Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spring Valley fire: Owner faces code violations 

The owner of a Paikin Drive house severely damaged by fire Tuesday is expected to face violations after investigators found the building lacked working smoke detectors and had at least one illegal bedroom.

Two families totaling 12 people, including children, were displaced when the flames destroyed the kitchen and damaged three bedrooms that had been carved out in the lower level, Spring Valley Fire Inspector Frank Youngman said.

Youngman said the 3 p.m. fire erupted in the lower level of 27 Paikin Drive but the cause remains undetermined. He's being assisted by the Sheriff's Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

One violation will contend the dining area next to the kitchen had been illegally converted into a bedroom, Youngman said. The house also lacked working smoke detectors in the bedrooms and hallways, he said.

Building and fire officials don't suspect the house had been illegally converted into a boarding house. Two families can share a house, and regulations permit two people to share bedrooms, depending on the size of the rooms, Spring Valley Chief Building Inspector Walter Booker said.

"It's a one-family house and appears legal," Booker said. "The dining room being converted into a bedroom is illegal."

The Rockland Health Department said the house may need to be demolished.

The building is located in a neighborhood where larger houses are being constructed to accommodate the growing Hasidic Jewish population.

The owner, Menachem Stern, could not be reached for comment. Tax records give 27 Paikin Drive as his address, but he doesn't live at the house.

Booker said his office is understaffed and can't inspect all the large housing apartments, businesses, and older houses in the 2.5-square-mile community. Booker said the department has three inspectors — one just recently hired — out of six employees, including himself. Youngman works part time.

Booker said he has asked village administrators for more staffing, noting that in 1996 the department had a staff of eight and a smaller population.

Youngman said he's playing catch up inspecting hundreds of businesses, some of which have not been reviewed in years.

The displaced families were provided shelter by the Red Cross and have relatives living in the community. Youngman said he plans to re-interview the tenants about conditions in the house and how much rent they paid.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Brooklyn Fundraiser Who Solicited Donations For Fraudulent Charities In The Name Of Israeli Causes Convicted 

Yaakov Weingarten

Prosecutors today announced the felony tax fraud conviction of Yaakov Weingarten and a more than $520,000 civil judgment lodged against him and his wife for activities related to the Brooklyn-based charitable fundraising ring he operated, which solicited donations from thousands of donors for phony not-for-profit organizations. The judgment, signed by Kings County Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest on Wednesday, resolves a civil lawsuit filed by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office last year against Weingarten and his wife, Rivka, who are alleged to have been the biggest beneficiaries of the scheme and are, under the judgment, required to pay $522,315. Approximately $360,000 of those funds will go to two Israeli charitable organizations that carry out genuine programs similar to the causes for which Weingarten’s fraudulent solicitations raised donations from the public.

The judgment also permanently bars Weingarten and his associates, Simon Weiss and David Yifat, from any fundraising activities or other charitable activities in the State of New York.

Weingarten pleaded guilty May 19 in Brooklyn Supreme Court before Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino to Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree, a Class D felony. He paid $90,685 in restitution to the state Department of Taxation and Finance, and on June 23, he was sentenced to five years’ probation. As a condition of his felony probation, Weingarten is forbidden from engaging in any charitable fundraising activities for five years.

In June 2013, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau filed a civil lawsuit and obtained a temporary restraining order closing Weingarten’s fundraising operation, which Weingarten, together with associates Weiss and Yifat, ran out of a Brooklyn storefront at 1493 Coney Island Avenue. According to the suit, Weingarten, Weiss and Yifat raised donations for 19 sham charities from Jewish donors throughout North America, ostensibly for Israeli charitable causes such as emergency medical services and programs for sick children, terror attack survivors, cancer victims, and the poor. Large amounts of the money raised — an estimated $2 million — was then withdrawn from charity bank accounts. Some of that money was used to pay workers operating Weingarten’s Brooklyn telemarketing boiler room. Other funds were used by Weingarten and his family to pay for personal expenses, such as mortgages, dentist bills, car loans, and home improvements. The complaint also detailed gross mismanagement of charitable assets by Weingarten, including extensive mixing of charitable and personal funds and of funds raised for one charitable cause with those raised for another, which is barred by law. More information on the lawsuit is available here.

Under the order, Weiss, 29, and Yifat, 68, are also permanently barred from charitable fundraising in New York.

As part of his guilty plea, Weingarten, 53, admitted that between approximately June 2007 and June 2012, he solicited charitable donations for multiple entities, many of which did not exist, and obtained donations from thousands of donors. He further admitted that from January 2009 through December 2011, he paid over $270,000 in personal expenses from bank accounts set up in the names of the purported charities, including mortgages on his two homes, various home improvements, and Cablevision and Con Edison bills. Weingarten admitted that with intent to evade New York State taxes, he failed to report this money as income on his 2009, 2010 and 2011 tax returns.

On Wednesday, Justice Carolyn Demarest signed the Attorney General’s civil judgment. It permanently shuts down Weingarten’s operation and requires Weingarten and his wife, also 53, to pay a total of $522,315. Of that, $360,000 will go to the United Jewish Appeal/Federation of New York, to be distributed equally to Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, the preeminent pediatric hospital in Israel, and United Hatzalah of Israel, a leading Israeli volunteer emergency medical services organization. The remaining portion of the judgment payment is for penalties and costs to New York State.

The judgment also requires the dissolution of 11 incorporated entities Mr. Weingarten used to implement his fraudulent fundraising scheme. These entities include four “religious corporations” that on paper purported to be synagogues but in reality were mere shells that helped hide much of his activity behind a cloak of religious freedom. Weingarten also made up names of eight other entities, which were never incorporated, and used those names in his scheme. The 19 Brooklyn entities are permanently barred from operating under the order. They are: Hatzalah Rescue of Israel, Inc.; Shearim, Inc.; Bnei Torah, Inc.; Chesed L’Yisrael V’Chasdei Yosef, Inc.; Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.; Hatzalah Shomron, Inc.; Pulse Foundation, Inc.; Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholim Israel, Inc.; Kupat Reb Meir Baal Haness Bnei Torah Eretz Yisrael, Inc.; Congregation Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.; Shearim Hayad L’Torah Center for Hatzalah L’Shabbat and Chesed L’Yisrael, Inc.; Israel Emergency Center; Magen Israel; Hayad Victim Assistance Fund; Lmaan Hatorah; Our Children; Zaka Israel; Yaldel Simcha Yisrael; and Yad Yisrael.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Delta suspends flights to Israel, cites safety concerns 

US airline Delta said Tuesday it was indefinitely suspending flights between the United States and Israel, citing security concerns.

In a statement, the carrier said it had diverted a flight bound for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport to Paris on Tuesday after "reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport in Tel Aviv."

The announcement comes as an Israeli assault on Gaza entered its third week, and world powers pushed for a truce between the Jewish state and Hamas militants.

"Delta has suspended service until further notice to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and its New York-JFK hub," the airline said in a statement.

"Delta, in coordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration, is doing so to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees."

The carrier said the diverted flight was a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew on board, adding it was "working to reaccommodate these customers."

Working in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and others, Delta said it would continue to monitor the situation.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Candlelight vigil held in Bloomingburg 

Top Photo

Demonstrators, saying they are not "haters," staged a candlelight vigil Friday near a collection of businesses developer Shalom Lamm is renovating, which have been hit recently with a rash of broken-window attacks.

About 30 demonstrators massed, just before sunset, for the 90-minute gathering on Main Street, down the street from the businesses where six window attacks have occurred since mid-June.

So far, the vandals have not been caught, and Lamm and his detractors are trading accusations about who is responsible.

Lamm, an Orthodox Jew and the developer behind a controversial 396-home Orthodox development, has suggested he is the victim of anti-Semitism and has called the window attacks a "hate crime."

He declined to comment Friday, despite repeated requests from two Times Herald-Record reporters.

As the demonstrators gathered Friday night, one large window was obviously shattered.

Signs had been placed at Lamm's storefronts reading "Not in America," "Stop the Hate" and "Vill. target Jews."

Village resident Lesleigh Weinstein, who organized Friday's demonstration, said the goal was to show "the rest of the tri-county area that we are not haters and anti-Semites."

"We're not what he (Lamm) is saying we are," said Pat Kahn, a 26-year village resident. "It has nothing to do with religion. The law should be the same for everybody."

Sundown Friday marks the start of the Jewish Sabbath, when observant Jews of all persuasions attend services.

Just across the street from where the demonstrators gathered, a steady stream of Hasidic Jews, many dressed in Sabbath attire, entered an abandoned hardware store where a "stop work" order is posted.

The arrivals said the building was not being used as a synagogue.

At one point, a young Hasidic couple walked through the crowd of demonstrators.

"Want to join us?" the demonstrators asked. The couple continued on their way.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tragedy strikes the Jewish community of Lugansk 

Rocket kills mother and grandmother, leaving 4-year-old child alone

The civil warfare taking place in the easternmost city of Ukraine, Lugansk, has tragically cost the lives of two dear members of the Jewish community, Svetlana and Anna Sytnikova. The two, mother and grandmother of four-year-old Vadim – a pupil at the FJC’s ‘Or Avner’ Jewish kindergarten in town, were hit by a straying rocket as they were entering a local store.

The FJC wishes to send its sincere condolences to the family and Jewish community and especially to Vadim who will be cared for and raised so that that his mother and grandmother OBM will be proud of him.

Vadim’s only remaining relative is trying to make his way from Belarus to Lugansk, despite the danger, to participate in the funeral and take care of his orphaned nephew.

If you are interested in assisting in bringing up Vadim can do so at => https://fjc.ru/donate/ (Please indicate purpose of contribution)



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Man Faces Charges in Deadly '08 Brooklyn Assault 

A Brooklyn man who fled to Israel after the beating death of another man in 2008 appeared in a city courtroom Friday to face charges.

Yitzchak Shuchat, 31, is facing charges of second and third degree assault as a hate crime.

He is being held on $300,000 bail in connection with the assault on Andrew Charles in Crown Heights.

Shuchat was a member of a Hasidic Community Watch Group known as Shmira at the time.

He fled the country shortly after the beating but in 2011 an Israeli court decided to extradite him.

An appeal meant he was not brought back to New York until this past Thursday night.

He is due back in court on August 18.



Friday, July 18, 2014

Police investigate 2 attempted kidnappings at local Jewish center 

Police continue to investigate two similar attacks on girls at a Jewish Community Center in Southwest Miami-Dade.

According to Miami-Dade Police police, a 9-year-old girl came forward to report that two days prior to an attempted kidnapping at the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community, on July 10, a man also tried to grab her and drag her into a bathroom. Miami-Dade Police are now investigating if the two attempted kidnappings inside the JCC are connected.

On July 10, Police arrested 39-year-old Dean Beck, a special needs member at the JCC for allegedly trying to grab a 6-year-old girl and force her into the men's bathroom. That same day, police said, a 9-year-old came forward saying a similar incident happened to her on July 8.

In the July 8 incident, the 9-year-old said, she was at a vending machine when a man grabbed her from behind in a bear hug and tried to pull her towards the bathrooms. She too was able to scream and run away, but police said, she was not able to get a description of the man.

While police investigate, the Center's director, Ed Rosen, assured all of the members' records will be reviewed. "Look more closely really at the people who we serve and take necessary steps but then stop something like this from happening," Rosen said.

Administrators will be reviewing these records because, after Beck's arrest, they learned he was a registered sex offender.

Police said neither of the young girls were harmed. It also remains unclear if these two incidents are connected. Beck has not been named a suspect in the July 8 incident.

Investigators are asking for the public's help in determining whether there have been any other incidents involving Beck. If you have any information, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS or Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a reward.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Annexation for development illegal; Hasidic development construction OK 

In a split decision, a judge ruled Wednesday that the annexation of Town of Mamakating land for a 396-home Hasidic development in this tiny village was illegal, but construction of the controversial town houses could continue.

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick basically agreed with the claims of the Rural Community Coalition and the Town of Mamakating that the annexation of the land on Winterton Road violated the state constitution because it occurred without a vote of the residents of that land. But he also ruled that because the annexation took place in 2006, and construction of the homes is well underway, too much time elapsed to stop it.

Schick then seemed to toss the case back to the Town of Mamakating, whose supervisor is an opponent of the development.

"Having expected that a full build out of their project had been appropriately approved, it would now be improper for this court to judicially deny the developer defendants of the right to complete that project," Schick wrote. "Therefore this court does not grant the town's request for a preliminary injunction and it remains for the town to decide what it now does with the territory under its jurisdiction, including refusing to enforce legislation it believes to be invalid."

Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann said it was too early to say what the town would do.

"We need some time to absorb the decision and consult our lawyer," he said.

But a lawyer for the Rural Community Coalition said the decision was "what we expected."

"I'm glad we accomplished the main objective to stay the annexation," said Kurt Johnson of Bloomingburg. "But I wish we could have stopped the project where it is."

The developer of Chestnut Ridge, Shalom Lamm, said he would appeal the part of the decision that said the annexation was illegal. He referred to a June state Appellate Court decision that said the RCC and Mamakating failed to prove they could win their challenge.

"While we're pleased that the court dismissed the majority of the plaintiff's claims, we believe that portion of the decision dealing with annexation is inconstant with the Appellate Court's prior determination," Lamm said. "We're confident that the Appellate Court will correct the ruling on annexation on appeal. This decision will not serve justice but will cost the taxpayers of Mamakating even more in continued litigation."

The ruling dismissed conflict of interest charges against former Bloomingburg Mayor Mark Berentsen for buying land from Lamm and then signing an agreement giving that land access to the sewer system Lamm is building for the development and village — although it again sympathized with the charges.

"It is patently clear that the developer secured his private interests ... and certain municipal employees secured their private interests while the public's interest was left to wilt on the vine, but ... plaintiff's actions do not effectively allege fraud ... " the ruling said.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Satmar Rebbe and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry 

In her book Be-Seter Ha-Madrega (In the Covert of the Cliff), Haredi Holocaust historian Esther Farbstein writes, “Rabbi Yoel (Yoelish) of Satmar was unquestionably chief among leaders [of Haredi Jews in Hungary].” If Farbstein is correct in her claim, Rabbi Yoel’s conduct before, during, and after the Holocaust may explain, albeit only partially, the extraordinary devastation suffered by the Hungarian Orthodox community, which had regarded him as “chief among leaders.”

The first section of this article describes Rabbi Yoel’s life and actions during the Holocaust, both on personal and public levels, as reflected in his writings, the contemporary press, memoirs written by his Hasidim, and archival sources. In many cases, researchers note that Rabbi Yoel’s position regarding the Holocaust was extreme and exceptional compared to views held by other rabbis and spokespeople of the Haredi community. Yet the worldview he cultivated, coupled with his theological explanations of the Holocaust and its mystical meaning, drew a growing number of followers, in whose eyes he was the last remnant of a dying ideology. His anti-Zionist worldview, representing as it did to them the Eastern European “Old Home,” expunged his failures during the Holocaust. As his public stature grew, criticism from within diminished, while criticism from without was disregarded and dismissed as Zionist defamation.

As I argue in greater detail in the following, Rabbi Yoel’s life, activities, and decisions during the Holocaust and his pressing need to explain and justify them thereafter offer a possible explanation for the extremism of his later views. Any fair examination of the historical record shows that Rabbi Yoel’s contribution to assisting Jewish refugees and to the rescue of Transylvanian Haredi Jews was negligible. Prior to the Holocaust, he ignored the dangers threatening the Jews of Transylvania and failed to engage in the preparation of rescue and aid plans. Although he became privy to reports on the extermination of the Jewish communities in Poland, given his position as a member of the Central Bureau and through his connections with the authorities, he refrained from calling on his followers to save or prepare themselves. On the contrary, he warned any would-be immigrants to Palestine or other countries that they were in danger of severely harming their Haredi way of life. Moreover, he refrained from cooperating with the Zionist—and even with the Haredi—leadership in addressing current issues or preparing for the impending threat and even opposed measures of a religious nature, such as prayer and fast days, which he feared would be perceived as a protest against the authorities.

When the danger of war became real and immediate, Rabbi Yoel did his best to equip himself and his closest circle with certificates or visas that would facilitate their escape to Palestine or the United States. At the same time, he thwarted all attempts at cooperation between the heads of the Orthodox communities and the Zionist organizations, which could have helped to rescue them. He failed to set a personal example and rejected his associates’ advice to prepare a hiding place or attempt to cross the border to Romania. Had he done so, some of his Hasidim may have done the same and thus survived.

When put to the test, he chose to save himself clandestinely after his own congregation had already been incarcerated in ghettos and to abandon his followers in the time of their harshest adversity. His conduct stands in stark contrast to that of other rabbis in his vicinity, many of whom rejected pleas to save themselves and accompanied their congregations to the transport trains, the extermination camps, and in some cases even into the gas chambers.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Police say group threw eggs and drinks, yelled anti-Semitic slurs at Hasidic man in Eltingville 

A Hasidic Jewish man told police he was the victim of a bias attack in Eltingville Sunday morning, after a group of men in a car threw eggs and fast food drinks at him and yelled anti-Semitic slurs, according to cops.

Police are investigating the incident – which took place at the corner of Eltingville Boulevard and Barlow Avenue, not far from the Young Israel of Eltingville synagogue -- as a hate crime, an NYPD spokesman said Monday.

The incident happened at about 12:47 a.m., police said. The 20-year-old victim was walking by Eltingville Boulevard and Barlow Avenue when a gray four-door sedan drove past, then made a quick U-turn, the NYPD spokesman said.

The vehicle's passengers started throwing eggs and full drink cups from Wendy's, the NYPD spokesman said, and when the victim tried to walk away, the car drove alongside him, its occupants shouting anti-Semitic slurs.

The man called police at 2:30 a.m., and police searched the area, but couldn't find the vehicle, the NYPD spokesman said. The victim couldn't get the car's license plate.

A law enforcement source said the sedan had four occupants, all white males, but police couldn't provide specific descriptions to the Advance Monday.

Young Israel of Eltingville is located on Ridgewood Avenue, less than a block away from where the incident took place.

Sid Stadler, Young Israel's president and an Orthodox Jew, said he hadn't heard of Sunday's incident, but he and other members of the congregation have also been subjected to anti-Semitic slurs shouted by people driving past.

"They roll down the windows and start yelling, but we take it in stride," he said. "It's part of the fabric of society today, and it's happening more and more."

Stadler said that often, members of the Orthodox Jewish community don't talk about drive-by slurs.

"I encounter it at least once a month," he said, noting that the "drive-bys" often happen with more frequency after troubles in the economy, or current events like the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

"Staten Island as a whole is pretty good, but you have the tensions, what's going on in the world, and it comes out," he said.

Stadler added, "Four people in a car and one guy on the street is scary... This is an actual attack. The next time, who knows what they'll do."



Monday, July 14, 2014

Bloomingburg developer Lamm disregarding stop-work order, mayor alleges 

Even though this eastern Sullivan County village issued stop-work orders on another building owned by developer Shalom Lamm, work has continued and people have used the former hardware store on the corner of Main Street and Winterton Road, said Mayor Frank Gerardi and several residents.

This violates the July 9 order posted on the window.

“Building may not be occupied until planning board approval and/or any required permits or certificates of occupancy are obtained,” it reads.

“Basically, they did not follow the stop-work order,” said Gerardi at Thursday’s Village Board meeting, when several members of the crowd of about 50 said the order was being violated.

Gerardi later explained that the building hasn’t been inspected. The village sent its first letter in June when window and duct work was being done, Gerardi said. When the work continued, the orange stop-work order notice was posted.

“My biggest fear is that there is only one entrance and exit from upstairs (where people have gathered),” said Gerardi, who was elected in April by opponents of Lamm, who is building a 396-home Hasidic development and owns several buildings on Main Street already occupied by Hasidim. A few of those buildings and others, including part of that development, have also been issued stop-work orders.

Lamm did not want to comment.

But as Gerardi explained, the village hasn’t yet hired a code enforcement officer to enforce the occupancy laws, although it is interviewing candidates. Police have been called, he said, but have not responded.

When a few residents at the meeting protested that the new leadership was “dragging its feet,” village attorney Steve Mogel protested.

“This is a small village with a lot of big problems,” he said. “I don’t see anybody dragging their feet.”



Sunday, July 13, 2014

‘The dude is dead!’: The final moments of a ‘murder’ 

‘The dude is dead!’: The final moments of a ‘murder’

A man accused of killing Brooklyn landlord Menachem Stark spilled his guts to cops about how he and his accomplices snatched him off the street, killed him and then tried to burn his body, court documents revealed Friday.

Kendal Felix, 26, told detectives that his boss, identified only as “Erskine” approached him in December and said “Max” [Stark] owed him money and that if Felix helped him force Stark to pay up that he would give him a cut, said the documents, which were released after the suspect’s arraignment in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

On Jan. 2, the duo allegedly lay in wait as snow fell outside Stark’s Williamsburg office.

“Erskine told [Felix] that when Max comes out that he should distract him . . . When Max came out of his office [Felix] said he got out of the van and called to Max,” cops wrote in the documents, paraphrasing Felix’s confession.

“At that point, Erskine came out from the other side of the van and rushed up to Max. Kendal claimed to be a weakling so he didn’t really get involved with scuffling with Max as Erskine was.”

The two then forced the struggling Stark into a van, the papers said.

“Erskine was directing [Felix] where to drive as he was trying to tie up and tape up Max,” the papers said, adding that the men then picked up Erskine’s brother, identified only as “Kendall,” who said, “What the f–k is this?” when he got into the van.

The men then drove over to the home of another man, named only as “Irvine,” who said, “Is that guy alive?” when he got into the van.

“I said, ‘He’s breathing,’ but when Irvine checked he said, ‘The dude is dead!’ ” Felix said, according to court papers.

Irvine then got out of the van, and Erskine went back to check whether anything was happening near Stark’s office.

“He then called Kendall and told him to, ‘Get the f–k out of here cause the police be all over Max’s block,’ ” the court papers said.

Felix and Kendall then drove to Long Island.

“Kendall saw a Dumpster and said we’ll put him in there, so I pull up and Kendall had to put him in the Dumpster, as I’m not strong to do it,” Felix told the detectives, according to the court papers.

The duo drove to a gas station to fill soda bottles with gasoline and buy a lighter, then drove back to set the body on fire, the papers said.

None of the three other men named in the documents has been charged because prosecutors said they don’t have enough evidence.

Felix blabbed after cops asked him whether his preacher father taught him to tell the truth.

“Detective, you are right about that and I want to speak truthful about what happened,” Felix said, according to the documents.

Felix pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Development would lure Hasidic Jewish families 

A developer plans to build homes for as many as 1,000 Hasidic Jewish families who have outgrown their Brooklyn, N.Y., community and want to settle in the Bucks Hill neighborhood.

Residents and neighborhood representatives said they are impressed with the plan, which would develop a nearly 109-acre wooded area along Boyden Street. 



Friday, July 11, 2014

United States Intervenes in Europe’s Circumcision Wars 

The Obama administration’s anti-Semitism monitor has added an issue to his office’s portfolio: defending circumcision in Europe.

Circumcision has become a top focus for Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. He has been using the pulpit his office provides to warn European governments that moves to ban ritual circumcision could lead to the demise of their countries’ Jewish communities.

“Because circumcision is essentially universal among Jews, this can shut down a community, especially a small vulnerable community,” Forman said.

No European country has outright banned the practice, but there is increasing pressure to do so, and some countries have imposed restrictions such as requiring medical supervision.

Forman is the State Department’s third anti-Semitism monitor. While he has maintained his predecessors’ focus on anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric worldwide, he said that protecting circumcision has become urgent because calls for bans are gaining legitimacy, particularly in Northern Europe.

In the past six months, Forman has raised the issue in meetings with ambassadors to Washington from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. He says he plans to raise it with envoys from other Northern European countries, where pressures to ban circumcision are most acute.

He also has asked the relevant desks at the State Department to have U.S. diplomats raise the issue in their meetings in their host countries.

Forman, who is Jewish, contrasted efforts to prohibit circumcision with bans on ritual animal slaughter — in place in some countries for decades — which at least have workarounds, for instance by importing frozen kosher meat.

“Circumcision, if you ban it, you have three choices: You do it underground illegally, you take a little 8-day-old baby across state lines — and if you have contiguous states [with bans], doing that becomes harder and harder — or three, you emigrate,” he said.

A comprehensive 2012 survey of European Jews by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found substantial majorities of Jews classifying a hypothetical ban on circumcision as a “big problem.”

“I will wait for the developments concerning a statutory regulation on the Brit Mila,” the survey quoted a German respondent as saying, using the Hebrew phrase for ritual circumcision. “This will be crucial for my decision on whether or not to leave Germany.”

Leaders of Jewish communities in countries that are contending with public pressure to ban the practice similarly warn that such a move could spur an exodus of Jews.

“I have said that a country which saved the Jews during the Second World War, if they would establish any law against circumcision, they would have done what Hitler wanted to do,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, chief rabbi to Denmark’s Jewish community of 7,500.

European officials say their countries have instituted protections for circumcision in response to public pressures.

“A ban on circumcision is not in question for the Norwegian government,” Frode Overland Andersen, a spokesman for his country’s Foreign Ministry, said. German and Danish officials have issued similar assurances.

Jewish communal officials appreciate the assurances that circumcision will not be banned. Nonetheless, Jewish communal officials warn that the danger of circumcision bans in Europe has not substantially diminished.

“The trend is really moving against us in one considerable way, and that’s in terms of general European public opinion in Northern and Western Europe, particularly Scandinavia,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs.

Calls to ban circumcision gained momentum after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution last October that called for a public debate on the “rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity.” It lumped male circumcision with female genital mutilation and corporal punishment.

The assembly, however, lacks power. In April, the council’s leadership advised members that male circumcision was “by no means comparable” to female genital mutilation and recommended against further attempts to target the practice.

Nonetheless, children’s ombudsmen in a number of Northern European countries have called in recent years for restrictions on the practice, as have medical professionals’ groups.

Jewish leaders say that as Northern Europe becomes increasingly secularized, its populace tends to place more value on freedom from religious coercion than on freedom to practice religion.

“These are post-religious and post-ritual countries,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the Israel-based chief rabbi to Norway’s 800 Jews. “And the vast majority of the population don’t have a clue what ritual is. They see ritual in general as something which belongs to some dark evil — they have medieval conceptions [of rituals] which have nothing to do with modern society.”

In one way, some Scandinavian governments have nodded toward circumcision opponents by including in their laws requirements that circumcision take place under medical supervision. Norway’s parliament passed such a law last month. Norwegian Jewish leaders applauded the measure because it allowed the rite to be carried out under a physician’s supervision.

In Sweden, said Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the country’s 20,000-strong Jewish community, circumcision is permitted until two months, which effectively shuts out the Muslim community, in which boys are often circumcised as toddlers.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe helps drive the anti-circumcision clamor, Jewish communal leaders say. If anything, sensitivities in Northern Europe about the 20th-century record on Jews are what has led governments to protect circumcision.

“One of the important parliamentarians told me it is convenient for us to put the Jews at the front of this issue,” Melchior said. “Because in the public in Norway still, it is much more difficult to go out against the Jews than the Muslims.”

Jewish officials said that anti-Semitism, while a concern in other areas, is not a factor in the debate, although Jewish stereotypes have emerged in its wake. When pro-circumcision activists in Germany cited American studies showing that the practice was practically harmless and had possible medical benefits, opponents suggested that American Jewish doctors had skewed the studies.

The key to preserving circumcision, according to Ervin Kohn, president of Norway’s Jewish community, is lobbying the political class, which is sensitive to international image.

“For most of the Norwegian people it is strange, so they believe all sorts of things and don’t know too much and are easily impressionable,” he said, regarding views on circumcision. “Those who know are the politicians — they made the right decision.”

Jewish communal leaders in the Scandinavian countries said that blunt intervention from abroad could backfire, noting the hackles that were raised when Israel’s government issued dire warnings against banning circumcision after last year’s Council of Europe vote.

However, they welcome Forman’s more subtle overtures, saying that the Obama administration’s signaling of its interest in ensuring a future for European Jewish communities has proven salutary.

“I’m still on a high from presenting President Obama to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah,” said Posner-Korosi, describing a visit to Stockholm last year during which Obama also honored Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. “It conveyed such a strong message, not just about Raoul Wallenberg but about anti-Semitism, about recognizing minorities.”

Looking out for minorities is the point, Forman said.

“Our priority is to make sure these communities don’t go out of existence,” he said. “It would be a tragedy not just for the communities. It would be a tragedy for Europe, for these cultures.”



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hasidic Williamsburg, as Seen by One Who Left Sect 

On a recent sunny Monday, a bespectacled young woman stood at Broadway and Marcy Avenue, a Brooklyn crossing where hipsters, Hispanics and Hasidim mingle in a way that defines Williamsburg in 2014: a chic coffee shop near a Caribbean restaurant near a group of bearded men wearing black hats.

“We’re going into a really, really different part of New York City,” said the woman, Frieda Vizel, a microphone strapped to her head, “and I want us to be able to put that in a larger context.”

Ms. Vizel, 29, operates a tour business called Visit Hasidim and was about to lead her latest group of curiosity seekers on an educational perambulation through a section of Williamsburg roughly bounded by Broadway, Division Avenue, Heyward Street and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and populated largely by ultrareligious Jews.

While legions of tour guides have long shepherded the inquisitive through the city’s neighborhoods, Ms. Vizel said she offers something special: an insider’s look at a community that is famously difficult to penetrate, mostly because among those seeking to recreate the shtetl of yore, insularity is a core value.

Ms. Vizel is herself a former Hasid, born and raised in Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic village in Orange County, N.Y. At a time when the Hasidim’s reclusive nature increasingly butts up against the modern world, she claims unique insight into not just the community’s past, but also its present tensions. “My goal,” she said, “is to bring the culture down from this exotic place to a human level.”

Fearing criticism from local Hasidim who might view her tours as disrespectful, Ms. Vizel has not publicized her work widely. But after some consideration, she permitted a reporter to join a recent trip. “As we walk through the streets,” she told the roughly two dozen men and women with her, “I want you to try to see it through my eyes.” One of those on hand, 21-year-old Grace Idle, said she was “quite nervous about how the people in the community will see us.”

That community is made up of members of a highly ritualistic sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism who, as Ms. Vizel explained, began settling in Williamsburg in large numbers during and just after World War II as Hasidim fleeing Europe took refuge in the United States.

“These Jews are war-ravaged; families were destroyed,” she said. “When we walk into Williamsburg, we have to look at it through the lens of preservation and rebuilding. That can help us understand a lot of what drives this extreme sense of stopping time and resisting change. Because it’s: ‘Here we are. We have recaptured; let us not lose it again.’ ”

The group stopped at Cubicles Internet cafe on Division Avenue, which offers access to a vetted version of the web. Here, local residents take advantage of technology without being exposed to ideas deemed inappropriate. The conversation turned to education — how secular schoolbooks are censored in Hasidic circles and crayon-wielding auditors redact references to frowned-upon concepts.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“We would always spend a lot of time clawing the crayon markings off,” Ms. Vizel said. Offenders, she added, were obvious from the black wax on their fingernail tips.

Then it was on to Lee Avenue, “sort of the Main Street of Williamsburg,” she said, “where everyone sees everyone, where everyone checks everyone out.”

Ms. Vizel then shifted to describing the Hasidic life cycle. “Achieving a successful life is building a family that will continue to pass on the sacred traditions,” she explained. High achievers are those with big families. Marriages are arranged at age 18 by a shadchen who earns a check for every match made.

“What makes two families match?” Ms. Vizel asked rhetorically. A Hasidic girl stopped to listen. “Usually it is being on the same socioreligious platform in the Hasidic community. A lot of that can be based on a woman’s headgear.”

A woman wearing a wig is fairly liberal, Ms. Vizel said. A woman in a wig and a hat is a bit more religious. A scarf indicates extreme piety. “The term would be ‘a hat family,’ ” Ms. Vizel said. “The shadchen would say, ‘I have a great girl from a hat family.’ ”

Ms. Vizel is from a “scarf family.” Until she was 21, she lived a pious life. She married and gave birth to a son. In 2006, she began a blog under the pseudonym Shpitzle Shtrimpkind. At first, she wrote about marriage and family. “I thought: I’m going to defend the community,” she said.

As she gained a following, however, her online conversations changed her worldviews. “It destroyed my belief that the outside world is this chaotic, dangerous place,” she said. “And I started to think of it as a place of opportunity.”

By 2007, she had stopped blogging and begun “trying to put the genie back in the bottle.” She tried marriage counseling, unsuccessfully. In January 2010, her divorce became final.

Ms. Vizel, who lives in Pomona, N.Y., is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Last summer, at a professor’s suggestion, she began leading the Williamsburg tours. Groups range from two to 45 people. She charges $500 per group or $50 per individual.

Ms. Vizel — who is not the only former Hasid giving Williamsburg tours; Jacob Gluck has a similar business — said she was aware that New Yorkers sometimes viewed visits like the ones she leads as unwanted incursions. Last year, for example, a company called Real Bronx Tours drew sharp criticism for inaccurately depicting the borough by advertising “a ride through a real New York City ‘GHETTO.’ ” As a result of the uproar, the company announced that it would cease giving tours of the Bronx.

Ms. Vizel said she aims to avoid similar criticism by guiding a fact-based visit. Still, she acknowledged, “I walk a very fine line between being welcome in Williamsburg and not.”

During the recent tour, local reaction was mixed. At Ross Street and Bedford Avenue, one woman pronounced loudly that she disagreed with a point Ms. Vizel was making about wigs.

“Is this needed?” the woman said later, declining to give her name. “I don’t know. Maybe an understanding does foster better relationships. On the other hand, what we’re not looking for is relationships with the outer world.”

Others seemed less bothered by the visitors. Josef Honig, 72, a Hasidic retiree, called the idea “wonderful.” “Ten tours a day would give us some problems,” he said. “One or two would be just enough.”



Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Brooklyn cantor begins serving two-year prison term in controversial sex abuse case 

Baruch Lebowitz, 62, began serving his two-year prison sentence on Wednesday.

A Brooklyn cantor was hauled to prison Wednesday for abusing a teenage boy, capping a controversial and convoluted case a full decade in the making.

An unapologetic Baruch Lebovits, 62, got shackled, waved goodbye to his son and was led away to serve a two-year stint in prison — which translates to only a handful of months after credit for good behavior and time served.

The Hasidic defendant, who copped in May to felony sex abuse against a 16-year-old in 2004, had already spent 13 months in prison after he was found guilty in a 2010 trial and sent to a maximum of 32 years behind bars — before the conviction was overturned on appeal.

In between then and now, a man accused of illegally meddling in the case was indicted and much later cleared, the competing prosecutions became fodder during last year’s district attorney election and numerous accusations of payoffs and witness intimidation have been lobbed.

But one thing never happened.

“He still wouldn’t apologize to me in person,” Lebovits’ victim, now 26, said during brief remarks in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Wearing a blue T-shirt and cargo pants, the man, who received a civil settlement from Lebovits’ family that included an undisclosed amount of cash,was accompanied by a therapy dog.

His father spoke next, quoting King David, Martin Luther King and Maimonides.

“We all have been excommunicated for the past six years from some of the Hasidic communities,” he said of his family, describing the experience of many Jewish sex victims who seek justice in secular courts.

He praised his son for his “bravery and self-sacrifice, for going forward with the case despite the harassment you endured from the community.”

Justice Mark Dwyer acknowledged the case was controversial, but added he won’t delve into Rabbinical issues.

“We’re all Americans and this American court is going to treat everybody the same,” he said.

The judge had previously explained that his promised two-year sentence is in-line with similar punishments for the admitted offenses in the state.

Anti-abuse activists have slammed the outcome as too lenient, charging that Lebovits was a serial molester who had many more victims. The high-powered defense team have argued that allegations of indecency were trumped-up to meet the legal definition of felonies.

When it was his turn to speak, Lebovits just stood up and thanked the judge.
The victim’s dad addressed the abuser just minutes earlier.

“As you’re going away for a while, I would like to ask you to reflect during that time on how you destroyed an innocent life,” he said. “You still never said three simple words to (my son): ‘I am sorry.’”



Daughter lived with mom’s corpse for a year 

In a gruesome scene straight out of “Psycho,” a young Brooklyn woman was found to have been living for at least a year with her mom’s skeletal remains, law-enforcement sources said.

The rotting corpse, believed to be that of Susie Rosenthal, 61, was discovered Monday under a pile of garbage bags in the Borough Park apartment she shared with her daughter, Chava Stirn, 28, according to the sources.

Police had been called to the apartment at 3 p.m. after neighbors reported a foul odor and an unexplained leak, sources said.

When cops approached Stirn, she was acting “erratically” and was taken to Maimonides Medical Center for a psych evaluation.

The corpse was found at 5 p.m., the sources said.

Neighbors told cops Rosenthal had not been seen lately.

Both mother and daughter had histories of psychological issues, sources said.

The Medical Examiner’s Office will perform an autopsy.



Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Teen arrested in Sullivan County road rage incident 

A Rockland County teen is facing charges for a reported road rage incident Sunday in the Town of Thompson.

Sullivan County Sheriff's Deputies say Gedaliya Rauch, 18, of Monsey pointed a gun at another driver near Exit 106 on Route 17. Rauch was taken into custody after turning onto Cimarron Road, a dead end. Deputies say an Airsoft BB gun was recovered from under the front seat.

According to officers the car Rauch was driving had tinted windows and two fake radio antennas mounted on the trunk to make the car look like an unmarked police vehicle.

Rauch was charged with Misdemeanor Menacing and Reckless Endangerment. He was arraigned and sent to Sullivan County Jail in lieu of $2,500 bail.



Alleged New Square sex abuse victim speaks to News 12 

The alleged victim at the center of an explosive sex abuse scandal rocking the Hasidic village of New Square stepped forward to speak to News 12.

Rabbi Moshe Taubenfeld is headed to court Tuesday on accusations he repeatedly molested a young boy.

The alleged victim, who calls himself Laiby, told News 12 he initially turned to Taubenfeld for guidance after the Sept. 11 attacks back when he was 9 years old.

Laiby claims that Taubenfeld, who is a father of 20, ordered him to pull down his pants and then touched him inappropriately. He says the unholy acts became ritualistic, as he eventually started going over to Tabuenfled's home almost daily.   

"He actually gave me $20 every time he touched me," he said.

After five years, Laiby said he got the courage to tell his family about the incidents, but when his mother confronted the head rabbis of New Square, they didn't believe her.

Laiby said he moved out of New Square when he was 16 because he couldn't take it anymore.

One night, after seeing the movie "Zero Dark Thirty," he said that if people could go after Osama bin Laden for justice, he would do the same for Taubenfeld.

He called police to report the abuse, and says threats immediately followed.   

"I feel proud, courageous,” says Laiby. “I know I am doing the right thing."

Taubenfeld is the brother of a convicted sex offender, the first in New Square history to get reported to the police.  Despite a taped confession, Hershel Taubenfeld avoided prison time and Laiby is fearful history will repeat itself.

Taubenfeld is facing 10 years behind bars.



Camp pool vandalized at East Ramapo school 

Police are investigating an apparent act of vandalism at a religious summer camp leasing school property from the East Ramapo district.

A vinyl pool installed by Orthodox-Jewish Camp Shalom at the Chestnut Ridge Middle School was slashed in seven places over the weekend. It is one of four temporary pools planned by the camp, which is leasing the building and grounds for $125,000 this summer.

Ryan Karben, lawyer for the New Jersey-based camp, urged authorities to investigate the incident as a hate crime. He said the camp has been subjected to harassment, had its workers cursed at and had unwarranted complaints against it filed with police. He said the angry rhetoric has also been harsh on social media sites.

"Vandalism doesn't happen in a vacuum," Karben told reporters Monday afternoon. "There's been a huge amount of invective that's been hurled against the camp ... so clearly there's a climate in which it's reasonable to look at the camp as a target of anti-Orthodox bias, and I say that with great sadness, because most of these campers are from Bergen County, and Rockland County doesn't need to be a place that's known for divisiveness and hate, where you come from out of state to try to give your kid a great summer and they wind up being subjected to vandalism."

Ramapo police detectives have been interviewing neighbors and searching for security video that might show what happened, Detective Sgt. John Lynch said.
"This is criminal mischief," Lynch said. "As for the motivations, we won't know that until we get the person or persons in custody."
Karben said the camp was assessing whether it will press charges pending the police investigation. The camp has no security cameras but will look into bolstering security after the incident, he said.

The camp opened last week but no children were present when the pool was damaged, Karben said.
He said the slashed pool is unusable and the camp is waiting for a damage estimate. Repair or replacement could further delay the camp's efforts to meet Rockland County Health Department requirements for a pool permit, which it needs so hundreds of campers can swim.
The incident follows debate over the camp's use of district property amid longstanding tension between public school advocates and the Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish-dominated East Ramapo school board. Much of the controversy has focused on work done before permits were obtained and a dispute over whether local municipal permits were necessary for construction at the site.

The county Health Department said last week the camp could go ahead with pool construction. A formal permit to operate the pools will hinge on an inspection once they're up and running, said Catherine Quinn, associate public health engineer for the county.
She said county environmental health workers visited the middle school Monday after receiving two email complaints over the weekend. Complainants documented food scraps and garbage on the property and raised concerns about the pool's accessibility during non-camp hours, Quinn said.

No garbage was found, she said.
Karben addressed the permit controversy in light of the weekend incident.

"Whatever controversy there is over a camp needing a permit, it is not grounds for ... vandalism," he said. "The toxic politics of East Ramapo shouldn't be spoiling the summer of 700 children."

Anyone with information can call Ramapo police at 845-357-2400.



That Hasidic beggar isn’t Jewish 

Look again. That Hasidic panhandler on the streets of Brooklyn isn’t necessarily who you think she is.

The New York Post reports that non-Jewish beggars are posing as Hasidim in order to maximize their intake. They may not be members of the tribe, but the panhandlers have gotten wind of the mitzvah of tsedakah, or giving charity — especially prior to Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

“They’re good people. They’re righteous people,” said Vincent Maurizio, who has begged at 13th Avenue and 43th Street in the heavily Hasidic Borough Park for almost two decades. Maurizio reported that he had collected $750 during Passover this year.

There are also women out there posing as Orthodox Jews. They wear long skirts and cover their hair with snoods. Some also push children in baby carriages so as to blend in among the large Hasidic families in the neighborhood.

These savvy panhandlers have learned to use a few key Hebrew and Yiddish words, like “Shabbat,” “shalom” and “tsedakah,” but it is their mispronunciation of the latter that sometimes gives them away.

“They go, ‘Sedaka’… A lot of non-Jewish people can’t pronounce the ‘T’ and the ‘S’ [in ‘tsedaka’], so you know they’re not Jewish,” noted Bernard Vei, an Orthodox Jew.

However, if what the beggars have told the Post about their earnings is true, then the shoddy Hebrew accent has not been much of an impediment. It would seem that many Jews have given the impostors the benefit of the doubt.

“We’re good people; we always give. That’s the problem — they think we have all of the money in the world!” said Vei.



Monday, July 07, 2014

Known for Rescues, a Firefighter Dies in a Brooklyn Blaze 

After the call came in — a fire licking the curtains in a 19th-floor bedroom window, smoke pouring into the night — the fire ladder truck from nearby Hooper Street was the first to arrive on Saturday at the Brooklyn high-rise. Out jumped Lt. Gordon Matthew Ambelas, a 14-year veteran, leading a team of four firefighters into 75 Wilson Street in Williamsburg. It seemed a routine fire, nothing out of the ordinary. Yet minutes after Lieutenant Ambelas, 40, headed into apartment 19B with two other firefighters to look for people who might be trapped, he was carried out unconscious, badly burned and on the verge of death.

A man who had made a career of rescuing people — from the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks, to the floods of Hurricane Sandy, and most recently from the clutches of a metal gate that had trapped a child — could not be saved.

As family and friends mourned the lieutenant on Sunday, the events on the 19th floor of the building in the Independence Towers remained murky. Investigators sought to determine how a blaze that did not at first appear unusual ended in the first death of a city firefighter in the line of duty in more than two years. A preliminary investigation found that it was started by an air-conditioner power cord that was “pinched” between the bed and a wall on its way to a power outlet, said Jim Long, a Fire Department spokesman.



Sunday, July 06, 2014

Hasidic Jews seek to expand enclave 

Kiryas Joel is a fast-growing island of ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic Jews in Orange County. Sidewalks are busy with mothers in head coverings pushing strollers, and kids' plastic tricycles seem to outnumber cars.
Now a petition to expand the densely settled village by annexing 507 acres of leafy lots nearby has heightened tensions with some suburban neighbors. While expansion could help a village bursting at the seams, there are fears it would lead to unwanted increases in apartment complexes, homes and traffic.
"The quality of life here will be completely destroyed," said John Allegro, standing on his family's wooded 1.5-acre lot, which he said would be semi-circled by annexed land. Allegro said he moved farther from New York City to escape that hubbub.
Kiryas Joel was founded within the town of Monroe in the mid-1970s by members of the Satmar sect seeking a tranquil setting. Men wear black suits with brimmed hats and women dress modestly. Marriages come early and families are large.
Multifamily apartment buildings, many three stories tall, are packed into the 1.1-square-mile village to keep up with the growing population. Village trustee Jacob Freund said that in one area, 180 families live on 3 acres, a density he worries is unsafe.
Some of the Satmar live just outside the village, where more restrictive zoning typically requires a single-family home to be on at least 1.5 acres. A number of these out-of-village residents signed a petition requesting that their land become part of the village. An environmental review must be conducted.
A group of residents called United Monroe, which includes Allegro and others, has been raising alarms about the landowners' annexation request. They argue looser village zoning could usher in a new wave of high-density development that will stress sewers, hurt air quality and create a "dramatic change in the rural landscape."



Saturday, July 05, 2014

KJ has come long way in service special needs student population 

The classrooms are bright and cheerful. The children are quick to smile. In fact, in Mrs. Blimy Kramer's pre-K classroom, that was the goal of the day – to make sure that each child smiled.

That's a tall order when you consider that all 216 full-time and 218 part-time students enrolled in the Kiryas Joel School District have special needs. They include kids with multiple disabilities, autism and Down syndrome. They range in age from 3-21. The students are Hasidic Jews. Their first language is Yiddish.

The district is a mystery to many. Visits by the media are rare. This is a district whose very existence came before the U.S. Supreme Court – not once but twice.

Superintendent Joel Petlin opened the doors of the district to the Record in the last weeks of the regular school year.

“Not a single parent will say they wished to have a kid with special needs,” said Kiryas Joel Principal Jehuda Halpern. “Parents sometimes are in pain or under stress and we help them through the process. Special-needs children need help to overcome obstacles in reading, walking, talking.”

The district has community liaisons and crisis counselors who will make home visits if necessary. Among the 235 staff members in the school are 100 therapists, said Halpern.

What's more, the district has significantly “changed the culture and how we deal with behavioral issues” in recent years, thanks to a program launched by the state Education Department (NYSED), said Halpern.

Under the program known as PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), the state provided 10 regional special education assistance centers.

“The behavior specialists from each center work with NYSED-designated school districts to establish and sustain positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) within those school districts,” said Tom Dunn, spokesman for NYSED.

Thousands of other kids living in the district attend one of three nearby religious private schools, known as yeshivas.

As required by law, the district provides busing for about 7,000 of these private school students. They account for much of the district's $4 million in transportation costs in a budget totaling $22.6 million for the 2014-15 school year.

And while it may seem to some that the district has an unusually high percentage of special-needs children, Petlin points out that looks are deceiving.

"There are 10,000 kids living in Kiryas Joel," said Petlin. "We serve about 400 of the kids, so our referral rate is about 4 percent, which is much lower that the statewide average (15 percent). It's concentrated here because we have one building."

While other districts provide special education through BOCES, private placements and as part of regular public school classes, the Kiryas Joel district provides the same services all under one roof.

The district has come a long way from when it opened it doors 24 years ago as a result of state legislation. Its enrollment has more than doubled in size.

The original pre-fab school building, which was "smaller, scary and darker," was replaced six years ago with a new 44,000-square-foot school constructed on top of the former school bus parking lot, said Petlin, who was the youngest member of the legal team that successfully defended the district against legal challenges brought by the State School Boards Association.

The district has had visitors in recent months, including students from West Point who were studying cultural diversity.

"When people see beyond the external appearances such as the skullcap," Halpern said, "they realize that the topics we deal with are very similar."



Friday, July 04, 2014

Florida rabbi finds seven pairs of tefillin being sold in unclaimed airline baggage store in Alabama 

Rabbi Uri Pilichowski with the last mystery pair.

A Florida rabbi on vacation with his family visited a store that sells unclaimed airline baggage in Scottsboro, Ala., on Tuesday, looking for some cheap cell phones.

Instead, he made the religious discovery of a lifetime: seven pairs of tefillin, the small Scripture-filled boxes which observant Jews wrap around their arm and perch on their forehead during morning prayers.

“I was very surprised,” Rabbi Uri Pilichowski recalled.

The boxes, leather straps and carefully written scriptures inside are considered very holy items that must be buried in the ground when no longer usable, according to Jewish law. They can cost upwards of $1,000 and are typically stored in unique bags with the owner's name or Hebrew initial on it.

But the Unclaimed Baggage Center had no idea about their true worth and was selling each pair for $45.

"We bought them all," Pilichowski said.

He then posted photos of each bag on Facebook explaining that he was looking for their owners. Within hours the post had been shared nearly 2,000 times.

And he’s since returned six of the seven pairs, mailing four to their owners in New York.

Each bag its own story.

One had a tag inside with a last name that sounded familiar: Malka.

Years ago, Pilichowski went to a Passover charity camp in Ukraine with someone with that same last name. So he reached out to his old buddy, a Chabad Hasid living in Los Angeles.

"How many people have that last name?" he said.

It was an instant match.

"I was very, very shocked," Yossi Malka, 37, told the News, noting that the tefillin was a family heirloom.

His father, David, 58 who worked as a chef for the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, passed away due to pancreatic cancer in October.

But before he died, he bequeathed his cherished tefillin to his oldest grandson, Abie, who was soon to have his bar mitzvah.

A few months later, the pair got lost during a layover in Charlotte as the family was headed to visit family in Cancun, Mexico for Passover.

“At some point it was misplaced,” Malka remembered. “It was devastating. I did not want to share it with the rest of my family.”

He returned to Charlotte to search the airport’s lost and found, to no avail.

But he never thought the holy pair was lost forever.

He got a “loaner” pair from a charity group and waited, praying the original would be found and returned.

"I was excited like crazy," after getting the call. "It’s just amazing."



Thursday, July 03, 2014

Lakewood courtesy busing deal rejected 

Private school leaders have rejected a 15-minute change in the start time for schools, even though the savings likely would have been enough to retain courtesy busing for all students, a district official said.

As a result, Lakewood is moving ahead with its plan to offer courtesy busing only to students in kindergarten through third grade, meaning thousands of students in the fourth grade and up will have to find another way to school.

In a private meeting Wednesday designed to find some solution to the district busing battle, Lakewood officials proposed that girls schools start at 8:45 a.m. and that boys schools start at 9:15 a.m. —instead of 9 a.m. for everyone. But the township's private school leaders said no, said Gus Kakavas, the district's transportation consultant. The change would have resulted in at least $3 million in savings, he said.

"We understand why they said no," said Kakavas, referring to concerns that staggered start times would negatively impact family dynamics. "But it undoubtedly would have saved us money."

With no alternate plans offered, Lakewood decided Wednesday to begin the bidding process that private bus companies will participate in for the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Laura Winters said. Only students from kindergarten to third grade are set to receive the service, she said.

But a prominent rabbi involved in the last-minute discussions involving the private school leaders dismissed the district's deadline, saying that if a solution is found in the coming days, public school officials likely would amend their plans and expand the service.

"It's an artificial deadline," Rabbi Moshe Rev Weisberg said. "If additional resources come in, we will amend it, we will rebid it, we will do whatever is necessary."

Lakewood's $151 million budget for the upcoming year did not include approximately $4 million in courtesy busing — offered to children who live within 2.5 miles of their schools — for students in grades four to 12 because of cost constraints.

Roughly five out of six students in Lakewood attend private schools, which are also serviced by public buses.

Weisberg compared the prospect of Lakewood's children walking to school in September to that of three Israeli teenagers who were found dead in a pit in late June after they tried to hitchhike home in the West Bank.

"Let's not think of what could happen to our children if they decided to hitchhike to school," Weisberg said. "We don't buy that this is a luxury. This is for the safety of our children."

Up to now, efforts to secure additional funds from the state Department of Education for the service have been unsuccessful.

Members of the Iggud Hamosdos — a consortium of private schools in Lakewood — met this week to see if adjustments could be made from within.

But the leaders did not agree to concessions such as consolidating bus routes, staggering school start times or minimizing house stops.

"We're still forging ahead, trying to find a solution," said Weisberg, who expects meetings will continue in the coming days.

Last month, members of Iggud Hamosdos asked the parents of Lakewood's private school students to drive their children to their classes for two days rather than allow them to ride public buses as a "drill" of how the reduction of courtesy busing would impact township traffic in September.

On the protest's first day, parents on their own staggered the times they drove their children to school, leading traffic to not be dramatically worse than on a typical Lakewood day. When leaders asked the parents to basically leave at the same time on the protest's second day, traffic was much worse.

Most of Lakewood's private schools are Orthodox religious centers, a reflection of the township's growing Jewish population. In 2009, more than half of its residents were Jewish, according to a survey by the University of Miami and the University of Connecticut.

Lakewood's population is projected to grow from 92,000 in the 2010 U.S. Census to 220,000 by 2030.

Last week, Gus Kakavas was set to become a victim of Lakewood's courtesy busing wars, when the Board of Education voted not to renew his contract as the district's transportation consultant for the 2014-15 school year.

But Michael Azzara, a state monitor appointed to Lakewood to oversee its financial and educational decisions, overruled the board's decision.

Kakavas set Wednesday as the deadline for filing the bid specifications because he said the process takes a certain amount of time. Once Lakewood selects the transportation companies for the upcoming school year, everyone needs to become familiar with the routes and with who is doing what so the process is in place for the first day of school, he said.

"I've been doing this for many years, trust me when I tell you that it takes a certain amount of time to get it right," Kakavas said.



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