Thursday, June 30, 2011

Observing religious holidays will come with a price in District 219 

Teachers in Niles Township High School District 219 who miss school to observe religious holidays could find their pay envelopes a bit leaner next year.

The school board discussed a proposed policy change Monday night that would no longer allow staff to take sick days to observe religious holidays. They would be allowed to use personal days or vacation days instead.

But teachers – who have school breaks and summers off – do not get any other vacation days, and they are limited to two paid personal days each school year.

The policy under consideration says that teachers who have run out of personal days could request an unpaid day off to observe religious holidays, as long as the day off “does not impact district operations.”

The idea that the district could deny an employee a day off on a religious holiday was enough for board member Jeffrey Greenspan to object and ask for the proposal to be tabled until after the policy committee can discuss it again.

“That’s your right to practice your religion,” Greenspan said. “That’s an absolute right.”

John Heintz, the assistant superintendent for human resources and chief legal officer for the district, said that the language in the proposed policy is consistent with the Illinois Human Rights Act as well as with the policies of 20 other school districts that he surveyed.

In fact, the school district once went to arbitration with the teacher union over this very issue and won, Heintz said, but decided to allow teachers to keep using sick time anyway.

Nanciann Gatta, District 219's superintendent, said that last year roughly 30 employees took a total of 71 days for religious holidays, costing the district $8,000 for substitutes. Those days are in addition to several major religious holidays when classes generally are not scheduled, including the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

But observant Orthodox Jews are forbidden to work on several other days, Greenspan said, and, depending on whether they fall on weekends or not, such employees could miss six or seven days, he said.

He was less concerned that they would not be paid for those days than that they could be forced to work. Forcing them to work would effectively keep some religious groups from seeking employment in the district, he said.

But school board president Robert Silverman said the district has a legitimate interest in keeping its experienced, well-educated and well-paid teachers in their classrooms.

“It’s the rights of the employee versus the rights of the student to get a quality education,” Silverman said. “You are disadvantaging the kids in those classrooms.”

Gatta said the district has disciplined employees for excessive absences in the past, and will likely do so again. However, that discipline has not resulted only from taking too many religious holidays off. Other board members suggested that the district could change the policy, with the board instructing administrators to honor requests for unpaid religious holidays.

“I don’t think this policy is forcing someone to work,” said board member Lynda Gault-Smith.

Greenspan said that would not be good enough.

“The way this policy reads right now is the district can tell someone, ‘We are not going to honor your religious beliefs and you have to work,’” he said. “That is illegal under the First Amendment.”

Heintz said that he did not know of any court cases over religious holidays that cited the First Amendment. They generally cite the Illinois law, with which the proposed policy complies.

Pankaj Sharma, the president of the Niles Township Federation of Teachers, attended the meeting but declined to comment for the record because he hadn’t known about the proposed policy change until the board discussed it.



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Camp shut down due to deplorable conditions 

The signs of neglect are everywhere, run down living quarters, broken recreational equipment and that's what you can see. Residents in Monticello say they've been able to smell a problem at this summer camp for years: an overpowering stench of raw sewage.

For the last 5 years, the 141-acre facility has been run as Camp Bias Esther and accommodated 400 Hasidic boys from Brooklyn.

However, yesterday, officials in the town of Thompson shut down the camp prior to its opening for the summer.

Besides the sewage problem, inspectors found dangerous electrical work - wires designed only for indoor use were strung outside.

At one time the property was a hotel known as the Esther Manor, it's where Neil Sedaka got his start and married the owner's daughter. It was part of the Borscht Belt, the area in the Catskills where many Jewish families vacationed. However, in recent years it fell into disrepair like many other resorts.

Wednesday, security guards manned the entrance to the camp. Town officials say there's an ongoing dispute between the property owners and the group that leases the site. Either way, the camp will remain closed until a long list of repairs is complete.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011


After a year-long battle with the New York City Department of Transportation, Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) declared victory today on behalf of the community with the announcement that the pedestrian islands along Fort Hamilton Parkway will be removed. Hikind, a vociferous critic of the islands, had long been advocating for the removal of the medians because they impede the work of ambulance crews rushing to Maimonides Medical Center, firefighters, and sanitation personnel, and have negatively impacted business owners and local residents.

At a Community Board 12 meeting scheduled for tonight, Brooklyn Borough Commissioner of Transportation Joseph Palmieri will confirm that the two pedestrian islands on Fort Hamilton Parkway at 46th and 47th Streets will be removed in their entirety, while half of the median at 45th Street is also slated for removal. Additionally, the “no left turn” signage will be taken down, and more than a dozen parking spaces which had been eliminated to accommodate FDNY rigs will be restored.

“This is a true victory for the people of this community,” an ecstatic Hikind said. “This is a prime example of what can be achieved against all odds.”

Hikind heaped praise on DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Joseph Palmieri for “doing the right thing.” “It takes real courage for someone to reconsider their position – especially in government,” noted Hikind. “Both Commissioners Sadik-Khan and Palmieri have my personal gratitude and that of the whole community for their willingness to correct a dangerous situation.”

Hikind also thanked Rabbi Sol Handler; Rabbi Chaim Israel; Mr. Lazer Rosman of Hatzolah; and all the residents and merchants who lent their support in calling for the removal of the islands.

The medians are expected to be removed by the end of the summer.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Chief rabbi disputes lawsuit in fiery NY attack 

The chief rabbi in a Hasidic village north of New York City says a lawsuit filed against him after a resident was burned in a fiery attack is without merit.

A resident of New Square who was badly burned in May had alleged Grand Rebbe David Twersky directed the attack. Plaintiff Aron Rottenberg claimed Twersky targeted him because he had begun praying at a synagogue other than the principal one in the insular village of 7,000 residents.

On Monday, Twersky's attorney Franklyn Snitow issued a statement saying the lawsuit has no legal or factual basis. The attorney says Twersky condemns violence.

Eighteen-year-old village resident Shaul Spitzer has been indicted on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault in the attack. He has pleaded not guilty.

Spitzer's lawyer says Twersky wasn't involved in the attack on Rottenberg.



Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brooklyn teen surrenders in abuse case 

A Brooklyn teen, accompanied by his rabbi and a lawyer, surrendered today in the molestation of a youngster in the basement of a Borough Park synagogue.

Menachem Deutsch, 19, was charged with unlawful imprisonment and child endangerment in the June 22 attack, authorities said.

Deutsch, dressed in traditional Hasidic attire, allegedly lured a 12-year-old boy walking home from school into Simcha Hall, a basement event space located inside a synagogue at 15th Avenue and 50th Street, authorities said.

Once inside, Deutsch brought the boy into a bathroom and allegedly groped and molested the child over the course of an hour.



Saturday, June 25, 2011

Molester lures children into Brooklyn synagogue 

Police are searching for a man who has lured children into a Brooklyn synagogue, molesting at least one of them.

Police say the sex attack happened during the afternoon on Wednesday, June 22.

Police say the man lured a 12-year-old into Simcha Hall, a Borough Park synagogue located at 50th Street and 15th Avenue.

Once in the basement, police say the man, dressed in tradition Hasidic attire, sexually assaulted the boy.

About an hour later, a second boy, 11, was confronted by the same man in front of the synagogue.

Police say that boy was not sexually assaulted but was lured into the synagogue.

The Special Victims Crime Unit is now handling the case as they search for the suspect.



Friday, June 24, 2011

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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


Suspect in NY fire pleads not guilty 

An 18-year-old student has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder in a case that has brought unusual attention to a Hasidic Jewish enclave in New York.

Shaul Spitzer of New Square is accused of severely burning a neighbor, Aron Rottenberg, with gasoline on May 22. Rottenberg claims Spitzer was acting at the direction of the village's chief rabbi because Rottenberg had stopped praying at the rabbi's synagogue.

Spitzer was arraigned Friday in Rockland County Court on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. His lawyer entered not-guilty pleas to all charges. He said outside court that Spitzer did not intend to harm anyone or to burn down Rottenberg's house.

He also said the chief rabbi had no involvement.

Spitzer was allowed to remain free on $300,000 bail



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Perfect Collision Body Shop added extra damage to vehicles for more insurance money: prosecutors 

Brooklyn prosecutors put the brakes on a pair of auto body bamboozlers who added extra damage to vehicles then over-billed insurers.

"The fraud was very clear here," District Attorney Charles Hynes said Thursday of the alleged scam at Perfect Collision in Borough Park. "The defendants were taking cars with minor damage and enhancing that."

Arrested were owner Elie Berger, 32, and his employee, Hershy Greenberger, 23.

They are accused of pounding vehicles with hammers and chisels to compound blemishes and increase their profit margin.

They would then cash refund checks from insurers and pocket the money, officials charged. When investigators raided Berger's home, they found more than $700,000 in cash - even though he had filed for public assistance. This and other findings will likely lead to more charges of tax and welfare fraud, prosecutors said.

Both mechanics were still slapped with a truckload of counts, including insurance fraud and grand larceny.

Prosecutors asked for a whopping $500,000 bail, but Berger was released on a $25,000 bond and Greenberger was freed without bail.

The courtroom was packed with more than 100 supporters from their Hasidic community.

Perfect Collision body shop operated for two years and was under investigation for most of that period, officials said, after sharp-eyed Geico assessors noticed vehicles with dubious dents.

Claim adjusters took before and after photos of the cars to prove the racket.

This type of scheme "saddles other New Yorkers with a fraud tax," Hynes noted.



East Ramapo taps interim superintendent Joel Klein to lead district 

The East Ramapo Board of Education voted 5-2 Wednesday night to appoint interim Superintendent of Schools Joel Klein to lead the district.

Klein was hired with a three-year contract and a salary of $242,000. The board also voted to promote Assistant Superintendent Pedro Santana to a new K-12 education position that merges his current job with the assistant superintendent for curriculum.

"I want you to know we are all here for the children," Klein told the crowd of parents, students and residents that packed into the district's central administration building. "That's our priority. We are trying to make something better. We have to work together."

Klein is relatively new to East Ramapo, having been hired at the start of the school year as a director of special student services. He was appointed a temporary replacement for former Superintendent Ira Oustatcher on March 31.

The school board began an in-house search to fill the position in April, contacting all central administrators and principals in the district. Klein and Santana were the only two candidates to submit applications.

The board's approach came under heavy criticism Wednesday night, as about a dozen speakers criticized the superintendent search as hasty and too narrow.

"It has baffled me why the board hasn't interviewed more candidates," said Carlos Ortiz, 18, a student at Ramapo High School.

That criticism was repeated by board members Suzanne Young-Mercer and JoAnne Thompson, who did not vote for Klein's appointment. Members Moses Friedman, Moshe Hopstein, Morris Kohn, Eliyahu Solomon and board President Aron Wieder voted in favor. Wednesday's vote to appoint Klein deeply divided the room.

Members of the public school community held up "We Want Pedro" signs and booed the board's decision. Several said they wanted to see more diversity on the board, which is controlled by a six-member majority bloc of Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish members.

"I do not see diversity on this board," said PTA parent Carolyn Watson, 47, of Chestnut Ridge.



Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New Square arson victim blames leaders, not attacker 

New Square arson victim Aron Rottenberg today said he has no real animosity toward the 18-year-old man charged in the attack.

"Why would this 18-year-old boy come to my house at 4:15 in the morning and want to burn down a home with five people in it?" he said in a just-concluded news conference.

Rottenberg instead blamed the leaders of the New Square Hasidic village with making clear that his family had to go. He said that New Square's grand rebbe, David Twersky, in particular, had it out for him because Rottenberg would not pray at New Square's main synagogue, as required by Twersky.

"I don't know if he said 'Burn down the house,' but he wanted us to move out of there," Rottenberg said.

Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over half his body during the May 22 attack on his home.

He said he was released from the hospital Monday and is staying at an area hotel until he feels ready to return to New Square. His wife and children are now living outside New Square, he said.

Still, he said that he feels safe because the FBI and local police are now investigating his case.

"I have the government on my side," he said. "We're the victims."

His wife, Ruth, sat by his side as he talked, looking nervous. She said that New Square's leaders refused to work things out with her family before the attack.

"We were like hostages," she said.

Rottenberg, who had two skin grafts, said he is receiving daily physical and occupational therapy and has been told by doctors that he could be close to normal in a year or so. He hopes to return to his job as a plumber.

His lawyer filed an $18 million lawsuit earlier this month accusing Twersky of inspiring the arson attack. The lawsuit also named Shaul Spitzer, 18, who faces attempted murder and arson charges in the case.

Rottenberg, who has lived most of his life in New Square, said that most people there are good people but have been brainwashed by the community's leaders.

"They only know the grand rebbe, New Square, the grand rebbe, New Square," he said. "They don't know the outside, what freedom is all about."



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Borough Park neighbors say dog terrorizing residents, owner insists pooch is provoked 

Residents of a Borough Park block are up in arms over a dog they say has attacked three neighbors.

Neighbors say Sammy Kisin's 60-pound terrier mix Jessie is a dangerous menace - but Kisin says the dog is gentle and neighbors on the 60th St. block are out to get him because he doesn't fit in the heavily Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.

"This block is being terrorized for years," said Sy Wasser, whose 20-year-old son Shalom was bitten by Jessie as he walked to the bus stop earlier this month.

"He was going for the jugular," Wasser said, adding his son put up his hand to protect himself. "He bit off a good portion of his finger."

It wasn't the first time the dog struck, neighbors said. Mike Fleishman, 39, said his 7-year-old daughter Miriam was mauled by the canine two years ago - and required 100 stitches in her arm.

"She was riding on her bike when this strong powerful dog jumped at her. All the kids were watching it," he said. "The whole block is up in arms and terrified...It's just a matter of time before the next incident."

Neighbors want the dog taken away or forced to wear a muzzle but say their complaints to the city have gone unanswered. The city Health Department is investigating, a spokeswoman said.

But Kisin, 33, a cab driver, charged that neighbors have deliberately provoked the dog - even throwing rocks and sticks at it - and have smeared dog feces on his car and porch.

"It's getting out of control. My neighbors are provoking a lot of situations with the dog," he said. "They don't want me living on that block because I'm not a Hasidic Jew.

"He's a calm and peaceful dog... not the kind of dog that's looking to attack anybody," Kisin said. "Even if I did get rid of the dog tomorrow - which I'm not planning on - and try and make peace...it's going to be something else."

He acknowledged the dog's run-ins with neighbors, but said Jessie only "nicked" Wasser's finger. He said the attack on the 7-year-old came after the girl hit the dog with her bike and "we all felt horrible about what happened."

In a third incident, Kisin's next door neighbor, Moshe Hammerman, said he was bitten on the shoulder by Jessie - and hospitalized - in 2008.

"I have been through three types of cancer and I was never as terrified and traumatized as I am of this dog," said Hammerman, 56. Kisin insisted the dog only ripped his shirt after a dispute between the two men.

Residents insist religion has nothing to do with the dispute.

"There are others on the block that are not Hasidic and we get along fine," said Fleishman, adding no one would taunt the dog because they're too scared. "He's just the only one who walks around with a menacing dog."



Monday, June 20, 2011

KJ police liaison is a former state police commander 

Former State Police Superintendent Preston Felton has been working for the Village of Kiryas Joel for months, serving as the Hasidic community’s liaison with local and state police agencies.

The late State Police Sgt. Warner Hein had held a similar post acting as state liaison to KJ until his untimely passing two years ago.

Felton, who served as State Police superintendent under former Governor David Patterson, was asked to be the village’s first paid liaison.

“When they came to me and asked me to consider taking part in a role similar to Warner’s, I absolutely said yes because most of the leadership of Kiryas Joel I’ve had a good relationship with over the last almost 28 years,” he said. “I think I can offer a lot to the community there.”

Felton has been in his new part-time post for some eight months.



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Federal case could dissolve Kiryas Joel 

Kiryas Joel dissidents rolled the ultimate grenade into their enemies' tent last week with a federal lawsuit questioning the very existence of the village that the Satmar Hasidic community created 34 years ago.

Their argument — laid out by civil-rights attorney Michael Sussman and sharply disputed by village leaders and their supporters — is that the village discriminates against them because of religious differences, and that public and religious authority are so entwined in Kiryas Joel that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

But even if the plaintiffs prove they've been thwarted and unfairly treated as they allege, a big question is whether a judge would ever order the drastic remedy they proposed: dismantling the Village of Kiryas Joel.

The answer depends on whom you ask.

Ralph Stein, a Pace Law School professor who teaches constitutional law, sees no chance of that happening, based on what he read in the court complaint.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a political polemic," Stein said. "It doesn't provide a legal basis for which the relief can be provided."

If the allegations are true, Stein said, what the dissidents are complaining about amounts to political corruption no different than Tammany Hall-style tactics, even if cloaked in religious garb. And corruption, he said, is no reason to dismantle a municipality.

If it were, Stein said, "I can't imagine how many times places like Boston, New York and Chicago would have been dissolved."

But Nomi Stolzenberg, a University of Southern California law professor who's co-writing a book on Kiryas Joel, argues that a political in-group abusing power for non-religious reasons is different under constitutional law than a "religious in-group that uses political power to suppress religious dissenters."

"Whether that in fact is what's going on in Kiryas Joel remains to be proved," she said. "But the idea that a religious group could capture political power and abuse its power by discriminating against groups that don't adhere to the beliefs of the dominant group — that is a very specific danger that the religion clauses were designed to combat."

Stolzenberg contends the case could hinge on which of two constitutional readings the judge uses.

The prevailing approach would likely find that the institutions of church and state are separate in Kiryas Joel, and therefore, permissible, she said. But a competing doctrine — she calls it the "get real" approach — might take a less lenient view.

"It's actually hard to predict how the federal judges are going to react to this," she said.

The dissidents' lawsuit tries to show unequal treatment in law enforcement, tax exemptions, elections and other areas through a series of examples. Village leaders say the claims have no merit, and insist they provide services to all residents without discrimination.

Joseph Waldman, a plaintiff in the case and a longtime thorn in the side of the village's leadership, brought a similar case in 1997 to try to get the village dissolved. A federal judge and then an appeals-court panel rejected his demand — but strictly because most of his allegations had just been tried in two previous lawsuits.

The appeals-court judges wrote that Waldman's claims didn't "establish the sort of pervasive and otherwise irremediable entanglement between church and state that would justify a drastic remedy like the dissolution of the village."

But they added: "All this is not to say that a series of future actions evincing an enduring and all-encompassing domination of the Village government by the Congregation could not at some point suffice to create a new cause of action for the dissolution of the village."Kiryas Joel dissidents rolled the ultimate grenade into their enemies' tent last week with a federal lawsuit questioning the very existence of the village that the Satmar Hasidic community created 34 years ago.

Their argument — laid out by civil-rights attorney Michael Sussman and sharply disputed by village leaders and their supporters — is that the village discriminates against them because of religious differences, and that public and religious authority are so entwined in Kiryas Joel that it violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

But even if the plaintiffs prove they've been thwarted and unfairly treated as they allege, a big question is whether a judge would ever order the drastic remedy they proposed: dismantling the Village of Kiryas Joel.
city of rajneeshpuram

One of the few precedents for the constitutional challenge Kiryas Joel dissidents have brought against their village is a 1983 case involving Rajneeshpuram, a religious enclave incorporated as a city in Oregon the previous year.

The community started in 1981, when followers of a spiritual leader named Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh bought a huge ranch in Wasco County. Within only three years, their commune grew into a city of 7,000 with its own police and fire departments, businesses and bus system.

By that time, the state had sued Rajneeshpuram in federal court, arguing that it had no obligation to recognize the municipal status of a city controlled by a religious organization.

A federal judge ruled in favor of Oregon in 1985. But the decision had little impact on Rajneeshpuram, because state and federal court battles had so depleted the group's resources that the city was soon bankrupt and empty.

The answer depends on whom you ask.

Ralph Stein, a Pace Law School professor who teaches constitutional law, sees no chance of that happening, based on what he read in the court complaint.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a political polemic," Stein said. "It doesn't provide a legal basis for which the relief can be provided."

If the allegations are true, Stein said, what the dissidents are complaining about amounts to political corruption no different than Tammany Hall-style tactics, even if cloaked in religious garb. And corruption, he said, is no reason to dismantle a municipality.

If it were, Stein said, "I can't imagine how many times places like Boston, New York and Chicago would have been dissolved."

But Nomi Stolzenberg, a University of Southern California law professor who's co-writing a book on Kiryas Joel, argues that a political in-group abusing power for non-religious reasons is different under constitutional law than a "religious in-group that uses political power to suppress religious dissenters."

"Whether that in fact is what's going on in Kiryas Joel remains to be proved," she said. "But the idea that a religious group could capture political power and abuse its power by discriminating against groups that don't adhere to the beliefs of the dominant group — that is a very specific danger that the religion clauses were designed to combat."

Stolzenberg contends the case could hinge on which of two constitutional readings the judge uses.

The prevailing approach would likely find that the institutions of church and state are separate in Kiryas Joel, and therefore, permissible, she said. But a competing doctrine — she calls it the "get real" approach — might take a less lenient view.

"It's actually hard to predict how the federal judges are going to react to this," she said.

The dissidents' lawsuit tries to show unequal treatment in law enforcement, tax exemptions, elections and other areas through a series of examples. Village leaders say the claims have no merit, and insist they provide services to all residents without discrimination.

Joseph Waldman, a plaintiff in the case and a longtime thorn in the side of the village's leadership, brought a similar case in 1997 to try to get the village dissolved. A federal judge and then an appeals-court panel rejected his demand — but strictly because most of his allegations had just been tried in two previous lawsuits.

The appeals-court judges wrote that Waldman's claims didn't "establish the sort of pervasive and otherwise irremediable entanglement between church and state that would justify a drastic remedy like the dissolution of the village."

But they added: "All this is not to say that a series of future actions evincing an enduring and all-encompassing domination of the Village government by the Congregation could not at some point suffice to create a new cause of action for the dissolution of the village."



Saturday, June 18, 2011

Suspect in New Square arson returns to community 

The 18-year-old man accused of an arson attack on a man who refused to pray in the grand rebbe's main synagogue has returned to the community and the local school.

Shaul Spitzer, who faces attempted murder and arson charges in the May 22 attack, regrets the criticism and spotlight brought onto the Skver Hasidic community's grand rebbe, his friend, Menashe Luftig, said Thursday.

A spokesman for community residents denied that Spitzer, who was treated in a New York City hospital for burns suffered in the attack, had returned to school.

Spitzer's return to the village drew a harsh response from the family of Aron Rottenberg, who remains hospitalized with third-degree burns over half his body due to the 4 a.m. attack.

Spitzer lived in Grand Rebbe David Twersky's house and did menial tasks for the dynastic religious leader. He's also been tied to a group of young men whom some residents say enforces the rebbe's rules.

Spitzer lived with the rebbe and others at the time of the attempted arson of Rottenberg's Truman Avenue home.

Rockland prosecutors have prepared for a grand jury review on the charges against Spitzer by interviewing Rottenberg.

While Spitzer has been welcomed back in some circles, the Rottenberg family said Twersky and other religious leaders have essentially expelled two of Rottenberg's younger children from attending schools in New Square.

Rottenberg's son-in-law said Friday that Spitzer's easy return to the community and the boycott of the family shows Twersky's words condemning violence were hollow.

"Spitzer walks around there in the shul and yeshiva like nothing happened," Moshe Elbaum said. "After what he did, he came back to his old life and things are back to normal. My father-in-law is still suffering."

Elbaum said the rebbe and religious leaders shouldn't have to let Spitzer back into the fold.

The family argues Spitzer acted on the rebbe's behalf when he went after Rottenberg, who had been targeted for months with vandalism and protests. The family is suing Twersky and Spitzer for $18 million. Twersky has denied the accusations and condemned violence.



Friday, June 17, 2011

Two sets of poles approved for Borehamwood Eruv 

A PLANNING application to erect four metal poles as part of a Jewish boundary in Borehamwood was approved at a meeting last night.

An Eruv, which allows Orthodox Jews to perform tasks on the Sabbath, must have a physical continuity - often using walls, fences and parts of the urban landscape to form borders.

However, where there is a gap made by roads or footpaths, a gateway must be formed to complete the boundary.

Therefore, two pairs of poles and connecting wires will be constructed across alleyways in Cowley Hill and between Redwood Rise and Abbots Place.

The Borehamwood Eruv was granted planning permission in 2007 and constructed in 2010, it was originally made up of 34 sets of poles around town.

See the 'Related Links'



Thursday, June 16, 2011

Giants draft player from S.F. Jewish high school 

Graduating senior Benny Sosnick was something of a celebrity at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay’s commencement ceremony this week.

That’s what happens when you get selected in the Major League Baseball draft — and by your hometown team, the World Series champion Giants, no less.

Sosnick, 18, tried to be realistic going into last week’s three-day draft, putting himself in the mindset that no team would take him. So when he was picked on the draft’s final day, June 8 — in the 49th of 52 rounds — he was blown away.

“I was not expecting it at all,” said Sosnick, the 1,497th out of 1,530 players taken. “It was definitely a surprise, and I was very excited.”

Sosnick’s selection ranks as one of the most newsworthy athletic moments in the 10-year history of JCHS of the Bay in San Francisco, and it was trumpeted on the school’s website under the heading “Big Baseball News.” It was also a topic of conversation at the school’s graduation ceremony June 13 at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Sosnick was informed of the selection by his brother, San Francisco–based sports agent Matt Sosnick, who was monitoring every pick in the draft. The elder Sosnick’s clients include Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez, Cincinnati Reds slugger Jay Bruce and Florida Marlins outfielder Scott Cousins (the player who ended Giants catcher Buster Posey’s season when he crashed into him at home plate).

As a late-round pick, Sosnick won’t get a signing bonus or even an immediate contract. In fact, pending a meeting with the Giants’ scout who watched him play a few times this season, he’s not even sure if he’ll play baseball this summer or in college. He said the Giants have labeled him a “summer-follow guy,” which means they’ll watch his progress over the next few months.

“Getting drafted did open up some options for me,” Sosnick said. “I might try to find a summer league to play in. But I haven’t looked into it yet. I have to meet with [the scout] and see what he has to say.”

Sosnick said he’ll stick with his plan of entering the University of Oregon in the fall; eventually he wants to go to law school and get into the sports business field like his big brother. Now he is also thinking about trying to play baseball for the Ducks as a walk-on.

A resident of Hillsborough, Sosnick attended JCHS for four years. His father, Ron, is on the JCHS board and has served in a variety of leadership roles in the Jewish community, including president of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley and capital campaign chairman for Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame.

During the 2011 season, Sosnick had an eye-popping .583 batting average, which led the entire 139-school Central Coast Section, according to Maxpreps.com. In 16 games, he had 28 hits and 22 RBIs. However, JCHS plays against mostly smaller schools in the Private Schools Athletic League.

At 6-foot-1, 170 pounds, Sosnick was drafted as a second baseman even though he primarily played pitcher, catcher and shortstop for the Wolves.

“I played mostly shortstop, but my league is not a great league,” he said. “I don’t have the range to play shortstop on a higher level, but I could do well at second base.”

Sosnick — who wrote the Hebrew words for “strength” and “courage” on his batting gloves and “gevurah” (strength) on his fielding glove — didn’t hit any homers this past season, but he did have six doubles, a triple and a .644 on-base percentage. He also relished playing on a team that won eight of its final 10 games, many in come-from-behind fashion. One of those was an exhilarating 16-15 triumph that clinched third place for the Wolves, their highest finish in school history.

“We took an 11-0 lead, then fell behind 15-12, then ended up scoring the last four runs to win,” Sosnick said. “I went 3-for-5 and tagged two guys out at home plate, and I pitched to one batter and struck him out to end an inning.”

Sosnick also was a basketball star for the Wolves this past season, averaging 12.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. But if he gets selected in the two-round NBA draft next week … well, that would be the story of the century.



Wednesday, June 15, 2011

New Hasidic Radicals Bellow Down Tel Aviv’s Streets 

The monotonous din of traffic permeated the air on Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street on a recent Friday afternoon, when, suddenly, a large white cargo van whipped around the corner, blasting music from a pair of huge roof-mounted loudspeakers. A few people walking on the crowded sidewalks stopped to stare as five bearded young men wearing white-knit, tassel-topped yarmulkes leaped out, dancing to the thud of electronic bass beats. Some people smiled. Soldiers driving past waved out the windows and cheered. A cyclist cut through the group, her face set in a grimace. A man screamed above the din that his baby was sick.

It’s a scene increasingly common in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities where the loud, brightly painted Ford cargo vans associated with Israel’s hottest new Hasidic sect have become a recognizable sight. The vans are plastered with large Hebrew letters and larger-than-life stick-on portraits of a laughing, bearded old man in a fur hat, his arms cast jubilantly skyward. Religious-themed Hebrew techno tunes blast from the rooftop speakers.

The Bohemian clothing of the dancing young men seems unusual for Hasidic Jews. So does their belief that screaming, singing, and bellowing joyous prayer are the best ways to connect with God.

They are known as the Na Nach — a recently emerged subgroup of the 200-year-old Breslover Hasidic sect. Like other Breslover Hasidim, they follow the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, a kabbalist mystic who lived 200 years ago in what is today Ukraine. More established Breslov groups were once seen as an eccentric, vaguely countercultural element in the Orthodox world. But members of the Na Nach sect now stand out as the new radicals, as the older tradition of Nachman study assumes a newfound respectability within the ultra-Orthodox world.

“[Na Nach] are seen as sort of an embarrassment in Israeli society, and held up as a circus sideshow,” said Shaul Magid, a professor of Jewish studies at Indiana University and an expert on Hasidism.

The sect’s name is a stub of the phrase Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’uman. Repeated often by followers as a kind of mantra, it spells out in Hebrew, adding one letter at a time, the name of the members’ revered teacher, who died and was buried in the town of Uman, Ukraine. Nachman’s great-grandfather, known as the Baal Shem Tov, established what was then seen as wild, spiritual Hasidism in response to the increasingly bookish rabbinic Judaism of the early 18th century. Nachman’s version of Hasidism was a back-to-basics campaign of sorts, and not at all popular with the Hasidic dynasties that had established themselves over the previous century.

Na Nachs sport the beards, sidelocks and yarmulkes favored by other ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews, but often eschew traditional black trousers and frock coats. The Na Nach movement lacks a definable hierarchy, and its followers maintain that their connection with God is more personal than anything the authority of a rabbi can deliver. Instead of relying on the direction of a living rebbe, Na Nachs go straight to Nachman’s texts for spiritual guidance. Though the Na Nachs are seen in many cities across Israel, the lack of hierarchy makes it hard to count the number of followers.

The Na Nach van patrols — the movement’s charismatic but often ridiculed public face — are only part of what Na Nachs do. Nachman encouraged self-seclusion and meditation, during which his followers talk to God in an intimate manner. Bellowing, yelling and enthusiastic singing are the norm during group prayer.

Criticism of the Na Nachs by other Orthodox Jews — even from other Breslovers — stems from their unusual habits. “As far as mainstream Breslov is concerned, Na Nach has no validity whatsoever,” said Rabbi Chaim Kramer, a leader in the Breslov community. “You can’t just sit back, close your eyes and say a mantra; you have to study, you have to fill your heart with prayer, you have to have the Torah and perform the mitzvot.”



Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Orthodox Jewish Officer Who Arrested Bronx ADA For DUI Says He Was Punished 

Friends and colleagues of the NYPD officer who busted Bronx ADA Jennifer Troiano for DUI last August claim that he was unfairly punished for making the arrest. In January, Elliot Zinstein, one of a handful of Orthodox Jews on the force, was transferred from the 44th precinct in the Bronx to the 94th precinct in Greenpoint because according to his superiors "the neighborhood needed more Jewish cops."

But given that the Jewish population is much higher in nearby Williamsburg and he was the only cop transferred out of the Bronx, Officer Zinstein didn't buy that explanation. "He was doing his job," a colleague tells the Daily News, "He's a good cop. He's made a lot of arrests and has no disciplinary record."

Troiano's arrest was a source of embarrassment for the city and DA Robert Johnson given the massive ticket-fixing probe that continues to ensare officers and taint the their testimony in courtrooms across the city. At the time of her arrest Troiano told Zinstein to call the chief of narcotics in the Bronx, Nestor Ferreiro, saying, "He'll take care of this. He took care of it last time." Troiano has since been transferred to the Appeals Bureau.

Officer Zinstein complained to Internal Affairs last month that he was unhappy with the transfer, and later "he was told to figure out where he wants to work." Zinstein and the NYPD are refusing to comment on his treatment.



Lawsuit seeks to dissolve KJ 

A group of dissident residents in the Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel has filed a federal lawsuit seeking to have the municipality dissolved because it violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. If the court won’t do that, the suit seeks to have all village and school district officials removed from office.

The village, which plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Sussman called “a theocracy,” has allegedly engaged in years of harassment against the so-called dissident population, he alleged.

The 59-page lawsuit claims the village, formed in 1977 by the late Grand Rebbe and founder of the Satmar Hasidic movement, Joel Teitelbaum, “misuses municipal authority to discriminate against [the dissident population].” It alleges the village engages in religious discrimination, selective enforcement of its laws in favor of the leadership of the village, and “disparately treating the dissidents” with respect to property taxation, municipal fees, and enforcement of building zones; selectively enforcing laws on littering, noise and public order; and “engaging in voter fraud and intimidation to ensure that no ‘dissident’ is elected to serve in the village government.”

The suit also alleges the village’s Public Safety Department “misuses its law enforcement authority to selectively enforce laws for the purpose of advancing [the main congregation’s] agenda and repressing the ‘dissidents'."



Monday, June 13, 2011

Dissident Jews say enclave in NY oppresses them 

Dissidents in a Hasidic Jewish enclave in upstate New York demanded Monday that the village be dissolved on the grounds that its existence violates religious freedom.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the dissidents say the majority congregation has taken over village government in Kiryas Joel and selectively enforces tax, zoning, election and other laws to oppress them.

"Due to this inherent and unavoidable entanglement between religion and government, the village has engaged, and continues to engage, in religious discrimination," the lawsuit said.

Kiryas Joel's attorney, Donald Nichol, denied any infringement of religious rights.

"These people have been allowed to exercise their religious freedom even beyond the village statutes," he said.

Kiryas Joel was incorporated in 1977 by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect from Brooklyn. Few if any others live there. A village of large families, it is one of the fastest-growing places in the state, with a population of 23,000.

It also is listed as among the poorest places in the country and is heavily dependent on food stamps, Medicaid and federal housing vouchers. But it has little of the street crime or drug problems that other poor communities have.

The lawsuit says many of the dissidents — nine are named as plaintiffs — follow the teachings not of the grand rebbe, Aron Teiltelbaum, but his brother Zalman Teiltelbaum, who leads a Satmar group in Brooklyn. It says the dissidents comprise about 40 percent of the village population.

The lawsuit says the dissidents recently established a wedding hall outside the village where couples could be married by rabbis not sanctioned by the grand rebbe. Village officials then told the majority congregation to excommunicate the newlyweds, the lawsuit says. It says religious leaders also incited violence against the couples with "hateful" leaflets and loudspeaker announcements.

The lawsuit also says the village gives tax-exempt status to the main congregation but not the dissidents, disregards its own zoning law to advance the main congregation's activities and assesses sanitation fees against dissident organizations even when they use outside garbage companies.

It also alleges voting fraud, including intimidation of voters and busing in non-residents to vote.

The lawsuit asks that the village be dissolved, or that religious leaders not be permitted to hold government office for 25 years.

Nichol, the village attorney, said that proposed remedy would itself be religious discrimination.

"It would be like saying a Catholic can't be president," he said.

The lawsuit names as defendants the village, the main congregation and several village officials.

It does not name the grand rebbe as a defendant but calls him a "key non-party."

In a separate lawsuit, also filed Monday but in state court in Rockland County, Sussman targeted the grand rebbe of another Hasidic enclave, in New Square.

That lawsuit alleges that Grand Rebbe David Twersky directed a fiery attack on a villager who had begun praying at a synagogue other than the main synagogue in New Square, 30 miles from Manhattan.

On May 22, Aron Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over half his body in what police said was an attempt to burn down his house. Another New Square resident, Shaul Spitzer, has been charged with attempted murder. The lawsuit alleges — as Sussman has previously, in a letter seeking a federal investigation — that Twersky was responsible.

Hank Sheinkopf, who advises some village leaders, said attorneys had not yet seen the lawsuit.

It seeks $36 million for Rottenberg and his family from Twersky and Spitzer.



Arson Victim Files Suit Against Hasidic Sect's Grand Rabbi 

The family of a man badly burned in an alleged arson attack filed a lawsuit against the grand rabbi of the Hhasidic village of New Square, N.Y., accusing him of directing and condoning a campaign of harassment against them.

The suit, filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court on behalf of Aron Rottenberg and his family, lists two defendants: Shaul Spitzer, 18, the alleged arsonist; and David Twesky, the rebbe of the Skverer Hasidic sect. It urges the court to level an $18 million judgement agaisnt each of the two defendants.

“[D]efendant Twersky committed the intentional tort of assault against each of the plaintiffs, intending to, and causing them, substantial fear and anxiety through his illegal direction that he gave that they be banished from the Village of New Square, a political sub-division from which they cannot be rightfully banished,” the suit alleges.

On May 22, New Square dissident Aron Rottenberg was badly burned in an early morning attack outside of his New Square home. Since the attack he has been in the hospital recovering and undergoing skin graft surgeries. Spitzer, who was charged with first-degree attempted arson, first-degree assault and second-degree attempted murder, was released on $300,000 bail but also remains hospitalized for his own injuries.

Spitzer had spent the past year as a live-in aide to Twersky. Since September, Rottenberg, 43, had been making the mile-long trek to pray at a nursing home located outside the village, and his lawsuit alleges that Rothenberg and his family were targeted for harassment for his refusal to pray in the main village synagogue presided over by Twersky.

The suit alleges that “at the direction of defendant David Twersky, members of his Congregation as his followers began taking aggressive actions” against Rotnberg and his family. The lawsuit cites the throwing rocks at Rottenberg’s home and his car windows, the expulsion of one of Rottenberg’s daughters from the village’s religious school and threating phone calls to their home.

The suit also alleges that Spitzer would not have committed the arson attack without Twersky’s direction.

“Spitzer … acted at the direction of the Grand Rabbi in whose home he then lived, to whom he gives his absolute allegiance and without whose direction he would never have so acted,” the suit alleges.

It adds: “Plaintiffs had no personal dispute with Spitzer, whose action, upon information and belief, was solely motivated by defendant Twersky’s edict that the Rottenbergs and other families, who did not abide by his absolute rule over New Square, leave or be forced to leave the Village.”



Saturday, June 11, 2011

Kiddush clubs declare boycott on Scottish whiskey 

The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC) – a partnership of 250 Jewish men’s clubs that claims more than 25,000 members throughout North America – has joined with synagogues both in Israel and in the diaspora in “suggesting a boycott of scotch from distillers located in West Dunbartonshire Council in Scotland at Kiddush and [in] public and private” celebrations.

The FJMC, which is affiliated with the Conservative movement, has called for Jews to avoid certain brands of spirits following a boycott of Israeli goods instituted by the local council of the whiskey-producing region.



Friday, June 10, 2011

Temporary agreement reached in case of Orthodox Jewish prisoner's meals 

A temporary resolution was reached Friday in the case of an Orthodox Jewish prisoner who wants the Nevada Department of Corrections to continue serving kosher meals to inmates who request them.

Howard Ackerman, an inmate at the Northern Nevada Correctional Center in Carson City, filed a class-action lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas. He also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order.

In the lawsuit, Ackerman claims officials with the Nevada Department of Corrections are violating the First Amendment with their decision to end kosher food options for inmates.

At a hearing Friday before U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, attorneys involved in the case said they had reached an agreement that eliminated the need for a restraining order. Under the agreement, prison officials will give 30 days' notice before implementing a new menu.

"Inmates are going to get their kosher food and be able to continue to exercise their constitutional rights," attorney Jacob Hafter said after the hearing.

Hafter represents Ackerman. The attorney was accompanied in court on Friday by Rabbi Shea Harlig from Chabad of Southern Nevada.

Greg Cox, acting director of the Department of Corrections and a defendant in Ackerman's lawsuit, also attended the hearing. He declined to comment afterward.

Navarro said Cox's presence at the hearing showed that he "also thinks that this is an important issue." The judge scheduled a Dec. 15 hearing to check on the status of the case.

Hafter said the department announced its decision to end kosher food options for prisoners in December. He said the decision does not only affect Orthodox Jews. Other prisoners, such as observant Muslims, also rely on a kosher diet to meet the requirements of their religions, the lawyer said.

In 2002, death row inmate Travers Greene filed a similar lawsuit against the state. The case was resolved when the Department of Corrections agreed to provide Greene kosher food.

"The law is clear," Hafter argued during Friday's hearing.

According to the defendants' response to the motion for a restraining order, "The status quo that Ackerman seeks is already the current state of affairs he enjoys: no new menu has been implemented and defendants are not yet certain what the menu will be or when it might be implemented."

The department "intends to have the menu be certified as kosher," according to the response.

Ackerman, 50, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in a kidnapping case.

According to his lawsuit, keeping kosher is "a central and essential tenet of Orthodox Judaism."

Those who adhere to a kosher diet do not eat pork, shellfish or certain birds. Also, meat and dairy products may not be eaten together. Although fruits and vegetables are kosher, they may not come into contact with non-kosher food, utensils or dishes.



Thursday, June 09, 2011

Rabbis To Williamsburg Women: Don't Wear Tank Tops! 


Just in time for New York's first heat wave of the summer, members of the Hasidic Jewish community in trendy Williamsburg are posting fliers asking women not to wear tank tops.

The Central Rabbinical Congress, a council of rabbis, placed posters everywhere in South Williamsburg, urging women to dress modestly despite temperatures that may flirt with 100 degrees this week.

"It's too hot to cover it up. I'm trying to take more off," said Williamsburger Mary Keyes, dressed in a short floral dress. The poster urges women to avoid wearing tank tops, t-shirts, and clingy dresses.

"That's ridiculous. This is America, "said Alex Aponte, from South Williamsburg.

A Hasidic father of two helped translate the poster, written in Yiddish except for the words "tank tops". "It says no skirts should be too short, no tank tops, anything that shows too much skin," translated a Hasidic father of two, on Lee Street. "In our religion, that's what people should look like," he continued.

Strict Orthodox women often wear skirts that fell well below the knees, shirts with long sleeves and blouses that cover the neck. A Williamsburg neighborhood modesty group has also reportedly been pressuring women not to speak on cell phones in public and to cross the street when they see a man walking in the opposite direction.

This isn't the first time there's been a clash between the tightly-knit Orthodox community and the outside world. Just last month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was erased from the historic photo of the Situation Room in a Hasidic newspaper.

There was also a hubbub over bike lanes that were removed from a Hasidic neighborhood to prevent women in less-than-conservative dress from scandalizing the Hasidic men.

The Hasidic community has also complained publicly about H&M ads and a billboard for the new 90210 that showed teenagers in bathing suits.

Some Williamsburg residents have run out of patience with the group's requests for modesty. "Now they are telling us what to wear? This is New York," said one woman wearing short yellow shorts and a T-shirt, both violations to what some Brooklynites are now calling the "Tank Top Ban".



Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Torah! Torah! Torah! Williamsburg shuls go crazy for new scrolls 

The holiest book gave way to the holiest street parades in Williamsburg.

Thousands of Hasidic Jews celebrated the gift of letters on Sunday when two Satmar synagogues received new hand-made Torahs in advance of Shavuos — a holiday commemorating the delirious moment when the Jewish people received the 10 Commandments about 3,323 years ago.

And what a party it was!

The ceremony — one of the happiest occasions among Orthodox communities — is an all-day affair when men, women and children dance in the street as if gyrating were the 11th Commandment.

Two parades of revelers led by scores of little boys carrying paper torches wound through Bedford Avenue and Clymer Streets before dropping them off at their respective shuls.

One scroll was donated by Jacob Freund in the memory of his father, Samuel, while the other was given by the Zeians family in the memory of their ancestors — two of more than 10 that have been given to Williamsburg synagogues over the past month.
Brooklyn Bridge Realty

Each handwritten scroll costs about $60,000 and takes about two to three years to complete.



Monday, June 06, 2011

Brooklyn amputee's sue spree against businesses that aren't handicapped accessible 

He's hell on wheels.

Zoltan Hirsch, a double amputee in a wheelchair, says he's trying to make New York City more handicapped accessible one lawsuit at a time. But some wonder whether Hirsch -- who has filed 87 federal claims in the last year seeking damages and legal fees -- is crusader or con man.

The Brooklyn resident, who lost his legs after a car accident seven years ago, files lawsuits at the rate of about one a day, hitting businesses ranging from a Brooklyn Dunkin' Donuts to Louis Vuitton in SoHo to Midtown's Lace strip club. He rolls down the street, block by block, looking for places that can't let him inside.
SUING MACHINE: Zoltan Hirsch files lawsuits at a rate of one a day against businesses that he says aren't handicapped accessible.

The suits claim Hirsch suffered "an injury" from being denied access. But it is unlikely the 31-year-old Hasidic Jew would patronize some of the establishments he cites -- including the non-kosher City Crab restaurant.

He targeted a pedicure station at the Red & White Spa in SoHo -- even though he has no feet.

Hirsch typically maintains he cannot get into a business, but his lawsuits are filled with precise descriptions of alleged violations inside, including bars that are inches too high, condiments that are out of reach, and bathroom towels inaccessible to a wheelchair user.

He sued Sanctuary Tea in SoHo last month -- one of 36 suits he filed in May alone -- claiming he couldn't get in the door.

Owner Dawn Cameron said the thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight the case, or even settle it, could devastate her restaurant. There are two steps to reach the restaurant, and she said wheelchair users are helped inside.

"It's a shame that people are able to do this," she said. "It's really just extortion."

The claims ask for $500 in damages for Hirsch, plus legal fees to his lawyer, Bradley Weitz of Florida, who has filed dozens and dozens of similar suits in that state. Those fees can reach $15,000 per case, swelling with each request for documents, payment to experts or travel reimbursements for Weitz.

Weitz seems to be exploiting the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows the payment of attorney fees, according to one lawyer who defended a business sued by Hirsch.

If even one violation of the ADA is upheld, Weitz can recover attorney fees, explained another lawyer. "It's ingenious," he said, adding that defendants often settle quickly.

If Hirsch is successful in all his complaints, the law firm would make upward of $1.3 million -- and that's just for the cases so far.

In California there has been a rash of suits by disabled residents alleging ADA violations. One paraplegic man who filed hundreds of suits was named a "hit-and-run plaintiff" and barred from making claims without court permission.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Southern California Republican, has proposed legislation that would provide notices to businesses about possible ADA violations before a lawsuit is launched.

"These lawsuits are often intended for personal profit, not for the reason of ensuring access to places of public accommodation," Hunter said.

Hirsch and his lawyer say they are not out for a buck but are championing the rights of the disabled. They claim success in forcing businesses to add wheelchair ramps or make other changes.

But Hirsch targets few businesses near his Borough Park home, instead siccing his legal beagle on businesses in swanky neighborhoods.

Hirsch, who claims he likes to shop in SoHo, said that as soon as he spots a potential violator, he snaps a photo and sends it to Weitz, who dispatches an investigator.

He says he gets only $500 if a case is settled and no other compensation from Weitz. Several of the suits have been settled under confidential agreements, but most are still ongoing.

As for the non-kosher restaurants, Hirsch, who lives with his girlfriend and their daughter, said he'd like to be able to enjoy a soda or even a scotch. And he wants to be able to visit a strip club if he chooses.

"It's my prerogative," he said.

Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said lawsuits contending ADA violations usually address real problems.

"Whether someone then is trying to use that process just to enrich themselves -- we're not happy with that," he said.



Sunday, June 05, 2011

Group of devotees enforces obedience to grand rebbe in New Square, residents say 

Residents who defy this Hasidic enclave's spiritual leader say they live in fear of a band of thugs who sometimes violently defend his edicts — and they cite a recent arson attack as the latest example of the group's work.

Described as "jihadis" by those who fear them and "hotheads" by some village leaders, the group numbers up to 40 men and boys between the ages of 15 and 35, current and former members of the community told The Journal News.

Ramapo police Sgt. John Lynch said he's aware of the allegations, but that detectives have no proof the young men operate as a unit or that they receive guidance from village leaders.

More than two dozen people spoke to the paper, most on condition they not be named, saying they feared retribution from group members and village leaders who shun mainstream media.

Shaul Spitzer, who is charged with attempted arson and attempted murder in the attack, showed up alone at Aron Rottenberg's house early May 22, according to police.

But locals say the teen is part of a network that defends Grand Rebbe David Twersky's rules with intimidation and violence, terrorizing anyone who would go against him.

"It's like a mafia," said a former yeshiva classmate of Spitzer's, who asked not to be identified. "They make the rebbe like a king and would kill themselves to save the rebbe. They're very dictating people, and they like the action. They act out just to show they own the community."

Spitzer, a cousin of the village's deputy mayor, followed all the rules of New Square and earned the respect of the Skverer Hasidim's spiritual leader, who took the 18-year-old into his home as a live-in assistant.

The classmate, who asked to be driven outside of New Square for an interview, said Spitzer had been a happy and non-threatening young man, so much so that he didn't take Spitzer seriously when he suggested acting out against Rottenberg.

Like many in the village, Spitzer was upset that the 43-year-old plumber was breaking one of the rebbe's fundamental dictates that residents never pray outside the community.



Saturday, June 04, 2011

FBI joins Ramapo cops in New Square investigation of attack 

The FBI is working with Ramapo police on an investigation into an attack that left a Hasidic dissident with third-degree burns over half his body, authorities said Friday.

"They will assist us and will not take over the case," said Ramapo Detective Lt. Mark Emma. "If they determine federal crimes have been committed, they will make a determination on whether to pursue them."

Police and the FBI will not only investigate the attempt to burn down the home of Aron Rottenberg, 43, but also months of vandalism, harassment and threats in the Hasidic Jewish village, Emma said.

FBI spokesman Tim Flannelly declined to comment, saying the bureau's policy is not to discuss whether there is an investigation. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara also declined to comment.

If federal authorities do decide to pursue a case, they would likely look at potential violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, said a former federal prosecutor .

"I think if they have jurisdictional grounds, this would be something they would look at," said Kenneth P. Thompson, who, as an assistant U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, prosecuted five New York City police officers in the 1997 assault of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

Since September, scores of New Square residents have protested several times outside the homes of Rottenberg and others who have chosen to worship at places other than the synagogue of New Square's Grand Rebbe David Twersky.

Windows have been broken in their homes and cars, and their children have been threatened with expulsion from local religious schools, according to police reports. They also said they received threatening phone calls.

The incidents began after Rottenberg and some friends started praying regularly at Friedwald House senior residence outside of New Square rather than Twersky's synagogue.

On May 22, Rottenberg was burned when an incendiary device exploded as he wrestled with 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer outside Rottenberg's home.

Spitzer is a butler at Twersky's home and the cousin of the village's deputy mayor. Spitzer was also burned during the incident and is at a New York City hospital. He has been charged with arson and attempted murder.



Friday, June 03, 2011

Second family claims New Square harassment, leaves village 

As Aron Rottenberg faces more surgery for severe burns suffered in an arson attack, another man who says he was targeted for praying outside of the Hasidic Jewish village packed up his family and left the community Thursday.

The fates of Rottenberg and David Fromowitz have differed since they began praying outside the village's only synagogue in September. But they are linked by their defiance of Grand Rebbe David Twersky's rules.

They say they faced months of harassment, their property being damaged and dozens of residents protesting outside their homes. Their children's education was threatened.

Rottenberg said the anger against him led to an attempt May 22 to burn down his Truman Avenue house, down the block from the synagogue.

During a scuffle just after 4 o'clock that morning with the suspect, Shaul Spitzer, 18, an incendiary device exploded.

Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns across 50 percent of his body. He's in Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.

Spitzer, charged with attempted murder and attempted arson, has third-degree burns across his hands and is being treated at a New York City hospital.

Rottenberg, a 43-year-old plumber and father of four, is improving, his son-in-law Moshe Elbaum said Thursday.

"They've started to walk with him down the hallway," Elbaum said. "He's able to eat a little bit. He's still in pain. He's looking pretty good."

Elbaum said Rottenberg couldn't complete the sale of his house because of interference. Fromowitz was able to sell his Stern Avenue home, although he said the religious leadership tried to kill the sale.

Hank Sheinkopf, a public relations consultant, said his New Square clients counter that there was no effort to force anyone to move out of the community.

"No such efforts have been sanctioned by the leadership of the community," Sheinkopf said. "There was no blocking any sales of houses. Every attempt has been made to assist, not to block sales."



Troubling pattern in New Square 

Ramapo police detectives did not investigate last fall, when Aron Rottenberg's family called police eight times in less than two months to report vandalism and intimidation. The family said they were being targeted for Rottenberg's decision to worship outside the Hasidic village. Detectives got involved in May, about a week before the arson attack that burned Aron Rottenberg over 50 percent of his body.

The pattern of intimidation revealed in Ramapo police reports should pique the interest of federal agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. The freedom to pray where one wants without suffering violence is a civil right.

The record shows that Ramapo police failed to notice the growing threat to the Rottenbergs, even though police have said that detective investigations are warranted not only for serious crimes, but for patterns of criminal activity.

Ramapo town officials failed further, as Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence parrotted assurances that the attack was an "isolated incident."

Federal law enforcement, which doesn't rely on the community's amazing ability to turn out the vote, could launch the clear-eyed investigation that is needed, and that Rottenberg deserves.
Drawing ire

Rottenberg has said that he began praying at Friedwald House to help his friend being treated for cancer at the nursing facility. Jews are required to form a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jewish males, to fulfill religious obligations, including prayer.

The decision drew the ire of the Skver sect's dynastic leader, Grand Rebbe David Twersky. Orders were issued by the rabbi, and a Beth Din, or rabbinical court, demanding all residents pray only at the community synagogue. While others returned to the main synagogue, Rottenberg stayed at Friedwald.

Soon, his house's windows were smashed; his daughter's schooling was threatened; crowds gathered on the street outside his home. Then, on May 22, he confronted a man carrying a rag soaked with flammable liquid, and was severely burned. Rottenberg remains hospitalized in Westchester Medical Center, where he underwent surgery on Tuesday.



Rockland lawmakers speak out about New Square incident 

Rockland County Legislator Joe Meyers Thursday joined a call for a federal probe into recent events in the Village of New Square where a man was assaulted and burned over 50 percent of his body when an 18-year-old tried to torch his house. Aron Rottenberg was severely burned when the accelerant used by the alleged assailant caught his clothing on fire.

Rottenberg, 18, is charged with first-degree assault, first-degree attempted arson and second-degree attempted murder.

The incident is said to have been prompted by Rottenberg’s attendance at a synagogue not sanctioned by the religious leadership of the Hasidic community.

Meanwhile, County Legislator Jacques D’I Michel said as a neighbor, minister, criminologist and county lawmaker, “I deplore the recent attack.”

He said the fact that the attack was allegedly perpetrated by a teen is indicative of a wider societal problem as noted by Mahatma Gandhi. “If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children.”



Thursday, June 02, 2011

Police told of several attacks before New Square man was burned 

Windows were shattered, cars were vandalized and groups of men protested outside Aron Rottenberg's house well before he was badly burned confronting a man with an incendiary device.

Rottenberg and his friends called Ramapo police eight times in the fall, claiming they were being tormented for opting to pray outside of the Hasidic congregation, a Journal News review of police records shows.

But although patrols were increased, detectives did not get involved until last month — when windows were smashed on the family's Truman Avenue home.

That probe was still going on when Rottenberg was seriously burned early May 22. He remains at Westchester Medical Center, where he underwent additional surgery Tuesday.

The suspect, 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer, is charged with attempted murder and arson. Spitzer, a butler at the home of New Square Grand Rabbi David Twersky and cousin of the village's deputy mayor, was also burned during the incident and is at a New York City hospital.

Detective Sgt. John Lynch of the Ramapo police said he became aware of the other incidents — most of which he described as minor — only after the Rottenberg house was vandalized May 14.

"A call like a broken window, a standalone case like that is not going to make it to the detective bureau," Lynch said Wednesday. "We have approximately 55,000 calls a year. In the real world here, if there's no forensic evidence or need for a further investigation, the investigation is conducted by the police officers handling the incident."

New Square is run by the Skver Hasidic sect, whose leadership and rabbinical court issued a letter in November warning that it was a serious violation not to worship in the main synagogue and that anyone who prayed elsewhere must be stopped from using the community's facilities.

But the first signs of internal strife came two months earlier, in mid-September, shortly after Rottenberg and some friends started praying regularly at the Friedwald House senior residence outside the village.



Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Kosher king Sholom Rubashkin asking influential politicians to help lower 27-year jail sentence 

A well-connected kosher slaughterhouse king convicted of fraud at his Iowa plant has rustled up a herd of New York pols to try to win him a reduced sentence.

The prominent Lubavitcher from Brooklyn, Sholom Rubashkin, was sentenced last summer to 27 years in prison for 86 counts of financial crimes as well as lying on the witness stand.

Yet the disgraced businessman has friends in high places, including Reps. Anthony Weiner, Jerrold Nadler, Eliot Engel, Carolyn McCarthy, Edolphus Towns, Carolyn Maloney, Steve Israel and Yvette Clarke, who have lobbied for a review of his case.

Rubashkin has also enlisted more than 30 other lawmakers from New Jersey to California to voice outrage, along with several former U.S. attorneys general.

The head of the Democratic National Committee, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, used part of her time at a recent hearing with Attorney General Eric Holder to remind him to review Rubashkin's sentence.

Clarke said Orthodox Jewish constituents in her Brooklyn district raised concerns "the punishment did not fit the crime here."

The possible injustice, coupled with fears Rubashkin's imprisonment would hike the costs of kosher food, prompted Clarke to ask Holder's office to review the case.

"It seemed the sentence was sort of extreme when you look at similar types of cases," she told the Daily News.

Nadler said Iowa prosecutors argued against bail for Rubashkin "because he was a Jew and eligible to immigrate to Israel....Under that standard, no Jew would ever be eligible for bail."

Rubashkin is a member of a large and influential Hasidic family that ran the nation's largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessor, sending turkey, chicken and beef across the country.

"This case is troubling on many levels to me and many of my colleagues," Weiner said. "From the propriety of the judge, to the possible concealment of information from Rubashkin and his attorneys to the overly harsh sentence. It deserves a second look."

The Brooklyn businessman was at the pinnacle of the lucrative kosher food world, and through business and marriage is connected to huge swaths of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community, a reliable and sometimes pivotal voting bloc.

"He is an influential man in the community, and people believed he was being persecuted," said Shmarya Rosenberg, whose blog, FailedMessiah, has blasted Rubashkin.

Supporters say mob hit men and pedophiles don't even get 27 years, let alone a businessman convicted of a nonviolent crime.

"People familiar with the case and its history have felt this was really a case of outrageous treatment of a defendant," said Rubashkin's lawyer Nathan Lewin.

Rubashkin was arrested in October 2008, five months after the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided his Iowa plant and arrested nearly 400 illegal immigrants.

An Iowa state jury cleared him of criminal charges he knowingly used underage immigrants. Jurors said Rubashkin couldn't be held responsible if teens, some as young as 15, lied and got jobs with fake IDs.

Then an Iowa federal jury found him guilty of a $26 million financial scheme of inflating accounts and laundering money.

His supporters argue not only was the federal sentence excessive, but that Linda Reade, the judge who issued it, never should have heard the case.

She had met numerous times with DOJ and ICE officials before the raid, but did not disclose the extent of the conversations until Rubashkin's appeal team filed a Freedom of Information request.

Rubashkin, 51, is being held in a medium-security prison in Otisville, N.Y. His appeal is to be heard next month.



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