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Friday, March 27, 2015

Mamakating board gives approval for private school for Hasidic girls 

After appearing before two different planning boards over more than two years, developer Shalom Lamm's private school for Hasidic girls was finally approved Tuesday night.

The Town of Mamakating Planning Board approved the Learning Tree school in the eastern Sullivan County Village of Bloomingburg after the school's water supply received the go-ahead from the state Department of Health, according to board member Mort Starobin.

The school is expected to attract students from Lamm's 396-home Hasidic development in Bloomingburg - which is located in the Town of Mamakating. Lamm had hoped to open the school in September, but it was delayed due to numerous concerns raised by the board.

The team behind Learning Tree said it is pleased with the approval, but it wishes it hadn't taken so long and cost so much in attorney's fees.

"Nonetheless, the Jewish community is gratified that we can move forward and serve the needs of Jewish children in Bloomingburg," said Michael Fragin on behalf of the village's Hasidic Jewish community. "We hope that the local government will no longer stand in the way of the education of children."

Fragin is referring to the Bloomingburg Planning Board's initial denial of approval for the school in 2013. Lamm then filed a lawsuit claiming the board was pressured by residents "motivated by blatant and ugly religious bigotry."

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick then forced the board to review the school. But before that could happen, the Bloomingburg Planning Board was dissolved by the village's new administration. This left the Mamakating Planning Board to review the project - and start the approval process all over again.

Lamm is now suing the town and village for $25 million, claiming "pervasive government-sponsored religious discrimination through the use of zoning laws and other legislation."

Planning Board officials have denied the claim.

Starobin said the school wasn't treated any differently than other projects that have come before the board. All the board wanted was the required information to allow it to move forward.

"All we can go on is the information submitted and the information we have," Starobin said. "Whether we like it or not has nothing to do with our decision."


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Thursday, March 26, 2015

After Brooklyn Fire, Assessing the Risks of Shabbat Technology 

Every Friday night, in countless observant Jewish homes across the United States, someone turns on a hot plate or a gas stovetop, and then doesn't turn it off again for twenty-four hours.

The practice is so common that it blends into the background of traditionally observant Jewish life. But since a malfunctioning Sabbath hot plate became the prime suspect in a fire that killed seven children in a Brooklyn Orthodox household on March 21, this everyday workaround for a Sabbath prohibition has become a focus of citywide concern.

"Starting literally today at the fire department, we're beginning a deeper dialogue with community leaders and rabbis about what we can learn," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a March 23 press conference in Boston. That day, the city's fire department responded to a request for Sabbath fire safety information with two pages on candles and cooking, but no mention of heating elements left on for days at a time.

If the hot plate itself turns out to have been the sole cause of the deadly fire, the mayor and his allies could face resistance if they seek to change habits among the observant. Alternatives to leaving heating elements on throughout the Sabbath are currently nonexistent, and reaction among some observant Jews has been unconcerned.

"I've sold thousands and thousands of those hot plates and never had a problem," said a sales manager at Buzz Electronics, an appliance dealer a mile from the site of the fire, who declined to give his name. The sales manager speculated that the fire was caused by faulty wiring, rather than a flaw in the hot plate.

Not everyone is so sanguine. In New Jersey, an Orthodox engineer named David Y. Sarna has begun pursuing an idea to avoid the use of hot plates by creating Sabbath-compatible induction cooktops, which heat pots using magnetism without getting hot themselves. The idea is only in its earliest stages, but Sarna said that if it succeeds, he will make the solution widely available.

"We are still a distance away from having a working prototype," Sarna wrote in an email. "My concept is to release the design open/source so others can improve on it."

The basic issue for observant Jews is that accepted interpretations of Jewish law ban the lighting of fires and the turning on and off of electric switches during the Sabbath and on certain holidays. Other rules ban stirring and other cooking-related activities. Since holidays can span multiple meals, and it is traditional to serve hot meals on holidays, observant families need a way to make hot food available despite these restrictions.

One traditional work-around is the blech, a tin sheet laid over a gas or metal stovetop turned low. A pot left on a blech can be kept warm until Sabbath is over. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor at American Jewish University in California, said that he and his wife keep a pot of boiled water on their blech during winter Sabbaths.

"I like tea pretty hot, and it's not that, but it is warm, at least," Dorff said.

Hot plates are a slightly higher-tech alternative. These are often not the small metal circles seen in science class or the dorm room, but rather large rectangular glass or metal-topped trays designed to keep food warm, but not cook them. Buzz Electronics sells two models: A high-end version with a knob that can vary the temperature between 110 and 230 degrees, and a low-end version with no temperature knob.

According to knowledgeable community observers, hot plates are more common among observant Jews in Israel, where the higher price of gas makes keeping a fire lit under a blech for an entire Sabbath untenable. Indeed, the packaging on one of the two models sold at Buzz Electronics was largely in Hebrew.

Ashkenazic Jews who eat the beef stew known as chulent on Sabbath afternoon also may use slow cookers, filling them on Friday and allowing them to cook on their own until lunchtime Saturday.

The only widespread technological disruption of the Sabbath food warming market as of yet has served to void safety features, rather than improve them.

Roughly a decade and a half ago, appliance firms began installing safety features on their ovens to sound an alarm and shut off heat if the oven was left on for more than 12 hours straight. Such a feature could doom a Sabbath meal. Moreover, traditionally observant Jews would be rule-bound to ignore the alarm since turning it off would violate the Sabbath. Consequently, the kosher certification agency Star K now works with oven manufacturers to install stealth "Sabbath modes" in their products that disable the alarm.

According to Jonah Ottensoser, Star K's director of engineering projects, the Sabbath modes override the 12-hour shut off, turn off the light inside the oven, and disable portions of the oven's LCD screens. Some models even enable a halachic workaround to allow users to adjust the oven's temperature during Sabbath by inserting a random delay between when a dial is turned, and when the change takes effect. The user is therefore not physically causing the temperature to be changed, which renders the act religiously permissible.

Star K's website now posts a long list of manufacturers with certified products on their website.

Sarna's new idea is more radical. A software engineer by training, Sarna said he had been concerned about fire safety since a deadly 2005 fire at an Orthodox Jewish home in Teaneck, New Jersey killed four children. The induction cooktop technology he is considering uses magnetism to heat pots. The cooktop stays cool, and a piece of newspaper can be placed between the pot and the cooktop without being burned. These cooktops are widely available, but no version has been certified for Sabbath use.

Sarna has been in touch with the Orthodox Union's Kosher division about the idea, but he is still working out the angles. "There are certain problems," he said. "You have to make sure that you're not doing anything which is going to turn a switch on and off." He said he has been talking with other engineers about the idea.

"It's a very important problem, and we have to put the best brains we can to solve it," Sarna said.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Protest targets voter fraud 

More than 50 Bloomingburg and Mamakating residents stood on the steps of the Sullivan County Courthouse Tuesday and demanded justice.

The group claimed that elected Sullivan County officials have turned a blind eye to what they say is rampant voter fraud. They specifically targeted county District Attorney James Farrell for not investigating the issue. Monticello Mayor Gordon Jenkins - who's been arrested four times during his seven years in office - joined them, and blasted Farrell for another reason, saying "we need a DA who cares for all of the people."

The protest follows the county Board of Election ruling that the registrations of 184 Village of Bloomingburg voters were invalid. More than 160 of them were Hasidic Jews, who support developer Shalom Lamm, who is building a 396-home development for the Hasidic community.

In response, members of that community filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the Board of Elections, charging it with religious discrimination. The county then said anyone who was registered would be allowed to vote in the recent Bloomingburg election.

Several village and town officials were at the protest, including Mamakating Town Council members Brenda Giraldi and Matt Taylor. They said they want to make sure town and village voters are not "disenfranchised" by voter fraud.

Giraldi quoted state Supreme Court Judge Stephen Schick's April 2014 comments about developer Lamm. Schick said the developer attempted "to stuff the ballot box" during the Bloomingburg mayoral election, which was won by Frank Gerardi, who opposed Lamm's development.

Call-and-response chants such as "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now" and others like "Do your job" were aimed directly at the DA's office.

One protester - David Demetres - even went into Farrell's office looking to see if he would address the crowd and acknowledge the issue. When he returned to the protest, Demetres said he got the answer he was expecting: Farrell was busy in a conference.

"I don't think he's interested in what we have to say," Demetres said. "He tries to keep his distance between him and his constituents."

Farrell did not return a request for comment.

Other protesters were critical of the county legislature since none was at the protest - including Town of Mamakating representative Jonathan Rouis, who did not immediately return a call for comment.

Bloomingburg Trustee Jim Johnson said he went to the protest to support his constituents. He said if someone isn't from Bloomingburg, then they shouldn't be voting in the village.

"That's not fair," Johnson said.


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Video comparing Rockland, Nazis blasted 

A video detailing what its producers call rising anti-Semitism against Rockland's Orthodox Jews is being sharply criticized for its comparisons with conditions in Nazi Germany that led to the Holocaust.

The video uploaded to YouTube, titled "The Jew in Rockland" and produced by Colossal PR on behalf of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, takes particular aim at a Facebook page that advocates against the influence of the Orthodox bloc vote on Rockland politics and government.

The video opens with narration about Jews leaving France in response to rising anti-Semitism before shifting its focus to Rockland.

"In New York, just moments from New York City ... the Orthodox Jewish community lives in constant fear facing harassment and intimidation, fearing for their own safety and for the safety of their loved ones," the narrator says.

The video, which was posted on YouTube on Sunday, had 6,182 views as of Wednesday morning. The comments on the page were also disabled.

The video then compares images that have appeared on the Facebook page titled "Block The Block Vote" to ones used in Nazi Germany. The video goes on to show comments it says were posted on the page that the video's producers consider "hateful."

Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of OJPAC, said the 5-minute, 43-second video was produced to bring attention to increasing hatred against Rockland's Orthodox and Hasidic communities.

"This video alerting and exposing the hateful rhetoric should have been made months if not years ago," Gestetner said. "And I apologize for my community and good people of Rockland for not exposing the hate sooner."

Benny Polatseck, president of Colossal PR, who narrated the video, echoed Gestetner's sentiment.

"Most of the people in Rockland County are wonderful people," Polatseck said. "But sadly, some perpetuate hate. … They use Facebook. They use social media to perpetuate hate. This has been ignored by the media and by political leaders in Rockland for the longest time."

James Foley, who started the Block The Block Vote page, admitted that some remarks posted by commenters can be offensive.

"I'm more annoyed than anyone by some of the things that's been said there because it dilutes my argument and weakens my position," Foley said. "I don't agree with everything said there."

Foley said it would be impossible for him to monitor the page to pick and choose comments, adding that he's allowing Polatseck to comment on the page as well, even though he speaks harshly about Foley.

The Block The Block Facebook page is a "political effort," according to information posted on the page. It goes on to say the page is "an effort to end the current financial abuse of the Rockland county Community at large by the Orthodox and Hasidic Communities. Fairness is not anti Semitic."

Drawing a comparison with Nazi Germany didn't sit well with some Rockland leaders, including County Executive Ed Day.

"The divisive statements by some to compare the deliberate, systematic murder of millions of Jews to our way of life and free speech in Rockland County are abhorrent," Day said in an email. "Comparisons to Nazi Germany are offensive and irresponsible — hateful and outrageous rhetoric that can only divide Rockland County."

Wilbur Aldridge, Mid-Hudson/Westchester regional director for the NAACP, said although the video urged the community and political and civil rights leaders to show solidarity with the Orthodox Jewish community, the video has the opposite effect.

"I think in some instances, what they are doing is causing more division, or would cause more division than it would bring people together," Aldridge said.

Polatseck said the comparison was necessary and appropriate.

"We have to stop hate at its inception. This is what we were taught. ... I believe that the only reason why Jewish people are so free in this country is because freedom of religion and expression, and freedom of speech is allowed," Polatseck said. "But when that starts being hateful, that starts being targeted to a single community and that starts being ignored by the government, then it starts being a problem."

Andrea Winograd, executive director of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Ramapo, said the center does not condone the use of any form of propaganda and hate mongering. What the community needs would be to inspire and foster more dialogue.

"We see an increase in all types of all of hate everywhere. A rise in anti-Semitism, racism, sexism and ageism," Winograd said. "We need to infuse respect, tolerance and education back into our dialog, which is what is missing from the conversation in Rockland today. We need more tolerance, a desire to be educated and the fostering of mutual respect for each other's creeds, colors, lifestyle and religions."


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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Family of fatal Bridgewater shooting victim loses suit 

A state appeals court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the parents of a local man who fatally shot the owner of a township jewelry store and then killed himself in 2011.

The lawsuit, filed by the daughters of Roy DeVoe, the 55-year-old owner of Roy T. Jewelers at Bridgewater Towne Center on Route 202, claimed that Joseph and Holli Koury were responsible for the actions of their 19-year-old son, Michael, who shot DeVoe in the late afternoon of Feb. 7, 2011 and then killed himself.

The court ruling includes details of the incident, which had not previously been disclosed by authorities.

According to the court ruling, Angela DeVoe was in front of her father's store when she saw Michael Koury, dressed like a Hasidic male, walking in her direction.

As he went inside the store, she asked him if he needed assistance and he said in a slow and deliberate voice, "Start packing up like it's five o'clock and it's time to. I want gold, silver, platinum, no watches and I'm taking it with me. If you don't, there's enough bullets in this gun to kill all three of you and myself," court papers say.

At first she did not take him seriously and tried to persuade him not to steal anything but then he said, "You don't believe me, you want to bet your life on it?"

She then called to her father and when she started to dial 911, he ordered her to put down the phone.

At that point, court papers say, Roy DeVoe came from the back of the store with a knife and an aluminum pipe, approached Koury and told him to leave.

Koury then raised the .357 revolver and shot the store owner in the head.

He then shot at Angela DeVoe, but missed.

He then shot himself in the jaw, slit his throat with a knife and shot himself a second time, court papers say.

Koury's father came to Bridgewater Police Headquarters a couple of hours later to report his son was missing. He brought a note that his wife had found in their son's room earlier in the day.

In the note, court papers say, Michael Koury wrote, "I am dissatisfied with the current state of my life. To rectify this, I have devised a plan that will either improve or end my life. I don't expect you to understand, just know it's not your fault."

Koury's father told police his son had been depressed because a medical condition had disqualified him from joining the military.

The police investigation found that the gun used at the jewelry store belonged to the parents and had been kept in a locked case.

The DeVoe family filed suit a year later, claiming that Koury's parents were responsible for their son's behavior and had failed to take action when they knew he was "mentally unstable."

The lawsuit, which also named New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company, the parents' insurance carrier, as a defendant, also claimed the parents were negligent because they failed to secure the gun.

In 2013, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Koury's parents, finding they were not negligent and suppressing a psychiatrist's opinion that the young man was insane.

The court also agreed with the insurance company's argument that Michael Koury's actions fell within the policy's "intentional-conduct exclusion" because the DeVoe family had not shown that Michael Koury "suffered from the derangement of intellect" as required by law and that his actions were intentional.

Koury's parents had argued that they had never told their son about the gun or where the keys to its storage box were kept. Court papers say the keys were found in in their usual place behind a mirror and police found a lock-picking kit in Michael Koury's bedroom.

"There is nothing in the record to support an inference that the gun had been left out or that the Kourys had reason to believe that they should have used a more secure method of storage," the appellate court wrote.


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Monday, March 23, 2015

Jerusalem Burial Set for 7 Children Killed in House Fire 

The seven siblings who died in a fast-moving house fire in a Brooklyn community of Orthodox Jews over the weekend were expected to be buried in Jerusalem on Monday.

The seven caskets were taken to John F. Kennedy International Airport following the children's funeral Sunday and flown to the Holy Land. The three girls and four boys ranged in ages from 5 to 16.

"They were so pure," the children's father, Gabi Sassoon, said during a eulogy at Sunday's ceremony, which drew hundreds of mourners. "My wife, she came out fighting."

"My children were unbelievable. They were the best," he said as mourners outside the funeral home cried in the streets. "Please everybody love your child and students. That's all that counts. Don't negate that."

The service began with prayers in Hebrew, and shrieks could be heard through speakers that broadcast it outside. Several hundred people gathered inside and on the streets.

Many people gathered Sunday evening for a candle-light memorial outside the Sassoon home in Brooklyn's Midwood neighborhood.

The children died early Saturday when flames engulfed their home. Investigators believe a hot plate left on a kitchen counter set off the fire that trapped the children and badly injured their mother and another sibling.

The hot plate had been left on overnight to heat food for the Sabbath and malfunctioned around midnight.

A vase of white roses was placed in front of the family's fire-gutted home on Bedford Avenue, where a police officer stood guard and contractors boarded up windows with plywood.

"I call this not a tragedy but an absolute disaster," said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Midwood.

The blaze killed three girls and four boys -- all members of the neighborhood's tight-knit community of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Authorities identified the victims as girls Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and boys David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.

At the time of the fire, Gabi Sassoon was in Manhattan at a Shabbaton, an educational celebration held on a Sabbath.

Flames quickly spread through the Sassoon home, and there were no smoke detectors to alert the family. Sassoon's wife, Gayle, and their 14-year-old daughter, Siporah, escaped by jumping out of windows. Both were hospitalized in critical condition.


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Sunday, March 22, 2015

London Police Arrest Six Men after Synagogue Attack 

British police arrested six men after they tried to force their way into a synagogue in Stamford Hill in north London in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The gang was seen damaging property and shouting abuse in video footage posted on YouTube.

Police said one worshipper sustained minor facial injuries when he tried to prevent the group entering the building.

"The incident is being treated as an anti-Semitic incident, due to remarks made by one of the group," London's Metropolitan police said in a statement.

"However, there is nothing to suggest it was a planned or targeted attack."

Police said the men involved were drunk, and they were believed to have walked to the area from a house party nearby.

They said they would step up patrols to provide reassurance to the local community.

Stamford Hill is home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in Europe, with about 30,000 Hasidic Jews living in the area.

http://www.newsmax.com/world/europe/london-police-synagogue-attack/2015/03/22/id/631751/

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Brooklyn Fire Kills 7 Children, City’s Worst Toll Since 2007 



A hot plate warmed food in the darkened kitchen in Brooklyn, allowing an Orthodox Jewish mother to feed her family while observing the Sabbath prohibition on lighting a flame. Upstairs, she and eight children slept.

That small convenience led to the city’s deadliest fire in eight years, after flames that began in the kitchen ripped through the home, trapping seven children ages 5 to 16 in their bedrooms, as their mother and a 15-year-old sister, cloaked in thick smoke, jumped out of second-floor windows. They were the only two survivors.

The authorities attributed the fire to an unknown malfunction in the electric hot plate, a device often used by observant Jewish families to keep food warm from sundown Friday, the start of the Sabbath, until its end on Saturday night. Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived in the early afternoon on Saturday and walked inside the shell of the house with firefighters. “You can literally see what was a home for a large, strong family and now it’s wiped out, every room empty, burned and charred,” he said, adding: “This is a tragedy that has very few examples to look at, it’s so painful, it’s so difficult.”

On Saturday, investigators found a smoke detector in the basement of the home at 3371 Bedford Avenue, near Avenue L, but had not found any on the first floor, where the fire started, or the second, where the family slept. They were still searching the debris.

“We believe there were none,” Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said. “That’s always a tragedy in itself.”

Just after midnight, flames began to fly off the large hot plate on a first-floor kitchen counter, near the back of the home in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood with many large Orthodox families. On a day of rest, it would have been one of the few electrical appliances in the neighborhood that were flipped on.

In upstairs bedrooms connected to the kitchen by an open stairwell, the Sassoon family slept: their mother, Gayle Sassoon, 45; four girls: Eliane, 16; Siporah, 15; Rivkah, 11; and Sara, 6; and four boys: David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5. Their father was at a conference, and given the Sabbath prohibition on electronic communication, he did not learn what had happened until several hours after the fire, when the Police Department reached him at a synagogue.

For some time, the fire smoldered in the kitchen unnoticed, fire officials believe. But as soon as the blaze reached the stairwell, it shot upstairs, feeding off wood inside the home, the authorities said.

The stairwell became a pillar of flames. Four children in two bedrooms in the back of the house were confined to their rooms as thick smoke filled the home. Three more children were stuck in a front bedroom.

Gayle Sassoon was separated from her children by the flames, Mr. Nigro said. After jumping from the second floor, Ms. Sassoon stumbled to a neighbor’s door, but could do little more than knock and ask for help. Siporah Sassoon, her second-oldest child, also jumped out, but her seven siblings were trapped behind, wailing from the bedrooms.

“She valiantly tried, although she was badly burned, to get out and get help,” Mr. Nigro said of Ms. Sassoon. “She was very brave.”

Andrew Rosenblatt, 65, who lives behind their house, heard a girl yell from outside: “Mommy, Mommy, help me!” From inside, he said, he heard muffled screams.

Flames shot out of the second floor windows, and the smoke grew so thick that Mr. Rosenblatt said he could no longer see the back of the Sassoon home, about 40 feet away. He and several other neighbors called 911.

Before Mr. Rosenblatt had gotten off the phone, fire engines were screeching up to the home. By then, flames eating through the first floor forced the firefighters to spray water on the blaze before they could enter. The stairwell was still barely navigable when they charged inside.

Firefighters fought through the flames and found the children in their bedrooms and grabbed them, passing them through windows to colleagues who were on ladders and on a porch behind the house.

“They took them out every which way,” said James Long, a fire department spokesman.

The firefighters started resuscitation efforts as they rushed the children, some of them badly burned, to waiting ambulances. They were carried through the yard where Isaac Apton, 18, a neighbor, said they had been building snowmen this winter, and onto the street where they liked riding their bikes. On the Sabbath after sundown, Mr. Apton said, they played games of wooden blocks with each other before their early bedtimes.

“They’re some of the nicest, most well-behaved kids,” he said. “A great family.”

They were taken to various hospitals but seven could not be saved. Gayle and Siporah Sassoon both sustained burns and smoke inhalation, and were in critical condition on Saturday. Gayle Sassoon was at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx, which has a hyperbaric oxygen chamber for burn victims. Siporah was at Staten Island University Hospital North.

The fire was the city’s deadliest since March 2007, when nine children and a woman from two families were killed in the Bronx. That blaze started in a cord attached to a space heater, then raced up a staircase in a 100-year-old wooden building.

The fire, the leaps to safety and the unsuccessful rescues cast anguish over a Brooklyn block still flecked with the previous day’s snow. A large, square, charred hole gaped from the front of the light-colored, red-roofed house.

On Saturday morning, many neighborhood residents had not yet heard the news because they had turned off their phones, televisions and computers the night before in observance of the Sabbath.

A neighbor who gave only her first name, Bonnie, said the mother, a beautiful and popular girl in high school, had married in 1998 and moved to Israel, and that her husband worked in banking. She had moved back to Brooklyn about two years ago to be closer to her large extended family of Syrian Jews in Midwood, Bonnie, 40, said. Ms. Sassoon lived in the house she grew up in, which is still owned by her family.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
The home is at least 90 years old, according to records from the Department of Buildings. A neighbor who has been living across the street since 1969, Robert Latish, said the age of the homes — his was built more than a century ago — made him even more vigilant about using smoke detectors.

Mr. Long, the fire department spokesman, said that at a minimum, homes are typically required to have a smoke detector on every floor as well as outside areas where people sleep.

“They’re beautiful homes on this block but god forbid you have a fire,” said Mr. Latish, the neighbor.

Having loosely known the family for a long time, Mr. Latish said he considered them kind, close and observant. Even the youngsters dressed the part.

“All in the hats,” said Mr. Latish, 61. “Very nice people, very religious.”

At the home of Ms. Sassoon’s parents in the Syrian Jewish enclave of Deal, N.J., a man who described himself as a family friend said only: “They are going through a very tough time right now.” A woman outside the Midwood synagogue, Congregation Keter Torah, that the family regularly attended said the congregation was in pain and asked for privacy.

At Jacobi Medical Center, where Ms. Sassoon had been taken, exceptions were being made Saturday to the Sabbath restrictions on cellphone use. A rabbi chaplain was giving a volunteer an order that included kosher food to be delivered to the hospital: bananas, cake, challah bread, gefilte fish, salad, Diet Coke, spoons and forks.

Heather, a first cousin of Ms. Sassoon, took a car to the Bronx in her pajamas and was in the family waiting area on the second floor at Jacobi Medical Center. She did not want to give her last name because of concerns she would offend religious sensibilities about modesty and privacy. “I saw it on the news,” she said. “It was the house I used to go to every day. I saw the address, I almost fainted.”

She called her cousin “a religious, good girl,” a who “gives everybody strength.” The children, she said, sometimes wore matching outfits and were well-behaved “little angels.” Learning that her cousin would likely live was a relief, but raised another troubling question.

“How’s she going to cope?” Heather mused. “How on earth?”

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/nyregion/7-children-die-in-brooklyn-fire.html?_r=0

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Friday, March 20, 2015

French comedian fined for anti-Semitic jibe 

French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala was fined 22,500 euros ($24,000) on Thursday for a jibe in 2013 in which he suggested that hearing a certain radio journalist speak made him think of Nazi gas chambers.

The creator of the controversial "quenelle" gesture that went viral on social media two years ago, Dieudonne had already received a suspended jail sentence this week for condoning terrorism with a joke about January's Islamist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine and on a kosher grocery store in Paris that killed 17. In this latest case, he risked up to one year in prison and a 45,000 euro ($48,100) fine for incitement to racial hatred.

The provocative humor in his shows has long put Dieudonne at the center of a fierce debate about freedom of expression. When Radio France's Patrick Cohen asked on air in 2013 whether the media should pay so much attention to Dieudonne, he retorted that the journalist should consider emigrating.

"When I hear Patrick Cohen speaking, I say to myself, you see, the gas chambers ... too bad," said Dieudonne, the Paris-born son of a Cameroonian father and French mother.

France has Europe's largest Jewish minority, estimated at about 600,000, but the country is also seeing a steady emigration to Israel of Jews who say they no longer feel safe.

Statistics show a rise in anti-Semitic acts, and President Francois Hollande last month urged Internet companies such as Google and Facebook to help fight hate speech online.

The 49-year-old comedian began his career with a Jewish sidekick in the early 1990s and appeared in several films.

Originally active with anti-racist, left-wing groups, he began openly criticizing Jews and Israel in 2002, and ran in the European elections two years later with a pro-Palestinian party.

Dieudonne argues that his trademark "quenelle" sign is a gesture of non-conformism and anti-Zionism. Critics see it as a blatant variant of the Nazi salute.


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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Hasidic man accused in beating will have charges dropped 

One of five Hasidic men accused of a gang assault on a gay black man will have charges dropped Thursday after a witness failed to identify him in a lineup, the Daily News has learned.

Aharon Hollender, 29, was indicted nearly a year ago in the beatdown of Taj Patterson, 23, who lost vision in his right eye.

The single witness against Hollender, a member of the Jewish neighborhood patrol called Shomrim, failed to pick him out during an identification procedure early February, a source said.

As opposed to the other four charged in the December 2013 attack, the only man who fingered Hollender in a photo array was a stranger and not someone who knew him.

The other two eyewitnesses recognized the other arrestees from earlier encounters.

"We've claimed from the outset that Mr. Hollender did not commit any crime," his lawyer Michael Farkas said Wednesday. "We're very pleased that the district attorney's office made the right decision to dismiss the case."

A drunk Patterson was allegedly set upon by more than a dozen ultra-Orthodox men when walking home through the Satmar enclave in Williamsburg after a night of partying.

The onslaught was initially investigated as a bias attack due to allegations of homophonic epithets, but no hate crimes were filed against Hollender, Abraham Winkler, Mayer Herskovic, Pinchas Braver and Joseph Fried.

While the first two defendants were Shomrim members, the others have been described as "wannabes" who may have instigated the vigilante-style violence after suspecting Patterson vandalized cars, sources said.

A good Samaritan who stopped to help was the one who identified Hollender months later, but was unable to pick him out of a lineup - a mandatory measure any time the eyewitness and the suspect are strangers.

The case is expected to be tossed when all five defendants appear at a routine hearing Thursday. The dismissal is not expected to affect the cases against the remaining four.

The DA's office declined comment.


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ELECTION DAY: A tight race in Bloomingburg 

In the Village of Bloomingburg, Aaron Rabiner of the Unity Party has unofficially defeated incumbent Katherine Roemer of the Rural Heritage Party by a count of 75 to 73 votes for a trustee position.

Trustees serve two years in Bloomingburg. Recently a group of Hasidic people sued the Sullivan County Board of Elections, along with others, alleging discrimination after being denied voter registrations.


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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

New Memoir Sheds Light On Fundamentalism In Jewish Hasidic Community 

Just a few miles north of New York City, an all-powerful religious leader controls every aspect of his followers' lives. Accounts detail welfare fraud, educational fraud and even gang violence. Private lives are micromanaged: Matches are arranged, books are banned, and the slightest details of personal appearance are carefully monitored, with uniformity enforced by authorized thugs.

Cult compound? Fringe Christian sect? Nope.

New Square, N.Y., home of the extreme Hasidic Jewish sect known as the Skver Hasidim. These details come not from an outside investigative reporter — but from a heretical ex-Hasid, Shulem Deen, in his astonishing new memoir, "All Who Go Do Not Return."

Hasidism — literally, the way of the pious — began in 18th-century Europe as a movement of Jewish spiritual revival. Although shunned by the religious authorities of the time, it became enormously popular, sweeping throughout Eastern Europe. Centered on personal spiritual experience, devout prayer (think Pentecostals in Jewish garb) and charismatic leaders (known as rebbes), Hasidism revolutionized Jewish life, especially among less-educated, less-urban populations.

But it quickly changed its character. With the threats of emancipation and assimilation looming, Hasidism turned sharply conservative in the 19th century. Practices ossified, authority was centralized, innovations were prohibited, and any accommodation to modern life was rejected. Today, Hasidim dress like 18th-century Poles.

Unlike far-right Christian or Muslim fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists are often depicted as cuddly, harmless and quaint. "Fiddler on the Roof," which in its original serialized novel form was a sharp satire of religious life, is a good example.

But as Deen describes, in passage after passage, this is myth, not reality. In fact — and here numerous others buttress his account — the tightknit Skver Hasidic community exercises enormous political power to create a world within a world, where the rebbe's dictates are law.

Deen begins his story in the middle — the night he is ordered to leave New Square under threat of excommunication. The scene is almost Kafkaesque: "rumors" of disbelief, "people are saying" that action must be taken.

But Deen also knows that the community court — unsanctioned by any civil law, but with absolute authority in the village — is actually right. He is an unbeliever.

Yet he can't just leave. At the time, Deen is married, with five children. If he were excommunicated, they would all be marginalized, if not shunned. Even a move to nearby Monsey — considered ultra-Orthodox to everyone else, but not-quite-kosher-enough to the Skver sect — would be problematic. What to do?

Entranced by the holiness of the Skverer rebbe, in contrast to the "indistinctive and uninspiring" rebbes near his home in Brooklyn — Deen enrolled in the Skver yeshiva and began his life in New Square while in his teens. At 18, he met his future wife, whom he had neither seen nor spoken to before.

The shocking details emerge almost as asides: a rabbi teaching 18-year-olds to "be vigilant" lest their wives lead them into hell (and telling them not to call their wives by their names, but only say "Um" or "You hear"); witch hunts for people suspected of smuggling a radio or portable television into the Skver community; and widespread corporal punishment, both when Deen was a student and, later, as a teacher in yeshiva.

And the contempt for non-Jews. "The kindness of the goyim (non-Jews) is for sin," Deen quotes the Skverer rebbe as teaching. Even when a non-Jew does a good deed, his real purpose is evil.

Then there's the poverty. Most Hasidic men (and nearly all women) are uneducated; they speak Yiddish and disparage the teaching of English. They don't know math or history; they have no employment skills.

Deen falls behind on rent, has trouble feeding his children, can't hold a job. Indeed, holding a job is beneath the dignity of a Hasidic man, who, if he is fortunate, should be able to study all his life — while collecting unemployment, food stamps and welfare benefits.

Deen finally finds work as a teacher, where his duties involve fraudulently completing progress reports for New York state while not teaching any of the subjects he is reporting on, and collecting government subsidies.

How does it all unravel? Slowly. Deen's first explorations of the outside world take place in books. The provocative title of his memoir, we learn midway through, refers to books — not just a "woman of loose morals." His sins are intellectual, not carnal. First, a few Jewish books. Then, a radio. Then, secular books at the library. And then the Internet, where Deen meets non-Orthodox Jews for the first time.

Already, we see the fault lines appear between Deen and his wife, Gitty. Deen protests that his explorations are harmless. Gitty knows he is going astray. And she does not go with him. As Deen's curiosity turns to skepticism turns to doubt, Gitty watches him fall "off the path" and eventually decides she's had enough. They separate, then divorce.

Now it's time for the spoiler alert. Deen loses everything: his wife, his children, his family, his friends, his community.

And his faith. Even before his expulsion from the community, Deen finds he can no longer pray, can no longer believe the stories he's been told. "What is the meaning of right and wrong when there is no guidance from a divine being? … What, then, was the point of it all?"

He finds his way, somewhat, but "All Who Go" does not end happily. Yes, Deen founds a popular blog for ex-Hasidim, gets a job, finds his way in the secular world. But there's a hollowness to his new life and a bitter sadness over the loss of his children. Not only does Gitty get sole custody, the entire community warns them against him. Even his few-and-far-between visits become unsustainable; his children shut him out.

All this unfolds against a backdrop of institutional Jewish indifference. The multimillion-dollar Jewish federations do nothing for these communities, other than distribute charity — usually through the Hasidic power structure, thus reinforcing its control. Footsteps, an organization helping ex-Hasidim navigate the secular world — job training, GEDs — remains a small and independent outlier. (Deen is now a board member.)

Despite numerous sex scandals; exposes in The New Yorker, The New York Times and The Jewish Daily Forward; widespread power abuses; and nauseating episodes such as the herpes epidemic spread by Hasidic mohels (ritual circumcisers) who insist on sucking the blood directly off of circumcision wounds, the mainstream Jewish establishment is silent. Partly this is out of fear, and partly out of the peculiarly American Jewish notion that Jewish fundamentalists are better Jews than the rest of us.

Meanwhile, politicians are terrified of Hasidic voting blocs. Hasidim now control the East Ramapo school district, which includes New Square, and are starving secular schools (almost all black and Hispanic) to enrich their own religious academies.

Deen's harrowing story, then, is also an indictment of those who are standing by and allowing it to be. To many, the Hasidim are quaint throwbacks, their lives pious scenes set to the tune of "L'Chayim" and "Sunrise, Sunset." But to those trapped inside the Hasidic world, the tale is not comedy but tragedy. And there is often no soundtrack at all.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Taller buildings may be welcome in this Brooklyn nabe 

Most New York City developers face stiff opposition to building taller buildings, but oddly enough, a Brooklyn firm proposing a complex on the borders of Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick could have just the opposite problem.

Simon Dushinsky's Rabsky Group is seeking permission from the city to build a series of eight buildings holding a total of 777 apartments to the north and south of Wallabout Street, between Union and Harrison streets, according to Department of City Planning documents. The project is expected to include 155 affordable apartments, a half-acre park and 30,000 square feet of retail.

In most neighborhoods, such a project would spark opposition because of its large size. But it could turn out to be a different story in the Broadway Triangle—a swath of former and current industrial property bounded by Broadway, and Union and Flushing avenues. There, a collection of community groups have long been calling for bigger buildings with the idea of creating more affordable housing. 

"You could build 60 stories [at that site]. You could build enough affordable housing to accommodate everybody," Martin Needleman, an attorney for Broadway Triangle Coalition, said about the neighborhood at a January rally, according to Bedford+Bowery.

In this case Mr. Dushinsky, who could not be reached for comment, will seek to rezone two blocks for residential buildings no taller than 10 stories in what could prove to be an unusual public review process. The Broadway Triangle has been a hotbed of controversy since 2009, when the city rezoned a strip of land near the proposed development.

Critics—who hoped to see market-rate and affordable housing units built on both city- and privately-owned sites—have argued that the rezoning discriminates against black and Hispanic communities and favors a portion of the Hasidic community. Their qualms include giving priority to a particular community board's district for the planned affordable units, selecting developers without a bidding process, and allowing for shorter buildings with larger apartments to favor Hasidic families. (Some will not ride in an elevator on the Sabbath, or will only use an elevator that stops on every floor so they don't have to press the buttons, making tall buildings impractical for them.)

Other organizations have called those charges anti-Semitic, and the city has argued it acted properly throughout the process. The case is still ongoing, but in 2012 a judge stopped development on three public sites and noted that the city likely violated the Fair Housing Act.

Even though the proposed development does not lie within the city's contested 2009 zoning, it is within the Broadway Triangle, and could prove a point of contention.

The Broadway Triangle is made up of sites such as Mr. Dushinsky's that are zoned for manufacturing, or parcels within the city's 2009 rezoning, where buildings top out at eight stories.

But Shekar Krishnan, another lawyer for the Broadway Triangle Coalition, argued in an interview with Crain's that rezoning the entire triangle for greater density would better align with Mayor Bill de Blasio's goal of building 80,000 affordable apartments by 2024.

"The mayor's affordable housing plan is entirely consistent with what the coalition wants: Building high and denser near a transit hub," he said.

On the other hand, City Councilman Stephen Levin, the local representative for Broadway Triangle, will likely have the ultimate say in what Mr. Dushinsky's application ends up looking like. And unlike the coalition, he has long supported the density and context of the 2009 rezoning.

Mr. Levin could not be reached for comment on the proposed development. Mr. Dushinsky's application will soon make its first stop in the public review process at Brooklyn's Community Board 1.


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Monday, March 16, 2015

Paris kosher supermarket re-opens two months after terror attack 

Hyper Cacher, the Paris kosher supermarket that was the scene of an Islamist terrorist attack in January, re-opened on Sunday.

The store was badly damaged in the attack and has been fully renovated, and re-opened with new staff, AFP reported.

Muslim terrorist Amedy Coulibaly took nearly 20 Jewish shoppers hostage at Hyper Cacher and killed four of them. The attack came just days after the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was also attacked by a Muslim terrorist in a shooting that killed 12 people.


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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Security Costs 'Bankrupt' European Jewish Communities: U.S. Anti-Semitism Envoy 

Jewish communities in Europe are “being bankrupted” by the need to provide security for their institutions, the U.S. special envoy on anti-Semitism said.

“Every Jewish community in Western Europe certainly needs security support,” said Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, said Friday in Stockholm, the French news agency AFP reported. “Many of them are being bankrupted by the money they have to spend to protect their institutions.

“If current trends continue, and they’re not good … we have to worry about small Jewish communities in Europe and their very viability.”

Last week, Forman launched a tour of western Europe to meet with Jewish leaders, nongovernmental organizations and government officials. From Stockholm he traveled to Malmo, a Swedish city that has been hit with a number of hate crimes against Jews.

From Tuesday to Thursday he is scheduled to visit Copenhagen, where a volunteer Jewish security guard was shot and killed last month outside a synagogue by a lone Islamist gunman.

Along with the synagogue shooting, Jewish sites in Europe have been the target of other recent high-profile attacks, including the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris and the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels, causing unease in the continent’s Jewish communities.

http://forward.com/articles/216656/security-costs-bankrupt-european-jewish-communitie/

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Arson probed at Moroccan Jewish cemetery 

A Jewish-owned building was set on fire in a possible anti-Semitic attack in the Moroccan town of Oujad.

The March 10 suspected arson in Oujad, located 120 miles south of the capital Rabat, happened at a structure inside a local Jewish cemetery, the news site Telquel.ma reported Thursday.
No one was injured in the incident. The report did not specify what damage was caused to the structure.

Police are looking for the culprits, the news site reported, citing interviews with a police spokesperson and with Kenza Elbiar of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, or AMDH.
Elbiar said the perpetrators also wrote anti-Semitic slogans on some adjacent surfaces, though police denied the text was anti-Semitic. The report did not quote the slogans.

Elbiar also said that the caretaker of the cemetery had threatened the rabbi in charge of the cemetery, who was not named and does not reside in Oujad, saying he would burn the structure in the cemetery because he claims he is owed money.

The caretaker was questioned by police and released pending further investigation.

Some 250,000 Moroccan Jews left Morocco in the 19 years that followed Israel’s establishment in 1948. A few dozen Jews were killed in at least three pogroms that occurred between 1938 and 1954, according to Shmuel Trigano, a lecturer of political sociology at Paris University Nanterre.

Zionism was outlawed in Morocco in 1959 and defined as a “serious crime.” Morocco ended that official animosity in the late 1980s and since then has maintained ties with Israel. In recent years, the royal house has undertaken the reconstruction of dozens of Jewish heritage sites.

http://www.jta.org/2015/03/13/news-opinion/world/arson-probed-at-moroccan-jewish-cemetery

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Rockland lawmakers back East Ramapo oversight bill 

Despite a campaign against a state oversight proposal for the East Ramapo school district by the Rockland County Legislature's majority leader, most of his fellow legislators are pledging their "unequivocal support" for the measure.

Twelve legislators signed a Tuesday letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging passage of the controversial bill that would authorize rare state intervention in the troubled school district.

"We believe this is a thoughtful, well-reasoned and well-documented report with reforms that will provide transparency in the conduct of school business and will foster collaboration of the entire East Ramapo community to work towards a long-term solution that will address the unique needs of the school district, as well as provide important oversight," the letter states.

The legislators referred to a critical report on the district by a special state fiscal monitor, Hank Greenberg, on which the bill is based.

The bill calls for the state education commissioner to appoint a monitor to act as a non-voting 10th member of the East Ramapo Board of Education. He or she would be paid by the state and could propose resolutions for the board's consideration.

The monitor's main assignment would be to prepare a five-year strategic improvement plan for the troubled district. In addition, he or she could veto board decisions determined to be detrimental to students; the board could appeal.

The Legislature's chairman, Alden Wolfe, a graduate of Ramapo High School, penned his own letter to the governor Thursday, commending the bill's sponsors and efforts to provide East Ramapo students with an education comparable to that of their peers in neighboring districts.

"The school district can not continue on its current course amidst worsening acrimony in our community," he wrote. "For the sake of the public and private school students, I recommend your advocacy on this item."

In an interview, Wolfe said that in deciding to voice their support, legislators were "responding to the heightened discussion" of the bill. Since it was introduced three weeks ago by Assembly sponsors Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern and Kenneth Zebrowski, D-New City, and Sen. David Carlucci, D-New City, lobbying efforts from all sides have been competing to be heard in Albany.

Aron Wieder, the majority leader of the county Legislature and a former president of the East Ramapo school board, has been at the forefront of an ongoing effort to prevent state oversight of the board, which is dominated by Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who send their children to private religious schools.

Critics say the board favors the interests of the private school community and has mismanaged the budget, while the board and its supporters argue that the state simply doesn't fund it properly. Wieder and his supporters have railed against the notion that a single appointee could override the board's duly elected members.

In a Feb. 25 address to state Senate leaders, including Carlucci, Wieder called the bill "egregious" and compared the monitor to a dictator. He asked the senators to "stand up for the American idea of democracy" and oppose the bill.

"Let me be very clear," he said. "Not only will it not solve the problems of East Ramapo, it will only compound the problems many times over. This bill is unprecedented in its scope, approach and powers vested in a single individual."

Supporters of the bill including the Spring Valley chapter of the NAACP, the Rockland Clergy for Social Justice and a group of about 1,000 East Ramapo alumni, parents and current students known as Strong East Ramapo, took their message to Albany last week. They delivered a petition to Cuomo's office with more than 3,100 signatures in support of the bill.

Legislators who signed Tuesday's letter in support of the oversight bill included deputy majority leader Toney Earl, minority leader Christopher Carey and deputy minority leader Lon Hofstein, as well as Nancy Low-Hogan, Harriet Cornell, Michael Grant, Jay Hood, Aney Paul, Joseph Meyers, Douglas Jobson, John Murphy and Patrick Moroney. Those who did not sign include Ilan Schoenberger, Philip Soskin and Frank Sparaco — who will resign from the legislature in April in the wake of his guilty plea to misdemeanor charges of falsifying petitions in a bid to take over the Clarkstown Republican Party.


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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Anti-Semitic stickers found in heavily Jewish Amsterdam suburb 

Two Dutch mayors condemned the appearance of stickers featuring a cartoon nose on shops in a heavily Jewish suburb of Amsterdam. The stickers reportedly were on sale on a website for fans of Dutch soccer club Feyenoord.

The stickers were spotted earlier this month on the shop windows of several businesses in Amstelveen, a municipality just south of Amsterdam, which is home to approximately one third of the 50,000 Jews living in the Netherlands, the Jewish news website jonet.nl reported Monday.

Amstelveen Mayor Mirjam van 't Veld told the news website metronieuws.nl that the stickers were "unacceptable," adding: "As the Jewish community is right to expect, we are looking into the case." Rotterdam's mayor, Ahmed Marcouch, on Tuesday wrote on Twitter: "Wrong! Police and prosecutors [to] find and punish Feyenoord hooligans posting 'Jew stickers' on shops."

The stickers found in Amstelveen, jonet.nl reported, are available for sale on a website offering memorabilia for fans of Rotterdam's Feyenoord soccer team, who often call fans of Amsterdam's Ajax team "Jews" and have chanted anti-Semitic slogans at matches and directly after them to provoke Ajax fans. Several dozen stickers cost about $7.

The stickers feature a drawing of a nose with a red line across it – an image believed to combine racial stereotypes about Jews and to echo the "no Jews allowed" signs visible throughout Western Europe just before and during the Nazi occupation.

At least one police complaint has been filed in connection to the stickers for alleged incitement to hatred, Jonet.nl reported.


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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Yeshivah leaders step down 

FOUR members of Yeshivah Centre's committee of management (COM) have stepped down.

The Yeshivah Centre announced on Wednesday afternoon that former chairman Don Wolf, Chaim New, Yirmi Loebenstein and Sue Susskind have immediately resigned and Rabbi Shimshon Yurkowitz will "transition off the committee in the near future to take care of his community".

The resignations came after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse highlighted serious failings in management and accountability. Despite complaints from students and parents relating to now-convicted abusers David Cyprus and David Kramer, who both worked at Yeshivah College, appropriate action was not taken and the police were not informed.

Rabbi Avrohom Glick – who was principal of Yeshivah College from 1986-2007, during which time there were a number of incidents of child sexual abuse – resigned from all ­leadership positions at the Yeshivah Centre last month.

"We (the COM) regret that we find ourselves in a position where the good name of the Centre is under threat and confidence has been diminished," the COM said in the statement to the community. "We wish it were otherwise. We want to reassure everyone that we are committed to making the Centre and our school better, stronger, and more transparent.

"As we focus on the ongoing operational performance of the school, we are committed to the initiatives above and will communicate regularly on progress. Together these actions provide the basis for continued success."

The Yeshivah Centre will establish an independent committee to develop and implement a scheme to respond to the needs of victims of abuse in the coming weeks. It will also commence a consultation with parents and others in the community on the operations and performance of the school, and will commence an independent review of the governance arrangements of the Centre, including the transparency of the committee.

Merv Adler, Michael Goldhirsch, Chaim Raitman, Shlomo Werdiger and Rabbi Yurkowitz remain on the COM. No new chairman has been selected to replace Wolf.

Though he welcomed the resignations, a victim of Cyprys known at the Royal Commission as AVB called for the entire COM to stand down. "All remaining members of the committee of management must now also resign from their roles to allow the healing to begin and for the community to undertake the soul-searching which is yet to but needs to happen.

"The trustees of the Yeshivah Centre who appointed and were ultimately responsible for the committee of management throughout the period must also resign."


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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

New York County Doesn't Want Hasidic Jews to Vote: Lawsuit 

A New York County wants to prevent Hasidic voters from casting ballots in an upcoming election because of their religion, a new federal lawsuit charges.

The Sullivan County Board of Elections, which oversees voting in the Village of Bloomingburg, sent notices to 184 of 285 registered voters January 16 stating that it "intended to cancel their voter registration and to deprive them of the right to vote"--and more than 160 of those 184 voters are Hasidim, alleges the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York. Bloomingburg, a Catskills hamlet with a population of 420, has seen a large influx of Hasidim in recent years.

"All of them had previously registered to vote in Bloomingburg, which is in Sullivan County," the complaint continues, but the notice demanded those voters give new evidence to prove "why your registration should not be cancelled."

Plaintiffs in the suit and other Hasidim complied with these demands, the suit says, but the BOE said February 27 it would cancel 156 of the 184 voters' registrations--without further explanation. "What makes the action even more egregious here is that the Board of Elections has sought to cancel the votes of virtually every Hasidic Jewish resident of Bloomingburg. The Board plainly singled out these voters for challenge based entirely upon their religion," the lawsuit declares. (The italics are from the filing.)

The BOE directed requests for comment to the Sullivan County Attorney's Office, which said it was unable to comment on the suit at this time.

Sullivan County and Bloomingburg's Hasidic community have long been at legal odds, stemming from a 2006 development deal to annex land into the village for a planned subdivision. The developer maintains the village supported the Chestnut Ridge development until rumors circulated that it was for Hasidim; the village contends the developer tricked officials into annexing the land.

Clifford Teich, who was deputy mayor in 2006 and voted in favor of the annexation, recently said the developer told village officials it planned to build 125 homes and a golf course, but it now plans to build 396 homes and no golf course. The developer denies the allegation.

Even as the tensions have increased, many Hasidic Jews are moving into Bloomingburg.

This widening rift between longtime Bloomingburg residents, development proponents and Hasidic newcomers came to a breaking point this fall. After Chestnut Ridge opponents were unsuccessful in suing to stop the development, they petitioned the village to hold a dissolution referendum in September. If residents voted to dissolve the village, the Town of Mamakating (also within Sullivan County) would take over Bloomingburg's operations.

Dissolution supporters, who hoped Mamakating's stricter planning processes would shutter Chestnut Ridge, challenged "194 registered voters, 183 of who [sic] were Hasidic or Orthodox Jews," prior to the referendum. But a court eventually asked the BOE to certify the vote--and the dissolution referendum did not pass, voters' representatives said. 

The new lawsuit maintains the Board of Elections has "renewed its efforts to disenfranchise Hasidic voters" for future elections by sending notices "to virtually every single Hasidic voter in Bloomingburg, expressing its intent to cancel their registrations, and imposing upon them the burden of appearing at two midweek hearing dates or providing additional documentary evidence or else forfeit their registrations." The BOE even sent the County Sheriff to inspect these voters' homes and confirm their residency, the filing claims.

The BOE's moves violate the plaintiffs' constitutional right to vote, and are largely based on "unmistakable" anti-Semitism, their lawyers argue.

Chestnut Ridge backers and several Hasidic residents of Bloomingburg filed a $25 million civil rights lawsuit against the village and the Town of Mamakating on September 8, alleging anti-Semitism. That lawsuit claimed Bloomingburg residents didn't have a problem with Chestnut Ridge until false rumors swirled that it is only for Hasidic Jews. The filing alleges that in order to stop the development and to make it harder for Hasidim to relocate there, Bloomingburg dissolved its planning board and zoning board of appeals, and instituted a building moratorium as well as putting up other roadblocks.  

The new litigation also alleges that village, town, and county residents have harassed the Hasidim, and some who live there say they agree. They say non-Hasidic locals have honked their horns and hurled coffee cups at them, and they claim a man from a nearby village broke the windows of a new kosher pizza shop on five occasions last summer. Some Hasidim said residents have tailed them and taken photos while they make their way to synagogue.

Almost all dissolution supporters interviewed during the special election maintained the referendum wasn't a reflection of anti-Semitism, but several other townspeople said the dissolution movement was based on community fear of the Hasidim.

Although the BOE's demands of voters violate federal law, the new suit alleges, the plaintiffs did respond, completing its questionnaires, filing "substantial documentation" of residency and testifying in person. But at its hearings, BOE commissioners "did not ask a single question to the challenged voters who appeared, nor did they present any evidence then or thereafter to suggest that any challenged voter was improperly registered in Bloomingburg." The board canceled 156 of the 184 challenged voter registrations without explaining why, the suit contends.

The 27 named voters suing the BOE are seeking injunctive relief for their voting rights and for similarly situated voters, as well as unspecified damages. They also want a judge to designate the suit as a class action, so the court's decision would apply to all Hasidic voters in Bloomingburg.

"We have here a County Board of Elections that's engaged in a persistent and systematic effort to disenfranchise Hasidic Jewish voters in Bloomingburg," said Steven Engel, a partner with Dechert LLP who is representing the voters. "The right to vote is a fundamental right. And the right to live free from religious discrimination is an equally fundamental right. The plaintiffs here are seeking to vindicate their constitutional rights against this egregious campaign."


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