Friday, January 18, 2019

YAFFED'S yeshiva oversight suit dismissed; federal court cites lack of 'standing' 

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Rockland County-based education advocacy group challenging the constitutionality of a newly amended state law that advocates say relaxed academic standards for Hasidic Jewish schools.

In a 35-page decision issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Eastern District Judge Leo Glasser tossed the Young Advocates for Fair Education's lawsuit, saying the group had no standing to file it. A person or group has to be directly connected to and harmed by a situation to have legal "standing" to participate in a court case.

YAFFED sued the state in July 2018, claiming the change violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by giving special treatment to yeshivas and also guaranteeing that one of the metropolitan area's fastest growing student populations will continue to receive "a sub-standard secular education."

The measure, known as the Felder Amendment — named for state Sen. Simcha Felder — passed as part of the state budget in April 2018.

Some believed that the vaguely worded amendment would allow certain Hasidic yeshivas to be exempt from meeting state guidelines requiring they provide an education that is "substantially equivalent" to that of a public school.

As it turned out, when the state Education Department recently released new guidelines for enforcing the "substantial equivalency" law, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the amendment did not affect state oversight of yeshivas. In fact, she said, it gave her final say over whether yeshivas comply with the law.

Glasser pointed to the recently modified state guidelines, saying he believes that "the new requirements would, if anything, subject schools covered by the Felder Amendment to a higher standard than non-covered schools."

In dismissing YAFFED's suit, Glasser wrote that YAFFED claimed it held standing "because it has spent significant efforts opposing the amendment, both in this court and through other avenues…and they've shifted valuable resources away from its traditional advocacy and education efforts."

"However, if the court were to accept this argument, it would be difficult to conceive of a case in which an organization or individual would not have standing to challenge a statute that they find politically or socially disagreeable," the judge wrote.

"What YAFFED essentially seeks is an advisory opinion as to the constitutionality of the Felder Amendment based on the possibility that the NYSED [New York State Education Department] might in the future apply it in a manner that disadvantages students at Hasidic yeshivas."

Naftuli Moster, YAFFED's founder, executive director and New City resident, said the group hasn't yet determined whether to appeal the decision.

"We are considering our next steps and will choose a strategy that allows us to continue pressing forward in reforming the unjust system," Moster said, vowing to continue "the fight on behalf of ultra-Orthodox children."

"The road to justice is a bumpy one, but justice ultimately wins," said Moster.

Moster, a yeshiva graduate, has said his own education was devoid of secular studies, an experience that he said is pretty standard for Hasidic boys. In 2012, he founded YAFFED to push for secular education at ultra-Orthodox schools.

YAFFED contends that without a proper academic education, students will find it more challenging to pursue higher education and careers, putting them at greater risk for reliance upon public assistance.

Yeshiva leaders have expressed concern that state mandated standards will intrude on religious traditions.

In November, the state issued its revised guidelines for public school districts to determine whether private schools within their boundaries are complying with state law when it comes to teaching subjects such as math, science and English. Schools districts are required to start conducting substantial equivalency reviews during the 2018-2019 school year of religious and independent schools.

Private schools that don't comply with state requests to improve academic instruction as part of a new review process could face sanctions that would, in the worst cases, effectively shut a school.



Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jewish Man Randomly Punched On Brooklyn Sidewalk 

Police are searching for the suspect who randomly punched a Jewish man this week in Brooklyn.

The 21-year-old victim was walking with a friend around 8 a.m. on Kingston Avenue near Union Street in Crown Heights.

Surveillance video shows the suspect walk up to him and punch him in the chest.

Investigators said this appears to be an unprovoked attack. It has not been deemed a hate crime.



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jewish judge named to Florida Supreme Court at day school where he attended kindergarten 

A Jewish judge in Miami was named to the Florida Supreme Court at the Jewish day school where he attended kindergarten, finishing the ceremony by reciting a Jewish prayer.

The appointment of Robert Luck, 39, was announced Monday at the Scheck Hillel Community School in North Miami Beach. Luck's children attend the school.

Florida's new governor, Ron DeSantis, was on hand for the announcement, which featured a large Israeli flag displayed behind the lectern, The Associated Press reported.

Luck, who now serves on the 3rd District Court of Appeal, is the first Jewish justice appointed to Florida's highest court in 20 years, according to the Miami Herald.

Luck, known as a conservative, is a former Miami federal prosecutor and Circuit Court judge.

He recited a blessing from the Amidah prayer, Politico reported: "You grace humans with wisdom and teach humanity perception. Bestow upon us Your knowledge, insight and understanding. Blessed are you the grantor of wisdom."

The Zionist Organization of America praised the appointment, saying Luck "strongly respects the rule of law and will not be an 'activist' judge who ignores what the framers and legislators intended."



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Surprising Popularity of Kosher Food in Prison 

According to the 2013 numbers, Jews are seven percent of the state prison population of New York; the fourth largest religious denomination after Protestant, Catholic and Muslim (in that order). If the numbers were accurate it would mean that nearly twice as many Jews were locked up that year as members of the Nation of Islam. But the truth is that many inmates lie and claim to be Jewish once they enter the prison system. And why do they do it? Not as a hedge against the impending arrival of the Moshiach. They do it for the kosher food.

At a minimum, New York State offers every Jew a standardized pre-packaged meal certified to be Glatt Kosher. In one facility, however, they get something even better. Greenhaven CF, a maximum security prison holding 2500 people, of whom most are lifers, has the only hot kosher program in the state. The prison has a dedicated kitchen which observes all the intricacies of Kashrut by separating meat and milk meals, pulling apart cabbage instead of cutting it (lest a treif bug hide between the leaves) and even blow-torching the ovens for Pesach. I got lucky and ate there for four years; others make a transfer to Greenhaven the object of their bid, since seeing its end may not be a possibility.

The hot kosher program has an Orthodox facility rabbi to oversee things, but our mashgiach during my tenure was Ronnie, an Israeli sex offender. The rules are observed meticulously. Hasidim like the 300 pound Phil Drelich, halfway through his 50-to-life and a fixture of the program, worked behind the counter. Russian gangsters, Lubavitchers, Israeli ecstasy smugglers, Bobovers, grown-up Hebrew school bullies, crooked brokers, me, and a killer veterinarian ate their cooking

In most other times and places, lying about Judaism went the other way. Conversos in Spain pretended to convert to Catholicism while keeping Jewish practices alive. In the Soviet Union, having JEW stamped in one's passport was a well-known and life-long limiting factor. Thanks to my grandfather's efforts, my own father was a Russian according to his USSR passport and his brother a Ukrainian. In the U.S. of the last century, the Ivy League schools limited the number of clever Jews they accepted, which is why New York's humble City College produced a number of Nobel Prize winners competitive with its vastly more expensive and exclusive alternatives. But in prison, the kosher food was good enough to reverse the course of history.

Inside, we had hot dogs no worse than Nathan's, a weekly chicken quarter, various Sephardic rices and a fantastic lump of gefilte fish every Saturday morning to go with our grape juice kiddish. It was also worth something. When the Jewish biker Brian got a job behind the counter, he quickly made a good gesehft out of it. Watching him smuggle bags of fifty hot dogs out to the yard and pull them out of his pants for anyone with a stamp to spend was comical.

Sometimes, access to the means of production caused conflict as well. It was an ugly day when Hasidic Yakov had his beard pulled and was head butted by a shady stockbroker over cheese dispersal during dairy week. However, he was no stranger to violence; Yakov had murdered his wife in front of their dozen children, who testified against him in court through a Yiddish translator.

With only seventy slots available and many more applicants, how did the rabbi decide whom to let in without leaving the facility vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit? In Orthodox Judaism, one is Jewish if he has a Jewish mother or has gone through a conversion process. It is impossible to halachically convert as a prisoner. However, the state allows one to be registered in any faith that the convict declares. Change of religion is possible once a year, though not for inmates in solitary confinement. This means that the Jewish congregations of the 70 prisons in New York State are mostly composed of men that the rabbis cannot halachically consider Jewish with the exception of the single Reform rabbi working for the DOC. She is also a woman and got the job through a lawsuit; Orthodox rabbis had always been hired because they can minister to the both Reform and more observant Jews. However, they were all men as a woman cannot become a rabbi in Orthodox Judaism, so a Reform lady rabbi had a winning argument in court. I clerked for her; she was a wonderful woman.

The rabbis pencil in the words 'self-declared' on the corner of the document which follows each prisoner from compound to hoosegow. In Yiddish. I was saved from the damning words by a phone call made to my parents, but the men who knew me well did not count me for a minyan because my Judaism is inherited paternally. Nevertheless, I ate from the hot kosher kitchen while the majority of 'Jews' received the CAD, or 'cold alternative diet'. Unlike the two month rotation of the regular diet, which repeated certain meals but gave 60 days intervals for most, the CAD was monotony in plastic wrap. The meals were on a seven-day rotation, but all breakfasts were identical and the variety for dinner was between sealed slices of bologna, salami or turkey cold cuts. They came with a daily styrofoam cup of instant soup. Vacuum packed cheese was lunch three times a week; packets of peanut butter and jelly, boiled eggs and sealed cups of tuna salad made up the rest.

Becoming Jewish to get on the hot kosher diet is understandable. Doing so for the CAD, which the overwhelming majority received, is harder to justify. Some of the sincerely religious Muslims preferred it. The regular state diet is preemptively Halal because of the numbers of Muslims, but this designation wasn't trusted by sincere believers more inclined to have faith in the Kosher food than the main chow line.

However, for most the lure of Kosher was in the packaging. Because it had to be indisputably correct and even Glatt, almost all the components came sealed in sturdy plastic. There was no chance of the cheese being sliced by a fleishig knife. The eggs came in buckets of something like formaldehyde, ensuring they were boiled in appropriate pots. During Pesach, chometz was definitively avoided by vacuum sealing everything and handing out individual boxes of matzah. Milk and juice came sealed, tuna salad and fruit in syrup arrived in hermetic cups. The kosher meals were boring and tasted bad, but they were tamper-proof, which provided a measure of confidence not only in their religious authority but also that they had not been tampered with by other inmates.

The packaging of the food doesn't just benefit paranoiacs and those with enemies working in the kitchen. Items that came in individual plastic wraps were ready-made as commodities for the prison barter system. This was particularly common in the hermetic society of prisoners serving time in SHU, or Special Housing Units. There are thousands of men doing years in solitary, so a culture of its own exists. Capitalism flourishes; stamps are the currency and anything that can fit through the half inch slot under the door is for sale. Converting to Judaism and then selling off the cold cuts and peanut butter was such a common survival strategy that the rules were changed ten years ago. While prisoners in general population can change their religion once a year, those in SHU cannot do so at all, at least until they are released from the box. Nevertheless, during each of my four short trips to the prison inside of the prison, there was always kosher food available for sale. I witnessed an extreme example in a dedicated SHU facility on the Canadian border.

In the upstate SHU, a pair of white supremacists converted to Judaism competed for buyers against a pair of Nation of Islam brothers who were also getting kosher. Solitary comes in pairs in New York; my bunky bought from the skinheads and I shopped with the black supremacists for better deals. Both sets of salesmen felt some need to explain that they actually hated Jews and had converted for kosher food in order to exploit them. I was geographically closer to the Nazis and had an easier time talking to them, which required yelling through a vent. They were both from small places upstate; I asked why they hated Jews so much. "Because they are so fucking stupid!" was the reply. I felt no need to explain myself to people who had likely never met a Jew, and spent my 90 days in the box without losing a pound of weight. They spent my stamps on marijuana; the munchies must have been cruel to them

The tenfold exaggeration of the number of incarcerated Jews in the state books only matters in a few cases. The Orthodox need for a minyan, twelve Jews or eleven and one Torah, gets muddled. yom tovs are influenced; every Purim, Pesach, Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, Jewish organizations donate supplies for observing the holidays and send treats. Aleph, out of Florida, sent amazing Passover boxes with gefilte fish and dreidels every year. But they need to know how many Jews will realistically need shmurah matzah and charoset. The facility rabbis cannot tell them; they are legally not permitted to differentiate between Jews and 'self-declared' jews. As a result, the charitable organizations ask the incarcerated.

I corresponded with a certain Rabbi Spritzer for ten years. Inevitably, he asked me for the real number of Jews in the congregation, to know how many gift boxes to send. Not only do I oppose any engineering of a free market, I never snitched on anyone. But in this case, I interfered in the supply and demand of kosher food for sale in prison… and I disclosed the number of men I knew to be born of a Jewish mother, with a few extra thrown in to give guys the benefit of the doubt. For all the abuse that the kosher programs are put through upstate, I wanted to do the right thing. Making kosher food available to Jews who had not done the right thing was a kindness I wasn't sure we deserved. It was the least I could do.



Monday, January 14, 2019

Tour guide gets rare approval to lead groups in Yiddish 

Inline image

For the first time in many years, the Tourism Ministry has authorized a tour guide to conduct official tours in Yiddish.

Yechiel Charaz, 42, from the ultra-Orthodox city-settlement of Beitar Illit in the West Bank, is deputy CEO for a tourism company that works mainly with members of the Haredi community. As a licensed tour guide, he has for years been requesting permission to host guided tours in his mother tongue, Yiddish, which is the first language for many Hasidic Jews.

But for at the past six years, as ultra-Orthodox tourism to Israel grew by about 40 percent, the Tourism Ministry struggled to find a certified body that could test Charaz's proficiency in the language, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday.

That problem was recently solved when a Tourism Ministry employee who studied Yiddish in university tested Charaz personally and decided his level was good enough to award him the coveted approval.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin personally met Charaz on Sunday to hand him his official Yiddish license.

"This is part of a process aimed at advancing Haredi tourism and making the Tourism Ministry relevant for a huge community that until now was sidelined and is now getting the attention it deserves," Levin said. "Ultra-Orthodox tourism brought huge income to Israel in the past year."

Charaz said he works with groups of ultra-Orthodox tourists from abroad, including spiritual leaders and even members of the anti-Zionist Satmar sect.

"I tell them I am the biggest Zionist and make them love Israel," he said proudly during the ceremony. "I tell them this is the only place for Jews because it is ours."

Charaz, who said he has never traveled outside Israel, expressed hope that others would follow in his footsteps and seek to lead tours in Yiddish.



Sunday, January 13, 2019

Is it OK to blame ultra-orthodox Jews? 

Question: what prominent Jewish media outlet, with a proud history, could use a new headline writer?

Answer: The Forward.

Here is why.

A recent article in the Forward describes an outbreak of measles in the Hasidic community.

Why is this happening? Because many of them refuse to vaccinate their children. This, despite rather stringent appeals from Orthodox leaders and educators. Some yeshivot will not accept children who have not been vaccinated.

This is yet another manifestation of anti-vaccination propaganda that has been floating around that community, and other communities, for quite some time. (For decades, my family took a kind of pseudo-pride in imagining that Jonas Salk was somehow related to us).

I vociferously disagree with the anti-vaccination people. I am fervently in favor of vaccination of children.

So, what is it about this article that troubles me?

Only the headline.

“The Ultra-Orthodox Keep Causing Measles Outbreaks. Why Aren’t They Vaccinating?”

See anything wrong here?

First, those measles outbreaks seem to be confined to their own community — not that this make it any better.

But, the ill-informed and/or the Jew hater is likely to read that headline, and come away with the impression that the Jews are responsible for starting a plague.

Sound familiar? It should. In 1348 to 1351, Jew haters accused the Jews of causing the Black Death in Europe, by poisoning the wells. That accusation was a classic example of anti-semitism, and it lead to the massacres of entire Jewish communities.

Second, and even worse: the use of one, small word in that headline.


The Ultra-Orthodox.

Not: some ultra-Orthodox.


I respect the Forward, and have done so for several decades. My father once found a copy of the Forward in our bathroom, and he exited, waving it at me: “Why are you reading a Communist newspaper?” My father knew the history of the Forward very well — that it had started as a socialist, Yiddish newspaper. The Forward has published many of my articles.

But, something is very wrong here.

It’s that little word “the.” It is the implication that the ultra-Orthodox, as a body, are spreading measles.

This is simply wrong.

First, it is not true.

Second, it is profoundly bigoted — and frankly, I cannot understand how the Forward could publish such a, well, libel.

I will not publish here what some of the parallels would be. Just think about other groups on the margins of society. Come up with a social problem. Blame that group for the social problem.

See what it feels like.

There is a word for this.

The word is bigotry. And it should be the last thing that we would expect from a Jewish newspaper. Or, any newspaper.

Finally, let me say this as a non-Orthodox Jew.

I am tired of the sharp divisions in the Jewish community. In many cases, those divisions have emerged because of our tendency to be like many other Americans — to generalize and to demonize those with whom we disagree.

It’s all about “the.”

The Reform Jews. The leftists. The Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox. The Israelis. The settlers.

In each case, those “the” statements mask whopping over generalizations — and yes, even bigotry.

The Forward should have known better.

An apology is quite in order.



Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ukrainian shtetls make a comeback 

Many famous Jewish writers have devoted themselves to bringing back to life the colorful shtetl, the Eastern European towns that were home to local Jews for hundreds of years. Today, following booming tourism in the footsteps of Hasidic sages, some have decided to revive the shtetl and bring Jews back to living in these towns, 77 years after the Holocaust decimated them and their long-time communities.

The Baal Shem Tov's grave site

In his famous book the Death of the Shtetl, Yehuda Bauer, one of the greatest Holocaust researchers of our time, describes seven famous shtetls that represent a mere fraction of the 3,000 and more towns—all of which have disappeared entirely. Others described daily life in the shtetl: Sholem Aleichem’s Boyberik in Tevye der Milkhiker resonated with us for more than a century, as well as famous works by Shmuel Yosef Agnon (from the town of Buchach), Isaac Bashevis Singer (from Bilgoray) and Elie Wiesel (from Siget)—all Nobel Prize winners who brought the Jewish town to life.

These writers gave us the colorful and vibrant picture of Jewish life, but also described the dismal poverty, religious zeal, community politics and relationships with the non-Jewish population: rural types, clergy, statesmen and rich regional lords.

Today, an attempt to recreate the old lifestyle, even if somewhat artificially, can no longer go unnoticed in the west of Ukraine. The old and the new mix in these renovated towns, abandoned during the war, when their 2.2 million Jewish residents perished.

Between Kiev and Lvov 
It takes a little under three hours to travel between Kiev and Mezhbizh, not a great distance in this vast country. But the city (that numbers 4 million residents) and the town (that numbers 2,000) boast totally different lifestyles. It’s hard to find a link between the luxurious houses of Khreshchatyk Avenue in Kiev and the busy Baal Shem Tov Mezhbizh Street, with its sign written in Hebrew and Ukrainian.

The path between the two, that only comes to life by the passing buses full of Jewish tourists, runs through the gray town of Žitomir, a focal point for the Jewish Enlightenment period. It’s worth visiting just to catch a glimpse of where Hayim Nahman Bialik, Israel’s national poet, lived as a young man.

We visit the famous print house that operated in Žitomir, and continue to Bardichev, once called the Jerusalem of Volhynia, that lies 40 kilometers away and was known as the city of Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. His grave stands out in a cemetery whose tombstones are shaped like boots, and attracts thousands every year.

The streets of Berditchev are empty, its shops closed and its residents gray and grim-faced. We continue on the narrow path that leads to Mezhbizh, the city of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic thought, whose birthday in the Hebrew month of Elul (usually August-September) draws great crowds.

The Baal Shem Tov lived in this forsaken town for more than 20 years, where he started his work. But what did he see in Mezhbizh? Today’s town is a gloomy relic of the past’s glory.

Some 250-300 years ago it wasn’t a small and poor town, but rather one of the greatest cities in Ukraine. It numbered 5,000-10,000 people—five times the number of its residents today. Mezhbizh was a regional center, from which the spiritual and social movement that revolutionized Judaism—Hasidic practice—spread and made its mark on the Jewish people.

The Pantheon, a Hasidic cemetery, was built near the Baal Shem Tov’s grave. It still draws tens of thousands of Hasidics pilgrims every year, as it did decades ago, when this place was still a Jewish town.

In the past, Jewish residents made up a third of the town, huddled around the Rebbe's Synagogue and other Torah institutions that served the thousands of Jews who came to to express their devotion to him and to later Hasidic Rebbes.

This magnificent kingdom was all destroyed during the Holocaust. No Jews were left in Mezhbizh.

The shtetl comes to life 
Today, most of the Jewish incoming tourism to Ukraine comes from Israel. Hasidic tourists comprise the majority—and at times use the visit as an excuse to go abroad, since the Halacha (Jewish law) forbids traveling for entertainment. The more tourists there are, the more tourism infrastructure that highlights Jewish interests is needed.

Besides tourists that come to prostrate themselves on the graves of the sages (in Uman, Mezhbizh and Berditchev ), there is a growing number of tourists who go on seminars in the footsteps of Hebrew literature, the fathers of Zionism and Hasidic history. So many pillars of Jewish and Zionist history in such a desolate region.

The developments in the infrastructure of Jewish sites is evident. Uman stands out, followed other Rebbe’s graves in Mezhbizh, Sadigura by Chernivtsi, and Belz, located in north western Ukraine, among other sages’ grave sites renovated in recent years.

The map of the sages' graves in Ukraine has grown to include more sites than anywhere in Israel. The massive stream of tourists has even led to the surprising initiative—to renew the Mezhbizh shtetl and renovate old Jewish homes abandoned decades ago.

An Israeli street in Mezhbizh 
Walking through the streets of the old shtetl, you wonder, who would want to live here? Will this tiny Ukrainian town ever again be home to a Jewish population? And how will the local population receive the old-new residents?

The 500m stretch between the Baal Shem Tov’s grave site and his Torah institutions is surrounded by old mud and straw homes, fenced off in order to prevent people from entering. More than 10houses are on their way to being renovated, and becoming homes for Jewish families who want to return to the town. What will their children do, roaming in the old shtetl streets? No one seems to have considered that.

Hasidic people who have already left Israel and made Mezhbizh their home are quick to tell about the new Jewish town that’s being built. There is already a large Jewish hotel, a Kosher restaurant, a yeshiva and Torah institution, all located in proximity.

In two to three years, promise the entrepreneurs, the shtetl will have a Jewish-Israeli street with two or three renovated synagogues. The town, forsaken like thousands of others 77 years ago, is about to be resurrected.



Friday, January 11, 2019

The Ultra-Orthodox Keep Causing Measles Outbreaks. Why Aren’t They Vaccinating? 

The worst measles outbreak in recent New York history is hitting the Hasidic Jewish community due to low vaccination rates.

With 55 cases in Brooklyn and 116 in two upstate counties since late September, it is the second time in five years that the community has seen a measles crisis. The previous record outbreak, in 2013, was entirely within Brooklyn's Orthodox enclaves.

Experts say the outbreak has been caused by a mix of ignorance on how and when to get vaccines — common in insular communities — and pockets of stubborn resistance to accepted medical views on vaccination.

"This is not a Hasidic problem, this is an anti-vaccination problem," said Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, a Hasidic rabbi and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island, and who identifies as ultra-Orthodox.

Measles is a virus that can travel on bits of moisture in the air, making it extremely contagious. But the reason outbreaks of measles are rare in the United States is because the vaccine that prevents it — the MMR, or measles-mumps-rubella, vaccine — is very effective.

"If you have a room full of people, and someone has measles, 90% of people will get measles if they are not vaccinated," said Dr. Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric epidemiologist with the New York University Langone hospital system.

The New York outbreak began after Orthodox Jews who were visiting Israel became infected with measles. Israel is experiencing a massive outbreak of the disease, with over 2,000 cases reported as of late November of last year.

In the U.S., outbreak has been almost exclusively contained to the Hasidic community. Hasidic Jews are often characterized by their insularity and rigid social structures. Different segments of the population follow the specific interpretations of Jewish law of their rebbes, or rabbinic leaders. The 2013 Pew survey of American Jews found that around 6% of the American Jewish population identifies as ultra-Orthodox - around 250,000 people total. Most live in New York state.

In New York City, the measles outbreak has been confined to Williamsburg and Borough Park, according to a spokesperson for the city's health department. (Two cases have been listed in neighborhoods adjoining Borough Park.)

In upstate New York, the outbreak has spread through insular communities in Rockland and Orange counties, where vaccination rates in some schools and day care centers is at 60%, according to New York state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. The state's overall vaccination rate is 92.5%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the victims in this outbreak are children under 13, Zucker says, who are most likely to be infected because of their age and because they spend much of their day in close quarters with their peers in yeshivas.

"This is the worst case I have seen in New York state," Zucker said. "This is exactly what would happen if you have an area where a lot of kids are in the same place, and there's a low immunization."

In Brooklyn, the New York City Department of Health has instituted a mandatory exclusion at yeshivas of unvaccinated students. Roughly 1,800 school-age children in the Williamsburg and Borough Park communities are unvaccinated due to having claimed a medical or religious exemption to vaccines, according to the health department spokesperson.

Major Orthodox leaders in Brooklyn have encouraged Jews to get vaccinated, with some local yeshivas saying they will no longer accept unvaccinated students. The Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the largest yeshiva in the world, told its rabbis and over 8,000 students to "immediately get a vaccine" in November.

"The Jewish law is pretty clear," said Glatt. "The vast majority of poskim [Jewish legal scholars] strongly advocate for vaccination."

"There is, in my opinion, no such thing as a Jewish religious exemption [for vaccinations]," he added.

Lighter, the NYU physician, said that most of her patients are under-vaccinated, meaning they are behind the recommended schedule for receiving vaccinations. Many have foregone vaccination at different times because they erroneously thought it was unhealthy to receive multiple vaccinations at once, or be immunized while they had a cold.

"I don't really at NYU see a lot of [Hasidic] patients that are adamant about not getting vaccines, I mostly see the ones that are delayed," she said.

But some ultra-Orthodox believe that there is a connection between vaccines and autism, despite the fact that the CDC says there is none. Major Orthodox rabbis have called vaccines "hoaxes" and cast doubt on their efficacy, including three who sit on the rabinnical board that guides Agudath Israel of America, the leading Haredi umbrella group.

Vaccine skepticism has spread from those leaders to their followers.

"I've been practicing medicine and doing research on this topic for years now and I am saying scientifically the truth is known but being covered up," Yosef, a physician's assistant in Crown Heights who was raised in the Chabad movement, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, wrote in an email.

Yosef, 35, said that although he and two of his five children are vaccinated, he believes vaccines cause more harm than good.

"Side effects include death, autoimmune diseases, autism and many things in between," he wrote. "I don't think, I know. CDC knows. $4 billion paid to parents by our government since 1986 knows."

The U.S. government has in fact paid $4 billion over thirty years as part of its National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Out of billions of the vaccinations administered in that time period, 20,215 petitions for compensation have been filed, and 6,358 were granted.

Agudath Israel spokesman Avi Shafran said that Hasidic Jews have their reasons for resisting vaccination, pointing to changes in medical opinion like on how frequently to get screen for certain cancers.

"There are many other such 'medical reversals' that might reasonably give people pause before trusting medical authorities," he wrote in an email. "I am not saying that anti-vaxxers are correct, only answering your question." He added that it was the organization's policy not to make health recommendations.

In response to the outbreak, the health departments of New York State and New York City have undertaken awareness campaigns for vaccines. Zucker said that the state's efforts have led to 13,000 children in Rockland and Orange counties being vaccinated since October.

But Glatt says that there is widespread mistrust of the health department in the Hasidic community. He said that some view the department's response as "anti-Semitic."

"There is tremendous misplaced anger against the Department of Health, for various reasons," he said. "Some people think that this is the Department of Health ganging up on us."

In an email, Yosef, the physician's assistant, backed that up.

"I don't see NY department of health as a separate entity; government or healthcare is a group with a general agenda and preach the same religion with no questions asked," he wrote.

Community leaders, while quick to condemn anti-vaxxers, are just as quick to stress that theirs is not the only group with this problem. In recent years, Somali-American and Amish communities have seen serious measles outbreaks.

"There are unfortunately many different communities across the United States and the world, Jewish, non-Jewish, Hasidic, non-Hasidic, who unfortunately don't vaccinate," Glatt said.

Zucker said that the state's health department will continue vaccinating kids in Rockland and Orange counties until they see a period of no new cases. He added that while at first there was pushback in those communities to the vaccinations, many families have come to accept the immunization campaign.

"People recognize the need for this," he said.



Thursday, January 10, 2019


The Blumenthals may seem like an average Hasidic family going about their daily lives in Montreal, but there is nothing ordinary about them. In reality, Lipa and Chany Blumenthal are responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Montrealers over the last two decades. As founders of the city's Hatzoloh unit, they have given the Montreal community security and hope.

Hatzoloh, the worldwide organization providing emergency medical assistance to people in need, was founded on the idea of a sense of responsibility and dedication to Jewish community. On Jan. 18, 1997, the Blumenthals, with the help of other community members, took that responsibility upon their own shoulders when they opened Hatzoloh Montreal.

Lipa and Chany Blumenthal recount the tragic incident that resulted in the founding of Hatzoloh. "Back in 1996," Lipa explains, "an elderly gentleman, a guest in Montreal, suffered a heart attack and unfortunately by the time first responders arrived, he was already gone. Had there been a Montreal Hatzoloh, we might have gotten to him in time to perform CPR.

"It is unfortunate that it took a tragedy as enormous as that, to wake up the community. We then realized that it was dangerous to live in a city without Hatzoloh."

After an urgent meeting with local rabbis, synagogues began circulating flyers asking for volunteers to undertake the proper training for this important mission. Within days, 100 people showed up. As training progressed, volunteers began trickling out — the strength and dedication required to become a professional Hatzoloh member isn't for the faint of heart. Only 25 volunteers made it to the graduating point. Along with several other Hatzoloh members, Lipa Blumenthal earned his New York State EMT (emergency medical technician) license. Hatzoloh of Montreal was officially open for business.

"Of course our members need to be calm and collected under intense pressure," says Blumenthal. "In addition, we look for mature, stable and dedicated men who have a feeling for medical stuff. To be a competent Hatzoloh member, you always need to update your training."

Hatzoloh is known for its quick response time. Chany Blumenthal explains how volunteers pull that off: "We have members scattered throughout the community and when a call comes in, the member living the closest to the emergency, takes the call. All our members have flexible job hours, so they can attend Hatzoloh calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week." Chany took on the crucial role as the first dispatcher of the Montreal Hatzoloh.

She is honest about the sacrifices that being part of Hatzoloh entails. At any given moment, she or her husband might be called away unexpectedly. Once while they were out grocery shopping, Lipa suddenly disappeared. He had gone to help out a person in need. "Shopping isn't that important when there's a life at stake, right?" Chany says.

Hatzoloh encounters many halachic complications, especially revolving around Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Team members attend monthly lectures with local Rabbis to review and discuss halachic issues. "One thing is clear," says Lipa. "According to Halacha you are allowed to — no actually, you must — use the telephone to call for help if there is any kind of medical emergency. It truly bothers me when people come knocking on my door late Friday night with a sick child in their arms. They should be calling Hatzoloh as soon as they think there's any kind of emergency. Don't waste time running around. Make the call."

The Blumenthals have another important message to share with the community. "For your sake and the sake of your families, take a few moments to put up bright, visible address signs. It might save your life, Lipa begs. "Your address is not a secret," Chany adds.

Hatzoloh has a great working relationship with the Montreal first responders. "Our goals are the same. We all want the best for our community," Lipa Blumenthal explains. Hatzoloh helps anyone in need of help, regardless if they are Jewish or not.

In fact, on a quiet evening last year, the Blumenthals were out for a leisurely walk around the block when they saw a woman lying on the ground unconscious. Lipa called for backup and stepped in to help. Within 90 seconds he had backup and the necessary equipment ready to go.

Another woman who was given medical attention by Hatzoloh several months back was taken aback by Hatzoloh's dedication. "I'm wearing a hijab, I'm clearly not Jewish, but within seconds these brave and compassionate Hatzoloh men stepped in to help me," she said.

But none of that surprises the Blumenthals. "We are Hatzoloh," says Liba. "This is what we do."



Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Developer sues Monroe over Smith Farm project 

The developer of the 181-home Smith Farm project on Gilbert Street has sued Village of Monroe officials after being denied building permits, arguing that the village's objections to the home designs were unfounded and intended to try to block housing for Hasidic families.

The development site covers 79 acres in both the Town of Monroe and the Village of Monroe, and construction has proceeded on the town side after the town's building inspector issued permits.

But the village's building inspector determined that the designs deviated in several ways from the approved plans, prompting an extended conflict that went first to the village's Zoning Board of Appeals and is now pending in state Supreme Court in Westchester County.

The case seeks to overturn Building Inspector James Cocks' denial of permits for a duplex in May and the zoning board's affirmation of that decision in November.

Cocks refused to issue permits after concluding the roof pitch, vinyl siding and back of the homes didn't match what the town and village planning boards approved in 2015.

The approval resolution, for example, listed several acceptable siding materials but did not include vinyl as an option.

Robert Rosborough IV, an attorney for developer BMG Monroe I LLC, disputed each of those grounds and claimed ulterior motives for the permit denial in court papers filed on Dec. 20.

He argued the true motivation was to "find yet another way to frustrate the construction of the Smith Farm project in order to exclude the Hasidic community from the Village of Monroe."

Richard Golden, the zoning board's attorney, called the allegation "outrageous" and "patently false" on Tuesday, and said the only reason Cocks and the board rejected BMG's permits was that the designs didn't comply with the approval terms.

He pointed out that the developer submitted permit applications for three lots on Dec. 7 that were consistent with the approval resolution, and that Cocks issued the permits four days later.

The Smith Farm plans consist of single-family homes and duplexes, the bulk of which will be built on the 60 acres in the town.

BMG plans to build 32 duplex units and 12 single-family homes in the village.

As of Tuesday, the town had issued 54 building permits, and 16 units were under construction. No homes have been completed.



Sex offender rabbi ‘negotiated with deputy minister’ for public comeback 

A popular rabbi convicted of sexual offenses has been negotiating his public rehabilitation with ultra-Orthodox politicians in exchange for his followers' political support, according to a television report on Tuesday.

After evading arrest for three years, Eliezer Berland, 80, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November 2016 on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault, as part of a plea deal. He was freed after five months, in part due to ill health.

Now, his associates are working to bring him back into the fold, according to a recording obtained by Hadashot.

In the recording, captured before the October municipal elections in Jerusalem, an aide to Berland, Natan Bezenson, is heard speaking with United Torah Judaism's MK Meir Porush.

The TV report was aired days after Deputy Education Minister Porush was photographed speaking with Berland at a wedding, sparking an outcry.

UTJ is comprised of two parties, the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel and the Lithuanian Degel HaTorah. The parties ran separately in the local elections, and Berland's supporters apparently made use of this rivalry to offer the support of his followers in exchange for legitimization.

"Today in the ultra-Orthodox community [Berland] is an outcast," Bezenson says in the recording. "We really have a very simple demand, very simple, a single demand: that [leading rabbis] will accept him."

He then suggested a photo op where Berland will meet with Hasidic leaders and call to vote for Agudath Israel in the local elections.

Porush responded that this would be unlikely to happen, and the aide pressed him. "They need to make some effort to honor him, some minimal show of respect, some minimal recognition. If he's not a human being, then why do you need his votes?"

Bezenson went on to threaten to "ally with your enemies" and bring down Agudath Israel.

The offer did not appear to go ahead, and Berland eventually supported an independent slate in the first round of municipal elections in Jerusalem, which did not win a significant number of votes. He later supported Shas's preferred candidate in the mayoral runoff, Moshe Lion, after Shas leader Aryeh Deri sent several associates to be photographed with the rabbi.

Porush was heavily criticized in online ultra-Orthodox forums for meeting with Berland this week during the Beit Shemesh wedding of Berland's great-grandson.

The two were photographed conversing during the event.

Long considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the Bratslav sect, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he had molested several female followers, one of them a minor.

According to the indictment, Berland would often receive people in his homes in Jerusalem and its suburb Beitar Illit, and hold private meetings intended for spiritual guidance, counseling or benedictions. The rabbi would sometimes take advantage of the meetings and of his position in the community to engage in sexual acts with women, including minors, according to the charges against him.

He was on the run from authorities until 2016, avoiding several Israeli attempts to extradite him. He moved between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families. Berland was apprehended by South African authorities, extradited to Israel, and detained upon his arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport in July 2016.



Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Canadian Jewish man who anonymously donated 1,700 bikes to kids dies at 93 

For 33 years, residents of the Canadian city of Montreal didn't know who was behind an initiative to give away dozens of bicycles every year to underprivileged kids and "young heroes."

That mystery was finally solved this week, when Canadian media reported that the silent philanthropist was Avrum "Avi" Morrow, who died Saturday at the age of 93.

Through his organization Sun Youth, Morrow donated a total of more than 1,700 bikes, complete with helmets and locks, over more than three decades, according to CBC News. The annual budget was some 20,000 Canadian dollars ($15,000), with the total cost so far estimated at 600,000 Canadian dollars ($452,000).

Even neighbors who had known Morrow for more than half a century never knew he was behind the initiative.

"He was such a busy man," said Jo-Anne Kravitz, a next-door neighbor for more than 50 years. "He was always on the go. He wasn't around the house much. He loved to be out with people. He was a very giving man."

Morrow, a Jewish Montreal native, was buried Monday at the local Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery.

"My Uncle Avi taught us never to walk by somebody with their hand out, that there are always those who have less, and we have a responsibility to make this world a better place," he was eulogized by his great-niece Laura Fish.

Morrow had also donated to a fund providing scholarships for disadvantaged students to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, according to Carolyn Steinman, who runs the fund.

After graduating from Baron Byng high school in 1940, Morrow co-founded sanitation supplies company Avmor, which has been operating since 1948 and is still one of Canada's main cleaning solution firms.

He was also an amateur artist and art collector, having commissioned more than 400 works and created a private gallery open for use by community groups.

"When I was 60 years old, I decided I wanted to celebrate my birthday in a different manner," he told the Montreal Gazette in an anonymous interview in 2015. "But I didn't need anything. I had everything I could possibly want.

"I remembered that when I was a kid, I couldn't get a bicycle because my parents didn't have the means. But I kept begging them, and they finally gave in and bought me a red Raleigh bicycle. I loved that bike so much that I cleaned the spokes with a toothpick."

That was when he decided to give away bikes to underprivileged children, with the idea that recipients who later in life have the means to do so also donate to those in need.

The family has vowed to keep the bike donation program going in Morrow's honor.

"He was larger than life and touched many with his kindness and generous spirit," wrote Nancy Gurberg in an online message on the Paperman & Sons funeral home website. "He was a teacher, a mentor and a community friend."

Morrow is survived by his wife of 71 years, Dora Berkson — whom he originally met at school when he was 13 and she was 11 — as well as his daughter Juli and nephew Mattie Chinks who now runs Avmor.

"To borrow from the teachings of Maimonides: 'From the unknown to the unknown.' I'm very embarrassed by being public about giving," he told the Montreal Gazette three years ago. "I don't feel deserving of praise for such a simple gesture.

"But I do keep telling other people that on their birthdays, those who can afford to should celebrate by giving. What could be a greater gift than giving?"



Monday, January 07, 2019

Kiryas Joel Is Now Palm Tree, The First Official US Haredi Orthodox Town 

The Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel in New York has become what is said to be the first official haredi Orthodox town in the United States.

Kiryas Joel, a village of over 20,000 Yiddish-speaking Jews, became the town of Palm Tree on Jan. 1 when it officially split from the Town of Monroe located in upstate Orange County, the Times Herald-Record reported Saturday.

Monroe and Kiryas Joel, , which is associated with the Satmar Hasidic sect, have been at odds over the years. In November 2017, over 80 percent of Monroe voters backed a measure to make Kiryas Joel the state's first new town in 35 years. Palm Tree is an English translation of the Satmar rebbe's surname, Teitelbaum.

Kiryas Joel's roots date back to the mid-1970s, when Hasidic Jews began settling in the area under the guidance of Satmar Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum.

The new town is made up of the 164 acres that Kiryas Joel had annexed from Monroe and 56 additional acres.



Sunday, January 06, 2019

Neo-Nazi group hangs swastikas outside Jewish old-age home in Melbourne 

A neo-Nazi group hung stickers depicting swastikas at the entrance to a Jewish old-age home in Melbourne, Australia.

The neo-Nazi Antipodian Resistance organization posted the stickers of their logo, which bears a large swastika, at the entrance of the Emmy Monash Aged Care in Melbourne, home to elderly Jewish community members including Holocaust survivors, in the heartland of the Victorian Jewish community.

They were discovered by a man visiting his elderly parents at the facility last week.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, or ECAJ, has been monitoring the activities of the clandestine Antipodian Resistance for years.

Anton Block, president of the ECAJ, told JTA, “The members of Antipodean Resistance see themselves as some kind of elite, the would-be dictators of Australia. In truth, they are cowards of the lowest moral quality.  They hide behind their anonymity and, as this latest incident reveals, are prepared to sink as low as targeting the elderly and the infirm, and tormenting aged Holocaust survivors in their twilight years.  The authorities need to crack down and prosecute them for inciting genocide and other forms of racially-motivated violence.”

Dr. Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, said his group is “outraged” by the attack “made all the more despicable” because it is directed at elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors who probably thought they would never see such public displays of neo-Nazism again.

The Antipodean Resistance, founded in 2016, is a group of radicalized neo-Nazis who describe themselves as “the Hitlers you’ve been waiting for.”

The stickers reportedly have popped up around Melbourne in recent months.



Saturday, January 05, 2019

Belgian Ban on Kosher Slaughter Has Jews Worried About What's Next 

Antwerp’s Jewish community was still recovering from its Holocaust-era devastation when Wim van den Brande’s grandfather opened one of Europe’s largest kosher slaughterhouses.

Since its establishment in 1966, the Kosher Poultry factory grew together with the local Jewish community, which numbered only a few thousand people after Nazis and their collaborators murdered most of the Jews in Flanders — the Belgian region whose capital is Antwerp.

By the end of last year, van den Brande’s factory was processing 80,000 chickens a month — a testament to how the region’s Jewish population has more than quadrupled to 20,000 since 1945.

But all that ended last month, when a law banning methods used in ritual slaughter in the Flemish Region of Belgium went into effect, forcing van den Brande, who is not Jewish, to fire his 10 employees and close up shop, in the hope of moving his factory to Hungary.

For van den Brande, 42, and hundreds of meat industry professionals, it means “an attack on traditions and on an entire industry,” he told JTA.

It has less immediate implications for Antwerp’s Jews — who can simply switch to importing customs-free kosher meat from elsewhere within the European Union trading bloc. Yet many of them view the law both as a declaration that they are not wanted in Belgium, and as the opening shot of further hostile action.

“On the ground, it makes little difference. We still have meat,” said Nechemiah Schuldiner, a leader of the Shomre Hadas Orthodox Jewish community of Antwerp. “The problem is the message it sends. It tells Jews: We don’t want you here.”

Schuldiner fears the law, which he considers a ban, is a “prelude to a ban on importing kosher meat,” and a move heralding “new restrictions, be in on milah or other elements of Jewish life.” Milah is the Hebrew word for circumcision of men.

The new law requires all animals be stunned before they are slaughtered. Jewish and Muslim religious laws require animals be conscious at the time of their slaughter. Jewish leaders also fear the same political forces — animal and child welfare activists, in league with anti-immigration groups — will move to ban ritual circumcision, performed by Jews and Muslims.

Michael Freilich, editor in chief of the Antwerp-based Joods Actueel Jewish magazine, disagrees that the law is a sign Belgian Jews were unwanted. The Flemish authorities, he said, have paid “a great deal of attention to the Jewish community and its needs.” But, he added, the methods for ritual slaughter are “too unpopular” in Flanders for the government to ignore.

The law in Flanders was born of a 2014 public debate about the slaughter of animals by Muslims in unregulated slaughterhouses. In Western Europe recently, animal welfare and child welfare activists have found unlikely allies in individuals and politicians critical of the impact of mass immigration to Europe by Muslims.

Jewish customs, similar to Muslim ones but ignored or tolerated for decades, have become collateral damage of this alliance.

In the Netherlands, a fringe animal welfare party in 2011 submitted a bill proposing a ban on all slaughter performed without stunning. It passed in the lower house, largely thanks to the support of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom. The Dutch senate reversed the ban in 2012.

In 2013, Poland’s parliament passed a similar ban amid growing discontent in the predominantly-Catholic nation over the arrival of millions of Muslims into the European Union, of which Poland is a member. The Polish High Court reversed the ban in 2014.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s parliament is preparing to vote on a resolution calling to ban non-medical circumcision of boys. The resolution began as a petition started by a small group of anti-circumcision activists but gathered tens of thousands of signatures in the kingdom, whose government has one of Western Europe’s most restrictive policies on immigration from the Middle East.

In this context, the law passed in Belgium “is clearly only the beginning,” said Ari Mandel, an Antwerp Jew who in 2011 opened Kosher4U, an online store that specializes in shipping kosher products to remote European Jewish communities, such as in Sweden and Norway.

“We’re talking about a domino effect. Kosher slaughterhouses can move but moving appears to be a temporary solution, a stay of execution,” he added.

Mandel also noted that Antwerp’s Orthodox communities have some of the world’s strictest kashrut standards, making their rabbis and congregants distrust foreign labels.

Ritual slaughter of animals is allowed in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Russia, where the vast majority of Europe’s Jews live.

Five European Union member states — Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Slovenia — have blanket bans on ritual slaughter. So too do three other non-EU countries in Western Europe: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.

In Belgium, it is currently illegal only in Flanders, or the Flemish Region, which is one of three states that make up the federal kingdom. Another region, Wallonia, will impose a ban in September. Austria and Estonia also enforce strict supervision of the custom that some Jews there say makes it nearly impossible.

No country in Europe currently forbids nonmedical circumcision of boys.
If Europe is seeing a domino effect where Jewish customs are collateral damage, then communities should consider adapting some of those customs to weather the storm, suggested Michael Freilich, the Jewish paper’s editor.

“There is halakha, and Jews are beholden to it,” he told JTA, referring to rabbinic law. But some kosher practices also stem from “customs and rabbinical politics” and can be adapted or reformed.

Notably, some Orthodox rabbis permit post-cut stunning – a technique in which animals’ necks are cut almost at the same time as they are knocked unconscious. Another potential concession may come from modern stunning methods, including carbon dioxide, that do not injure the animal in ways prohibited by Jewish law.

“Honestly, I’ve not been able to get rabbis to give me very compelling explanations as to why some of these solutions aren’t halakhically acceptable,” said Freilich, who is Orthodox and who opposes government restrictions on ritual slaughter.

But some of the rabbis, he said, “told me that they couldn’t sanction certain solutions because doing so would expose them to attack from hardliners.”

These talks “changed my way of thinking about the kosher meat issue,” Freilich added.

As more and more European governments restrict kosher slaughter, Freilich said “the need to adapt Jewish customs to the new reality will grow, and I think we’ll see movement.”



Friday, January 04, 2019

More than 25% of Jews killed in Holocaust were murdered in just three months 

Nearly 1.5 million Jews — more than a quarter of all those killed during the entirety of World War II — were murdered by Nazis in just three months, a new study in the Science Advances found.

The rate of genocide was 10 times higher than previous estimates suggested, biomathematician Lewi Stone of Tel Aviv University and RMIT University reported in the study.

Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Holocaust, killed around 1.7 million Jews from 1942 to 1943. During that time, there was "an intense, 100-day (about three months) surge" of killing in August, September and October of 1942.

In August and September, around half a million victims were killed each month.

The majority of the murders were done in three large death camps in western Poland, either by gassing victims or shooting them.

An estimated 5.4 million to 5.8 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust during World War II, according to the study, though scholars have struggled to estimate exact numbers as officials attempted to destroy much of the documentation and evidence.

The new study used railway transportation records to identify more accurate numbers of those killed. Stone attempted to identify not only how many victims were killed, but also at "the rate in which the genocide proceeded," he wrote in the study.

However historian Christian Gerlach of the University of Bern, Switzerland suggested that the numbers in Stone's study were too high, according to BuzzFeed News.

Gerlach told the outlet that an Operation Reinhard officials sent a telegram that implied around 1.32 million people were killed in the campaign. The purpose of Operation Reinhard to exterminate every Jewish person in the Nazi-occupied Poland.

In Stone's study, he concluded that the rapid decline in killings from November and December 1942 "simply reflects that there were very few Jewish victims left alive to murder by this stage."



Thursday, January 03, 2019

Jewish Businessman Found Guilty of Bribing NYPD Officers, Even Dressing as Santa to Hand Out Gifts 

An Jewish-American Orthodox businessman was convicted in Manhattan on Wednesday on several counts of bribery, in a case that cast a shadow over City Hall and the New York Police Department in recent months.

The jury in Manhattan Federal District Court found Jeremy Reichberg guilty on four counts of bribery and conspiracy to commit honest services fraud involving police officials. His case had threatened to stain the reputation of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had previously received donations from Reichberg, who also acted as a fundraiser for the mayor.

The New York Post reported that Reichberg, 44, faces up to 65 years in prison at his April 4 sentencing.

Although the Brooklyn-based Reichberg has been described as a businessman, his professional activities remain largely unclear. The New York Times reported that prosecutors called the former Borough Park police liaison a "fix-it" guy, who leveraged his relations with police officials to provide services to others. He was accused of showering police officers with gifts in exchange for favors, such as illegally obtained gun permits, ticket-fixing, parking privileges and police escorts around city traffic, including a ride to a barbecue via a police boat.

The corruption trial, which unfolded over nearly eight weeks, attracted greater media attention due to Reichberg's co-defendant: NYPD Deputy Inspector James Grant. He was acquitted of illegally receiving gifts on Wednesday when the jury decided the evidence against him was not strong enough to convict. The defense had said the gifts were just a case of a friend helping a friend.

Reichberg's conviction relied mainly on testimony from his former business associate, Jona Rechnitz. He had cooperated with investigators and said he was "the money man" in bribing the officers, local media reported.

During the trial, Rechnitz recounted how, at Reichberg's behest, he had spent nearly $60,000 on a private jet to fly Grant and other police officers to Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend in January 2013. He also said he hired a prostitute to dress as a flight attendant and sleep with the officers during the flight.

Rechnitz also told the court how he and Reichberg had dressed as Santa Claus to deliver gifts to high-ranking police officials on Christmas Day in 2013.

He also recounted how Reichberg had showered another NYPD chief, Philip Banks III, with gifts, including an alleged trip to Israel. Banks, who resigned from the force in 2014, has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

The son of a real estate developer, Los Angeles-based Rechnitz has been a star witness in several corruption cases, including a 2016-2017 federal investigation into De Blasio's fundraising practices.

It was while cooperating as a witness in that investigation that Rechnitz revealed how Reichberg once used his police connections to get part of the Lincoln Tunnel shut for Lev Leviev, the "diamond king" who heads international real estate firm Africa Israel.

De Blasio was forced to defend himself after Rechnitz claimed he had managed to buy his way into City Hall, and rejected any allegations of wrongdoing.

The mayor was quoted on CBS Wednesday as saying he did not pay any attention to the trial "because it had nothing to do with me." In regard to his relations with Rechnitz, he added: "I've said very clearly that this was someone I came to know for a very limited period of time, did not know that well."

Reichberg's lawyer, Susan Necheles, said her client intended to appeal Wednesday's verdict. "Part of the problem was that so much irrelevant garbage came into evidence, it made it difficult for the jury to see what is the issue here," she said, according to the New York Post.

In an editorial Wednesday, the New York Post blasted the decision to find Grant not guilty. "Congress needs to close the ridiculous 'friends helping friends' loophole so that prosecutors don't have to surmount impossibly high legal hurdles to hold crooked public officials accountable.

"Otherwise, you'll never see an end to New York's culture of corruption. Indeed, seamy insider dealing is all too likely to become business as usual all across the nation," it wrote.



Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Doctor who tweeted that she would 'purposely give Jews the wrong medications' still has her medical licence despite being condemned by the Cleveland Clinic where she worked after it emerged she has been posting anti-Semitic messages for years 

A doctor who tweeted that she would 'purposely give all the Jews the wrong meds' has been found to have been posting anti-Semitic messages on social media for years.

Dr Lara Kollab, 27, a former resident at The Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, wrote in now-deleted posts that she hoped 'Allah will kill the Jews' and referred to Jewish people as 'dogs'.

The Cleveland Clinic has since condemned Dr Kollab, who retains her medical license, and confirmed that she is no longer working at the hospital.

'This individual was employed as a supervised resident at our hospital from July to September 2018,' Cleveland Clinic said in a statement, adding that 'in no way do these beliefs reflect those of our organization'.

In January 2012, she wrote: 'ill purposely give all the yahood [Jews] the wrong meds…' [sic], and in October that year she said the Holocaust had been 'exaggerated'.

In August 2013, Dr. Kollab wrote in Arabic, 'May Allah take back [end the lives] of the Jews so we stop being forced to go to those unclean ones,' according to The Jerusalem Post. 

Citing a series of tweets screen-grabbed by the Canary Mission website, Times of Israel said the 27-year-old had been making anti-Semitic comments on social media from 2011 to 2017. 

Dr Kollab, who is of Palestinian heritage, was awarded her medical degree by a Jewish-affiliated college in New York last year.

Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine has since expressed their shock at hearing of Dr Kollab's anti-Semitic views. 

'Touro College is appalled by the anti-Semitic comments reportedly made by Lara Kollab, a graduate of the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine,' the medical school said in a statement.

'The mission of Touro College is to educate, perpetuate and enrich the historic Jewish tradition of tolerance and dignity.

'We are shocked that one of our graduates would voice statements that are antithetical to Touro and to the physicians' Hippocratic Oath.' 

Dr Kollab, whose medical license currently extends to the year 2021, has de-activated or deleted all her social media accounts after her tweets went viral.



Two swastikas drawn on apartment of elderly Jewish woman in Brooklyn 

Two foot-long swastikas were drawn outside the apartment door of an elderly Jewish woman in Brooklyn.

Miryam Marc, 77, said her late husband was a Holocaust survivor, and she escaped from Europe to Israel during the Holocaust.

The large swastikas were drawn in red marker on either side of Marc's door on Saturday afternoon, WCBS-TV reported.

The apartment building installed security cameras after the incident.

"Now I am very, very, very depressed and I am scared even in the night. I cannot sleep," Marc told WCBS.

The New York Police Department's Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the vandalism. There are no suspects.



Tuesday, January 01, 2019

More controversial comments emerge from firefighter accused of lewd posts 

More controversial Facebook posts allegedly authored by an Orange County firefighter accused of lewd remarks emerged Monday.

Maybrook firefighter and Montgomery Ambulance Corp. member Tommy Starro is accused of comments attacking the Hasidic community. A post obtained by News 12 shows three Hasidic men, with a caption saying Starro will "give a prize" to someone who takes them out in a manner similar to a video game.

Another apparent post referenced a Hasidic development in Chester with a caption, "Stand strong. You don't want your town crowded with measle infected skells."

Starro says that his account had been hacked.

These online remarks surfaced just days after Starro used Facebook to question the immigration status of American-Columbian Orange County Legislator Kevin Luján. He also made another post lewdly referencing Luján's mother.

Starro said his comments about Luján were taken out of context and written as a joke.

Longtime friend and neighbor Joseph Byrne came to the defense of Starro, saying, "That's not the Tommy I know or a lot of other people know. Does he make jokes? Yes. He's that type of guy."

Officals say Starro has been asked to remove any affiliations with the Maybrook Fire Department and Montgomery Ambulance Corp. as they consider disciplinary action against him.



Monday, December 31, 2018

Bernard Rosenfeld, Kaser village's only mayor in its history, dies at the age of 71 

Bernard Rosenfeld, the village's mayor since its founding in 1990, died this morning at the age of 71.

Rosenfeld's funeral is scheduled for after 11:30 a.m. at the Hasidic Jewish community's main synagogue on Phyllis Terrace, off Route 306 in the Ramapo village.

Rosenfeld will be buried immediately after the service in the Viznitz Cemetery on Brick Church Road. He died of cancer and had been taken to a hospital in Cleveland for treatment.

His friends and colleagues recalled Rosenfeld for his community work, dedication to his religious beliefs and Kaser's residents. Members of the Viznitz Hasidic Jewish sect comprise the village.

"He was a person who dedicated his life for the community — both the village and congregation," said Shlomo Koenig, a former village deputy mayor who works for the Rockland Sheriff's Office as an deputy and Internet crimes expert.

"He spent his whole life trying to help other people," Koenig said. "He will be missed a lot."

Ramapo police sent officers to the community to ensure there are no traffic issues. The police said they had no plans to closed Route 306 to traffic, as was the case when thousands attended the grand rabbi funeral and burial in March.

New Square Mayor Israel Spitzer called Rosenfeld a mentor.

"We're all very broken with this loss," Spitzer said. "He was a very very genuine, honest, good person. His whole life was community work, giving of himself to others."

Spitzer became mayor after Mats Friesel died at age 95 in August 2015 after a long illness. Friesel had been the Hasidic Skver Jewish community's only mayor starting in 1961.

"I learned a lot from him," Spitzer said of Rosenfeld. "I always enjoyed being in his company and discussing issues together and listening to his advice and direction."

Rosenfeld ran Viznitz's government and politics, helping to decide the political candidates who would receive the community's bloc vote.

Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht called Rosenfeld a pioneer and leader.

"He was an educator who served as principal and then administrator of Viznitz Institutions." Specht said in a statement.

"Mayor Rosenfeld was a true pioneer who moved to the Town of Ramapo in 1965. He never wavered in his commitment to public service. My sincerest condolences to his family and the entire Kaser/Viznitz community."

His successor will be decided during the March elections.

Rosenfeld is survived by his wife, adult children, three sisters and grandchildren.



Orthodox Panic Over Yeshiva Rules As New York Democrats Grab Reins 

In the final weeks of 2018, New York's Orthodox Jewish community went into full-blown panic mode.

One Orthodox newspaper in Brooklyn, the Flatbush Jewish Journal, ran the screaming front-page headline "ATTACK ON OUR YESHIVAS!" in red, inch-high letters.

"The Jewish people will not bow down or surrender to the wicked, not even before the commissioner of education," warned Aron Tietelbaum, the grand rabbi of the Satmar Hasidic group, in a speech weeks earlier. "We will launch a major war against the commissioner of education in any way [necessary]," Teitelbaum said, according to a translation published by an Orthodox news site.

The threats and warnings came as state authorities announced long-awaited guidelines that will regulate the curricula of Orthodox yeshivas. They also come as New York State's ultra-Orthodox community faces a sharp loss of influence in Albany once the new legislature is sworn in.

Now, Orthodox leaders are using the state guidelines to rally their community, even as they recognize they must try to mend fences in the capital.

Last spring, State Sen. Simcha Felder, a close ally of ultra-Orthodox leaders, pulled off a remarkable coup, holding up the entire state budget in order to force through a law tailored to Orthodox yeshivas, which protected them from certain unwanted state regulations.

Felder's extraordinary power rested on the fact that the state Senate was otherwise evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. By siding with the GOP, he gave control of that chamber to the Republicans, a critical difference in a state where Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the vast majority of the assembly are Democrats.

But in November, Senate Democrats swept away Republicans in the Senate, whose leaders had been close with Agudath Israel of America, an organization that represents a number of ultra-Orthodox communities. Even though Felder held onto his Boro Park-based seat, the #BlueWave effectively stripped him of his outsized influence. Albany insiders say that Agudath Israel has few relationships with the Democrats who are set to take over the Senate in January.

Some Orthodox leaders say their community feels targeted. To the Orthodox community, "it just seems to be an attack," said Leon Goldenberg, a Jewish community activist who sits on the board of Agudath Israel, characterizing the feeling in the Orthodox community. "We work with the Democrats and we think we can work with the Democrats. But there is somewhat of a feeling [in the community] that there is payback."

The new guidelines, which came after advocacy by the yeshiva reform group YAFFED made education in Hasidic yeshivas a major issue in state and local politics, will require education authorities to review the curricula of every private school in New York.

Many who reviewed the initial guidelines concluded that they would require seven hours of secular subjects per day in grades seven and eight, a schedule that would leave little time for religious studies. Later, the state education department clarified that the guidelines actually require half that much time, but in the meantime, Orthodox leaders saw a winning issue and seized it.

An online petition that received nearly 60,000 signatures in protest of the regulations read, "We do not need these new State Education Department rules! We do not want these new State Education Department rules! We will not accept these new State Education Department rules!"

An article in Hamodia, a daily newspaper serving Orthodox readers largely in Brooklyn, reported that leading rabbis had asked for special prayers against the decree.

The Flatbush Jewish Journal wrote in an unsigned column on Dec. 6 that "people with little understanding of our lifestyle and religion will be dictating how we teach our children."

The fear that the state intended to interfere directly in the curricula of yeshivas spread across the Orthodox community. Calls for improved secular education have generally focused on yeshivas serving Hasidic boys, some of which are reported to put very little emphasis on secular education. Not all ultra-Orthodox people are Hasidic; non-Hasidic Orthodox schools generally provide substantial secular educations, so advocates for improved secular education in yeshivas have focused on Hasidic schools.

By early December, even Orthodox leaders outside of the Hasidic community were warning that the seven-hour requirement could threaten their schools.

"The news is that the goyim see us all in the same light," said Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, who leads a historic non-Hasidic Brooklyn yeshiva, in a video circulated by Agudath Israel. "We're all ultra-Orthodox fanatics, we all deprive our children of a proper education. Never mind the fact that most of our yeshivas score far higher in the state tests than the…public schools… No one's going to listen unless we organize as a community."

One Albany insider closer to the Jewish community said that the seven-hour issue was an easy one for Orthodox leaders.

"You're guaranteed to have a win," the insider said, arguing that it was clear that the state education department would clarify their guidelines, as they eventually did, on Dec. 21. "It's a guaranteed victory, so why not rile everybody up."

Agudath Israel and its allies made this effort to unite Orthodox Jews against state authorities as the organization enters a period of significant political uncertainty. The organization had made close alliances with Republicans in the State Senate, who lost their long-standing majority. Felder had used his status as a sort of swing vote to wield significant political power in Albany. The November elections ended that gambit.

"Basically [Agudath Israel] misplayed the whole situation," said another Albany insider. "They need an excuse for why they [messed] up the politics."

Agudath Israel's executive director, Rabbi Dovid Zweibel, was not available for comment. Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudath Israel's director of New York government relations, declined to comment. Goldbenberg, the Agudath Israel board member, said that he and his colleagues do work with Democrats.

Still, the political shifts in Albany leave Agudath Israel with limited options.

"They're going to try to build power and try to build relationships," said the Albany insider close to the Jewish community. "They never really had an eye towards the future, and they just read the situation poorly."

Other Orthodox groups have been more measured in their response to the guidelines. The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, which largely represents Modern Orthodox communities, sent a letter statement to schools in its network on December 19, in part saying that the state education department had clarified its guidance, and that the schools would not be required to provide seven hours of daily instruction.

"We have been, and remain, extremely concerned by State regulation of Yeshiva and day school curriculum," the OU said in its letter.

Naftuli Moster, who leads YAFFED, told the Forward that the roughly three-and-a-half hours of study now required per day were doable.

"Most Modern Orthodox yeshivas provide that," Moster said. "Most Hasidic girls schools even provide that… It really brings us down to a small segment that doesn't meet the standard, and this is something they need to remedy."

Yet Goldenberg, the Agudath board member, said that the Orthodox community's concerns were far from allayed. He raised additional issues, including questions about whether Jewish studies courses could count towards some secular requirements.

"When you're learning Talmud, it sharpens the mind," he said.



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