Monday, July 25, 2016
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the leader of Israel's Shuvu Banim Hasidic community, was ordered released to house arrest on Monday afternoon. He was brought to court for a hearing on extending his police detention and the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court ordered him released, with restrictions, but stayed his release for 24 hours to allow the police to appeal the decision.
Berland is suspected of sexual harassment, indecent acts, assault and other offenses. He was arrested when he returned to Israel last week from South Africa under an extradition agreement.
The police had asked the court to extend Berland's detention for another four days for questioning in order to complete their investigation.
Some 1,000 of his followers protested his arrest outside the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court in support of their rabbi. Some of his supporters carried pictures of the rabbi or signs, with slogans such as "The people are with the saint." After hearing of the court's ruling, his followers broke out in song and dance – before they were told his release would be delayed for 24 hours.
Berland, 79, is one of the leaders of the Bratslav Hasidic movement in the country and is considered a holy man by his followers. He fled Israel in February 2013 after the police began investigating him.
He is suspected of five counts of sexual harassment against four different women, and two counts of indecent acts against women in his community of followers. He is also suspected of assault and sending adherents to attack someone.
On Sunday, Berland was forced to confront four of the women who have filed sexual abuse and harassment complaints against him, in a session that continued into the night at the headquarters of the Lahav 433 serious crimes investigation division. The police expect the investigation will lead to an indictment against him.
Since being brought back to Israel from South Africa last Tuesday, Berland has appeared before a judge in the Central District Court in Lod four times. After the last time, on Friday, the judge ordered him released, but the police appealed and his detention was extended until Monday afternoon.
Berland's attorney, Rachel Toren, filed a complaint on Sunday with Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh about the humiliating treatment she said the rabbi had been receiving from investigators, as well as about leaks from the investigation.
Since his return to Israel and his arrest, his adherents have been demonstrating in support of Berland constantly outside the Ayalon Prison in Ramla where he is being held.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Boro Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind is handing off his current Democratic 48th Assembly District leadership position to political upstart David Schwartz, KCP has learned.
If elected in the upcoming Sept. 13 Democratic primary, Schwartz, 22, will become both the borough's youngest Democratic District leader ever and Brooklyn's first Hasidic Democratic district leader.
"I'm very honored for the opportunity to run for the position of District Leader in the 48th Assembly District. I intend to work hard and encourage everyone in the community–young and old–to get involved in the political process, where everyone can make a difference," said Schwartz.
"With God's help I look forward to working with all of the local elected officials and County leader Frank Seddio for the benefit of the Community. I'm humbled that Assemblyman Hikind has given me the opportunity to run," he added.
Hikind said while he has enjoyed the unpaid role as district leader, whose responsibilities includes vetting potential judges, helping officials get on the election ballot and ensuring elections in the district go smoothly, he has been thinking about stepping down from the position for some time.
"While I enjoyed the opportunity to do some of the things district leaders do, I realized after 34 years in elected office, I'm busier than ever and I just decided to give all my time to that," said Hikind.
"David is a remarkable young man. He's out there in the community, he just got married and he's the salt of the earth type. He's the future. People like him. He's out there and very involved. He cares about things, and whatever he believes in he fights for. He's also the first Hasidic guy as a Democratic District leader in Brooklyn and maybe the entire city as well."
Hikind said he reached out to several people in the community about his plans, and all were very supportive of both his plans to step down from the district leadership position and picking Schwartz as his replacement.
Schwartz, originally from Williamsburg, moved into Borough Park recently after getting married. He currently works as a communications assistant in Hikind's office, but is well-known and liked in progressive Williamsburg circles as well.
A group of parents is questioning the motives of a Ramapo Central School District plan to trim transportation offerings next fall to private school students, with some saying it is an attempt to oust the Jewish community from an area that's seen a growth in the Orthodox and Hasidic population in recent years.
For many years, the district has provided students who attend non-public schools, such as yeshivas, with multiple busing routes in the morning and afternoon. But school officials say rising costs caused by an increase in the number of students who seek busing has prompted them to search for a more cost-effective way to manage the multi-million dollar transportation budget.
"It reeks of something else," said Andrea Jaffe, whose child attends Bais Yaakov of Ramapo. She added that she suspects there is "a discomfort with changing demographics in neighborhoods" within the Ramapo Central District, which serves Airmont, Hillburn, Sloatsburg, Montebello, Suffern and part of Monsey.
The Town of Ramapo, which is partially covered by the Ramapo Central School District, has experienced one of the most notable population increases in the lower Hudson Valley, from 108,905 people in 2000 to 128,335 in 2013, according to a study compiled by Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress. Much of the growth in Rockland County during that 13-year period was fueled by ethnic or religious groups, particularly the Hasidic or Jewish Orthodox communities and the Hispanic or Latino communities, the study said.
In early May, the district sent families a letter saying it can only accommodate one arrival time and one dismissal time for non-public schools. In addition, the district said each school would be restricted to one point for drop-offs and pick-ups — regardless of the number of buildings on a campus — and that the district would cease to provide busing to non-public or private schools on days when public schools are closed.
Deputy Superintendent Stephen Walker could not provide an estimate as to how much the district could save by paring down transportation. "There is no way to answer that particular question at this point because we do not know the number of non-public schools, the number of students or the number of buses and routes that will be required," he said.
As of now, he said officials continue to project an 8 percent increase — from $7.6 million to $8.2 million, which is six percent of the district's $134.5 million budget for the 2016-17 school year.
Based upon numbers provided by the district during a budget workshop earlier this year, 490 non-public school students were bused to 83 schools during the 2012-13 school year. For the coming school year, officials projected 772 students would require bus transportation to 105 schools.
Over the last few years, Walker said the administration has sought to reduce spending in several areas to become more cost-effective. Reductions have included library/media specialists, social workers, teaching assistants and technology facilitators, he said.
"Beyond that, we have been looking at our special-education services and providing more in-house programs in order to maintain quality while reducing costs. In a like manner, we have been looking at our transportation costs, which have gone up significantly over the past few years," Walker said.
Officials want to "align transportation services" with how such services are provided to district public school students, Walker said. For the district's seven public schools, the routes of buses, which are operated by Chestnut Ridge Transportation, Inc., are built around one arrival time and one dismissal time, however, at the middle school and high school, there are two late buses offered in the afternoon for students.
Walker also said the adjustments officials have made "are fully consistent" with what is required under state law — transportation for all students within the 15-mile radius.
"Our goal is to ensure that all students, regardless of whether they attend a public, private, parochial or non-public school, are transported on an equal basis," Walker said.
Jaffe, the mother of the Bais Yaakov student, said the district's plan would be "a drastic change," one that would impact hundreds of families. She said it could also put more cars on the road, as some parents would be forced to drive their kids to school. The district may also be required, she noted, to hire more bus drivers to accommodate transporting students at common arrival and departure times.
Alan Messner, whose son is going into eighth grade at Yeshiva of Spring Valley, said he believes the district has shown "no appreciation for the fact" that non-public schools operate in a different manner than public ones, in terms of curriculum or how the days are structured.
"They've made no assessment, just that they believe they can save money. There's been no indication of how many students it will affect, no safety considerations taken into consideration or the ramifications of traffic," Messner said. "It seems like a way to keep us out under the thinly veiled justification of business as usual."
Without a cost-saving estimate, Jaffe said, "It's a targeted cut with no math behind it."
"Private school parents believe that public school funding should remain strong. We get a limited amount of services, but we want to make sure we get the ones required by law ... It seems there is an underlying current of people who feel we don't deserve our legal mandated services due to race, ethnicity or religion," Jaffe said.
"We're exploring our legal options and we'll pursue whatever remedies we can," said Jaffe who is involved with a group of about 100 Jewish private-school parents opposed to the change.
While people can pursue appeals with the State Education Department over the transportation policy, a department spokesman said as of Thursday the state has not received any challenges.
Messner, who attended a recent school board meeting with his wife after learning of the changes, described the climate as "very hostile, vicious and anti-Semitic." He said , "People were cheering wildly and loudly 'Keep those people out.'
"It's quite ironic to go to the district administration building in Hillburn for the meetings," said Messner. The building was formerly Hillburn School, one of the first locations in the country that attorney and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall fought in the early 1940s to desegregate, a battle that set the stage for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ruling more than a decade later that ordered the ended of school segregation.
Walker said he would not "dignify" any suggestion that the district was discriminating against students who are Jewish.
"Our school district treats all students in our community in like fashion, whether they attend public schools, religious schools or private schools," he wrote in a email.
Thursday, July 21, 2016
The Town of Mamakating held a special session on July 13 to consider the Chestnut Ridge development in the Village of Bloomingburg.
After an extended executive session, the board voted unanimously to approve a 20-page resolution to rescind approvals and building permits for the Chestnut Ridge project.
Two days before on July 11, the Village of Bloomingburg Board voted to nullify Intermunicipal Agreements (IMAs) that gave the town authority for planning, zoning, and building activities.
Village attorney Philip Butler sent a letter to Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann on July 13 informing the town of the village action.
The Village Board of Trustees adopted a resolution that would terminate the IMAs entered into in 2014 regarding planning and zoning.
Butler directed the town to "cease and refrain" from further action "affecting real property within the Village."
At the special session of the planning board, Town Attorney Ben Gailey summarized the resolution for the approximately 200 people who attended.
The resolution cited "new evidence" disclosed by the federal court in April 2016. The new information showed adverse impacts on schools, the water supply, and traffic.
The resolution stated the board relied on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) prepared and submitted by the applicant/developer, Sullivan Farms II, Inc., which the resolution contends misrepresented the numbers of occupants and school age children.
The resolution contends the developers acted "'in complete secrecy' since at least early 2006 [sic], and as early as 2002, with the intent to develop the Chestnut Ridge project for exclusive occupancy by families that, on average, have eight children each," a possible reference to family size in the Hasidic community.
Chestnut Ridge was only the beginning of a huge change for tiny Bloomingburg. The resolution stated, "With the initial occupancy of these homes, the owners of Chestnut Ridge will effectively control the local government, its zoning, and ordinances."
The newly disclosed information said more development would occur in the next 10–15 years. The plan was to build "a 'giant and transformative' development [reference given] by annexing lands into the Village and constructing 5,000–7,000 dwelling units, community services buildings, offices, retail shopping, and large-scale commercial development on the lands adjoining the Chestnut Ridge project."
Michael Fragin, spokesman for developer Shalom Lamm, said "there has been no effort at any time on the part of the town to come to terms with the fact that there is a growing Hasidic community in their town."
The Town's resolution said there was evidence that this was planned for Hasidic residents from the beginning. "Importantly, the developers have discreetly acquired hundreds of additional contiguous acres in adjacent land parcels for future development and community infrastructure including schools, schuls (synagogue), mikvos (ritual purification bathing room), retail shopping, offices, Hatzoloh garage (Jewish EMS), Refuah center (health center), and large-scale commercial development combined, the scale of what has been accumulated without public knowledge is breathtaking."
It is hard to say, 'We welcome people of all religions, but yet we don't want to go ahead and allow religious people to practice their faith.'
— Michael Fragin, Spokesman, Chestnut Ridge Developer Shalom Lamm
About the town's opposition to a Hasidic school or a ritual bath being built, Fragin said, "It is hard to say, 'We welcome people of all religions but yet we don't want to go ahead and allow religious people to practice their faith.'"
The Planning Board's resolution flatly denies the anti-Hasidic charge. "The Board's May 24 resolution was solely motivated by the public disclosure in April 2016 of the developer's documents which demonstrate that the developer's principals Mr. Lamm and Mr. Nakdimen knew that they made material false statements and material misrepresentations in their EISs."
As more Hasids moved into the village, a referendum in 2014 was called to dissolve the village and assimilate it into the town. The referendum failed. If the referendum had passed, it was generally assumed that the town could mitigate the power of the Hasidic vote and have jurisdiction from within the town.
After the referendum, the FBI investigated voter fraud allegations against Shalom Lamm, who has been estimated to own as much as 70 percent of the properties in the village.
In 2014 Chestnut Ridge developers started construction, and they needed approvals and permits.
This is sleepy town USA. Bloomingburg didn't need to have a planning board other than for Chestnut Ridge.
— informed source
According to a third party source, "This is sleepy town USA. Bloomingburg didn't need to have a planning board other than for Chestnut Ridge. For years they would go months without a meeting."
The village board signed IMAs with Mamakating to manage the zoning board of appeals, planning board, building inspection, and code enforcement activities.
Mamakating took over. The town didn't have separate meetings for town and village boards, just a second agenda.
"I don't know if there was any difference between the two [boards]," said the source. Animosity began to build. Officials on both sides acted in bad faith, said the source.
Bloomingburg will have a public hearing on the change on Aug. 11, and the termination could go into effect Sept. 9, according to the Times Herald-Record.
Herrmann told the Record on July 15 that the "intermunicipal agreement clearly defines a 60-day termination period and, in the meantime, the town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals still have authority over the village."
"We obey the law here in Mamakating, and we honor our contracts," Herrmann said to the Record. "And that is the contract."
The village hereby gives the Town written notice that the Planning Board IMA and the Zoning Board of Appeals IMA shall be, and hereby are, terminated.
— Resolution of the Village Board of Bloomingburg on July 11
Fragin said "the village notified the town [on July 13] that they no longer had authority to act on behalf of the village. At the village meeting [on July 11] they voted to start that process. That intermunicipal agreement was cancelled at the last meeting."
The village resolution states that "the village hereby gives the Town written notice that the Planning Board IMA and the Zoning Board of Appeals IMA shall be, and hereby are, terminated."
A proposal was offered in May to find a solution that all parties could agree to. Lamm accepted the proposal but the town did not.
The town's resolution does not affect 51 lots and housing units that have already been built. No more housing may be sold or occupied, however, until fire code requirements have been satisfied.
Gailey said the developer may submit a new application "provided valid information complies with the state fire code and all applicable laws, rules, and regulations."
"I saw the power of misinformation and I saw the anger," the source said. "It's bad." The source believes the animosity vented at meetings was misplaced.
Construction at Chestnut Ridge "continues and will continue," Fragin said, but he doesn't like the ongoing litigation and hostility that continues to ferment among area residents.
Fragin bemoaned that the extended litigation was taking taxpayers' money. "The endless cycle of litigation, which is only serving to cause the good taxpayers of Mamakating and the area significant amounts of money, isn't benefiting anyone."
He calls it a shortcoming "that people are not sitting down and talking, and that's what should happen."
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
A feud between Hasidic and Modern Orthodox Jews over eruvs, the ritual boundaries that allow more mobility on the Sabbath, has apparently spread from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights to nearby Park Slope.
The Greater Crown Heights eruv has been cut down twice in the two last weeks. Now the adjacent Park Slope Eruv has also been felled.
The Park Slope wire was cut on Parkside Avenue, breaking the line from Ocean Ave to Park Circle on the southern edge of Prospect Park.
The Park Slope vandalism came after the barrier had stood undisturbed for years. A local police precinct was notified. A related investigation into the earlier vandalizations is also ongoing.
In a firmly worded public letter, an Orthodox congregation in Park Slope blamed the vandalism on the fight in Crown Heights — and pleaded with Jews to respect their eruv.
"We don't want the unrest of a neighboring community to spill over into ours," a public letter written on July 15 by the board of B'nai Jacob, an Orthodox congregation in Park Slope read.
"Please don't touch our eruv," the letter read.
Park Slope, a leafy residential neighborhood of brownstones, is among Brooklyn's most expensive neighborhoods. Sitting next to the rolling meadows of Prospect Park, the neighborhood is home to well-regarded public schools and dozens of destination restaurants.
B'nai Jacob, founded over a century ago, has weathered decades of shifting demographics and rising housing prices. In recent years, more Modern Orthodox Jews, the most liberal branch of Orthodoxy, have been moving to the Park Slope and nearby Prospect Heights. The Park Slope eruv surrounds both areas.
The synagogue touted its close ties to the Chabad Lubavitcher movement, which has denounced the Crown Heights eruv as a violation of Jewish law, but also insisted that the dispute has no place in Park Slope.
The Park Slope synagogue "has the utmost respect for the Crown Heights Chabad community. It is not our place to weigh in on internal disputes of another community."
"Please," the letter read, "don't destroy our communal peace in an attempt to control yours."
Crown Heights is home to thousands of Hasidic Jews and the global headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Hasidic pilgrims flock here to visit the one-time home of their late leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Schneerson, who died in the 1994 and is revered by some as the Messiah, is said to have objected to building an eruv in Crown Heights. As he anointed no successor, his edicts are rarely questioned. For decades, Crown Heights has gone without the enclosure, which would allow for certain activities on the Sabbath, like carrying bags or pushing strollers.
A recent influx of non-Hasidic Modern Orthodox Jews — drawn to Crown Heights because of affordable housing — organized and erected an eruv last month. The Greater Crown Heights Eruv, as it is known, is meant to serve the Modern Orthodox Jews and surrounds a huge portion of the neighborhood.
There is no evidence to link any Lubavitchers to the recent vandalization, though prominent Lubavitcher rabbis, including members of the Crown Heights beit din, condemned the new eruv. Posters decrying the eruv have also been plastered on traffic poles in the neighborhood.
The Modern Orthodox, for whom Schneerson's edict does not apply, consider the eruv religiously valid.
"This eruv is kosher to my community's standards," said Naftali Hanau, an eruv organizer who sits on the board of Congregation Kol Israel, the main Modern Orthodox synagogue in the area.
But prominent Lubavichers disagree.
"It is not possible to make an Eruv in Crown Heights according to halacha. Period," said Rabbi Yosef Heller, a leading local figure, to the local news site Collive. Using the eruv is "the same thing as Reform," Heller said in a transcribed speech, "who knows where it will end up."
Blooming Grove now has a town-wide law regulating home-buying solicitations in residential neighborhoods, spurred by the push by investors representing Hasidic interests to snap up homes in the southern part of town, and following a law previously enacted in the town's Village of South Blooming Grove.
In drafting the law, the Town Board did extensive study of a 20-page South Blooming Grove law regulating so-called "residential solicitation." Blooming Grove Supervisor Robert Fromaget said the Town Board passed the law 3-0 at its July 12 meeting, with two members absent.
As the Town Board worked toward developing the law, Fromaget said he'd gotten calls from homeowners in the Clove Road and Mountain Lodge sections of town complaining about the home-buying push. Those sections of the town are only about two miles northeast of the Worley Heights subdivision in the Village of South Blooming Grove, which has been inundated by offers from Hasidic home-buyers and their representatives.
Commenting on the board's approval of the law, Fromaget said it wasn't directed at any particular group. "It's directed at anybody who isn't allowing people to have peace and quiet and asking questions they shouldn't be asking," Fromaget said.
The law spells out a wide range of regulations, including licensing of door-to-door solicitors and forbidding solicitors to ring doorbells at homes bearing "No soliciting" signs.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016
Signs in both English and Yiddish are cropping up in high traffic areas of Sullivan County urging summer residents to slow down and respect their fellow drivers.
The signs are aimed at the thousands of summer guests who converge on the county and bring with them their metropolitan New York driving habits.
To counter those habits, the Jewish Community Council of Sullivan County has launched a new initiative with signs placed in and around Monticello, Woodridge, Liberty, Fallsburg, Thompson, and Bethel.
"Being on vacation from New York City is not a license to drive recklessly or without courtesy to others," said Moishe Grunhut, president of the community council.
Fallsburg Town Supervisor Steven Vegliante welcomed the new signs. "Our population in the Town of Fallsburg explodes during the summer months, which leads to traffic congestion and serious accidents on our roads," Vegliante said. "This new safety effort is a good way of getting out the message that summer residents, and year round residents too, should drive defensively and with courtesy toward others."
Bethel Town Supervisor Dan Sturm said the signs are a good messaging tool to get out the word to slow down and drive safely.
A goal of the community council effort is to serve as a bridge between the Orthodox and Hasidic communities, maintaining productive dialogue, encouraging understanding and networking, and resolving issues that may arise from between the two religious communities and local residents, community council officials said.
A fugitive rabbi wanted for years on suspicions of molesting his female followers was extradited from South Africa Monday and was detained upon arrival at Ben-Gurion airport
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious group, fled Israel to Morocco in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.
The arrest caps years of Israeli attempts to lasso Berland, 79, considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the Bratslav Hasidic sect.
Since 2013, Berland has eluded Israeli attempts to extradite him, moving between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.
Video of his flight to Israel showed supporters singing a Hasidic tune as Berland, wrapped in a prayer shawl and phylacteries, waved his arms.
Some 300 supporters were also on hand at the airport to welcome Berland back, though he was whisked from the plane directly into police custody, pausing only to kiss the ground, according to reports.
"Since he left the country in February 2013, the police have worked… to bring him back to Israel for questioning about the allegations against him… the process was completed this morning with his arrest at Ben Gurion airport," police said in a statement.
Berland, 79, is a cult-like figure to his students and followers. He is credited by his followers with inspiring tens of thousands of Jews to adopt an Orthodox Judaism lifestyle.
The rabbi, who has been accused of sexually assaulting female followers, has denied the allegations against him. He fought his extradition from the Netherlands in 2015 on the grounds that the alleged assaults happened in the West Bank and Israel does not have jurisdiction there. He later fled the Netherlands to avoid extradition.
He also twice escaped arrest by South African authorities, but was arrested in April after entering a hospital for treatment.
Approximately 700 supporters of the rabbi protested outside the South African Embassy in the Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan after his arrest, according to Israel National News.
Before boarding the plane, Berland sent a message to his followers asking them to maintain order. "I request that all of you behave calmly, politely, not to provoke the police, not to raise a hand, not to be disrespectful, not to utter unpleasant words. Everything must be done in accordance with halacha [Jewish law]," he wrote, according to the Ynet news website.
Berland's lawyer, Rachel Toran, said in a statement that the rabbi believed he would be cleared.
"He trusts the authorities to deal with the matter quickly and efficiently," she said in a statement. "We have no doubt that at the conclusion of the investigation, the suspicions against him will be disproved."
Monday, July 18, 2016
Rabbi Eliezer Berland, one of the leaders of the Breslov Hasidic movement, will be arrested upon his return to Israel from South Africa on Tuesday amid suspicions of sexual offences against women who sought his advice, among them a young girl.
His defense attorney said that Berland's exit from Israel was unrelated to the investigation and without knowledge of its existence. She added that he intends to cooperate with the authorities and hopes that it will be brought to a swift conclusion.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has raised a total of $3.99 million in the last six months, and developers continue to be among Gov. Andrew Cuomo's biggest donors. One of the largest contributions to the governor's re-election war chest this year comes from LLCs linked to the Durst Organization.
Two LLCs connected to Durst each donated $50,000 on July 11, bringing their total since 2015 to $200,000 — a sum that makes the donors the second-largest in this cycle so far, Politico reported. RXR Realty's Scott Rechler gave $50,000 on July 11 and two LLCs linked to SL Green Realty each wrote $25,000 checks, according to the latest filings with the state Board of Elections.
The largest donor so far is Kiryas Joel Builder Mayer Hirsch, who hasn't contributed in the last sixth months but has given a total of $250,000 to Cuomo this cycle. Kiryas Joel, a growing Hasidic community in Orange County, has been battling with neighboring municipalities and legislators over its plan to annex over 500 acres of land, which Cuomo in the past has described as unconstitutional.
The governor has mostly relied on big donors for his potential re-election campaign, with 44 percent of the $14 million raised coming from donors who have each contributed more than $44,000 since 2015. Roughly 85 percent of his funds were contributed by donors who gave more than $10,000.
Cuomo has long had strong ties with real estate. In his first term, most of his biggest donors came from the real estate industry.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Bosses at a Brooklyn nonprofit hid a man from his Orthodox colleagues because he didn’t look Jewish enough, he claims.
Co-workers at HASC Center questioned Timur Yakubov, 25, constantly as to whether he was Jewish — and angrily glared at him when he said he wasn’t a practicing Jew, he alleges.
When he complained about the peer pressure to be more religious, he was fired, Yakubov says in a Brooklyn federal wrongful-termination suit.
An HASC spokesman called the lawsuit “untrue and offensive.”
Co-workers at HASC Center questioned Timur Yakubov, 25, constantly as to whether he was Jewish — and angrily glared at him when he said he wasn’t a practicing Jew, he alleges.
When he complained about the peer pressure to be more religious, he was fired, Yakubov says in a Brooklyn federal wrongful-termination suit.
An HASC spokesman called the lawsuit “untrue and offensive.”
Saturday, July 16, 2016
A legislative candidate woke up this morning to an anti-Semitic hate message and a pair of swastikas spray-painted on his driveway and on a campaign sign in his yard.
Republican Arizona House candidate Adam Stevens was leaving his house this morning when he noticed something spray-painted on his home driveway.
“I had an appointment, nothing about the campaign, and I opened up my garage door and it all kind of went south from there,” he said.
On his driveway were the words “Go Home Jew” along with a swastika. The vandal or vandals also painted a swastika onto a campaign sign in Stevens’ yard. Stevens said he was shocked to see the graffiti, and has never experienced any discrimination due to his religion in his neighborhood before.
“You see it in the news that people have to deal with this kind of issue, not just anti-Semitism, but the gay community, the Hispanic community, the black community, our law enforcement. But when it’s literally at your front door, it’s a different process of taking it all in,” he said.
Stevens said he has no idea who would have put the graffiti on his driveway, but he’s pretty sure it is related to his campaign for the House in Legislative District 16, which covers Apache Junction, part of Mesa and San Tan Valley, where Stevens lives.
“I think that someone spray-painted my yard sign is pretty telling (that it’s related to the campaign),” he said.
But Kyle Moyer, Stevens’ campaign consultant, said the vandalism is far larger than a simple campaign matter.
“This isn’t a campaign issue. This is an indictment of everything that’s going on in our country and our state,” he said.
Moyer blamed “the very angry rhetoric” from prominent politicians, including presumptive presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, for fostering an environment in which it is acceptable to demonize groups of people.
Stevens said he doesn’t talk about his faith on the campaign trail unless it comes up organically in conversation, but he suspects someone was trying to intimidate him and force him out of the race.
“If they thought this was going to make me take a step back, they don’t know me very well. This will not have the effect that whoever did this hoped it would have,” he said.
Stevens said he has filed a police report and plans to invest in more security around his house. He said the “language of our politics” has become so divisive that dealing with hate messages is almost an expected part of the political process.
“I think this is someone who is hyper-aware of the LD16 campaign… But with the political rhetoric in the country, everyone just needs to take two seconds to catch their breath and start acting like reasonable people,” he said.
Stevens is running in a four-way GOP primary for the two House seats in the heavily Republican district. He faces Republican Rep. Doug Coleman, Rep. Kelly Townsend and former Republican Rep. John Fillmore.
Friday, July 15, 2016
Brooklyn's Orthodox community is mourning the apparent suicide of 22-year-old construction worker Yakov Krausz, whose body was discovered Wednesday in an elevator motor room, the Daily News reported.
His death marks at least the 26th suicide of a young adult in New York-area Orthodox community over the past ten months, according to Zvi Gluck, founder and director of the Orthodox social service group Amudim.
Members of the Boro Park Shomrim, a private Orthodox security patrol, organized a frantic search for Krausz on Wednesday afternoon after he missed a meeting with his wife, according to reports.
The Daily News reported that Krausz suffered from depression.
"I am completely out of words right now," wrote activist Boorey Deutsch, a relative of Krausz, in a public Facebook post.
As news of Krausz's death spread, friends circulated a parody version LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" created for Krausz's 2013 wedding.
Amudim's Gluck, who has been tracking suicides among men and women under the age of 35 in the Orthodox community in the New York area since last Rosh Hashanah, said that the Orthodox community needs to cultivate greater awareness of mental health issues.
"Once we can, as a community, accept that mental illness, sex abuse and addiction is as big a problem as it is, we can create programming to provide services," Gluck said. "We have to acknowledge that this is a problem that exists."
Krausz's suicide comes just weeks after Rebecca Wassertrum, 28, died after jumping off of the George Washington Bridge. That followed the July 2015 suicide of ex-Orthodox coder Faigy Mayer and the November 2015 suicide of Mayer's sister, Sarah Mayer.
Gluck said that, until recently, any death of a young person was blamed on an "aneurysm."
"It's the shame factor that's killing the next generation," Gluck said. "That's what we're trying to take away."
Thursday, July 14, 2016
A new coalition in the Hasidic community is pledging to improve instruction for their children, following complaints that dozens of New York City yeshivas fail to provide enough secular education.
The coalition, Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS, hired a team to create lessons in math and English that they believe will meet state standards.
This push comes after a group called Young Advocates for Fair Education sent the city Department of Education a letter a year ago saying 39 yeshivas, mostly in Brooklyn, fell far short of state mandates. The letter from former yeshiva students and current parents said these schools typically taught secular subjects for an average of 90 minutes a day, with boys age 13 and older being taught only Judaic studies.
Young Advocates for Fair Education demanded the city enforce a state law that requires private schools to provide an education "substantially equivalent" to public schools.
City officials say they are still investigating the complaints. The 39 yeshivas are among the roughly 260 Jewish day schools in New York City, which serve more than 100,000 students.
Avi Schick, an attorney who represents the 39 yeshivas, also serves as adviser to the PEARLS coalition, which includes rabbis with experience in politics, social services and education. He said this week the members aim to protect parents' choice to send children to religious schools while committing to better instruction. He said the group has embarked on "a serious, comprehensive and professional effort" to improve academics.
Naftuli Moster, executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education, said he hoped the new coalition was sincerely striving for change but was "very skeptical." He said he had heard about PEARLS being developed months ago as a "PR stunt…basically designed to mislead the DOE and the public" and to evade enforcement.
Mr. Schick, of PEARLS, said the curriculum overhaul took thousands of hours of work from many professionals, and Mr. Moster's comments "demonstrate a greater interest in bashing Hasidim than in enhancing education."
PEARLS has a public relations firm, Global Strategy Group, promoting its launch. In January, the coalition hired Richard Altabe, a former headmaster of a yeshiva where students take state Regents exams and Advanced Placement courses, to create lesson plans and teaching guides. Mr. Altabe said the new curriculum will meet the Common Core standards, a set of guidelines adopted by New York and most states spelling out skills that children should master in each grade.
Mr. Altabe said some yeshivas have been using materials that were decades old, and it was a challenge to develop materials sensitive to Hasidic families' needs, such as respect for their modesty in dress. He said he was working with publishers Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Sadlier-Oxford, some new lessons would be ready for fall, and some teachers would get training this summer.
Mr. Altabe said he believed these yeshivas would have sought changes even without the past year's scrutiny. "The microscope they have been put under has pushed them to do it on a grander scale," he said. The attention "brought them together and as a collective they could get much more done than as individual schools."
Chaim Jalas, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish geneticist in Borough Park whose twins attend yeshivas, supports PEARLS' goals. "We need to make sure our kids are going to be able to grow up and have jobs and be productive citizens," he said.
PEARLS' representatives declined to name the schools involved in the education overhaul but say they include an array of sects, such as Satmar, Lubavitch, Viznitz, Skver, Bobov, Belz, and Pupa. Many families speak mostly Yiddish at home.
Young Advocates for Fair Education hasn't released the names of the 39 schools, saying the people pushing for change didn't want to be ostracized. City Hall and education department officials also have kept the names of schools under investigation confidential and declined to say whether their review includes visiting the yeshivas.
Mr. Schick said representatives of the schools under scrutiny met with City Hall and education officials in May and June, and most plan to adopt the new curriculum.
"We have been in productive conversations with the schools for months while our investigations have continued and we are encouraged by the progress we've seen," Austin Finan, a City Hall spokesman, said in an email. "We are developing a mutual understanding on how to implement a high-quality, Common Core-aligned curriculum as soon as possible."
Consider the key card: a piece of plastic no bigger than a business card, flimsy and seemingly innocent. And yet it's also possibly the trigger to a cascade of changes that could transform the experience of the Sabbath by making a bevy of other devices, from iPads to stoves to cars, permissible on the traditionally low-tech day of rest.
That's the discussion that has been making the rounds in some Orthodox circles the past few weeks, after a recent rabbinical [ruling] loosened the prohibition on the use of a magnetic key card in, for example, a hotel on the Sabbath.
"It was a long battle, Shabbat fought back valiantly, but she ultimately lost the fight against technology," Ysoscher Katz, head of Talmud studies at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, an Orthodox rabbinical seminary in the Bronx, wrote on his public Facebook page.
The biblical prohibition against work on the Sabbath is traced to the books of Genesis and Exodus. "Six days shall work be done," God tells Moses, "but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest."
As the rabbinical tradition developed over the centuries, so, too, did the interpretation of what exactly this "work" means and what is prohibited. In contemporary Orthodox circles, scores of activities — notably the use of any technology at all or the handling of money — are prohibited from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. In Orthodoxy, there are 39 such types of work, melachot in Hebrew.
The latest ruling, given by an Orthodox rabbi named Eli Reiff earlier in July, and endorsed by a former member of the Orthodox Union Rabbi Nachum Rabinowitz, comes as Orthodoxy grapples to preserve religious boundaries in a modern world. Reiff edited a volume of essays by Rabinowitz, who heads a yeshiva in the West Bank and has served in high-profile position such as the dean of Jew's College, an adult education institution in London.
Some communities have already been grappling with cell phone use creeping into the Sabbath. Younger Jews in particular have taken to texting that day — a trend so widespread that some now talk about keeping "Half-Shabbat."
Many "young Orthodox Jews who keep half Shabbat don't see electricity or texting as a form of labor per se," Aryeh Younger, a Modern Orthodox Jew explained in an opinion piece in the Forward in 2013. "The reason that they use their cell phones or Facebook accounts on Shabbat is because they want to socialize with friends, not to work."
The use of magnetic keycards is likewise a deep concern to Sabbath observers.
"I am always receiving questions about how to get into one's hotel room on Shabbat, and I think if Rabbi Rabinowitz has signed off on it, it would be accepted by many many people — the need for such a ruling is huge," Rabbi Dov Linzer, the dean at Yeshivat Chovevei, wrote in an email to the Forward.
But both Katz and Linzer, prominent figures in Open Orthodoxy, which is considered Orthodoxy's most liberal fringe, have qualms about the ruling. It would make Sabbath observance easier for some, the rabbis said, but at what cost?
There "is a serious concern of opening the floodgates," Linzer wrote.
Katz worried about the day when Jews would "read their Shabbos prayers off Kindles, iPads or tablets."
A religious ruling of this kind, known as a psak, is not religiously binding — and some rabbinical arguments against the use of magnetic keys have already emerged in the past few days — but this ruling could certainly be cited and observed by many.
Electricity seems ubiquitous in our lives, but the new psak was not "striking the balance properly," Linzer wrote. "I believe that we should never allow the use of an electrical device or triggering of a motion sensor across the board and in all circumstances."
Over the past week, Katz — who was born into the Satmar Hasidic sect but has become a prominent voice in Modern Orthodoxy — took to Facebook multiple times to speak about the psak.
Scholars "over the years were not afraid to introduce accommodations that made Shabbos bearable for the elderly, the sick, the infirm, or anybody else who was unduly inconvenienced by the prohibitions," he wrote. "They correctly surmised that Shabbat would survive… a Shabbat elevator, or even a Shabbat microphone."
But the new psak, Katz wrote, "could potentially undermine the system completely."
"If digital action is not considered halakhically prohibited activity," Katz went on, "cooking would be muttar [permitted] since we light our stoves digitally. One would, for the same reason, also be allowed to drive a car on Shabbat."
To be sure, others downplayed the importance of the psak altogether — saying that it applies to only the more liberal strains of Orthodoxy.
"The left of Orthodox goes for these things," said Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone, who has a background in the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect. "The center wavers, the right wing comes out against it."
To thunderous applause from town residents, the Mamakating Planning Board on Wednesday night voted unanimously to rescind permits for the Chestnut Ridge townhouse development in Bloomingburg.
At its third attempt at a due process hearing on the matter since June 16, the board retreated immediately into executive session to consult with Town Attorney Ben Gailey, emerging an hour and 15 minutes later to greet a crowd on edge.
"Give us the news," one man shouted.
At stake was not just the approvals granted for the contentious 396-unit Hasidic development six years ago by the now-dissolved Bloomingburg Planning Board; at stake was the very future of this tiny, eastern Sullivan County village.
The due process hearing had been called to consider rescission of site plan approval after documents were published that showed the developers of Chestnut Ridge had bigger plans for the project than the 396 units approved in 2009.
The previously secret developers' documents described a long-term plan for a Hasidic Jewish community of up to 5,000 homes, and the ability of the new residents to outnumber Bloomingburg's population of 400 and take over the local government.
Summarizing the board's 20-page resolution to rescind the permits, Gailey said:
"Based on the new evidence received by the Planning Board in the documents that were disclosed by the federal court, based on the material change in facts that the board is now aware of, and based on the materially false statements and misrepresentations made by the developer during the project review process, that warrants and requires the rescission of development approvals."
Gailey further said those misrepresentations would have extreme adverse effects on the "fiscal impacts, water supply and traffic that are significantly at variance with the project review."
The rescission does not affect the 51 lots and dwellings already built, but applies to the remainder of the unfinished project, Gailey said.
No further building permits or certificates of occupancy are to be issued until the developer complies with state fire code and submits an amended plan. That compliance must be satisfied with the Department of State.
The developer may submit a new application if those requirements are met, Gailey said.
No representatives of the developer, Sullivan Farms, nor its attorneys, John Henry and Terresa Bakner, attended Wednesday's due process hearing. Bakner had previously promised a swift and punishing lawsuit against the town if the approvals were rescinded.
While the crowd was overwhelmingly ecstatic over the board's vote, some, like Bloomingburg resident Lesleigh Weinstein, remained cautiously optimistic.
"I'm glad they voted the way they voted," Weinstein said. "But in light of the village meeting on Monday, I'm concerned this victory will be short-lived."
The Village Board on Monday voted to reform a village planning board, and has 60 days in which to take back the town's authority over Chestnut Ridge.
New York City police commanders pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a "cops on call" federal corruption case with charges fueled by a Lincoln Tunnel lane closure and a prostitute who flew by private jet to Sin City for the Super Bowl.
Outside the courthouse, an attorney for the deputy inspector aboard that flight noted that the list of public officials who do not always fly commercial also includes former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
"I believe Mr. Kelly took a private jet, and he paid back the money," said John Meringolo, an attorney for NYPD inspector James Grant.
Kelly received some embarrassing attention in the New York Times for sharing five flights with the man who put him in office, billionaire former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to Florida in 2008 and 2009.
Though never accused of wrongdoing, Kelly's erstwhile scandal shares some parallels with the prosecution of four high-ranking NYPD officers.
Aside from the mile-high antics, the NYPD corruption case shines an uncomfortable light on Bloomberg's successor through Mayor Bill de Blasio's connection to real estate consultant Jeremy Reichberg.
A major de Blasio donor, Reichberg is accused of bribing Inspector Grant and three other officers in exchange for favors to the Hasidic neighborhood of Borough Park, where he serves as the NYPD's community liaison.
Prosecutors say Grant accepted a $59,000 flight, accompanied by a prostitute for Super Bowl XLVII weekend, plus hand-delivered Christmas gifts for his wife and children at the Staten Island home. When Grant's family stayed at "most luxurious hotel in Rome," their $1,066 tab was taken care of, according to the indictment.
Grant came under fire by a federal grand jury Friday, alongside former Deputy Chief of Department Michael Harrington and Sgt. David Villanueva of the License Division.
Grant, Harrington and Reichberg denied the charges against them today at a brief arraignment in the Southern District of New York.
Richard Ochetal, a police officer who is now cooperating with the government, pleaded guilty last month to helping arm a Hasidic neighborhood watch group called the Shomrim in exchange for bribes.
Together, the officers received "well more than $100,000" in return for a "private police force" for their benefactors and their friends, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference last month.
"Effectively, they got cops on call," Bharara told reporters on June 20, announcing the charges.
Defense attorneys revealed little about their strategy during today's arraignment, which lasted only a few minutes.
But Grant's attorney Meringolo said that that the Supreme Court's recent decision loosening federal bribery laws would benefit his client's case.
On June 27, the high court overturned Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell's convictions for accepting $175,000 in loans and gifts, including a Rolex and a shopping spree for his wife at Bergdoff Goodman.
In the wake of the decision, Meringolo said: "We believe the government will have a very, very hard time prosecuting the case."
When asked about allegations that Reichberg used his NYPD connections to close a lane of the Lincoln Tunnel for a business colleague, Meringolo dismissed the claim as "puffery" from the cooperating witness.
Prosecutors have not named the officer they accuse of closing the lane for Meringolo, but they have fingered Grant as the reason police released one of Reichberg's colleagues whom an officer said had been "driving like a fucking lunatic."
If true, Meringolo said, that kind of infraction is usually dealt with through administrative charges.
Meringolo also invoked presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's recent avoidance of charges over classified-email handling as secretary of state. The FBI found that Clinton had been "extremely careless" but lacked criminal intent.
Meingolo said Grant's situation is "similar," but would not concede that his client Grant had broken any statutes, willfully or not.
"My client wants to have his day in court, and we take the position that he will be exonerated," he said.
A hearing has been scheduled for the afternoon of Tuesday, July 19.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
A controversial new eruv designed to serve Modern Orthodox Jews in the traditionally Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights was allegedly vandalized — days after leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitcher group said the ritual barrier was not approved by rabbinic authorities.
The wire that is erected around Orthodox areas allowing for otherwise-prohibited activities on the Sabbath was cut and torn down twice in the last week, members of the growing Modern Orthodox community in the neighborhood said.
"It was broken in 20 places," said Naftali Hanau, a Crown Heights resident who advocated for the new eruv. "This was clearly vandalized."
The first episode of alleged vandalization took place sometime last week, Hanau said. Hanau and other eruv advocates repaired the ritual wire before the Sabbath, but vandals, he said, tore down the eruv again on July 11. The eruv is only three weeks old.
It is not clear who might have damaged the eruv. Hanau said police were notified but there was no word on any suspects.
Crown Heights has gone for decades without an eruv. The late Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson had forbidden that an eruv be used in the neighborhood for religious legal reasons and his edicts are generally maintained by Chabad leaders.
Prominent Chabad rabbis have condemned the new eruv and the Crown Heights rabbinical court issued an edict saying that the neighborhood "does not have a kosher eruv in all its borders."
Rabbi Avrohom Osdoba and Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Halevy Segal said in the order that the eruv was not kosher and called the erection of the eruv "the devastation of the Shabbat in our honorable neighborhood."
Despite the rabbis' condemnation of the eruv, there is no evidence that Chabad members are responsible for the vandalism. A Chabad spokesman declined to comment.
The push for the new eruv is powered by a growing Modern Orthodox community in the neighborhood better known as the spiritual center of the Chabad Hasidic sect. Priced out of other areas of Brooklyn, Modern Orthodox Jews have been moving to Crown Heights in recent years. But members of the Chabad community who have called this Brooklyn neighborhood home for years — through the Crown Heights riots of 1991, and well before the rapid gentrification of the borough — feel that their Hasidic culture is threatened by the recent influx of more moderate Jews.
Modern Orthodoxy is a liberal stream within Orthodoxy that notably allows for an expanded communal role of women.
The eruv, which allows observant Jews to move more freely during the Sabbath, encircles all of Crown Heights and portions of some surrounding neighborhoods, such as Prospect Heights, Lefferts Gardens and Brownsville. The portion of the new eruv that was vandalized runs alongside the east perimeter of Prospect Park, near the Brooklyn Museum.
Disputes over Jewish ritual boundaries like this are nothing new.
Fighting over eruvs has a long history and Jews (and non-Jews) have sparred over the marking of religious space many times in recent years. Eruv supporters generally carry the day. There are hundreds of eruvs in cities around the world — every town in Israel has one — but some of them are very controversial.
Here are five notable territorial disputes in recent memory.
1. In 2000, the Hasidic enclave of Borough Park was divided over whether the neighborhood could have an eruv or not. According to a New York Times article at the time, it was mostly Hasidic women who pushed for a neighborhood expansion of a small eruv that had been erected for a disabled boy.
"The people seeing the biggest benefit are the young mothers who used to be locked up in the house," said Rabbi Efraim Blumenberg, the president of the Eruv Society of Boro Park. "Now you see them going out. The whole world is opened up for them. The benefit is so strong it overshadows everything."
Some rabbis, through worried that the eruv would "cheapen" the Sabbath. "It makes it look like a weekday, and that is not something we want to see," said Rabbi Shaul Bick. The eruv stayed though, making it the first large-scale eruv in a mostly Hasidic New York city neighborhood.
2. In Northwest London, a bitter eruv dispute was drawn out for more than a decade, Haaretz reported.
Secular Jews, and non-Jews, worried that the neighborhood would be flooded with Orthodox, changing its character. "It is a physical claim of territory which the majority of people find inappropriate," one critic said.
But supporters of the eruv said it would benefit the thousands of Orthodox Jews who called the place home. "The eruv would definitely improve the quality of my life dramatically," one Jewish mother told the Guardian. "I don't see why it can't happen. It's a technical boundary which doesn't impinge on anybody. What's the difference between it and a parish boundary?"
In 2003, the eruv was finally approved and erected.
3. In the Hamptons, members of the Hampton Synagogue on Sunset Avenue began pushing for an eruv in 2008, hoping to enclose Westhampton Beach and neighboring Quogue, both villages within the town of Southampton. The dispute here attracted a huge amount of attention, even earning a mention by John Stewart on Comedy Central.
The Hamptons are home to large secular and Reform Jewish population who objected to what they feared would be an influx of Orthodox Jews. Arnold Sheiffer, who belonged to a group called Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, told the New York Times that an eruv would "create another ghetto" in the Hamptons. "As a Reform Jew, I find it extremely offensive to create a distinction that this is a Jewish area," he said.
The dispute resulted in federal lawsuits — three of them. The eruv supporters have come out on top.
4. In Venice Beach, California, an Orthodox eruv proposal came under fire from local environmentalists, concerned that the 4 miles of fishing line used in the eruv would disturb birds' nesting areas. Mark Massara, a Sierra Club official, objected at one hearing: "This is really nuts. To the extent that we're allowing public property to be used for religious purposes, it is very troublesome."
After much back-and-forth, the Orthodox congregation behind the eruv made a concession. They agreed to put metallic streamers on the fishing line near the nesting area to warn off birds, the Jewish Journal reported in 2006, and the eruv was given the go-ahead.
5. An eruv proposal in 2013 ignited a tense battle among residents of the Miami Beach neighborhood of Pinetree Park. In 2014 an atheist organization objected to the eruv. The Freedom From Religion Foundation demanded the eruv be dismantled.
"The religious significance of eruv[s] is unambiguous and indisputable," the group wrote. "They are objects which are significant only to some Jews as a means to obey religious laws that have no bearing on non-adherents. They have no meaning except as a visual, public communication of a purely religious concept for religious believers of a single faith. The City cannot allow such permanent religious displays to be erected on public land."
Miami Beach — which has a large Orthodox population — has stood behind the eruv. The whole debate even inspired a movie.