Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Brooklyn Neighbors Sound Alarm Over Hasidic Synagogue’s Ear-Splitting Siren 

The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of quiet relaxation. But according to residents near one Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn, the noise from the schul's Friday afternoon siren is anything but restful.

"It leaves me with a ringing in my ears and headaches that have continued for two days," Aaron Graubart, who lives next door to the Bais Yokov Nchemyeh D'setmer synagogue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, told the news Web site Gothamist. "I work from home and I now have to be out of the apartment on Fridays in order to avoid the sound. The siren is literally forcing me out of my home on Friday afternoons."

For some observant Jews, Friday afternoon sirens are critical — alerting them to the coming of the Sabbath and the need to wrap business and return home. But residents told Gothamist this was not a normal alarm, with the sound recently maxing out at 106 decibels — what one might hear standing right next to an active chainsaw and well over New York City's permitted noise levels.

Talking to the Gothamist, another resident imagined sinister motives could underlie the synagogue's noise-making. "I feel like it is a form of displacement," Robert Prichard, who filed a complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection in August, told the publication. "It feels like we are being driven out of our homes."

Over several weeks, the DEP sent investigators to the scene, and found noise levels above the decibel limit. It has set a court date for November, at which the synagogue could be fined for its siren.

Before that happens, Prichard tried to reach out to the congregation directly, walking into its building and asking for a meeting with its head rabbi — a request that he said still has not been honored. In the meantime, he and other concerned citizens intend to circulate a neighborhood petition against the sound.

According to the Gothamist, residents fret that legal sanctions might not deter Bais Yokov from its ear-splitting Friday ritual.

"I just think they will pay the fine and carry on as normal," Graubart told the publication.

"It just feels like our rights to live our lives unmolested are being taken away," Prichard said. "It is infuriating to know that our health is negotiable."


Possibly anti-Semitic political signs pop up in Rockland 

The signs show Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder along

Political signs possibly implying that Rockland's Hasidic community is reliant on welfare have been found in the county.

On the signs, Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder is pictured along with the words, "David Carlucci for Medicaid. Working together, other people can carry us." The signs have been spotted throughout the county, but no one has so far taken credit.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Developer Lamm gets $2.9M in settlement with Bloomingburg, Mamakating 

The Village of Bloomingburg and Town of Mamakating have agreed to a settlement with developer Shalom Lamm, staving off a trial set to begin next month in the two-year federal lawsuit that accused the municipalities of religious discrimination against building projects.

Lamm’s company, Sullivan Farms II, will be awarded $2.9 million, with $1.305 million paid by the village’s insurance carrier and $1.595 million paid by the town’s insurance carrier. None of the money will be paid out of the municipalities’ coffers, and no party admitted any fault.

Lamm filed the lawsuit in September 2014, accusing the town and village of unlawfully blocking his building projects in order to prevent Hasidic Jews from moving into the area. Lamm’s most infamous project, a 396-unit townhouse project called Chestnut Ridge, has been fought by town residents for years. The town filed a racketeering lawsuit against Lamm and former village officials over Chestnut Ridge, which has since been dismissed.

The village board of trustees and village planning board voted in favor of the settlement at consecutive emergency meetings held Friday afternoon in village hall. Mayor Russell Wood said he has wanted the lawsuits to be over since he came into office in March, so he considered Friday a good day for the village.

“On the whole, this is for the best interest of the taxpayers,” Wood said. “This is a good deal. It’s a shame it had to come to any of this.”

Trustee Aaron Rabiner agreed.

“The insurance company is picking up the tab,” Rabiner said. “It was a no-brainer for us.”

The town is much less complacent about the settlement. Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann attended the village meeting Friday, and gave a brief press conference afterward to announce the town has also agreed to the settlement despite moral objections.

The town’s contract with its insurer had a “no consent” clause, which meant the insurer could accept a settlement with or without the town’s approval, Herrmann said. The town board discussed the settlement proposal during an executive session at its meeting Tuesday night, but did not announce anything to the public. On Friday, Herrmann confirmed that during the executive session the board gave him authority to proceed with settlement negotiations, which he finalized on Friday.

Herrmann said the town “vehemently denies any wrongdoing,” and that Lamm settled in order to cut his own losses.

“This disgraceful, baseless lawsuit sought to intimidate and distract the town board’s attention from delivering government services to the community and providing the leadership they were elected for,” Herrmann said, adding that it was a “public relations stunt.”

Steven Engel, counsel for Lamm, said he hopes the settlement will show that bigotry has no place in America.

“It is our hope that this ugly time is now behind us, and that all the residents of this beautiful region can live together in peace and mutual understanding,” Engel said in a statement.

Town and village residents loudly objected to the idea of Lamm getting any money, as the boards voted on their respective resolutions Friday afternoon. Two FBI agents in suits sat stoically in the back row, serving as a silent reminder that Lamm has been under federal investigation for more than two years.



Friday, October 21, 2016

Police arrest two brothers in 2014 kidnapping, murder of Brooklyn landlord 

Two brothers were arrested Thursday in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a Brooklyn landlord, cops said.

Erskin Felix, 38, and his 28-year-old brother, Kendall Felix, were taken into custody in the killing nearly three years ago of Menachem Stark, according to police.

Stark, the married father of seven, was grabbed outside his Williamsburg office during a botched robbery in the middle of a snowstorm on Jan. 2, 2014. His burned body was later discovered in a dumpster beside a gas station in Great Neck, L.I.

Erskin Felix faces murder and kidnapping charges, while his sibling was charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence, cops said.

Both were being held at the NYPD’s 90th Precinct stationhouse early Friday.

The arrests come roughly three weeks after the pair’s cousin, Kendel Felix, 29, was convicted of killing the 39-year-old Stark.

In a videotaped confession, Kendel Felix, a carpenter who once worked for Stark, said Erskin Felix was the mastermind of the scheme.

“I’m scared s---less because this wasn’t supposed to happen,” Felix told Kenneth Taub, chief of the Brooklyn district attorney’s homicide bureau.

According to prosecutors, the Felix cousins dragged Stark into a minivan following an intense tussle on the street.

Stark died of asphyxiation after one of the co-conspirators sat on his chest in the back seat of the van, prosecutors said.

Kendel Felix is slated to be sentenced on Nov. 2 in Brooklyn Supreme Court.



Thursday, October 20, 2016

UNESCO Denies Jewish History 

Abba Eban, the most eloquent of Israeli diplomats, once noted when he was ambassador to the United Nations in the 1960s that “if Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

His quip has become reality, most recently, with the preliminary vote last week by the executive board of UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which denies a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem. The resolution referred to the Western Wall and Temple Mount only by their Arab names, and condemned the government for its “aggression” in its maintenance of the holy sites. Such false allegations have led to a number of fatal Arab terror attacks on Jews in the last year.

Of course the UN’s anti-Israel bias is longstanding and a given, to the degree that Israeli officials expressed a degree of optimism in that the 24-6 vote was not worse. They pointed out that countries including France, Italy, Spain, Indian, Sweden and Japan were among the 26 nations that abstained from the Palestinian-sponsored resolution rather than voting for it. They were pleased that no European countries supported the move.

But only the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia joined the United States in voting against the resolution, which Washington condemned was “one-sided and unhelpful.”

Israel announced that it will break all ties with UNESCO.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost the modicum of legitimacy it had left. But I believe that historical truth is stronger and that truth will prevail. And today we are dealing with the truth.”

Even UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, criticized the vote. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said in a statement. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Despite Israel’s break with UNESCO, Jerusalem is adamant about remaining a part of the UN, insisting that to leave over principle would only further isolate itself in the eyes of the international community. Still, it is deeply disheartening that at a time when world pressure is on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, the UN supports efforts allowing the Palestinian Authority to avoid direct negotiations and places the onus fully on Israel.

To deny Israel’s historical connection to the land, ignoring history and reality, is the worst way to promote reconciliation.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Lipa Schmeltzer kept only one day during holidays 

Lipa Schmeltzer

Every holiday season, thousands of observant, Orthodox Jews from the Diaspora visit Israel. Unlike their Israeli peers, most keep the additional day of “Yom Tov” traditionally observed outside of Israel, even while staying in the Holy Land, as per centuries of Jewish custom.

But one of today’s most popular - but controversial - haredi recording artists no longer keeps the second day of Jewish festivals while in Israel, performing in public while other Diaspora residents refrain from performing actions considered labor by Jewish tradition.

On Monday evening, after the end of the first day of Sukkot – but the beginning of the second day of Yom Tov for Diaspora residents – Schmeltzer performed at a concert in Petah Tikva, stunning audience members who were left pondering how a prominent member of the American haredi community was publicly flouting such a widely accepted tradition.

While criticism from some in the haredi world was quick to follow, Schmeltzer says he is unfazed.

“I don’t deal with it [the criticism]; I only accept criticism from God,” he told BeHadrei Haredim.

According to Schmeltzer, the basis of the long-standing custom of observing two days while visiting Israel no longer applies.

“I’m part of the Jewish people,” he said, “and I think that if I don’t appear after Yom Tov it’s a contradiction, since the whole point of having two days of Yom Tov is because back then they did not know with certainty what day the new month began in Israel; but today we not only know, but we have the ability to travel to Israel and spend the holiday in the holy, pure Land of Israel.”

Rabbinic authorities are familiar with that claim, of course, but have nevertheless not stopped the custom of two days for those who do not make their permanent home in Israel, excepting for some rabbinic decisors who say that if one is in Israel for all three major festivals, one day is enough. There are rabbinic authorities who say that the positive commandments of the holiday should not be kept on the second day when in Israel - referring to such things as reciting blessings for the holiday - but that one must avoid going against negative commandments, such as turning on lights.

Schmeltzer added that in his opinion, “It would be an affront for me to come to Israel and then say that I need to keep two days of Yom Tov because my grandfather didn’t know what the date [of the holiday was] in Israel. It is important for the public to know that I’m doing everything according to Jewish law. And I’ve already been here for a few holidays in Israel.”

For Schmeltzer, a 38-year old New York native raised in the Skver Hasidic sect, the decision not to observe two days of Yom Tov is not the first time he has stirred controversy within the haredi world by challenging religious norms.

His eclectic musical style has in the past drawn criticism from some within the religious world, and led to a ban by some leading haredi rabbinic authorities on “The Big Event” concert scheduled for Madison Square Garden in 2008.

In 2014 Schmeltzer announced his enrollment in Columbia University, defying the traditional aversion within Skver to study in secular institutions of higher education.



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Hasidic rabbi outside Wrigley Field teaches Cubs fans how to bless their team 

Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky and Cubs fans in Wrigleyville - COURTESY DOVID KOTLARSKY

The 2003 National League Championship Series coincided with the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot. During that week, Rabbi Boruch Hertz, an emissary of the Lubavitch Chabad, built a sukkah across the street from Wrigley Field and encouraged everyone, but especially Jews, to come in and pray with him.

The Lubavitchers are a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect that seeks to spread Jewishness throughout the world through kindness and good deeds, and a sukkah is the central symbol of Sukkot, a small shack meant to represent the temporary shelters where Jews lived during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. The metaphor of wandering in the desert has been applied to Cubs fans as well, and is one of the many links between the Cubs and the Jews. (Others include the Biblical injunction in Leviticus to sacrifice a goat and the team's current president, Theo Epstein, who is also Jewish, though nonpracticing.)

Hertz was outside Wrigley during the infamous Steve Bartman game, though he claims no responsibility for what happened inside the ballpark; he was more pleased by the fans who lined up for a chance to recite a blessing and then shake the lulav (a wand of tree branches) and etrog (a citron). The ritual represents the unity and omnipresence of God, but it's also fun, and the Lubavitchers are all about making Judaism fun. (On college campuses, their Purim celebrations, where partygoers are encouraged to observe the commandment to drink to the point of being unable to distinguish the virtuous Mordecai from the villainous Haman, were legendary, at least until the no-alcohol policy was imposed.)

Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky, Hertz's son-in-law, took up the mantle of the Rebbe of Wrigleyville at the beginning of last season, when he moved to Chicago from Brooklyn. He's a slender young man with a red beard and a hoarse voice. He set up a table across Addison Street from the ballpark and encouraged Jewish Cubs fans to recite blessings with him. Sometimes he wears his long black coat and and round black hat, but he also had a silver jersey printed up that reads "Team Chabad" on the front and "Rabbi Dovid" on the back.

The move did not upset any existing loyalties, he said, since he always preferred playing baseball to watching. (This is also an easy to way to disavow any claim that his divided loyalties were responsible for the Cubs' collapse against the Mets last year.) He has developed a fondness for the Cubs, however, and admires their persistence.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Chag Sameach 


Saturday, October 15, 2016

UN body removes Jewish links to Temple Mount 

This is disturbing, not least because Russia and China backed the Arab world in getting this through:  UNESCO last week  passed a resolution ignoring deep Jewish  ties to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, hailing it only as a Muslim religious site.

The story:

The United Nations’ cultural arm on Thursday passed a resolution ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in a move derided in Israel as “anti-Semitic” and absurd...

The resolution, adopted at the committee stage, used only Muslim names for the Jerusalem Old City holy sites and was harshly critical of Israel for what it termed “provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the area...

Voting in favor were: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam.

Voting against were: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstaining were: Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Paraguay, Saint Vincent and Nevis, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Ukraine.

The actual text of the World Heritage Committee's decision does mention "the three monotheistic religions":

Affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions...

But then it refers to the most sacred and contested site - the Dome of the Rock, built over the ruins of the Second Temple - only by its Arab name and only as a Muslim religious site in one long diatribe against Israel:

Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif and its surroundings...

7. Calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to allow for the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif...

13. Regrets the damage caused by the Israeli Forces, especially since 23 August 2015, to the historic gates and windows of the al-Qibli Mosque inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and reaffirms, in this regard, the obligation of Israel to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Muslim holy site of worship...

Even the director-general of UNESCO is shocked by the UNESCO decision:

Though she did not explicitly mention the resolution, Irina Bokova made her disapproval of the motion clear, saying that efforts to deny history and Jerusalem’s complex multi-faith character harm UNESCO.

“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” Bokova said in a statement...

“To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said.

In fact, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are built over the ruins of the most famous Jewish temples in history - and almost certainly to take over the sacredness given to that site by the Jews:



Friday, October 14, 2016

In NYC, perfect etrogs command top dollar 

Naftali Berger's quest for perfection ended in victory when the 24-year-old student entered Tsvi Dahan's trailer in the haredi Orthodox Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

"Find something wrong with it — find it!" a glowing Berger exclaimed as he held his treasure: a bumpy, lemon-like fruit he had just purchased for $200.

In open-air markets and on tables unfolded on sidewalks in Jewish communities throughout the world, many Jews preparing for Sukkot, which begins Oct. 16 this year, look for lovely etrogs, the fruit that constitutes the centerpiece of the biblically mandated four species to be blessed during the weeklong holiday.

Many celebrants will take the basic set commonly sold for $30-$40 that also includes a lulav (palm branch), myrtle and willow.
Then there are men like Berger, who think nothing of dropping hundreds of dollars on an especially beautiful etrog, which they believe enhances their fulfillment of the mitzvah.

No sooner does Yom Kippur end than such customers seek out Dahan, 38, a resident of Jaffa who works for a company that owns three hotels in Tel Aviv but has trekked to New York City the past 17 autumns to hawk his high-end etrogs. They are rippled and slightly smooth, hefty and slim, shiny in hue and subdued — in etrog selection, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Above all, though, Dahan's fruits are symmetrical and close to blemish-free — and are pure, ungrafted. They come from the 200 trees on a half-acre plot of land Dahan leases in Dumdir, a village in southern Morocco, his parents' homeland. His late grandfather, Yaakov Assayag, a tailor in Marrakesh, got into the business 70 years ago, and several of Assayag's sons followed suit. Lore holds, Dahan explains, that Morocco's Dumdir has yielded the finest etrogs since the exile following the Second Temple's destruction.

 Dahan visits four times a year to monitor his crop. Before Rosh Hashanah, he selects the 2,000 best etrogs, then sorts for the top 200 most pristine specimens to bring to Brooklyn.

He's not alone catering to the market in Williamsburg, with its primarily Hasidic community. In the weeks before Sukkot, several other storefronts and trailers pop up in the neighborhood, with dealers and growers offering premium etrogs from Israel and Italy, along with Morocco.

In the trailer, Berger slides his eyeglasses down near the tip of his nose, the better to inspect the etrog he's grasping. He takes a cotton swab from a box and dabs at the surface surrounding the pitom, as the stem is known, trying to discern if the pinhead-sized speck he spots is merely a wayward dirt particle or a blemish.

Ten minutes into the inspection, Berger phones his rabbi, detailing his observations in Yiddish. He hangs up, calls again, then returns the etrog to a foam-lined box that he sets aside on a table.

"I'm going to have a cup of coffee and think about it," Berger says.

Ten minutes later, he returns, seizing another etrog and examining it.This one is smaller, but Berger is smitten.

"It's clean — perfectly clean. For me, that's the most important," Berger pronounces of the $200 etrog that he calls "a bargain."

The business is "very hard," Dahan tells a visitor in Hebrew. "[The customers] are very hard — justifiably so because they're spending a lot of money."

Another customer enters. The first etrog proffered fails to impress in price ($275) or looks. The second falls short, too. Dahan hands over a third costing $350.

 "You won't find better," Dahan states. "Don't make a mistake. You'll wait for the last day, won't get what you want and you'll be going crazy."


KJ leaders feel vindicated by ruling 

Kiryas Joel leaders on Thursday claimed vindication in a court ruling that upheld a 164-acre expansion of their village, saying in a short statement that they hope "that the comprehensiveness of this decision might bring an end to the legal challenges."

State Supreme Court Justice Gretchen Walsh issued a 96-page decision two days earlier that rejected all legal claims brought by Orange County, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley in two separate cases to invalidate Kiryas Joel's annexation of land from the Town of Monroe. The leaders of the Satmar Hasidic community were unavailable to comment when the decision became available on Wednesday, because they were observing the Yom Kippur holiday.

Their short statement on Thursday merely noted that Walsh had determined that the annexation process complied with the law and that the village had done "a complete and reasonable review of potential environmental impacts from the alteration of the municipal boundary" — a point that plaintiffs in the two lawsuits had strongly contested.

The ruling will soon give Kiryas Joel control of the 164 acres, unless the plaintiffs appeal and win an injunction to preserve Monroe's jurisdiction while the appeal is pending. No appeal decisions have been made.

Kiryas Joel has a separate case of its own pending in the Appellate Division to annex 507 acres from Monroe through an earlier petition that the Monroe Town Board rejected. That annexation area consists of the 164 acres in the case that Kiryas Joel won, plus 343 additional acres in the surrounding area.

In response to the court ruling, Monroe-Woodbury School District leaders issued a statement saying they will meet with Kiryas Joel School District officials to discuss "the advisability of modifying our mutual boundaries and its impact on our taxpayers," referring to the possibility of enlarging Kiryas Joel School District to take in the annexation area. "The district will continue sharing information with our Monroe-Woodbury families as decisions are made and plans progress," reads the statement from Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez and school board President Jon Huberth.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Are Thousands Of Ritually Slaughtered Chickens Being Turned Into... Biodiesel? 

Most Hasidic Jews I've spoken to in Brooklyn about kapparot, the annual pre-Yom Kippur chicken slaughter ritual, say the same thing about what happens to the meat: it goes to charity. Given the challenges of safely storing and transporting chicken carcasses for human consumption (and the rigorous requirements of the federal Poultry Products Inspection Acts), it seems safe to say that if you don't see some large refrigeration equipment at a kaporos event, the meat is probably not edible, or shouldn't be eaten. Indeed, at this year's large-scale events Monday evening on President Street at Kingston Avenue and on the Eastern Parkway service road, no refrigeration was apparent. Helpers for the ritual slaughterers could be seen tossing the birds, covered in blood and often dusted with feces from their time in stacked crates, into trash bags and cans after their throats were slit.

The following morning, an animal rights activist recorded this video that seems to show workers throwing out chicken bodies from both sites. The activist counted over 23 full trash cans emptied.

What's especially interesting about the video, is that at the Eastern Parkway site a worker with a shirt from a company called Dar Pro explains that the chickens are "going to a rendering company. They make ethanol out of it. They make oil out of it. It's a big process. 10 percent ethanol, that's corn and everything else."

This abbreviated explanation doesn't make total sense: ethanol is an alcohol made from the sugars in grains such as corn, sugar beets, and sugar cane, and a gasoline additive. Flex-fuel vehicles run on fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. Animal material can't be turned into ethanol, but what it can be used for, along with ethanol, is making biodiesel, which can be used as a cleaning diesel additive or, for specially set up engines, a fuel by itself.

First, though, the discarded animal pieces need to be rendered, a process of grinding them up and cooking them at high temperatures until the fat separates. The nonfat powder created by this is a high-protein substance called meat and bone meal, which is commonly incorporated into pet food and livestock feed, among other things.

It so happens that the services offered by Dar Pro, a subsidiary of the Texas company Darling Ingredients, include "full-service management and recycling of your inedible meat by-products." The company runs a biodiesel refinery in Butler, Kentucky, jointly operates another in Norco, Louisiana with petro-giant Valero, and supplies a third in Montreal.

Rina Deych, a leader of the anti-kaporos group Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, said that in her two decades or so of advocating to end the slaughter, she has only observed a few operations that seem to be processing the meat for people to eat. The rest of the carcasses, she said, go in the trash. She was skeptical of the explanation that the Eastern Parkway chickens are going to be made into some kind of consumer good.

"If it’s true, then they’re not totally going to waste, but that’s a hell of a way to obtain that kind of product," she said. "You can get [biodiesel] from vegetable matter, if that’s in fact what's being done here."



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Judge upholds 164-acre expansion of Kiryas Joel 

A state Supreme Court justice has given Kiryas Joel a sweeping victory in two court cases challenging its annexation of 164 acres from the Town of Monroe, rejecting all legal claims that attorneys for Orange County, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley had made to void the Monroe Town Board's approval of that border change a year ago.

In a 96-page decision signed Tuesday, Justice Gretchen Walsh found no grounds to invalidate Kiryas Joel's expansion or the environmental review the village conducted for two overlapping annexation petitions. She left it to the Appellate Division to decide in a separate case if that review was adequate for a 507-acre annexation request that Monroe rejected. Kiryas Joel is seeking approval for the larger annexation through a pending case it brought in the appeals court.

The ruling means Kiryas Joel will take jurisdiction over the 164-acre area formerly outside its borders unless the losing parties appeal the decision and win a temporary injunction, similar to the one that kept the land under Monroe's control while the cases were pending.

Leaders of the Satmar Hasidic village were unavailable to comment on the ruling on Wednesday because it was Yom Kippur, the solemn Jewish Day of Atonement. They and the annexation petitioners had sought the expansion to accommodate housing and municipal services for the fast-growing community.

Emily Convers, chairwoman of the United Monroe citizens group and a director of the affiliated Preserve Hudson Valley, said leaders of the organization will decide "shortly whether or not to appeal this irresponsible decision."

"Justice was not served today," Convers said. "Preserve Hudson Valley will continue to fight to prevent unsustainable actions by environmental violators, and will also promote the invaluable notion that religion and government must remain separate for any healthy society."

Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles, one of four Town Board members who supported the 164-acre annexation in a 4-1 vote, applauded Walsh's ruling, arguing the expansion of Kiryas Joel will help protect the Monroe-Woodbury School District from the cultural divisions that plague East Ramapo School District in Rockland County. Expanding Kiryas Joel School District's borders to take in the annexed land would mean that current and future residents of that area would pay taxes to Kiryas Joel School District and vote in its elections, not Monroe-Woodbury's.

"No one wants another East Ramapo," Doles said in a statement. "This ruling ensures that the school districts will remain free to continue the educational goals which each and every parent holds as the number one reason for moving to Orange County."

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in a statement that he still believes Kiryas Joel's annexation "is not in the overall public interest" - the legal standard for approving such border changes. County spokesman Justin Rodriguez said later that county officials won't decide whether to appeal until they and the municipalities that sued get "a candid assessment from the lawyers about what they think of the chances of an appeal."

Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan, whose village was one of the municipalities that joined the county in the litigation, said local leaders will likely meet early next week to discuss the ruling and possibility of an appeal. "We don't agree with the decision, so the likelihood is that we would appeal. But we haven't talked yet."

The decision comes as the Orange County Legislature prepares to take up a new petition to form a Town of North Monroe, which would consist of Kiryas Joel and 382 acres that largely falls within the 507-acre annexation. How Walsh's ruling affects that new initiative was not immediately clear.

A group of Monroe property owners petitioned in December 2013 for Kiryas Joel to annex 507 acres, and later filed a separate petition for 164 acres while the original proposal was in limbo. Kiryas Joel oversaw an environmental review that analyzed the potential effects and approved both petitions; the Monroe board assented only to the smaller request.

Opponents argued during the annexation debate and in court papers that Kiryas Joel's review was grossly inadequate, partly because it limited projections of the community's growth to 10 years instead of looking deeper in the future or doing a full build-out analysis. In Tuesday's ruling, Walsh said she "sees nothing arbitrary or capricious with (the) use of a 10-year horizon."



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


Monday, October 10, 2016

Animal Rights Group Presses Fight Against Kapparot as Yom Kippur Approaches 

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, makeshift chicken coops appear on the streets and sidewalks of Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhoods like Borough Park and Williamsburg, dedicated to the ritual sacrifice of chickens for atonement in a centuries old practice known as kapparot, or kaporos.

After campaigning against the practice for years, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has redoubled its efforts against the ritual in a quarter page open letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, printed as an ad in the New York Times on Tuesday.

Running in the front section of the Times, the ad denounces a "bloodbath" that claims the lives of 50,000 chickens and occurs in "unregulated, makeshift slaughterhouses in Brooklyn streets and sidewalks in the days prior to Yom Kippur."

Paid for by the Alliance, and its parent organization, the animal rights advocacy group United Poultry Concerns, the letter alleges the practice violates city and statutes on health, safety, and treatment of animals. It also charges that the city abets the ritual by "providing the practitioners with police protection, barricades, and orange cones that are used to bleed out birds whose throats have been cut."

During the ritual, the worshipper swings a chicken over his head while reciting a prayer that asks for the remission of one's sins. The chicken is then supposed to be slaughtered, with its meat donated to families in need.

According to Karen Davis, head of United Poultry Concerns, kapparot is practiced in a messy and cruel manner in the Brooklyn neighborhoods where it occurs. Additionally, she claims, it's not even a necessary measure to atone before Yom Kippur.

"There's no middle ground, but a radical ground on this issue," said Davis, who wants the total abolition of chickens' use as kapparot, rather than measures that purport to make this more humane. "They hold them by the wings, which isn't natural for a chicken. It's the ultimate expression of the callousness of this entire practice."

She added that Jewish law, or halakha, does not require the use of chickens as kapparot, and that this is a matter of custom. Ultimately, she said, "the city needs to stop condoning this and enforce the laws on the books."


Ken Thompson, Brooklyn Prosecutor Who Vowed Shift in Hasidic Sex Abuse Probes, Dies at 50 

Ken Thompson, the first African-American to be elected district attorney of Brooklyn, has died at age 50 of complications from cancer, his office said.

Thompsson trounced longtime incumbent Charles Hynes in a bitter 2013 Democratic primary part on promises to shake up his approach to child sex abuse crimes in the borough's large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Hynes came under withering attack from both advocates for victims and ultra-Orthodox leaders with a program to focus on getting victims to come forward. He was largely unsuccessful in winning convictions, but did manage to anger many on both sides of the explosive issue.

Thompson won support from Jewish leaders in his vowed to dramatically change course, although he wound up prioritizing other issues.

Thompson also launched a high-profile initiative to review questionable murder convictions, some of them decades old.

It resulted in 21 people having their convictions overturned or dismissed over the past three years, the office said in a statement.

Before he was sworn in as District Attorney in 2014, Thompson served as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York. Among the cases he prosecuted was against former New York City Police Officer Justin Volpe over the 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

"A lifelong New Yorker, Ken was known as an effective, aggressive civil rights leader - and a national voice for criminal justice reform," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Thompson was born in New York City. He is survived by his wife of 17 years, Lu-Shawn Thompson, his two children, Kennedy and Kenny, and his mother, father, brother and sister, his office said on Sunday.


Sunday, October 09, 2016

Rabbi airlifted to Israel after assault in Ukraine 

Chabad Rabbi brutally beaten in Zhitomir

A Chabad rabbi in Ukraine was airlifted to Israel for treatment on Saturday, after he was severely beaten in the western city of Zhitomir on Friday, a spokesperson for the Hasidic group said, adding it is too early to tell whether the assault was a hate crime.

Rabbi Mendel Deitsch, a longtime Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in France and more recently in Israel, was assaulted at the city’s central train station early Friday morning, where he was discovered and transported to a local hospital, according to the statement on the website of the Chabad movement.

The Jewish Community of Zhitomir was alerted to the attack hours after the hospitalization of Deitsch, who is in critical condition, according to the report. The motive for the attack remains unknown, the statement also said.

Anti-Semitic assaults are rare in Ukraine, where fewer than 30 such incidents are reported annually.



Saturday, October 08, 2016

Hasidic Pilgrims Wreak Havoc in Ukraine on Rosh Hashanah 

Jewish pilgrims in the central Ukrainian city of Uman lit fires in at least five apartments in a string of incidents involving rowdiness during Rosh Hashanah.

In one incident, firefighters rushed to a residential apartment rented by pilgrims who started a fire in the balcony to fry kosher meats they had brought with them, the news site Korrespondent reported Monday. The balcony sustained damage before the firefighters extinguished the flames, the report said.

Some 30,000 Jews, mostly from Israel, gathered in Uman ahead of the Jewish New Year as part of of an annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, an 18th-century luminary buried in Uman. Rabbi Nachman when he was alive called on his followers to be with him on Rosh Hashanah.

In another incident, pilgrims are believed to have illegally taken over the announcement system at Boryspil International Airport in Kiev, playing Hasidic music over the airport’s speakers and preventing operators from providing passengers with flight and security information. Earlier this year, a hotel in Uman was criticized for refusing to rent rooms to Jews on Rosh Hashanah.

In recent days, Ynet published two videos showing violent and rowdy behavior aboard two flights from Israel to Kiev — IsrAir and El Al — ahead of Rosh Hashanah. Channel 2 reported that flight attendants are scared to work aboard pilgrim flights for fear of violence and intimidation by passengers.

Uman only has the capacity to absorb 5,000 visitors at once, and overpopulation creates bitterness and friction, according to the municipality. Violence between Hasidim and locals is common in Uman, as is drug use among the pilgrims. In addition, their arrival in Uman attracts prostitutes from across Ukraine.

The Breslover Hasidic sect, whose followers constitute much of the pilgrimage, has a strong presence in Israel’s prisons, where it does outreach work aimed at getting inmates to become more religiously observant. Breslovers also work with poor Israelis.

Most Jews who visit Uman stay in the Pushkina area, where Ukrainian police, along with Israeli officers who are sent especially for the holiday, restrict non-Jews, including locals, from entering during the holiday to prevent violence.

This Rosh Hashanah, at least one pilgrim was robbed in Uman. The attackers made off with his wallet and cellular phone, Jewish.ru reported.

In Uman, many locals resent the Jewish pilgrimage because they say it invites criminality and does not contribute to the local economy, as most pilgrims pay other Jews for various services, including housing in apartments in Pushkina and kosher food.

However, this year’s pilgrimage added a total of $260,000 to the municipal budget of Uman, according to Jewish.ru.



Friday, October 07, 2016

Man shouts ‘I’m Hitler, I’ll kill the Jews’ at Stamford Hill school 

Police are investigating after a man shouted anti-Semitic abuse at Charedi Jews in Stamford Hill on Thursday.

A black male shouted 'shocking and disgusting abuse' at group of strictly-Orthodox Jews at a courtyard of a girls school courtyard on Thursday.

The perpetrator allegedly shouted "Jews, dirty Jews, I'm Hitler, I'll kill the Jews" on Thursday, according to neighbourhood watch group Shomrim.

A Police spokesperson told Jewish: "It was alleged anti-Semitic abuse was directed at a group in Stamford Hill. The suspect had since left the scene. Officers are in the process of contacting the reported victims."

The victims are being supported by the volunteer organisation.


Thursday, October 06, 2016

Revelry, prayer and visions of apocalypse at Uman Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage 

Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews this week flocked to the central Ukrainian city of Uman in a pilgrimage to mark the Jewish New Year.

The pilgrims – who go to Uman annually to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav – come from around the world, but mainly from Orthodox communities in Israel and the United States.

The gathering sees more than 30,000 pilgrims visit Uman, according to the Uman Emergency Clinic, a non-profit that supplies medical services for the gathering.

Uman, which is 191 kilometers south of Kyiv, has a population of roughly 86,000.


Rabbi Nachman died in 1810. A Hasidic Rabbi who is noted for combining notoriously legalistic Jewish exegesis with the Kabbalah, a brand of Jewish mysticism in vogue with Hollywood.

Nachman's teachings founded a sect of Orthodox Judaism called Breslover Hasidism, named for Bratslav, the Vinnytsia Oblast city where the rabbi spent much of his life.

Nachman moved to Uman in his later years. Before his death, he wrote that he would expiate the sins of any Jew who came to his grave on New Years.

In the Jewish religion, New Years occurs 10 days before Yom Kippur, the day on which Jews are supposed to atone for their sins of the past year. The Jews who travel to Uman believe that communion with Nachman's grave will allow them to further cleanse their souls.

"We're all gonna be in a better place because of him," said Zev Bennet, a 38-year-old pilgrim from Israel.

The pilgrimage's epicenter is located on Uman's Pushkin Street, a dusty road that winds down the hill where Nachman is buried. Many of the buildings that line the road have large banners with Hebrew writing on them.

During the Soviet Union, some pilgrims were able to receive visas for the pilgrimage, while others snuck across the Polish border, said Nachman Siegel, a New Yorker who has made the pilgrimage nearly every year since 1989.

"People come from all over," said Shmuel Siegel, Nachman's brother, who also resides in New York City. Siegel then said that on the flight to Kyiv he sat next to another pilgrim who was coming directly from the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

"It's all very spiritual," Siegel added.


Many of the pilgrims believe that Nachman's writings herald the coming of the Jewish messiah.

Though nobody at the gathering appeared to think that traveling to Uman would speed that process up, most pilgrims were quite open about their beliefs. Many of the pilgrims were anti-Zionist, believing that Israel's secular government is an abomination, and that the territory should be controlled by a theocratic Jewish government.

With the coming of the messiah, the pilgrims explained, Israel would cease to be secular, Israel would become a theocracy, and then the world would end.

One Israeli pilgrim named Mo Dori told the Kyiv Post that he became a follower of Nachman after a life of partying that nearly ended with a suicide attempt.

"When the messiah comes, all the bad guys are gonna go away," Dori said. "It's going to happen soon."


Residents of Uman have criticized the pilgrims for public drunkenness, saying that the event is a pretext for Orthodox Jews to get drunk and party near the grave of a man they consider holy.

Though this year's gathering passed in peace, pilgrims have clashed with locals in the past.

2010 saw 10 Hasids deported from Ukraine after getting into a knife-fight with local residents.

Since then, the Ukrainian authorities have taken steps to separate the main pilgrimage center from the rest of the city, with non-Jewish residents needing special authorization to make it past a police cordon that covers the area.
The festival was full of people swigging bottles of Corona or Carlsberg in between prayers. One teenage Hasid appeared to be sneaking a bottle of Glenfiddich whisky under his coat jacket to a ritual purification session, while many started the day with beer.

"It's all about loving each other," said Yitzhak Feldman, an Israeli pilgrim sporting a porkpie hat instead of a yarmulke along with aviator sunglasses. "It's fun – you pray when you want."


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Man Attempts Attack on Rabbi Shteinman, shlita 

A man who was said to be "mentally ill" tried to attack Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, on Sunday night (Oct. 2) after the start of Rosh Hashana, the first of the Jewish high holy days, and the start of the Jewish new year.

The man was arrested by Israel Police.

Rabbi Shteinman, born 1912-1914 in Brest, is the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the Ponevezh Yeshiva L'Tzi'irim, and is regarded as the generation's leading hareidi-religious posek (Jewish Torah authority) in the non-Hasidic Lithuanian stream of Judaism, since the passing of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, zt'l. He lives in Bnei Brak.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Judge allows process for proposed South Blooming Grove building moratorium to proceed 

A judge who stopped a hearing on a proposed residential building moratorium in the Village of South Blooming Grove in August will now allow the process to proceed, the village attorney said.

Village Attorney Dennis Lynch said the judge issued an order last week that will restart the village’s effort to enact a three-month residential building moratorium.

“We have a good development,” Lynch said. “The Bankruptcy Court issued an order.” Now, Lynch said, the Village Board will redraft its proposed moratorium law at its next meeting, which is set for Tuesday, and schedule a public hearing.

The village was supposed to have its hearing on the proposed moratorium law Aug. 22. But Judge Nancy Hershey Lord, who sits in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn, issued a restraining order. Lord acted on a request from Keen Equities, which wants to build a 566-home Hasidic subdivision, Clove Wood, at the former Lake Anne Country Club site on Clove Road. Keen had feared that the moratorium was an attempt to delay approval of Clove Wood while the village changes its zoning to reduce permitted density or otherwise rezone the Lake Anne site.

Lawyers for the developers and the village were supposed to appear before Lord Sept. 15 in Brooklyn. Lynch said the parties worked things out with a conference call, and the judge reached a “stipulation resolution,” allowing the moratorium process to go forward.

Lynch said the village agreed to exclude a number of projects that are already working their way through the planning process, including Clove Wood and a $6.6 million, 39,000-square-foot Sleep Inn hotel to be built on 11 acres off Route 208.

Keen bought the Lake Anne site for $15 million in 2006 to build “multi-family housing to accommodate the growing needs of the Satmar Community in Kiryas Joel,” according to a company statement in court papers. The purchase was financed by a $10 million mortgage from the Greene family, longtime owners of the property. Five years later, Keen defaulted on payments, and the Greenes sought to foreclose. But before the foreclosure could be finalized, Keen filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2013. It then reorganized and reapplied for approval of the project.



Sunday, October 02, 2016

K'Sivah V'Chasima Toivah 

Wishing all of K'lal Yisroel a happy and healthy year.


Saturday, October 01, 2016

Councillor criticizes Outremont for scheduling council meeting on Rosh Hashanah 

Mindy Pollak, borough councillor in Outremont, is the first Hassidic Jewish woman to be elected in Montreal.

A Projet Montréal councillor in Outremont borough is criticizing the borough administration for holding its next monthly meeting on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on Monday evening.

And it’s at that meeting that the borough council will discuss the dates and times to hold a coming referendum on a borough bylaw that would prohibit the opening of new synagogues, mosques and churches on Bernard Ave., borough councillor Mindy Pollak said in a statement on Friday. The debate will also concern the cost and spending limits for the coming referendum campaign, she said.

Pollak, who is a member of the Hasidic Jewish community, said that it’s not the first “faux pas” by the borough. She said she had asked the borough last November to set council meetings dates to avoid having the October meeting fall on Rosh Hashanah. “Rather than seeking to bring communities together, the borough is sowing division.”

It’s the third meeting called by the borough on a Jewish holiday, she said. Projet Montréal adds that it’s a “lack of respect for the Jewish community, which is directly concerned by the bylaw on places of worship.”

One of the items on the borough council meeting agenda on Monday is the presentation of the results of two Sept. 8 registers that allowed Outremont residents who oppose the bylaw prohibiting the opening of new synagogues, mosques and churches on Bernard and Laurier Aves. to force a referendum.

The borough received 367 signatures on the Bernard register, which means a referendum will be held on the zoning change sometime in November. A similar register for Laurier received only four signatures, so that zoning change is approved.



Friday, September 30, 2016

The Hushed Road to Recovery: Former Hasidic Woman Recounts Trauma 

In ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, the terms "sexual abuse" and "sexual assault" are forbidden.

However, the topic was deeply discussed during Judy Brown's visit to SUNY New Paltz on Sept. 14. Unfortunately, in the deeply religious world in which she grew up, child molestation runs rampant.

Brown is a woman who left her Hasidic community in Brooklyn after writing "Hush," a fiction novel based on true experiences of sexual abuse and suicide written from the perspective of a child.  The writer was burdened with stories of suffering from those whom she referred to as "the children of the underworld." Among them was a young girl expelled from school for reporting molestation.

She began releasing these stories onto the page as a form of therapy after her peers confided in her about horrific sexual abuse they had endured. But Brown said writing the novel "quickly became a nightmare."

In 2010, she published "Hush" under a pseudonym, Eishes Chayil, out of guilt for carrying these harsh truths with her. Brown received major backlash from the community when she revealed her identity in a Huffington Post article in 2011.

"Writing wasn't a gift; it was a betrayal. It violated the rules of what you are not allowed to know," she said of the Hasidic community.

Being ignorant of the repercussions of leaving, wanting a better life for her children and feeling shunned by her community, Brown felt she had no choice but to leave.

"I don't encourage women to [leave like I did]. Some don't survive it," she said.

Brown spoke in front of a packed Lecture Center Room 104 as part of the Resnick Lecture series, "Jews and Modern Memoir." She was the second speaker in the series, following a man, Shulem Deen, who also spoke about leaving the Hasidic world.

"It is a coincidence that the first three speakers are people who have left the world of ultra-orthodox Judaism," series director and emeritus professor, Gerald Sorin said.

Sorin chose Brown to speak at New Paltz because he was very impressed by her novel, and found it important for others to engage with her on it.

"[The series is about] people learning about other people's lives and culture, and people who have made very consequent changes in their lives," he said. "It's important to hear that."

Brown is a survivor. She wrote a heart-wrenching novel, faced threats from the community that raised her, won custody of her children and now continues to speak about it at lectures such as this one. But as far as she is concerned, her experiences have not made her stronger.

"I don't buy into that," she said. "I appreciate the person I am but I am broken."

She explained that it is very difficult for women to leave the Hasidic world. They live under a "dome" for 20 years, get married and often have two or three children by the time they are in their early 20s. Leaving alone is one thing, but leaving with your three children is another.

Brown left when she was 30 years old and spent three years "battling for her life." Although her children are better off now, she is traumatized by a past of living in poverty, having tensions with her family, fighting a custody battle for her children and ultimately, for her life.

"In the Hasidic community, children are seen as community property," she said. "It took me several years, and you're always still a little tangled in it."

An in-depth Q&A followed Brown's solemn, forthright speech about how "Hush" came to be. The conversation focused on the cultural implications that allow such horrific and widespread sexual abuse to continue in this religious community.

Brown's message was that change must come from within and is doubtful, going by the utter lack of changes in the community to this day.

Many attendees wanted to know what the secular world  has done to help. Brown pointed to an organization called Footsteps that, according to their website, "provides a range of services, including social and emotional support, educational and vocational guidance, workshops and social activities, and access to resources" for those entering the secular world from ultra-Orthodox communities.

"I was barely scratching through [leaving and being in poverty] but I was lucky in little ways," Brown said. "On the other side, I'm happy I did it. My children are different kinds of people so it paid off, but I don't think I'll get over it. You recover for the rest of your days."


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Checkin’ in with … New York’s first female Hasidic civil court judge 

Lawyer and Borough Park community activist Rachel "Ruchie" Freier is about to become the first female Hasidic Jewish judge in state history, after voters on Sept. 13 elected her to the bench of the Fifth Judicial district civil court, which includes Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge. The mother of six and Brooklyn Law School graduate is the founder of two charities as well as the all-female Hasidic emergency medical technician response group Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for "helping women." Reporter Colin Mixson spoke to her about her historic appointment and some of the challenges she faced along the way.

Colin Mixson: You've got a big first under your belt. How does that feel?

Rachel Freier: I feel like I'm really speaking for many women like myself, who have done good things and worked hard, and that there are many religious women like me out there, but they just haven't come to the public eye. So I feel like I have a mission and I'm an ambassador for so many other orthodox and Hasidic Jewish women.

CM: Why are you the first Hasidic Jewish woman to achieve this position?

RF: The part that sometimes works against women is we have a high priority of raising a family. So when you're raising a family, and that comes first, you can have a second interest, but when it's law or medicine it's very difficult. I think for a woman to go to law school, whether you're Jewish or not, any woman who wants to go to law school and raise a family is going to have the same challenges.

CM: Has becoming a professional success and then achieving this position as a judge put you at odds with anyone in the Hasidic community?

RF: It's just the opposite. There's an overflow of support. Wherever I go, people are telling me, 'Now my daughter thinks differently about the future, and, 'My wife thinks differently about the future.' There's an overwhelming amount of support from every aspect of the community. There were people telling me 'I never voted in a primary before, this was the first time.' People are so proud of being a part of making history.

CM: Between your family, legal practice, charity work, and now this appointment, is something going to give when you take your seat on the bench in January?

RF: There are lots of rules, and I'm becoming familiar with what I can and can't do once I take the bench.

CM: So you'll have to stop practicing law outside the court?

RF: That's correct.

CM: And are you still very active with the charities you've created, or are you more hands-off at this point?

RF: Yes I am. I work with other volunteers, but [my charities] are important to me. It was actually my pro-bono work that propelled me into public service. It made me realize that I have such a passion for fairness and justice and that public service is really where I belong.

CM: On average, how many hours of sleep do you get a night?

RF: [Laughs] About five.

CM: When was the last time you were able to sleep in?

RF: I'm Hasidic, which means I'm observant and we observe the Sabbath, which is a day of rest, and, trust me, I rest that day. No cellphones, no beepers, no computers — it's complete family and rest and prayer. I recharge my battery that day.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brooklyn 'Millionares' Busted for Stealing $1.3 M in Benefits, Feds Say 

Three Brooklyn couples, including a landlord with properties all over the borough, were arrested Tuesday on charges of defrauding the government of $1.3 million worth of benefits.

Shlomo Kubitshuk, 38, and his wife Rachel, 39, Naftali, 40, and Hinda Englander, 41, and Leib, 39, and Devorah Teitelbaum, 36, were accused of lying about their income to the federal government as far back as 2001 in order to collect thousands of dollars worth of food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers and Medicaid.

"For over a decade, this ring of six defendants allegedly lied to city and federal officials about their financial status in order to obtain benefits that were meant for the needy," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The six were slapped with a multiple counts of conspiracy to steal government funds and theft of government funds, which carry a five and ten year maximum sentence respectively, court documents show.

In two separate complaints unsealed Tuesday, prosecutors said the six benefited from $457,000 in Section 8 vouchers to pay for NYCHA apartments, $130,000 in food stamps and $733,000 in Medicaid payouts.

"At a time when affordable housing is scarce and there is a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, it is reprehensible that some New Yorkers went without so that these defendants could have still more," said Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters.

Shlomo Kubitshuk owns multiple properties across Brooklyn, according to prosecutors, including 56 Grattan, 98 Grattan St. and 177 Montrose in East Williamsburg, 327 Melrose St., 318 Melrose St. and 1436 Greene St. in Bushwick and 1144 Bergen St. in Prospect Heights.

The state had records of Kubitshuk taking in $560,000 in rental income in 2013, and in multiple applications for mortgages he said his assets were worth more than $2 million, prosecutors said.

His wife said she took in $300,000 in annual income through another LLC company on a 2013 credit card application, according to the complaint.

Despite that, the pair claimed only $13,409 a year in combined income for around a decade in order to qualify for federal subsidies, federal prosecutors charge.

Naftali Eglander, owner of a U.K. real estate company City Gate Estates Limited worth more than £600,000, and his wife Hinda disclosed only $15,858 in combined annual income between ​2001 and 2013, prosecutors said.

Finally Leib Teitlebaum, president of the online jewelry company www.glitzs.com, professed to earn about $1.2 million a year in a 2006 credit application, according to the state, yet disclosed far less.

"These defendants were millionaires stealing from the poor," said Peters. "The defendants fraudulently concealed their wealth to obtain benefits."

The six were arrested in Williamsburg on Tuesday morning, prosecutors said.

Information about their attorneys was not available immediately.

The Hasidic community of South Williamsburg has the one of the highest concentrations of Section 8 housing in the city, though there have been multiple cases of abuse of the subsidy, the Daily News reported.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Man Convicted in Kidnapping and Murder of Brooklyn Landlord 

A 29-year-old man was convicted of kidnapping and murder on Monday for his role in the killing of a Brooklyn landlord during a botched robbery two years ago.

After a trial of more than two weeks in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the man, Kendel Felix, was found guilty by a jury of taking part in the murder of Menachem Stark, a 39-year-old landlord and real-estate developer from a Hasidic section of the Williamsburg neighborhood.

On a snowy day in January 2014, Mr. Stark's charred remains were found in a trash bin at a gas station in Great Neck, on Long Island. His death, initially a mystery, prompted intense speculation that he might have been killed because of the bankruptcy of his business or that the murder was related to $2 million that had suddenly vanished from his account.

But according to testimony at the trial and to his own confession to the police and prosecutors, Mr. Felix, a carpenter who did construction work for Mr. Stark, participated in a plot to abduct the developer and extort money from him. In the confession, a videotape of which was played at the trial, Mr. Felix said the scheme had been concocted by one of his cousins, Erskine Felix, and was carried out with the help of other relatives.

In his statement, Mr. Felix admitted helping kidnap Mr. Stark from the street outside his office at 331 Rutledge Street in Williamsburg and forcing him into a waiting van. When Mr. Stark resisted, one of Mr. Felix's accomplices sat on his chest, causing his death. The kidnappers then disposed of the body in the trash bin on Long Island, doused it with gasoline and set it on fire.

Though Mr. Felix is the only person charged and prosecuted in the case so far, the Brooklyn district attorney's office has said the investigation is continuing.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Fringe Jewish Hasidic Sect Moves in Guatemala After Raid 

A haredi Orthodox sect that has been living on the outskirts of Guatemala City for the last two years has relocated to a village in eastern Guatemala after saying they were harassed by local authorities.

Earlier this month, authorities in Guatemala City raided the fringe sect's compound, separating children from their parents, amid allegations of physical and mental abuse. The crackdown came at the request of Israel's Justice Ministry, the Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat reported at the time of the raid. Many members of the sect are Israeli.  The French news agency AFP reported Monday that the Israeli ministry requested the raid to locate an Israeli girl who had been barred from leaving the country.

The Guatemalan government has suspected Lev Tahor of performing child marriages and abusing members, including children.

The group told AFP that it is moving to Oratorio, 30 miles east of Guatemala City. They plan to live in tents on land that the sect purchased to build housing.

In June, a court in Guatemala indicted the ex-mayor of a small Mayan farming village for "participating in the expulsion of a religious community" after some 230 members of Lev Tahor were forced out in late 2014. The expulsion followed religious disputes with the residents, who are Roman Catholic.

By August 2014, most Lev Tahor members had settled in Guatemala, leaving behind their previous place of residence in Canada after local authorities there alleged mistreatment of children. Others left for Israel and the United States.

Lev Tahor vigorously denied all the allegations by the Canadian authorities and said they are victims of a religious smear.

The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It was founded by an Israeli, Shlomo Helbrans, in the 1980s and rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish Promised Land can only be established by God, not men.

Guatemala is home to some 1,200 Jews in a population of 15 million.


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