Friday, November 16, 2018

A Town Divided 

A documentary that premiered in New York City this week at the DOC NYC film festival, captures the conflict and drama surrounding Kiryas Joel, a village occupying a square mile within the town of Monroe in upstate New York that became one of the fastest-growing Hasidic communities in the US. When the secular residents of the larger township learn of Kiryas Joel's desire to annex adjacent land to address its population growth it sets off a turf war.

At the heart of the division portrayed in "City of Joel," directed by Jesse Sweet, are two communities with polarized worldviews trying to protect their way of life. On the one side is KJ (or Kiryas Joel), a community of 22,000 Satmar Hasidim founded in the 1970s after the community was priced out of Brooklyn by rising real estate prices. Their Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, sought to establish a rural settlement in which the congregants could be secluded from the outside world. Still rebuilding from the ashes, many families left Williamsburg for Monroe, seeking a place to grow for a community, many of whose ancestors perished in the Holocaust.

On the other side are local activists who form a coalition called United Monroe. The activists want to protect natural resources, such as wildlife, trees, and water as well as their hold on political power, which has been significantly weakened by the Hasidim's ability to act as a unified voting bloc. Strong personalities from both sides are featured in the documentary, each side making valid arguments in interviews.

A leading member of United Monroe says in the film that there's no separation between church and state in KJ, while a Hasid activist counters that the founders had intended that provision to protect religion, not to protect the government.  

John Allegro, a Monroe resident who sells homemade hot sauce, says he moved there for land, privacy, and quiet. "Imagine another 40,000 people; it would be problematic," he says in the film.

While the secular locals are Democrats and the KJ Hasidim Republicans, the source of their difference doesn't map onto a standard partisan division. The Hasidim feel the opposition for an annexation for more land (507 additional acres) to accommodate growing families is driven by hatred and anti-Semitism. The locals say it has nothing to do with animus towards Jews, that by opposing large multi-family units they're just protecting their quality of life.

The film makes it clear that for the Satmars, religion is not just a private affair. A large sign greeting visitors in KJ lay out their traditions and customs, asking for others to respect their values, such as dressing modestly, using appropriate language and maintaining gender separation in all public areas. Therefore, one wonders if it was another group seeking to expand in the area that was less visible, less religious, less particular in their ways, whether the opposition would be so vehement. This is a particularly sore point for this community of survivors.  

The battle centers around a city board vote on whether to allow the petitioned annexation. The stakes and emotions run high as members of United Monroe try to gather votes and strengthen their position. All the while, the Hasidim maintain they have a constitutional right to practice their religion and grow as a community outside of the stifling city, where the other half of their congregants remains.

Harley Doles, an Evangelical Christian and elected supervisor for the town, is a staunch supporter for the KJ residents, trying to protect their faith-based democratic rights. "Monroe is where the clash of civilizations is taking place more here than anywhere else in America," Doles says in the film. "Here was an opportunity for me to do good." United Monroe supporters accuse Doles of being a plant recruited by the Satmars.

In one scene, Max Hauer, a Satmar and former KJ resident, meets with hot sauce-seller Allegro and argues that while the Hasidim make up fifty percent of Monroe's population they would live in less than two square miles, even after annexation, in a town that consists of 22 square miles.  

"Do you really believe they want to throw you out of your home and take over the entire town?" Hauer asks Allegro, who responds with concerns about pollution and excess traffic.  

"I don't think the strong opposition of annexation stems from anti-Semitism," Hauer says. "But what I do believe is that the tensions that are caused by all these events translate into overt, explicit anti-Semitism." As evidence of that, he reads off anti-Semitic comments made on the Internet by upstate NY residents about the Jewish community in Monroe.

Nevertheless, "America has been the best thing that has ever happened to Orthodox Jews," Hauer says in the film.



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Matthew Broderick is a bumbling biology professor helping a Hasidic widower in To Dust 

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What happens when a Hasidic cantor and a biology professor walk into a graveyard?

It's not a punchline, but rather the premise of Matthew Broderick's latest film, To Dust. The trailer, shared exclusively with EW above, follows Shmuel (Géza Röhrig), the cantor in question, as he struggles with the recent loss of his wife, and becomes obsessed with how her body will decay.

Plagued by nightmares, and convinced his wife's soul won't know peace until her body decomposes to dust, Shmuel enlists the help of bumbling community college biology professor Albert (Broderick) to teach him the science of how a body decays and assuage his fears — or, as writer/director Shawn Snyder put it in a statement, "A borderline blasphemous, tragicomic conversation between science and religion, and an exploration of the idiosyncrasies of grief."

The odd couple embarks on a series of outlandish experiments to approximate the timeline of his wife's body's decay, including, at one point, burying a pig, and Röhrig and Broderick's chemistry seems effortless in this first trailer.

The film, produced by Emily Mortimer, Alessandro Nivola, and Ron Perlman, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, and comes to theaters Feb. 8, 



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Despite Hamas Rocket Fire, Chabad’s Mitzvah Tanks Are Rocking 

The atmosphere was deceptively quiet in the small moshav of Netiv HaAsara, only four hundred meters north of the Gaza Strip, on Tuesday afternoon when Mendy Hartman, a 45-year old Hasid from Bnei Brak, approached an armored IDF jeep and handed the soldier sitting in the driver's seat a honey cake with a wrapper bearing the image of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In response, the soldier, a young man wearing a knitted kippa, loudly proclaimed "Yechi Adoneinu," a Chabad slogan acknowledging the Rebbe's supposed status as the Messiah. "I have Chabad relatives," he said with a sheepish grin. The rest of his squad was out behind a nearby house, checking the site where a Hamas rocket had hit several minutes earlier.

Shortly thereafter, the rest of the soldiers came marching up to the jeep, ignoring Hartman's attempts at engagement. As they drove off, one of the residents came out of his house and implored the Hasid to leave, yelling that several rounds had fallen within spitting distance of his house and that it was incredibly dangerous to remain outside. Hartman, a gregarious man, seemed reluctant to leave and only shifted himself when his colleagues began screaming at him to get in their "Mitzvah Tank," a converted recreational vehicle turned into a portable-synagogue-slash-outreach-center. As we drove away, I got a notification on my phone. More rockets were hitting in or near Netiv HaAsara.

Four years earlier, I had been down on the Gaza border covering Operation Protective Edge for the Jerusalem Post when I had my first encounter with Chabad's battlefield outreach. Traveling with another two Post journalists, I had made my way to a small army encampment on the Israeli side of the border when a group of Hasidim came over and began distributing ices to the soldiers sitting in a nearby armored personnel carrier. One took out a pair of tefillin and began wrapping them on a reservist's arm, saying the blessings slowly so he could repeat them out loud. Walking back to our car, we caught a glimpse of a Mitzvah Tank parked among the reservists' vehicles, its broad sides bearing religious messages encouraging the observance of various Jewish religious laws. Now, with the outbreak of a new war seeming imminent, I called up Rabbi Dovid Nachshon, the head of Chabad's Mitzvah Tank program in Israel, to arrange to "embed" with his men as they again made their way down to the front.

As we drove down to the south from Bnei Brak, Hartman, who works in religious outreach, explained that he was working toward perfecting the world and bringing the Messiah so that there would be no more war. In the meantime, he said, one has to focus on working on behalf of Jews twenty four-seven.

"It's about getting rid of your ego and instead thinking of the other guy," he said. "That's why I, a father of seven, am going into an area under fire. During Operation Protective Edge, I was here and heard the sirens and was in the middle of the rockets. [Our Hasidim] ran into the tank and not into shelters because the [merit] of the Mitzvah Tank protects us."

Elkana Giladi, the driver, agreed with his colleague. At 29-years old, Giladi had himself been serving in the IDF during the last major flare-up in 2014 and had managed to wrangle a day off from his commander to accompany the Mitzvah Tanks, still in uniform, on their mission. In 2014, all seven of Chabad's Mitzvah Tanks in Israel went down south. "It's not so scary," he said of visiting soldiers under fire. "You get used to it."

As we rumbled over the highway down south, Hartman proudly showed off the presents he had brought for the soldiers: small kits containing a Hebrew Psalm book, a paper charity box and a microfilmed version of the Chitat, a Chabad book combining a Bible, a Psalms and the Tanya, a classic Hasidic work. Each came in a package bearing an image of an IDF tank next to its Hasidic counterpart and stating boldly that it was for "protection and success."

"The soldiers who received us were so happy," he said, recalling previous wartime trips. "They felt alone. This is encouragement for the spirit and the mind. I'm endangering myself like you."

The solders, he continued, could spend extended period under fire before entering Gaza and seeing a happy face bearing gifts of energy drinks and religious items would be a huge boost.

"A smile and blessing and a good word gives him to strength" to go on, he said.

While the Mitzvah Tanks were able to go right into military encampments during the last conflict, this time they were unable to get in, and the Hasidim were left with driving between the ad hoc checkpoints set up by the IDF throughout the Gaza envelope region, handing out treats and putting tefillin on the soldiers pulling guard duty.

"It really makes us happy," Evyatar Tzabari, a soldier at one of the checkpoints, told The Forward. "It's welcome. It really gets boring."

This sentiment's seemed widespread among the soldiers we visited, although it was often rather subdued. At one checkpoint, the soldiers crowded up and chatted with Hartman but expressed little excitement when he began singing and attempted to engage them in a Hasidic dance.

At another checkpoint, an ultra-Orthodox soldier with long sidelocks came running up to the Mitzvah Tank, complaining that he had not had time to pray that morning and thanking the Hasidim for coming. Scrambling into the RV, he quickly put on tefillin. As he rushed out to return to his post, Hartman called after him, offering him a candy.

Why not, the ultra-Orthodox soldier replied. "You need something sweet in life."

At another checkpoint, one of the soldiers expressed exhaustion, describing how he had no cover and would have to huddle on the surface of the highway in the face of incoming rocket fire. "God is watching over us," he said.

WAs one soldier was putting on tefillin, we heard a boom coming from the direction of Gaza. Glancing up, we noticed an Israeli helicopter hovering several hundred feet overhead. "It just shot at Gaza," someone commented.

By the late afternoon, a ceasefire had been agreed upon. Hamas began organizing celebratory demonstrations across the Gaza Strip, while the political infighting over Prime Minister Netanyahu's handling of the conflict began in earnest. But for Hartman and Giladi, the day was over. As we began driving north, they started debating whether to get pizza or shwarma.



Calls grow for resignation of Clarkstown councilman accused of anti-Semitism 

Clarkstown Councilman Peter Bradley is facing more backlash for making what some consider to be anti-Semitic comments.

A meeting was held at Town Hall, with more than a dozen residents protesting before the meeting.

The residents says they are upset with comments Bradley made on Facebook and are calling for his resignation.

Bradley's post bashed Gov. Andrew Cuomo for visiting with members of the Hasidic Jewish community following the synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh. It read in part "normal Jews and non-Jews alike were grieving at the JCC while they were meeting 'the guy with the checkbook.'"

Bradley apologized on News 12 for making the comment, saying he is deeply apologetic and regretful.  Residents say it's not his first anti-Semitic comment he's made and they want him to resign.

Bradley told News 12 earlier in the day that he would be making another apology at Tuesday night's meeting. He also expressed interest in holding public events to have coffee with residents.

He also promised to tone down his comments.



Trudeau silent about attack on Jewish teens 

The right to remain silent was likely never intended to apply to the prime minister after an alleged anti-Semitic hate attack in the heart of a Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto.

This silence from the very top is difficult to not notice.

Some are expressing concern about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's lack of condemnation, or even comment, on the horrific alleged hate attack on four Hasidic teenage boys who were hit with fists, boots and racial slurs, which included being told "Hitler is coming back."

The Nov. 11 attack, near Fairholme Ave. and Bathurst St.,  has upset some who have strongly spoken out against such an inhumanity against four young men — two of which are Americans visiting Canada from the United States to attend the special Yeshiva school to study Hebrew and the Torah.

Federal Conservative and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted Tuesday: "Troubling to hear of the attack on Jewish teens in Toronto. Anti-Semitism will never be tolerated and I hope the culprits of this hate crime will be swiftly brought to justice."

This followed tweets Monday from Premier Doug Ford who added: "There is no place in Ontario for anti-Semitism and our government will not tolerate hatred of any kind." Mayor John Tory tweeted: "No one should ever be attacked for their religion. Please help @TorontoPolice solve this hate crime/robbery investigation that occurred Sunday night."

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders also spoke out against the alleged hate crime. HIs officers have charged one youth with robbery and assault.  Toronto Police spokesman Katrina Arrogante said it "is still categorized as a hate crime/robbery" as they search for nine more.

Video surveillance is being reviewed. Police have not issued descriptions but two of the alleged victims describe the suspects as being of Asian descent.

So what has Trudeau said or tweeted about this alleged hate crime?


But the prime minister, who has been quick to comment on racial attacks in the past, has since Sunday been tweeting about other things, including his current meetings with leaders in Singapore and having some fun commenting on some new Canadian children, originally from Eritrea, delightfully getting their first taste of snow to which Trudeau joked in a tweet: "Now convince them that shovelling is fun and you're all set."

It's a terrific response to a special Canadian moment. But on this darker Canadian incident, his lack any rebuke of such horrific actions toward four kids wearing kippahs and fedoras is difficult to miss.

Jewish Defence League Canadian Chapter National Director Meir Weinstein said it "sends" a terrible message.

"I am very disappointed that the PM has remained silent regarding the recent violent, anti-Semitic attack against Jewish teens in Toronto," said Weinstein. "The lack of response seems to be a double standard. I remember the reaction of the PM regarding the young Islamic girl who falsely claimed that her Hijab was cut in a racist attack."

I reached out to the PMO Tuesday to comment on a variety of things, including the current attacks on Israel and the local beating of the four Jewish teens, and did get a message back from the media office in Ottawa.

"On the hate crime probe in Toronto in the Jewish teens on way to school? (Public Safety Minister Ralph) Goodale's office would be best place to answer this," said polite spokesperson Matt Pascuzzo.

Seems on this one, the prime minister is going to remain silent.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Victory or Not, Losing the Hasidim Made the Jerusalem Mayoral Race Tough for Moshe Leon 

The mayoral race in Jerusalem, to be settled in Tuesday's runoff, will be closer than appeared immediately after the first round two weeks ago. Despite multiple attempts, Moshe Leon, a former director general of the Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to snag the endorsement of Hasidic party Agudat Yisrael.

On Monday evening, the party's Council of Torah Sages decided not to support either Leon or his secular rival Ofer Berkovitch, in effect freeing some 30,000 voters to make up their own minds.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources in the capital's Hasidic community said at least some of these voters would opt for Berkovitch, who could only benefit from the anxiety, if not alarm, felt by many of the city's non-ultra-Orthodox voters at the prospect of a Leon victory.

Hundreds of volunteers took to non-ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to get out the vote — a task made harder by the fact that the runoff, unlike the nationwide local elections two weeks earlier, was not a paid holiday and the polls opened later. Results were expected by early Wednesday morning.

Leon's campaign also stepped up its efforts. This included a rare political rally at the Western Wall, led by rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leaders of the Degel Hatorah faction of the United Torah Judaism party and Shas, respectively. Throughout the day, rabbis and Leon flooded ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, social media with exhortations to vote.

The 2018 Jerusalem election will presumably be remembered as a sea change in ultra-Orthodox politics. The split between Hasidic and non-Hasidic ("Lithuanian") Haredim, along with the independence that many voters have shown, have created a new situation. This was evident Monday afternoon at the Haredi headquarters of Berkovitch's Hitorerut ticket.

There were around a dozen people at the Jaffa Road headquarters, including the former Shas activist Avi Ifrach, two "Lithuanian" Haredim, one Belz Hasid and one Hasid from the Shlomei Emunim faction. Standing to the side was a young married "Lithuanian" yeshiva student, who was clearly there as a spy from Leon's campaign.

That didn't alter the conversation. All the activists were young ultra-Orthodox men, all were determined to help Berkovitch, the secular candidate, and all, except for Ifrach, requested anonymity. Some of them scoffed at being called "new Haredim" — Haredi men who work for a living instead of studying Torah. But all of them feared being "outed" as Berkovitch campaigners.

"I felt we were pushing other groups out of Jerusalem, and that's not the Jerusalem where my grandmother was raised," Ifrach said, with another Hasid adding: "People decided it was time to decide for themselves."

According to a third Hasid, "There are people who want to learn English, who want core studies" — the language, science and math that are shortchanged or absent from Haredi schools. "But they can't because the 'operators' decided it's forbidden. With Berkovitch we can get all that."

According to a fourth Hasid, "The question in the election is whether the mayor serves the residents or the political operators in the Haredi community."

Two very angry Haredi women suddenly interrupted. "Shame, blasphemers, the Gur Hasidim are one thing, they'll get Schneller," one said, referring to a large building lot in the city's Haredi neighborhoods. "But you're Sephardi, what are you doing here?" The question was addressed to Ifrach.

"I'm a Shasnik," Ifrach said, to which the woman responded, "Give me your name, I want to speak with [Shas Chairman Arye] Dery. If Rabbi Ovadia were alive, he would spit on you," she shouted, referring to the party's late spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The activists' efforts to engage the women in dialogue failed. "I don't want to talk to wicked people," one woman said. After a few more exchanges, the women left, but not before one said: "I don't think Leon is serious, but I do whatever my rabbi tells me."

Ifrach said after they left: "We don't go against the Torah. If someone comes whose rabbi told him to vote for Leon, we don't persuade him; I tell him do what your rabbi says."

The Belz Hasid said he estimated that around half his yeshiva classmates would vote, and that 90 percent would pick Berkovitch.

On Monday night, Leon seemed to admit that he had lost the Hasidic vote. "I have a deep understanding of the position you are in," he said in a recording sent to the phones of Haredi voters. "But only someone like me, who has sacrificed a lot, can call you with love and with a call of affection. Help me be elected mayor."

Speaking to Haaretz, Leon said: "Nothing is perfect, but most of the cards have fallen the way I wanted them to. From my perspective, what's important is the wide support I received from the religious-Zionist movement and from Likud. I'm working hard but I'm very relaxed."



Monday, November 12, 2018

Image of swastika sent to high school students in Chicago 

An image of a swastika was sent to the cell phones of students during an assembly at a suburban Chicago high school, JTA reported on Sunday.

The image was “air-dropped” on an Apple device on Friday morning to students attending the “Tradition of Excellence” assembly at the Oak Park and River Forest High School, according to the report.

The sender was later identified as a student who was in the auditorium at the time of the incident, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The incident follows two incidents of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti found on the school’s campus since the beginning of the month.

On November 2, racist and anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered outside the school building on a shed near the campus tennis courts. Days later, “hate-speech graffiti” including a swastika and racist and anti-Semitic comments, including “GAS the Jews,” was discovered inside a campus bathroom.

The school held a panel discussion November 7 with students, religious leaders and school board members titled “Community Conversation Around Hate Crimes: Coming Together for Change.” The program also was in response to recent hate-driven events, such as the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, according to JTA.

In a separate incident, a Jewish student at a Chicago public school, the Oscar Mayer Magnet School, found a swastika drawn on his locker last week, as well as what the school called other “derogatory symbols.”

The incidents in Chicago come at a time when the US is seeing an increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents.

Last week, the home of a Jewish family in Las Vegas was tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti. The incident happened days after several swastikas were discovered sprayed on the home of non-Jewish Las Vegas family. Police did not consider that incident a hate crime, saying it was more likely a random attack by teenagers.

In Los Angeles, police arrested a man who they say has been snatching wigs off the heads of Orthodox Jewish women in North Hollywood.

Police believe the man targeted the women because of their faith and are investigating it as a hate crime. He was arrested at his home in Sherman Oaks last Wednesday.

And, in New York, the New York Police Department last week circulated surveillance video of a group of preteens and teens who it says has carried out a series of recent anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn.

The incidents include a metal pipe thrown through the window of a synagogue in the hasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg on November 3 during afternoon services on Shabbat.

The same day, police say, the group pushed a 10-year-old hasidic girl to the ground. In a separate incident, the group also knocked the hat off a 14-year-old hasidic boy.

The incidents took place just days after a number of synagogues and yeshivas were attacked in the same area.

Seven fires were set outside of Jewish facilities in South Williamsburg, and anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on another Brooklyn synagogue.



Sunday, November 11, 2018

Fires racing through southern California damage Jewish institutions 

The fires racing through southern California have led to the evacuation of more than 260,000 people, burned over 83,000 acres and destroyed more than 170 homes, as well as damaged several Jewish institutions.

The Jewish institutions including several synagogues turned to their social media pages to distribute information, and to offer support. Many held Havdalah services on Saturday night at other nearby sites, most livestreamed on their social media pages, in order to provide support and healing for their members.

At the Ilan Ramon Day School in Agoura, California, the school’s computer lab, administration building and a bathroom were destroyed by fire.

“Our school, at its core, has never been about the physical space or the buildings in which the children learn. Our school is a sacred and special community,” Head of School Yuri Hronsky wrote Friday in a Facebook post. “Our school is about heart and soul, not about brick and mortar. I wish I had better news to share as we enter Shabbat this evening.”

The school launched a GoFundMe page on Friday titled “Help Rebuild Ilan Ramon Day School,” with a goal of $750,000.

The fire also reached the Shalom Institute, a camp and conference center located in the mountains of Malibu. In a message sent on Saturday, the heads of the institute in a letter said that the fire had caused damage to the facility, but it was not yet known how serious. The staff, animals and Torah scrolls located on the campus of the institute were safely evacuated on Friday, according to the message signed by Gil Breakman, president, and Rabbi Bill Kaplan, executive director, of the Shalom Institute and Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom.

“We know this news is upsetting to hear and we share your sadness. Camp is magical, but its magic transcends the buildings and structures. The magic comes from the loving community that we create when we are together. Though these losses may be painful, we know that the memories, friendships and joy that this place brings to so many lives on,” the message said,

Camp Hess Kramer, a camp owned by the Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said in a message to camp families that “at least some structures” at the camp were consumed by the fire. The camp’s Torah scrolls were evacuated ahead of the fire, and the camp is fully insured, according to the message. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all the first responders working so hard to protect life and property and to those who are suffering. May we begin a new week with them and each other in our prayers,” read the message, posted on Facebook, signed by the synagogue and camp leadership.

The Reform Congregation Or Ami of Calabasas on Friday set up a “Kid Camp and Adult Hangout” at a nearby high school, which was scheduled to continue on Sunday. “For anyone needing support, food, or simply a space to be,” the synagogue said on its website. “We will provide breakfast, snacks, and lunch. We also have games and activities for kids, as well as spaces for adults to gather and process. Teens: come be with your friends, or hang out with kids. There will be counselors available for support for anyone who wishes it.”

On Friday, the rabbi and president of Temple Adat Elohim, a Reform synagogue in Thousand Oaks, located in the same neighborhood as the Borderline Bar and Grill, the site of a deadly shooting on Wednesday night, managed to enter the synagogue on Friday and remove its four Torah scrolls as mandatory evacuations were underway.

The synagogue’s cantor, David Shukiar, on Saturday posted on the synagogue’s Facebook page that the grounds of the synagogue had been burnt but that “the temple is in great shape.” He noted that the homes in the area of the synagogue were “burnt to the ground.”

Some 175 families of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue were evacuated from their homes as was the synagogue. On Saturday the synagogue posted on its Facebook page that the building remained unharmed.  The synagogue’s Torah scrolls had been removed a day earlier as a precaution to the Kehillat Israel synagogue in Pacific Palisades, which played host to a bar mitzvah that had been scheduled for the the Malibu Jewish center. The family of the bar mitzvah invited the entire congregation to gather at the synagogue and celebrate with them.

In a message titled “We are here for you” posted on Friday on the website of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, federation CEO Jay Sanderson, wrote: “The past few weeks have tested our strength and resolve as a community and a nation.”

“I want to assure you that we are doing all we can to help our community as this natural disaster affects our Jewish institutions and homes,” he also wrote.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued on Friday for families and institutions in Calabasas, Malibu and Thousand Oaks.

Strong winds were forecast to pick up in the area on Sunday, which combined with little moisture in the air and extremely dry ground from months of drought could cause the fires to continue to spread, according to Accu-Weather.



Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Jewish Boxer Who Helped the Allies Turn the Tide of World War I 

Opening his newspaper on May 5, 1921, cigar salesman Ben Kaufman was in for a shock. The U.S. government released a list of slackers, or men who had dodged the draft in the First World War. There it was, midway down this ignominious roll call: Benjamin Kaufman, Brooklyn, New York. Bounties of up to $50 awaited the capture of each slacker—about $300 in today’s money. These payouts were intended for law-enforcement officials but others thought they were eligible to collect.

In the previous “slacker raids” of 1918, tens of thousands of suspected draft dodgers were arrested both by officials and vigilantes affiliated with the reactionary American Protective League (APL). The victims of the raids were often kept in miserable conditions, and denied legal rights. The APL had also been notoriously anti-Semitic and sought to expel the “Bolshevik Jew” from American society. By 1921, even though the APL no longer existed, there were fresh calls for its revival to ferret out “un-Americans.” No surprise that some men who saw their names in the newspapers in the spring of 1921 skipped town.

Not Kaufman. The amateur bounty hunters would regret trying to mess with him. And he had some show-and-tell to lug to the military office—his Congressional Medal of Honor, one of the first in the war to have been received by a Jewish soldier. With his medal came a remarkable story of heroism that sounded almost too outlandish to be true.

Born March 10, 1894, Kaufman spent his earliest years on a farm upstate before the family settled in Brooklyn. Between his foreign heritage (his parents came from Russia) and being Jewish—not to mention his eight older siblings—he had to learn to defend himself. “Unless you could fight in East New York in Brooklyn at that time, you just didn’t have a chance,” he later recalled. “When you came home with a bloodied nose and black eyes… our mother, instead of scolding us, would fix us up with First Aid.”

Though he wasn't tall, he was sturdy and packed a punch. He got kicked out of Erasmus Hall high school for breaking the football captain's nose, then did well enough at his next school, Newton High in Elmhurst, New York, to walk out with a scholarship to Syracuse University. While studying engineering there, fighting landed him in trouble again, so he dropped out to pursue professional baseball, one of several sports he'd excelled at in high school and at Syracuse.

By 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany and became a full participant in the First World War, Kaufman was selling shoes in Trenton, New Jersey. The 23-year-old applied to an aviation school so he could enter the military as a pilot, but he was among the first lists of names called in the draft before he had the chance to begin training.

Kaufman, who had steel grey eyes with a don’t-I-know-you face, was assigned to Company K of the 308th Regiment’s 77th Division. Their uniforms boasted a patch of the Statue of Liberty, a shout-out to the region from which the soldiers hailed and to the division’s diverse blend of heritages—it was said to have the most languages spoken within it of any military division in modern history. The 77th also had the largest number of Jewish soldiers in the American Expeditionary Forces, or AEF, a term for U.S. troops in the First World War.



Friday, November 09, 2018

Teens Charged In Anti-Semitic Acts Against Synagogue, Hasidic Boy 

Two teenagers have been arrested after surveillance video showed them harassing a 14-year-old Hasidic boy and throwing a pipe through the window of a synagogue.

Police said the teens were seen knocking the hat off of the 14-year-old Hasidic boy in Bedford-Stuyvesant, pushing a 10-year-old girl to the ground and throwing a pipe through the window of a synagogue.

The acts happened over the course of 45 minutes, according to Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea.

On Thursday, Shea posted on Twitter to congratulate police on the arrests of the two 13-year-old boys.

"The power of  @NYPDDetectives force multiplied by 8.5 million New Yorkers. Unstoppable. No place for hate in NYC. Great job," Shea wrote.

The NYPD said the teens' acts were the latest in a "notable uptick" in hate crimes throughout the city. Both teens were charged with hate crimes. One will face fourth-degree criminal mischief charges and the other will face second-degree aggravated harassment.

Last week, a 26-year-old man was also arrested after scrawling anti-Semitic messages inside a Brooklyn synagogue.

Additionally, the NYPD's Hate Crimes division is also searching for the suspect who vandalized the African American Burial Ground Memorial in Lower Manhattan.


Thursday, November 08, 2018

Police perform sweep of Buffalo temple, Jewish Community Center 

Buffalo police performed a sweep of Temple Beth Zion and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo Thursday morning.

Police said K-9s were called in to check the buildings on Delaware Avenue between Summer Street and Barker Street. 7 Eyewitness News spotted police on scene around 7:30 a.m.

Police said there was no direct threat to the buildings, but something concerned them enough to necessitate a response. Police declined to give more details.



Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Town of Chester voters OK arts center purchase, switch to wards 

Town voters approved all three propositions on the ballot Tuesday, paving the way for wards to replace the current system where council members are elected at large, and the purchase of the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center for $1.1 million.

They also approved the Chester Public Library's $633,992 spending plan. The library budget will henceforth be put up for a public vote.

Preserve Chester, a citizen's group, has been pushing for a ward system as a way to mitigate the bloc-vote power of Greens at Chester, a Hasidic Jewish development under construction.

The development is expected to add 3,000 residents to the town. Preserve Chester says it wants the Town Board to represent the entire town, not just one area or group.

The Performing Arts Center is one of several properties the town hopes to buy to protect and preserve open and undeveloped land in Chester. The town has not decided what to do with the property at this time. It is currently fielding proposals but has said it will likely continue its present use by either leasing the center to an operator or hiring a consultant to manage it.

The library and the town had mutually agreed to put the library budget on the ballot under New York's Chapter 414 law. If approved, the library would have become autonomous from the town and would have had a predictable funding stream.

The library will have to continue petitioning the town for funding.



Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Man Suspected Of Writing ‘Kill All Jews’ On Brooklyn Synagogue Arrested 

A man suspected of writing "Kill All Jews" on a historic Brooklyn synagogue and setting fires in front of several yeshivas and synagogues in the Hasidic Williamsburg neighborhood was arrested by police.

James Polite, 26, was arrested on Friday evening and later charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime and making graffiti, the Associated Press reported.

He reportedly was admitted to a hospital psychiatric ward for observation, according to the AP.

The fires were set early on Friday morning at seven locations in South Williamsburg, all of them in front of Hasidic synagogues or yeshivas.

Because of the "Kill All Jews" graffiti discovered on Thursday at Union Temple in Brooklyn Heights, a political event scheduled for that night to be hosted by "Broad City" star Ilana Glazer was cancelled. Other hateful graffiti were discovered throughout the synagogue.

Polite, a gay and black man, spent most of his childhood in foster care but a chance meeting with former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in 2008 presented him with the opportunity for an internship at City Hall.

According to a 2017 New York Times profile, Polite interned for Quinn for several years "working on initiatives to combat hate crime, sexual assault and domestic violence."



Monday, November 05, 2018

Cops seek teens who threw pipe through Williamsburg synagogue window 

In the latest in a series of acts of anti-Semitic vandalism in Brooklyn, a group of teens were caught on video throwing a metal pipe through a window at a synagogue in Williamsburg.

The suspects, several of whom were wearing orange, broke a window at the Volkan synagogue at Franklin Avenue near Myrtle Avenue around 5:40 p.m. on Saturday, then ran, according to the Daily News.

The vandalism came a day after James Polite, a recent college graduate with a history of mental illness and drug addiction, was nabbed by police and charged with entering the Union Temple near Grand Army Plaza and writing graffiti such as “Die Jew Rats” and “Hitler” on the walls on Thursday. Polite was also charged with setting several fires in the Hasidic Jewish area of Williamsburg on Friday.

Earlier last week, local residents found swastikas and the “n-word” written with chalk at several locations on Garden Place in Brooklyn Heights. No arrests were made in the case at press time.

Such attacks are part of a nationwide trend. The Anti-Defamation League identified 1,985 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2017, up from 1,267 in 2016.



Sunday, November 04, 2018

Massachusetts man faces hate crimes charges for assaulting Jewish woman, 66 

A Cambridge, Massachusetts, man faces hate crime charges after he allegedly attacked a senior citizen woman while shouting anti-Semitic statements.

Jarrett Harris, 62, was arrested on Thursday and charged with assault and battery on someone age 60 or older, and assault and battery with intent to intimidate, a hate crimes charge.

The victim, 66, told police that she and another man spoke with Harris for a few moments about a nearby property and then he followed them down the street saying “Shut the [expletive] up [Jewish expletive],” The Boston Globe reported.

He also allegedly pushed the victim and began shouting, “You [expletive] Jewish [expletive],” and put his fist on her throat, she told police, adding that the attack was “unprovoked.”

Harris was arraigned in Cambridge District Court on Thursday and released on his own recognizance and a promise to stay away from the victim.

The incident comes days after graffiti that included multiple swastikas and the words “Kill Kykes” next to a drawing of Hitler was discovered in Salem, Massachusetts, The Salem-based Jewish Journal reported Thursday.

Several swastikas were found at Reading Memorial High School in the town of Reading, Massachusetts. Other racist graffiti were found in Reading last month. Officials declined to say what the graffiti in Reading said while police investigate the incidents, the Boston Globe reported Thursday.



Saturday, November 03, 2018

Man Arrested For Fires, Anti-Semitic Graffiti At NYC Jewish Institutions 

Police have arrested a man suspected of scrawling anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls of Brooklyn synagogue and setting fires outside of local Jewish institutions, the Associated Press reported Friday.

James Polite, 26, was charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime and making graffiti, according to the AP.

The AP reported that Polite was taken to a psychiatric ward for observation.

The graphic graffiti, which read “Kill all Jews” and “Jews better be ready,” was discovered in the stairwells of Prospect Heights’ Union Temple on Thursday. A scheduled get-out-the-vote event hosted by “Broad City” star Ilana Glazer was canceled as a result.

The AP reported that Polite was also charged with setting fires outside of a yeshiva and Jewish banquet hall in south Williamsburg, which is home to a large concentration of New York City’s Hasidic population.

“Following in the wake of the Union Temple hate incident, antisemitism strikes again, this time in Williamsburg,” City Councilman Stephen Levin wrote on Twitter Friday. ‘Early this morning, the NYPD’s 90th Precinct received reports of fires at seven locations in South Williamsburg, all of them Hasidic shuls or yeshivas.”

These disturbing incidents come as the country is still reeling from last Saturday’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, which left 11 dead. It was the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history.

Polite is a gay black man who came up in the city’s foster care system before a chance encounter with former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn landed him an internship at City Hall. He was the subject of a 2017 New York Times profile.



Friday, November 02, 2018

Voting Rally Cancelled After ‘Kill All Jews’ Drawn Inside Brooklyn Synagogue 

A political event at a historic Brooklyn synagogue was cancelled Thursday after "Kill all Jews" was found scrawled inside, the New York Post reported.

"Hitler," "Jews better be ready" and "Die Jew rats, we are here!" were among the hateful messages scribbled in black marker at Union Temple in Prospect Heights, the New York Daily News reported.

The New York Police Department said the messages were found on the stairwell at around 8 p.m.

Ilana Glazer, star of Comedy Central's "Broad City," was to host a get-out-the-vote event, interviewing journalist Amy Goodman and New York state senate candidates Andrew Gounardes and Jim Gaughran, according to the Post. Glazer told the crowd at about 8:30 p.m. that the event was cancelled due to the graffiti.

The vandalism was discovered just days after a gunman killed 11 in a synagogue in Pittsburgh's densely Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. The gunaman allegedly yelled "All Jews must die."



Thursday, November 01, 2018

Headstones toppled at Jewish cemetery in Texas 

Headstones were pushed over at a small Jewish cemetery in the Texas port city of Orange.

The vandalism at the Hebrew Rest Cemetery, which is more than 100 years old, was discovered on Monday morning by the groundskeeper, who had arrived to mow the lawn, the local CBS affiliate KFDM reported. Permanent vases also were ripped from their bases.

Orange Police are investigating the incident as criminal mischief, according to the report.

Orange Mayor Larry Spears Jr. praised the city's diversity and said that bigotry and hate will not be tolerated within its borders.



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York? 

Just past midnight on May 1, a young rabbinical student was walking home on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn when he thought he was being followed. A moment after that intuition struck, two men grabbed him, threw him against a car and started punching him.

The victim had dropped a box containing $200, meant for charity, but the money went untouched. The student, it seemed, was attacked because he was overheard speaking Hebrew on his cellphone. His two assailants were indicted on assault and hate crime charges.

No other American city is more closely associated with Jewish identity than New York or more adamantly imagines itself as the capital of liberalism's most cherished values of tolerance, acceptance and diversity.

And yet, at the same time, New York has become an increasingly unsettling place to be Jewish. The first inkling of this emerged several days after the 2016 presidential election when swastikas and the phrase "Go Trump" showed up on playground equipment in Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights.

But, in fact, anti-Semitism was already quietly on the rise. For several years now, expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment have made up the preponderance of hate crime complaints in the city.

Contrary to what are surely the prevailing assumptions, anti-Semitic incidents have constituted half of all hate crimes in New York this year, according to the Police Department. To put that figure in context, there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks. Hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered hate crimes targeted at transgender people by a factor of 20.

Within the course of a few days just this month, a swastika showed up on an Upper West Side corner and two ultra-Orthodox men were attacked on the street in Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn in separate incidents. In one of them, according to the police and prosecutors, a Muslim livery driver jumped out of a car and started beating up his victim, seemingly at random, yelling "Allah."

 And yet again...swastika on Upper West Side, this time on a police/fire call box at 104th & Columbus. Can't separate the outbreak of this kind of hate from recent anti-Semitic assaults in Brklyn & attempted bombing of #Soros. Must fight bigotry on all fronts--whomever the target.

If anti-Semitism bypasses consideration as a serious problem in New York, it is to some extent because it refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy. During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group, Mark Molinari, commanding officer of the police department's Hate Crimes Task Force, told me.

"I almost wish it was sometimes more clear cut,'' he said. "It's every identity targeting every identity."

Of course, not everyone is caught. And, obviously, white supremacists are driving anti-Semitic rhetoric online. It is just that sort of hate speech that the Anti-Defamation League views as largely responsible for the near doubling in bias incidents toward Jewish children in schools across the country last year.

In fact, it is the varied backgrounds of people who commit hate crimes in the city that make combating and talking about anti-Semitism in New York much harder.

A related issue is that bias stemming from longstanding ethnic tensions in the city presents complexities that many liberals have chosen simply to ignore. "When we were growing up in Harlem our demoralizing series of landlords were Jewish, and we hated them." So begins an essay by James Baldwin that appeared in The New York Times in 1967 titled "Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White."

When a Hasidic man or woman is attacked by anyone in New York City, mainstream progressive advocacy groups do not typically send out emails calling for concern and fellowship and candlelight vigils in Union Square, as they often do when individuals are harmed in New York because of their race or ethnicity or how they identify in terms of gender or sexual orientation.

Sympathies are distributed unevenly. Few are extended toward religious fundamentalists, of any kind, who reach the radar of the urbane, "Pod Save America" class only when stories appear confirming existing impressions of backwardness — the hordes of children delivered into the world whom families refuse to vaccinate and keep semiliterate.

The American-Defamation League maintains its own statistics and last year it reported that nine of the 12 physical assaults against Jews categorized as hate crimes in New York State were committed in Brooklyn and involved victims who were easily marked as members of traditionally Orthodox communities. Outside that world they were hardly noticed at all.



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Jewish Doctor Who Supervised Treatment Of Anti-Semitic Pittsburgh Shooter Gives Amazing Response 

On Monday, Channel 4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania interviewed Dr. Jeff Cohen, President of Allegheny General Hospital, who is Jewish and a member of the Tree of Life synagogue, who helped supervise the treatment of the shooter who committed the worst massacre of Jews in America's history on Saturday morning at that synagogue. Asked what he saw when he met the shooter after the shooter had been treated, Cohen displayed no evident rage or bitterness, but simply gave a response that was the quintessential Jewish response when Jewish doctors wind up treating enemies of the Jewish people: that their job is to treat the patient with every means at their disposal.

Cohen stated: "Yesterday I went up to meet him, and I was just curious as to 'who is this guy?' And quite honestly, he's just a guy. And he's … people say that he's evil, he's this … he's some mother's son. And how did he get from that to where he is today? That's going to be a large debate that we have to wrestle with as a society."

The interviewer commented, "Effectively, you were sort of at the head of a team that saved his life."

Cohen responded, "It may be a bit of an overstatement, but yes. He was severely injured and he got great care here. Many of the people that attended to him were Jewish. And they're heroes. They did like the cops did; they did their job. They went and they confronted the problem and they were true to their core beliefs; and I'm very proud of them."

The interviewer asked, "And as a doctor, but also as a parishioner of the synagogue, and you looked into his eyes, what did you see?"

Cohen replied, "I just looked at him and he's like a lot of people that come in here. They're scared; they're confused; they don't quite understand it. But once again, my job isn't to judge him; other people give that — that's a pretty awesome responsibility. My job is to take care of him."

Cohen's response is not unique in the annals of Jewish doctors; Israeli doctors have time and again treated the terrorists who have targeted the Jewish people and been injured in the attempt.



Monday, October 29, 2018

Amid hate, Rockland and Westchester will stand up for neighbors 

As news unfolded of yet another hate-fueled attack — this time at a Pittsburgh synagogue — local police agencies readied to protect the homefront. In Rockland County, in Westchester, all around New York, police agencies ensured that our neighbors were protected. 

Before noon, Clarkstown and Ramapo police posted on social media that they were increasing visibility at Jewish houses of worship throughout their towns. Both are home to a large and diverse Jewish community, from Reform and Conservative synagogues to Hasidic and Orthodox shuls of all sizes and sorts, some just big enough for a minyan. 

In Westchester, an alert was sent out by phone, text and email messages to 150 synagogues and Jewish organizations warning of a possible threat.

Nearly one third of Rockland's population is Jewish; New York has the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel, with more than 1.7 million Jewish residents.

No matter the size or style of a synagogue, on the sabbath, doors would be open to any and all who wanted to worship.

Such attacks appear more frequent and, with social media, news (factual or not) and the details spread fast. We worry about a contagion. Will the mail bombs spur other people harboring hate? Will an act that targets a religious group — and a trail of viciousness spewed in social media comments by the alleged perpetrator — feed such violence? 

We've seen anti-Semitic graffiti and heard snide comments here. We've also seen a community response that shows unity and support among our diverse communities.

Terrorism is not a new invention, especially in this region. So many of our neighbors were killed on 9/11 and so many continue to fall ill and succumb to the deadly toxins created in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks' aftermath. A Suffern man was killed during the 1993 World Trade Center attack. Sandy Hook sits just miles over the Connecticut border from Westchester. We just marked the 37th anniversary of the Brinks heist that left a trail of death from Nanuet and Nyack when radical Weather Underground members' armored-car robbery turned into a bloody shootout through what was then relatively bucolic Rockland.

We've seen it happen at churches and synagogues and mosques; at a baseball field where members of Congress just wanted time to relax, bond, play. In Charleston. In Sutherland Springs. In Las Vegas. In Orlando. At a Kentucky grocery store.

Meanwhile, the "whataboutism" — pointing out hypocrisy before hearing what's said — will keep coming, for now. And it will keep getting us nowhere. Let's hope that stops soon and we can figure out how to differ with people and still model respect. 

That's a skill that's more rare by the day, it seems.

The lesson here is what our local first responders did: They acted to protect people who were immediately at risk. They stood up for strangers, and neighbors.

Yes, first responders are a special breed — they rush toward danger as others run away. Nowadays, we all need to be first responders for civility and decency.



Sunday, October 28, 2018

Pittsburgh shooting suspect Robert Bowers wanted 'to kill Jews' 

The man accused of killing 11 people in a shooting rampage at a Pittsburgh synagogue was armed with an arsenal of weapons and a virulent hatred for the unsuspecting targets who had gathered to worship in the heart of the local Jewish community.

Court documents provide glimpses of suspect Robert Bowers and the 20 minutes of bloodshed Saturday at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the city's affluent Squirrel Hill neighborhood.

Mayor Bill Peduto, at a news conference Sunday, promised that the city would emerge stronger from its "darkest day."

"We are a resilient city," Peduto said. "We have been knocked down before, but we have always been able to stand back up because we work together."

Bowers, 46, allegedly burst into the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the affluent Squirrel Hill neighborhood, shouting anti-Semitic epithets as he opened fire on the congregants. His extensive armaments included a Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and three Glock .357 handguns. At least three of the weapons were purchased legally, the Associated Press reported, citing an unnamed law enforcement official.

The U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh is seeking approval for the death penalty against Bowers, AP reported Sunday night.

The gunshots pierced Saturday morning quiet in the neighborhood on the city's east side. Marcy Pepper, a member of the synagogue until this year, told USA TODAY she heard the gunshots from her home.

“How do you walk in there again, and walk by that spot?” Pepper said.

E. Joseph Charney, a member of the synagogue since 1955, was in the synagogue waiting for the morning service when he heard a loud noise downstairs. A man entered the doorway, then Charney heard gunshots.

“I looked up and there were all these dead bodies,” Charny, 90, told The Washington Post. “I wasn’t in the mood to stay there.”

Charney fled, hiding with others in a storage room full of boxes. A short time later he slipped out of the synagogue to safety.

“At first I felt numb, then thankful,” he told the Post. “I don’t need to tell you how terrible this has all been.”

Bowers shot and killed 11 worshippers and wounded two others before being confronted by police, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said. Four officers were injured, including three shot by Bowers, Brady said.

The criminal complaint says Bowers made statements "evincing an animus towards people of the Jewish faith." Bowers told one law enforcement officer, in substance, that "they're committing genocide to my people. I just want to kill Jews," according to the complaint.

Bowers repeated comments regarding genocide, his desire to kill Jewish people, and that Jewish people needed to die, the complaint adds.

Federal authorities have said that police engaged the suspect as he attempted to flee the synagogue, driving Bowers back inside. The suspected gunman ultimately surrendered to officers after he was wounded multiple times, authorities said.

“The officers prevented additional loss of life,” FBI Special Agent Bob Jones said.

Bowers had been posting anti-Semitic rants on social media. Minutes before entering the building, he apparently posted to Gab, a fringe website favored by white nationalists.

"I can't sit by an watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I'm going in," the post said.

Bowers was charged with 29 criminal counts, including 11 federal hate-crime charges. Eleven counts of using a firearm to kill carry a maximum penalty of death, though no decision had been made about the death penalty would be sought. He is scheduled to appear before a federal magistrate Monday.

The Anti-Defamation League called Saturday's attack the deadliest against the Jewish community in U.S. history. The attack prompted increased security, including a police presence, at synagogues across the nation. Peduto, however, brushed off comments from President Trump that armed guards at the Tree of Life would have prevented the carnage.

"The approach we need to be looking at is how we take the guns, the common denominator of every mass shooting in America, out of the hands of those who are looking to express hatred through murder," Peduto said.

The names of the victims, who ranged in age from 54 to 97, were released Sunday: Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59, and David Rosenthal, 54; Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband Sylvan Simon, 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69.

Rabinowitz was a physician who worked at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where some of the wounded were taken after the attack.

"The UPMC family... cannot even begin to express the sadness and grief we feel over the loss of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz," the hospital said on a Twitter post. "Jerry was above all one of the kindest physicians and human beings in our community."

Karl Williams, chief medical examiner for Allegheny County, said he had notified the families of all the victims.

"The families are in shock and grieving, please be respectful of their needs, their time and space as they deal with this tragedy," Williams told the media.

Police Chief Scott Schubert said one officer was treated for his injuries and released Saturday. Another was expected to be released from the hospital today. UPMC said one officer remained hospitalized in critical condition.

Schubert lauded his officers for running into the danger, and he issued condolences to families of the victims.

"We have a strong relationship with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh," Schubert said. "I just want to say that we grieve with you."



Saturday, October 27, 2018

What's Gab, the social platform used by the Pittsburgh shooting suspect? 

Right before a suspected gunman walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday, he logged onto Gab and wrote to his followers, "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I'm going in."

Gab has now removed the suspect's profile. But his digital footprint leaves little doubt that anti-Semitism fueled his act of terror.

The suspect, Robert Bowers, frequently targeted Jews in his posts. He complained that President Donald Trump was surrounded by too many Jewish people. He used anti-Semitic slurs and wrote about an "infestation." He posted pictures of his handgun collection.

So why was he using Gab? Well, the website bills itself as "the free speech social network."

Gab is relatively small. But it has an avid user base. It was founded by entrepreneur Andrew Torba about two years ago. The site says it now has nearly 800,000 users, meaning that it's tiny compared to Twitter or Facebook.

The site's claim to fame is that users can post almost anything — even if the content is racist — without being sanctioned. It puts nearly no restrictions on content.

In practice, this means it is a favorite of bigots and hate groups. People who get banned from mainstream sites like Twitter for hate speech or harassment sometimes end up on Gab.

"Gab's mission is very simple: to defend free expression and individual liberty online for all people," the site says.

On Saturday evening, some of that free expression translated to shows of support for Bowers. Some commenters even called him a hero. (Those posts were removed later in the evening.)

Gab has been on the defensive before. And it responded again on Saturday by going on offense, criticizing other social networks and arguing (on Twitter) that "the answer to 'bad' speech will always be MORE speech."

According to the company, it "backed up all user data from the account" after the attack happened, "then proceeded to suspend the account. We then contacted the FBI and made them aware of this account and the user data in our possession." Gab said it "unequivocally disavows and condemns all acts of terrorism and violence."

Later in the day, Gab's Twitter account said that someone from the company "just got off the phone with the US Attorney's Office."

Gab said in a tweet that "we are continuing to help with the investigation into today's horrific tragedy and have made every resource we have available in order to see that justice is served and law enforcement has what they need."

A spokesperson for Twitter said, "As of now, they have not done something that violates rules that has been flagged to us. So in that, they're like any other business."

The criticism of Gab is centered around the content that was allowed to live on the site before the attack.

Bowers' profile on Gab appeared to serve as an echo chamber for that racist, anti-Semitic and bigoted ideology. The content he discovered on the platform not only fueled his beliefs, but it was used to fester new branches of his bigoted ideology through other users' content and citations.

The suspect reposted a number of posts on his social media accounts that tell Jews to get out, or leave.

The suspect's anti-Semitism fueled other hate speech that he shared on Gab. He promoted a conspiracy theory that Jews were helping transport members of the migrant caravans in Central America. He repeatedly called the migrants "invaders," using language that's common on right-wing TV and radio.

"I have noticed a change in people saying 'illegals' that now say 'invaders'," read one post, six days before the shooting. "I like this."

The suspect repeatedly disparaged the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish refugee support group, by claiming that "HIAS likes to bring in invaders that kill our people." HIAS held a "National Refugee Shabbat" last weekend.

HIAS chief executive Mark Hetfield said on CNN Saturday night that "we're just devastated" by the shooting spree.

"The problem here is hate," Hetfield said. "The problem is, there is a growing space in this country for hate speech. And hate speech always turns into hate actions. And that's what we are seeing again and again this week."

In the wake of Saturday's shooting, PayPal banned Gab from using its platform to manage donations from users to help support Gab.

"When a site is explicitly allowing the perpetuation of hate, violence or discriminatory intolerance, we take immediate and decisive action," PayPal said in a statement.

Meantime, Gab argued that only one person was to blame for the mass murder: the suspect.

"Words are not bullets. Social media posts have a body count of zero," the company said in a tweet. "The sole responsibility for today's horrific actions lies with one person. We will do everything in our power to work with law enforcement to see that justice is served."



Friday, October 26, 2018

Officials: 2,000 measles vaccines administered since outbreak 

News 12 has learned that Rockland County has given about 300 MMR vaccines since a measles outbreak began, and a partnering health clinic has given out 1,700.

Dozens of families turned up Thursday to the county's Health Department, which was offering free MMR vaccines at the community outreach center. It was the latest in a series of free vaccine clinics offered by the county following the outbreak, which started at the beginning of this month.

The outbreak started after several people infected with the virus returned from Israel.

A spokesperson for the Hasidic Jewish community says he believes it spread so quickly because it's happening in a community that regularly gathers in large groups, so it has exposed more people.

It does appear that people are heeding the county Health Department's warning to get the potentially lifesaving MMR vaccine.

The number of confirmed cases is up to 18, with six more suspected.

There will be another free vaccine clinic Friday in Spring Valley.



Thursday, October 25, 2018

Learning about, and eating, exotic animals of the Bible 

It has always been important for Jews to write down recipes from our mothers and grandmothers, and serve those precious treats to our own children. Jewish foods are part of our mesorah, our historic oral tradition—as holy, often, as the Torah itself.

Now let's take it a step further. How do we know what meats are part of our mesorah, which animals and which breeds are considered kosher, and how do we know the steps to slaughtering them all in a kosher manner? It's not all written down in our holy books, as the laws of shechita (ritual slaughter), like the Talmud, must be passed down by people as well. There must be an unbroken line from one shochet (ritual slaughterer) to the next, one generation to another. Otherwise, the mesorah is lost forever.

Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin, an Israel-based rabbi/zoologist and author, popularly known as "the Zoo Rabbi," is the creator of a now four-year-old Biblical Museum of Natural History in Beit Shemesh that celebrates the animals mentioned in the Bible, displaying many of them as well. (Slifkin is also well-known as a blogger focusing on rationalism and creation. Some of his books have been banned by haredi communities, who cited his work as heretical due to his references to evolutionary biology, his suggesting that the six days of creation were not literal days and his offering of scientific conclusions that override the words of Jewish sages.)

The museum, however, now a part of Israel's cultural landscape, caters to every type of visitor to Israel, and in fact welcomes many from the ultra-Orthodox world. In fact, it's part-zoo, part-natural-history museum and part-educational center. He is committed primarily to providing Jewish education regarding the natural world and to show that Judaism is a living religion, as vibrant today as it was in the days of Abraham and Sarah, all the way down to their living ancestors: ourselves.

While it may not be one of his primary motivations, Slifkin's hosting of high-priced "exotic animal dinners," of which he has three rotating menus (biblical, non-biblical and legends from the sea), have generated quite a bit of excitement around, and interest in, his museum.

Of birds and beasts

Curiosity abounds. It seems that many people are interested, for a wide array of reasons, in keeping alive the treasure of the mesorah of more exotic kosher animals—those that are kosher but have either become less available or fallen out of favor, for one reason or another. Some of these foods were eaten at the "Biblical Feast of Birds and Beasts" in Teaneck, N.J., this past Sunday evening, which welcomed a packed group of 70 enthusiastic diners, with many paying as much as $500 a plate. "Biblical food is a totally new aspect of Jewish identity," said Slifkin, commenting on the wide variety of guests attending, whether they were there as museum supporters, kosher foodies or those who had just come for the spectacle.

Rabbi Daniel Senter, the rabbinic administrator for the Kof-K kosher supervisory agency, personally supervised the meal, which was prepared by W Kosher Catering, based in the Five Towns. Senter explained that his role, in this case, involved sourcing exotic animals for the dinner, and noted that everything served at the meal, however unusual it sounded, had an unbroken history of shechita.

Those who came to the Oct. 21 meal expecting to eat giraffe or locusts, however, were destined to go home disappointed. But isn't there an issue about where on the neck to shocht the giraffe? "That's a myth," Slifkin told the group. "Giraffe is kosher. We don't eat them because they're an endangered species. People would get very upset."

The foods served were not so much endangered as out of fashion, or economically unviable, for kosher consumers. So rarely, Slifkin explained, was venison suitable for kosher shechita (they have to be captured, not shot), that there was only one such supplier available for this gathering, in Upstate New York. At one point, the supplier decided not to sell his deer to Slifkin but to a regular customer instead (though he relented after he was offered an extra $100 per animal). Slifkin also shared that some of the goats he was going to serve ended up coughing, and on inspection, were discovered to have unclean lungs (not kosher), so he had to find others.

He also told the assembled that he dearly wanted to serve locusts, as he had at a prior dinner he hosted with a similar menu in Beit Shemesh (they're pareve, like fish), but he couldn't because they're not certified kosher according to the Kof-K. Instead, he replaced them with molded "chocolate locusts" on the dessert plates—making the distinction, albeit slyly, that they were not, in fact, "chocolate-covered locusts."

The meal itself

After an appetizer of matzah with za'atar (Bible hyssop) and focaccia studded with olives, Slifkin explained that matzah in the Bible was not the hard Manischewitz cracker so many American Jews are used to, but a soft, pillowy bread similar to pita or laffa. The hors d'oeuvres included a roasted slice of goose with a citrus glaze and a whole grilled quail, paired with a subtle pomegranate sauce. The quail—tender, delicate and smaller than can be believed—was beautifully prepared and sauced. Slifkin introduced the group to a remaining live, beautifully feathered bird, as he introduced the course.

Max Schachter, 11, who came to the meal with his father and older brother, picked up the tiny bird in his hands, like many of the other diners, and left just a pile of featherweight bones on his plate. Another diner confided that he had eaten the bones—and found them delicious.

"These quails have lived better lives than any chicken you've ever eaten," Slifkin told me, noting the disparaging conditions of today's slaughterhouses. "Chickens are basically bred to be so large they can't even support their own weight."

Next up was the savory and delicate "dove" soup, which tasted to some like turkey or duck.

"Rabbi Slifkin said he would tell us a little more about the soup after we ate it," said Elan Kornblum, a longtime kosher-restaurant magazine editor and creator of "Great Kosher Restaurant Foodies," a Facebook page with more than 48,000 followers. "He then let us on to a secret that what we ate wasn't exactly dove but pigeon, which he said was essentially the same bird and easier to get. It had the consistency of liver, but tasted a little like duck. It was interesting."

The main course included goat ragout with a fresh homemade, flat tagliatelle-style pasta with red sauce. This was the gamiest-tasting meat of the night, and the most grisly. Some at the table said they understood why it was served most often with strongly flavor jerk seasoning in Jamaican and other ethnic dishes, to perhaps break down the meat's connective tissues and cover its distinctive flavor. The tomato sauce was somewhat effective in this regard, but did allow the flavor to come through.

The goat was served alongside a delicate venison, prepared and served like a medium-rare steak. It tasted quite a bit like one as well. For many, the venison was the best bite of the night.

"All in all, it was a very classy dinner, where everyone enjoyed learning about the animals, the biblical history and more about the museum, which is trying to raise funds to open in a new, bigger location," said Kornblum. To continue raising funds—and to continue on his mission of education in biblical foods—Slifkin will be putting on another such dinner in March in Los Angeles.

"Simply put, the building has many limitations, especially with regard to capacity," said Slifkin, noting that during school holidays, the museum ceases doing publicity and has to turn away customers due to space constraints, adding that the museum just welcomed its 50,000th visitor. "In 2019, we are moving to a new, beautiful and vastly larger home. … We will display more and superior exhibits, and there will also be classrooms and opportunities for a variety of additional programs."



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Swiss kosher butcher shop vandalized 4 times in one month 

A kosher butcher shop in Basel, Switzerland, has been vandalized four times in one month in what local Jews are condemning as an anti-Semitic campaign of intimidation.

In one of the attacks, the unidentified perpetrators removed the letter J from the German-language word for Jewish from a metal sign over the shop, as well as two of the Hebrew-language letters for the word kosher.

In the latest incident, on Sunday, the shop's window display was shattered, the Swiss-Jewish newspaper Tachles reported Monday.

Leopold Stefansky, the president of the Basel Jewish community, called the incidents "anti-Semitic attacks," the news website 20Min reported.

Jonathan Kreutner, the secretary general of the FSCI federation of Swiss Jews, told 20Min that the incidents are "generating concern" among members of the community.

Police are investigating the incidents, the news website reported.

Stefansky said the community is considering hiring a security firm and a video surveillance system, "but it costs," he told 20Min.

In 2016, the Swiss Interior Ministry's Service for the Fight against Racism published a report saying that Switzerland's Jews need to pay for their own security costs even though doing so is really the government's responsibility.

Following an outcry, a motion calling for the federal government to fund the security costs of Swiss Jews, estimated at about $450,000 annually, was adopted by the lower and upper chambers of the Swiss parliament and approved by the government earlier this year.



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