Friday, March 24, 2017

NJ Rabbis Launch Campaign To Counter Threats Against Jewish Community 

Hasidic rabbis in South Jersey are hitting the streets across the region in an effort to counter hate threats against the Jewish community, and they're installing signs of peace.

A mezuzah is a sacred handwritten parchment scroll. According to the Torah, the six-inch long holy instrument protects Jewish homes from hate and prolongs ones life.

"It blesses the home and it blesses the family and it protects everything you could pray for," says Miya Eylon, who just moved into a new home with her husband in Cherry Hill. They called on rabbis from the Chabad-Lubavitch Centers of South Jersey to install their mezuzah.

This came just weeks after a bomb threat evacuated the nearby Katz Jewish Community Center, and scores more threats were lodged against Jewish centers across the country.

Rabbi Yitzchok Kahan says Chabad-Lubavitch launched the Cherry Hill Mezuzah Campaign to counter the hate, installing hundreds of the sacred scrolls in doorways of Jewish homes in the area to bring peace.

"We feel challenged and threatened and sometimes we are not in the position to do something at the leadership level but personal every single of us has an ability to take that negative energy and transform it into a positive force," he says.

The mezuzah is installed on the top third of the door post and is usually installed at every doorway inside of a home as well, with the exception of bathrooms. After installation, the rabbis provide a special blessing.

"People want to have more increased security," says Rabbi Menachem Kaminker. "This brings divine protection, and we want to make sure that every Jewish home has a mezuzah at the door post."

The effort has become so popular, a similar campaign will be launched in Philadelphia in coming weeks.

"This is the third shipment of the mezuzahs that we are getting," says Kaminker, "We keep having to restock."

The rabbis say they hope the effort shows the community that love wins over hate.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Want To Know Where Yiddish Is Going? Ask Directions In Israel 

During a recent trip to Israel, my 31-year old son, Naftali, spent an afternoon taking in the sights of Tel Aviv. Although he's a fluent Hebrew speaker, he was curious whether any of the merchants or passers-by knew Yiddish, too, and decided to check it out.

Entering a shop that sold antique European teapots and china, Naftali noticed that the storekeeper appeared to be in his sixties, so he gave it a shot. "Excuse me, do you speak Yiddish?" he asked. The storekeeper grinned and said he did, adding that he was born in Poland and came to Israel as a young child. "It's been 30 years since someone has spoken to me in Yiddish," he said wistfully.

Ten minutes later, Naftali dropped into a bookstore. Not only did the salesperson reply in Yiddish but even showed him several Yiddish books for sale. Back on the street, Naftali stopped another middle-aged man and asked him, in Yiddish, how to get to Tchernichovsky Street. The man walked him to the corner and gave him directions in grammatically perfect sentences, a rarity these days.

Later, when my son got into a taxi, it happened again. This time, the reaction was different, though. The driver didn't smile enthusiastically, but simply replied in Yiddish with no emotion, as if hearing a 31-year old guy speaking Yiddish occurred on a daily basis.

So why is this a big deal? For years, Israelis have been stereotyped as embarrassed by, or even hostile to the language of the so-called "timid" diaspora Jews, an image buttressed by the late Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's well-known remark at a 1945 Knesset session, that the language "grated" in his ears.

Naftali's informal experiment suggests that the image of Yiddish in Israel has changed considerably. This isn't about the Hasidim in insulated enclaves like Mea Shearim where Yiddish is an everyday tongue, but rather of secular and "mesorati" (traditional) Hebrew-speaking middle-aged Jews of Tel Aviv. My guess is that many of them are children of Holocaust survivors or were themselves born in a displaced persons camp after the war. Others may have made aliyah from Buenos Aires, Montreal or other cities that once had a large Yiddish-speaking population. Like the porcelain salesman who hadn't spoken Yiddish in 30 years, many of them probably haven't had an opportunity to use the language, particularly if their grandparents and other elderly relatives have passed on.

In Jerusalem, Naftali discovered another unexpected group of Yiddish speakers, but of a very different kind. A friend had invited him to a shabbos dinner organized for formerly Hasidic families. During the meal, the parents chatted, joked and smoked cigarettes while their children, minus the payos, played ball and cavorted in Yiddish. One young couple told Naftali that although they were no longer religious, they continued to speak Yiddish to each other and to the kids because it felt more natural for them than speaking Hebrew.

Considering that Naftali had, without much effort, discovered ten Yiddish speakers simply by addressing them in the language, there are likely quite a few other closet Yiddish speakers in the Jewish state. They may not know that there are Israeli organizations which conduct Yiddish classes and cultural events like Leyvik House,Yung Yidish and Beit Sholem Aleichem – all of which provide opportunities to hear or chat in mame-loshn.

Then again, maybe they do know, but cultural programs are simply not their cup of tea. Israeli Yiddish activists who want to engage this population might want to consider organizing a fun-filled Yiddish festival on a main street of Tel Aviv. Imagine a band playing Yiddish songs; food-tasting kiosks with Ashkenazi favorites like knishes and borscht; and young organizers greeting passers-by in Yiddish.

From my own experience speaking to Israelis, most still believe that the only Yiddish speakers today are the Hasidim and the elderly. But as Naftali discovered on a whim, there are apparently a number of Israelis of various ages eager to express themselves in the language of their childhood if given the chance. All they need is someone to walk over and ask them, in Yiddish, how to get to Tchernichovsky Street.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Schools Chancellor denies city is dragging yeshiva probe 

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Tuesday strongly denied claims that the city is dragging out a probe of yeshivas so as not to upset the politically powerful Brooklyn Hasidic community.

As The Post reported, advocates say dozens of the religious schools aren't teaching secular studies, as required by state law — and they charge Mayor de Blasio with turning a blind eye.

"[Politics] has not even entered our minds," Fariña told reporters at City Hall after testifying at a hearing on the new city budget. "This is not politically motivated. I didn't take this job to do a political job. I took this job to do an educational job."

She said the probe has entered its 19th month because the issue is complicated — including witnesses testifying about the education they received as long as 20 years ago.

She wouldn't put a timeline on completing it.

It's not clear why the DOE is interviewing students who are that far removed from graduation.

Fariña also noted that "there are a lot of people very happy with these schools."

At a separate press conference in Brooklyn, Mayor de Blasio also denied giving preferential treatment to the Hasidic community, both on the schools probe and on the city's enforcement of a controversial circumcision ritual during which infants have contracted herpes.

In exchange for the city nixing a parental consent form, the community agreed to identify the mohels involved in all cases of transmission — but has complied in only two of six cases since the deal was struck in 2015.

"There's a full review going on, and it's an objective review, and wherever that leads us, we're going to go forward publicly with it," the mayor said regarding the yeshiva probe.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

City stalls on probe into secular education at Hasidic schools 

City officials are dragging their heels on a politically-sensitive probe of whether Hasidic schools provide their students with a secular education, advocates charge.

The Department of Education launched a probe more than 18 months ago after advocates submitted a list of dozens of Orthodox Jewish schools that provide little or no English, math, social studies or science — most notably for boys in yeshivas.

But advocates say the probe is moving at a snail's pace because Mayor de Blasio fears riling the powerful Hasidic community.

"There's really no explanation to why the mayor would turn a blind eye other than the fear of upsetting this powerful bloc vote led by these powerful [Jewish] lobbyist groups," Naftuli Moster, founder of the group Yaffed, told The Post.

"For the lack of a more PC term, it's really BS what the city is saying. There's no sign of an investigation," he added. "They could do it easily, but they're not really interested in investigating."

City Council Education Committee chair Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), a former public school teacher, said he's planning to question Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina about the probe at a hearing Tuesday.

State regulations require that all non-public schools in New York — which receive tens of millions of dollars annually in taxpayer funds — provide a secular education that's "substantially equivalent" to what's taught in public schools.

"It is important that those kids get an adequate education," Dromm told The Post. "I want to ask why they have not come through with the results of that investigation."

Last year, Schools chancellor Carmen Farina testified at a Council hearing that the DOE had visited "several" yeshivas and that the probe, launched in August 2015, was "moving faster."

"We now have a committee that is working exclusively on this, so I expect like within a month or so I can give you a written report," she said at the May 2016 hearing.

Naftuli said the DOE finally got around to interviewing more than a dozen former yeshiva students and their parents in July 2016, but that the agency has gone silent since.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Mexican Jewish teen forced to cook pork on TV reality show 

A 13-year-old Jewish girl who cooked pork during a primetime reality show on Mexican TV said "my grandfather is going to kill me."

Batia Bresca was clearly uncomfortable cooking non-kosher food during the premiere of the Mexican edition of "MasterChef Junior 2017" last week and invoked Jewish law when a referee asked why she did not eat pork, the Diario Judio news website reported Saturday. But her dish received good reviews and she advanced to the next phase of the show.

"I'm going to have to try it and my grandfather is going to kill me. That's the end for me," Batia said on the show.

The Mexico City teen is one of 18 contenders on the 13-week reality show. Batia has been learning to cook with her grandmother since she was 4. Oriental dishes are her favorite to prepare.

She may be expecting further wrath going forward: Batia will be expected to cook seafood and other foods prohibited by Jewish law.

Batia has traveled to Israel, the United States and across Europe, according to Azteca TV.

Mexico is home to some 50,000 Jews, Latin America's third largest Jewish community after Argentina and Brazil.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

County lawmakers will discuss KJ proposal to create new town 

Orange County lawmakers are set to hold their first discussion in months about a proposal to create a new town by detaching the Village of Kiryas Joel and surrounding land from the Town of Monroe.

That prospect has been on hold since Kiryas Joel residents petitioned to form the Town of North Monroe seven months ago.

On Wednesday, the Legislature's Rules, Enactments and Intergovernmental Relations Committee is scheduled to discuss taking the first steps in an environmental review.

That panel had an initial discussion about the petition in September but has had no further talks since then.

The proposal was set aside because of a court fight over Kiryas Joel's annexation of 164 acres, an expansion that the Monroe Town Board approved in 2015 and that the county, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley have been challenging in two separate lawsuits.

State Supreme Court Justice Gretchen Walsh dismissed the cases in October, but both sets of plaintiffs have appealed her ruling.

Their attorneys will file court papers on Monday to solidify the appeals.

The 382 acres that would be joined with Kiryas Joel to form North Monroe includes the contested annexation area, which means the net additional land would be 218 acres. The resulting town would be 1,072 acres.

Forming a new town would remove Kiryas Joel and its large voting blocs from Monroe elections, an appealing prospect for residents outside the Hasidic community.

It also would involve ceding more than twice as much land as the annexation those residents fought.

Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, who hoped to find a compromise on the North Monroe proposal before moving forward with it, held a private discussion about it last Friday with three county legislators representing Kiryas Joel and Monroe and with two leaders of the United Monroe citizens group.

John Allegro, one of the United Monroe leaders in that meeting, said this week that the discussion lasted more than three hours and seemed a "very good, possible first step."

His group contends the current proposal would give Kiryas Joel too much additional land and must be reduced to win its support.

If approved by a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature, or at least 14 of 21 lawmakers, the proposal to create a new town would be submitted to Monroe voters for approval.

The Legislature would have to endorse the plan by August for the referendum to be placed on the election ballot this November.



Jewish charter flight forced to make emergency landing 

A charter flight for Jews taking part in the annual pilgrimage to an 18th century Hasidic rebbe’s grave in Eastern Europe was forced to make an emergency landing Sunday in Amsterdam.

The Boeing 767, carrying some 200 passengers, was forced down after the cabin suddenly depressurized. Witnesses say passengers were forced to breathe through masks tied to the plane’s emergency oxygen system while the plane diverted from its flight path to land.

Originating in London Stansted Airport, the charter flight was scheduled to fly to Ukraine, where passengers would disembark and continue on their way to the city of Lezajsk, just over the border in Poland.

The flight was one of many special chartered flights by visitors looking to make the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum in Lezajsk (Lizhensk). This Sunday marks the 230th anniversary of Rabbi Weisblum’s passing.

After an hour on the ground in Amsterdam, the flight was airborne again.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eric Greitens, Missouri’s First Jewish Governor, Is Eyeing The White House 

On the weekend before his January 9 swearing in ceremony, Eric Greitens, soon to become governor of Missouri, called up United Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue in St. Louis. He asked to attend Shabbat service, and was honored with a special role in the ceremony, and a blessing from the clergy.

It’s hardly unusual for any Jewish community to show such respect to one of their own who has reached high office, but Greitens himself is unusual: He’s a Republican from a community known for its stalwart support for Democrats since President Theodore Roosevelt occupied the White House.

He would have known that very few of the congregants voted for him or for Donald Trump in the November election. Even the bat-mitzvah girl’s speech, according to Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, had a liberal tone. “But regardless of his politics, this was a very special moment of pride to have the first Jewish governor,” Rosenberg said. One member of the community approached Greitens during the typical celebratory light meal after services and told him he never believed he’d live to see a Jewish governor in the state.

And if pundits and Republican strategists are right, Greitens may provide his home state’s Jewish community with even more reasons for pride. He’s on every Republican future leadership watch list and has never been shy about his ultimate goal.

“When we did the ‘What I Want to Be When I Grow Up’ unit, Eric’s answer was ‘President,’” his kindergarten teacher Anne Richardson told St. Louis Magazine. Years later, he’d repeat this aspiration to a college professor.

He’s got the right resume. He’s been a Rhodes scholar, a decorated warrior and a civic leader. Greitens — who’d never run for office before his bid for the governor’s job and boasts about his outsider status — has shown great political nimbleness as he works toward his childhood goal. He spent his time earning accolades outside politics and so carries no baggage from statehouse or city council. And when he decided to pull the trigger and run, he combined in his public profile the right amounts of conservatism, gun-loving patriotism and fiscal responsibility, alienating neither moderates nor extremists.

Indeed, the finesse with which Greitens handles his Jewishness is a prime example of his political skill. It could have been a liability. After all, Jewish faith functioned as a public embarrassment in Missouri as recently as 2015. Tom Schweich, a rival Republican candidate for governor, [committed suicide] http://forward.com/news/215584/missouri-republican-tom-schweich-commits-suicide-a/) in February of that year shortly after claiming one of his rivals has planned a “whisper campaign” about his Jewish heritage. Scweich, who was Christian, had a Jewish grandfather.

Yet Greitens, fully and openly Jewish, won the Republican primary with 35% of the vote, and then beat the Democratic candidate 51% to 45%. And when, early in his governorship, vandals attacked over 200 gravestones at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis, he skillfully acknowledged his background by emphasizing its more universal values.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Learn To Be A Yiddish ‘Jester,’ In Germany 

Badkhonem, traditional Eastern-European Jewish wedding entertainers who are part clown, part master of ceremonies and part musical entertainment, are a rare sight these days outside of the Hasidic world. So where should you study if you'd like to learn to be a Badkhn today? Apparently Germany.

The organization Yiddish Summer Weimar, which runs a wide range of classes for musicians, dancers, artists and actors on Yiddish language and culture, recently announced that the singer Mendy Cahan will lead a three-day course for would be Badkhonem in late July.

As part of the course, which will be taught entirely in Yiddish, Cahan will explain the historical, artistic and sociological roles that Badkhonem have played in Jewish society. Participants will discuss the subversive role that Badkhonem have played in Jewish history and how Jewish tummlers and clowns influenced the development of Jewish humor.

Mendy Cahan grew up in Antwerp's Hasidic community, where he became enamored with traditional Yiddish songs and badkhones. Besides being the founder and director Yung Yidish and his work as a Yiddish teacher and actor Cahan is also a leading expert on badkhones. He's researched the badkhones tradition among elderly Jews in Eastern Europe as well as in Hasidic centers around the world, particularly in Israel and Belgium.

Those who wish to participate in the class must speak fluent Yiddish and be able to sing well. Those who aren't singers are invited to audit the class but not to participate.


Hasidic man gets four years for role in group beating of gay black man in Brooklyn 

It's four years for an eye.

A Brooklyn judge sentenced a Hasidic Jewish man to four years in prison for participating in a vicious beatdown that left a gay black man blind in one eye.

Mayer Herskovic was not the only person who assaulted Taj Patterson on Flushing Ave. in December 2013. But he's the only attacker getting prison time.

"Those who stomped and chased (Patterson) did try to injure him. The defendant was involved, he participated and was found guilty for that," said Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun.

Cop: We used trick to get video of Hasidic men beating victim
Patterson, 25, did not attend the court proceedings in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday — he previously said he wants to move on with his life.

Nonetheless, the lasting effects of the senseless attack will remain with him.

"Mr. Patterson asked himself why all this happened to him and he concluded it's because he was a young black male in a predominately Orthodox neighborhood," Assistant District Attorney Timothy Gough said on behalf of the victim.

According to trial testimony, Patterson was walking to his Fort Greene home when men — some belonging to the Williamsburg Shomrim, a Jewish patrol group — began chasing after him. The attackers mistook him for the suspect in a car vandalism streak, prosecutors previously said.

"This defendant, that group and the community couldn't see him as an individual, but as a criminal," said Gough, who recommended Herskovic receive five years in prison.

Video surveillance showed men chasing Patterson for blocks. One person with a walkie-talkie was identified at trial as Yoelli (Joel) Itzkowitz, but he was not questioned for his role in the attack.

One of Patterson's lawyers has urged the Brooklyn DA's office to indict Itzkowitz, alleging prosecutors have overlooked Itzkowitz because his brother is the politically connected coordinator of the Williamsburg Shomrim.

Four men in addition to Herskovic were charged in the beating. Two of the cases were dismissed and two of the attackers took plea deals sentencing them to 150 hours of community service each.

"Amongst all participants who stomped and beat Mr. Patterson, this defendant wasn't the most culpable," Chun said of Herskovic. "Mr. Patterson was chased for blocks, but not by the defendant before me."

Prosecutors placed Herskovic at the scene thanks to DNA found on one of Patterson's sneakers that was thrown to the roof of a nearby building.

The "deeply scarred" Patterson asked the judge to sentence Herskovic to the maximum of 15 years in prison for the second-degree gang assault and unlawful imprisonment charges.

"When Patterson woke up in the hospital, he didn't know where he was. He was upset, frightened and alone," said Gough.

The victim has had surgery three times, but he'll never regain eyesight in his right eye.

"I wish I can take back what happened to Mr. Patterson all those years ago ... I hope he finds peace for all he has suffered and endured," Herskovic told the judge as he pleaded for a lenient sentence.

"I'm 24, my life is about family, helping people," he added. "I work as a construction worker. I work with all kinds of people, black, white, Hispanic, gay and not gay."

Nevertheless, his lawyer Stuart Slotnick asserted outside of court that "the DNA evidence was completely and totally flawed."

Slotnick has asked an appellate judge to release his client until a decision is made on his appeal. Herskovic has been out on a $150,000 bond since the conviction in September.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stubborn Stains? Try This Hasidic Trick Read 

I was in the waiting room at my doctor's office when I struck up a conversation with two Hasidic women. They were only in their thirties, but between the two of them, they had 17 children. They braced themselves when I said I needed to pick their brains on something.

"How do I get those stubborn yellow stains out from the armpits of my kids white shirts?"

They had an answer: Spray the blue Easy-Off oven cleaner on the inside of the shirt where the stain is, and on the outside as well. Let it sit for an hour, then wash as usual. I tried it today, and the shirts are lily white. Baruch Hashem!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The "Beware of Jews" sign might be a joke, but it just isn't funny 

An anti-semitic "Beware of Jews" road sign which has been reported to police after appearing on a lamppost in a London neighbourhood popular with orthodox Jews

Veteran comedian Jackie Mason once observed that one of the reasons anti-Semitism continues to flourish is because no one is frightened of the Jews. Or as the New York funny man put it: "nobody ever crossed the street to avoid a group of Jewish accountants". So, I'm a little baffled as to what those responsible for putting up a sign on a lamppost in Stamford Hill, warning about the presence of Jews, were actually warning against.

It could of course, as has now been suggested, been a huge "joke".

After all, this area of north London is known for its Hasidic community and has the largest concentration of Haredi Jews in Europe (estimated to be around 30,000).


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pie For A Pie In Hasidic Crown Heights 

In the niche world of kosher business there are only so many pieces of the pie  — and everyone wants a slice.

Thanks to the flourishing direction Crown Heights has been going in the past few years, the Brooklyn neighborhood has become the home to many successful Hasidic businesses, and recently added one more to the list. However, not everyone is happy about it.

In early March, kosher gourmet pizza spot, Calabria, opened its doors to customers …  and objection. Across the street from the new eatery sits an established restaurant that also specializes in kosher pizza. Basil Pizza & Wine Bar has been a proud purveyor of kosher pizza on Kingston Avenue for the past seven years, and in an effort to maintain its individuality, its owners are suing the new shop. But the showdown didn’t happen in a typical courtroom.  Basil proprietor, Danny Branover, took the issue to the local Beit Din — a rabbinical court.

Settling matters of business rivalries in the kosher court is not that unusual. (Remember the menorah feud last Chanukah?)

In this case, Branover cited the Jewish law of Hasagat Gevul, which translates to “infringement of boundary.” The issue extends beyond where the new restaurant is situated: Branover also takes issue with the style of pizza Calabria serves. He claimed that it was too similar to their “specialty” pizza, which could jeopardize business. Even though Calabria stated their pies are, “Roman-style,” with a thick, rectangular shape that in no way resemble Basil’s thin-crust pies, Branover pressed on.

And he won the favor of the court. But Calabria is still running its shop across the street. They simply had to change their pizza and now boast about their “New York-style pizza” on their website.

While the Beit Din is not technically a court of law and cannot actually enforce its rulings, it does have potential power when it comes to obtaining a hashgacha, a kosher certification, from the local certification agency (even though there are neighboring certification groups that could provide the certificate). But more importantly, contesting the jurisdiction of the Beit Din could sully a brand’s image in the neighborhood. Then again, people love pizza.

In typical Talmudic fashion, these laws can trigger endless debate. According to the Jewish law of Hasagat Gevul, one interpretation states that competition is a positive thing if it doesn’t impede upon the original store. Others contest that similar business can’t exist in the same area. The philosophical exegeses can ping pong back and forth forever.

But for now, this particular biblical battle has been put to rest. And there’s one thing everyone can agree on: the art of pizza is a religious experience.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Purim (aka Jewish Halloween), as Seen by the Street Style Photographer Mister Mort 

Once a year, the religious Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn turn into what at first sight looks like a joyous, family-affair style Halloween celebration. But it’s not Halloween; it’s Purim, or the Jewish spring holiday that celebrates the ancient story of Queen Esther, who kept her Jewish identity hidden from her husband King Ahasuerus and, later on, thwarted the king’s evil advisor Haman’s plan to destroy the Jewish people. Fast-forward centuries later, and the holiday is observed with the idea of disguising oneself—a hat tip to the valiant Queen Esther—but under much more cheerful circumstances. Think: costumes, candy, and cookies.

Brooklyn-bred photographer Mordechai Rubinstein, best known from his Instagram handle @mistermort and his hashtags such as #beautyintheeveryday, went back to his ultra-Orthodox childhood neighborhood of Crown Heights (home to the Lubavitch sect of Judaism), as well as Williamsburg, Flatbush, and Borough Park, to capture the festive day among different Hasidic communities. “Purim is Jewish upside-down day. Every day is black and white,” he writes, referring to the strict black-and-white uniform look of ultra-Orthodox Jews from the area. “Today, pink and yellow.”

So what to see? There are plenty of over-the-top costumes that typically have a religious flair. Boys wear Knicks uniforms over their black pants and coordinate their skullcaps, or rather yarmulkes. Girls in Yankees jerseys wear an extra shirt underneath to cover their elbows and female astronauts wear shin-grazing skirts—an observance of tznius, or “modesty.” A Lilliputian pilot has tzitzit—the tassels of a small prayer cloak—peeking out from under his pert inflight shirt. One of the most creative takes on Purim is when children dress up like their elders, some appearing as if they may tip over in a too-big fur shtreimel, a hat of the Satmar sect. Other variants on head coverings? Adults and children both get into the fun wearing cheeky colorful hats. (Even a sequined fedora makes a cameo.) Though, one thing everyone can agree on: Planning for next year’s costume starts the moment the holiday has ended. Zei gezunt!



Sunday, March 12, 2017

This Hasidic Purim Costume Hat Doubles As A Snack 

An ultra-Orthodox Purim reveller has what might be our favorite costume this year for its sheer snackability.

It’s a popcorn streimel. The streimel is a wheel-shaped hat typically worn by married ultra-Orthodox men. The hat is usually covered in marten or fox fur, but this guy filled his with popcorn.

Israel Broadcasting Authority journalist Sam Sokol, who shared the image on Twitter, said that its provenance is unknown.



Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Freilichen Purim! 


Friday, March 10, 2017

Residents angry after Bloomingburg Planning Board meeting canceled 

Opponents who had come to Thursday's Planning Board meeting prepared to speak against a temporary community center at the controversial Chestnut Ridge development shouted protests at the board chairman when he abruptly canceled the meeting because he couldn't get a quorum.

One resident accosted the Planning Board chairman, Chaim Friedman, because, the accuser said, electrical workers were on the job site, at 1-3 Cherry Court, yet the public hearing on the site plan hadn't occurred. "You're a lying sack of (expletive)," the man told Friedman.

Friedman, who is Hasidic, told the angry resident the contractors have a demolition permit to work at the Cherry Court buildings, which is legal under village law in advance of site plan approval. "I'm not the code enforcer," Friedman said. "File a complaint."

The two townhouses that are to be converted into a temporary community center are located near the entrance to the development. Construction crews were at work Thursday, using front-end loaders. There was a trash container parked in the driveway of one of the townhouses.

Chestnut Ridge is the subject of a lawsuit, filed a week ago by the Town of Mamakating. The town is seeking to have the court annul the village's approvals of the 396-unit townhouse development and require the developers to file new applications.

Opposition has focused on the fact that the developers proposed a luxury golf course development, but the plans morphed into townhouses, apparently marketed toward a Hasidic clientele, with occupancy as high as 10 people per unit.

On Tuesday, the Village Board certified that the townhouse-community center conversion met SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) requirements, a necessary step before the Planning Board's site plan consideration could occur.

As Thursday's meeting dissolved, Holly Roche, president of the opposition group Rural Community Coalition, asked Freidman why the Planning Board had set up Thursday's hearing before the Village Board certified SEQRA. "It's like setting a date for a wedding before you get engaged." Roche said.

Friedman said the board had had no intention of approving the site plan after Thursday's planned public hearing. He said that would not have been possible because the project is still waiting for approvals from Sullivan County.

The Planning Board, which should have five members, was already down one because member Bob Cassidy resigned two weeks ago. On Thursday, members Moshe Fried and Jim Johnson didn't show. Friedman and only one other member, Moshe Gancz, were there.

Friedman said he couldn't immediately say when the community center conversion issue would come up. Regularly scheduled meetings are generally held on the fourth Thursday of each month.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

DeVos praises Orthodox Jewish group that strongly backs public funding for religious schools 

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has made school "choice" a policy priority, met on Wednesday with leaders of an Orthodox Jewish group that has been instrumental in pushing voucher programs across the country. She praised their "leadership and commitment" in helping communities secure schools that "meet the academic and religious needs of their families" and said she looks forward to working with them.

DeVos met with leaders of Agudath Israel of America, which is based in New York and has active branches in more than 25 states, including Texas, Florida, California, Maryland and New Jersey. Its leaders have successfully lobbied for using public taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious schools in several states.

[Why the Trump/DeVos visit to a Catholic school is so unusual — and what it really means]

In a statement released Wednesday, March 8, 2017, about the meeting at the Education Department with Agudath Israel leaders, DeVos said:

I applaud Agudath Israel for their leadership and commitment to providing their community with access to educational options that meet the academic and religious needs of their families. Agudath is a terrific partner and advocate for their families, and I welcomed today's discussion.

I look forward to continuing to work with Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish community and all who believe that every child, regardless of where they live or their family's income, should have an equal opportunity to a quality education.

DeVos and President Trump have made clear that expanding school choice is an education policy priority.  The administration is believed to be considering a new federal school-choice program, likely a tax credit scholarship program that would offer individuals and corporations incentives to donate money to help families pay for tuition and other educational needs at private and religious schools. There is now is one federally funded voucher program, in Washington D.C., expected to be expanded by the Trump administration.

Trump has said he wants to spend $20 billion to promote school choice, while DeVos has spent decades advocating for charter schools and voucher/tax credit programs. A billionaire from Michigan, DeVos and her family have spent millions of dollars to support religious schools. In 2015, she said in a speech that traditional public education is "a dead end," and her critics say that she wants to privatize public education, a departure from any previous U.S. administration.

Last week, Trump and DeVos made their first official joint trip to a school — a Catholic school in Florida. It was the first official school trip for Trump, and the first time a U.S. president had visited a Catholic school since Ronald Reagan visited St. Agatha Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Detroit on Oct. 10, 1984, years after he was elected.

In New York, Agudath Israel has been instrumental in winning state funds for Jewish schools, and has praised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, for ensuring that millions of dollars in state funds would be spent for security and other services for these schools. On March 5, Cuomo announced a new "New York-Israel Commission" to strengthen economic and cultural ties between New York and Israel, and among the members is Sol Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel.

[How Indiana's school voucher program soared, and what it says about education in the Trump era]

Although Agudath Israel of America does not ordinarily advocate for Cabinet members, it urged its supporters to lobby the Senate to confirm DeVos, with whom it has worked for years on school-choice issues. When she was nominated as education secretary by then-president-elect Trump, the group put a story on its website saying in part:

Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel's board of trustees, expressed his enthusiastic support for Mrs. DeVos's nomination. "I have had some excellent discussions with Betsy DeVos," Mr. Werdiger said. "She is intelligent, compassionate and effective. President-elect Trump has chosen wisely."

The organization supported the Hasidic Jews who took control of the school board in East Ramapo, N.Y., more than a decade ago and were accused by state officials of financial mismanagement that harmed the public schools in the district but helped the private Jewish schools. In 2015, Agudath Israel lobbied against a bill in the state legislature that sought to appoint an overseer for the school board, and despite support for the bill from Cuomo and the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, it didn't pass in the state Senate. In 2016, a compromise bill passed that provided more state money for public schools but did not include a state-appointed board monitor.

The Education Department issued a release Wednesday about the meeting between DeVos and Agudath leaders. Here's the complete text:

This morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with leaders of Agudath Israel of America about her commitment to supporting all educational opportunities, the importance of IDEA and higher education.

Agudath leaders thanked the Secretary for her leadership and expressed their desire to work closely with her to ensure their schools and community members have access to quality educational opportunities that respect their religion.

After the meeting, Secretary DeVos issued the following statement:

"I applaud Agudath Israel for their leadership and commitment to providing their community with access to educational options that meet the academic and religious needs of their families. Agudath is a terrific partner and advocate for their families, and I welcomed today's discussion.

"I look forward to continuing to work with Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish community and all who believe that every child, regardless of where they live or their family's income, should have an equal opportunity to a quality education."

Attendees included:

Sol Werdiger, Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Federal Affairs, Washington Director and Counsel

Rabbi A. D. Motzen, National Director of State Relations

And other members of Agudath Israel of America


Former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes Sued For Creating "Preferential System Of 'Justice' For Pedophiles" 

The suit, filed Monday in Brooklyn federal court by a lawyer for the father, Sam Kellner, accuses Hynes' office of malicious prosecution and violating Kellner's constitutional rights in the service of a "criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice" for victims of a "notorious" Hasidic child molester. According to the complaint, which also names the city as a defendant, this occurred in the context of Hynes' "special, preferential system of 'justice' for pedophiles within the community."

In 2008, Kellner, a member of the Munkacs Hasidic sect, obtained rabbinic permission to go to law enforcement with allegations that his son had been molested by another member of the community, Baruch Lebovits. (There is a strong taboo in the Hasidic world against "informing" on another Jew to the secular authorities and even in the case of suspected child sexual abuse, many will do so only with a dispensation from a rabbi.) Kellner then worked closely with a sex crimes detective to identify and bring forward two additional Lebovits victims. One of those victims dropped out of the case as a result of what Sex Crimes prosecutors believed was intimidation, while the other went to trial. In 2010 Lebovits was convicted and sentenced to 10 ½ to 32 years in prison.

Within months of his conviction, as detailed in court papers, people connected to Lebovits — including his sons and attorneys — approached the Brooklyn DA with allegations that, prior to Lebovits' trial, Kellner had attempted to extort money from Lebovits' family in exchange for a promise to persuade the complaining victims to withdraw their claims against Lebovits. They also alleged that Kellner had paid the victim who backed out of the prosecution to testify falsely against Lebovits before a grand jury. During this time, according to the complaint, Hynes "surreptitiously dismissed" Kellner's son's still pending case against Lebovits. In 2011, prosecutors in the Rackets division of Hynes' office sought and obtained an indictment against Kellner.

In 2012, Lebovits' conviction was vacated on appeal because of a prosecution error and a new trial was ordered; at the time, Lebovits was released from prison on house arrest. In March of 2014, the charges against Kellner were dropped by Hynes' successor, the late Ken Thompson. A few months later, Lebovits pleaded guilty, avoiding a second trial and ultimately serving only an additional 86 days in prison.

Kellner's ordeal was documented by this reporter in numerous articles for the New York Jewish Week, by Michael Powell in The New York Times, and by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker.

"At the lowest point in my life, the justice system reached over" and did the right thing, Kellner told the Jewish Week on the day his case was dismissed, adding that "everything that I did was according to halacha and rabbinically OK. And what I learned is that following the rules will get you out of trouble, not into trouble."

In the 24-page complaint, Kellner's attorney alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy carried out by "wealthy and powerful interests" in Kellner's community to enlist Hynes' office in what turned out to be a "successful effort to overturn" Lebovits' conviction "and prevent a retrial." This alleged plot, according to the complaint, included an influential Hasidic power broker, Moshe Friedman; two convicted fraudsters; and Hynes himself, who "simultaneously coordinat[ed] with the same pedophile" his office had convicted "in order to get his victim [who testified at trial] to recant; a grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and surely unprecedented role for a District Attorney."

The suit also alleges that there was witness tampering with respect to the Lebovits victim who backed out of the prosecution, and that it was "openly conducted in front of Hynes" by John Lonuzzi, an attorney for the recanting witness, and Lebovits' attorney, Arthur Aidala, "the then current and future presidents of the Brooklyn Bar Association." (Aidala, a longtime Hynes backer, announced late last year that he had formed an exploratory committee to run for public office and recent reports have speculated he maybe under consideration to be the next US Attorney for the Eastern District.)

Hynes' attorney, Sean Haran, told the Voice that "the allegations against former District Attorney Hynes are patently false and are absurd. He will be represented by the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York and will be vindicated."

Lonuzzi and Aidala did not respond to requests for comment.

The complaint also recounts allegations made by "Avraham Lehrer a.k.a. Joe Levin," a private investigator "who is presently cooperating with federal law enforcement authorities," that a "substantial payment was made to ensure [Kellner's] prosecution." It is unclear from the complaint to whom this alleged payment was made.

A spokesman for the City's Law Department told the Voice that it had not yet been served but "will review the complaint once we are served and respond accordingly."


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

‘Supergirl’ Villain Name-Drops ‘Lubavitcher Rabbi’ 

A recent episode of the The CW network’s show “Supergirl” referenced the Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Judaism.

In “Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk,” which aired Feb. 21, a villain proposing marriage to the lead character, Kara Zor-El (portrayed by Melissa Benoist), says, “I’ll get our officiant. Do you want the Pope? The Lubavitcher Rabbi?”

The seventh and last leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, passed away in 1994 and is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the last century. The Hasidic movement is known for its many “shluchim,” or emissaries, who set up Chabad houses to service Jews in countries the world and on university campuses.

Tuvia Tenenbom's fantastic new book, The Lies They Tell, uses humor as a weapon to expose hatred. The playwright, who runs the...

“Supergirl” follows Kara, the cousin of Superman, as she learns to balance life as an inexperienced superhero with being a young, professional woman.

Link to video



Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Jewish grade school on Chicago's North Side evacuated after bomb threat 

Chicago police were evacuating a Jewish grade school on the North Side because of a bomb threat Tuesday morning, authorities said.

The threat was made around 9:10 a.m. for the Chicago Jewish Day School in the 5900 block of North Sheridan Road in the Edgewater Beach neighborhood, according to police.

School staff decided to evacuate the students, and responding officers helped get the students out of the building, police said. Canine units were called to the scene.

The school serves more than 200 students, from junior kindergarten to eighth grade, according to its website.

Several streets were closed in the area, including Sheridan from Hollywood to Granville.

There has been a wave of more than 100 bomb threats reported at Jewish centers and schools across the country since early January.


Monday, March 06, 2017

N.Y. pols push increased penalties for cemetery vandals amid rise in anti-Semitic incidents 

Lawmakers on Monday joined Jewish leaders to call for increased penalties for cemetery vandals after a rash of anti-Semitic cemetery desecrations.

"There has been a rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes in our country," Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney told reporters gathered inside her Upper East Side office. "We have a challenge ahead of us. We have a number of incidents taking place across our country."

In New York City, there has been a 94% increase of such crimes compared to the first two months last year, she noted.

The news conference came a day after the NYPD concluded that 42 fallen headstones at Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn were not caused by vandals.

Still, some elected officials are calling for a deeper investigation.

On Monday, Jewish leaders standing with her said they are not convinced the toppled tombstones discovered this weekend in Midwood were accidental.

David Jacobson, founding member of the Jewish Cemetery Association of North America, said he isn't buying that old age and wind are the only culprits.

"(A media photo) showed a monument laying on the ground, face up. So that monument had to be pushed off the base in order to fall like that," Jacobson said. "That monument might had weighed approximately a ton. I can't imagine any high wind knocking over a monument that weighs a ton."

New York Board of Rabbis Executive Vice President Joseph Potasnik also had reservations about the cemetery's and police's assessment of the incident.

"The police were right there," he said. "There was an immediate response. So far there hasn't been a conclusive determination. It just seems to me so sacrilegious for us to be here speaking for people who are not allowed to rest in peace. We can't tolerate this."

As a response, Maloney said she's considering expanding the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which protects foreign cemeteries, into U.S. territory.

"Why not have it in America, particularly for non-for-profit cemeteries. This is something I want to take back to congress," she said. "It's been a very active commission. What about our cemeteries here in America? We need cameras. We need enforcement."

Maloney also wants to expand anti-Semitism prevention programs and penalties for desecrators.

Jacobson added that young people ages 14 to 20 are the ones who tend to break into cemeteries to wreak havoc. He said he believes most cemetery vandals go unreported.

"It's a national problem. The problem is greater that we are now experiencing," he said. "The minors are getting a slap on the wrist."


Sunday, March 05, 2017

NYPD says gravestones at Jewish cemetery in Brooklyn were not vandalized 

Police in New York City have determined that gravestones damaged in a predominantly Jewish burial ground in Brooklyn were not vandalized.

More than 40 tombstones were overturned at Washington Cemetery in the borough’s Midwood neighborhood. The NYPD’s hate crimes division was notified and investigated the matter. Investigators later said environmental factors and maintenance likely caused the damage, ABC affiliate WABC-TV reported.



5 Tombstones Damaged at Historic Jewish Cemetery in New York 

Police are investigating after five tombstones were damaged at a historic Jewish cemetery in New York this weekend.

A hate-crime task force is investigating whether the damage to the granite and marble tombstones at Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn was intentional.

The latest destruction comes amid a series of bomb threats and vandalism targeting Jewish institutions, including cemeteries, schools and community centers.

Last week, at least a dozen headstones were toppled at a Jewish cemetery at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester, New York, following similar incidents in St. Louis and Philadelphia. In late February, at least 170 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will launch a statewide investigation of the vandalism at the Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester, New York, and the overall rise in crimes targeting Jewish organizations throughout the state.

Members of the Muslim community in St. Louis have started a fundraising effort to help pay for the toppled headstones to be repaired.

Since the start of the year, four mosques have gone up in flames, according to the Council of American-Islamic Relations, which documented 139 incidents of “damage/destruction/vandalism” at mosques in 2016 — the most since record-keeping started in 2009.



Saturday, March 04, 2017

St. Louis man charged with bomb threats against Jewish facilities to frame his ex 

A former journalist fired for fabricating details in stories made at least eight of the scores of threats against Jewish institutions nationwide, including a bomb threat to the Anti-Defamation League, as part of a bizarre campaign to harass and frame his ex-girlfriend, federal officials said.

Juan Thompson was arrested in St. Louis and appeared there in federal court Friday on a cyberstalking charge. He answered questions and told the judge he had enough money to hire a lawyer.

A crowd of supporters who attended said Thompson had no criminal record. His lawyer didn't comment.

Federal officials have been investigating 122 bomb threats called in to Jewish organizations in three dozen states since Jan. 9 and a rash of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries.

A criminal complaint said Thompson started making threats Jan. 28 with an email to the Jewish History Museum in New York written from an account that made it appear as if it were being sent by an ex-girlfriend.

"Juan Thompson put 2 bombs in the History Museum set to go off Sunday," it said.

Authorities said he followed that up with similar messages to a Jewish school in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and to a school and community center in Manhattan.

In another round of emails and phone calls, he gave the woman's name, rather than his own, the court complaint said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations received an anonymous email saying the woman put a bomb in a Dallas Jewish center.

Thompson, who's black, then took to Twitter: "Know any good lawyers?" he wrote. "Need to stop this nasty/racist #whitegirl I dated who sent a bomb threat in my name." He later tweeted to the Secret Service: "I'm been (sic) tormented by an anti-Semite. She sent an antijewish bomb threat in my name. Help."

But police say it was a hoax created to make the woman look guilty. Thompson also made threats in which he identified the woman as the culprit, authorities said. It's unclear why Jewish organizations were targeted.

Republican President Donald Trump suggested in a meeting Tuesday with state attorneys general the threats against Jewish community centers may have been designed to make "others look bad," according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Trump also has condemned violence against Jewish organizations.

Thompson was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating several quotes and creating fake email accounts to impersonate people, including the Intercept's editor-in-chief. One of the stories involved Dylann Roof, the white shooter of black worshippers at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.

Thompson had written that a cousin named Scott Roof claimed the gunman was angry that a love interest chose a black man over him. A review showed there was no cousin by that name. The story was retracted.

The Intercept wrote Friday it was "horrified" to learn of Thompson's arrest.

Thompson had been accused of bizarre behavior before.

Doyle Murphy, a reporter at the Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly in St. Louis, said he was subjected to social media harassment after writing about Thompson's troubled past in the fallout from his firing at The Intercept.

Murphy said Thompson set up anonymous accounts on Twitter and other social media posing as a woman who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by Murphy. Murphy said he contacted Twitter but every time one fake account was taken down a new one popped up. He said he contacted police but there was little they could do.

"It was a nightmare, and there's not a whole lot I could do about it," Murphy said.

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it will grant an emergency waiver allowing Jewish community centers and their phone carriers to track the numbers of callers who make threats, even if the callers try to block the numbers. It said Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer had requested such a waiver earlier in the week.

According to the criminal complaint, Thompson and the ex-girlfriend, a social worker, broke up last summer. The following day, her boss received an email purporting to be from a national news organization saying she'd been pulled over for drunken driving.

The harassment got worse, authorities said. She received an anonymous email with nude photos of herself and a threat to release them. Her company, a nonprofit that works to end homelessness, got faxes saying she was anti-Semitic. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children got a note saying she watched child porn.

Thompson's IP address was used for the emails, but he told police his computer had been hacked, the complaint said.

The ADL said Thompson had been on its radar since he fabricated the story about Roof. According to ADL research, Thompson also claimed he wanted to dismantle the system of "racial supremacy and greedy capitalism that is stacked against us." He said he was going to run for mayor of St. Louis to "fight back against Trumpian fascism and socio-economic terrorism."

FBI Director James Comey met with Jewish community leaders Friday to discuss the recent threats, the agency said.

University City, Missouri, police Lt. Fredrick Lemons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that detectives will question Thompson about the 154 headstones toppled last month at a Jewish cemetery there.



Friday, March 03, 2017

Man suspected of sexually assaulting women at weddings arrested 

Police have taken a 28-year old man into custody following a string of sexual assaults against women and children at a Bnei Brak wedding hall.

The arrest took place less than 24 hours after a local pizza delivery man was apprehended for committing improper acts against a child during one of his deliveries.

A community watch group in Bnei Brak "Hashomrim" received a number of complaints in recent days regarding an employee at a Bnei Brak wedding hall. According to the complaints, the employee sexually assaulted both women and children at hasidic weddings.

The man allegedly committed the vile acts during the "Mitzvah Tantz" – a dance usually held towards the end of a hasidic wedding.

On Wednesday night, Hashomrim received yet another complaint regarding the employee. Volunteers from the group made their way to the wedding hall, where they located and detained the suspect, holding him until police arrived.

The suspect was brought before a Tel Aviv district court on Thursday, which extended his arrest.


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Mamakating files lawsuit against Bloomingburg Chestnut Ridge building permits 

Lawyers for the Mamakating Town Board and Planning Board have filed their lawsuit against the Village of Bloomingburg, the Village Baird and Planning Board and Chestnut Ridge developer Sullivan Farms II.

The suit, filed in Ulster County Supreme Court, seeks to have the court annul the village's most recent approvals of the 396-unit townhouse development, declare the village approval rescinded and void, halt site work, and require the developers to file brand-new applications for the project. The last move would essentially start the approvals process from square one, requiring new applications that follow all zoning, planning and other applicable laws and regulations. The suit also asks the court to order a new State Environmental Quality Review for the project.

Developer Shalom Lamm initially proposed a luxury golf course development for the parcel on Winterton Road. Only later did many locals learn that the project had morphed into townhouses, apparently marketed toward Hasidic Jewish clientele. Lamm has dismissed opposition to Chestnut Ridge and some other smaller projects, including a girls' school, as anti-Semitic.

The Town of Mamakating and other locals opposed to the project cited irregularities in the approvals process, including the changing project description and expected occupancy rates, questions about the adequacy of roads and water and sewer services for the project.

Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen, his partner in Chestnut Ridge, are currently under federal indictment on voter fraud charges, based on allegations that they brought in and paid outside voters to sway the 2014 village elections to seat a board favorable to their project.

In 2014, the town briefly took over planning authority for the village, and rescinded approvals for the project. Litigation ensued.
In 2016, the village resumed its own planning authority.

On Jan. 24, an Ulster Supreme Court Judge ruled that the Mamakating Planning Board's negation of the project approvals was proper. Two days later, the village planning board issued new approvals.

The new lawsuit outlines "false statements and information" from the Sullivan Farms environmental review documents on occupancy (originally 810 maximum, two per unit; and no more than an average of .3 school-aged children per unit, amended in 2016 to 5.5 people per unit; when documents disclosed through litigation put the actual expected occupancy as high as 10 per household). Those occupancy numbers directly affect the water and sewer needs and the fiscal impact of the project on the village, which has about 420 residents, and on the town.

The town's lawyers argue that "the disclosed documents also demonstrate the developer's goal of taking over and controlling the Village of Bloomingburg."

The suit quotes the federal indictment, which in turn quoted Nakdimen saying "We need to win this election now more than ever and replace the entire planning board."

The disclosed documents "also state that the developer had worked 'in complete secrecy' since as early as 2002" to make Chestnut Ridge the start of a 10- to 15-year plan to annex and develop adjoining lands in the village and town for 5,000 to 7,000 homes and "large-scale commercial development," legal complaint states.

The lawsuit outlines a detailed history of the project and conflicts surrounding Chestnut Ridge, Sullivan Farms II and Lamm.


Is Jersey City neighborhood drawing a line in the sand? | Morgan 

Members of the Hasidic Jewish community are seen outside 221 Martin Luther King Dr. in Jersey City in a file photo.

Questions are still being raised about the Hasidic "community center" on Jersey City's Martin Luther King Drive that appears to violate the zoning law prohibiting establishing new houses of worship on the street.

But sources say the city's zoning office was told unofficially to leave the shul, as its often referred to, alone, even though city spokesman Jennifer Morrill agreed it constitutes a house of worship and therefore is in violation of zoning laws.

The dictionary definition of the word shul is synagogue, a Jewish house of worship. Michelle Massey, who heads the Jackson Hill Main Street Corp., whose mission is to return MLK Drive to its former glory as one of Hudson County's busiest shopping thoroughfares, is continuing to question why the facility is being allowed to operate as a shul.

The Hasidic community says the ground level of 221 MLK is a community center. not a shul. They say that yes, people are allowed to pray there, but it's still a community center.

This controversy has raged for months after Hasidic families began moving into the city's heavily African-American communities in Wards F and A in large numbers and eventually opened the shul. And it doesn't look like it's going away.

As one long-time resident of Ward F noted, how can you open something and call it a community center if only a certain religious group can use it?

Massey has said her beef isn't a religious issue. Her group's "concern is that the allowance of this type of commercial use has set precedent for others to do the same." 

Now she is also pointing out that for decades the building was home to a dry cleaner and as far as she knows it has never been inspected for any residue of contamination or solvents that could been left behind by the previous tenant.

All this is occurring at a time when neighborhood residents are feeling anxious about the ensuing gentrification all around them. The fear is that the  inevitable property revaluation will substantially increase their property taxes. 

Ironically it's the gentrification of Brooklyn that led the Hasidic community to the not-as-expensive confines of of Jersey City.

This is by no mean novel. Years ago Hoboken was an almost totally Italian enclave. Then came the yuppies. In Jersey City, Van Vorst and Hamilton Parks were formally working class Hispanic neighborhoods. Gentrification changed that, with homes now selling for more than $1 million.

So excuse the Jersey City neighborhoods that are making a fuss over a building and whether it's a synagogue or a community center. Maybe it's more of a line in the sand.


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