Sunday, July 31, 2011
The public got a second shock when it learned that Leiby’s disappearance was only belatedly reported to the police, and that a privately run, Orthodox Jewish “patrol” called Shomrim reportedly had video evidence that went unused during the crucial hours before the murder, while untrained Jewish laymen tried to handle the investigation themselves.
And now comes what ought to be shock No. 3: Jewish vigilante groups like Shomrim, unskilled and ill-equipped for police work, and all too often driven by religious proscriptions to keep their community’s crimes out of the public eye, are being paid to interfere with the authorities by New York City taxpayers — through the generous offices of some City Council members.
The council’s just-finalized budget for 2012 includes more than $130,000 in “member item” donations to private Orthodox Jewish pseudo-police — gifts of taxpayer money that were personally authorized by Democratic Brooklyn City Councilmen Lewis Fidler, David Greenfield, Brad Lander and Stephen Levin. Remember that these Jewish patrols operate only in a few Brooklyn neighborhoods and answer to the needs of only one religious community.
Why, then, are city legislators doling out increasingly scarce public funds to help Jewish gendarmes compete with the NYPD?
I am an Orthodox Jew; I am also a lawyer with an extensive record of advocacy for victims of child abuse. And I have a message for politicians who curry favor with Jewish voting blocs by helping to fund their private patrols: Don’t do it.
It’s bad government, and bad law enforcement practice, to share taxpayer money with religion-based groups whose contribution to police work is doubtful at best and whose priorities may well conflict with the law.
Not so long ago, a warning against government funding for vigilantes would have been needless. When Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels in 1979, New York City officials, including then-Mayor Ed Koch, didn’t want them in New York City at all; those young idealists would have been laughed all the way across the Hudson if they’d had the temerity to ask City Council for handouts.
Does anyone truly believe that Orthodox Jewish vigilantes like the Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol and the Shmira Civilian Volunteer Patrol of Borough Park — all of them on the take for budget dollars in 2012 — do the city a better service?
Saturday, July 30, 2011
A traffic violation led to the discovery of 300 marijuana plants, two pounds of cultivated marijuana and charges against a New City man in connection with an Orange County marijuana growing operation, according to State Police.
Police said Matthew Fishman, 31, of Brewery Road, New City, is charged today with first-degree criminal possession of marijuana, a felony, and unlawful growing of marijuana, a misdemeanor, as a result of the investigation.
Fishman was stopped by state troopers based in Monroe for a traffic violation about 3 a.m. today on Seven Springs Road in the Town of Woodbury in Orange County. When troopers were checking the U-Haul truck he was driving, they detected a strong odor of marijuana.
Police said a search of the cargo compartment resulted in the seizure of 97 marijuana plants. As a result of Fishman's arrest, police said information was obtained that led to a search warrant being executed at 427 County Route 105 in the Town of Monroe in Orange County. The search warrant, conducted by the members of State Police in Monroe and the New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team, led to the seizure of an additional 296 marijuana plants and about two pounds of cultivated marijuana.
Fishman was being held by State Police pending arraignment.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
A NIS 1 million ($290,000) lawsuit he filed with the Central Magistrate's Court reveals that his picture was allegedly posted on Landwer's website in order to promote its strictly kosher products.
Customer dining at Rishon Lezion branch surprised to receive prayer booklet along with bill. 'This is a glatt kosher café. As part of the service, our customers enjoy prayers and blessings from famous rabbis,' chain's spokesperson says in response
Full story His image appeared on a page dedicated to kashrut on Landwer's website alongside captions reading, "Strictly kosher" and "Badatz kashrut", and the sentence: "The company ascribes great importance to the issues of religion and kashrut."
According to the statement of claim, "The company thus created a misrepresentation of the plaintiff, who is allegedly granting Landwer a kashrut certificate. The plaintiff has become a character in an advertisement against his will.
"It should be stressed that the plaintiff is an active rabbi and one of the senior members of the Chabad Zionist movement, and therefore this damages the profession, name and reputation he has gained over the years. This is a failure on the part of the company, which used the plaintiff's picture illegally."
Rabbi Elyashiv is described in the statement of claim as "an ultra-Orthodox man, a prominent figure in the haredi community with a senior position in the world of Torah, who did not permit the commercial use of his name."
On Facebook page too?
The plaintiff charges that he served as a kosher affairs model, although he says he never agreed to it, was never informed about it and did not receive anything in return.
He says he sent Landwer a letter on January 1, 2011, instructing the café chain to remove his picture immediately from the company website and from its Facebook page.
Since that day, he claims, Landwer did not stop using his image and "didn't even bother responding", according to the statement of claim.
He says Landwer "used his picture illegally, and even posted it on the website's homepage and on the company's private Facebook page, without negotiating with him, without asking for his approval and without paying him anything in return."
The Landwer café chain said in response: "Rabbi Kaplun Elyashiv's appeal arrived at our office for the first time today and is being looked into."
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
That scene disrupted life on a normally placid street in Borough Park, Brooklyn, on Tuesday, in the heart of a Hasidic Jewish community usually known for being tightly knit. The woman, Soya Radin, 39, and her four children were being evicted, the latest twist in a protracted, torturous divorce battle that was not even her own.
For about two years, Ms. Radin had lived in the building, on 52nd Street, one of several properties that the divorcing couple, Chana and Simon Taub, have been fighting over. The Taubs’ divorce case, which began in 2005, gained notoriety after their own home in Borough Park was divided by court order with wallboard and plywood, with each warring spouse living on opposite sides of the makeshift wall.
Using several lawyers in several courts, the estranged couple argued bitterly and lengthily over the division of their assets, which included commercial and residential buildings, a summer house and their home in Borough Park.
A judge granted the Taubs’ divorce in April, but Ms. Taub was unhappy with the division of assets and planned to appeal.
Ms. Taub said her father-in-law had given her the three-story building on 52nd Street, a claim that Mr. Taub’s family contests.
The eviction of Ms. Radin, who is a friend of hers, was her ex-husband’s latest act of revenge, Ms. Taub said Tuesday. Both women said the eviction was illegal.
“It’s all coming from my husband,” Ms. Taub said shortly before court marshals appeared at Ms. Radin’s door. “He wants to harass her to get to me.”
Mr. Taub’s lawyer did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Ms. Radin moved into the two-bedroom apartment with her four children in 2009, after an invitation from Ms. Taub, and her rent was about $1,175.
By then, the building was in bankruptcy. Harassment from other tenants began almost immediately, Ms. Radin said, with neighbors allied with Mr. Taub hitting her and flooding the apartment above, causing parts of her ceiling to collapse.
Ms. Taub said she told Ms. Radin to begin paying a nominal rent of $3.99 beginning in March 2010 to protest the conditions in her apartment, though Ms. Radin did not pay. Soon after, a bankruptcy trustee began running the building. After about a year of Ms. Radin’s not paying rent, a judge ordered her evicted.
Mr. Taub’s sister, Pnina Kaufman, said Ms. Taub’s ownership of the building was meant to be temporary. Mr. Taub’s and Ms. Kaufman’s father lives in the same building.
Ms. Kaufman said Mr. Taub had arranged for Ms. Taub to be named the owner to shield his assets from a bankruptcy filing years ago.
On Tuesday, Ms. Radin’s apartment was strewn with clothes, the walls filthy and lined with cracks, with some sort of vegetation sprouting from the ceiling. Ms. Kaufman said Ms. Radin had refused the bankruptcy trustee entry to make repairs, a claim that Ms. Taub’s lawyer denied.
The eviction was marked by anguish and chaos, with Ms. Kaufman and her family members exchanging threats and insults with Ms. Taub and Ms. Radin’s children.
Ms. Radin was arrested on charges of obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. As she was driven away in a police car, her four children, ages 11 to 16, stood on the sidewalk in tears, with Ms. Taub by their side.
The children were eventually driven in police cars to their grandmother’s home nearby.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
The question came up Tuesday as the heavily tattooed Amy Winehouse was laid to rest in a traditional Jewish ceremony in London. The funeral was conducted by a rabbi and the Winehouse family will sit shiva - the Jewish custom and tradition of receiving guests in their home - starting Tuesday night, Winehouse spokesman Chris Goodman said.
Winehouse was cremated, Goodman added - a more controversial practice among Jews.
Traditionally Jews do not cremate their dead because of the belief they will be resurrected when the messiah comes, said Nikki Saunders, a spokeswoman for Britain's mainstream Orthodox movement, the United Synagogue.
"That can only happen if your body is intact," Saunders said.
More liberal Jews don't have that concern, though, explained Ben Rich of the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK.
"Physical resurrection isn't something that progressive Jews believe in, so that isn't a concern," he said. Progressive Jews also don't accept the Orthodox belief that cremation is the mutilation of a corpse, he said, since it is done respectfully, not maliciously.
"We have therefore been happy to allow cremation for those who want it," he said, calling it "extremely common. It wouldn't be anything to raise an eyebrow about in the progressive movement."
In fact, he argued, there is Biblical precedent for cremation.
"If you go back to Biblical times, it is normal and there are references to King Saul being cremated," he said.
There is a tradition of not burying people with tattoos, said progressive Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, but he said there didn't seem to be much support for it in Jewish law, or halacha.
It seems to come from instructions in the Biblical book of Leviticus against marking one's skin, he said.
"But this part of a whole series of Canaanite cultic practices which the Israelites were not supposed to imitate," he said.
Reform Jews today would not disapprove of tattooing, he said dryly, "since we do see ourselves as in danger of impersonating Canaanite cultic practices."
Monday, July 25, 2011
But the attractions are not merely cute cafes and art galleries. There are offbeat thrift shops, specialty food stores selling coffee and chocolate, a retro bowling alley with a bar, and restaurants ranging from the famous Peter Luger steakhouse (178 Broadway), established in 1887, to Diner, which serves high-end bistro fare like duck and polenta in a 1927 steel diner (85 Broadway).
Brooklyn Brewery, at 79 N. 11th St., located in a former matzoh factory, gets 1,500 to 2,000 people weekend sipping suds in the shadow of their towering vats, and the brewery's tours are also popular; details at http://www.brooklynbrewery.com.
Through Nov. 19-20, two of Williamsburg's biggest draws are being held weekends on a waterfront lot with spectacular views of Manhattan across the way. On Saturdays, crowds come out for Smorgasburg, a food festival, and on Sundays, they jam it in for Brooklyn Flea, a flea market that also includes a number of food vendors.
Brooklyn Flea has been around for a few years in other locations but this is its first season in Williamsburg. Smorgasburg was created just this year. Food vendors sell everything from lobster rolls to frozen bananas, while finds at the flea market range from your very own Statue of Liberty to used bikes; details at http://www.brooklynflea.com/smorgasburg/.
"Every weekend that our market exists, it shifts more and more from the 95 percent local folks we started out with toward what's getting closer to half Brooklynites and the other half a mix of people from other boroughs, regional, national and international tourists," said co-founder Eric Demby.
It's easy to reach Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea by subway — just take the L from Manhattan to the Bedford Avenue stop in Brooklyn and walk a few blocks to the East River between North Sixth and North Seventh streets. The waterfront location, Demby says, "is beautiful, as close to Manhattan as you can get with this incredible view of the skyline, seabreezes and parks on either side of the market."
Josh Evans, 21, likes the two events so much that he can't stay away. "One weekend, I went to Smorgasburg on Saturday and then went back to Brooklyn Flea on Sunday," said Evans, who's living in Williamsburg for the summer while juggling several food-related internships.
Even before moving to the area, Evans had been visiting on weekends from New Haven, Conn., where he attends Yale University, and he's been blogging about his food finds at http://hearthstrung.wordpress.com/. His favorites from Smorgasburg include Latin American vendors offering grilled corn on the cob and stuffed tortillas called pupusas, but he also likes the neighborhood's brick-and-mortar establishments, from Blue Bottle Coffee (160 Berry St.) to Maison Premiere, an oyster bar (298 Bedford Ave.).
"People like to meet around food in this neighborhood," he said.
And 20-somethings aren't the only ones who feel that way. Howard Kogan, 66, comes in from Hoboken, N.J., to enjoy the Williamsburg scene. He's a fan of Blue Bottle Coffee too, along with the barbecue at Fette Sau, 354 Metropolitan Ave., and Mast Brothers Chocolate, 105 N. Third St.
"What they do there is phenomenal," Kogan said of Mast Brothers Chocolate. "On weekends, there are tours where you can watch them do their thing, and they'll have little plates out you can taste."
The tours show various stages of the chocolate-making process, "from bean to bar," as co-owner Rick Mast put it. The tours are $10, Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m.; reservations at http://www.mastbrotherschocolate.com/.
Kogan, who often visits the area with his son and daughter-in-law, says the neighborhood "makes a nice day trip. It's an adventure. It has unique things that are interesting." He's even walked across the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Other spots in Williamsburg beloved by locals and visitors alike include vintage clothing shops like Buffalo Exchange, part of a chain that buys, sells and trades clothing with customers, at 504 Driggs Ave., and Beacon's Closet, 88 N. 11th St., whose devotees rave about the fact that its clothes are organized by color, not by size.
A great place to hang out after dinner is The Gutter, 200 N. 14th St., an old-school bowling alley and bar located in what was once a manufacturing warehouse for comforters. The lanes were brought in from a defunct 1970s-era alley, and the bar is lit up by cool old signs for retro brands like Schlitz, but the draft beer includes trendy selections like Chelsea Checker Cab Blonde and Smuttynose Robust Porter. At $6 a game, the bowling is affordable by New York standards. Just don't expect a digital overhead display blinking your name when you get a spare; amenities here are way more basic than that. And P.S., you can't bring the kids; 21 and over only, http://thegutterbrooklyn.com/.
Willie B, as locals sometimes half-jokingly call the area, even has its own boutique lodging, Hotel Le Jolie at 235 Meeker Ave. Rates vary by date but start at around $189; http://www.hotellejolie.com/. The hotel's eclectic clientele includes international travelers, who make up 25 percent of the guests; bands playing in Manhattan and Brooklyn (they love the bus parking among other things), and not surprisingly, parents of young people who live in the neighborhood.
Hotel spokesman Dev Dugal says "so many kids live in Williamsburg and have no space for guests in their apartments that a lot of our repeat visitors are people visiting family."
Sunday, July 24, 2011
It was an extraordinary demonstration of loyalty to the Democratic Party that notwithstanding Barack Obama's questionable attitude toward Israel, long-term association with a despicable anti-Semitic pastor and close relationship to prominent Arab-American PLO activists and far-Left ideologues, 78 percent of American Jews still voted for him. Admittedly, Obama subsequently dissociated himself from and zigzagged around some of his initial anti-Israeli policies. But had a conservative candidate with such dubious political associations stood for office, the vast majority of Jews would certainly have blackballed him.
Obama overcame this because of the profound attachment of American Jews to liberalism, which, for many, almost represents a secular religion. Historically – and particularly since the Franklin Roosevelt era – the Democratic Party has cultivated and welcomed Jews and other minority groups into its ranks, whereas the RepublicanParty had been inclined to snub them. In relation to the Obama presidential candidature, there was the added Jewish reluctance to vote against the first African-American candidate.
However, more than any of his presidential predecessors, Obama is perceived by many as radiating hostility toward Israel's prime minister while remaining reluctant to condemn Palestinian extremism and intransigence.
Yet the media insist that the majority of American Jews steadfastly continue to support him. Only last month, the JTA reported a Gallup poll with the headline: "Jewish approval of Obama is unaffected by Israel tensions."
Meanwhile, another poll by Luntz Global on behalf of CAMERA confirmed that Jews regard Palestinian incitement – the "culture of hatred" – as a major obstacle to peace, and concurred that Israel "should refuse to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority until Hamas renounces terrorism and officially recognizes Israel's right to exist." Eighty-five percent believed that the Israeli government was committed to establishing a genuine peace with the Palestinians, and that Israel was "right to take threats to its existence seriously."
An earlier American Jewish Committee survey also found that 76% of American Jews believed that "the goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories, but rather the destruction of Israel." And 95% endorsed the proposal that in any final peace agreement, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
That Jewish voters stood by Obama despite this exemplifies the intensity of American Jewry's attachment to liberalism and provides credence to suggestions that in determining political allegiances, most regard Israel as a low priority.
However, it would seem that the confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu and the bipartisan support Israel then received in Congress did have an impact.
The tough resolutions subsequently carried overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives (407 out of 435) and the Senate, warning the Palestinians that they risk losing US aid if they persist in their intransigent approach, would have reinforced this.
THE CHANGE would also have been spurred on by the Obama administration's recent decision to engage with the jihadist and violently anti-Semitic Muslim Brotherhood, creator of Hamas, whose spiritual head, the 84- year-old Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, calls on the faithful "to kill Jews to the very last one."
The poll undertaken by Dick Morris and published on his website, The Hill, reflects a seismic Jewish shift away from Obama. While the majority would still vote for him, his 78% support from 2008 has declined to 56%.
The poll disclosed that Jewish Democrats are now evenly divided as to whether Obama "is being too tough on Israel."
Morris maintains that the principal catalyst for this was Obama's recent demand that Israel accept the '67 borders and swaps as a benchmark for the opening of peacenegotiations. In the poll, 83% of all Jews opposed his proposal.
Furthermore, 67% of Jewish Democrats agreed and only 13% opposed the proposition that "if the Arabs lay down their weapons, there would be no more war. It is just their desire to destroy Israel that creates a conflict."
THE BELIEF that many Jews are deserting Obama was echoed by noted political analyst Ben Smith, who wrote in Politico that even enter-Left Jewish supporters of Obama were "fearful for Israel at a moment of turmoil in a hostile region where the moderate PA is joining forces with Hamas" and "say to their astonishment that they will consider voting for a Republican in 2012."
This suggests that, contrary to the liberal chatter that downgrades Israel as a major contributing factor it obviously remains a key issue to many Jews, and does influence voting patterns, especially if the Jewish state is perceived as facing genuine existential threats.
That Jewish support for an incumbent president can decline from 78% to 56% over the course of just two years signals a dramatic change in lifelong voting behavior and suggests that if Obama continues to pressure Israel, he may lose Jewish support in a number of key electorates. More importantly, if Jewish Democrats, whose DNA inhibits them from supporting a Republican candidate become sufficiently outraged with Obama's policies, they will be inclined to curtail their crucial financial contributions toward his reelection.
Much will depend on the extent to which Jewish leaders find the courage to criticize their president on this issue, instead of remaining silent out of fear of losing access to the White House.
Of course, the political orientation of the Republican candidate will also have a major impact. He/she may be totally supportive of Israel, but if perceived as a radical right-winger, many lifelong liberal Jews – even if they despise Obama's policies – will either continue voting for him or simply not vote. Reagan obtained a record 39% of the Jewish vote because he was perceived as a moderate.
Sarah Palin is utterly committed to Israel, but many liberal Jews are unlikely to vote for her under any circumstances.
That extends beyond the Jewish vote and represents the dilemma currently confronting the Republican Party.
A Tea Party candidate would enjoy enthusiastic support from devotees, but may alienate the 'swing' voters who often determine the outcome of elections.
The Morris poll should overcome the prevailing feeling of helplessness nurtured by the liberal media, which trivialize the impact that Obama's selective bullying of the Jewish state is having on Jews, and mistakenly suggest that nothing can deter Jewish voters from supporting the Democrats.
It demonstrates that, whereas more than half of American Jews continue to support Obama, many committed and younger Jews have shifted their allegiance. Furthermore, there is every likelihood that unless the administration adjusts its policies, the swing away from Obama will intensify, and could be highly damaging to the Democratic Party.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Newspapers are already pointing out that the new lawyer, Jennifer L. McCann, was involved in one high-profile case which successfully utilized an insanity plea: McCann represented Long Island mother Kathleen Prisco, who was allowed to plead not guilty by reason of insanity for fatally stabbing her husband. Although Aron wrote a detailed written confession, he pled not guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping charges, and his lawyers have previously intimated that they would pursue an insanity defense.
McCann told the Times that she had been brought on to Aron's defense because of her experience “with mental health issues and plain old homicides.” She added that she had briefly met Aron at Bellevue Hospital, but she declined to comment on his mental state: “I think that is a question for the professionals and will depend on what doctors have to say about that.” Legal experts have said that Aron is eligible for the federal death penalty because he took Leiby across state lines to get gas the day he abducted Leiby—he then allegedly (and bizarrely) took him to a wedding in upstate Monsey, NY, the day before he drugged the boy, smothered him to death, and dismembered his body.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
A passerby flagged down a Sullivan County Sheriff’s deputy on Tuesday afternoon to report the burglary that was taking place at 338 Anawana Lake Road.
The deputy confronted Shulem Klein, 46, who gave no explanation for his actions when arrested.
Klein was charged with third-degree burglary, a felony, and petit larceny. He was arraigned and sent to the Sullivan County Jail in lieu of $7,500 bail.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The parents of Leiby, Nachman and Esty Kletzk, emerged from their home today after sitting shiva for the past week. They marked the end of shiva by walking outside their Borough Park home this morning, surrounded by relatives. "It's a sign that you're escorting the soul to its resting place...Now the trying time starts. They're all alone. Now they've got to cope with it on their own," said Jack Meyer, of Misaskim, an organization that provides services to grieving families.
The family also announced that they had established a fund for donations, to help anguished families in crisis and need, something that the family says Leiby would have wanted to do had he been given more years of life. In addition, in the wake of Leiby's death, the NYPD met with local members of the Shomrim patrol group and the Hatzolah ambulance corps in Williamsburg Monday night to discuss issuing Operation Safe Child cards (state-issued identification cards) to an estimated 25,000 Hasidic kids in Brooklyn. "Last week's incident was 9/11 for the Jewish community. It changed the way we have to think about strangers," said Abe Friedman.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Twersky's lawyer argued Aron Rottenberg provided no "factual basis" showing the Skver Hasidic Jewish leader had any role in the attack or the community protests before the early morning arson attempt of May 22.
Shaul Spitzer, 18, who lived in Twersky's home and did butler work for him, has been charged with attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. He has pleaded not guilty.
Rottenberg and several other residents became targets of community protests in September for not praying at the rabbi's synagogue. They instead prayed with the people at the Friedwald Center outside the village.
They said the retribution included vandalism of their car and house windows, protests by hundreds outside their homes, their children being kicked out of religious schools and verbal threats. Rottenberg said no one would hire him as a plumber.
Twersky's lawyer Franklyn H. Snitow argued there was no evidence Twersky had a role in those protests.
He moved Monday to have the June $18 million lawsuit filed by Rottenberg's lawyers dismissed against Twersky. The lawsuit also names Spitzer.
The papers were filed with the state Supreme Court in New City.
Snitow called the arguments "sophistry" and Twersky has denied ordering or encouraging any violence against the Rottenbergs.
"This lawsuit is nothing more than a smear tactic meant to embarrass a dedicated religious leader of a peaceful community," Snitow said. "These allegations lack a single shred of actual evidence that would implicate Rabbi Twersky even in the court of common sense, let alone the laws of New York state."
Rottenberg's lawsuit maintains that a pattern of vandalism and intimidation against him occurred in the six to seven months leading up to the arson attack that left him with severe burns over nearly 50 percent of his body.
Part of Rottenberg's argument is that Twersky and his advisers have iron-clad control of the social and political mores in the community, including who more than 2,000 people vote for in a given election.
Rottenberg's lawyer, Michael Sussman, said Monday that he was not planning to get into a public exchange with Snitow on the merits of the lawsuit.
Sussman said he would file opposition papers with the court.
He said he believes more information will be forthcoming during pretrial discovery when parties to the lawsuit like Twersky are interviewed under oath.
"We believe there is more than sufficient basis to sustain the allegations and claims," Sussman said.
Ramapo police continue to investigate the attacks on Rottenberg — and possibly others — before the arson attempt.
The FBI is assisting the police, but it has declined to comment.
Spitzer has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is free on $300,000 bail.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Joseph Shereshevsky, a former chief operating officer at WexTrust Capital LLC, had pleaded guilty in February to securities fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy over the scheme, which investigators said ran from 2005 to 2008.
At his sentencing by U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin in Manhattan, the Norfolk, Virginia resident was also ordered to pay $7.88 million in restitution and forfeit $9.2 million.
Steven Byers, co-founder and chief executive of Chicago-based WexTrust, had been sentenced by Chin in April to 13 years, four months in prison after pleading guilty to securities fraud and conspiracy.
Shereshevsky's plea agreement called for a prison term of 210 to 262 months. His lawyer, Mark Harris, sought a 10-year sentence, citing his 55-year-old client's charitable pursuits and "terrible health," including obesity, diabetes, two prior heart attacks and an enlarged heart.
But Chin, the same judge who in 2009 sentenced Ponzi scheme operator Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison, read to a full courtroom from several of the 80 letters he said he had received from Shereshevsky's victims. The judge said Shereshevsky had not previously shown remorse.
"Mr. Shereshevsky very much had a controlling role in this criminal enterprise," Chin said. The judge said he took the defendant's good deeds with "a grain of salt. He was clearly being generous with money that he had stolen from others."
Harris declined to comment after the hearing.
Investigators including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had accused Shereshevsky and Byers of conducting at least 60 private placements purportedly to fund commercial real estate ventures, when in fact they were diverting money to themselves or to pay off prior investors.
In one case, investigators said the men had falsely represented that $9.2 million would be spent on seven commercial properties to be leased to the U.S. General Services Administration.
In its 2008 civil complaint, the SEC said WexTrust had raised $255 million from at least 1,196 investors. The SEC said Byers had focused on real estate investments, while Shereshevsky had overseen real estate and diamond mining assets and had used his contacts in the Orthodox Jewish community to solicit investors.
Wearing a dark gray shirt and a yarmulke, Shereshevsky choked up several times in pleading before Chin for leniency.
"I take full responsibility," he said. "I am very worried for what God has in store for me for desecrating his name ... To the investors, I destroyed you, and I am sorry."
Joel Pogolowitz, who said his late mother lost much of her money with WexTrust, urged a maximum sentence.
"You lied to my mother," Pogolowitz told the defendant, who was staring at the judge, occasionally rubbing his eyes beneath his glasses. "You made her think that she was special, and that you were truly looking out for her financial well-being ... You also violated the Eighth Commandment, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"
Chin was elevated last year to the federal appeals court in New York, but kept control of the WexTrust case.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Lipa Schmeltzer, a popular and high-profile singer in the Hasidic community, visited the grieving family of slain 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky yesterday — and even chanted a Yiddish song to the boy’s younger sister to comfort her.
The popular performer — little Leiby's favorite — didn’t sing the piece because mourners are not supposed to hear music for a year after a death.
But Schmeltzer said that after Leiby’s dad told him a story about his only son, Schmeltzer formulated a story and called it: "As Long as You’re Alive." And then he chanted the story to Leiby’s sister, Nechama.
"One day he tripped and fell down on the way to school and his father was sympathetic and Leiby looked at the father and said, ‘Remember the words As Long as You’re Alive.’ He was three years old," Schmeltzer said.
Schmeltzer also said he was moved by the numbers of people who were gathering to offer solace to the Keitzky family at their Borough Park home.
"There were lines and lines. I never saw anything like it," he said. "The people are very shattered and broken."
The performer noted that Leiby’s father, Nachman, was devastated by his only son’s grisly death and dismemberment, allegedly at the hands of Levi Aron.
"He is very broken but he’s keeping very strong," Schmeltzer said. "He said he had the honor to have the soul for nine years."
Schmeltzer said he’s now working on a song called "The Story of Leiby," based on what he believes the child — described as devout beyond his years — would have been like if he’d grown to be a grandfather.
"Everything came to an end because of that black day that we had," the performer said. "All the goodness that came from Leiby is now vanished."
He also said he’s been amazed by the comments from others who knew the remarkable youngster.
"The stories we heard are unbelievable," he said. "One story is that they were playing a game in class. At the last minute, Leiby switched teams. Why did he switch? He said, ‘Because my team keeps winning and they keep losing, and I want to help them win.’
"He was a very smart boy."
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Residents in the insular community of Borough Park, where the tragedy occurred, heartily support the measure: “Absolutely a fantastic idea. I mean, everybody would surly go on it. In crime, breaking into houses and in regards to the tragedy that we had I think it should be a very good idea,” said Yankey Rosefeld. Parents have been understandably shaken up by confessed killer Levi Aron's seemingly random act of violence: “My son goes to school right here every day. That’s the entrance I take him in and out of for kindergarten and first grade and here this guy is — this animal over here,” Hiram Segarra told CBS.
And to that end, many parents are imploring Mayor Bloomberg to lift the public school ban on cell phone usage, arguing they are the best way to keep track of children. Despite the Mayor fighting with parents on the issue and vetoing lifting the ban in the past, he sounded more open to the idea yesterday on his weekly radio program: "If you want to have something that a parent can know where their child is - cell phones. A lot of the smartphones have that technology."
However, despite all that, Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser said the mayor won't reverse the rule despite parents' concerns. "Mobile devices are major distractions that prevent all the other students in the classroom from learning," Loeser said.
Friday, July 15, 2011
The mother reported that her son, Leiby Kletzky, 8, of Borough Park, had failed to return from day camp.
Members of the Brooklyn Shomrim, whose unarmed volunteers help patrol the borough’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, were dispatched, and the search was on.
“The word went out like lightning — we were running against the clock,” said Sam Rosenberg, 56, who runs the Brooklyn Shomrim communications center in the bustling Marcy Tires shop with his brother Mendy, 51. For the past 32 years, the Rosenbergs, who are Hasidic Jews, have handled the phone calls between fixing flats.
After Leiby’s disappearance, the brothers received a barrage of tips. They also helped marshal hundreds of civilians to look for Leiby, who the police say was murdered by Levi Aron, 35, a supply-store clerk from Brooklyn’s Kensington neighborhood.
The Shomrim helped spot Mr. Aron’s gold car and, about 2 a.m. Wednesday, gave its license plate information to detectives who had just identified Mr. Aron as their suspect after following up on surveillance video from Monday that showed him with Leiby and visiting a dentist office. The police arrested him 40 minutes later and found parts of Leiby’s body in Mr. Aron’s refrigerator-freezer.
In the roughly 32 hours before Mr. Aron’s arrest, Shomrim members flooded Borough Park, on foot and in cars. They helped maintain order, first as the area erupted in a panicky search and later during the funeral procession.
Word spread rapidly to the hundreds of Shomrim members in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Flatbush. It reached beyond Brooklyn, to other Hasidic areas in the Northeast. Offers to help look for the boy poured in.
“They came from as far as Monsey, Monroe, Lakewood, N.J., Passaic, Lawrence,” Sam Rosenberg said. “There were people here from Boston.”
Sam Rosenberg, his hands and mechanic’s outfit smeared with grease, said the flood of calls was so overwhelming, they began forwarding some to a command center the Shomrim had set up in Borough Park.
The Rosenbergs say they usually field about 100 calls a day and then dispatch responders by radio. On Thursday, they darted from fixing car flats for $12 apiece to answering the phone, whose rings were loud enough to be heard above screaming pneumatic drills and clanking tire irons. Their small booth has several phones, a two-way radio and phone lists posted for volunteer patrol and rescue groups from Long Island to Montreal. Tire sizes and prices are usually spoken in Yiddish, and many signs are in Hebrew.
Many residents in Hasidic areas in Brooklyn opt for the Shomrim hot line over 911, as Leiby’s mother did on Monday. On Thursday, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly noted that “there was about a two- or two-and-a-half-hour gap between the notification to Shomrim and the notification to the Police Department.”
He said that a delay in notifying the police was a “longstanding issue with Shomrim” and that traditionally, “certain members of the community have confidence in Shomrim and go to them first.”
Mr. Kelly did praise the Shomrim as a positive force and said that in this case, the delay apparently did not hamper the investigation.
“We have no problem with Shomrim being notified, but obviously we’d like to be notified at the same time,” he said.
The Rosenbergs have often claimed that the Shomrim responds faster than the police, and that their members have the advantage of speaking Yiddish, the primary language in the Hasidic areas. The brothers say they and the patrolers know their territory like a spider knows its web, and with a flurry of phone calls, they can have local residents blocking streets to trap suspects.
They attribute the low crime rates in Hasidic areas like Borough Park partly to Shomrim patrolers, who work on foot or often two to a vehicle that may be equipped with a radio and a siren. The patrols also often carry walkie-talkies.
Sam Rosenberg said that many children who are reported lost are nearly always found quickly. Shomrim officials sometimes begin the searches themselves, partly to avoid bothering the police unnecessarily.
“We get 10 calls a day for lost children — you can’t hit a panic button every time,” he said. “We know exactly where to search. We search the yeshivas and the buses and work swiftly.”
Town officials say Camp Bias Esther on Route 17B and Coopers Corner Road has fixed the most serious code violations. The Bobov Hasidic camp serves roughly 600 boys, ages 5 to 13, from Brooklyn, Monsey and Toronto. The kids began moving in Wednesday.
Officials in late June closed the camp within days of opening. In October, the town cited the camp for 99 violations, which remained unfixed this summer. The town closed and posted the buildings after finding raw sewage on the ground, electrical wires in the trees and numerous structural problems, like collapsed porches and doors hanging off the hinges.
Town Code Enforcement Officer Logan Ottino scratched 45 items from the list during inspections.
Ottino said on Thursday the other violations were largely "cosmetic" and the camp could safely occupy all but two buildings. One building, known as units 1-7, has structural problems and will remained boarded through the summer.
An electrician worked at the camp for two weeks and an alarm company has certified that all alarms are functioning, according to the group's consulting engineer, Bill Sattler. The group has also cut the grass and replaced footing pads, posts and bracings on several units.
"We have, in fact, opened and we have done an extraordinary amount of work in extraordinary quick time," said Harry Reicher, a law professor and member of the Brooklyn-based group. "It is a tremendous blessing to have this in the summer. There is not the slightest risk that we would permit for our children."
Sattler, in a letter to town Building Inspector T.J. Brawley, said he "lectured" camp manager Mendel Goldberg that "their lack of maintenance had made his camp an eyesore and showed disrespect to the local people."
Sattler wrote that Goldberg assured him the work will continue until in full compliance, the grounds will be better kept and buildings painted.
Ramon Cedeira, a salesman who owns property next to the camp, said the neighbors don't believe the camp is safe. He said buildings are propped up by two-by-fours and the group appears to have boarded up some of the broken windows and painted them over.
"I am skeptical and I got blasted at the Town Board meeting because I went against (Town Supervisor) Tony Cellini," Cedeira said. "It is an eyesore, It is not healthy for kids. It is getting worse."
The former Catskill resort, known as the Esther Manor, is where singer Neil Sedaka met his wife. Sedaka played in a band that performed at the hotel. He later married the daughter of the resort's owners.
"T.J. went out there yesterday and did an inspection," Cellini said. "It is an enormous amount of work they have done in two weeks."
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Police across New York state had been searching for Moishe Dressner.
He had been last seen Tuesday night at Camp Beth Yitzochok in the town of Wawarsing.
Volunteers joined state and local police, K9s and helicopters in the search.
Word of Dressner's disappearance comes on the same day police in New York City arrested a man in Brooklyn in connection with the gruesome death of an Orthodox Jewish boy from Borough Park. The dismembered body of Leiby Kletzky, 8, was found in the suspect's refrigerator and in a dumspter in Brooklyn.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Anguished family members and hundreds of volunteers have launched a massive search for a missing Hasidic boy who vanished on his way home from a Brooklyn day camp on Monday.
Leiby Kletzky, 9, was last spotted leaving the Boyan Day Camp on 44th Street near 12th Avenue at 4:50 p.m., police said.
He was supposed to meet his mother on 13th Avenue and 50th Street but mysteriously failed to show up.
“Volunteers have been out there all night searching backyards, front yards, anywhere where a child could possibly be” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).
Buses loaded with volunteers have come from New Jersey to aid in the search.
"Usually, these things are solved in a few hours," said Jacob Daskal, a member of the Shomrin volunteer civilian patrol. "It might be an abduction, but we're still hoping it's not."
Daskal said the boy was caught on surveillance camera leaving the school. He walked eight blocks to meet his mother. He disappeared during that short walk.
Boro Park Shomrim chief Simcha Bernath said the family confirmed the boy walked by himself, but normally he took the bus. He was supposed to walk from 12th and 44th to 13th and 50th.
"Because they had an appointment, they decided he could meet them," he said. "Everybody knew it was OK to walk by himself. But his regular routine was to go on the bus and go home."
"They're distraught. They can't figure out what happened," Bernath added.
Hikind's office, along with the boy's family and friends, is offering a $100,000 reward for any information on his whereabouts.
"It's quite amazing. Money's just coming in from people who just want to express their concern and want to do something,'' Hikind said.
"The amount has grown on the part of business people throughout the community. We started out this morning with just $5,000," Hikind said.
“We’re hoping for a good outcome but this is becoming very scary,” Hikind said.
Kletzky, the second youngest of five kids, was last seen wearing a blue shirt with green and white stripes, blue pants and black sneakers.
Police also ask anyone with information to call CrimeStoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS.
Monday, July 11, 2011
"Foreskin Man," a comic book series created by MGMBillorg president Matthew Hess, features head of the Museum of Genital Integrity Miles Hastwick, who doubles as the aforementioned Foreskin Man.
The general premise of the comic is Hastwick trying to raise awareness of the evils of circumcision while doubling as the circumcision fighting Foreskin Man.
He fought doctors in the first issue and African tribal leaders in the third issue, but it's the second issue that has generated the most heat.
The issue features Foreskin Man fighting off Monster Mohel from performing circumcision on baby Glick, a young Jewish boy. Hess draws Orthodox Jews as machine gun toting terrorists, intent on circumcising no matter what the costs. Not surprisingly this has upset many within the Jewish community.
This comic has drawn the serious ire of the ADL for a multitude of reasons, but one of the main reasons is the "Monster Mohel" depiction. In Jewish faith, the mohel is the person that performs the traditional Jewish circumcision and is generally highly respected within the community.
The ADL said, "The comic book portrays mohels -- those specially trained to perform the traditional Jewish circumcision ceremony -- as rapacious, bloodthirsty and bent on harming children."
The comic's climax is when Foreskin Man triumphantly battles Monster Mohel and his "goons". Foreskin Man is able to fight through all of the goons and save the young boy before delivering him to a safe community.
The comics have come back into the public light after San Francisco announced an initiative to ban circumcision for anyone under 18. The initiative ignites a furious debate as to whether circumcision should be allowed, especially for religious traditions, or whether it should be banned until a man is old enough to decide whether he wants it or not.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
The concrete band shell in the park between Coney Island and Brighton Beach, mere steps from the boardwalk, once boasted music legends including the Beach Boys and Blondie. It drew fans from as far away as Suffolk County and the Bronx.
No more. A bitter fight between area residents and city officials over a proposed $64 million amphitheater for the park has finally put an end to all of that. When the series kicks off on July 14, with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, it will do so in a vacant lot 16 blocks west, and some people—including one borough president—are really unhappy about that.
“Unfortunately, we're up against selfish, spiteful people,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who in 2004 first floated the idea of erecting a glitzy grandstand eight times the size of the 8,000-square-foot band shell at Asser Levy. “It would be a shame if an opportunity like this is lost.”
Maybe, but the concerts' fate now appears to be sealed.
It is an odd turn of fortunes for a popular series that had run since 1991 with little in the way of fanfare or controversy. But residents, including members of two nearby synagogues in the mostly Russian and Jewish neighborhood, recoiled at the idea of a local park sprouting a big new amphitheater. Last year, they sued the city to block its construction, citing an arcane law that prohibits amplified sound within 500 feet of a house of worship during services.
The legal tactic worked. The parties reached a settlement at the end of June, and the concerts will leave Asser Levy. In response, many residents cheered.
“It was always a 'grin and bear it' situation,” said Ida Sanoff, a 59-year-old Brighton Beach resident and one of the chief opponents of the amphitheater. “Many people hated these concerts. They were really disruptive to the neighborhood.”
Shut out of Asser Levy Park, concert organizers have managed to secure a big lot near West 21st Street and the boardwalk. Instead of acres of greensward, this year's crop of concertgoers will have 121,000 square feet of aging asphalt. Because it will cost an extra $200,000 in total to rent a stage and generator, there will be only six concerts this summer instead of the usual seven. But the good news is that the show will go on, for now.
However, there is no guarantee that the space, owned by developer Taconic Investment Partners, will be available for future seasons.
“Things are still up in the air,” said Blake DeBoer, an asset manager for the firm. “We obviously have other plans.”
No space for music
Those plans, which have yet to be announced, would all but guarantee the end to the summer concert series at Coney Island. With the recent addition of two new amusement parks, and plans for high-rise hotels and up to 4,500 new apartments, there's simply no other space.
It would be a sad end for a series that has drawn as many as 15,000 city dwellers throughout an evening to hear storied acts such as the B-52's, Pat Benatar and Hall & Oates. Many concertgoers would wander out afterward to grab a Nathan's hot dog and stroll the boardwalk, or catch a ride on the Wonder Wheel.
“Without the concerts, it ain't Coney Island,” said Chuck Reichenthal, the community board manager in the neighborhood. “It would be a tragic thing.”
Ms. Sanoff, on the other hand, is whistling a different tune.
“This is New York City,” she said. “Nothing stays the same.”
Saturday, July 09, 2011
The hard-line Jewish group, Yad L'Achim, has staged a protest outside the Kogens' home, posted leaflets about them in the neighbourhood and even taken out a full-page advert in a local paper denouncing them. During a demonstration on 26 June, about 20 supporters of the group used megaphones to attack the couple verbally for 90 minutes. Since then opponents have threatened to burn down the Kogens' home.
The false claims appear to be based on the fact that the Kogens had been helping a teenage neighbour who was experiencing problems at school and at home. Compass Direct news agency reports that the 16-year-old girl strongly denied Yad L'Achim's claims against the Kogens as the group demonstrated outside their home. In fact, she insisted she had not even become a Christian. “They are just good people,” she said.
Serge and Naama insist they have never discussed religion with the teenager – and had sought permission from the girl's mother for her to attend their congregational worship when the teenager herself had expressed an interest in doing so.
It was the girl's mother who first made proselytising allegations against the Kogens to local police, who investigated but found nothing illegal.Yad L'Achim then took up the case and brought court proceedings against the Kogens and their congregational leader – a case that was dismissed by a judge on 14 June.
Yad L'Achim is reportedly trying to push for new 'anti-missionary laws'. Under Israeli law, spreading one's faith is legal but 'proselytising minors' and offering 'material incentives' to conversion are not.
Yad L'Achim is a fringe group whose views are not representative of most Israelis, according to the Kogens' congregational leader.
Friday, July 08, 2011
Enlarge This Image
Dave Sanders for The New York Times
Mr. Levin, right, and an employee, identified as No. 36, on a surveillance assignment outside a school in Brooklyn.
Most of the time, though, Mr. Levin does his own snooping. On his iPad, he scrolled through photographs of people he was being paid about $100 an hour to follow, including a rebellious Hasidic girl in a white miniskirt and a long-bearded rabbi lighting a cigarette on the sidewalk.
“He’s a bad guy,” Mr. Levin said, enlarging the rabbi’s image. “A very bad guy.”
Not your usual private eye, Mr. Levin is a practicing Orthodox Jew, a member of the Bobov Hasidic sect and the founder of T.O.T. Private Investigation and Consulting, a New York-based company that specializes in Orthodox-related cases worldwide. The company, whose focus is uncommon — and perhaps unique in the United States — hires forensic experts, former homicide detectives, photographers and even pilots, mostly on a per-case basis. Its services range from investigations into international banks and Israeli investment companies to local background checks for prospective Shidduchim, or Orthodox marital arrangements.
Since Mr. Levin started the business 12 years ago, his life has often resembled the plot of a TV crime drama. He has trailed unwitting subjects into synagogues and strip clubs, sat beside them on international flights and tracked them down in remote areas of Puerto Rico and Brazil.
While he usually wears the black frock coat and fedora of the Hasidim, when undercover he has donned stocking caps and Yankees jerseys to conceal his brown knit skullcap and tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn by observant Jews.
His organization’s mission is encoded in the name T.O.T., an acronym for the Yiddish expression “Tuchis afn tish.”
“It means ‘Put your tuchis on the table,’ ” said Mr. Levin, a bearded, powerfully built man in his late 30s, who shaved off his side locks years ago out of personal preference. “In other words, ‘Show me the proof.’ And that’s what I do. I bring my proof to the people.”
Mr. Levin has provided key evidence in dozens of high-profile cases. In November, he found Yitzhak Shuchat, a Hasidic man from Crown Heights whom the police were seeking as a suspect in the 2008 beating of a police officer’s son, in a village outside Tel Aviv. Though Mr. Levin was hired by a member of a Hasidic volunteer crime patrol, he turned his information over to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, which has requested Mr. Shuchat’s extradition.
Mr. Levin said that information he learned in April led to the indictment of Rabbi Samuel Kellner of Brooklyn on charges that he had bribed a witness in a child molestation case against Baruch Mordechai Lebovits of Borough Park in an effort to extort money from Mr. Lebovits.
Mr. Levin was hired by the family of Mr. Lebovits after he was sentenced last year to up to 32 years in prison on a sexual abuse conviction. Mr. Lebovits has been released on bail pending the outcome of Rabbi Kellner’s trial.
Mr. Levin is intentionally vague about his background. He acknowledges that he served in the Israeli Army before moving to New York in 1994, but beyond that, he has managed to keep much of his life, and his livelihood, invisible.
“For years I tried to have not just a low profile, but no profile,” he said. “People would say to me, ‘I haven’t heard of you,’ and I’d say: ‘That’s great! If you’ve heard of me, you must have been in trouble.’ ”
Thursday, July 07, 2011
Kohn, a Spring Valley resident, was first elected to a three-year term in 2009 and is considered a member of the board's six-person ultra-Orthodox/Hasidic Jewish community voting bloc.
But in his first public comments as president, Kohn struck a note of unity and pledged "to do everything to keep this board unified." He takes over for former president Aron Wieder, who did not seek re-election.
Newcomer Daniel Schwartz of New Hempstead was elected vice president.
During the hour-and-a-half meeting, the board worked through a laundry list of personnel items.
That included reappointing Catherine Russell as district clerk and executive assistant to Superintendent Joel Klein at a salary of $68,654. Israel Biera was re-appointed district treasurer at a salary of $33,765.
The board also voted 6-3 to keep Albert D'Agostino, of the Long Island-based law firm Minerva and D'Agostino, as the school district's attorney. He is paid at a rate of $250 per hour and $125 per hour for travel.
Member Stephen Price voted against the reappointment, and said the board should look for a law firm in Rockland to cut travel costs.
He was joined by members Suzanne Young-Mercer and JoAnne Thompson. Members Moshe Hopstein, Moses Friedman, Eliyahu Solomon and Yehuda Weissmandl voted to reappoint D'Agostino, as did Kohn and Schwartz.
Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Like just about everybody else, Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles have their issues with the 405 Freeway widening project. Unlike most people, however, their primary concern is not necessarily the impending closure of a stretch of the freeway on the July 16-17 weekend.
Their problem is that the 405 construction project keeps messing up their eruv.
Some explanation is probably in order.
An eruv is a ritual enclosure surrounding a neighborhood. It can be a fence, a wall, a piece of string - or a freeway. And it must be unbroken.
Its purpose is legalistic, a loophole, some might say. It allows observant Jews to perform certain actions on the Sabbath - carry a tray of food or push a baby stroller, for example - that Jewish law prohibits in public on that day.
In effect, it creates an entire zone that is considered communal.
Some eruvs can be fairly small, enclosing a tight-knit Jewish neighborhood. Brooklyn, for instance, is checkered with relatively small ones. It is perhaps not surprising that Los Angeles, the city that practically invented urban sprawl, is home to one of the largest eruvs anywhere, a vast enclosure 40 miles in circumference, surrounding much of the Westside and spilling over into the San Fernando Valley.
Its boundaries are, roughly, Western Avenue on the east, the 101 Freeway on the north, the 10 on the south and - yes - the 405 on the west. In portions, such as along Western, the boundary consists of fishing line strung along the tops of utility poles. It's hard to spot, even if you know it's there.
But for much of its length, the eruv consists of freeway fences or the freeways themselves.
"We always look for the simplest possible path," said Howard Witkin, an insurance executive who volunteers as an eruv administrator.
Ever since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and California Department of Transportation began work in late 2009 to widen the 405 to 10 lanes, maintaining the eruv has been anything but simple.
The freeway widening has meant that seemingly permanent structures such as fences and freeway walls are constantly being breached, torn down or moved. The volunteers who inspect the eruv weekly and maintain it as needed have suddenly found their workload multiply.
"It used to be a once-a-week thing," said Daneil Mayer, a college student who fixes breaks in the boundary. "But since the construction began, it's four times a week."
One recent day, Mayer was standing with Witkin in the parking lot of the Bad News Bears baseball field, beside the freeway near Ohio Avenue in Westwood. In the background, cars and trucks lumbered past, the 405 not yet clogged by the afternoon rush. But Mayer's interest was in the foreground: a scattering of construction equipment, a temporary fence and concrete K-rails, the modular, low-slung traffic dividers that are a familiar part of highway repair projects.
"There used to be a fence where that K-rail is," Witkin said, pointing. The fence had formed part of the eruv. When it was torn down, Mayer put up 15-foot poles and ran fishing line between them for about 500 feet along Cotner Avenue, which runs along the freeway.
Mayer pointed to the space between the poles. Sunlight glistened off 250-pound test fishing line.
With the two men was Dan Kulka, community relations manager for Kiewit Infrastructure Group, the construction contractor on the 405 project. His job involves keeping the community happy about the project, or at least not bitterly unhappy. He recalls his puzzlement when he first learned about the eruv.
"I got an email from Metro, which said we have to work with the Jewish community on this, and I didn't have a clue," he said. "I had to look it up."
Once he caught on, he called a meeting with his construction supervisors. "They're looking at me like, 'What?'"
Witkin and Mayer had nothing but praise for the contractor and government agencies for their sensitivity. In some cities, eruvs have been met with hostility and become battlegrounds over church-state issues. That has not so far been the case with this project.
"The level of help we've had, from the Roman Catholic permit people at Caltrans ... to the Muslim line inspector along the freeways who gave us engineering help. ... The level of deference and courtesy and kindness - it makes you feel good that you live in America," Witkin said.
Kulka could not estimate how much the contractor has spent on eruv-related issues. "It doesn't cost a lot," he said, although some labor has been expended. Marc Littman, a spokesman for the MTA, insisted that there had been no extra cost to taxpayers. "This outreach is part of their job," he said of the contractors.
Witkin estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 observant Jews depend on the eruv each Sabbath, when Jewish law prohibits working from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. He said there was no violation of church-state rules, any more than installing a crosswalk in front of a church.
Although some might find the whole idea to be overly legalistic, even absurd, Witkin said it was all about the Jewish philosophy of translating spiritual ideas into action, giving physical form to commandments, or mitzvot.
"If you treat mitzvot as mindless rituals, then you've blown it," he said. "But if you recognize that you're taking your deepest philosophical principles and trying to translate them into physical action ... with the idea of transforming who I am, then you get it."
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Members of the private security patrols cruise the Brooklyn neighborhood listening to police scanners. They don't carry guns and have no arrest power.
Some in the neighborhood - a mix of blacks, whites, Latinos, Hasidim and hipsters - say they help keep crime down. Others contend the patrols unfairly target people of color.
"We are trying to keep the neighborhood safe," said Hershy Deutsch, 23, founder of the Kings County Safety Patrol.
"People think we go around trying to beat people up. We don't do that."
Deutsch said his 25 members use personal cars in Williamsburg, sometimes flashing orange and yellow lights "for caution."
Williamsburg's most well-known Jewish patrol is the Shomrim - named after the Hebrew word for guard. There are similar groups in Crown Heights and Borough Park, Brooklyn.
Residents say they often see speeding unmarked cars driven by members of Jewish patrols. Some of the vehicles have flashing red and blue lights.
A Daily News reporter recently spotted a mechanic on Kent Ave. installing a red-and-blue backlight package on a black, unmarked Toyota Camry. The mechanic said the car, which hadbogus parking placards in thewindshield, belonged to a Williamsburg Shomrim patrol member.
"It's not illegal for me to install them - only for them to use them on the street," the mechanic said.
The Shomrim patrol wouldn't talk about the lights, but the NYPD suggested the patrol was running afoul of the law. "The placards are not official, and red rotating lights are restricted to authorized police and fire vehicles and ambulances," said Paul Browne, the NYPD's top spokesman.
Jewish residents said they're surrounded by crime-filled public housing projects and need more eyes on the streets. Last week, police said Dwight Chaparro, 29, whacked Rabbi Mordechai Stern, 57, over the head with a wooden shelf.
Witnesses to the fight over a parking spot at Bedford Ave. and Wilson St. called Shomrim, whose members held the suspect until cops arrived.
Chaparro's mom said her son was covered with "black-and-blue" marks because Shomrim members beat him up. He was charged with felony assault, menacing and criminal possession of aweapon.
John Figueroa, 14, said a Jewish patrol member accused him of stealing a Hasidic kid's bike and then cracked him in the nose with a walkie-talkie. Records show Yakov Horowitz, 32, was charged with assault after the May 18, 2009, attack on Wythe Ave. "They thought we stole it. I was like, 'Y'all not taking this bike,'" Figueroa said.
Horowitz was convicted of disorderly conduct a year later, paying $120 in court fees for the violation, a court official said. The Kings County Safety Patrol said Horowitz was not a member.
The Williamsburg Shomrim didn't return calls about Horowitz.
Instead, it emailed a statement saying it has helped with the arrest of "dozens of suspects - the attackers of Jews and non-Jews alike."
Sunday, July 03, 2011
Jews of all sects and from around the globe took part in the ceremony, one of the area’s few Hasidic Jewish weddings, according to the father of the bride, who is director of the Chabad House of Western Michigan.
First Hasidic wedding for many
“The last one we had was a few years ago,” Weingarten said of the last such event held in Grand Rapids, adding such occasions allow for both celebration and education.
“Many people (who attended) have never been to a Hasidic wedding,” he said.
The ceremony was steeped in tradition, from its onset late Monday afternoon to the moment of union beneath the wedding canopy, called a “chupah,” around 7 p.m. Then, there were the post-wedding festivities.
There was copious singing, prayer and merriment interspersed with symbolic steps prior to the marriage.
The bride and groom, who until their wedding day had not seen one another for a full week, recited their commitments to both others and each other.
The mothers of the soon-to-be-married break a plate during the receptions beforehand, illustrating among other things the irreversible nature of the wedding.
And there is, of course, the love and support of a community that appears small at face value, but in reality is global.
“To have my whole community here from town and out of town, it was beautiful,” said Chayale Groner, formerly Weingarten, referencing how attendees came from as far as London, Israel and beyond. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Per tradition, wedding festivities take place for an entire week following the ceremony. Beyond that, the couple readies for a life with one another.
The young Groners will move to New York City to teach and learn at a Jewish school there, Levi Groner said. They will stay there for at least a year, he said, and they hope in the future to travel the world seeking places in need of the sense of community the couple felt in Grand Rapids.
And that, Weingarten said, is most exciting.
“The world is open for them,” he said.
Saturday, July 02, 2011
It was a joyous event. Friends and family poured into the Cohens' home bearing trays of food for the celebration, and gifts for the baby. There were hugs and laughter, and soon there would be bagels and cream cheese for all.
Brit Milah ceremonies such as this one are profoundly important religious celebrations, hallowed by Jewish law and centuries of Jewish tradition, yet if a group of San Francisco activists have their way, the event we celebrated that day will soon be illegal in their city.
At the appointed time, I greeted the group gathered in the living room, and Mike's parents came down the stairs holding the baby. They handed him to Dan, one of Mike and Lisa's close friends, who sat on a special chair in front.
The person who performs circumcisions is a mohel — often a physician with special training in the Jewish aspects of the procedure.
Mike and Lisa recited a prayer praising God for having instructed them to bring their child into the covenant of the Jewish people. The mohel recited a blessing of his own, then opened the baby's diaper, circumcised him, bundled him back up, and handed him to Lisa.
The procedure took about two minutes, and within another couple of minutes, the baby had quieted down and was resting comfortably in his mother's arms. In part, that might have been because we let him suck on a wine-soaked piece of gauze to soothe him while the mohel did his work.
"This child is known by the name David Samuel Cohen," I said. "And let him also be known among our people by the name "Daveed Shmuel son of Micha'el and Leah. May it be a name that brings honor to his family and the Jewish people."
I know that the idea of circumcision may sound barbaric. But the practice is not. It is a loving way of bringing a boy into an ancient covenantal relationship with God and the Jewish people, and of marking his participation in that covenant in his very flesh. In the Bible, it seems to have been linked to fertility — it was only after Abraham circumcised himself that his wife Sarah became pregnant with Isaac and Ishmael. Unlike female genital mutilation, Jewish circumcision is not a way to limit or control the child, and it does not destroy sexual desire.
Many find the practice troubling, I believe, because it so dramatically distinguishes religious values from commonly accepted modern American ones. America idealizes nature; Judaism and other religions try to control it and improve it. America sees happiness as the greatest goal, Judaism and other religions see holiness as far more important. Americans identify good parents as those who protect their children from all suffering; Judaism welcomes children into Jewish life with a moment of suffering, and then assures them that, with a hug from mom and a little sweet wine on their lips, it will be all OK very, very soon.
After the ceremony, everyone ate bagels and lox, and little David got more wet, sloppy kisses than his little cheeks knew what to do with. That day, the Cohen family forged one more link in an ancient and deeply hallowed chain of Jewish tradition.
I doubt I can change the minds of those who oppose this procedure, but I want to encourage them to look at this sacred Jewish ritual in its entirety. Do you really think this is the work of barbarians? Do you really think we should see such events as criminal activity? And at the end of the day, do you really think powerful moments of celebration and sanctity such as these make the world worse than it would otherwise be?
You might say yes, but I have a feeling that, years from now, when David Cohen stands at his own son's Brit Milah ceremony, he'll feel glad to live in a nation that affords him the freedom to participate in such a meaningful rite of passage.
Friday, July 01, 2011
Josh Berkovitz ran into a blazing building in Tottenham, north London, after he heard a mother screaming that her son was trapped in the building yesterday afternoon.
He was alerted by Nochem Perlberger, a former paramedic in Israel, who smelt burning when he returned to his office just yards from the house.
"I smelt burning plastic and then suddenly heard terrible screaming outside," he said. "A woman was shouting hysterically: 'My child is inside'."
Mr Berkovitz and another passer-by ran into the house while Mr Perlberger called the police, fire brigade and Hatzola.
The two-year-old was taken to a nearby restaurant and put under a running tap.
David Herzka, who has volunteered for Hatzola for 24 years, was first on the scene, arriving within two minutes.
"I was in my office nearby when I received the call," he said. "I dropped everything, grabbed my medical bag and got in the car.
"When I arrived, I ran into the restaurant and saw the boy had around 70 per cent burns. It was terrible. I immediately cut off his remaining clothes, applied burn gel and gave him oxygen."
The London ambulance arrived about seven minutes later and continued to treat the boy before taking him to hospital.
Around 20 firefighters battled the fire for more than an hour before it was under control.