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Sunday, May 01, 2016

The Curious Case Of Kiryas Joel 

A Q&A With Louis Grumet

Editor’s Note: Louis Grumet is former executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. In 1994, Grumet served as plaintiff in an important church-state case called Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Grumet and his co-author, John Caher, have just released a book about the legal challenge titled The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise Of A Village Theocracy And The Battle To Defend The Separation Of Church And State (Chicago Review Press). Grumet discussed the book recently with Church & State.


Q. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case that bears your name in June of 1994. Some of our newer readers may not know the whole story behind the case. Can you provide a short summary of the issues it raised?

Grumet: Sure. In short, the case was about a constitutionally illegitimate means of addressing a legitimate problem.

            Kiryas Joel is a community in the Hudson Valley established after an insular group of Hasidic Jews bought up land in a rural area, populated it exclusively with members of their faction and then created a village comprised of members of their religion and governed by their theocratic tradition. The children were primarily educated in private yeshivas, and Jewish law, not the laws of the state of New York, resolves civil disputes. The inhabitants generally spoke Yiddish, not English, and eschewed television, radio, newspapers, sports and birth control. They had no interest in the melting pot, opposed assimilation with the broader culture and lived a largely isolationist life – as is their absolute right.

Although the vast majority of the children were educated in private schools, the village was unable to afford the extremely high cost of providing educational services to their special-needs pupils and demanded, as taxpayers, that the local school district provide services that they are required to provide under state and federal law.

The local school district’s reaction was, “Fine, send them over.” These children with disabilities, struggling to make sense of one culture, were unable to adapt to two, and the school district only made things much worse by its callous indifference to the customs and restrictions which were part of their religion. In one instance, a disabled Hasidic child was dressed up as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for a holiday pageant; in another, Hasidic children were brought to McDonald’s, hardly a kosher establishment, for lunch. The children were so traumatized that the parents, quite understandably, pulled their kids out of the local public school.

Instead of working with the school district to resolve the issues, the state’s solution was a special law establishing a religiously gerrymandered village of Kiryas Joel “public” school to serve only the children of this one sect. This arrangement would have given the religious group the power to direct public funding according to their beliefs. This marked the first time in American history that a governmental unit was established specifically for one religious group.

When I heard the legislation had passed (in the middle of the night, on the last day of session, hidden in a bill with numerous completely unrelated items, with most legislators having no idea what they were voting on), I paid a visit to my old friend, mentor and former employer, Gov. Mario Cuomo, and urged him to veto it. Cuomo was too smart a lawyer to not know the legislation was unconstitutional, but he dismissed my entreaties with a smug, “Who’s going to sue?”

My response: “I will.” That was the start of several years of litigation.


Q. Tell us a little about your background. What led you to get involved and serve as a plaintiff?

Grumet: I grew up in West Virginia, where I experienced my share of anti-Semitism, became a ’60s liberal, eventually got a law degree from New York University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Pittsburgh. My undergraduate work was at George Washington University. I spent my career as a public policy wonk and as an official at the state Education Department was responsible for overseeing the state’s special-education program.

At the time this case started, I was executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. It was in that capacity that I became a plaintiff. As a civil libertarian and lawyer, I was offended that my state and my governor had so casually abandoned the Constitution for political expediency. I imagine my background and ethnic heritage played some role. I mean, who knows better than a Jewish kid from a border state the dangers of church-state entanglement?

https://www.au.org/church-state/may-2016-church-state/featured/the-curious-case-of-kiryas-joel

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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Rome opens Jewish catacombs to public 

Inscription at the Jewish catacombs of Rome (Wikimedia commons)

The city of Rome will open up the Jewish catacombs to the public on Sunday, a first in over a decade.

The ancient burial site at Vigna Randanini will be available for viewing to the general public until May 5.

The complex, found beneath a former vineyard in 1859, consists of a maze of tunnels that cover nearly 18,500 square meters at a depth of five to 16 meters beneath the surface.

It is said to date back to the period between the second and third centuries and could have been in use up until the fifth century.

Unlike the Christian catacombs, of which there are 40 and which attract thousands of visitors per year, the Jewish catacombs were off-limits, with only private parties permitted to view them in pre-arranged visits.

Visitors to the catacombs, which lie outside the walls that encircles ancient Rome, will be able to see inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin and Greek that indicate family connections, status and line of work, according to The Catholic Register.

“While the catacombs have been sacked over the centuries, visitors can still see many colorful frescoes and tablets with depictions of the traditional Jewish candelabra,” read the report.

“The walls of family ‘cubicles’ or tombs are covered in dancing maidens, birds, grapevines and floral tributes, and there are also pockets of kokhim, a type of Jewish burial chambers,” it added.

The initiative is one of several by the Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, to mark Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy.

The cultural councilor for the Jewish Community of Rome, Giorgia Calo, welcomed the move, saying that Jews “have always been a part of the history of the capital.”

Speaking to The Catholic Register, Calo said: “We have tried to create a suitable itinerary to help people understand how much the Jewish people have been part of Rome.”

http://www.timesofisrael.com/rome-opens-jewish-catacombs-to-public/

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Swastikas spray-painted at park, school in largely Jewish DC suburb 

Illustrative photo of graffiti featuring a swastika. (CC BY-HHA124L/Flickr/File)

Swastikas were spray-painted at a park and an elementary school in a Washington, DC, suburb with a large Jewish population.

The swastikas were discovered Sunday in Rockville, Maryland, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. A witness said he saw two white boys spray-painting the swastikas, according to the Post.

Montgomery County police told the newspaper they contacted the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington about the incident.

The police force posted an appeal on Facebook, asking for anyone with any information about the incident to come forward.

“Even though some people think it’s just offensive graffiti, you must understand it really offends community members deeply,” Ron Halber, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, told The Washington Post. “It’s not just a matter of getting over it.”

Rockville, the center of the Washington metropolitan area’s Jewish population, has a Jewish Community Center (JCC), a Jewish nursing home, a Jewish day school, synagogues and kosher restaurants.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/swastikas-spray-painted-at-park-school-in-largely-jewish-dc-suburb/

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Inside NYC's Social Club For The Formerly Devout 



Last Christmas, a 51-year-old woman from the Upper West Side walked into a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan and introduced herself to twelve strangers.

A victim of a highly-publicized rabbinical scandal, she'd recently shed the daily routines of Modern Orthodox Judaism for good. There to greet her was a group of former Mormons, Hasidic Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims. "There's a bazillion different appetizers and there are 12 people at the table, so I go around the table and say, 'Who eats treif? Who eats vegetarian? Who eats meat but not treif?'" she recalled. "Because when you leave, your what-kind-of-Chinese-appetizer cues are no longer defined by the system."

For the members of Formerly Fundamentalist NYC, a meetup group for New Yorkers who have left strict religious communities, perusing a menu is an exercise in post-religious decision making.

"I don't want to go to a dinner party that's a therapy session. I have a therapist," the woman explained. "But I want to meet like-minded people, and that's exactly the point of the group. You can say nothing, or you can hang out and talk about the presidential race, or you can spill your guts."

Todd Kadish and Isaac Carmignani came up with the idea for Formerly Fundamentalist in November 2013, over coffee at the Starlight Diner on 34th Street.

Carmignani, a 47-year-old ex-Jehovah's witness from Queens, was nervous that his social circle would always be limited to ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. Kadish, a 42-year-old ex-Modern Orthodox Jew from Connecticut, had watched his private Facebook group, Formerly Religious, balloon to more than 1,000 members, and become more of a repository for memes than a substantive sounding board.

http://gothamist.com/2016/04/27/ex_religious_social_network.php

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ZAKA chairman: Working does not contradict Torah 

Yehuda Meshi Zahav

ZAKA chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav describes sparingly and with restraint the things he and thousands of his volunteers at ZAKA do. ZAKA is a haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) organization that rescues, identifies, and traces Jewish disaster victims in Israel and all over the world under sometimes virtually impossible conditions. Such a mission requires love of one's fellow man, great empathy, faith, and a belief that good will come of it. It requires Zahav, a man with impeccable curly white payess (sidecurls).

Two months ago, following a four-year struggle, ZAKA won recognition as an official UN consultant and observer. The eventual decision was taken unanimously by a special UN committee composed of representatives of 19 countries, including Iran, Sudan, Venezuela, Cuba, Turkey, China, Russia, Pakistan, Uruguay, Burundi, Greece, the US, and Israel.

"Globes": Did Iran and Pakistan also vote in favor?

Zahav: "There was no opposition, not even one country. We sent our representative, who met with every one of the committee members. The Iranians asked us if the report that ZAKA treats Jews first and Arabs later at terrorist events was true. We said that they hadn't read it correctly. We treat the victim first, and then the murderer, regardless of nationality. They realized this, and voted in favor."

http://www.globes.co.il/en/article-zaka-chairman-working-does-not-contradict-torah-1001120674

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Fugitive Hasidic Rabbi Likely Faces Passover in South African Jail 

A fugitive Hasidic rabbi charged with sex abuse is spending Passover in a South African prison while authorities determine whether or not to extradite him to Israel.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 78, was arrested in early April in Johannesburg, four years after first fleeing sex abuse charges in Israel. A founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel and a member of the Breslov Hasidic branch, Berland has denied accusations that he sexually assaulted several of his female followers.

Haaretz reported Monday that the rabbi faces a bail hearing Tuesday.

Approximately 700 Hasidic supporters of the rabbi protested outside the South African Embassy in Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan on Monday, according to Arutz Sheva.

At a court appearance Friday, Berland, who was being held at the maximum-security Kgosi Mampuru Prison in Pretoria, claimed he had been “threatened by gangsters” there, and his supporters said he would die if he remained in custody over Passover due to health problems and lack of kosher-for-Passover food.

The judge moved him to a single cell in Johannesburg Prison’s “awaiting facility” and allowed the rabbi’s family to deliver Passover food to him.

Since fleeing Israel in 2012, Berland has hidden in Morocco, the Netherlands and Zimbabwe.

According to Haaretz, he was staying at hotels and golf estates in South Africa prior to his arrest.

http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/339399/fugitive-hasidic-rabbi-likely-faces-passover-in-south-african-jail/

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Monday, April 25, 2016

5,000 homes planned for Bloomingburg Hasidic community 

The highly controversial Chestnut Ridge development in Bloomingburg, which has recently seen its first Hasidic families move in, could grow to be 5,000 homes in the next 10 to 15 years, previously secret documents reveal.

The documents detail a hidden effort to lay the groundwork for a massive Hasidic development.
“The developers of Chestnut Ridge have worked for 7 years in complete secrecy to achieve a fully approved project (Phase I),” an executive summary among the documents says. “It is intended to be a transformative development; building a secure, affordable, growing Hassidic community that will ultimately accommodate thousands of families.”

“Critically, the development is in Bloomingburg, NY, the smallest village in NYS,” the summary says. “With the initial occupancy of these homes, the owners of Chestnut Ridge will effectively control the local government, its zoning and ordinances.”

One of the documents is titled “The Villages of Chestnut Ridge Executive Summary – Very Highly Confidential” and dated Jan. 14, 2013. It was sent from developer Shalom Lamm to Reuven Hellman, an employee of Meridian Capital Group, a commercial mortgage brokerage firm.

On April 11, Judge Katherine Forrest, who is overseeing a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by Chestnut Ridge developers against village and Town of Mamakating officials, released certain documents to the public. Those documents, originally marked confidential for attorneys’ eyes only, outline the scope of the secret plans behind Chestnut Ridge.

Chestnut Ridge was presented to the village board in 2006 as a 125-unit golf course community, which quietly transitioned to a 396-unit high density townhouse development that was approved by the village planning board in 2009.

Room to grow

Behind the scenes, developers intended Chestnut Ridge to solve growing housing crises within the Satmar community, the 2013 executive summary says. The document includes data on the rapid growth of the Village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County, and states that developers can reasonably estimate a 15-year total build-out of 5,000-7,000 homes. The homes have five bedrooms, and one proposal states that 20 percent of residents will be Section 8, or low income, though developers prefer 40 percent.

As it now stands, the development encompasses 198 acres, but developers have already acquired 500 acres of adjacent property for future construction. After building a complete Hasidic community, the developers expect “to be rewarded for the years of secret toil and investment with a very substantial return on investment,” the document said. They project the net profit at more than $330 million.
Michael Fragin, spokesperson for Shalom Lamm, said that there is a “continuum” to any development, and Chestnut Ridge has changed over time just like any development.

“Chestnut Ridge was planned and built lawfully and openly,” Fragin said in a statement. “The housing units have always been and remain open to everyone. There is nothing illegal or inappropriate about marketing homes to the Hasidic community, and the backlash that has erupted from certain quarters, is both unfortunate and intolerant.”

Fragin declined to comment on whether there are plans in place to build 5,000 units, but he said everything will depend on the housing market.

The documents describe plans for a complete Hasidic community, including shopping facilities, girls and boys schools, a shul, mikvahs, beis medrash, mosdos and a refuah center. Emails sent between developer Kenneth Nakdimen and designer Mark Weisz in 2012 discuss seeking planning approval for a community clubhouse and a maintenance building that they intend to be a shul and a mikvah.
No need for accuracy

Nakdimen wrote that it will be an ugly and political fight to get Hasidic facilities approved, so, he added, they planned to hide the buildings’ true purposes until they were already built. Weisz responded by saying they need renderings for marketing purposes only.

“They don’t need to be accurate in any way,” Weisz said. “They need to be pretty and believable.”
Attorney for the Town of Mamakating, Brian Sokoloff, said he found the documents “very interesting” when he saw them. The judge was absolutely right to make them public, Sokoloff said, and it was only unfortunate that they were released after a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by the town against Lamm, Nakdimen and others was dismissed. That case is pending an appeal.

Fragin said the developers maintain that the racketeering lawsuit is “a frivolous PR stunt.”

“Despite years of hyperbolic claims, these documents do not show any illegality or any conspiracy,” Fragin said in his statement. “[Town Supervisor] Bill Herrmann and the Town of Mamakating continue to squander tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in their quest to keep Hasidic Jews from living in their town.”

The discrimination suit is set to go to trial on Nov. 14.

http://www.recordonline.com/article/20160420/NEWS/160429917

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Hasidic teen risks shunning for schooling 

Mendel Taub perched his pocket radio on a warehouse shelf as he began his 12-hour workday packing handfuls of hard candies into cardboard boxes. The volume was set just loud enough to hear Rush Limbaugh’s latest rant.

“Knowledge…is…power,” Taub, 16, said slowly, repeating the WABC radio tag line.

Though born in New York, he was illiterate in English. Desperate to expand beyond his native Yiddish, Taub secretly turned Limbaugh into a surrogate English teacher. That was five years ago.

What he is doing was (and still is) risky because of where he is doing it.

Taub is from New Square, an all-Hasidic village of 7,500 in Rockland County. The Skverer sect there is one of the most insular religious communities in the country. Its powerful grand rabbi (or rebbe) dictates nearly every aspect of his followers' lives. The secular world and its conduits — smart phones, televisions, Internet connections — are generally banned.

Taub dropped out of his yeshiva at age 15 without the ability to speak or read English fluently, subtract double digits or name the 50 states. Teachers and rabbis dismissed his questions about the fundamentals of his sect’s beliefs. When he persisted, he was disciplined.

“I realized I wasn’t getting an education, that nothing they taught me would ever come in handy in getting a career or bringing in money for my family,” he said. “I realized that Talmudic law wasn’t really going to help me get a job.”

So he convinced a peddler who mostly trafficked in watches and calculators in the village to sell him a radio.

“It went down like a drug deal, on a street corner, in the shadows,” he said.

If he were caught by religious authorities, he could ruin his chances of getting a desirable match in his sect's customary arranged marriages or risk becoming ostracized from everyone he knew.

At 16, after months of low-wage manual labor, he gathered the courage to secretly call the public school administration: “I said, ‘Hello ... public school ... Ramapo…?’"

He believes he reached an East Ramapo school administrator. “I said, ‘I’m a kid from New Square. I want a high school education. Can I come to school? What do I have to do?' They said, ‘You might be here the next 15 years because your English and math are like a first grader’s. Go to Rockland BOCES when you turn 17. You won’t need your parents’ permission. They’ll do the job,’” he said.

“At that point, all I wanted to do was learn English. I didn’t think I’d be able to master math, science or social studies. I was clueless. I didn’t know anything about anything,” Taub said, sitting in an ambulance where he works part-time for the Ramapo Valley Ambulance Corps.

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/investigations/2016/04/20/east-ramapo-education/82519112/

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Chag Kosher V'Sameach 

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and Kosher Pesach.

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New Bloomingburg mayor pressed about budget, village future 

Newly-elected Mayor of Bloomingburg Russell Wood expected every insult hurled at him during his first meeting in office. If anything, Wood said the meeting went better than he had hoped.

About 70 people filled the chairs and lined the walls of the village hall meeting space Thursday night, as the new village board held its organizational meeting and a public hearing on the village budget. What would have already been a controversial meeting was made more heated by the publication Wednesday of dozens of documents related to the Chestnut Ridge high density housing project. In those documents, developers detailed early plans to make Chestnut Ridge a Hasidic community of up to 5,000 homes, but to keep that intention secret from the public. Several residents held signs at the meeting that attacked the developers and officials who approved Chestnut Ridge, calling on authorities to "Lock 'em up!"

During the public hearing on the budget, Wood faced a barrage of questions about sections of the budget that showed dramatic changes, like the $22,500 expected decrease in fines and forfeitures revenue and a $12,000 increase to mortgage tax revenue. Attorney fees and building inspector fees showed large decreases. Residents accepted the likelihood that sales within Chestnut Ridge could lead to a large increase in mortgage taxes, but they quizzed Wood about his decreases — does Wood expect there to be fewer building inspections and fines enforced for violations, and how can the village guarantee it won't need more money for attorney fees when it is already involved in a lot of litigation?

Kathy Roemer, former village trustee, told Wood his budget didn't make sense.

"I'm just a little concerned that is willy-nilly thrown together," Roemer said.

Wood defended the budget, telling residents that he worked on it with the village accountant, and he felt they did the best they could with it. At the end of the public hearing, Wood and trustees Aaron Rabiner and Rivkah Mosesson voted to approve the budget without any changes.

During the public comment section of the regular meeting, residents took the opportunity to throw insults at Wood, who many feel is too deeply connected to Shalom Lamm, the primary developer of Chestnut Ridge.

"You're corrupt from the top of your head to the bottom of your foot," Town of Wallkill resident Vincent Ferri announced to applause from almost everyone in the room.

Burlingham resident John Kahrs questioned Wood's integrity in reconstituting a village planning board, rather than keeping those duties within the town, and told Wood he has lost respect for him.

"Many of the people in this room believe this is a puppet regime for the developer," Kahrs said, to more applause.


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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Cops: Man Shouted "Hail Hitler" At Brooklyn Jew 

The NYPD's Hate Crime Task Force is looking into an incident in Brooklyn after a man allegedly yelled "Hail Hitler" at a Brooklynite who was cleaning his car.

The victim, identified by Jewish news site JPUpdates as a 36-year-old Hasidic man named Joseph Singer, was cleaning his car in preparation for Passover Sunday. The suspect spotted Singer at Brooklyn's busy Grand and River streets intersection and threw "an unknown liquid" at him, the New York Post reported.

"Hail Hitler!" the man shouted, according to Singer. "Hitler is coming to kill you Jews. He is going to burn you up."

The man ran off after the incident according to the NYPD, which has assigned to the case both detectives from the 90th Precinct and the department's Hate Crime Task Force Unit.

Police told the Post that they were looking at surveillance footage from cameras in the area. They did not speculate on what kind of liquid the suspect allegedly threw at Singer, and there was no indication it was anything harmful. Police told the Post they believe the man intended to say "Heil Hitler" in the German fashion, but confused the German "heil" -- often associated with Nazi salutes during World War II -- with its English counterpart.

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. climbed by 21 percent in 2014, the most recent year in which statistics are available, according to the Anti-Defamation League's website. The group said it had cataloged 912 documented incidents of anti-Semitism in the calendar year, compared to 751 cases in 2013.

The majority of incidents involved harassment and threats, which accounted for 513 of those incidents documented by the ADL in 2014. The group said vandalism accounted for an additional 363 incidents, while assaults amounted to 36 incidents.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Lipa Schmeltzer: 'Hasidic Lady Gaga;' the 'Jewish Elvis' 

Lipa Schmeltzer says he has one foot in the Orthodox Jewish world and one in the secular.

The Hasidic pop star plays events around the world, is fluent in English, studies visual arts and creative writing at Columbia University and has friends of many races, genders and religions.

He also dons a yarmulke and the side-locks typical of his Hasidic brethren. He has four children with his wife, with whom he was matched years ago in an arranged marriage. He leads weekly prayer services in Hebrew in the Airmont Shul, a synagogue attached to his house where all are welcome and most are fellow Hasidim also seeking to straddle two worlds.

At 38, his self-determination was hard-won.

Schmeltzer is from New Square, a Hasidic village of 7,500 in Rockland County presided over by the powerful Skverer rebbe. He is the 11th of 12 siblings, born to a postal worker father who wanted him to be a Torah scholar. An undiagnosed learning disability hampered the energetic and day-dreaming young boy.

"It's a normal thing today, but then they didn't know about it. I was nicknamed and beaten by teachers," he said. "They said that nothing would grow out of me."

Married by age 20 and educated in New Square yeshivas, which teach minimal English and almost no secular studies like math and science, he worked as a delivery man for a kosher meat and fish store. The low-wage job became an unlikely entree into a new world. Radios, televisions and Internet connections are banned in New Square.

But, in his delivery truck, he heard his first pop song: "I Need to Know" by Marc Anthony. He quickly became enthralled by the sounds of Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and others.

Untrained but with an undeniable natural talent, Schmeltzer began performing his upbeat music at bar mitzvahs and weddings. With his Yiddish, Hebrew and English tunes quoting scripture and encouraging listeners to turn to God, he built a following throughout the Orthodox world. He began recording CDs. (He now has 17.) The New York Daily News has called the flamboyant performer the "Jewish Elvis," others have dubbed him "the Lady Gaga of Hasidic music."

But Skverer religious authorities rejected his melodies as too different, too modern. He was reprimanded by the rabbinical court and forced to place an ad in a Hasidic newspaper apologizing for his music. He was made to promise that his future recordings would be more conservative.

Schmeltzer tried to comply, but his natural creative instincts prevailed. He continued on with self-styled music.

Finally he moved his family to nearby Airmont in 2007. 

"I couldn't bear the harassment," he said. "I told my wife we had to move out."

Still, threats and edicts against him intensified.

As he was set to perform at a charity concert at Madison Square Garden in 2008, 33 leading rabbis denounced him in a popular Jewish newspaper. Schmeltzer reluctantly withdrew and the event was canceled, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses. Though he had a thriving career, the bans scared clients away in droves and eventually left him worried about how he would support his family.

One day, he drove past Rockland Community College in Suffern and the idea blossomed to pursue an education as a back-up career plan. Schmeltzer took BOCES classes to earn his high school diploma and then moved on to college coursework. He persuaded his wife to attend RCC as well for a time.

He eventually graduated with an associate's degree and won the Chancellor's Award for Student Excellence, along with his new friend and fellow New Square native Mendel Taub.

"I developed a love for education, regardless of my career," he said.

Now studying for his bachelor's degree at Columbia, he is in full creative bloom, writing poetry, shooting photographs, drawing, composing and singing — much of it for credit or compensation. He still performs (in April he did a show with Jay Leno) and, to provide informal art therapy, sings for and writes poetry with the sick and elderly.

"My kids will go to college," he said. "But I still feel guilty because it's engraved in my brain."


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Hasidic Watchman Charged With Bribery 

A member of a Hasidic neighborhood watch group known as the Shomrim bribed police with $6,000 per gun license for more than 100 of their rank and file, federal prosecutors said.

Shaya "Alex" Lichtenstein, a 44-year-old Pomona resident, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of bribery and conspiracy.

In a 10-page complaint filed Monday, federal prosecutors say Lichtenstein floated the prospect of $900,000 by an undercover officer less than a week ago, after saying that his prior connection in the department had cut ties.

On April 13, the unnamed officer met with Lichtenstein in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Borough Park.

Fearing the officer had a wire, Lichtenstein said he would have preferred meeting him "in your underpants and your undershirt," prosecutors said.

Prosecutors say the officer — who is not named in the complaint — was indeed recording the conversation on video and audio.

Lichtenstein promised the officer and a union delegate "more than you'll make in the police department," according to the complaint.

Taking out a calculator, Lichtenstein multiplied $6,000 per license by the number sold to the Shomrim the previous year to come up with $900,000, prosecutors said.

Though Lichtenstein insisted, "I'm not bribing you," the officer replied: "Shaya, I'm not an a--hole, of course you're bribing me. Let's be frank and honest here," according to the complaint.

Prosecutors say Lichtenstein let this comment pass.

Fresh from a series of cases involving high-level bribery in the New York Legislature, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said corruption in the New York City Police Department also erodes at the public trust.

"Corruption in any part of government cuts at the very fabric of our society," he said in a statement. "But it is particularly damaging when it undermines public safety."

An FBI agent interviewed another officer who processed applications for an unnamed sergeant. That officer told the agent that Lichtenstein would give him and the sergeant about $100 in "lunch money" for the applications, according to the complaint.

No officer has been charged in this case.

A magistrate judge released Lichtenstein on $500,000 bond on Monday, Newsday reported.

Lichtenstein's attorney did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Profiled in the Village Voice article, "The Shomrim: Gotham's Crusaders," the watch group has faced down allegations of vigilantism and turning a blind eye to sex-abuse cases in their community.


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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

In Brooklyn, Hasidim and Hipsters Head Out to Vote 

Moishe Lowy plans on voting for Clinton. 'I like her personality.'

It's apparently not enough to be a former neighbor of Bernie Sanders to want to vote for him. A short walk away from Sanders’ childhood home and in front of his alma mater, none of the voters emerging from the grand brick high school in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn said they voted for him in the presidential primary election.

Cheryl Spivak, a retired New York City public school special education teacher, said that she cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton. “I’m concerned about some of the things Bernie said about Israel,” said Spivak, who was dressed in the sporty modest clothing of modern Orthodox women. “He does not seem pro-Israel.”

Charles, who would not give his last name, had just emerged from James Madison High School where he had voted for Ted Cruz. “I like what he stands for,” said the 45-year-old father of five, who wore a pale purple dress shirt and black velvet yarmulke and said he is the office manager for a distribution company. “I like his conservative values, like keeping the government out of our business. And he’s pro-Israel. He considers Israel a friend.”

Thinking that they looked more like Sanders’ usual demographic, a reporter hustled after two young women wearing knee-length skirts, one with a baby strapped to her chest in a Snugli, as they walked away from the polling place after voting.

They declined to give their names or even say who they voted for but when prodded to see if they’d given Sanders their vote, one exclaimed “oh no, we’re Republicans!”

http://www.haaretz.com/world-news/u-s-election-2016/.premium-1.715345

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Monday, April 18, 2016

Ex-Shomrim Leader Arrested on Bribery Charges in Gun Permit Scheme 

A former leader of a Hasidic security patrol Brooklyn was arrested in Rockland County on April 17 on charges that he offered cash to a police officer in return for gun permits, prosecutors have announced.

Shaya Lichtentsein, a former coordinator of the Boro Park-based Shomrim security patrol, was charged in federal court in Manhattan with bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery.

"I'll give you … more than you'll make in the police department," Lichtenstein told one NYPD officer, while offering him $6,000 per gun license, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District.

The complaint also said Lichtenstein boasted to the officer that he had arranged for 150 people to obtain gun licenses, and complained that his old connections within the NYPD's License Division had stopped cooperating with him. Lichtenstein told the officer that he had previously helped those connections with expenses, such as hospital bills.

Lichtenstein's lawyer, Richard Finkel, could not be reached for comment.

When he was arrested at his home in Pomona, New York, Lichtenstein was carrying an NYPD detective's shield bearing the word "liaison" in his wallet. According to the complaint, he is not an official NYPD liaison.

Reached via telephone, Shomrim coordinator Mark Katz said that Lichtenstein was a former coordinator of the Shomrim, but that he had moved to Monsey, and was no longer a member of the group. He could not say how long it had been since Lichtenstein was a Shomrim member.

"He is a friend of ours," Katz said.

Jacob Daskal, another Shomrim leader, told the Forward that he had no comment on Lichtenstein's arrest and hung up the phone.

Lichtenstein played for the Shomrim's softball team in a friendly match against the 66th Precinct in August 2015.

The arrest comes amid weeks of press reports on an FBI investigation into alleged corruption involving high-ranking police officials and two Orthodox businessmen.

It is not clear whether the arrest of Lichtenstein is connected to that reported investigation. But one of the Orthodox businessmen already linked to the FBI's investigation of the NYPD, Jeremy Reichberg, was also based in Boro Park, and had close ties to the 66th Precinct.

The new arrest draws even greater scrutiny on the dense network of close relationships between police brass and Hasidic activists.

Licenses to carry firearms are strictly regulated in New York City, and handgun carry permits are notoriously hard to come by. According to an October 2015 New York Times report, the NYPD approved less than half of the 330 applications for a carry permits submitted in 2013.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the head of the License Division, Deputy Inspector Michael Endall, has been temporarily reassigned. Two other police officials who work in the division were stripped of their guns and badges.


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Orthodox community tangled in NYPD corruption scandal 

NYPD officials acted like personal concierges to members of the Orthodox Jewish community — doing favors from providing free parking at weddings to letting wife beaters off the hook, sources told The Post.

"I don't give a s–t, you're giving him DAT [desk appearance ticket] and that's it," one high-ranking deputy inspector raged after learning that a member of a powerful Hasidic group had been arrested on charges of third-degree assault for attacking his wife, according to a source.

In that case, the charges were downgraded to a desk appearance ticket, allowing the man to avoid arraignment court and more serious penalties, the source said.

"I still remember that as clear as day," the source said. "That's against protocol."

Shady dealings such as these are now at the center of a gifts-for-favors corruption scandal, in which two businessmen are suspected of giving out lavish presents to high-ranking officers.

Jeremy Reichberg, a prominent Borough Park figure, and Jona Rechnitz, a real-estate investor, were familiar faces around Brooklyn's 72nd Precinct, where disgraced Deputy Inspector James Grant, who was placed on modified duty last week, would let them park in his private spot, according to sources.

Reichberg was even allowed to attend a roll call at the precinct, where he may have footed the bill for repairs, sources said.

Sources said Grant is hardly the only high-ranking officer who has been giving Orthodox community members special treatment.

Commanding officers often assign cops to Orthodox wedding receptions, including ones at the Rose Castle in Williamsburg and the Ateres Chaya Hall in Borough Park, according to sources.

"It's ridiculous," a police source said of the practice. "They'll say you have to assign X amount of cops for this reason."

One community member said that two blocks were closed off around Ateres Chaya in January, when Reichberg's daughter got married there.

So far, five high-ranking officers have been modified or transferred as a result of the federal investigation.


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Sunday, April 17, 2016

Two young men are caught on camera punching a Hasidic Jewish man on a Brooklyn street in 'hate crime' 

Foli says the two men circled the block and he believes he was singled out because he is Jewish. Police are investigating the case as a possible hate crime

Surveillance cameras caught two young men attacking a Jewish man unprovoked as he operated a forklift on a Brooklyn street.

Foli Spritzer, 35, transferring pallets of cleaning supplies outside a A1 Paper Goods store around 5.30pm on Thursday when the attack happened.

Two young suspects approached Foli and asked him for the time.

Foli, who wears a yarmulke and a long beard, pulled out his cell phone to read the time to them when one of the men punched him in the face.

'He asked me for the time, which I pulled out my cell phone, out of my pocket and told him the time.
'As I started pulling away, the other one reached in and just punched me in the face,' he told ABC 7 NY.

The 35-year-old leapt from the forklift and grabbed one of the men by the shirt as the two tried to run away.

Foli was unable to grab the man that threw the punch, but was able to keep the other man with him until police arrived.

The victim's brother, Mendy Spritzer, told ABC 7 NY: 'He wanted to go, we told him we are waiting for the police and he'll tell them what happened.

'He said, "I didn't do anything wrong. Let me go. Don't hold me".'

Foli said he feels he was selected by the two men for the attack.

'They could have picked anybody. They circled around, and I think chose me personally for who I was,' he said.

Police took the young man, believed to be a teenager, into custody for questioning.

The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the attack as a possible 'bias crime', according to the news station.

'It was premeditated, it was planned. A Jewish guy on a high-low, let's go get him,' Foli's father Yankel Spritzer told the station.

The family has had their business in the area for 12 years and said this is the first time anything like this has happened.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3543781/Two-young-men-caught-camera-punching-Hasidic-Jewish-man-Brooklyn-street-police-investigating-hate-crime.html

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

CAUGHT-ON-CAMERA BROOKLYN PUNCH INVESTIGATED AS HATE CRIME 

The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating after a Hasidic man was assaulted in a Brooklyn incident that was caught on camera.

Police say 35-year-old Foli Spritzer was operating a forklift, transferring pallets of cleaning supplies outside a store in Crown Heights around 5:30 p.m. Thursday when two young men attacked him without provocation.

Spritzer said he was outside the A1 Paper Goods store on Brooklyn Avenue when he was approached by the two suspects, who asked him for the time.

As the man took out his cell phone and answered them, one of them punched him in the face.

"He asked me for the time, which I pulled out my cell phone, out of my pocket and told him the time," he said. "As I started pulling away, the other one reached in and just punched me in the face."

The victim immediately jumped from the forklift and was able to grab and detain one of the suspects, but the one who threw the punch fled the scene.

"He wanted to go, we told him we are waiting for the police and he'll tell them what happened," the victim's brother, Mendy Spritzer, said. "He said, 'I didn't do anything wrong. Let me go. Don't hold me."

Responding officers took custody of the suspect and are working to determine the identity and location of the second.

"They could have picked anybody," Foli Spritzer said. "They circled around, and I think chose me personally for who I was."

Next door in Wingate Park, where men gather in the outdoor gym to work out, there was surprise at the attack.
cecil simon / area resident

"These young dudes doing wild stuff in the streets, not knowing the repercussions behind it," area resident Cecil Simon said. "You know, we are extending ourselves to him."

The Spritzer family, which has had their business in the area for 12 years, say they have not seen this before.

"It was premeditated, it was planned," father Yankel Spritzer said. "A Jewish guy on a high-low, let's go get him."

The incident is now being investigated as a possible bias crime. The suspects are believed to be teenagers.

http://abc7ny.com/news/caught-on-camera-brooklyn-punch-investigated-as-hate-crime/1293452/

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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

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Bloomingburg man guilty of attempted murder 

Bloomingburg resident Vincent Ryan, Jr. of Bloomingburg was convicted following a four-day trial in Sullivan County Court of the crimes of attempted murder, assault, criminal mischief, and aggravated criminal contempt, all as felonies.

It was alleged that on May 28, 2015, Ryan attempted to kill his mother by intentionally driving his pickup truck into his mother's home in Bloomingburg while she was inside.

Ryan told investigators with the State Police that he began driving his vehicle through the Village of Bloomingburg with the intent to kill members of the Hasidic Jewish faith in order to facilitate an investigation into claims that his mother previously stole money from him.

While in Bloomingburg, he decided to directly target his mother instead.  He gunned the truck toward the home, crashed through the exterior wall into the basement living room pinning her underneath the vehicle. His mother suffered serious physical injury including lacerations to her head, a fractured sternum, and a compound fracture of her leg. She was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center for life saving treatment.
Ryan faces up to 25 years in state prison when sentenced in July.

District Attorney James Farrell said this was not the first time Ryan was convicted of driving his vehicle into his mother's house. Two y ears earlier he pled guilty to criminal mischief stemming from a December 2012 incident where he crashed into the same house. No one was at home at the time. He was given probation for that offense.


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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Astorino won't return $15,000 from biz man in fed probe; others will 

Several politicians have said they would return campaign contributions from a Manhattan businessman embroiled in a federal probe into police corruption.

But Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who got $15,000 from Jona Rechnitz's JSR Capital in June 2013, is not among them.
"We did absolutely nothing wrong," Astorino's political spokesman William O'Reilly told The Journal News. "There's no reason to return the donations."

The contributions to Astorino came the same month that Rechnitz's pal, Jeremy Reichberg of Brooklyn, was appointed a volunteer chaplain with the Westchester County Department of Public Safety. Also that month, Astorino got another $10,000 from two companies that shared a suite with Rechnitz in Manhattan's diamond district – companies with no record of any other campaign donations.

Reichberg was suspended as a chaplain last week when news broke about the federal probe. County officials have described it as  a ceremonial post for which Reichberg derived no benefit. But they have declined to discuss how he came to be a chaplain or why someone from Brooklyn would be selected.

O'Reilly insisted there was no connection between Rechnitz's contributions and Reichberg's appointment.

The two men are at the center of the FBI probe into lavish gifts they may have offered New York City police officials in exchange for favors like police escorts for jewelry deliveries and funerals and crowd control at Hasidic events. Five NYPD commanders have been placed on modified duty or reassigned as a result of the probe.

The investigation has also brought scrutiny on Mayor Bill De Blasio's campaign fundraising. Rechnitz and his wife contributed the maximum $9,900 between them to the mayor's 2013 campaign. Rechnitz also got others to contribute another $40,000 to the campaign and donated $50,000 to DeBlasio's nonprofit Campaign for One New York.

Among those who contributed the maximum $4,950 to DeBlasio through Rechnitz were diamond dealers Paul Raps and Yaron Turgeman. Raps is the owner of Stephnat LLC, one of the two companies whose only New York political contribution was to Astorino in June 2013. The other, LTR Trading, is the former name of Taly Diamonds, Turgeman's company. Neither could be reached and employees at both companies have refused to comment about the contributions.

A company Rechnitz controlled, JSTD Madison, also contributed $102,300 to state Senate Democrats in their failed bid to win back the Senate in 2014.

Both Rechnitz and Reichberg, who hosted DeBlasio at his Borough Park home in May 2014, served on the mayor's inaugural committee with more than 70 other donors, celebrities and community leaders.

DeBlasio said last week that he would return the couple's $9,900 from the 2013 campaign.

Rechnitz and his wife live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, within state Senator Adriano Espaillat's district. The senator, who is running again for Congress this year after losing bids in 2012 and 2014, received $20,600 from Rechnitz and his wife in 2014 - $13,000 for his state campaign committee and $7,600 for his Congressional bid. The senator's campaign said last week he is returning the couple's money.

Another Democrat seeking the Congressional seat, Adam Clayton Powell IV, is also returning $2,600 that his campaign received from JSR Capital in 2013, his campaign manager told Capital New York.

The Rechnitzes also gave New York City Councilman Mark Levine $5,500 in 2014. He said he is returning the money to the couple "to avoid any hint of impropriety" and that he does not have a relationship with Rechnitz.

His district is further north of where the couple lives. But Levine is head of the council's Jewish caucus and the councilman and Jona Rechnitz made contact through the Museum of Tolerance New York, where Rechnitz is active.

Rechnitz's only other major contribution in the past three years was $4,100 to state Assemblyman Walter Mosley of Brooklyn, by far the largest donation Mosley received. Mosley declined to comment Thursday on whether he would return the contribution.


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Fresh Corruption Scandal Hits Heavily Jewish Upstate New York Town 

A top official of a heavily Jewish New York City suburb was charged on Thursday with defrauding investors who helped finance a controversial minor league baseball stadium, in what authorities called the first criminal securities fraud prosecution involving municipal bonds.

Christopher St. Lawrence, the elected supervisor of Ramapo, New York, was charged in an indictment with securities fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy, as was N. Aaron Troodler, a former executive director of the non-profit Ramapo Local Development Corp.

In addition, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Ramapo, the RLDC, St. Lawrence and Troodler, along with Town Attorney Michael Klein and Deputy Finance Director Nathan Oberman.

The case, filed in federal court in White Plains, New York, follows U.S. regulators' push in recent years to bring civil actions against misconduct in the $3.7 trillion U.S. municipal bond market.

At a news conference in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the Ramapo case a "landmark" first to result in criminal securities fraud charges, adding: "I suspect it will not be the last."

Ramapo includes the predominantly Hasidic communities of Monsey and New Square. It also encompasses some of the beleaguered East Ramapo school district, which is led by an Orthodox majority and has been accused of starving public schools of funds.

Authorities said bond investors lost millions of dollars because the defendants concealed Ramapo's deteriorating finances, caused in part by the $58 million cost of building the ballpark, which is home to the Rockland Boulders.

The costs to build what is now called Provident Bank Park came even though voters refused by a 70 percent margin to approve guaranteeing bonds to pay for its construction and St. Lawrence said later that private funds would be used, prosecutors said.

St. Lawrence and Troodler "kicked truth and transparency to the curb," Bharara said.

John Phelan, a lawyer for Ramapo and the RLDC, declined to comment. A lawyer for St. Lawrence did not respond to requests for comment. Troodler's lawyer, Joseph Poluka, said his client would plead not guilty.

Authorities said the fraud began in 2010, the same year voters overwhelmingly rejected a $16.5 million plan to build the ballpark, and lasted through 2015.

The SEC said Ramapo raised more than $300 million during that period, including $85 million of "new money," because the defendants hid financial strains that were also caused by the town's declining sales and property tax revenue.

Authorities said St. Lawrence once told colleagues to refinance some debt fast because "we're going to have to all be magicians" to meet the promises he made to an agency that was about to rate Ramapo bonds.

Bharara said the probe of the finances of Ramapo, which is 28 miles northwest of New York City and had a population of 126,595 as of the 2010 census, began with a whistleblower complaint.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Ramapo's municipal offices in May 2013 after an audit by New York's state comptroller criticized the funding of the stadium and the cost to taxpayers.

In its lawsuit, the SEC is seeking, among other things, a court-appointed monitor for Ramapo and RLDC and an order restricting them from issuing bonds for five years unless they hire lawyers to review the accuracy of their offering documents.


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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

In Hasidic New Square, No Danger of Close Primary Election 

Jewish voters are all over the map when it comes to their plans for voting in New York's presidential primary on April 19.

Except for New Square, the all-Hasidic village of 8,000 in Rockland County, about 30 miles north of Manhattan. In this insular haredi Orthodox community led by the Skverer rebbe, David Twersky, many residents simply wait for voting instructions from the kehilla, the body that supervises communal affairs.

"We make a bloc vote," said one Hasidic man who requested anonymity. "Whatever they say, we vote. It's not for us to decide. The kehilla decides."

Though this community is devoted in large part to keeping the outside world at arm's length – the entrance to the village is marked by a "No outlet" sign – on Election Day New Square residents take their civic responsibility very seriously, from yeshiva students to mothers commandeering infants in double strollers.

"We feel we do something to help the whole community when we vote," said the Hasidic man, who was interviewed in the basement of the village's main yeshiva study hall. "All the politicians know how it goes in New Square."

As of last Friday, community members said, the kehilla committee had instructed registered Democrats to vote for Hillary Clinton but had yet to announce its candidate in the Republican contest. Except for New Square, the all-Hasidic village of 8,000 in Rockland County, about 30 miles north of Manhattan. In this insular haredi Orthodox community led by the Skverer rebbe, David Twersky, many residents simply wait for voting instructions from the kehilla, the body that supervises communal affairs.

"We make a bloc vote," said one Hasidic man who requested anonymity. "Whatever they say, we vote. It's not for us to decide. The kehilla decides."

Though this community is devoted in large part to keeping the outside world at arm's length – the entrance to the village is marked by a "No outlet" sign – on Election Day New Square residents take their civic responsibility very seriously, from yeshiva students to mothers commandeering infants in double strollers.

"We feel we do something to help the whole community when we vote," said the Hasidic man, who was interviewed in the basement of the village's main yeshiva study hall. "All the politicians know how it goes in New Square."

As of last Friday, community members said, the kehilla committee had instructed registered Democrats to vote for Hillary Clinton but had yet to announce its candidate in the Republican contest.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Class action lawsuit against State Ed, E. Ramapo withdrawn 

The public interest law firm that filed a class action lawsuit against several private religious schools, the state education department and the East Ramapo school district, withdrew its complaint on Monday.

It plans to refile the suit, however, within one month.

The lawsuit, filed in November by Advocates for Justice, accused education officials of failing to provide boys at several Hasidic yeshivas with a sound, basic secular education.

It sought to compel the state to enforce existing laws that guarantee private schools provide an education equal to that of public schools. However, it had not served any defendants within the legally required four months of filing.

"We weren't ready to," said Advocates for Justice lawyer Laura Barbieri, who filed the lawsuit and the notice of voluntary dismissal. "We moved to voluntarily dismiss the case without prejudice, which means we can refile. We plan to refile within the month."

Barbieri said that one more plaintiff is being added to the lawsuit.

On April 6, United States District Judge Vincent Briccetti threatened to dismiss the case.

In the original suit, seven plaintiffs charged the state, the school district and four yeshivas with failing to offer adequate secular coursework for boys, and sought to require them to do so as soon as the next school year. It also sought unspecified money damages for former students who, the suit contends, were failed by the state and local administrators entrusted with their education.


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Brooklyn bank robber nets nearly $300,000 in through-the-roof heist 

Police are searching for the person or person who robbed a bank in Brooklyn sometime over the past few days by dropping in through a hatch in the roof.

More than 12 hours after arriving, workers realized something was amiss. NYPD Crime Scene investigators were still gathering evidence at the HSBC branch on 13th Avenue in Borough Park trying to solve a daring heist that's the stuff of legends.

It has this insular, mostly Hasidic community, abuzz with conspiracy theories galore.

"I live a block away. I didn't hear anything, I didn't see anything," a resident said.

"It had to be somebody that they knew what they were doing," another resident said.

"I think it might be an inside job," a person said.

"These are professionals. That's scary," another said.

Monday morning, police discovered the way in for what they've determined is surly an experienced crew of crooks.

Someone planned this impeccably, waiting for the bank to close Friday on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath.

Then they cut holes in a chain link fence and used a ladder to get to the roof, where they popped open a hatch, and shimmied right in.

"I've never really heard of anybody robbing a bank going through the roof. Usually they just go in there guns blazing going for a bank. This is a new one for me," a resident said.

Once inside, police sources say, the thieves managed to get into the bank's vault, where they stole cash totaling $280,000. They also went to town on safety deposit boxes, stealing people's most valuable possessions.

And then, they left and somehow, police sources say, the whole caper eluded the glare of who knows how many cameras throughout that bank.

No video recorded, no alarm sounded, just a whole lot of cash gone.

"Maybe they found this area a good target. It's quiet on the weekends, not a lot of police around here, sure they really thought it out," a resident said.

"Maybe we go back to mattresses. More safe," another resident said.

The bank says customers' deposits will not be affected; the money is insured.

A spokesman says the bank is cooperating with authorities in the investigation.

Anyone with information is asked to call police.


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Supervisor Doles' comments about Monroe housing trigger backlash 

Town Supervisor Harley Doles' public crusade against "accessory apartments" since last fall has complicated the town's effort to review its zoning, triggering threats of a discrimination lawsuit by Hasidic developers and causing the Town Board to pass a resolution last week formally condemning Doles and a councilman for those statements.

In comments at a public hearing and in a six-page letter last Monday, attorneys from the Dechert law firm in Manhattan charged that the town's proposal to halt residential construction for three months to update its planning and land-use regulations was meant to block homes for Hasidic families.

Their letter cited a series of statements from Doles about the potential proliferation of "KJ lifestyle developments" outside of Kiryas Joel in the Town of Monroe unless the town banned or tightened restrictions on accessory apartments.

"The Town's goal of preventing Hasidic families from 'proliferating' in Monroe could not be clearer," attorney Steven Engel wrote in an April 4 letter.

In a 3-2 vote after that hearing, the board approved a resolution repudiating any "discriminatory statements" by Doles and Councilman Gerry McQuade and promising to deliver all recordings and other evidence of them to the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Attorney's Office.

In their resolution, board members contended those statements could cause "serious legal harm" and may have had ulterior motives: to "taint any future zoning revisions" and undermine a pending lawsuit to block Kiryas Joel's attempted expansion.

Doles, in a phone interview Friday, called Engel's letter "a diatribe of nonsense" and scoffed at his being accused of discrimination, given his longtime alliance with Kiryas Joel's leaders.

He angrily charged that the developers were using religion as a screen to stop Monroe from restricting accessory apartments, an accommodation that he predicted they will use to double the number of homes they otherwise could build.

"I stand 100 percent behind everything I've said about the moratorium and the need to repeal the accessory apartment law," he said.

In a response letter to Engel on Thursday, the attorney representing Monroe for its zoning review countered that imposing a moratorium while updating a town's Comprehensive Plan is "both appropriate and lawful" and that Engel had given no evidence that Monroe's proposal was motivated by discrimination.

The attorney, Dennis Lynch, pointed out that the board had renounced remarks that could be construed as discriminatory and had no power to silence any of its members.

Lynch also noted that Engel hadn't identified his clients or explained how a moratorium would harm them.

He welcomed suggestions from Engel on modifying the moratorium's terms and "a collaborative effort with all residents as well as future residents and their representatives."

In an interview on Friday, Lynch pointed out that legal threats from developers are commonplace.

"The fact that the attorney is trying to maximize the profits for his developer clients is not unexpected or unusual," he said.

The moratorium, which the board proposed while Doles was on an extended absence, would prevent any approvals, permits or variances for residential construction for three months - or longer, if the board extends it - while a planner updates the town's 11-year-old Comprehensive Plan and recommends any zoning revisions.

The board could grant exceptions for "hardship" cases. It started its public hearing on the proposal last Monday and plans to resume it on April 18.


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Monday, April 11, 2016

Jeremy Reichberg used cop connects to squash raps: victims 

A Borough Park businessman at the heart of a police bribery probe leaned on his police buddies to squash two assault raps involving his nephew, according to the victims of a pair of attacks.

Borough Park business honcho Jeremy Reichberg is being investigated by the feds for allegedly plying NYPD brass and at least one officer in the 66th Precinct with gifts in return for favors, according to multiple sources.

His nephew, Shlomo Reichberg, was part of a gang of disassociated Hasidic teens called Grouplech, which means forks in Yiddish, community sources said. The Hasidic hooligans were involved in two reported violent attacks in 2012, according to the victims.

In one scary encounter, Micha Kaplan, 45, says a group of Hasidic teens put him in the hospital for several days after a severe beating. The alleged beatdown started after the teens cut him off as he was driving in Borough Park.

At a red light, Kaplan rolled down his window and complained to the driver of the Chevy Impala.

That didn't go over well.

Kaplan says the teens tailgated him for 20 blocks. The confrontation came to a head when one of the teens got out the car and tried to open Kaplan's passenger side door. When Kaplan got out to close the door two of the teens started to punch and kick him, police records show.

During the attack they allegedly yelled "Litvak!" the Yiddish term for Lithuanian Jews, who are not Hasidic.

Kaplan, who works in real estate, went to Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. He spent four days there with internal bleeding.

After his release, he did some research in the community, and identified several of the teens he believes attacked him. They included Reichberg's nephew, who was with the group at the time, but did not hit Kaplan.

But police from the 66th Precinct didn't care, Kaplan says.

"They were squashing it 100%," Kaplan said. "They told me I was unable to identify the guy and that my witnesses were no good. They never tried to make an arrest."

Kaplan filed a complaint with the NYPD's Internal Affairs Bureau.

Afterwards, the officers issued a wanted poster for one of the alleged attackers, Yossi Follman. But cops made no effort to find him and warned Kaplan to stay away, the victim contends.

"They told me not to hang out in front of (Follman's) house and suggested I call 911 when I see him on the street so they could send a patrol car to arrest him," Kaplan said. "It was a joke."

No arrest has ever been made.

When the NYPD was asked for an update on the case and Kaplan's old IAB complaint a department representative referred The News to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's statement issued on Tuesday.

"On these investigations we're not able to comment on them and that's an agreement with the bureau," he told reporters Tuesday, referring to an ongoing FBI probe.

On Wednesday, Follman's mother downplayed the incident.

"How is this something new?" she asked a reporter outside her Borough Park home.

"Are you sure Mr. Kaplan isn't exaggerating things," she asked.

Asked about the gang, she said, "They are just a group of friends. Never into anything violent."

That's not how Benjamin Blau (no relation to this reporter) sees it.

Blau says he was attacked by members of the gang as he was delivering religious court notifications in Borough Park in October 2012.

According to Blau, several of the teens inside four cars jumped out and yelled in Yiddish "Kill him!"

"Between eight to 10 guys approached our car," Blau recalled several weeks after the assault. One kicked the driver's side door and flashed a knife.

In a panic, Blau accidentally unlocked the door. The gang members then yanked him from the car and one began hitting him in the head with a metal bar, Blau says.

"At this point I started losing consciousness," he recalled.

Police arrested three of the assailants but the case was later dropped, records show. It is unclear why the charges were never pursued.

Blau claims he was pressured by officers in the 66th Precinct to drop the complaint against Reichberg's nephew, who was one of the busted teens.
Neither Reichberg nor his nephew could be reached for comment.


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