Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann meets with Orthodox leaders 

Rep. Michele Bachmann became the latest presidential hopeful to meet with Orthodox Jewish leaders to discuss Jewish and Israel positions.

"She introduced herself," Rabbi David Zweibel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, told the New York Post of the Tuesday meeting with the Minnesota Republican held in the Orthodox organization's headquarters in Manhattan.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, another GOP contender, and President Obama had met with a "similar group," Zweibel noted. He said the group also will be meeting with other candidates.

Recent polling shows Texas Gov. Rick Perry surging ahead of Romney, the former front-runner, in the Republican presidential field, with Bachmann in third.

According to the Post, Bachmann spent an hour discussing issues such as same-sex marriage and Israel security. She described herself, Zweibel told the Post, as "a person of faith," but he also warned that could "cut both ways" for Orthodox voters because of the community's belief that religion and government be separate.

Yachonon Donn, an editor at the Orthodox newspaper Hamodia tweeted that Bachmann "knew the internal issues running the conversation in the Jewish world better than many local pols."

Bachman, an evangelical Christian, has been quoted as describing herself as "a Christian of Jewish heritage." In stump speeches she often mentions her time working at a kibbutz in Israel 40 years ago.

The late entry of Perry into the Republican primary has left Jewish Republicans surveying a shifting field of candidates who seem uniformly pro-Israel, JTA wrote this week



Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Times Still Suffers From Crown Heights Syndrome 

The Ari Goldman scandal is a gift that keeps on giving. Two weeks ago Goldman, formerly a religion writer for The New York Times, publicly confessed to having remained silent for 20 years about his paper's distorted coverage of the Crown Heights riots. For Goldman, it was up close and personal. He was on the phone, right there in Brooklyn, calling in reports from the streets where black mobs were attacking Jews, yelling "Heil Hitler" and "Kill the Jews!" But, he now tells us, his Times editor found this news not fit to print. There was to be no black anti-Semitism, and no anti-Jewish pogrom in the nation's "paper of record."

Instead, Goldman explained, the Times doctored the news by forcing inconvenient facts into story lines it preferred. In Crown Heights, a Hasidic Jewish driver mistakenly killed a black boy, Galvin Cato, in a car accident, and then blacks rampaged and murdered a Jew, Yankel Rosenbaum. The paper, unhappy with these clear and simple facts, instead told a tall tale: "Blacks and Jews clashed," it reported, implying there was blame on both sides, though neither Goldman - nor anyone else - saw any Jew attacking a black. "Clashed" was simply a lie that enabled the Times to treat the accident that killed Cato and the murder of Rosenbaum as morally equivalent tragedies. That's the "news" they wanted to publish.

Commentators explain that Times editors are disciples of post-modernist theory, now spoon fed to every one of our $25,000-a-semester children in their spa-like centers of "higher education." There is no "truth," you see. That's old-fashioned. There are only "narratives," and each side's version of reality must be given equal treatment (unless that side is the Judeo-Christian); otherwise, we'd all remain stuck for life as morally sick, white-skin-privileged xenophobes.

Goldman, now a journalism professor at Columbia University, has an opportunity to do more than set things straight by outing his paper for fabricating "news reports" 20 years ago; he can explore, as a serious student of journalism might, just how and why the mainstream media has become such a fraudulent enterprise, fulminating fibs, especially but not exclusively about Jews, Christians, Muslims and the Middle East. He could use his own experience in Crown Heights to probe the reasons today's editors rush to equate accidents with murders.

Students dissecting such a topic could almost do a daily lab: The Times concocts a lot!

Take its coverage of the latest round of Gaza-Israel clashes. On Thursday, Arab/Muslim terrorists from Gaza (merely "militants" in Times speak) crossed into southern Israel from Egypt and carried out a carefully laid plot that murdered Israeli men, women and children. The Israelis retaliated and, while killing some terrorist leaders, unfortunately hit and killed Palestinian civilians.

Channeling Crown Heights, the Times worked hard to shift blame to the Jews for the now widening violence. In a story August 21, the Times reported that the Israeli airstrike "ignited cross-border exchanges after months of relative quiet under an informal cease-fire with Hamas." As the media watchdog HonestReporting.com aptly put it, it was as though the clock only started when the Jews responded to attacks. Does there exist a Times editor who would publish the view that the non-Jewish side might be engaging in inexcusably criminal acts that logically should be deterred? Would a Times editor have the capacity to think such a thought?

On the other hand, Timesmen are linguistic magicians: "Cross-border exchanges" implies, as HonestReporting writes, "moral equivalence between Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilian targets and Israeli responses." Evenhandedness uber alles. The SS might have fared pretty well: "Deaths on both sides as Jews and Nazis clash in Warsaw."

Rubbing in the salt, the paper chose to headline its Sunday coverage, "Casualties on Both Sides as Israelis and Gazans trade fire." It's Galvin Cato/Yankel Rosenbaum all over again. Tragedies everywhere, oh my!

Earlier this month, the Times, channeling the old USSR, actually began airbrushing facts it no longer has use for. Last year, the whole world saw dramatic footage of Israeli soldiers, set upon and beaten with staves and pipes, as they slid down on ropes from helicopters onto a flotilla "peace" boat dispatched from Turkey. Even the Times reported it as it happened. But now as it covers Turkey's efforts to extract an apology from Israel, the Times transforms the thuggish attack from a clearly established matter of fact to that of one side's allegation.

CAMERA caught the Times in flagrante delicto: "Isabel Kershner recounted the incident as if it is unknown what happened. 'By Israel's account, the Israeli soldiers met with violent resistance as they landed on the deck,' she wrote." The New York Times," CAMERA explains, "is now "telling readers that maybe the soldiers were met with violence, or maybe they were not." CAMERA notes that even Kershner herself previously reported that "video images... showed Israeli commandos being set upon as they rappelled onto the ship's deck." Stalin, after he killed a former comrade, would have the man's image airbrushed out of published news photos. Et tu, comrade Kershner?

I'm reminded of the old joke: a man's wife catches him in bed with another woman. Without missing a beat, the adulterer screams: "I didn't do it! Who you gonna believe? Me, or your lying eyes?!" The Times adulterates the truth. Jews should get a divorce.



Monday, August 29, 2011

Cops: Woman, 82, drowns in swamped NY motel cabin 

State police have identified the 82-year-old woman summering in New York's Catskills who drowned in a motel cottage swamped by floodwaters from an adjoining creek.

Investigator Jeffrey Moore says Monday she was Rozalia Gluck. She was staying with relatives and friends from a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn at the Valkyrian Motel in the village of Fleischmanns, 40 miles northwest of Kingston.

Moore says that more than 6 feet of water from the overflowing creek engulfed the one-story cottage on Sunday morning, shifting the building about 30 feet.

A number of people had evacuated the cottage and Gluck's body was found inside when the water subsided. Her death was listed as an accidental drowning.

The investigator says the motel was a popular summer vacation spot for Hasidic Jews.



Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weprin’s agenda 

David Weprin’s claim that he is undecided about supporting President Obama lacks any credibility (“The Prhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifotest Vote,” Kyle Smith, PostScript, Aug. 21). Weprin is a loyal member in good standing with his own Assembly district clubhouse and the Democratic Party in Queens County and New York state.

Regardless if Weprin wins or loses the 9th congressional district special election, it is a sure bet that after delaying endorsing Obama in an attempt to win the support of Jewish and pro-Israel voters who are not enamored with the president, in the end he’ll enthusiastically support Obama for reelection.

Weprin doesn’t want to alienate Obama supporters in New York City. He will need their support in the 2013 Democratic Primary for city comptroller. This could be his real agenda.



Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dozen of Yemeni Jews stranded in Cairo 

A dozen of Yemeni Jews are stranded in Cairo of Egypt after failed to migrate to South America.
Yahya Yousof, Rabbi of the Al-Salem Jewish minority in Yemen said that the 12 Jews that left Yemen more than two months ago are stranded in Cairo and that they had left Yemen illegally.

He said that they are now in Egypt and are expected to be extradited to the Yemeni authorities soon due to false information they presented to the Yemeni immigration authorities prior to their leave to Egypt.

The 12 Jews are now being held in Egypt. He said that the twelve Yemeni Jews are suspected of forging official documents and could face legal actions due to not having proper documents.
A Yemeni Jew from Raidah town, 50 kilometers to the north of Sana’a, who asked to not mention his name said that many of the Yemeni Jews minority that live in Raida including the 12 stranded in Cairo have been planning to migrate to Europe in fears of being killed by Islamist radicals especially after one of them was killed by a radical Islamist militant.
Masha al-Nahari, 39 years old Yemeni Jew from Raidah was killed by an Islamist extremist in December 2008 after he and the Jewish minority in Raidah had received threats from Islamic extremists to convert to Islam or leave the country.
In a contradicted report the yeshivaworld.com reported that as fighting and instability continue in Yemen, Satmar activists are taking advantage of the anarchy to step up efforts to smuggle Jews out of the country. According to a Kikar Shabbat report, a number of Yemenite Jews have recently been smuggled out of the country, taken to Argentina.

Of late, the situation for the remaining Jewish community has turned increasingly hostile, to the point of life-threatening in some cases, prompting Satmar to increase efforts to save the last remnants of the once thriving community in that country. Since the rebels began efforts to overthrow the current government, attacks against Jews have increased significantly, creating the volatile situation that exists today.

It appears that over recent days, 21 Jews, including three widows and an infant have been successfully taken out of the country, brought to safety.

The report adds that due to the political sensitivities surrounding such an operation, the United States would not agree to serve as a safe haven for these Jews, so Satmar decided to move them to S. America, to the local Satmar community in that country.

Satmar has been active in rescuing the last Yemenite Jews for a number of years, then absorbing them into their community. Satmar has come under criticism by many, who oppose turning the Yemenite Jews into Ashkenazi Satmar Chassidim.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Hasidim converge on Kiryas Joel to mark the anniversary of founder’s death 

By Sunday evening, tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews are expected to converge on the Village of Kiryas Joel to pay their respects to the late Grand Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum, the founder of not only the village that bears his name, but of the Satmar sect.

Thursday night the roads leading into the village were jammed with people from Brooklyn and other more distant areas, who came to Orange County to say a prayer and pay their respects to their founder, who died at age 92 in August 1979.

With the exception of the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, thousands of more people are expected to come to Kiryas Joel on Sunday, weather permitting.

Rabbi Teitelbaum, who was originally from Hungary, was deported to Auschwitz during the Nazi era and in 1946 settled with his followers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

In the 1970s, he bought land in Monroe where he founded Kiryas Joel with 14 families. Now thousands of people reside in the village.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jewish Indiana Jones arrested over false lost Torah charity fraud charges 

A SELF-STYLED "Jewish Indiana Jones" has been arrested for the unholy business of cheating Jews through a charity purporting to recover Torah scrolls lost in the Holocaust, US law enforcement said.

Menachem Youlus, 50, allegedly defrauded the charity Save a Torah and its donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the US attorney's office in Manhattan and the inspector general of the New York office of the US postal service said in a joint statement.

"Youlus, who billed himself as the 'Jewish Indiana Jones,' fabricated detailed accounts of having found Torahs lost or hidden during the Holocaust in Europe, including in Auschwitz and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and in other places around the world," the statement said.

"He then used those false accounts as a platform for soliciting contributions to Save a Torah, some of which he embezzled by diverting them directly into his personal bank accounts."

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Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, the US attorney for Manhattan, said the alleged embezzler resembled only in one respect the heroic character of the popular "Indiana Jones" films.

"His alleged exploits were no more real than those of the movie character he claimed to resemble," Mr Bharara said.

"He chose poorly in allegedly exploiting an excruciating chapter in Jewish and international history to perpetrate a brazen fraud that played on the heartstrings of the people for whom the painful memories of that period will never die."

Mr Youlus was arraigned on Wednesday. If found guilty of one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud, he faces a maximum of 20 years prison on each count and a maximum fine of $250,000.

Despite the arrest, Save a Torah's website continued to call for donors, saying "more than 60 years after the end of the Holocaust, there is the brief opportunity to rescue and restore Torah scrolls hidden, lost or stolen during the Holocaust and other world upheavals... Time is of the essence."



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Judge Chews Out Lawyers For Child Murder Suspect Levi Aron 

The attorneys for Levi Aron, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky, have already defended themselves from criticisms once—but it seems they had to do it again yesterday, as a Brooklyn judge laced into the two for how they've handled the case so far. "What I am questioning is whether counsel has enough experience for a trial of this type of case," said Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog.

Justice Firetog called the hearing to reprimand attorneys Pierre Bazile and Jennifer McCann for a series of goofs and gaffes during the pre-trial for Aron. According to the Times, he scolded them for complaining about the release of public documents, for discussing the case on their Facebook pages, and for not providing the Department of Correction an approved list of visitors for their client. He also questioned them over why they didn't stop Aron from giving an interview to the Daily News while in Rikers: "You're claiming your client's incompetent, and you're relying on him to make decisions?"

McCann defended using Facebook, saying she was responding to a group that was harassing her: “It was the quickest, easiest way to resolve my issues so the phone lines aren’t clogged up. I have a business to run, Your Honor.” The judge also wagged his finger at Bazile for misspelling “canon,” as it relates to ethics: “Two N’s means a cannon that shoots at something.”

Separate from their court apperance, McCann and Bazile gave formal notice that they would introduce psychiatric evidence at the trial, a filing necessary to pursue an insanity defense. Aron was previously found mentally competent to stand trial, despite a psychiatric evaluation which found that he has a personality disorder.



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rabbinic students bring rite of passage to Siberian teens 

Imagine discussing Torah and the finer points of theology near the top of the world as the day fades away into an 11 p.m. sunset. Imagine bestowing a Hebrew name on a teenager — or an adult — who doesn’t speak a word of English, but who has traveled up to 27 hours by train to experience that very privilege. Imagine being perhaps the first female rabbi to conduct a Shabbat service in the region.

Matt Rosenberg and Rachel Safman no longer need to imagine. The two students at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University (AJU) lived the experience, and they have the photographs and the memories to prove it.

The two rabbinical students, ambassadors as well as learners themselves, spent a week in early July in Novosibirsk as part of the annual Bar/Bat Mitzvah Project in Siberia. Created by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) under the auspices of Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson at AJU, the JDC raises money to bring 50 children — and, in certain cases, their parents — to a weeklong family camp.

The week’s activities are a mixture of drama, dance, music, games and religious services. The campers learn a basic haftarah portion, Hebrew songs and Israeli dance, and they get “writing time” to document the experience. At week’s end, the students are called to the Torah, recite the Shema and are called by their newly given Hebrew name.

“Not to minimize the ceremony itself, but even to be in a camp with that many other people who identify as Jews is mind-blowing,” Safman said. “That was the first exposure that those kids had to such a Jewish presence in one place.”

“There are 70,000 Jewish people in a country that once comprised half the Jewish population of the world,” added Elaine Berke, the JDC board member who for six years has raised the $100,000 per year necessary to make the program happen. “And a lot of them are still very interested in being Jewish or at least understanding what that is.”

Every year at AJU, the call goes out to the rabbinical students for volunteers to lead the program. The well-traveled Rosenberg, a fifth-year student who professes to “have been a geographer in a past life,” hit the reply button on his e-mail practically the moment the e-mail hit his inbox.

“I hope to inspire others as I was inspired,” said Rosenberg, a native of Sacramento. “I’ve been biding my time until I was far enough along in the program, and I replied almost immediately.”

Safman had plenty of international experience as well. Trained in medical sociology and having spent 10 years in Southeast Asia as an academic before entering the rabbinate, Safman said she would have applied in years past but for the fact that, prior to 2011, the program had been for male students only. She might have found out about the change sooner, but a frustrated Safman had begun deleting the Siberia e-mails unopened.

“This is the first time that the community itself has actually been faced with the question, directly, as to what they would think about a woman who was also a rabbi,” Safman said. “In their mind, until I appeared on the scene or probably before my arrival when they heard there was going to be a woman participating, I don’t think it ever occurred to them that the concept of combination of female and rabbi would ever mesh.”

Although the program has now been in existence six years — serving some 350 campers — each new pair of rabbinical students has to somewhat reinvent the week’s activities “on the fly” based on the campers’ backgrounds, knowledge and interests. And on the rabbis’. Because Rosenberg’s father’s yahrzeit fell during the camp week, Rosenberg recited the Mourner’s Kaddish during one of the evening services.

“In addition to the regular weekday services, we were able to talk about the components of every service: morning, afternoon and evening. So it was another teaching opportunity,” Rosenberg said. “We had a special Q-and-A session with some of the kids who knew the most about Judaism. So we spent a couple of hours discussing loftier topics.”

As the first female rabbinical student to participate in the program, Safman used the opportunity to conduct a session on the changing roles of women in Jewish life. The discussion, which was attended primarily by parents, was another eye-opening experience.

“For an hour and a half, we engaged in a passionate discussion of what it meant to be a Jewish woman and what possibilities there were for female participation in public Jewish life as well as [women’s] role in the home and the family,” Safman said. “Just saying to them it matters for a woman to be in a place where she can actually pray and participate, that it matters for her own spiritual development, was something significant — not just as support and reflection of her husband’s spirituality.”

As neither Rosenberg nor Safman speaks Russian, the sessions were conducted with the aid of translators. Potential language barriers did not, however, prevent the students from approaching the two rabbis outside of sessions.

“They became very comfortable with the translators, and we did have lot of people coming up to us after sessions and asking us different questions or stopping us in elevators,” Rosenberg said. “I think I was amazed at that aspect, how comfortable they were coming up to us.”

For Rosenberg, one of the week’s most profound experiences was being asked by a young Jewish chttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifouple whether it was true that only Orthodox Jews could be married under the chuppah (wedding canopy).

“That’s what they had heard, and it just broke our heart,” Rosenberg said, “that these two young Jewish kids who were obviously in love thought they weren’t able to have a Jewish wedding.”



Monday, August 22, 2011

Council to decide fate of religious zone 

A SEVEN-YEAR battle to erect a symbolic spiritual boundary in St Ives could literally come down to the wire tonight - as well as some of the poles needed to connect it.

Ku-ring-gai Council staff have recommended it reject a key section of the Jewish eruv, which could spell the end of the controversial proposal.

An eruv is an enclosed area that allows Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects such as prams out of doors on the Sabbath.

Although most of the 20-kilometre perimeter is already in place in the form of electric cables, 36 poles and adjoining wires are needed to establish one in the upper north shore suburb.

A council report recommends that 27 structures on private land be approved on planning grounds when councillors meet tonight. But a second report considering nine poles needed on road reserves, recommends they be rejected due to community opposition.

''[Given the majority opposition] it is considered that there is no significant benefit to council and the community arising from this proposal,'' the council's director of operations, Greg Piconi, wrote.

Mr Piconi's report acknowledged that without council consent to build this section, the eruv would not link and, therefore, could not function.

A petition from 1229 residents opposing the eruv, on grounds including its potential to turn the area into ''a religious enclave'', will be presented to the council. A spokesman for the Northern Eruv Inc, David Guth, said options would be explored if councillors voted it down.

A council spokeswoman said although an appeal was before the Land and Environment Court, there was no avenue for appeal if the section under the Roads Act was not approved.



Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ramapo housing lawsuit may hinge on aquifer under 497 planned homes 

Ramapo's approval of a massive housing project outside Pomona and atop an aquifer is scheduled for legal arguments in a New City courtroom Monday.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Walsh called in all sides for arguments on numerous environmental and legal issues supporting or opposing the town's approval of nearly 500 homes along routes 202 and 306.

The arguments originally were scheduled for Aug. 12, but the Monsey-based developer's lawyer, Terry Rice, requested a postponement.

At stake is whether the Ramapo Planning Board and town met all the environmental and legal requirements when approving the developer's plans.

The development has been stalled by the legal actions.

The Planning Board's approval in January was for 87 single-family homes with four bedrooms, and 410 multifamily units with up to six bedrooms.

The multifamily units would comprise 314 townhouses, 72 condominiums and 24 rental apartments for people purportedly involved in volunteer services.

Ramapo's lawyers argue the Town Board followed the law in changing the zoning on the property and the Planning Board addressed all environmental issues and laws in approving the project.

The developers, Yechiel Lebovits, his sons and Abraham Moscovits of Scenic Development LLC of Monsey, bought the land years ago when it was zoned for one house per acre.

The Town Board changed the zoning for multiple-family housing on the environmentally sensitive property, arguing Ramapo needs more housing.

Three opponents, including the village of Pomona, lost separate bids in state Supreme Court to stop the development amid 208 acres.

Those legal actions were dismissed by Justice Linda Jamieson. Among the issues she cited was those suing lacked standing. Her decisions have been appealed to the Appellate Division.

Ramapo lawyers said Jamieson's decisions validated the town's environmental review and approval of the project.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Square letter: Spitzer sought mischief, not murder, in Rottenberg attack 

A community group has circulated a letter claiming Shaul Spitzer just wanted to make mischief on the early May morning that he's accused of trying to kill a dissident resident and burn down the man's house with his family inside.

Spitzer, 18, is charged with trying to kill Aron Rottenberg, 43, who defied Skver Grand Rebbe David Twersky by not praying at the rabbi's synagogue in the village.

Before the attack, Rottenberg had been targeted for several months with protests and vandalism from community members for praying with patients at the Friedwald house on New Hempstead Road.

Rottenberg's daughter was evicted from school and his plumbing business boycotted. Those with Rottenberg also were targeted with vandalism, to a lesser degree, and forced out of New Square.

Three board members of the New Square Kehila issued a "special letter for Skver followers and friends." The Kehila deals with charity and other communal affairs.

The letter-writers state that after gathering the facts, "the most important thing we have learned is that the teenage boy did not intend to harm anyone."

They argue that the incendiary device went off when Rottenberg went after Spitzer, who is accused of tossing one device on the back porch.

"He never wanted to burn a house with five people inside," the letter says. "His design was mischief on Lag Be'omer night, not arson."

The Lag Be'omer holiday involves lighting bonfires to honor the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who is linked to a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire. In Israel, the holiday is celebrated as a symbol of the fighting Jewish spirit.

The letter condemns violence, says Rottenberg was unjustly attacked, calls for community peace and says "disagreements in a community have to be solved by adults with reason, not by teenage boys with mischief."

The letter staunchly defends Twersky and the New Square Hasidic Jewish community against criticism and ridicule. Twersky is the dynastic leader of the worldwide Skver Hasidic who sets the rules and lifestyle for his followers.



Friday, August 19, 2011

Crown Heights Riots Recalled 

Aug. 19 to 21 is the anniversary of the 1991 Crown Heights riots, which started after a Hasidic driver in a funeral procession inadvertently ran over and killed a young African-American boy. Several days of rioting followed, during which Jews were attacked and one Jewish student was killed.

Some Caribbean-Americans and African-Americans believed that Jews were getting more than their fair share of city services and housing; conversely, some Orthodox Jews blamed the black community for street crime.

Afterward, political opponents of then-Mayor David Dinkins charged that he had failed to use the police promptly and effectively to end the riot. Members of both communities soon began a joint peace initiative, led by then-Borough President Howard Golden.



Thursday, August 18, 2011

Fury over Sharpton speaking at Crown Heights riot-anniversary forum 

An East End synagogue has reignited bitterness over the 1991 Crown Heights race riots by inviting the Rev. Al Sharpton to a symposium marking the 20th anniversary of the bloody confrontations.

"It's just an absolute disgrace," said Norman Rosenbaum, whose brother Yankel was killed at the height of the mayhem. "His vile rhetoric incited the rioting."

What revived the nightmare was Sharpton's invitation to appear on a panel on the "State of Black-Jewish Relations: Twenty Years after Crown Heights."

The riots were touched off when 7-year-old Gavin Cato was struck and killed by a car in the motorcade of a Hasidic leader.

Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian-born Hasidic scholar who had nothing to do with the motorcade, was stabbed to death in the violence that followed.

Sharpton was criticized at the time for saying, in a eulogy for Gavin, that he wasn't killed by a car accident but by "the social accident of apartheid." He led 400 protesters, chanting "No justice, no peace" despite pleas by then-Mayor David Dinkins for calm.

Norman Rosenbaum said the title of the forum falsely implies the four nights of rioting were due to "ongoing problems between the Jewish community and the African-American community."

"It was just wanton criminal attacks," he said. "This is Crown Heights revisionist history," he said of the forum, scheduled for Sunday night.

He said Sharpton "did absolutely nothing then to improve black-Jewish relations -- and nothing since."

Community leader Isaac Abraham, who was invited to the forum, accused The Hampton Synagogue's Rabbi Marc Schneier of trying to gain attention by including Sharpton.

"To get some publicity for your phony West Hampton ethnic bullcrap, you invite the biggest race hustler who played a large part in those four nights of the pogrom," he wrote Schneier.

Yosef Lifish, the driver of the car that killed Cato, was cleared of charges and left for Israel. Sharpton flew to Tel Aviv later in 1991 in an attempt to slap Lifish with a civil suit.

When a passer-by at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport recognized Sharpton, she shouted, "Go to hell!"

"I am in hell already," Sharpton replied. "I am in Israel."



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kosher Butcher Is Last of a Breed 

Yuval Atias is the last of the Bay Area's independent kosher butchers.

In the 2000s, four kosher butcher shops in the region disappeared, said Mr. Atias. Most recently, Tel Aviv Kosher in San Francisco's Outer Sunset district closed right before Passover this year. That left Mr. Atias's Oakland Kosher Foods as the last independent kosher butcher shop in the area.

Competition still exists for the Israeli-born Mr. Atias, however. He is now squaring off against Trader Joe's and several other supermarket chains.

David Bennett, co-owner of Mollie Stone's Markets, a small supermarket chain, started selling kosher meat 20 years ago at the company's Palo Alto shop. He said he makes a very small profit on kosher meat, but sells it because he looks for different niches to entice customers to shop at his store.

Sue Fishkoff, an Oakland resident and the author of "Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America's Food Answers to a Higher Authority," said supermarkets started selling kosher-certified chicken in the 1970s and beef in the 1980s.

There are between 11 million and 13 million U.S. consumers who look for kosher-certified products, Ms. Fishkoff said, according to a 2009 study by a market-research firm. Of those consumers, only 14% are observant Jews. Kosher products can include anything from flour to ketchup to bread. Because kosher supervision requires the strict separation of dairy and meat products, it also appeals to people who are lactose-intolerant and to some vegetarians who consume dairy and want to be sure there are no meat derivatives in their food.

As national chains began selling more kosher products, older Jews committed to supporting the local butcher shop were replaced by younger consumers accustomed to buying all their groceries in supermarkets.

"The older people were more observant and they were coming every week to buy something, even if it was small," said Mr. Atias, 43 years old, who started working in Oakland Kosher Foods as a stock boy in 1991.

Kosher meat and chicken, which typically cost more than the non-kosher variety, must be ritually slaughtered according to rabbinic law. There isn't a kosher slaughterhouse in California, so Mr. Atias procures his raw meat and chicken from Uruguay, Canada, New York and Chicago.

The decline of kosher butchers is "probably like the mom-and-pop hardware stores being put out of business by the big supply stores," said Rabbi Marv Goodman, executive director of the Northern California Board of Rabbis.

While the shift toward shopping in supermarkets has happened all over the country, Jewish communities from New York to Los Angeles still can support scores of kosher butcher shops. The Bay Area's Jewish population numbers well over 300,000, according to the most recent estimates by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco and the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, but few Jews say keeping kosher is a priority.

"The Bay Area simply does not have the critical mass of observant Jews that most major metropolitan areas in the U.S. have," Ms. Fishkoff said.

Rabbi Dovid Labkowski of the Chabad Jewish Center of Oakland said the Jewish community in the Bay Area tends to be less stringent about Jewish law than in other parts of the country. "In the Bay Area, everything is more light," he said. "The Orthodox is a little more light. The Conservative is a little more light."

For Mr. Atias, that means he has had to adapt to the times.

Mr. Atias said that since Tel Aviv Kosher closed its doors, he has seen his business increase about 15%, although he declined to give specific figures. He said he has been able to stay profitable by expanding his business to include kosher catering for hotels and the Moscone Center. He also delivers meat all over the Bay Area.

"It feels good that we survived and we're probably doing the right thing," he said.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Argentina chief rabbi says son-inhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif-law Pinto roped him into laundering scheme 

Argentina's chief rabbi sumbitted a written deposition this week to the Jerusalem District Court saying he was exploited by his son in law, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto, to launder money through the purchase of a Jerusalem apartment.

Rabbi Shlomo Ben Hamo claimed in the deposition that he was asked by Pinto and his daughter, Deborah Pinto Ben Hamo, to open a bank account in Argentina for the couple. Subsequently, Ben Hamo says, he helped with the acquisition of a luxury apartment by the couple.

The dwelling, valued at more than a million dollars, is located in the Jerusalem of Gold complex in Jerusalem.

Ben Hamo is being sued by the Har Zion hotel concern, which is developing the project, for not making good on the purchase contract, which he signed as a guarantor. Ben Hamo says Pinto should be sued because the apartment was purchased for him with his money.

Proceedings clarifying the dispute will be held next month in Jerusalem's District Court.

Pinto, who splits time between Ashdod and New York, is well-known as a spiritual adviser to many elites in Israeli society. Haaretz failed to obtain a response from him.

In the deposition, Ben Hamo said his daughter and Pinto approached him a few years ago about opening a bank account in Argentina in his name.

Ben Hamo claims that he originally refused to open the account, but after his daughter implored him repeatedly, claiming that such a refusal was aggravating a dispute with her husband, he relented.

Ben Hamo testified that the Pintos arrived at his home in Buenos Aires with the representative of a foreign bank, and had him sign papers authorizing the opening of the account.

In 2007, the Pintos once again approached Ben Hamo, and announced that Pinto and his siblings had purchased two apartments in the prestigious Jerusalem of Gold complex for $1,150,000 apiece.

Ben Hamo wrote that his daughter explained to him that her husband wanted him to serve, for technical reasons, as a guarantor in the purchase agreement with the contractor.

"I refused to do that," Ben Hamo testified in the deposition, "but my daughter applied all sorts of pressure, and manipulated my feelings toward her; she claimed that my refusal would cause disputes with her husband."

Ben Hamo said they promised he would have no responsibility beyond putting his signature on the contract.

"All handling of payments and registration and everything else would be done by Mrs. Pinto and her husband," he wrote in the deposition.

In July 2007, Ben Hamo said, the agreement was signed between the contractor, the Pinto couple and himself. Ben Hamo traveled to New York from Argentina to sign the document.

"From this point onward," Ben Hamo wrote, "a sequence of events ensued, and at its end my relations with my daughter and son-in-law ran aground; I was the target of insults and threats. In retrospect, it became clear to me that all this happened so that I could be exploited and Rabbi Pinto's money could be laundered."

Ben Hamo testified he never paid any money, but discovered in 2008 that neither had Pinto. The developer subsequently threatened legal action against Ben Hamo in 2009 if he did not pay for the unit.

After receiving this notification, Ben Hamo traveled to Israel, and met with lawyers and rabbis who tried to help him in negotiations with the contractor.



Monday, August 15, 2011

'Leiby Forever' song helped me cope with son's death, Nachman Kletzky says 

Leiby Kletzky's dad says that a new memorial song about his slain son is helping him cope with the boy's horrifying death.

Nachman Kletzky, 39, called into the Jewish radio show "Talkline with Zev Brenner" on WMCA (570 AM) early Sunday while Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer was on the air talking about his ballad "Leiby Forever."

"Every time I hear this song, every time I see this, it brings me back memories," Nachman Kletzky said about the seven-minute music video, which features a montage of home movies showing Leiby grow from a toddler to a third-grader.

Leiby was killed last month after he was abducted off a Borough Park street. His dismembered body was later found - parts of it inside the freezer of accused killer Levi Aron.

Schmeltzer, 33, turned the tragedy into a song called "Leiby Forever." It made its debut last week, selling for $3.99 on TopJewishMusic.com, on iTunes and at Jewish music stores in Brooklyn. A portion of the sales will go to the Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund.

"You brought Leiby to life," Nachman Kletzky told Schmeltzer.

Schmeltzer later told the Daily News that the father's praise countered the naysayers blasting him for trying to make a buck off the gruesome case.

"I served my purpose," Schmeltzer said. "To see the reaction of the father, to see how it helped him cope. It paid off for me."



Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kosher Consumers in Twin Win in the Courts; NYS Enforcement May Increase 

There was hope amongst kosher food advocates that the Commack LI butchers who have spent more than a decade fighting kosher food laws in New York State may have come to the end of the line. Federal Judge Nina Gershon last week disagreed with the butchers saying that the latest version of the New York law does not violate Jewish religious or free speech protections under the U.S. Constitution and should be upheld. Across the continent in the State of Washington, there was more good news for kosher consumers. A Washington appeal court ruled against Pasado’s Safe Heaven, which claimed that the state law favors religion because it requires humane slaughter by stunning or “in accordance with the ritual requirements” of a religion. The Washington ruling was particularly welcomed as animal rights activists continue to press their battle against shechita (humane ritual slaughter of animals), scoring victories in Europe, including Holland. The Commack LI butchers whose standard of kosher failed to comply with strict Orthodox standards successfully challenged the New York State’s century-old kosher laws resulting in the revised law, passed by New York's legislature in 2004. Known by many as the “disclosure law,” it requires all food claimed to be kosher to be labeled by producers and distributors, and basic information about the qualifications of the person giving the kosher certification must be disclosed in a publicly available database. But even this watered down version of the kosher laws was challenged by the Commack butchers, claiming it violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. New York, the largest kosher market outside of Israel, has seen a rise in the abuse of kosher symbols since the new law went into effect, which was further complicated by the dismissal of kosher food inspectors by outgoing Governor David Paterson. Only its director, Rabbi Lozer Weiss was left and he was charged with “educating” the State’s safety inspectors to also look for violations of the kosher food laws. The loss of the inspectors has meant losing a powerful “deterrent,” say kosher sources. But Kosher Today has learned that the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking into the possibility of restoring at least several of the inspectors. No further information was immediately available.

The Washington case is significant since the US and the individual states have long held that religious slaughter of animals is humane. Animal rights activists have taken their fight against schechita to all corners of the globe. The decision came several weeks after Holland passed a bill, which has not yet been signed into law, prohibiting kosher slaughter and requiring that the “stunning” (not permissible under Jewish law) method be used. The measure faces another vote in the Dutch Senate and, if passed, a probable appeal to the European court on its legality. The Orthodox Union (OU) noted: “We appreciate that elected officials, such as those in the Washington legislature, recognize the humane nature of shechita, and ensure its protection and thereby the flourishing of Orthodox Jewish life.”



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hasidic leader to visit Portland synagogue Sunday 

The old will meet the new on Sunday when the leader of an ancient group of Jews will visit a recently installed ritual bath at Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh.

The Kalever Rebbe, a Holocaust survivor and leader of Hasidic Jews, has visited hundreds of Jewish communities in America and around the world. When he comes to Portland for public visits at 4 p.m. Sunday, he will share his knowledge with Maine's oldest synagogue, Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh.

What's new at the Noyes Street synagogue is a new ritual bath or mikvah — the only mikvah in the country that is run by a community of people from various denominations and affiliations. Mikvat Shalom was founded in 2008.

Over the course of the last year, the Kalever Rebbe's Hasidic followers have been quietly helping the Jewish community in Portland with a beautification of the Jewish ritual bath (in Hebrew, it's called a "mikvah"). The Portland mikvah, Mikvat Shalom, serves the whole community and "is designed to help Jewish people in Maine achieve higher spirituality by observing the ancient Jewish ritual of holy purification in water," the synagogue's rabbi, Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, explains in a press statement.

"The President of the mikvah, Susan Cummings-Lawrence, as well as the mikvah supporters are grateful to the people who have helped make the renovations possible, and especially send out a warm hand of welcome to the Kalever Rebbe on this occasion of his visit to Portland," Herzfeld said in a press statement.

"They hope to bring holiness to our Jewish community here," Herzfeld explained in an interview about the visiting group. "It's very important to them to have a holy ritual bath in the Jewish community. When our community said we need some help with our mitvah, they came over very quickly."

A blessing of the mitvah is planned, but other events will take place.

"It's not only about the mitvah, he wants to be available to meet with Jews in the area and be able to bless people," Herzfeld said.

The Kalever Rebbe's Hasidic followers "believe that he has the wisdom to provide divine insight and holy blessings that can transform our lives in this world," the synagogue reported. "Hundreds of thousands of people are said to have been uplifted and motivated by his words of inspiration."

To the layperson, the Kalever Rebbe is a spiritual leader whose arrival meets with much excitement.

"It's like the Pope visiting Catholics," Herzfeld explained.

"'Rebbe' is an ancient word, it was used in the time of ancient Israel, it means 'teacher.' In the ancient world people addressed their teacher as 'rabbi,' ... it means someone who you look to for wisdom," he added.

Hasidic Jews, who emerged in the 18th century and now count about 1 million adherents worldwide, promote spirituality and joy. The Kalever Rebbe "is a direct descendant from the great Jewish sages who studied under the Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Great Name – centuries ago in eastern Europe," according to Herzfeld.

"We want to respect and honor him for his attempt to bring holiness into the world," Herzfeld said.



Friday, August 12, 2011

Accused Child Murderer Levi Aron Refuses To Apologize During Jailhouse Interview 

Levi Aron, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky last month, was recently found mentally competent to stand trial, despite a psychiatric evaluation which found that he has a personality disorder. The News was able to get an exclusive interview with the accused killer at Rikers Island, in which he would not apologize for his confessed crime: "It hurts too much to think about it...I don't know what happened. I just panicked."
This was Aron's first interview since he allegedly kidnapped, killed and dismembered Leiby on July 11. During the interview, Aron never referred to Leiby by name, and called the moment he killed him "the incident." They describe him as looking lethargic, with watery eyes—and he blinked almost uncontrollably. To many questions, he responded merely, "I don't know" and "I remember little things." Several times, the News asked him if he wanted to apologize, but Aron kept looking away and remained silent.
The day of the kidnapping, Aron said the boy looked familiar to him, although he could not (or would not) explain why he took the boy with him to a wedding upstate. Even so, he did appear "ashamed and embarrassed" when asked about Leiby, and stressed several times that the boy slept in the living room, not his bedroom. Since his arrest, he has been on a round-the-clock suicide watch, and he said he only leaves his bed to shower.

Previously, Aron's self-proclaimed best friend called him "borderline retarded"; it was also revealed that his sister had died while institutionalized for schizophrenia. Because of the psychiatric evaluation, Aron's defense attorneys, who have said that Aron has been hearing voices "telling him to take his own life for what he did," believe Aron may be teetering on the edge of schizophrenia.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

KJ leaders mock dissidents' suit 

Just weeks after getting hit with a federal lawsuit alleging widespread discrimination against community dissidents, Kiryas Joel leaders have filed a pile of court papers disputing the claims and scoffing at the drastic remedies the plaintiffs have sought.

The case, filed in June by Goshen civil-rights lawyer Michael Sussman, argues that municipal and religious authority are so entwined in the Satmar Hasidic community that it blurs the constitutional line separating church and state. Dissidents claim to suffer discrimination in secular matters because they oppose the majority group's spiritual leader, Grand Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum.

As a remedy, the plaintiffs have asked the court to dissolve the 34-year-old village or, short of that, remove its municipal leaders from office.

In a response filed this month, lawyers for the village call the case a "patchwork quilt of allegations" that "consists in large part of issues that already have been litigated and decided, in some cases on multiple occasions."

Brian Sokoloff, a Long Island lawyer representing Mayor Abraham Wieder and the village trustees, labels the demand for new leadership a "scorched earth" approach that would violate the constitutional rights of those officials and flout the will of voters.

"Plaintiffs seek to disqualify them from public office based solely on the membership of those individuals in a religious congregation," Sokoloff wrote.

'Grab bag' evidence, KJ says

Separate responses have been submitted by six lawyers or teams of lawyers in all, each representing different defendants. All are asking U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff to dismiss the case.

The lawsuit, brought by eight individuals, a dissident congregation and an umbrella organization called the Kiryas Joel Alliance, tries to show a pattern of discrimination against dissidents in public life through a series of examples that touch on property-tax exemptions, law enforcement and other areas.

In their replies, the defendants scorn that evidence as "a medley of unrelated incidents," a "grab bag" and a "mishmash."

Kiryas Joel was incorporated in 1977 as a satellite of the Brooklyn-based Satmar community and has a fast-growing population of more than 20,000. Its long-running internal conflicts stem from a split in the Satmar movement over support for rival Grand Rebbes Aaron and Zalman Teitelbaum — brothers with competing leadership claims.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brutal murder of Brooklyn Hasidic boy last month put to music 

New York - Brooklyn's Hasidic community and the entire city is reeling from the brutal death last month of an 8-year old boy. Leiby Kletzky was snatched from the street, drugged, dismembered, his feet found in the freezer of accused butcher Levi Aron.

Now, a number of Hasidic singers are releasing tribute songs in the form of music videos to the slain boy. The New York Daily News reports that singer Lipa Schmeltzer, also known as the "Jewish Elvis" is first in line, with his seven-minute piece called, "Leiby Forever".

New York City's medical examiner's office said last month that Leiby died of acute intoxication from a mixture of Tylenol and prescription drugs - a painkiller, a muscle relaxer, an anti-psychotic, and Cymbalta, used for depression.

Levi Aron, himself an Orthodox Jew confessed to the crime at his arraignment last week, and has now been moved from Bellevue Hospital to Rikers Island prison, where he is on a round the-clock suicide watch with a correction officer watching his every move.

After he was arrested on July 13, Aron told detectives he had heard voices telling him to commit suicide because of his crime. He underwent a mental health exam while at Bellevue, and was declared fit to stand trial, but his lawyer contends he struggles with mental health problems.

When Aron arrived at the jail, his fellow inmates heckled him as he walked by.
The opening scene of the video shows Leiby walking down 44th St. in Borough Park as Schmeltzer sings:

"A boy was heading home in the afternoon. When he reached his home in heaven, he arrived there all too soon."

This is followed by a montage of Leiby's short life, as a toddler downing an ice cream cone, and in December, lighting Chanukah candles on his synagogue's menorah.
But not everyone believes that it's a good idea to create songs and make money from the untimely brutal murder of a young boy. Binyomin Ginzberg, writing in a Forward blog asks the question

"Are Hasidic Singers Exploiting Leiby Kletzky's Death?"

Ginzberg writes that singing artists are engaging in a

"total lack of sensitivity regarding what kind of public reaction (to Lieby's death) is or isn't appropriate."

He points out that the video by singer Lipa Scmeltzer may have the right intentions, its timing reeks of self-promotion.
And he's not the only singer. “Shauli” released a song today named, “Feelings” on his Facebook page that includes the lyrics,

“His angels will hold you in their arms so that you won’t be hurt anymore.”

The spectacle of artists rushing to be the first to capitalize on a tragedy by releasing a new song dedicated to the victim is disturbing. To me, it feels as though they are exploiting both genuine sympathy as well as the voyeuristic tendencies of people following the story.
Ginzberg points out that

The same thing happened after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, in which Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, the directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Mumbai, were killed. Shortly afterward, Schmeltzer released “Letter to Moishele,” a song addressed to their toddler son, Moshe, who survived the attack. Several other religious artists released songs as well, including Yossi Green’s “Shir Hashluchim.”



Accused Child Murderer Levi Aron Has "Personality Disorder" 

Although the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky last month was recently found mentally competent to stand trial, a psychiatric evaluation has found that he has a personality disorder. Levi Aron, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping charges, is portrayed as a troubled, confused man with a "flat" and "apathetic" mood in the report, according to the AP. In addition, it was revealed that his sister died while institutionalized for schizophrenia.

This week, Aron was moved from Bellevue Hospital to Rikers Island; but the accused killer is being housed apart from the other inmates and being kept on suicide watch. "He's in an area all by himself. They opened it up just for him," a jail supervisor told the News. They also note that it costs the city more than $70,000 to house an inmate on Rikers for a year, and that number shoots up with the added expense of a personal monitor.

Last weekend, Aron's self-proclaimed best friend called him "borderline retarded." Police also released his chilling full confession, which included bizarre quips to police after he was arrested, such as "I'm famous." Aron's defense attorney's have previously claimed that the court-ordered psychological exam found that Aron had been hearing voices and “telling him to take his own life for what he did.”

The "Jewish Elvis," Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer, has unveiled his seven minute long tribute to Leiby, "Leiby Forever." He spoke to the News about his motivation for writing the song: "Leiby represents a message. We couldn't find Leiby alive. But there are so many people alive who are still lost. Fathers without jobs. Kids without food. We need to make the world a happier place." A portion of the sales from "Leiby Forever," which is now on sale at iTunes and TopJewishMusic.com, will go to the Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund.



Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Jewish community shocked and appalled by UK riots 

"The Jewish community, like all right minded people, will have been shocked and appalled at the wanton destruction and criminality witnessed on our streets over the last few days," Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies. "Attacks on businesses and property are also assaults on the lives and livelihoods of decent hardworking people, trying to get by in difficult times, and the perpetrators are beneath contempt."

On Monday, the Board's interfaith manager Philip Rosenberg spoke alongside Muslim and Christian representatives at a vigil in Tottenham, calling for unity and a concerted effort by communities to address the problems they face.

"Our thoughts are with the innocent victims whose homes and businesses have been destroyed, and with the police, fire and ambulance services as they try to restore order to our streets," Rosenberg said.

The Community Security Trust, an organization which tackles anti-Semitism and provides security for the community, said on Tuesday that there had been no reports of targeted attacks against the community or communal buildings.

However it said as a precaution, security procedures should be enhanced.

"The violence is, however, quite indiscriminate and could as easily affect our community as any other. The situation remains highly volatile, and there is no way of knowing at this time if it will further deteriorate," the organization said.

Among the precautions it advised the community to take included being aware of your surroundings when arriving and leaving communal buildings and on a personal level to "try to look and act confidently – look like you know where you are and where you are going" and ensure you know where your children are at all times.

One Jewish-owned store in Tottenham, north London, was targeted on Sunday. Hardware store H. Glickman Ltd, a family business set up in 1932, was smashed into and ransacked.

Meanwhile media monitoring organization Comment is Free Watch (CiFW), has condemned the Guardian newspaper for a story on the riots in which it maintained found it "pertinent" to note that some Hasidic Jews had allegedly jeered police without mentioning the ethnicity of the rioters.

The paragraph in question, published in the Guardian on Monday, stated: "The make-up of the rioters was racially mixed. Most were men or boys, some apparently as young as 10….But families and other local residents, including some from Tottenham's HasidicJewish community, also gathered to watch and jeer at police."

"A 1,800 Guardian report doesn't mention the race, ethnicity, or religion of the rioters, somehow found it pertinent to note that some of those who gathered to jeer police were, allegedly, Hasidic Jews," CiFW said on Tuesday.

"So, the rioters – who have torched, ransacked and looted shops, pubs, banks and even residential properties, and have attacked journalists, police, and firefighters for the past three days – are characterized as merely "racially mixed", yet he somehow deems it relevant to note that some of Tottenham's Hasidic Jewish community were among those who allegedly watched and "jeered" police," it added.



Monday, August 08, 2011

Who Needs Hell’s Angels When You’ve Got the Rebbe’s Riders? 

A few days before Passover last April, a stream of RVs decorated with Hebrew letters rolled down Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn. The caravan of 61 vehicles was not a trailer park gone rogue, but an annual parade of the so-called Mitzvah Tanks that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement uses to encourage Jews toward religious observance. This year, though, the tanks were flanked by the the newest and perhaps unlikeliest members of Chabad outreach, a group of Hasidic and Orthodox motorcyclists called Rebbe's Riders.
Using a blend of horsepower and religious traditions, the members of Rebbe's Riders are repurposing the biker gang for the fervently Orthodox set. While motorcycles may appear to be an odd choice for religious outreach, founder Jonah Halper was inspired by the followers of Chabad-Lubavitch. The 30-year-old Halper started Rebbe's Riders with the hope of persuading unobservant Jews to "get closer to Judaism and closer to practice."
Although the Chabad-Lubavitch movement has a relatively small number of followers, with the best reported estimates counting approximately 200,000 Lubavitchers globally, the reach of the movement is expansive. Under the leadership of the late rebbe, Menachem M. Schneerson, the global outreach of Chabad-Lubavitch grew exponentially during the last half-century, resulting in the opening of more than 4,000 Chabad houses.
The Chabad houses are run by young rabbis and their wives and are designed as outposts of Jewish culture where even unobservant Jews can get a kosher meal or be exposed to Jewish traditions. While Schneerson died in 1994, the followers of Chabad-Lubavitch continue to view Schneerson as their leader and practice outreach in the name of the rebbe. Halper says that the different Chabad houses will serve as the home base for the various chapters of Rebbe's Riders.
Although Halper, an Orthodox Jew, is not a follower of Chabad-Lubavitch, he describes his admiration for the Hasidic group as the impetus behind Rebbe's Riders. "It's not affiliated in any official capacity, but rather it's in the spirit of Chabad," said Halper, who has had friends and family influenced by it. "I realized that this is the key to their success. They don't treat Judaism as if it's reserved for the select few."
This desire to engage with all Jews, whether practicing or not, in the hopes inspiring them to become more observant is a major goal for the followers of Chabad-Lubavitch. Sue Fishkoff, a journalist and author of The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, describes their objective in religious terms. "They're trying to put Jews in touch with what we call the 'pintele yid,' the spark that they see inside every Jew that ties him or her to Jewish tradition," said Fishkoff. "However they can awaken that spark, they will try to do it."
This desire to inspire a religious awakening is echoed by Halper and by the Rebbe's Riders website, which encourages people to join and start "Finding the Sparks on the Road."
While a biker gang may seem an unlikely entry point for a secular Jewish person to turn observant, Halper found the niche an asset. Halper wanted to connect to people through an activity that was not primarily for religion but for amusement. In fact, with their bushy beards and yarmulkes hidden under their helmets, the members of Rebbe's Riders can look like any other motorcycle group out for a joy ride.
The riders' ability to be characterized by both their riding skills and their faith was key to Halper. "Any marketing person will tell you it's very important to connect with people where they're at," said Halper. He hopes, for example, that riders will end a road trip by enjoying some kosher delicacies or by discussing the Torah over a meal.
Since the chapters of Rebbe's Riders are set up through different Chabad Houses, Halper expects each chapter to reflect the needs of its house. The possible activities include having groups of riders come together to do volunteer work, planning a ride for charity, and hosting a weekly ride that encourages a discussion about religion.
Halper says his ideal outing means letting riders "do what they love to do most, which is riding and use that as a platform for Jewish learning, thought and practice." This use of community in order to aid religious outreach is a trademark of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. As Fishkoff explains, "It's directed at Jews, they should have a good time with other Jews, and then want to be closer to the Jewish community."
For Eli Zisman, the head of the Rebbe's Riders in upstate New York and a follower of Chabad-Lubavitch, using his love of riding to promote Judaism is a necessary part of his religious duty. "In Chabad you have to go with what's popular and try and use any way possible—that's allowed by Jewish law—to bring people closer to Judaism," said Zisman. Both Zisman and Halper aim to use the Rebbe's Riders as a means of breaking through the notion of Judaism as old-fashioned or stodgy. Zisman hopes that if people see a rabbi on a bike, it might help reshape their image of the ancien old religion.
Only a few months old, Rebbe's Riders has grown quickly. Since its inaugural ride in the Mitzvah Tank parade, the group has opened chapters in Brooklyn, upstate New York, New Jersey, and Hawaii, with the largest chapter featuring 12 members in Monsey, N,Y. The group does not ask for any dues. Rather, it encourages members to support their local Chabad House.
Although Rebbe's Riders may epitomize the changing face of Orthodox Judaism, they are also an embodiment of a new breed of bikers. According to Eric Gelia of King Cycles, a motorcycle shop near the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn, bikers have become much more mainstream in the past decade. "They're more open, people embrace it wholeheartedly," said Gelia. Although Zisman acknowledges that a few people have been skeptical of attaching the Judaism label to a motorcycle group, he maintains that the old biker characterizations are outdated. "The stereotype of the Hell's Angels has gone already."," said Zisman.
In fact, Halper contends that the "wild and crazy" label given to most bikers doesn't apply. Citing the many dangers while riding on the road, Halper insists that intense concentration is required when competing with cars and trucks at breakneck speeds. Halper reasons that by necessity bikers are some of the most disciplined people on the road. "You have to be so, so conservative and so, so proactive when you're riding so you don't end up as road kill," said Halper.
Zisman agrees and finds a link between being an observant Jew and good rider. Acknowledging that being observant means constant discipline, Zisman finds that, along with his wife and children, his religion reminds him to ride safely.
"Our bodies are on loan from G-d," said Zisman. "If we don't take care of our bodies, how are we going to serve G-d?"


Men Studying to Become Rabbis Can Now Get Financial Aid 

As students get ready to go back to college later this month, men studying become rabbis at private undergraduate yeshivas can now qualify for aid under New York's Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP.
Orthodox Jews had been lobbying for the change for years. David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, said it was a matter of fairness.

"The Federal Pell grant program has been available to students attending rabbinical colleges," he noted. "It was ironic, to put it mildly, that New York state -- which has the largest single concentration of rabbinic colleges and Orthodox Jewish families, or Jewish families -- with people pursuing careers in the rabbinate, that the state would not allow that which the federal government does allow," Zwiebel said.

The TAP awards are worth up to $5,000 for students attending undergraduate universities and colleges. The yeshivas attended by rabbinical students are not regular undergraduate institutions, which was why a change in state law was necessary for these students to qualify. There are estimates that giving them TAP will cost New York state up to $18 million a year, because there are several thousand students.
The change in law, and questions about it, were reported this summer by the Web site InvestigateNY.org. Though the legislation was written to benefit theological students in general, it primarily affects those studying to become Orthodox rabbis. Critics have complained about giving state funds to students attending strictly religious schools that are not regular, accredited colleges. They note that at the same time, the state is also cutting funding to the CUNY and SUNY system.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick of Manhattan said instead of singling out men attending strictly religious schools, the state should have raised the $80,000 family income cutoff to allow more students, overall, to qualify for TAP financial aid.
"This expansion, which is somewhere between $12 million and $18 million, is not insignificant," she said, "and I think it is wholly inappropriate for us to be making that change now."

Glick says she voted for the change last spring because it was part of the bigger budget deal.
Meanwhile, the issue isn't exactly on the radar for students attending regular state colleges. Ari Saati, a junior at SUNY Oneonta and director of communications for the SUNY student assembly, said "If it means that New York residents are getting education, it's a good thing."
Saati said the student assembly has been much more focused on fighting for legislation allowing SUNY and CUNY to make small, fixed tuition increases each year instead of much larger hikes every few years.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Shomrim shanda 

Obstructing the police is bad enough. But it’s completely unacceptable if that obstruction is being funded by the taxpayer.

Yet that’s exactly what’s happening with the Shomrim, the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood patrol groups in Brooklyn.

Shomrim — which received $130,000 in City Council member items in the current budget — can be a useful asset to communities, discouraging graffiti and vandalism and keeping an eye out for criminals on the prowl.

But as Michael Lesher wrote in last Sunday’s Post, the Shomrim — with the blessing of community leaders — often act as if they are the actual police and give only minimal cooperation, if any, to the NYPD.

Last month, the Borough Park Shomrim were notified an hour after 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky went missing. But police weren’t alerted until two hours after that — a full three hours after Levi Aron snatched him — and then only by the missing boy’s father.

The Shomrim is not a monolithic group; each chapter has its own policy when it comes to working with the NYPD.

Nevertheless, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said that the Shomrim’s failure to immediately notify police when members get reports has been a “longstanding” issue.

The NYPD officially says that the Shomrim’s involvement only marginally affected its investigation — this time. However, the private citizen who identified Leiby from local videotapes pointed out that the Shomrim had the same footage eight hours earlier — and weren’t able to do anything with it.

Which isn’t surprising — because, whether one calls them volunteers or vigilantes, the fact remains that they aren’t professionals: They don’t have the same skills as the NYPD; in serious incidents, they can be as much a hindrance as a helping hand.

Regardless, they don’t need taxpayer funds. The only reason they receive them is — what else? — political influence.

As with other “nonprofit” charities, elected officials steer money to the Shomrim with an eye out for community leaders remembering them come campaign season.

It’s unseemly in the best of circumstances, but downright offensive when it ends up subsidizing obstruction of legitimate police efforts.

Time to defund the Shomrim.



Pol raked in 300G salary as nonprofit boss 

The grass was greener for City Councilman David Greenfield when he headed a Brooklyn nonprofit and raked in nearly half of the group's total spending over five years.

In 2009 alone, Greenfield made a whopping $299,500 as executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation Inc. -- 65 percent of the organization's total expenses of $461,623.

"That salary would be out of proportion to what the group is doing," said Daniel Borochoff, of charity watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy. "It seems very strange."

The Sephardic Community Federation was formed in 2004 as a lobbying organization, concentrating its efforts on Syrian Jews in Brooklyn and issues like private-school funding.

Greenfield, 32, left the federation in 2010 after winning a special election in March of that year. His annual council salary is $116,500.

Greenfield refused to comment. A spokesman for the nonprofit defended his high salary because of the job he did as the organization's head.

"David has always been an effective organizer," said Michael Tobman.



Saturday, August 06, 2011

Friend Says Accused Child Murderer Is "Borderline Retarded" 

This week, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky last month was found mentally competent to stand trial. Levi Aron pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping charges during his arraignment in Brooklyn Supreme Court, while his attorneys plotted an insanity defense. Now, one of his friends has revealed more personal details about the accused killer, whom the friend calls "socially awkward" and "borderline retarded." "He couldn't hold a conversation...He didn't talk about anything except karaoke and the songs he was going to sing - not women, not anything," said David Barsky.

Aron called Barksy his "best friend." according to court papers. Barksy is currently in Riker's after getting busted in April for driving a Plymouth van—which was registered in Aron's name—with a suspended license. Barksy said he thought Aron was too stupid to be able to successfully abduct, kidnap and kill Leiby. And anyway, Aron was too obsessed with karaoke and getting famous for such a heinous crime.

Barsky said Aron used to drive him to karaoke parties he would host, and Aron would occasionally try to emcee the gigs...but he was terrible at it. "He has no personality. He had to learn how to talk to people...He loved to sing the songs, but he can't sing. He has a terrible voice!" said Barksy. Aron particularly loved singing songs by Maroon 5 and Josh Groban, though his all-time favorite song is "Time" by Hootie & the Blowfish.

And while Barksy says he "loved the guy," and "he was a good person," he has spent much of the past month in jail contemplating the tragic crime, and asking himself the same question again and again: "Why did he kill the child?"



Friday, August 05, 2011

Accused Child Killer Levi Aron's Confession: "I'm Famous" 

Levi Aron Confession

Yesterday, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky last month was found mentally competent to stand trial. Levi Aron pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping charges during his arraignment in Brooklyn Supreme Court. His next court appearance will come on October 14, and his lawyers will be scrambling to determine whether they can still pursue an insanity defense, which is an extremely rare defense strategy for a felony case. But then again,"no other defense comes to mind” in this case, said Deborah W. Denno, a professor at Fordham University.

Brooklyn district attorney Charles J. Hynes told reports yesterday that he remained committed to prosecuting the case to his fullest extent: “I want to reaffirm that this case will go to trial and that there are absolutely no circumstances which would lead me to accept a plea bargain.” Aron's lawyer Pierre Bazile noted that “we believe him to have some psychiatric disorders” and said that the court-ordered psychological exam found that Aron had been hearing voices and “telling him to take his own life for what he did.”

New court records were revealed during his arraignment yesterday, shedding more light onto Aron's troubled state of mind, as well as more details on his written and videotaped confession. An edited version of that confession was released to the public in the immediate aftermath of his arrest last month. The parts which had been edited out include graphic, cold, procedural descriptions of Aron suffocating and then dismembering Leiby.

It's important to note that Aron left out any mention of the fact that Leiby had been heavily drugged, forced to swallow "an overdose of muscle relaxant, antipsychotics, pain medication and acetaminophen" before he was smothered; nor is there any mention of Leiby being tied up before his death.

After he was arrested, Aron chillingly quipped to police, "I'm famous;" at least one of his ex-wives alleged that Aron was obsessed with American Idol and becoming famous in some way: "For him, the meeting of this little poor boy was a chance to shine into media and make himself known." When a female detective gave him a cigarette, Aron said, “This is a first. A woman holding my cigarette.” He also vacillated between the banal choice of a meal from McDonald's or Chinese food after his arrest; he ended up having Chinese food.

Aron was also seemingly disgusted when an officer asked him whether he sexually abused Leiby: "I don't swing that way," he said. As for his mental state, Aron wrote in the confession that “maybe this is wrong,” and said he "was sorry for the hurt [he] caused." Michele Galietta, the director of the clinical forensic doctoral program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, makes an understatement when she points out, “He did show remorse, but it was a little odd...It shows oddness in thinking.”



Thursday, August 04, 2011

Levi Aron Deemed Fit for Trial in Leiby Kletzky Murder, Pleads 'Not Guilty' 

Levi Aron, the Orthodox Jewish man accused of killing an 8-year-old boy on his way home from camp, is competent to stand trial, said a court evaluation released Thursday. Aron will participate in his own defense and understands that he is being charged with the dismemberment of Leiby Kletzky, defense lawyers said.

Aron will still face months of psychiatric evaluations in order to determine whether or not he was insane at the time of the murder, attorney told reporters.

The 35-year-old maintenance supply worker was arrested for the murder and dismemberment of a Orthodox Jewish boy in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park July 13. Aron implicated himself in the murder and told police that he had abducted the boy and decided to kill him when he heard that police were frantically searching for him.

"When I saw the fliers, I panicked and was afraid," Aron said, according to police.

Aron also told police where the boy's remains were, in his refrigerator and a plastic bag inside of a red suitcase in a trash bin. Aron cut up the small boy with three bloody carving knives using a carving board. He also confessed to suffocating the boy with a towel, police and prosecutors said.

"We're glad he's been found competent but even we can't proceed until the psychiatric evaluation is done," attorney Jennifer McCann told Reuters.

Aron is charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping and could face life in prison without parole if convicted. The man has pleaded not guilty and is currently receiving treatment at Bellevue Hospital Center, McCann said.



Wednesday, August 03, 2011

It's hotter under the Hasidic collar: Religious garb in the summer is a challenge 

With temperatures recently hitting the triple digits and sure to climb into the 90s again, most New Yorkers want only to go from one air-conditioned haven to the next, avoiding the outdoors. But it could be worse. We could all be Hasidic Jews. And some of us actually are. Or, in my case, were.

New York's most religious Jews don't give up their wide-brimmed black hats and long black coats even when the thermometer might burst from the heat. One would think that sartorial choices originally intended for Polish winters would've made way for attire more suitable for New York summers. One would be wrong.

On Saturday, the Jewish day of rest, when Hasidim are generally confined to Williamsburg or Borough Park, the two largest Hasidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn, you might see them, even on the most scorching days of summer, wearing 6-inch-tall fur hats, black silk caftans and, as they walk home after morning services, heavy wool prayer shawls.

Because I, too, was once a Hasid, my non-Hasidic friends have been asking with irritating frequency: Dude, what is up with those clothes? It is not an unfair question to ask. And it is a question that could be asked just as easily of devout Muslims and others.

The answer is, most often, the same. As far as my own tribe is concerned, Tevye the milkman from "Fiddler on the Roof" got it exactly right when he declared that there's little reason behind a lot of what religious Jews do. It's simply tradition, as the song goes.

That is, there's no biblical commandment about wearing black garb. There's no record of Moses telling the Israelites to wear a snug, six-button vest over one's four-cornered wool garment. There's not a mention in any of the thousands of volumes of Jewish law of the requirement to wear the fur shtreimel. It's just the way it's been for centuries.

So what is that experience like? My long dark coat, come June and July, would would turn my personality hostile. If you'd tried to take my seat on the Hasidic bus I used to commute to and from my Manhattan job, I'd fix you with a stare so vicious it would chill you.

My beaver fur hat, normally only a mild irritant, would etch deep sweaty rings around my forehead. The wool-fringed garment over my starched polyester shirt would shift around under my dark blue vest as I tried in vain to position it for maximum airflow to my body underneath all those layers.

When the city heats up these days, I no longer steam in my religious garb. Four years ago, I chose to leave the Hasidic lifestyle for a variety of personal and ideological reasons - having to get married at 18 not the least among them. Having fled the belief system into which I'd been indoctrinated, I allowed myself my first pair of shorts and my first T-shirt. For the first time, I felt the whispers of a breeze rustle the hair on my bare head. And these days, as I watch Hasidim on the streets of Williamsburg or on the G train, I take a quick moment to be thankful for the freedom to wear whatever I want.

I suppose that, in the name of tolerance, I should declare grudging respect for the Hasidim tenaciously clinging to their heavy dress during the summer months. But frankly, I don't really care that much. I neither scorn it nor admire it. I'm simply glad that I'm no longer sweating along with them.

But I do still have a measure of compassion. Hasidim are like humans the world over: They conform to the norms and fashions of their society. They aren't always comfortable, practical or sensible. Look at your run-of-the mill Wall Street banker, with his dark suit and necktie. Ties in this weather? Dude, what is up with that?



Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Rival brothers return to court in Jewish sect leadership fight 

The succession battle between two brothers to be the leader of an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect is back in the courts.

The brothers, Zalman and Aaron Teitelbaum, have been fighting for years in religious and state civil courts to determine who should head the Satmar wing of Hasidic Judaism. The Teitelbaums' father, Moses, was the long-time Satmar boss, but he died without naming a successor.

Aaron Teitelbaum governs Kiryas Joel, a town about 60 miles from New York City. The largely Yiddish-speaking town was founded in the 1970s and its residents strictly observe Jewish religious rules.

Zalman Teitelbaum runs a similiar Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in New York City.

The latest development in the fraternal battle was sparked by a group of Zalman's supporters who live in Kiryas Joel. They have accused Kiryas Joel of running a repressive theocracy and asked a federal judge to dissolve the self-governing community.

In court papers filed in Manhattan federal court on Monday, a Kiryas Joel offical who stands accused by the angry residents said the legal fight was a tactic to change the town's leadership.

"Plaintiffs ... attempt through this case to drag Moses Witriol ... into the middle of their dispute concerning leadership," Witriol, the town's director of public safety, said in court filings.

In an amended complaint filed last month, the Zalman Teitelbaum supporters said Kiryas Joel officials selectively enforced laws and discriminated against them because of their religious beliefs. They asked U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who is presiding over the case, to direct New York State to dissolve the municipality.

The case is Kiryas Joel Alliance et al. v. Village of Kiryas Joel et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-3982.



Hasidic school suing village 

A Hasidic school is suing the village for denying its request to rebuild a bungalow cottage into a model home for a new Hasidic community near Kiryas Joel.

The Article 78, filed last month in Orange County State Supreme Court by Sheri Torah Inc., says the village's denial of its building permit to replace the Apple Lane cottage with a modular building was "arbitrary and capricious."

The village Zoning Board of Appeals — upholding the decision of the village building inspector — rejected the religious school's request on appeal.

The board argued that the replacement building would enlarge the cottage by adding a second story and that the building was ineligible for renovation under current zoning because it was abandoned.

The school says the village decision is discriminatory. "The whole thing just evidences an attitude that is negative to this group establishing itself within (the village's) midst, and that's the tragedy," said Sheri Torah's attorney, Jim Sweeney.

The dwelling lies amid a bungalow community of 46 run-down rental cottages on 26.2 acres of an 800-plus-acre property once known as the Lake Anne Country Club, which fronts on Clove Road.

According to an affidavit filed with the Article 78, a group of Hasidic investors called Keen Equities bought the 800-plus acres in 2004 with the intent of creating a Hasidic community for family, friends and relatives who lived in or near Kiryas Joel, south of the property.

Sweeney contends that the non-Hasidic neighbors of the property conspired to thwart these plans in 2006 by incorporating the Village of South Blooming Grove, which includes the property. Village officials have denied this contention.

Similar discrimination claims have been raised in numerous lawsuits against the village, most of which have been dismissed or discontinued. In one of the remaining suits, Sheri Torah says the village Planning Board has been deliberately avoiding a request to convert a former casino near the cottages into a shul to serve as the epicenter of the community's religious way of life.

Dennis Lynch, the attorney for the village in the lawsuit against the ZBA, said the plaintiffs need permission from the Planning Board to renovate the cottage because it is abandoned, an assertion the plaintiff disputes.

The village, in turn, disputes the plaintiff's claim that the property was properly subdivided in 2009, when a religious court in Kings County transferred the property with the cottages to a break-off faction within Keen Equities known as Blue Rose Estates, which leases the cottages to Sheri Torah.

All three groups — Sheri Torah, Keen Equities and Blue Rose Estates — share the goal of turning the bungalow colony into a Hasidic community, Sweeney said.



Monday, August 01, 2011

Attorneys For Child Murder Suspect Defend Themselves 

Levi Aron, the man who confessed to killing and dismembering 8-year-old Hasidic boy Leiby Kletzky earlier this month, is due to appear in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday to face murder charges. His two attorneys felt compelled to come forward and defend themselves before the start of the trial: "It's not about defending his actions. It's about defending his rights," lawyer Jennifer McCann told the News.

Aron's other attorney, Pierre Bazile, said he came aboard the case because Aron's family reached out to him: "I'm taking this case because a family asked me for help. If you want to be an attorney, you treat the client that's in front of you." Bazile brought the 30-year-old McCann aboard after attorney Gerard Marrone abruptly resigned because of his conscience.

During the interview, the lawyers did not directly discuss Aron or divulge how much they're getting paid, but they both vowed to stay on the case till the end—though McCann told WPIX that Aron probably couldn't pay his legal fees, so she'd likely be doing the case pro bono. The Long Island-based lawyers, both of whom were admitted to the bar in 2007, also said they've received death threats for defending Aron: "It's completely foreign. It's distracting. It's been a little overwhelming," " Bazile said of the media glare.

The two did let some details slip about their plans for the trial: Aron's psychiatric exams are expected to be revealed this week, and they intend to have their experts determine if an insanity defense is viable. They also said they are planning to ask the judge for a change of venue, arguing that the jury pool has been tainted by the media scrutiny.



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