Monday, May 31, 2010

New Zealand bans Kosher slaughter 

The Jerusalem Post - New Zealand's new animal welfare code, which took effect Friday, mandates that all animals for commercial consumption be stunned prior to slaughter to ensure they are treated “humanely and in accordance with good practice and scientific knowledge.”

The regulation has shocked the Jewish community.

“This decision by the New Zealand government, one which has a Jewish prime minister, is outrageous,” said Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, acting president of the Organization of Rabbis of Australasia. “We will be doing everything possible to get this decision reversed.”

Gutnick, who travels frequently to New Zealand to oversee shechita, added, “One of the last countries I would have expected to bring in this blatantly discriminatory action would have been New Zealand.”

David Zwartz, the chairman of the Wellington Jewish Council, agreed. “I am sure there will objections made that this action is an infringement of the right of Jews to observe their religion,” he said.

Agriculture Minister David Carter rejected a recommendation that shechita be exempt from the new code.

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee did recommend a dispensation for kosher slaughter in 2001, but the new code does not allow any exemptions.

The New Zealand government estimates that 15-20 beef cattle, 40-50 lambs and 1200-1400 chickens are annually slaughtered to meet the needs of the Jewish communities in Wellington and Auckland, which number about 5,000. Moslem's are unaffected by the regulations as they are allowed to stun animals before slaughtering them.

Among other countries that have banned shechita are Iceland, Norway and Sweden.



Sunday, May 30, 2010

Quebec wants Montreal yeshiva closed 

Quebec's education ministry is seeking a court injunction to shut down a private Jewish school in Montreal for not maintaining scholastic standards.

The Académie Yeshiva Toras Moshe has offered an extensive religious education to Jewish boys in Montreal's tony Outremont neighbourhood for half a century.

The yeshiva receives no provincial funding and does not hold a permit to teach, which contravenes Quebec's education law.

The province's education ministry has since 2006 pressured the school to comply with education regulations, after inspections revealed that it was emphasizing religious teachings to the exclusion of secular, provincially-sanctioned core curriculum such as history and geography.
School ordered to adjust curriculum

The ministry requested the school modify its lessons and hours of operation, "and give more non-religious or more secular studies," explained Alex Wertzberger, president of the Coalition of Outremont Hasidic Organizations.

Those requests are unreasonable and heavy-handed, and Yeshiva Toras Moshe now finds itself "at an impasse," Wetzberger said.

Students at the yeshiva get a well-rounded education. "They're being taught everything that non-Jewish school [teach], but a little bit compressed," he said. "Basically the three Rs, and history and geography."

Religious education offered at the yeshiva is essential to forging a Jewish identity among youth, he added. "Why don't we work on the Sabbath? Why do we eat kosher? We have a certain lifestyle, which we've been following for thousands of years, and we're not going to bend."

Some other Jewish schools previously rebuked for excessively emphasizing religious teachings have compromised, but Yeshiva Toras Moshe will not, Wertzberger said.

Quebec's request for an injunction will be heard in Superior Court in October. Yeshiva officials say they will be ready to fight the order.



Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hasidic Jewish reggae rapper draws partying crowd at Mayfair 

In a concert that was equal parts religious service and party -- OK, probably a good deal more party -- Hasidic Jewish reggae rapper Matisyahu held an audience enraptured for an hour and 40 minutes Thursday on the opening night at Allentown's Mayfair festival.

The audience of what looked like about 3,000 people at the Cabaret main stage was so frenzied that they crowd-surfed, the first time this reviewer has seen that at Mayfair.

Matisyahu also made the show potentially dangerous when, 30 minutes into a 100-minute concert, he opened the gates to the paid-ticket section, letting the free crowd flood into the area nearest the stage. It was so crowded, people stood on chairs and atop each other.

That was an unfair distraction to a show that started strong. Opening with ''Jerusalem (Out of the Darkness Comes Light),'' the lanky singer spin-danced all over stage to the roar of the crowd, closing his eyes as he hit soaring notes.

Dressed in a black overcoat -- which he kept on for the entire show and kept closed for half of it -- Matisyahu cut an odd but intriguing figure. He would dance enthusiastically some times, in slow motion at others and assume prayerful stances at still others.

Backed by a tight three-man band, he barely took a break in the entire show, smiled exactly twice and addressed the audience sparingly.

His music was equally intriguing. He sang some songs in a Jamaican accent, while others, such as ''Exaltation,'' were more monastery chants or sonic moaning than singing -- ethereal and heavy on echo effect. While it often was moving, it crossed over into indulgent later in the show on ''Warrior.''

It was clear that, despite an adoring crowd, Matisyahu was singing for himself. He often seemed to go to a higher plane -- jumping maniacally and standing atop his stage monitors for long, loud, echo-y notes on ''Chop 'Em Down.''

A three-minute beat-boxing interlude on ''For You'' was far better -- the speedy beats got cheers and had the crowd clapping along. So were his machine-gun-fast raps on ''Youth'' (when he chanted on that song, the crowd chanted back) and scat singing on ''Thunder.''

The crowd loved it all. They jumped, waved their arms, pointed and danced. Perhaps the marijuana smoke in the air, evident by the second song, had something to do with that.

Ironically, Matisyahu made short work of perhaps his best song, ''One Day,'' the 2010 Winter Olympics theme that had the crowd cheering from the start, swaying and singing along. In a show that had only 11 songs (meaning they averaged nine minutes each with their long interludes), he breezed through ''One Day'' in just five minutes.

Luckily, he had an equally popular song, ''King Without a Crown,'' with which to close the show. And he made the most of it -- stretching it past 20 minutes. After more spit-fire rapping, he stood off to one side of the stage nodding his head and jumping as the band played.

Then he added a three-minute spoken-word interlude, with more echo-y chants, and rocked back and forth -- enraptured again -- as the stage went dark.



Friday, May 28, 2010

Ousted Edison rabbi plans protest over chaplain post 

Township police chaplain Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, who was terminated from the paid position Thursday, said he plans to hold a demonstration outside town hall to protest his termination if he doesn't hear back from township officials.

"Right now, I'm waiting for a counter-offer from the mayor," he said.

Rosenberg, who has served as township public-safety chaplain since 1992, was terminated from his $3,800 per year position Thursday - which Rosenberg said Friday does not include a pension - because his appointment reportedly did not meet legal requirements. Township officials said state law requires such an appointment be done through an ordinance, but Rosenberg was appointed through a resolution.

"I supported the mayor in her election ... What kind of thank you is this?" Rosenberg said Friday.

Chaplains in neighboring towns including New Brunswick, Metuchen and East Brunswick work on a volunteer basis and do not receive an annual stipend.

"You cannot compare what I do to what they do," Rosenberg said. "I'm not being paid to be chaplain but for my expertise in sensitivity training, interfaith work and in dealing with people of all countries. The township is getting a bargain with me."

Mayor Antonia Ricigliano has initiated drafting of an ordinance to establish chaplain positions - which will include clergy members serving as unpaid volunteers.

Rosenberg had said earlier that he would not agree to serve in the position for free. He is, however, willing to work without pay or even at reduced pay until the township can afford to pay him, he said Friday.

Also, he had earlier said that if the mayor was going to appoint more than one chaplain he was not interested in the position. But he said Friday, "If the mayor appoints more than one that's fine as long as I am the senior chaplain considering my tenure."

Rosenberg is rabbi of Congregation Beth-El in Edison.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Deadlocked East Ramapo board puts off decision on school budget 

A rancorous East Ramapo Board of Education meeting ended shortly before 2 a.m. today in deadlock with no decision made whether to ask voters to approve a new budget or just accept an austerity spending plan for the 2010-11 school year.

The school board will try one final time to come to a decision on how to deal with the defeat of a $198.7 million budget proposal that slashed more than 100 jobs and closed Hillcrest School, among other cuts.

A special board meeting was set for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at school headquarters on Madison Avenue. Board members have until 11:59 p.m. that day to decide whether to try for another budget vote or simply go to an austerity budget. If nothing is done by midnight, austerity kicks in automatically.

“The board could not come to an agreement,” said board president Nathan Rothschild early this morning. “There were some who wanted to go back to a 2-plus percent (budget to budget) increase and a group that wanted to try and come out at a 1.4 percent budget to budget. It ended about 1:50 with no majority and the same numbers over and over again. People’s tempers flared. We just ended it there and (will) try to come back to it on Tuesday.”

The budget dispute was just the latest in a series of unfriendly debates over the district’s spending.

Scores of East Ramapo residents held a vigil Wednesday night outside the administration building before the meeting began. Superintendent of Schools Ira Oustatcher said Wednesday that the district must have a written notice ready for publication in county newspapers by 4 p.m. today if another budget plan is to be put to a public vote June 15, the state’s revote date. The board is required by law to publish the first of two legal notifications by Tuesday. It was unknown this morning what the district’s plans on publication were.

According to several in attendance, the board threatened to call police shortly before midnight to remove some audience members for speaking out of turn during the meeting.

More than 100 East Ramapo and other community residents gathered at the vigil, holding signs that read, "Give the Kids a Chance" and "Closed Schools = Closed Minds."



Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Judge lets Bway Triangle suit move forward 

City officials criticized a judge’s ruling last week allowing a lawsuit against a major rezoning initiative to move forward — saying that the decision to allow the suit to continue would delay construction of new housing on the South Williamsburg site.

Justice Emily Goodman’s decision, city attorneys argued, could stall development of the Broadway Triangle for several months, endangering state money promised to two nonprofit organizations slated to develop it.

Forty community groups filed a lawsuit in December, accusing the city of discriminating against them by rezoning the area with the strong backing of the City Council.

In ruling against a city motion to toss the case, Goodman said that evidence of discrimination and segregation was substantial enough to continue investigating the city’s plans to redevelop several lots on industrial property north of the former Pfizer headquarters into 1,851 units of housing.

Goodman cited evidence presented by the plaintiffs, the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, showing a history of public housing discrimination in Williamsburg coupled with the details of the city’s plan which included a significant number of large apartments.

“Further development of evidence of anticipated discriminatory impact is also necessary because of the evidence of racial discrimination in public housing in Williamsburg in decades of litigation, suggesting the need for a brighter light,” said Goodman. She added that the plaintiff’s strongest arguments involve the neighborhood’s history of public housing discrimination and patterns of selective preference for Williamsburg’s Hasidic residents.

Goodman was also sympathetic to complaints that the plan’s preponderance of large apartment units, developed by the United Jewish Organization, could lead to discrimination.

“With such negligible demand for large apartments as compared with smaller ones, it is questionable why in such a daunting housing crisis, there is such so powerful a commitment, with funds, to construct only large, and, therefore, fewer, apartments,” said Goodman.

City officials said that Goodman’s reading of the law is misguided, as all apartments in the new buildings will be open to Brooklynites regardless of race or ethnicity, though half will be open only to residents living in Community Board 1.

And besides, the judge’s decision to allow the case to continue will harm the poor, city attorney Louise Moed said.

“Residents will lose access to affordable housing if the sites are not developed,” she testified.

But the plaintiff’s praised Goodman’s decision to further examine its data comparing the Broadway Triangle plans to the neighborhood’s demographics.

“There’s a great demand for smaller apartments coming from an overwhelming minority demographic,” said Shekar Krishnan of Brooklyn Legal Services. “That demand is not being met here.”



Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Lakewood police probing bias incidents against Orthodox 

Authorities are investigating a series of bias crimes in which Orthodox Jewish pedestrians are being targeted with eggs, police said.

Three suspects have been charged with bias intimidation and others are being sought in connection with four incidents last week, police said.

On Wednesday at about 8 p.m., five Orthodox residents walking along East County Line Road near Park Avenue were hit with eggs thrown from a white vehicle as it passed, police said. After one of the victims reported the license plate number, police were able to use the car's registration to locate its owner, a woman in Jackson. The woman's daughter, Stacey Krohn, 23, and Krohn's boyfriend, Edward A. Kerby Jr., 25, were charged after turning themselves in.

Upon questioning the Jackson couple, police charged a third occupant, Mark L. Johnson, 22, with bias intimidation and harassment. Johnson, whose last known address is in Bayville and who is currently on probation, agreed to come in to police headquarters but has so far not done so, Police Chief Robert Lawson said late this afternoon. A warrant has been issued for his arrest with bail set at $10,000. A fourth occupant, whose first name is Amanda, is still being sought. The five victims reported hearing the occupants yell "Jew" and "Kike" — a derogatory epithet for Jews — as they drove past, according to Lawson.

Earlier that day, the same carload of people are suspected of throwing eggs at other Orthodox Jews: first, a man who was struck in the chest while walking along Magnolia Drive at 9:20 a.m.; and, later at 2:26 p.m., a girl who was walking with her mother near the intersection of Squankum Road and Eighth Street. In the latter incident, the victims heard the occupants laughing as they drove away, Lawson said.

Police say they have video surveillance footage of the suspects buying eggs at a store in Brick. It's believed that Krohn drove the car while Johnson and Amanda threw the eggs, police said.

Friday saw yet another egging, this one targeting an Orthodox husband and wife pushing their child in a stroller. The family, while walking along Ridge Avenue near Brook Road at 3:49 p.m., saw a blue or purple vehicle pass slowly as its occupants threw what looked like garbage at them before driving away at high speed, according to Lawson. The parents learned it had been eggs only after seeing bits of shell on the child's stroller. Police are still searching for the suspects, who, when identified, will be charged with bias intimidation, which carries a punishment of up to 18 months in jail and a $10,000 fine, Larson said.

"Most of these people are young adults or juveniles from out of town," Lawson said today. "They're bored, and their idea of fun in throwing eggs at the Orthodox."

He added in an e-mail: "I view this as a very serious offense; even if the victim is not physically injured, the psychological impact can be profound, causing prolonged distress to the victim. Any persons caught harassing any of our residents based upon a person's race, color, ethnicity, religion, handicap, gender or sexual orientation will be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible under the law."



Monday, May 24, 2010

Right of Religious Congregations to Import Alcoholic Beverages Questioned 

The religious congregations in Quebec are evading the provincial liquor authority and are importing alcoholic beverages for sacramental purposes from outside the province. Civil charges have been filed against 10 members of a Jewish synagogue in the Outremont neighborhood of Montreal for wines and spirits not purchased through the Societe des alcools du Quebec.

The synagogue has also been charged civilly; in addition to that similar charges will soon be filed against another five members of the same congregation. The fines for each offence, upon conviction, vary from $125 to $6,000.

A lengthy investigation was conducted that included a Montreal police arrest of 891 litres of wines and spirits at the Toldos Yakov Yosef of Skver Congregation in December. Skver branch of Hasidism established the synagogue more than three decades ago and is responsible for serving 300 families.

Max Lieberman of the Jewish Orthodox Community Council shared that the synagogue has not broken any liquor laws.

Lieberman said, "The federal Importation of Intoxicating Liquors Act specifically allows the importing, sending, taking or transporting, or causing to be imported, sent, taken or transported, into any province from or out of any place within or outside Canada of intoxicating liquor for sacramental . . . purposes".



Sunday, May 23, 2010

Police Recruits to Learn About Tolerance in the City 

Nassau County Police Department recruits will get the opportunity to learn about tolerance and acceptance on Tuesday when they take part in a workshop hosted by the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove and the Anti-Defamation League of New York.

The county, organizers explained, sends all of its graduating recruits to this four hour workshop, where they learn about law enforcement's role during the Holocaust and how this relates to law officials' role today.

The program was developed in the late 1990s by the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. along with the Anti-Defamation League. It served as a training model for recruits, in-service and command level police officers, federal judges and new FBI agents.

According to Howard Maier, the board chairman at the center, more than 50,000 officers and all entering members of the FBI have gone through this training since its inception.

"The center is one of three in the nation to provide the program," explained Beth Lilach, the center's senior director of education. "The center has been providing these workshops to Nassau County police recruits for the last four years. Last year, it started providing workshops to the Suffolk County police departments as well."

During the first three hours of the workshop, officials at the center make presentations about the decisions law officials made during the Holocaust. Lilach explained that center officials highlight that Nazi Germany was a police state and the officers were essentially given unlimited power.

"Law enforcement supported and implemented the evolution of national hatred and eventually full-blown genocide," Lilach said. "The law enforcement assisted in the appropriation of Jewish property and were responsible for gathering, arresting and deporting Jews to concentration camps."

In the last hour of the workshop, representatives of the Anti-Defamation League make comparisons between the law enforcement of Nazi Germany and present day.

"Law enforcement today is our protector and our defender," Lilach said. "It keeps us from going down that slippery slope and protects human way of life and defends the rights of citizens. German police took an oath to Hitler. Our police take an oath to uphold the Constitution and human rights, providing justice and equality for all."

County Police Chief Karen O'Callaghan — who became the highest ranking woman in the 84-year history of the county's police department when she was appointed chief last year — said the recruits learn a lot by participating in the program.

"I had the opportunity to observe the program in 2006 when it was only taught in Washington, D.C.," O'Callaghan said. "Although we already had an aggressive program to teach cultural diversity and tolerance, I thought this was a tool to help police officers understand that power could be abused. The lessons of the Holocaust are used to take a look and see how we can treat the public with compassion and understanding and truly be the protectors of their safety and the Constitution."

O'Callaghan will also share a few words during Tuesday's workshop.

"Based on some of the responses we have gotten, this workshop has given them pause to think about some of their actions," O'Callaghan added. "It has taught them how they act and how they do their job can be misunderstood as abusive and discriminatory. They learn their duties of protecting the community in a professional and compassionate way."



Saturday, May 22, 2010

Suit Alleging Racism In Brooklyn Zoning Moves Ahead 

Even though a Community Board and the City Council approved the rezoning an industrial area in Williamsburg for low-rise housing, a judge blocked any development in order to hear a lawsuit claiming that the process to rezone the area favored whites and Hasidic Jews over other minorities. Now, the NY Times reports that Justice Emily Jane Goodman scheduled a hearing next month "to determine whether the city's plan...would essentially foster segregation."

The Broadway Triangle, 31 acres on the border of Williamsburg, Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant, won zoning for 1,895 low-rise apartments—905 of which would charge below-market rate rents. Opponents of the plan pointed out that it featured too many three- and four-bedroom apartments, which would "disproportionately accommodate the Hasidic community's large families," and that the buildings were kept at low heights to accommodate Orthodox Jews who can't ride elevators on Sabbath.

Justice Goodman acknowledged that the development lies in Community Board 1, which is mostly white, but some of the land is in Community Board 2, which is mostly nonwhite. According to the Times, she also "noted that more than 90 percent of those on the city’s public housing wait lists are nonwhite and request one- and two-bedroom apartments, and wrote that it was 'questionable' why there was such a strong commitment to build large apartments instead of a greater number of smaller units."



Friday, May 21, 2010

Rubashkin trial: Former workers take stand 

4:25 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Court is adjourned until Monday morning.

Abner Lopez Azurdia started assembling boxes and weighing meat at the kosher slaughterhouse when he was 15. He did not offer details on how many hours he worked, or if he was around chemicals or dangerous equipment.

Azurdia said he has no legal status in the U.S., but is seeking a U-visa with the assistance of an immigration attorney.

On cross-examination, Azurdia said he saw federal immigration agents scream and call them rats before chaining them together. He said the experience terrified him.

“When they came in, they came in yelling. They told us to come out because a lot of agents were coming. They yelled at us to come out because to them were were just rats or mice they had to find,” he said.

3:30 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — After the break, Rucal identifies Derrick as her supervisor.

Upon questioning by the defense, she says they knew each other by name.

“Yes, sometimes he’d call me by name,” she said through an interpreter.

“So you knew him?” Weinhardt said.

“Correct,” correct she said.

On re-direct, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Laura Roan asks Rucal if she knows the supervisor’s name. She said she does not know his name.

The next witness, Alvaro Jerez Ravaric, said he started working at Agriprocessors at 16. He cut heads off chickens and processed turkeys, he said.

He said he may be deported after testifying, but an immigration attorney has applied for a one-year work permit on his behalf.

On cross-examination, he said he didn’t think his supervisors knew he was a minor. He was 18 at the time of the immigration raid, and served five months in prison.

He also said he would not have recognized Rubashkin on the street, and said the former plant executive rarely passed through his department at the plant.

2:50 p.m., Waterloo, Ia. — Nilda Nuritza Rucal said she started de-feathering 45 chickens per minute with scissors the same day she applied for work at Agriprocessors. She worked from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and made about $300 per week. She was 15.

No one showed her how to do the job, so she said she learned by observation. She worked in a large team that gathered around a table to process the birds.

“At first, it was very difficult. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

Defense attorney Mark Weinhardt quizzed her about an interview she gave in August 2008 to a state criminal investigator in which she admitted to lying about her identity to gain employment.

But Rucal said she wasn’t trying to fool Agriprocessors.

“They knew what kind of identification I had,” she said.

When state labor investigators came to Agriprocessors a month before the immigration raid, Rucal testified that supervisors told her not to talk to them or “we would be fired.”

“Those investigators didn’t do anything to stop you from working at Agriprocessors until the time of the raid?” Weinhardt said.

Rucal replied she didn’t give them her real age until after the May 2008 immigration raid.

Weinhardt then asked about sexual harassment she received from a supervisor, Eduardo Toj.

The attorneys conferred with the judge when Weinhardt began asking about which supervisors sexually harassed her.



Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jury to Decide if U.S. Government Induced Men to Attempt Bombings of Synagogue, Community Center 

A jury will decide whether four men accused of plotting to blow up a Bronx synagogue and a Jewish community center were induced into participating in a government-manufactured scheme designed to entrap the defendants, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

James Cromitie maintained that a government informant infiltrated a mosque in Newburgh, N.Y., where the informant stoked Cromitie's hatred for Jews and offered him and the other defendants huge sums of money to target synagogues and military aircraft.

The government told a different story, insisting that it had intervened in a pre-existing plot concocted by Cromitie, a "virulent anti-Semite who wanted to commit terrorist attacks against Jews and the United States."

While Southern District of New York Judge Colleen McMahon said she "harbor[ed] some doubt about the viability of defendants' application" to dismiss the indictment on the ground of outrageous government misconduct, a jury should decide the "hotly" contested factual issues.

"While the issue of the Government's misconduct is ultimately for the Court, where, as here, facts relating to that claim are in dispute, and may be relevant to the issues that are properly resolved by a jury, the better course is to let the jury go first," McMahon wrote in United States v. Cromitie, 09 Cr. 558.

Defendants Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams and Laguerre Payen were arrested last year and charged with conspiring to use what they believed were improvised explosive devices to blow up a synagogue and community center in Riverdale and conspiring to use a surface-to-air missile to destroy military aircraft at the New York Air National Guard Base at Stewart International Airport outside of Newburgh.

According to prosecutors, Shaheed Hussain, a confidential informant, first met Cromitie in June 2008 at the Masjid al-Ikhlas mosque.

Hussain says that Cromitie told him that he was upset about the war in Afghanistan and said he wanted to die as a martyr and go to paradise.

During a subsequent encounter, Hussain says he told Cromitie that he was involved with a Pakistani-based terrorist organization.

Cromitie, according to Hussain, immediately said that he would like to join the group and "do jihad."

Following these "repeated statements of hate-filled, violent Anti-American sentiments," the government began recording meetings between Cromitie and Hussain.

During these conversations, Cromitie allegedly made numerous rants about Jews, called Osama bin Laden his "chief brother," and made it "clear that he was ready and willing to engage in violence," according to court papers filed by the government.

Prosecutors maintain that Cromitie recruited his three co-defendants into his criminal scheme in April 2009. The defendants were arrested the following month for placing "what they believed" to be three improvised explosive devices in front of the Riverdale Temple and Riverdale Jewish Center.

However, according to the defendants, the government provided them with the devices as part of "an elaborate scheme in pursuit of defendants who were not engaged in any offenses even remotely similar to those charged in the indictment; were not contemplating any such crimes; had no prior involvement in any such crimes; and did not have the resources, skills or funds with which to commit such crimes."

The defendants claim that an impoverished Cromitie only agreed to participate in a plot manufactured by the government after he was promised $250,000.

Not only did the government fully fund the operation, it also pressured Cromitie to recruit others to participate, suggested specific targets, supplied a fake Stinger missile, assembled explosive devices, and transported the defendants, who did not have cars or driver's licenses, to "all locations within the charged scheme," according to the defendants' motion to dismiss.

Prosecutors argued the government's actions did not "remotely approach the extremely high legal standard that constitutes 'outrageous' government misconduct."



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Rubashkin in hospital; trial delayed until Friday 

Sholom Rubashkin’s child-labor trial will resume Friday after an infection landed the former Agriprocessors Inc. executive in the hospital on Sunday.
Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids admitted Rubashkin on Sunday, and he was expected to remain through at least today, his family said.

Court will remain in recess on Wednesday and Thursday so Rubashkin and his family can observe the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.

Rubashkin faces 83 misdemeanor child-labor charges. The state alleges minors at the kosher slaughterhouse in Postville worked excessive hours and were exposed to poisonous chemicals and dangerous machinery.

Prosecutors were scheduled to continue to bring former child laborers to the witness stand on Monday, the second week of a scheduled three-week trial.

At the hospital on Sunday, Rubashkin was given intravenous antibiotics because of a skin infection of unknown origin. His condition is not serious, Rubashkin’s family said.

Rubashkin’s attorneys did not provide any details on their client’s condition, citing federal health privacy laws.

Rubashkin’s rash first appeared two weeks ago during pretrial hearings and jury selection, said his wife, Leah Rubashkin. Doctors prescribed oral antibiotics last week, but he woke up Sunday with his arm red, hot and swollen, she said.

Rubashkin, a Hasidic Jew, went on a hunger strike before jury selection when Black Hawk County jail did not provide sufficient kosher food. The jail also removed his prayer garments, which it deemed a safety hazard.

To accommodate his religious needs, Rubashkin was transferred to Linn County jail in Cedar Rapids for the duration of the trial.

Rubashkin had been staying in Linn County while awaiting sentencing May 27 following his conviction on 86 federal financial fraud charges in November.



Monday, May 17, 2010

Brooklyn’s Oldest Orthodox Synagogue Celebrates Birthday 

The oldest Orthodox Jewish synagogue in all of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island — one of the few remnants of the non-Hasidic Jewish community that thrived in Williamsburg until the 1960s — celebrated its 141st anniversary on Sunday with a dinner that attracted several well-known figures from the legal and political communities.

The synagogue is Congregation Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, led since 1971 by Rabbi Joshua Fishman, who until recently, headed an international Hebrew-school support organization, and 85-year-old president Morris Schulman.

According to Marty Needelman, longtime director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and a trustee of the synagogue, “In 1971, you had 700 people coming to services here. Now, on Saturdays, you get about 25 people; on other days you get 12.”

Nevertheless, said Needelman, the congregation has attracted some younger members. Of the older people, some are Holocaust survivors.

The synagogue was founded in 1869 by traditional Jews who were members of a local Reform synagogue and were angry that this synagogue installed an organ for Yom Kippur services, a violation of traditional Jewish law. The first Jews who lived in the area were German Jews, as Reform Judaism was strong in Germany.

There are no longer any Reform or Conservative (actually, middle of the road) congregations in the area, said Needelman, although one Orthodox synagogue in Greenpoint has adopted mixed male-female seating.

The German Jewish community aside, large numbers of Eastern European Jewish immigrants flocked to Williamsburg from the Lower East Side in the early years of the 20th century, after the Williamsburg Bridge provided a direct link with Manhattan. Williamsburg was always a community for working class Jews, as opposed to more middle-class Jewish neighborhoods like Crown Heights and Flatbush.

Many prominent Jewish Americans grew up in Williamsburg, such as comedian-director Mel Brooks and singer-songwriter Barry Manilow. The old-time immigrant life in the community is described in Daniel Fuchs’ 1934 novel, Summer in Williamsburg.

After World War II, Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish refugees from Europe began to make Williamsburg their home. The tension between these refugees and non-Hasidic Jews, even the Orthodox, is detailed in Chaim Potok’s 1960s novel, The Chosen. Today, says Needelman, Congregation Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom is on good terms with “part of” the Hasidic community.

Other prominent Brooklynites who attended the anniversary dinner included prominent attorney and Democratic District Leader Steve Cohn and Assemblyman Joe Lentol. Lentol told the Eagle that although he himself is not Jewish, his, father, mother and aunt all spoke Yiddish because the neighborhood was so heavily Jewish.

“We had a store, and we had to be able to talk to the Yiddish customers,” said the assemblyman, who added that it was “an honor” to make a presentation at the dinner.

Cohn told the Eagle that “the synagogue is where I had my bar mitzvah. I go back there all the time — it reminds me of my dad, who was an assemblyman and was involved in the synagogue. The dinner is a wonderful annual event.”

The guest speaker at the dinner was Rabbi Oscar Ehrenreich, longtime principal of the Beth Jacob girls’ school in Borough Park, which has 2,000 students. A writer for the Best in Jewish Williamsburg blog was impressed that in addition to the scriptures, the rabbi quoted Tom Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again.

The synagogue’s current building, at 284 Rodney St., near Broadway, was built in 1957 – the original building was demolished as a result of the building of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.



Sunday, May 16, 2010

'91 Crown Hts. thug's new life 

The man at the center of the 1991 Crown Heights riot now lives incognito in a New Jersey town, untroubled by memories of his terrible deed.

"Up until today, I left it alone," Lemrick Nelson Jr., now 34, told The Post. "I don't even think about it."

"That was 19 years ago," he said about fatally stabbing Hasid scholar Yankel Rosenbaum at the height of the notorious race riot. "I was a kid then. I made a mistake. Kids make mistakes. I'm a man now. I've never been in or out of trouble. I don't live that life."

In his first interview since his 2004 release from prison, Nelson described himself as a sober family man.
UNDER THE RADAR: Lemrick Nelson Jr. who served 10 years in prison for his part in the Crown Heights riots, now lives quietly in New Jersey.

"I don't drink anymore because of what happened in 1991," he said. Nelson's legal team had blamed his violent act on drunkenness.

The Brooklyn riot was sparked when a Hasidic motorcade struck and killed a black child, Gavin Cato, 7. Hours later, a mob of angry black residents, including Nelson, hunted down Rosenbaum, a visiting Australian who had nothing to do with the fatal accident.

Bloody rioting, and clashes with cops, continued for days. By the end, 152 cops and 38 residents were injured, six stores were looted, and 27 police cars damaged.

Nelson now lives with a woman and their toddler daughter in an apartment in Hillside.

Neighbors and even his landlady, unaware of his notorious past, call him by his new nickname, "Ricky."

Nelson, who was tried three times for Rosenbaum's death and eventually served 10 years in prison, offered an apology for the riot, but not to his victim's family. "I regret the fact that people got hurt out there," he said.

He repeatedly asked that his whereabouts and current life not be disclosed. "Let bygones be bygones," he pleaded. "All it will do is bring back people's memories. You're just going to create tension for me."



Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gillibrand to “look into” her $1 million promise to KJ 

When word of US Senator Kirstin Gillibrand’s $1 million funding request for the Village of Kiryas Joel to build an emergency communications center surfaced this week, Orange County Executive Edward Diana went ballistic.

The county has a new, state-of-the-art emergency center in Goshen and Diana said the county didn’t need two such facilities.

Gillibrand told MidHudsonNews.com Friday while in Newburgh that she will explore the funding request.

“I’m going to look into that specifically to make sure it isn’t redundant because it is important that we have good oversight and accountability,” she said. “For the most part, I try very hard to help all communities, to be fair, and to make sure that we get the federal resources in that we need.”

Gillibrand said for communities to be considered for grants like this one, they must apply for them.



Hasid fury over Mike kid-care ax 

Orthodox Jewish leaders are furious with Mayor Bloomberg for pulling $16 million worth of day care vouchers that he restored last year -- just two weeks before Election Day.

"Definitely, we feel betrayed," said Joel Rosenfeld, an employee of the Bobov yeshiva in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Bloomberg pulled the vouchers, which serve 2,200 mostly Orthodox children in Borough Park and Williamsburg, during budget cutbacks last year.

But in June, under pressure from advocates, he extended the deadline to Dec. 31, 2009.

In October, the mayor had a private meeting with Jewish leaders and provided a second extension through June 30.

Bloomberg ended up capturing 80 percent of the Jewish vote in Borough Park.

"It's amazing that last year, in the middle of an election year, Mayor Bloomberg found the money to restore the vouchers," said City Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn).

"We need that miracle again this year. There is no election for him to face."

The cutback in Priority 7 vouchers is part of a larger $25 million reduction in the day care budget.



Friday, May 14, 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 'The New Bike' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Village might annex NYMA 

Village officials are entertaining the idea of annexing the 120-acre New York Military Academy.

Trustee Douglas Vatter said a resident suggested it might be a good way to protect the character of the village should the site be developed in the future.

NYMA's mailing address is Cornwall-on-Hudson, but it's actually located in the Town of Cornwall.

There's been concern among village and town residents as to what would happen to the site if NYMA closes for good. NYMA said it is suspending operations after the current school year.

While NYMA says it is not for sale, there have been reports of unsolicited potential buyers showing up on campus, including some described as appearing to represent either the Village of Kiryas Joel or some other Hasidic entity.

Village officials are choosing their words carefully, but Vatter said, "We'd like to be able to get control over (the site)."

Vatter said a separate village can't be established inside an existing one. Also, the village could rezone the site if it annexed it. It's currently zoned to allow one- and two-family homes per lot, and higher-density residential development under certain conditions.

State law would require both the town and NYMA to consent to the change. Cornwall Supervisor Kevin Quigley said he hasn't been approached about the idea yet.

NYMA Superintendent Capt. Robert Watts said he understands the concerns of residents, but "NYMA is still an ongoing concern. We're critical, but ongoing. All this talk about annexing property or changing zoning is inappropriate. We have not closed the school. We have not put the school up for sale."

Mayor Joe Gross said it will take a lot of research before the village knows if it wants to annex NYMA.



Thursday, May 13, 2010


Today, the Orthodox Union (Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America) through its Institute for Public Affairs, testified before the New Jersey Senate’s Committee on Economic Development in support of S.1872, the Opportunity Scholarship Act (OSA). OSA is a bi-partisan bill primarily sponsored by Senators Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) who chairs the committee and Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield). The state education commissioner, Bret Schundler, a nationally recognized leader in school reform, also testified in support of the legislation on behalf of Governor Chris Christie, marking the first time such legislation in New Jersey had the support of the administration. (Similar legislation proposed in the past never obtained the support of then-Governor Jon Corzine.)

The testimony made note of the Jewish people’s commitment to education throughout history, including during wars, persecution and other difficulties. Citing Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth who said “Our citadels are schools, our passion, education, and our greatest heroes, teachers,” the OU indicated its support for such programs should come as no surprise, even if the program initially helps few in the OU’s own community of Orthodox Jews, with support not only as a critical first step to helping all families across New Jersey, but to help those in need right now:

“This is about helping children in need. We ask that they realize this legislation helps both those who leave a failing school and those who stay.”

The OSA is a five-year pilot program, modeled on successful tax credit programs enacted in Pennsylvania, Florida and other states across the country. A similar proposal in Maryland passed the State Senate and attracted the support of the state’s Democratic governor, Martin O’Malley, but stalled at the last moment in a House committee. OSA would create scholarships funded by corporate donations, for which those corporations receive a tax credit from the state of New Jersey. Under the legislation, initially the tax credits are only available to those living in failing school districts, though unused funds would be available to anyone within that county who met the scholarship criteria. At least three Jewish communities would benefit from the program: Elizabeth, Lakewood and Passaic.

The OU noted that passing the legislation would be in keeping with the teachings of the Talmudic sage, Hillel, who when asked to explain Torah on “one foot” suggested “what is distasteful to you, do not do unto others.” OU executive vice president emeritus, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb taught that precept “means more than not acting badly to others but to proactively create, fund and find for others that which we value for ourselves and our families. If we value a good education for our own children, we can’t be satisfied until every child has it.”

The OU urges those who oppose the program--which includes those in the Jewish community who cite church-state concerns or other reasons to visit failing schools and successful nonpublic schools serving similar or the same neighborhoods and student populations--to choose the best policy for those children:

“We all want – we need – our public schools to be the best they can. But there are children in this state, in 2010, in failing schools. We urge any skeptic of this legislation to visit those schools, and then to visit a local nonpublic school nearby that has the same student population.”

The testimony was delivered by Howie Beigelman, OU Deputy Director of Public Policy who stated:

“This is the year our political stars align to begin helping children and families in need with real educational options. This pilot program makes sense fiscally, educationally and morally. With the help of our untiring legislative sponsors – Senators Lesniak and Kean – and a willing and supportive governor, our desperate parents and students will get the change and assistance they need.”



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

9 cases of mumps reported in LA County 

Nine mumps cases have been reported in Los Angeles County so far this year, an unusually high number since the childhood disease is easily prevented through vaccination, public health experts said today.

The outbreak may be related to a multi-state mumps outbreak affecting the Hasidic Jewish population on the East Coast, where clusters of mumps are being observed in community centers, schools and colleges, said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County's director of public health.

The region's nine mumps cases in the first five months of 2009 compare to seven in all of 2009, Fielding said. There were seven cases in all of 2008, and five in 2007, he said.

Mumps is a vaccine-preventable viral illness transmitted by coughing and sneezing. The first symptoms show up 12 to 25 days after exposure, and include swelling of the salivary glands, fever, and inflammation of the male sexual organs.

Up to 20 percent of people infected by mumps will display no symptoms at all, but in severe cases, it can lead to meningitis or encephalitis.

Mumps can be prevented by childhood vaccinations of the measles-mumps- rubella vaccine. The percentage of American children given that vaccine has decreased amidst fears that the vaccine is not safe, despite recent studies providing evidence to the contrary.

Twenty percent of the 2-year-olds in Los Angeles County have not been vaccinated against serious diseases, according to county health officials, who declared it "Toddler Immunization Month."



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

East Ramapo residents voting with their pocketbooks, while others voting for education 

East Ramapo school district residents voted their pocketbooks today against a property tax increase, while others supported the $198 million budget to maintain educational programs for their children's future.

The budget being voted on today would raise taxes 10 percent, if the district doesn't get $10 million in state and federal aid.

The spending plan also includes significant cuts such as the loss of more than 100 full-time staff members and the closure of the Hillcrest Elementary School.

Both sides handed out leaflets or little cards pressing their positions and targeting their prospective voters outside polling places. There are 10 polling places across the county's largest and most diverse school district of 8,000 public school students and 17,000 private school students.

Three school board seats were up — with one contested race between public school parent Antonio Luciano and Moses Friedman, whose children who attended private religious school. Susan Young-Mercer and Stephen Price were running unopposed on the ballot.

Outside the Lime Kiln Elementary School in Wesley Hills and Ramapo High School, Orthodox Jewish men handed out cards in English and Hebrew urging their voters to oppose the budget and a separate proposition earmarking $700,000 for 10 school buses.

Orthodox Jews choose to pay for private school education for their children, but still pay taxes for public schools.



Monday, May 10, 2010

Rubashkin trial on state child labor violations begins 

A jury in Black Hawk County District Court heard two very different stories Monday about the former day-to-day manager at a northeastern Iowa meatpacking plant who stands accused of violating state child labor laws.

Sholom M. Rubashkin, 51, who is awaiting sentencing on 86 federal fraud charges, began trial today on 83 charges related to child labor laws — a much condensed version of thousands of charges which were filed by the state in the wake of a massive immigration raid at the meatpacking plant in 2008.

Laura Roan, assistant Iowa attorney general, showed the jury photos of more than 30 young people the state contends were workers at the Agriprocessors plant. The young people, some only 13, worked long hours at the plant during a six-day work-week, she said, and were often exposed to dangerous equipment and substances.

F. Montgomery Brown, attorney for Rubashkin, argued that his client was not aware that underage workers were employed in the plant, and continued an “amateur” line of defense that has been a key focus of the federal case against Rubashkin. That is, according to defense attorneys, Rubashkin was in over his head when it came to managing the plant, a job he took only due to extreme pressure from his father, the company founder.

Roan described how children, working 16-hour days, would use electric saws on the “disassembly” line in the plant, and how some became ill after exposure to the chemicals used in the plant to kill potential meat pathogens.

Witnesses, including several Guatemalans from Postville, are expected to deliver testimony this afternoon. Because federal immigration charges against Rubashkin have been set aside, this will likely be the only time such witnesses have an opportunity to deliver statements about the plant in open court.

Rubashkin, who was originally set to be housed in the Black Hawk County Jail, is being bussed from the Linn County Jail to the Black Hawk County Courthouse — a distance of roughly 55 miles. Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said religious demands made by Rubashkin, who subscribes to Hasidic Judaism, were too excessive, and that the facility transferred Rubashkin back to the Linn County facility where his needs were better understood.



Sunday, May 09, 2010

Jewish Astronaut Carries Jewish Heritage Proclamation to Space 

Jewish American astronaut Garrett Reisman will take the presidential proclamation of Jewish Heritage Month into space with him when he launches aboard the Atlantis shuttle later this month.

The 12-day mission, set for May 16, is likely to be the shuttle's final space flight, according to NASA. The proclamation, an annual event, was initiated by former President George W. Bush in 2006 to “celebrate the rich history of the Jewish people in America and honor the great contributions they have made to our country.”

Reisman, who said that he himself is one of a “long line of Jewish Americans who have been deeply involved in the space program,” added that he will turn the proclamation over to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia upon his return.

Reisman is the first Jewish astronaut to have worked on the International Space Station. He spent three months there in 2008, during which time he sent a video greeting to the people of Israel as the nation celebrated the rebirth of the state on its 60th Independence Day.

The 42-year-old mission specialist told reporters during a NASA conference call late last week that he will also be carrying a photo of IAF Captain Assaf Ramon, son of Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia space shuttle explosion.

The young Ramon, who three months earlier had graduated a flight course at the top of his class, died tragically last September when his F-16 jet crashed in the southern Hevron Hills as he and a second F-16 pilot were practicing dogfight maneuvers.

Reisman said he would bring the photo to honor both father and son, as part of his “life-long commitment” to the family of his former colleague.

Only two more space shuttle launches are planned after Atlantis makes this trip, according to NASA; a 9-day Discovery mission, slated for September 2010, and the Endeavor mission, originally scheduled for this July, but now pushed off until November.

This month's Atlantis mission will deliver the Russian-built Mini-Research Module-1 to add storage space and a new docking port for Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, NASA said. A Russian multipurpose laboratory module is expected to be sent up on a Russian rocket in December 2011.



Saturday, May 08, 2010

Mumps cases growing 

More than 30 mumps cases have been reported in Nebraska and Iowa, health authorities said this week.

Twenty-one are Nebraska cases and 11 are Iowa cases, including at least four in northwest Iowa.

The federal Centers for Disease Control said Friday the only other states reporting mumps are New York and New Jersey, and those are primarily attributable to outbreaks in Hasidic Jewish schools there. Jeff Dimond, a CDC spokesman, said there isn’t a known connection between the cases in the Midwest and those in the northeast.

The outbreak is nowhere near that which occurred nationwide in 2006. That year, close to 2,000 cases were reported in Iowa and 363 in Nebraska.

Most Nebraska cases this spring have been linked to an alumni basketball tourney at Columbus Scotus High School in late March, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said.

Mumps is a contagious infection of the salivary glands. It’s spread through coughing or direct contact with mucus or saliva. Symptoms include fever, headaches and swelling beneath the jaw.

Since 2005, there has been only one mumps death in Nebraska or Iowa. The Iowa Department of Public Health said that individual had several other serious health problems, too.

“Sometimes mumps can be very serious, and there’s something that people can do about it,” said Dr. Marvin Bittner, an associate professor in the Creighton University School of Medicine.

Bittner said parents should make sure their children are vaccinated for mumps. Public health authorities generally recommend that children be vaccinated at 12 to 15 months of age, and again at 4 to 6 years of age.

The Nebraska health agency said the age group most at risk is between 30 and 65 years old. People younger than that most likely have received the vaccine, and those older than that probably have immunity because of exposure to the disease.

The state agency says preventive strategies include handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes, and avoiding touching one’s nose, eyes and mouth.



Friday, May 07, 2010

Rubashkin not welcome in Black Hawk County Jail 

A jury is seated in the trial of former Agriprocessors executive Shalom Rubashkin, but his trip to and from the courthouse will be a long one.

Rubashkin, who was convicted of federal fraud charges and now faces misdemeanor child labor charges, was originally going to stay at the Black Hawk County Jail because it was so close to the courthouse, but his demands proved to be too excessive, so he will instead stay at the Linn County facility in Cedar Rapids.

Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson says he spent weeks preparing for Rubashkin's stay. Rubashkin, who is a Hasidic Jew, has certain religious dietary requirements which Thompson says he met. "We certainly did our homework and asked our food vendor to do their homework," Sheriff Thompson says, "They're headquartered in Minneapolis, so they got in touch with a synagogue out there and discussed specifically about Hassidic Judaism and what their needs and requirements would be."

But Thompson says that wasn't good enough for Rubashkin. "And he looked very blandly at us and said 'I'll not eat what you prepared. I will tell you what I am going to eat.' So right off the bat we knew we had a bit of an issue with him," the sheriff says.

The demands didn't stop there, the sheriff says. Rubashkin had to be carried everywhere he went because he refused to walk without his sacred undergarments. Thompson eventually let him have those, but refused to allow a chest full of robes and leather straps that were potentially dangerous.

"For me to kowtow to one inmate's, uh, I hate to call them needs. I think I'm gonna call them wants. For me to kowtow to an inmates wants when that inmates needs were planned for; they were prepared for, they certainly could have been met, we just weren't willing or ready to travel down that road."

Rubashkin is expected to face 25 years to life when he's sentenced on the federal charges on May 28th.



Now You Can Get Fresh Kosher Milk in China 

If you are an Ashkenazi Jew with lactose intolerance, this news might not seem important to you, but a Beijing dairy is now distributing fresh kosher milk throughout China.

The organic milk – which is cholov yisroel, a stricter kosher standard acceptable to ultra - Orthodox Jews – is being produced under the supervision of Chabad-Lubavitch of Beijing. According to Chabad.org, the milk “meets European and American health standards.”

That assurance might alleviate concerns about tainted milk that have been at the center of several recent food scandals in the People’s Republic.

In the fall of 2008, according to the Jewish Telegrahic Agency (JTA), more than 300,000 Chinese babies were sickened and six died after drinking tainted infant formula. A Chinese middleman company was discovered buying milk from farmers watering it down to save money, spiking it with melamine to fool quality control agents and selling it to manufacturers of infant formula.

Top company officials were sentenced to death, but public distrust of the dairy industry remains strong. Reporters investigating the incident discovered that such dangerous adulteration of milk products had been going on for years.

The new kosher milk, which is also supervised by Rabbi Padwa of the London rabbinical court, JTA reported, will be produced monthly. It will be available in eight areas where most of China’s 10,000 Jews are found, including the city of Shanghai and Hong Kong.



Thursday, May 06, 2010

Orthodox Jews play ball in The Yankles 

West Hollywood can be a city of parallel cultures, an urban bouillabaisse where straight, gay, homeless, skaters, rockers, celebutantes, Russian Jews and intellectual atheists greet each other on the street and sometimes even celebrate life together. This imbues a certain vibrancy of our city, a worldly sophistication.

This critic’s exposure to one of these groups - Orthodox Jews - is still rather limited.

Walking up to Whole Foods one fine evening, four Hasidic boys in the typical black and white uniform, accented with fedora hat and those curls flitted up the street laughing and cavorting atypically.

Spotting me, one blurted, “Are you Jewish?” Sarcastically, as I have always expressed disdain for any organized religion, I replied, “No, I am not a chosen one, and I’m also gay!”

Not missing a beat, the apparent leader of the merry band of revelers replied with a big grin and loudly that it was okay, G-D loved everyone! For a brief moment, I wanted to get out a Torah and do some reading.

I would wager this is the extent of most of WeHo’s non-Orthodox Jewish community’s exposure to this religious group: a moment’s exchange, if that.

The amusing new film The Yankles should change that relationship and should be required viewing as a glimpse into this seemingly closed sect’s mindset.

After all, these devout Jews inhabit our southern city borders, from Santa Monica Boulevard to La Brea to Robertson Boulevard. They seem, well, odd to most of us, insulated from modern life and the urban bustle of the West Side.

To sound like a critic for a moment, half way through The Yankles I realized I had a big grin on my face, mixed with outright laughter and the occasional tear. The Yankles is a home run!

I detest reviewers who regurgitate the story to the reader, revealing plot points and leaving little to the imagination, so I won’t bore with too much detail.

The film gets you from the get-go, opening with a mercifully narration-free back story montage that sets the scene for the contemporary action. Much of the dramedy is set in a Yeshiva, or Orthodox seminary, with recurring scenes of road games and apartments and ballgame and social worker offices.



Wednesday, May 05, 2010

An Orthodox community comes of age in Waterbury 

This year, the Waterbury Jewish community turns 10. That's by one count... Jews started migrating to the Brass City in the mid-19th century, when manufacturing jobs were plentiful. But 150 years later, the last remaining Reform and Conservative synagogues had been sold to churches, and only one Orthodox congregation, B'nai Shalom Synagogue, was left.

More accurately, this month, the new Waterbury Orthodox Jewish community celebrates its 10th anniversary. It may be the only instance of a planned Jewish community in the U.S.

"We developed an Orthodox community where there was no existing community," says Rabbi Yehuda Brecher, who, along with his wife, Yocheved, was one of the community's nine original families. "The concept of enhancing communities exists in numerous towns and cities across the U.S. The residents might want a little extra, so they bring in a yeshiva or a kollel or more young families. But to move to a community where you could count the number of Orthodox Jews on one hand - that's unique."

What has become a thriving Jewish area owes its existence to Rabbi Judah Harris of B'nai Shalom, who over the years had watched Jews leave Waterbury, and had seen the synagogues close. Finally, in 1999, he couldn't find a weekday minyan for a congregant sitting shiva. He decided to rebuild the Jewish community. The key, he thought, was to bring a yeshiva to the city as a draw for young people.

"Throughout the history of America, if there's no strong education or family life or social life for the younger crowd, they start moving out," says Rabbi Ahron Kaufman, a founder of the community and Rosh Yeshivah - or Dean - of its yeshivah. "In every shul and Jewish organization, we focus on the old regime, and while they deserve it, if we don't open up to the younger generation, they move to places where opportunity and friends are."

Harris knew that Waterbury had to attract a new wave of Jewish migration, and that required a focus on education and children. "Every organization called him a dreamer," Kaufman says. "They said, 'People won't come from New York to Connecticut, especially to Waterbury.'"
That is, until the dreamer approached Torah Umesorah, the national society of Orthodox day schools and yeshivot, and the organization put the word out. Kaufman was teaching at a yeshiva in Far Rockaway, Long Island.

"I fell into it," he says. "It was a dream of mine to help my students. I saw them growing and as they got married, they had no place to go. I thought, 'What can I do for them?' Rabbi Harris and I got to the same solution from two different points."

By May 2000, Harris had recruited three philanthropists and enough teachers, young couples, and students to make the move. For the yeshiva, his group was offered a lease by the Waterbury Development Corporation for several buildings on UConn's Hillside campus when the university relocated to an old theater downtown. They bought more than 70 houses in the surrounding area, and bought back Beth El Synagogue from the church that was about to move in.

In August, nine families and 30 high school-age boys moved to Waterbury, from Orthodox communities in New York and New Jersey, and some returning from yeshivot in Israel. The Yeshiva K'tana elementary school enrolled 10 students.

Rabbi Yehuda Brecher was studying in the post-graduate kollel of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin in Brooklyn, N.Y. when the director told the older students about "a great idea." One made the two-hour drive to Waterbury and verified that it was not only a viable community but, as Brecher says, "schleppable to New York."



The ultra-Orthodox face up to abuse 

The uncovering of sexual abuse perpetrated by religious leaders in the Catholic church is mirrored within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. As with the Catholic church, where the abuse was uncovered early on in the US, institutional child sexual abuse is starting to be prosecuted in New York. And as with the Catholic church, which has begun to change its stance on prosecuting priests, ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders are beginning to permit the reporting to police of these crimes. As with the Catholic church, Jewish victim support groups and advocates have brought these crimes to the public's attention. The question is whether, as with the Catholic church, this is far too little far too late.

A little known Jewish law called mesira, found in the Talmud with some scriptural support, forbids a Jew from reporting another Jew to the gentile authorities. The law was in response to non-Jewish governments whose courts were staffed by antisemites. According to Jewish leaders, those courts looked for any excuse to find against a Jew. Many rabbis took a rather dim view of gentile legal processes, advocating that their courts were flawed, antisemitic and less capable than Jewish courts. Mesira essentially allowed Jewish courts to retain control over all disputes, ensuring that religious law prevailed.

In today's society, where there are proper, transparent and just courts of law, the law of mesira has largely been abandoned. Most Jewish communities recognise the legal system of the countries where they live; saving relatively few disputes, mostly centring on religious issues such as divorce, for the Jewish courts. However, the ultra-Orthodox communities still use mesira to prohibit any Jew being reported to the non-Jewish authorities.

As can be imagined, this is a pretty dangerous stance to take, particularly in terms of violent criminals. Perpetrators of, for example, domestic violence, child abuse, or sexual crimes, are often protected by the ultra-Orthodox communities and dealt with "in-house". They are sometimes beaten up by the self-appointed Jewish "police", and often moved to areas where there is no knowledge of their crimes.

Perpetrators of child sexual abuse within ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities have been afforded similar protection to Catholic priests. Rabbis have continued to teach, in their own or in new institutions. Yehuda Kolko allegedly had his crimes covered up by the Yeshiva Torah Temima school where he taught for over 25 years. Communities have shielded fugitives, such as Nachman Stal, who fled charges in Israel and was protected for almost a decade by the North London ultra-Orthodox community.



Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Hikind, Orthodox Jews Here Fight Organ Donation Bill 

Calling Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s (D-Westchester) presumed consent legislation “tantamount to entrapment,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) Monday launched an opposition campaign to prevent the bill from moving forward in Albany.

If passed, New York would be the first state that presumes people wish to donate their organs unless they specifically opt-out. Presently, prospective donors must give permission to donate their organs by checking a box on their driver’s licenses in the presence of two witnesses, or by filling out a donor card.

Joining Hikind in opposition are the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a rabbinic organization which boasts more than 800 members nationwide; The Catholic League, the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization; The National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue movement with 146 branches across North America; and leaders from Chesed Shel Emes, an organization which prepares members of the Jewish community for burial according to Orthodox tradition.

In traditional Judaism, organ donation is often seen somewhat skeptically. Generally speaking, if an organ for a particular transplant is needed urgently, it’s considered OK, but people are discouraged from donating their organs to “organ banks.” Hikind’s base is the Orthodox Jewish community of mid-Brooklyn.

“This legislation is blatantly unfair,” said Hikind. “We intend to do everything in our power to prevent a real-life invasion of the body snatchers in New York state.”

Hikind added that while he supports all those who wish to donate voluntarily, the notion of presumed consent poses a great risk to those who simply forget to opt-out, and consequently, may be forced to donate their organs upon death. “This bill is tantamount to entrapment,” noted Hikind.

National Council of Young Israel President Steven Z. Mostofsky, Esq. remarked, “While organ donation is commendable, it should be a person’s choice to do so. The U.S. Constitution has been cited many times to protect citizen’s rights to control their own bodies. Why should people not be able to control what happens to their body after they die?”

“The predicate of these bills is that the government enjoys a lien on our bodies,” added Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League. “That is obscene.”



Ramapo seeks to build rail-to-trail path 

Ramapo plans to build a 1.4-mile-long pedestrian and bicycle trail from Airmont to Spring Valley along an old railroad line.

It will likely be several years before the trail opens, but a state environmental review is expected to begin soon, Ramapo Assistant Town Attorney Aaron Troodler said Monday.

Troodler said that he did not how much the project would cost but that the town would explore grants to pay for it.

The trail would be part of the unused portion of the Piermont Branch line. It would run east from nearby Monsey Heights Road in Airmont, under the Thruway, cross routes 59 and 306 in Monsey, go past Robert Pitt Drive and end at West Central Avenue in Spring Valley.

"It's something that's going to enhance the town's parks and recreation program, really give people an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors in a safe environment," Troodler said.

Metro-North Railroad, which owns the line, recently granted the town a 20-year license to lease the property for $1 a year, however, it waived the payments.

The town wants to build a 15-foot-wide, paved walkway with benches and lighting.



Rubashkin disputes jail kosher 

A district associate judge ruled the child labor case against Sholom Rubashkin of Agriprocessors will go on.

But first there was the issue of lunch.

Defense attorney F. Montgomery Brown said Tuesday his client, a Hasidic Jew, was on a hunger strike because he wasn't able to certify that his special meals at the Black Hawk County Jail were kosher to his level of observance of his faith.

Rubashkin had been housed at the Linn County Jail in Cedar Rapids for a federal fraud trial. He was moved to the Black Hawk County Jail this week for the duration of his child labor violation trial.

He was booked in at about 12:40 p.m. Monday and as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday hadn't eaten a bite because of dietary concerns, Brown said.

"I can't represent a client who's not going to eat," Brown said.

When Rubashkin was first brought to the jail, deputies had to carry him because he didn't have his yarmulke and his religious undershirt, Brown said. He said his client's faith prohibits him from moving more than eight cubits in any direction without the items.

That issue was later resolved, Brown said.

He also mentioned concerns about prohibitions dealing with the use of electricity and eating while the sun is up during the Sabbath. There is also the issue of 10 religious books Rubashkin needs to study.

"He doesn't watch TV and watch football games. He reads stuff," Brown said.

Jail officials said they are working on the accommodations, and the defense brought an Iowa City rabbi to help sort out the matter.

District Associate Judge Nathan Callahan said state law allows for some accommodations, but he wasn't going to rule on the issue, which he said was better suited to a higher judge.

"This case goes forward," Callahan said. "I'm not derailing this proceeding because of his choice."

He noted that Rubashkin is incarcerated, and one of the effects of being in jail is being deprived of "things that are near and dear to your heart."

He noted that Rubashkin could be tried without his presence in the courtroom.



Monday, May 03, 2010

Rubashkin - Why should you care? 


Anti-Zionist rabbi Moshe Hirsch dies in Jerusalem 

Moshe Hirsch, an American-born anti-Zionist rabbi and close associate of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has died in Jerusalem, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group said Monday. He was 86.

Hirsch was a leading figure in Neturei Karta, a tiny ultra-Orthodox sect that opposes Israel's existence as a Jewish state and has embraced its enemies. He was born in New York and attended a rabbinical academy in New Jersey.

Arafat, who died in 2004, appointed Hirsch his adviser on Jewish affairs.

The group is known for its members' 2006 trip to Iran, where they embraced the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a Holocaust-denying conference. It also supports Gaza's Hamas rulers and the Lebanese Hezbollah militants.

These alliances have drawn criticism even from other anti-Zionist Jewish groups, which believe that only the Messiah can establish a Jewish state.

Neturei Karta, which is Aramaic for "Guardians of the City," was founded some 70 years ago in Jerusalem by Jews who opposed the drive to establish the state of Israel. Estimates of the group's size range from a few hundred to a few thousand. Hirsch was the son-in-law of the group's founder, Rabbi Aharon Katzenelbogen.

Eida Haredit, an umbrella group of anti-Zionist Jewish sects, confirmed Hirsch died on Sunday.

Hatem Abdel Qader, an adviser on Jerusalem affairs to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said he would take part in a Palestinian delegation to pay respects to the late rabbi.

"We consider Rabbi Hirsch a part of the Palestinian people," said Abdel Qader. "He is one of the Palestinian Jews whom we give all respect and this is to confirm that our problem is not with the Jews as a religion, it's with Zionism."

Hirsch, who was buried Sunday, is survived by three children and a brother.



Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stolen Torah scrolls returned 

Five sacred Torah scrolls stolen from a Brooklyn synagogue were turned over to prosecutors late last night, The Post has learned.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office negotiated a deal with a "go between from the community who wanted to do a mitzvah," a source said, using the Hebrew word for "good deed."

The man told investigators that he was friends with a person who knew the robber believed to have snatched the precious scrollsvalued at more than $30,000 each from the Karlsburg Synagogue on 53rd St. between 15th and 16th avenues Borough Park on April 28.

"I am very pleased that I was able to facilitate the return of these sacred Torahs to the synagogue and the members of its congregation," said Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes in a statement.

The scrolls were given to detectives before the rabbi of the Satmar synagogue picked them up from the DAs office, a spokesman added.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said the return of the holy texts was a huge relief not just to the Karlsburg congregation, but the entire Orthodox community.

"Amazing beyond any words, he said. Today is also a holiday, Lag B'Omer, a very special time in the Jewish calendar and for this to happen on this holiday, which started last night is quite amazing. We don't have all the facts and all the details, but at this point, I don't even care. I'm thrilled that these Torahs will be back in the community. It's lifting the burden off the entire community.



Mother of 'abusive rabbi' victims gets 5 years 

The wife of "abusive rabbi" Elior Chen will sit behind bars for the next five years. Jerusalem District Court Judge Zvi Segal authorized Sunday the plea bargain between M., who is in the process of getting a divorce from Chen, and the State Prosecution, and sentenced her to five years in prison and two years on probation.

"The actions carried out against the children included shaking, beating, binding, burning, force-feeding them feces, and more, and reflect a loss of humanity on behalf of the perpetrators," the judge ruled.

In his sentence, Judge Segal wrote, "Reading the indictment evokes a range of varied and powerful emotions, as well as shuddering and horror that the mother of eight small children abandoned them entirely to the care of (Elior) Chen, and carried out his will as if under a spell, absent of any capacity for judgment or distinguishing between permissible and forbidden."

"Chen and his associates displayed monstrous 'creativity' and in their 'correctional work' with the defendant's children. These actions bring up difficult memories from with the darkest history of the human race in general and the Jewish People in particular," Segal added.

The judge also referred to the children's mother, who served as a state witness, and wrote, "The warning bells and emergency of the childrens' screams and cries, which would have penetrated the most hardened heart, were not heart by the victims' mother, of all people."

The mother of the children whom Elior Chen abused served as a state witness. In this framework, she tearily described two weeks ago what her children had endured. "There are not enough words in the world to describe and express the enormity of the pain, sorrow, and anxiety in my heart for what I went through and what I put my children through," she said.



Mumbai attacks verdict due 

A PAKISTANI man facing the death penalty if convicted of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks will on Monday learn his fate, as the court reconvenes for the judge to deliver his verdict.

Mr Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kasab, 22, is facing a string of charges, including 'waging war against India' and murder, in connection with the bloody, three-day siege that left 166 people dead and more than 300 others wounded.

Judge M.L. Tahaliyani has spent more than a month considering the evidence. Before retiring on March 31, he told the court: 'May 3 will be the day of judgment.'

The end of the trial is a significant step towards the rehabilitation of India's financial and entertainment capital.

The city was badly shaken by the coordinated commando-style attacks on three luxury hotels, the main railway station, a popular tourist restaurant and a Jewish centre that began on the evening of November 26, 2008.

Only a week ago, the worst-damaged hotel, The Oberoi, welcomed back guests for the first time in 18 months, with staff hoping to put the past behind them. Tentative steps have also begun towards resuming dialogue with Pakistan, which India blames for harbouring the Islamist extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba that allegedly masterminded the attacks.



Saturday, May 01, 2010

Two Brooklyn teens arrested for roughing up rabbi 

That's a lot of chutzpah!

A Brooklyn rabbi took a fierce beating from teenage punks after demanding they scram from a yeshiva schoolyard where they were bullying students, police said yesterday.

Several students at the Cheder School in Borough Park told their teacher, Rabbi Mayer Gross, at around 3 p.m. Wednesday that two teens in the school-owned yard playing handball were refusing to let them use the playground, cops said.

"Many times, strangers come in to use the park, so we put up a sign that no one should come -- private property," said an official at the privately run religious academy, who would not give his name.

"Any time someone comes to play, we say over the [loudspeaker], please leave. These two guys wouldn't leave. That's when Rabbi Gross came. They still wouldn't leave, so he took out his camera phone to take their picture. That's when they got angry."

Police said that one of the teens, 16-year-old Justin Rodriguez, of Bensonhurst, shoved Gross.

The other teen, 17-year-old Shreaf Taha, who lives near the school, picked up a bag containing a teddy bear and water gun and whipped it at Gross, striking him on the head and leaving him with a cut, cops said.

"They cut him on his face. His forehead was bleeding," said Avrohom Mitnick, a 10th-grader at the school.

But Rodriguez and Taha -- neither of whom has a criminal record -- said that they were just killing time before Rodriguez had to go to work and that they were the ones who took a beating.

"They said something over the loudspeaker but it was unclear," Rodriguez said. "Next thing I know, the rabbi charged at me. He kicked at me from behind."

Members of a volunteer patrol then joined in, the teens said.

"They were hitting us full force," Rodriguez said, pointing to bruises on his torso, following his arraignment on assault charges yesterday. Taha had welts on his back and neck.

Both were released without bail.

Gross, 36, refused medical attention and declined to comment.

Students said people from the neighborhood often use the school's yard, even though it was on private property.



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