Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Chelsea set to take legal action over Harry Kane ‘Hasidic Jew’ shirt 


Chelsea football club are set to take legal action against unofficial vendours who are selling abusive t-shirts picturing Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane as a Hasidic Jew.

The Times reports the Premier League champions are now looking to halt the sales of the shirt – along with other offensive t-shirts – which are available to buy prior to home games at Stamford Bridge.

The shirt in question depicts dressed as a Hasidic Jew with the slogan: "He's one of your own", in reference to Spurs fans' chant for the England striker who came through the Club's academy.

Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust secretary Katrina Law said: "It's hugely disappointing that in 2016 anyone could think this was acceptable.
There's often an edge to football humour but there is also a line which we're sure the vast majority of Chelsea fans would recognise. "We trust appropriate actions will be taken by Hammersmith and Fulham Council Trading Standards and by Chelsea."
Hammersmith & Fulham Council's trading standards have today vowed to stop the sales, with a spokesperson saying: "We will not tolerate the sale of offensive and anti-Semitic merchandise on the streets of our borough. 

"Trading Standards officers will continue their work, with the support of the club and their fans, to stop the sale of these deeply unpleasant T-shirts."


NY Fashion Week: Jewish prayer shawl gets moment of glam 

Has the Jewish prayer shawl become a fashion statement?

An unidentified men's fashion enthusiast was spotted wearing a real tallit — not of the faux H&M variety — last week outside a Tommy Hilfiger event in Manhattan, Racked reported Monday.

Vogue photographer Phil Oh captured the New York Fashion Week: Men's participant on Thursday wearing a black wool coat and a black beanie to go with the dark-striped prayer shawl.

The tallit has long been an inspiration for retail fashion. Last month, H&M offered a near-tallit scarf that it subsequently apologized for. The company also sold a tallit-esque poncho back in 2011. Old Navy had a similar cardigan last year.

But real Jewish prayer gear hitting the fashion circuit in New York — not to mention the webpages of Vogue — seems like a new development.

So when New York Fashion Week, the main event, starts next week (Feb. 10-18), can we expect to see teffilin on the runway? Anything's possible in fashion — as Jean Paul Gaultier's 1993 Hasidic-chic winter collection proves.


Monday, February 08, 2016

U.K. Jewish schools receive bomb threats 

The British security organization Community Security Trust (CST) said that bomb threats were received by Jewish schools in the United Kingdom on Monday.

The threats came in the form of voice messages claiming that the schools would be bombed, with Arabic music in the background. Six schools, including both Jewish and non-Jewish schools, received the threats on Monday. The Metropolitan Police Service checked all the schools and found no evidence of explosives.

In the past month, a number of other schools received such threats in various parts of the U.K., in addition to five schools in Paris. Although British police are not calling these threats credible, CST still advised Jewish schools receiving such messages to implement their security procedures and searches. CST reported that 2015 saw the highest-ever number of anti-Semitic incidents in one year in the U.K. More than 900 cases of verbal abuse, other offensive behavior, and anti-Semitic graffiti were reported. There were also a few minor physical assaults, and four serious/violent attacks.


Sunday, February 07, 2016

Thousands of ill-educated yeshiva boys 

Each year, approximately 32,000 boys in New York City are not being taught science, history and geography among other subjects. If they’re lucky to be under the age of 13, they get 90 minutes of English and math, taught by untrained and unlicensed teachers.

Alarmingly, when these boys turn 14, most of them spend 14 hours a day in school, from around 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., yet learn no general subjects at all. An estimated 17,500 additional boys attending schools in Rockland and Orange Counties are subjected to the same.

That is because they are attending ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic yeshivas, private religious schools where the primary focus is on Judaic studies, almost to the exclusion of non-Judaic studies. (This problem is most prevalent among boys. Girls aren’t expected to engage in intensive Torah learning, so they are allowed to study secular studies for the practical benefits.)

Data on the problem is scarce due to a lack of oversight, but graduates from most Hasidic institutions will corroborate that boys do not receive a substantial general education and that their schedule looked much like the one outlined above.

You might think that this is their hard luck. That these boys are attending private schools, so there is no way to intervene.

But that’s not the case. New York State requires non-public schools to teach a variety of subjects including English, math, science, history, geography, art and more. The state has delegated the task of ensuring that non-public schools are meeting requirements to its superintendents.

Yet for the past three decades, neither the state nor the city has done anything to remedy the problem and enforce standards in these yeshivas. On the contrary, the government has been pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into these very institutions with little to no oversight to ensure that the funds are serving their intended purpose.

As a graduate of Belz, a Hasidic yeshiva in Brooklyn, I can personally attest to the lack of general education and to the way this handicaps Hasidic students like myself. It was that experience that motivated me to found Yaffed, an advocacy group dedicated to improving the system for the next generation of children.

Soon after I formed the organization in 2012, I met with various city and state officials to alert them of the problem. Yet nothing was done. In the intervening months and years, many media outlets have begun to focus on the education shortfall, giving the DOE ample opportunities to learn more. Neither the state nor the city took any action.

It wasn’t until I retained a top attorney — and issued a letter signed by 52 former students and parents of current students alleging that the yeshivas failed to meet state standards — that the city’s Education Department heeded our calls and announced that they would conduct an investigation.

Yet we are now six months into the investigation and the DOE has little to show for it. I’m often asked by concerned parents and citizens about the progress of the probe. They want to know whether the yeshivas are cooperating, what the DOE’s timeline is, who from the DOE is on top of it and what the preliminary findings are. These are questions the DOE has yet to answer.

I’ve met several times with representatives from the DOE who've insisted that they take this matter seriously. While I hope that that is true, in all the meetings I've had with them I have not received anything more concrete than those vague reassurances.

Just imagine if one child in each of these 39 yeshivas had suffered from food poisoning, or if the water in these yeshivas were found to be contaminated. We’d expect a thorough examination by a qualified team of experts with unlimited access to the schools in question. We’d expect to see the government acting swiftly for the well-being of the children. And we’d expect to see immediate changes as well as greater measures to prevent this from happening again.

For some unknown reason, perhaps due to fear of the voting bloc, that’s not happening here. Meantime, millions of taxpayer dollars pour into the yeshivas while the students don’t get an adequate education. Consequently, there is skyrocketing poverty among graduates of these institutions, who are forced to rely on government assistance just to get by.

We need a public outcry, and we need to hold our Department of Education, our mayor and our governor accountable for turning a blind eye. Most importantly, we need to ensure that the children in these schools are swiftly provided with the education they deserve.



Saturday, February 06, 2016

Herrmann wants to bring local voice to Albany 

Bill Herrmann never expected to find himself in politics. But now that he’s in, he’s not shying away. After just two years and one month as the Town of Mamakating supervisor, Herrmann has decided to run for the New York State Senate, for a seat held by 17-year incumbent, Senator John Bonacic.

Most politicians in Albany have never run a small government body, said Herrmann, who's running as a Democrat and Rural Heritage Party member. They haven’t seen the strain caused by unfunded mandates, he said, and don’t often hear the public’s complaints face-to-face. After handling every possible complaint, Herrmann is confident he can take residents’ voices to Albany as senator for the 42nd District, which covers Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware counties.

“I think that I have a real hands-on, grassroots idea… of what’s going on,” Herrmann said. “And you know, I’m not an Albany insider. I am in touch with what’s going on here.”

Herrmann, who owns a home inspection business, first ran unsuccessfully for supervisor in 2011, when Mamakating was reeling from what he says were fraudulent dealings between local officials and developers of a 396-unit Hasidic housing development in the 400-resident Village of Bloomingburg. Herrmann changed his major party affiliation from Republican to Democrat in order to run for the independent Rural Heritage party, which opposed the development and the circumstances behind it. Herrmann is married to Republican Sullivan County legislator Catherine Owens, who won an upset victory in her first election in November.

“If I go to Albany, I’m not going to be walking in lockstep with the Democrats, but I’m not going to turn around and walk in lockstep with the Republicans,” Herrmann said.

Brett Broge, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Committee, said he met with Herrmann last week and thinks the supervisor is a strong candidate despite his lack of experience. Herrmann has taken on some tough fights in Mamakating, Broge said, and will fight government corruption.

“I think the culture in New York right now is to not have career politicians who are tainted by the corruption in Albany,” Broge said.

Broge's committee will make an official endorsement later on, once it's clear whether Herrmann has a primary challenger. Sullivan and Ulster Democratic committees did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bonacic has not announced a re-election bid.

"I love my job and I love serving the people,” he said in an emailed statement. “At the appropriate time, I will announce my intentions, as I always have in the past."



Friday, February 05, 2016

Hasidic Jews help save woman who leapt off George Washington Bridge 

Volunteers from a Hasidic Jewish enclave in New York state helped rescue a 25-year-old woman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

Heshy Gottdiener, 36, and others from New Square were searching for the body of a 46-year-old man from their Rockland County village who had leapt from the bridge on Jan. 22 when they saw the woman jump on Tuesday, NorthJersey.com reported. 

The group, which had hired two boats and divers to look for the body of David Ahronowitz, called 911.

Scott Koen, who was helming one of the boats, helped guide a New York Police Department helicopter to the vicinity of where the female jumper landed.

The woman had broken her legs and sustained significant trauma, but a Port Authority spokesman told NorthJersey.com that she was conscious at the hospital.

Koen, 58, a volunteer firefighter from Rutherford, New Jersey, was also involved in the "Miracle on the Hudson" rescue in 2009, helping passengers off the US Airways Flight 1549 with a dive ladder on the back of his boat.

Since 2009, only one of 96 jumpers had survived the 200-foot plunge off the bridge, according to NorthJersey.com.

As to the continued search for Ahronowitz, Gottdiener told NorthJersey.com, "We know a person has to be buried in order that the soul should rest in peace."


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Yeshiva Talpios Goes BIG! - Major Quadruple Funding Campaign Attempts to Raise $500k for Yeshiva Talpios 

Donate here and watch your money grow!


Hillary Gets Rabbi's Question at Debate — Bernie Says He's 'Man of Faith' 

At a New Hampshire town hall meeting, Bernie Sanders described himself as a man of faith and Hillary Rodham Clinton opened up to a rabbi about her insecurities.

The town hall in Derry, broadcast live on Wednesday and moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, came six days before the New Hampshire presidential primary vote and just days after Sanders almost upset Clinton, the putative front-runner, drawing to a virtual tie with her in the Iowa caucuses.
“You’re Jewish, but you’ve said that you’re not actively involved with organized religion,” Cooper asked Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont vying with Clinton, the former secretary of state, for the Democratic presidential nod.

Sanders, who until now has been hesitant to discuss his religious beliefs or his Jewish upbringing, said faith is a guiding principle for him. “You know, everybody practices religion in a different way,” he said. “To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.”

Sanders said he expressed his faith through the sense of responsibility he had for others. “My spirituality is that we are all in this together and that when children go hungry, when veterans sleep out on the street, it impacts me,” he said. “That’s my very strong spiritual feeling.”

A question for Clinton came from Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett, who helms Temple Beth Abraham in Nashua, N.H. He quoted a teaching by Rabbi Simcha Bunim, a Hasidic sage of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

“Every person has to have two pockets and in each pocket they have to carry a different note,” Spira-Savett said, quoting Bunim. “And the note in one pocket says the universe was created for me. And in the other pocket the note says I am just dust and ashes.”

He then asked Clinton: “How do you cultivate the ego, the ego that we all know you must have, a person must have to be the leader of the free world, and also the humility to recognize that we know that you can’t be expected to be wise about all the things that the president has to be responsible for?”

Clinton launched into a reflection on her difficulties living in the public eye. She contrasted her struggles “about ambition and humility, about service and self-gratification” with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who she said “was such a natural, knew exactly what he wanted to do.”
Clinton said her struggle to balance ego and humility is a daily one. “And I don’t know that there is any ever absolute answer, like, ‘OK, universe, here I am, watch me roar,’ or, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t do it, it’s just overwhelming, I have to retreat.’”

She said she takes advice from faith leaders, including rabbis who send her notes on Jewish religious teachings.

Clinton quoted a Jesuit reading of the Christian parable of the prodigal son. “Be grateful for your limitations,” she said. “Know that you have to reach out to have more people be with you, to support you, to advise you, listen to your critics, answer the questions.”

Spira-Savett’s Bunim citation left an impression on Clinton; she returned to it toward the end of the town hall when she confessed to hankering for anonymity, to longing for time with friends.

“They keep me grounded,” she said. “They keep me honest. They deflate my head. They deal with the universe in one pocket and the dust and ashes in the other.”



Sullivan elections commissioner resigning 


Sullivan County Board of Elections Commissioner Ann Prusinski will be resigning, she said Wednesday.

Prusiniski’s decision comes as the county Board of Elections has been thrust under the spotlight because of allegations of anti-Semitism by Hasidic voters and supporters of developer Shalom Lamm in Village of Bloomingburg elections.

Just this week, the BOE and 10 Hasidic voters reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit. The Hasidim alleged discrimination when the BOE tried to cancel their registrations in early 2015. Not only will the county pay some $550,000 to settle the suit, a federal monitor will monitor the Board of Elections for the next five years.

Prusinski, the Democratic Commissioner since 2012, said that “because of the sensitive nature” of the situation, she would have no comment other than to say “I will be resigning.”

As for when, all she would say is “that’s still a matter of negotiation.”

Her lawyer, Bob Isseks of Middletown, would only say, "It's clear to me she was an excellent commissioner and didn't do anything wrong."

At least one candidate has publicly emerged for her position. Former Sullivan County Legislator Cora Edwards on Wednesday sent a letter to the Sullivan County Democratic Committee announcing her candidacy.

“After due diligence and research, I am putting my name forward for the position of the Democratic Commissioner for the Sullivan County Board of Elections,” she wrote. “I feel I have the best professional qualifications for this position, and I’m writing this letter to ask for your support and vote.”



Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Hasidic Jews Watch "Fiddler on the Roof" For the First Time 


Bloomingburg mayor, trustee seek re-election 

Bloomingburg’s mayor and a village trustee have filed their paperwork to run for re-election in March.

Mayor Frank Gerardi and trustee James Johnson will run again on the Rural Heritage ticket, an independent party that was built on its opposition to developer Shalom Lamm’s construction of a 396-unit Hasidic townhouse development within the village. The last two village elections were decided in a courtroom, after allegations of voter fraud and religious discrimination led to fierce legal battles. This election arrives under the shadow of a settlement reached this week between the Sullivan County Board of Elections and 10 Hasidic voters from Bloomingburg who alleged religious discrimination after the BOE tried to cancel their voter registrations. A federal monitor will be assigned to watch the Sullivan County Board of Elections for the next five years. Many residents in Bloomingburg and its surrounding Town of Mamakating have voiced discontent over the county’s decision to settle.

“I think we’re going to face the same voter fraud that the Sullivan Board of Elections backed off of,” Johnson said.

Two years of controversies and lawsuits surrounding Chestnut Ridge have not been enough to dissuade the two officials from trying to continue in their positions. Gerardi said he is proud of all the things his administration has done to straighten up the village and increase public safety. He hired a code inspector and they have worked to increase property inspections and cite code violations. He has also planted flowers, added signs and paved the village hall parking lot. Right now he is chasing a sidewalk improvement grant.

“It’s all the little things,” Gerardi said.

Bloomingburg has 293 registered voters as of Tuesday, with the last day to register March 4. Only two deeds have been filed out of 45 available homes in the highly scrutinized Chestnut Ridge development.

The campaign is a shot in the dark right now with no announced challengers, Gerardi said, but they will know by next Tuesday, the last day to file a petition to run.

“Whatever will be, will be,” Gerardi said. “I can’t control it. I can only hope for the best.”



Tuesday, February 02, 2016

$575K settlement in Sullivan discrimination case brought by Hasidic voters 

The Sullivan County Board of Elections will be under the watchful eye of the federal government for the next five years and will have to pay more than $500,000 as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by Hasidic voters who accused the county of discrimination.

The settlement will require the county to pay $550,000 in legal fees and give each of the 10 Village of Bloomingburg residents who were part of the federal suit $2,500 each - or $25,000 total, according to the settlement documents filed in federal court in White Plains Monday.

The settlement is meant to stop the rising cost of the lawsuit, according to court documents.

The county's insurance company will reimburse the county for any payments made as part of the settlement, according to a resolution approved by the legislature in a 7-1 vote on Thursday. It has yet to be signed by the court.

Legislator Cathy Owens, the wife of Mamakating Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann, was the only one to vote against the settlement.

The settlement will also require both sides to appoint a person as monitor.

The monitor will be tasked with reviewing the questionnaire given to people who've had their voter registration challenged to make sure it complies with state election law and that it doesn't "impose an unnecessary burden on the constitutional right to vote."

The monitor will also review any information in an investigation of a person's voter registration and make recommendations for what the board should do. If the board disagrees with the monitor, the voter can then take their case immediately to a federal judge instead of having to first file a lawsuit in county court.

The board of elections will be under the watch of the independent monitor for five years, according to the settlement.

NYC attorney Steven Engel, who represented the Bloomingburg voters, said this was the first time he has heard of the federal court monitoring a county board of elections. He said he was pleased with the settlement.

"This is a victory not only for Bloomingburg's Hasidic Jewish community, but citizens of every faith," Engel said.

Legislature Chairman Luis Alvarez said the county could benefit from an independent monitor.

"It's just unbelievable when someone comes from the outside and you see something you didn't see before," Alvarez said.

This settlement brings an end to a federal suit filed by 10 Bloomingburg residents who said Elections Commissioners Ann Prusinski and now-deceased Rodney Gaebel, canceled more than 150 Hasidic voter registrations in early 2015 to prevent Hasidim from voting in the village election. The county has denied taking any discriminatory actions against voters.

The county, who was represented by outgoing county attorney Sam Yasgur, hired Middletown attorneys Bob Isseks and Alex Smith of Isseks and Smith to represent Prusinski in the lawsuit. Smith previously said this was done when a government perceives one of its employees did not act in its best interest.


Monday, February 01, 2016

Are American Haredi Women Leaning In? 

I was surprised and saddened by Livia Levine's recent article in the Sisterhood, "Can Haredi Women Learn to Lean In." It is disappointing and disheartening that Haredi women in Israeli don't see themselves as competent enough to be managers and surprised they viewed being a manager as a male role, considering that many Haredi men aren't in the workforce at all. Levine concludes that Haredi women Israeli are not capable of leaning-in. What about Haredi or right-wing Orthodox women in America. Are they leaning in?
The answer is yes and no.

In my fifteen years of working in Orthodox women' higher education in America, I haven't encountered that same negative attitude among American Haredi women about their own capabilities that Levine found in Israel. On the contrary, I do see a growing number of Orthodox women in America "leaning in." In mainly mid-size or small businesses, especially those geared towards the Orthodox community, women are achieving impressive levels of success. The growth of the Jewish Woman Entrepreneur, a non-profit organization that provides support, networking, education and mentoring to (mostly Orthodox) Jewish women in business, is testament to this rise. It has a network of over 1,200 women, some of whom are presiding over multi-million dollar companies.

The idea of Orthodox women occupying important professional positions is becoming more and more mainstream. In women's magazines that cater to the right-wing Orthodox and Hasidic populations (such as "Mishpacha Family First" and "Ami Living") articles profiling successful Orthodox women in business and on work-family balance have become commonplace. However, American Orthodox women aren't reaching CEO level positions in great numbers. Not because they don't believe themselves competent, but because they are not aspiring, or being encouraged to aspire for these positions. The Haredi Orthodox community is vehemently opposed to the feminist movement, believing it synonymous with women prioritizing their careers to the detriment of their families. To counteract the perceived threats to family life, Orthodox girls' educators place great stress on the importance of prioritizing family life and choosing a career path that is consonant with being a mother. As a result, Orthodox women do generally prioritize their families and choose family-friendly career tracks, which is a legitimate and commendable choice (a choice that arguably most women make). However, some Orthodox women are reluctant to pursue opportunities that could actually be very doable for a working mother because they are conditioned to think small. These women may only be exposed to limited professional options and choices, and would likely not even know what it means to "lean in."

Similarly, while some Orthodox women choose a career they love, others choose a job track they view as practical in terms of earning potential and family friendly hours, without considering if they actually enjoy that line of work or are a good fit. Since they have been told that their families should be their primary source of fulfillment, these women believe that it doesn't matter if they like their work. I oftentimes encounter students who believe that whether or not they will enjoy their jobs is irrelevant because it is "just a job." This is an erroneous approach that could lead to feelings of unfulfillment, low self-esteem, and general misery. It damages a woman's chances of success in the professional world and family life.

Certainly, Orthodox women are doing what Sheryl Sandberg calls, "leaving before they leave"; the phenomenon of women turning down opportunities because they are thinking about starting a family in the future, even though they are not doing so imminently. Young, single Orthodox women opt out of good opportunities because they are hoping to get married and start a family soon, even though they're not even dating anyone at the moment, and it could be years before they have children. A student of mine turned down a prestigious graduate program because she feared that maybe in the course of the program, she would get married to a man living in another city and would have to move.

Levine presented her students with the low percentages of women in CEO positions. If we're defining "leaning in" as aspiring for Fortune 500 CEO positions, then perhaps the answer to our question about American Orthodox women leaning in is no. The reality is that being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company is a lofty goal that is improbable for most Orthodox women, or Orthodox men for that matter. It requires a level of dedication, in sheer number of hours, that is not consonant with an Orthodox lifestyle, both in terms of the emphasis on family and the time obligations of Shabbat and holidays (This relates to the global debate of can women "have it all").

That said, there are many role models for Orthodox women who are achieving success in the professional world and in family life. This will likely become more and more commonplace in the coming years. What remains to be seen is if and how the growth of Orthodox women in leadership positions in the professional world will impact the structure of Orthodox communal life.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Scholars Are Finally Tackling Yiddish Children's Literature 

In the 1921 Yiddish children’s book “The Wind That Got Angry,” by Moyshe Kulbak, an “old, wandering wind” finds himself booted out of his village when a thaw sets in. He tries to find somewhere in the woods to rest. He’s tired and wants to sleep, but no one wants him around. The oak tree he settles on kicks him away, so he finds a rock to lie on. The rock calls him a tramp. He finds a cozy hotel, but the innkeeper curses after him for peeping into the doorway.

His frustration builds, until finally “he stood up, like a strongman, in the middle of a field, rolled up his sleeves, girded his loins and began to blow with all his might.” The wind begins to “cry like a child.” The blizzard he whips up causes such a frenzy that “even the rich people didn’t know what to do.”

Then the wind hears small children wailing to their mother out of fear, and he chokes up. Their mother calls out to the wind to stop crying, but the wind throws a pile of snow at her face. She asks him to stop again, this time for the sake of the children, and he immediately quiets down.
When Miriam Udel, a professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Emory University, stumbled upon “The Wind That Got Angry” at the New York Public Library, she noticed the microfiche stamp was dated a few months before her birthday, in 1976. Before she even delved in, she felt it was a sign, like the book had been waiting there for her. And it turned out that even as an adult, she related emotionally to the story.

She has two boys, ages 11 and 8, and a newborn baby, and felt the pain of this mother.

“I’ve always said that tantrums are like weather systems,” she said. “They’re largely out of control, and you wait until it’s over, and then the sun comes out.”

“The Wind That Got Angry” is one of the translations Udel is including in her upcoming anthology, “Honey on the Page: An Annotated Anthology of Yiddish Children’s Literature,” to be published by NYU Press in 2018.

“It’s an understudied field,” she said, adding that in order to examine it, “we have to be children again and we have to gain fluency.”

Udel and two colleagues, Marshall Duke and Melvin Konner, received the 2015 Interdisciplinary Faculty Fellowship at Emory University to tackle, learn and analyze the history of children’s books printed in Yiddish from 1912 to 1974, with the bulk of the studies focusing on the interwar period.
They just finished the first semester of their three-year study, which began with trying to grasp the basic traditions of Yiddish children’s literature. Udel compiled an email list and flagged down people in the hallways to recruit a small group of faculty, graduate students and anyone else to read selected stories and articles, and to have a discussion every other week.

“I feel energized,” Udel said. “There was not a boring week, even when people came in and felt the literature they read wasn’t the most stimulating.” Now she is gearing up to begin the second portion of the scholarship: a comparative look at the works across Europe. Eventually there could be a documentary.

Yiddish children’s literature first appeared in the later part of the 19th century. Many point to Sholem Alecheim’s “The Pocketknife” from 1887, about a boy who suffers guilt after stealing a pocketknife, though Sholem Alecheim didn’t originally write it for children. The industry, however, didn’t begin to thrive until the 1920s and ’30s in both Europe and America, mainly due to a rise of secular Jewish schools questioning traditional thought. The end of World War I led to the displacement of children, and therefore to an urgency to provide them with educational materials.Furthermore, the rise of children’s literature is attributed to a change in how society viewed and treated children, specifically developing the notion that there is such a thing as a “childhood.”

According to Gennady Estraikh, Kerstin Hoge, and Mikhail Krutikov, the editors of a forthcoming anthology titled “Children and Yiddish Literature From Early Modernity to Post-Modernity,” due for publication by Legenda in February, society “ignored children’s interests, abilities and environment, and, like the community as a whole, had no conception of children as essentially different from adults.” By the time the ’20s and ’30s came along, Yiddish books, poetry and periodicals for children could be found in Poland, Russia, the United States and Latin America.



Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thousands Of Jewish Women Gather For Hasidic Conference In Brooklyn 


More than 3,000 Hasidic Jewish women leaders from 81 countries are gathering in New York City this weekend for a conference to reconnect, build fellowship and discuss their approach to Judaism.

The conference is organized for women emissary-representatives of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement known around the world for its outreach efforts. Chabad sends emissaries — typically husband-and-wife teams — to all corners of the globe to serve as resources and representatives for all Jews, regardless of their affiliation. Women at the conference are coming from places as near as Long Island and as far away as Thailand. The five-day event started Thursday night and runs through Monday morning.

Dini Freundlich, 41, is a conference attendee who traveled all the way from China with two of her young daughters. Freundlich, who is originally from South Africa, runs a Jewish day school with her husband in Beijing, where the couple and their six children serve as pillars for a small, revolving Jewish community. Freundlich says her husband is the first rabbi in the Chinese capital's history.

“Coming to this conference gives you a sense that you’re not alone,” Freundlich told International Business Times. “You recharge your personal energy and refocus on why you’re doing what you do. Our lives as emissaries are so communal, it’s nice to be at this conference and have a bit of time where your not working as the giver.”

While their mothers attend workshops on how to better serve their communities and regain a spiritual commitment to their faith, Chabad girls age 8 to 14 will attend a concurrent conference for their age group. This year, girls will focus on the themes of being kind to one another and developing  a love for the Jewish people.

Held at Lubavitch world headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the conference is supported by many local residents who contribute in whatever ways they can. Some host dozens of guests in their homes, while others volunteer for other services, like helping to record and broadcast the sessions all over the world.

Detty Leverton, a Crown Heights resident who is helping with the event, says that it’s a privilege to serve the attendees.

“What they do is amazing; they sacrifice so much to make the world a better place, and they give so much of their personal lives to the community,” Leverton told Chabad.org.

“People in Crown Heights have an opportunity to host them, treat them, help them, make things go more smoothly for them, give them a little hospitality, a place they can put their feet up — where they don’t have to worry about anything,” she added. “They can just come in the door and know that their needs will be taken care of. It’s a small gesture that we can offer them, saying, ‘We’re rooting for you, we support you, we respect you, we really care about you.’”

The Chabad movement was founded by a rabbi in Lithuania in 1775, later moving its headquarters to Warsaw. In 1940, after the Germans overran Poland, the movement's headquarters shifted to Brooklyn. The name "Chabad" is a Hebrew acronym for the words "wisdom, understanding and knowledge." The organization's philosophy, which emphasizes learning, is based on both classical Judaic texts and also Jewish mysticism. There are more than 3,600 Chabad institutions around the world. While current estimates are hard to come by, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reported in 2005 that about 1 million Jews attend Chabad services each year, though fewer are members of the movement.

A full weekend of activities and workshops ends on with a gala banquet on Sunday night, followed by a visit to sites important to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement on Monday morning.



Friday, January 29, 2016

Satmar rabbi to visit Israel with money for army draft opponents 

One of the two rabbinical leaders of the anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect of Hasidim is due to visit Israel bearing cash for anti-draft yeshivas that boycott IDF draft notices, and for ultra-Orthodox students injured or beaten during anti-draft protests.

Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, who has tens of thousands of followers in the US, is due for a 24-hour visit for a family celebration. He has called for a list of yeshivas whose directors refuse to comply with Israel Defense Forces draft orders, Channel 2 reported. Many ultra-Orthodox yeshivas allow their students to go to army induction centers to go through the process of applying for deferments, which eventually become exemptions. 

In a letter to yeshiva heads, Teitelbaum has also asked for the names of yeshiva students who have suffered injuries in anti-draft protests.
Both groups are to benefit from a fund at the rabbi's disposal.

Jerusalem police on Tuesday arrested six ultra-Orthodox Israelis demonstrating in the capital against the detention of two Haredi men who failed to show up at the army induction center to enlist.

In December, thousands of Haredi protesters demonstrated against the draft. Several protesters clashed with police, who in turn sprayed tear gas at the rioters.

Many in the ultra-Orthodox community shun the mandatory national service that applies to most Israelis, and the community has historically enjoyed blanket exemptions from the army in favor of religious seminary studies.

Reforms passed in the Knesset in 2014 that sought to do away with the exemptions and gradually increase ultra-Orthodox recruitment met fierce opposition from many in the community.

Rabbinic leaders of the community view military service as a threat to their way of life.

In late November 2015, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Equal Service Law that dramatically rolled back the 2014 reforms and scrapped collective penalties imposed if annual quotas for ultra-Orthodox draftees were not met.

A number of ultra-Orthodox recruits have been disowned by their families and ultra-Orthodox soldiers often complain of harassment and violence by community members.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Florida Police Investigate Bomb Threat Directed at Jewish Community Center 

Police in the city of Maitland, Florida are investigating a bomb threat directed at a local Jewish community center, Florida’s Fox 35 reported on Tuesday.

Police said a call threatening to detonate an explosive device was received by the Jewish Academy of Orlando, full of children, at around 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

The facility — which includes the Jewish Academy, the Roth Family JCC, the Holocaust Center and Federation offices — was evacuated and all campus operations were suspended for the remainder of the day, according to the Orlando-based website Wesh.com. Students were taken to the nearby Lake Sybelia Elementary School, where they waited to be picked up by their parents, who were informed of an “emergency” at the school.

Officers and bomb-sniffing dogs searched the Jewish center but found no explosives, according to Fox 35.

Lt. Louis Grindle said officials are keeping an eye on the Jewish Academy of Orlando to “make sure there’s no suspicious vehicles and things like that.” He said figuring out if the bomb threat is serious or a mere prank is difficult.

“It could be someone who’s trying to make the threat and scare people,” he explained. “It could be a student from somewhere, sometimes when they don’t want to go to school that’s what the big thing was bomb threats.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando released a statement saying all campus buildings will resume normal operations on Wednesday morning, while local and federal authorities continue to investigate.

“We commend Maitland Police and Fire Rescue personnel for their outstanding response to this situation,” said Olga Yorish, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando. “Their professionalism and guidance enabled us to conduct a safe and orderly evacuation. We know that hundreds of community members come to our campus daily, and we want to assure you that we will continue to take every measure necessary to ensure a safe and secure Jewish Community Campus.”

The Mandel Jewish Community Center in Palm Beach Gardens was also evacuated on Tuesday after receiving a similar bomb threat, Fox 35 reported.

Anyone with information on the bomb threat is asked to call the Maitland Police Department.



Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Kiryas Joel is a small village of about 23,000 people in Orange County, New York. Further defined, it is a municipality within a municipality much like so many other villages in the state. New York, unlike neighboring New Jersey, doesn’t just nestle one town next to another. Instead of Mahwah (one town) bordering Ramsey (another town) and Franklin Lakes (another town) in New Jersey, any given New York “town” could have a town within the town, a city within the town, and a village or two and/or a hamlet or two all within that same town. Sound confusing? Well it is.

Layers and layers of bureaucracy and politics plague New York as a direct result of this unnecessary municipal structure, serving up a recipe of “red tape” and “patronage” on steroids. Residents suffer additional tax burdens. Heightened quarrels erupt over municipal services, education and the division of property. And it is a lightning rod for brutal in-fighting among “town” residents, who may have one overall town supervisor overseeing the varied villages/hamlets/town/city, and then a few individual mayors. Who gets more pieces of the pie? And why?

Those who live in Kiryas Joel, which is a village within the Town of Monroe, want more, but others who reside in the town (some from the Village of Monroe and the Village of Harriman) don’t want to provide it. Perhaps, given the lunacy inherent in this municipal structure, it is understandable why the Harriman and Monroe village persons are adverse to turning over more of that desired pie, but the tactics – and the message spread by the opposition – is unfair and, in many manners, inaccurate. More so, the decision sought against the Kiryas Joel residents who seek land annexation can be summed up in one legal word: unconstitutional.

Kiryas Joel is unlike nearly every other municipality in New York; it’s unlike nearly every other in the country. For starters, it is comprised of virtually one type of people – meaning there is almost no ethnic/religious diversity whatsoever. Almost one hundred percent of the Kiryas Joel residents are Hasidic Jews; even more constrained, they are Hasidic Jews who are part of the Satmar Hasidic dynasty. English is not the first language of the vast majority of these people – it is Yiddish that they primarily speak at home. Their uniformity is not limited to language. Their dress, hairstyles, and style of living are fundamentally identical. Mostly, they live in town house/condo type homes built on small parcels of property, in a very close-knit community. Their attire is plain, notably men wearing white dress shirts with dark pants; women adorn long dresses.

Family sizes are large – an average of 6 – 7 immediate family members per household. It is not unusual for a couple to have 10 or more children. Divorce is practically non-existent.

Critics of Kiryas Joel argue that its poverty rate is the highest in New York, if not the nation. And that their usage of food stamps is also at the top level. Yet, there are no homeless people on the streets and there is virtually no crime in Kiryas Joel. Kids apparently don’t even play hooky.

These oddities, as many find them – or just differences in culture as all should view them – are the backdrop for the plight of those who seek annexation of property on behalf of Kiryas Joel. The spin doctors who oppose their annexation request have cleverly attacked it at its core—they have redefined, to the public, what the legal word “annexation” means in this circumstance. They have misled the public into thinking that Kiryas Joel residents are seeking something that they are not; they have weaved a tale that Kiryas Joel is attempting to seize land that is not owned by them. That Kiryas Joel is attempting some twisted form of eminent domain to overtake property that is not theirs. This is false.

Kiryas Joel is indeed seeking to “annex” property from the Town of Monroe. Very specifically, the village is asking for an annexation of a 507 acre parcel of land. The Town of Monroe, by a 4 to 1 governing body vote in September, permitted a 164 acre annexation instead. The village is appealing that decision in the New York appellate courts.



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reporter Adrienne Sanders to discuss yeshivas on PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly 

Journal News/lohud reporter Adrienne Sanders will appear on PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly this weekend to discuss secular education in Hasidic yeshivas.

An investigation conducted by Sanders in November revealed that, contrary to state law, some Rockland County Hasidic yeshivas fail to offer general studies such as English, mathematics and science. Following Sanders' report, parents of students in several East Ramapo Hasidic yeshivas, and former students who attended them, filed a class-action civil rights lawsuit that accuses education officials of failing to provide boys with a sound, basic education.

Several of the subjects of Sanders' reports will also appear.

In New York City, the show will air at 10:30 a.m., on WNET-13 on Saturday, Jan. 30, and 5:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 31. Check your local PBS station for exact dates and times.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly correspondents "travel around the nation and the globe to explore how issues of faith, religion and ethics shape both national and international events." Menachem Daum, the producer of the segment on secular education, was also the producer of "A Life Apart,"  a 1997 feature-length documentary about Hasidim for PBS.


First and Only Kosher Restaurant Opens in Ecuador 

A kosher fast-food restaurant believed to be the only one of its kind in Ecuador opened in its largest city to serve the tiny Jewish community and more.
"We Jews did not have a place to eat. So I have persuaded the local Jewish community leaders" to open the restaurant, Israeli businessman Ofir Belaishe told the Diario Judio news portal. He had been offering shawarma at night to local kashrut-observant Jewish friends since he moved to Guayquil  four years ago.

Kosher Pita Grill serves Middle Eastern-style food to the coastal city's nearly 30 Jewish families. After the inauguration of the restaurant one month ago under supervision of the local Chabad rabbi, the Israeli owner has decided to expand the target audience, although it will remain closed on Shabbat.

"The restaurant is not intended for Jews only," said Shahar Matza, who praised the food-handlers and the cleanliness of the restaurant. "Some people get here thinking it's one more ordinary fast-food house."

Until three years ago, the kosher infrastructure in the city reportedly was poor. Since then, kosher food can be found in supermarkets and the new restaurant, which will now serve Orthodox Jewish customers and visitors.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Hate crimes against Jewish communities soar to a record high 

In the last 12 months 459 antiSemitic crimes were recorded by police in the capital compared with 406 in the same period the previous year. The disturbing rise is continuing a trend seen over the past few years.

The 2015 figure is 13 per cent up on the previous year and 75 per cent higher than the 258 recorded in the 12 months to June 2013.

The figures released on Holocaust Memorial Day showed almost half the incidents took place in the boroughs of Barnet and Hackney, home to most of London’s 250,000-strong Jewish population.

The crimes include physical assaults, verbal abuse and criminal damage to Jewish property or buildings. Campaigners have blamed the rise on the Met’s failure to prosecute enough cases.

Scotland Yard said the increase was partly due to an increased willingness to come forward in the wake of anti-Semitic outrages in other countries, particularly France.

The mass shootings in Paris that marred 2015 and the threat of similar attacks in London and elsewhere have led to the highest number of Jews emigrating to Israel.

The Jewish Agency reported that 800 British Jews left the UK for Israel last year. In total 9,880 western European Jews, including 8,000 from France, moved to the country – the highest annual number ever.

Responding to the rise of hate crime in London, Jonathan Sacerdoti of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said: “2014 saw the worst spike on record of antiSemitic incidents reported. But there was no corresponding spike in prosecutions. The figures for 2015 are even worse.



Sunday, January 24, 2016

New attorneys hired for Sullivan County election commissioner 

A Middletown law firm with decades of civil rights experience will represent a Sullivan County election commissioner accused of discrimination against Hasidic voters.

Bob Isseks and Alex Smith, of Isseks and Smith, will defend Election Commissioner Ann Prusinski in a federal suit filed by Hasidic Jewish voters in the Village of Bloomingburg. Ten Bloomingburg residents allege that Prusinski and Commissioner Rodney Gaebel, now deceased, tried to revoke more than 150 Hasidic voter registrations in early 2015 in an effort to prevent Hasidim from voting in the village election. The Sullivan County Legislature voted to retain Isseks and Smith for Prusinski’s defense during an emergency meeting Thursday morning, after the county attorney’s office decided it would no longer defend the commissioner.

Separating the government and an individual’s defense and hiring outside counsel is a typical practice when a government perceives that the individual has not acted in its best interest, explained Smith, who also serves as an attorney for the City of Middletown. That is not to say he agrees with the county’s perception, Smith said, and giving Prusinski separate counsel protects her rights.

“We’re in this for the interests of our client, not the interests of the county,” Smith said. “They may diverge, they may converge.”

If Prusinski is found to have discriminated against Hasidic voters, she will have to pay her legal fees, said Luis Alvarez, legislature chairman. If it is determined that she has not discriminated, the county will pay the fees. Isseks and Smith were retained at a rate of $300 per hour.

County Attorney Sam Yasgur has declined to comment on the case, but court documents filed by the voter plaintiffs include several of Prusinski’s e-mails. In one, Prusinski emailed Gaebel a link to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency article that discussed developer Shalom Lamm’s process of building a Hasidic community in Bloomingburg. Prusinski referred to the article as “crapola” and said it described “quid pro quos to commit voter fraud.” Prusinski did not make negative comments about the Hasidim in her e-mails, but in one exchange Prusinski’s friend sympathized with “how frustrating it must be to deal with liars and cheats all the time, especially those who parade as religious types.”

The county is discussing a settlement with the plaintiffs, according to a letter filed with U.S. District Court by attorney Cliff Gordon, who is representing the county board of elections alongside Yasgur.



Saturday, January 23, 2016

New York Wheel investors are trying to boot chairman of the board: suit 

Meir Laufer and a rendering of the New York Wheel

The majority investors in the New York Wheel are moving to put its original developer in the ejector seat. Meir Laufer, who had the original vision for the Staten Island project, has filed for an injunction to stop Joseph Nakash, Andrew Ratner, Jay Anderson and Lloyd Goldman — who together form Wheel Estate LLC — from ousting him as chairman of the wheel’s board of directors. That’s according to documents filed in State Supreme Court Thursday.

The maneuver follows months of the Wheel Estate partners fighting Laufer and Eric Kaufman, who both say they have been sidelined from the project. In a board meeting Jan. 7, wheel CEO Rich Marin allegedly informed board members that statements made by Laufer as part of his defense in a public legal battle between the investors were “against the best interests” of the company and hurt the wheel’s ability to raise funds.

The battle dates back to August, when Wheel Estate LLC asked a judge to approve reducing Laufer’s equity stake in the project to just 11.08 percent and Kaufman’s stake to just 1.08 percent. They said Laufer and Kaufman had been unable to pony up the funds to meet several capital calls to the board. Laufer responded by saying the capital calls violated the terms of the wheel’s operating agreement and accused the other investors of sidelining him in part due to his Hasidic background, which his partners supposedly said was bad for business. These “public disclosures” from Laufer caused “questions from lenders” as well as from existing investors and future investors, Marin is alleged to have told board members earlier this month.

The board allegedly informed Laufer of its intention to vote him out as chairman Jan. 11. In the letter, the board accused Laufer of “fraud, gross negligence or willful misconduct” but did not specify the exact offenses. On Jan. 19, Laufer tapped JAMS, the arbitration and mediation service, to help the parties work out their differences, according to court documents, but requires an injunction to prevent his ouster in the interim. Laufer’s attorney, Kenneth Rubinstein, was not immediately available for comment.



Friday, January 22, 2016

N.Y. Board Accused of Favoring Private Schools 

A trio of Rockland County, N.Y., parents made good on their threat and sued state education officials for denying their children a "sound, basic education."

The parents say Article XI of the New York Constitution, dubbed the "education article," ensures a public education to all students, but the New York State Education Department and Board of Regents are not doing enough to protect that right.

The parents contend that, despite detailed reports of "ongoing mismanagement and neglect" by the Board of Education of the East Ramapo Central School District, the state has failed to intercede to stop staff and program cuts that have affected student performance.

"Because the state, through respondents, has extensively documented and acknowledged such failures by its agents in East Ramapo, it has an affirmative, non-discretionary duty to intervene and correct the board's failures," the parents say in a lawsuit filed last week in Albany County Supreme Court.

Lead plaintiff David Curry, who has two children in East Ramapo schools, wants the court to order the Education Department and Board of Regents - which oversee K-12 and university-level education in the state - to take action.

The East Ramapo district, located about 45 minutes northwest of New York City, has 33,000 students, but only 9,000 of them attend its schools, according to the complaint. The other 24,000 attend private school, nearly all of them in yeshivas, or Orthodox Jewish schools. Several Hasidic villages and hamlets are within the district's borders.

The public school population is 91 percent African-American, Latino and Haitian, reflecting the diversity of the surrounding communities. The parents' lawsuit points to the village of Spring Valley, where the district's two high schools are located, whose residents comprise 100 different nationalities. 66 percent of them speak a language other than English at home, the complaint states.

Among the district's students, 83 percent are economically disadvantaged and 20 percent have disabilities. In addition, 27 percent are classified as "English language learners," meaning they cannot communicate fluently or learn effectively in English, according to data footnoted in the complaint.

But Curry says services to many of these students have been cut, along with teachers and programs, ever since the local Orthodox Jewish community secured a majority of the seats on the district's board of education in 2005.

Instead, money has been channeled to the transportation and special education needs of students attending some 50 yeshivas, Curry claims.

The lawsuit cites a 2014 report prepared for the Education Department by Henry Greenberg, a former federal prosecutor and adviser to the state attorney general, who was asked to look into how the board operated.

Greenberg found favoritism by the board toward the yeshiva students, an "inexcusable" lack of transparency, and "abysmal" budget management that put the district "on the precipice of fiscal disaster," according to the Jan. 14 complaint.

He also found that the district had operated at a deficit in seven of the past 10 years, and that the board "has rarely addressed budget gaps with long-term solutions, preferring 'one-shot' salvos to durable fixes," the complaint states.

Curry cites other reports also prepared at the state's behest, including one late last year by three "monitors" - outside education experts - who "confirmed yet again that 'the East Ramapo Board of Education has persistently failed to act in the best interests of public school students.'"

Like the Greenberg report, Curry says, the monitors found not only educational and operational faults but "total breakdown" in community trust.

Curry says the parents wrote to the Education Department and Board of Regents last summer to remind them of their constitutional duty, in partnership with local school boards, to provide a sound, basic education for students.

The letter said that, if the East Ramapo board did not demonstrate a willingness to change by taking to heart the recommendations in the reports "and the state fails to intervene directly, we will have no alternative but to take legal action to compel such intervention."

Besides Curry, the litigating parents include Luis Nivelo and Romel Alvarez.

They are represented by Gary Svirsky, Brad Elias and Matthew Schock of O'Melveny & Myers in Manhattan, along with Wendy Lecker of the Education Law Center in Newark, N.J.

In addition to the New York State Education Department and Board of Regents, the heads of those agencies - Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch - are named as defendants.

Gannett's Journal News in the lower Hudson Valley reported Wednesday that the Education Department and East Ramapo school board declined comment on the lawsuit.


Shlomo Carlebach’s guitar on auction block 

Judaica and other items belonging to the influential late rabbi-musician Shlomo Carlebach will be auctioned.

The Feb. 29 auction at J. Greenstein & Co.'s Auction House in Cedarhurst, New York, will also include Judaica owned by Harvard law professor and author Alan Dershowitz.

In all, the auction will feature 268 "rare and valuable objects," including 32 from Carlebach's estate and 28 from Dershowitz's collection, the auction house announced in a Jan. 12 news release.

Among the objects belonging to Carlebach, who was known to many of his followers and fans as "Reb Shlomo," are his guitar (opening price $12,000), tefillin ($11,000), piano ($13,000), High Holiday gartel (a belt used by some Hasidic Jews during prayer, this one's opening price is $1,500) and personal appointment book dating from 1991-92 ($1,900).

A charismatic Orthodox rabbi known for his Hasidic-influenced songwriting, his musical legacy and his outreach to Jews of all backgrounds, Carlebach, who was born in Berlin, died in 1994 at age 69.

"I am excited by this opportunity to bring new life into the Carlebach foundation and jump-start the legacy of my father," Neshama Carlebach, daughter of the late rabbi and heir to his estate, said in a statement provided by the auction house.

"His voice of Torah, his music and his energy are so powerful and present in the world; he is still so present because his belief and hopes are still here. This auction, bringing his items back into the world, will create new moments for him and will take his legacy to a new level."


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why Does Bronx Old-Age Home Funnel Millions to Ultra-Orthodox Groups? 

A Bronx old-age home whose board includes several high-powered Orthodox Jewish activists has sent at least $20 million to dozens of ultra-Orthodox organizations in an unusual, decades-long arrangement.

The not-for-profit, called the Bronxwood Home for the Aged, runs a home care agency and an assisted living facility, which serves largely non-Jewish seniors. It has sent one dollar out of every 10 it has earned in revenue since 1997 to Hasidic yeshivas, Orthodox activist groups and a proposed Israeli medical center, among other Jewish charities.

State and federal Medicaid funds provide roughly a third of Bronxwood’s revenues, according to a 2009 audit report. Other funds come from Medicare, private insurance and out-of-pocket payments from the home’s hundreds of elderly residents.

Experts say that it is extremely unusual for a not-for-profit assisted living facility to make large grants to unrelated charities. “I’ve never heard of a nursing home or assisted living, or any care organization, paying out that much,” said David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, who studies long-term care for older adults. “Most of them have pretty vulnerable, frail and needy residents… The idea that they would take dollars out of that setting seems kind of backwards.”

Other experts said that when not-for-profit assisted living facilities do turn a surplus, they usually use those funds to improve their services or save for the future.

Bronxwood, which spent $15.7 million in the most recent year for which records are available, has made $19.5 million in grants since 1997. Some of the grants are highly unusual; many are impossible to trace. One Brooklyn charity advocating for the construction of a new hospital in the Israeli city of Ashdod got $1.5 million from Bronxwood, yet it appears to have filed no tax returns for those years, and has since been stripped of its tax-exempt status. A Hasidic ambulance service that got $1 million from Bronxwood to build a new headquarters appears to have used the money to give $700,000 to other ultra-Orthodox charities instead. And one set of Bronxwood grants went to a charity whose executive director was a Bronxwood board member.

A 2009 draft audit of Bronxwood’s assisted living program estimated that the organization had overcharged Medicaid by $7.6 million on its $8.4 million tab for 2006 and 2007. Of the 200 Medicaid claims reviewed in preparation of the draft audit, 195 “had at least one error,” according to the report issued by the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General. OMIG plans to take action on the audit within the next 30 days, according to a spokesman for the office.

Bronxwood officials refused to speak with the Forward, or to respond to a list of questions. A Forward reporter was not allowed to tour the assisted living facility after arriving unannounced.
Bronxwood’s seven-member board of directors includes some of New York’s most powerful Orthodox activists. Board member Abraham Biderman, New York City’s commissioner of finance and of housing under Mayor Ed Koch, is the newly appointed president of the scandal-plagued Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, one of the city’s largest Jewish social service organizations. He also serves on the boards of the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization Agudath Israel of America and of the billion-dollar Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. He has been on Bronxwood’s board since 2007.

Another Bronxwood board member, Marcel Weber, is a former chairman (and current honorary chairman) of the board of directors of the Orthodox Union, the large centrist Orthodox umbrella group. Mendel Zilberberg, who joined the Bronxwood board in 2010, is also on Agudah’s board.



Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lev Leviev Forced to Complete Work on Unfinished Luxury Project 

The developer promised the prospect buyers that the building would have a certain kind of luxurious amenities in a 40-story condominium tower overlooking the New York Stock Exchange, reports The New York Times.

Designer Philippe Starck, known for his work with celebrities, was supposed to work on the interiors. Regarding the interiors, the developer allegedly stated to the buyers that they will be getting  “the most elegant indoor swimming pool you’ve ever seen,” a basketball court, a plush movie theater and a billiards area, as well as a terrace and a yoga studio.

According to the New York Times, “instead, the buyers who put down millions for their apartments at 15 Broad Street 10 years ago got an ‘abject lack of fireproofing,’ faulty wiring, numerous leaks and potentially toxic mold.”

The developer gave up all his efforts to renovate the building and provide it with the promised amenities, after having made $380 million by selling 386 apartments, asserts the state attorney general’s office.

Separate settlements were reached last week by the developer, Africa Israel Investment Ltd., and Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, and the building’s residents after years of litigation.

Israeli businessman Lev Leviev is the owner of Africa Israel. This Uzbek-born Israeli philanthropist and investor is of Bukhari Jewish background. According to Wikipedia and Forbes Magazine, with a net worth of roughly $1.5 billion in March 2013, he has been a major philanthropist for Hasidic Jewish causes in Eastern Europe and Israel.  His diamond mining investments in Angola and his investments in Israeli settlements on the West Bank have, however, been subjected to protests.

The New York Times reports: “Under the terms of the settlements, Africa Israel must resolve the defects at 15 Broad Street and two other buildings with similar issues: 20 Pine Street, a 409-unit condominium also in the financial district, and 85 Adams Street, a 79-unit building in Downtown Brooklyn. It must also surrender control to the condominium boards and pay a $2 million penalty to New York City for improperly taking property tax breaks on the Broad Street building and an adjacent structure.”

Mr. Leviev and Mr. Boymelgreen bought 15 Broad Street and 23 Wall Street from J.P. Morgan Chase & Company in 2003 for more than $100 million. According to some of the buyers, the plans for 15 Broad Street were very attractive, but the work was left unfinished, reports The New York Times. As a result, the owners of the condominiums had to spend more than $1 million “fixing exterior leaks.” Africa Israel’s settlement with the residents also includes an undisclosed cash payment.



Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Most French oppose call for Jews to remove kippahs 

Seventy percent of French citizens said it would be giving in to terrorists if Jews were forced to remove their yarmulkes for security reasons, according to a survey.

The survey commissioned by the Paris Match weekly news magazine and published Friday was conducted Jan. 14-15 following one community leader's call to Jews in Marseille not to wear their kippahs. The statement came in the aftermath of the stabbing of a Jewish man there earlier in the week — the third stabbing of a kippah-clad Jew in the southern port city since October. 

In the survey of 1,011 adults conducted by the Odoxa polling company, 36 percent of respondents said they "absolutely agreed" with the assertion by French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia, who called on French Jews to keep wearing yarmulkes "to not give in to the terrorists." Another 34 percent indicated they "pretty much agree."

Ten percent of respondents, who were pre-selected overall to represent French society's voting pattern distribution, said they "totally disagree" and another 19 percent said they "rather disagree."

Left-wing and right-wing respondents answered similarly in the poll, with 71 percent supporting the assertion on the right — including 66 percent within the far-right National Front party — and 76 percent approving on the left.

Tzvi Amar, the president of the Marseille office of the Consistoire — the communal organization responsible for providing religious services — had called on his city's Jews to hide traditional head coverings following the Jan. 11 stabbing.

Other community representatives joined Korsia in rejecting the suggestion.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Swiss Jews Dismiss Hasidic Concerns About Building by Cemetery 

Swiss Jews dismissed concerns raised by Satmar rabbis in New York about construction work performed on a Zurich building that borders a Jewish cemetery.

The approval of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities of construction at the Museum for Modern Art followed protests by the Satmar-affiliated United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn that said the project involved “plans to exhume a Medieval Jewish cemetery,” leading to its “destruction.”

David Niederman, the president of the union and a prominent leader of the Satmar branch – a large, isolationist stream of haredi Judaism with a strong presence in New York and London – said hundreds would rally Monday at United Nations headquarters in New York to protest the construction.

“Jewish communities appealed to halt the ongoing desecration of the cemetery,” he wrote in a statement Sunday.

But Jonathan Kreutner, general secretary of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, told JTA on Monday that the communities his organization represents “do not share these concerns at all” regarding the medieval cemetery, which is no longer in use.

Kreutner added that the federation saw “no reason to protest” because the three Orthodox communities of Switzerland agreed with the city to take steps “according to the halachah,” Orthodox Jewish religious law, “if remains of Jewish people will be found at the construction site; which is not even clear at the moment.”

He added: “For us, everything is in good local Jewish hands and we do not need advice from Jewish groups abroad.”

Halachah prohibits disturbing or otherwise manipulating the remains of Jews, except in special circumstances.



Sunday, January 17, 2016

Missing NJ Jewish woman found dead in local river 

Devorah Stubin, 22, who had been missing for three days, was found dead in a New Jersey river, in what appears to have been a car accident, on January 16, 2016. (Courtesy)

An Orthodox Jewish New Jersey woman, missing since Thursday, was found at the bottom of the Passaic River on Saturday evening.

A car registered to Devorah Stubin, 22, was pulled from the New Jersey river, the New Jersey Record reported.

The body inside was identified as Stubin on Sunday morning. Her funeral was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Stubin was last seen Thursday night when she was stopped by police for driving without headlights. Stubin reportedly suffered from a form of epilepsy.

Her father reported her missing after midnight on Friday morning. She had left the house at 8:30 p.m. Thursday to pick up her brother and was stopped ten minutes later by police. Her parents picked up her brother at her request following the traffic stop.

Dozens of volunteers from the Orthodox Jewish communities in Passaic and Clifton searched for Stubin through Friday night and into Saturday.The car appeared to have run through a fence near the river and fell down a steep embankment into about 10 feet (three meters) of water.



Saturday, January 16, 2016

Film about wayward Hasidic Jew nominated for BAFTA 

A dark, surreal film about a young Hasidic man who leaves his community to live in secular society has been nominated for a BAFTA in the best British short film category.

“Samuel-613,” written and directed by Billy Lumby, is an intense 15-minute long cinematic story. It was screened at film festivals in London (including the UK Jewish Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival), New York, Los Angeles, Geneva, Berlin and Mexico, and viewed close to 100,000 times on social medial platforms like YouTube.

In the film, the main character, a young Hasid named Shmilu, is at odds with his Yiddish-speaking family and leaves home angrily after an argument. After already sneaking porno magazines into his room and browsing online dating sites, he shaves his beard and cuts off his side locks before running away.

Holing himself up in a housing project apartment, Shmilu binges on alcohol, rock music, and of course, bacon. Later, a date with a young non-Jewish woman whose profile he has obsessed over online proves disastrous, setting him on a further downward spiral.

The plot ends ambiguously, which was the intent of filmmaker Lumby.

“The ending is open to viewers’ interpretations. I just want them to enjoy it and ask questions afterwards,” Lumby told The Times of Israel.

Lumby is neither Hasidic nor Jewish, but he felt drawn to the religion and culture after moving next to the Hasidic community in North London.

“Like in Brooklyn, there is a hipster community next door. Culture clash and melting pots are something I am interested in, so the idea [for the film] began there,” he explained.

Part of the production was filmed in Stamford Hill, and it took Lumby some time to gain enough trust from the locals to make the film on-site. Three members of the Hasidic community act in the movie, and Lumby developed the script in conjunction with several anonymous individuals who have either left or are living on the fringes of the community.

“Getting access was a long process of getting to know people… I even went ‘undercover’ a few times — to a synagogue and meetings… There is also a charity called Gesher EU that helps OTD leavers readjust and they were able to point me in the direction of people,” the filmmaker said, using the acronym for “Off The Derech,” or those who have left the ultra-Orthodox way of life.

The actor in the main role, Theo Barklem-Biggs, is not Jewish. It was important to Lumby to cast a professional actor who would take a method acting approach. Barklem-Biggs went to Stamford Hill, met Hasidim and learned some Yiddish — which he pulls off rather well in the film. Samuel Leibowitz, who plays his father, is from the Satmar Hasidic community and showed him the ropes.

Lumby is “excited” about the BAFTA nomination, but wanted to explore how disorienting it would be for a young Yiddish-speaking man without a good secular education who was facing an arranged marriage to enter a world of pop culture, skilled labor and dating.

Indeed, one does comes away from watching “Samuel-613” deeply disturbed and disoriented. A signal to this writer that this is a film worthy of consideration.

The 2016 BAFTAs will be awarded in London on February 14.



Friday, January 15, 2016

Hasidic voters win settlement with Bloomingburg 

A group of 27 Hasidic voters in Bloomingburg will maintain their voter registrations after the Sullivan County Board of Elections conceded that it did not follow election law when it determined the petitioners were ineligible to vote.

In a settlement stipulation filed Jan. 8 in Sullivan County court, the county acknowledged that the notices of determination of ineligibility mailed to the 27 voters prior to the March 2015 village election were "statutorily defective."

"This is purely procedural," Assistant County Attorney Lori Bertsch-Brustman said. When the elections board informed the petitioners that they were not eligible to vote, the letters should have said the registrations were canceled, not "to be canceled," and they should have stated a reason for each voter.

Each petitioner has been able to vote in every election as the case moved forward, Bertsch-Brustman said. The petitioners dropped their Article 78 suit against the board of elections as part of the settlement.

Thomas Garry, lawyer for the petitioners, expressed approval of the settlement, which came just before the case was due in court.

"It is most unfortunate that voters needed court action to exercise their rights, but we are satisfied this settlement will ensure the constitutionally protected rights of our clients," Garry said.

A separate, still active federal case charges the Sullivan County Board of Elections with discrimination against Hasidic voters.


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