Thursday, July 19, 2018


While Jews are no more likely to be sexually abused than other Americans, individuals who have left the Orthodox community are more than four times as likely to have been molested as children than the general population, a new study has found.

The study, by two Orthodox Jewish researchers, surveyed more than 300 participants over a three-year period. Its authors — Dr. David Rosmarin of Harvard and Dr. David Pelcovitz of Yeshiva University — said their report was an attempt to address a lack of research on the prevalence of sexual abuse in the Jewish community.

While the rate of abuse was higher among formerly Orthodox individuals, Rosmarin and Pelcovitz also found that abuse was "associated with significantly lower levels of intrinsic religiosity and lower levels of religious observance" among victims who chose to remain part of the Orthodox community.

"This report supports the anecdotal evidence I've seen that indicates a close link between abuse in a religious context and the subsequent rejection of that community, its practices, values and often everything it stands for," said Manny Waks, the founder of Tzedek, an Australian advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse. "This is proof for what he already knew. I've met many people who were religious, especially within the ultra-Orthodox community, who left because of sexual abuse."

Rosmarin is director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts and an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. According to the study, formerly Orthodox individuals were substantially more likely to report abuse than those who remain part of the community — perhaps an obvious point given the inhibitions regarding speaking out in tight-knit communities. Various haredi Orthodox organizations have debated in recent years whether and how to report child abusers to law enforcement agencies.

Among the participants in the study, 100 were Orthodox from birth, 98 became Orthodox later in life, 138 were non-Orthodox and 36 were raised Orthodox and later left. According to Rosmarin, this included Hasidic respondents from the more insular Brooklyn communities of Williamsburg and Borough Park.

The study appears in the July 2018 issue of the  Child Abuse & Neglect journal.

While Rosmarin said he hasn't fully fleshed out the causal relationship between abuse and the abandonment of religion, he believes the study "was pretty conclusive" that there is one.

It seemed to back up previous research showing that "the experience of sexual abuse interferes with people's spiritual lives," an effect not only limited to the formerly Orthodox, he said.

"An Orthodox [victim] who grew up Orthodox and is still Orthodox is less likely to have strong levels of belief than their colleagues who haven't been sexually abused," Rosmarin said.

Some have expressed skepticism regarding the research by Rosmarin and Pelcovitz. While declining to comment on the study directly, Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, an organization that helps former haredim integrate into mainstream American life, said that while "we certainly see high rates of abuse reported by people" who have left the community, the decision to leave Orthodoxy was not necessarily due to the abuse itself.

Santo said the communal response to abuse was more significant than the declining religiosity brought on by the abuse itself.

"If someone experiences abuse as a child and told a parent who spoke to the school and nothing is done, it opens up a Pandora's box of questions for them," she said. "People who made the very difficult decision to leave ultra-Orthodoxy are leaving because its a place where their questions are not necessarily welcome."

Queens College sociologist Samuel Heilman, an expert on American haredi Orthodoxy, questioned the study's methodology, telling JTA that he believed that the study undercounted haredim from the more insular Hasidic movements, especially as much of the questioning was done online.

The connection between abuse and the abandonment of religion was also not particularly simple, Heilman said, calling it a chicken and egg scenario.

Those who are already "on the borderline of 'deviance' are much more liable to be the subject of abuse because the abusers figure these people are already borderline and are less likely to be believed if they say something," he said.

Heilman used "deviance" in the sense of individuals who deviate from the religious norms of their religious communities, which often include shunning secular education, limiting social contact with non-haredim and dressing according to distinct rules of modesty.

Waks, who grew up within the Chabad Hasidic community and was molested as a child, said that when abuse occurs within a religious context in places such as synagogues and ritual baths, subsequent cover-ups by insular religious communities lead victims to lose "all belief in the so-called religious leaders."

Rosmarin said he has spoken to patients who were abuse victims and did not feel comfortable speaking about their experiences with members of their haredi communities. As a result, he said, such victims never receive the kind of validation they need to cope with their trauma. This lack of validation only compounds the typical religious doubts, such as questioning God's justice and asking how God could allow such things to happen.

Yechiel, an abuse victim living in the New York tristate area who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, described how a yeshiva classmate groomed and abused him for a number of years while teachers and administrators ignored the warning signs.

"I didn't want to tell anybody because I didn't know if I would be believed," he said. "Looking back now, there were so many clues my rabbis could have picked up. I feel like they were purposefully naive. The only answer is they wanted to cover it all up. That really affects me."

Yechiel began losing respect for the community and its leaders, and said the only reason he is still formally religiously observant is for the sake of his wife and children. While he has built his own personal relationship with God, "the actual practices of religion" have become incredibly difficult.

"I struggle with Shabbat and a lot of halachot [Jewish laws]," he said. "Many rules are too much for me."

As for those who have left Orthodox Judaism behind, Yechiel said that he fully understands their decision and believes they will be judged more favorably by God than the rabbis and communal leaders.

"It's completely not their fault" that they left, he said.

According to Meyer Seewald, executive director of Jewish Community Watch, a New York-based victims advocacy group, the tendency of insular religious groups to cast doubt on victims' claims and defend alleged abusers has had far-reaching effects on children who were molested.

"If you had a community that had a leader that called on people to come forward and said 'we believe you and will protect you,'" Seewald said, "I believe 150 percent that people wouldn't be leaving in the way that they are."



Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Orthodox mob harasses teenage girl in Jerusalem suburb over ‘immodest’ clothing 

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A haredi Orthodox mob chased a teenage girl down a main thoroughfare in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh due to her "immodest" attire.

City residents have been complaining about religiously motivated violence in the Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet neighborhood outside Jerusalem for years. Extremists there frequently clash with police attempting to remove signs calling for public gender segregation.

In a video of Monday's incident, the girl can be seen running down Nahar Hayarden Street, chased by what appears to be dozens of screaming men in haredi Orthodox garb. Some residents of the neighborhood have complained that they have been harassed and pushed to leave the neighborhood by the extremists, who recently announced a "war" on formerly haredi residents who frequent the neighborhood.

In response to the attack, dozens of secular and national-religious residents held a rally Tuesday protesting the lack of security.

"In one of the neighborhoods, every time I pass through to go to work the children throw stones at me because I am not dressed modestly," one demonstrator told Walla News.

On Wednesday evening 150 extremists demonstrated outside of the homes of two families affiliated with the Chabad hasidic movement, demanding that they move out. "They have big dogs that they walk around with in the street, they deliberately chase children with them and frighten them, they intentionally defile this neighborhood and we want them to go somewhere else," the Ynet news site quoted one protester as saying. The Chabad movement draws the extremists' ire because of their outreach to the non-haredi world.

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush's car was mobbed in Beit Shemesh in April. Several months earlier a soldier driving through the city crashed into a lamppost after his car was pelted with stones and trash. Last month, a local extremist was arrested for breaking a woman's iPhone.

Many Israelis consider Beit Shemesh a microcosm of the religious kulturkampf being waged across the country. The city rose to national prominence in 2011 when local extremists began harassing and spitting on young national-religious girls attending a school on territory they claimed belonged to the haredi community.



Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Former Satmar Hasidic Jew now tours world to expose sect’s dark underbelly 

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On his Instagram page, there is a photo of Ari Hershkowitz wearing a virtual reality headset. It pretty much sums up his story: an escape from one world to another.

Hershkowitz met with The Times of Israel outside the Sydney Jewish Museum, a few days after he presented at Yom Limmud in Sydney. It is a wintry day Down Under and he is wearing black jeans and a red T-shirt. He doesn't like to wear long sleeved shirts, he later says — it reminds him of his previous life. His American drawl makes it hard to imagine that for most of his life he could not speak English.

Hershkowitz cuts a hipster figure as he "vapes" on his electric cigarette. He winds his way to the museum's café upstairs while snapping photographs of the exhibits on his smartphone. He plans to visit the museum again, he says.

Sitting down, he fidgets, looks sideways and checks his phone. He has a Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter account and appears to be on call. Every now and again he needs to be reminded where he left off in the conversation. He clearly finds it hard to focus — but focus is necessary to tell this 21-year-old's story.

His name is now Ari. During another phase it was Alex, the name he took on when he escaped to Florida for six months.

"I wanted to run away from Judaism as far as I possibly could. I then took on the identity of Alex, who was never a Hasidic Jew," Hershkowitz says.

In his childhood, he went by the name Arye.

"I don't remember much of my early life," Hershkowitz says. "From the age of 14 to 20 I was on the wrong medication. I don't know whether that ruined my memories from before, combined with the fact that I wanted to forget everything, especially aged 8 to 12."

He begins with the basics.

Hershkowitz's formative years are set in the heart of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Satmar community in Williamsburg, New York. He is the second of nine children. The Satmar dynasty is one of the largest in the world. It is characterized by strict religious observance, rejection of modern culture, and fierce anti-Zionism. In a podcast interview, he describes this brand of Judaism as "Judaism on steroids."

Yiddish was the only language he spoke. At school they studied Jewish texts. They did also learn English, he adds, but that was only from the ages of 8 to 12, and it was relegated to the last lesson of the day, taught by teachers who could barely speak the language themselves.

"We studied gemara, mishnah and chumash," Hershkowitz says, referring to various texts of the ancient oral law and Bible.

"Initially, I was a very good student. I had a folder for 'best in class,'" he says with a hint of irony.

It is this subpar education which, he claims, has caused the community to be crippled by poverty, beset with ignorance and reliant on government funding for virtually all aspects of life.

But it's what he calls its skewed values and the importance accorded to trivial things which he remembers most vividly.

"What our eyeglasses were made of was very important. Metal is bad; plastic is good. What counts is the color of your socks, which shoe you tie first in the morning. Wearing a watch is discouraged before bar mitzvah; after that it is completely banned. Being a good person was never a priority," he says.

The period he finds hard to recollect is not incidental. "I never talked about it. I choked it for so long," he says.

At the age of 8, Hershkowitz says he was sexually assaulted in a synagogue by an older man. After a pause and some hesitation, he recounts the incident bit by bit.

"The man made up some story about my belt. He shouted, 'You hit my son, you hit my son with your belt,' and then he grabs me and takes me downstairs to the basement, takes away my belt and then… whatever… I had no idea about sex or anything. The abuse was violent. I still have the scars," he says.

The "punishment," he says, continued for a number of weeks, in the basement of the synagogue.

"One day, when we walked up the stairs from the basement my dad saw me. I guess by the look on my face he realized what had happened and he started yelling at this guy in front of everyone," Hershkowitz says.

The abuser never returned to the synagogue.

"I told my father from my little understanding what had happened, but I am sure as a grown, smart adult he got the picture. He still told me that I must be thinking that… looking back, I am sure he knew. He never said that he was sorry it happened to me. He couldn't, because that would mean he'd have to report it to the police — something he would never do. Satmar never calls the police. No matter what happens. Never. Which is wrong because in some cases they should," Hershkowitz says.

Hershkowitz's behavior became erratic, or, as he puts it: "I was a very wild kid and always getting into trouble."

Two years later, during a summer camp in Napanoch, a small hamlet in Ulster County, New York, he says he was assaulted again. This time three people were involved.

"They held me down to a bed, I managed to get free. I grabbed the fire extinguisher and tried to fight back with that. They grabbed me and pulled me back into the bunk. I am not sure how long it lasted. It seemed like five hours before my private tutor came to look for me. Then they left. I was tied up and my tutor saw me," says Hershkowitz.

He repeats, "He definitely saw me tied up."

The perpetrators, says Hershkowitz, continued working at the camp. He is skeptical about pressing charges or filing a formal complaint with police.

"All the people who witnessed it… none of them would ever testify. It's my word against theirs. In fact, some of them specifically told me that if they had to testify they would say that it never actually happened. So, realistically, there is nothing I can now do about it," he says.

Like many others who have survived sexual abuse, the experience triggered a deep crisis.

"I thought to myself: maybe I am praying to the wrong God. I was desperately unhappy in the community. I was still dressed as a Satmar but I had no religion left in me," Hershkowitz says.

He adds something, quietly, that only resonates later: "Two people stuck with my in the tough times. Only two people. Everyone else bailed."

It is a revealing glimpse into the isolation and loneliness of a lost teenager whose life was upending.

At 14 he went out to look for answers. He frequented internet cafés and walked the streets.

"I went online searching for anything from particle accelerator to Bonny and Clyde, and anything in between. Slowly I developed my English. I started chatting with strangers. I'd ask them, 'How do earthquakes happen?' A lot of people ran away from me," he smiles.

What followed was a phase of self-harming, and his descriptions of this are quite disturbing. The self-harm morphed into substance abuse. First it was alcohol. He drank whatever his father had at home.

"I love vodka," he laughs, "It's my all time favorite. I drink it neat."

The path to harder substances was just a matter of time. He began smoking cannabis before progressing to stimulants.

"Weed, amphetamine, cocaine… things like that," he lists them casually. "Cocaine was a weekend treat," he grins.

To finance his habits, he says he used imaginative and creative ways to earn money.

At school, when he turned up, no one had any idea.

"To this day, 99 percent of the community don't know that dilated pupils means stimulants. When anyone asked me about my pupils, I told them I needed glasses. They took that for an answer," he says.

By this time Hershkowitz had begun seeing a series of therapists — licensed and not — who prescribed psychiatric medication, starting from age 10.

"One time I broke my leg because the medication I was on made me dizzy and I fell. At one point I was on 2,400 milligrams a day [of a medication he later learned was unnecessary]. I was always drugged up. Sometimes I was asleep during the day for no reason. It messed with my head. I was sure I wouldn't make it past 25," said Hershkowitz.

"I wonder if there's a file with all the medication I've been given," he muses to himself.

August 28, 2015, was a watershed in Hershkowitz's life. He was on his way to a picnic with friends from a recovery community. At the time he was still "a Satmar," as he puts it, and he wore a hooded sweatshirt in the train to avoid being seen by members of the community.

After having felt the support of his friends at the picnic, on the way home he took out his mobile phone, looked up the nearest barber shop and headed for it.

Pointing to where his sidelocks used to be, he says, "I walked two blocks and told the barber, 'Take them off.' I then posted a photo of my new look on Facebook and wrote, 'This is me now, deal with it.' I went back home late at night. In the morning, my mother looked at me and said nothing."

A period of uneasy cohabitation with his family had begun. His parents were by now clearly aware that he had left the fold, yet he was still living with them. It was a trying time for everyone. His father made it clear that because he was not following the rules, including Jewish law, it was time for him to leave.

A Hasidic man from the community who helps the so-called "outcasts" got Hershkowitz into a rehabilitation clinic. That, too, was not without its challenges. He relapsed numerous times. Then came a dramatic fall.

"In June 2016, I overdosed in my bedroom. I was unconscious for some time. I had ingested a cocktail of ketamine, GHB [gamma-hydroxybutyrate] and molly [the street name for MDMA]."

He called a friend who picked him up and later an ambulance was called. "They locked me up in a psychiatric ward and I was there for a few days. My father picked me up [upon his release] and took me to a hotel. He paid for one night and then walked off. I had 24 hours to find an apartment and rebuild my life," Hershkowitz says numbly. He says he still showed up at work the following day, a Monday.

But behind the rather cool façade, it is clear that things did not just happen overnight.

Hershkowitz turned to Footsteps, a New York-based organization dedicated to helping members of the ultra-Orthodox community who wish to leave. They helped him find his feet and get back on track.

And now he is Ari.

"No more cigarettes, coffee, candy, drugs, alcohol, weed — all of that out. Actually, I did have candy and chocolates, but none of the rest," he laughs.

He produces a circular token from his pocket which reads, "1 Year." It was given to him by The Living Room, a Jewish recovery group in Brooklyn. He has been clean since March last year.

Hershkowitz has left the Satmar community and leads a secular life. He has held down a number of jobs and is currently supporting himself through his own business. The relationship with his family "is an ongoing thing," as he puts it.

"I have learned to live without a family," he concludes matter-of-factly.

In other interviews, however, he is a lot more understanding of his parents and appreciative of their relative support, which they have afforded him over the years.

Last year Netflix featured the documentary "One of Us," which follows three individuals from Brooklyn's Hasidic communities as they leave the fold. One of them was Hershkowitz. It shows him perhaps in his most vulnerable and conflicted phases as he grapples with his identity and sense of place.

In one scene he is participating in a Hasidic community event. In another, he is sitting in a church, listening to a charismatic preacher delivering a sermon. But now he is clean, he says, and has his sights to the future.

"I love computers," he declares, his eyes lighting up. "I build computers, I fix computers – anything to do with computers. Troubleshooting, setting up… anything."

Hershkowitz is about to begin studying computer science and electronic engineering at college.

"I cannot see what the future holds; I can only see where I am trying to go," he says.

He is also involved with YAFFED, an advocacy group committed to raising awareness of the substandard education levels within ultra-Orthodox schools.

"We are trying to get the schools to give a proper, valid education — not like what they are currently giving, which is useless," he says.

Hershkowitz proceeds to reel off the grim statistics in Brooklyn and why no one insists that ultra-Orthodox schools comply with the state's education laws.

"They have 300,000 votes in New York City. No politician tries to mess with them. All the Hasidic communities vote in one bloc. That will make or break an election. The authorities allow them to do what they like," he says.

Hershkowitz is still dealing with aggrieved family and friends; still trying to figure out the social norms of secular life and what the Satmar community — the only home he has known — means to him. His is an ongoing story, the chapters of which he is still writing.


Monday, July 16, 2018


A visiting professor from an American university was allegedly thrown to the ground and beaten by police in Germany after being attacked by a civilian who asked him if he was Jewish.

Johns Hopkins Philosophy Professor Yitzhak Melamed gave a keynote lecture on Wednesday at the prestigious Bonn University after reportedly being punched by German police. The police were originally contacted to address a man in a park who Melamed said attempted to hurt him after the man asked if Melamed was Jewish.

Melamed was with Bonn University professor Dr. Lina Steiner at Bonn Hofgarten park when he says he was approached by a man who asked if he was Jewish and then identified himself as a Palestinian. In a Facebook post on Friday, Melamed said the man threw his kippah, a small head cover worn by Jewish men, to the ground multiple times before the man began to push him.

Melamed said he heard the civilian shout "no Jews in Germany" before the man walked circles in the park and attempted to hurt him. Melamed said police arrived 20 minutes after the initial call was placed. The attacker began to run away, at which point 50-year-old Melamed ran after him, to show officers the direction in which his attacker was headed.

Melamed said the attack that followed—police holding him down and hitting him "with a few dozen" punches—only stopped after he repeatedly attempted to shout in English that he was the wrong man, according to a report by the General Anzeiger.

Melamed said he was bleeding when he initially tried to file a complaint against the German police. The police, who said in a statement that the professor resisted arrest, also said Melamed initiated the incident by touching an officer's hand.

"Even if I had touched him, that does not justify the blows. That was pure brutality," said Melamed in a report by the Berliner Morgenpost. Melamed eventually received personal apologies from Bonn Police Chief Ursula Brohl-Sowa and the North Rhine-Westphalia Interior Minister.

Melamed said he was offered no medical attention while he bled and eventually went to another station with staff who photographed his face and filed the complaint before returning to speak at the university.

"My colleague bought me another pair of reading glasses...because the police had broken mine," he said.

Melamed, Steiner, German police representatives and Bonn University could not be reached for additional comment.



Sunday, July 15, 2018

Need Tefillin? There’s An App For That 

You can call a taxi, order a hamburger, rent a film and buy a book with a few clicks of a smartphone.

So why shouldn’t it be as easy to score a set of tefillin?

That, at least, was the question that led to the launch last month of Wrapp — an app its creator calls “the Uber of the tefillin world.”

It connects those who have tefillin — leather straps attached to a set of two small boxes containing scripture on parchment — with Jews who need them for morning prayers or other rituals. And it’s free.

The brainchild of a 39-year-old Brooklyn businessman, Wrapp hit app stores last month. It already has signed up more than 4,500 providers in the United States, Israel, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Providers offer their tefillin to those making the request within a radius of 20 miles.

The app’s creator, a follower of the Chabad Hasidic movement named Shimon — he said he did not want to reveal his last name to avoid a “downpour of emails and suggestions,” – decided on a trip to Israel two years ago that this is what the world needs, he told JTA on Thursday. He met an old friend from the States who had made arrangements to borrow another person’s tefillin in Israel.

“It didn’t make sense to me that in a Jewish country, borrowing a tefillin should be such an issue. That’s when the idea came to me. I knew I was on to something big.”

Chabad is famous for soliciting Jews all over the world to partake in the tefillin ceremony.  Worshippers use the straps to bind the small boxes to their forehead and bicep — a literal interpretation of the biblical injunction to bind God’s word “as a sign upon the hands and between the eyes.”

Among Chabad followers and others, getting Jews to perform the mitzvah, or positive commandment, even once will hasten the coming of the Messiah.

Although the app is also intended for observant Jews who forgot or lost their tefillin, Shimon said the typical user would be someone who had an impulse or inspiration to don a set.

Users tend to be people “who want to connect to God. And when people do, it is a very personal thing. Someone might reach out when they’re depressed, another when they’ve just signed a huge successful deal. Others on their mother’s yahrzeit,” he added, using the Yiddish word for the anniversary of a person’s death. “It’s different for every person.”

Those in need of a set can indicate their window of availability — a half hour, an hour or two hours. Providers within a range are pinged with the request. The first provider who accepts can then schedule a session at the requester’s location or propose a different location.

The project was a bit too big to take off immediately, Shimon said. Several app developers turned him down, citing the obstacles and costs of constantly updating software with thousands of simultaneous users.

Eventually he teamed up with Spotlight Design, a branding and marketing agency owned by Chabad followers in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the world headquarters for the Chabad movement.

“They got it, they got super enthusiastic about it and they worked on it,” Shimon said.

Shimon wouldn’t say how he was supporting the project or how much it cost.

“First of all, it’s not a one-time investment – it constantly evolves and changes, so I don’t have a figure for you,” he said. “Maybe I could tell you when Messiah comes.”

Only a few dozen requesters have used the app, Shimon said. But it has not been officially launched or marketed.

An app that lets users summon an observant Jew to a predetermined address raises some security concerns at a time when Jews are frequently singled out for violence in Europe and beyond, Shimon acknowledged.

“Yes, it’s something that we’ve taken into account, which is why there’s a 20-mile limit” on how far a provider may be summoned to deliver tefillin, he said. “The assumption here is that you as a provider know your immediate surroundings. And of course our advice is: If it’s fishy, don’t go!”

The range can be changed to one mile.

Additionally, providers need to indicate on Wrapp that the action has been completed.

“When there’s an action that stays open for more than an hour or two, it raises flags and we can check to see what happened,” Shimon said. Wrapp is only usable during daytime, when tefillin is usually worn.

Orthodox Judaism considers wearing tefillin a commandment that only applies to men, although some Orthodox feminists and many more women in the Conservative and other non-Orthodox movements have taken up the  ritual. Two weeks ago, Wrapp received its first request from a female. Shimon said that responding is up to the discretion of the individual providers, and Wrapp currently has no policy on the issue.

The new user turned out to be the non-Jewish caretaker of an elderly Jewish man who wanted to perform the ritual but had neither tefillin nor a smartphone.

Hillel Pikarskei, a Chabad rabbi in Paris, welcomes the “competition.” On his regular beat in Paris, which includes the leading falafel stores of the Marais, the city’s historic Jewish quarter, he said he has gotten about 13,000 Jews to put on tefillin.

“It sounds like a good thing, I like it,” Pikarskei said of the app. “You think it’s going to put me out of business? No way, my friend. I’m working in a world-renowned tourist spot. Don’t you worry about me.”



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Hungary soccer team, Jewish leaders remember heroic coach 

Hungary's most popular soccer team has paid tribute to a former player and coach who later was in the anti-Nazi resistance and helped save hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust before he was executed in 1945.

Ferencvaros officials, leaders of Hungary's Jewish community, and representatives of the World Jewish Congress took part in commemoration of Istvan Toth, ahead of the team's Europa League qualifying match against Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday.

"I hope he can serve as an example for people who want to create similar paths in their own fields," said his grandson, also called Istvan Toth.

Toth, born on July 28, 1891, in Budapest, played 19 times for Hungary, scoring eight times. He played for Ferencvaros, or Fradi, from 1911-26. After his playing career, he became Fradi's first professional coach and was known for his innovative training methods and for keeping detailed records of his players' development.

After coaching stints with other teams in Hungary and abroad, including with Inter Milan in 1931-32, Toth returned to lead Fradi in 1943. In late 1944, he joined an anti-Nazi resistance movement organized by Hungarian-American US Army Lt. Pal Kovacs.

Toth helped "several hundred Jews escape Nazi custody and death," said Igor Ujhazi, representing the WJC. "His heroic deeds teach us that sportsmanship can be seen as an enduring personal characteristic, conceptualized in virtues such as fairness, justice, courage and persistence."

Ferencvaros, which has faced fines and other disciplinary measures for its fans' racist chants or behavior, dedicated Thursday's match to Toth's memory, and children escorting players to the football pitch wore T-shirts with his likeness.

Several of Toth's personal items, including his coaching diaries, are in the team museum of Ferencvaros, whose president is Gabor Kubatov, a lawmaker and vice-chairman of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's governing Fidesz party.



Friday, July 13, 2018

Another Lamm lawsuit bubbles up 

Developer Shalom Lamm pleaded guilty this year to committing voter fraud in 2014 for the purpose of electing officials to the Village of Bloomingburg that would support his development plans, which would eventually include housing for thousands of Hasidic families.

Part of his plan included opening a religious school and mikveh (a ritual bathing facility) to serve the members of the Hasidic community, which was expected to grow quickly in the village. Also in 2014, Lamm's development company Sullivan Farms, filed a lawsuit against the Village of Bloomingburg and the Town of Mamakating claiming that officials from those municipalities illegally blocked them from opening the facility because of "pervasive, government-sponsored religious discrimination." 

The lawsuit was also filed on behalf of Mrs. Malka Rosenbaum and other defendants.  A person named Malka Rosenbaum was also named in an unsuccessful RICO lawsuit against Lamm as being one of the numerous voters who joined a separate lawsuit regarding being blocked from voting in a village election.  All of those voters then declined to appear in court to offer proof of residency or explain why they should be allowed to vote there.

At the time of the lawsuit over the school and mikveh, the planning boards of the village and town had been merged.  In 2016, without admitting any wrongdoing, the village and town decided to settle the case for $2.9 million to be paid by insurance companies, with Bloomingburg's carrier paying $1.305 million and Mamakating's paying $1.595 million.  Now Rosenbaum is challenging the way those funds were distributed.

According to a July 12 letter from New York City attorney Avrom Vann to the judge who presided over the religious discrimination case, Katherine B. Forrest, after the case was settled for $2.9 million, the lawyer representing Sullivan Farms told Rosenbaum that he was authorized by Sullivan Farms to give her $5,000 of the settlement.

Vann wrote, "At no time was Mrs. Rosenbaum's consent to the settlement requested nor given. Moreover, at no time prior to the implementation of the settlement was Mrs. Rosenbaum advised that she would not be receiving any portion of the settlement funds."

The firm that represented Sullivan Farms in the religious discrimination case was Dechert LLP. According to the letter, one of the lawyers from Derchert indicated to Vann the cost of the litigation exceeded the settlement. Further he said that the settlement included that there would be a school and mikveh in the village and that Rosenbaum had agreed that Sullivan Farms would make all litigation decisions in the case, and Rosenbaum agreed with that.

Vann's letter also asked the judge if she would prefer him to bring the matter before her to determine what portion of the settlement Rosenbaum should be entitled to, or file a new separate lawsuit in the matter.

In a hand-written note, Forrest responded that the case was permanently closed and that Rosenbaum should, "proceed in a court of competent jurisdiction if appropriate."



Thursday, July 12, 2018

Residents Complain About Hasidic Camp 

Numerous neighbors of the Rav Tov Hasidic Camp on Cherrytown Road in Kerhonkson came out to the July 5 Rochester Town Board meeting to voice their concerns regarding the camp. In the public comment section, Alan Fidler, a neighbor of the Rav Tov camp said, "I want kids to have a great summer. I want them to run, to sing, to do whatever kids do in summer. But I do not understand why they need a loudspeaker to do that. Why do we have to hear the supervisors telling them when supper is ready, where to go? Are there no noise ordinances?"

"No, there are no noise ordinances," responded Supervisor Mike Baden.

"Why not?" asked Fidler. "I and the other people here are suffering from these people on the loudspeakers around the clock. And it's not necessary, not when you have walkie-talkies. Why are there no noise ordinances? There are multitudes of kids screaming at two in the morning."

"Noise ordinances are too hard to enforce," responded Baden. "I live on Rogue Harbor Road and appreciate your concerns. I hear the camp too. As a first step I will approach the rabbi."

"What about their septic system?" asked another member of the public. "Their system is not adequate. After midnight if you stand on my lawn the smell will make you sick." Baden said he'd look into it with the Board of Health.

"What about the traffic?" asked yet another. "Twenty-four buses parked all the way down to the trailer park for up to an hour starting at 4:30 a.m. We call the police and they turn up, maybe, in an hour. And seven box trucks lined up outside the gates."

"I go out every day with gloves and a bucket and pick up garbage," said a woman. "It's not there in the rest of the year. I'm a garbage collector from June until August. I deliver it to their driveway."

"It's getting real nasty up there," said another member of the public. "It's bound to get worse if nothing is done. The sewer smell has increased since they put on the solar panels. It's disgusting."

"And they march on the road," said a woman. "I don't know, maybe 1,000 girls three abreast screaming and marching. Is that allowed, isn't that an unapproved parade?"

"I hear what you're saying," replied Baden. "We will attend to it."

"When will we hear what you've done?" responded a member of the public.

"It's not a deadline matter," said Baden. A noise ordinance is going to take several months, no timeline. But we'll enforce the no-parking zone."

Highways superintendent Antonio Spano suggested more no-parking signs or adding in guard rails. A member of the public responded, "Then they'll just park down the middle of the road."

Board member Bea Haugen-Depuy said that something had to be done and that the board was putting laws in the books that have no teeth, that can't be enforced. "Who's going to pay for it all?" said Haugen-Depuy. "Will we increase our police budget? But something has to be done. I want action before August."

The board additionally heard that Tow Path Road in the vicinity of Deep Pond had become impassable because of over-parking during recent hot days.

The board resolved to hold public hearing into the parking issues at the August 2 town meeting.

Speed Studies
The supervisor was authorized to request a NYS DOT speed study of Cherrytown Road to establish a maximum speed limit of 25 mph beginning at the intersection with Samsonville Road for a distance of 0.4 miles in the vicinity of the Pine Ridge Dude Ranch. The Ranch has requested the speed limit in an effort to improve road safety near their facility.

The supervisor was further authorized to request a NYS DOT speed study and maximum speed reduction to establish a maximum speed limit of 45 mph for a distance of 0.9 miles on Lucas Turnpike from the intersection with Rte 209 to the intersection with Rondout Lane. This speed limit would protect the safety of residences and the Acorn School. A cyclist was fatally injured in this area in 2014 in a collision with a motor vehicle.

It was resolved that Elaine LaFlamme be appointed to serve as chairperson of the Historic Preservation Commission until the end of 2018.

The July 5 meeting opened with a resolution to continue the public hearing into the adjustment of the zoning map, Local Law #4, immediately prior to the August 2, town board meeting at 7 p.m.

Later in the meeting a resolution was passed that another public hearing would also be held at the August 2 meeting. That public hearing relates to proposed law, #5-2018 that would make it illegal to park on either side of the road at 338 Cherrytown Road (the Rav Tov camp), and Tow Path Road from numbers 301 to 448 (Deep Hole), and Project 32 Road.

The first two relate to dangerous and crowded parking blocking Tow Path Road and Cherrytown Road this summer.



Quebec court evicts Hasidic Jews from homes over bylaw violations 

A Quebec court on Sunday ordered a group of Hasidic Jews to leave their summer homes by the end of the month for violating zoning laws by using a residence as a place of worship.

The decision came amid complaints from local residents of late-night disturbances from the group.

The Quebec Superior Court ruled that the approximately 50 Hasidim living in the town of Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, 60 miles north of Montreal, must leave by July 26.

Town Mayor Denis Chalifoux told local media that the group was taken to the Quebec Superior Court because they were using the residence as a place of worship, which is in violation of local zoning laws.

There were also complaints from the town that the group hold rowdy gatherings until 2 a.m., and fail to keep properties according to the cleanliness standard of the site.

"The buildings are not well-maintained," Deputy Mayor Jean-Léo Legault said, and "are not supposed to be used for that purpose."

Chalifoux said that the group had been sent multiple warning letters. In interviews with local media he dismissed any notion, as a few of the Hasidim have alleged, that anti-Semitism was behind their eviction, saying that Jews and non-Jews have lived "harmoniously" in Ste-Agathe for a century and the town has a large Jewish population.

"We gave them until July 26 to leave because there are young children with them and I imagine those kids need to go elsewhere," Chalifoux said, according to Global News.

Complaints about the group date back to 2015.



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

600 Hasidic homes proposed for S. Blooming Grove 

The developers of the proposed 600-home Clovewood project at the former Lake Anne County Club site estimate the development could more than double the Village of South Blooming Grove's population once completed.

Keen Equities LLC, an investor group that bought the property in 2006 for $15 million, hopes to build 600 single-family houses for the Satmar Hasidic community on 708 acres off Clove Road and Route 208, not far from Kiryas Joel. The project's consultants calculate that if each four-bedroom house has an accessory apartment, Clovewood could add almost 3,900 people to a village that had an estimated 3,200 residents as of the middle of last year.

The developers submitted a 509-page draft environmental impact statement and related documents to the village in April, detailing the proposal's potential impact on traffic, property taxes and other factors (available online at clovewood.com). The Village Board and Planning Board, which are jointly overseeing the project's environmental review, have until July 31 to determine if the impact statement addressed the study issues they identified last year, based on their consultants' analysis of the draft.

The boards will schedule a public hearing on the submission once they have determined it is ready for public review.

The developers propose to supply water to the homes with on-site wells and build a sewage-treatment plant that would discharge treated wastewater into a tributary of the Satterly Creek. Consultants estimate the community would use an average of 270,000 gallons of water per day if every house has a two-bedroom accessory apartment - a scenario that village officials required them to analyze in order to show the project's maximum potential impact.

According to the impact statement, three-day pump tests performed last summer found that six wells on the property can meet average demand of 275,400 gallons per day.

Dennis Lynch, a South Nyack attorney representing the village, said Tuesday that verifying the adequacy of those wells will be a key issue in reviewing the Clovewood plans, given the longstanding groundwater limitations in South Blooming Grove. He said village officials must make sure there's enough water for current and future residents and to supply hydrants for firefighting.

"There's a substantial concern about water, and there's a substantial concern about testing data that will be looked at by the village," Lynch said.

The development would serve the constant quest for housing for the fast-growing Hasidic community - and a brisk market for suburban-style homes outside Kiryas Joel, which has become increasingly congested and expensive. Families and investors from Kiryas Joel and Brooklyn have been buying houses in South Blooming Grove in droves for the past few years.

The planners calculated that 600 four-bedroom houses for the Hasidic community could hold 3,173 residents, and that 600 accessory apartments would mean another 689 people. Their floor plans for two proposed housing styles each include a 750-square-foot, unfinished space with a separate entrance for a potential apartment, which is a common feature with Hasidic housing.

The developers have objected to a proposed zoning change in South Blooming Grove that would allow accessory apartments only on homes that have existed for 10 years, which would preclude building Clovewood homes with apartments. In letters to the Village Board in August and November, Keen Equities' attorney, Steven Barshov, argued the rule would discriminate against Hasidic families' housing needs and reduce the value of his clients' property.

"The proposed local law is discriminatory both in intent and effect," Barshov wrote. "It is illegal exclusionary zoning."

The board hasn't acted yet on proposed changes in the village's accessory apartment rules.



Tuesday, July 10, 2018


A group of Hasidic Jews in the Laurentians have until July 26 to leave a residence they have been using in violation of local bylaws.

The move came after the Quebec Superior Court ordered the group out of a residential complex in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que., which is situated about 100 kilometres north of Montreal.

The town sought the court order after between 30 and 60 mostly young people came to stay in some of the duplexes and triplexes on the property, as they had done for several summers.

The town said they generate excessive garbage, hold loud gatherings that disturb neighbours and use the residence as a house of worship and religious school, in defiance of local bylaws.

While the court ordered the house to be vacated as of July 8, municipal officials say they reached a deal with the residents, who have agreed to leave no later than July 26.

"We spoke to the owners and we collaborated well with them. We need to think that there are children that will need to be relocated," Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts Mayor Denis Chalifoux told The Canadian Press. "It's pretty much final that we'll give them until July 26 to leave the premises."

He said the group creates "a nuisance, there's garbage all around the house, they go to bed at 2 a.m. and bang drums."

Chalifoux told CP that the neighbourhood is zoned for residential use and that buildings are not permitted to be used as places of worship, dormitories or summer camps.

He said the town has sent numerous letters, warnings and citations since 2015, to try to resolve the conflict, but had no success.

In court filings, the town said the buildings in question were being used as a religious school, a place of worship and a dormitory for young people from Quebec, Ontario, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Chalifoux denied that the eviction order is based on anti-Semitism, noting that the area is home to a large Jewish population.

"The Jewish community has been here for 100 years or more," he said. "They founded the city with us and we have a very good relationship with them."

We don't have any issues with the Jewish community, but these people are not obeying the regulations and the law.
– Jean-Léo Legault

Neighbours complained mainly about the noise, Jean-Léo Legault, the deputy mayor of Sainte-Agathe, told Radio-Canada.

"The buildings are not well maintained," Legault added, and they "are not supposed to be used for that (religious) purpose."

He also denied any anti-Semitic motives.

"We don't have any issues with the Jewish community," Legault told Radio-Canada. "But these people are not obeying the regulations and the law."

He said the injunction issued by the court is temporary for now, but that the town is seeking to make it permanent.

The latest conflict took place on the same street – Rue des Bouleaux – on which members of the Hasidic Lev Tahor community once lived. In 2013, some of them went to Ontario to flee Quebec child protection authorities who had been seeking to place about 120 of the community's children in foster care, following allegations of abuse.

Eventually, the Lev Tahor members settled in Guatemala.




On June 15, 2017, 27-year-old Noam Cohen died after being shot by Montreal police.

The incident received little media coverage, let alone public reaction, including from the Jewish community.

Likewise, the final report by Quebec's Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes (BEI), which was completed in February, passed without notice.

The arms-length agency that's charged with investigating incidents involving the province's police forces began looking into the circumstances surrounding the incident and submitted its findings to the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales (DPCP), or public prosecutions department, on Feb. 18.

The report itself was not made public, but the BEI released the following information:

On June 15, 2017, around 1:42 a.m., a 911 call was received from a member of Cohen's family stating that he was in "a state of intoxication and in crisis." He had made threatening remarks before leaving the family residence in his vehicle.

When the police arrived at the home, Côte-St-Luc public security agents, who are tasked with enforcing municipal bylaws, were already on the scene and a man was behind the wheel of a sport utility vehicle.

He refused a police order to get out of the vehicle and drove away at high speed. The police pursued him for about 10 kilometres, during which the man drove "dangerously, notably going around at high speed in reverse, knocking over cones and crossing a construction zone controlled by signals that he struck.

"The police attempted twice to immobilize the vehicle by ramming into it without success."

After a third police maneuver, the vehicle ran into a fence. The police got out of their patrol car and approached the vehicle. The man got out of it and backtracked quickly.

One police officer fired and hit Cohen, who was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

It is now up to the DPCP to determine if there are grounds to lay charges against the police who were involved in the incident. The BEI said that its report was not made public because it contains "sensitive and nominative information, declarations by people involved and witnesses, as well as evidence."

Furthermore, the BEI said it would not disclose any other information on the facts or its investigation.

The BEI, which has the status of a specialized police force, initially announced that it assigned five investigators to the case, who arrived on the scene around 6 a.m. The provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, co-operated in the investigation, providing a total of six staff members.

At the request of the Ministry of Public Security, the BEI, which was established in 2016, investigates whenever a person dies, is shot or otherwise seriously injured during a police intervention, or while being detained by the police.



Monday, July 09, 2018

Canada’s first female Hasidic politician may be bound for parliament 

On a recent Monday evening on Montreal's east side, some 100 residents gathered in a century-old white building that since 1963 has served as the Council Chamber for the borough of Outremont. They were there to attend the monthly session of the local governing body.

Before the meeting officially began, the atmosphere in the large, high-ceilinged room was more charged than usual. One month prior, tensions soared when some residents were accused of using Holocaust imagery to protest the increasing number of yellow school buses used by the neighborhood's Hasidic residents.

With people seated, the mayor and four councilors entered the room. A film crew stood by to capture material for an upcoming TV documentary on the fraught relationship between the area's francophone majority and sizeable Hasidic minority that has been simmering for many years.

As the politicians made their appearance, Mindy Pollak stood out from the group due to her relatively young age and conservative attire.

Pollak, 29, seemed in her element. Before claiming her seat at the front of the chamber to the left of the mayor, she showed the aplomb of a seasoned politician. Reflecting her warm, friendly manner, Pollak made a point to greet individual residents, engaging them effortlessly in French or English. Among those in the audience was her mother, Elka, who attends all of the monthly meetings.

Pollak is negotiating unchartered territory for someone of her background. To her knowledge, no other Hasidic woman outside Israel has ever entered the political arena as she has.

Her closest counterpart is Rachel Freier, who became the first Hasidic woman elected to public office in the United States when she won the race for New York civil court judge in 2016.

Re-elected last November for her second term as a councilor in the Montreal borough of Outremont, Pollak is an astute, highly respected politician. She is now being courted by at least one federal party as a potential candidate in Canada's next national election.

Since taking office, Pollak has helped change the perception of her oft-maligned Hasidic community, especially in Outremont where it's been the focus of strained relations with non-Jews for many years.

"Every time I succeed in showing someone that we [Hasidic residents] are just normal human beings and that we have more things in common than not, I consider my mission accomplished," says Pollak, 29, during a recent interview in her office in Outremont City Hall. "I enjoy surprising people and broadening their opinions of their Hasidic neighbors."

For all her groundbreaking work, she remains modest about her achievements.

"It was never my intention to be a trailblazer or a role model," says Pollak. "I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Of course, it wasn't so simple. When the Projet Montreal party asked her to be a candidate in the 2013 election, she wrestled with the decision. The novelty of an extremely religious, young, single Jewish woman running for political office in a secular environment rubbed some people the wrong way. Others dismissed her prospects for winning.

"When Projet Montreal announced Mindy as a candidate, many people were dismissive," says Christian Aubry, 60, a non-Jewish neighbor and friend of Pollak who moved to Montreal from Paris in 1989. "Many Hasidic residents thought it was improper for a young Hasidic woman to step into the public eye, and a small group of Outremont residents ill-disposed to the so-called [Hasidic] 'invaders' didn't take her seriously."

It's possible they do now.

A Hasidic mecca
Montreal is home to one of the largest Hasidic communities outside Israel, much of it concentrated in the largely residential, predominantly francophone borough of Outremont. Nearly a quarter of its 25,000 residents are Yiddish-speaking ultra-devout Jews. Their distinctive, austere attire and rigidly pious lifestyle contrast sharply with the strong hipster presence in the same area where many members of Quebec's intelligentsia live. This juxtaposition sometimes makes for an uneasy co-existence.

"Some francophones see Outremont as more than just any neighborhood," says local Jewish resident Eric Scott, 66, a filmmaker currently working on a documentary for Radio-Canada on the situation. "They see it as the heartland of Quebec's cultural, political, economic and social elites.

"For some, the presence of a population that, for the most part, doesn't speak their language, has no desire to integrate, has special religious requirements, uses an inordinate number of school buses to transport its increasing number of children, and holds celebrations that disrupt the peace and quiet, is perceived as a threat to Outremont's identity," said Scott.

Tensions between secular and Hasidic residents have long bedeviled the neighborhood. A small group of activists, some with anti-Semitic tendencies, have taken issue with aspects of the Hasidic religious, insular lifestyle. Local politics and controversial bylaws arguably aimed at the fast-growing Hasidic community have exacerbated relations.

A political career is born
Born in Montreal, Pollak is the second-youngest of five siblings. She's lived her entire life in the neighborhood at the same address, first with her parents and now in a separate apartment in the same building. For many years, her British-raised mother and Montreal-born father owned a bridal-wear salon. Today, he does volunteer work while she manages a children's clothing manufacturer and serves as an unofficial advisor to her daughter.

Pollak first became active in the community in 2011 while working as a beautician. Opposition to a proposed synagogue expansion led to a referendum on the project. During a fractious campaign, an unlikely local supporter of Hasidic residents emerged.

Leila Marshy, an outspoken, self-declared "militant Palestinian" was disturbed by the actions of some anti-Hasidic activists. She and Pollak founded a grassroots neighborhood organization and became good friends. Given Marshy's strident views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they don't talk about it.

"We stay clear of the subject because we both agreed it was something we'd never see eye-to-eye on," says Pollak, who's been to Israel once, when she was 16. "If we wanted to work together on issues in Outremont she felt passionately about, we had to avoid discussing the Middle East."

Although Marshy left the neighborhood a few years ago, the two remain good friends.

Due to Pollak's work, which included joining an Outremont Council inter-cultural relations committee, Projet Montreal approached her to run in the 2013 election.

Pollak faced multiple challenges, especially as it was her first election campaign. She overcame misconceptions many voters had about religious Jews. Closer to home, in her own deeply traditional Hasidic community, some strongly opposed the idea of a woman entering the political fray.

Her gender wasn't the only point of contention for Hasidic residents who had never fielded someone from their own ranks to run for election.

"There was an element of fear that I completely understood," says Pollak, speaking in English, one of three languages she's fluent in, the other two being French and Yiddish.

"Many were afraid it would be worse to have somebody from our own community representing us in council. I just felt the way we had always done things, voting for politicians over the years who promised us everything but delivered nothing hadn't worked. I felt, let's try something different and that's how I justified it," she says.

Not all black and white
Pollak's family gave her their blessing to throw her hat in the ring. Ultimately, so did certain rabbis from her Vishnitzer sect who said if there was no other viable option to help the beleaguered Hasidic community, then a female candidate was acceptable as there was no clear prohibition against such an initiative.

Others were less understanding.

"From the outset, the more conservative groups in the Hasidic community rejected the whole idea of Mindy's candidacy," says local Hasidic activist Cheskie Weiss, 38. "For them, it was ethically wrong and compromised our standards. This was perfectly understandable, as traditionally women have not been public figures of the Hasidic community."

Negativity from her own community is clearly a sensitive subject for Pollak, who tried to sidestep it during her interview with The Times of Israel.

"To deal with the criticism, I developed a thick skin very quickly," says Pollak, dressed in a long skirt and black cardigan sweater on which she sports an official City of Montreal pin she received when elected.

"From the start, I was convinced about what I was doing. I felt strongly this was something I was meant to be doing and that God had led me to do this to help my community," she says.

Her Hasidic identity figured prominently in coverage of her victory in 2013. One French-language article began: "Mindy Pollak succeeded in getting elected to Outremont council without shaking hands with half of all voters," referring to Hasidic women not shaking hands of men outside their families.

Five years later, she can point to gains made in establishing trust and understanding between her community and the Outremont Council. In the process, she's won over many former naysayers, even if some Hasidic residents still reject the very notion of a woman from their own community partaking in the rough-and-tumble world of politics.

"Hasidic fears and opposition to Mindy being in politics have decreased considerably," says Weiss, who runs a website he founded in 2009 to counter local anti-Hassidic bloggers.

"The initial concern was understandable. It was a new thing and people didn't know what would happen to a woman in her position. But we've seen she has stayed true to her religion and culture and preserved everything she stands for. Still, we can't say we want other women to follow suit because this isn't what our tradition teaches about women," Weiss says.

Standing her ground
Last November, Pollak was re-elected. It was sweeter this time, as she would no longer be the only Projet Montreal member on the Outremont Council. Three others won, including the new borough mayor. In a major upset, the party's candidate to lead City Hall, Valérie Plante, defeated the incumbent to become the first woman elected mayor of Montreal.

Mindy Pollak, center right, behind Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante at a press conference during the political campaign. (Courtesy)
At a recent council meeting, Pollak showed a firm command of the multitude of urban issues on the agenda. Equally evident was the importance she places on interacting with residents.

"I love meeting new people," says Pollak. "I love getting to know them, getting them to care about issues and to get involved. I just love people and connecting. My mom is a very warm, friendly, open person and has been an example to follow in relating to other people. She's always been very friendly with all our neighbors, from all backgrounds, and that's how she raised me."

At the previous council meeting a month earlier, the scene was far more loaded. To protest the rising number of Hasidic school buses in Outremont, a small group of local residents appeared wearing yellow badges on their lapels, evoking the yellow patches Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust.

When several attendees, including non-Jews, told the protestors their badges were offensive for their resemblance to a symbol of Nazi oppression and genocide against Jews, the demonstrators refused to remove them. An angry exchange ensued and two people were expelled from the chamber.

Protest leader Ginette Chartre rejected criticism of the action. "[The Jews] always bring up their painful past," she told Canadian Press. "They do it to muzzle us. We're wearing the yellow square because the school buses are yellow."

It's the latest in a long-running series of disputes linked to Hasidic residents. For Pollak, the biggest problem are bylaws she considers discriminatory against her community, most of which don't exist elsewhere in Montreal.

They include restrictions on sukkahs and school buses, to the use of speakers for parades (which affect processions for the dedication of new Torahs), the burning of bread (performed the morning before Passover), and building new places of worship. Not surprisingly, one of Pollak's priorities is changing these bylaws. But she feels they are not the result of anti-Jewish prejudice.

"I don't believe the majority of people who complain about things involving the Hasidic community are anti-Semitic," says Pollak. "Most view these concerns as legitimate without relating to the fact they involve a certain community.

"Yes, Hasidim have large families which produce a lot of garbage. Yes, when Hasidim double-park, of course it's more visible. Perhaps because the community is so visibly identifiable, there's a disproportionate amount of negative attention, with lots of generalizations, stereotyping and blanket statements," Pollak says.

Yet Pollak doesn't dismiss all criticism of the Hasidic community.

"There are certainly things we can improve on," she concedes, "but when you look at those who come to council with grievances about the Hasidic community, it's always the same few people. No matter what we do, some people will never be satisfied. So, it's important we focus on encouraging mutual respect and good neighborliness."

Common ground
Some suggest that both sides, despite their differences, have a similar perspective.

"The Quebecois francophone and Hasidic communities of Outremont share a 'victim culture,'" says filmmaker Scott. "The latter see themselves as survivors of the Holocaust which wiped out their communities in Eastern Europe. Some Quebecois francophones see themselves as being under constant threat by forces undermining the French presence, and homogenizing it into the English-speaking North American norm."

Although the job of borough councilor is supposed to be part-time and pays only $30,000 CAD per year, Pollak devotes most of her waking hours, except on Shabbat, to her work. It entails both Hasidic-focused issues and non-denominational urban matters such as roads, transportation and local infrastructure.

"I often work late because it's quiet and I've always been a night owl," says Pollak, who once co-founded a food blog, is active on social media and often catches up on her email after dark. "It works for me better that way. By now, people I work with are used to me sending them email well past midnight."

For all the seriousness of her work, Pollak maintains a lively sense of humor. While being interviewed, she broke out in hearty laughter on many occasions.

"It's very important to keep a sense of humor, especially when dealing with stressful situations," says Pollak. "Laughter is the best medicine, as they say. Hasidic philosophy is full of joy."

Currently unmarried, Pollak hopes for that to change soon.

"I'd very much like to settle down and have a family," she says. "I'm just waiting for the right guy to come along."

Pollak reluctantly admits one of the main federal political parties has asked her to be a candidate in a Montreal riding in the next national election in 2019, but won't divulge which party.

"I told them no for now as I've haven't finished my job in Outremont," she explains.

When asked if that means she won't be running in the next federal election, she answered coyly, "I don't think so."

Told that seemed to leave open the possibility, Pollak replied, with a big laugh, "I wouldn't bank on it, but you never know."



Sunday, July 08, 2018


German and Swiss media Sunday reported several violent attacks on Jews in Berlin and Zurich over the weekend.

On Saturday, three Germans and six Syrians were detained for allegedly assaulting a Syrian Jew in a park in Berlin’s Mitte district. The unidentified 19-year-old victim, who was wearing a Star of David, told police the suspects shouted “antisemitic insults,” punched him, and pulled a cigarette from his mouth. The victim was hospitalized.

In Zurich, a German man threatened three Orthodox Jews with a knife. According to the Swiss daily Blick, the assailant shouted antisemitic insults while pursuing his victims with his weapon. A bystander stopped the man, who was detained by the Swiss police and subsequently released. The Swiss prosecutor’s office has opened an investigation.

In recent months, Germany has experienced a wave of violent, antisemitic attacks, largely perpetrated by Muslims.

In June, a Berlin court sentenced a Syrian immigrant to a four-week jail term for an antisemitic attack on an Israeli man. The Syrian Arab was also sentenced to undergo Holocaust education. The Syrian has appealed the sentence.



Saturday, July 07, 2018

Hasidic school system returns Orange County bond money 

A Hasidic school system that obtained $8 million in Orange County bonds last year returned the money months later, after outraged parents learned from a newspaper article that the funds could benefit only secular areas of their children’s yeshivas.

Congregation Bnai Yoel, which serves about 2,000 students in the Kiryas Joel area, got the bonds in July through the Orange County Funding Corp., which issues tax-exempt bonds for manufacturers, nonprofits and other entities. The apparent purpose of the bonding was to refinance a $5.7 million mortgage Bnai Yoel had gotten several years earlier to pay off previous debts.

In a Times Herald-Record article two weeks later, a county official said the Bnai Yoel bonding didn’t violate a prohibition on funding religious activities because it would apply to “portions of the school that relate to secular education” and activities.

That came as unpleasant news to Bnai Yoel parents, who took the unusual step of taking out an ad in the Times Herald-Record to disavow the bonding and the notion any part of the schools could be deemed secular. To some, the blurring of the secular and religious was reminiscent of the creation of Kiryas Joel’s public school for handicapped children in 1989 and the sharp opposition that aroused in Kiryas Joel’s dissident community.

The parents’ outcry led to a quick cancellation of the county-issued bonds. In December, Congregation Bnai Yoel repaid the bonds by borrowing $7.4 million from the Bank of Princeton, the same bank from which it had gotten a $5.7 million mortgage in two stages in 2013 and 2014, according to public records.

The new loan bore this explanation: “Shortly after the closing of the original loan, the borrower became aware that it could not use certain portions of its real estate for religious purposes and this was unacceptable to the borrower. Accordingly, the borrower requested, and the bank consented to, a conversion of the current tax-exempt bond transaction to a taxable loan transaction.”

One Bnai Yoel father, who asked that his name be withheld for fear of retaliation, said Friday that the loan conversion could cost the congregation an additional $1 million over the life of the new loan, but was worth it. Many parents were so upset about the secular condition of the bonding that they would have withdrawn their kids from Bnai Yoel schools, he said.

“It’s a terrible violation against the Torah,” the father explained. “It’s like you break the bond between you and God.”



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