Friday, May 14, 2021

Arab Israelis hurl pipe bomb at Jewish women in Ramle who escape unscathed 

Arab Israelis hurled a pipe bomb at two Jewish women walking in the town of Ramle, where both Jews and Arabs live.

The bomb missed the women who avoided injury. A Jewish man driving by noticed what was unfolding and fired into the air, leading the suspects to flee the scene, Haaretz reports.



Thursday, May 13, 2021

Police rescue Jewish family attacked after entering Umm al-Fahm by accident 

A Jewish family has been attacked by Arab rioters in Umm al-Fahm after entering the Arab city by accident, Hebrew media reports, as riots continue in many cities around the country.

Police rescued the couple and three young children, along with the help of local civilians.

They all sustained mild injuries.



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

New survey of US Jews reveals worries, strengths, divisions 

A comprehensive new survey of Jewish Americans finds them increasingly worried about antisemitism, proud of their cultural heritage and sharply divided about the importance of religious observance in their lives.

The survey, released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, estimated the total Jewish population in the country at 7.5 million — about 2.3% of the national population.

The survey of 4,178 Jewish Americans was conducted between November 2019 and June 2020 — long before the current escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the findings reflected skepticism among U.S. Jews regarding that conflict — only one-third said the Israeli government was sincere in seeking peace; just 12% said Palestinian leaders were sincere in that regard.

Compared with Americans overall, Jewish Americans, on average, are older, have higher levels of education and income and are more geographically concentrated in the Northeast, according to Pew.

Yet even as the Jewish population is thriving in many ways, concerns about antisemitism rose amid the deadly attacks in 2018 and 2019 on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; the Chabad of Poway synagogue in Poway, California; and a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Three-quarters of Jewish Americans say there is more antisemitism in the U.S. than five years ago, and 53% say they feel less safe. Jews who wear distinctive religious attire such as head coverings are particularly likely to feel less safe.

The impact of such worries on people's behavior seems limited: Pew reported that the vast majority of American Jews — including those who feel less safe — say concern about antisemitism hasn't deterred them from participating in Jewish observances and events.



Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Summer camp for Jewish boys plans to bar those with COVID vaccination: reports 

A New York sleepaway camp for Jewish boys plans to bar anyone who received the COVID-19 vaccine, according to reports.

Camp Hikon, which is in the planning stages, wants to prepare Orthodox Jewish boys for unspecified "political, environmental and economic" changes to come, but only campers and staffers who shun the vaccine can attend, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.

"Because of the kinds of demographic that I'm drawing from, most people who are coming will not have taken the vaccine," Naftali Schwartz, the camp organizer, who is from Brooklyn and describes himself as a veteran yeshiva teacher, told the outlet.

The JTA also noted a strong anti-vaccination sentiment among some Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn, where posters have gone up in recent days with misleading information about the shots.

The Camp Hikon website says it will occupy a lakeside location in upstate Livingston Manor, and that in order to safeguard children from COVID-19, it "will provide campers with an abundance of vitamin D and other prophylaxis as directed by our health coach."



Friday, May 07, 2021

Adams thought he had Orthodox support locked up. Enter Yang. 

Support in the Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic communities was Eric Adams' to lose. Here was a candidate for New York City mayor that had existing relationships – representing a large Hasidic community in Crown Heights for seven years in the state Senate and representing all of Brooklyn as borough president for another seven. And Adams' generally moderate political stances were broadly in sync with the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox voters who are among the most conservative members of the Democratic coalition.

However it's not Adams, but Andrew Yang, a newcomer to local politics and a late addition to the mayoral race, who has been winning key endorsements, support and attention. On Wednesday, Borough Park Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein and City Council Member Kalman Yeger endorsed Yang. That followed the endorsement of Yang last week by Borough Park United, a coalition of Hasidic sects in Borough Park and, in March, an endorsement from Orthodox Jewish Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal, who represents Kew Gardens Hills.

The outpouring of support has Adams on his heels, scrambling to win support in Orthodox communities that he thought he had won over months ago. Following Yang's Borough Park United endorsement, supporters of Adams placed a story in the Hasidic press insisting that Adams had "full-hearted support" in Orthodox communities. But the story may have overstated that support – some of the leaders named told Hamodia that, although they like Adams, they have not endorsed him. Endorsements in the community aren't always clear cut, and Menashe Shapiro, a consultant who works for Adams told City & State that the vote is far from locked up. "Eric's relationships with the Orthodox community's leadership and voters are long and deep, and he has spent decades denouncing hate and antisemitic incidents when others were afraid to speak out," he said. "This is a politically astute community that makes their decisions at the ballot box, and we are campaigning hard for each and every vote."

But insiders say that Adams' team was feeling a lot more confident before Yang joined the race. "The Adams campaign is flipping out, because they thought they had this locked up," said a Hasidic source, who asked for anonymity to discuss sensitive political matters. Adams' original competition for the Orthodox vote was Scott Stringer, who is Jewish and has yearslong relationships in some Orthodox communities from his decades in elected office. But Stringer's embrace of progressive politics and record of endorsing progressive insurgents alienated him from many more conservative communities. And recently, his consistent appearance in the polls below Yang and Adams hasn't done to help him with Orthodox leaders who may not have been inclined to support him anyway. Stringer earned the endorsement of former Assembly Member Phil Goldfeder, who is an Orthodox Jew, but insiders see him as unlikely to win major endorsements in other Orthodox communities. Still, one Stringer supporter, consultant Ezra Friedlander, thinks that individual voters will break for Stringer. "In several weeks from now, when people start paying closer attention to the race, and they understand how uniquely qualified Scott Stringer is," he said. "He will receive a very nice vote in all communities, including the Orthodox Jewish/Hasidic."

Support in Hasidic and Orthodox communities is sought after because members often vote in a bloc. Results from the 2020 presidential election show precincts in South Williamsburg, Borough Park and Far Rockaway where Donald Trump won with as much as 98% of the vote. But that's not always the case – while Bill Thompson won many precincts in Hasidic Williamsburg in the 2013 mayoral primary with 50% to 65% of the vote, Bill de Blasio ran a not-so-distant second. And in the 48th Assembly District, covering the heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood, de Blasio won with 38% of the vote and Thompson came in second with 32%.

So why Yang? Adams may have created an opening for another candidate by disappointing some in Orthodox community when, in an interview with Hamodia, he declined to say that the government should not mandate a curriculum for religious schools. (Adams tried to clean things up soon after by visiting – and publicly praising – a yeshiva that the city had investigated and cited for not providing an adequate secular education.) But more than anything, Yang's success so far in Orthodox communities seems to be the result of an aggressive and concerted effort to win their support. When it came to local issues, Yang was a blank slate, and he quickly adopted – and stuck with – political positions that pleased the community. Yang has continually stressed deference to the community when it comes to yeshiva education, he's supported assigning more cops in the wake of hate crimes and he has spoken harshly of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel. But he's also shown up continually in communities and met with leaders, often with his Jewish liaison, David Schwartz, a Democratic district leader in Borough Park who emphasized that Yang has been working hard since he joined the race in January. "Andrew recognizes the quality of our community," he said. "He sees us as partners in the coalition he's building."

More than anything, Orthodox leaders like Yeger said they don't feel taken for granted with Yang. "Andrew seriously made efforts in our community to talk, to learn, which I found refreshing," he said.



Monday, May 03, 2021

Hasidim, yeshivas and the truth 

There's been a full-court press of late against Hasidic education in New York by a small number of yeshiva graduates who are agitating for authorities to force additional secular studies curricula on their erstwhile communities' schools.

Whatever broader disgruntlement the activists may harbor for their former communities, they cite the ostensible educational deprivation suffered by Hasidic children and their inability to eventually navigate the wider world and make a living.

Leaving aside the not-insignificant issue of interfering with parents' educational choices, there is no groundswell of sentiment in Hasidic communities for changing the educational systems they have had in place for decades. But what is more, and more germane, is the fact that the agitators are, well, no need to dance around it, promoting lies.

To be sure, some Hasidic schools, in keeping with their strong emphasis on religious learning and cultural identity, offer a more condensed secular studies program than other yeshivas. All schools — private and public — have room for improvement, and Hasidic yeshivas are no different. A good number of yeshivas have in fact created curricular material to meaningfully enhance their secular studies program. Those efforts should be encouraged, not attacked.

One thing is certain: Hasidic children receive meaningful educations. The very essence of Talmud study — the mainstay of yeshivas' focus — involves analysis of texts, multiple languages, logic, and viewing concepts from a variety of perspectives. The rigor of a Talmudic education hones students' critical thinking — a most important part of a quality education and a productive life — to a degree well beyond what most public schools offer.

The crusaders' claim about Hasidic poverty also conveys an inaccurate picture. Parental income in these communities is, on average, higher than the mean in New York City. Yes, in large families, money is often tight. But no Hasidic child goes hungry or is inadequately clothed, and Hasidim happily forgo luxuries others may consider necessities.

There is, moreover, an entrepreneurial spirit that has enabled Hasidim to start businesses — businesses that have created tens of thousands of jobs for New Yorkers of all backgrounds.

Other Hasidim are gainfully employed as salespersons, plumbers and electricians, car repairmen, electronics sellers and suppliers of religious need. Hasidim support their families and pay their taxes. And the responsibility of haves for have-nots is a holy given in the Hasidic world.

There are also training programs like COPE Education for Business (full disclosure: It is a project of Agudath Israel of America, my employer) and Jewish institutions of higher learning that have educated countless Hasidim and continue to do so.

I am not Hasidic myself, but I live in a neighborhood in Staten Island that has seen a recent large influx of Hasidim. Among those I have met are several business owners, a baker, an accountant or two, a speech therapist and, to my amusement, a personal trainer. So to assert, as critics do, that some lack of stress on secular studies in Hasidic schools has resulted in an impoverished and hopeless community is utter nonsense.

Something more — and more important than all the above — is entirely ignored by the agitators and critics.

While broader society determines success in terms of professional accomplishments, fame or wealth, truly thoughtful religious people, including religious Jews, employ a very different measure: How well one is using his or her years in the service of man and God. To such people, unpopular as their worldview may be, professions and jobs have no intrinsic value; they are simply ways to make a living and keep one's family sheltered, fed and clothed.

A Hasidic business owner or professional, in other words, wants to be able to look back at his life at its end and take comfort in having lived not the life of a this-or-that Jewish CEO or professional, but rather that of a Jew who, as it happened, had a job or profession.

Instilling that attitude, whether subscribed to by others or not, is something that Orthodox parents see as the most important part of their children's upbringing and education. If their child grows up to be an accomplished professional but lacks that understanding of life, his parents will consider themselves to have failed in his education.

Some may find such an attitude disturbing, and may even condescendingly wish to disabuse us of so unfashionable a stance. But embracing a nonmaterialistic philosophy of life and wishing to impart the same to the next generation is the very essence of Orthodox Judaism. All people of faith should be permitted their own choices of priorities in life, and in the education of their young.



Friday, April 30, 2021

Hundreds of strangers at funeral of Canadian Hasidic singer without family here 

Hundreds of people answered a call to attend the funeral on Friday of Shraga Gestetner, a Hasidic singer without any immediate relatives in Israel, who was crushed to death in a stampede at Mount Meron the night before.

Rabbi Gestetner, a 35-year-old from Montreal, came to Israel specifically for the Lag B'Omer celebrations, which ended in tragedy when he was among the 45 people killed in what is believed to be Israel's worst peacetime disaster.

He is survived by his wife and five children. In recent years he had been living in Monsey, New York.

After Gestetner was named as one of victims, calls went out on social media for the public to attend his funeral in Jerusalem, with the messages noting he has no immediate family in the country who would be present.

"Let's pay his final respects," Israel Nabul, an event producer who knew Gestetner, wrote on Facebook in one such message.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich also called on anyone who could do so to attend, saying: "We won't leave him alone in his final moments."

Following these entreaties, hundreds arrived at the Shamgar funeral home to escort his body to Jerusalem's Har Hamenuchot cemetery.

At the funeral home, Gestetner's cousin Haim told the Kan public broadcaster that he was at Meron but left minutes before the deadly stampede.

"I suddenly felt a need to leave the mountain," he said, describing his cousin as a "special man" who God chose "to be the victim of the public."

He also called the pain he felt over the death of his cousin and the 44 others as "incomprehensible."

Speaking earlier with Channel 12 news, Nabul said Gestetner mostly performed overseas and called him a "wonderful man who died in tragic circumstances."

The event at Meron appeared to the worst peacetime tragedy in Israel's history, with a death toll higher than the 44 who lost their lives in the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.

The huge gathering, the largest in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, had already sparked health fears.

Due to the large crowds, police had said they were unable to enforce coronavirus restrictions at the site.

At around midnight Thursday, organizers had estimated that some 100,000 people were at the site.



Thursday, April 29, 2021

FBI reaches out to Hasidic Jews to fight antisemitism – but bureau has fraught history with Judaism 

The FBI wants to hear from Hasidim, or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews. The Hate Crimes Unit said as much when it issued announcements – in both Yiddish and Hebrew – asking Jews to report antisemitic incidents in an outreach campaign launched in April 2021.

The campaign follows highly visible antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in recent years, including the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead.

Hasidic Jews make up the overwhelming majority of Yiddish speakers in the U.S. They number about 320,000 adults, according to Matt Williams, director of the Orthodox Union for Communal Research. Outreach to this community poses distinctive challenges because Hasidic communities can be insular, often seeking to address issues from education to sexual assault without involving outsiders.

As someone who has written about Jews and the FBI, I am not surprised that the FBI now wants to address antisemitism. But the FBI has a complicated history with Jews. It is a past that suggests the FBI has loved the idea of Judaism as a religion, but not necessarily American Jews themselves.

Cold War embrace
Officially founded in 1935, the FBI was designed to take on domestic crime and surveillance. By the late 1940s, driven by Cold War ideals, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover bolstered an image of the U.S. as religious and moral as opposed to its enemy – an atheistic, immoral Soviet Union. Embracing Judaism as good, lawful and American was strategic.

During his prepared remarks at a 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, Hoover called communism an "evil work" and "a cause that is alien to the religion of Christ and Judaism." He believed that the U.S. had a superior moral foundation – a religious one – and that communism was built on nothing but human iniquity.



Wednesday, April 28, 2021

United Orthodox voting bloc in Borough Park endorses Andrew Yang for mayor 

Leading Hasidic sects in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood have endorsed Andrew Yang in New York City's mayoral race, locking up a major voting bloc for the former Democratic presidential candidate as he tries to build a coalition that could propel him to City Hall.

The endorsement is expected to run as a full-page ad in Yiddish-language weekly newspapers this weekend, signed by a coalition of Orthodox congregations calling itself "Borough Park United" that includes the Bobov, Belz, Satmar, Sanz-Klausenburg, and Pupa sects, who historically have been an influential voting bloc in local elections.

The statement, obtained by the Forward, reads: "After seriously considering the policies and the capabilities of the current candidates, and what's the in the best interest of our community, we are endorsing the popular and energetic candidate, businessman and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang for mayor in the Democratic primary."

Yang, who polls show as the frontrunner in the crowded June primaries, has aggressively courted the city's Orthodox Jews in recent months. He defended the yeshiva education system, took a bold stance labeling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as antisemitic and hired a member of the Hasidic community as his campaign's Jewish outreach director. The candidate recently visited Borough Park for a campaign ad video shoot and met in private with community leaders.

Several other contenders have also invested time and effort courting leaders and campaigning in the Orthodox neighborhoods. They include Eric Adams, Brooklyn's borough president, who has long-time relationships with the community and has generally been second to Yang in recent polls; Ray McGuire, a former Citigroup executive; and Scott Stringer, the city's comptroller, who has also been in the top three in several recent polls.

The Orthodox coalition said Yang "stood out as the strongest candidate with a clear understanding to fight for and protect the religious rights of the Orthodox community, despite the attacks coming his way."

In a recent interview with the Forward, Yang, whose parents immigrated to Westchester County, N.Y., from Taiwan said that he feels some real commonalities with the Jewish community.

"If you grow up as the child of immigrants, and the only person in your ethnic group in a particular area, I think you can't help but feel commonality with people who are marginalized or even victimized," he said. "You don't really forget those experiences. They are kind of imprinted into who you are."



Tuesday, April 27, 2021

More than seven anti-Semitic acts a day in Canada in 2020 

More than seven anti-Semitic acts a day, on average,  were committed in Canada in 2020, the latest B'nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents says.

"As Canadians spent much of 2020 under pandemic restrictions and lockdown, anti-Semitism did not take the year off," stated Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B'nai Brith Canada. "Though physical attacks decreased last year, online hate continues to skyrocket, particularly during a year that, more than ever, forced many of us to interact virtually rather than in-person.

"B'nai Brith Canada's Eight-Point Plan to Tackle Antisemitism remains as relevant as ever, especially its prescient call for government action to combat online hatred."

"Records for anti-Semitism in this country were set for a fifth consecutive year," says a B'nai Brith Canada statement. "There was an increase of 18.3 percent of recorded anti-Semitic incidents in comparison to 2019. The actual number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2020 was 2,610. This marked the third successive year in which the 2,000 plateau was exceeded."

In Quebec, though, reported anti-Semitic incidents as a whole fell 13.8 percent, from 796 to 686. Incidents were lower in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, increased 226 percent in Atlantic Canada, increased 44.3 percent in Ontario and fell 2.9 percent in the Prairies and Nunavut.

Still, "Quebec was also the region with one-third of recorded violent incidents in Canada, largely targeting the visibly observant Jewish community," the report says.

The audit adds that more than 44 percent of the violent incidents across the country were COVID-19-related.

"Violent incidents in 2020 decreased to their lowest levels in years – perhaps aided by repeated lockdowns — but were characterized primarily by discrimination attributable to COVID-19. The majority of these incidents targeted Hasidic individuals in Broisbriand, Que., after misinformation was reported surrounding a local Hasidic community not abiding by legally mandated COVID-19 measures."

Other physical attacks took place outside Quebec.



Monday, April 26, 2021

NYPD Hate Crime Unit Searches For Man Suspected Of Hurling Rocks At Multiple Synagogues 

Police in New York City are working to identify a suspect believed to be responsible for six attacks on four different synagogues between Friday and Sunday, numerous sources reported.

The New York Police Department's (NYPD) Hate Crimes Task Force is searching for the individual believed to have hurled rocks at four Bronx synagogues, according to NBC 4. Young Israel of Riverdale and the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale were each attacked once, and Riverdale Jewish Center and the Riverdale Jewish Synagogue were each attacked twice, totaling six attacks, CNN reported. 

NYPD Detective Francis Sammon said two of the attacks happened Friday, three on Saturday and one on Sunday, according to CNN. In each attack, a suspect is believed to have thrown rocks and shattered or heavily damaged windows and doors at the synagogues at nighttime. 

On Saturday night, the suspect broke the windows at Riverdale Jewish Synagogue. Ten minutes later, someone smashed the windows at the Conservative Synagogue, according to WPIX. Minutes later, someone smashed the windows at Young Israel of Riverdale before the Riverdale Jewish Center was targeted for the second time.



Friday, April 23, 2021

RSV, a childhood illness that receded during COVID-19, is surging in Orthodox Brooklyn 

Hundreds of infants in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn are sick now with a common respiratory virus that typically does not circulate during the spring, raising fears as to whether the infections in those communities could again become an indicator of what's to come elsewhere in New York City and the country.

At least 15 patients from Dr. Israel Zyskind's pediatrics practice in Borough Park are hospitalized currently with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a virus that manifests as little more than a common cold in adults but can be dangerous for infants and toddlers.

Typically, Zyskind said, no more than a handful of children from his practice would be hospitalized at any given time because of RSV. And those hospitalizations would come during the winter, not as the weather warms.

The recent explosion of RSV cases in Orthodox Brooklyn is on New York City's radar. According to the city's Health Department, there were 10 documented cases of RSV in Brooklyn during the last week of February. During the week of April 4-10, there were 294.

The cases are appearing in Williamsburg, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Kensington and Midwood.

"Parents and guardians are encouraged to keep sick children at home and prevent anyone with cold-like symptoms from coming in contact with young children," the Health Department is advising. "If children are having difficulty breathing, wheezing, not eating or drinking, parents should contact their health care provider immediately."

The unusual pattern of RSV in Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn comes slightly more than a year after the area hosted some of the earliest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the city. At the time, the community's communal practices and multigenerational families were seen as creating ripe conditions for the disease's spread, particularly before guidance was given to halt gatherings and stay home.

Those same conditions could make the communities early indicators for patterns of disease that emerge after COVID-19 recedes.

RSV is one of the typically common illnesses that have receded during the pandemic, surprising many doctors. The virus, which causes symptoms like runny nose, cough and fever, and can cause a child to eat less, spreads easily in schools and day care facilities. Most children will have contracted the virus by the age of 2 and, for most of them, the virus is not dangerous. But RSV can lead to more serious illness in babies, whose airways are smaller and who have no immunity to the virus.

According to the CDC, more than 57,000 children below the age of 5 are hospitalized with RSV each year. Between 100 and 500 children die of RSV each year. There is no vaccine.

This winter, a time when RSV normally circulates widely, doctors in Brooklyn said they saw few or no cases. But that has changed in recent weeks.

Earlier, RSV had spread out of season elsewhere. Australia saw a similar outbreak in the fall, when the weather is warm there. Doctors in the country speculated that lockdowns last year kept people from contracting RSV, therefore lowering the level of immunity to the virus in the general population as it emerged from lockdown.

Zyskind thinks there may be something similar happening in Brooklyn.

"Nursing mothers, who would [typically] protect their children through passive immunity, aren't able to give that robust immunity to their children this year because the mothers were not exposed to these viral illnesses last year as they usually are," the doctor said.

"Also, a lot of the toddlers who get mild illness skipped the typical RSV season last year, have no immunity to RSV, and thus pass it to their siblings or neighbors." 

Dr. Ben Katz, a professor of pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and an expert in infectious diseases, suggested another theory.

"When one virus comes into a community, others usually go away," Katz said, explaining that one virus will crowd out the others.

That theory has also been used to explain why this year's flu season has been nearly nonexistent, bypassing the nightmare scenario some feared if the flu and coronavirus spread simultaneously.

Why the virus is circulating so quickly through Orthodox communities and appearing far less frequently in other communities in New York City is unclear.

The larger families in Orthodox communities may explain the increased spread as more children per household are able to pick up the virus in school and bring it home to younger siblings. The cramped living conditions in some Orthodox neighborhoods also may be a contributor.

While most schools in the United States are either being taught online or meeting in person with precautions like masks and social distancing, many Orthodox schools, particularly in Hasidic neighborhoods, have been far more lax about COVID precautions. That laxity may be creating an environment in which other viruses, not just the coronavirus, can spread more easily.

But the question of why cases are spiking now, when schools in Orthodox communities have been open since the beginning of the school year, remains unanswered.

"We're trying to figure out why we're seeing it here first," Zyskind said, noting that day cares across the country have been open for months. "But I really don't know why it's happening in our community."

Doctors already are anticipating the possibility of a more intense flu season next year due to the fewer number of people who contracted the illness this year. 

"We live in a very delicate ecosystem in balanced equilibrium," Zyskind said. "The lockdowns were necessary to stop COVID, but there's going to be a cost on the other end for other viral illnesses that were skipped during the lockdowns."



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

New York man arrested after hitting group of Hasidic men with car 

An SUV in Brooklyn, New York, backed into a group of five ultra-Orthodox men crossing the street in Williamsburg on Saturday night. The suspect, Shokhobiddin Bakhritdinov, was arrested by the police for misdemeanor assault and fleeing the scene of the crime.

The incident was caught on a surveillance camera and the video was uploaded to Twitter. In the video, the SUV can be seen stopping just past the intersection, where Bakhritdinov exited his car, looked behind him at the ultra-Orthodox men crossing the street, got back into the car, reversed into the men – twice – and then drove away.



Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Viciously Anti-Israel Commenters Flood New York Times Website 

The New York Times is allowing its reader comments section to turn into an anti-Israel cesspool.

The first three "Reader Picks" comments on a recent Times news article about Iran's nuclear program are all pretty vicious.

"We cannot let Israel run our country," insists the top "reader pick" comment, echoing a classical antisemitic paranoia about undue Jewish influence, and winning a "recommend" vote from 128 other Times readers.

"Israel is a one-way ally — only taking. Blind support of Israel is contrary to US long-term interests," according to the second "reader pick" comment, winning the recommend upvote of 110 other Times readers despite the blatant inaccuracy.

The third reader pick comment asserts, "Seems Israel would like nothing more than to provoke another Middle East war with US troops. While we pay them $3B to this day for weapons." That won 88 "recommend" votes from Times readers, who seem oblivious to the fact that Israel has reportedly been degrading Iran's nuclear program quite effectively without involving any US troops, or to the fact that the military aid supports American defense industry jobs.

Reader comments have been a persistent problem area for the Times.

In 2017, the paper awarded a gold ribbon "NYT Pick" to a reader comment claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "likes to control the US Congress," describing American supporters of Israel as a disloyal "fifth column" and calling the Israeli leader a "parasitic thug." After the Algemeiner reported about it and the advocacy group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis complained, the Times deleted the comment, saying it had been posted inadvertently.

In 2018, the Times posted reader comments calling Israel "barbaric" and blaming Jews for antisemitism.

Also in 2018, a Times reader comment describing Israel as "bloodthirsty" drew an astonishing 494 "thumbs-up" votes from the paper's readers.

In 2020, a Times article about a Jewish wedding attracted reader comments directed at Orthodox Jews. "One of the most selfish, arrogant, demagogic, chauvinistic, contemptuous, narcissistic, uncaring and un-American groups in existence," was one comment, recommended with an upvote by 33 readers. Another comment accused the Hasidic Jewish community of attempting "to wage biological warfare on the rest of humanity."

Defenders of the Times might observe that the views expressed in the comments section are those of the readers, not the paper's journalists, and that online comments sections in general attract an unruly lot. Those are fair points, but nonetheless the Times is fond of holding other publications and platforms, such as Breitbart.com, and other political groups like the Republicans or Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition, responsible for the views of the most extreme tangentially related person.

One might reasonably wonder what the Times is doing to attract these hundreds of anti-Israel commenters. Why do people with such views choose to lurk at the Times rather than, say, in the comments section of Makor Rishon? How much of the Times subscription revenue comes from readers with these views, and how strong is the temptation at the Times to cater to them with articles that they will click on and share? This is a dynamic that Times star journalist Bari Weiss wrote about in her letter resigning from the paper: "stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences… Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world?"

"We cannot let Israel run our country," the Times commenter contended. The danger is that the Times management will allow the anti-Israel, antisemitic-comment-writing mob of paying readers to run the newspaper — or at least to shape the editorial product in a way that undercuts the newspaper's ostensible claim to journalistic objectivity. At the New York Times, the anti-Israel commenters are the paying customers who pay the editors' and reporters' salaries. As the paper increasingly seeks a global audience, those readers may not even be American anti-Israel commenters—they may be paying Times customers in longstanding bastions of Jew-hatred or anti-Israel sentiment overseas.



Monday, April 19, 2021

Neo-Nazi Capitol rioter is a threat to Jewish community, say federal prosecutors 

Inline image

U.S. Justice Department prosecutors, in a court filing on Friday, said that a known Nazi sympathizer and army reservist who was arrested in connection to the January 6 Capitol insurrection should not be released while awaiting trial, because he poses a threat to the Jewish community of New Jersey.

CNN reported that Timothy Hale-Cusanelli — who worked at a naval base near Lakewood, New Jersey, which is home to a large Hasidic community — has been charged with seven felonies, including civil disorder, disorderly conduct, and obstructing congressional proceedings.

He has pleaded not guilty and denied to the FBI that he is a Nazi sympathizer. His lawyers claim that he is not a member of any white supremacist organization.

They have also claimed he cannot be a white supremacist because he is of Puerto Rican descent on his father's side.

Federal prosecutors disagree, and have asked that Hale-Cusanelli remain in jail, citing police reports of him harassing and "doxing," or publishing private information about, members of Lakewood's Jewish community.

"Defendant poses a more localized threat to the community," the prosecutors said in their court filing, "particularly the Hasidic community in Lakewood, New Jersey."



Friday, April 16, 2021

KJ group buys closed Catholic school for $2.5M and reopens it as Hasidic school 

A Kiryas Joel school group paid $2.5 million last month for a Catholic school on Route 32 that the New York Archdiocese shuttered last year in a spate of school closures.

The 22,000-square-foot building used to be St. Joseph School and was later renamed Divine Mercy. The merged parish that owned the school and 28-acre property – St. Joseph in New Windsor and St. Thomas of Canterbury in Cornwall-on-Hudson – listed them for sale for $2 million in October and sold it for 25% higher on March 24.

The buyer was Yeshiva Ketana Satmar KJ, which listed a Kiryas Joel condominium as its address in the sale records. That religious group had incorporated itself on Jan. 21, listing three Kiryas Joel men as its officers and saying its purposes included operating an Orthodox Jewish house of worship and buying and selling property, according to the incorporation record.



Hasidic pilgrimage worries Hungarian villagers under COVID strain 

About a thousand Hasidic Jews from around the world made a pilgrimage to a small northern Hungarian village on Thursday, but their presence has made some locals nervous as Hungary fights a third, destructive wave of the pandemic.

The village of Bodrogkeresztur has recently become a pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews to commemorate a rabbi who they believe performed miracles 100 years ago.

Attendances have grown to more than 20,000 in recent years and the organisers had expected 100,000 people this year until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Rabbi Moshe Friedlander, who owns a house in the village and organises part of the pilgrimage, said the pilgrims were either vaccinated or had tested negative for COVID-19.

One young pilgrim from Israel said, "we come to pray. This is a big rabbi."

Nevertheless locals said they were nervous.

"We had too many deaths as it is," said Ildiko Cserhalmi, a local shopkeeper. "They (the pilgrims) come in droves ... We avoid them as best we can."



Thursday, April 15, 2021

NYC mayoral candidate Eric Adams expands Jewish outreach efforts 

Eric Adams, one of the leading candidates for mayor of New York City, has increased his outreach efforts to the Jewish community. By Wednesday, Adams had visited Jewish communities in all five boroughs.

Adams's outreach to all aspects of the Jewish community is an integral part of his campaign's strategy to build a formidable coalition that could get him to City Hall. The Jewish vote has historically proven to be a powerful and even decisive factor in mayoral elections. Experts estimate that New York's 1.1 million Jews make up about 20% of the voters in the city's Democratic primaries.

"Eric Adams has long understood the diversity of this city, and has long-standing relationships in every corner of the Jewish community," said Menashe Shapiro, a consultant who works with the Adams campaign.

A review of Adams' campaign activities in recent days showed him meeting with leaders and visiting Jewish institutions in four of the five boroughs. He had earlier visited the Jewish community in Staten Island.

On Monday, the candidate toured Yeshiva Darchei Torah and the Weiss Vocational Center in Far Rockaway, Queens. Adams also met with local community leaders at a parlor meeting in a private residence. On Tuesday, Adams met with the leaders of the Hasidic Bobov sect, the largest Orthodox voting bloc in the Borough Park neighborhood in Brooklyn. He also visited the Manhattan Day School, a modern Orthodox elementary school and met with leaders and rabbis of the Upper West Side and Upper East Side communities later in the day, according to the campaign.



Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Asians and Jews, standing united 

Within a matter of days, two violent hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Jews occurred in broad daylight on the streets of New York. A Filipino-American woman on her way to church was attacked, knocked to the ground, and stomped on. The attacker made anti-Asian remarks while pummeling her. Meanwhile, a Hasidic Jewish couple pushing a 1-year-old baby in a stroller was assaulted by a man with a sharp object.

If these were stand-alone incidents, they would be worrisome enough. But they are not. They are indicative of larger trends in America today, and their sources are multiple. Hate and division are on the rise, and two of the principal targets are Asian-Americans and Jewish Americans.

According to a monitoring group, Stop AAPI Hate, there were approximately 3,800 reported hate incidents against Asian Americans during the first year of the pandemic, a significant uptick from the previous year.

Often, these incidents are violent, as evidenced, among others, by the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, an immigrant from Thailand living in San Francisco and out for his daily walk; the slashing of a Filipino-American rider on a New York subway; the shoving to the ground of a 91-year-old Asian American in Oakland.

In many instances, the attacks, which appear to be random and without any economic motive, are accompanied by blame for the coronavirus and calls to get out of the United States.

Regarding Jews, the FBI's most recent hate crimes statistics reveal that, of all religious-based attacks, those targeting Jews comprise about 60%, even as Jews constitute 2% of the U.S. population.


Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Swastika appearances in community disturb Windsor Jewish Federation 

When Salomon Smeer was a child in Holland, his mother gave him away to strangers in order to hide him from German invaders who were intent on arresting and deporting all Jews.

Smeer never saw his mother again. She would die in a concentration camp in Auschwitz. He would spend three years living in secret, passed around a clandestine network of households in the Dutch resistance.

"I was told my name would change. But I knew I was Jewish," said Smeer, now an 83-year-old Windsor resident.

"I never had contact with other children. I was sleeping in tunnels, under the floor, and in attics. I was very lonesome, cold, and hungry."

After the Second World War ended, Smeer was raised in a Jewish orphanage.

It's been almost 76 years since the Nazis were defeated, but Smeer isn't shocked that their symbols continue to show up in Canada — his home since 2002.

"It is nothing unusual," Smeer said. "Those anti-Semitic feelings have been around for thousands of years. Why would we think it would be different today?"



Monday, April 12, 2021

Andrew Yang visits Borough Park as Orthodox Jewish voters shop for challah and toys on Sabbath eve 

Andrew Yang, one of the leading candidates for mayor of New York City, toured one of the most populated Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn on Friday.

Accompanied by a crew of cameras, Yang visited a local toy store called Toys4U and engaged with voters on 13th Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Borough Park.

"It is wonderful to be in Borough Park today," Yang said in a video message that was later circulated on social media platforms to members of the community, who were busy shopping and cooking for Shabbat.

In recent months, the candidate has invested time courting the city's Orthodox Jews, which historically have been an influential voting bloc in local elections. He defended the yeshiva education system, took a bold stance labeling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as antisemitic and hired a member of the Hasidic community as his campaign's Jewish outreach director. A recent internal poll released by the Yang campaign showed growing support for his candidacy in the Asian and Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

The Yang campaign said the 30-minute visit, which was not on his public schedule, was part of a campaign ad video shoot that will highlight Yang's appeal to all communities across the city. The candidate was followed by a sizable crowd of young kids and onlookers.

"I picked Borough Park as one of the places to film our ads not just because of how integral the Jewish community is to the fabric of our incredible city, but because of how important it is to getting New York back on track," Yang told the Forward on Monday.



Friday, April 09, 2021

Ranked Choice Voting Opponent Running No-Choice Council Race in Brooklyn 

When voters in Brooklyn's City Council District 44 cast ballots in November, they'll likely see three candidates on their ballots: a Democrat, a Republican and a Conservative.

Each political party will be represented by the same lawmaker: Kalman Yeger.

The Democratic incumbent is running unopposed on all three party lines for the June 22 primary for his Council seat — all but certainly sealing his re-election. Meanwhile, with hundreds of candidates running for City Council across the five boroughs, many of the other 51 districts have a half dozen or more hopefuls vying in the Democratic primary alone.

What's more, primary voters citywide will be able to select their top five candidates through ranked choice voting, a new system approved by voters in 2019. Yeger strongly opposed the voting change.

District 44 — covering parts of Bensonhurst, Borough Park and Midwood — is home to a large number of Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews. Since 2017, Yeger, an Orthodox Jew, has represented the Council district, which has a history of electing politicians who support Jewish organizations and concerns.

"Councilman Yeger is a lifelong Democrat, a member of his local Democratic club and serves on the Democratic County Committee," Yeger's campaign told THE CITY in a statement. "The support from the scores of neighborhood residents who signed petitions to place his name on the ballot reflects a desire by his constituents for common-sense and non-partisan solutions, and an affirmation of his record of fiscal responsibility."

While he is a registered Democrat, Yeger is allowed to run as a Democrat, Republican and Conservative, thanks to an obscure state law called the Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947. With Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support, legislators have attempted to repeal the law — to no avail.

Voters in the district turned out heavily for Donald Trump in 2020, with some precincts giving him a margin as high as 75% over Joe Biden.



Thursday, April 08, 2021

Don't buy from Jews sticker 

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In this Tuesday, April 19, 2016 file photo a sticker from around 1900 reading: 'Don't buy from Jews' is displayed at an exhibition of antisemitic and racist stickers at the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historic Museum) in Berlin, Germany. Before local anti-Jewish laws were enacted, before neighborhood shops and synagogues were destroyed, and before Jews were forced into ghettos, cattle cars, and camps, words were used to stoke the fire of hate. 'ItStartedWithWords' is a digital, Holocaust education campaign posting weekly videos of survivors from across the world reflecting on those moments that led up to the Holocaust.



Wednesday, April 07, 2021

A blind Jewish Michigan Supreme Court justice was stuck in Dubai en route to Israel 

On a weekday afternoon, if you walk down the Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk, a promenade overlooking the Arabian Gulf that encircles this capital city's famous palm-shaped artificial island, you may encounter a man repeating legal texts line by line to himself for hour after hour.

That man is Richard Bernstein, 46, a judge serving on the Michigan Supreme Court. He's been living in Dubai for two months and counting. And the texts he's reciting — memorizing in some instances — are court filings from the week's cases.

Bernstein, who has been visually impaired since birth due to a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, is blind. So he studies his cases by calling his clerks, having them read the filings to him sentence by sentence, then repeating the documents until he's familiar enough with them to form an opinion.

His walks, which are often as long as 20 miles, can take six hours, with Bernstein traversing the nearly 7-mile boardwalk multiple times. The court convenes on Wednesdays, when it can hear up to 26 cases in one day.

"If I am reviewing a murder case, it will be a three-week transcript which can't work in Braille," Bernstein said in an interview over local delicacies outside the five-star Atlantis Hotel, where he is staying. "I internalize these cases, not word by word, but to know all the key legal issues that are relevant within that case."

He added, "The Palm's crescent is like a runway without obstacles, so I have my phone and cane to navigate while focusing on my work assignment at the same time."

Usually Bernstein, a Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term in 2014, would be doing this work from Lansing, Michigan's capital. But in January he quarantined in Dubai for two weeks on his way to Israel for a visit. During that time Israel closed its borders, and Bernstein was told he could either stay in Dubai or fly home.

He chose to stay in Dubai — and has no immediate plans to leave. With the court meeting virtually due to COVID, he doesn't need to, despite the eight-hour time difference. He's even taken both doses of the COVID vaccine there.

"I had already started becoming close with so many incredible people here and so I decided to stay back," he said. "As a blind person it is very challenging to travel and do things on your own. But the beauty of this country is that you are never alone. So many people have helped me around here that I know this area like the back of my hand."

Walking 20 miles a day is not a challenge for Bernstein, an avid runner who has competed in 22 marathons and the full Ironman triathlon. In 2012, a cyclist crashed into him in New York City's Central Park, leaving him with a broken hip and pelvis, and landing him in the hospital for 10 weeks.

Bernstein walks now because he says it hurts less to be in motion. He appreciates that the UAE officially refers to people with disabilities as "people of determination," a term coined in 2016.



Tuesday, April 06, 2021

How Duolingo created a Yiddish course with a secular scholar and Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn 

When Meena Viswanath signed on more than two years ago to help Duolingo, the world's largest language learning app, create its first Yiddish course, she knew it wouldn't be easy.

But Viswanath, the daughter and granddaughter of famed Yiddish scholars who speaks Yiddish at home with her children, assumed most of the difficulties would be technical. She wasn't prepared for the challenge of blending the academic Yiddish she knows with the everyday dialect spoken by her Hasidic colleagues on the project.

The result of those negotiations will be visible when the course goes live on April 6, tapping into the groundswell of interest in the language spoken by at least 500,000 Jews around the world and studied by others.

"We used mostly the spelling and grammar that's a little bit more formalized among the secular Yiddishists," Viswanath said. "But then when we recorded the audio, we used the pronunciation that is used in the vernacular among students, specifically in Borough Park in Brooklyn and so forth."

Launched in 2012 to help Spanish-speaking immigrants access English education, Duolingo now offers 40 languages on a free app that condenses language learning into what many, its founder included, have compared to a game. Users accumulate points and climb leaderboards of fellow "players" for finishing lessons and practicing every day. Its cast of cartoonish characters, including its mascot owl aptly named Duo, adds to the fun atmosphere.

The company is taking the dopamine boost to a new level for promoting the Yiddish course: Those who start on its launch date can get a free bagel courtesy of Duolingo at a few participating shops across the country, including Katz's Deli in New York and Manny's Cafeteria in Chicago — as long as the users place their orders in Yiddish.

The new course comes amid an explosion of interest in Yiddish instruction during the pandemic. The Workers Circle classes last summer had 305 students from 20 countries and 32 states, a 65 percent jump from the previous year. Meanwhile, YIVO's Uriel Weinreich Summer Program saw attendance increase by 60 percent to 120 people — and then five times as many students enrolled for the winter program compared to the previous year.


Monday, April 05, 2021

Mystery Continues to Surround a Yeshiva Congregation’s Plans for Briarcliff Manor Property 

The recent purchase of a former Pace University campus in Briarcliff Manor has raised some questions from local residents and officials. First among those questions is what the Monsey-based Yeshiva of  Viznitz D'Khal Torath Chaim, Inc. plans to do with the property. 

The same congregation bought another campus last fall – the 107-acre Nyack College campus in the Village of South Nyack, along with two other parcels – with plans to use the property for educating hundreds of high school and college-age students. South Nyack subsequently filed suit against the Hasidic Jewish congregation for using buildings with safety violations and for not attaining proper village permits and inspections.  

Nyack College operated a tax-exempted Christian college on the property before its 2019 closure. According to lohud.com, the congregation's attorney argued the property has status that allows for educational facilities, while the village's attorney stated the congregation might be required to reapply for a special education permit. 

Briarcliff Manor officials have also raised the question of whether the former Pace University property's special permit for educational use needs to be renewed or the property reverts to single-family zoning. However, the Hasidic Jewish congregation has yet to state its intentions for the Briarcliff property. In a March 5 email to residents, Briarcliff Village Manager Philip Zegarelli indicated the Village was not contacted about the change in ownership before its sale and no plans for the property were submitted. 

There have also been questions regarding the price the congregation paid for the campus. It bought the property, which includes dormitories, offices, a pair of athletic fields, a garage and a barn, in February from the Research Center on Natural Conservation for $11.75 million. The research center—founded by the CEO of Beijing-based Fang Holdings Ltd.—paid Pace $17.4 million for the campus in 2017, and records from the Town of Ossining assess its value at $17.7 million.  

Since the parcel of land is currently on the tax rolls, D'Khal Torath Chaim would seemingly have to apply for tax-exempt status. 

Zegarelli also wrote in his email that the property's residential zoning allows single-family homes on one-acre lots, but that Pace had operated as a school under a special use permit. Under village code, such permits expire after 12 months of inactivity, and the Research Center on Natural Conservation did not obtain a special permit after acquiring the property from Pace. 

Briarcliff Manor has recently strengthened its methods of evaluating and managing special use permit applications, according to Zegarelli's email. In doing so, the village looks to identify how properties with special use permits impact the local traffic, schools and resources. "We also clarified the termination of special permit uses once the approved use ceases to operate continuously," he noted.  

Zegarelli wrote that enhanced public notification procedures would provide more awareness for residents of any such proposals coming before the Village. "The Board of Trustees assures all residents that information on all land use applications will be disseminated efficiently, transparently, and fully, as soon as such information is available," the Briarcliff Village Manager's email stated. 

Given some of the comments on the Briarcliff Community Facebook Page, there are residents already concerned that the former Pace campus may face some of the complexities surrounding the Yeshiva's South Nyack purchase. One person wrote, "Not an expert on this issue, but what can the village do proactively to ensure this doesn't get out of hand? Taking a wait and see approach could turn out bad for the community." Another commented, "Considering what is occurring in Nyack, this is extremely concerning."  

However, on an earlier story posted on River Journal's website, one reader commented about the Yeshiva purchasing the campus: "Better than having those buildings and land wasted."



Friday, March 26, 2021

Chag Kosher V'Sameach 

 Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and Kosher Pesach.


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Hasidic Brooklyn’s child matchmaker is under investigation 

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During a Hasidic teenager's first day at a new Brooklyn yeshiva last year, the head of the school approached him to talk about arranging his marriage.

"He told me, 'Wow, you're so cute. You're going to find a girl fast,'" said the former student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "I was 16."

He added: "If I would have stayed, it would have happened."

That head of school, Rabbi Yoel Roth, and the school he runs, Yeshiva Tiferes Hatorah in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, are now the subject of investigations by the New York Police Department and the Administration for Children's Services, the Forward has learned, after stories of Roth marrying off people as young as 15 erupted on social media in the last month. New York State requires people to be 18 to legally marry, or 17 with the consent of the Supreme Court or family court.

In interviews this week, siblings and witnesses of the rabbi's acolytes and others familiar with his operations described Roth as the Pied Piper of Hasidic Brooklyn who is brainwashing children who look like they have not yet gone through puberty into religious engagement and wedding ceremonies.

"This is a real cult," said one Hasidic woman in Brooklyn who said she has multiple siblings who joined Roth's community, describing some as still "full-fledged" adherents. She spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her siblings. "It was only once they got really hurt and they left, that those cult-like characteristics really — you could see it."

In addition to the Williamsburg yeshiva, which is also known by the name Heichel Hakodesh Breslev, Roth runs Camp Breslev in Brooklyn and another nonprofit called Ach Tov V Chesed, according to tax filings. The organizations have a religious exemption from public disclosure of details like revenues and expenses.

Roth has also started a community of about 60 families in the Sullivan County, New York, town of Liberty, whose members are Roth's most committed followers, including some of the young couples he matched and married.

Roth declined to be interviewed for this article through his secretary, Shaul Indig. Indig denied the charges in a phone call this week. He said the claims were "lies" from "people who hate" Roth, and that the rabbi organizes engagements among young people but does not marry them until they're of legal age.

"They are going to be engaged for three years," Indig said of a 15-year-old who was engaged to a 17-year-old last week. "If they were secular, they would just be friends for three years."

But in videos posted to his website and on his social media channels, Roth says that listening to the state's marriage laws is akin to listening to the Gentiles, and seems to advocate for marriage following only a few years after bar mitzvah.

"If you want to make a child happy, you have to marry him or her off," Roth said in one video. Apparently invoking Rabbi Eliezer Shlomo Schick, who was arrested in 2011 in Israel for arranging child marriages, Roth said: "The yeshiva head spoke of pain, he spoke of 50 years that teenage boys write him letters, open themselves up to him. 'There's no other advice to be given except to marry off children young.'"



Sunday, March 21, 2021

Ukraine ready to greenlight Hasidim pilgrimage to Uman 

The Ukrainian government will allow vaccinated Israelis to make an annual Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev in the city of Uman, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reported on Friday.

The development reportedly comes amid talks of Israel sending surplus COVID-19 vaccinations to Kyiv, I24News reports.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is said to have arrived at the bespoke agreement on Friday after a phone call with his Israeli counterpart Arye Deri.

Every year, tens of thousands of Israelis travel to this central Ukrainian city to worship at the tomb of the 19th-century Hasidic rabbi, founder of the Breslev movement.

Last year, however, Ukrainian authorities blocked entry into the country and refused to organize the pilgrimage due to coronavirus pandemic. 

"The key condition for the implementation of this large-scale measure (the organization of the pilgrimage, editor's note) will be the improvement of the epidemiological situation in Ukraine and the preliminary vaccination of visitors," a statement released by Avakov's office reads.

The two government officials discussed "assistance from Israel in providing vaccine packages," the statement added.


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Singapore Jewish community has deep roots stretching back to 1819 

The Jewish community in Singapore can trace its roots all the way back to 1819, when merchants from across Asia arrived to trade.

Some of the earliest records indicate there were nine Jews in Singapore in 1830.

The earliest Jewish families lived near Boat Quay, where the first synagogue was built in the 1840s along what is today Synagogue Street.

As the community grew, the need for a new place of worship arose, and construction of the Maghain Aboth Synagogue in Waterloo Street began. It was completed in 1878, and is the oldest standing synagogue in South-east Asia.

A second place of worship, Chesed-El Synagogue in Oxley Rise, was opened in 1905.

Both buildings were gazetted as national monuments in 1998. Today, they remain at the centre of religious activities for the community, which numbers around 2,500, comprising Singaporeans as well as expatriates from across the globe.

Since 2007, the community has met for activities at the Jacob Ballas Centre, next to the Maghain Aboth Synagogue.

A large number of the early Jewish immigrants hailed from India and the Middle East, and for many, their main language was Arabic.

During the Japanese Occupation, many Jews who remained here were detained by the Japanese at Changi Prison and then in Sime Road.

The community has contributed significantly to Singapore, and its members include first chief minister David Marshall, who helped establish what is today the Jewish Welfare Board.

Other prominent figures include philanthropist Jacob Ballas, the first chairman of the Malayan Stock Exchange and then the Malaysia and Singapore Stock Exchange; prominent surgeon Yahya Cohen; and lawyer Harry Elias, who set up the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.

Jewish leaders have been active in the Inter-Religious Organisation and other religious harmony efforts, and the Jewish Welfare Board said yesterday that the community has always felt safe in Singapore, unlike in many other countries.



Tuesday, March 09, 2021

After visiting yeshiva, Eric Adams “impressed” by secular education 

Eric Adams, one of the leading candidates running to be mayor of New York City toured a Brooklyn yeshiva on Monday that had been on a list of schools subject to investigation over adequate secular education standards and came away with a positive impression.

"I was really impressed by what I saw," Adams told the Forward on Monday night. "Watching those children understand grammar, understand English, saying they like writing and reading, it was amazing."

Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, declined to identify the yeshiva, which was in the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park. Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who invited Adams for the hour-long tour, said it was among the "29 yeshivas most heavily scrutinized by the city."

The question of how much science, math and English education should be required in private yeshivas has been roiling the Orthodox communities in recent years. A city Department of Education report in 2019 found that more than half of the yeshivas investigated were not providing the amount of secular education that is "substantially equivalent" to that of public schools, as required by state law.

Eichenstein, who is Orthodox and was elected in 2018 to represent a district that includes Borough Park, said he wanted Adams, who a recent poll showed running second among some 30 candidates in the crowded June 22 Democratic primary, to see the much-discussed yeshiva situation firsthand. "Adams had the opportunity to step into any classroom, talk to any student, and review any of the classroom materials that were of his interest," Eichenstein said.

Adams compared the visit to another meeting he recently had with African-American teachers and students who felt that Anglo-Saxon standards did not give Black children the opportunity to identify with curriculum material that lacks cultural relevance for their community.

"It's obvious that the laws are not working," said Adams, who is Black. "The fight that the Jewish community is having is no different than the fight that the African-American and the Hispanic communities have. We must fight to change how we evaluate schools and understand the importance of culture and religion in school."

The next mayor will play a key role in how to enforce state laws governing yeshiva education. Last month, a group of 100 rabbis and Jewish leaders signed a letter to candidates about the importance of secular education in the yeshiva system spearheaded by Yaffed, a group founded by former yeshiva students and parents upset about the curriculum.

Andrew Yang, the current frontrunner in recent polls, promised he would not take action to boost secular education in yeshivas if elected mayor. The other leading candidates — responding to a Forward survey — said they would be working closely with the community to implement changes and fully enforce the law when needed.

But following his visit on Monday, Adams suggested he would adopt a more proactive approach. "Albany needs to enter a re-evaluation phase on what the cultural norms are in culturally sensitive education," he said. He added that he would invite the chancellor of the state's Board of Regents and other leaders to visit the religious schools "so they can see this for themselves."

Eichenstein said he is certain that what Adams witnessed "was an eye opener for him" and invited "any candidate who is willing to be objective and open minded about understanding the true facts about our yeshiva system to come with me to a yeshiva to see what it's really like."

In the phone interview on Monday night, Adams rejected the idea that he was taking this position to galvanize support in Brooklyn's Orthodox communities, an influential voting bloc. "Everyone who knows me knows that I speak my mind and I tell the truth," he maintained. "That's why I wanted to go to the school today, to actually visit on my own and hear from the students that are there and look at the books that they're using."

Adams urged the outspoken critics of the yeshiva education system to "come see how these children are expanding their knowledge and not being limited in their knowledge."



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