Friday, September 25, 2020

US government hires ultra-Orthodox singer to raise virus awareness 

The U.S. government has reached out to a popular ultra-Orthodox Jewish singer in order to raise awareness of the dangers of the coronavirus in Jewish communities, Shulem Lemmer said in a tweet Wednesday.

"I was approached by the @HHSGov to help bring awareness of anything Covid-19 related to the Orthodox Jewish community & beyond," Lemmer tweeted, saying he would be interviewing Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Dr. Brett Giroir and that his fans should tweet back to him "with any questions or concerns, and we will do our utmost to address them."

Lemmer, who hails from the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, belongs to the Belz hasidic sect and is the first born-and-raised Haredi Jew to sign a recording contract with a major record label, Universal Music Group.

After studying at the the Belzer Cheder in Borough Park, Lemmer moved to Israel where he studied at the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He has been singing since he was 10 years old. After signing the recording deal he began appearing at major league baseball and basketball games to sing the national anthem and God Bless America.

Earlier this week New York City health officials issued a warning that new clusters of coronavirus infections were emerging in several city neighborhoods that are home to high concentrations of Orthodox Jews.

"We have observed heightened rates of COVID-19 in many neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish populations," city health commissioner David Chokshi wrote in an e-mail to Orthodox Jewish news outlets.

Massive outbreaks earlier this year that killed over 700 members of the Jewish community were in many cases traced back to gatherings at synagogues.

Lemmer said when the record company first contacted him he thought it was a joke, but the deal went through under his conditions.

"We were able to get a line in the contract that I can say no to anything that doesn't agree with me halachically [according to Jewish law]," Lemmer told the Jew in the City website.

"Music can reach people everywhere and help them connect," Lemmer said. "Not only in the Jewish world, but different people from all different religions and different backgrounds say it [my music] inspired them."



NYC vows to crack down if COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Orthodox neighborhoods 

After days of warning about rising COVID-19 cases in Orthodox neighborhoods, New York City is threatening drastic enforcement measures starting as early as Tuesday, the day after Yom Kippur.

The city also plans to begin inspecting private schools in areas with high COVID-19 rates to check that they are conforming to the city's rules, which include shutting when there are two unrelated cases in the same building.

The enforcement measures could include closing businesses and schools, moves that would inflame already strained relations between the communities and the city.

City officials and community leaders alike have expressed growing alarm about the spread of the coronavirus in Orthodox communities, where six neighborhoods contributed a fifth of the city's new infections as of Sept. 19. Meanwhile, many people in those neighborhoods do not wear masks in public, which the city requires when outdoors and distancing is not possible, and continue to gather in large numbers.

In an email to reporters Thursday evening, Patrick Gallahue, a spokesperson for the city's health department, said that if progress in slowing the spread of infection was not made by Monday evening, the city would take serious action, including prohibiting all gatherings of more than 10 people, issuing fines for refusal to wear a mask, ordering private schools and childcare centers that do not meet city standards to close and shutting down all nonessential businesses immediately.

The department also announced "regular inspections of all non-public schools within these clusters and their adjacent zip codes," according to the email.

The department pointed to continued increases in positive COVID test results in the six neighborhoods cited on Tuesday — Williamsburg, Borough Park, Midwood, Bensonhurst/Mapleton, Kew Gardens, and Far Rockaway — as well as two other neighborhoods, Gravesend/Homecrest and Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay.

"The Sheriff and NYPD continue to monitor mask compliance in these neighborhoods, which have been overwhelmingly low compared to other areas of the city," Gallahue wrote.

After announcing the uptick in cases Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would increase communication with community leaders and outreach to residents of the neighborhoods themselves.

Gallahue said there was an increased presence of New York Police Department officers and community affairs liaisons as well as representatives of other city agencies Wednesday and Thursday to distribute information and masks in neighborhoods with increasing COVID cases. The department is also deploying mobile testing units to Midwood, Williamsburg, Borough Park, Kew Gardens and Far Rockaway.

The department will also send robocall announcements, send sound trucks and ambulances out to play messages about testing in English and Yiddish, send direct mail notices and place advertisements in local newspapers.

Because of the disease's incubation period, any changes implemented immediately may not lower the case count sufficiently by early next week.

One thing that could: reducing testing. Already, there is a push to stop testing in several of the Orthodox communities seeing an uptick, due to the low threshold for positive COVID cases to shut down schools. A message circulated on Whatsapp, a popular messaging service in Orthodox communities, Thursday advising parents not to have their children tested for COVID because it could lead to schools being shut down. A flyer circulated on Whatsapp Thursday, signed by leaders of the Williamsburg Hasidic community, discouraging COVID testing in a message in Yiddish.

Community leaders reached for comment Thursday night were not aware of the announcement before it was made. David Greenfield, a former city councilman who represented parts of Borough Park and the current CEO of the Met Council, a social service agency that works with many Orthodox Jews, lamented the timing of the announcement.

"It's unfortunate that instead of working with this community that so clearly lacks information the city is resorting to threats on the eve of Yom Kippur," he said.

Avi Greenstein, head of the Boro Park Jewish Community Council, said the announcement would disincentivize testing and that there had been "no meaningful communication from the authorities, especially the NYC Department of Health. And certainly, there has been no collaboration."



Thursday, September 24, 2020

3,000 Hasidic Cossacks Congregate on Ukrainian Border 

Operating in total haste, the Ukrainian government unexpectedly announced last month that in response to a serious upswing in cases of COVID-19, it would reestablish the most stringent border entry policy in the world. That public health policy has created a new problem for the Eastern European country: A large group of religious Jews prone to bouts of jubilant dancing is now marooned on the Ukrainian border, pleading and demanding entry into the country so they can carry out their annual religious rites.

Ukraine's entry ban was set to commence for the month from Aug. 28 to Sept. 28, leading some observers to speculate that it was aimed specifically at the religious pilgrims who embark on an annual pilgrimage to the Ukrainian town of Uman and engage in Rosh Hashanah festivities. The anarchic, mystical, dance-filled gathering of tens of thousands of Hasidim is very much akin to the Burning Man festival of the Jewish world. The atmosphere does not leave much room for social distancing, which led Ukrainian authorities to predict that it could become a superspreader event and prompted their intervention.

The destination for the festivities is the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the mystically inclined Breslov Hasidic dynasty, which is located halfway between Odessa and Kyiv. The pilgrimage ritual began after his death in 1811 and continued on as a clandestine activity during late Soviet times when all religious observances were banned by the Soviet authorities. It has morphed in recent decades into an annual ritual for thousands of Hasids who arrive mostly from Israel and America but also come from France, the United Kingdom, and the wider post-Soviet world.

Notably, the pilgrimage to Uman has been a source of occasional tension and trouble for many years, with the friction occasionally erupting into local violence that has a way of transforming into diplomatic headaches for all involved. This year, both the Israeli and the Ukrainian governments had pleaded with the Hasidim—to no avail—that they take this plague year off from visiting the tomb of the rabbi. Neither government had particularly wanted the problems which were to follow and the Israeli government engaged in high-level diplomatic negotiations with the Ukrainians regarding the issue.

Last Thursday evening, a truly surreal video appeared on social media as several dozen Hasidim dressed up in traditional Ukrainian folk costumes in order to serenade the Ukrainians into offering them entry. Looking fabulous in billowy white shirts and blue sashes over the bright red trousers of Ukrainian Cossacks, the Hasids performed a shortened version of the Ukrainian national anthem in a rather minor mournful key. One of them strummed a guitar while singing the words of the Ukrainian anthem with a charming, lilting accent. The rendition was surprisingly melancholic and moving. They concluded the song by offering up thanks to Ukraine and to Ukraine's Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky personally. "Glory to Ukraine!" they exclaim in unison at the end of the video, with likely no understanding of the historical provenance of the phrase.

With all direct flights to Kyiv canceled, the Hasidim who were determined to make a run at the border needed to do so by arriving in next door Belarus. This required them to decamp in the middle of a revolutionary situation and massive popular protests that followed the falsified Aug. 9 presidential election and ensuing violence between demonstrators and state security forces. Kyiv recently broke off all political and diplomatic relations with Minsk in response to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's continued accusations that Ukraine meddled in Belarus' political upheaval and fomented problems at the border between the two nations. Ukrainian officials who were already incensed with Minsk over the accusations now suspected that the Belarusians were also funneling Hasidic mystics to their border in order to cause further problems.

The BBC reported that "the office of Ukraine's president said Belarus was spreading false hope that the pilgrims could cross. Belarus wants a corridor to be opened for them." The fact that Ukraine's President Zelensky is himself of Jewish patrimony has not put him in any rush to assist the religious pilgrims—if anything, Zelensky's background likely makes him more reluctant to be seen as offering special accommodations to the Hasidic travelers. On Tuesday, President Lukashenko took time away from the existential legitimacy crisis that threatens to topple his 26-year-long dictatorship in order to opine that Ukraine had to provide a "green corridor for pilgrims to arrive in Uman by bus." Accusations that the Ukrainians were committing human rights violations were proffered without any apparent irony.

A phalanx of Ukrainian border guards resting on their steel shields can be seen manning a checkpoint in front of hundreds of Orthodox men in videos published from the border. Some of the Hasidim at the border wait pensively, some pray, and others dance raucously.



Tuesday, September 22, 2020

11 Hasidim banned from entering Ukraine until 2025 

On September 21, Ukrainian Border Guards detected a bus with 11 Hasidic worshippers who claimed they did not carry any documents. They will be forbidden to enter Ukraine until 2025, press office of the State Border Guard reports on Telegram.

"Yesterday, border guards of Podillya unit, together with police workers, detected a bus with 11 foreigners - not far from the state border", reads the message.

In spite of the statements made by foreigners, Ukrainian law enforcers found passprots of ten Istaeli citizens and a French citizen. All of these individuals returned from Uman, where they celebrated Rosh Hashanah.

"Since the foreigners breached the rules of stay in Ukraine, they will be banned from entering our country within five years, and they will be forcefully deported to their homelands", the State Border Guard said.



Monday, September 21, 2020

Indian-Jewish MMA and kickboxing champion set to make aliya 

An Indian-Jewish MMA and kickboxing champion, who has won a host of prestigious competitions, is set to make aliya to Israel where he hopes to compete for the Jewish state.

Obed Hrangchal, 26, has already won two gold, seven silver and two bronze national medals in Wushu, Kickboxing, Muay Thai and Karate. But what makes Hrangchal's story unique is that he is an observant Jew and a part of the Bnei Menashe community.

The Bnei Menashe say they are descended of Jews from a lost biblical tribe, banished from ancient Israel to India in the eighth century B.C.E.

Together with his parents, Gabriel and Ruth Hrangchal, and sister Lucy, Obed is set to fulfill his life-long dream shortly after the Jewish High Holidays and immigrate to Israel, where they want to settle in the city of Nof HaGalil in northern part of the country after they complete their absorption process.

"I have always dreamt of making aliya to the Land of Israel and I am very excited at the prospect of doing so. If possible, I would certainly like to join the IDF and I would be honored to represent Israel in MMA and Kickboxing competitions," Obed said.

The athlete hopes to complete the immigartion process with the help of Shavei Israel, an Israeli-based Jewish organization that encourages people of Jewish descent to strengthen their connection with Israel.

"We are very proud of Obed and his impressive accomplishments and we look forward to welcoming him and his family here in Israel along with the 700-plus other Bnei Menashe, whom we will be bringing  in the coming year", said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund. "Obed is another outstanding example of how the Bnei Menashe can contribute to Israeli society and I hope that we will soon see him ascending the stage and winning medals for Israel worldwide," he added.

Originally from the village of Thinghlun in the Indian state of Mizoram, the Hrangchals were the only Jewish family in town. In 2013, they sold their home and farmlands to move to the capital city of Aizawl in order to join the local Jewish community while awaiting the opportunity to make aliya.

Without the family farm, Obed's father, was left without a job and being Jewish makes it more difficult to find steady work since Jews do not work on Shabbat or Jewish holidays.

Despite the difficulties, Obed has succeeded in garnering widespread recognition in the sporting world and has won awards in martial arts from the Mizoram State Sport Council and the Mizoram State Wushu Association, which are affiliated with the Indian Olympic Association as well as the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"I started practicing martial arts from a very young age, about 6 years old, but without proper instruction," reports Obed Hrangchal. "As I grew up, I steadily improved and then I began to compete at the state level in 2014, when I competed in Chinese Kickboxing or Wushu and won second place. That same year, I began to study Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) under an instructor."

Thus far, more than 4,000 Bnei Menashe have made aliya to Israel in the past two decades, thanks largely to Shavei Israel. Another 6,500 remain in India, all of whom wish to make the Jewish state their home.



Friday, September 18, 2020

After Being Stuck for Days, Hasidic Jewish Pilgrims Retreat From Ukraine Border 

Thousands of Hasidic Jews, stuck at the Ukrainian border for days due to coronavirus restrictions, have turned back without reaching their destination, the grave of a revered rabbi, officials said Friday.

About 2,000 ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims had traveled through Belarus in hope of reaching the Ukrainian city of Uman to visit the grave of Nachman of Bratslav, an important Hasidic rabbi who died in 1810.

Thousands of the Hasidic pilgrims visit the city each September for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. It's celebrated September 18-20 this year, and some pilgrims had managed to get to Uman before Ukraine closed its borders in late August amid a surge in COVID-19 infections. Thousands of others traveled via Belarus, which hasn't barred foreign visitors from entering.

Authorities in Ukraine and Belarus said Friday that Hasidic pilgrims cleared the no-man's land between the two countries where they camped for several days, some sleeping in makeshift tents and others on the ground. Belarusian border guards said that less then a dozen of them remained in the area.

At the same time, Ukraine's border guards agency said Friday that it turned back several Hasidic pilgrims who tried to enter the country from Poland, Hungary and Romania.

As the pilgrims spent days stuck on the Ukrainian border, Ukraine and Belarus engaged in angry bickering over the standoff.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's presidential office accused Belarusian authorities of issuing misleading signals to the pilgrims that they would eventually be allowed to cross the border. Belarusian officials shot back accusing Ukraine of "inhumane" treatment of the pilgrims, and offered to provide buses to drive the pilgrims to Uman and back to Belarus.



Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ukraine urges Jewish pilgrims stuck at border to turn back 

Ukraine on Thursday strongly warned thousands of Hasidic Jewish pilgrims who have been stuck on its border for days that it won't allow them into the country due to coronavirus restrictions.

Ukrainian authorities said about 2,000 people have gathered at the border with Belarus, in hope of traveling to the Ukrainian city of Uman to visit the grave of an important Hasidic rabbi who died in 1810, Nachman of Breslov.

Thousands of the ultra-Orthodox Jews visit the city each September for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. It's celebrated Sept. 18-20 this year, and some pilgrims had managed to get to Uman before Ukraine closed its borders in late August amid a surge in COVID-19 infections. Thousands of others traveled via Belarus, which hasn't barred foreign visitors from entering.

On Thursday, Ukraine's Interior Ministry official Mykhailo Apostol reaffirmed that the pilgrims will not be allowed to cross the border.

"Ukraine has shut its borders to foreigners, and no exclusions will be made for the Hasidic pilgrims," Apostol told reporters. "It's getting colder and we suggest that they come back to Belarus, buy tickets and go home."

Also, Israeli Higher Education Minister Zeev Elkin tweeted Thursday that efforts to help the pilgrims enter Ukraine have failed, and called on them to return to Israel.

As thousands of pilgrims spent days in the no-man's land between Belarus and Ukraine, some sleeping in makeshift tents and others on the ground, Ukraine and Belarus bickered over the standoff.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's presidential office accused Belarusian authorities of issuing misleading signals to the pilgrims that they would eventually be allowed to cross the border. Belarusian officials shot back accusing Ukraine of "inhumane" treatment of the pilgrims, and offered to provide buses to drive the pilgrims to Uman and back to Belarus.

Ukraine's presidential office alleged Wednesday that Belarusian authorities' actions could be rooted in the latest tensions between the two neighbors following Belarus' controversial presidential election.

Ukraine has joined the United States and the European Union in criticizing the Aug. 9 vote, in which President Alexander Lukashenko extended his 26-year authoritarian rule, as neither free nor fair and urged Belarusian authorities to end their crackdown on protesters.



Wednesday, September 16, 2020

2,000 Hasidic Jews gather at Ukraine's border where they are barred entry from Belarus 

Around 2,000 Hasidic Jews have gathered at Ukraine's border with Belarus where their annual pilgrimage has been barred due to coronavirus restrictions.

Kiev has accused President Alexander Lukashenko of manufacturing the crisis by giving the pilgrims hope that they could cross the frontier in retaliation for Ukraine's support for the recent pro-democracy protests.  

Despite Ukraine's strict travel restrictions, the pilgrims are seeking to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nahman, founder of the Breslov branch of Hasidic Judaism, in the central Ukrainian town of Uman this weekend.

A statement from President Volodymyr Zelensky's office this afternoon told Belarus 'to stop creating additional tension on the border' and made pointed references to the 'dubious' August 9 poll that saw Lukashenko re-elected. 

It comes after Lukashenko visited Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to receive military and economic backing worth £1.15 billion, in the face of Western outcry over last month's ballot.



Monday, September 14, 2020

Haredi minister’s resignation a sign of ultra-Orthodox distrust 

The coronavirus pandemic has led to Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community losing trust in both the government and the religious political parties that represent them, an expert from the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) said Sunday.

The comments came in the wake of the resignation of Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, the head of the United Torah Judaism Party that is a partner in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government.

Litzman quit ahead of the anticipated announcement of a national lockdown as the coronavirus infection rate continued to soar out of control. That closure is expected to include a ban on prayer in synagogues for the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur holy days that begin this coming Friday.

"MK Litzman's resignation is indicative of a very strong sentiment among the ultra-Orthodox community where there is currently a high level of distrust of government policies," said Dr. Gilad Malach, Director of IDI's Ultra-Orthodox in Israel program.

"Significant portions of this segment of the population feels that they were singled out in the implementation of the 'corona restrictions' enacted by the government and that synagogues are discriminated against in comparison with [public] demonstrations [against the government]," Malach said.

Health restrictions currently limit the number of worshipers. Those at prayer must wear masks and maintain social distancing. During Yom Kippur especially, synagogues are normally packed in many cases to standing room only.



Friday, September 11, 2020

Ukraine to expel two Hasidic Jews for tearing down barriers at pilgrimage site 

Ukraine said on Thursday that it will deport two ultra-Orthodox Jews after they broke apart metal barriers near the grave of an 18th-century rabbi.

Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews travel every Rosh Hashanah, held this year on September 18-20, to the town of Uman in central Ukraine to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, the founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement.

But restrictions imposed by the Ukrainian authorities to stop the spread of the coronavirus significantly cut the number of pilgrims and limited the scope of the celebrations this year.

"Yesterday in the town of Uman a group of young pilgrims and Israeli citizens made a mess at the grave of Tzaddik Nachman, breaking apart barriers set up to ensure the orderly passage to the shrine," Ukrainian Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko said.

Ukrainian law enforcement agencies will deport "two of the most aggressive Israeli citizens," Gerashchenko said on Facebook.

"Ukrainians are hospitable people, but we will not tolerate rude behavior and violence," he added.

The United Jewish Community of Ukraine condemned the upheaval at the grave and called on pilgrims to behave responsibly.

"Jewish wisdom says that it is necessary to observe the laws of the country in which the Jew is," the statement said according to an English-language translation reported by the UNIAN news agency. "Given the current situation, when the pilgrimage is significantly limited, those who were able to get to Uman should all the more behave appropriately."

The organization said it was appealing to the Rabbi Nachman Foundation, which represents the Bratslav movement in Ukraine, asking what measures it will be taking and urging the foundation to punish those involved.

"We ask you to do everything possible so that they are punished and not allowed to the complex of Rabbi Nachman, in order to show others the inadmissibility of such behavior and the seriousness of the consequences of such behavior," the statement said.

On Wednesday, dozens of Bratslav pilgrims began tearing down metal barriers installed at the grave site that were erected by local authorities to limit the numbers of visitors in the complex.

In video shared on social media, the pilgrims could be seen pulling apart the barriers. Pilgrims in Uman told the Ynet website that the Bratslav followers were frustrated at the limitations and the delays in providing a plan for them to all be able to pray as they wish.

Last month, the Ukrainian and Israeli governments called on Hasidic Jews not to travel to Uman, a town of 80,000 people, this year, fearing a spike in coronavirus infections.

Kyiv later banned foreigners from entering the country until late September.

Authorities have also warned they plan to set up checkpoints at the entrance to Uman and some 3,000 pilgrims who are still expected to visit the shrine this year will have to test for coronavirus.

Rabbi Nachman is one of the main figures of Hasidism, a mystical branch of Judaism that appeared in the 18th-century and which developed in particular in Poland and Ukraine.

Ukraine has reported more than 145,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,023 fatalities.



Thursday, September 10, 2020

UJCU condemned the actions of the pilgrims who caused disorder at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman 

The United Jewish Community of Ukraine condemned the incident at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, JewishNews reports. UNIAN cites the text of the UJCU statement: "Jewish wisdom says that it is necessary to observe the laws of the country in which the Jew is. Given the current situation, when the pilgrimage is significantly limited, those who were able to get to Uman should all the more behave appropriately."

In addition, UJCU turned to the Rabbi Nachman Foundation, which officially represents the interests of the Breslov Hasidim in Ukraine: "UJCU condemns this behavior and publicly appeals to the Rabbi Nachman Foundation, which officially represents the interests of the Breslov Hasidim in Ukraine, with a request to provide information on what measures were taken in relation to the Hasidic pilgrims who were involved in the incident."

The United Jewish Community of Ukraine also called for punishment of young pilgrims so that the situation would serve as a lesson for them: "We ask you to do everything possible so that they are punished and not allowed to the complex of Rabbi Nachman, in order to show the others the inadmissibility of such behavior and the seriousness of the consequences of such behavior." Previously, the young Breslov Hasidim made a disorder and tried to break the fences installed in order to comply with anti-epidemic measures.


Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Trump nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for Israel-UAE agreement 

President Donald Trump was nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Christian Tybring-Gjedde, a lawmaker in the Norway parliament who heads his country's delegation to NATO, nominated Trump, Fox News first reported. Tybring-Gjedde, a member of the conservative-leaning populist Progress Party, told Fox that Trump has "done more trying to create peace between nations than most other Peace Prize nominees."

Fox quoted from his nomination letter: "As it is expected other Middle Eastern countries will follow in the footsteps of the UAE, this agreement could be a game changer that will turn the Middle East into a region of cooperation and prosperity."

Tybring-Gjedde and fellow Progress Party lawmaker Per-Willy Amundsen nominated Trump for the same prize in 2018, citing his Singapore summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.

"I'm not a big Trump supporter," Tybring-Gjedde told Fox. "The committee should look at the facts and judge him on the facts, not on the way he behaves sometimes. The people who have received the Peace Prize in recent years have done much less than Donald Trump. For example, Barack Obama did nothing."

Obama, Trump's predecessor, was awarded the prize in 2009 "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." The Nobel Committee said it "attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."

The post Trump nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for brokering Israel-UAE agreement appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.



Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Federal Voter Fraud Statute Applied to Purely Local Election 

A developer who undertook a scheme to stuff the ballot box in a small New York town to elect a mayor who supported building a Hasidic Jewish community there was guilty of federal voter fraud, the Second Circuit said Tuesday.

The federal statute applied to Volvy Smilowitz because New York conducts a unitary voter system for local, state, and federal elections, and his scheme targeted at the purely local Bloomingburn, N.Y., mayoral election had the potential to affect future federal elections, the opinion by Judge John M. Walker Jr. said.



Friday, September 04, 2020

South Nyack police looking for racist, anti-Semitic intruders of government Zoom meeting 

Police are seeking the public's help to capture two masked bigots who interrupted a government meeting to spew racist, anti-Semitic comments and terrorist threats.

The police released videos of the intrusions on the village website, warning, "The videos and photographs contain vulgar and offensive content." 

"The suspects stated multiple times 'I am going to bomb your village tonight and ISIS is coming to your village'," South Nyack-Grand View Daniel Wilson said in a news release.

After displaying a Nazi swastika flag during an initial appearance, one hacker showed a rainbow flag, stating, "This is what I do to LGBTs," as a person is beheaded in the background, Wilson said.

When the flag was not seen, one person sat in a room painted green. That person wore goggles, an Orange-colored wool hat, a scarf or bandanna across the mouth, and gloves. The second person didn't turn on a camera but could be heard making vulgar comments.

The man and woman — based on the sound of their voices — interrupted the Board of Trustees' Zoom meeting seven times on Monday morning, police said. 

They targeted Mayor Bonnie Christian with vulgar comments, as well as cursing out Jews and using racist language about Blacks.

The verbal assault came as the Board of Trustees hired a consultant for $15,000 to study the pros-and-cons of dissolving the village.

Partially spurring the dissolution movement is a Ramapo Hasidic Jewish congregation plans to buy Nyack College's 107-acre campus and run schools with dormitories for 500 high school and college-level students.

The schools would replace the Christian Missionary School and become tax-exempted like the college

Dissolution proponents argue eradicating the government for Orangetown would reduce taxes. Underlying support comes from those residents who fear what the Hasidic Jewish congregation will bring to the community.

Christian said she reported the disruption, known as a "Zoom-bomb," to the village police chief. One resident suggested calling the FBI.

"That was disgusting," Christian said. "Our police are investigating. We don't tolerate that behavior."

The police investigation involves other law enforcement agencies, including the Rockland Computer Crimes Task Force.

Anyone with information can call the South Nyack-Grand View Police Department at 845-358-0206 or email: police@southnyack.ny.gov.



A McDonald’s franchisee will pay $69,000 in settling a lawsuit over a Jewish man’s beard 

Telling an observant Jewish man applying for a job that he had to shave his beard will cost an owner of 11 Orlando-area McDonald's franchise stores $69,555 as part of settling a religious discrimination lawsuit.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit against Chalfont & Associates in 2019 on behalf of Morteza Javadi. Chalfont will pay Javadi $69,555 and promises to not exclude applicants because of religious beliefs or practices, including not shaving beards.

According to the EEOC lawsuit, Javadi applied online for a maintenance job in 2016 at the 900 State Rd. store in Longwood. During the in-person interview, Javadi was told he would have to shave his beard to comply with Chalfont's "completely clean shaven" policy for employees.

Javadi is a Hasidic Jewish man. Orthodox observers typically comply with Leviticus 19:27: "Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard."

The manager, the lawsuit said, rejected Javadi's offer to wear a beard net, citing Chalfont policy and Florida law. Florida law didn't address beards or beard nets for maintenance workers.



Thursday, September 03, 2020

Police in Ukraine investigate beating of Hassidic pilgrim in Uman 

An Israeli Hasidic man was been beaten by local residents during a pilgrimage to the Ukrainian town of Uman, local police said Wednesday.

Ukrainian police said several people assaulted the pilgrim during a conflict at a shop in Uman. They said the incident is being investigated.

The man who was attacked has a residence permit in Ukraine, according to the United Jewish Community of Ukraine.

Uman is home to the grave of an important Hassidic rabbi, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the city each September to mark Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year. Some had come to Ukraine before it closed its borders last week amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.



Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Top ultra-Orthodox rabbi says yeshiva students shouldn’t take COVID-19 tests 

A top rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox community has reportedly instructed yeshiva students not to be tested for the coronavirus to avoid closures of schools and mass quarantines.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky cited a "fear of massive damage to Torah study" in his instruction, according to a Wednesday report by the Kikar Hashabbat website, which caters to the ultra-Orthodox community.

Kanievsky, considered among the most important leaders of the non-Hasidic branch of ultra-Orthodox Jewry in Israel, expressed concern that the testing process would take students away from their studies and that positive results would require those who came in contact with the patient to quarantine, further disrupting yeshiva life.

He gave similar reasons a day earlier when he told yeshiva administrators not to quarantine their students who are exposed to virus carriers, as is required under Health Ministry regulations aimed at curbing an ongoing major outbreak of the coronavirus.

In urging against the virus tests, Kanievsky also advised that rabbis who are at risk due to their age or health factors should maintain a distance from students.

According to the Kikar Hashabbat report, Kanievsky's instructions did not apply to high school yeshivas. Unlike the higher yeshivas, where students are at least 17-18 years of age and often sleep on-site in dormitories, many yeshiva high school students return to their homes every evening, bringing them in contact with a greater pool of people and therefore posing a great risk of spreading infections.

Therefore, students at high schools should get a virus test if they show any of the symptoms of the disease, Kanievsky instructed.

Israel's coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu, the official leading the Israeli response to the outbreak, said in response that Kanievsky's statements "endanger the ultra-Orthodox public."

Binyamin Cohen, director of the yeshiva committee control center tasked with overseeing institutes' adherence to government guidelines, said in a statement to the ultra-Orthodox news site that out of 25,000 yeshiva students, around 500 have been diagnosed so far with the virus and are in quarantine wings within the yeshivas, where they are able to continue with their studies while isolated.

However, according to the Ynet news site, some 800 yeshiva students were found positive for COVID-19 in recent days, leading to thousands being ordered into quarantine.

On Wednesday, around 100 students at a yeshiva in the northern city of Karmiel were diagnosed with the disease, the control committee said.

By law, Israelis must enter quarantine for 14 days after being exposed to a person who tests positive for the novel coronavirus.

According to Hebrew-language media reports, Kanievsky on Tuesday said that sending students into legally required quarantine could lead to "damaging the study of Torah, heaven forbid."

Kanievsky added that "it is the duty of the heads of the yeshivas to allow the study [to continue] in a way that is not dangerous," without expounding.

The comments by Kanievsky came as Israeli children were returning to school following summer break, amid fears from officials that students could serve as major coronavirus infection vectors.

In March, as the pandemic began to spread in Israel, Kanievsky announced through a spokesman that study halls should remain open, as "canceling Torah study is more dangerous than the coronavirus." His edict, which he later rescinded, was partially blamed for high infection rates in ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel, including in his hometown of Bnei Brak.

According to Health Ministry figures, ultra-Orthodox communities have led the country in infection rates, though in recent months morbidity levels have dropped off. Several cities marked as hot zones under a plan implemented earlier this week are ultra-Orthodox, including the West Bank settlement-city of Beitar Illit.

On Monday, Beitar Illit protested an order to close schools after being designated a "red city," or high infection zone, under coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu's "traffic light" program.

The program, which is meant to help the country fight the coronavirus while avoiding a total lockdown, designates cities, towns, and regional councils as red, orange, yellow, or green based on the number of confirmed cases per capita and the rate at which the virus is spreading in each community.

Bnei Brak is also expected to soon be declared a "red city" according to Hebrew media reports.

Israel has seen nearly 120,000 coronavirus infections and 963 deaths since the start of the pandemic.



Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Jewish man beaten at supermarket in Uman, Ukraine 

An Orthodox Jewish man was beaten in the face at a supermarket in the Ukrainian city of Uman.

The incident happened Monday evening as the man, who has not been named in the Ukrainian media, left the store with a friend. Two men approached the Orthodox shoppers and one hit the victim in the nose, causing some bleeding.

The alleged attacker and his friend fled, the head of the United Jewish Community of Ukraine, Michael Tkatch, wrote on Facebook.

Police are investigating whether the incident was an anti-Semitic assault.

Pilgrimages to Uman, which is home to the grave of Nachman of Breslov, an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement, were supposed to have been curtailed this year due to coronavirus restrictions.

About 30,000 pilgrims, mostly from Israel, arrive there each year ahead of Rosh Hashanah. Clashes between locals and pilgrims are a common occurrence during the pilgrimage period.

Ukrainian authorities said they were closing the borders to foreigners until Sept. 28 in what was widely perceived as a move to prevent the pilgrims from defying orders not to come. Israel's government supports the Ukrainian move, officials have said.

But in an apparent effort to beat the closure, dozens of pilgrims reportedly arrived early in Uman. In the video, some of the foreigners are seen carrying large bags suggesting they had just arrived from abroad.



Monday, August 31, 2020

Kiryas Joel and Monroe: Turf War 

A documentary on PBS stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 follows a tense, existential conflict between townspeople in a commuter haven in Orange County, NY, 50 miles north of the George Washington Bridge. Monroe is where that American staple, Velveeta cheese was invented, but the area's bigger lures are the Woodbury Commons shopping outlet and the Storm King Art Center.

This is where I grew up watching THIRTEEN. Sesame Street taught me although people are different, we can all get along. But can we? The film City of Joel (2019) reveals the answer to that question by observing angry town hall meetings and difficult conversations on park benches and by sharing the voices of those trying to protect the futures they envision.

The village of Kiryas Joel is part of the Town of Monroe and the film captures the age-old power struggle that arose: the control of land and politics. The insular, close-knit religious group of Satmar Hasidic Jews in Kiryas Joel seek more room for their rapidly growing population. Monroe residents have unified to form an equally powerful bloc vote and oppose the Satmar's plans to annex land.

This is not Wild, Wild Country, though anyone who saw the Emmy Award-winning Netflix documentary series will recognize the "us" versus "them" aspect to this true story. In both documentaries, a population in a rather unremarkable area must come to terms with a cohesive community whose culture and way of life are very different. It is their difference that gives otherwise diverse Monroe residents a sense of unity.

The film's edginess comes from witnessing a civic situation in which some feel the American system of democracy is being twisted. We also watch people challenge each others' sense of entitlement and rights, from freedom of religion to reproductive choice.

Yiddish is the first language of the Hasidic community (City of Joel is a translation of the Kiryas Joel). The village's ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect has its roots in Eastern Europe, where it was founded by Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) in 1905. After the devastating genocide of the Holocaust, the group immigrated to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 1946. Teitelbaum sought more seclusion from the secular world for his followers, and in 1974, bought pastoral land for Kiryas Joel, where the first 14 families settled.

This once rural area has become increasingly suburban. By the time Jesse Sweet began filming City of Joel, Kiryas Joel's population had grown to 22,000 and was in dire need of more housing and other facilities. The Satmar organize their lives to follow Jewish law in the Talmud. Hasidic couples have as many children as possible. In 2010, 83% of the population was under 18.

"Every child born is a defeat to Hitler," says Chaya Wieder, a compelling Hasidic woman featured in the film.

At the time of the film, more than 50% of the population of 22-square-mile Monroe were living on one square mile of overcrowded multi-family buildings. The area meant to be an alternative to life in Brooklyn is crowded, and taxing on the town water supply, county social services and the environment. The 2010 Census revealed the Kiryas Joel tract to be the poorest area in all of the United States.

My family also moved to the area in the mid-1970s. We left an apartment in Suffern, NY, for a large house in a development four miles from the center of Kiryas Joel. Because the Satmars use their own religious schools, work for their own business and keep to themselves, I knew little about them. Our lives didn't intersect, except rarely at a dentist or doctor's waiting room.

It is those in Monroe who own property, pay taxes, and have children in the public school district of Monroe Woodbury who are concerned as Kiryas Joel seeks to annex 500-plus acres for the village. They are not only losing a largely bucolic landscape to high-density development; more significantly, they worry that all elections and votes will be decided by a bloc that votes according to their religious leader's guidance.

In response, Democrats and Republicans in Monroe double down to create an opposing voting bloc, building on the group United Monroe, which was originally formed to protest the town of Monroe's purchase of a theater, and is led by Emily Convers. The About section of the United Monroe Facebook page includes that they "promote candidates who reflect the interest of the citizens of the region for the preservation of the rural character, environment and school districts."

There is political opposition, and then there is anti-Semitism. The latter rears its ugly head, well documented in comments on local social media pages. This does not go unnoticed by the Satmar, who otherwise avoid modern technology other than for business purposes. Angry Monroe residents express frustration at the many children the Satmar's have, and reliance on welfare. They criticize their community as filthy and much worse.

What fascinates me is the implied unfairness of democracy when a group decides to cast its vote as one. It is not un-Constitutional. Women have the right to bear or not bear children in this country, and Hasidic couples are criticized for not being able to support their families through their personal income. The Hasidic community has experienced the worst persecution imaginable – genocide – and wants to not only to restore their population, but thrive in the place they live. Are the Monroe residents who express a desire to keep the quiet, undeveloped area intact being unreasonable in the face of a multicultural country?

One can look up the result of these elections and lawsuits that determined the future of Kiryas Joel's growth, but I won't spoil it here. There is no narrator of this film. Residents of Kiryas Joel and Monroe speak eloquently for themselves.

As to my family, my parents no longer live in Monroe. They sold our home several years ago to a younger Hasidic family who were looking for room to grow, and willing to live outside Kiryas Joel.



Friday, August 28, 2020

NY's Cuomo vows action against Hasidic Brooklyn weddings over virus concerns 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened on Thursday to step in to prevent large weddings - particularly in Brooklyn's Hasidic community - if New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio fails to do so.

“If the mayor is not doing any enforcement actions, then the state will,” Cuomo told a news conference, according to the New York Post.

“We’ve had superspreader events in New Rochelle with the Jewish community, we’ve had them in the Catholic community. The virus does not discriminate by religious or racial lines, right? This is an equal-opportunity situation. So we police it in every circumstance.”

Cuomo's comments come after de Blasio announced 16 new cases last week in Borough Park, home to the city’s largest Hasidic population, with several connected to a large wedding.

De Blasio was sharply criticized recently for seeming to come down much harder on members of the Jewish community for congregating at large gatherings - including funerals.

The New York Post also reported Wednesday that several wedding halls in Borough Park continue to host large Orthodox weddings, despite the bans on gatherings of more than 50 people, with people entering through side doors and windows covered with paper.

The rising number of cases led several branches of the Jewish emergency medical services organization Hatzalah to issue warnings after it saw an increase in calls from people reporting COVID-like symptoms.

This raises concerns that if the numbers continue to grow it will affect both the timing of schools' reopening for the fall semester and also in-person High Holy Day services.



Friday, August 21, 2020

New COVID-19 cases among US Orthodox may preclude opening school year, say MDs 

Over the past week, the reports have come fast and furious.

One overnight sports camp for boys in Pennsylvania had an outbreak of COVID-19, sending eight boys back to their home communities on Long Island and several more to Baltimore, where others had contracted the virus after attending weddings or coming into contact with those who did.

Bungalow colonies in the Catskill Mountains saw an outbreak among families, many of whom were summering there away from their homes in Brooklyn.

And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that 16 new cases were found in the Brooklyn Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, with some traced back to a large wedding there.

As the summer comes to a close and families prepare for a new school year and the High Holidays, government officials and leaders in the Orthodox community are monitoring new cases in Orthodox communities across the New York City area and down the East Coast. They say the cases, though small in number at the moment, could spiral out of control, derailing plans to reopen schools with in-person instruction and hold in-person services for the holidays.

Left unchecked, the increasing cases also have the potential to turn next month's gatherings in schools and synagogues into superspreader events, reversing the progress made over the past few months.

"It has the potential to be a perfect storm," said Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere, a large Orthodox synagogue in Long Island's Nassau County. "The question everyone has to ask themselves is: Is not wearing a mask that critical that they're willing to risk everything?"

Glatt said the New York City and Nassau County health departments have been in touch with him about a slight uptick in cases in several communities in the New York City area, including some related to wedding celebrations. He cautioned that a further rise could jeopardize schools, which are set to reopen in person for the first time since March, and in-person High Holiday services, which Orthodox Jews cannot replace with virtual services.

The question everyone has to ask themselves is: Is not wearing a mask that critical that they're willing to risk everything?

"The Department of Health has the right, the jurisdiction, to say we're closing down schools, we're closing down minyanim if there's a big enough uptick," Glatt said.

Doctors in Orthodox communities have pointed to a number of sources for the new cases. Vacationers are coming into contact with people from other communities and therefore risking exposure. Overnight camps, which were not allowed to open this year in New York state but were allowed in other states, including Pennsylvania, have seen some outbreaks as well, with the infected campers or staff members sometimes being sent back to their home communities to quarantine.

And while the pandemic seemed to put an end to the large weddings typical of Orthodox communities – guest lists of 400 people or more are not uncommon – the smaller outdoor weddings that have replaced them are still bringing together guests from different places, sometimes in large numbers, while mask wearing and social distancing are inconsistent. In some communities large weddings, whether indoors or outdoors, have resumed.

That has been the case especially in some Hasidic neighborhoods of Brooklyn, where life largely returned to normal as early as May and June as many in these communities, including some doctors, believed they had achieved a level of herd immunity — meaning a large enough percentage of the community had acquired immunity after recovering from the virus to significantly slow the transmission of disease.

As early as June and July, local health clinics serving Brooklyn's Hasidic communities performing antibody tests for the coronavirus were seeing a much higher percentage of positive antibody tests there than in the city overall.

New data from the city released Tuesday seemed to support the claim that some Hasidic neighborhoods had higher levels of immunity than other parts of the city. According to those figures, 46.8% of people in one Zip code in Borough Park, the Brooklyn neighborhood with the largest Hasidic population, tested positive for coronavirus antibodies. The only other neighborhood with a higher rate of positive antibody test results was Corona, Queens, one of the hardest-hit parts of the city. Across Brooklyn as a whole, 27.9% of people tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, the second-highest rate among the five boroughs.

New York City police break up ultra-Orthodox funeral as crowds gather in Borough Park, Brooklyn, April 30, 2020 (Screen grab)
But even some level of herd immunity does not mean that there can be no cases.

"Herd immunity is a relative concept," said Dr. Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who worked with the World Health Organization for over 10 years on AIDS programs in Africa.

While a large percentage of people having immunity to a virus can help reduce transmission in a group, he said, it does not bring the risk to zero for anyone who has not contracted COVID-19.

"You're still at risk of being around anyone who's still infectious, that has not changed for you," Slutkin said. "So if you're at a gathering and there's someone who is infectious, nothing has changed for you."

De Blasio, speaking of the new cases confirmed in Borough Park, called it "an early warning sign."

"Some of these 16 cases are linked to a recent wedding, a large wedding, in fact, in the community," he said. "We are working quickly to galvanize community leaders."

In response to a question about whether the new cases threaten the idea that there could be herd immunity in parts of New York City, de Blasio dismissed the theory.

"I don't think we have any evidence of herd immunity anywhere in New York City," he said.

On a blog used to disseminate information about local coronavirus numbers, doctors in Crown Heights, who as early as May were pointing to the results of a survey they disseminated showing that approximately 70% of the local Orthodox community had been infected with COVID, said they've seen cases "gradually increasing."

They also noted the new case of someone who had not traveled, been in contact with any travelers or attended a large celebration, leading the doctors to surmise that the person became ill through "community spread" — meaning the virus is still spreading in Crown Heights despite the large numbers of people there who had recovered from the virus.

To what degree immunity to the virus can be relied upon remains unclear. While the CDC advised this week that there have been no confirmed cases of reinfection among those who initially contracted the disease in the previous three months, much remains unknown about immunity resulting from previous infection.

A man prays next to an idle ambulance in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, April 7, 2020. (AP/Mark Lennihan)
But among the new cases in Crown Heights, the local doctors said, were two cases of "presumed reinfection."

"Both had antibodies but upon recent retesting had 'lost' their antibodies, and now, after being exposed to Covid, these people became sick again and tested positive," the doctors, part of the Gedaliah Society, a group of medical professionals in the Chabad community of Crown Heights, wrote in a blog post Tuesday. "These two new cases are so clear in their course as to take reinfection from a probable phenomenon to a reality (albeit difficult to prove as we don't have initial viral samples to compare)."

In a letter to the Nassau County Orthodox community, Glatt said there are cases of possible reinfection being assessed, but they appear to be rare.

"It still remains very reassuring, that with upwards of 20 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, there are very few proven reinfection cases," Glatt wrote. "This is critically important for herd immunity, and partially explains why certain communities have very few new COVID-19 cases despite not adhering to masking guidelines."

Rabbinical councils in several communities have put out community notices asking people to act with caution as the communities prepare for the reopening of local schools.

The Vaad HaRabonim of Cleveland, an Orthodox rabbinical group, sent a notice last week asking anyone returning from camps where campers or staff tested positive for coronavirus to quarantine for 14 days.

The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which was the first such group to shut down its large Modern Orthodox communities in Northern New Jersey back in March, sent a letter to the community Tuesday warning of the dangers of unchecked celebrations.

"While such an event, first and foremost, constitutes a threat to the health of those in attendance, the risk to the institutional health of our community created by such an event should not be minimized," the group wrote. "Indeed, even one such event could easily result in the full closure of an entire yeshiva, or multiple yeshivot across our community."

And the Vaad Harabanim of Baltimore sent a letter to the community last week asking people to act with greater caution at weddings.

"While in the shuls this vigilance is still evident, one area where laxity has sometimes set in is at weddings," the Vaad wrote. "This is not only a threat to our continued health, but it Chas v'Shalom could set us back in our quest to be able to open the schools."

Dr. Avi Rosenberg, an assistant professor of pathology at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who has become a go-to resource for Orthodox camps, synagogues and schools in Baltimore and across the country, said weddings were his biggest concern. (Rosenberg is involved in a study on the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID patients that has recruited a large number of Orthodox plasma donors.)

"We have people who are clearly running unmitigated simchas," said Rosenberg, using the Hebrew word for celebration.

He said he learned of approximately 25 new cases of COVID in the Orthodox community in Baltimore last week, most of which were connected to weddings in Brooklyn or Lakewood, New Jersey, home to large Orthodox communities. Weekly cases had remained in the single digits from May until last week, he said.

"People really need to understand that this upsurge in simcha-related community spread is what's putting the success of school reopenings at risk," Rosenberg said. "If it continues at the rate it's currently going in, I don't know how we're going to open schools safely."



Thursday, August 20, 2020

Two Fires at a Westside Jewish Community Center in a Week Raise Questions 

In the past week, Portland Fire & Rescue responded to two fires that happened in the same building five days apart in Southwest Portland.

The building is home to the Chabad Center for Jewish Life.

The first fire happened Aug. 14, apparently caused by an electrical malfunction.

However, Portland fire officials say they're not sure what caused the second fire in the early morning of Aug. 19.

Chabad is a Hasidic movement, among the more traditional and conservative sects of contemporary Judaism. The center is a welcoming space for Jewish people that provides a supportive community and Judaic education.

In the police report, investigators noted that the building was boarded up and vacant, making it vulnerable to crime. The quick succession of the two fires raises questions about whether Chabad was targeted.

The fire at the center, built in 1929, took firefighters about an hour to get under control after spreading to the attic.

The fire bureau said it had not determined the cause of the blaze and was seeking further information. While officials believe the first fire was accidental, "they have not come to that same conclusion today."

In a Facebook post in response to the fire, Chabad representatives acknowledged the support from the community and announced a fundraiser to help rebuild the center.

"The arson team is currently investigating the Chabad House and we don't have access nor are we able to comment as to motives or causes at this time," the Facebook post said.



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

De Blasio says COVID-19 uptick in Borough Park linked to wedding 

Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood is experiencing an "uptick" in COVID-19 cases that's mostly been linked to a large-scale wedding, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

"We've seen an uptick just in the last few days," de Blasio told reporters during his daily City Hall press briefing, explaining that there were 16 new coronavirus cases in the area.

Hizzoner called the new cases an "early warning sign," as he noted that "some" are "linked to a recent wedding — a large wedding, in fact, in the community."

Currently in New York, only social gatherings of up to 50 people are permitted and de Blasio said the wedding in question "was substantially more than that — and that's just not allowed."

It was not immediately clear where exactly the wedding was held or whether anyone has been punished.

De Blasio said the city's Test and Trace Corps is following up with attendees to get them tested and that the city is "working immediately to galvanize community leaders."

"We need to avoid those large gatherings that can cause a bigger problem," said de Blasio, adding that the city's Health Department will start doubling down on catering halls across the Big Apple "to let them know those standards must be kept."

The mayor also promised that the city will conduct more inspections of catering halls to make sure they're not flouting capacity rules.

While the violations are punishable by fines of up to $10,000, no one will face any consequences, de Blasio said.

"I'm much more concerned about the going forward," he told reporters.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, there were several instances of Hasidic Jews breaking social distancing rules by holding large funerals in the Borough Park neighborhood and elsewhere in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, as it was revealed that the Big Apple's coronavirus infection rate dropped to a record low of 0.24 percent citywide Wednesday, de Blasio debunked any notion that the hard-hit Big Apple has achieved any herd immunity related to the killer bug.

"I don't think we have any evidence of herd immunity anywhere in New York City," de Blasio said. "We're nowhere near that point."

De Blasio called the idea of herd immunity "folk wisdom in many communities," but "we don't have proof of that."

Jay Varma, de Blasio's senior adviser for public health, who was also on Wednesday's conference call with reporters, referred to a city antibody survey showing that 25 to 30 percent of New Yorkers "have demonstrated some type of infection."

"That is not a level of antibody coverage that we currently think would mean people are fully protected," Varma said.

Varma pointed out that the latest information from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that people who have been infected by the virus are "protected in some way for up to three months after that initial infection."

"The problem is we don't know how much people are protected after that," he said, adding, "Everybody should still consider themselves potentially at risk of infection."

The only way to continue to keep infection rates low is to wear face coverings, practice social distancing and good hygiene and keep limits on gatherings, the health adviser said.

However, said Varma, "There may very well be that there is some percent of the population who are helping keep the infection rate low."



Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Supreme Court Orders Govt to ‘Raise’ Reb Nachman’s Bones to Israel from Uman 

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Dafna Barak Erez has ordered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Government of Israel, and the Jewish Agency for Israel to respond to a petition filed with the court by Breslov hasid Sharon Scheltzer, demanding they explain why they are not working to "raise" the bones of Rabbi Nachman of Uman, the founder of the Breslov Hasidic sect, to be interred in the Holy Land.

Scheltzer, considered one of Rabbi Israel Dov Odser's closest students, Monday night filed the petition upon hearing that Ukraine has banned all foreign Jews from entering the country this year for the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rebbe Nachman — a pilgrimage made each year by tens of thousands of hasidic and Orthodox Jews worldwide. Scheltzer is also the chairman of the committee for raising Rabbi Nachman's bones to Eretz Israel, and he has been working on the issue for decade

The petition, filed by Attorney Itamar Ben Gvir on behalf of Scheltzer, states that the respondents must act to raise Rabbi Nachman's bones to Israel "to fulfill the will of the dead."

Rabbi Nachman wanted to be buried in Israel, he wrote, and "in cases where the leaders of the Jewish people in the Diaspora made such a request, the agency or government must act to bring them for reburial in The Land," Ben Gvir wrote, and also "because the property of the Jewish People — the tomb of Rabbi Nachman to which many Israelis go to pray — is under foreign rule, which holds it without permission."

The petition also states that in view of the recent announcement by the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that this year, for the first time in decades, the mass pilgrimate of Jews to Uman on Rosh Hashanah will not be allowed, the High Court is asked to hold an urgent hearing on the issue. For burial in the Land of Israel, even before the approaching Rosh Hashanah.

Moreover, the petition states that throughout the petitioner's many years of work on the subject, senior political figures have indeed acted on the subject: In the early 1990s, then-President Chaim Herzog, addressed the Prime Minister of Ukraine during his visit to Israel, requesting the relocation of the tomb to Israel. The Ukrainian prime minister at the time granted his request, but it did not materialize. In 2007, President Shimon Peres wrote to the Committee for the Raising of Rabbi Nachman's Bones, expressing his hope that "soon" the tomb would be relocated to its proper place in Israel."

Therefore, in light of all of the above, the petition requests the Supreme Court orders the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency to act to raise Rabbi Nachman's bones to Israel.

"I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will grant us the requested remedy, which is in fact a remedy for the entire God-fearing public in the State of Israel and around the world. Raising Rabbi Nachman's bones to Israel This is a vital need of the first order," Scheltzer told Israel's Channel 20 television news.

"Rabbi Nachman was a Jewish leader, a great leader of the generation, a light to Israel, who serves to this day as the Rebbe of tens of thousands of Jews," Ben Gvir said. "There is no reason why the State of Israel, which has brought for burial in Israel the bones of other great people of the Jewish people, such as the Tzaddik Hida Herzl and Jabotinsky, and even illegal immigrants, should not work to raise the bones of Rabbi Nachman, who has many merits in reviving the Jewish nation," he added.



Friday, August 14, 2020

Bill to let Orange County towns tax property sales to conserve land stalls in Senate 

A bill that would allow Orange County towns and cities to tax property sales and use the proceeds to conserve open space remains stalled in the state Senate, with the county's two Democratic senators taking opposing stances on the proposal.

The Assembly approved the bill with almost no dissent in June and last year, but the Senate hasn't brought it to a vote. If enacted, it would let any Orange County town or city impose a real estate transfer tax — if approved by voters in a referendum — to generate funds to buy properties or the development rights to farms and other desirable tracts. State law now grants that option in Ulster, Westchester and Putnam counties.

Sen. Jen Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat who sponsored the bill and a similar one that added Ulster County last year, said in a statement Thursday that she wanted to help Orange County communities "protect irreplaceable farmland and open space from the pressures of development — pressures that are only growing."

Metzger introduced a separate bill in February to extend the same privilege to every town and city in the state except New York City. She argues that each municipality "should be able to determine for itself, through a local referendum, how best to protect these resources without having to come to the state legislature for approval in each individual case."

Sen. James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, said Thursday he had concerns about granting countywide authorization for transfer taxes because it could lead to thousands of dollars in additional closing costs for home buyers — in a state that already has the nation's highest closing costs.

"It costs too much for working- and middle-class New Yorkers to buy a home in this state," he said.



Thursday, August 13, 2020

Non-Jewish N.Y. assemblywoman targeted in anti-Semitic attack 

The fact that New York state Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright isn't Jewish didn't stop a vandal from leaving behind an anti-Semitic note after defacing her office.

Seawright, a Democrat whose district includes part of Manhattan's Upper East Side, called for a police investigation into the incident at a news conference Tuesday. The intruder, whose note also included a sexist message, sprayed white paint on the office Monday night.

Seawright is a member of the Assembly's Jewish caucus and her husband is Jewish.

"I want to speak loud and clear today that we will never be intimidated by this criminal act," she said at the news conference, according to Jewish Insider. "We will stand together, speak up and remain vigilant against this violence and anti-Semitism."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo denounced the incident in a tweet Tuesday, saying he would "hold those responsible accountable."



Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Kazakhstan adds Chabad leader’s grave to its list of national heritage sites 

The government of Kazakhstan added the gravesite of Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, a leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, to its list of national heritage sites, a U.S. diplomat said.

Paul Packer, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, announced the move during a visit to the gravesite in Almaty, where Schneerson was buried in 1944.

Schneerson, the father and predecessor of the movement's last spiritual leader, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, "fearlessly served as the chief rabbi of what is today the city of Dnepro in Ukraine" until he was arrested, tortured, jailed and sent into exile in 1939 by the repressive regime of Joseph Stalin, then the leader of the former Soviet Union, Packer said in a video posted Monday on Twitter.

The elder Schneerson died the 20th day in the Jewish calendar month of Av, which this year fell on Aug. 10. Thousands of pilgrims travel each year to his gravesite in Almaty, the largest city in the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan.

Levi Yitzchak Schneerson expected his exile in Kazakhstan to be a "period of darkness," but was "warmly welcomed and quickly became leader of its Jewish community," Packer said. His teaching and those of his son "continue to transform the lives of Jews around the world."

Packer thanked President Kassym-Jomart Kemeluly Tokayev and other officials for "adding the holy rabbi's grave to the national heritage list of Kazakhstan."

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) who was named for Levi Yitzhak Schneerson, saw the naming as a tribute to Schneerson's wife. "The Rebbe's mother wrote in her diary many years ago, with pain, that she hadn't yet seen appropriate recognition of her saintly husband," said Shemtov, whose organization is based in Washington DC. "She knew his true greatness more than anyone, and actually made possible his deep Kabbalistic writings and their preservation."



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