Friday, November 27, 2015

Hasidic Jews tackle drunk man outside Australian synagogue 

A group of Hasidic Jews surrounded and tackled a man screaming epithets outside an Australian synagogue.

Police charged the man, who was said to be intoxicated, with one count of theft, one count of criminal damage and two counts of assault after the incident outside the Adass Israel Synagogue in Melbourne on Thursday.

In several videos posted to the Facebook page of the Australian Jewish News, the man can be seen screaming at several Hasidic Jews. After a scuffle, he was pinned to the ground.

Senior Constable Anthony Myers, who arrested the man at the scene, praised the way the synagogue members had handled the incident.

“They were very calm and dealt with him very well,” Myers told the AJN.



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Kiryas Joel Man Shot in Harriman 

State Police authorities in Monroe arrested Matthew Bauman, age 25 of Harriman, NY following an investigation into the shooting of a Hasidic man on November 24th near the Quick Shop Deli on River Road in the Village of Harriman.

According to police, their investigation revealed Bauman allegedly stole a firearm from a family member and planned on using it to commit a robbery at the deli in order to acquire money to fund his drug addiction.

The victim, Aron Weiss, age 18, of Kiryas Joel, was in the area of the deli using his cell phone when it is alleged he was accosted by Bauman said police.

Police then said Bauman attempted to take money from Weiss but was unsuccessful.

As Weiss was fleeing, he was shot one time in the upper shoulder by Bauman.

Bauman was charged with Assault in the First Degree, Attempted Robbery in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree (all felony charges).

Bauman was arraigned at the Village of Harriman Court and remanded to Orange County Jail without bail.

The State Police were assisted in this investigation by the Village of Harriman Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

The charges described above are merely accusations and Mr. Bauman is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.



How Two Religious Women Shattered Stereotypes About Dressing Modestly 

Fashionistas everywhere are are trading mini skirts for midi ones, and are choosing billowy jersey tunics over bodycon dresses. That's because dressing modestly is slowly becoming a more mainstream fashion trend, thanks in large part to religious Jewish and Muslim women who are bridging the gap between honoring their traditions while expressing their style.

Sisters-in-law Mimi Hecht and Mushky Notik, the founders of MIMU MAXI, will be the first to tell you that modest fashion isn't about looking "dowdy." The women, who are also Hasidic Jews, say dressing modestly is all about "ease, comfort [and] drama." Many women, regardless of their religious affiliations, would cite ease and comfort as top priorities when choosing what to wear.

The inspiration for MIMU MAXI, a brand known for its comfortable and minimalist aesthetic, came from a very real need.

"We both believe in the beauty of a more covered up, conservative look, but that doesn't mean it was easy... We're also busy mothers so we needed pieces that were comfortable, but can be easily dressed up or down," Notik told HuffPost. "Sometimes, I would often buy things that I did love, but I would have to add material to the bottom or play around with it to make it work modestly. Dressing was more complicated. And it shouldn't have to be."

So the two women joined forces to bring their shared taste to life in the form of an online fashion brand, which ships to women around the world.

MIMU MAXI follow the requirements of Jewish law and modest dressing, which include higher necklines, sleeves past the elbow and longer lengths, but it's not just about religious obligation, Hecht told HuffPost.

"On a deeper level, our designs really do say that the way you dress is important, and when you love what you wear, and you're comfortable and able to express yourself, you are a happier and more productive, even healthier person," she said.

"We didn't feel comfortable and 'in sync' with the clothes we were wearing, which took up brain space. So we had to make the clothes we wanted to wear,"  she continued. "And apparently, what started with something we wanted to do for ourselves, has really taken off; women of all ages and backgrounds identify with this need."



Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jewish Camp Counselor Accused of Child Porn Released on Bail 

A counselor at a Michigan Jewish day camp who is accused of distributing child pornography has been released on $10,000 bond as he awaits trial.

Matthew Kuppe, 21, who was arrested in August, is not dangerous and deserves to be presumed innocent, a federal judge said Tuesday, the Detroit Free Press reported.

In issuing the order to release Kuppe, U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn said, “Pretrial release is the norm, not the exception.”

Under the terms of his bond, Kuppe was released into home detention, with a responsible adult present at all times, WXYZ-TV reported. Also, he was put on a GPS tether and his travel was restricted. Kuppe may not have contact with anyone under the age of 18 and cannot use the Internet.
Kuppe, a former counselor at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit day camp and student at Michigan State University, allegedly took nude pictures of three 5-year-old boys in the JCC locker room and posted the photos, along with other child porn, on a Russian website.

In his ruling, Cohn said the charges against Kuppe are “extremely serious,” but not violent. He said the children photographed “were not engaged with other persons and … did not know they were being photographed.”

 Kuppe’s arrest came in response to a Department of Homeland Security investigation.

Although the assistant U.S. attorney argued against Kuppe’s release, Cohn said psychologists who examined him concluded it was unlikely he would pose a threat. In addition, he said, Kuppe’s “universe has been completely upended since his arrest. The same goes for his parents.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Woodward, saying she has “a duty to the victims in this case,” urged Cohn in court not to release Kuppe, arguing there is no condition that could guarantee Kuppe would not harm the community. Cohn, however, sided with the defense, which argued that the government was creating a “scare scenario.”

If convicted, Kuppe, who worked at the JCC day camp for two summers, faces up to 30 years in prison.



Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hasid who hanged herself was forced to marry her first cousin 

The Hasidic woman who committed suicide four months after her sister also killed herself suffered years of depression following her forced marriage to a first cousin, a family insider told The Post on Monday.
Sara Mayer, 31, of Borough Park, who hanged herself Sunday, had a nervous breakdown on the eve of her arranged wedding about five years ago — and had already endured years of physical and mental abuse by relatives, according to the source.
"[Her suicide] was a family mental-health and abuse issue on top of being forced into marriage with her first cousin," the source said, recalling how the union was annulled just months later.
"Ever since [her marriage], she has been in and out of mental hospitals," the source explained. "She had been coerced by her mother's side of the family'' to marry her cousin. "She married the son of the mother's sister."
Some members of the Brooklyn family apparently didn't find out about Sara's torment until just recently.
Growing up, some relatives "kept calling her retarded, ugly, etc. We didn't know this until later," the source said.
The source added that Sara and her younger sister Faigy — who jumped to her death from a Manhattan rooftop bar in July — had been seeking advice from a family member for their depression, even though the relative wasn't a licensed therapist.
"In Williamsburg, it was so bad that the rabbis got together and they put a poster up warning the community about her and the lack of her credentials," the source said. "But despite the rabbis' warning, people are still seeing her for family therapy."
"To have lost two girls in less than a year shows that something is up with this family. It's very sad."
Sara, who was said to be still very observant of her Jewish faith, was remembered by loved ones Monday during her funeral at Shomrei Hadas Chapels in Borough Park.
Grief-stricken dad Israel Mayer described the difficulty of losing two daughters to depression as he eulogized Sara in Yiddish.
"Both my eyes are crying, one for each child," the anguished father said to a crowd of about 100 people.
"I'm asking forgiveness from you if I didn't do enough for you," he added, addressing Sara. "I saw you suffering, and I tried my best."
The dad went on to describe how he had tried to help both Sara and Faigy with their depression by hospitalizing them.
"We put her in this hospital, we put her in that hospital, until her soul left her," he said of Sara, who had just been released last week from the South Beach Psychiatric Center in Staten Island, where she had been an inpatient for two years.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Hasidic woman kills herself - months after her tech executive sister jumped to her death from Manhattan rooftop bar 

The sister of a Hasidic Jewish woman who committed suicide by jumping from a New York rooftop bar has taken her own life.
Sarah Mayer, who was also known as Suri, 31, committed suicide at her parents' home in Borough Park, Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon, friends and family said.
Sources told Daily Mail Online that she had died after an overdose on pills and the same sources also revealed she previously spent time as an in-patient at a psychiatric facility.
Miss Mayer was found at the home by her parents, the NY Daily News reported.
However, in what appear to be conflicting reports, the same paper reported a law enforcement official said the cause of death was hanging.
It is believed that a modified autopsy in line with the Hasidic faith was taking place on Sunday night.
Mayer's parents, Israel and Chava Mayer, have another daughter Este.
On July 20, Faigy Mayer, 29, leapt to her death from the 20th story 230 Fifth Rooftop Bar in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, onlookers said.
She had been brought up in the Hasidic community but left it around five years before her death.
Chaim Levin, a friend of Faigy Mayer, spoke of his grief at learning of the death of her sister Suri.
He told Daily Mail Online: 'I did not know Suri but I'm shocked. How could this have happened?'
Family sources told Daily Mail Online in July that Faigy was suffering from borderline personality disorder with paranoid tendencies and a secondary diagnosis of bi-polar disorder for which she was taking medication.


Sunday, November 22, 2015

E. Ramapo yeshiva lawsuit seeks epic changes 

At its root, the federal lawsuit filed last week against several East Ramapo yeshivas and education leaders asks a religious community that venerates tradition to radically change one of the foundations of its communal life.

Filed by a public interest law firm on behalf of seven unnamed plaintiffs who fear retaliation from their communities if they go public, the complaint takes aim at the state, the East Ramapo school district and four Hasidic yeshivas for failing to provide male students with basic secular studies such as English and mathematics.

The suit — a rare legal action for Hasidim, who have their own religious courts — delves into the inner workings of the private religious schools and calls for a number of changes that would fundamentally alter their traditional approach to education.

Among the demands named in the lawsuit are the introduction of secular coursework for up to one-third of the school day, the hiring of "competent" instructors who teach in English; a monitoring and enforcement mechanism; accurate enrollment figures to help determine accountability for taxpayer funds; and an implementation date as soon as September 2016.

Rabbi Mayer Schiller, a Monsey resident and lifelong educator, said that such changes would result in a profound shift.

"They want to have a certain pure limited vision of life. They feel that exposure to these (secular) subjects would hurt that," he said. "Their fears are not unfounded. What would emerge would be something different (than what they are now)."

Schiller believes that change can only come about slowly and from the inside of the community. "I believe there are changes that could be made that would not change the very fabric of the community," Schiller said.

Plaintiffs in the case include families whose children attend yeshivas in the district and former yeshiva students who are now over 18. It comes after various members of the Hasidic community spoke against a lack of secular education in recent months.

"Ultra-Orthodox/Hasidic parents should not have to choose between a religious education and one that will teach their children how to read and write,' said Laura Barbieri of the public interest law firm Advocates for Justice, which filed the suit. "They are entitled to both and the State is obligated to ensure that they receive it."

The complaint alleges that four Hasidic yeshivas in Monsey, Spring Valley and New Square do not teach English, "basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civil participants."



Saturday, November 21, 2015

Polish demonstrators burn 'Jewish' effigy 

The participants of the rally shouted “United Catholic Poland! National radicalism! Down with the European Union!” They then went on to set fire to an effigy of a Hasidic Jew dressed in traditional clothing, peot (side curls) and cap. “Recalling anti-Jewish stereotypes proves that we are still divided and that cooperation is not possible,” Piotr Kadlcik, a Polish-Jewish activist, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Hatred for migrants comes from the same place as the classic hatred for Jews,” Chief Rabbi in Poland, Michael Schudrich, told the Jerusalem Post. The previous Polish government pledged to take on some 7,000 asylum seekers as part of an EU plan to resettle refugees from Syria and Eritrea. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the newly appointed Law and Justice (PiS) government has voiced its concern that these immigrants could include terrorists. Several ministers have said that Poland should rethink its pledge, and, if need be, withdraw from it completely.



Friday, November 20, 2015

When Your New Phone Number Belonged to a Hasidic Hairdresser Named Zelda 

So! Brooklyn Heights resident, Yahoo News national correspondent and prominent neighborhood podcaster Alyssa Bereznak got a new work phone earlier this November with a 646 area code.
Pretty standard stuff. That is, until the phone number started being haunted by clients of its former owner — apparently a Hasidic hairdresser named Zelda, presumably a resident of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn and clearly a woman with a knack for her craft.
Bereznak's phone has been visited, so far, by four of Zelda's clients, two of whom have Brooklyn area codes.

Courtesy of the phone's new owner, a peek into the world of a Hasidic hairdresser named Zelda. (The proud mother, we learn, of a newborn "tzaddikle.")


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Inside Brooklyn’s Orthodox Ambulance Corps 

Two weeks ago, a volunteer for Hatzalah, the ambulance service found in some Jewish communities, was stabbed in the back while he was walking down the street in Crown Heights. The victim called in his own injury and was taken to the hospital in his own ambulance. The incident is under investigation, so it's unclear what prompted the attack. Still, the NYPD is treating it as a hate crime, possibly prompted by the victim's religion. While we wait for answers, it seems helpful to try to understand the occasionally complicated role that Hatzalah plays in the neighborhood.
Where did Hatzalah come from, anyway?
Some history: Hatzalah started in Williamsburg in 1965, after a prominent member of the Hasidic Jewish community had a heart attack and died while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. As a response, a group of Hasidic men decided to start their own volunteer-run ambulance service, which they named Hatzalah (alternatively spelled Hatzolah)—Hebrew for "rescue" or "relief." Since the ambulances were all located in one small geographic area, they could react quickly to emergencies.
Soon, Hasidic communities in other neighborhoods—like Crown Heights and Borough Park—frustrated by slow responses to 911 calls, began to copy the model. It has since spread to Los Angeles, Switzerland, Mexico, Australia, and Israel—in other words, anywhere that there's a large Orthodox Jewish population.
Today, the average response time to 911 calls in New York has improved significantly—FDNY data shows a drop from eleven minutes and four seconds in 1988 to just under seven minutes in 2014. Still, Chevra Hatzalah, the umbrella organization for all the New York-area ambulances, comes out ahead, with an average that ranges from between two and half to four minutes. The organization claims to have the fastest response times in the world, though that hasn't been definitively tested.
Anecdotally, "you call and they're right there, almost as soon as you've hung up the phone," said Hannah, a mother of three in Crown Heights' Chabad Lubavitch community (who asked not to use her last name). The fact that the EMTs speak Yiddish, and are sensitive to their patients' religious beliefs, is an added benefit.
Who is it for and what does it cost?
In the secular community, two things about Hatzalah generally come as a surprise: that it costs nothing, and that its mission is to serve everyone, Jewish or not.
Since Hatzalah volunteers work for free and community donations cover the cost of medical equipment, the ambulance is free. "That's especially important in a community like this where there's a huge income gap," said J. E. Reich, who identifies with Conservative Judaism and lives in Crown Heights.
Despite the obvious wealth on display on President Street, which is lined with single-family brick mansions, many other members of the Chabad Lubavitch community struggle to get by, especially since their faith encourages them to have as many children as possible. Considering that a ride to the hospital can mean a bill for thousands of dollars, Reich believes that the choice to call Hatzalah instead of 911 isn't a rejection of the secular world so much as a carefully considered economic calculation.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

I left Hasidism to become a woman 

I left Hasidism to become a woman

A man descended from a Hasidic "dynasty" is transitioning into a woman — enraging members of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community she left behind.

Srully Stein — who now goes by Abby — recently came out as a woman and said she's finally living as her true self — something she said was impossible to do growing up in her restrictive household in Brooklyn.

"In the community that I was raised in, Trans did not exist, neither was it ever discussed," the 24-year-old writes in her blog.

"I was therefore convinced that I have to be crazy, and that I have to get this 'stupidity' of feeling like a girl, out of my head."

Stein — who some say has "royal blood" coursing through her veins because of her grandfather, the prominent Rabbi Mordechai Stein — began hormone replacement therapy Sept. 4.

The results have been "amazing," she kvelled.

"The road is long, but with the support of some amazing friends and professionals, for the first time in my life I feel like I am getting to be my real self," she wrote in a recent post, which received more than 20,000 hits in just a couple days.

Stein's roots trace back to Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, believed to be the founder of the Hasidic Judaism.

Her grandfather, Mordechai, was born in Fălticeni, Romania, and her father was born in Israel.

Her ancestors are part of several Hasidic sects, her grandfather's mother was part of the Twersky family, a "very famous" old dynasty from the Ukraine, she said.

Stein recently broke the news to her father — and hasn't heard from him since.

"I think right now it's shock more than anything," Stein told The Post. "He doesn't know what to do."

Others took to social media to spew hate-filled messages about her transition.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rabbi's son dies after being hit by car while fleeing fireworks 

The eight-year-old son of a Satmar rabbi has died after he was hit by a car as he fled fireworks being aimed in his direction.
Elchonon Kohn, from Hackney in east London, died of injuries sustained in the accident on Sunday night.
A student at the Satmar Cheder in London, he is said to have run out into a quiet residential street after being frightened by fireworks aimed in his direction last Wednesday (November 11).
He was then hit by a black Seat which was driven by a man in his twenties. The man is believed to be part of the Hasidic community.
Elchonon's funeral is believed to have taken place on Monday. A member of the community said the parents were "grieving".

A police spokeswoman confirmed that the Seat driver had been arrested on suspicious of dangerous driving.
She said: "The driver of the car involved, a man aged in his 20s, stopped at the scene and was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving.
"He was taken to an east London police station and was subsequently bailed pending further enquiries to a police station on a date in mid-November.
"Officers from the Roads and Transport Policing Command investigate and appeal to anyone who witnessed the collision, or the events leading up to the collision, to contact them on 020 8597 4874."
She added: "Our enquiries continue into the circumstances of the collision."


Outremont wants to ban new places of worship 

The borough of Outremont wants to stop the creation of new places of worship.
Borough councillors voted in favour of a new bylaw at a special meeting Monday to alter the zoning for the commercial district around Bernard Ave. and Laurier Ave.
Borough Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars said the motion was proposed because businesses in the region are struggling.
"I'm not sure the cohabitation between the places of worship and different shops is the best thing to do. So we're going forward with that," said Cinq-Mars.
Hasidic activist Mayer Feig said the zoning change would hurt the area's large jewish community.
"So these few little pockets where there is space available, we don't think , we actually feel it's discriminatory toward our community," said Feig.
Current synagogues, churches, and mosques won't be affected by the bylaw.
Controversial blogger Pierre Lacerte has been at the heart of many run-ins involving Hasidic Jews in Outremont.
He believes many residents will support the change.
I think so. I can't talk for other people. I know the opponents will be numerous. That's fair enough," said Lacerte.
Mindy Polak, the only Hasidic Jew elected as a city councillor, was the only person to vote against the bylaw.
"There are a lot of questions in this file that are not being answered," she said.
The bylaw has many steps to go through before being implemented.
The next phase is a public consultation with residents, which will happen on Dec. 1.


Monday, November 16, 2015

French Rabbis urge government to boost security around Jewish institutions 

Following Friday night's bloodbath in Paris, Jewish leaders are demanding that the continent's leaders offer special security to the Jewish communities, "which are under constant threats." 
Meanwhile, French security forces gave the approval for a prayer rally which was held in the Grand Synagogue of Paris on Sunday by the local Jewish community, following an appeal from the Chief Rabbi of France Haïm Korsia, vice president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER). 
Europe's rabbis expressed their "deep shock" Saturday evening "in light of the terrible massacre committed against citizens of all religions on Friday night."
Rabbi Korsia and Rabbi Moshe Levin, CER's executive director and rabbi of the French National Gendarmerie, said they had spoken to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and received a promise "to significantly boost security around and within the country's Jewish institutions."

"This is war," they said. "There are still terrorists walking around freely, and the security forces have instructed Paris' citizens to remain in their homes and only go out on urgent cases. Rabbi Bahya says, 'When there is darkness we must turn up the light.' We have asked to let us hold a Malveh Malka (a meal eaten at the conclusion of Shabbat), which was planned in one of the Jewish centers in the Paris suburbs."
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, director of the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE), said there was a lot of concern and that the RCE headquarters were in Brussels, where three of the terrorists came from.
"This escalation particularly calls for reinforcing the security measures in the Jewish communities in Europe," he said. "Unfortunately, the Jews are always a preferred target. We plan to hold an emergency meeting as soon as possible to discuss the situation."


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nordstrom Pulls Hannukah Sweater Seen as Spreading Jewish Stereotypes 

Nordstrom became the latest retailer to land in hot water with customers over a piece of clothing intended to be humorous but instead offended some shoppers.

The upscale department store stopped selling Faux Real’s ‘Chai Maintenance’ Hanukkah sweater last week after angering some customers who saw it as playing on clichés about Jewish women and promptly took to Facebook to complain. ‘Chai’ in Hebrew means life and sounds very much like the English word “high.” The sweater, as seen below, also included the term “JAP,” short for “Jewish American Princess.”

“I’m disappointed to see that Nordstrom is selling such an offensive item that perpetuates negative stereotypes of Jewish women,” one user wrote on Nordstrom’s Facebook page. Many other posts echoed those sentiments.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

‘Unorthodox’ Faces Paradox at the Jewish Museum 

The world of contemporary art may be a fractious place, but there’s one thing that almost everyone involved agrees about: Orthodoxy is bad. Slavish obedience to any dogma — aesthetic, academic, political, religious and otherwise — is anathema to Modern and contemporary art. Independence, freedom, originality, authenticity, critical thinking, defiance of authority and so forth: These are the prevailing values of art today, and they are what most progressive art schools try to teach. Unorthodoxy is today’s orthodoxy. That’s a paradoxical problem for “Unorthodox,” the Jewish Museum’s new exhibition of putatively unorthodox works by 55 artists from around the world.

The titular theme aside, it’s an engaging, often entertaining and intermittently exhilarating show. With about 200 works crowded into tight spaces walled in by temporary partitions, it has the feel of an Outsider Art fair — in a good way. The paintings, drawings, collages, assemblages, ceramics, weavings and videos on view are variously funny, funky, quirky, eccentric, idiosyncratic and visionary. It’s a plus, too, that few if any of the artists are widely known beyond the places where they live. Probably the most famous participant is the writer William T. Vollmann, here represented by juicy, expressionist paintings of women said to portray his female alter ego.



Friday, November 13, 2015

Jewish businessman stabbed multiple times in Milan by masked attacker 

An Orthodox Jewish businessman was badly wounded after being repeatedly stabbed by a masked assailant in an attack on the streets of Milan.

Nathan Graff, 40, was stabbed seven times in the face, neck, back and arm by a man wearing a balaclava, as he stood outside a kosher pizzeria.

There were fears that the vicious assault was a copy-cat attack inspired by the recent spate of stabbings of Jews by Palestinians in Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Mr Graff was wearing a kippah or skull cap and was clearly identifiable as Jewish at the time of the attack, which happened in the street in which he lives.

One of the stab wounds nearly severed his optic nerve.

His family insisted that he had no enemies and said the attack must have been religiously motivated.
"When the intifada of stabbings began, they promised to strike Jews in Israel and in every part of the world, and now they have done that," said Riccardo Pacifici, the recently-retired president of the Jewish community in Rome.
It was the most serious anti-Semitic attack in Italy since an assault on Rome's Great Synagogue in 1982 in which a two-year-old boy was killed and 34 people wounded by Palestinian gunmen throwing grenades and firing machine guns.
Ruth Dureghello, the newly-elected head of the Jewish community in the capital, said: "We have to recognise that the appeal by Isil to attack Jews everywhere is unfortunately finding followers."
Jewish community leaders said there was a growing climate of anti-Semitism in Europe and that the attack was unnerving for Italy's 35,000 Jews.
Mr Graff, believed to be an Israeli citizen, was the son-in-law of a rabbi, Hetzkia Levi.
"We have never had problems like this in Milan, let's hope it was an isolated incident," said Milo Hasbani, a Jewish community leader. "We will continue with life as normal."
He said that "for now" there was no concrete evidence that the attack was inspired by the stabbings in Israel.
The assailant is being hunted and an investigation is being led by anti-terrorism police.
Across the country, security was increased around synagogues and Jewish schools and community centres.
The attack was condemned by Muslim leaders in Italy.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Jewish man who reunited with his Nazi twin brother dies 

A California man who found his long-lost twin brother has died of cancer at 82-years-old.
In 1933, Jack Yufe was born in Trinidad with his identical twin brother but 6-months later the boy's parents would separate.
Mr Yufe lived with his father and was raised Jewish, eventually serving in the Israeli Navy, while his brother Oskar Stohr lived with his mother in Germany. Mr Stohr grew up as a Nazi, eventually joining the Hitler Youth, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The brothers remained in contact with each other and reunited when they were 21-years-old.
They shared the same mannerisms, humor and nervous ticks. But they would never agree on Palestine and Israeli politics nor the cause of World War II, the Washington Post reports.
Cal State Fullerton psychology professor Nancy Segal wrote a book on the brother's aptly titled  "Indivisible by Two: Lives of Extraordinary Twins."
Professor Segal told the Times that the twins has an "extraordinary love-hate relationship."
"They were repelled and fascinated by each other. They could not let go of the twinship," she said.
The Post reports that Mr Yufe is survived by three daughters: Anita Yufe, Hovi Reader and Debvra Gregory; And his two stepsons Renee and Enrique Vega.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Glendale Satmar Yeshiva hit with zoning violation 

The United Talmudical Seminary in Glendale has been slapped with a violation from the city Department of Buildings for housing students on the yeshiva's premises in violation of the school's zoning regulations.
Issued on Oct. 16, the violation is for an illegal conversion, and states that the "school [is] altered to have dormitories outside of zoning regulation."
The issuing of the violation follows complaints from Community Board 5 following months of anxiety within the community about the yeshiva's adherence to city zoning regulations.
"Once we were quite sure that students were sleeping at the yeshiva, we filed a complaint and we asked that the previous certificate of occupancy allowances be audited," said Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5. The complaint was filed in mid-September.
The violation came two days after Community Board 5 recommended that the city's Board of Standards and Appeals deny an application from the yeshiva for a zoning variance to expand its building.
The board's recommendation will be sent to the borough president's office before a recommendation is made to the Board of Standards and Appeals, which has the final decision.
"I would imagine that this won't help the yeshiva's cause much with the BSA," Giordano said.
While it was known that students were sleeping at the yeshiva, the number of students and specifics of the sleeping arrangements were not clear until recently, with representatives of the yeshiva presenting hard numbers and pictures from the seminary as they began pursuing a variance.
"The question really is whether it is permissible for dormitories and sleeping quarters to exist in a manufacturing zone at a school," Giordano added.
The yeshiva is applying for a variance to construct more sleeping facilities on the property, which would ultimately house more than 700 students. The BSA has yet to announce when public hearings on the variance will begin.
"One of the reasons we're opposed to that is because having the yeshiva expand would be very out of character within the community," Giordano said.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

National Beard Championships come to Brooklyn 

From the Hasidic community of Borough Park to the hipster haven of Williamsburg, Brooklyn is known for being home to some amazing beards. So it was only natural that the National Beard and Moustache Championships were held at Kings Theatre in Flatbush on Saturday.
Hundreds of people showed up to the event, where nearly every state in the country was represented. A few international competitors joined as well. The championships were split into three different competitions — moustache, partial beard and full beard — and there were 18 different categories in all.
"I live in an area close to Crown Heights, which has a lot of great beards," said Nayland Blake of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, who took third place in "Full Beard, Natural" category. "It's a big, big beard community, so I wanted to make sure [to] represent Brooklyn with the championships being here."
Winners for each of the 18 categories were selected by a panel of judges who voted on overall appearance, style and personality. Originality and creativity were also judged in the freestyle competitions. One winner, Scott Metts, who won the "Full Beard, Styled Moustache" category, was invited back to next year's championship competition with flight and hotel amenities included, although the destination is not yet known.
Brooklyn had a few representatives in the competition, but contestants often travel around the entire country entering similar competitions. Stephen Pofelski came all the way from Utah, where he works as a Wildland Firefighter in Salt Lake City. This was his first competition, and he said it was a good excuse to visit New York City.
"People always ask me how I get my beard like this. I don't style it or use any product; it just comes like this," Pofelski said. "I work for the forest service, so I don't shave for six months at a time. I decided to just let it grow at one point, and now it's been a year-and-a half. It's almost a defense mechanism, because if your beard starts to singe, then you know you're too close to the fire."


Audit reveals E. Ramapo has $1.4M cash cushion 

The East Ramapo School District is back in the black, according to an audit report presented to the school board Monday night.
After years of operating with a budget deficit, O'Connor Davies Partner Scott Oling told the Board of Education the district is $2.4 million to the good, though $1 million of that is tied up either paying for prior purchases or in non-expendable accounts, leaving a $1.4 million cushion.
"It certainly beats what was on this line last year," Oling said, before a half-full Ramapo High School auditorium.
Last year's audit, which was also done by the Harrison-based O'Connor Davies found an $8 million hole, a $54,000 increase from the year before. That deficit, auditors said, was primarily due to the $5 million sale of Colton Elementary School, whose transaction did not end up closing until after the fiscal year ended.
But the district was able to count on those funds this year, along with the sale of Hillcrest Elementary School, bringing the district $11 million. The sale brought the district's assets to approximately $26 million, Oling said.
With liabilities around $24 million, the district is back on sound financial footing, Oling said.
The audit was good news for Dr. Deborah Wortham, who sat with the board for her first meeting since being named East Ramapo's interim superintendent.
Prior to the meeting, board president Yehuda Weissmandl said since last year, "There has been tremendous improvement and a move forward in a positive direction."
But Monday night was not all good news. Oling did tell the board that the budget is very tight, with East Ramapo spending 99.7 percent of its budget.
"Most end up spending somewhere between 96 to 98 percent of their budget authorization," Oling said of other districts in Westchester and Rockland counties. "In other words, they end up saving 2, 3, 4 percent.
"There is not a lot of extra stuff in this budget as you go through the year," he added.
Additionally, some of the recommendations made in O'Connor Davies' audit last year were not implemented.
In both audits, the firm found an employee who has not worked in the district since 2013 is still authorized to sign checks. The district's procurement policies — which govern which contracts must go out to bid — have not been brought up to state standards and accounts for inactive student clubs remain open.
Community relations have been strained for years in East Ramapo, a district where 24,000 children attend private religious schools, and a Board of Education dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish men makes decisions for 8,500 public school students who are mostly black and Latino.
The state appointed three monitors to oversee the district in August. Led by Dennis Walcott and including John W. Sipple, a Cornell University professor and expert in school finances,the group is tasked with observing district operations and providing recommendations to ensure students have access to appropriate programs and services, and that the district is on a path to fiscal stability. They will provide a report of their findings to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and the Board of Regents in December.


Town residents OK expansion of Hasidic village 

Residents living next to a Hasidic Jewish village in the Hudson Valley have voted to allow its expansion.
Monday night's vote in the Town of Monroe involved the annexation of 164 acres into Kiryas Joel, which local officials approved in September. The vote was 40 to 12 in favor of expansion.

The village said in a statement the vote clearly expressed the town's desire to have their land annexed into the village.

A state judge in White Plains last week rejected a request from opponents to put a hold on the annexation vote. But she granted an injunction that keeps the annexation from taking place while the legal challenge proceeds.

Leaders of the densely settled enclave of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews say the village of 22,000 is bursting at the seams. Opponents of the annexation fear increased congestion in the suburban area about 50 miles north of New York City.


Monday, November 09, 2015

Town residents to vote on expansion of Hasidic village 

Residents of an Orange County town are voting on the expansion of a Hasidic Jewish village after a state judge cleared the way for the referendum.
Monday's vote in the Town of Monroe would consummate the annexation that Kiryas Joel and Monroe officials approved in September.
A state judge in White Plains last week dismissed lawsuits seeking to stop the referendum. The lawsuits were filed by the nonprofit group Preserve the Hudson Valley and by a coalition of municipalities and Orange County government.
The referendum involves about 85 residents of the 164-acre area of Monroe that would become part of Kiryas Joel.
Leaders of the densely settled enclave of ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jews say the village of 22,000 is bursting at the seams. Opponents of the annexation fear increased congestion from more apartment buildings.


5,200 Rabbis Visit NYC This Weekend 

In what's considered the largest Jewish gathering in North America, thousands of rabbis from 86 countries are in New York City for International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. And this morning, they visited the gravesite of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
Schneerson died on June 12, 1994 and he "is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century", as head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Chabad says this is a year of Hakhel, a time to promote Jewish unity (here's another explanation). At this weekend's conference, rabbis will discuss efforts to expand at college campuses and how to have more gatherings, to observe and study the Torah, through synagogues and organizations across the world.
If you happen to be near Chabad's headquarters (Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights) on Sunday morning, at 8:30 a.m., you'll see the 5,200 rabbis gathering for their "class picture." Later that night, they're having dinner and "spirited Hasidic dancing" in Sunset Park.


Sunday, November 08, 2015

Rabbinical Court Awards Custody to Suspected Abuser Because Mother Lives With a non-Jew 

A rabbinical court in Jerusalem has awarded permanent custody to a father whose two children had been removed from his home by the welfare services because the mother of the children, who lives in the United States, “lives with a non-Jew and isn’t interested in the Jewish religion.”



Saturday, November 07, 2015

Secret operation in Syria to rescue last remaining Jewish family 

It was recently revealed that Israeli special forces carried out a daring operation to rescue the last Jewish family in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that preparation for the mission began months in advance. First an Israeli-American businessman named Moti Kahana sent a message to the family, whose name has not been released, that he wanted to get them out of the war-torn country. Despite the constant dangers in Syria, though, the family was too afraid to even take the chance on escaping.

Kahana, who has a number of connections with rebel forces, soon heard reports that ISIS was closing in on the family and decided to get them out, whether they liked it or not.

Without revealing precisely how or with whom he coordinated his plans, Kahana set the wheels in motion for the IDF to make another tally in its history of saving stranded Jews, a list that already made its mark in Yemen and Ethiopia.

Once the time came, three soldiers knocked on the family's front door. The 88-year-old matriarch answered, fearing that Assad's soldiers had come to take them all away. Instead, the soldiers ordered the seven people present that they could each take one bag and that they must get into a waiting minibus.

After the minibus began moving, the soldiers handed out Syrian passports and said that they would soon be free.

The vehicle was stopped at an ISIS checkpoint, but the family was able to convince the guard that they were refugees trying to escape from Assad. The guard was so impressed by their claims that he even called other checkpoints, instructing them to let the minibus through.

It took them 36 hours to cross the hundred kilometers to the Turkish border. Once out of Syria, they drove to a rented home in Istanbul, where Kahana was waiting.

However, their problems were not yet over.

One woman, who is referred to as Gilda, was married to a Muslim man and had converted to Islam. While the rest of the family quickly received Israeli identity cards and resettled in Ashkelon, the Jewish Agency informed Gilda that people who voluntarily convert to a religion other than Judaism lose their right of return.

According to Kahana, the two chose to return to Syria rather than remain in a Syrian refugee camp inside of Turkey. He says that he is still working to get them out again, but he is less optimistic about a second operation.

"I am so frustrated with the Sochnut," he told the Jewish Chronicle. "They said she is not Jewish enough for us. The Israelis have been trying to hide this story. They screwed up."

A representative of the Jewish Agency confirmed that Gilda and her husband could not make aliyah because she had converted to Islam, and that the Interior Ministry gave the final order on the case.



Friday, November 06, 2015

The Jewish Connection To The Brooklyn Bridge 

The Brooklyn Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States, stretches over the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The world's first steel-wire suspension bridge, its 1,595-foot span made it the largest suspension bridge in the world – some fifty percent longer than any previously built – and for several years its towers were the tallest structures in the entire Western Hemisphere.
Construction began in 1869, and the "New York and Brooklyn Bridge" was completed fourteen years later and opened for use on May 24, 1883, when 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people crossed, including President Chester A. Arthur. A highlight of the event, which the papers characterized as "the biggest celebration New York City has ever seen," came when darkness fell and 80 electric lights, "a brand-new invention by Thomas Edison," were turned on, transforming night into day.
Shown with this column is a beautifully etched and exceedingly rare invitation to the May 24, 1883 opening ceremonies, which took place at "the Brooklyn approach" to the bridge. Soon after the bridge opened, Jews began an annual tradition of walking across it on Rosh Hashanah to recite Tashlich; also exhibited with this column is a photograph taken at the turn of the 19th century depicting Jews reciting Tashlich from the bridge and a Rosh Hashanah card, circa 1901, illustrating a Tashlich ceremony at the foot of the bridge.
The bridge was designed by an architectural firm owned by John Augustus Roebling who, though a Lutheran, was descended from Sephardic Jews who had migrated to Germany from Spain. Roebling studied science and mathematics at the private Pädagogium in Erfurt, Germany, where he was taught mathematics, surveying, general science, and critical thinking by the renowned Jewish scholar and mathematician Dr. Ephraim Salomon Unger.


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Attacks on Hasidic Man Heading to Synagogue, Off-Duty Hatzolah EMT Investigated as Hate Crimes: Police 

A man yelled that he was "fed up with Jews" while being handcuffed by police following an attack on a Hasidic man heading to a local synagogue in Brooklyn, authorities and witnesses say.
Christian Rojas, 36, was cuffed after the attack on Lefferts Avenue in Crown Heights around 5:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to the NYPD. Charges for the man weren't immediately available.

Authorities say the victim was dressed in traditional Hasidic garb and was reading a prayer from his phone when Rojas allegedly approached.
The attacker knocked the phone out of the victim's hand and punched him in the face.
A woman who saw the attack and later called 911 described it to NBC 4 New York as "relentless."
A witness who only gave her name as Sarah said Rojas screamed, "Watch this face, I'll be back" and "I hate all Jews."

"It was very, very upsetting and sad to hear that," she said.
After he was handcuffed, Rojas allegedly made several anti-Semitic comments.

Local leaders Wednesday denounced the attack, along with the stabbing of a Hatzolah worker who was slashed several blocks away on Tuesday night. Both are now being investigated as hate crimes, police said.
The suspect in the Hatzolah worker slashing was dressed in black with a black and white hockey mask, police said. He didn't shout anti-Semitic comments, but the EMT was wearing a yarmulke, and leaders said it was clearly premeditated.

"They were not attacking because of his duty as a safety patrol officer," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. "They were attacking him, it appears, due to his religious belief."
The NYPD's hate crimes unit is investigating the attacks.

"This is not a Jewish issue. This is a New York issue. This is a human issue," said Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Councilman Dov Hikind said he wants to secure money to install more surveillance cameras in Crown Heights.


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

B & H Workers Vote 200-to-88 for Union 

Warehouse workers at the large Hasidic-owned camera store B & H Photo Video voted to join the United Steelworkers union on November 4, organizers said in a statement.
The vote, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, came after a weeks-long campaign launched in October by employees at two B & H warehouses in Brooklyn. The employees alleged unsafe working conditions and unfair hours at both warehouses.
According to a statement from the Laundry Workers Center, an organizing group, the warehouse workers voted 200 to 88 to join the United Steelworkers.
"Today we won because the workers voted with their conscience," said warehouse worker Jorge Lora in a statement.
In a statement, B &H responded to the vote, saying: "Our employees have played a central role to the success of our business, and that is why we have gone to great lengths to ensure the highest standards for living wages and benefits, workplace safety, and respect and dignity in the workplace. We look forward to continuing an ongoing dialogue with our employees."
In an interview with the Forward in October, Lora described dangerous conditions at the warehouse. "The warehouses are full of dust," he said. "We don't have training or knowledge how to use the machines."
B & H's large retail store in Manhattan is among the city's leading providers of professional photography equipment. The company is owned by Herman Schreiber, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community, and many of its retail employees are Orthodox. The warehouse workers, by contrast, are largely Hispanic. Many are from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.


New tech rules for New Square parents 

Each year, when registering their children for private school, parents in the all-Hasidic village of New Square must agree in writing to follow a detailed list of very specific rules — or risk the expulsion of their children from the only school in town.

For example, mothers are banned from driving, and they must shave their heads and wear only clothing that extends at least five or six inches below the knee. The far more abbreviated list of rules for fathers requires them to pray regularly with a quorum and refrain from cutting their beards.

This fall, however, New Square authorities introduced several new rules that reflect the community’s fears about the dangers of the Internet. The changes have renewed critics’ condemnation of the Skverer sect’s attempts to control its followers — particularly women.

The new rules include:

Mothers are prohibited from using smartphones — even for business purposes.
Mothers and fathers must cease using WhatsApp, a popular smartphone messaging application.
As announced last month on a large flier taped to the village's synagogue wall — no one may use cellphones without web filters.
Authorities posted the notice after it was discovered that some adults were keeping second, unfiltered phones in addition to their approved “kosher” ones.

The rules are the ultra-Orthodox sect’s latest attempt to keep the Internet out of the hands and minds of its followers for fear that exposure to the secular world will lead to moral decay and community disintegration. Radios, televisions, Internet connections and newspapers are also banned in the small Rockland County village. Guided by the community’s spiritual leader, Rebbe David Twersky, followers, known as Skverers, strive toward the Hasidic ideal of living a hallowed life, in which even the most mundane action is sanctified.

“We are human beings. We also have families and we live the way life was given to us,” said Yenti Holczler, a New Square grandmother of more than 50. “Our way of doing things is trying to do it spiritually, the way the Torah brings it for us."

The sect originated in 19th century Ukraine but the Rockland County village was founded in 1954. Former Skverer Hasid Shulem Deen said the rebbe and his advisors “are really afraid that people are undermining the insular nature of this community that they have worked for decades and decades and decades to maintain. They only way they can maintain that is to clamp down hard on the rules.”

As the home of the Skverer rebbe, New Square is the epicenter of the Skverer sect which Deen estimates may number 15,000 followers worldwide. The Skverers of New Square — with 7,700 people occupying less than half a square mile — are extreme, even among highly observant Jews, said Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization, Agudath Israel of America.

'Recipe' for rules

"You have more than 7,500 people who eat the same foods, go to same institutions, get the same kind of education and all look to the rebbe as paramount leader ... and are really dependent economically on being in this community," said Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at Queens College CUNY and expert in contemporary orthodox Jewish communities. "That’s a recipe for a lot of rules.”

Though the community is small, it is growing very fast and contributes thousands of private-school students to the cash-strapped East Ramapo school district, which has struggled to balance the needs of public and private schools. And New Square's extremism —- particularly when it comes to cutting off women's access to information and transportation —- is troubling to defenders of civil liberties.

“If private citizens are asking people to voluntarily pledge to this kind of commitment, it would, in my opinion, be antithetical to principles and values of America," said Norman Siegel, the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. "There should be an open, robust debate about whether this approach is consistent with what America and New York state are supposed to be about.”

Agudath's Shafran said followers find deep meaning in the rules.

“One way the community's religious leaders have of stating the standards they believe to be best for the community is to spell out requirements like those (cited) for enrollment in the community's private schools," he said.

The ban on women driving exists only in a few of the strictest Hasidic enclaves. And its requirement that men and women walk on opposite sides of the street to preserve modesty is also rare. The village's lack of interaction with outside communities and its use of Yiddish for nearly all communication contributes to its insularity.



Tuesday, November 03, 2015

How 'Bas Kol' Became a Viral Hasidic Hit 

It's rare today for a Yiddish song to become a sensation. It's even more rare for one to go viral on Facebook and Twitter.
But that's just what happened recently with the new music video for Chaim Shlomo Mayes (Mayesz)'s dance-hit "Bas-Kol" (Divine Voice/Bass Voice). The film, shot at a wedding, is quite cool.
For those already familiar with Mayes' previous hits with musical partner Dudi Kalish, the music itself isn't particularly surprising. The two Israeli Hasidic singers and music producers have been releasing remakes of popular Israeli and American songs in Hasidic Yiddish for years now. Instead of singing about sex, money, lost loves or other profane topics, the Kosher reincarnations of these pop hits are filled with words of spiritual encouragement.
The music video for "Bas-Kol" was created to promote the song in the Hasidic community but became a sensation outside of its targeted niche.
Many Israelis who chanced upon it were surprised by the video because they apparently had never seen Hasidic men behaving that way before. In fact, such scenes are quite commonly seen at contemporary Hasidic celebrations, albeit, usually not with such enthusiastic dancing.
Dudi Kalish and Chaim Shlomo Mayes are famous singers and composers who work in nearly all contemporary musical genres such as rock, rap and pop, as well as in more traditional Hasidic styles. Although they have become totally mainstream within the Hasidic world in the past few years their album "Rap in Yiddish," which was released 8 years ago with music copied from such popular singers as Madonna, 50 Cent, and Michael Jackson created a massive scandal. Of all the songs on the album — called "Rap in Yiddish" — the song "Telephone," a remake of this Michael Jackson song, is most worth checking out.

It's also worth hearing Kalish's song "Yesterday was Good," which was set to the music of Shlomo Artzi's hit "Moon." The new Hasidic version of the song was a surprise hit in Israel, even getting mainstream airplay among typical Israeli Hebrew-language pop music.



Monday, November 02, 2015

New superintendent to take over E. Ramapo schools Monday 

Deborah Wortham is set to take over the embattled East Ramapo school district on Monday.
Wortham will become the new interim superintendent, taking over for Joel Klein, who had been the superintendent for five years.
The Department of Education recently ruled that the district, which is run by a mostly Hasidic school board, gave preferential treatment to Jewish students at private schools, and left Spanish and Haitian ones to fall behind.
Wortham has expressed interest in the permanent position.


Sunday, November 01, 2015

Planned N.Y. Chabad Center Near Rebbe's Grave Voted Down by Queens Community Board 

A community board in New York voted 38-0 against a Chabad plan to build a four-story school and community center in its neighborhood.

Community Board 13 in Cambria Heights, Queens, a middle-class, predominately African-American neighborhood where the last Chabad rebbe is buried, rejected the proposal on Monday, the Queens Chronicle reported.

An organization affiliated with the Hasidic sect is seeking permission to demolish three houses and build a four-story facility with dormitory space for up to 62 students near the site where Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is buried. The plan requires special approval because it is in a neighborhood zoned for single-family homes.The proposed building would be located 259 feet from the Ohel Chabad Lubavitch complex on the border with Montefiore Cemetery, where Schneerson is buried.

The complex, which hosts tens of thousands of visitors to Schneerson’s gravesite each year, has long been a source of friction, according to the Queens Chronicle, with residents complaining that the visitors block traffic, block driveways and even relieve themselves on private lawns.

At the meeting, attorney Sheldon Lobel defended Keren Peulos, the Chabad group seeking to erect the building, noting that it is a different entity from the one that runs Ohel Chabad.

The rebbe “dedicated his life to educating children,” Lobel said. “There are children from India, Africa, who need to go to school. Hopefully, this will be the site of the school where they can send them.”

Lobel also said that the federal and New York State constitutions grant great latitude to religious institutions for zoning regulations.
However, state Sen. Leroy Comrie, whose district includes Cambria Heights, responded that the institution should instead be built in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the location of Chabad world headquarters. He also said that a dorm does not qualify as a religious institution.



Saturday, October 31, 2015

East Ramapo calls discrimination agreement 'positive' 

The East Ramapo school district called an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to resolve racial discrimination claims a positive development that was part of a series of reforms being enacted.

Friday's response from board President Yehuda Weissmandl follows this week's release of a federal determination that a disproportionate number of out-of-district placements for special education students had been given to white children.

The department's Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, reviewed complaints by the Spring Valley NAACP of racial discrimination based on race and national origin, including claims that Yiddish-language classes were offered more frequently than Spanish- and Creole-language classes.

As a result of the OCR investigation, East Ramapo last month agreed to a 12-point plan to address discrimination complaints, particularly over the way the district places its special education students and in the development of alternative language programs.

Although the federal department's involvement stemmed from the NAACP's complaints, Weissmandl credited the district for initiating discussions with the OCR and said East Ramapo proposed much of the language in the agreement, which he noted was voluntary.

He said the agreed-upon monitoring and reporting requirements align with the steps East Ramapo is already taking with the New York state Education Department. The district and state have been crafting a “correction action plan” to address Creole- and Spanish-language learner situations since the state flagged the issue several months ago.

The district had engaged in a lengthy dispute with the state over its placement of special education students outside the district.

"This is a very positive development that should bring our community together, not divide it," Weissmandl  stated.

Weissmandl said there were no findings of discrimination by OCR or determinations the district violated any federal law.

But Oscar Cohen, who was education chair of the Spring Valley NAACP when the complaint was filed in 2011, said the conclusions were clear: "We feel this was a comprehensive report where the investigators understood the nuance of how the system was being manipulated to benefit a certain group of white children at the expense of children of color," Cohen said.

Cohen said the NAACP found the district was referring white children to yeshivas or to the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel but keeping nonwhite children in special education programs within the district or BOCES. Using public dollars to separate white and nonwhite children is discriminatory, he said.

The federal findings come two months after Dennis Walcott, a former New York City schools chancellor, was named by state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to head a panel to monitor East Ramapo. Walcott released a statement Friday that he had been briefed on the agreement and informed the district was on target to meet its requirements.

The district has for years been mired in financial troubles and stymied by mistrust between the school board dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic men and the largely nonwhite public school families they serve. The public school community has long believed the district was using a disproportionate amount of funds to serve private school students, most of whom attend yeshivas.

The district recently named Deborah Wortham as its superintendent of schools. She replaces Joel Klein, whose retirement is set for Oct. 31.

The OCR suspended its investigation last month but wrote that it will resume if the district fails to comply with the terms of the agreement.



Friday, October 30, 2015

U.S. Ed Department said district discriminated in out-of-district placements, will monitor plan to address it 

The U.S. Department of Education has determined that some claims of racial discrimination in the East Ramapo School District are founded, and will closely monitor an agreement with the Rockland district to address the issue.
In a letter this week to the Spring Valley branch of the NAACP, the department's Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, determined that a disproportionate number of out-of-district placements for special education students went to white children. The office had reviewed NAACP complaints of racial discrimination based on race and national origin, including claims that Yiddish-language classes were offered more frequently than Spanish- and Creole-language classes.
OCR ceased further investigation and last month East Ramapo agreed to a 12-point plan to address concerns over discrimination, particularly over the district's procedures for placement of special education students and in the development of alternative language programs.
"OCR will monitor implementation of the resolution agreement," OCR Director Timothy Blanchard wrote to NAACP President Willie Trotman on Tuesday. "If the district fails to comply with the terms of the resolution agreement, OCR will resume its investigation."
The move comes two months after Dennis Walcott, a former New York City schools chancellor, was named New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to head a panel to monitor district operations. The panel was asked to ensure that East Ramapo students receive a good education and that taxpayer money is spent appropriately.
Both are big issues in a district plagued by mistrust between a Board of Education dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic men who send their children to private yeshivas and parents of public school students who are mostly black and Latino.
Darren Dopp, a spokesman for the school district, could not be reached for comment.
But Wilbur Aldridge, head of the Mid-Hudson NAACP, called the district's 12-point plan and the federal promise to monitor the district plan, "almost having a monitor over the monitor."
"They are verifying what we already found," Aldridge said. "You really didn't need the feds to tell you that it was founded."
Eric Grossfeld, co-founder of the advocacy group Get Up, Stand Up: East Ramapo, said the plan was "a tremendous breakthrough for everyone fighting for equality in East Ramapo."


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Man arrested for distributing leaflets accusing Jews of “terror mentality” 

A man was arrested in Hackney on Thursday after distributing leaflets accusing Jews of having "a terror mentality" and Israel of being a "terrorist state".
The white male, who is believed to be a Muslim, was arrested for possession of racially inflammatory material under Section 23 of the Public Order Act 1986.
Shomrim North-East volunteer Chaim Hochauser, who was present at the time of the arrest, said: "We took some calls after Shabbos about a guy distributing 'Free Palestine' leaflets at Seven Sisters station. Then today, we took more calls, saying he was hanging these posters from trees all over Hackney. We reported it to the police and followed him. He boarded a bus, where he was arrested. Police found hundreds more of these leaflets in his bag."
The volunteer force also alleged that the middle-aged man "hurled anti-Semitic abuse" before being arrested by Hackney Police, and provided the Jewish News with a copy of the leaflets, titled: "Israel: the state of organised terror."
The A4 leaflet states: "The Bible is the source of terrorist ideas, behaviour and actions committed by the terrorist Israel by the Muslim Palestinians." It adds that the "destiny of the Palestinians is just to be killed by the Jews" before quoting the Bible.
It finishes with a hand-written note which reads: "Believing in these terror instructions, to be committed against the Palestinians, the real native owners of Palestine, creates the terror mentality among the Jews and Bible believers."


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