikwah most -- and seems to have been bugging her for most of their married life -- was Gaby's habit of wandering off.

"I do have times when I feel very lonely," she confided. "He goes his own way and forgets about me."

Gaby knows he does it but seemed unrepentant.

"I have to be able to do what I want and if she can't come with me, I have to do it alone."

Tikwah decided to sign them up for onboard relationship-counselling. Amazingly, Gaby agreed to go along with it and found himself engaging in the practice of "mirroring" his wife's feelings, whereby he acknowledges his faults and agrees to change. Even more amazingly, it had an effect.

Gaby left Tikwah dine alone again -- but only so he could sneak off and buy her a present. She was even more delighted the next morning, when he brought her breakfast in bed. She was still sceptical, though: "It will come down with a bang when we get home."

Funnily enough, it didn't. When we last saw him, Gaby was starting to dump his used bulb collection in the bin. It's a start.

Skippy: Australia's First Superstar, a hilarious documentary about the 1960s TV series starring a super-intelligent kangaroo, a kind of marsupial rival to Lassie or Flipper the dolphin, somehow, ahem, skipped under my radar when first shown on BBC4.

Like millions of other kids around the world, I loved Skippy. She could dial telephones, open doors, play the drums and alert humans when her nine-year-old owner, Sonny, had fallen down a mineshaft. Which he did frequently.

So it was a shock to hear from cast and crew members that kangaroos are actually "dumber than sheep". Skippy had to be kept in a sack between takes to stop her from brainlessly bounding off.

Actually, there were nine Skippys, which meant her size and colour often changed from shot to shot. Not that we noticed; we were watching on a black-and-white TV.



Friday, March 02, 2012

Hasidic Women and Drawing Inspiration From Struggle 

I was invited to attend the Dr. Phil show last week to offer commentary on their feature story about a young and beautiful woman who had a tale of unsettling circumstances in regard to her Hasidic background. As the Dr. Phil show unfolded, I listened intently to a young woman named Pearlperry Reich (aka Pearl) who, at the age of 17, was betrothed to a man for whom she was clearly unsuited at her parents' discretion and against her will. Pearl shared claims of sexual, emotional and physical abuse by a husband who had never trusted or loved her. Pearl depicted herself as a desperate woman with four young children trying to escape an abusive and loveless marriage -- distancing herself from the Hasidic community of her childhood in an attempt to seek her own path as an actress and a model.  Pearl purported that her husband was so incensed by her path of self-discovery and self-actualization that he now refuses to give her a Jewish or legal divorce and is even threatening to take her children away if she does not abandon her acting and modeling career, a pursuit that her husband claims is against the moral values on which they based their marriage vows.
As I listened to Pearl, I was struck by the great contrast between our experiences in the Hasidic community.  As my readership knows, I am a Chabad Hasidic woman who lives in the public eye as a writer, speaker, filmmaker and singer who has an incredibly supportive husband and community that champions my individuality and artistic pursuits.  The idea that this woman had no choice in whom she married or that her own identity and self expression was at stake left me shocked and troubled.  It is my understanding that Hasidic philosophy is meant to support one's individuality and uniqueness.  The very philosophical foundation of Hasidic mysticism, based on its founder Rabbi Yisroel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), is that each person is like a musical note in the symphony of life and that each individual possesses G-d given talents meant to be shared with the world. We have an obligation to seek out our own skills and talents and use them to reveal the majesty and G-dliness found even in the most mundane and corporeal parts of our existence and the world.  When we actualize our talents for the purpose of elevating our surroundings we also reveal the holiness inside all of us.  
Every time I get up to sing or speak, I am reminded of my own opportunity as a Jewish woman to reveal the gifts that I have been graciously given by the One Above. Obviously, Pearl's unorthodox account of a troubling marriage that has threatened her spiritual quest in no way represents the Hasidic philosophy of how women should be treated or how husbands and wives should support each other in their individual spiritual journeys.  Judaism supports romance and encourages women to seek out their own spouse.  Hasidism encourages the personal quest for individuality as well as marriages that celebrate mutually beneficial and healthy spirituality.  Abuse of any kind should never be tolerated or condoned.
I am also not naive and realize that people are people -- human beings are fallible creatures capable of perverting the beautiful and deeply spiritual precepts taught by the Baal Shem Tov.  The matter begs a serious conversation: How can one become enlightened and create a spiritual relationship with one's Higher Power despite being cast away by those who promised to love and protect them? When any individual we look up to fails us so remarkably, how do we recover?  How does a person ever rectify one's own faith when corrupted personalities with bad principles cloaked in good ones take over?  When our spirituality is tested, as Pearl's was, how are we supposed to respond, and does Hasidic philosophy really have those answers?  
When I was a kid my father used to tell me, "Chava, remember, always place principles above personalities."  But one Shavuot (you know, that holiday when Jews eat cheesecake and celebrate the giving of the Torah) many years ago, I can remember feeling deeply unmoved by my faith, for the personalities I relied on to guide me had let me down, and I had no idea how to come out of my deep dark cloud of disappointment. I began judging everyone I met and failed to remember the lessons of the Baal Shem Tov. 
Dr. Phil says, "I was raised Southern Baptist and I always said I loved the Lord, it was Christians couldn't stand," before going on to explain that he was 14-15 years old when he felt that way and has since changed his opinion. This fundamental human challenge is not a Hasidic issue, but a human one that humanity grapples with in every faith across the board. 
The Baal Shem Tov used to say that when a person peers into a mirror and sees stains of soil on his own face, it is only because he has failed to wash himself. So too, when someone sees imperfections in another, it is a sign that those imperfections may live inside him.  Clearly, I needed to have a shift; I had only disdain for those around me and could not muster the courage to see how that disdain blemished my own personal faith in myself, and in my own Higher Power as well.  


Williamsburg Cigarette Ring Busted 

A Brooklyn rabbi running cigarettes out of a Spencer Street warehouse was arrested earlier this month, the Post reports. Twenty six-year-old Meshulam Rothschild, a member of the Pupa Hasidic sect, was selling about 3,600 cartons a week, cheating the state out of $50 for each one. (That's $180,000 every seven days!) He bought the cigarettes in Virginia and peddled them in Chinatown and elsewhere. Three family members were arrested along with him; he faces up to 15 years in prison.

In total, the Post reports (without specifying a time frame), 23 people have been arrested for running cigarettes, cheating the state out of more than $2 million in taxes. Little of this money has been recovered by authorities.

Some Post commenters see him as a kind of victim of an unfair tax system. "[J]ust a regular guy making money from BLOOMY'S stupidity," writes one. "[T]his is the result of 'BLOOM-HITLER'S' sad attempt to control the people of NYC," adds another. (Hitler? Really?)



Thursday, March 01, 2012

The second coming of James Frey? Hasidic Jews charge that one of their own has published a memoir full of lies 

The memoir is a devilish genre. The pull of embellishment must be great, for even the most ordinary life has its dull moments. Why subject your readers to the mundane, when one or two novelistic flourishes can add the necessary sheen? (Photo: Simon & Schuster)

And calling an enhanced memoir what it is – a novel – won't do. Weaned on reality shows and social networking, today's readers demand lived experiences. Invention doesn't cut it anymore.

Thus we arrive at James Frey, crying on Oprah's couch because he had been unable to admit that "A Million Little Pieces" was not quite the truthful account he had claimed it was.
And thus we arrive, also, at Deborah Feldman, driving Barbara Walters to the verge of tears on "The View" on Feb 14.
But not because Feldman's memoir, "Unorthodox," had been revealed as a work of fiction. The women of "The View," Walters especially, had the highest praise for her book, which they described as an honest account of the insular Hasidic community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that Feldman left after being forced into marriage at 17 and motherhood at 19.
But while Frey and Feldman could not come from more different backgrounds, they seem to have arrived in the same place, two memoirists having to fend off damning accusations of deceit.
2blog-unorthodox-2712_1.jpegFuror among Hasidic Jews has been building long before Feldman published her book – her writing initially appeared on her blog, Hasidic-Feminist. Now that her book is receiving acclaim (with reviews calling her book "harrowing" and "poignant"), they are acutely angry that Feldman has gained literary success by portraying them as a backwards, repressive community.

And while some of what the Jewish blogosphere has said about Feldman is, itself, little more than vitriol, serious accusations have come out – on blogs like Failed Messiah and Exposing the Lies and Fabrications of Deborah Feldman, not to mention The Jewish Week and the venerable Forward, which called her book "more than 'Unorthodox.'"

This much appears to be almost certainly true: Deborah Feldman, now 25, was born to Eugen and Shoshana Berkovic of Penn St., Brooklyn.  They were Satmar Jews – an insular sect that settled in Williamsburg after the Holocaust and lives in what some call a wholesale rejection of modernity.
Feldman's father has a low IQ and has held only menial jobs. Feldman went to the UTA Yeshiva, a highly religious school where Yiddish was spoken and secular literature was forbidden.
At 17, she was married to a man named Eli. At 19, she had a son. She and Eli moved to Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York, which they felt was a less suffocating environment than Brooklyn.
But by 23, she had enough. She left her husband, taking her son with her. She took writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College. She got a book deal with Simon & Schuster. Now, she is just another ordinary New Yorker.
Well, not ordinary. Most aspiring writers would murder to publish with the kind of publicity Feldman has received.
The problem is that much of her memoir may not be true, according to ardent critics. These include family members, neighbors and even New York State authorities.
369115_1378538278_284795804_n.jpegIn the book, Feldman charges her mother – who was apparently burdened by the pressures of Satmar life – with a "mysterious disappearance" when Feldman was a toddler.

In fact, it takes about 30 seconds to find Shoshana Berkovic on both Twitter and Facebook. She is a science teacher at New Utrecht High School and does not appear to have ever left Brooklyn. She did divorce her husband, as court records indicate. But that was in 2010, more than a decade after Feldman accuses her mother with leaving her behind. (Shoshana Berkovic / Facebook)
Feldman leaves out another relevant fact about her family – that she has a sister, now 17 and living with her mother. For reasons I cannot quite fathom, she entirely deletes her sister's existence from what is supposed to be a truthful account of her life.
And while Feldman waxes poetic about how she had to sneak  secular literature ("Reading an English book is…a welcome mat put out for the devil"), neighbor Pearl Engleman distinctly remembers Berkovic taking both of her daughters to the public library on Fridays. "Flat-out lies" is what Engleman calls Feldman's description of her family life.
Feldman writes in great detail about her strict religious education in Williamsburg. But she fails to mention that she only attended the supposedly restrictive UTA for four years – and that only after being kicked out of a much more lax yeshiva in Manhattan, Bas Yaakov of the lower East Side. A cousin says that Feldman was expelled for making comments about sex.
But this is the worst of it: Feldman alleges that when she and her husband were living in Kiryas Joel, Eli learned from his brother Cheskel that a 13 year old boy had been murdered by his father for masturbating. The father, according to Feldman's account, cut off the boy's penis and let him bleed to death. The Jewish ambulance service, known as Hatzalah, supposedly helped cover up the crime.
Fascinating, but at the very least dubious. As Hella Winston of The Jewish Week first reported and the Daily News confirmed, the young man in question was seven years older than Feldman reported, and evidence from the coroner, the New York State police, ambulance workers who reported the crime and family members of the dead man all overwhelmingly suggest that the young man (an allegedly troubled individual) died from slitting his own throat.
An uncle of the dead man calls Feldman a "psychopath."
And yet she persist in her claims. A post on her Tumblr reads, "I can only be responsible for the things I write. I cannot be responsible for what reporters write. Misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and just plain getting the facts wrong is common in journalism. But anything I sign my name to, I will stand by."
Nor will Simon & Schuster make her available for an interview. Her publicist, Kate Gales, sent me the following statement: "Deborah Feldman's 'Unorthodox' is an inspiring memoir that recounts, from the author's perspective, her experiences as a child growing up in the Satmar community, and her eventual departure from that life. We are confident that 'Unorthodox' accurately presents her deeply personal recollections of that journey."
But that has hardly quelled critics. "Doesn't Simon & Schuster check its facts?" wonders Engleman.
Feldman seemingly deals with that question in "Unorthodox" when she describes a novel she enjoyed as a teenager: "Even if the book claims it's a novel, I read it like a breathtaking piece of raw journalism, because the stories detailed within are so current and real, they could be happening to me, and I know that the author must have at least based the book on her intimate life experiences."
Not an answer that will comfort her many critics.



Cops and brides are Purim’s hottest costumes 

Forget ghosts and witches — the most popular costumes for this year's Hasidic Halloween are cops and brides.

Williamsburg's Orthodox Jews will celebrate Purim next Thursday by attending synagogue, raising money for religious schools, baking kosher cookies, and — most importantly for the kids — wearing colorful costumes.

For the past week, a stream of Satmar families clothed in black wool suits and skirts have mobbed the neighborhood's toy stores, eager to pick out the perfect gowns and uniforms for their children.

And Lee Avenue's Toys 4 U, which has branches in Williamsburg and Borough Park, is at the center of the scrum.

"It's a happy holiday — children get presents and collect money for charity," said Toys 4 U proprietor Joseph Itzkowitz, who isn't picky when it comes to costumes. "Whatever costume parents buy, that's my favorite," he said.

The religious holiday commemorates Queen Esther's victory over King Ahasuerus's vengeful court advisor, Haman, and the deliverance of the Jews from fourth century Persia.

Its masquerades resemble Halloween, and Jews throughout the world have used the occasion of their deliverance to dress up in fun — and sometimes racy — outfits and party into the small hours.

But unlike secular and modern Orthodox Jews, Hasidic youth dress in more conservative costumes, like cops and brides.

Law enforcement and weddings aren't the only popular themes — some revelers find inspiration in history.

"The story of Purim is about princesses and kings," said United Jewish Organizations director David Niederman. "This is a way for kids to understand the story of Purim and participate."

That explains another of the year's top sellers: princess dresses.

"Everybody wants to be a princess and dreams about being a queen," said Miriam Itzkowitz, of Toys 4 U. "One day, she can be a princess."

Boys reached for military camouflage, black rabbi frocks, and, most often, police uniforms.

"They see police on the street, there are a lot of them, and they know who they are," said Joseph Itzkowitz.

Families with toddlers were aiming for all things sweet, grabbing adorable strawberry, apple, and honeybee costumes.

For older kids, the holiday has less to do with costumes than community service.

Many unmarried teenage boys will spend Purim driving around Williamsburg with rented RVs, trying to raise cash for their yeshivas. And unmarried young girls often walk door-to-door with their parents to raise money and hand out pastries called hamentaschen, stuffed cabbage, and other treats.

That said, most do their charitable works while wearing colorful wigs and clown-like get-ups.

"I'm going to wear something very different, very colorful," said Tzvi Lazar, who was helping families pick out costumes for their children at Toys 4 U. "I'll have white and pink pants, an orange shirt, and rainbow socks."

For Hasidic parents, the holiday is a joyous one — and a subtle reminder that their children are growing older.

"My son, who is 2-and-a-half, is going to be a rebbe, and my 4-year-old daughter is going to be a bride, with a fancy bridal gown," said Williamsburg resident David Gross. "Last year she was a strawberry shortcake."



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