Friday, June 05, 2020

As Rioters Destroy New York, Cops Kick Jewish Families Out of a Playground 

Jewish community leaders are condemning New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for a "blatant double standard." He singled out the Jewish community in enforcing coronavirus restrictions, yet defended protesters who violated social distancing rules in order to protest the heinous police killing of George Floyd. In fact, videos showed police officers dispersing Jewish mothers and their children at a playground while a larger group of protesters gathered in violation of lockdown rules.

"The double standard is blatant and shocking," Chaskel Bennett, co-founder of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, told Haaretz. "For months, we have seen our community come under unrelenting scrutiny by 'gotcha' media coverage of Hasidic Jews not social distancing or wearing masks, while the overwhelming majority of religious Jews in New York City were doing all the right things."

"After watching the thousands of protesters given free rein to exercise their constitutional right to protest, it begs the question: Isn't religious freedom protected by the very same Constitution?" Bennett asked. "Is there one rule of law or selective enforcement? It seems the mayor thinks differently."

Indeed, de Blasio struggled to defend applying the coronavirus restrictions to protesters and rioters, even while he still applies restrictions on the businesses getting torched and the churches getting burned.

"When you see a nation — an entire nation — grappling with an extraordinary crisis that's deep-seated in 400 years of American racism. Sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to religious services," de Blasio argued at a press conference on Tuesday.



Thursday, June 04, 2020

Chabad centers collaborating during coronavirus crisis 

Despite – or perhaps because of – the social distancing mandated during the pandemic, the Chabad centers of Pittsburgh have found new ways to collaborate and bring unique programming to the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community.

The new virtual events are attracting large numbers of people together from across the region, a scenario that was more difficult to muster when hearing a speaker required crossing a bridge or going through a tunnel.

"We're trying to do programs that aren't just another class," explained Chabad of Squirrel Hill Rabbi Yisroel Altein. "We're trying things that are out of the ordinary and that we may not have done on our own but that we can join together and offer as a dynamic program for all the different Chabad centers together."

That type of dynamic programming was on full display Tuesday, May 19 when Chabad of Squirrel Hill, along with partners Chabad of Monroeville, Chabad of the South Hills, Chabad Young Professionals, Chabad of CMU and Chabad House on Campus welcomed Rivkah Slonim for her presentation "What Hollywood Gets Right and Wrong About the Show Unorthodox."

The Zoom event was viewed on over 250 computers and devices. Since more than one person could watch the presentation on each device, that means that the actual number of attendees could have been closer to 300-350. In fact, so many people tuned into the event, Altein had to subscribe to a higher Zoom plan minutes before the program was scheduled to start to accommodate all of the viewers.

Building on the success of this initial program, Altein's wife and Chabad of Squirrel Hill co-director, Chani Altein, created the program "Shabbat in an Hour" with cook and author Reyna Simnegar on June 4.

"I was toying with the idea of doing a cooking demo about Persian cooking with Reyna Simnegar," Chani Altein said. "On the heels of the 'Unorthodox' program, I reached out to the other Chabad women and they were all in."

The rebbetzin sees two advantages in creating these types of virtual programs with the other Chabad centers: cost and egalitarianism.

"It's a great way to bring costly programs without paying as much, that pulls from all of our different communities," she explained prior to the event. "At first, I thought the cooking demo was going to be women only, because when I have cooking classes, they are women's classes, but some of the other Chabad Houses said they preferred to open it to women and men. So, it turns out, this one will probably be mostly women with a sprinkling of men."

Time and convenience contributed to the success of the first event about "Unorthodox," said Chabad of Monroeville Rabbi Mendy Schapiro, and that is why it makes sense to continue this type of collaborative programming in the short term.

"When it comes to these types of events, it has to be really interesting for people to put it on their calendar and say, 'I want to leave my house, take a few hours and go out.' Even if they are only once a week or once a month. What this does is allow us to bring the joy of Judaism through programming to all of our communities."

Schapiro is quick to point out that it does not make sense to share all of the programs the various Chabad centers offer.

"There's a balance," he said. "On the one hand, every community has their rabbi and rebbetzin that they're friendly with, there's a personal connection that brings them to events. When it comes to daily classes and events, it makes sense to keep it local. Then there are larger programs that we can present without the barrier of travel, online, and take advantage of the opportunity."

In fact, there is one annual program the Chabad centers typically have collaborated on for years, noted Yisroel Altein: the commemoration of the yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Mendel Schneerson. Because of the pandemic, that program, too, will now be offered online by all of the local Chabad centers.

"We're showing a documentary called 'The Rabbi Goes West,' with a colleague in Montana," Yisroel Altein said. "Following that, we are going to do a Zoom question and answer with him."

Altein realizes that after three months of social distancing and sheltering at home, there is a chance people are beginning to get "Zoomed out." He also knows that despite entering the green phase and the lessening of restrictions, "as we move into the real world, it's going to take time for us to figure out what that means. People are still expecting social distancing and are still struggling with what that looks like."

Because of that uncertainty, the rabbi ventured "we probably have some more time online."

With the success of attracting a virtual audience for events presented in partnership with the other Chabad centers, Yisroel Altein is interested in seeing if the same results can be attained in the physical world.

"I'd love to see how these types of events would turn out in the real world and find unique programming we can share," he said.

Even a rabbi realizes, though, that in Pittsburgh, there are certain limitations that may be too hard to defeat.

"Would you cross a river?" he asked with a laugh.



Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Jewish Group Offers Los Angeles Residents Immediate Interest-Free ‘Looting Loss Loans’ 

The Los Angeles-based Jewish Free Loan Association announced on Monday that it was offering interest-free loans of up to $18,000 to local residents who have suffered property damage from riots that have accompanied the nationwide unrest following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last week.

"Looting loss loans available immediately," read the subject line of an email sent to subscribers, JTA reported. The email explained that the loans, available to all residents of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, could pay for "debris cleanup, graffiti removal, construction needs, inventory replacement and more."

A number of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in the LA area have been looted or vandalized in recent days — mostly in the city's Fairfax district, which is home to a large Jewish community.

Those interested in loans are required to fill out a pre-loan application at jfla.org. Two guarantors are required.



Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Woman arrested in vandalism of Texas synagogue 

Inline image

A woman has been arrested in connection with the vandalism of a Texas synagogue and two other houses of worship. Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue in McAllen, a church and a Hindu temple were spray-painted Tuesday morning with a swastika and the words "WITCH," "HADES," "RAPEST," "NEW YORK KILLER" and other random phrases and words, The Monitor reported. Erica Yme Garza, 38, of McAllen was arrested Tuesday afternoon, May 25, and is in custody of the McAllen Police Department with charges pending.



Monday, June 01, 2020

Dem lawmakers enforcing strict lockdown rules are allowing criminals to loot and burn cities 

What a difference a week makes.

State and city Democrat leaders seem to have forgotten that they were just threatening residents with fines and jail time over violations of coronavirus orders. But Democrats running major cities now seem to be all in with protesters as they allow mass demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Protests and rioting erupted in major cities across the nation over the death of Floyd, the unarmed black man who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest. Video of the incident triggered demonstrations as people with and without face masks took to the streets in packed crowds.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who allowed a police station to be torched amid the violent carnage in the city last week, was giving out free face masks to stem the spread of the virus, urging protesters in a press release to "exercise caution to stay safe while participating in demonstrations" and to practice "physical distancing as much as possible."

But just days before, Frey had warned that Gov. Tim Walz's plan to allow churches to reopen at 25 percent capacity with no more than 250 people was a "recipe in Minneapolis for a public health disaster."



Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hundreds from Kiryas Joel donate plasma, blood after recovering from virus 

Sholem Feldman had a bad bout of COVID-19 that started in April and lingered for weeks, afflicting him with severe symptoms that left him "very weak."

But the 44-year-old father of nine found a way last weekend to derive a benefit for others from his run-in with the coronavirus: he participated in a two-purpose blood drive that yielded both plasma for current COVID-19 patients and blood to replenish blood banks that have dwindled during the recent crisis.

Feldman, a major-appliance salesman, was one of 130 Kiryas Joel residents who drove to Montvale, N.J., on Sunday to give blood to Miller-Keystone Blood Center for a donation drive led by the village's ambulance corps.

All the donors had recovered from COVID-19 and been tested to verify that their plasma had the virus-fighting antibodies that would help hospital patients overcome the same illness.

Feldman said Wednesday that he was grateful to be on "the giving side" after having recovered.

"We try to help each other," he said. "The Bible says, if you revive one person from dying, it's like you save the world.'"

For weeks, volunteers from Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey have turned out in droves to donate plasma for coronavirus patients and now blood as well.

Berish Schoenbrun, who organized Sunday's blood drive and earlier collections for the Kiryas Joel Volunteer Emergency Medical Service, said roughly 345 other Kiryas Joel residents donated plasma in five previous trips to Bethlehem, Pa. - where Miller-Keystone Blood Center is based - and New Brunswick, N.J.

The Bethlehem trips were a virtually full-day affair for the participants, between the drive back and forth and 90 minutes it took to give blood, Schoenbrun said.

Those donations took longer than on Sunday because the blood centers used machines that extracted plasma and returned the blood to the donor's body.

All participants had to be tested beforehand for coronavirus antibodies and have had high enough levels in their blood to be eligible.

In Kiryas Joel, donors had blood samples drawn at the Ezras Choilim Health Center, which sent the samples to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to be analyzed. Results came back as soon as two days later but could take as long as five if the hospital was backed up.

Schoenbrun said potential donors are continuing to get antibody tests at Ezras Choilim in case more plasma and blood is needed.



Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The government is feeding a Hasidic persecution complex 

Imagine you are a Hasidic teenage boy, a yeshiva student. You usually have school all year round, six days a week; your purpose in life is to study Torah, especially before your arranged marriage at the age of 18 or 19 while you are not yet distracted by family and work. From the time you are young, you are taught that all time not spent studying is bittul z'man, a waste of time. Men in your life study on the train, on the bus, in the waiting room, before work, after work, on Shabbos after a nap. It is unimaginable to you to spend weeks and months outside the study hall.

Suddenly, cities begin calling for the closure of study halls because a contagious virus is spreading. Your Yiddish newspapers and local Hatzalah exhort you to comply with health officials. All institutions close as the death toll starts to mount.

For the first time since you can remember, you are at home during the day, a surreal experience. Weeks and weeks go by, the number of cases goes down, and nerves begin to settle. But the governmental decree to stay home continues. Rebbes with whom you had phone study sessions organize to meet in small groups. On the down-low in basements, private dining rooms, synagogues which are locked but you get in from the side door. More parents send their sons back, and bigger institutions quietly open.

You attend yeshiva again, but everyone is now looking over their shoulders, worried about "getting caught." Getting caught gets you into the news, it makes you look bad, and this is a great fear.

Then one day there is a rumble and a crew of intimidating police officers barges into the study hall. You scramble to put on a mask, more to dissipate judgment from gentiles than infection from the virus, and you can see that your peers are pale and shaken.

You all follow orders and disperse. Outside, some goyish reporters are flashing pictures of you. It's terrifying.

To the secular world reading about it in the news, this is a story about a community that considers itself above the law. But to the Hasidic community experiencing it, it's a story in which they are being forcefully prevented from practicing their religion. And though the circumstance of a global pandemic is a rare one, Hasidim are experiencing it in the context of a familiar story: the eternal persecution of the Jewish people.

Many who have observed the persecution complex prevalent among Hasidim think it's about the Holocaust. Sticking it to Hitler, overcoming trauma, and trying to repopulate the souls lost are frequently given as motivations. But the Hasidic persecution complex is much larger than the Holocaust. It's rooted in the belief that Jews have a long history of being persecuted, physically and spiritually. Hannah Arendt described it in "The Origins of Totalitarianism" as "the doctrine of eternal anti-Semitism" wherein Jews or non-Jews believe that Jew-hatred is a normal and natural reaction to which history gives only more or less opportunity. In other words, it's the eternal fate of the Jew to be persecuted.

I grew up in the Satmar Hasidic community, and the many stories of my childhood focused on the persecution of Jews: Egyptian slavery, the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of Jews from nations, pogroms and anti-Jewish decrees, the blood libels and the kidnapping of Jewish children by Christian neighbors to forcefully convert them, Czarist Russia's many edicts, and of course, the Holocaust. The most popular children's books were the series "Der Tzeylung fin Tzadikim," Stories of the Sages, which recounted life in the shtetl and its travails. There were a hundred or so of these thin books with short, illustrated stories on the theme, always with the sage or the poor Jewish innkeeper achieving a happy ending through religious triumph.

On Passover nights, my Holocaust-survivor grandfather used to gather the little ones among the white pillows of his big Passover chair and describe how the Egyptians buried babies in bricks in lieu of cement, among other Egyptian atrocities. And the following day, during the long, sticky hours when we ate lemons dunked in heaps of sugar, he sat on the porch shmoozed with the adults about what we called "the milchoma," — the war. Stories of hunger, fear, lost loved ones, miracles, times that he and a friend had come within a hair's width from death.

I was a child and didn't pay much attention to adult affairs, but I have snippets of memories that are imprinted in my mind as if I had seen these scenes: Here Zeidy is running, here he has frost-bite, here he is carrying a friend, here a Nazi is shooting, here the neighbor fell and is gone, here Zeidy is alive, thank God.

Hasidim love to tell stories, and the drama inherent in the Holocaust made for many great ones. The stories weren't even necessarily depressing because, like all good Hasidic tales, they had a happy ending where Jewish religious life prevailed, despite — despite! — risk to life and limb. The Jews in the ghetto clung to their Torah scrolls, their menorahs, their kosher, their Yom Kippur. And like all good stories, they were tales of overcoming the most extreme adversity — in this case, the persecution of Jews because they were Jews.

The sense of persecution is what drives the Hasidic stubbornness to hold on to its identity. Hasidim define the survival of the Jewish people as one and the same as the survival of its religious identity. This is what drives the community's extraordinary efforts to resist assimilation in the 21st-century New York City.

It also created a great conflict when after the war, Hasidim migrated to America. The Yankee-land which was once known as the place where you lost the beard, kerchief and Yiddish, was by the 1940s and 1950s, hospitable to multiculturalism and sympathetic to Holocaust survivors. To Hasidim, it felt like a miracle. America was dubbed the malchus-shel-chesed — a kingdom of kindness.



Friday, May 22, 2020

Kiryas Joel school ordered to close after “hundreds” of students found in building 

Orange County officials say they ordered a Kiryas Joel school to close on Thursday after discovering "hundreds" of boys in the building in violation of a state mandate in March that closed all schools in New York and that remains in effect.

The county Health Department served the cease-and-desist order after officials visited the school one day earlier, accompanied by state troopers, and "found what appeared to be hundreds of students inside, not wearing personal protective equipment, not social distancing, and plainly in violation of the Governor's Executive Orders," the county announced in a statement.

The school is part of the United Talmudical Academy, the largest of three Hasidic school systems serving roughly 14,500 children in and around Kiryas Joel.

Ron Coleman, an attorney for the U.T.A., told the Times Herald-Record on Friday that the school's administrators were allowing boys to study on their own in the building and believed that independent study didn't count as schooling and so was permissible under the state's order.

"The school was not operating as a school," he said.

Coleman said school leaders disagreed with health officials on that question but accepted their position and closed the school. He said the conversation was "extremely cordial" and respectful.

Chris Ericson, a deputy county health commissioner who visited the school, said Friday that classrooms were full, teachers were present and few people wore masks. "There were anywhere from 25 to 30 students in a classroom, shoulder to shoulder, with an instructor in front of them, " he said.

New York City closed a Hasidic school in Brooklyn on Monday after officials say they found about 60 students inside. Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization for Orthodox Jewish groups, responded by urging compliance with state orders while arguing the continued closure of schools may violate religious rights and was becoming unbearable for large families.

"Moreover, children have been home for months," the statement read. "Orthodox families tend to be larger, and many live in small, urban apartments. The mental health toll of this pandemic on children and parents alike has been crushing."

Neither New York City nor the Hudson Valley have met the state's benchmarks for controlling the coronavirus outbreak to begin reopening businesses and schools. Even when that happens, schools are in the last of four reopening phases, which could take six weeks to reach after the first phase begins.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

Doctor who urged Trump to take untested drug leaving his Orthodox patients amid feud 

Dr. Vladimir "Zev" Zelenko, the Hasidic doctor who came to national prominence for treating presumptive Covid-19 patients with an unproven drug regimen, announced that he is leaving the area where he treated mostly Hasidic clients, in a clinic in Monroe, N.Y., near the Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel.

"It's with a broken heart that I have to say this, but I have decided to leave Monroe after almost two decades of working as a doctor, taking care of the community, most recently with this terrible magefah," he said, using the Hebrew word for plague, in a video addressed to his patients and Kiryas Joel residents, shared in Orthodox circles on WhatsApp.

"Things have happened, and after speaking to my family and my mashpi'im" — religious advisers — "and thinking about what I want for the future, I've decided that its time for me to move on," Zelenko continued.

The announcement comes several days after President Donald Trump announced Monday that he was taking hydroxychloroquine, the drug that Zelenko gained fame for prescribing to his coronavirus patients in the hopes that it would prevent them from going to the hospital. In his comments, Trump connected his decision to start taking the drug to a New York doctor — a designation Zelenko claimed for himself in a text message to this reporter sent Monday evening.

It also comes after Zelenko released a video over the weekend, addressed to the Kiryas Joel residents, in which he accused town leaders of orchestrating multiple investigations against him. Zelenko accused three men — Gedalye Szegedin, the town administrator; Mayer Hirsch, a developer and Joel Mittelman, the chief executive of the main health care provider in Kiryas Joel, where Zelenko used to work — of being responsible for the deaths of 14 Jews who died of Covid-19. The three did not act quickly enough in closing the town's synagogues and schools at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.

In an interview with the Forward Tuesday, Szegedin denied all the accusations, and said that he, Mittelman and Hirsch were considering legal proceedings for libel against Zelenko.

Zekenko declined to comment further on his video.

In the Wednesday video, Zelenko said that he wanted to dispel rumors that his decision to leave had anything to do with a disagreement with his current employer, CareStier Health, where he is the medical director.

In signing off, Zelenko wished Kiryas Joel residents long life, good health, financial success, and that they should all live to see the return of the Messiah — a customary message among some members of the Chabad Hasidic community, of which Zelenko is a part.

"Good luck," he said in Yiddish.



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

TikTok video makes fun of numbers tattooed on Holocaust survivors 

A video on the social media music video platform TikTok that makes fun of the numbers tattooed on the arms of Jews held in  Nazi concentration camps has received over 623,000 views.

The British resident who posted the video said "it's just a joke," and TikTok has received "numerous" complaints, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported. The video, which was first uploaded on April 28, was still on the TikTok site as of Tuesday.

It shows a man getting into a taxi under the subtitle "Jewish guy getting in my taxi." When the driver asks the passenger for his name, he rolls up his sleeve to check his tattooed arm. The driver is then seen mouthing the words "No, I don't want your number'' in time to the same lyrics as the song in the background, "No Scrubs" by TLC.

The post includes hashtags such as #viral #justajoke #darkhumour #dontbemad.

The video, which is less than 15 seconds, was uploaded by Bradley Booker, who was identified by the Jewish Chronicle as a resident of Maidstone, Kent.

"If you read through the comments on the video, there have been Jewish people finding the funny side to it. It's not me hating a religion – it's just a joke," Booker told the newspaper on Monday.

TikTok reportedly boasts around 800 million users worldwide.

The post TikTok video makes fun of numbers tattooed on arms of Holocaust survivors appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.



Monday, May 18, 2020

Prosecution to charge sect leader Berland over tax evasion 

The state prosecution has informed on Monday attorneys for Rabbi Eliezer Berland that it intends to charge him with money laundering, tax evasion and other financial crimes.

Berland, the head of the Hasidic Shuvu Bonim sect, is already facing charges over his alleged role in a miracles-for-money scam in which he is accused of taking millions from sick people for prayers or fake cures.

Berland previously served time in prison for sexual assault, following a several-year international manhunt.



Friday, May 15, 2020

Hasidic Jews honor frontline medical workers in NY 

Hasidic Jewish cantors sang the U.S. national anthem outside a New York City hospital in honor of frontline healthcare workers, standing two meters apart in adherence to regulations amid the coronavirus pandemic.



Thursday, May 14, 2020

American Jews Dreaming of Moving to Israel May Have to Wait for Better Times 

It has been a matter of pride for Israel that Jewish immigration to the country has continued throughout the coronavirus pandemic. As the Jewish Agency has declared on numerous occasions in recent months: "Aliyah to Israel has never stopped and never will stop."

Indeed, when Israel decided to close its borders to foreign nationals two months ago to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it made one exception: immigrants.

Because many other countries also closed their borders and suspended commercial flights, in practice, the number of immigrants arriving has naturally slowed to a trickle. The United States has distinguished itself as one of the few countries from which aliyah was still possible.

But as a result of various bureaucratic obstacles – some, but not all, related to the pandemic – that no longer seems to be the case. In fact, it appears that immigrating to Israel from the United States these days has become all but impossible.

One of the main reasons is a brand-new requirement that all immigrants coming through Nefesh B'Nefesh – the organization that handles aliyah from North America on behalf of the Jewish Agency – complete a criminal background check. The new requirement came into effect earlier this month.

Criminal background checks can take many months in the United States, but in certain locations – such as the New York metropolitan area – the process cannot even begin at this time because the relevant offices are closed. A substantial share of the immigrants coming to Israel from the United States have traditionally been from the New York metropolitan area.

For the past 10 years, criminal background checks have been required of all individuals immigrating to Israel. The one exception was immigrants coming through Nefesh B'Nefesh, and the Israeli Interior Ministry had agreed to allow Nefesh B'Nefesh to conduct the background checks itself.



Wednesday, May 13, 2020

U.S. Anti-Semitic Incidents Highest in 40 Years 

When considered in total, the individual numbers in the Anti-Defamation League's annual audit of anti-Semitic activity built a framework for understanding the scope of the problem in the United States.

Take 2,017, for example, the number of incidents in the United States in 2019 that met the ADL's criteria as being anti-Semitic. That figure is 12 percent greater than the 2018 count and the highest since the ADL began its annual audit in 1979.

Within the audit released May 12 is a reported 6 percent increase in incidents of harassment, a 19 percent rise in vandalism, and 56 percent more physical assaults on Jews in this country – more than half of the assaults taking place in New York City.

Head South and numbers 29 and 52, respectively, represent the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Georgia in 2019 and in the four-state region handled by the ADL regional office in Atlanta, which comprised Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In both cases, the numbers for Georgia and the four-state region were fractionally lower in 2019 than 2018.

Noticeably absent from the list of Georgia incidents was April 2019 events at Emory University, when pro-Palestinian activists posted mock eviction notices on doors in dormitories and at an off-campus residence as a protest against Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses.

"We categorize the mock eviction notices at Emory as anti-Israel political speech and those flyers didn't include traditional anti-Semitic tropes," Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Southern division, said May 12. "If they had included tropes or if they had targeted Jewish students directly, we would have included them, but the audit generally doesn't include anti-Israel political activism. We do include anti-Israel content, just not political activism that doesn't have anti-Semitic tropes or target Jewish students."

On April 12, 2019, Emory president Claire Sterk issued a statement that included: "Although Jewish students were not singled out, they and their families justifiably felt targeted, given the world in which we live."

Two days later, a statement issued by Padilla-Goodman called that response "a step in the right direction," that still "falls short of what is needed . . . to make sure that anti-Semitism has no place at Emory moving forward."



Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Recovered COVID-19 Patients in Orthodox Jewish Community Flock to Donate Plasma 

They came in waves throughout the day, large groups in car pools and married couples taking advantage of their newfound health for a road trip through the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania.

By the time night had fallen, more than 60 Hasidic Jews from New York had arrived to donate blood plasma, rich in the antibodies they generated when they were sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

"There were probably never so many Hasidim in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the history of the world, and here they're riding in literally to save lives," said Mordy Serle, an Orthodox Jew who made the trip from Brooklyn last month to donate blood. "I think I was the only person there without a beard."

The coronavirus has hit New York state with devastating force, infecting more than 340,657 people and killing more than 26,000. And public health data suggests the Orthodox and Hasidic community may have been affected at a rate that exceeds other ethnic and religious groups, with community estimates placing the number of dead in the hundreds, including beloved religious leaders.

That heavy toll has caused grief and anguish in a famously tight-knit community, but has also ignited tension over religious events, like funerals, that attracted crowds in violation of social-distancing rules and drew the ire of Mayor Bill de Blasio last month.

But as people have begun to recover, thousands have donated blood plasma, which public health officials believe may be used to help treat people suffering from COVID-19.

A number of factors lie behind the outsize role of the Orthodox plasma drive, according to public health experts and community leaders, including the close ties that bind Orthodox society, a religious commitment to the value of human life and a network of organizers committed to turning something bad into something good.

"I think the Jewish people are a little bit like a rubber band," Serle said. "You know, the more you pull them down, the more they're going to snap back up."

Thousands of recovered COVID-19 patients nationwide have donated blood plasma in recent weeks, said Dr. Michael Joyner, who is leading a study at the Mayo Clinic in the use of plasma to treat patients with severe COVID-19.

"By far the largest group is our Orthodox friends in New York City," said Joyner, who said more than 5,000 patients across the country had received plasma treatment so far. "I would be shocked if they were less than half the total."

Dr. Shmuel Shoham, who is leading a study at Johns Hopkins University on the use of plasma to treat people immediately after virus exposure, said it was clear Orthodox Jews from New York were "punching way above their weight."

"The community has taken a tragedy and turned it into a superpower," said Shoham, who immigrated from Israel as a child.

The seeds for the Orthodox donation drive's success may have been planted years ago, when Shoham's friends in New York began to circulate his name in the Orthodox community as someone who could help people navigate the world of medicine.

"I have this inability to say no," Shoham said. "So people would call me and ask questions and I would answer, and that's how I developed relationships with them over the years."

When he learned about the impact of the virus on the Hasidic community in New York, the doctor reached out to a friend, Chaim Lebovits, a shoe salesman, to see if he knew anyone who would be interested in donating their plasma. The response from the community was immediately positive, the doctor said.

On the ground, several local initiatives to recruit donors had already begun, including one organized by Lebovits as well as another run by Serle, a lawyer, and Abba Swiatycki, a real estate developer. Avrohom Weinstock was organizing a similar drive through his employer, Agudath Israel, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella group whose leader, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, died from the coronavirus last month.

"What struck me initially was that we all kind of had the same idea," Weinstock said about organizers of the plasma drive. "It resonated with everybody in the community and that's why they really pushed it forward and donated. I think that it comes from our education and the way we're raised, the idea of kindness, or chesed, as being one of the foundations of what the world is built on and how it is sustained."

Agudath Israel publicized the effort at synagogues across the New York region and included information about it in its newsletter, which has tens of thousands of subscribers.

Weinstock said rabbis instructed their followers to drive to blood banks on the Sabbath, in contravention of normal religious rules, if that was the only time they were able to secure an appointment to donate.

"From a moral and religious perspective, we have every obligation to do whatever we can," Weinstock said. "If we'll find out later it saved 50 lives or 100 lives or 20 lives, whatever the case is, if it's 20 lives, it's worth every effort, every minute of it."

Together, they have gotten more than 12,000 plasma donors to sign up since April 4. Serle said organizers expect that number to grow to 30,000.

They have recruited so many donors that appointments at blood banks across New York and New Jersey have filled up, forcing donors to travel to Pennsylvania and Delaware to donate plasma.

"I'm, like, blown away by it," Serle said.

The medical benefits of convalescent plasma for coronavirus patients have not yet been determined by clinical trials, and several studies about its use are underway nationwide.

"We are hopeful, we are cautiously optimistic but we are doing rigorous data analysis to tell us more," Joyner said. "All the standard caveats apply."

But he said blood plasma had been used to treat patients suffering from infectious disease for more than 100 years, including during the 1918 Spanish flu and more recent outbreaks of SARS in China.

"In a pandemic situation," he said, "what choice do you have?"

Community leaders and Hasidic news media say that hundreds of Orthodox Jews in the New York area may have died from COVID-19, and Orthodox neighborhoods have been among the most heavily affected in the city.

The plasma drive has given organizers a sense of purpose at a time of communal and personal grief.

As the pandemic bore down on New York, Lebovits' brother died of cancer. He spent time with his brother and attended his funeral before he went back to organizing the drive, he said.

"One of the things he told me was no matter what happens, you've got to keep doing what you're doing because there are other people's lives on the line," Lebovits said.

Antibodies and donation appointments have also occupied their minds at times of great personal joy.

Serle said he remembered the day their drive began to work with New York Blood Center — Saturday April 11, the Sabbath — because it was the same day his daughter was born.

"We had a conference call scheduled for 11:45 with the Mayo Clinic and Hopkins and some other hospitals," Serle said. "My daughter was born at 11:30, and my wife says after the baby was born, 'You better get on that call.' So in the delivery room with the baby there, I'm sitting there on this conference call. It was surreal."

Overall, he said, after so much hardship, many in the Orthodox community view the return of their good health — and their COVID-19 antibodies — as a blessing.

"We look at it as a gift that we recovered, because many people in our community did not recover. And for us a gift is not something to sit back and enjoy and just talk about, it is a gift we have to use," he said. "Everybody here has the gift of these antibodies, and they want to use them to save people."



Monday, May 11, 2020

Couple arrested after attacking Hasidic men in social-distancing spat 

An anti-Semitic Queens couple apparently enraged by a lack of social distancing attacked a group of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, bizarrely even pulling the masks off some of the victims' faces, police said.

Paulo Pinho, 35, and his wife, Clelia Pinho, 46, were arrested on a charge of aggravated harassment as a hate crime after a confronting with a large group of Hasidic Jews who were gathered outside late Sunday at Bedford Avenue and Ross Street in Williamsburg, police said.

The couple spotted the crowd as they drove and got out of their vehicle before allegedly shouting anti-Semitic slurs to the group of Jews gathered outside, accusing some of not wearing masks or adhering to social-distancing guidelines, police said.

"You're the reason why we're getting sick," they shouted, in sum and substance, according to police.

Paulo Pinho, who called cops on the crowd, then approached three Hasidic men and tried to rip off their masks, setting off a fight outside. The pair was then detained by the crowd until cops arrived on the scene and took them into custody, police said.

"They were at that corner, they encountered these three males and made anti-Semitic remarks," NYPD Lt. Thomas Antonetti told The Post. "After making the statements, that's when the masks were pulled off."

The suspects, both of whom are from Queens, were taken to a hospital following the 8:35 p.m. attack, with Paulo Pinho sustaining an injury to his arm during the ensuing scuffle. Clelia Pinho was treated for cuts and minor injuries, police said.

The victims, at least one of whom was wearing traditional Hasidic garb, refused medical attention at the scene, police said.



Friday, May 08, 2020

Man arrested for trying to burn Israeli flag at Amsterdam kosher restaurant 

Police in the Dutch capital arrested a man whom they say had smashed the windows of a kosher restaurant and tried to burn the Israeli flag inside.

Officers used pepper spray on the man in the incident, which happened on Friday morning at around 9 a.m. outside HaCarmel restaurant, the Het Parool daily reported. It did not specify on the man's presumed motives or identity.

According to Hidde van Koningsveld, policy officer at the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, which monitors anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands, the attack was the fifth case of vandalism or intimidation in 2 ½ years. He praised police's quick response.

In January, unidentified perpetrators placed a box resembling a homemade bomb on the restaurant's doorstep.

In 2017, a 29-year-old man waving a Palestinian flag smashed the windows of HaCarmel with a wooden club, stealing an Israeli flag hanging there. Police officers stood by as he vandalized the place but arrested the suspect, a Syrian asylum seeker, when he came out.

He was convicted of vandalism after 52 days in jail while awaiting his trial but was released with no additional penalty. Dutch Jews criticized the ruling because it did not contain a reference identifying his actions as a hate crime.

Commenting on Friday's incident, van Koningsveld wrote on Twitter: "If the suspect is back on the streets in no time, and charged only with 'vandalism," then Justice Minister Ferd Grapperhaus will have some explaining to do."

The post Man arrested trying to burn Israeli flag at Amsterdam kosher restaurant appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.



Thursday, May 07, 2020

Jewish Home of Rochester feeds 500 employees 

Employees at the Jewish Home of Rochester were treated to a grand feast.

The home provided meals to its 500 employees to take home to their families. The meals included a six pound chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing and steamed veggies.

"Our employees are the heart of the Jewish Home and Jewish Senior Life, it's to honor them," Senior Vice President of Human Resources Emy Giacalone said. "These employees dedicate themselves everyday to come in and take care of our elders. We take care of the frail and these employees give it their all and without them I don't know what we would do."

Nursing Homes have had to make drastic adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic.



Wednesday, May 06, 2020

New York Times Blames Hasidim, Purim for Coronavirus Outbreak 

Did the Hasidic Jewish community in New York bring coronavirus upon itself by refusing to cancel in-person Purim megillah readings?

That's the narrative being pushed by The New York Times, which, in a news article, reported, "Celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which fell on March 10 this year, were canceled by many Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox synagogues. But many Hasidic groups observed the festival, drawing people to gatherings where they may have been exposed to the virus."

As is so often the case with The New York Times and Jewish matters, the newspaper has it wrong. Start with the basics: In Judaism, holidays, and days, begin at nightfall. So the Sabbath begins on Friday night and lasts into Saturday. Purim, the 14th of Adar on the Hebrew calendar, was widely observed on Monday night, March 9. There's another reading of the Book of Esther the following morning and some people might have a festive meal afterward, but the big Purim celebrations were Monday night, March 9, not, as the Times inaccurately reports, March 10. Perhaps the paper will run a correction on this point as it has on so many other matters of Jewish ritual and law over the years, or perhaps it will display its disregard for accuracy by failing to publish a correction.

The Times article makes it sound like, by Purim, everyone except for those reckless Hasidim was already sheltering in place, locked down, or in an informal self-imposed quarantine. But that gets the timeline wrong. Broadway theaters and the Metropolitan Museum of Art didn't shut down until Thursday, March 12 — more than 48 hours after the night of Purim. On March 10, New York Times reporters were still commuting via subway, and movie theaters in New York City were open. New York City Public Schools were open through Friday, March 13, and the mayor only announced their closure on Sunday, March 15 — nearly a week after Purim. The Museum of Modern Art in New York remained open until Thursday, March 12 and only closed starting Friday, March 13.

So why pick on the Hasidim?

The Times doesn't have any scientific count of what percentage of Reform, Conservative, or Modern Orthodox congregations "canceled" Purim. "Many" may have canceled, but many also went ahead and observed the holiday in person. I personally attended a megillah reading on Monday night, March 9 at a non-Hasidic congregation in Massachusetts. A local news outlet published a slideshow of a 2020 Purim carnival at Temple Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Framingham, Massachusetts. The Los Angeles Times published a news article late in the afternoon of March 9 with the following passages:

"We're trying to manage the delta between vigilance and panic," said Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am, a large Conservative congregation whose Purim events are especially popular among young families. "As of now, nothing is canceled. We're encouraging people to come." …

"With the Purim carnival [Sunday] we went back and forth whether or not to cancel it, and it was packed," Kligfeld said. "It was overflowing."

As for those congregations that did cancel Purim celebrations, they didn't get much adulatory treatment at all in the moment from the Times. The newspaper was apparently holding back and reserving the extensive-photo-essay plus a column treatment for Ramadan: "Some mosques, where men and women normally pray shoulder to shoulder and crowds spill into the streets, have made efforts to space out the faithful to prevent contagion. Others, from Paris to Brooklyn to Mecca, toward which all Muslims pray, have shut their doors altogether."

It's gotten to the point where the double standard is widely recognized in the Jewish community. The Times coverage informs the mayor's response, which then is repeated again by the Times. David Greenfield, a former New York City Council member, tweeted over the weekend as crowds filled New York parks to enjoy the warm weather: "Message: do whatever the heck you want if you're not Hasidic."

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.



Monday, May 04, 2020

Marvin Schick, Advocate for the Orthodox Community, Dies at 85 

Marvin Schick, a pioneering advocate for the rights of Orthodox Jews to maintain their religious practices in the places they worked, died on April 23 at his home in Brooklyn. He was 85.

The cause was a heart attack, his son Avi said.

Mr. Schick grew up in an America where Orthodox Jews often faced painful choices in trying to earn a living: turn down jobs that demanded they forgo yarmulkes and remain beyond sunset on the eve of Sabbath or resign themselves to flouting their religious traditions. That began to change sharply in the 1960s because of activists like Mr. Schick.

In 1965 he founded the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, known as COLPA, which successfully brought lawsuits and sought new legislation. And as a liaison to the Jewish community for Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York, he carved out other accommodations for the Orthodox. In the wake of such ferment, American society and law became more sensitive to the sometimes arcane needs of the Orthodox.

Municipal hospitals and jails offered kosher food. Government agencies and public utilities paved the way for Orthodox communities to set up eruvim — demarcated boundaries between which Orthodox followers were allowed to carry small items like keys and push baby carriages on the Sabbath. Orthodox Jews in the military were allowed to retain their yarmulkes and beards. And after a lawsuit brought by COLPA, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company agreed to accommodate the schedules of those who observed the Sabbath.

While Mr. Schick worked for the city, the Lindsay administration even arranged for Hasidic families in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to be given priority for apartments on the lower three floors of public housing so that they would not have to press elevator buttons on the Sabbath.

Perhaps most important, as a result of legal battles brought by COLPA and Roman Catholic organizations as well, government was allowed to provide aid to yeshivas and day schools in a few discrete categories — like transportation, textbooks and computers — after the courts ruled that such help did not violate the constitutional prohibition against the establishment of religion.

"In the 1950s, people thought we were residual and we were going to die out," said Samuel Heilman, a distinguished professor of sociology at the City University of New York and the author of several books on the Orthodox world. "People like Schick came along and said America is a free country and allows people to practice as they see fit."

Mr. Schick, who was an ordained rabbi and had a doctorate in political science, taught political science and constitutional law at Hunter and Lehman Colleges and the New School for many years. He wrote a book on the American judge and judicial philosopher Learned Hand (1872-1961), "Learned Hand's Court" (1970).

For over 40 years, Mr. Schick was the unpaid president of Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, one of the nation's oldest and most prestigious yeshivas, whose alumni include Sheldon Silver, the former speaker of the New York State Assembly, and Robert Aumann, who won the 2005 Nobel in economic science. Mr. Schick helped rejuvenate the school and transplanted it from its dilapidated home among the tenements of the Lower East Side to two campuses on Staten Island and one in Edison, N.J.



Friday, May 01, 2020

Teen arrested outside Hasidic funeral in Brooklyn as cops seek to enforce social distancing 

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A police response to a rabbi's crowded funeral in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn devolved into chaos that led to a a teenager being busted on disorderly conduct charges.

The scene on 43rd St. between 13th Ave. and 14th Ave. unfolded at about 4 p.m. Thursday as mourners flouted social distancing norms to attend what was supposed to be a private funeral at the home of Rabbi Cheskel Wagshel, 95, said a family friend.

The family didn't announce the funeral, but about 100 mourners showed up on the street regardless, said the family friend, who identified himself by his first name, Joseph.

A teen, 17, crossed a police line on the street and, according to police, shoved a cop. He was charged with disorderly conduct and given a desk appearance ticket, police said.

The family friend identified the teen as the rabbi's grandson.

"The cops stopped the grandson of the rabbi. That's when the chaos erupted. The screaming went up," he said.

Video from the scene shows police officers chasing a hearse on foot as yells and taunts erupt around them.

"That's when the social distancing stopped," Joseph said.

Police did not release the name of the teenager because of his age.

The incident Thursday comes two days after thousands of mourners drew Mayor de Blasio's ire by flooding a Williamsburg street to mourn a rabbi who died of coronavirus.



Thursday, April 30, 2020

Jewish leaders slam de Blasio over comments about Brooklyn funeral in letter 

More than 100 Jewish leaders expressed their "anger and disappointment" with Mayor Bill de Blasio over his warning to "the Jewish community" after thousands gathered for a funeral in Williamsburg — and demanded a meeting with him to discuss his incendiary critique.

In the Wednesday letter, obtained by Jewish Insider, the leaders said they want face time with de Blasio "to discuss constructive approaches to respond to the pandemic that recognize the Jewish community's earnest efforts to fight COVID-19, protect vulnerable communities, and avoid heavy-handed over-policing."

"In the midst of a historic wave of antisemitic hate violence in New York City, our community — like the Asian community — has been feeling the pain of being singled out and blamed for the spread of this deadly disease," the letter says.

"This singling out is especially potent because it aligns with longstanding antisemitic tropes that have, for millennia, blamed Jews for societal ills," it continues. "Laying blame upon Hasidic communities — among the most visible members of our Jewish family — will not stop the spread of COVID-19, and referring to these particular communities as 'the Jewish community' both flattens a diverse group of New Yorkers into a single bloc and fuels the anti-Semitic hatreds that bubble beneath the surface of our society."

The letter was signed by groups including Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the New York Jewish Agenda, as well as city council members Stephen Levin and Brad Lander, who, respectively, represent parts of the Williamsburg and Borough Park neighborhoods. State Sens. Brad Hoylman and Julia Salazar, as well as Assembly members Harvey Epstein and Linda Rosenthal, also signed.

Dozens of religious leaders are also included in the signatures.

The letter echoes similar concerns brought earlier by Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt, World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder and even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for the mayor's tweet.

Hizzoner tweeted his outrage Tuesday night after Orthodox Jewish mourners gathered en masse — a blatant violation of social distancing mandates — near Rutledge Street and Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg to pay their respects for Rabbi Chaim Mertz.

In a Wednesday press conference, he defended his statements, saying he spoke out of "passion" and "tough love," but regretted if his message came across in a hurtful manner.

Hizzoner called the funeral "by far the largest gathering" in the city he'd heard of since the start of the coronavirus crisis, "and it's just not allowable."

He added that the city no longer permits these kinds of gatherings "in any community" as the crisis continues.



Tuesday, April 28, 2020

In 3 days, NYC handed out 30,000 free kosher meals. It still wasn’t enough 

New York City has handed out nearly 32,000 kosher meals since last Wednesday, but it underestimated the number of meals needed and encountered problems distributing them, including shortages in some locations, surpluses in others and several long lines.

Politicians representing Jewish areas who fought for kosher meals to be added to the city's free-meal program, run through the Department of Education, criticized the rollout and said it risks humiliating and disappointing people.

"Thursday was a disaster. Friday was a disaster," said Simcha Eichenstein, a state assemblyman representing the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, and who helped organize the kosher meal program. "It is not acceptable to have 100 people on line, and just turn them away without food — that cannot happen in 2020 in the city of New York."

In normal times, the Department of Education's breakfast, lunch and after school meal programs feed about 70 percent of the city's children. The DOE kept providing those meals when the virus shut down the schools, and then in late March the city decided to use the same mechanism to feed adults, as well.

It will distribute more than 10 million meals in April, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week, but the provision of kosher meals was delayed by Passover, said Sam Levy, head of sales and customer relations at Borenstein Caterers, the company supplying the meals. City rules mandate that the meals include a certain amount of whole grains, and observant Jews can't eat leaven during that holiday.

New York City neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities had high concentrations of poverty even before the virus hit. According to a 2011 study of Jewish poverty from UJA-Federation of New York, 55% of Jewish households in Williamsburg, and 44% in Borough Park — the two largest Hasidic communities in Brooklyn — were considered poor.


Orthodox Jewish girls' school is accused of 'censorship' after gluing textbook pages together to airbrush famous woman including Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn out of history lessons 

A Jewish girls' school has been slammed by Ofsted for cutting out a 'large chunk of history' by gluing textbook pages together.

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman accused the Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School of 'censorship' for redacting history books to cover up elements of Elizabeth I's reign and pictures of men and women together. 

Ms Spielman told a Commons education committee that the north London school made 'extremely extensive restrictions and redactions in all the materials made available to the girls'. 

The school, which caters to the capital's Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community, was run by Rabbi Avrohom Pinter, until his death from coronavirus this month. 

It has appointed an acting headteacher ahead of his replacement, with the website reading simply: 'Our core values and ethos, guided by the Rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregation, discourage the use of online communication and Internet use wherever possible. 

'This site therefore holds only statutory and other basic information about the school.'

Ms Spielman made her comments about the school in Stamford Hill during an online hearing of the House of Commons education committee. 

She had been asked to defend criticisms she made in a report of the school in January. 

The Ofsted boss told the hearing passages about Elizabeth I had been removed from textbooks.

It is thought that they were censored because of references to the Queen's special friendship with Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester.  

The pair were also pictured dancing together and these images were redacted, reports The Times.      

The Tudor period was not taught thoroughly by teachers because of Henry VIII's many wives and Anne Boleyn's alleged adultery, according to the newspaper.  

January's report revealed that pupils were not allowed to visit the Tate Modern art gallery because it exhibited works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, which were deemed far too explicit by staff.

Parts of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels were also redacted, the report said.   

Headteacher Rabbi Pinter became unwell at the beginning of April with symptoms of coronavirus. 

He was admitted to a central London hospital but died after testing positive for the virus.  

Best known for his work as a community figurehead, he was also a driving force in the bid to get state funding for the Yesodey Hatorah Girls School, where a new building was later opened by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.  

MailOnline has contacted Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School for comment.



Monday, April 27, 2020

Litzman's personal rabbi ordered him to quit Health Ministry 

Though Yaakov Litzman announced Sunday he's wanting to retire from the Health Ministry in favor of the housing portfolio, many attribute his decision to a row with the current Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Gur, his personal rabbi, regarding his actions during the coronavirus epidemic.

Litzman on Sunday claimed his sudden decision to leave the ministry he has headed for more than a decade, is down to feeling that he has done all he could for the health system during his tenure.

Behind the scenes, however, it seems the main reason for his retirement is the Rebbe of Gur, Rabbi Yaakov Arye, who apparently has grown tired of the way Litzman has failed the Haredi community over his years in charge of the ministry.

Sources within the Rebbe's inner circle said that he ordered Litzman to leave his post, a decision that very much surprised him.

According to the sources, the main reason behind Rebbe's decision is the health minister's conduct during the coronavirus epidemic, which he deemed as being anti-Haredi, due to Litzman's consent to impose lockdown on the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak and parts of Jerusalem.



Friday, April 24, 2020

Soup kitchen and Hasidic philanthropist provide free groceries to Boro Park families affected by COVID-19 

Masbia Soup Kitchen has partnered with Mordy Getz, the owner of Eichler's Judaica Bookstore, to offer free groceries to any Boro Park family which has lost a breadwinner to coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus has devastated tight-knit Hasidic communities in New York. And for families, grief over a parent's death is compounded by anxiety about fulfilling basic needs.

"No one wants to see someone who lost a loved one struggling with the additional burden of feeding their family," Getz said.

The initiative, which launched on April 22, will function using grocery "taps," a common system in Hasidic communities that allows families to shop on credit at their local supermarket, settling the bill at the end of each month. Families served by the new initiative will shop at a tap at a Boro Park grocery store, administered by Masbia with funds provided by Getz.

Alexander Rapaport, Masbia's executive director, said he had chosen the tap system because of the dignity and discretion it affords to families, most of whom had been self-sufficient before losing a breadwinner. He said he understood how hard it was to accept charity for the first time, especially after a loss.

"You could hear mothers choke up leaving a voice message," he said of the first women who contacted him for help.

Any Boro Park family who lost a breadwinner after Purim is eligible for the service, which will last until Rosh Hashanah. Rapaport expects to serve between one and two dozen families in the neighborhood.

Getz, a cancer survivor who now counsels cancer patients, said that in his years of charitable work he'd noticed how much people underestimate the importance of food security in the wake of a tragedy. "Groceries go a long way towards determining how well families cope during such a crisis," he said.

Rapaport hopes that more members of the Hasidic community will come forward to sponsor groceries in other affected neighborhoods. As of April 22n

Rapaport said he was hoping that other members of the Hasidic community would come forward to spearhead similar initiatives in other affected neighborhoods. As the project launched, Itzy Laub, Chair of Masbia of Queens, announced that he would sponsor groceries for all needy families in the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood.



Orthodox NY Jews donate blood plasma en masse, helping corona research 

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Hasidim who have recovered from coronavirus are turning up en masse in New York City hospitals to donate blood plasma in an effort to help researchers find a treatment for the deadly disease, reported the Forward.

According to the report, the major influences behind their eagerness to help has come from the combined efforts of Dr. Samuel Shoham, an expert on infectious diseases in transplant patients at Johns Hopkins University, and his friend Chaim Lebovits, a hasidic shoe wholesaler from Monsey.

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered "nonessential" businesses to close on March 20 until further notice, Shoham, knowing Lebovits to be of extraordinary character, urged his friend to rally up those in the hasidic community who have recovered from coronavirus to donate blood plasma.

"I had no idea that he would drop everything and completely immerse himself in this," Shoham told the news outlet. "[Lebovits] is giving his community members a chance to do something, now that they have this power in their body to make a difference."

Lebovits took his friend's request to heart and began creating a network of rabbis, religious organizations, virus researchers, and other health professionals to educate the Hasidic community about the benefits of donating plasma if they have recovered from coronavirus.

"The plasma isn't just used for frum (religious Jews) or Jewish people. It's for people in general. " Lebovits told the Forward. "We as observant Jews have an obligation to preserve life, save life, and help as many people as we can."

At least 3,000 recovered coronavirus Hasidic individuals have donated blood plasma, said Lebovits.

According to Dr. David Reich, president of the Mount Sinai hospital system, more than half of those who have contributed to the coronavirus plasma research program are from the hasidic community.

"The level of organization from the Orthodox community has been a step above," he said.



Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Mitchell Moyshe Silk confirmed as Treasury assistant secretary 

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On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed — via voice vote — the nomination of Mitchell (Moyshe) Allen Silk as assistant secretary of the Treasury for international markets, a position he has held in an acting role since last July. 

Background: Silk, a resident of the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, is a lawyer and expert in Chinese law and finance who is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese. Silk joined the Treasury Department in 2017 as a deputy assistant secretary for international affairs. Silk, a father of eight, is believed to be the first Hasidic Jew confirmed by the Senate for a senior position in a U.S. administration. 

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin congratulated Silk on his confirmation, tweeting: "I know he will continue to serve the [Treasury Department] and the nation well." 

For more than 12 years, Silk served as chairman of Agudath Israel of America's pro bono legal services. Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Brooklyn) tweeted about his constituent: "You make Borough Park proud working to make a difference in the halls of government with honor and integrity." 

Rabbi A.D. Motzen, the national director of state relations for Agudath Israel of America, told JI that during his time with the organization, Silk's "passion was helping those who could not speak for themselves," and he would regularly get personally involved in cases. "Assistant Secretary Silk has earned the respect and admiration of all who know him and I am sure that he will continue to serve the United States with honor and distinction."



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