Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sentence delayed for brute convicted of beating of gay man 

The family of a gay, black student beaten to near-death by a band of Hasidic neighborhood watchmen will have to wait two more months to see their son's lead attacker face his fate.

Mayer Herskovic, a member of the ultra-orthodox watchdog group, is batting "serious" medical issues and will have to undergo at least one surgery before he learns his sentence, his attorney said.

"My client is suffering from a serious medical issue that requires medical attention," lawyer Stuart Slotnick said, calling the diagnosis a "recent development."

Slotnick declined to comment on the precise nature of Herskovic's illness, only saying it was a "personal matter."

The 24-year-old was convicted in Sept. 2016 of second-degree assault for taking part in the vicious group attack on Taj Patterson, who was left blinded.

The father-of-two has been out on $50,000 bail since he was found guilty.

Herkosvic faces up to 15 years in prison when he returns to court on March 16.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shocking moment traffic warden sparks mass street brawl with Orthodox Jews after he ‘ran a man over with his scooter’ 

The men dragged the warden to the ground as they tried to arrest him This is the moment a traffic warden was bundled to the ground in an apparent 'citizen's arrest'

The unnamed traffic officer used his helmet as a weapon when he flew into a furious rage during a row with local businessmen.

Witnesses watched in horror as a man was thrown into the air as the warden ran him over on his motorcycle.

"He revved up his bike and drove straight towards him at full speed," one onlooker exclusively told Sun Online.

"I couldn't believe what was I seeing.

"The bike went up in the air and landed on top of this man.

"Then the warden got his radio and used it to hit the man on the floor before getting his helmet and hitting bystanders left, right and centre."

Eventually the parking warden, who was wearing an official blue tabbard and white helmet, was bundled to the ground as the large group attempted to restrain him until police arrived.

The extraordinary scenes were captured on camera during the clash on Leaside Road, Hackney yesterday lunchtime.

Four men, aged in their 20s and 30s, suffered minor injuries during the row - including one who was knocked down left feeling "shocked and shaken".

The row was sparked when a group of local businessmen told the warden they would be reporting him to Hackney Council for harassment.

He later supposedly shouted: "I don't need my friends I can do it myself. Are you scared?"

A member of the Orthodox Jewish community told The Sun Online: "It was like something out of a movie. The warden literally lost the plot."

He also claimed that his foot was run over by the same warden on October 6, which he had reported.

Witnesses told the Evening Standard the warden was defending himself after being surrounded by the ten-strong group of Jewish men after they blocked his motorcycle into a parking space.

He apparently made a desperate call for help on his radio, onlookers alleged.

Scotland Yard said officers were called to the incident at 1.50pm, following reports of an altercation.

A 30-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and bailed until February.

Hackney Council have been approached for comment.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Brothers busted for bum rushing Brooklyn woman 

Cops busted two brothers for the terrifying robbery and beating of a 68-year-old woman in Brooklyn, officials said.

Fernando and Jorge Basantes were arrested Monday for the Dec. 27 mugging of the woman on 16th Ave. near 41st St. in Borough Park at about 7:30 p.m.

Security video released by the Boro Park Shomrim, a Hasidic volunteer patrol group, showed the brutal duo bum rushing the woman as she looked through her bags outside a school yard.

The men wrestled the woman to the ground and grabbed her purse, but she refused to let it go and grabbed onto one thief's leg as he tried to get away, the video shows.

The crooks made off with the bag, which contained her credit cards and $300, officials said.

The woman was not seriously harmed.

Fernando Basantes, 27, and Jorge Basantes, 29, both of Flatbush, were charged with robbery, assault and a host of other crimes.

Fernando Basantes has five sealed arrests. He was also arrested in January 2016 for turnstile jumping.

Jorge Basantes has nine prior arrests, including a turnstile jumping collar in 2016.

Cops received information from the NYPD Crime Stoppers line that led them to the brothers, a police source said.


Monday, January 16, 2017

91% of products have double kosher certifications, which causes the prices to rise 

An Institute for Zionist Strategies study found that 91% of food products in Israel have double kosher certifications that includes a private one in addition to the ones given by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

All of the kosher products in Israel must have the Chief Rabbinate kosher certification, who has a monopoly in this field. This procedure is relevant for all food products that can be sold in grocery stores.

Most of the manufacturers have two kosher certifications for their products and 22% of the products even have three. This causes the customer to pay more for each product.

One of the main reasons the manufacturers chooses to add more kosher certifications is because of the low faith kosher keepers, mostly Hasidic Jews, have in the Chief Rabbinate's kosher certifications.

MK Rachel Azaria from the Kulanu party and the Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah movement has proposed a law that should deal with this subject. She proposed to dismantle the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly and this will actually cause the Chief Rabbinate to become a regulator against the private kosher certification institutions.

The Chief Rabbinate opposes this notion but are already working on their solution to the problem when they proposed to transfer the employment of kashrut supervisors to a national corporation so that they will be paid by the state and not be supervised.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

DOT clarifies cost of Woodbury project 

Fourteen months since Blooming Grove Supervisor Robert Fromaget first proposed the idea of switching to a ward system for electing council members, the change could become law within the next few weeks.

A consultant from the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has drawn up a map, dividing the town into six, equal-by-population wards. The public got its first look at the map Jan. 10, and a public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24. On Friday, Fromaget said the law could be adopted the same night as the public hearing. He has often talked about the ward shift as a way to promote more responsive government.

"I'm elated. I think it's (election by wards) the right thing for this town," Fromaget said Friday. "People need to know who they're voting for." Fromaget said wards will help voters "stop thinking about party and think about what's right for the community."

The town's four council members are currently elected at-large. After the change, the town supervisor will continue to be elected at-large.

In the beginning, a ward system for Blooming Grove faced an uphill battle because Fromaget, a Democrat, leads a Town Board with a 3-2 Republican majority, and many Town Board members were strongly opposed. But a bipartisan group called the Blooming Grove Citizens Committee organized a petition drive to put it on the Nov. 8 ballot. They got 900 signatures, 400 more than needed.

Voters approved the change by a 2-1 margin. Voters also approved a measure to expand the number of council seats by two. After the election, opposition from the Town Board evaporated. Many town residents, speaking at a Jan. 10 session introducing the map, said they supported the change to wards because it would head off the push for housing from Hasidic residents from the Village of Kiryas Joel. The Hasidic village is just to the south of Blooming Grove's Village of South Blooming Grove.

Since the town has a total population of about 18,050, each of the six wards represented in the proposed map outlined at the Jan. 10 session would contain about 3,005 people.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

B&H Photo Closing Brooklyn Warehouses Where Workers Unionized 

The giant Hasidic-owned camera store B&H Photo Video is closing the Brooklyn warehouse where workers formed a union in 2015 amid stiff opposition from management, and where federal investigators allege Hispanic employees were forced to use separate bathrooms.

In a statement on Thursday, B&H said it would move its fulfillment center from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to a facility 75 miles south in Florence Township, New Jersey. The company is also closing a second warehouse in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

The 335 people who currently work at the Brooklyn warehouses will be offered jobs at the new site, which is an hour and a half by car from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“We outgrew the existing facility some time ago, and the only reason it still works is due to the outstanding efforts of our employees,” B&H’s vice president of operations, Jacob Mittelman, said in a statement. “We value them and hope they will come with us to this new facility.”

B&H said in a statement that it had looked hard for space in New York City and nearby parts of New Jersey, and had settled on Florence Township only after struggling to find locations that fit its needs. The move will be completed by the end of 2017.

A spokesman for United Steelworkers International, Wayne Ranick, said that the union, which represents the newly organized warehouse workers, had been bargaining for a year with the company over the unit’s first contract. B&H informed the union representatives of the planned move during a negotiating session on Thursday.

“We’re quite disappointed and surprised, because we had been bargaining in good faith and this came up totally unexpectedly,” Ranick said.

Ranick said that the union’s representatives had asked to negotiate over the move, but the company declined. A company spokesperson said that the contract negotiations would continue and would “not be impacted by the relocation.”

If few of the Brooklyn B&H workers take jobs at the New Jersey warehouse, it’s not clear whether United Steelworkers would represent the workers there. The labor law questions involved are complex, as the union is still negotiating its first contract with the company. Renick said that United Steelworkers was committed to continuing to represent its B&H members. “We’re exploring every option and we’re going to fight the move,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to keep representing the best interests” of the workers.

B&H is owned by Herman Schreiber, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community, and is a major employer in the ultra-Orthodox communities in the New York area. In Williamsburg, Hasidic leaders are already making plans to ease the economic impact of the warehouse closings on their community.

Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsbug and a leader of the Satmar Hasidic group, said that his organization is setting up a committee to assist former B&H workers and is in touch with the company.

“As soon as we heard about it, we put together a committee to deal with it and to try to help people deal with job placement,” Niederman said.

While B&H is best known for its Manhattan superstore, a famous shopping destination for tourists and photo professionals, it also has a massive online and wholesale business, with government contracts alone worth more than $46 million as of last year. Those operations have been run out of the two Brooklyn warehouses.

Complaints about working conditions at the warehouses drew widespread attention in the fall of 2015, when employees went public with safety complaints as part of a bitter and contested campaign to organize a union for the warehouse workers.

“The warehouses are full of dust,” an employee at one of the warehouses told the Forward at the time. “We don’t have training or knowledge how to use the machines.”

Organizing efforts drew strong opposition from the company, according to press reports. But in November 2015, workers voted overwhelmingly to join the United Steelworkers union.

Months after the warehouse workers voted to organize, federal investigators dropped bombshell allegations charging that B&H had discriminated against Hispanic workers at the Navy Yard warehouse, even forcing them to use separate, dirtier bathrooms than white employees.

The federal Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs charged in a February 2016 administrative complaint that B&H paid Hispanic laborers at the warehouse less than it paid white laborers, and that it had promoted Hispanics less often than it had promoted whites. It also alleged that B&H supervisors had subjected Hispanic workers to “severe and/or pervasive verbal abuse” because of their race.

A spokesperson for B&H said that the case was currently in the discovery phase, and that the “relocation will have no impact” on the matter. Department of Labor spokespeople could not be immediately reached for comment.



Friday, January 13, 2017

Jewish Landlords Arrested in Dangerous Gas Meter Bribery Scam 

Photos of individuals charges by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, on display at Thursday's press conference.

Authorities in Brooklyn arrested dozens of people, including a number of Jewish landlords and property managers, in a dangerous scheme to install gas meters in buildings where the gas lines had not yet been inspected for safety.

Gas company insiders allegedly took bribes from landlords unwilling to wait for the meters to be installed legally.

When the city's Department of Buildings went back to inspect the gas meters after the scheme was uncovered, they found that some of the building owners had used a sort of cheap plastic piping that contributed to recent gas explosions in Manhattan that killed two people.

"For pure greed, they operated a criminal scheme that had no concern for safety rules and regulations," said Brooklyn's acting district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, at a Thursday press conference.

Current and former employees of National Grid, the public utility that provides gas service in Brooklyn, led the scheme. Many of the people arrested for paying for the illegally installed gas meters are Hasidic Jews residing in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

At the press conference, prosecutors played a wiretap recording of the scam's leader, Weldon Finlay, discussing an installation of a meter with a Hasidic man from Williamsburg named Shia Wolf Ostreicher, who was also charged. In the conversation, Finlay complained that one of his allies within National Grid was nervous about getting caught.

"I have special medication for that," Ostreicher said. "You know what the medication is?… Did you ever know about President Franklin? Benjamin Franklin?"

Prosecutors charged seven people for running the scheme, four for assisting them, and another twenty-six landlords, property managers and contractors for a variety of crimes, including bribery and falsifying business records.

Prosecutors acknowledged that the long wait for gas meter installation on a newly constructed or renovated apartment in Brooklyn could cost landlords thousands of dollars in missed rent. The chronic delays had incentivized building owners to seek ways to cheat the system.

The alleged scammers exploited that inefficiency.

According to prosecutors, Finlay was a former National Grid employee who left the company in 2010. Landlords would ask Finlay to install a gas meter in an apartment that had not yet been inspected. In return for an average fee of $1,500, Finlay would have two confederates inside National Grid dispatch the order and install the illegal meter.

"Those who engage in these schemes show utter disregard for the safety of every person living and working in this great borough," Gonzalez said.

Prosecutors say that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes were paid to the scammers between January and June of 2016.

"The community of corrupt landlords and construction folks is large, but not that large, and a lot of them know one another," said Mark Peters, commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation, which was also involved in the case, explaining how the landlords found Finlay.

Photos of individuals charges by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, on display at Thursday's press conference.

The Department of Investigation uncovered the alleged scheme while listening in on a wiretap in an unrelated investigation. Peters, the commissioner, said that his office had made recommendations to National Grid to improve their internal controls, but that if they didn't, the company could suffer.

"If National Grid makes these changes swiftly, they will deserve the trust necessary to continue as a public utility," he said. "if they do not, my office will meet with their regulator…and will insist on necessary government intervention in their operations."


Chestnut Ridge's environmental review reaffirmed 

Over vehement objection from residents, the Bloomingburg village board reaffirmed the environmental review of controversial housing development Chestnut Ridge, allowing the project to move back to the planning board for amendments to its site plan.

The 396-unit project, still under construction, came back before the village board in November seeking reaffirmation of the State Environmental Quality Review after a state fire code ruling determined that roads within the development need to be widened. Residents who oppose Chestnut Ridge hoped the board would reopen the SEQR, rather than reaffirm it. The original SEQR used calculations based on an average family size of 2.8 people per household, but the development was designed for, and exclusively attracts, Hasidic families that are likely to far exceed that average.

In a barrage of questions and complaints, residents told Mayor Russ Wood and Trustee Rivkah Mosesson that there is no way Chestnut Ridge's three wells will support the full project, and neighbors fear for the viability of their own wells as a result.

"When my well runs dry, I'm coming to you," former village trustee Kathy Roemer said to Chestnut Ridge consultant Tom Shepstone. "And you will be part of my lawsuit."

The public's comments were all the more heated because in the weeks since the last village meeting, Chestnut Ridge developers Shalom Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen were indicted on voter fraud charges, accused by the FBI of bringing in non-local residents to vote in the 2014 village election to swing the results in favor of candidates who supported Chestnut Ridge.

With 22 units occupied, Chestnut Ridge currently uses an average of 207 gallons per unit daily, under the 262-gallon allowance. Village engineer Tom Depuy said the water and sewer use is monitored weekly, and it will be reevaluated when the project is 70 percent complete.

Water usage was not part of the question as to whether to reaffirm the SEQR, Wood said after the meeting. The board was only considering whether the widened roads would take the project out of its original SEQR parameters, and Wood said they would not. All the correct safeguards are in place to ensure that everyone has enough water, Wood said. The project can now go back before the planning board for any site plan amendments the developers wish to apply for.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mystery Hasids Swap Hats and Dance With Senators Lindsey Graham and Al Franken 

On the way to a Senate vote yesterday, Lindsey Graham stopped a group of Hasidic Jews to compliment their hats.

What ensued was a general swapping of fedoras, to judge by a photo that Graham's Senate colleague Ben Sasse posted on Twitter.

Graham, a Southern Baptist, is grinning broadly as men who appear to be members of the Lubavitch Hasidic group place one of their fedoras on his head.

From there the mystery Hasidim appear to have moved on to the Senate's Jewish caucus: Moments later, a reporter for ABC News tweeted that Senator Al Franken had stopped in the Senate hallways to dance with unknown Hasidim.


Two Men In Williamsburg 'Lure' Young Children To Minivan With Candy: Cops 

Police are seeking two men who tried to "lure" a Hasidic 12-year-old boy and 10-year-old girl into their minivan in Williamsburg on Tuesday, the NYPD said. 

According to police, at around 6:15 p.m., the two men were in the minivan on Hewes Street and Williamsburg East when they tried to entice the boy with a lollipop, in Yiddish. Then shortly after that incident, the same men tried to lure the young girl at the intersection of Williamsburg East and Lee Avenue, again in Yiddish, police said. The girl continued walking, and the minivan drove away, the NYPD said.

No arrests have been made, and the investigation was ongoing on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Cops describe the men as white, clean-shaven and last seen wearing an "Irish style flat cap."


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rabbi on unregistered Jewish schools: ‘I’m confident there’s no scandal waiting to break out’ 

A leading rabbi has said he feels confident there is no child safeguarding scandal "waiting to break out" in the Hasidic Jewish community after the council's frustration at a lack of regulatory oversight of unregistered schools in Stamford Hill was revealed at a heated public meeting.

Rabbi Avrohom Pinter described as "hysteria" suggestions there might be a "Rotherham-type" situation involving sex abuse in the notoriously insular community but said an arrangement had to be agreed to allow the authorities to assure themselves that all children were safe.

There are believed to be more than 30 unregistered schools currently operating illegally in Hackney, and the council has concerns about large numbers of children from strictly orthodox Jewish families "going missing" from the school system in their early teens.

Because they have been effectively stonewalled by those running these unregistered schools, safeguarding chiefs can not be sure all precautions are being taken to guard against the risk of the sexual abuse of children. Though this could happen in any setting, they said the risk was higher in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community purely by virtue of the lack of official oversight.

Rabbi Pinter is principal of Yesodey Hatorah School, a registered religious school with different departments for boys and girls, which is subject to the Ofsted inspection regime. He stressed he does not represent yeshivas and was speaking in a personal capacity when he told the Hackney Citizen: "I'm confident there isn't a scandal waiting to break out, but there's nothing to stop that happening if we are not working together on safeguarding.

"That's why I think they [the unregistered schools] should be working with safeguarding to make sure the children are safe.

"I do accept that if there is not going to be oversight then that could be an issue. I don't think there's any scandal going on now, but if there's no oversight potentially an abuser could come to us and think: 'Oh, there's no oversight [by the authorities] here, I should get into this system.'"

Rory McCallum, senior professional advisor to City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Board, has warned of a lack of proper vetting processes and criminal records checks on staff.

However, Rabbi Pinter said that, to his knowledge, the institutions the council has concerns about do carry out proper checks on staff. The Town Hall wants the institutions to register with Ofsted, but Rabbi Pinter said: "They say that they do not provide 20 hours of teaching a week so would not be considered as an educational establishment [by Ofsted], and this hasn't been challenged by legal entities.

"They would not be considered as fitting into the category of a 'school' so couldn't register with Ofsted, according to the legal advice they have received."

Asked why parents did not simply send their children to a mainstream religious school like Yesodey Hatorah, he said: "That's where parental choice comes into it. It's the choice of the vast majority of parents [in the community] that they want their children to be brought up in a setting where they spend more time on Jewish subjects.

"This is parental choice. Some say I'm compromising [at Yesodey Hatorah] where they wouldn't want to compromise, but I don't believe I am. But if people take that view, I can't say I'm right and they're wrong."

He added: "Every individual has the right to choose for their children and I've got no doubt every person wants the best for their children, and if they believe this is the best for their children, I've got to respect that."

British values

Resistance has been increasing in Stamford Hill over aspects of the government's "British values" agenda, which many members of the community believe would involve teaching Hasidic Jewish children about issues that would conflict with their families' religious beliefs and would effectively force a more socially liberal way of living onto them.

At Monday's meeting of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Commission Rabbi Judah Baumgarten said he believed the mainstream education regime may now be on a "collision course" with his community.

In his interview with the Hackney Citizen Rabbi Pinter said a "live and let live" attitude that had previously prevailed could now be in peril and argued that preserving diversity in society entailed respecting cultural differences so long as these did not cause harm to others.

His comments come as two Hackney councillors are today meeting with figures from the Department for Education to discuss the problem of unregistered schools. A Hackney Council source said there was lots of work going on "behind the scenes" with the Jewish community in Stamford Hill to try and build bridges and trust over the issue of schooling.

Last year Ghaffar Hussain, a "community resilience" officer in Newham, told a London Assembly committee councils needed to "incentivise" schools that are outside of the mainstream system to work with them on safeguarding issues.

He added: "The other challenge is that some of them deliberately want to stay below the radar.

"This applies to Jewish schools and Islamic schools in East London as well, because they do want to preach their particular conservative brand of religion, and they don't necessarily want Ofsted marching in and objecting to certain elements of that.

"That, I think, is the real change – people who don't want to be on the radar at all."

'Liberal intolerance'

But Rabbi Pinter warned of 'liberal intolerance' and stressed the importance of respect for different cultural groups' discrete practices and values.

"Everyone should be subject to the same set or rules – nobody would argue with that," he said. "The question is, can we have different expectations? In other words, we are a liberal country, but when liberalism becomes intolerant… We can have diversity as long as we have common values. That's what's important.

"With having common values we can still have diversity, and sometimes I think we are not allowing diversity anymore, that we are creating clones, that everyone has to talk in the same way.

"I can be anti-abortion, for example, and it doesn't make me automatically a misogynist. I was a Remain supporter and I wanted Hillary Clinton to become President of the United States but I don't think that just because people voted for Brexit or Trump they are terrible people.

"I have to accept other people's values. Being tolerant works both ways."

He added: "What I love about England is the 'live and let live' attitude. People will accept other people have got different ideas. I may disagree with those ideas but I will accept you have got a different opinion. I'm not going to force my way of life on you. If someone wants to live in a particular way and there's no coercion and no impact on other people's lives, bring it on."

He added: "I think there's a big difference between extremism and social conservatism, and I think we have to be careful we don't become intolerant. I think it's extremism that's the difficulty, and I think it's also when people want to force their way of life on others. That's when it becomes difficult."


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Outremont parents pushing for a more inclusive borough 

A group of Outremont parents are hoping to use an annual neighbourhood festival as a springboard to bring together the diverse groups that inhabit the borough.

On Monday evening, the group asked Outremont's city council to move the party from its normal spot on a Saturday in hopes that it would allow members of the Hasidic community to attend.

Saturday marks the weekly Jewish Sabbath, which would prohibit observant followers of the religion from attending.

"It's really the biggest event that happens in Outremont every year. It's amazing and it's really fun," said group member Claire Trottier. "My kids love it, it's a really fun, warm festive community event, but right now, it's held on a Saturday which means a significant chunk of our community and neighbours can't really participate."

At the meeting, council voted against moving the festival from Saturday to Sunday, citing scheduling conflicts, but trying to move the date of the event is just one part of a bigger project started by parents to help promote tolerance and diversity within schools and the community.

Group founder Jennifer Dorner said she's hoping to make Outremont a more inviting place to live for all people.

"We'd like to see more work done in the area to help create a better understanding of the various cultures that live here," she said.
Outremont resider Mayer Feig said the Hassidic community has noticed the group's efforts.

"It's very appreciated that an outside group has come to try and work to make the communities feel closer together," he said.

Tensions have occasionally flared in the area between the Hassidic community and other residents. Most recently, tempers were inflamed over a bylaw that banned new houses of worship on several main streets, which the Jewish community felt infringed on their ability to practice their religion.

"I felt that really divided our community and there have been a number of other events targeting the Hassidic community," said Trottier. "I think there's tension and that's unfortunate."


Monday, January 09, 2017

Village to vote on dissolving; Concern over Hasidic development spurs initiative 

More than 20% of the Village of Bloomingburg's 400 or so residents have signed a petition that has triggered a voter referendum on whether or not the village should continue to exist as a political entity. If the village is dissolved, its various functions would be absorbed by the Town of Mamakating, which has a population of about 12,000.

The initiative was sparked by the concern of some residents that people moving into the 396-unit development being erected by developer Shalom Lamm and marketed to the Hasidic community would overwhelm the tiny hamlet.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other officials in Albany have recently been urging the merger of municipalities and their functions, and in 2009, New York State passed a law that will make the dissolution process a bit easier than it would otherwise have been.

The law, called the New York Government and Citizen Empowerment Act, allows for village dissolution to be initiated either by the elected officials or by residents of the village, and at several points during the process, the public has the option of sparking more referendums through petitions.

In this case, the elected officials, mayor Frank Gerardi and trustees Katherine Roemer and James Johnson, were among the signers of the petition; the referendum is scheduled for September 30.

Under the act, the consolidation agreement or dissolution plan between the village and town will not be developed until after the referendum passes. If it does not pass, the process stops.

According to information on a New York State website, once a proposed plan is prepared by the governing bodies, voters have the opportunity to conduct another petition drive to require a second referendum, this time on the plan itself. If that drive is successful and another referendum is held, it too must pass in order for the reorganization to take effect.

The two governing bodies then approve the dissolution plan by resolution, and no later than five business days after that, the plan must be displayed, posted on websites and published in a general circulation newspaper at least once each week for four successive weeks.

One or more public hearings on the proposed agreement or plan must be held. These hearings may be held jointly or separately.

Within 45 days after the governing body approves the final plan, the voters may file a petition with the village clerk to compel yet another referendum,
This petition must contain the signatures of 25% of the voters in the village.

Finally, the measure must be put to a vote of the voters in both the town and the village.

The village has hired the Leberge Group as a consultant and the process will be explained at a meeting on August 5.

There have been 48 village dissolutions in New York State since 1900, including the Village of Andes, which dissolved into the town of the same name in Delaware County in 2003. Since 1940, 23 villages have been incorporated.


Sunday, January 08, 2017

A timeline of Ramapo's evolution 

Key events in the evolution of zoning in Ramapo, N.Y.:

1954 — Brooklyn-based Skverer Rebbe Yaakov Yosef Twersky purchases a 130-acre dairy farm near Spring Valley, in Ramapo, to establish a Hasidic Jewish community that became known as New Square. The name, anglicized by a typist, is taken from the City of Skver in what is now Ukraine.

1955 — The Tappan Zee Bridge opens, connecting Rockland and Westchester counties. With commuting to and from New York more convenient, more city residents begin moving to Rockland.

1961 — New Square incorporates into a village after the Ramapo town attorney calls for the settlement to be condemned for not complying with zoning laws and building codes. One of the main issues concerns construction of the community’s synagogue.

1970 — Ramapo’s population, which stood at 35,000 in 1960, is now almost 77,000, according to census figures. Much of the increase comes from the growing ultra-religious Jewish community.

1982-1991 — The “zoning villages” of Wesley Hills (1982), New Hempstead (1983), Chestnut Ridge and Montebello (1986) and Airmont (1991) are incorporated in an attempt to control zoning and high-density development by Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews.

1990 — The Village of Kaser is incorporated to allow denser zoning to accommodate the continued growth of the ultra-religious Jewish community within the Ramapo Hamlet of Monsey.

2000 — Christopher St. Lawrence becomes Ramapo supervisor. Soon afterward, the town creates zoning that allows higher density residential development.

2005 — Ultra-religious Jews gain control of the East Ramapo Board of Education, thanks to support from a voting bloc of Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews.

2010 - Ramapo's population is 126,595, according to census figures, a 16 percent increase from 2000.

2015 — The East Ramapo School District is placed under state oversight in the wake of lawsuits and complaints to the state Education Department over allegations of financial mismanagement by school officials.

2015 — In May, Rockland's Health Department begins inspecting housing and issuing summonses based on the county’s sanitary code in response to the lack of enforcement in Ramapo.

2015 — County Executive Ed Day says Rockland is ready to take over inspections in Spring Valley at the state’s request.

2016 — In May, Rockland is authorized by the state to inspect more than 20 Ramapo yeshivas that have not filed the required inspection reports in years.

2016 — In June, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs into law a measure requiring more state oversight of the East Ramapo School District. The one-year deal requires the school board to submit its budget to state Education Commissioner Maryellen Elia for approval.

2016 — In July, Albany orders Ramapo to change local laws to bring them into compliance with various provisions of the state's fire, building and energy conservation codes. The town adopts the changes in November.

2016 — In December, residents approve a $58 million bond to repair East Ramapo school buildings. Advocates say the approval is a sign of confidence in the state's oversight of the district.

2016 — Also in December, the state appoints oversight officers to monitor the Ramapo and Spring Valley building departments.



Saturday, January 07, 2017

Meet the hasidic comedian who's cracking up the web 


Friday, January 06, 2017

Connecting the dots 

This new year will be profound for the Town of Monroe and Orange County. Consider:

At least one of the annexation petitions to enlarge the Village of Kiryas Joel should be decided.

That would affect Kiryas Joel and Monroe-Woodbury school districts. If the boundaries aren't changed, we may be headed toward another East Ramapo, where children go uneducated.

The Orange County Legislature has yet to decide to act on a petition to create a town of North Monroe, which would require a public referendum in November. Proponents say this would end Kiryas Joel's influence in town politics.

And then there are November's elections. Three seats on the Monroe Town Board, including supervisor, will be on the ballot. Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus and all 21 members of the County Legislature will be there as well.

How will the KJ voting bloc affect the outcome? How will the United Monroe party affect the outcome?

What follows is an attempt to connect the dots that appear like Pokémon Go icons across the landscape

Late last year, a state Supreme Court Justice dismissed challenges from a consortium of municipalities and the non-profit group, Preserve Hudson Valley, to the annexation of 164 acres from the unincorporated portion of the Town of Monroe into the Village of Kiryas Joel. Both the consortium and Preserve Hudson Valley have appealed. 

Despite the appeal, both the Village of Kiryas Joel and the Kiryas Joel School District have moved forward, formally accepting the 164 acres and formally redrawing the school district boundary to match the village's borders.

Those actions, particularly regarding the school, don't make things so. The 146 acres are within the Monroe-Woodbury School District. 

The district expects its consultant to report later this month on the benefits and costs of agreeing to redraw the lines between itself and Kiryas Joel.

A judge has yet to rule on the proposal to annex 507 acres from the town into the village. This proposal includes the 164-acre annexation. The Monroe Town Board approved the 164-acre annexation but not the 507-acre one. The Kiryas Joel Village Board approved both.

The context for annexation is this: The population in Kiryas Joel is outgrowing the village's borders. Today there are about 47,000 residents in all of the Town of Monroe, including about 25,000 within the Village of Kiryas Joel. According to state numbers, approximately 1,300 children were born in Kiryas Joel last year.

Kiryas Joel Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin has said that, regardless of annexation, the village's population will double within a generation.

This growth can also be seen in the purchase of homes by Hasidic families outside Kiryas Joel in Blooming Grove, particularly in the Village of South Blooming Grove, and in Woodbury. In response, the Village of South Blooming Grove approved a no-solicitation law after residents complained that people would knock on their doors and offer to buy their house on the spot.

The Monroe Town Board enacted a residential building moratorium last spring to buy time to update its comprehensive plan – a series of regulations and codes determining what, where and how it can be built, and what can't be built within the town outside of the three villages. The moratorium has since been extended. 

That action is holding at bay five residential developments.

The updated comprehensive plan is expected to address the issue of accessory apartments or "granny flats." This was a provision in the town's building code originally designed to allow older residents of Monroe to remain here by have an accessory apartment of 800 or so square feet added to a single-family home.

That provision is now being used to create "granny flats" totaling 3,000 square feet. Supervisor Harley E. Doles III has repeatedly said the provision is being used to create multi-family homes out of single-family houses, all using the original well and septic system.

The update is also expected to give the Planning Board oversight on actions by the Zoning Board of Appeals. The ZBA looks at specific issues while the Planning Board takes a broader look at impact. In other words, the ZBA sees the trees, the Planning Board the forest.

Last fall, the Monroe Town Board hired a Yonkers-based economic development consultant to market the Town of Monroe Arts & Civic Center. TMACC is a draw for downtown Monroe, but it also is a drain on finances. Councilman Mike McGinn has said the town wants to retain the building but should get out of the movie business.

The theater, a refurbished Monroe Free Library, the opening of Crystal Run Healthcare, plus the anticipated infrastructure and traffic improvements, give officials hope for a steady revitalization of the downtown area.

Town elections: Will Doles run?
Three seats on the five-person Town Board are up for re-election this November: Town Supervisor, an office now held by Doles; and two town board seats held by Democrats Gerry McQuade and Rick Colon.

Doles was elected as a Democrat but has switched to the GOP because he knew he would not secure the support of Monroe Democrats due to his rift with committee chairman Tom Kemnitz. That he switched to the GOP in this era of Trump Republicans is ironic, considering he was raised in the Progressive movement in New York City led by Rep. Bella Abzug, among others, in the 1960s and 1970s.

The question remains, however, whether he will run at all. Health issues kept him away from the office during the first several months of 2016. He has not declared what he will in November.

Doles, McQuade and Colon were elected three years ago largely based on the Kiryas Joel bloc vote. What that election demonstrated, however, was the burgeoning strength of the United Monroe movement. High voter turnout in those contests was unheard of in local politics. But it also demonstrated the political divide within the town based on which side of the Quickway one lives. 

United Monroe followed that vote with subsequent victories elsewhere, including last year's election of Tony Cardone and Mike McGinn to the town board. They also ran as Republicans.

But emergence of United Monroe has blurred political lines within the town. Colon, a Democrat, has aligned himself with Cardone and McGinn to create the consistent majority on the town board. 

What that means remains to be seen. 

Meanwhile, the KJ bloc vote has splintered. According to the Board of Elections, there are about 10,000 voters in Kiryas Joel and the election districts outside the village.

There are generally two factions: 

The Aronis, associated with Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, represent about 60 percent of the KJ population. They own most of the land within the village.

The Zalys, associated with Rabbi Zalman Teitlebaum, which has further broken into two groups: 

• The Sheri Torah group, which is most closely associated with Zalman and has the Glenwood Girls and Boys schools and the mikvah outside of KJ. They account for about 70 percent of the Zaly group. 

• The remaining 30 percent are the B'nai Joel, follows more directly the teaching of the founder of KJ, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum.

These two groups combined, also known as the Dissidents or Alliance, own almost all the land outside of KJ and they have proposals before the Town Planning and Zoning boards that include Rye Hill Road development.

In addition to the town races, County Executive Steve Neuhaus is up for re-election as are all 21 members of the Orange County Legislature.

Although he has not declared, attorney Michael Sussman has assembled a group of people to develop a platform should he seek the Democratic nomination. 

It is unlikely that Sussman would court the KJ bloc, but will Neuhaus?

Town of North Monroe
Last summer, residents living north of Route 17 (the Quickway) sought the County Legislature's blessing to secede from the Town of Monroe and create a separate municipality to be known as the Town of North Monroe. It would include the Village of Kiryas Joel, plus all the properties in the proposed annexations. 

What its proponents, beginning with Kiryas Joel Village Administrator Gedalye Szegedin, say is "the establishment of two separate towns would mean that the Kiryas Joel electorate would no longer vote in any of the Town of Monroe elections for its nine public offices."

When proposed in August, Szegedin said: "We agree with the many people who have suggested over the years that creating two separate towns is the most practical way to alleviate that concern. We firmly believe that this is an important step in the healing process for these two communities."

In an email exchange this week with Monroe Supervisor Harley E. Doles, Szegedin wrote: "Mr. Supervisor, please don't blame the KJ leadership for the KJ Overflow to Monroe, Woodbury and Blooming Grove. We voted to approve annexation. We voted to redraw the KJSD boundaries to be the same as the KJ village and we submitted a petition to exit from Monroe by forming North Monroe. We have done all we can to have the minimum impact on your Town. We don't want to control anyone's community, just ours."

Should the legislature approve the notion, voters living in the affected area would vote on a referendum during the general election.

What do people fear?
In a Dec. 15, 2016, article on The Forward.com, titled "How the Hasids won the battle of Bloomingburg - and everyone else lost, " writer Josh Nathan-Kaiz offered this description of a Hasidic couple looking for a new home in the Sullivan County Village of Bloomingburg:

"The couple couldn't move just anywhere. Both are members of the Satmar Hasidic group, and like all ultra-Orthodox Jews, they had special requirements: a place to pray, a place to take ritual baths, a place for their children to go to school. What's more, as followers of the grand rabbi of Satmar, they wanted to be somewhere a rebbe would be in control.

"Since 2012, Bloomingburg has been a battleground, the latest front in a multi-pronged conflict playing out across New York and New Jersey, as ultra-Orthodox communities seek room to grow. Upstate in Kiryas Joel, in the suburbs around New Square and Monsey, in Lakewood and Lawrence, and even in the heart of Brooklyn, Orthodox groups have clashed with their neighbors over expansion plans and control of local government.

"To the Orthodox and their allies, resistance to new Jewish neighbors can look like anti-Semitism. 

"To the non-Orthodox, the arrival of a Hasidic community, with its schools and its institutions and its rabbinic authority, can feel like an invasion."

The article reflected many of the same issues found in Monroe. People are fearful – and no, that is not too strong a word – about these things:

• The devaluation of their homes.

• The devaluation of their school districts.

• A rural/suburban area becoming crowded and congested.

• What happens when they are no longer part of the majority and do not have control. 

Monroe has communities that are culturally different and which have different world views.

Having survived the Holocaust and after enduring years of pogroms and anti-Semitism across the globe, the Hasidim are people who want to hold dear and to protect their own, to preserve a way of life by looking inward.

The rest of Monroe residents are people who favor a more diverse America. There seems no meeting of the minds.


Thursday, January 05, 2017

Surveillance video released of two men wanted for mugging woman, 68, in Brooklyn 

The Boro Park Shomrim have put out a video of two men wanting for mugging a 68-year-old woman in Borough Park. The video is kind of dramatic as the woman struggles with the two men.

Police are searching for two men wanted for mugging a 68-year-old woman in Brooklyn, officials said Thursday.

The brutal duo were caught on video jumping the victim on 16th Ave. near 41st St. in Borough Park about 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 27.

The video, released by the Boro Park Shomrim, a Hasidic volunteer neighbor patrol group, shows the two men bum rushing the woman as she looked through her bags outside a schoolyard.

The men wrestled the woman to the ground and grabbed her purse but she refused to let it go and grabbed onto one thief's leg as he tried to get away, the video shows.

The crooks made off with the bag, which contained her credit cards and $300, officials said. The woman was not seriously harmed.

The robbery comes amid a spate of crimes against senior citizens in recent months, officials said.

Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers at (800) 577-TIPS.




The Satmar Hasidic sect brought hundreds of people to the village of Airmont board of Trustees meeting to protest the proposed building  moratorium, thereby shutting down the meeting (due to lack of space). UTA has an application to build two school buildings on the old Regesh property on Cherry Lane Road. Because it's 20 acres, it doesn't need a variance, only CDRC approval.

After executive session, the Airmont attorney gave Satmar a letter that exempts their project from the building moratorium. The meeting was postponed until January 9, when they expect far less opposition to the controversial proposal.


Hasidim arrested after illegal visit to West Bank holy site 

Police arrested a group of Hasidic Jews who had traveled without escort to the Joshua's Tomb holy site in the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares early Thursday morning and came under attack by local residents, authorities said.

According to the IDF, 10 members of the Bratslav sect "illegally entered" the village, southwest of Nablus, after midnight on Thursday in order to visit a site that is traditionally believed to be the burial place of the biblical figure Joshua.

At some point during their visit, the men were attacked by residents of the village, who hurled rocks at them and their car.

"IDF troops arrived at the tomb to escort the worshipers safely out of the village," an army spokesperson said.

Once the soldiers got them out, they handed the 10 men over to police for further questioning, the army said.

Israeli citizens are not allowed to enter parts of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority security control — known as Area A — without escort or prior authorization, as such incursions often result in violence, like in this case.

On Thursday morning, the 10 men were brought before a Petah Tikva court for an initial hearing. They are suspected of violating a general's order, threatening public safety and interfering with public work, police said.

"Every few weeks, the IDF regional brigade allows an organized and guarded visit to the tomb; any entrance without prior coordination presents a risk and a violation of the law," police said in a statement.


Singer Mordechai Ben David slams Obama at Jerusalem concert 

Popular Hasidic singer Mordechai Ben David called President Barack Obama a "kushi," a term meaning black person, at a concert in Jerusalem.

Ben David was performing a song about peace at the Dec. 29 concert when he told the audience: "Do you know when there will be peace? In a few weeks, when there will be a new president in the United States and the kushi goes home."

The audience burst into applause.

Several municipal and government officials were in the audience, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas).

The word, derived from a biblical word for an Ethiopian, is usually regarded as derogatory in modern Hebrew.

Mordechai Ben David Werdyger, 65, who lives in Brooklyn, has recorded dozens of albums of Jewish music, and regularly appears before Orthodox audiences in North American and Israel.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Blooming Grove ward plan takes next step 

A citizen's group's push to implement a ward system for electing town council members passed a key hurdle Tuesday, as the Town Board set a hearing on a proposed map that would split the town among six wards.

The board set a hearing for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10. Supervisor Robert Fromaget and council members said a map could be finalized as soon as 10 days after the hearing. Fromaget and a group called the Blooming Grove Citizens Committee were the prime movers behind the effort to implement the ward system, believing it would make town government more responsive. Most of the Town Board members opposed it. But the Citizens Committee got 900 signatures, 400 more than needed, and the proposal made it to the Nov. 8 ballot.

After the Nov. 8 vote, board opposition evaporated. "The people have spoken," Councilman George KyDon, who had adamantly opposed wards, said Tuesday. Briefing the Town Board and the public on the proposed map at Tuesday's Town Board workshop session, consultant Joshua Simons, senior research associate at the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, said plans call for the town's population, about 18,050, to be divided into equal-in-population wards of about 3,005. The Village of Washingtonville would be split between two wards and the Village of South Blooming Grove would have one.

Just this week, former Blooming Grove Supervisor and Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, a ward-election opponent, suggested that the Town Board should split the Village of South Blooming Grove among three wards, to head off potential Hasidic control of a council seat. Calhoun said the Village of South Blooming Grove is "under siege" from Hasidic homebuyers.

Kevin Radday, a member of the seven-member oversight committee that's been working on the map, called Calhoun's suggestion to split South Blooming Grove "the most ridiculous idea I've ever heard." Radday, who owns Betty's Country Kitchen in Washingtonville, said the focus should be on responsive government. He said if it comes to pass that a Hasidic representative wins a council seat, then that council member would represent the Hasidic constituency.


YU Student to Participate in Jeopardy! College Championship 

The author, left, and Mr. Paley during an imagined photoshoot for their imagined new-wave-indie-folk record.

We have all heard of Jeopardy!. Most of us have even spent time watching it. But few have ever dreamed of actually playing on the show. This January Netanel Paley, a YU senior majoring in Biology and minoring in Music, will participate in "Jeopardy! College Championship" against contenders from colleges across America. The tournament will begin with fifteen participants in the first round, with nine moving on to the semifinal round and three advancing to the third and final round. The grand prize is $100,000. As finals wind down here at YU, Netanel will be flown out to Los Angeles to compete against his collegiate adversaries. The tournament will air on television beginning February 13th.

As a kid growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey, Netanel always wanted to be on Jeopardy!, the famous game show that he and his family watched consistently. The opportunity for this dream to become a reality presented itself to Netanel when, in a fit of whimsical inspiration (or, perhaps, as a crafty procrastination method), Netanel chanced upon the Jeopardy! website and signed up for notifications about any upcoming tryout opportunities. Several weeks later Netanel received an official Jeopardy! link directing him to apply for the "Jeopardy! College Championship" online test. Netanel took the test in impromptu fashion, on his laptop on the third floor of the library during a study break. Jeopardy!'s system of choosing participants, even from amongst those who had high scores on the initial quiz, is randomized. This meant that, to a certain extent, those who were selected to continue was based upon luck, rather than sheer virtue. But it seemed that luck was on Netanel's side, as a few weeks later he received an invitation to participate in a live tryout.

So, while most of us were preparing for Simchat Torah and the last days of Sukkot, Netanel was busy this past Hoshana Rabbah playing a mock game of Jeopardy! in a New York City hotel with two other college students. Despite a rather cocky opponent from "some liberal arts school," as Netanel recalled, who got off to a fast start, Netanel quickly caught up and performed especially well on the "local names of countries" section (geography is a topic which Netanel grasps uncannily well). There was also a fifty question written quiz and a two minute personal interview, apparently intended to test both the raw knowledge and personality of would-be contestants. It seems Netanel "passed" all of these tests, as he received a call back in early December inviting him to Los Angeles to participate in the esteemed game show.

Netanel is no stranger to high-pressure-game-show-like situations. While most of us were still choosing between high schools, Netanel was winning academic bees left and right, becoming both a state finalist for the National Geographic Geography Bee and a regional finalist for the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 2009. Netanel's interest in trivia contests continued into high school where he participated in his school's College Bowl and Torah Bowl teams. Netanel described how this type of memorizing, unlike cramming for an Organic Chemistry exam, comes naturally to him. "I just seem to have a good memory for remembering random stuff," offered Netanel, with his trademark modesty, in an exclusive interview with the author of this article. "It's not like my memory is that great for school."

Yet what makes Netanel's participation in Jeopardy!, a nationally televised program, even more exciting for students at YU is his overt religiousness. His large blue-and-white srugy, untucked tzitzit, and fly-away payis not-so-neatly tucked behind his ears would fit well on a Samarian hilltop or in the most hipster (or Hasidic) section of Williamsburg. But his appearance is recognizable enough to even the typical American, affording Netanel a great opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem. Being the first Orthodox Jew on Jeopardy! in a few years, Netanel admitted that he feels as though he is representing the YU community and Orthodoxy in general. He described that if he gets a couple of seconds to speak to America on national TV, he would like to spread some Jewish pride by proclaiming loudly his gratitude for having been brought up a religious Jew. "Ideally," considered Netanel, "I would like the chance to say something on air about how proud I am to go to a Jewish institution and to be able to study both Judaic studies and general studies at the same place and the same time without compromising either one."

All contestants on the show are required to wear their college sweatshirts, which makes Netanel's representing YU all the more pronounced. This fact was not lost on President Richard Joel, who offered to give Netanel a free sweatshirt in exchange for the good ole' fashioned yiddishe nachas (Jewish pride) which YU and the greater Orthodox community will receive from having one of its own in the spotlight.

When asked about what he plans on doing with the $100,000 prize money if he wins, Netanel responded that "besides for paying for school and stuff like that I would really like to take an expedition to Ecuador and spend a couple weeks birdwatching in a cloud forest over there." Ecuador is known for having one of the highest variety of birds concentrated in one area, a fact which Netanel, with his passion for biology and all living things, is keenly aware of. As for what exactly a cloud forest is, Netanel promptly explained, with his typical unassuming air, that a cloud forest is "typically a tropical or subtropical forest situated at a high altitude, characterized by a low cloud cover and an abundance of moss."

Watch out, Jeopardy!. It looks like a certain neo-Hasidic cloud forest enthusiast is pretty prepared for this thing!


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