Saturday, July 31, 2010

10 reasons why you would want ultra-Orthodox Jews as neighbours 

It’s not been a good week for the media’s treatment of ultra-Orthodox Jews – not that they will care: in their cloistered world they believe in the right not to know. Yours truly kicked off the drubbing with a piece about how they opted for unemployed piety over good honest toil and my colleague Damian Thompson weighed in with a well-read blog about anti-Christian attitudes among Jews.

But the most pungent offering – written in a style part Der Stürmer, part The Lady – was some lurid nonsense by Independent columnist Christina Patterson, “Attention all religions: multiculturalism has its limits”.

It began with a scream of invective about how rude and ill-mannered her ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbours were in the inner city enclave of Stamford Hill, north London, where she resides, before incoherently linking their ability to drive really badly with genital mutilation among Muslims, and finishing off with a shrill broadside against faith schools. Phew!

As Ms Patterson now shares a berth at the Indy with renown philo-semite and trenchant writer Julie Burchill, I had this vision of St Julie stomping across the newsroom and pulling the plug on prissy Patterson’s PC. Unfortunately, Burchill is a confirmed denizen of Brighton, so it falls to me to mount a defence of my (sort of) co-religionists.

10 reasons why you would want ultra-Orthodox Jews as neighbours:

1. Property prices: If you own a house in an ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood, it’s a sellers’ market. The Jews must reside within walking distance of their synagogues and yeshivas because of the Sabbath driving ban, plus they are so close-knit they would never consider moving too far from Planet Haredi. So you’re guaranteed a premium asking price. They’ll try and bargain you down but stand your ground; they’ll have to pay up in the end.

2. Crime: There is no record of an ultra-Orthodox Jew ever committing a mugging in the UK. Be honest, who would you rather meet down a dark alley: a gang of hoodies or a posse of Yiddish-speaking boychiks in black hats?

3. No tiresome keeping up with the Joneses/Cohens: Ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t do conspicuous consumption. Even the well-to-do are quite content driving around in a battered old Volvo until the wheels drop off.

4. Noise abatement: They might be wild-eyed believers but they’re not into wild parties. All-nighters consist of going to the synagogue on certain high holy days and feverishly praying until the sun comes up.

5. Weekend parking: Religious Jews are prohibited from driving on a Saturday by religious law, thus you will find no problem finding a parking spot on the High Street from sunset on Friday through to Saturday night. Sunday morning is bedlam, however.

6. No impromptu visits: Privacy is guaranteed if you’re a non-Jew living among the ultra-Orthodox. They want absolutely nothing to do with you and will never, ever, ever pop round for a bowl of sugar.

7. No sex, please, we’re Jewish: An ultra-Orthodox Jew must be one of the least likely candidates to run off with your wife.

8. Leylandi (absence of): Ultra-Orthodox Jews have lived in crowded, urban ghettos for so long that they are totally immune to the British gardening fetish. They also hate dogs.

9. Schools: No worries about parental competition to get little Christopher or Mary into that high-achieving C of E/Roman Catholic primary.

10. Liberation from social conventions: Ms Patterson patronisingly demanded the ultra-Orthodox Jews “treat their neighbours with a bit more courtesy” but what she doesn’t get is that they live in a state of gentle anarchy and are just as rude to one another. Don’t be offended, just be discourteous back. Feel free to hoot at them in traffic and steal their parking spaces (they’ll just shrug nonchalantly, not beat your brains out); talk loudly on your mobile phone; forget to say thank-you; push in front of them in queues (they’ll admire your chuztpah); ram them with your pram (they’ll understand, they’ve got half-a dozen kids themselves); and enjoy the naughty and rare pleasure of not conforming.



Friday, July 30, 2010

Israeli rabbis clamp down on burka 

At the insistence of the husbands of some burka-wearing women, a leading rabbinical authority is to issue an edict declaring burka wearing a sexual fetish that is as promiscuous as wearing too little.

A small group of ultra-orthodox Jews in the town of Beit Shemesh chose to don the burka, usually associated with women in repressive Islamist regimes, three years ago in a bid to protect their modesty.

Since then, the habit has spread to five other Israeli towns causing alarm among ultra-orthodox religious leaders who once saw it as a relatively harmless eccentricity – even though the number of Jewish burka wearers is not thought to be more than a few hundred.

“There is a real danger that by exaggerating, you are doing the opposite of what is intended [resulting in] severe transgressions in sexual matters,” Shlomo Pappenheim, a member of the rabbinical authority preparing to make the edict, was quoted as saying.

Ultra-Orthodox women are required to dress conservatively and keep their heads covered with a scarf, hat or wig when in public.

But even that was not enough for some, who insisted that only by covering their faces and wearing multiple layers of clothes to hide the shape of their bodies can they really be chaste.

"At first, I just wore a wig," one burka-wearing woman told the Haaretz newspaper. "Now when I see a woman with a wig, I pray to God to forgive her for wearing that thing on her head."

Since donning the burka, the woman said she had been taunted by neighbours who called her a "smelly Arab" and that Israeli soldiers had asked to see her identification papers to prove she was not a Muslim. They backed down, she said, when she showed them that her children were clearly Jewish.

The trend has also caused tensions in family life. One man went to a rabbinical court in an attempt to get a ruling to force his wife to stop wearing the burka.

The plan backfired, however. The court ruled that that woman's behaviour was so "extreme" that it ordered the couple to undergo an immediate religious divorce.



Thursday, July 29, 2010

Seasonal grocery store gets facade 

Inside, the scene looked like grocery stores everywhere: men and women shopped among shelves full of bread, produce, snacks and treats. Outside, the building had a new façade.

The new look was achieved with help from a $5,000 grant from Sullivan Renaissance to help spruce up Motty’s Supermarket, a former movie theater located at the intersection of Routes 55 and 17B, which now serves as a grocery store during July and August. The supermarket is owned by United Talmudical Academy (UTA).

According to a press release, the UTA made improvements totaling $20,000, which included power washing and painting the building, replacing the old theater marquee with a new canopy and pillars, refurbishing panels on the storefront, replacing an upper story window and restoring an exterior light fixture.

“We were impressed with the scope of the UTA’s commitment in both time and money,” said Richard Sush, who oversaw the project for Sullivan Renaissance.

Bethel supervisor Dan Sturm said, “This is a wonderful example of what can happen when groups work together toward a common goal. The town sees this project as opening the door to a new era of cooperation and mutual respect with the United Talmudical Academy.”

The project marks an easing of tensions between some members of UTA and the town. In 2009, 150 members of the summer Hasidic community registered to vote in Bethel in the wake of the construction of a controversial UTA shul and community center on Shultz Road. According to town officials, the shul had not been properly permitted.

After a public campaign waged by a group called Voters for Election Integrity (VEI), 90 of the registrations were ultimately rejected by the Sullivan County Board of Elections.

In December of 2009, the town and UTA came to an agreement about how the shul could obtain a certificate of occupancy. Part of the agreement called for improvements to other UTA buildings, such as the supermarket.

Seasonal grants

The supermarket is one of several Sullivan Renaissance seasonal projects this summer. Others include improvements to Regency Estates, a second home community in Woodridge; store front spruce ups to the Main Street Mall in Woodbourne; improvements to the entryway to Garden View Cottages in Loch Sheldrake; and improvements to staff housing at Camp Morris in Woodridge.



Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Eating Disorders A Hidden Problem For Orthodox Jews 

When Faryn Hart settled into her seat at the weekly Shabbat table set for 20 at her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, she also settled into the role her grandmother expected her to play.

Yes, she would study medicine. Yes, she would marry an engineer. Yes, she got an A on her exam. And yes, she'd take another helping of whatever was coming from the kitchen.

Even as the ballerina and popular Hebrew day school student effortlessly spit out the right answers, her mind was awash in torment. As the food was passed around--fried sole, fish cakes, salad oozing with mayonnaise--her instincts to binge and purge became uncontrollable.

"I was not present," Hart, now 24, recalled. "I was in the conversation but completely thinking about the food. It wasn't about the ritual, it was about the ego. Perhaps it was a way to deal with the discomfort of a family that put so much pressure on me."

The eating disorder Hart struggled with throughout high school and at the University of Florida reflects an alarming trend that's long been a hidden problem for Orthodox Jewish women.

Though statistics are few, eating disorder expert Dr. Ira Sacker found in a 1996 study that one in 19 Orthodox Jewish teenage girls in Brooklyn had an eating disorder--about 50 percent higher than the general population.



Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mazel tov! Hasidic Jewish wedding is a first for Rochester 

What was believed to be Rochester's first Hasidic Jewish wedding Monday brought centuries-old religious traditions to Peace Plaza, where Doba Greene of Rochester and Yossi Schlass of Jerusalem were married.

Guests were given a booklet, described as "our playbill of sorts," to help explain the customs, and anyone who happened to pass by was welcome to stay and watch.

"A Jewish wedding in Rochester is rare, but an orthodox, traditional, Hasidic wedding hasn't been done," said the father of the bride, Rabbi Dovid Greene, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Rochester. "Our goal was to make each stage of the wedding both understandable and meaningful, as each ritual is filled with so much significance."

The wedding was held outdoors as a symbol of God's promise to Abraham that his children would multiply like "the stars of heaven."

The Peace Plaza, which has been rented for weddings before, proved to be the perfect location, not only for its proximity to the Kahler Hotel, where the reception for 300 was held, but also because people of all races and religions pass through.

"It's nice for people to see a Hasidic ritual," said Doba Greene, 21, who said her family was sent to Rochester by a rabbi to serve Jews who come to the city for medical treatment and the wider community.

It's tradition that the bride and groom don't see one another for a week before the wedding, but Greene and Schlass, who owns a pizza shop in Israel, where the couple plan to live, haven't seen each other since they were engaged in May.

The couple was reunited just before the wedding ceremony when Schlass placed a white veil made from cloth passed down through generations over Greene's face. The veil has several meanings, including that her husband is not solely interested in her physical beauty, but her inner beauty as well. It also provides the bride with privacy at this propitious time of her life.

The ceremony ended with the groom stepping on a wine glass in remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Holy Temple. With that the guests began to clap and sing.

"Everybody should get up and dance," the rabbi told the crowd. "It's not a request. It's an obligation."

A fast-paced song began to play and Greene removed her veil, revealing a wide smile as she hugged her family and friends.

"It's always fun to see a wedding," said Lindy Phannestiel of Colorado, who was among the passers-by who stopped to watch the ceremony. "It reminds you of your own."

"It's great that they did this in a public place," said her husband, Eric Phannestiel. "So the public can celebrate with them."



Monday, July 26, 2010

Un-kosher rabbi gets 27 months for defrauding goverment 

An admittedly un-kosher rabbi was sentenced this morning to 27 months in the slammer for an unholy fraud for which four fellow crooks walked free after getting their sentences commuted by then-Preisdent Clinton.

Rabbi Avrum Friesel -- who spent more than 11 years on the lam in Israel and Great Britain -- said he was "deeply ashamed" for breaking American civil law, which meant he also broke Jewish religious law.

"I feel very sorry for the things that I did that were not kosher," Friesel, 57, said in Manhattan federal court.

The gray-bearded religious teacher later turned and smiled to about two dozen supporters wearing black velvet skull caps and traditional Hasidic black garb.

After being extradited last year from London, Friesel, pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme that defrauded various government programs of tens of millions of dollars during the 1980s.

The scam -- run by leaders of the Hasidic village of New Square in Rockland County -- secured more than $10 million in crooked Pell grants for ineligible students at a Brooklyn seminary, and also stole from the Small Business Administration and the federal Section 8 housing program.

Judge Barbara Jones cut Friesel a break from sentencing guidelines that called for up to 41 months in prison, citing his relatively minor role in the scam and his history of working with disabled children.

She also ordered him to pay $11 million-plus in restitution.

Only about $26,000 of the stolen money has been repaid, prosecutor Daniel Levy said.

Four co-defendants were convicted in 1999, but had their sentences commuted by President Clinton on his last day in office in 2001, shortly after his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, won nearly every vote cast in New Square during her election to the U.S. Senate.

A subsequent investigation by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office found no wrongdoing.

The mastermind behind the scheme -- Chaim Berger, a Holocaust survivor and founder of New Square -- died while serving a six-year prison term in 2004.

A seventh defendant, Nathan Adler, remains at large.



Sunday, July 25, 2010

Boxer Dmitriy Salita is Humbled, but not Down for the Count 

Dmitriy Salita speaks about the future of his boxing career with a look of pure intensity in his otherwise mournful brown eyes.

All the greatest boxers have this stare, a perfect distillation of concentration and discipline and total faith in the strength of their arms. But in Salita, it is also the look of a man convincing himself that he has a future in the sport.

Seven months have passed since his humiliating loss in England to Amir Khan—the first defeat of his professional career in 32 bouts—when he was stopped 76 seconds into their world title match after being knocked down three times. He has not faced another opponent in the ring.

In late June, I met Salita at the Sea Breeze Jewish Center, a dilapidated Brooklyn building with the elevated lines of the F train rattling loudly just behind it and the Brighton Beach boardwalk a block away. Salita has an unassuming presence—soft spoken, yet with a tinge of nervous energy, his BlackBerry never leaving his hands.

Salita, 28, also looks even more religious than he did in “Orthodox Stance,” the documentary that introduced the wider world to the Ukrainian-born Jewish immigrant, who had emerged from a Brooklyn gym to win the U.S. Amateur Under-19 Championships and then the coveted Golden Gloves in 2001. He is wearing a large blue yarmulke and tzitzit that hang over his jeans. A reddish beard covers the baby face that made him so endearing in the film.

Besides the fight, much has happened to Salita in the past year. He was married last September to a woman who grew up in the Chabad-Lubavitch community, and he has started to involve himself more directly with what he believes is his mission—to help move young Russian Jews closer to Judaism. It’s the reason we met in this part of Brooklyn.

In May, Salita inaugurated the Dmitriy Salita Youth Center in a large hall in the basement of the Sea Breeze Jewish Center. Among the slew of dignitaries on hand was Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Daniel Ayalon. His Chabad friends have established the Dmitriy Salita Foundation to support, as one rabbi put it, “those who want to follow the path of Dmitriy.”



Saturday, July 24, 2010

Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Murder of Jew 

The Supreme Court, a highest judicial body, on Saturday upheld death sentence on Muslim man who shot dead a Jewish fellow citizen, Mashaa Yehiya bin Yaeesh Al-Nahari and overturned a previous sentence in March in which the court deemed Abdul-Aziz Al-Abdi, to pay a fine of 5.5 million riyals.

Al-Nahari, Hebrew teacher in one of Raydah's two Jewish schools, asked to be left alone but Al-Abdi then opened fire with a submachine gun until he was riddled with bullets, the father said in statement.

Al-Abdi, mentally unstable, is alleged to have murdered his wife two years before he killed Al-Nahari, but was not jailed because he agreed to pay compensation to the wife’s family, an Al-Abdi's tribal affiliate told local media.

Ahmed Al-Sarihi, a security official was quoted as saying Al-Abdi was a religious extremist that suffered from mental problems and that during questioning he admitted killing Al-Nahari and telling police that “these Jews must convert to Islam.” "Al-Abdi met Al-Nahari and told him “Jew, accept Islam’s message” and then shot him five times with an AK-47 assault rifle," he said.

He also said that Al-Abdi, a retired pilot in the Yemeni air force, showed no remorse for his actions and repeatedly interrupted the prosecutor during the hearing to renew his confession, adding that Al-Abdi has repeatedly said he carried out the murder after warning Yemeni Jews that he would kill them unless they converted to Islam.

Yemeni Jews enjoy special protection from Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Salah but covert exoduses out of Yemen continue as a result of occasional violent attacks against them by some radicals.

Since 1949 about 50,000 members of the once-thriving Yemeni Jewish community are reported to have been secretly airlifted to Israel.



Friday, July 23, 2010

Flushing Ave Bike Lane Arrives 

As promised, the DOT is going ahead with the last piece of the bike lane puzzle connecting downtown Brooklyn to Greenpoint. This morning workers began buffing out the median divider on busy Flushing Avenue, and painting in the bike lanes. To recap, this first phase will create bike lanes on Flushing Avenue between Kent and Navy as an interim solution to the hazardous conditions. (The DOT had originally proposed changing Flushing to one-way and installing a dedicated two-way bike path, but the community board shot it down.)

Phase 2 will widen the sidewalk on the north side of Flushing by six feet, creating a two-way bike path and shared pedestrian space, similar to what's currently in effect on part of Kent. But expanding the sidewalk requires coordination with multiple city agencies, and the DOT estimates that it will take two to four years to build. (Measure in human time, we're probably looking at 2020.)

Meanwhile, over in Manhattan, the Community Board 4 has unanimously voted to approve an 11 block extension [pdf] to the excellent Eighth Avenue bike lane. The extension will preserve the bike lane's separation from traffic by a "floating" parking lane, with the added improvement of separate left-turn signals for bikes and cars. Once completed, the bike lane will extend up to 34th Street. And after that, the world!

Making an interesting comparison, Streetsblog points out that "the new bike lanes on First and Second Avenues, as well as the lane coming to Columbus Avenue later this year, don't include separate turn phases or concrete pedestrian refuges at many intersections. The lack of these features may water down the safety benefits of the new lanes." Indeed, the East Village people are already griping.



Thursday, July 22, 2010

Michael and Miriam Hersh demand Yahoo! and Google release names of blog commenters for $411M lawsuit 

An angry Brooklyn couple whose parenting choices were excoriated online by scores of anonymous commenters are demanding Yahoo and Google unmask their attackers so they can sue them for $411 million.

Michael and Miriam Hersh were pilloried after their fellow Orthodox Jews in March 2008 launched a bizarre rescue mission to pull their troubled teen son from a behavior boot camp they put him in.

Michael Hersh was described as a "Nazi" - and worse - by commenters on thecooljew.com Web site. He and and his wife were further criticized across the blogosophere.

The Hersh family, which declined comment yesterday, has insisted in the past they were looking out for their son's best interests - not being cruel.

The online criticism of the mom and dad was relentless, and Michael Hersh says it's to blame for his firing from his $200,000-a-year job as the CEO of Hatzolah, the Jewish volunteer ambulance corps that serves the city.

The suit filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court cites one site - thefailedmessiah.com - for posting Michael Hersh's picture and asking: "Should this man be CEO of Hatzalah. ... Shouldn't he and his wife be in jail."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that says its fighting for Internet freedom - and Web anonymity - is trying to block subpoenas sent to Yahoo and Google, which hosted the blogs in question.

The suit is the latest in a line of suits the foundation's senior staff lawyer Matt Zimmerman said could chill free speech on the freewheeling Internet.

"All you have to do is file a lawsuit, issue a subpoena and find the identities of your critics," said Zimmerman.

"This is happening more and more," he added, "so more people are being offended than ever before."

Still, he thinks their right to remain anonymous should be protected by the courts.

"No blog is safe," said the blogger behind a site called theunorthodoxjew. "Any blog will be affected if Yahoo or Google gives up the information."

Media law expert Sam Bayard said Internet users should realize there is a difference between criticizing someone you disagree with - and spreading lies about them.

"If what you are saying is illegal, known as defamation, someone can sue you," said Bayard, who is the assistant director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School.

Besides the bloggers, the Hershes also name their relatives, Hasidic activist Tzvi Gluck and nearly a dozen others who coordinated the effort to rescue their son from Tranquility Bay, a notoriously rough boot camp.



Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fast moving storm tears through Sullivan County 

The skies darkened at 4 p.m. in the Monticello area as the rains came. They brought with them strong winds, quarter sized hail. The brief storm tore down power lines across the area.

There were no reports of injuries. One resident said that as fast as the storm appeared, it left.

Police and fire personnel responded to several locations as reports of damage came in.

The fast moving weather pattern is expected to hit other areas of the region during the late afternoon hours.



Bit by Electronic Bit, a Cantor’s Voice Is Restored 

He was called the Jewish Caruso. Indeed, fervent enthusiasts sometimes referred to Caruso as the Italian Yossele Rosenblatt.

Mr. Rosenblatt, who died in 1933, was regarded as the greatest cantor of his time. But his was a time when music was recorded on heavy shellac or celluloid 78 r.p.m. records. The quality of those recordings was never that faithful in the first place and wore away over the years.

Enter Mendel Werdyger, a lush-bearded 52-year-old Hasidic Jew who runs a record shop on 13th Avenue in Borough Park, Brooklyn. With no college degree and no professional training in sound engineering, Mr. Werdyger has used advanced audio restoration programs on the ordinary computer in his ragtag office to patiently clean away the crackles, hisses and other distortions on those creaky old 78s.

The result: three compact discs with Mr. Rosenblatt singing 35 tracks, including prayers and even a folk chestnut, “Mein Yiddishe Mama.” The first CD has sold 15,000 copies; the third was released a few weeks ago.

“It never sounded so clear,” said Bernard Beer, director of the Philip and Sarah Belz School of Jewish Music at Yeshiva University. “I was brought up with this music and I know those recordings from childhood, and I listened to it and I told my associate there’s no comparison to anything that was done before.”

The achievement would have been striking had it been that of a sound engineer. But what sound engineer would spend 5 to 10 hours per song to produce CDs for the rarefied world of cantorial buffs? It was, for Mr. Werdyger, a work of love and zeal.

A tall, broad-shouldered father of 6 and grandfather of 10 who, like many Hasidim, wears a double-breasted frock coat known as a rekel, Mr. Werdyger has cantorial DNA. His 90-year-old father, David Werdyger, is a cantor who succeeded another superstar, Moishe Oysher, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. His brother Mordechai Ben David, 59, is a popular singer of what Mr. Werdyger laughingly calls “Hasidic rock.” With a sonorous voice of his own, Mr. Werdyger leads prayers at his shtibl, or room-size synagogue, in Borough Park.

Growing up in Crown Heights and Borough Park, Mr. Werdyger had a yeshiva education, going all the way through kolel — a Talmudic institute for adults. At 21, he went into his father’s business, Aderet Music, a wholesaler of Jewish recordings.

About 20 years ago, he found himself at the old 47th Street Photo store buying his first computer — with a now-ancient 20-megabyte hard drive — but was captivated by the other equipment around him, including a machine the salesman had to explain was a fax.



Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sex-abuse case against rabbi raises larger issues 

Two years ago, Michael Brecher came to prosecutors in Boston with a disturbing allegation: In the 1970s, he said, he had been molested by a rabbi who was teaching sixth grade at one of the region’s most prestigious Jewish day schools, the Maimonides School.

One of Brecher’s classmates came forward at the same time. And last year, after reading news accounts of indecent sexual assault and battery charges filed against Stanley Z. Levitt, a third person said that he, too, was abused by Levitt.

Now, court records show that Levitt might have tried to entice two more students into having intimate contact with him while they took showers in his Brighton home.

One of those former students has told Boston police that Levitt took him and other students on a field trip to Montreal where Levitt directed the students in a ritual purification bath, or mikvah, while all of them were naked, an inappropriate practice, according to an official at a prominent Jewish theological seminary.

Levitt has also faced allegations in Philadelphia, where he lived after leaving Maimonides.

The case, with echoes of clergy sexual abuse incidents in the Catholic Church, is a reflection, scholars say, of similar abuse cases that have taken place in the orthodox Jewish community, where rabbis are held in high regard and the social penalties for criticizing clergy can be high.

A number of prominent orthdox rabbis have faced charges, including Baruch Lanner, the subject of a 2000 expose in The Jewish Week, and Yehuda Kolko, who was featured in a 2006 New York magazine article.

“There is a growing acknowledgment that we have a problem, which has taken a long time,’’ said Yosef Blau, an Orthodox rabbi who is the spiritual adviser at the theological seminary at New York’s Yeshiva University. “Denial has been very powerful in the community.’’

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has charged Levitt, 64, with molesting three of the students, and the rabbi, now a Philadelphia resident free on $5,000 bail, has pleaded not guilty.

Neither Levitt nor his Boston attorney, Scott Curtis, returned messages from the Globe seeking comment on the allegations made by Maimonides School alumni. But court records show that Curtis is seeking to have the charges against Levitt dismissed based in part on “the age of the allegations.’’

Rabbi David Shapiro, the religious leader at Maimonides, who was an assistant principal in the mid-1970s, and Nathan Katz, the school’s executive director, declined to comment on the allegations by the former students.



Monday, July 19, 2010


Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) announced today that his office has been designated as an authorized center for the EmPower New YorkSM Energy Services Program which provides cost-effective electric reduction measures for low-income National Grid and Con Edison customers. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and Honeywell International have partnered to implement EmPower New YorkSM.

Qualifying constituents can obtain and complete an application at the Assemblyman’s office for the replacement of old, inefficient appliances, particularly lighting and refrigeration replacements, as well as other cost-effective home performance strategies such as insulation, heating system upgrades, and other health and safety measures. There is no cost to the customer to participate in this program.
EmPower New YorkSM is available for both low-income homeowners and renters living in a building with 100 units or less. To meet eligibility requirements, applicants must submit one of the following along with the requisite form:

* A copy of a HEAP award letter dated within the past 12 months

* A copy of a bill from your utility or fuel supplier documenting a HEAP payment received within the last 12 months

* A copy of a food stamp award letter received within the last 12 months in the name of the applicant

* A copy of a public assistance award letter received within the last 12 months in the name of the applicant

* A copy of an SSI payment or award letter received within the last 12 months in the name of the applicant

* One may also qualify based on household size and HEAP income guidelines.

Applicants must also provide both their National Grid and Con Edison account numbers. Please note that completion of an application is not a guarantee of approval for energy services. If a review of your application indicates that you are eligible for any services, a representative will contact you to arrange a meeting at your home.

If you are interested in applying for EmPower New YorkSM, please visit the Office of Assemblyman Dov Hikind at 1310 48th Street, 2nd Floor, Borough Park, Brooklyn for an application and assistance. For more information or to determine if you are income eligible, please call the office at 718.853.9616.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

City Religious Sites To Receive Millions In Federal Security Funds 

The city is getting more money to protect religious institutions from security threats.

According to Congressman Anthony Weiner, the Department of Homeland Security has awarded $5.8 million in grants to protect 80 yeshivas, museums and other cultural and religious institutions in the five boroughs, Westchester and on Long Island.

He says the additional money adds up to a 40 percent increase over last year.

The funds will come out of the nearly $300 million allocated to the state by the federal government.

The announcement comes on the heels of a pending court case against a group of men accused of plotting to blow up a synagogue and Jewish center in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.



Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dancing Holocaust Survivor at Auschwitz Sparks Debate 

Is it ever OK to boogie at a concentration camp?

That's a question that has been debated back and forth since a video surfaced of a Holocaust survivor and his family dancing to the Gloria Gaynor tune "I Will Survive" at Auschwitz, the former Nazi camp where over 950,000 Jews were killed.

The video is the work of Australian artist Jane Korman. She filmed the video last summer with her three children and her father, Adolek Kohn, an 89-year-old survivor of the camp.

Adolek is shown wearing a T-shirt saying "Survivor." He leads the family in a conga line, and is also filmed peeping out of a cattle car that was used to transport Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust.

The video recorded 500,000 hits on video site YouTube before it was yanked off the site on Thursday over copyright issues.

"I think it is wonderful, wonderful that so many people looked at this," Adolek told BBC News. "Of course not everyone understands why we dance at Auschwitz."

Some are gravely offended that the topic of genocide should be treated so lightly, even by a man who lived through it.

Michael Wolffsohn, a German Jewish historian at the Bundeswehr Munich, told The Associated Press that the video is "tasteless" and "embarrassing self-promotion" on Korman's part.



Friday, July 16, 2010

770 to Remain with Gaboim During Proceedings 

The longstanding legal saga concerning the management of Chabad Headquarters 770 progressed a step further when the Gaboim appealed the verdict of a lower court's ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, namely Aguch Chasidei Chabad and Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch.

The most recent ruling which rendered the Gaboim powerless and unauthorized to run 770 has been appealed once before. In that previous appeal, the Gaboim were victorious, with the judge ruling that the democratically elected Gaboim had complete authority of the Shul's management.

After a judge recently brought the defense back to step one, the attorneys of the Gaboim appealed once more.

They have six months to prepare their papers for the upcoming hearings at the Supreme Court of the State of New York.

To date, the Appeals Court issued a temporary restraining order, disallowing the practical implementation of the previous court's ruling. Such an order is protocol when an appeal is filed, until the case is ruled upon in the Appeals Court.

In a few months, the court will decide on an appropriate sum of money to serve as a security for the building.

The Gaboim reiterated their previously declared desire to have the matter brought before a Jewish court. They have urged the plaintiffs remove their claims from the civil courts which has caused an ongoing desecration of G-d's name, as well as being contrary to Halacha and Torah.



Thursday, July 15, 2010

Continuance sought for kosher take-out pizza restaurant proposal in University Heights 

City Council has asked the owner of a proposed kosher take-out pizza restaurant to consider several different options if she wants the project approved.

Talia Gahanian and her business partner, Zahava Seltzer, both of University Heights, seek to operate Top It Off Pizza out of the Heights Jewish Center, 14270 Cedar Road.

A special permit is required, since the property is located in a U-2 multi-family district. June 9, the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted to deny the permit.

Gahanian and Seltzer appealed the BZA’s decision to council, and council was scheduled to hear the appeal Monday (July 19).

But the women, both Orthodox Jews, have asked for a continuance since July 19 is a Jewish holiday.

Police Chief Gary Stehlik and Deputy Police Chief James Rohal have expressed concerns about traffic flow and safety regarding the use of the Heights Jewish Center lot if the restaurant, which would offer curbside delivery, were to operate there.

The Heights Jewish Center is adjacent to Purvis Park, at Cedar and Wrenford roads, and the synagogue’s parking lot is used for access to the swimming pool, the tennis courts and the park.

Councilman Steve Bullock, who chairs council’s Safety Committee, said in a Committee of the Whole meeting Monday he had met with Gahanian and offered her these options:

• To provide delivery service only during the summer months, when the area is congested due to heavy use of the pool, tennis courts and picnic area;

• To consider a different location for the restaurant;

• To try to reconfigure the parking lot;

• To try to “do something else” if council upholds the BZA’s decision.

Councilman Frank Consolo offered a fifth option: allowing them to operate the restaurant from September through Memorial Day and keep track of how many cars they get and “what it’s like.”

“Before the year is up, we could re-evaluate it and then add conditions to it before the summer (of 2011),” Consolo said.

Bullock said council may be forcing the issue.

“It clearly would be an effort to put a square peg in a round hole,” he said. “Ideally, it would be much better if we could help (Gahanian) find another place in the city, which she would agree to if it works for her financially.”

Bullock added for council to overturn a BZA decision, it should have compelling reasons.

“I’m not sure how compelling this is,” he said.

The appeal would likely be heard at a special council meeting in August, yet to be scheduled. Council has no regular meetings in July or August.

At 7:30 p.m. July 26, council will have a special meeting to consider a proposed McDonald’s restaurant on Warrensville Center Road. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the project to council July 1.



Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Villages move to evict families from yeshiva housing in Ramapo 

Four villages today mailed eviction notices to 16 Israeli families living in yeshiva-owned housing on Grandview Avenue based on a state judge's decision after yeshiva failed to follow his orders, officials said.

A lawyer representing the Ramapo villages in the ongoing lawsuit said eviction letters were sent after Mosdos Chofetz Chaim refused to follow the judge's order to put up a $75,000 surety bond.

Mosdos Chofetz Chaim moved the families in last year despite a court injunction freezing activity and occupation of the units pending the result of ongoing legal action with the four villages.

Attorney Michael D. Zarin said the families were being given 30 days to leave, unless the yeshiva operators put up the bond and paid the villages' legal fees ordered the judge.

The villages won the opening round of the court case when Justice Francis Nicholai ruled the yeshiva and Ramapo failed to conduct a proper environmental review before construction of 60 units within 12 multiple-family buildings.

Nicholai's decision was part of the villages' challenge to Ramapo's 2004 creation of adult student housing zones. The yeshiva's appeal of Nicholai's decisions on the environmental issues is pending before a state Appellate Division panel.

After Mosdos Chofetz Chaim moved the families in last year in violation of the court injunction, Nicholai permitted families to stay "as a humanitarian gesture" pending the appellate court decision.

After giving the yeshiva 10 months to put up the bond, Nicholai issued an order on June 15 allowing the evictions, Zarin said.

The lawsuit — brought by Chestnut Ridge, Montebello, Pomona and Wesley Hills — charged that Ramapo created its adult-student housing zones without sufficient environmental reviews.



Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Judge stalls Williamsburg's Broadway Triangle housing plan; says if legally favors Hasidic families 

A judge has hit the city's controversial plan to build housing at Williamsburg's Broadway Triangle with the latest in a series of legal blows.

Justice Emily Jane Goodman ordered the city to cough up reams of housing demographic data in a lawsuit charging the planned apartment buildings would illegally favor Hasidic families over African-Americans and Latinos.

"It's racial and religious discrimination," said Shekar Krishnan, a lawyer for groups suing to stop the plan.

Whether or not the court ends up barring the project, the suit could endanger it because developers face an Oct. 1 deadline for crucial state funding.

The Triangle plan calls for about 1,800 units of housing on the 31-acre tract on the border with Bedford-Stuyvesant - 800 of them affordable for low- and middle-income families.

But opponents charge the low-rise buildings and large apartments are designed to cater to Hasidic residents, who can't use elevators on the Sabbath and often have large families.

And they say city land was handed over to the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council - two nonprofit groups with close ties to Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez - without a bidding process.

The city resisted releasing information on the racial breakdown of other affordable housing developments in the area, which plaintiffs think will bolster their claim that large apartments tend to go to whites, even though the vast majority of applicants for affordable units are minorities.

But Goodman ruled on June 28 that officials have to produce those records.

The City Council approved the Triangle plan in December, but just a day later Goodman issued a stay to halt it. She later denied the city's motion to dismiss the suit - and won't lift the stay at least until the required documents are produced and a hearing is held on a longer term injunction.

That could spell trouble for the project because it must break ground by an Oct. 1 deadline or lose $40 million in funding from state tax credits.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development Deputy Commissioner Holly Leicht wrote in court papers that losing the money "will delay the project indefinitely."

HPD declined to comment further, citing pending litigation.

Krishnan said if officials are worried about the deadline, they should hand over the data quickly.

"The ball is entirely in the city's court," he said. "If they want to move this case along, they should give us all the information as quickly as possible."



Monday, July 12, 2010

Lakewood rally to protest kosher slaughterhouse manager's sentence 

A rally is set to be held here tonight to protest the conviction of Sholom Rubashkin, the former manager of a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa who was sentenced to 27 years in prison last month in a fraud case that drew national attention.

His supporters expect hundreds to attend the demonstration, including former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, now a member of Rubashkin’s legal team, according to a press release put out on behalf of the Rubashkin support Web site, justiceforsholom.org.

Although the hefty sentence alarmed many Jewish leaders across the country, it is unclear what presence there will be from Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community. The release does list as one of its speakers Rabbi Aryeh Kotler of Lakewood’s Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva. The event, to be held at Lake Terrace Hall at 1690 Oak Street starting at 9 p.m., comes about three weeks after lawyers for Rubashkin appealed his conviction.

Supporters have decried the prosecution of Rubashkin as overzealous. His fraud scheme was exposed after the plant, Agriprocessors, was the target of a large scale immigration raid in 2008. The plant has since filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.



Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sullivan County's Walmart beefs up kosher section 

First, Walmart conquered the Main Street market of hardware and underwear.

Now the retail giant is going after another market — the Catskill kosher market of gefilte fish and blintzes.

The Monticello Walmart just ran a full-page ad touting "expanded selections" in its "new kosher fresh section for the summer 2010." It's added kosher products like Empire organic chicken and Teva Angus beef sliders.

And already in Sullivan County where the summer population triples with tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews, the push for the kosher buck is having an impact.

A woman who was recently buying a whole organic kosher chicken for $3.68 a pound — in a case a few feet from the smoked pork hocks — said the Walmart in Monticello is convenient, the food is fresh and the prices are great.

"We just want to have on hand what our customers want," said Bill Wertz, a Walmart corporate spokesman.

Bring it on, Walmart

But unlike many non-kosher mom-and-pop shops that can't compete with the corporation whose bankroll would make it the world's 19th-richest country, the dozens of summer kosher shops in Sullivan say they're ready to battle for their slice of the county's million-dollar kosher market. It's a market that nationally is worth $200 million annually, although a Walmart spokesman wouldn't reveal local sales.

The Sullivan shops' weapon?

Not a price war.

But delicacies like homemade gefilte fish — instead of Walmart's frozen or bottled — fresh-cut beef flanken and fresh-baked kishka that are nowhere to be found in the Walmart kosher section with a Spanish sign above it.

"And people just die for my Jerusalem kugel," says Shmuel Wimer of Meal Mart in South Fallsburg, as he points to other specialties ranging from chulant (a chili-like blend of beef, beans, tomatoes and barley) to kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats with noodles). "And if I don't have my petcha (jellied beef feet), my customers "» oh."

This kind of battle isn't rare

The kosher shop owners — from places like Brooklyn, Monsey and, in Wimer's case, Israel — may not know it, but they're doing just what small shop owners in California or Texas do when Walmart opens Asian or Mexican food sections, says Nelson Lichtenstein, author of "The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business."

"They find a super niche," he says.

They also provide the personal service many kosher shoppers say Walmart lacks.

Take Mountain Fruits supermarket in Monticello, which custom-grinds kosher beef and butchers that flanken in a shop that stocks everything from kosher Pez to kosher organic sesame breadsticks.

"They can try, but they don't have the flavor for the ultra kosher customer," says owner L.D. Itzkowitz.

Local shops like Mountain Fruits — and even longtime kosher food stocker ShopRite — also have loyal summer customers who appreciate the personal touch.

"It's not like Walmart is really going all out for us," says Tudy Bloomberg of Manhattan and Monticello, standing near a ShopRite sign that welcomes visitors in Hebrew. "I'd rather go to someone who's exclusively looking out for us."

But what if Walmart, with $405 billion in sales last year, does dent Sullivan's summer business?

Kosher shop owners aren't sweating — even in this heat.

Motty Cohen, manager of Landau's supermarket in South Fallsburg, stands near a display of supplements like aged kosher garlic extract and points upward, to a higher authority:

"It's all up to Him."



Saturday, July 10, 2010

East Ramapo board accepts bids on Hillcrest school; New Square among bidders 

Organizations affiliated with New Square filed the two highest bids to lease or purchase Hillcrest Elementary School from the East Ramapo Central School District.

If the Board of Education maintains the three bids, Congregation Yeshiva Avir Yakov is the likely winner with an offer to buy the property for $3.2 million, school board President Nathan Rothschild said Thursday.

The yeshiva also has placed a bid to lease the property, offering to sign a $2 million, five-year lease package that would start with $200,000 in 2010-11 and rise to $600,000 in year 2014-15, District Clerk Cathy Russell said.

Yeshiva Avir Yakov was issued several violations in April after firefighters arrived to an arson at the school and found that several of the doors had been illegally chained, temporarily trapping several students and untrained firefighters.

The other New Square group, ZD Realty of Monsey, offered to buy the property for $4.3 million, but its request for district financing likely rules out an agreement, Rothschild said.

ZD Realty is a longtime real estate holding company for New Square, dating to the 1950s before the village was incorporated in 1961. It owns the land planned for a poultry processing plant in the village off Route 45. It also owns the land for the old poultry plant.

New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer said Yeshiva Avir Yakov and ZD Realty operate independently and the village has no involvement in the school purchase, though he added that attaining Hillcrest would be beneficial for the community.

"We're always happy to see our students and residents attend schools and have all the necessary conveniences that allow them to get a good education," Spitzer said. "This is a good opportunity for the congregation and ZD."

The third bid, a $1.65 million proposal to purchase the property offered by the Pascack Valley Learning Center of Valley Stream, Long Island, was said not to be under serious consideration at this time.

Superintendent of Schools Ira Oustatcher said Thursday that he was disappointed with all of the offers, which he had hoped would be higher.



Friday, July 09, 2010

Monsey couple spared jail after repaying $76G stolen from welfare programs 

A married Monsey couple were spared jail time today because they repaid $75,899 stolen from welfare programs.

Lawyers for Nathan and Mindy Myski also convinced the judge that the couple stole to take care of their large family following losses in the real estate market.

The Myskis, who have 12 children, depended on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to repay $26,238 in federal Section 8 rent subsidy benefits and $49,661 from Medicaid, their lawyers said in court.

The Myskis pleaded guilty on March 5 to third-degree grand larceny, a plea that covered a charge of second-degree welfare fraud.

County Court Judge Charles Apotheker said today that he didn't send either Myski to jail or prison because they repaid the money and their lawyers convinced him that the couple's motivation was based on need, not greed.

Apotheker said that while stealing is never excusable, he tries to distinguish between those who steal for personal gain and those who steal to feed their families.

Both Myskis told the judge they were sorry.

Apotheker sentenced Nathan Myski, 53, to five years probation and 200 hours of community service.

Apotheker sentenced Mindy Myski, 50, to three years conditional discharge, meaning she's not under the supervision of the Probation Department.

The couple had faced between four and 14 years in prison.

The Rockland District Attorney's Office agreed to a no-jail sentence if all the money stolen was repaid, as did the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Rockland County Department of Probation.

Prosecutor Gary Lee Heavner said the first issue was getting the money repaid, noting the Myskis would be saddled with a felony conviction and that could deter others from stealing.

The Myskis' lawyers — William Frank and Michael Burke — said in court on Friday that the couple started buying properties in 2004 as part of a rental business in a effort to make money.

Both lawyers said the couple couldn't keep up with the mortage payments with the downturn in the economy and the banks foreclosed on the properties.



Court rules against village charging Hasidic developer for attorney fees 

A state Supreme Court justice has declared it illegal for the village to charge a Hasidic group attorney fees for legal advice on the group's request to open a yeshiva at the old Lake Anne resort.

The decision by Judge Lewis Lubell is a setback for the village, which has been locked in fierce battles with Hasidic developers, who own the majority of undeveloped land — more than 800 acres — in the village. At least three lawsuits and one counter-lawsuit have been filed by Hasidic Jews and the village in the three years since the village was incorporated.

The most recently filed lawsuit argues that the incorporation of the village itself was an attempt to prevent the expansion of Hasidic communities in southern Orange County. That case has been moved to federal court and is pending.

The decision on legal fees involves the application of Sheri Torah, a Hasidic religious school that wants to turn the rundown clubhouse in Lake Anne into a religious school for boys.

Jim Sweeney, attorney for the school, said that the village charged his client $13,000 for legal advice provided by village special counsel Dennis Lynch of Nyack, and then asked for another $7,500 in legal fees to continue with the application. Lubell judged the village's fee policy to be too open-ended and "potentially unlimited" in the amount that could be charged. He noted that the costs for legal advice by the village "do not represent necessary expenditures, but rather convenience to the board for what in the end is its own decision-making responsibility."

The justice, however, allowed the village to continue with a counter-lawsuit that argues the clubhouse is on improperly subdivided land.

A Kings County Court — upholding the decision of a Brooklyn-based rabbinical court — allowed 50 acres of the Lake Anne property to be subdivided as part of a settlement among feuding Hasidic investors.

Lynch said the subdivision was illegal as it skirted the village's planning authority. "This is an end run around the environmental review process," he said.



Thursday, July 08, 2010

Drug bust at Israel airport, Hasidic Jews arrested 

Police say they've arrested a pair of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men suspected of trying to smuggle $1 million of pure cocaine into Israel from Brazil.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday that the two former seminary students, aged 21 and 20, were stopped at Israel's international airport overnight.

He says police officers found about 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of cocaine in their luggage.

Rosenfeld says police had been tracking the two men for some time. He says Israeli police informed their Brazilian counterparts ahead of time to help identify the pair's suppliers.

Police say the cocaine was headed to the Israeli market. Israeli police estimate its street value at around $1 million.



New Square among bidders for closed East Ramapo school 

The East Ramapo school district has received three bids for the purchase or lease of the Hillcrest Elementary School, with two offers from the nearby Hasidic Jewish village of New Square, officials said.

The bids were sought after the Board of Education, in a controversial move, voted to close the school, located outside New Square on Addison Boyce Drive in New City.

The bids ranged from about $1.65 million to $4.3 million to either lease or purchase the one-story building, District Clerk Cathy Russell said today.

Russell said the following bids were received:

• $1.65 million to buy the building from the Pascack Valley Learning Center of Valley Stream, Long Island.

• Congregation Yeshiva Avir Yakov in New Square bid $3.1 million to purchase the building. The congregation also offered a $2 million lease package covering five years, starting with $200,000 in 2010-11 and rising to $600,000 in year 2014-2016.

• $4.3 million to purchase the building by ZD Reality of Monsey, a real estate holding company for New Square once known as Zemach David Corp. ZD owns the land planned for a poultry processing plant in the village off Route 45.

The school board is scheduled to meet tonight on its reorganization. Russell said the board and its legal counsel must still analyze all the bids. The bids were made public yesterday afternoon.

New Square can use the school building to expand its educational system and the adjourning property for housing.

The closure of the school has been highly unpopular among many in the district, drawing more than 800 to protest before the decision and leading at least two district parents to appeal the closure with New York State Education Commissioner David M. Steiner.

Steve White, an education activist who had been organizing a petition against the outright sale of the Hillcrest school on his website www.poweroften.us, presented the district with nearly a 1,000 signatures Tuesday in support of a public vote on whether or not to sell the property.

In May, Superintendent of Schools Ira Oustatcher said the plan to close Hillcrest includes moving the school's students to the Ramapo Freshman Center and moving the 300 ninth-graders who had been educated there to Ramapo High School.

Such a move would result in Ramapo High School operating well above the state standard of 90 percent capacity, defining a fully populated educational facility.

Oustatcher was in a meeting and didn't return a telephone calls for comment this morning.



Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Hasid Pleads Guilty to Sodomy 

A Brooklyn man from Borough Park’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was sentenced Wednesday for sexual acts with an underage boy.

Moshe Spitzer was sentenced to two years in prison with 10 years post-release supervision by Kings County Supreme Court Justice Dineen Riviezzo, as part of a plea deal with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.

Spitzer, 26, pled guilty in May to 16 counts of sodomy in the second degree, which he was charged with for engaging in deviate sexual intercourse with a person younger than 15.

Spitzer was reportedly 20 years old when he began engaging in oral and/or anal sex with his victim, then 14 years old, in various motels and apartments.

The victim reported the abuse to a Yeshiva principal about four years later and the principal encouraged him to tell his parents, leading to this prosecution.

Defense attorney George Farkas said these were statutory charges that “don’t require coercion or force.” He said he was satisfied with the plea deal sentence.



Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Build a Wall, Brooklyn Judge Orders Couple 

A bitter divorce case in Kings County Supreme Court led to a judge’s unusual order that the battling couple build a wall in the middle of the house, while their divorce is pending.

Orthodox Jewish couple Pinchs and Nechama Gold were ordered last week by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Eric Prus to literally build a wall splitting up their 3,000-foot Williamsburg home, after Nechama filed a request for temporary exclusive occupancy. Nechama says that her husband of 21 years verbally abuses her, her children, and that he even blows out Shabbos candles to harass her, the New York Post reported.



Monday, July 05, 2010

Thousands of Orthodox Jews from All Over the U.S. will Gather in Washington, D.C. to Protest the Desecration of Ancient Jewish Cemeteries in the Holy 

The "True Torah Jews," an organization dedicated to informing the world that not all Jews support the Zionist state of Israel, would like to inform all that thousands of anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews will take part in a major demonstration on Tuesday, July 6, at 2:00 PM in front of the White House. They will be demonstrating against the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who will be visiting the White House on that day.

The demonstration was called by the Central Rabbinical Congress of the USA and Canada, in cooperation with the Asra Kadisha organization.

The Central Rabbinical Congress (CRC) is an umbrella organization for hundreds of Orthodox Jewish congregations in the United States and Canada, with a total membership of 250,000 Orthodox Jews; CRC represents the religious interests of their membership organizations towards the political and international community.

Asra Kadisha is an organization established almost 50 years ago to protect the integrity of Jewish cemeteries throughout the world.

The demonstration will focus on the current construction, permitted and encouraged by the Israeli government, over ancient Jewish cemeteries in Ashkelon and Jaffa.

An open letter to Netanyahu will appear in Tuesday's Washington Post. The letter reads in part: "Once again, news from the State of Israel leaves us horrified and deeply saddened. In heart-rending reports, we hear of the ongoing desecration of ancient Jewish cemeteries across the length and breadth of the country... For thousands of years, our sages and ancestors had rested in these cemeteries in peace, undisturbed by the various ruling gentile governments, who guarded the dignity and rights of those buried there. Tragically, and in a brutal twist of irony, these grave sites are destroyed now with the full protection and support of the so-called 'Jewish' government...

"In truth, this episode is but one link in the chain of anti-religious activities perpetrated by the Israeli government. Ever since its inception more than 60 years ago, the Israeli government has violated and eradicated Jewish religion and tradition whenever possible...

"Mr. Netanyahu: How dare you present yourself to the President of the United States as the 'representative of the Jewish People,' at the time that you and your government are eradicating Judaism and violating the Torah?

"Finally, we wish to clearly reiterate one of the fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith: Jews are forbidden by the Torah to establish sovereignty or to revolt against any nation or people. In fact, Jewish law commands that Jews be peaceful, law-abiding citizens in whichever countries they reside until the final Redemption, when peace and tranquility will come to all mankind."



Famed Kutsher's resort charts new course - again 

The Catskills without Kutsher's? Like a bagel without cream cheese. A pickle without dill. Gefilte without fish. But over the winter, it looked as if the last of the great family-run Catskill resorts in Monticello would not open for its 103rd season.

Mark Kutsher, the last member of the Kutsher family to run the 1,500-acre, 500-room "Country Club," told the hotel's caterer, Mickey Montal, he was "going to retire," recalls Montal of Spring Valley, a former Catskills waiter and co-owner of The Echo hotel in Ellenville. He's been serving up everything from pickled herring to potted beef roast at Kutsher's the past few years.

No way would Montal let that happen.

"It can't die; it would be a sin," he said of the resort where Wilt Chamberlain once carried bags for guests and a baby-faced Jerry Seinfeld joked. "It would be the end of an era," said Montal.

Yossi Zablocki heard the same thing. The 37-year-old lawyer and construction company owner from New Jersey has been coming to Kutsher's for so long, Mark's mother Helen once ran out in a snowstorm to get 10-month-old Yossi milk.

"There was a very realistic possibility that this place had closed its doors forever and that Mark may have retired, although he doesn't want me to say that," says Zablocki, whose own kids now call Helen Kutsher "Nana."

He also wasn't about to let his "second home" die — and send some 100 employees looking for jobs.

"I will not let it," says Zablocki, whose father was a rabbi at Kutsher's back when there were hundreds of Catskill resorts.

So with a few hundred thousand dollars, Montal and Zablocki did what multimillion-dollar casino players like Park Place Entertainment, Harrah's and developer Louis Cappelli couldn't.

Reinventing the resort

They saved Kutsher's - which has a few hundred guests this July 4 weekend, the unofficial start of the summer "season."

Now they're trying to again reinvent the resort that was born in 1907 when two immigrant brothers from Eastern Europe, Max and Louis Kutsher, turned their failing farm into a boardinghouse.

And they're doing it with the grand dame of the Catskills, Louis' daughter-in-law, Helen Kutsher, who's been welcoming guests back to her hotel with a firm handshake and warm smile for the past 76 Passovers. She couldn't imagine life without the place she thinks of first — after family — when she wakes up every day.

"Mark said, 'Mom, I don't want you to work anymore,'" says Mrs. Kutsher, sitting at her desk with some 50 black notebooks containing the special needs and birthdays of guests and staff. "But he didn't say 'positively.'" And Mark "hasn't quite retired," he says. He's running the golf course and "keeping an eye on a lot of things."

Still, while Mrs. Kutsher takes phone calls at the desk with a photo of her late husband, Milton, and greets guests, Zablocki and Montal are calling Kutsher's "The New Kutsher's Resort and Spa" — although last month, the men's spa was still being wallpapered.

"I'm going to attract a younger, slightly more religious crowd, not Hasidic," says Zablocki, standing in the lobby with signs for the Launching Pad bar, Stardust Night Club and Executive Card Room. "The same (traditional) Jewish Kutsher's crowd, but the modern Orthodox, too."



Sunday, July 04, 2010

There's a New 'Silly' Chachka in Town 

Nextrendz Imports, Inc. strategically aligns with Launch Consulting, LLC to present the first Jewish-themed bandz to the market. Kids, Parents, Grandparents and even Rabbis are scouring stores and the Internet to get their hands on rubbery little bandz shaped like Jewish Holidays, Noah's Ark, Aleph Bet, Shabbat and Jewish Symbols.

Launch Consulting, LLC is a team of creative out-of-the-box thinkers committed to the philosophy that through strategic thinking and innovative design a concept can become reality.

By designing the shaped rubber bandz with Judaic Biblical Themes, Dan Weinstein and Doron Fetman felt that it would be a great way to educate Jewish kids throughout the world in a fun and exciting manor. "I felt strongly that they would be popular, but the craze that surrounds the Biblical Bandz(TM) product line right now is simply amazing," explained Launch Consulting LLC's creative director, Dan Weinstein.

Biblical Bandz(TM) can be purchased at The average pack costs $5.95, which includes 24 pieces per pack. There is a wholesale price for bulk orders as well. Within the next few weeks you will be able to find them at your nearest Judaica store, Kosher Restaurant, local Synagogue, Chabad, Hillel and JCC just to name a few.

"It's an International trend," explained Doron Fetman, Director of Operations for Nextrendz Imports, Inc. "It works due to the combination of price and collectability."

Realizing the popularity of the bandz in today's market, Sarah and her mom, Leah, seized the opportunity to raise some money for their local charity. During a school function, they sold the bandz for 50 cents a piece. Of the 1,000 they took to the show, they sold 984. "It was like a feeding frenzy," the 11-year-old said, explaining that people lined up five deep at her table.

Until now their primary purpose was pure entertainment. The approach of embracing your Jewish roots and showing off your Jewish pride is the driving force behind the marketing of this concept. In addition to collecting them, both boys and girls swap them, trying to get as many shapes and themes as possible. Just like with most toys, the simpler the better. Biblical Bandz are no different and because of their sheer simplicity they offer enough space for the child's imagination, which will not only keep them happy, but also develop their mind - it can be a fun and an educational toy.



Saturday, July 03, 2010

Albany drops plan for grants to rabbinical students 

Gov. David Paterson must cancel his plan to let students at rabbinical schools like Kiryas Joel's claim state tuition subsidies in order to kill $600 million in public-school aid that lawmakers added to his budget.

According to his Division of the Budget, Paterson can't drop the additional school aid without vetoing an entire bill of policy changes, including one that would make students at UTA Mesivta of Kiryas Joel and 41 other rabbinical colleges eligible for annual grants of up to $5,000 for the first time.

On Friday, Paterson finished signing all 6,900 vetoes he had planned, most of which consisted of legislators' pork-barrel grants.

Legislators, meanwhile, left Albany for the holiday weekend with part of their overdue budget — a revenue bill to support the spending Democrats approved — in limbo in the Senate.

Orthodox Jewish leaders had lobbied Albany for several years to include rabbinical schools in the state's Tuition Assistance Program, arguing that the federal government permits Pell Grants for students at those schools and that the state should follow suit.

They made their case directly to Paterson earlier this year at a Kiryas Joel fundraiser, at which 29 donors pumped $140,200 into Paterson's campaign coffers.

Paterson planned then to run for governor this November, but later withdrew from the race.

Nine days after the Jan. 10 fundraiser, Paterson introduced a budget that included the tuition grants for rabbinical schools. The proposal was expected to cost the state $12.8 million this fiscal year and $18.3 million next year.

State lawmakers kept that provision in budget bills they passed on Monday, delighting groups that fought for it.

"This is one of the greatest accomplishments for the Jewish community," Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Brooklyn, who attended the Paterson fundraiser in Kiryas Joel, told the Yeshiva World News website.

"It is both historical and a miracle. For this to happen in the current economy is nothing short of a miracle," he said.

According to federal records, students attending UTA Mesivta of Kiryas Joel claimed a total of $6.2 million in Pell Grants in the last federal fiscal year; the reported enrollment was 1,161 in the fall of 2008.



Friday, July 02, 2010

Ex-slaughterhouse exec appeals fraud conviction 

Attorneys on Friday appealed the conviction of a former Iowa kosher meatpacking plant executive accused of bank fraud, saying the judge wrongly allowed jurors to hear evidence about a massive immigration raid at the plant and the 27-year prison sentence was unjust.

An appeal for Sholom Rubashkin, who also was ordered to pay $27 million in restitution, was filed with the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

The former Agriprocessors Inc. vice president was sentenced June 22 following his conviction last fall on 86 federal financial fraud charges. Prosecutors said he intentionally deceived the company's lender and told employees to create fake invoices that showed inflated profits.

His attorney, Guy Cook, said U.S. District Court Judge Linda Reade should not have allowed evidence about the raid and the sentence she imposed amounts to a life sentence for the 51-year-old Rubashkin.

"We believe flagrant errors in the prosecution and trial as well as the unjust sentence requires a reversal," Cook said.

Rubashkin also was indicted on dozens of immigration-related charges after 389 suspected illegal immigrants were detained during a raid of the Postville plant in May 2008. The judge eventually dismissed those charges, and a separate jury acquitted Rubashkin of state child labor charges weeks before he was sentenced on the federal charges.

Cook said evidence about the raid and immigration charges was improperly allowed at the bank fraud trial. Cook also said he would be challenging other issues, including a lack of evidence to support the bank fraud charges and to show Rubashkin had intent to profit from the alleged scheme.

The appeal wasn't unexpected, U.S. attorney spokesman Bob Teig said Friday.

Teig declined further comment, but said last week after Rubashkin was sentenced that the prison term was justified and information about illegal immigrants working at the plant was an integral part of the fraud investigation.

Cook said Rubashkin remains in custody at the Linn County jail in Cedar Rapids, where he awaits assignment to a federal prison.

Cook asked during sentencing that Rubashkin be transferred to a facility near New York or in New Jersey to be closer to family. The attorney said those prisons are better prepared to handle Orthodox Jewish customs and practices. It was unclear whether the transfer request would be granted.



Thursday, July 01, 2010

Russian math genius rejects $1M prize 

Russian Jewish math genius Grigori Perelman is refusing the million-dollar Millennium Prize for solving one of the most difficult open problems in mathematics, the Poincaré conjecture.

The Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass., confirmed Thursday that Perelman had called last week to refused its prize, but said he gave no reason. However, the news agency Interfax is quoting the reclusive Perelman as saying he believes the prize was unfair.

The Poincaré conjecture is one of the seven million-dollar Millennium Prize problems established by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000. Formulated in 1904 by French mathematician Henri Poincaré, the conjecture is fundamental to achieving an understanding of three-dimensional shapes.

Perelman presented a proof of the century-old conjecture in three papers in 2002 and 2003 while he was a mathematician at the Steklov Institute of Mathematics in St. Petersburg, Russia. The proof followed the research program established by Columbia University mathematics professor Richard Hamilton.

Perelman resigned from his post in spring 2003 and has since stopped working in the mathematics field. According to a 2006 interview, Perelman is jobless, living with his mother in St. Petersburg.

The journal Science recognized Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré conjecture as the scientific breakthrough of the year in 2006, the same year Perelman rejected the Fields Medal, the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The reasons for Perelman’s rejection of the Millennium Prize are not totally clear. Interfax quoted him as saying he believes his contribution in proving the Poincaré conjecture was no greater than that of Hamilton, who first suggested a program for the solution.

“To put it short, the main reason is my disagreement with the organized mathematical community… I don’t like their decisions, I consider them unjust,” Perelman said.

Clay Mathematics Institute President Jim Carlson said Perelman’s decision was not a complete surprise given his history of declining previous math prizes.

Carlson told AP that institute officials will meet this fall to decide what to do with the prize money. “We have some ideas in mind,” he said. “We want to consider that carefully and make the best use possible of the money for the benefit of mathematics.”



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