Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Five men arrested for gang assault against black gay Brooklyn man: sources 

Taj Patterson was assaulted last December in Williamsburg as he headed home following a night out.

Five Hasidic men were arrested Wednesday for a disturbing attack against a gay black man in a case initially investigated as a bias attack, police sources said.

Fashion student Taj Patterson, 22, has said he was headed to his Fort Greene home after a night of partying last December when over a dozen ultra-Orthodox men assaulted him on Flushing Ave. in Williamsburg while shouting anti-gay epithets.

Aharon Hollender, 28, Abraham Winkler, 39, Mayer Herskovic, 21, Pinchas Braver, 19, and Joseph Fried, 25, were charged with gang assault and other counts, but not with any hate crimes, authorities said Wednesday.

“We simply cannot allow anyone walking on the streets of Brooklyn to be knocked to the ground, stomped and brutally beaten,” said Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth Thompson.

The group, at least two of whom belonged to a volunteer patrol called Shomrim, were looking for someone who vandalized cars in the area and stopped Patterson, prosecutors said.

Even though the vandalism report was unfounded, they allegedly started pummeling the victim, authorities said.

“These indictments send a clear message that acts of vigilantism are unacceptable and cannot be condoned by the NYPD,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a statement.

Patterson suffered a broken eye socket, a torn retina, blood clotting, and cuts and bruises to his knee and ankles.

The main instigator kicked him in the face, yelling “stay down, f----t, stay the f--- down,” as others cheered, Patterson recalled.

“And that’s really all I can remember of that,” he had told the Daily News.
The victim couldn’t be reached Wednesday.

“This is news to us,” said a man who answered the phone at Patterson’s home when asked about the arrests.
All five suspects were arraigned in Brooklyn Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon and released on bails ranging from $50,000 and $25,000. They face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutor Charles Guria identified Herskovic as the main attacker and sources said Winkler and Hollander are Shomrim members while the others are mere “wannabes.”

“This was a media frenzy and a community frenzy so some of the facts have been skewed,” said defense lawyer George Farkas, who represents Winkler.

This isn’t the first brush with the law for at least one of those in custody: Fried was busted in November 2012 for snapping a photo of a sex abuse victim testifying during a high-profile trial.

While charges against a co-defendant weirdly named Lemon Juice were recently dismissed, the case against Fried, who works for the official newspaper of the Satmar sect, is still pending..



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Is Hasidic Board To Blame for Gutting Public Schools in N.Y. Town? 

Interest Conflict: Jewish members of the majority on the East Ramapo school board have presided over deep cuts in public schools, as most children in their community attend private yeshivahs.

The First Baptist Church is on a dead-end street in Spring Valley, N.Y., hard up against the railroad line that peters out a few blocks north. Adam Baldachin, a 30-year-old Conservative rabbi, stood at a podium under a fluorescent light in the church basement, backed by two-dozen religious leaders including black pastors in collars and women rabbis in yarmulkes, crosses pinned to lapels. They were there with a new solution to a crisis of democracy that has engulfed this upstate community.

“This system of governance of our public schools is unacceptable,” Baldachin declared at the April 8 meeting, addressing the 80 or so locals and journalists who filled the basement room and spilled out into the hall. “Today we stand for justice.”

The struggle over the East Ramapo Central School District in this poor suburb 40 minutes north of Manhattan has grown familiar after four years of press coverage: Ultra-Orthodox Jews who don’t send their kids to the public schools control the majority of seats on the local school board. And the families who do send their kids to the public schools say the board members favor the private yeshivas in the district at the expense of the public schools.

The years of media attention have changed little. The East Ramapo district is getting worse. Elementary schools don’t have assistant principals anymore. They don’t have art classes or social workers, either. Middle school sports have been cut, as has summer school. Class size is up to 28 students in some elementary school buildings. Parents who can send their children elsewhere, do.

In the church basement in Spring Valley, local activists were launching a new strategy: targeting the governance structure that gives control over the schools to people who have little stake in the schools’ quality, rather than merely attacking the school board’s leadership. That structure must change if public school children are to get their fair share, the clergy leaders said.

Yet the clergy members’ analysis isn’t the only explanation on offer for the piteous state of the district’s public schools. School administrators say that this is not a case of one side favoring their own over the interests of the public. Rather, they say, it’s the state that is starving the system, setting each side against the other.

Recent statewide education cuts have disproportionately hurt East Ramapo and other poor districts, according to East Ramapo’s superintendent, who argues that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s funding policies are gougin poor school districts in general. That’s not the fault of East Ramapo’s ultra-Orthodox school board, he says.

What’s clear is that a few thousand poor black and Hispanic students have been shunted into a neglected school district dominated by a booming ultra-Orthodox population, and that the two groups are being left to fight over scant resources. What isn’t clear is whether there’s any way to fix the problem.

Baldachin has had a pulpit in Rockland County for only nine months. A recent graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary, he hadn’t heard about the East Ramapo fight before a local journalist asked his opinion on it not long after he became the rabbi of Montebello Jewish Center. He didn’t know what the reporter was talking about, so he asked congregants, who filled him in.

Baldachin doesn’t look much older than the high school kids whose cause he has taken up. Over the past few months, he has been meeting regularly with Oscar Cohen, the 72-year-old former school administrator turned local activist with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Cohen has led the local activists in their effort against the school board.

When Cohen addressed the crowd at the First Baptist Church meeting April 8, his white hair and gray blazer stood out among the younger, dark-suited spiritual leaders. Cohen and other local activists have agitated for years against the ultra-Orthodox board members without making much progress. They tried voting out the board, but the Orthodox bloc won every time. They tried complaining to the press, but the stories came and went, and nothing happened. They tried going to lawyers and prosecutors and politicians, but the law is slow.
“We weren’t getting much traction from the politicians, other than the local politicians,” Cohen told the Forward. Cohen said that he speaks regularly with officials in the governor’s administration, who tell him that the governor’s ability to intervene is limited. Cohen doesn’t believe them. “I can’t imagine this happening in Nyack or Clarkstown or Pearl River,” he said, listing nearby wealthy districts.

Clergy speaking from the podium at the First Baptist Church event were careful not to lay blame for the bad state of the district on the ultra-Orthodox school board. “East Ramapo public school governance is broken, and we need Governor Cuomo to address this tragedy immediately,” said Joel Michel, pastor of the French Speaking Baptist Church of Spring Valley, a tall man with a knack for biblical quotation. When an audience member asked why the clergy were only now organizing around the public schools, Michel stepped again to the microphone: “There is a time for everything under the sun,” Michel said. “A time to remain quiet and a time to speak up. This is the time right now.” The room erupted.

But beyond the energy the members bring, it’s not clear if the clergy has any actual ideas on how to change things.

In a petition to Andrew Cuomo, the group set forth two demands: Initiate state oversight of the school district, and figure out a way to change how the district is governed.

But ask the clergy what they mean by the second point, and they can’t answer.

“It really is developing a model that may not exist in New York State, may not exist in the United States,” Cohen said. He wants the governor to set up a task force, invite in management consultants and policy experts, and figure out a different way to run the district and other districts that face similar problems.
Today, there are 8,100 public school students in East Ramapo and close to 20,000 students in non-public schools within the district. The only similar district in New York State is the Lawrence Union Free School District in Long Island, where the large Orthodox community of the Five Towns has also come into conflict with local public school parents.

At the podium, Cohen offered one possible policy fix for East Ramapo: Merge all eight of the school districts in Rockland County into one big school district, in which the disproportionate power of the ultra-Orthodox voting bloc in school board elections would be diluted.

It’s an interesting idea, but not even Cohen himself thinks it could actually happen.

New York State has 695 school districts; Florida, with a similar population size, has just 74, roughly one for each county. “We are running on the vestiges of a colonial system,” said Dana Goldstein, an education policy writer and author of the forthcoming book “The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.” New York’s small districts are a relic of the earliest days of public education, when each town was split up into a handful of tiny districts. Today, these small districts are particularly popular in New York’s suburbs, where affluent towns and villages are able to school their children separately from those of neighboring poor towns.

“It’s a bipartisan issue” with the middle class suburban electorate, Goldstein said, referring to the tiny school districts. “It’s affluent and influential people who want this.”

Under current state law, the residents of all the districts involved in a merger would need to vote on and approve the change. And that’s next to impossible, given the politics of New York State.

“There’s a reason why low-income kids exist in places where there’s a big Orthodox community,” Goldstein said. “These are not the places where the affluent white people are choosing to live, and they like it that way.”

Pressed for other ideas, Cohen and the clergy came up dry. “It’s hard for me to believe that there is no solution to a problem,” Cohen said. “That’s what people do, they solve problems.”

Ask the superintendent of the East Ramapo schools about what’s gone wrong in the district and he, too, will point to structural flaws. But his analysis looks nothing like that of the clergy or of Cohen.

Joel Klein has been the district’s superintendent since the board removed his predecessor, Ira Oustatcher, in 2011. In Klein’s telling, the district’s woes stem not from the depredations of Orthodox board members, but from state funding formulae and budget cuts that have hurt East Ramapo more than other districts.

Klein says that East Ramapo has lost $45 million in state aid over the past four years through the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a measure passed in 2010 by then-Governor David Paterson in 2010 to help close the state’s budget deficit. That’s more than most other districts in the region.

Klein said that the GEA had hit poor districts like his particularly hard. Because of their own poor local tax bases, the districts rely more heavily on state funding, and so they lost more when the state cuts hit.

“We’re getting killed,” Klein said. “And we don’t have the political clout.”

He and Yehuda Weissmandl, the current school board president, also blamed the state’s funding formula for shortchanging East Ramapo. “There isn’t enough money, it’s that simple,” Weissmandl told the Forward.
Weissmandl said that the cuts to school programs have been painful but the district hasn’t had a choice. “The only way for us to balance the budget is to try to find ways to save money… and to cut programs, to cut jobs,” Weissmandl said. “These decisions don’t come lightly.”

Still, even if Klein and Weissmandl are correct, the activists can, perhaps, be forgiven for their suspicion of the board members.

In recent years, a series of episodes has raised questions about the Orthodox-dominated board’s concern for the public interest in its dealings with the Orthodox community. In 2010, the board closed and sold an elementary school to an Orthodox yeshiva at a sale price that was millions of dollars below market value. The real estate appraiser on whose appraisal the sale was based was later indicted, and the New York State Education Department annulled the sale.

The school board has also faced a range of administrative and legal challenges to its practice of using public funds to send Orthodox special needs children to Orthodox yeshivas rather than to public schools. Critics say that the district has spent too much on private special education placements, and the New York State Education Department has withheld state funding after determining that the district’s practices broke state and federal laws. The district sued the state education department over its finding, but has since lost two court decisions in the matter. It is appealing the latest decision.

Even fellow board members have condemned the Orthodox board majority’s stewardship of the district. Stephen Price, a board member for two decades who resigned in 2013 along with another non-Orthodox board member, said that the administration had declined to give him financial data and accused fellow board members of “intimidation.”

Yet it’s clear that these issues alone don’t account for the cuts to services at East Ramapo schools. A series of audits from the Office of the State Comptroller has not uncovered fraud at the district, and the New York State attorney general’s investigation has brought only a single indictment of the outside appraiser. Even if the ultra-Orthodox board members are treating the ultra-Orthodox better than the public school parents, it’s far from clear that kicking them out would fix the district’s problems.

Even under the best circumstances, East Ramapo’s schools would be having a tough time.

Between the 1960s and the ’70s, white families in the district were largely replaced by African-American and Haitian families. Today, Hispanic and Latino immigrants are replacing those communities. As of 2012, 37% of the students in the East Ramapo district were Hispanic, up from just 30% only two years earlier. A fifth of the district’s students have limited English proficiency, according to state data.

A significant proportion of the district’s parents are said to be undocumented immigrants who aren’t allowed to vote in local elections.

As services in the district have been cut, families with means have done what they can to pull their kids out. The proportion of East Ramapo students poor enough to qualify for the federally funded free lunch program jumped to 67% in 2012, from 50% in 2010.

People in the area, meanwhile, are getting angrier. From the back of the crowd at the First Baptist Church event, one woman stood up to say that the state had abandoned the district. “Ever since East Ramapo changed from mostly white to black, nobody cared about these children,” she said.

That might be the one point on which Cohen and Klein agree. Yet while Klein asks for patience, saying that he will be reinstating some of the slashed programs next year, Cohen is calling for a revolution in the state’s system of electing school boards that he himself can’t define.

“Blaming people’s motives or blaming the actions of one community toward another, I think, is not productive,” Cohen said. “The system is not working properly.”



Sunday, April 20, 2014

Barry Lewis: We must get past hatred for the region to grow 

Some of you shared your own experiences of hate, anti-Semitism and prejudice.

Others couldn't understand how people who claim to be so religious and moral act the way they do. A few thought I was way off the mark, and in stronger language suggested I keep my opinions to myself.

And I even got answers to the question "What is a 'jewish natzi wannabe?'"

It was that last comment in an earlier email from a reader that spurred my need to vent in last week's column about a pair of dysfunctional local village governments in Bloomingburg and Monticello and the venom of hate and religious persecution that spewed from some officials and residents.

Most of what I wrote centered on developer Shalom Lamm's 396-unit housing that could within months quadruple the size of Bloomingburg and forever change the landscape of their community.

I said it was wrong for Lamm to label those who protest his development as being anti-Semites just because he's marketing to Hasidic Jews.

I'm a Jew. As as I said last week, I wouldn't want to wake up to find 2,400 people of any group who don't want anything to do with me living down my rural country road.

I'd label those who protest Lamm's development as concerned citizens.

And they should continue their grass-roots inquiry and question now-former village officials about their actions, which at the very least show incompetence and a total disregard for open government, as well as raise legitimate concerns about the personal gains those in office might have received for their actions.

But at the same time, once those folks start mouthing off about "those Jews" and put up signs and bumper stickers targeting a specific religious group, they've crossed the line from concerned citizen to simply being intolerant and ignorant.

These are otherwise intelligent people who know better.

Reader Vanessa from Orange County said I should know that intelligence can bring about ignorance. She wrote about her friend who feels totally safe walking about her semi-rural, beautifully landscaped community because most people living there are white.

"She says no one is going to bother you, or hurt you. The false security? The white skin secures her that they are better people, we are not inner city people. I explained to her, you may feel that way because of the poor indoctrination you have received all your life that secures you. Intelligent people?"

Most emails echoed those of Steve from Middletown:

"The issues that you describe are tremendously difficult. But it's scary to see the way they have developed and been argued about. We'll need all the good intentions we can muster. This democracy thing is hard work." I know of anti-Semitism firsthand. Not just in an email. The anger and hurt never totally go away.

What's needed is for these concerned citizens and Lamm to talk this through and move forward. Not easy. But a must. This region is going to see similar projects. We all know that. We can't have the hatred rise with the buildings.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

This New York City Map Will Offend Pretty Much Everyone 

Our pals down south in Atlanta came across a map where every neighborhood got labeled according to its (rather offensive) stereotype, and now someone has done the same for NYC. Yay? Untapped Cities points us to this gem cartographical experiment by Joe Larson RBD Enterprises, via an entire blog called Judgmental Maps. (UPDATE: It's a riff on one by Joe Larson that just covered Manhattan.) A section of of the map is excerpted above, with the full version below. To name just a few offensive things: "black people" labeled for Harlem; "international hasidic zone" for South Williamsburg; and "used condoms," occasional gunfire," and "empty bottles of brandy" for parts of southeast Brooklyn. He only includes "the parts that matter," which leaves out most of the Bronx plus Staten island. A few spots are apt and sorta funny, like "Worst Train Station Ever" over the much-maligned Penn. Way to play to the cliches, Larson. (And maybe not such a great idea that you revealed your identity?)



Friday, April 18, 2014

Village elections - think of them as 'democracy insurance' 

There were 35 village elections this past March in the six Hudson Valley and Catskill mountain counties west of the river. In 21 villages (60 percent), there were no contested elections at all. Overall, 60 of 81 available offices were filled without competition, including five mayoralties and six town justice positions. Turnout in most places was minimal. Two trustee jobs were open in Unionville in Orange County. Patricia Quinn was elected to the board with 13 votes; Deborah Miller won with seven write-ins.

Then there was the other extreme. Hotly contested village elections were triggered in Monroe and Bloomingburg by expansionist pressures arising from growing Hasidic communities. (Matters in Bloomingburg are still not settled, with challenged ballots under review by a county judge and the FBI investigating allegations of voter fraud.) Contests in other places often arose from individual challenges to incumbents, sometimes by rivals who formerly held village office. Often these were settled not based upon issue differences but upon the reputation of candidates among "friends and neighbors."

Village elections in New York are usually nonpartisan. But not always. With the two major parties involved in Liberty, Democrats prevailed in contests for two board seats. In Monticello the Democrats, Republicans, Independence and Conservative parties successfully joined in a coalition to seize control of the board from Mayor Gordon Jenkins in response to what many regarded as his "misconduct and abuse."

Previous research shows that none of this is unusual. New York state's village boards are remarkably self-perpetuating. Sitting members recruit others to fill vacancies; their continuation is routinely validated at low turnout elections. Competition and turnout are somewhat elevated by the involvement of the political parties. Citizens in communities turn out when motivated by a divisive, mobilizing issue.

In the opinion of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, "We have too many local governments." When he advanced this goal again this year in his State of the State message, the governor said further: "It's time to stop making excuses; it's time to start making progress." Cuomo is not the first governor to seek local government restructuring. His famous predecessor Alfred E. Smith energetically did so almost a century ago. Little changed then; little has changed lately.

Upstate New Yorkers tenaciously defend their village governments. One reason, they say, is that they value community-base, local democracy.

But is local democracy what we actually have? The easy answer is "No." Competition is rare. Turnout is low. A small self-selected group usually does the governing.

Yet our regularly scheduled village elections provide a sort of "democracy insurance policy." People retain the potential to get involved if there is a compelling reason to do so. As shown by the relatively few intensely competitive village elections we had this year, when sufficiently provoked by issues or events, people do take advantage of this potential.

In truth, the village election in Monroe attracted only 21 percent of the voting-age population, and that in Monticello, 13 percent. There's the timing; why March? There's the need to organize anew each time. Even when the community is challenged by potentially transformative issues, it's hard to get people to the polls under these conditions.

But surely if we fail to at least occasionally participate, and in this way pay our "democracy insurance," our policy will lapse. Village democracy will be lost, and with it a key reason for having villages at all.

Gerald Benjamin is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Research Regional Engagement and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz. Joy Mcallister of the CRREO staff assisted with research for this essay.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Drama on the Royal tour: Pair 'acting suspiciously' and harassing crowd just metres from Kate and William are stopped and searched 

Two men were detained by police due to suspicious behaviour in Winmalee, where the royal couple are spending the day visiting families affected by bush firesThe pair were seen talking on headsets before they were detained by policeA witness at the scene originally identified the man as wearing a bullet-proof vest, though it appears the purple vest was just made of meshA witness at the scene originally identified the man as wearing a bullet-proof vest, though it appears the purple vest was just made of mesh

Police have stopped and searched two suspects who were 'acting suspiciously' and 'causing a disturbance' just metres from where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were travelling during their visit to Australia's Blue Mountains.

Two men were detained after the incident, one of whom was wearing what a witness earlier described as a bullet-proof vest. However pictures show that the vest is in fact made of mesh, with pro-Israel stickers attached.

The men were seen in the village of Winmalee shortly after the Royals arrived to meet people who lost their homes in catastrophic bush fires which swept through the region six months ago.

A witness told MailOnline the pair got to within 10 metres of Wills and Kate's car as the royal couple departed fire-affected areas on the way to the Winmalee girls guide hall for morning tea.

He said the men were searched completely and had to take off 'all their clothes including their socks'.

One of the males was taken away by police, while another was let go. He was seen approaching a woman waiting at a bus stop and asked to use her mobile phone.

In the lead-up to the dramatic incident the men were seen talking on headsets.

A NSW police spokeswoman confirmed the two men, aged 37 and 21, were 'stopped and searched' by officers at the scene.

'About 12.10pm police stopped and spoke to two men who were allegedly harassing members of the crowd gathered at the corner of Singles Ridge Road and Buena Vista Road, Winmalee,' she said.
'They were stopped and searched and moved on from the area.'

David Berger, president of residents' group Shalom Aleichem Blue Mountains, said he believed the two were 'pretending' to be Jewish.

'I don’t recognise them but I get the immediate feeling that they are not kosher, pretenders,' he said.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff also told MailOnline he didn’t recognise the pair, adding: 'no one in the office has set eyes on them'.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge today met two families whose homes were destroyed in the New South Wales bush fires of last October, including a woman who was so convinced she would not escape she thought she was 'going to be barbecue'. The couple visited Winmalee, a small community in the Blue Mountains, where in the space of a few hours 195 homes were destroyed in the worst bush fires in the state for a decade. They were flown there by helicopter from Sydney, Kate wearing a £295 DVF batik print Patrice wrap dress with her favourite £245 Russell and Bromley wedges. The couple stopped at Buena Vista Road, where half the homes were lost and the street still bears the scars of the devastation - blackened tree trunks, and flattened plots where homes used to be. There they spoke to Eartha and Peter Odell and their children Mia, nine, and Ty, six, who lost their home at a time when their daughter was waiting for an operation for a life-threatening brain condition. Mrs Odell, 47, said: 'They were just really personable and sincere in trying to understand our grief. They were very sweet and very warm. I totally respect that they took the time out to visit our street. 'It's a very private thing, our land. It's very hard having everyone looking at it. But for them to come all this way to say hello and "I'm sorry this happened to you" - it means an awful lot. It did not seem like duty to them - it seemed like a pleasure.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Pesach In Williamsburg 

Sundown Monday marked the beginning of Passover, the festival that celebrates the liberation of the Jewish people from the Egyptian Pharaohs 3300 years ago, give or take. The story of Exodus tells of the 10th and final plague—the death of the first-born, cast down upon the Egyptians for failing to heed God’s command to free the Children of Israel. To avoid the scourge, the Israelites were instructed by Moses to mark their doors with the blood of a slaughtered lamb as code: "Pass over" this home.

A 73-year-old white supremacist killed three people over the weekend in a targeted attack on Jewish community centers in Kansas City. The New York City Police Department has amped up security at Jewish facilities across the city. The response of the NYPD, like the biblical smearing of blood on entryways, represents a stand against hatred, and the right of all individuals and groups to freedom and security.

Despite yesterday's dreariness, the Hasidic Jewish community of Williamsburg was abuzz on this second day of Passover. Prayers echoed from tenement windows, Second Seder preparations were in the air, and families hurried through the rain, their hats protected by plastic bags.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach 


When it comes to child welfare Ami Magazine seems to be on the side of politics and not on the side of the children 

An email from Ami Magazine celebrating an Ontario Judge's decision in an appeal to overturn a Quebec Judge's decision to have severely abused and neglected children of the Lev Tahor cult to be placed in safe Jewish homes.

Once again we see politics trump child safety in the Jewish community.


Lev Tahor children won’t be sent to foster care in Quebec, judge rules 

A Chatham judge has granted an appeal from members of the controversial Lev Tahor Jewish sect to shoot down a ruling ordering their children into foster care in Quebec.

Superior Court Justice Lynda Templeton issued a written ruling Monday regarding the 13 children who have been at the centre of a custody battle between their ultra-Orthodox parents and child services groups in Ontario and Quebec.

She ruled that the children don’t have to be returned to Quebec despite the fact that the families fled twice, once to Ontario and then to South America, to avoid court orders.

“I am entirely satisfied that it would be contrary to the best interests of these children to be returned to Quebec,” Templeton wrote. “I decline to visit upon the children, the consequences of the conduct of their parents. These children have already been found to be in need of protection. To create further upheaval and instability in their lives would most surely have disastrous emotional and psychological ramifications for them.”

But Templeton also ruled that children’s services in Chatham can continue to do their work, including moving to have the children taken from their parents if deemed necessary.

“The Chatham-Kent Children’s Services shall exercise its mandate with respect to the commencement and/or continuation of its own protection proceedings,” Templeton wrote.

She said the organization could continue those proceedings based on its own investigations as well as information and evidence from Quebec, “in support of the remedy it sees fit in all of the circumstances.”

The fringe group of about 200 people arrived in Chatham in November after fleeing their Quebec homes in the middle of the night to avoid a child protection hearing amid accusations of abuse, neglect, underage marriage and substandard education.

The Quebec court ruled that the children be temporarily placed with Hasidic families in Montreal. After the group landed in Ontario, Ontario court Justice Stephen Fuerth ruled in February that the Quebec order should be enforced.

But he stayed the order, giving the parents 30 days to appeal.

On the eve of that appeal deadline, the parents fled from Canada with their children saying they wouldn’t return unless the appeal went in their favour. Six children and their parents went to Guatemala. Other children were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago. The children apprehended are currently staying with foster homes in Ontario.

Templeton wrote that parents of the children involved and the Lev Tahor community as a whole should take away a lesson from all that has happened.

“Flight from one community in Canada to another in either custody or child protection proceedings is to no avail,” she stated. “Not because these parents face the return of their children to a prior home they no long have a connection but because the state will continue to exert its pressure and influence over the family through its local agencies no matter where they are in order to ensure that the children in that family are not at risk.”



Sunday, April 13, 2014

For some Jews, even pets must observe Passover rules 

Earlier this week, as she prepared for Passover, Shannon Gessner suddenly remembered her dog, Marcy.
“This is our first Passover together,” says the 32-year-old account manager who lives on the Upper West Side with her 3-year-old mini-schnauzer. An observant “modern Orthodox” Jewish woman, Gessner has had the stray rescue since July and didn’t know what to do about her pup’s food for the upcoming holy festival, which starts Monday and lasts eight days.

“I e-mailed my rabbi about how to prepare for Passover when you have a dog,” says Gessner.
When it comes to the annual celebration, some observant pet owners don’t only avoid eating grains and leavened breads, known as chametz, themselves; they also have Fido and Fluffy abide by the dietary restrictions to keep their homes holy.

For the past 20 years, Star-K, a kosher certification agency, has been publishing an annual list of Passover-friendly pet foods. The brands on the list aren’t necessarily kosher, but they are Passover-friendly in that they are free of wheat and rice.

This year’s list was posted in early March, since many pet owners make the food transitions slowly so their pets have time to get used to the new foods.

“It’s not soon enough,” jokes Rabbi Zvi Goldberg with Star-K. “We get calls about Passover even in January.”

Rebecca Singer Walker, the 30-year-old director of the Israeliness Community at the 92Y, doesn’t look to the Star-K list for her 8-year-old Yorkie, Miles. She just feeds him what she eats.

“I’m going to be cooking beef or chicken or fish,” says Walker, a Riverdale resident.

For some, tweaking their pets’ diet is too much hassle, and they go for other options.

“Depending on how strict you are, some people might board their pet for a week,” says Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen, the director of the Center for Jewish Living at the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side.

Others ceremoniously “sell” their pet’s food to a nonobservant friend for Passover. That way, Cohen explains, “the food doesn’t belong to you, it just lives in your house.”

That’s what Rikki Davidson, 29, plans to do. Davidson, who lives on the Upper West side with her husband, her son and her 7-year-old Maltese, Zoe, doesn’t want to be wasteful, so she plans to sell Zoe’s favorite treat, Nutri Dent, to a nonobserver and keep it in their house. After the holiday, she’ll buy it back. The dog’s regular kibble isn’t an issue.

“Zoe happens to be on a grain-free dog food,” Davidson explains.

Things aren’t so convenient for Gessner and Marcy.

“I was hoping I would get away with feeding her dog food, but [my rabbi] wants to err on the side of caution, so we’re going to be cooking for her,” says Gessner.

She plans to feed Marcy “human food,” which will include organic kosher meat and apples, instead of her typical diet of Orijen kibble. The pup will also have to forego her favorite treats, Wagatha’s biscuits and chewy bully sticks.

“It’s going to be hard, though, because she loves to chew,” says Gessner. “But I’m handmaking her breakfast and dinner, so she’ll survive.”



Kosher food business is soaring at Passover 

Despite a drop in overall affiliation to nearly all things Jewish, seven out of 10 Jews in the United States plan to attend a seder on Passover, which begins Monday night.

In another finding of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, most who attend or host the traditional meals are secular — the intermarriage rate hovers near 60 percent — but that hasn’t stopped them from loading up on kosher food for the holiday. There has been a 10 percent annual growth in sales in each of the last five years, according to Menachem Lubinsky, a kosher marketing expert.

Customers who flock to supermarkets and kosher specialty stores seeking matzo, gefilte fish, brisket, and chopped liver have helped propel the holiday into the Super Bowl of Jewish food. Now, 40 percent of annual US sales of kosher food — about $1.1 billion worth — come during Passover, Lubinsky said.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way, there’s a demand for the products,” said Walter Gelerman, co-owner of the Butcherie in Brookline, one of the few independent year-round Greater Boston kosher markets, which is jammed for weeks before Passover.

“People want to keep kosher for the holiday,” said Bill Baptista, store manager at Stop & Shop in Swampscott, which has opened sections of two aisles for Passover goods.

“Everything sells,” said Josh Ruboy, manager of the Butcherie II, a Canton market that’s not affiliated with the similarly named Brookline store.

Along with staples on the shelves, the Canton and Brookline stores cook up a wide range of Passover dishes for those who don’t want to cook.

The holiday seder focuses on telling a story through the Haggadah, an ancient text that guides the ritual meal and tells of the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. The tradition includes drinking wine at four stages of the story, and eating matzo or unleavened bread to commemorate the Jews who left Egypt in a hurry and didn’t have time to allow their bread to rise. On the dinner table, nearly every food has a meaning — from matzo, which represents humility, to wine, which symbolizes freedom.

While seders are held on the first two nights of the holiday, many Jews eat only kosher for Passover food for the entire eight days of the observance.

Gloria Barbacoff, a Salem therapist, believes the continued popularity of the holiday can be traced to a person’s need to better understand his or her own life and the connection to their family and Judaism through telling the story of Passover.

“It is cathartic on many levels,” she said. “We’re working through themes of slavery and freedom and the process of rebirth on many levels.”

While people will sit down with family and friends to tell the story Monday night, most will wind their way through a full-course menu that traditionally includes gefilte fish with horseradish, chopped liver, wine (or grape juice), chicken soup and matzo balls, brisket, potato kugel, and everything from chocolate macaroons to sponge cake for dessert.

Much of the main menu has stayed the same for generations, but shoppers now have more variety than ever before. Twenty-five years ago, 1,500 kosher for Passover items were sold in America. Back then, Jews who observed ate mostly matzo, eggs, chicken, and meat during the holiday. These days, there are more than 20,000 items, said Lubinsky, who studies the US kosher industry and runs Kosherfest, a food trade show held annually in New Jersey.

Over the last two decades, Lubinsky said, there have been several breakthroughs in food technology, including the use of potato starch, which subsitutes for five kinds of grain — wheat, barley, oats, spelt, and rye — that are forbidden on Passover.

“For companies the new products have become profit centers,” said Lubinsky, who added that depending on the size of a family, people spend up to $1,300 on Passover food. Trending new products include gluten-free cakes, matzo ball mixes, and cookies; ice cream, pizza, mock bagels, cereals, chips, cheeses, and different types of matzo, said Lubinsky.

Following traditional, year-round kosher rules, meals during the holiday either include meat or dairy, but not both.

The amount of food available can be dizzying even for Gelerman of the Butcherie, which has been selling kosher food since it opened in the 1960s in Brookline. He begins preparing for Passover in December, huddling with distributors to discuss products. About a month before the holiday, he adds 12 workers to his regular staff of 25 employees who restock shelves and cook prepared foods such as chicken soup, knishes, latkes, kugels, grass-fed briskets, roasts, and barbecue chickens.

While supermarkets may stock some of the same items, Gelerman could be the king of variety. He carries at least 10 different kinds of soups, kugels, cakes, spices, gefilte fish, TV dinners, and wines ranging from $5 for good old Manischewitz to a $150 bottle of red Château Léoville-Poyferré imported from France.

When it comes to matzo, Gelerman doesn’t stop at traditional square brands. Increasingly, more people are opting for handmade, round matzo, which is prepared and baked in under 18 minutes to ensure no moisture interferes with the process that would allow the dough to rise. Each batch is cooked individually and watched, in a custom of guarding it called shmura that is a must for some Orthodox Jews. At the Butcherie, customers have their choice of handmade shmura matzo from Israel, Ukraine, Montreal, or Brooklyn.

“This is the mecca,” said Jane Rosenblatt, who grew up in Mattapan and lives in Saugus, as she surveyed the columns of matzo on a recent day at the Butcherie. “Anything and everything you want you could find here.”

“I think there’s more awareness and more options than years ago,” added Elyssa Towers, who traveled from Lexington to the Butcherie to fill her basket with chicken, matzo, gefilte fish, and assorted candies. Nowadays, she said the biggest difference in the holiday is the proliferation of prepared products.

While Stop & Shop rolls out large Passover selections in Swampscott, Brookline, Watertown, Natick, Framingham, and Stoughton, Larry Levine’s store in Peabody is the only year-round kosher shop in Massachusetts north of Boston. A third-generation butcher, Levine said secular Jews go overboard to keep kosher this time of year.

“The market is there. On Passover everybody tries to keep kosher,” he said.

Even Levine, though, is sometimes surprised at what is now certified by rabbis as kosher for Passover. “Years ago, you had your basics. You went to school with your gefilte fish, matzo, and salami,” he said. “Now we make chicken nuggets for Passover. Years ago, we didn’t know what a chicken nugget was, never mind on Passover.”

In Canton, Josh Ruboy, the manager of the Butcherie II, acknowledged that competition from supermarkets makes the field more competitive for the consumer and difficult for the specialty store. This year, he’s making more prepared foods for the holiday, such as lamb and turkey shawarma, braided short ribs, glazed corned beef, boneless veal roasts, and stuffed cabbage rolls.

“Oh yeah, and I just brought in 100 cases of ice cream,” said Ruboy, who raced up and down the aisles answering questions from customers while his wife, Lisa, the store owner, worked the cash register.

Andrea Woolner of Sharon was enthused about finding gluten-free noodles at the Canton kosher shop. Woolner shops at the Butcherie II a few times a week and said she had already purchased gluten-free matzo a few days earlier.

At the checkout counter, she applauded the variety of kosher for Passover products that she wished were available when she was a child. “Much of what used to be on the market was tasteless,” she said.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

More Quebec Apprehension Orders 

A Chatham-Kent police officer stands guard at the Lev Tahor community north of Chatham. Photo taken on April 2, 2014 by Ashton Patis.

A Quebec Provincial Court has issued apprehension orders for all 128 Lev Tahor children.

Youth protection officials in Quebec tell BlackburnNews.com the orders were issued in November of 2013, after the group fled the province.

“Those orders have been transferred to the Chatham-Kent Children’s Services,” says Director of Communications for the Laurentian Youth Center Isabelle Dugre. “For the moment, we do not know what will be the action of CKCS regarding those orders.”

The youth centre declined to comment further as members of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect await a judge’s decision in an on-going custody case involving 14 children.

The children and their parents fled Chatham-Kent after an Ontario judge upheld a Quebec court order forcing them into foster care. Six are in Guatemala where they are reportedly seeking refugee status, six were apprehended in Trinidad and Tobago and another two were discovered at the Calgary International Airport. A 17-year-old girl has since been released from custody, but her infant child remains in foster care with a Jewish family near Toronto, as do the other children.

A decision in that case is expected on Monday.

Leaders of the ultra-orthodox Jewish sect continue to deny all allegations of child brides, forced marriages, neglect and abuse.



Friday, April 11, 2014

Names, including two from Lakewood, released of men facing prostitution charges in Wall, NJ 

Fifteen men were charged with prostitution offenses after State Police assisted members of the Wall police with an undercover operation at a local motel during the first week of April, said Police Chief Robert L. Brice.

The arrested men were charged with varying offenses related to loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution and soliciting prostitution. They ranged in age between the ages of 20 to 61.

“The investigation remains active,” Brice said. Authorities released 14 of the 15 names and would not provide the motel name, except to say it is located on the Route 35 corridor. The 15th name was withheld because of an unrelated investigation, police said.

Arrested in the sting:

• • Charged with soliciting prostitution and loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution were Edward R. Parise, 45, of Wall; Gerald A. Barrett, 44, of Berkeley; Gregory R. Arnold, 61, of Eatontown; Gordie Greening III, 45, of Wall; and Christopher K. Schroll, 46, of Middletown.

• Anthony L. Ceres, 35, of Asbury Park is charged with loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. Ceres is a twice-convicted sexual offender. In 2004, he was convicted in federal court with distributing child pornography over the Internet and in 2005 for engaging in sexual relations with a 15-year-old girl in Monmouth County.

• Charged with prostitution and loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution are Avrahom C. Joseph, 38, of Lakewood; Binyomin Y. Rabinowitz, 42, of Lakewood; Dwight M. Brown, 50, of Neptune; Amando Garcia Herrera, 29, of Neptune; John A. Roses, 37, of Toms River; Steven A. Siejkowski, 34, of Hazlet; Hiren Patel, 31, of Piscataway; and Tyler J. Stephens, 20, of Stafford.

The men were all released on summonses after being processed, police said.

In February, police did random inspections of local hotels and motels to make sure each adhered to township ordinances regulating the keeping of a registry and the minimum and maximum length of stay for guests.

The random checks will continue, Brice said. The surveys are part of the township’s “quality of life” details to make it more difficult for those who engage in criminal activity to operate out of any of the motels, Brice said.

Anyone with any information about criminal activity at local motels is urged to contact Detective Sgt. Joseph Wilbert of the Wall police at 732-449-4500 or jwilbert@wallpolice.org.

The Asbury Park Press asked police for photos of the suspects, but they refused. State law allows authorities discretion in releasing suspect photos, but they often refuse to do so, saying they are prohibited by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Best Hasidic Composer in Brooklyn 

Over the past 200 years, the Modzitzer hasidim have become known for their beautiful melodies, or nigunim. Thousands of them, in fact. Today, 88 year-old Ben Zion Shenker is one of the most prolific, and respected, Modzitzer composers. For his latest album, “Hallel V’zimrah,” he teamed up with klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman. The Forward’s Jon Kalish caught up with Shenker in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn to talk about composing Jewish music, meeting the Modzitzer rebbe, and performing on Yiddish radio.



Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Day's child-care Facebook post angers some Orthodox 

Rockland County Executive Ed Day's criticism of child-care subsidies for religious students set off an angry reaction among Orthodox Jews, including accusations of anti-Semitism against some Day supporters.

Day said on his personal Facebook page that he told the Social Services Department to challenge an "absurd decision by an administrative judge" that lets students get the subsidies while studying at a learning center in the Ramapo village of Kaser.

"This is off the books income at best and this abuse keeps 381 families with an estimated 700 children" — mostly in communities of color — from getting child care, Day's post read. "This is a multimillion dollar scam as many of the families — including the three that challenged losing child care subsidy — also receive Medicaid, Food Stamps and heating allowances."

Day's comments Sunday followed a Journal News article about a judge's ruling that students paid to answer questions and do research while studying religious texts are eligible for child-care payments. Day said he told the Social Services Department, which knocked 118 families off the child-care rolls, to appeal that decision, as another 22 families are eligible for payments.

The Facebook entry drew responses from posters who thanked Day for being a watchdog and called the child-care issue a scam, the Hasidic community corrupt and raised concerns about the cost of social services to taxpayers. Some of them called religious Jews an "infestation" and "parasites."

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council responded by accusing Day of pitting non-white residents against the religious Jewish community. The council was founded by Yossi Gestetner, a spokesman for the religious community.

"While it is fully within the rights of the County to appeal a judicial ruling, it's unbecoming for the County's top office holder to place a Facebook post that lobs accusations against members of a minority community; a post which suggests that Orthodox Jews are the reason why people in 'communities of color' do not have access to Government assistance," the council's statement read.

"The negative consequences of this writing (are) vividly seen in the troubling comments posted at the bottom of the Facebook post," the statement said. "An elected official of this stature should use his position to bring communities together instead of behaving in ways which drives them further apart."

The controversy was reminiscent of Day's election campaign in which the political influence of Ramapo's ultra-Orthodox Jewish voting bloc became an issue. Many Day supporters asserted the religious community gets more than its share of social services and political favoritism. Day and some supporters raised concerns that the bloc vote would go to Democrat David Fried and that Day was being wrongly branded as anti-Semitic. Religious leaders countered that the rhetoric against the community had crossed the line.

During his campaign Day promised to clean up welfare fraud and advocate against large-scale projects like the proposed Patrick Farm development by Hasidic builders in Ramapo and a poultry processing plant in New Square.

Day spokesman Scott Salotto said Tuesday that the county executive declined to comment on the Facebook comment.

Benny Polatseck, a Spring Valley business owner and a Hasidic Jew, was critical of Day for allowing the hateful posts. "It's alarming to me and to my community that open anti-Semites find shelter in Mr. Day's Facebook post, and not only do they not get deleted by Day, but he refuses to outright condemn it," Polatseck told The Journal News.



Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Rabbi accused of sex crimes arrested in Zimbabwe 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland.

Fugitive Israeli Rabbi Eliezar Berland, head of the Shuvu Banim Hassidic sect, was arrested in Zimbabwe on Monday, according to reports in the local media.

The rabbi was later released but faces deportation from the African country due to an expired visa, according to the reports.

Berland fled Israel some 18 months ago after being accused of committing indecent acts against several female followers, some of whom were minors at the time of the alleged abuse. He spent time in the United States, Italy, Switzerland and Morocco before arriving in Zimbabwe two months ago.

Shortly after he fled Israel, his son, grandson and several other followers were arrested on suspicion of fraud and money laundering involving the sect's finances.

It was reported earlier this week that one of his followers has been transporting kosher-for-Passover food to Zimbabwe in advance of the hundreds of Shavu Banim hassidim expected to travel to meet the Rabbi over the holiday.

To this end, a wealthy Jew from Johannesburg has donated 600 pounds matzah and 60 cases of wine for the expected visitors.



Monday, April 07, 2014

Pesach Prep Is a Marathon for Hasidic Women 

It’s that time of year — the time I expect the smell of Murphy’s Oil Soap and chlorine to waft through the windows of every home. It’s my favorite time of the year, too, from my earliest memories. No, I’m not referring to spring and the anticipation of warm weather, but to Pesach — by far the best, most costly holiday in the Jewish calendar.

For most Jewish women, Pesach preparations are just getting into gear. Perhaps there are some familial arrangements to be made, lavish getaways to be finalized. Perhaps they are just getting around to scrubbing parquet floors and Farberware pots and taking apart the stovetop. But for Hasidic women, on the other hand, Pesach preparations of this nature begin the moment the cleanup from the Purim hamantaschen ends, and for some, it starts as early as Hanukkah.

The Torah commands the Jews to rid their homes of every last morsel of chametz before ushering in the holiday. In homes where children are abundant, this commandment requires quite a bit of work. Hasidic women also take this commandment a lot further than I have seen in other observant communities. They go beyond ridding the home of crackers and vacuuming for large crumbs; every last Lego is placed in a mesh bag and spun through the washer, every last tile on the kitchen backsplash is scrubbed for traces of challah dough, every last crevice in the house is searched and cleaned.

It is laborious and utterly exhausting work, but it brings much satisfaction to the scrubbers. Growing up, Pesach preparations generated an aura of excitement and anticipation, as well as a great deal of pressure. My mother would work backwards, methodically calculating the weeks and days left until the seder. Taught housekeeping skills from an early age, my sisters and I were naturally the biggest helpers. We would put on washed-out housecoats, specifically designated for Pesach cleaning, and drag pails of water mixed with Mr. Clean from room to room in the house. Standing on chairs, we would wash the walls from floor to ceiling while belting out to the Hebrew and Yiddish songs blasting from the cassette player. Then we would move on to the furniture, unload everything, wash the drawers and closets, refold the laundry and shine the outside of the furniture. The mattresses were lifted, the bedsprings were vacuumed and washed. Bed ruffles were washed, ironed and stored until the week before Pesach when the house cleaning was complete and all the tchotchkes would make their way back onto the dressers. The bedrooms were done first, with Purim as the deadline. We would lock the rooms during the day so that no one could walk in with chametz, and we would be reminded to dust off our clothing before stepping into the room.

I remember feeling very grown up around this time of the year. Cleaning was always my thing. Sparkling floors so spotless that they can be eaten off of and shining furniture — these things clear my mind. Looking back, I realize that cleaning was my way of controlling things, of carving out a space I could call my own. During my semi-rebellious late teenage years, a friend and I discovered radio — Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, to be precise. While cleaning for the Sabbath, I would tune in to 770 AM and tune out the chaos around me. I loved it. I loved hearing the hosts shout at callers and guests, or at no one in particular. Their conservative and absolutist philosophies and ideals made sense to me at the time, as a devout Hasidic girl. My parents didn’t approve of it, but they did not object outright to it either. After all, they surmised, I could have done worst — such as surreptitiously hang out with boys, like other rebellious girls did.

In those years, during the weeks leading up to Pesach, I spent hours upon hours listening to these angry radio men. It was a time of pure bliss.

A week or two before Pesach, after the last room in the house, the kitchen, was complete, the Pesach kitchen is opened. Many homes don’t have a kitchen specifically designated for Pesach, and they must wait until the very last few days to kasher the kitchen. Opening the Pesach kitchen was like the last stretch of a marathon: the runners now exhausted beyond words, the finish line was oh-so-tantalizingly close. Reaching that proverbial finish line, the first seder, was a delicious achievement. Sitting there in our new holiday robes, and inhaling the odors of a sterilized home, nothing quite compares to that overwhelming sense of gratification.

This year will be the first year in my entire life that I will not clean for Pesach. Over the past few years, I have cut back on the amount of scrubbing and the number of bottles of Mr. Clean I use for Pesach cleaning. But this year, my husband and I are taking the brood and heading to Florida with our friends. We will still have to kasher the kitchen and cook kosher-for-Passover food, but the house will be all scrubbed by the villa maintenance staff, and I will not go looking in between backsplash tiles for traces of challah dough. As exciting and carefree as this feels, I feel a pang of guilt and longing when I am reminded of Pesach preparations of yore.



Sunday, April 06, 2014

Notorious Bushwick Slumlord Blames Tenants For Demolished Apartments 

Joel Israel

A notorious slumlord accused of purposefully destroying several Brooklyn apartments in an attempt to illegally evict his rent-stabilized tenants has finally spoken up in a trial.

Tenants of 98 Linden Street, as well as others around the borough, say that Joel Israel demolished large swaths of their apartments in order to have them evicted, the hope being that he could then rebuild the space and rent it out for a significantly higher price. Israel testified yesterday that the tenants have only themselves to blame, having denied his contractors access to their homes in order to perform "necessary repairs." That was nearly a year ago, and residents have been forced to live in a partially-collapsed apartment ever since.
Brent Meltzer, an attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services, isn't buying Israel's claims that he was "trying to help."

“He claims that my clients didn’t allow them in, which makes no sense because why would they deny him access so that they wouldn’t have a kitchen and bathroom,” Meltzer told CBS2. “He was lying. He keeps lying about why he’s not fixing the building."

Israel's attorney released a statement alleging that his clients "are ready to make the repairs."

"We are seeking the court’s assistance to obtain the access necessary to get the repairs done as quickly and safely as possible," said attorney Glenn Spiegel. A similar statement was sent to Gothamist last month, adding that "there are deteriorating conditions that must be addressed, which can take considerable time, resources and effort. In some cases, tenants have denied access to the owners, making repairs impossible and prolonging the repair process."

Housing advocates want to see Israel brought to justice, preferably in the form of jail time. Public Advocate Letitia James has implored the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to swoop in and repair the destruction, though a spokesperson for the agency told CBS2 that the damage is simply too extreme.

The hearing will resume on Tuesday.



Saturday, April 05, 2014

New Bloomingburg mayor, board to hold a meeting Monday 

For only the second time since August, the Village of Bloomingburg will hold a scheduled Village Board meeting.

The village that's been in controversy because of a proposed 396-home Hasidic development will hold a meeting led by new mayor Frank Gerardi and trustees at 7 p.m., Monday at Village Hall in Bloomingburg. A swearing-in ceremony will be at 7 p.m., Sunday at Mamakating Town Hall in Wurtsboro.



Friday, April 04, 2014

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

Make sure to pick up your free copy of the Country Yossi Family Magazine and read the brand new original article 'Pesach Preparation' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Shake that Jewmba! Zumba gets a kosher makeover so Hasidic women can finally join the fitness craze 

In another case, lyrics in a song about forming a menage-a-trois - 'We could menage-a-three-oh' - became 'We can make a friend in Rio.'

And in Ricki Martin's 'Livin' La Vida Loca' the verse 'She'll make you take your clothes off' now says 'she never drinks the water' in Mrs Adar's version.

There is no dress code at 'Jewmba' and most people choose to wear regular workout gear instead of their traditional conservative dress, as the studio is single-sex.

Many also let their hair down literally, by removing hats or wigs which are a required by Orthodox Jewish Law.

Mrs Adar, a mother-of-four, says the classes have helped bring 'insular' Hasidic women together.
'These women need an outlet and I have found them an outlet - dance. It is such a relief,' she exclaimed.
Indeed, one of Mrs Adar's students, Sara Ovitsh described 'Jewmba' as her 'therapy.'

'It is my one hour of running away from life, of escaping from my reality.' the mother-of-four continued.
'I either go to a psychiatrist or I go to Zumba.'

Another satisfied classmate, Nikky Admon, added: 'We lead very stressful lives and we don't have other outlets . . . There are no clubs.

'This is the only quote unquote “kosher” outlet women have.'

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink explains in an article for the Israeli news site, Haaretz that under Jewish laws, co-ed Zumba classes are 'out of the question' as women should not dance provocatively in front of men.
He notes that some Rabbits also believe women-only Zumba classes violate established rules.

They argue the music 'can damage one’s soul', the dance moves can 'harm one’s spirituality' and that this in turn will lead to 'actual sin.'

Mrs Adar says she's taken special care to edit music tracks and change dance poses to keep everyone happy. She is among dozens of fitness instructors now offering 'Jewmba'.



OPINION: Understand the Hasidim, even when you disagree with them 

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recently ran an article about a public park in the upstate Hasidic Jewish village of Kiryas Joel where women and girls were confined to a part of the park with red benches and playground equipment, while men and boys were relegated to areas of the park with blue benches and equipment.

Following action taken by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union, the town agreed to desegregate the park. Meanwhile, Brooklyn Councilmember David Greenfield, representing heavily Orthodox Jewish Borough Park and Midwood, remarked that the suit was “picking on these Hasidic Jews.”

As far as I’m concerned, the issue pits one set of rights and values against another.

Although I am a committed Jew, I personally don’t believe in the type of rigid gender segregation practiced by the Hasidim. There are, however, historic reasons for this separation. One is the ancient belief, found in the Bible, that men must be protected from coming into contact with a woman who is experiencing her “time of the month.” I have heard of Hasidic families in which a woman who wants to give her husband a salt shaker can’t do so directly during this time. Instead, she has to put it down on the table, and then he picks it up.

Another reason for gender segregation is the belief that men and women were put into the world with different roles. In the majority culture, probably 95 percent of all women would disagree with this. But in the Hasidic culture, the majority of women would probably agree.

Many Americans think of what was practiced in both the North and the South until the 1960s when they hear the word “segregation.” The purpose of this segregation was to strip African-Americans of economic and political power. Often, it was accompanied by hatred and violence. By contrast, the Hasidim aren’t motivated by hatred of women. They’re pursuing a religious agenda that most of them, whether male or female, agree with—if they didn’t, they would probably leave the community. If you had to compare the Hasidim with anyone, it would be with the Amish, not with “Bull” Connor or George Wallace.

However, there’s another part of the issue. Many of the Hasidim are receiving large amounts of government aid. This is for two reasons—because they have so many children, and because many of them lack the secular education that would have prepared them for an adequately-paying career. (I once worked as a representative for the federal Section 8 housing program in Hasidic Williamsburg.)

If they’re receiving government aid, then they have to operate by the rules of American society, and those rules don’t include a park on public property with one set of swings for boys and another for girls. Gender discrimination, as I understand it, is illegal, which is why you no longer see those “help wanted male” and “help wanted female” ads that were so common a generation ago.

Furthermore, if such a park is tacitly given the green light, it could set a bad precedent. Who knows, maybe McSorley’s bar might want to reinstitute its “men only” rule! (That’s a reference for people of a certain age.)

As we can see, this is a complicated issue, and people with more of a mind for legal matters than I are the ones who have resolved it. The sex-segregated park built with public funds has got to go—but one should understand the Hasidim before judging them.



Deborah Feldman Isn't Telling You the Whole Story 

While Jews around the world are preparing to retell the story of their ancestral exodus from Egypt, another story of an exodus is making its way onto bookshelves. Deborah Feldman, the 27-year-old author of the 2012 best-selling memoir “Unorthodox,” is releasing her second memoir, “Exodus” — a disjointed tale of her adjustment from personal oppression to secular life during the two short years since the appearance of her first memoir.

For avid fans, “Exodus” offers few surprises. The book picks up where “Unorthodox” left off: Having heroically escaped the hasidic community with her young son in tow and in desperate search for a place to call home and an identity to call her own, Feldman embarks on a two-year cross-country and international journey. She travels to Europe in search of her grandmother’s origins; she road-trips from West to East coast, both to escape bustling New York City and to discover her own identity. Along the way, she meets and falls in love with various men and searches the suburbs for the perfect home to carve a new, serene existence. The book’s timeline is vague, as is its plot.

Feldman portrays herself as a wandering Jew searching for her Promised Land. Loneliness and uprootedness are prominent motifs hovering over every chapter, every journey. She admits, a few pages in, that “it feels familiar” and “somehow safe” to be lonely and in search of placement. Over the next 230 or so pages, she journeys through the world outside and within herself to find that peace, to fill the “empty container,” as she puts it. That container, a nostalgic metaphor Feldman borrows from her hero, her grandmother, is never quite filled. The reader is left wondering if she will ever really find her Promised Land.

Feldman’s first book, “Unorthodox,” is a coming-of-age story that recounts growing up in the insular hasidic community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and marrying at a young age. Eventually she leaves her unhappy marriage and community. Where her first book attempted to shock readers while lobbing blame onto the world, her second work is more introspective.

Feldman comes across as more personable and less self-aggrandizing than in “Unorthodox.” She allows at least some of her vulnerabilities to spill onto the page. Her writing has also matured in some aspects, not the least being her ability to examine herself more critically.

This is the extent of the praise I can find for “Exodus.” If I wasn’t curious about her life after she cut ties with me and the rest of her acquaintances, I would have put this down after 20 pages. There just isn’t much substance. It’s another “Eat, Pray, Love” story, sans the exotic middle-aged lovers on faraway beaches. It’s a story about finding herself after “breaking free” — with all the trivial details, such as those concerning her experimentation with shamanic ritual, which no one but a die-hard fan would care to know.

At this point I should share my history with Deborah — or, as I knew her, Sury — Feldman. I met Feldman nine years ago when she married one of my husband’s closest friends. She was a brilliant, bubbly young woman who married what we call in Yiddish, an “alter bokher” — an older bachelor. Like my husband, he could not find a suitable match at 18 because he was not your typical, ideal young Satmar Hasid. He was cast as a “bum,” a bad boy of sorts. He frequented the movies, drove a car and worked.

Ther four of us became couple friends. We weren’t especially close, but we went out to restaurants, we visited their new place in Monsey often, and they visited our basement apartment in Kiryas Joel. I was there after her son was born, bringing flowers and little blue shoes in a box; she was there when my daughter was born, bringing a pretty pink knit outfit in a floral box that I now use to store cards.

In 2008, my husband and I moved a block away from the Feldmans in Airmont, N.Y. — an up-and-coming open community of families looking to escape their hasidic communities and to experiment with different versions of post-hasidic Orthodoxy. We spent a lot of time together over the next year, discussing her writing classes at Sarah Lawrence College and sharing our doubts about the “system.” We talked about how we envisioned raising our children with a good, solid, secular education, and we discussed our mutual dislike of everything hasidic. I learned a lot from Feldman about literature and feminism, about Jane Austen and Betty Friedan. Naturally, after I started community college, I was convinced that Sarah Lawrence should be my next stop.

Then, one morning in September of 2009, she picked herself up with her son never to be heard from again. She cut off everyone from her previous life, and wrote a sensationalistic memoir, much of which I know to be untrue. Despite what she claimed, her college attendance was no secret in Airmont, and she received support and admiration from community members. Her car proudly sported a Sarah Lawrence College banner on the window. She was also not expected to be subservient to her husband. I know all this because I spent much time with her and her husband. “Unorthodox” was a stylized account of real people and situations.

It may seem curious to the reader that Feldman consistently exalts her grandmother, when she has nothing nice to say about her hasidic past. Feldman was raised by her grandmother after her own mother left a miserable marriage to a mentally ill man. The mother left with her younger daughter while Feldman remained in her grandparents’ home. In “Exodus,” as in “Unorthodox,” Grandma is everything good in Feldman’s tumultuous childhood.

In a quest to connect with her grandmother — who is still alive but with whom Feldman also cut ties — and to make sense of her heritage, Feldman travels to Hungary to retrace her grandmother’s footsteps. She finds her grandmother’s house in a small village in Nyíregyháza, Hungary, with the help of city officials who are enthralled with her brilliance and curiosity and, she says, fame. She traces her grandmother’s journey to Sweden where she recuperated after liberation. She scrupulously pieces together a puzzle of a stoic woman who survived a living hell and managed to rebuild from the ashes.

In Europe she also comes head-to-head with anti-Semitism and struggles to understand its implications. Her feigned shock at Jewish persecution comes across as juvenile, and her outrage as disingenuous. Here she walks in the so-called Jewish quarter of Córdoba, Spain and is “flattened” by the fact that all the Jewish homes were razed by riots in the 14th and 15th century. In a moment of frustration, she admonishes the man at the front desk of the Jewish museum for the injustice of the area being dubbed the Jewish quarter, and storms out lamenting that she could never live there. A block down she discovers a jeweler selling Star of David necklaces. She purchases one, proudly puts it on, and marches down the street to “meet everyone’s gaze.” She is Jewish. Her roots are there, in Córdoba.

The book is also ripe with pseudo-thoughtful observations, such as those she makes when showing her 7-year-old son “Fiddler on the Roof” to give him a taste of what Jewish life was like. She fails to acknowledge that her son spends every Shabbat and Jewish holiday with his father. Furthermore, his father, who is part of my social circle, also lives in a Jewish community. Their son does not have to see a caricatured Hollywood version of Jewish life to understand its legacy.

Feldman dedicates the last quarter of the book to her relationships with “ridiculously hot” men who are perpetually dumb. There’s Conor from New Orleans, whose genes are a mixture of Harry Connick, Jr., and Daniel Craig. Then there’s Jonathan, a “movies guy,” who isn’t a deep thinker because, as she implies, directors just don’t come that way.

In a bizarre and almost deliberate-sounding twist of fate, she hooks up with a string of German men who bring back haunting memories of Nazis and who eventually help her overcome her hatred. The first German, Otto, agrees to play the roles of Nazi officer and Jewish girl with her after their date, beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. He stands up, hovers over her with a threatening stare and demands to see her papers. She, in turn, pulls her knees into her chest, frightened. The second German is Cristopher, a Harvard professor and distinguished author of a book about Third Reich ideology. Then she meets Markus online who helps her learn German. It’s the ultimate redemptive relationship: the Nazi descendant who declares his love of Jews and the Jewish girl who comes to accept the Nazi descendant as a human being worthy of her affection. This is the transgressive section of the book and the one her fans will find most fascinating. But any deeper meaning of these relationships eludes her, or she conceals them from the reader.

In the last few pages, she laments her need to cut herself off from people when she realizes that Markus is coming too close. There’s a chasm, she says at the end, between herself and the place she comes from. In “Exodus,” Feldman leaves the reader wondering if she will ever find true peace and if she will ever reconcile with her grandmother for whom she longs but mourns as if she isn’t still living within driving distance from her home in New England. Her lack of attempt to reconnect with someone she says she pines for leaves the reader wondering why. Had Feldman explored this question, she may have made herself vulnerable, but she would also have given the reader some insight into who she really is.



Thursday, April 03, 2014

'Swamping an election': Judge blasts Lamm's protest; Bloomingburg mayorship awarded to Gerardi 

A nasty election characterized by accusations of anti-Semitism and voter fraud came to an explosive end in a courtroom Wednesday.

Rural Heritage Party challenger Frank Gerardi, who opposed the 396-home Hasidic development at the center of the election, will next week take office as the new mayor of the tiny eastern Sullivan County Village of Bloomingburg.

A Sullivan County state Supreme Court Judge upheld the challenges to more than 100 unopened ballots – of more than 200 cast – leaving Gerardi beating incumbent Mayor Mark Berentsen by a 90-28 margin. Eleven ballots will be opened by the Sullivan County Board of Elections Thursday, when Gerardi and his Rural Heritage Party running mates for village trustees and village justice are officially declared the winners.

Lamm's lawyer, John Ciampoli, also had asked that Schick recuse himself because he claimed the judge's wife appeared in a pre-election social media posting which featured anti-Hasidic comments.

Schick lashed out at Lamm because of the accusations of anti-Semitism.

“If there's anything worse than anti-Semitism, it's (false) accusations of anti Semitism,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Lamm – a Berentsen supporter whose own residency was challenged and upheld – had withdrawn from the case.

“(I) instructed my attorneys to not pursue any litigation standing in the way of certifying the election,” he said in a statement, noting this was “not a reflection on the merits of the case but a decision that moving forward is not in the long-term best interests of Bloomingburg.”

Lamm, who offered an “olive branch”... “even to those who have said and written regrettable things,” didn't show up in court to answer a subpoena issued by Gerardi's lawyers.

That clearly angered the lawyers – and Schick.

Attorney Alan Goldston essentially accused Lamm of trying to rig the election – something the federal government is apparently investigating. The FBI last month raided Lamm's office and several of his buildings where many of the voters whose residency was challenged said they lived.

Lamm “organized, arranged and induced over 100 people to come to Bloomingburg for the purpose of swamping an election,” Goldston said about the voters who registered in the month or two before the March election.

“I think you're correct,” Schick said.

In fact, when Sullivan County sheriffs visited 61 of those residences, they found “no one was living there,” said Sullivan County Assistant Attorney Tom Cawley.

Sitting almost unnoticed in the courtroom was Gerardi, a retired school maintenance worker who owned a cleaning business.

“Justice has prevailed; he (Lamm) thought we were all asleep and we woke up,” he said when it was clear he was the winner. “I get sworn in on (April) 7th and the new law and order starts on the 8th.”



Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Shalom Lamm withdraws fight over village election results; Gerardi elected new Bloomingburg mayor 

UPDATE: Frank Gerardi has been declared winner in the village election.

Judge Stephen Schick said there was an attempt by Lamm and his supporters to "stuff the ballot box."


MONTICELLO - Developer Shalom Lamm has withdrawn from his fight in the electoral battle for the Village of Bloomingburg.

Lamm's lawyer John Ciampoli told Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephen Schick Wednesday morning that he was ending his fight against opponents who question the challenge of 121 voters in the March election that has projected opponent Frank Gerardi to defeat incumbent Mayor Mark Berentsen.

"I've instructed my lawyer not to stand in the way of certifying the election," said Lamm in a statement. He also wished Gerardi good luck.

Lamm has bought several properties in the eastern Sullivan County village of 400 and wants to build various projects to serve his Hasidic development, including a private girls school.

Gerdardi ran on the Rural Heritage Party line that opposes the development.



Tuesday, April 01, 2014

N.Y. Hasidic village agrees to stop gender segregation in public park 

Kiryas Joel in upstate New York agreed to halt gender segregation at a public park in the Hasidic village.
The decision announced Monday by Kiryas Joel, which is populated by Satmar Hasidim, settles a lawsuit filed in December by civil liberties groups, according to the Courthouse News Service. The agreement was reached on March 25.

The Kinder Park was opened in April 2012. The 283-acre park includes blue-painted playground equipment and pink-painted playground equipment located in separate areas. The park’s rules, including gender separation, were listed on signs bearing Hebrew letters spelling out Yiddish words.

The park was  built using “special financing” obtained by the village’s mayor, the Gothamist reported.
Under the agreement, civil liberties monitors will visit the park twice a year for the next three years to ensure there is no gender segregation there.

“Public parks cannot segregate on the basis of sex any more than they can for race or national origin,” New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement. “This agreement ensures that all park visitors have equal access to the entire park.”



Monday, March 31, 2014

Hasidic Park No Longer Allowed To Be Sex-Segregated 


An allegedly gender-segregated park run by a Hasidic enclave in Orange County will now be subject to strict NYCLU and ACLU oversight, thanks to a lawsuit that was settled this week.

Last year, both the NYCLU and ACLU sued Satmar-run village Kiryas Joel, an enclave in Monroe, NY, claiming that the village had been requiring men and women to use separate equipment and paths in a 283-acre public park built in April. The park was reportedly built using "special financing" obtained by the village's mayor, and the constitutional watchdog groups had unsuccessfully requested financial documents through the Freedom of Information Act in hopes of tracking the park's funds, before filing a suit. "Public parks cannot segregate based on sex any more than they can on race or national origin,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement in December. “New Yorkers have every right to know if this is happening here and if tax dollars are supporting something so blatantly unlawful."

Though the village's legal representation, Donald Nichol, maintained last week that Kiryas Joel "does not have any policy of directing, endorsing, or enforcing illegal segregation on the basis of sex in public places or programs," the village has agreed to a settlement [pdf] allowing the ACLU and NYCLU to visit the park twice each summer for the next three summers, to ensure no segregation is enforced. In addition, the groups reported that signage in the park indicating that certain areas were men-only and women-only has been removed.

When the lawsuit was first filed in December, Council Member David Greenfield, who represents Brooklyn neighborhoods Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, criticized the NYCLU and ACLU for "picking on these Hasidic Jews," arguing that they should be permitted to police their park without "fear of government intrusion."

The village has been the subject of recent news reports, after announcing a proposal to annex 507 acres of land currently owned by Monroe. Many Monroe residents oppose this plan, arguing that the heavily government-subsidized village is "sucking the county bone dry," according to Westchester News 12.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Czech Minister: 'Not That Much Happened' During Nazi Occupation 

Czech Justice Minister Helena Valkova is facing harsh criticism for saying nothing much happened during the Nazi occupation of her country.

Valkova, whose father is an ethnic German and who grew up in a bilingual home, made the statement in an interview which was published on the news website echo24.cz

Asked about her views on the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II, Valkova, a politician of the center-right ANO 2011 party, said: “The worst. I understand that it was a reaction to what happened before, but in the protectorate not that much happened,” she said in reference to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia which Nazi occupation forces set up after their invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Between 1941 and 1945, 46,000 Jews were deported from Prague mostly to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and from there to Auschwitz. Only 5,000 survived.

Valkova claimed the statement was taken out of context, and that she only meant to compare the relative calm within the protectorate to war-torn Poland and Russia.

Miroslava Nemcova, a lawmaker for the conservative opposition ODS party, was one of several Czech politicians and intellectuals who criticized Valkova for her statement.

“Go to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague and read the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War,” Nemcova said in parliament Tuesday, according to the news site blesk.cz.

ODS deputy chairman Martin Kupka said the minister’s statement “denies or at least overlooks the suffering of thousands of Jews who were transferred from the Czech soil and subsequently murdered, this denies the obliteration of entire Czech villages, this denies the suffering of thousands of brave people who were killed.”



Saturday, March 29, 2014

NY fire chief 'horrified' at his own anti-Semitic remarks about town supervisor 

A Westchester County fire chief has hand delivered a letter of apology to a Jewish town supervisor for anti-Semitic remarks he made.

 Fairview Fire Chief Anthony LoGiudice visited Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner Friday, The Journal News reported Saturday.
The newspaper reported earlier this week a retired firefighter claimed LoGiudice often used an anti-Semitic slur when referring to Feiner. On Thursday, the board of the fire district confirmed LoGiudice used inappropriate language.

In his letter, LoGiudice said he was upset after reading in The Journal News the words he'd uttered and said using a slur to express anger is never appropriate.

"First, I apologize for offending you and others with my careless and hurtful words," LoGiudice wrote. "I said what I said without thought and without thinking of the pain that it would bring to this community. When I read my words in The Journal News, and realized that young people, friends, colleagues and neighbors of the Jewish faith were reading those words, I was horrified."

Feiner told the newspaper the apology was a good first step but hoped the fire chief would also visit a Manhattan holocaust museum.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Lakewood man charged with trying to steal synagogue donation box 

Elliot Shurkin

Elliot Shurkin, an 18-year-old man from Engleberg Terrace, remained Thursday in the Ocean County Jail, charged with breaking into Congregation Kol Aryeh and trying unsuccessfully to steal the wall-mounted donation box, known as pushka, according to the complaint signed March 19 by police.

Shurkin was charged at 9:30 a.m. March 18 at Lakewood Police Headquarters with the burglary two days prior at the Hope Chapel Road synagogue, criminal mischief and theft by unlawful taking, according to the complaint by Patrolman Eric Cicerello.

Shurkin’s charges stem from taking cash from the box, then “tearing moulding from the wall that was holding a pushka (donation box) to the wall,” Cicerello wrote in his report, adding Shurkin was unsuccessful at taking the box.

Shurkin was being held in jail in lieu of $7,500 bail with no 10 percent option to pay. Court officials said that Shurkin has no scheduled upcoming court appearances since his first appearance on March 19.



Australia Chabad Sex Abuse Suspect Aron Kestecher Kills Self 

Aron “Ezzy” Kestecher, a former Chabad-Lubavitch youth leader in Melbourne who was accused of child sex crimes, died in a suspected suicide.

Kestecher, 28, was found dead in his apartment Thursday. He was accused of multiple allegations of child sex abuse against minors and was due to face court in June, police confirmed Friday.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, said he visited the family on Thursday.

“I provided a measure of support and comfort to his family members and his close friends, as well as the first responders to this most tragic of events,” he said. “The deceased was a very special young man, but he was also deeply troubled.”

The Lubavitch websites Crownheights.info and shmais.com both posted death notices expressing their “profound sadness, deep pain and shock.”

David Werdiger, a grandson of one of the founders of Chabad in Melbourne, published a post about the “terrible tragedy” on Facebook, taking aim at those he claimed may have encouraged his death.

“Those who helped publicize said alleged sins, who facilitated or conducted trial by media, who acted in a heavy-handed way without thinking about the many possible consequences (or who ignored the obvious consequences following their actions) need to consider to what extent their ‘actions’ contributed to this terrible outcome,” he wrote.

Four charges of indecent acts by Kestecher against minors were withdrawn in 2012, but additional alleged victims came forward last year with one claim of sexual penetration against a child under 16 and of indecent acts with a child, resulting in the beginning of legal proceedings.

Kestecher taught at Yeshivah College, which has been at the center of the child sex abuse scandal inside Melbourne’s Jewish community. Two of its former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – were jailed last year for multiple sex crimes against more than a dozen children.



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