Wednesday, March 31, 2010

After Lazar Loss, Dov Hikind May Be Next Target Among Brooklyn Jews 

On the day after David Greenfield's stunning 18-point special election victory over Joe Lazar, leaders in the Hasidic community of Boro Park were already making calls about the elections this November.

But they were not looking for a candidate to run against Greenfield—though he will have to run again for the Council seat he just won.

Instead, these leaders were gauging the interest in running a Hasidic candidate against Assembly Member Dov Hikind, the longtime Orthodox Jewish powerbroker who strongly backed Lazar, according to an individual who has been approached by multiple people about running against Hikind.

“The question everyone is asking today is: Who is running against Dov?” the person said.

Leaders of Hasidic social-services and religious groups are angry about being strong-armed into endorsing Lazar under the threat of losing funding from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Hikind ally, the person said.

During the Council campaign, meanwhile, younger voters proved to be independent of the religious and yeshiva leaders who lent their support to Lazar, finding new means of mobilizing through technology such as text messaging.

If the community could find someone from the Hasidic community who had political connections like David Greenfield—who knocked on 12,000 doors during the campaign—perhaps it could topple Hikind, say local political operatives.

Mark Botnick, Greenfield’s campaign manager, said the Council campaign proved that Hikind could be beaten.

“I think he’s clearly vulnerable,” Botnick said.

Hikind did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Hikind remains formidable. He still has $1.4 million in his campaign account. His member items also give him a foothold in the community: Last year alone, he doled out $2.2 million.

Though Hikind and Greenfield have a contentious relationship, those close to Greenfield say there is virtually no chance he would spearhead his own effort to get a candidate against Hikind this fall or anytime in the near future.

A more likely target for Greenfield is Assembly Member Steven Cymbrowitz, who represents a district covering the Sephardic community—for whom Greenfield has served as a political liaison the past five years, and which still serves as Greenfield’s political base. Greenfield is also said to have a genuine disdain for Cymbrowitz, according to people close to him.

The bigger question surrounding Hikind, observers say, is whether he will continue to wield the kind of clout that has made a trip to Boro Park a necessary stop for any candidate running for citywide or statewide office in the past two decades.

In two recent elections, Hikind’s preferred candidates have not done particularly well in Boro Park. In 2008, he backed Kevin Parker, who won his race but lost big in the neighborhood to then-Council Member Simcha Felder. In 2009, the same scenario played out in the adjacent Council district when Brad Lander, who secured Hikind’s endorsement early on, won the seat despite performing in the teens in Boro Park. These defeats could be explained away—the candidates came from other neighborhoods and did not share the values of the largely Orthodox community there. Plus, both candidates ultimately won their races.

This time, though, the contest was between two Orthodox Jews—and Hikind still could not deliver a majority of votes in Boro Park.

In the future, will someone like Comptroller John Liu stick his neck out to endorse Hikind’s candidate, simply because Hikind had endorsed him during the comptroller’s race?

Yosef Rapaport, the political editor of the prominent Jewish newspaper Hamodia, says probably not.

“The real powerbrokers now are the Sephardics,” Rapaport said. “The Hasidic community is totally divided in two.”

In backing Lazar over Greenfield, Hikind may have dredged up animosity among this group, which could cause problems for him down the road.

But Rapaport argued that young people in Boro Park fail to understand the rationale behind the way Hikind operates.

As a politically conservative religious community stuck in the middle of a liberal, secular city, the kind of deal-making and horse-trading Hikind engages in are necessary to get the resources the community needs, Rapaport argued.

With the younger generation increasingly able to get information on these kinds of maneuvers on popular Jewish blogs like Yeshiva World, the backroom deals are now suddenly out in the open. During the campaign, the attention given to Hikind’s attempts to narrow the field of candidates that would run against Greenfield fed into this perception.

Still, Rapaport believes this new level of transparency and a desire for cleaner government from the younger generation could have negative consequences.

“They don’t pay deference to their own determent,” Rapaport said. “They don’t understand that this is how the sausage is made.”

As Hikind tries to look past the results of the Council election, he must do so in a neighborhood that has undergone rapid change since he was first elected in 1983. The Conservative Orthodox population that was once the majority of Boro Park has made an exodus to the suburbs in recent decades as the ultra- Orthodox Hasidic population has grown.

Hikind’s profile, too, has grown in some respects in recent years. He has become one of New York’s best-known defenders of Israel, and his frequent trips there garner international-news attention. But critics say there is a perception afoot that he has become more loyal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than to his constituents.

Ezra Friedlander, the CEO of the consulting and lobbying firm The Friedlander Group, said that Hikind’s real problem is that because he has been the undisputed leader of Boro Park for so long, he has not felt the need to promote his accomplishments.

He has not faced a competitive election in decades, and his name recognition in the neighborhood is not what it once was.

Friedlander suggested Hikind go on a public relations blitz to let the younger generation know of all the things he is doing to help the community.

“Does he toot his own horn? Not enough,” Friedlander said. “This is the age of Twitter and Facebook. He needs to find the Hasidic equivalent of that.”



Monday, March 29, 2010

Passover in Brooklyn: Orthodox Jews kick off holiday by burning bread 

Jews observed the the Biur Chametz (burning of the bread) across the city Monday in a ritual marking the arrival of Passover.

All leavened products must be destroyed to make households ready for Passover, which begins at sundown Monday with the first seder.

The eight-day holiday celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.

The Bible tells of the Israelites leaving Egypt in such haste they could not wait for their bread dough
to rise. Matzo, or unleavened bread, also symbolizes redemption and freedom.

Religious Jews braved the rain and gathered outside the Sara Schenirer Teachers Seminary, 4622 14th Ave., in Borough Park, Brooklyn, to feed a fire enclosed by metal barricades.

Fire Department officials stress the importance of metal barricades or metal cans to prevent stray embers.

The blessing recited as the bread is burned is:

"All leaven or anything leavened which is in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have observed it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be considered nullified and ownerless as the dust of the earth."



Proposed NY Child Abuse Bill Being Fought by Religious Leaders 

Religious leaders in New York State continue to fight a proposed child abuse law that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children. According to The New York Times, opposition to the law, known as the Child Victims Act, is being led by the Catholic Church, and a loose coalition that includes leaders of the Hasidic and Sephardic Jewish institutions in Brooklyn.

The impetus for the Child Victims Act was the Roman Catholic Church child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked New York, as well as much of the country, over the past decade. Because of the current statute of limitations, hundreds of claims filed in recent years against Catholic priests and dioceses in New York have been dismissed.

Currently, the deadline for bringing such a lawsuit in New York is 5 years after a victim turns 18. The Child Victims Act would give victims a one-year exemption from the statute of limitations. Regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred, they could file suit in civil court. At the year’s end, time limits on such claims would be restored, but with a wider window: Instead of a five-year period after turning 18, victims would have 10 years to file claims.

The Child Victims Act has been proposed before, but never passed. Republicans in the state Senate had always been able to block the bill. But, the Democrats now control the legislature. What’s more, Gov. David Paterson is a proponent of the act, and would likely sign it if it is passed.

The prospect that the Child Victims Act could become law has prompted a massive lobbying effort by religious leaders seeking to defeat it. According to The New York Times, earlier this month, Cardinal Edward M. Egan and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn visited Albany this week to voice their opposition. Lawmakers have also been bombarded by an avalanche of emails from a network of Catholic parishioners.

Some other states have already adopted laws similar to the New York Child Victims Act. In California alone, such a measure has allowed the adult victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy to win between $800 million to $1 billion in damages and settlements.



Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kiryas Joel builders battling in court 

In a place where housing demand never lets up, an ugly court battle has halted sales at a partially built condominium complex whose developer is nearly $39 million in arrears.

The developer, Abraham Goldberger, claims in a lawsuit that Jacob Sofer — a fellow builder and neighbor in the Hasidic Jewish community of Kiryas Joel — betrayed him to seize control of the 342-unit project and monopolize the local housing market in which they compete.

Goldberger says he enlisted Sofer to negotiate a reduction in the $39 million bank debt, but that Sofer instead bought the mortgages off KeyBank through an entity called Lexington Funding Group and then demanded Goldberger repay the full amount.

Goldberger calls Sofer "a thief" in a court statement. "The court should note that Sofer lives three doors down from me and prays at the same synagogue as I do," Goldberger says. "He is no stranger."

A Montgomery attorney representing Lexington Funding Group in both the Goldberger lawsuit and the mortgage foreclosure that Lexington began this month dismisses Goldberger's claims as fanciful distractions in a simple case of loan default.

"It's baseless nonsense," says attorney Stewart Rosenwasser. "This is a straight foreclosure action. There's nothing more to it than that."

Sofer echoed those remarks Friday, saying, "Everybody's using every defense in the book that they can." When asked if Goldberger had enlisted him to negotiate with KeyBank on his behalf, he answered, "No."

The condo complex is taking shape off Bakertown Road on the outskirts of Kiryas Joel. About half of the 42 buildings have been built, and 89 units had been sold by the time Goldberger filed his lawsuit. Under an agreement with village officials, some units are being sold as affordable housing at below-market prices.

Court papers show that Goldberger and his financial backers borrowed about $50 million over five years from Union State Bank and KeyBank to buy the expensive land — $20 million for 30 acres — and pay for construction. KeyBank inherited the Union State mortgages when it bought Union State in 2008.

The loan balance came due on Sept. 30. Goldberger says he urged KeyBank to slash his debt because of the depressed housing market. He brought Sofer into the discussions, he says, because Sofer could vouch for Kiryas Joel home prices, but also because he could afford to buy the KeyBank mortgages at a reduced price — an option that Goldberger says the two builders discussed.

Instead, KeyBank demanded full payment on Dec. 31, not mentioning that it sold the mortgages that same day to Lexington Funding Group. Lexington had been incorporated two weeks earlier.

In his lawsuit, Goldberger accuses Sofer of breaching his "fiduciary duty" by cutting his own deal with KeyBank. He's seeking damages and a cancellation of the debt; the defendants include KeyBank and one of its executives.

Rosenwasser counters that no evidence exists that Sofer ever acted on Goldberger's behalf, saying, "You can't create a fiduciary relationship without" a written document. Neither he nor Sofer would identify the investors who make up Lexington Funding Group. Rosenwasser says Goldberger rebuffed Lexington's proposals for paying off the debt.



Saturday, March 27, 2010

‘Next Year in the White House’: The Obama Seder 

One evening in April 2008, three low-level staff members from the Obama presidential campaign — a baggage handler, a videographer and an advance man — gathered in the windowless basement of a Pennsylvania hotel for an improvised Passover Seder.

The day had been long, the hour was late, and the young men had not been home in months. So they had cadged some matzo and Manischewitz wine, hoping to create some semblance of the holiday.

Suddenly they heard a familiar voice. “Hey, is this the Seder?” Barack Obama asked, entering the room.

So begins the story of the Obama Seder, now one of the newest, most intimate and least likely of White House traditions. When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about 20 others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize.

In the Old Family Dining Room, under sparkling chandeliers and portraits of former first ladies, the mostly Jewish and African-American guests will recite prayers and retell the biblical story of slavery and liberation, ending with the traditional declaration “Next year in Jerusalem.” (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)

Top aides like David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett will attend, but so will assistants like 24-year-old Herbie Ziskend. White House chefs will prepare Jewish participants’ family recipes, even rendering chicken fat — better known as schmaltz — for just the right matzo ball flavor.

If last year is any guide, Malia and Sasha Obama will take on the duties of Jewish children, asking four questions about the night’s purpose — along with a few of their own — and scrambling to find matzo hidden in the gleaming antique furniture.

That event was the first presidential Seder, and also probably “the first time in history that gefilte fish had been placed on White House dishware,” said Eric Lesser, the former baggage handler, who organizes each year’s ritual.

As in many Jewish households, the Obama Seder seems to take on new meaning each year, depending on what is happening in the world and in participants’ lives (for this group, the former is often the same as the latter).

The first one took place at the bleakest point of the campaign, the long prelude to the Pennsylvania primary, which was dominated by a furor over Mr. Obama’s former pastor. “We were in the desert, so to speak,” remembered Arun Chaudhary, then and now Mr. Obama’s videographer, who grew up attending Seders with his half-Jewish, half-Indian family.

No one led the proceedings; everyone took turns reading aloud. Mr. Obama had brought Reggie Love, his personal aide, Ms. Jarrett and Eric Whitaker, another close friend, all African-American. Jennifer Psaki, the traveling press secretary, and Samantha Tubman, a press assistant, filtered in. Neither had ever been to a Seder, but they knew the Exodus story, Ms. Psaki from Catholic school and Ms. Tubman from childhood Sundays at black churches.

They peppered the outnumbered Jews at the table with questions, which the young men sometimes struggled to answer. “We’re not exactly crack Hebrew scholars,” said Mr. Lesser, now an assistant to Mr. Axelrod.

Participants remember the evening as a rare moment of calm, an escape from the din of airplanes and rallies. As the tale of the Israelites unfolded, the campaign team half-jokingly identified with their plight — one day, they too would be free. At the close of the Seder, Mr. Obama added his own ending — “Next year in the White House!”

Indeed, the group, with a few additions, has now made the Seder an Executive Mansion tradition. (No one considered inviting prominent rabbis or other Jewish leaders; it is a private event.)

But maintaining the original humble feel has been easier said than done.

Ms. Tubman and Desirée Rogers, then the White House social secretary, tried to plan an informal meal last year, with little or even no wait staff required. White House ushers reacted with what seemed like polite horror. The president and the first lady simply do not serve themselves, they explained. The two sides negotiated a compromise: the gefilte fish would be preplated, the brisket passed family-style.

Then came what is now remembered as the Macaroon Security Standoff. At 6:30, with the Seder about to start, Neil Cohen, the husband of Michelle Obama’s friend and adviser Susan Sher, was stuck at the gate bearing flourless cookies he had brought from Chicago. They were kosher for Passover, but not kosher with the Secret Service, which does not allow food into the building.

Offering to help, the president walked to the North Portico and peered out the door, startling tourists. He volunteered to go all the way to the gates, but advisers stopped him, fearing that would cause a ruckus. Everyone seemed momentarily befuddled. Could the commander in chief not summon a plate of cookies to his table? Finally, Mr. Love ran outside to clear them.

Mr. Obama began the Seder by invoking the universality of the holiday’s themes of struggle and liberation. Malia and Sasha quickly found the hidden matzo and tucked it away again, so cleverly that Mr. Ziskend, the former advance man, needed 45 minutes to locate it. At the Seder’s close, the group opened a door and sang to the prophet Elijah.



Friday, March 26, 2010

Rubashkin attorneys take bail dispute to SCOTUS 

Attorneys for the former day-to-day manager at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse lower court decisions that he remain in jail pending sentencing on numerous fraud-related convictions. Sentencing in the case is scheduled for next month.

The appeal was docketed March 15 on behalf of Sholom Rubashkin by attorney Nathan Lewin, a long-time friend of the Rubashkin family well-known in both Jewish and judiciary circles for his defense of Pres. Richard Nixon, U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese, actress Jodie Foster and several prominent Orthodox Jewish individuals. Counsel has appealed directly to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who presides over the Iowa judicial district in which Rubashkin’s case is being heard, to grant immediate release on bail pending his sentencing and further appeals.

Rubashkin was convicted by a South Dakota federal jury in November 2009 on 86 of 91 possible fraud-related counts in conjunction with his actions at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, which was the location of a massive immigration enforcement action in May 2008 that both pushed the plant into bankruptcy and decimated the local economy. Although Rubashkin faced a separate federal trial on immigration-related offenses, the government dismissed that case with prejudice following the 2009 convictions.

The Postville raid remains one of the largest single-site immigration enforcement actions in U.S. history, and Lewin asserts that federal prosecutors have been overzealous in the Rubashkin prosecution from the start, submitting him to considerably more severe restrictions and potential punishment than other employers targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. Lewin also believes that the judge presiding over Rubashkin’s case allowed prejudicial evidence of alleged immigration infractions into the fraud-related case.

Such perceived irregularities in the case continue to incense the Orthodox Jewish community of which the Rubashkin family is a part. Key among their questions is the government’s assertion that Rubashkin, a father to 10 children and prominent member of the Postville Jewish community, is a flight risk if he were to be granted bail pending sentencing and appeal. The latest blow to the Rubashkin bail hopes came in February when the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to act on petition requests.

“We are deeply concerned about the seeming pattern of overzealous prosecution in this case,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel.

Similarly, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, reported that “the volume of e-mails and phone calls we have received about the Rubashkin case has reach a loud crescendo in recent weeks, as the full horror of how he is being singled out for harsh treatment has become strikingly clear.”

Those who believe Rubashkin has been treated unjustly have launched a new Web site to present their case, Justice for Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. The former plant supervisor faces several decades in prison at his upcoming sentencing.

In addition to the federal case, Sholom Rubashkin, his father A. Aaron Rubashkin and other plant officials also face state charges of child labor law violations.



Man rejects eruv wire across front window 

A PENSIONER is fighting to shift the position of a metal pole to be placed outside his house as part of a religious boundary.

Walter Fenner, 82, from Stapleton Road, Borehamwood, met with Hertsmere Borough Council’s planning committee on Wednesday afternoon to discuss putting the pole in a different place.

The boundary around Borehamwood, called an eruv, was approved in July 2007, and amendments to the plan were unanimously approved by councillors in November last year.

The poles will create an area in which Orthodox Jews can carry out tasks usually prohibited on the Sabbath, such as carrying or pushing. Currently, some observant Jews who have small children or have to walk with an aid cannot leave the house on the Sabbath and therefore cannot visit a synagogue.

Mr Fenner said: “I have no objection to the eruv itself but I just don’t want the pole to be where it is. It will be up against my front garden wall and as my house is raised up from the street, the wire will be in my sight line across my front window.

“I have given them three alternative locations and all of them have been rejected. No decision was made at the meeting and I have been informed I will be told later what will happen.”

The eruv will have wires on poles 6m high, linking existing structures, such as fences and walls.

Mr Fenner added: “How many people are actually aware of where exactly the poles are going to go in their areas? If they realised, they may have objections too.

“I will wait now and see what happens but I’m not positive about the outcome.”

Councillor Derrick Gunasekera (Conservative), chairman of the Elstree and Borehamwood planning committee, said: “The meeting was good to get everyone together to talk about the situation.

“We are now going back to the drawing board and planning officers will sit down with highways officers to come up with a decision, which we hope to have shortly.”



Synagogue Vandalism in Montreal Ruled as Hate Crime 

Vandals broke into Congregation Ahavath Israel d’Chasidei Viznitz in Montreal Friday night. Montreal police are treating the attack as a hate crime due to the graffiti of two swastikas on the bimah (pulpit). The synagogue is located in Outremont a Montreal neighbourhood that is known as the heart of Montreal’s Hasidic community.

Police say vandals broke a window in the synagogue’s basement to gain entry sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. Members of the congregation discovered the synagogue in disarray when they arrived Saturday morning around 6 a.m. for Shabbat prayer services. Over one-hundred members of the area’s Hasidic community worship at Ahavath Israel, some of which are Holocaust survivors.

Adam Atlas, President of the Quebec Jewish Congress, a division of the Canadian Jewish Congress spoke to Shalom Life about the incident. “They [the vandals] used the black marker that they found in the synagogue to draw the swastikas. The black markers were used for touching up the tefillin.” Atlas claims that tension between Outremont’s Hasidic community and other residents of the borough has been growing due to some inhabitants distaste for Hasidism. “The Hasidic community lives with a certain measure of angst, a kind of persistent tension where there is very obviously hostility towards the Hasidic community.”

Synagogue administrator Hersch Ber Hirsch told the Montreal Gazette that the congregation maintains great relationships within the Outremont populace despite the fact that some of the people in the community have an aversion to ultra-Orthodox Judaism.

CTV News Montreal reported that the attackers also threw religious symbols such as prayer books and shawls to the ground. It is not the first time that this particular synagogue has been vandalized when a few months ago a window was broken. However, the first attack was not ruled as a hate crime.

As of press time the police have no suspects and are investigating the surveillance footage of the neigbouring buildings. The synagogue does not have a security system but the leaders of Ahavath Israel are looking into beefing up security by installing security cameras around the building. Fortunately, the torah was in a safe and was not harmed in the attack.

A recent study put forth by B’nai Brith Canada claims Anti-Semitic incidents reached an all time high in Canada in 2009. The organization further states that there has been a five-fold increase in episodes of Anti-Semitic nature of the last decade.



Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kosher soup kitchen opens in Rego Park 

At the first kosher soup kitchen in Queens, it is nearly impossible to tell this is a place for the down-and-out.

Rego Park’s Orenstein-Met Council-Masbia Community Kitchen, which opened last week, looks like a restaurant with its soft lighting, family-sized tables and walls adorned with paintings. Waiters and waitresses serve individuals who can enclose their eating area with an ivory curtain and the only way someone would know they are not in one of Queens Boulevard’s many cafés is the absence of a check.

“There are many people who need a meal but find it depressing to go into an institutional environment, especially people who had a good income all their lives,” said Rabbi David Cohen, the former executive vice president of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, which helped to launch the soup kitchen. “This is charity, but they don’t have to feel it is. They don’t have to feel embarrassed to bring their kids here.”

The Met Council and Masbia, a nonprofit founded by Orthodox Hasidic Jews, officially opened the soup kitchen at 98-08 Queens Blvd. March 17 with significant financial funding from Henry and Susie Orenstein, an elderly couple who have underwritten kosher soup kitchens throughout the city.

“I’ve been to nice restaurants, and they’re not nearly as nice as this place,” said Orenstein, a Holocaust survivor who helped to create the 1980s television show “Transformers.” “You can serve people who can retain their dignity here. They’re in a place they’d like to be.”

The kitchen will be open Sunday through Thursday from around 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. The menu includes items like soup, chicken, vegetables, some type of starch and a desert.

“Every day we have fresh food,” said Menashe Silber of Masbia. “People don’t die of hunger, they die of shame, and we want people to come here. We want this to look like a normal restaurant and have it be a real success.”

Officials who attended last week’s opening stressed how crucial it was for a kosher soup kitchen to open in the Rego Park area, where there is a large Jewish community and where many people have lost their jobs.

“There are middle-class people who are now unemployed,” said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. “This will be a tremendous help in making them meet ends.”

City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) praised the place for providing meals to individuals who never believed they would need to reach out to a soup kitchen for help.

“There are curtains here so people can keep their privacy,” Koslowitz said. “This is something that’s great for the community.”



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Israeli rabbis warn about fake Passover matzah 

Israel's Chief Rabbinate is warning Israeli citizens to be on the lookout for pirate matzah and Jews are worried, a merchant said Wednesday.

A week before the start of the holiday of Passover, Israeli police raided a warehouse containing a 7-ton stockpile of matzah with fake kosher certificates, according to a statement from the rabbinate.

"I can't believe that someone would do something like that," said Roy Wolf, manager of a leading matzah factory in Israel, after receiving calls from concerned customers.

Matzah is the flat, unleavened bread Jews eat during the weeklong holiday instead of regular bread. Matzah is made of flour and water and must be baked according to strict religious instructions, under supervision of a rabbi, to ensure that it does not rise like bread.

The unleavened bread is a main feature of the weeklong Passover holiday, commemorating the biblical exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Bible says the fleeing people did not have time to bake ordinary bread, making do with flat, unleavened bread instead.

The rabbinate published color photos of the fake matzah packages ordering local rabbis to post the statement in synagogues and other prominent places to warn Orthodox Jews to avoid the faked product.

The rabbinate suspects that non-kosher flour was used to make the matzah. Eating such matzah on Passover would be the same, religiously, as eating bread.

Wolf said Wednesday that the affair "undermines the customer's trust. In Judaism, eating (leavened products) is considered a very serious prohibition. It's good that this was discovered."

Though only about a quarter of Israel's Jews are Orthodox, most do not eat bread during Passover, and about 80 percent conduct the traditional festive meal on the first night of the holiday, according to surveys.

Adding to the tensions over matzah was a report Tuesday on an Israeli TV station, predicting a shortage of the Passover staple during the holiday. Channel 10 TV said a fire in one of the matzah factories has cut production. The report showed one of the factories churning out boxes of matzah at full speed.

The manager told Channel 10 they were working "24 hours a day, six days a week." Orthodox Jews strictly ban working on the Jewish Sabbath.



Eighteen — again? W'burg matzoh bakers keep churning them out, every 18 minutes 

Matzoh, the holiest unleavened bread this side of the Red Sea, is the latest must-have accessory in Williamsburg.

With Passover starting on Monday night, Jews all over the world are stocking up on boxes of the sacred bread of afflication. But for Williamsburg’s growing Hasidic community, only shmura matzoh will do.

All matzohs symbolize the Jews’ flight from Egyptian bondage thousands of years ago, but the circular discs of shmura, which means guarded, is a super-sacred version that is ground, mixed, rolled and baked by hand, not machine.

“Jews believe that matzoh baked within the strictest supervision is the religious way to go,” said attorney Steve Cohn, who shops in Williamsburg for his Passover matzoh. “It is very special and also very expensive, but it is becoming the tradition in Orthodox households.”

On the Tuesday before Passover, the scene at each of the five shmura bakeries in Williamsburg is the same as scores of workers scurry to fill thousands of orders and keep pace with an increasing demand from a growing Hasidic population.

Over the past month, bakeries have been working 24 hours a day in order to prepare between 120,000 and 130,000 pounds of matzoh for Passover. But though the demand keeps rising, the dough never does.

Each bakery serves one of the major Hasidic sects in the neighborhood, such as the Pupa, Kerestir, and bitterly divided Satmar, which have their own schools, shuls and institutions. Even though the sects are different, the process to make matzohs in each bakery is basically the same.

In the summer, wheat and spelt kernels are shipped from farms in Arizona and Long Island to Williamsburg where they are ground by hand into flour. The flour is then mixed in proportions according to the baker’s recipe and stored in a refrigerated room devoid of moisture.

“The wheat has to be stored in a very dry climate. If any water comes on the wheat, it makes it non edible for matzoh,” said Gary Schlesinger, a Satmar leader.

The process from opening the bag of flour to placing the finished dough in the oven is 18 minutes, as required by Talmudic law. Here’s how it goes down step-by-step: A worker tears open the flour bag and pours it out as another baker adds a carefully measured amount of water. The dough is then brought in batches to a long table where dozens of young men swiftly flatten the dough into a thin round pancake.

Bakers carry finished dough on 10-foot wooden sticks into the ovens as a digital clock counts down the 18 minutes. At a temperature close to 700 degrees, the matzohs cook within seconds, before being removed to cool on wooden racks that look unchanged from the 1850s.

In the final step, the matzohs are packed and wrapped to order.

Keeping strictly kosher for Passover will cost you. Each box of matzoh costs between $18 and $23 per pound. According to bakery managers, the average Hasidic family in Williamsburg consumes 15 to 20 pounds of matzoh and one to two pounds of matzoh meal during the holiday, costing close to $500.

“You have to eat it as is, you can’t nosh it,” said Community Board 1 member and Satmar member Simon Weiser, who has been coming to the Satmar Matzoh Bakery at 427 Broadway for 25 years.

“At every meal, you have to make the blessing over two matzohs and for the Seder you need three.”

For Hasidic Jews, the Seder represents a time when the entire family can come together, relax, and rejoice in their heritage, including shmura matzoh. For other religious Jews, the matzoh is a treat and, according to Cohn, maybe even a lesson.

“What does it teach us? Humility. When the dough doesn’t have a chance to rise, when our ego doesn’t have a chance to grow, we should be as humble all year round as the matzoh,” said Cohn.



David G. Greenfield Wins Special Election for Brooklyn Council Seat 

On Tuesday, David G. Greenfield, the executive director of the Sephardic Community Federation, defeated two opponents in a special election to succeed former City Councilman Simcha Felder of Brooklyn on a seat representing the ethnically mixed neighborhood of Bensonhurst and Orthodox Jewish strongholds of Borough Park and Midwood.

31-year-old Greenfield trounced Joseph Lazar, former Buildings Department official, to win by an amazingly wide margin. Prior to the election, the intense and “acrimonious” campaign had drawn the attention of the state’s political bigwigs. About 58 percent of the voters voted in favor of Greenfield, 40 percent of the votes went to Mr. Lazar, and Kenneth Rice, a Police Department lawyer, grabbed the remaining votes, according to unofficial results.

Speaking after his in a community center on Ocean Parkway, Mr. Greenfield said that he had emerged victorious in every neighborhood in the district. He said that his victory had sent a message throughout Brooklyn, saying. “They’re hearing the sounds of people coming together instead of being pushed apart. This seat does not belong to political power brokers.”

The contest lasted nearly two months, featuring renowned figures and scrappy newcomers. Many accusations were hurled against the candidates, accusing them of employing dirty tricks and influencing the election by involving political heavyweights. This was implicit in the accusations of Mr. Lazar and Mr. Greenfield.

While Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, Brooklyn Democratic chairman, campaigned for Mr. Greenfield, Assemblyman Dov Hikind backed Mr. Lazar. Even Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was reportedly backing Mr. Lazar on the pretext of their friendship.

While Mr. Lazar had the support from some of the prominent Hasidic organizations, Mr. Greenfield was said to be supported by the young Jewish generation of voters.

Sal Cali, one of Mr. Greenfield’s supporters, said at the community center: “Brooklyn is multicultural. Greenfield is the one candidate that was working with all of the groups.”

While Greenfield was reported as saying, "We won every single neighborhood in the district. This seat does not belong to political power brokers, it does not belong to the special interests. It belongs to the people of this community."



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mass decontamination drill run at police centre in Colindale 

DOZENS of people were exposed to a dangerous chemical yesterday at a lecture theatre of the Met Police's training centre in Colindale.

Around 80 firefighters attended the scene and set up emergency decontamination equipment to deal with the situation, while police sealed off the scene and St John's Ambulance crews treated casualties.

However, this was not a terrorist attack or accidental leak, but a drill to sharpen the skills of emergency crews in the area.

The scenario played out involved about 50 people in a conference centre reporting symptoms of chemical poisoning, testing the responses of both police, who as first on the scene take charge and establish what is happening, and fire crews.

During the drill firefighters from Hendon and Mill Hill stations, which were the first on the scene, donned special suits to investigate the leak.

They then led groups of people through a shower set up using two hose reels between two fire engines. Later decontamination tents with warmed water in the showers were used to help those most seriously hit by the contaminants.

Ray Newstead, a member of the Hazmat team for the London Fire Service, said: “We're training seven day a a week carrying out these type of drills across the country.

“From an observers point of view it may seem like the process is fairly slow, but it's very structured.”

Chief Inspector Phil Halsey also attended to monitor how the police's response was handled.

He said: “The police are here to take charge of everything and lock down the perimeter so nobody can get in and out.

“Our main responsibility is to manage the scene and when it has been made safe launch the investigation along with the fire services.”

Another aspect of the drill was to see how well the emergency workers dealt with people with religious sensitivities, with a group of Orthodox Jews among those affected.

Adrian Jacobs, a member of the Community Safety Trust, was there to act as an observer and adviser.

He said: “There are issues around modesty and things like that. There are some Orthodox members who would absolutely refuse point blank to take their clothes off unless there were separate showers for men and women.

“My role today is to see how well they deal with that and then give them feedback afterwards.”

Mayor of Barnet Councillor Brian Coleman also dropped in to see how the event was progressing in his role as the chairman of the London fire Authority.

He said: “It looked to all be going very well. It's a very useful exercise and shows the amount of money which has been invested by the Fire Authority on new equipment.

“The huge decontamination tents and equipment they put up were all bought within the last five years. We have spent £10m investing in first class equipment.”



Monday, March 22, 2010

Attorney: Mumbai widow's time in US restricted 

Frumet Teitelbaum lost her husband in the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Now she may not be able to see her kids.

Teitelbaum, 37, was stopped at Kennedy International Airport last month after arriving from Israel, where she lives. She had come to visit her eight children, ages 2 to 14. All are American citizens and live with her late husband's family in Brooklyn.

Now Teitelbaum, who was cited for overusing her visitor's visa, cannot extend her visit or apply for permanent residence, said her attorney Michael Wildes. She is in New York and he, along with government and community leaders, are working to make sure she remains here.

"We're very disappointed she was treated this way," said Wildes, adding that he faced similar challenges when representing surviving spouses from the 9/11 attacks. "She broke down in tears at the airport."

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said he could not discuss her case because of privacy.

Teitelbaum's husband, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, lived in Jerusalem but had citizenship in both the U.S. and Israel. He died in 2008 after gunmen struck the Chabad-Lubavitch movement's center in Mumbai during a three-day rampage. He was in Mumbai for his work as a supervisor of kosher foods.

Leibish Teitelbaum was a member of Satmar, an ultra-Orthodox sect that does not accept Israel as a Jewish state. He was related to Satmar grand rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, who died in 2006.

Wildes would not say how often Teitelbaum visited her children or for how long, but said she had not applied for permanent residence because she was busy with the children. Under federal immigration laws, surviving spouses of U.S. citizens can self-petition for a green card for themselves and their children. He said Teitelbaum will apply for her green card within the next few weeks.

"I expect the immigration authorities will see the big picture," Wildes said. "It sounds like an overexuberant examiner who was not up on the law."

Satmar leaders also are working on Teitelbaum's behalf, said Isaac Abraham, a community leader who lives in Brooklyn. He said they have been on the phone with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's office since last week. The office is doing what it can to help her, said spokeswoman Angie Hu.

"She has suffered enough," Abraham said. "Let's try to give her some relief."



Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bus gets a gentile push 

Oy. A goy's driving my bus.

The city is looking for a new operator for a private bus company that caters to ultra-Orthodox Jews traveling from the kosher enclaves of Borough Park to the Hasidic haven of Williamsburg.

Some Hasidim fear a gentile company could take over the line and might run routes on Saturdays, fail to separate men and women riders, and stop giving discounts to yeshiva students.

"If it operates on shabbos, then people will completely stop using it," said Hasidic activist Isaac Abraham.

Of particular concern to religious riders is a phrase in the city's request for proposals that calls on the winning operator to provide service "seven days per week."

A Jewish-owned company, Private Transportation, has run the religious route for the last 37 years, but not during the sabbath.

Jacob Marmurstein, owner of Private Transportation, uses a board of consulting rabbis to toe the line. Men sit in the first four or five rows with women and strollers in the back.

Right now, the route begins outside Mendel's Pizza on 18th Avenue and 50th Street in Borough Park. Buses run about every 20 minutes.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

Angry White House seeks to 'modify' Israeli regime 

For Jewish settler families, there is nothing controversial about the plans to erect 1,600 new homes. But for Washington they represent an insult that has reduced relations between the United States and Israel to their lowest ebb in a generation. The friendship that has been a cornerstone of American foreign policy for 40 years and sustained a small democracy in a perilously hostile neighbourhood has moved on to novel, shaky ground.

Rather than peace process, the new buzz phrase in Washington is "regime modification", as the Obama administration examines how it can force a rupture in the ruling right-wing coalition and put talks between the Israelis and Palestinians back on a real meaningful track.

Israel chose to announce the expansion of Ramat Shlomo as Joe Biden, the US vice president, was in the Holy Land to clinch an agreement to relaunch indirect negotiations which were regarded as the first albeit limited sign of progress of the Obama era.

Initially Mr Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, shook hands and made up. But inside the White House there is no appetite for reconciliation. Under the direction of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, was ordered to give Mr Netanyahu a telephonic dressing down in which she demanded the homes plan be rescinded.

Mr Obama has invested his prestige heavily in securing a peace deal in the Middle East that has eluded his predecessors – saying it would happen two years from taking office – and this was the latest but greatest rebuke Mr Netanyahu had delivered.

"Behind his cool detached demeanour, there is a part of Obama that is easily frustrated, almost arrogant. I am sure he has reached boiling point," said Aaron David Miller, a senior Middle East negotiator in the Clinton administration.

A frostiness bordering on animosity has been evident since the two leaders first met last May and Mr Obama demanded a freeze on new settlements and placed the greater burden of compromise on the Israelis than the Palestinians.



Friday, March 19, 2010

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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


NY officials respond to mumps at SUNY Plattsburgh 

New York health officials say 11 students attending the state university at Plattsburgh who lack mumps vaccinations will not be allowed to attend class because of an outbreak.

Three people have tested positive for mumps at the university in northern New York and two more cases are under investigation.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines said Friday that students who are not vaccinated against mumps and have not had the viral disease will be kept out of school during the outbreak. Those students can return to school after they are immunized.

The source of the outbreak is not known. The school is on spring break this week.

There have been recent mumps outbreaks at enclaves of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and Rockland and Orange counties.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Massachusetts Lawmakers Reject Circumcision Ban 

A bill calling for prison time and fines for those who perform circumcision on any male under the age of 18 was rejected by the Judiciary Committee of the Massachusetts state legislature.

The text of the proposed measure specifically mandated that no exception be given, even though the law would obstruct religious observance of the commandment of circumcision.

The measure also called upon the Department of Public Health to implement an educational program to discourage religious groups from carrying out the commandment of circumcision.

A goal of the legislation, according to an advocate group's website, included enforcement by local police.

In a letter to the Committee following their vote, the Community Guardians Group (CGG) wrote that the people of Massachusetts "are inheritors of a rich heritage of courageous thinkers and leaders who have sought to advance the causes of righteousness and justice for all people... But there are also matters which lie outside the power entrusted to government." The CGG mentioned that included among the things not to be restricted by government, is the commandment of circumcision, given by G-d Almighty.

The CGG offered thanks to G-d Almighty that this attack on their religion was halted, and commended the members of the Judiciary Committee for definitively rejecting this hateful plan.

The Community Guardians Group, under the leadership and in cooperation with some of the most respected Torah leaders, is an association of Orthodox Jews united in opposition to any law seeking to limit their ability to faithfully serve G-d Almighty.



Wednesday, March 17, 2010

CDC Warns That Mumps May Spread 

Experts are warning that an outbreak of mumps that has already sickened thousands in the Orthodox community could spread further this Passover.

The outbreak, which first appeared last June, has been largely confined to Hasidic populations in Brooklyn, Orange and Rockland counties in New York, and parts of New Jersey. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has mounted a campaign to warn community members and health-care providers that the virus could reach new geographic areas as families gather for holiday celebrations.

“We’re concerned that with travel, there’s a potential for introduction into other Hasidic communities that aren’t currently experiencing outbreaks,” said Dr. Kathleen Gallagher, an epidemiologist at the CDC.

As of March 12, Gallagher said that 2,687 people had been sickened. According to the CDC, the median age of the patients has been 15, and most of the victims have been male. There have been no deaths attributed to the outbreak, but some patients have experienced severe complications, such as orchitis, or testicular swelling, and pancreatitis, and there have been at least two cases of aseptic meningitis.

The MMR vaccine, which protects against mumps as well as measles and rubella, is given to most Americans in two doses before they begin kindergarten. A high percentage of those infected in the recent outbreak did receive two doses as children.

“We know the mumps vaccine is probably 85 or 90% effective when two doses are given, but it’s not a perfect vaccine,” Gallagher said. “In a situation where the force of infection might be quite high, it’s just possible that you’re seeing these breakthrough infections that the vaccine isn’t able to protect against.”

A CDC report suggested that the large family size and relative isolation of the Hasidic community might be contributing to the outbreak. The report cites Census data demonstrating that the average household size in the communities affected by the outbreak is more than double the national average, which could contribute to the transmission of the disease.



Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Broadway Triangle Spat Heads for Court 

The Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council’s experience in building may indeed have won them the right, along with the United Jewish Organizations, based in Williamsburg, to contract the building of hundreds of units of subsidized housing at the Broadway Triangle.

But those who lost out, especially the main opponents like St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corporation and Los Sures — the latter connected to Diana Reyna — are suing over the award and planned design. They argue it is a snub to blacks and Latinos in favor of Hasidic Jews because of the building heights and apartment sizes. This ignores somewhat the role of RBSCC as a builder and renovator of housing for the decidedly non-Jewish.

The charges expose the fact that these properties are not intended for random residents to apply for from around the city, even if they are otherwise qualified. It is intended to be a permanent base of power for the winning organizations. That is why a certain lifestyle is built into the plan — shorter buildings so the faithful don’t have to use the elevator on the Sabbath and many-bedroomed apartments to accommodate lots of children, for example. No doubt the RBSCC “side” will be just the right setup for the typical families of their constituency.

Through a complicated application process, housing non-profits can ensure that they fill the housing they develop at public expense from the private ranks of their supporters. This process is described by Prof. Nicole Marwell in her book Bargaining for Brooklyn, written after years of immersive research in several organizations.

“Applications for government-subsidized housing are quite complicated, and those that are incomplete in any way are excluded from the lottery. Assistance from Ridgewood-Bushwick staff helps to increase the number of valid applications submitted by individuals affiliated with the organization. The informational and assistance benefits offered by Ridgewood-Bushwick, and other CBOs, thus ensure that its clients are overrepresented in drawings for any subsidized housing development it builds.” (Bargaining for Brooklyn, Pg. 116)

It’s reminiscent of how housing is built in a West Bank settlement — on ethnic lines and at about the same rate of subsidy. One assumes bulldozers will be used more properly here in Brooklyn.



Monday, March 15, 2010

Fugitive who fled to Israel returns to plead guilty to scamming government out of education grants 

A fugitive in hiding for more than a decade pleaded guilty Monday to fleecing the government out of millions in education and poverty grants.

Avrum Friesel bolted to Israel in 1997 when he learned he was under indictment for a scam that included creating a phony school in Brooklyn to steal education money, and collecting tuition grants for non-existent students to enroll in Judaic studies programs.

He and a crew ran the scam out of an Hasidic Jewish community in New Square, in Rockland County.

Four of Friesel's partners in crime were convicted in 1999 in the decades-long scheme. All were sentenced to 2-1/2 to 6-1/2 years in prison.

But each of the four had their sentence commuted by then-President Clinton. The move drew scrutiny because New Square village leaders backed her Senate campaign.

A federal review found no criminality in Clinton's pardons.



Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sullivan County home prices 

There’s a reason so much of the Sullivan County map is colored blue. The high end of the market is gone.

“Up to $150,000 is a saleable number these days,” said Bill Rieber, owner of Rieber Realty. “Beyond that it’s difficult. The high-end buyers just aren’t out there now.”

The bottom fell out last year in Fallsburg, which reported the lowest median sale price and the largest percentage decline of any municipality in the region with more than a handful of sales. Realtors identified several possible factors in the decline, including high taxes and a sharp falloff in transactions in the Hasidic community (many of which aren’t reported through the Board of Realtors).

It’s best not to read too much into the numbers for the western side of the county, as each town had 25 or fewer sales last year. The second-home market there has slowed dramatically, particularly at higher price points, said David Knudsen, an associate broker with Catskills Buyer Agency.

Notes: Data for the Town of Mamakating was provided by the Greater Hudson Valley Multiple Listing Service. Data for the rest of the county was provided by the Sullivan County Board of Realtors.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Regulators shut LibertyPointe Bank in NYC 

Regulators on Thursday shut down LibertyPointe Bank in New York City, boosting to 27 the number of bank failures in the U.S. so far this year following the 140 brought down in 2009 by mounting loan defaults and the recession.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over LibertyPointe, with three branches, $209.7 million in assets and $209.5 million in deposits. The bank catered largely to the Orthodox Jewish community in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Valley National Bank, based in Wayne, N.J., agreed to assume the assets and deposits of LibertyPointe Bank.

In addition, the FDIC and Valley National Bank agreed to share losses on $181.5 million of LibertyPointe's loans and other assets.

The bank was closed by New York state's banking regulators and the FDIC appointed as receiver on Thursday, rather than on Friday as is customary for bank shutdowns because of the Jewish Sabbath falling at sundown Friday into Saturday.

Many of LibertyPointe's employees are observant Orthodox Jews who don't work on the Sabbath; the FDIC's process for failed banks requires bank employees to work with agency staff in the days following the closure to facilitate the transition.

The failure of LibertyPointe Bank is expected to cost the federal deposit insurance fund $24.8 million.

The pace of bank seizures this year is likely to accelerate in coming months, FDIC officials have said.

As the economy has weakened bank failures have mounted, sapping billions of dollars out of the deposit insurance fund. It fell into the red last year, hitting a $20.9 billion deficit as of Dec. 31.

The 140 bank failures last year were the highest annual tally since 1992, at the height of the savings and loan crisis. They cost the insurance fund more than $30 billion. There were 25 bank failures in 2008 and just three in 2007.

Depositors' money — insured up to $250,000 per account — is not at risk, with the FDIC backed by the government. Apart from the fund, the FDIC has about $66 billion in cash and securities available in reserve to cover losses at failed banks.



Friday, March 12, 2010

$1M fund to fight sex abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities hasn't been used 

None of the nearly $1 million set aside to tackle sex abuse in New York's ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities has been spent, even as another program set up to help scrambles for cash.

The state has earmarked $950,000 since April 2009 to fund Assemblyman Dov Hikind's plans to teach Hasidic Jews to speak up against child molestation.

But the money sits untouched as Hikind figures out the details of Shomrei Yeldainu - Hebrew for "Guardians of our Children" - the Daily News has learned.

"You have to develop something that is done correctly working with the rabbis and leaders," said Hikind (D-Brooklyn).

The $950,000 was included in the 2009 state budget for the Office of Family and Children's Services, said Matt Anderson, a budget spokesman for Gov. Paterson.

It's the first time the state has funded a sex abuse program geared toward helping a specific ethnic group.

"Apparently, the Hasidim will only go to the Hasidim for help," said Edward Borges, an FCS spokesman.

While Hikind's program waits to spend its vast funding, another is making do with much less. Project Kol Tzedek - Hebrew for "Voice of Justice" - is up and running on a relative shoestring budget.

Kol Tzedek was created in April 2009 within the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office Sex Crimes Bureau.

A $40,000 grant from Altria Group Inc., a cigarette company, pays the salary of the program's sole orthodox Jewish social worker.

Nearly 100 people have called the hotline and more than 30 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have been arrested, including 16 who have been charged with felony crimes.

This adds to the workload of the already overburdened team of 18 prosecutors in the Brooklyn Sex Crimes unit, said Bureau Chief Rhonnie Jaus.

There's no money for more staffers.

"We work from our own budget," said Jaus. "That is all the resources we have."



Thursday, March 11, 2010

Google gives city bikers bum steer 

A helmet may not be enough to protect cyclists from Google Maps' latest feature.

The search engine rolled out a "bicycling directions" option yesterday that is filled with potentially fatal flaws, including routes that cut across Central Park's treacherous tranverse roads and steer cyclists to truck-riddled thoroughfares.

A Post reporter rented a bike on the Hudson River Greenway at 42nd Street and plotted a course to Hunter College -- and quickly discovered the hard way that Google has a lot to learn about the streets of New York.

After a traffic-snarled ride up Eighth Avenue, our intrepid cyclist was sent on a semi-circle around Columbus Circle, and soon found himself holding up a line of 15 angry motorists -- many leaning on their horns -- on the narrow and frightening 65th Street Transverse, which does not have a bike lane.

Google overlooked the far safer Park Drive that loops through the park.

In Brooklyn, Google steers cyclists into the path of anti-bike Hasidic Jews by designating Bedford Avenue between Division and Flushing avenues in Williamsburg as a legitimate bike route. The city sandblasted away that street's bike lane last year after protests.

Google mappers owned up to the woes. "The team does know about some of the problems in New York," said spokeswoman Elaine Filadelfo.

There were more problems with the parks.

Inside Central Park, Google shows The Mall and some footpaths south of 72nd Street as bike paths -- although park rules make them definitely off-limits.

"The parks are one of the things we need to work on," Filadelfo admitted. "We don't have great data for them."

Among the other problems: Google directs New Jersey-bound cyclists over the north path of the George Washington Bridge, even though the bridge's official bike path is on the south side.

From Midtown to Yankee Stadium, Google Maps sends cyclists up Central Park West and then on a hazardous 30-block stretch of Frederick Douglass Boulevard to the Macombs Dam Bridge.

A safer pick would have been up St. Nicholas Avenue and eventually over the Madison Avenue Bridge.

Bike advocates like Google's effort, and say it will help recreational cyclists find safe paths.

"The fact that Google is taking it on brings it to millions of mobile devices and computers," said Wiley Norvell of Transportation Alternatives. "We're enthusiastic."



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kiryas Joel weddings spur vandalism; dissidents say rivals responsible 

It took a few days, but the vandals finally got back at Isaac Srugo for marrying off his daughter last week in a ceremony that the Hasidic community's main congregation had not sanctioned.

Srugo woke Monday morning to find the latest handiwork of the self-appointed marriage police: a gallon of white paint poured down the windshield of his SUV.

Ever since dissident community members opened their first wedding hall just outside the village in January, young supporters of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum — the leader of Kiryas Joel's main congregation — have waged an occasional campaign of harassment and vandalism against dissident leaders and relatives of the three couples who have wed so far.

They cruised in trucks with mounted loudspeakers, made harassing phone calls and flipped over the car of a bride's brother, state police reported early in the conflict. Two 15-year-olds were charged with smashing a rabbi's window.

Later, vandals spray-painted denunciations of another rabbi inside a senior-citizen building on Forest Road where religious services are held. And after they failed to derail the second dissident wedding on Feb. 17, they poured sugar in the gas tank of the groom's brother's car.

The third wedding — officiated by Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, the brother and rival of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum — was certain to agitate opponents even more. Srugo said they flooded his phone with harassing phone calls and even harangued his 80-year-old father in Brooklyn.

As he waited Tuesday for the paint to be cleaned off his car and to hear the cost, Srugo said he had no regrets about the venue he chose for his fifth child's wedding.

"We're not going to do it in the other place," said Srugo, a father of 15 who has 10 more weddings to go.



Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Brooklyn Rabbi Baruch Lebovits convicted in sex assault on boy, faces decades behind bars 

A Brooklyn rabbi faces decades behind bars - and sentencing on the eve of Passover - after a jury quickly convicted him of sexually assaulting a teenage boy.

Rabbi Baruch Lebovits showed no reaction as Brooklyn Supreme Court jurors found him guilty on eight of 10 counts after three hours of deliberations.

"Thank God, justice is served," the victim's father said in the packed courtroom as Lebovits family members wiped tears from their eyes.

"This makes a statement to the Jewish community," said Beth Kaplan of the group Sacred Lives, one of several advocates who sat through the week-long trial.

"There is denial. The majority of the Orthodox community doesn't believe this can happen. Here we see it can happen."

Prosecutor Miss Gregory had told jurors that Lebovits, 59, lured his son's friend, who was 16 at the time, into a car with a promise of driving lessons in 2004 and 2005. The young man testified that Lebovits would have him pull over and then perform a sex act on him.

There was no physical evidence, and the accuser was a recovering drug addict and a thief - points defense lawyer Arthur Aidala hammered home.

He claimed the victim was trying to shake down Lebovits, who owned a Borough Park travel agency - and said a detective withheld a document showing the victim had talked about being paid off.

Lebovits, who still faces charges he molested two other minors, could get up to four years on each count.



Monday, March 08, 2010

Bagel lovers tell rabbis: Don't pick on our lox 

A group of ultra-Orthodox rabbis is waging a schmear campaign against a staple of the Jewish diet: lox.

Smoked salmon should no longer be considered kosher, they say, because the fish often contain parasitic worms.

But some Jewish New Yorkers aren't taking the lox-down lightly.

"What is a bagel and cream cheese without the lox? It's nothing," kvetched Josh Loberfeld, 29, of Riverdale, a regular at the Mr. Bagel eatery near his Bronx home.

The ban was announced last month when a small group of rabbis decided that a tiny parasitic worm, called anisakis, rendered its host fish nonkosher.

Chevra Mehadrin, a group of hard-line Orthodox rabbis in Monsey, NY, released a list of newly forbidden fish.

But many Orthodox rabbis are blasting the group for hysterics.

"This issue has been resolved in Jewish law for hundreds of years already," said Rabbi Moshe Elefant of the Orthodox Union.




The Rabbinical Board of Flatbush Political Action Committee, which consists of 80 Rabbis, announced today their endorsement of Joe Lazar for City Council in the 44th Council District Special Election on March 23rd, 2010.

Serving 250,000 Jews (including 75,000 in Synagogue congregations), the Rabbinical Board of Flatbush, or Vaad Harabbonim, is one of the most influential Orthodox rabbinical boards in New York City, and is considered the largest local Orthodox rabbinic body in the world today. The Vaad’s rabbis serve as the spiritual leaders and teachers in synagogues, yeshivas, and Jewish institutions throughout the Greater Flatbush area.

“Joe Lazar is a man of great integrity and strength with a proven record of fighting for yeshivas, seniors and the vital services the Orthodox community depends upon. That’s why in these difficult economic times, The Rabbinical Board of Flatbush is confident that Joe Lazar is the right leader to represent our community in the City Council.” said Rabbi Herbert Bomzer, President of the Vaad and Chairman of the Political Action Committee of the Vaad Harabonim of Flatbush. “We are certain that Joe Lazar will follow in the noble path of those that preceded him as our council representative.”

“I am honored to receive the endorsement of The Vaad Harabbonim of Flatbush, one of our community’s most respected and important organizations,” said Joe Lazar. “This goal of this campaign has always been to unify our community and I am proud that The Vaad has joined us in this historic demonstration of Achdus [Hebrew for ‘unity’].”


Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Jewish Ritual Collides With Mother Nature 

Last Saturday morning, as a blizzard sputtered out its last squalls over Passaic, N.J., Chaya Leah Smolen sent her husband and several children off to synagogue. She issued the children a message that might seem to contradict the essence of winter motherhood: do not carry any tissues.

To that admonition, she added others. The children shouldn’t take their toys or candies, the diversions that usually make Sabbath service easier. Later, after the worshipers had returned, there was a serious theological discussion about whether it was permissible to make snowballs.

What Mrs. Smolen experienced has been shared by a religious niche in the Northeast during this epically snowy season. From Washington to New York State, a series of “snowmageddons” have wreaked a particular form of havoc for Orthodox Jews.

The storms have knocked down portions of the ritual boundary known as an eruv in Jewish communities in Silver Spring, Md., Center City Philadelphia, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Monsey in suburban New York, and Teaneck and Passaic in New Jersey.

Almost literally invisible even to observant Jews, the wire or string of an eruv, connected from pole to pole, allows the outdoors to be considered an extension of the home. Which means, under Judaic law, that one can carry things on the Sabbath, an act that is otherwise forbidden outside the house.

Prayer shawls, prayer books, bottles of wine, platters of food and, perhaps most important, strollers with children in them — Orthodox Jews can haul or tote such items within the eruv. When a section of an eruv is knocked down by, let’s say, a big snowstorm, then the alerts go out by Internet and robocall, and human behavior changes dramatically.



Saturday, March 06, 2010

Federal judge dismisses Hasidic charity's attempt to recover $500K seized in N.J. corruption bust 

A legal challenge by a Hasidic charity over the seizure of its bank accounts after last summer’s sweeping money laundering and corruption sting has been thrown out by a federal judge.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk in Newark said a decision on whether the non-profit’s accounts face forfeiture will depend on how the criminal case plays out.

While the charity "has an obvious interest in the use of its funds," said Falk, so does the government — which claims the money was used to help illegally launder tens of thousands of dollars.

"If the funds were returned, they would or could be used and depleted, reducing the amount available to the government should it be entitled to forfeiture in this case," Falk wrote in his opinion.

The fund, Gmach Shefa Chaim in Union City, was one of several charities the government claims played a role in the lengthy criminal investigation that led to the arrests of dozens of elected and religious officials and others.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has charged the fund was used to cash $357,500 in checks for Solomon Dwek, a Monmouth County real estate developer who began working for the FBI as an undercover informant after he was charged in a $50 million bank fraud.

According to criminal complaints filed in the case, Moshe Altman, a real estate developer from Monsey, N.Y., had access to the gmach, and cashed Dwek’s checks through the charity’s bank accounts. A gmach, an acronym of Hebrew letters that translates to "acts of kindness," is essentially a fund in many Orthodox Jewish communities that may be formed for any number of charitable services — from interest-free loans to the lending of bride’s dresses.

Within hours after Altman was arrested with more than 40 others last July, the FBI moved to seize the gmach’s bank account as well.

In October, the charity went to court seeking a return of its money, arguing the $508,985 taken by the government was improperly seized. Attorneys for the gmach said Altman did not run the organization and did not have control over it.

However, the U.S. Attorney’s office argued the money laundering checks were deposited into two of the gmach’s operating accounts and filtered into the account that was ultimately seized. Some of the checks were drawn on the account of BH Property Management, which the government revealed to be an FBI undercover company, according to the criminal complaints.

When Altman’s office in Union City was searched July 23 after the arrests, the government said FBI agents seized approximately eight bundles of blank checks from Gmach Shefa Chaim accounts, as well as four hard drives and a laptop computer officials said contained the organization’s books and records.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bradley Harsch, who declined comment on the matter, said in court filings "the transfer and commingling of the dirty money with clean money" rendered the charity’s accounts an instrument of the crime.

Attorneys for the charity did not return calls for comment.

Altman has been indicted in the case and is awaiting trial.



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