Friday, October 20, 2017

Netflix’s ‘One Of Us’ Delivers A Harrowing Look Inside The Hasidic Community 

Living in a diverse city like New York, you're made aware every single day of just how many communities exist. Even beyond race, orientation, gender expression, you see people united by the kinds of clothes they wear or their mode of transit. But even if crowded together on a packed subway car, there's one community that feels isolated. They exist just out of phase with the rest of reality, as if your hand would pass through them if you reached out. That separation is by design, giving this community a feeling of protection and strength. What the new Netflix documentary One of Us reveals, though, is that bridging the gap between worlds is nearly impossible–and sometimes dangerous–for those looking to break out.

Cut off from modern culture and cloaked in tradition, the Hasidic community seem like a small enclave on the surface–that is, until about halfway through One of Us when you see thousands and thousands of members of the faith gathered at a baseball stadium. It's then that you realize that all of that, an entire world, exists just out of sight of your day to day. This realization makes the world feel uncertain, unknowable. If all this can go on under my radar, what else is happening out there?

The disorientation that those outside the faith feel in that one moment is similar to the disorientation felt by the documentary's three subjects: Luzer, a man that traded in his faith for Hollywood (literally); Ari, a college-aged survivor of abuse within the community that's eager to escape via Google; and Etty, a mother of seven fighting for freedom and also One of Us' tragic heart. Their stories follow them as they traverse worlds, jumping from the dangers they know to the dangers of a mysterious new reality.

Leaving the Hasidic community is not an option given to its members at any point. That doesn't mean the Hasidic community has a perfect retention rate; when young Ari confronts a  community elder about religious hypocrisy, the elder shrugs it off, telling the kid that he's far from the first person to have a crisis of faith. What's clear are the consequences: you leave, then you leave. You're done. No contact with anyone in the community, your family or friends, and–in One of Us' most painful sequence of events–the entire Hasidic community will unite to wreck your life. Those are the stakes, and the film–which comes from the same team that delivered the intense study of evangelical Christianity Jesus Camp–makes them feel insurmountable.

Aspiring actor Luzer lost contact with his family immediately after telling them that he had given up on religion. He relocated to the west coast and followed the same life path that plenty of others have trod: aspiring actor by day, Uber driver also by day. Unlike others, he doesn't have a familial safety net and lives in an RV to keep costs down. At times, the otherwise upbeat, Bee Gees singin' guy  comes across as (rightfully) angry about his past. He's the one that makes the observation that life in the Hasidic community sets everyone who wishes to leave up for failure. This indoctrination starts with heavily censored textbooks with illustrations of cartoon women masked in black marker and continues throughout the formative years, resulting in adults that know how to live in the Hasidic community and nowhere else. Luzer explains what he's up against: "Everybody who leaves [the community], they end up in jail or rehab."

Through Ari, a similarly curious man about a decade younger than Luzer, we see the hunt for knowledge in action. "I couldn't Goole how to Google because I didn't know how to Google in the first place," he says, relaying with a wry smile just how difficult it is to learn what the community wants to keep hidden. Initially, Ari's journey seems like it's going to be the least fraught as he's a young, energetic guy whose quest for knowledge isn't combative. He cuts off his sidecurls but still wears a yarmulke as he searches for the way he wants to express his faith. But Ari's casual questioning leads to intense interrogation from everyone around him and, as the past traumas of our lead subjects come into focus, his story turns into a tense push and pull with no easy way out.

There are developments I'm withholding to preserve the narrative impact of One of Us, although I can't say that the doc really has spoilers. If you've seen other films about tightly controlled religious communities, ones about the Catholic church or even Scientology, then you're already familiar with what's at play in One of Us. The worst happens to those that speak out against the dangerous people in power, and then the worst keeps happening until the credits roll. As necessary as Luzer and Ari's stories are, One of Us feels, ultimately, all about Etty, a Hasidic woman married off to a domestic abuser at the age of 19 who spends her 20s in a nonstop cycle of battery and childbirth. Since it is against Hasidic code to take legal action against another member of the community, she quickly finds out that no one is on her side as she fights quite literally to save her life and the lives of her seven children. We see Etty become stronger and more defiant throughout the film as she finds a community with Footsteps, an organization founded to help ex-Orthodox adjust to outside life. But the more she fights, the stronger the community gets. Stalking, manipulation, intimidation, harassment, a hit and run–there are no lengths the community won't go to to expel Etty and separate her from her seven firmly entrenched children.

One of Us is not an easy watch, but there's no way that it could be. For all the stability Hasidism offers those who believes, this documentary and so many articles reveal that it's not kind to those that wish to step away from it. People that try to speak their truth to those in power are squashed, and this keeps happening–in many religions–time and time again. One of Us makes this conflict feel draining and damaging, albeit at a fraction of the intensity felt by its subjects. One of Us gives us a peek inside a mostly isolated world, and through it we learn that it has all the same problems.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Borough Park rabbi arrested at gunpoint cleared of charges 

Rabbi Berl Fink at his arrest

A Vermont judge cleared Rabbi Berl Fink of all charges Wednesday relating to his controversial arrest by Vermont State Troopers in August that resulted in Fink being arrested at gunpoint.

Fink had led Vermont State Trooper Justin Thompson on a four-mile police chase in August when he failed to pull over for driving 20 miles over the speed limit. Fink said that he did not realize he was being pulled over and could not find a place to do so.

When Fink finally stopped, Thompson ordered him at gunpoint to leave the car with his hands up and handcuffed Fink along with his wife and brother. Thompson told Rabbi Fink that "if you don't do exactly what I say, you're going to get tased" and yelled at another officer to "check them for weapons".

Fink was later charged with refusing a police order.

Fink's wife Sarah later told the New York Post that the ordeal was "traumatizing" and contended that police had caused them to be fearful of travel. "I tell you, there was brutality. He was pointing guns. I can't tell you how traumatizing it was," said Sarah Fink. "We were frustrated. We were helpless. There was nothing to do. When someone starts up with you, you call the police. But what if it is the police?"

"We're talking about normal people. What in the world are you doing to them? It's out of hand. This shouldn't have happened in any state in the United States of America," said Fink's son Yehuda.

Dashcam footage of the incident quickly went viral, outraging members of New York's close-knit haredi community. Many contended that the incident involved anti-Semitism and were incensed when the Vermont State Police Internal Affairs Unit cleared Thompson of misconduct, ruling that "Thompson acted in accordance with his training and Vermont State Police policy and procedure".

"My constituents' dress made it clear that they were Hasidic Jews, a sight that may be uncommon in Vermont but one that is hardly a crime," said Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind. "While it would be difficult to mistake the Fink family as people who might pose a danger to police officers, they were subjected to having guns pointed at them, being handcuffed, terrorized and humiliated. This entire incident has left the Fink family traumatized and fearful of travel."

Jim Kenyon, a columnist for Vermont's Valley News, also blasted the behavior of the police. "After watching the video of a Vermont State Police trooper's traffic stop of a Brooklyn rabbi and his family on Interstate 91 in Thetford, I don't know whether to be angry or frightened," he wrote.

"The 40-minute encounter, captured on a cruiser's dashboard video camera, shows what can go wrong when police bring a military mentality to their daily jobs."


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tempers Flare at Public Hearing on Bklyn Pfizer Site; Allegations of Anti-Semitism 

The fight over the controversial Pfizer site redevelopment plan last week took an odd turn concerning whether City Councilmember David Greenfield, who is chair of the Council's powerful Land Use Committee, should recuse himself from the matter as he readies to leave the city council in order to assume a leadership role in a large nonprofit (the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty) that has past ties to the project.

A non-profit organization that bills itself as one that provides succor for indigent and financially challenged Jews and their families, the Met Council, as it is commonly referred to, is still attempting to emerge from a public relations imbroglio that it found itself mired in. In 2014, its long time executive director, William Rapfogel was arrested and sentenced to prison for stealing millions of dollars from the organization's coffers.

Since that juncture, the social service organization that has spent more than $110 million a year, mostly from government funds, on home health care and other services for older people and the poor and has descended into a tailspin that seems almost irreparable.
The brouhaha at the public hearing on the Pfizer site included verbal threats and allegations of anti-Semitism which in turn then overshadowed the merits of the plan as hundreds of advocates, opponents and elected officials who had descended upon City Hall for the City Council's subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises.

The current plan is set in a two-block area situated between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street known as the Broadway Triangle area.

As developers of the project, the Rabsky Group are proposing eight mixed-use buildings for the site including 1,146 mixed-income residential units of which 287 will be permanently affordable units, 65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, a half-acre of public open space, and 405 parking spaces.

The Broadway Triangle has been a contentious issue for local officials and community advocates, who have been fighting over the property for almost a decade. Back in 2009, community members successfully sued the city claiming the Broadway Triangle Rezoning favored the Hasidic community over blacks and Latinos.

During the hearing, which Queens City Councilman Richard Donovan Jr. (D) led, Marty Needleman, Executive Director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in a 2009 lawsuit to stop the project, hinted at a possible "money connection" between the United Jewish Organization (UJO) of Williamsburg and the Rabsky Group.

Needleman specifically accused the Williamsburg-based developer of favoring the Hasidic Jewish community over the black and Latino community due to strong Hasidic community connections, specifically regarding the UJO and its Executive Director Rabbi David Niederman.

"Rabsky with some of the connections especially with the Hasidic community, is a money connection, not necessarily because he likes Jews, or he's Jewish or Hasidic. It's because they [Rabsky] know that the UJO is a very powerful political force in this area [Williamsburg]," said Needleman.

One of the partners of the Rabsky Group, Simon Dushinsky, was born and raised in Israel and currently lives in the Vizhnitz Hasidic community in Williamsburg. According to the Real Deal New York, Dushinsky, formed Rabsky Group in the early 1990s to develop condos for the Hasidic community.

In questioning Needleman, Councilman Greenfield (D) who represents constituencies in Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, was quick to walk him back on the allegations, questioning the truth of the accusations on the official record.
Needleman was forced to concede that the allegations were "idle speculation but based on much experience over 45 years."
Rabbi Niederman also refuted the allegations, calling them "outrageous lies" and completely denying any knowledge of such a connection.

"It is honestly disappointing, when we are trying to have a hearing on the merits and facts, for you to say something that seems factual, but later under questioning, is based on speculation, is a pretty serious accusation, and is an unfair claim to make," said Greenfield, who is stepping down from the council in January to head the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council).
According to Needleman and separate sources, the UJO and the Met Council had a stake in the original Broadway Triangle rezoning proposal that included an affordable housing plan specifically proposed by the UJO back in 2009.

Additionally, according to the UJO website, "The UJO has had a long-standing and successful collaboration with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Many of the valuable services that the UJO provides would not be possible without the dedication and cooperation of Met Council."

Needleman said his comments and allegations about the relationship between the UJO and the Rabsky Group has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic, and that there are good and bad people in all communities. This has to deal with the politics, money and things that go on in this particular area, he said.

Needleman added that it's troubling Greenfield was more focused on the UJO allegations than on the impact that the rezoning may have on Hispanics and blacks, and their ability to stay in the neighborhood.

In questioning Greenfield's office on whether he should recuse himself on the issue because of a possible conflict of interest due to his upcoming job with the Met Council, Greenfield's office issued a "no comment," and made a point of telling the reporter that it is blatant anti-Semitism to even follow this line of questioning.

Additionally Greenfield, though refusing comment, made veiled threats regarding his connection to the UJO and his upcoming tenure at the Met Council to the publisher of KCP, promising an intense smear campaign in the future.

In August of this year, the Jewish Voice published a searing investigative piece about the corruption ridden past of the Met Council. When it was reported that Councilman Greenfield had made the decision to take on a leadership role at the troubled organization, the Jewish Voice reached out to him.

When asked for comment on his new position at the Met Council and what steps he plans to take to extricate the organization from the public relations quagmire it finds itself in, Councilman Greenfield declined to issue statements to the media. He did, however. tell the Jewish Voice that he would be more than glad to provide responses to the questions that the publication posed to him after he assumes his position at the Met Council.

Using his powerful position on the Land Use Committee, it was reported last month by the Jewish Voice that Greenfield has secured $9M in city council funding for Jewish groups. This past summer, Greenfield advocated for a $2.75 million aid package for New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage. . According to the Museum, these funds will initiate new high-impact exhibitions on anti-Semitism, revitalize public space, and introduce new technology for the benefit of 50,000 schoolchildren, their teachers, and other visitors.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is just one of the many Jewish organizations whose funding Greenfield advocated for in this year's budget. Greenfield supported the efforts of Council Member Laurie Cumbo to secure funds for the Jewish Children's Museum in Crown Heights which will see $2 million to provide supplemental educational opportunities focused on Jewish history. Jewish social-service providers like the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services will receive new office space, equipment and new vehicles including for transportation to and from Boro Park's Mishkon.

City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Williamsburg, Boerum Hill) whose district includes the proposed redevelopment site, opened the proceedings with remarks addressing the ethnic tensions surrounding the plan.

"Over the past 20 years, all of these communities have been feeling the squeeze. At some point we have to get past the fights of a previous generation. We have to move past training our fire on one another. We have to be constructive because if we aren't constructive, the situation is going to get worse. We can continue to build as much affordable housing as were able to build, and the situation for a lot of people is going to continue to get worse. But it's going to get that much worse if we do nothing," said Levin.
But City Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Bushwick, Williamsburg), whose district is across the street from the proposed development, countered the claim by citing the previous 2009 lawsuit brought against the city. That lawsuit eventually halted construction in the Broadway Triangle in 2012.

"Everything that has been said now has been said in the past. Without the ability to sue, without the court system, we would not get justice. It is a judge that has said that the rezoning will perpetuate segregation in the Broadway Triangle. That is not an opinion, that is a fact. This whole notion that one community is pitted against another is real, it is not something we can sweep under the rug or hold hands and sing Kumbaya," said Reynoso.

The Rabsky originally paid $12,8 million for the property back in 2012 when it first acquired the property from Pfizer.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Morgan Stanley Adviser Fired Over Hasidic Clientele, Suit Says 

A Morgan Stanley financial adviser says in a federal lawsuit he was was told to stop doing business with Hasidic Jewish clients and then harassed and fired when he refused to do so.

Michael Pellegrino says he built a growing "book of business" during his more than four years with the financial industry firm, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 12 in federal court in Manhattan. His consistent success was recognized by the bank in the form of regular and special bonuses and awards, such as being named "Mortgage Champion" of the year in 2014 and 2015, he says.

But when the firm's executive director of compliance recognized that Pellegrino's book included Hasidic clients, he was called into a meeting and interrogated over his professional relationship with the Jewish community, he says. Evan Boucher, the executive director, told him that he needed to "stop chasing and doing business with those Unicorns," according to Pellegrino's complaint ( Pelligrino v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC , S.D.N.Y., No. 1:17-cv-07865, complaint filed 10/12/17 ).

The compliance department later refused to open new accounts brought to Morgan Stanley by Pellegrino because they were Hasidic Jews, offering only bogus excuses for declining the business, the complaint says. When Pellegrino tried to push past those false reasons, Morgan Stanley "stonewalled" his requests for a better explanation, he says.

He also was ordered to shut down an options trading portfolio that some of his Hasidic clients participated in, on the alleged grounds that it was "unsustainable," Pellegrino says. But a co-worker who operated a similar portfolio and who collaborated with Pellegrino on investment strategies for their separate investment vehicles wasn't made to shut down his portfolio, according to the complaint.

Reputation Hurt, Suit Says
Pellegrino was later falsely accused of working with clients who weren't permitted to do business with Morgan Stanley and immediately suspended, he alleges. The firm followed that up by reporting him, without justification, to federal financial regulatory authorities, Pellegrino says.

The religious discrimination and retaliation continued even after he was terminated, as Morgan Stanley froze his accounts, wrecking his credit and damaging his reputation, he alleges.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District court for the Southern District of New York. It includes claims against Morgan Stanley and Boucher under federal and New York state and city anti-bias laws.

Morgan Stanley didn't respond Oct. 12 to Bloomberg Law's request for comment.

Derek Smith Law Group PLLC represents Pellegrino. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Morgan Stanley or Boucher.


Monday, October 16, 2017

Netflix’s One of Us Reveals the Fight of Hasidic Jews to Break From the Sect 

New Yorkers will immediately recognize the opening shots of One of Us, the new documentary from Jesus Camp filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady: ultra-Orthodox Jewish families roaming the big city, the women and girls in skirts and tights, the men and boys in long black coats and hats, looking as if the cast of Fiddler on the Roof broke for lunch and forgot to change into their street clothes. The film is a nuanced and moving illustration of the dilemma facing doubting members of the growing Hasidic community in New York City, home to the world's largest population of Jews outside of Israel.

One of Us offers a rare peek into the insular world of ultra-Orthodox Jews through the eyes of three young adults who are struggling to leave it behind. Etty, in her early 30s, has seven children and an abusive husband whom she's trying to divorce. Stalked and harassed by male friends of her husband, who was removed from her home by the police, she faces a custody battle in which her own parents and siblings are testifying against her. We meet the brooding 18-year-old Ari in a barbershop, having his sidelocks, or payot, shaved off; he began asking questions as a teenager and found he couldn't stop. Wikipedia, he says, "was a gift from God" — which is ironic, considering that he was taught to believe that his God forbids internet access. Finally, we meet Luzer, an energetic, wiry man in his early 30s who left his wife and young children eight years earlier to pursue an acting career in Los Angeles, where he lives in an RV and drives for Uber.

The theme of religious indoctrination echoes the Oscar-nominated Jesus Camp, released in 2006, which centered on an evangelical Christian summer camp in North Dakota. But that documentary had a wider, and somewhat more sensational, purview, with a focus on the spectacle of the fervent young campers speaking in tongues and the potential political impact of a generation of children tasked with "tak(ing) back America for Christ." One of Us is both more somber and more intimate, concentrating on a handful of individual lives and only briefly touching on the issue of political mobilization of religious groups.

Ewing and Grady spent three years with their subjects, and the filmmakers reveal the details of this trio's stories slowly. Their subjects are often partly obscured by shadows or visible only in the blurry reflection of a subway window, a fitting approach for a film about a group of people hiding in plain sight — conspicuous and yet somewhat ethereal. "I'm invisible," Etty laments. These are portraits of isolation; like refugees, those who have left the Orthodox community are stuck between worlds, faced with the daunting prospect of learning how to live a normal life.

In many ways, One of Us is a story of technology seeping, inevitably, into an insular Old World culture. In one scene, a bearded man reprovingly asks Ari, sitting with his laptop at a Williamsburg playground, if the park has free Wi-Fi; Ari responds that there's not much you can do in 2015 to block people from accessing it. Luzer describes his early, furtive dalliances with the outside world, when he'd rent movies like Crossroads from Blockbuster and watch them in his car.

Although the focus remains squarely on its three subjects, One of Us effectively contextualizes this strange, backward community thriving in the middle of one of the most multicultural cities in the world. New York's Hasidic community grew out of a post-Holocaust anxiety about the future of the Jewish people; Chani Getter, a counselor with the support group Footsteps, for former ultra-Orthodox Jews, explains that the Eastern European Jews who survived the Holocaust believed the only way to rebuild the Orthodox way of life in the wake of World War II was to make it stringent and insular.

And so a diaspora that has disproportionately contributed to the development of what we think of as post-war modernity gave birth to this fundamentalist, and fast-growing, group. Like post-Occupation Israel, this measure that once was a method of a people's survival has morphed into something that's too often ugly and authoritarian, another wedge driven between two opposing strands of the larger Jewish community. "Judaism has wanted a lot from me," Ari reflects. He and Etty and Luzer aren't out to destroy this way of life; they are still deeply connected to Judaism, a religion that, ironically, encourages questioning. As Luzer remarks, they're searching for something that religion — and religion alone — was supposed to provide: "Purpose and meaning."


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Bringing Jewish education and yoga together 

Jory Stillman

Jory Stillman is a graduate of the Pardes Educator’s Program in Jerusalem and holds an M.A. in Jewish Education from the Hebrew University. A student of yoga for almost 20 years, Jory is a certified Kripalu Yoga teacher, has additional training for children through LifeForce Yoga, Yoga Ed. and also received Coaching certification through FastTrack Coach Academy Coaching for Transformation.

Bringing Jewish education and yoga together, Shalom Kids Yoga (SKY) combines two of Jory’s great passions, bringing something fresh to the world of Jewish formal and informal education.

Being an educator in the traditional classroom and children’s yoga classes for close to fifteen years, Jory is committed to finding the hidden spark in everyone, being curious, compassionate and playful, whether in a yoga class, the classroom or a coaching session.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

City-Owned Vacant Land Moves To Forefront Of Broadway Triangle Dispute 

With Hispanic and black residents of the Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bushwick area crying for more affordable housing, City Councilmember Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Northern Brooklyn) said today that he remains reluctant to broker a deal that would free up city-owned property to do just that.

Levin’s thoughts on the city-owned parcels of the Broadway Triangle Urban Renewal area come as he has already recommended the city council approve the redevelopment of smaller private parcels just outside that area. Both areas are in his district, and the city council traditionally backs land use projects up for a vote upon the recommendation of the member in whose district the land sits.

The entire area has been a battleground for affordable housing, between blacks and Hispanics, and Hasidic Jews. The blacks and Hispanics say the development is mainly for Hasidic Jews, which creates segregation, while the Hasidic Jews are saying anti-Semitism is involved because the developer is a Hasidic Jew.

The Broadway Triangle is a partially city-owned, and partially privately owned 21-block area on the border of Williamsburg and Bedford-Stuyvesant, that is bordered by Broadway, Union and Flushing avenues, according to DNA Info.

In 2009, the entire area was rezoned as part of the Broadway Triangle Urban Renewal Area, a city plan to allow for affordable residential development in North Brooklyn. Under that plan, in a deal that several sources said the Met Council of Jewish Poverty brokered, the United Jewish Organization (UJO) of Williamsburg and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC) were given the rights to develop the area.

The late Assemblymember and former Kings County Democratic Party boss Vito Lopez founded the RBSCC, and Levin, who comes from a politically connected family worked for both Lopez and specifically for the RBSCC at the time the city greenlighted the organization get conditional site control of the city-owned parcels to develop it into affordable housing.

This led to a coalition of mainly Hispanic non-profits and church organizations forming the Broadway Triangle Coalition (BTC) that felt the city should have put out a request for proposals (RFP) instead of unilaterally giving rights to develop the city-owned parcels to the RBSCC.

The BTC then successfully sued the city on the grounds it violated the fair housing act and created segregation. The court sided with the coalition and in 2012 issued an injunction, ruling that the deal unfairly favored Hasidic residents over Blacks and Latinos, and promoted segregation.

Also in 2012, the Rabsky Group, a private developer, bought a privately owned 2-block area within the triangle for $12.8 million from the Pfizer Company, not included in the original Urban Renewal plan.

Rabsky is targeting their property for redevelopment with a proposed plan of 1,149 mixed-income residential units of which 287 will be permanently affordable units including  65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, a half-acre of public open space and 405 parking spaces situated between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street.

It is this project that is now before the city council for approval, and which the BTC and the adjacent City Council Member Antonio Reynoso is trying to stop and Levin supports.

Lost in this hubbub is the city has been in negotiations with the coalition for the past five years to settle the lawsuit over the more than a dozen city-owned plots of undeveloped land within the triangle including Block 2269, Lots 25, 27, 28 ,29, 30, 31, 33, 35, and 36 (Throop St Site);Block 2269, Lots 47, 48, 49, 50 (35 Bartlett St. Site); Block 2269, Lot 52 (32 Bartlett St. Site); Block 2269, Lots 14, 16, 17, 18 (Gerry St. Site); and Block 2272, Lots 49, 51, 52, 53, and 108 (Whipple St. Site).

Since the 2012 injunction, the RBSCC’s rights to develop the properties have expired, and according to Reynoso, a resolution to this property through a competitive RFP to develop it into affordable housing where blacks and browns and Hasidic Jews could live together would go a long way to resolving the animosity between the groups.

“It’s beyond me how in this one area why the city wouldn’t go above and beyond to ensure fair housing. I don’t know how they can just turn a blind eye and endure lawsuit after lawsuit,” said Reynoso.

Levin said although the lawsuit is over property in his district and he has had nearly four years to play peacemaker in helping to negotiate a settlement between the city and the BTC, he is loath to do so.

“I don’t have the standing to intervene myself as a city councilmember,” said Levin, adding any RFP issued would have to be an actual competitive process and he would not support an RFP in name only. “If there is a discussion to be had I would have to be approached with that.”

According to Barbara Schliff, Tenant Organizing Director for Southside United HDFC-Los Sures, the plots have remained unchanged due to the City’s unwillingness to negotiate an equitable settlement until very recently. Additionally, Schliff was quick to note that the City would never simply release the land in an RFP to a Hispanic non-profit.

These sentiments were echoed by Shekar Krishnan, Director of the Preserving Affordable Housing Program at Brooklyn Legal Services, and an attorney for the Broadway Triangle Coalition, who noted that the ultimate goal of the lawsuit was not to reclaim City-owned land for use by minority residents but to allow for integrated-inclusionary housing at the site.

“It’s not just that in rezoning this portion of land, the City should be looking at the whole area/the fair housing needs/and history, including fair housing litigation.  It is that they are required to.  As a recipient of HUD funding, the City must Affirmatively Further Fair Housing when rezoning in a neighborhood (it’s their AFFH duty).  As a result, they must study and understand the fair housing needs of an area, and whether a proposed rezoning would exacerbate existing segregation or address the fair housing needs.  This is not a duty to avoid segregation, this is a duty imposed on government to affirmatively integrate a neighborhood,” said Krishnan.

A City Law Department spokesperson said settlement negotiations are moving along nicely.

“We’ve had fruitful discussions with the community members and their lawyers and think we are close to resolving this matter so that affordable housing can be developed in this community,” said the spokesperson.

But Reynoso is not holding his breath, saying the city has said it was close to settling a number of issues and then a few years go by and nothing gets done.



Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Chag Sameach 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Why an ex-Hasidic Jew is taking on the Quebec government over education 

Yohanan Lowen, right, and his wife, Shifra, are taking the Quebec government to court. They are seen here outside their Montreal apartment.

Growing up near Montreal, Yohanan Lowen was at the top of his class.

He could speak Yiddish, read ancient Aramaic and recite lengthy passages from the Talmud, the compendium of sacred Jewish texts.

But when he finished school at 18, Lowen alleges he could barely add or subtract, nor read and write in English or French. He says he hadn't even heard of the St. Lawrence River.

"We never learned the rules of a language. We never had literature. We didn't develop a rich vocabulary for writing or even for talking. I never learned French. Je ne parle pas bien en français," said Lowen, who grew up in Tash, a secluded ultra-orthodox Hasidic community tucked away in Boisbriand, Que., about 30 kilometres from Montreal.

He broke ties with his home community a decade ago.

Now unemployed and still working toward his high school diploma, the father of four is in the middle of a drawn-out legal battle against the Quebec government and his home community.

Lowen and his wife, Shifra, who also grew up in Tash, accuse the province of ignoring its legal obligation to ensure all children receive a proper education.

The case is expected to be heard next fall, and its outcome could have a profound effect on schools run by religious communities in the province.

His story is the subject of Benjamin Shingler's documentary, Birds in my head.

Quebec's Education Ministry, the community of Tash and the rabbi named in the legal challenge all declined to comment, citing the ongoing court case.

Tash home to conservative Hasidic sect

Tash is home to roughly 3,000 people considered to be among the most conservative of the Hasidic sects in Quebec.

It was founded in 1963 by 18 families who wanted a place outside Montreal where they could live in seclusion in accordance with their beliefs.

A set of bylaws, established by the head rabbi, governs the behaviour of community members.

Tash is just a few blocks — and another world — away from an A&W and a gas station. It has its own shops, schools and even its own ambulance.

The men wear sidelocks, traditional black hats and silk jackets; the women, long, dark dresses.

"People are very bored here," Lowen said, on a recent return visit to Tash.

"Even radio is forbidden. No cinema, no theatre, no sports, no playing except for young children."

Basic education a right

In 2014, initial reports about Lowen's lawsuit said he and his wife were seeking $1.2 million from the government. However, Clara Poissant-Lespérance, Lowen's lawyer, said his clients don't want a payout.

Instead, they are seeking a declaratory judgment which, if they win, would force the province to take steps to ensure children in religious communities are taught the provincial curriculum.

"What we allege is that the government has a responsibility to make sure that all children follow the basic education program," she said.

Similar cases involving former Hasids are now before the courts in New York state and Israel.

In Quebec, only schools that follow the provincial curriculum are eligible for government funding.

Many Hasidic schools already meet those standards.

In 2016, a Montreal school that didn't follow the rules was raided by police.

The Quebec government has since reached a compromise with several schools, whereby religion is taught at school and the curriculum taught at home, under the supervision of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).

"For us, it seems to be an excellent solution," said Joseph Maman, head of Yeshiva Toras Moshe Academy in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood, home to many of the city's Hasidic Jews.

"It allows the parents to offer their children their personal values, and at the same time it enables these children to get a secular education overseen by a school board — in this case, the EMSB."

Hasidic Jews tell different story

Lowen has become something of a media darling in Quebec as the province wrestles with the accommodation of religious minorities.

He even appeared on the popular French-language talk show Tout le Monde en Parle a few years ago, where he criticized the government and his home community.

His comments have angered many Hasidic Jews, who say his struggles aren't representative of their own experiences.

Chesky Weise, a Hasidic Jew who lives in cosmopolitan Outremont, a Montreal suburb adjacent to Mile End, said his children's schools are trying to comply with provincial requirements.

That means long school days for his children, divided between hours of religious studies and the Quebec curriculum.

"It is a very difficult balance for us. We're always struggling with it," said Weise.

The Quebec government tried to get Lowen's case thrown out earlier this year.

A judge struck down that challenge, giving Lowen legal standing to take both the government and the rabbi in charge of his old school to court.

No matter what happens, Lowen said he's happy he started a conversation.

"People should talk about it. This itself is the first step."



Monday, October 09, 2017

2 teenage girls attacked in Brooklyn over religion 

Two young teenage girls were attacked by a woman who expressed outrage over their religious beliefs while walking on Kingston Avenue,Brooklyn on the second night of Sukkot. A man who tried to intervene in their defense was attacked as well.

The incident occured on  Thursday night, the second night of Sukkot, at around 11:00pm, near Empire Blvd. in Crown Heights.

The alleged assailant was identified by police as Shannon Polak, aged 26.

Police say she approched the girls and asked them where they were going. The girls responded that they were going to a religious event, and the woman then asked them if “they really believe in that.” She then started pushing the girls, pulling their hair and tried to choke one of them, police said.

A 20-year-old Hasidic man tried to intervene, but Polak repeatedly punched him in the face, according to police.

Police were called to the scene and the assailant was arrested and charged with assault.

The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating.



Sunday, October 08, 2017

This ex-con is a friend to all debt-rattled deadbeats 


A convicted fraudster spends his days in a Brooklyn courtroom steering deadbeats to lawyers in debt-collection cases that often get favorable rulings by controversial Judge Noach Dear, The Post has learned.

And the ex-con, Chaim Pinkesz, helped put the jurist on the bench, sources said.

Pinkesz, 58, acts as a messiah-like figure in his Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, holding “office hours” in his home for debtors and others who need lawyers.

Pinkesz is part of the Shmira neighborhood safety patrol, and keeps a scooter parked outside his Borough Park home where he also holds fund-raisers for political candidates and ran a charity to help single mothers.

But behind the scenes, he has been accused in court papers of threats and harassment.

Lawyer Alan Rubenstein, who is embroiled with Pinkesz in a legal dispute over a $5 million life- ­insurance policy, alleged in a letter to Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes that “these threats began literally the moment this action was commenced and occurred even in the courtroom itself. His threats ran the gamut and included threatening me with criminal prosecution, disbarment and financial ruination.”

Pinkesz, who pled guilty in 1986 to trafficking in counterfeit merchandise like phony Cartier watches, for which he served four months in federal prison, denied threatening Rubenstein.

In Dear’s courtroom, which handles consumer-debt matters, Pinkesz introduces defendants from the Orthodox community to lawyers.

Dear is known for routinely dismissing consumer-debt cases or forcing settlements that favor debtors over banks or collection agencies. He heard the cases for many years as a Brooklyn Civil Court judge before winning a term on the higher Supreme Court in 2015.

But Dear recently managed to get back to Civil Court on Mondays and Tuesdays, when members of the Orthodox community are frequent defendants.

On two days last month, Pinkesz darted in and out of the courtroom and was spotted at one point huddled in a hallway engaging in a lengthy conversation with a lawyer and a Hasidic defendant.

Pinkesz, who is also known as Edward or Joseph, told The Post he earned his living as an insurance agent and was a “community activist” who liked to provide moral support to those in court.

“I never take money,” he said. “If anybody offers me money, I get very, very upset.”

Lawyers can face disbarment if they share fees with non-lawyers.

Pinkesz said he knows Dear “just like everybody else knows him, from the community.”

But Pinkesz actively campaigned to win Dear his Supreme Court seat — a job that pays $194,000 annually and comes with a 14-year term — according to one Jewish leader.

Pinkesz did political work such as witnessing petition signatures for Ari Kagan, an influential Democratic district leader in Brooklyn, in an attempt to garner Kagan’s support for Dear’s judicial nomination, the source said.

In 2015, district leaders hammered out a backroom deal between Orthodox Jews backing Dear and a reformer contingent supporting Civil Court Judge Debra Silber. Under the agreement brokered by Kagan and other district leaders, each faction agreed to approve the other’s candidate, The Post previously reported.

Democratic nominees are typically assured victory in New York City once they are placed on the ballot by a nominating committee.

Pinkesz has donated $18,000 to local political campaigns and committees since 2013, including $750 to Kagan and Kagan’s Bay Democrats political committee.

Kagan said he backed Dear on his merits and did not recall if Pinkesz asked him for any support. Pinkesz claimed ignorance on any conversations with Kagan about Dear, who through a court spokesman declined to comment.



Saturday, October 07, 2017

Ukraine Arrests 3 Alleged Terrorists Accused of Targeting Jews in Uman 

Ukrainian police arrested three men they said were terrorists who, in their efforts to pit ethnic groups against one another, also targeted Jews in the central city of Uman.

The men were arrested earlier this month at a border crossing while carrying explosives, according to the KP news site. Citing unnamed officials from the regional prosecutor’s office, the news site reported that the suspects were planning to blow up a monument for Hungarians in a bid to escalate tensions over legislation in Ukraine that outlaws the use of Hungarian at elementary schools.

The three suspects were also behind a string of anti-Semitic incidents, according to the report, including the hurling on Sept. 21 of a grenade at Jewish pilgrims in Uman, where 30,000 Jews convene each year on Rosh Hashanah to celebrate the Jewish holiday near the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.

They are also accused of dousing a synagogue in Uman with red paint in 2016 and leaving a pig’s head there – an incident that many people attributed to hatred of Jews and locals’ growing dissatisfaction with problems associated with the pilgrimage.

They are further accused of spraying the words “death to Jews” on the synagogue in Chernivtsi in November and trying to set fire to the synagogue in Lviv in July. The suspects denied these and other allegations.

Though prosecutors have not said this, the arrests prompted theories that the three suspects were working for Russia to exacerbate social tensions in Ukraine and give the country a bad image abroad.

Russia and Ukraine have exchanged allegations of sabotage after 2014, when a revolution led by nationalists in Ukraine toppled the rule of former president Viktor Yanukovych, whom some critics said was a corrupt Russian stooge. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backs separatists in Ukraine’s east.

The two countries have also exchanged accusations of anti-Semitism in an apparent attempt to discredit each other in the West.



Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Chag Sameach 


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Police detain suspects in Ukraine's serial attacks 

Ukrainian police have detained a group of people suspected to be linked to a series of attacks across the country in the recent months, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avalon said here Monday.

In a statement on Facebook, Avalon wrote that the suspects were detained in Ukraine's western Transcarpathia region while they were preparing to blow up a monument to Hungarian people in the Carpathian Mountains.

Police have seized grenades from the detainees and launched criminal proceedings against them, Avakov said.

According to him, the preliminary investigation found that the arrested men were members of a criminal group that has prepared and performed five blasts and four other provocative acts since November 2016, aimed at "inciting xenophobia, religious intolerance and international conflicts" across Ukraine.

In particular, the group was behind the explosion in central Kiev during the Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 24, 2017, which injured three people, Avakov said.

According to the minister, the group has also organized a blast near a pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews in the city of Uman in central Ukraine last month, which hurt two Israeli nationals.

In addition, the police accused the detained people of attacks on the Polish consulate in western Lutsk city and the U.S. embassy in Kiev in March and June this year respectively.

The Interior Minister has not disclosed the number of detainees, but later in the day his aide Anton Geraschenko said that three people were arrested.

The detainees face life prison sentence if the court confirms their involvement in the attacks.


Monday, October 02, 2017

Return of the Shtiebel: Why Old-School Synagogues Are Making A Comeback 

Ridnik. Vorhand. Koshnitz.

These names might sound like remote provinces in Ukraine, but they are also the names of Orthodox micro-congregations bustling here on Manhattan's Upper West Side. They're referred to as shtieblach (Yiddish for "little houses"), and although many have died out with their congregants, some are making a comeback on the Upper West Side, drawing hundreds of young Jews looking for a place to pray and socialize.

And for good reason.

A hundred years ago, shtieblach in New York City served as houses of worship and mingling for Jews of a common feather. To the outside world, the Jewish immigrants were simply eastern Europeans; internally, however, each shtiebel identified with a particular province or region. In what is today the happening nightlife district in the Lower East Side, was once the Jewish capital of America and home to no less than three hundred storefront shtieblach.

Similarly, the Upper West Side was home to a shtiebel every few blocks in post-war New York. For the most part, they were created by European transplants of Orthodox communities, and were later joined by survivors.

Writing at the height of the storefront synagogues, anthologist Judah David Eisenstein, says that Jewish immigrants were opposed to two things: decorum and cantors. The shtiebel was thus the antidote to the formal synagogue. It offered a warmth and informality, often marked by no rabbi at all. The services were more of a cacophony of worshippers singing at their own pace, led by a simple Jew.

As the immigrants and their children grew more American, however, the game changed.

"The Jewish ethnic distinctions [from Europe] fell away," says Dr. Jeffrey Gurock, Professor of Jewish History at Yeshiva University. "They were now American Jews, whether Orthodox or Conservative."

Larger synagogues offered resources that the smaller spaces couldn't. As the necessity of the shtiebel diminished, so did the congregant base.

But in recent years, some have gained steam in the Upper West Side. The synagogue experience, says Gurock, is now "going back from a performance to participation on part of congregants."

Demographically, the West Side is a hub for young Jewish professionals whose synagogue priorities are largely socializing and camaraderie—at the expense of commitment. The shtiebel fits that niche. Less structured than the large congregations, shtieblach offer a built-in community where everybody knows your name, but long-term expectations are low. The lack of structure also leaves space for millennials, many of whom feel overwhelmed in a larger space and bound to historical structures.

Ten years ago, the Ridniker Shtiebel on 89th and West End Ave had trouble finding ten men for a minyan. Today, on a Saturday morning, you'd be hard pressed to find a seat. The synagogue, founded in 1943 by the Ridniker Rav of the Sanz Hasidic Dynasty, had been running low on membership since the 60's when most of its initial congregants died.

To attract millennials, the leadership realized it needed a draw: A blowout kiddush reception, with the best cholent and liquor in town. The synagogue was so successful that certain whiskey-inclined members were coined JFK — "just for kiddush".

While the shtiebels pull congregants from the righter-wing spectrum of Orthodox community — the Kozniter synagogue is led by an ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic Rebbe — they manage to attract a cast of unlikely characters, too.

Hank Sheinkopf, political consultant and former advisor to Bill Clinton attends one. He finds the camaraderie unparalleled. "There is no average shtiebel person," says Sheinkopf. "A Jew fits in to an observant environment, where he/she feels comfortable in praying. For the younger generation they work because they're much less regulated, require less commitment, and they are good gathering places."

The shtiebel is indeed small enough for all members to know one another. In a recent (men-only) WhatsApp group, one shtiebel congregant posted a call to action: "I would like to remind the following: As the holidays approach, there are people in the community who don't necessarily have family or places for meals…they need places to go. Please be mindful to invite people."

On a typical 12:30pm stroll along West End—or "Shabbos"—Avenue, clusters of men in black hats stroll alongside women in wigs, coming out of any one of the shtieblach.

Don't expect to see as many strollers, though. Based on a stringent interpretation of Jewish law that prohibits carrying in public spaces, many Orthodox mothers without nannies are confined to the home. "In many ways it's a boys' club," says Sheinkopf. "Women are certainly welcomed, but more men tend to go to shul on Shabbos in traditional Judaism."

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about the shtiebel culture. One congregant of a large Upper West Side congregation criticized the exclusivity of the shtieblach as a cohort of people seeking to belong to their own socio-economic strata.

According to David Ascher, president of Congregation Ohav Zedek, larger congregations can offer homes for the lonely or disenfranchised, something he says is missing in the tightly-knit shtieblach.

But synagogue tribalism is nothing new, according to Gurock.

"Shtieblach in Europe were often defined by profession, such as the shoemaker or tailor shtiebel," he says.

Of course, these days those distinctions will be less between cobblers and tailors, and more between hedge fund managers and real estate investors.

It's the Upper West Side, after all.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

‘Star Trek’ Goes Less Jewish Than It Has Ever Gone Before 

Star Trek” has always embraced diversity. Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future was intentionally, ideologically inclusive. The first “Star Trek” series included Asian and black crew members, at a time when that was rare on network television. Later series featured a woman captain and a black captain. The new CBS show, “Discovery” is focused on two women of color playing the captain and the first officer.

There is one group, though, which, at the beginning, held a special place in the franchise’s diverse future. The leads of the first show, William Shatner (as Captain Kirk) and Leonard Nimoy (as Mr. Spock) were both Jewish. And the quiet Judaism of its bridge crew both showed the breadth, and the limitations, of Star Trek’s commitment to diversity.

Both Kirk and Spock in different ways, picked up on ideas and stereotypes about Jews. This is most obvious in the case of the alien, logic-driven Vulcan science First Officer, Mr. Spock. Spock’s Vulcan characteristics can easily be read as Jewish caricature; he has pointed ears and raised eyebrows, like a devil. Vulcan culture, seen in glimpses in the first series, is semi-Orientalized, including traditional dress that is vaguely Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern, and a system of arranged marriages. Spock’s inhuman logic and scientific genius also fits with stereotypes of smart, nerdy Jews. Even the fact that Spock is half-human, neither fully human nor fully Vulcan, dovetails with the idea of Jews as rootless cosmopolitans, aliens who have no real home and no real roots.

In contrast to the alien Spock, William Shatner’s Kirk has no markers of Jewishness. But his perfect assimilation can be seen as a kind of marker of Jewishness in itself. If Spock is the Jew as eternal alien, the Jewish Canadian Shatner is the Jew as perfectly assimilated American, cheerfully racing from planet to planet, conquering the men and sleeping with the women. In fact, Shatner’s famously staccato, explosive vocal delivery turns into a kind of parody of hearty American normality. “Trek” fandom often presents Shatner’s flamboyantly campy heterosexuality as a gay goof; there is an infinite amount of fan fiction about Kirk and Spock falling in love. But the winking portrayal of Kirk could also be read as a Jewish goof — Shatner’s tongue-in-cheek representation of the perfect goy.

Having just one stereotypical coded representation of Jewishness could be offensive or tiresome. Kirk and Spock together, though is, at least for this Jew, exhilarating. “Star Trek” imagines a future in which Jews can be super-strong alien geniuses or commanding normal swaggering action heroes. More, Kirk and Spock are best friends, who enjoy each other’s differences — and both of them are, in their way, sex symbols. I’ve heard many Jewish men praise “Defiance” for its vision of Daniel Craig as a strong, daring, sexy, Nazi-fighting Jew. But some forty years earlier “Star Trek” had a duo of iconic Jewish heroes battling Klingons, cuddling Tribbles, and performing adorable crotchety Jewish comedy routines.

This is the great promise of “Star Trek.” The show imagines a future in which marginalized people can stand at the center of the universe, have fun adventures, and love each other. In that sense, Kirk and Spock provided a blueprint for all that followed.

Kirk and Spock also pointed to some problems, though. While the Captain and First Officer are played by Jewish actors, and are presented as Jewish in some ways, they aren’t actually Jewish within the story. Indeed, “Star Trek” has virtually never portrayed an actual Jewish character. Unless you count the ugly, big-eared, rat-like and avaricious Ferengi from DS9, an alien race which is an obvious (and shameful) Jewish stereotype.

The absence of Jews as Jews points to some of the ways in which the show’s hopeful future rings can ring hollow. While the show includes black people and people of color, it deals with issues of race and racism mostly by displacement. The society of the future is perfectly inclusive, which means that stories about intolerance and difference generally involve robots or aliens, or some return to the past. For example, in the episode “Planet of Force,” Kirk and Spock encounter a retro-Nazi society on a distant planet; a race called the Zeons stands in for the persecuted Jews. In DS9, Commander Sisko (Avery Brooks) experiences racism when he journeys into the past in the episode “Far Beyond the Stars.”

The future in “Star Trek” is exciting and hopeful because it’s post-racial. But being post-racial also makes it limited, and in some ways disappointing. “Star Trek” can’t exactly take a strong, consistent anti-racist stance, like the recent Australian television show “Cleverman,” because it’s default assumption is that racism no longer exists. Similarly, Jews can only take a starring role in the future if, paradoxically, Jews don’t really exist. “Star Trek,” rather gloriously, put a Jew in command of its first starship. But, as if to balance that out, it also, half a century later, has never shown us a Jew in the Federation.



Saturday, September 30, 2017

Whole Foods selling cake for Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday that requires fasting 

A shopper at a Whole Foods in Rockville, Md. spotted something unusual in the bakery section — a sheet cake decorated to celebrate Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a time for repentance, and is observed by fasting for over 24 hours, beginning Friday at 6:35 p.m. through Saturday at 7:32 p.m. So the idea of a Yom Kippur cake seems a bit odd.

The cake features an assortment of Jewish symbols, none of which are actually related to Yom Kippur, including pomegranates, apples and honey (which are linked to Rosh Hashanah), a bee, menorah, fish, and the Star of David.

“I’m sure the baker had good intentions,” wrote Jen Simon from The Forward, an American Jewish publication. “They were probably trying to help their customers celebrate what they knew was an important holiday. But, if I may, a suggestion for the next time to the baker or any other well-intentioned person bent on inclusion – don’t.”

A spokesperson for Whole Foods told HuffPost the “cake was intended as dessert for the breaking of the fast dinner and a customer purchased it yesterday afternoon for that purpose.” But they didn’t explain the reasoning behind the unrelated imagery decorating the cake.

But despite Whole Foods’ intentions, Simon isn’t amused. “Stop trying to make Yom Kippur cakes happen, Whole Foods. Cakes aren’t meant to be educational; they’re meant to be delicious. And while I bet this one is, I don’t think we’ll be eating it on Yom Kippur,” she wrote.



Friday, September 29, 2017

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


These Orthodox Lawyers Are Proud To Be ‘Barbie Dolls’ 

Remember Mindy Meyer — the young Orthodox Jewish lawyer who ran for New York State Senate with a hot-pink-themed campaign, inspired by Legally Blonde?

Well she’s back.

Alongside her partner Sara Shulevitz, Meyer, 26, stars in a Barcroft TV ten-minute reality special. The real-life lawyers have opened a criminal defense firm, the Meyer-Kessner and Shulevitz Law Group in Miami, assisted by a yarmulke-wearing private investigator named Simon Hamer.

Decked out in magenta-pink lipstick, long sheitels and coordinated outfits, the two young women call themselves “double trouble”. Their modus operandi is certainly unorthodox, but they see it as a new type of feminism. “Women had to fight so hard to have rights, and they had to go to the other extreme, no makeup, dress down, try to be like men. And now that we have persevered,” said Shulevitz. “It’s time to bring back the femininity and to bring back the pink.”



Thursday, September 28, 2017

Chabad Naples holds ‘shofar factory’ before Yom Kippur 

When Chabad of Naples brought in a visiting rabbi to conduct a "shofar factory" at their campus in the Moorings, he had some serious information to impart.

The shofar, the ram's horn turned into a musical instrument to be blown for Jewish ceremonies including Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years.

But Rabbi Aron Rabin knew his audience. He was speaking to four dozen children, plus a few mothers and fathers, and he had to hold their attention. So he laid on the shtick with the abandon of a Borscht Belt comic, which would be a viable career option if the rabbinical thing doesn't work out.

The shofar forms an integral part of the temple services on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which just took place starting at sundown on Sept. 20. It also traditionally closes Judaism's most sacred festival, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

As Rabin offered his high-energy presentation, he laid out for the Jewish youngsters why the shofar can only be made in certain ways from kosher animals, and some of its significance in Jewish religious tradition.

One requirement for a shofar is it must come from an animal with cloven hooves, said Rabin, and held up the hooves of a zebra and a cow to illustrate the difference, although cow's hooves are not typically used as shofars. Deer or similar antlers don't qualify, he demonstrated, as they are not hollow.

After explaining the history, the program proceeded to the heart of the matter: Giving each participant the chance to make a shofar of his or her own. Rabin handed out horns, derived from Texas goats, miniature hacksaws, and gloves to the children, who went to work sawing the "tooth" or tip of the horn at a pre-determined point.

They worked in pairs, with one holding and the other sawing. For those who couldn't get through with the handsaw, the rabbi had a bandsaw set up — which made short work of the horns — and created an aroma of charred bone.

After each shofar was cut, Rabin drilled out the small end, sanded the mouthpiece end smooth with a belt sander, and that was it. The shofar is a very simple musical instrument, with one basic overtones, and variation produced only by blowing technique.

As the workshop wore down, the sound of shofars being blown for the first time filled the room at Chabad, and the parking lot outside, as the children tried out their creations. Each has its unique pitch, so when multiple shofars blow, the effect is a discordant wail, reminiscent of a pack of wolves howling, or a South African soccer game.

Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, head of Chabad Naples, said every Jewish household needs a shofar. During certain months, it is blown each weeknight, he said, as well as in the synagogue. Letting the youngsters make their own shofars connects them with the ancient tradition.

"Look at the faces of the children. We're bringing the holiday alive — it's experiential," he said.

According to According to Ettie Zaklos, Chabad's program director and Fishel's wife, "the blast of the Shofar is intended as a wake-up call, telling us to refine ourselves and improve, in preparation of the upcoming year."

Rabbi Zaklos said Chabad Naples hosts a series of workshops through the year, including an olive press, a Torah workshop, a Havdalah candle workshop, and a sofer workshop exploring the work of Jewish scribes.

Chabad Naples is at 1789 Mandarin Road in Naples. They can be reached at 239-262-4474 or online at chabadnaples.com.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hasidic Jews cheer as they cover up a screen showing in-flight movie 

Hasidic Jews were filmed cheering as they censored an in-flight movie starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant.

The footage was reportedly shot on a private chartered jet and it shows commotion in what appears to be the first class section of the plane.

After what looks like a blanket is hoisted up over the screen in the executive area, the passengers in economy class followed suit, covering the screens towards the back of the cabin.

When the big screen at the front of the plane is hidden behind the material, the passengers applaud.
The camera then pans around the plane to show how individual blankets have been hung over the screens that are attached to the ceiling of the plane. 

The passengers were watching Music and Lyrics, which is the only film in which the actors have starred alongside each other.

The 2007 movie received mixed reviews and ranked number four on its opening weekend in the box office behind Ghost Rider, Bridge to Terabithia and Norbit.

It is not clear where footage was shot or where the plane was flying to or from.



Convicted sex offender rabbi sued for NIS 4 million in civil case 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland (c) at the Jerusalem District Court in Jerusalem on August 1, 2016.(Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Three women filed a civil suit Wednesday against a convicted sex offender rabbi and fifteen others who they claim enabled him.

The women are suing Eliezer Berland, 80, for NIS 4 million ($1.1 million) and also demanding that he be barred from leaving the country until the case is concluded, Channel 2 reported.

The suit was filed in Jerusalem District Court by the two women, who Berland admitted to and was found guilty of assaulting, along with another woman who was not involved in the criminal case against the rabbi.

Berland, who is the leader of the Shuvu Bonim Bratslav Hasidic group, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in November 2016 after being convicted on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault.

He was released earlier this year after serving five months behind bars, in part due to suffering from cancer. He was given permission to move to a hotel next to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center on Mount Scopus, where he was placed under house arrest. His sentence is due to end next week.

“There are not enough words to denounce the defendant,” the petition read. “There is no real way to atone for what he did, and no amount of money in the world can will fully and completely compensate for the indescribable suffering that he caused the plaintiffs (and others).”

The suit was filed against the rabbi and his wife as well as rabbis and others associated with Shuvu Bonim, the ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrei Haredim reported.

According to the court document, seen by the news site, these people knew of the crimes but covered for him. “Not only did they give the defendant a framework and platform to advance himself, but they explicitly justified and vindicated his actions,” the petition said. “They even went so far as to praise his actions as ‘lofty’ and ‘elevated’ and as ‘rectifying supernal worlds.'”

Channel 1 tweeted what it said was a recording of Berland’s wife in which she describes her husband as a “sadist” and said that others warned her to keep away from him.

Last week the rabbi was authorized to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Each year tens of thousands of Jews converge on the Ukrainian city, which is the final resting place of the Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, an 18th-century luminary who founded the Bratslav Hasidic sect.

While there it was reported that his followers were involved in clashes with other Bratslav Hasidim.

Hasidic pilgrims praying near the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, September 14, 2015. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Long considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the breakaway sect Shuvu Bonim, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.

According to the criminal indictment, Berland would often receive people in his homes in Jerusalem and in Beitar Illit and held private meetings intended for spiritual guidance, counseling or benedictions. The rabbi would sometimes take advantage of the meetings and of his position in the community to engage in sexual acts with women, including minors, according to the charges against him.

The trial ended with a plea deal in which the rabbi admitted to the charges and was sentenced to jail and to pay NIS 75,000 in compensation. Berland reportedly told the judge that according to biblical law “such acts are punishable by burning and stoning. Today times have changed and there is a lot of leniency, but it does not detract from the severity of my actions.”

He was on the run from authorities until 2016, eluding several Israeli attempts to extradite him. He moved between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.

Following a plea bargain the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court convicted and sentenced him in November 2016, though some seven months that he spent in jails in South Africa and the US were counted as time served.



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