Friday, December 19, 2014

Hasidic Rockland Legislator Shocked By Hate Mail Referencing ISIS Terror 

An unknown person tapped into ISIS terror imagery to intimidate a Rockland County politician, in a delivery with criminal implications.

As CBS2's Lou Young reported exclusively Thursday night, the hate mail arrived in a plain brown envelope addressed to Rockland County Legislator Aaron Weider (D-Spring Valley.)
"I had shivers running down the spine," Weider said.

It featured a shocking image of his face placed on the body of a captive about to be beheaded, in a frame taken from an ISIS terror video.

"The first reaction was with shock. I just didn't know what to do and what to think," Weider said. "I think the picture clearly depicts the message."

Weider is perhaps the highest-profile Hasidic Jewish leader in the state. He already holds a countywide office, and he recently ran, and narrowly lost, a bid to join the New York State Assembly.

Police were anxious Thursday night to find out who could be behind the apparent threat.

"I take this very seriously," said Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco III. "We're looking at it. It's under investigation with ourselves and our joint terrorism task force."

The message was postmarked Saturday, Dec. 13, and arrived in Monday's mail. Weider immediately gave it to the Sheriff.

No one else at the Rockland County Legislature had even the seen piece of hate mail until CBS2 showed it to them.

"That's disgusting," said Rockland County Legislator Patrick Maroney (R-Spring Valley.) "That's disgusting."
"I don't know what to say," said Rockland County Legislator Michael Grant (D-Haverstraw.) "I'm shocked."
There was no written component to the message, other than Weider's name translated into Arabic. The writing on the bottom appeared to be from the original ISIS video.

People who have been trying to get the insular ultra-Orthodox sects to open up more worried that the hate mail could be a setback.

"When you have someone sending these things, it may tell other people in the community, you know, take a step back; hide; don't be out there," said Yossi Gestetner of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.
"Whatever it is, it's frightening," added Benny Polatseck of Ramapo, "very frightening."

And for many who wear their faith out in the open daily, the hate mail brought a new chill to the air.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Scouts break dreidel record 

Scouts in Ramat Gan broke a Guinness record Tuesday night when they unveiled the world's largest dreidel at a Hanukkah ceremony.

The top stands at 6 meters tall, beating the previous record by a half meter. Almost 100 scouts worked over the past month to build the dreidel, which was made out of green and recycled materials.

The dreidel was released to the public at Ramat Gan's Rambam Square, in an event attended by 3,000 Israel scouts.

The students completed their traditional torch-bearing march before the ceremony, arriving at the square from four different directions.

The project was initiated by the students and the municipality. The scouts asked Ramat Gan residents for design proposals, and chose from among dozens of submissions.

"I am sure that the biggest dreidel in the world will serve its purpose and will bring a big smile on the face of hundreds of thousands of Israeli who will come to see it with their own eyes," said Israel Scouts Secretary-General Gal Ben-Simol.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Israeli police on Tuesday arrested 10 Jewish activists from an extremist group opposed to Arab-Jewish coexistence, including its leader, in the first major clampdown against a fringe organization that has become a symbol of rising anti-Arab sentiment.

Police said the crackdown followed a 10-month undercover investigation of "Lehava," known for its efforts to break up Arab-Jewish romances. The group has become increasingly visible in recent months amid rising tensions around a sensitive Jerusalem holy site and a wave of deadly Palestinian attacks.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the arrests early Tuesday took place in Jerusalem and in the Hebron area of the West Bank, a region known for its hard-line Jewish settlements. He said the suspects were apprehended on suspicion of racist incitement and calls for "violent activity and terror."

On Monday, Israel also indicted three group members for allegedly torching a bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school in Jerusalem late last month where Arab and Jewish elementary and high school students study together.

"There is absolutely no place for these people in Israeli society," former Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio. "Our situation is simply too sensitive to allow it."

Lehava, which means "flame" and is also a Hebrew acronym for "The Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land," is made up of disaffected Israeli youths and ultranationalist religious Jews who oppose Arab-Jewish dating and coexistence. It is influenced by the teachings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultranationalist whose Kach party was banned from parliament for its racist views in 1988. Kahane was killed by an Arab gunman in New York City in 1990.

Lehava activists have run vigilante patrols and telephone hotlines urging Jews not to date Arabs, issued flyers warning Arab men to stay away from Jewish areas, and waged campaigns to prevent Israeli employers from hiring Arab workers. In August, group activists staged a high-profile protest outside an Arab-Jewish wedding. At times of heightened tensions, its supporters have held demonstrations and chanted anti-Arab epithets, though it is unclear whether the group is behind these rallies.

Formed in 2009 by far-right activist and West Bank settler Bentzi Gopstein, the group primarily stayed on the fringes but rose in prominence this summer as tensions flared following the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teens by Palestinian assailants, the revenge killing of a Palestinian teen, and a month of war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. More recently, tensions have risen in Jerusalem, highlighted by violence around a sensitive holy site and a deadly Palestinian assault on a synagogue that killed five people.

In this tense atmosphere, the group's bumper stickers and posters have become a regular sight in Jerusalem, and it is common to see youths walking the streets wearing the group's yellow-on-black insignia, a flame burning inside a Star of David.

Lehava sets up a booth in Jerusalem's central downtown square twice a week, though left-wing activists monitoring the group report it has not held gatherings there since the three group members were arrested in connection with the torched school.

Other activists who have monitored the group at its public meetings say its leaders have discouraged violence and broken up a fight that broke out at one of them.

Activists communicate and mobilize using the mobile messaging app WhatsApp, said Avraham, a 19-year-old Lehava activist who declined to give his last name for fear of targeting by Israeli authorities. "Lots of people are beginning to understand that assimilation is bad for Judaism," the activist said.

The group's leaders say they oppose violence and are merely trying to prevent Jewish youths from assimilating. "Instead of giving me a prize for the important work I do to rescue the daughters of Israel, the state of Israel handcuffs me," Gopstein said at the courthouse Tuesday.

His wife, Anat, described a terrifying scene in their West Bank home during the early-morning police raid. "They searched our home, took pictures and books of Rabbi Kahane. They took cameras and computers and then they arrested him," she said.

Channel 2 TV showed pictures of a handcuffed Gopstein sitting in what appeared to be a living room, with police officers milling around. Wearing handcuffs on his arms and legs, he appeared in court, where his remand was extended.

The Israel Religious Action Center, a liberal Jewish watchdog group, said it had repeatedly petitioned Israeli authorities to act against the group in recent years.

"It shouldn't have waited for a school to burn," said Ruth Carmi, a lawyer for the group. "The writing was on the wall a lot earlier."


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Hanukkah custom that started in Philadelphia 

Whether the miracle of the first Hanukkah is fact or legend - oil enough for just one day is said to have burned in the Temple lamps for eight - not all Jews agree.

But devoutly orthodox Rabbi Abraham Shemtov believes in miracles, and why not? Forty years ago he witnessed a kind of Hanukkah miracle, right on Independence Mall.

Better yet, he helped create it, and has watched it spread around the world.

On Dec. 14, 1974, Shemtov and four other men of the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidic Judaism gathered on Independence Mall to light what is thought to be the first menorah, or Hanukkah candelabrum, ever illuminated on public property in the world.

"Philadelphia is where we started," the 76-year-old rabbi, with a long, gray beard, recalled last week, seated in the synagogue of Chabad Philadelphia in the Northeast. "Now it's everywhere, in too many places to count.

"So, the idea caught fire," he said, and smiled at his own joke.

And so the simple lighting ceremony in Philadelphia 40 years ago has become the foundational story of public menorahs for most of the world's Jews, who no longer start at the sight of a giant candelabrum on New York's Fifth Avenue, or Trafalgar Square in London, or at the Eiffel Tower, or overlooking the White House.

Even Nicosia, Cyprus; Donetsk, Ukraine; and Revolution Square in Moscow (Shemtov's native city) boast large public menorahs, and Vice President Biden will assist Shemtov in lighting the "national" menorah in Washington on Tuesday, the first day of Hanukkah.

Philadelphia's grand lighting ceremony will take place on Independence Mall on Saturday at 8 p.m., following a parade of 300 cars festooned with rooftop menorahs.

The event's astonishing growth parallels that of Philadelphia's official menorah, which rises 40 feet above Independence Mall - 10 times the height of the painted wooden menorah Shemtov and his colleagues lit long ago.

"We didn't even think about getting a permit back then," Shemtov recalled.

"We lit the first candle. There was some singing and dancing. It was a private event in public. But even so, in concept we were sharing the thing with the world."

That the first flame stayed lit on a breezy evening Shemtov ascribes to divine approval of their decidedly unorthodox undertaking. Hitherto, lighting a menorah in public simply was not done.

"What you need to understand," he explained, is that Jewish tradition dictated that the candelabrum be lit at home, and placed "at the spot the house shares with the outside," typically at the front door.

"Our sages say outside is better," he said with a shrug. "So, we brought it outside a step further."

Menorah lighting, which for centuries had been a pious - sometimes covert - domestic ritual, would become a global statement of Jewish presence.

Shemtov credits the idea for public menorahs indirectly to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late chief rabbi or "rebbe" of the Lubavitchers, who relocated the Eastern European sect to Brooklyn, N.Y., after World War II.

Founded as a Hasidic sect in western Russia in the mid-18th century, the Lubavitchers had a modern role, according to Schneerson: revitalizing Jewish mysticism and traditional observance while holding up Jewish values to the larger culture.

As part of that effort, Schneerson in 1962 assigned Shemtov to create a Chabad, or Lubavitcher community, in Philadelphia. "Do as much as you are able," he told Shemtov. The public menorah lighting came 12 years later.

In 1979 Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president to take part in an official outdoor menorah lighting. Three years later the custom was so well established that President Ronald Reagan referred to the giant menorah in Lafayette Square, opposite the White House, as the "national" menorah.

In 1993 Jeffrey Hoffman, a Jewish American astronaut, unfolded a portable menorah in outer space, where he was repairing the Hubble Space Telescope.

"From the mall to the White House, around the world, and into outer space," Rabbi Joshua Plaut of Manhattan marveled last week.

Author of A Kosher Christmas, a study of modern Hanukkah, Plaut last week called Shemtov's 1974 menorah lighting on Independence Mall "a unique moment in the history of Hanukkah," yet one with deep roots in the Jewish notion of pirsum hanes, Hebrew for "proclaiming the miracle."

While not all Jews believe literally that one day's lamp oil lasted for eight, most view the holiday as an opportunity, Plaut said, to celebrate "the miracle of the survival of the Jewish people" for thousands of years.

Even so, he noted, the Lubavitchers' new way of "proclaiming the miracle" was not universally welcomed, even among some Jewish organizations. The Lubavitchers also fought numerous legal battles with the American Civil Liberties Union for the right to display menorahs on public property.

In 1989, in a case involving Pittsburgh, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that menorahs were permissible on public property because they - like Christmas trees - did not signify endorsement of a particular religion.

While Hanukkah is not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, Shemtov - who has chaired the international Lubavitch movement since Schneerson's death 20 years ago - contends that not one but two miracles lie at the heart of the holiday's traditional story.

After overthrowing the Seleucid Greek tyrants who for years had crushed Jewish religious practice, the army of Judas Maccabee entered the High Temple at Jerusalem in 165 B.C.

Eager to rededicate it, they found numerous jugs of olive oil with which to fill the lamps, but nearly all had been used by the Seleucids, "rendering them questionably fit," he explained, for ritual use.

The Maccabees, however, found one jug bearing the seal of the high priest, indicating it was still pure. "It was sufficient to keep the lamps lit for one night," Shemtov said.

The well-known miracle at the heart of the Hanukkah story is that the oil lasted instead for eight days.

"That in itself is a miracle," he said. "But they were also able to cleanse themselves after the war, and create new pure oil. So the miracle is also the fact that God has not only spared us [the Jewish people], but they were able to honor him with purity, in a perfect way.

"So with Hanukkah," he said, "the rebbe maintained that as long as there is freedom, we have a responsibility to share what we believe with the world - not to convert people, but to give everyone the opportunity to learn what's in our Bible for them."

A public menorah is "an opportunity to share" Judaism with the world, Shemtov said. "It's not ours to keep."


Monday, December 15, 2014

State Aid Formula Said to Hurt in a District Where Most Go to Yeshivas 

A monitor chosen by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently accused the East Ramapo school board in Rockland County, which is dominated by Orthodox Jews who send their children to private yeshivas, of systematically starving the public schools in favor of the yeshivas.

The school board fired back, saying it was the state that was starving the district, effectively forcing a cut of 200 teachers, a reduction from full-day to half-day kindergarten and a shrinking of sports and other extracurricular activities.

The school district, the board said, was being shortchanged by a state aid formula that classifies it as having more than enough resources to pay for adequate schooling when, by measures like the number of pupils qualifying for federally-subsidized lunches, the district is actually one of the state's poorest.

"The state says we're a very wealthy district; the feds say we're a very poor district," Yehuda Weissmandl, the board's president, said. "And it's the same district we're talking about."

The dispute has been raging for years, with public-school parents, many of whom are Latino and Haitian, and school officials confronting each other in angry exchanges, and board members, seven of whom are Orthodox Jews, sealing themselves in frequent executive sessions. But it reached a crossroads with the report in November to the Board of Regents by the monitor, Henry M. Greenberg, who declared bluntly: "The board appears to favor the interest of private schools over public schools."

He faulted the district for many sins: fiscal mismanagement, spending too much money on transportation and special education assistance for the yeshivas, hiring $650-an-hour lawyers, selling two public schools to yeshiva operators at bargain-basement prices, and of fractious relations with the community — a charge some board members concede, and are trying to repair, by promising simultaneous Spanish translation of all meetings.

Mr. Greenberg proposed that the State Legislature appoint a fiscal monitor with the power to overrule the nine-member board's decisions.

Still, he acknowledged that the district, financially imprudent as it had been, needed more aid. That is something the Legislature would have to do, though lawmakers have been loath to tinker with the aid formula for fear of opening a Pandora's box: Every district, after all, wants more money.

Interviews with state officials, current and former school board members and public-school community leaders indicate that the formula does seem to give the district less than it needs to fully finance the school system.

State education officials, however, point out that East Ramapo's aid is augmented by other factors in the formula that credit the district for having large numbers of poor children. They also say that the formula applies to all the state's nearly 700 school districts, many of which have their own inequities.

Still, there is a disparity that hurts East Ramapo, which encompasses all or parts of Spring Valley, Monsey, Nanuet and Chestnut Ridge. The area has experienced a huge growth of Hasidic and other Orthodox Jewish families, almost all of whom send children to yeshivas. The state provides an average of 40 percent of a district's budget, with wealthier districts getting less and poorer ones more. East Ramapo, however, receives 32.9 percent of its revenue from the state, putting a bigger burden on local taxpayers, who have often balked at paying more.

The formula, known as the Combined Wealth Ratio, is complicated, but in its simplest terms it determines how many students attend public schools and how much wealth the district has to pay for each public school student. In East Ramapo, there are 9,000 public school students and 24,000 private school students in over 50 yeshivas.

When the total value of taxable property in the district is divided solely by the district's number of public school students, board officials say, East Ramapo seems to have more than enough money to pay for each of its students; more than a neighboring town, Clarkstown, which also has about 9,000 public students, but far fewer private school students. With equivalent wealth ratios, the state may send as much money per student to Clarkstown as it does to East Ramapo.

Harry Phillips III, a longtime member of the Board of Regents and a fierce critic of East Ramapo's management, acknowledged in an interview that the formula "hurts East Ramapo because their proportion of private and public school students is the worst in the state." He said a similar situation prevailed in another locale with a large Orthodox Jewish population, Lawrence, on Long Island, and in his hometown district of Greenburgh, in Westchester County, where large proportions of students attend private and parochial schools.

A majority of East Ramapo's 9,000 public school students are indigent; 77 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Many are children of immigrants and need extra teachers who can provide language classes and remedial reading programs. In contrast, only 6 percent of Clarkstown's pupils were eligible for a free lunch in 2011.

In the 2010-2011, school year, the last year for which fully comparable figures were available, East Ramapo, with a $113 million budget, spent $14,398 per general education pupil (not including those with disabilities), while Clarkstown spent $9,897, yet they received similar amounts of state aid per pupil.

District leaders estimate that they are losing up to $30 million a year in aid to general education they might have gotten had the formula treated them like a district with a roughly comparable economic profile. They cite Mount Vernon, N.Y., whose 10,000 public school students received $76 million in the basic state allotment known as "foundation aid" while East Ramapo received about $43 million. The major difference, said Mr. Weissmandl, a Hasidic real estate developer who has been on the school board for three years, is that Mount Vernon has only 1,000 students in private schools.

"We're considered very wealthy," Mr. Weissmandl said.

East Ramapo, like all other districts, is hurting because of large cuts in state aid enacted years ago to close a state budget gap, according to the New York State School Boards Association. Though the association acknowledges that East Ramapo could use more money, it is strongly opposed to counting private school students in the foundation aid formula.

When Mr. Greenberg looked into the disparity, according to people familiar with his conversations with education officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on his behalf, he found that the district used an inordinate proportion of its scarce funding — 37 percent — for transportation and special education. The state average is 26 percent. Since much of that money is spent on private school students, school officials have had to make cuts in instruction and extracurricular activities for public schools.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
The school board argues that it is mandated to bus all students as a result of ballot questions passed by local voters at referendums. But the board, Mr. Greenberg told education officials, also has the power to make the bus system, which has about 300 routes, including yeshiva buses segregated by sex, more efficient and less costly. It could also lobby voters to pass a law that excludes busing for, say, students who live a quarter-mile or less from schools.

Similarly, Mr. Greenberg found that the board had not contested what some call "Cadillac" placements for disabled students in yeshiva-based settings or in the special-education schools of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic village in Orange County that operates its own public school system for disabled students. The state has withheld reimbursement for some students because they could have gotten instruction of equivalent quality in public settings.

Mr. Weissmandl, 39, a father of seven, insists that he is not going out of his way to favor yeshivas.

"I want every child to get the best education possible," he said." "I care about every child because I want people to care about my children. Public school education drives the local economy and the quality of local neighborhoods and our future years."


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fight over ad in haredi paper highlights deep divisions 

Yaffed ad.

The fight over secular education for the ultra-orthodox has spread beyond Israel, with activists in both the United States and Canada suing their respective governments for failing to impose educational standards on hasidic schools while orthodox schools in Belgium have engaging in heated battles over the content of their curricula with local authorities.

These controversies came to the fore over the weekend when Ami Magazine, an English language ultra-orthodox weekly ran an advertisement for Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), an organization that lobbies for increased secular education among New York’s hasidim.

Bearing the Talmudic quote “a man is obligated to teach his son a trade” and showing an illustration of a hasidic boy reading a math textbook, the advertisement asserted that learning secular subjects is a religious mandate as well as the law.

In 2013 the organization used the same advertisement on a billboard overlooking New York’s Prospect Expressway.

“Last night it came to my attention that in this week's edition of Ami Magazine there is a banner ad for Yaffed, an organization with a mission to change the state of Orthodox Jewish chinuch [education],” wrote Ami editor Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter in an email to subscribers.

“Ami Magazine has repeatedly advocated against such efforts and has condemned organizations like Yaffed. We have asked the community to unite against all those who seek to reform the Orthodox way of life, and we remain steadfast in our resolve to defeat such misguided initiatives.”

The inclusion of the advertisement, Frankfurter stated, was the result of an error in the advertising sales process, for which he apologized.

Asked for comment, Frankfurter told the Post that he could not "state more than I stated in the email." Yaffed founder Naftuli Moster is currently suing the state of New York for failing to implement the same standards in ultra-orthodox schools as in their secular counterparts and, according to the New York Times, the parents of several students within that system have agreed to join him, although they are doing so anonymously for fears of communal backlash.

Yochanan Lowen, a former Satmar hasid, is currently suing authorities in Quebec, Canada, including the Department of Youth Protection, for failing to force local hasidic schools to meet similar educational standards, arguing that he lacks the basic life skills to function outside of his community as a result.

While secular subjects form a much greater part of the curriculum at American ultra-orthodox schools, especially among the non-hasidic groups, there are significant numbers of students who receive minimal instruction.

A recent issue of Mishpacha, a competitor of Ami’s, ran glossy pictures of ultra-orthodox youngsters studying in a brand new computer lab, showing the stark differences between the different educational standards at play among the pious.

And while there are many who are sympathetic to Yaffed’s goals, the issue is less about secular studies than how you go about talking about it, explained Dr. Yoel Finkelman, an instructor at Bar Ilan University and the author of Strictly Kosher Reading, a book exploring the ultra-orthodox media landscape.

The fact that the staff of Yaffed is drawn from former members of the ultra-orthodox community and because they chose to operate outside of the established orthodox channels is likely responsible for Ami’s rejection of their ad, he said.

“The orthodox community is happy to have a conversation as long as you have the conversation without undermining the existing communal hierarchy,” Finkelman elaborated. “Instead of talking about it with the educators and the big rabbis they have gone outside the system and gone to the courts and tried to force the courts to shove it down the throat of the haredi community and if there's anything that the haredi community protects, it is its educational autonomy.”

Orthodox antipathies towards those seen as mosers, or informers to secular authorities, run deep.

According to Stuart Schnee, a public relations agent who works with the ultra-orthodox community, cultural baggage from the enlightenment also affects how the religious community sees efforts to reform their schooling.

Yaffed is “going to outside sources to change and impact orthodox Jewish education and that pushes a lot of buttons. That’s what happened in Russia with the maskilim [Jewish proponents of the enlightenment] forcing yeshivas to teach certain things. There is probably a deep down immediate reaction” to such efforts, he said.

“I cant imagine placing billboards, threatening lawsuits and placing articles in the New York Times will make people feel so warm and fuzzy about it even if they think the goals are legitimate.”

This controversy may hint at a larger trend within ultra-orthodoxy worldwide, believes Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College.

“The recent cases of Naftali Moster in New York as well as a similar one in Quebec in which legal action against the Haredi schools and their failure to provide a standard general education for their students by forcing state education authorities to enforce those standards as well as pushback in Belgium by the Haredi schools hints ferment in this community on this subject,” he posited.

In Belgium, educational authorities last year pushed for tighter controls over what the ultra-orthodox teach their children, mandating the teaching of evolutionary biology, human reproduction and other subjects considered taboo.

“I think what you see in [Ami] magazine is an ambivalence at best and a confusion at worst as to what the position is of the community at large,” Heilman said.

While Yaffed’s tactics have been criticized as divide, the organization believes that it has been left with little choice in how to bring about reform.

"Ami Magazine had an opportunity to be on the right side of history. And judging from the steady flow of praise we get from community members and leaders, they would have had plenty of support within the community,” the organization said in a statement to the Jerusalem Post.

“We are often told ‘change needs to come from within,’ but how can change come from within when the local/Heimish [religious] magazines choose to self-censor? People complain about us talking to the non-Jewish media about this issue, but the Heimish newspapers repeatedly reject our ads and offers for interviews. We hope they come around and choose to help us make a tremendous positive difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox boys' lives.”

“Either way, we are glad that Ami had brought attention to this issue."



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hasidic woman runs own BK restaurant 

Roth says people have misconceptions about the evolving

A Hasidic woman is creating her own unique path through cooking. 
Itta Roth is a chef at the hip kosher restaurant Mason and Mug in Prospect Heights. She's known for dishing out seasonal, artisanal and farm-to-table foods for her customers. 
Roth says that while she isn’t the typical Hasidic woman, people still have misconceptions about the evolving Hasidic community.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

Make sure to pick up your free copy of the Country Yossi Family Magazine and read the brand new original article 'Lif in Boro-Park' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Menorah stolen in Boca replaced with even bigger one, now 12 feet tall 

Someone stole the menorah from the Boca Raton Chabad Student Center that for three years lit up the campus of Lynn University during Hanukkah.

That 9-foot candelabrum symbolizing the miracle of one day of oil lasting for eight days has never been recovered since last year's theft. But Rabbi Boruch Shmuel Liberow, who runs the Chabad Student Center, is over it. And now he's back with a 12-foot one for this year's observance that starts sundown Tuesday.

"I want to spread even more light," he said. "In the Hasidic faith, a little bit of light can push away a lot of darkness. It's even more so when you spread more than a little light."

This year, the Chabad Student Center is feeling that message so strongly that the center purchased hundreds of small menorahs for Rabbi Liberow and his students to pass out to hospital patients and whoever wants them. It's an entire Hanukkah set ready for celebration, from candles to candelabrum to dreidel.

"When God performs miracles, it's important to recognize it and appreciate it," Liberow said. "It also should be an encouragement to become more connected to God."

He said he doesn't waste any time wondering who stole the 9-foot menorah last year that was outside his property.

"These things happen in life to make us stronger," he said.

He also is going to be part of the community-wide celebration when the public menorah at the Town Center is ignited at 6 p.m. Dec. 18.

The 25th annual event at the mall will feature the menorah lighting by Congressman Ted Deutch, followed by a special Hanukkah puppet show for children, along with traditional celebratory foods, such as latkes and jelly doughnuts.

And dreidels will be given to all.

Rabbi Arele Gopin of Chabad of Boca Raton, who is organizing the event, said Hanukkah is the sole Jewish observance that's celebrated publicly for a reason. The miracle oil that kept the ancient Temple lit has a universal symbolism, he said.

"The light will always win out," he said.

Liberow is distributing the Hanukkah set to the public. Anyone who would like one should contact him at 561-827-3175.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Parents, Israeli soldiers visit hospital where student stabbed in Brooklyn synagogue is in serious condition 

Israeli student Levi Rosenblatt, who was stabbed by an emotionally unstable Valley Stream man inside a Brooklyn synagogue, remained in stable but serious condition at Bellevue Hospital Center on Wednesday night.

Rosenblatt was stabbed on the left side of the head and neck by Calvin Peters, 49, who walked inside the Crown Heights synagogue at 770 Eastern Pkwy. early Tuesday morning. According to witnesses and police, Peters blurted out "I am going to kill you" and anti-Jewish remarks.

Officers opened fire on Peters after he attacked Rosenblatt and lunged at an NYPD officer, police said.

Rosenblatt, 22, is a student at the synagogue, the world headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement. His parents arrived from Israel on Wednesday to be at his beside. Seven Israeli soldiers in New York City on a visit arranged by the Chabad Israel Center in Manhattan also went to the hospital.

"We wanted to show him our support and warm his heart," said Chabad Israel Center's rabbi, Uriel Vigler. "We are very familiar with terror and we want to show him our support and solidarity."

The soldiers could not see Rosenblatt, who was resting in his room, Vigler said. Instead, Vigler, two other rabbis and the soldiers held a prayer vigil outside the hospital for the student's quick recovery.

Rosenblatt, who lives in Israel, was studying about 1:40 a.m. inside the basement of the synagogue when Peters attacked him, police said.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said the stabbing did not appear to be terror-related. Bratton said that the shooting by officers looks to be "justified." He also said that the NYPD's hate crimes unit will investigate to determine whether Peters' attack was a bias incident.

Peters first entered the synagogue just after 5 p.m. on Monday, police said. He left and returned at midnight but was escorted out. When Peters came back at 1:40 a.m., he had a 9-inch knife with a 41/2-inch blade, police said.

At one point, Peters obeyed police commands to place the knife on a table. But Peters picked up the knife again and lunged toward an officer, police said.

Peters' family in Valley Stream told Newsday that Peters had bipolar disorder, but was a "loving father to two kids."


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No terrorism link seen in Jewish center stabbing 

A man with a history of mental illness slipped into the headquarters of a major Jewish organization in Brooklyn in the middle of the night Tuesday and stabbed an Israeli student in the head as he was studying in the library.

Then, as the screaming, bloody victim was taken away, the attacker lunged at police and was shot and killed, authorities said.

Calvin Peters, 49, could be seen on amateur video waving a knife in the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights at 1:40 a.m. after the attack on Levi Rosenblat. Rosenblat, wounded in the side of the head, was listed in stable condition.

Police said the stabbing was not believed to be connected to terrorism. But it shook the Jewish community, still reeling over an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue by two Palestinian cousins last month that left four worshippers and an officer dead.

"The entire Jewish community is impacted by these cruel and senseless attacks," said New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose Brooklyn constituents are largely Orthodox Jews. "How can we help but be reminded of the recent, horrible tragedy ... which left five innocent people dead?"

At least one witness said he heard Peters repeatedly saying, "Kill the Jews!," according to Rabbi Chaim Landa, a Chabad-Lubavitch spokesman.

Police still were interviewing witnesses but quoted Peters as saying instead, "I'm going to kill all of you." And the case was not immediately classified as a possible bias crime.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a large, worldwide Hasidic movement that runs schools, synagogues and other institutions and reaches out to nonobservant Jews to encourage them to embrace their heritage and religious traditions. It is active on college campuses and in cities around the globe.

The Crown Heights neighborhood, home to a large ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch community, was the site of riots between Jews and blacks in 1991 following the killing of a rabbinical student.


Court rules against gender segregation at funerals 

The outline suggested by the court has been accepted by both Chevra Kadisha and groups opposing gender segregation. The parties are now waiting for Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to confirm that the proposal does not fall under the category of forbidden exclusion of women in the public domain.

The court intervened in the matter following a claim submitted by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and the Human Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University's Faculty of Law against Chevra Kadisha in Jerusalem and Rehovot for ignoring the Religious Services Ministry's ban on gender segregation in cemeteries.
In a preliminary discussion held by Judge Yigal Mersel, the plaintiffs' representatives, attorneys Orly Erez-Lachovsky and Adi Nir-Binyamini, claimed that Chevra Kadisha responded to the memo issued by the Religious Services Ministry's director-general in 2013 by changing the wording on the segregation signs or using other legal tricks in order to continue the separation between men and women.
Chevra Kadisha's representative said in response that the burial society was acting in accordance with rabbis' instructions and under Jewish Law.
'The end of discriminating signs in cemeteries'

The court suggested that the sides reach a compromise, under which the cemeteries will get electronic signposts which will indicate a separation between men and women only according to a specific request made by the deceased's family, and only during the funeral. This will also be made clear in the funeral order form.
Last week, both parties informed the court of their consent to adopt the outline. The proposal has been handed over to the attorney general, and after its approval Judge Mersel is expected to declare it formal ruling.
"This is excellent news," said Attorney Erez-Lachovsky, who runs the IRAC's legal department. "The two Chevra Kadisha companies involved in this affair firmly refused to obey the Religious Service Ministry director-general's memo which ordered them to remove the signs. This marks the end of discriminating segregation signs in cemeteries."


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cops fatally shoot stabbing suspect at synagogue 

Police shot and killed a disturbed man after he walked into one of Brooklyn's most prominent synagogues Tuesday morning and stabbed someone there, sources said.
The bloodshed at the world headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights happened shortly after 1 a.m., sources said.

A Chabad spokesman said that witnesses reported that the man said "Kill the Jews" but police said the man may have said "I will kill all of you." One witness told the Post that the man did not talk about killing Jews.

Calvin Peters, 50, walked into the basement of the synagogue where people were praying, sources said.
"According to witnesses he was heard saying repeatedly, "Kill the Jews!" Chabad Rabbi Motti Seligson said. "Several other individuals immediately intervened. While we are very pained by everything that has unfolded, we are very grateful to the police for their quick response and are working closely with the authorities in their ongoing investigation."

Seligson said the victim was Levi Rosenblat, a young rabbinical student from Israel. He's in stable condition at Kings County Hospital.

"I entered the building with him, I even held the door open for him," witness Israel Gottdenger, 26, told The Post. "It's a very public building and people of all kinds are always walking in, white, black, everyone.

"He was just going crazy," Gottdenger said. "He said `I want to sit down, I want to get a Bible, who wants to die tonight,' he kept changing his words. He was either really high on drugs or an (emotionally disturbed person)."

The maniac briefly walked out then returned and stabbed Rosenblat in the side of the head.
"He's a very serious student. He'd been studying all day," witness Levi Deutsch said about the victim. "He was stabbed in the side of the head. He was conscious but he was bleeding a lot."

Another witness flagged down cops who were passing the headquarters.

Officers then confronted the man in an encounter that was captured on a dramatic video.

As Peters brandished the knife, an officer pulled his weapon, promoting onlookers at the synagogue to say "Hey officer don't do it" and implore Peters to drop the knife.

Peters then shouts "You gonna shoot me?" prompting the onlookers to exclaim "No, no, no don't shoot, don't shoot."

Peters then repeats "You gonna shoot me," to which the officer responds, "If you don't drop the knife I will."
After several demands from the officer, Peters then puts the knife down on a table and puts his hands up, prompting the officer to holster his gun.

It appeared as if the encounter had been defused. But Peters is seen suddenly grabbing the knife again, prompting the officer to shout "Stay the f–k away from the knife now."

Other officers then appear in the video as Peters storms around brandishing the knife. Then, moments later, a single shot is heard, after the camera turns away from the chaotic incident.

Sources said one of the officers fired one round into Peter's body, killing him.

Another video shows officers standing over the man as he was handcuffed.

"It's the first time this has happened at a New York synagogue," one member said.

"I come here every day. To know that somebody died here, it's scary. It needs to be a secure place."

The suspect was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he died.


Monday, December 08, 2014

Author offers insight into world of Hasidim 

It is a cultural divide as wide as the Atlantic and as near as the next town. In Orange and Sullivan counties, few topics engender as much strident opinion as the difficult coexistence between Hasidic Jews and their secular neighbors.

In Bloomingburg and Monroe, in particular, the battle over high-density Hasidic housing has brought about accusations by secular residents that "they" routinely flout zoning laws and manipulate elections to their advantage. But who, exactly, are "they?"

Once a "curious off-shoot" of Judaism, "Hasidim are now America's fastest-growing ethnic tribe," said Joseph Berger, an award-winning education and religion reporter for The New York Times, who gave a talk on the subject Sunday afternoon at Monroe-Temple Beth-El. Berger is the author of "The Pious Ones: The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America," which served as the basis for his talk.

The number of Hasidim is expected to reach 6 million by the end of the century – an ironic milestone, given their annihilation in the same numbers by Germany's Nazi Party in the 1930s and '40s.

Hasidism has a 300-year history rooted in the villages of Eastern Europe, Berger said. Though a casual observer might assume all Hasidim are the same, with their curled side-locks, black hats and black clothing, each of the tradition's 30 sects is marked by variations in dress and custom. "I thought about calling the book, '50 Shades of Black,'" Berger joked.

However, all Hasidim are identified by a "fierce, all-encompassing, all-consuming commitment to performing the obligations of their faith," as well as obedience to the authority of their respective rabbis, Berger said.

"The Hasidim offer a model for how a faith that touches practically every aspect of human life, from work, schooling, eating and sex to clothing and social relations, can strengthen community in an age … of alienation," Berger said. As such, he said, they are able to sustain the flames of religious practice, even as assimilation and intermarriage threaten the future of other Jewish factions.

But this very lack of assimilation to American culture by certain sects of Hasidim – for example, the Satmars who make up the Village of Kiryas Joel – is a source of friction among secular residents, who find Hasidism "forbidding," Berger said. They live in separate neighborhoods; their children do not play together.

The "chief source of conflict between Hasidim and the community outside" is housing, Berger said, and its ensuing zoning problems. The two main purposes of this zoning "are to keep the Hasidim in and keep the Hasidim out," he said.

Many who filled the sanctuary of Monroe Temple on Sunday talked about this very conflict.

Though some ultra-Orthodox Jews have accused their secular neighbors of anti-Semitism, neighbors object to the uniquely Hasidic practices of bloc voting and building high-density housing. "This is not an issue of anti-Semitism," said Jake Ehrenreich of Monroe. Rather, said Ehrenreich, whose father and grandfather were Hasids from Eastern Europe, neighbors would object to these practices by any ethnic group.

Rabbi Pesach Burston, the Lubavitcher leader of Chabad of Orange County, called Sunday's discussion "a healthy dialogue."

"There's a tremendous amount of misunderstanding" between Hasidic and secular Americans, he said. The lesson to take from Berger's talk, Burston said, is "that we gain an understanding of the different cultures and lessen the animosity or friction between them … We have to separate what is the issue from what is the cultural difference."


Sunday, December 07, 2014

Orange Confidential: KJ sewer plant permit expired in July 

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has cited the Village of Kiryas Joel for violations at its sewage treatment plant, including the fact that it had been operating with an expired discharge permit since July 31.

The notice of violation, dated Nov. 7, stems from a plant inspection the DEC conducted on Sept. 17 to test compliance with that permit, known as a State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit. Inspectors found fault with a mechanical screen that had been out of order since June 1, and noted that several other issues hadn't been corrected since the DEC's last inspection letter, in August 2013. They also noticed the expired permit, which meant the plant technically had been operating without one for more than three months.

The village was given until Dec. 1 to submit a corrective action plan. The DEC didn't respond to a question from the Times Herald-Record about whether Kiryas Joel has since renewed the SPDES permit for the treatment plant.



Saturday, December 06, 2014

Casino announcement expected Dec. 17 

A decision on whether casinos will land in Orange County is expected on Wednesday, Dec. 17, when the Gaming Facility Location Board is tentatively scheduled to meet.

Based on a law passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, up to two casinos could be built in a region spanning Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties.

There are nine separate proposals for casino in the region, including six in Orange County.

Casinos have been proposed in South Blooming Grove, Ellenville, Kiamesha Lake, Montgomery, Newburgh, New Windsor, Tuxedo and Woodbury.

Genting in Tuxedo

A public hearing on the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed casino in Tuxedo has been scheduled for Dec. 4 at the Tuxedo High School. The Tuxedo casino has faced opposition from environmental groups and the Palisades Park Commission due to its location adjacent to the Sterling Forest State Park.

A lawsuit filed against the town of Tuxedo over its handling of a casino proposed by Genting, the Malaysian-based gaming company, was dismissed by state Supreme Court Judge John Colangelo in Goshen. The lawsuit contended that the town approved a new zoning district for the casino without going through an environmental review of the casino project.

In his decision, Colangelo found that a lawsuit seeking damages could not be filed until after a casino had been awarded a special permit by the town.

"Unless and until the town board makes a final determination with respect to a special use permit," Colangelo wrote, "there is no final agency determination to challenge, and unless approved, petitioner's injuries remain speculative at best."

Lawsuits have also been filed by the village of Kiryas Joel against the village of South Blooming Grove, village and town of Woodbury over allegations that the municipalities promised sewer capacity to casino operators and pledged support for projects which had not undergone any environmental reviews. The suits also contended that the support was given in exchange for millions of dollars of compensation the operators promised to the municipalities.

Other casinos could be located in the Albany region and Binghamton area. After seven years, additional casinos could be proposed in New York City.



Friday, December 05, 2014

Hassidic musician plays the whiskey black-hat blues 

If it hadn't been for Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Lazer Lloyd thinks he would've been famous by now. On the other hand, he figures that by now, he'd probably also be dead.

Back in 1994, Lloyd was a rising young blues musician with a deal at Atlantic Records when he met the famed songwriter and spiritualist, who invited to join a musical tour in Israel.

"I was a really crazy blues rock'n'roller," he recalls. "I had a lot of light, but my personality was like fire. I would go into a bar to play a show, and I could light the whole place up, but it would never end."

Instead, his tour with Carlebach set him on a journey that led him to embrace Hassidism and move to Israel. It also brought him to the green room of The Mint, a small music club in Los Angeles where he is about to close out a West Coast tour that ran from November 15-24.

A well-established blues guitarist in Israel, Lloyd, 48, has been actively touring in Europe and the United States for the past year and a half, trying to build an audience. He mixes gigs at synagogues and Jewish community centers with shows at mainstream music clubs, like The Mint.

'I had a lot of light, but my personality was like fire'

Lounging in jeans, a purple shirt and a black felt hat, sporting glasses and a bushy brown beard edged with gray, Lloyd (born Lloyd Paul Blumen) makes the merger of Hassidism and the blues sound perfectly natural. For him, it all came down to the flat five.

The flat five refers to taking the fifth note in an eight-note scale and flattening it by a half-tone, creating a distinctively mournful sound. It's a sound that appears prominently both in the blues and in European Jewish music. When Lloyd first heard Carlebach play a song with that flat five, he demanded to know why Carlebach was playing the blues. Carlebach explained that in fact it was a song by the Baal Shem Tov, and Lloyd was hooked.

"[Carlebach] was giving over the Hassidut, and the Hassidut was all about connecting through music and how to connect to people, and really was how to connect to the blues — how to heal a broken heart," says Lloyd, using the Hebrew term for Hassidism.

"Everyone has their own blues, and everyone's heart is broken."

He adds, "In this life, you got God and you got women. King David, he's writing the same thing."

As Lloyd speaks, his bassist for the evening rolls in, slit-eyed and reeking of marijuana. Lloyd greets him warmly. Although this evening he is content to stick with water, Lloyd is not generally a teetotaler.

As he later explains to the audience onstage, "I'm used to drinking a little bit of whiskey, but I just toured Russia three weeks ago and my liver is still recovering." He then recites a bracha into the microphone and sips his water.

Of course, as Lloyd points out backstage, living the blues and living Hassidic both involve alcohol.

'You put a little wine in, and the secrets come out. You just have to know not to cross the border'

"In Hassidism, taking L'chayim, taking a little drink is a thing. You put a little wine in, and the secrets come out. You just have to know not to cross the border."

For Lloyd, Hassidism and the blues both connect to the same thing — trying to connect to the heart of emotions, to feel and to be present more fully.

"Before going to Israel, I'd have so many thoughts when I'd play, about the notes and everything. When I got to Israel, I'd get on the stage — I'd just close my eyes. I'd say, I'm just dropping the reins, letting the horses go."

When Lloyd plays the blues onstage, it's a full body-and-soul experience, as he bounces, bobs, nods and pulses to the music — when he solos, he closes his eyes and lets himself plunge into the music, shaking his head in blissful ecstasy, or grimacing as he shreds a particularly nasty passage.

"Rebbe Nachman" — of Breslov, an old Hassidic leader — "was the master of hitbodedut, which is an art of how to get deep into your heart and how to be in touch with your emotions. When you're a musician, you have to be able to do this, to connect to people, to heal people."

That focus on connection, for Lloyd, is paramount. He says he wants his five children to meet all kinds of people, and to make their own decisions about the kind of life they want to live. He professes little interest in tying them to a particular sect or creed.

"I keep away from boxes, sects. I'm a little Sufi, I'm a little apostolic. I connect to good people — there's good things to learn from good people."


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Time limit put on Jewish festival huts in Montreal borough an ‘outrage’ critics say 

For decades, Hasidic Jews in the Montreal borough of Outremont have been erecting temporary huts called sukkahs for the harvest holiday of Sukkot. Dwelling in the structures, built on balconies or in yards, during the week-long holiday is considered a biblically mandated obligation by many Orthodox Jews.

But in the latest flare-up between Outremont's growing Hasidic population and opponents who object to the accommodation of their religious practices, borough council voted this week to curtail the period during which sukkahs can be built.

To the dismay of borough Mayor Marie Cinq-Mars, who said the change will sow discord, a majority of councillors voted to restrict construction of sukkahs to three business days before the fall holiday and to order that they be dismantled three business days after it ends.

"We are positioning ourselves as the most restrictive municipality in the world," Councillor Mindy Pollak, who is a Hasid, said before the vote Monday night.

"We are continuing to uphold the unfortunate, long-standing tradition of confrontation, distrust, lack of response to the needs of our citizens and a worsening of the cohabitation between neighbours. This is an outrage. I vote against it."

Ms. Pollak had initially proposed extending the borough's existing rule — which allows sukkahs a total of 15 days — to provide Jews seven days before the holiday for construction and seven days after to take them down. That would have brought Outremont in line with neighbouring boroughs. But instead Councillor Céline Forget, a longtime foe of the Hasidim, amended the proposal to three days before and after the holiday.

Pierre Lacerte, an Outremont resident who runs a blog dedicated to exposing alleged zoning and parking violations by his Hasidic neighbours, has complained that the sukkahs are an eyesore and a fire hazard. In a blog post in October he described the sukkahs as "a patchwork of construction materials, sometimes worm-eaten and generally unaesthetic."

During the discussion Monday night, Councillor Jacqueline Gremaud took offence when people drew a parallel between sukkahs and Christmas trees, which are not subject to any time limit.

"It is a comparison I find a little funny because a Christmas tree is just a tree. I don't live in it. I'm not a squirrel," she said. "I say that just to bring a little levity into the evening."

It is unlikely the borough administration will be laughing if its new restriction on sukkahs faces a court challenge. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2004 that a Montreal condominium complex's bylaws prohibiting sukkahs violated residents' freedom of religion.

Steven Slimovitch, a lawyer who represented the Jewish organization B'nai Brith in that case, predicted Outremont's bylaw change will end up before the high court. "It's clearly not a move along the path of respect for the concept of freedom of religion," he said.

Max Lieberman, a member of Outremont's Hasidic community, said a court challenge is being strongly considered. "Every year there's something new about how to target the Jews. This year it's sukkahs," he said. "Jews live worldwide in all different cities and towns. There's not a borough in the world that has such restrictive rules."

It would not be the community's first constitutional challenge. In 2001, the Hasidim won a court case against Outremont, which had banned them from erecting an eruv, a symbolic string boundary that allows orthodox Jews to perform tasks that would otherwise be off limits on the Sabbath.

Ms. Cinq-Mars said in an interview that the sukkahs generate only a handful of complaints every year. "Are we going to open a debate because we've received a few complaints?" she asked. "Cohabitation is not always easy in Outremont. And good relations are fragile, very fragile."


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