Monday, October 31, 2011

Crackdown on Child Sex Abuse Unravels 

One of the most high-profile convictions of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi for sexual abuse in recent times may be in danger of reversal, according to new disclosures in court records obtained by the Forward.

When Baruch Lebovits was sentenced last year to up to 32 years in jail, victims’ rights advocates hailed it as a turning point in the battle against sexual abuse in the insular Orthodox community.

“From now on,” Joseph Diangello, an abuse victim turned advocate, told The Jewish Star at the time, “victims of sexual abuse in the Hasidic community that have no voice with the people that are supposed to protect them will have a voice in the court of law.”

There was a sense that the wall of silence that had protected abusers in the ultra-Orthodox community for so long was finally crumbling.

But Lebovits’s 2010 conviction is now unraveling amid allegations of perjury, conspiracy and extortion.

Lebovits was destined to spend, at minimum, 10 years in prison. Instead, he was released on bail in April and placed under house arrest pending an appeal.

Lebovits’s release was prompted by revelations suggesting that some of the witnesses whose grand jury testimony helped indict him were actually engaged in a plot to extort him. Since then, prosecutors have insisted that the testimony offered by a key witness who testified at Lebovits’s trial remains untainted.

But new evidence submitted by Lebovits’s defense team suggests that this may not be the case.

Lebovits, a travel agent who once taught at a yeshiva in the Munkatch synagogue in Brooklyn’s Boro Park, was arrested in 2008 on charges of abusing two boys. Later, a third victim came forward.

Rather than prosecuting the cases as a group, a state judge ordered that each be tried separately.

The case involving the third victim was the first to go to trial. Lebovits appeared in court in March 2010 on charges of sexually abusing the boy over a period of 10 months.

The four-day trial heard how the boy — now a 22-year-old man — stole money from synagogue charity boxes to fund a drug addiction fueled by his abuse.

The prosecutor alleged that on numerous occasions during 2004 and 2005, Lebovits invited the boy into his car, where he abused him while parked in various public spots around Boro Park, a largely Orthodox neighborhood. The jury found Lebovits guilty on eight counts of sexual assault.

During sentencing in April, the courtroom was packed. Lebovits’s supporters, dressed in black suits, lined the benches on one side of the room. On the other side, an array of abuse victims and their advocates waited anxiously to see the outcome. A long pattern of suppression was seen as hanging in the balance.

For years, advocates have railed against leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community whom they blame for covering up for molesters.

Leading rabbis invoke Judaic religious laws such as mesirah — a prohibition against informing on a fellow Jew to secular authorities — and the prohibition against lashon hara, evil gossip, as justification for not reporting abuse to secular law enforcement authorities.

But advocates for sex abuse victims say there are myriad reasons that the Orthodox leadership wants to suppress abuse claims. Their motives are said to include fear of litigation, a desire to shield the community from unfavorable attention and the protection of individual reputations. Even defenders of the ultra-Orthodox acknowledge that sometimes, concern for a child’s safety is overridden by fear that Child Protective Services will place an Orthodox child in a nonkosher home.

For years, rabbis have acted as a firewall against the secular world. Victims and their families have heeded religious courts and rabbinic leaders who warned them against reporting incidents to the police. Even today, Agudath Israel of America, the largest American ultra-Orthodox umbrella group, insists that Jews should consult a rabbi before reporting abuse to the police.

In Brooklyn, home to an estimated 180,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, District Attorney Charles Hynes has vowed to crack down on abuse in the community, even launching a special hotline for Orthodox victims. But advocates have scorned Hynes, charging that he has dragged his heels on some investigations and allowed other abusers to get away with generous plea deals. Hynes, they say, avoids aggressive prosecutions for fear of the political influence that Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox rabbinic leaders wield over their bloc-voting followers. Hynes has heatedly denied this criticism. And the severe sentence he obtained against Lebovits in this case at least seemed to reflect a genuinely aggressive stance.

Speaking after the sentence was handed down, Joel Engelman, an abuse survivor turned advocate, said the case sent a message to the Orthodox community that protecting abusers was no longer possible.

But today, Engelman warns that if Lebovits is acquitted, it will be “disastrous” not only for those who claim they were abused by Lebovits, but also for the way the entire community perceives the issue of abuse.

“It would basically tell anyone and everyone, abusers and abuser protectors, ‘You can go on doing what you’ve been doing,’” Engelman said.

When Lebovits was released on bail in April, Engelman called a community hotline, Kol Mevaser, to hear how the news was reported.

“They said that today is a very special day and a very happy day,” Engelman said, “because a member in our community convicted of very heinous crimes… was released and shown to be not guilty.”

The hotline reported that Lebovits’s release illustrated that even if members of the community are convicted in a secular court, “the system isn’t trustworthy.”

Lebovits’s conviction was thrown into doubt when another Brooklyn rabbi, Samuel Kellner, was arrested in April on charges related to the first two victims who reported Lebovits to the police.

Hynes accused Kellner of paying one of the victims $10,000 to falsely testify that he had been abused.

Hynes also accused Kellner of trying to extort $400,000 from Lebovits’s family in return for the two boys dropping their cases and preventing the third victim from coming forward. After Lebovits refused to pay, the third victim reported to the police.

Kellner pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted grand larceny, perjury and conspiracy and was released on bail.

At a press conference held soon afterward, Hynes said he was confident that Lebovits’s conviction, based on the testimony of the third victim at trial, would stand. That testimony was untainted by Kellner’s alleged extortion scandal, he said.

But court papers submitted in April, May and August by Lebovits’s defense team seem to show that the third victim — referred to in court papers as Y.R. — was very familiar with the alleged extortion scheme.

In the papers, the Brooklyn D.A. admitted that it was Kellner who brought the third young man to law enforcement authorities. Jerry Schmetterer, the D.A.’s spokesman, declined to comment because the case remains open.

In an affidavit, an individual referred to as “Witness B” told Lebovits’s lawyers: “[Y.R.] said he had a ‘guilty conscience’ about making a case against Baruch Lebovits. Community pressure from ‘powerful people’ was forcing Y.R. to go forward with the complaint.”

Witness B continued: “Y.R. asked me to contact the Lebovits family to ask them to pay him not to proceed. He asked me to get involved because he did not trust Kellner and was afraid Kellner would keep all the money.”

Another witness, one of the first two alleged victims who admitted he was given $10,000 by Kellner, said in an affidavit, “I saw [Y.R.] last night, July 21, 2010, and he said, ‘Kellner gave money to everyone and he [Kellner] is going to get in trouble.’”

In a tape recording also entered as evidence by Lebovits’s attorneys, Y.R. is heard telling a friend, “A man is sitting in jail because somebody [Kellner] had a premeditated plan not to put him away but to make money, and manipulate me to back off.”

In an interview with the Forward, Y.R. refuted the defense team’s allegations.

“My whole life has been ruined because of this,” he said. “I put myself out there and I went out and told them what happened.”

Y.R. said he was confident the D.A. had enough evidence to support the conviction. That evidence, he said, includes a recording of a conversation he had with Lebovits during the abuse investigation.

Y.R. said that he wore a New York Police Department wire during a meeting with Lebovits. “I told him, ‘What should I do because the NYPD are questioning me about what’s happened,” Y.R. said.

“He [Lebovits] answered me, ‘Just tell them leykenen shteyn un beyn’ ” or deny completely.

Nathan Dershowitz, a lawyer for Lebovits, said he had never heard of such a recording.

“If that were on tape, don’t you think it would have been introduced in evidence?” he said.

“I can only tell you that in the trial, as far as I know, nothing was ever introduced that suggested there was an admission here, ever,” Dershowitz said.

Although Lebovits’s conviction rested almost entirely on Y.R.’s testimony, the prosecution was aided by a court appearance by the sole defense witness, Rabbi Beryl Ashkenazi. But here, too, Lebovits’s defense team argues, the court was misled.

Ashkenazi was called by the defense to testify that Y.R. had offered to drop his sex abuse allegations against Lebovits in exchange for money. But Assistant District Attorney Miss Gregory dropped a pre-emptive bombshell when she turned on Ashkenazi in the courtroom, accusing him of sexually abusing two boys during the 1990s.

Gregory said that the statute of limitations was the only thing that prevented charges against Ashkenazi.

But in court papers, Lebovits’s defense team — which was joined by high-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz last year — argues that those abuse claims should never have been made. They present an affidavit from one of Ashkenazi’s alleged victims, referred to as “Y.E.,” who denied having been abused.

Y.E. stated that Detective Steve Litwin of the New York City Police Department came to his home, accompanied by Kellner, at 2 a.m. a few nights before Ashkenazi took the stand.

“I advised Detective Litwin that Mr. Ashkenazi had not molested me,” Y.E. stated.

Lebovits’s defense team singles out Litwin for particular criticism.

“Why Detective Litwin would visit a potential witness at 2 a.m., and why he would take a civilian, Kellner, with him to speak to Y.E. is beyond understanding,” Lebovits’s lawyers say in court papers.

Some of Litwin’s case notes, which came to light only midway through the trial, showed that Litwin was aware of Y.R.’s links with Kellner during the police investigation into Lebovits.

According to his notes from two interviews conducted in January 2009, now entered as evidence in Lebovits’s appeal, Y.R. told Litwin that Kellner instructed him to hold out for $200,000 in exchange for dropping the charges. Y.R. also told Litwin that Kellner was working to raise a $50,000 payment.

“Detective Litwin’s notes of his conversations with Y.R. establish that Y.R. told him about Kellner’s efforts to get him money,” Lebovits’s defense team argues in the court papers.“But Detective Litwin did nothing with this information.”

Litwin declined to comment because the case is still being litigated.

In its motion for a new trial, Lebovits’s defense team argues that it is “fundamentally wrong for convictions to stand when the jury that convicted the defendant did not know the defendant was himself the victim of an extortion plot in connection with the very charges that the jury is considering.”

“Worse still,” it continues, “the complainant was ‘recruited’ as part of that extortion plot, received money to testify against Lebovits and denied it.”

Engelman said the claims and counterclaims are indicative of an insular community where insider dealing is the most common method of resolving disputes. Financial payoffs or threats of throwing people’s children out of school — rather than recourse to secular law enforcement officials — are often used to coerce people into settling disputes within the community.

“It’s a part of the sad phenomenon that’s going on,” Engelman said. “Whatever you see in court papers is a smidgen of the tip of the iceberg.”

Alan Dershowitz said his colleagues have filed an appeal and a motion for a new trial, based on the “newly discovered evidence.”

He said Lebovits would remain out of prison and under house arrest, on bail, as long as he continues to file his papers on time.

This fall, Lebovits applied for permission to leave his house arrest to attend synagogue during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

The request was granted.



Sunday, October 30, 2011

Chabad to deliver news through its network and on Twitter 

CNN, Fox News or BBC – there is no news channel as networked as Chabad. None of these networks have 4,000 representatives all around the world capable of providing updated information upon request.

The Hasidic Jewish movement has decided to translate the huge potential into a real project, turning Chabad into a social network delivering online news through its network and on Twitter.

As opposed to other ultra-Orthodox streams, Chabad doesn't fear technology.

"We're not afraid of using what exists in the world in order to further our goal," explains Mordechai Lightstone, the manager of thelubavitch.com website and social network.

"Our website allows emissaries all over the world to receive updates on what is happening with everyone else, but it's in fact not just for them," he says.

"After the terror attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, when the news on television began repeating itself, we could already provide details on what was happening and on our emissaries' condition. We also used Twitter to share our concern with each other.

"After the tsunami in Japan, our website offered updates on the Jewish community in the country, through our emissaries. A month later, in New Zealand, we had the option of receiving updates against through our people.

"I try to post the news I receive to the website, and that what each of our emissaries does. Together we get a comprehensive international picture. It's amazing how all of us in Brooklyn in the United States and in Christchurch, New Zealand, and everywhere, wait for good news and keep in touch."

Tweet from emissary

According to Lightstone, technology's great power helps Chabad ignore the natural borders between countries, ignore the huge distance – and share information.

 "It allows us to give the emissaries, who are far away, the feeling that they're not alone. Twitter, for example, allows every messenger to update us on his whereabouts. If we have an emissary dealing with addicts, he can consult another emissary handling the same problem, even if he's in a different country.

  "I think it also enables us to bring others closer. Jews who are in a place where there's no synagogue, or have no Chabad emissary there or feel uncomfortable approaching him, can receive access to our emissaries anywhere through Twitter.

 "Any person interested in Judaism and in what is happening to us can find an interest in this initiative."



Saturday, October 29, 2011

Kosher food goes mainstream at Berlin supermarket 

When shoppers in New York, London or Paris come across kosher food in their neighbourhood supermarkets, it’s just one speciality product among many. When the same thing happens in Berlin, it’s a statement.

Berlin’s Jewish community, decimated by the Holocaust, has been steadily growing since Germany reunited in 1990. Thousands of Jews have moved in, synagogues, schools and shops have opened and some young rabbis have been trained and ordained. But presence isn’t the same as acceptance. In a city weighed down by memories of its Nazi past, even small signs that Jews are a part of normal daily life again take on deeper meaning.

One such sign appeared last month when a local supermarket began selling kosher food. Stocked on shelves and in freezers next to other German and imported goods, the food prepared according to ancient Jewish dietary laws is presented like any other product.

Yehuda Teichtal, a Brooklyn-born Hasidic rabbi who advised the Nah und Gut (“Near and Good”) supermarket on its selections, is thrilled to see this in Berlin. “This was the centre of darkness and evil, where the Nazis planned the extermination of Europe’s Jews, and now you can go into a normal supermarket and there’s a sign that says kosher,” he said.

“The Nazis failed. Where do you find Hitler and Eichmann now — on Wikipedia. Where do you see Jewish life in an open way — on the streets of Berlin!”



Friday, October 28, 2011

Shul girl Oprah 

Oprah Winfrey visited a Jewish ritual bath at Brooklyn Heights' Congregation B'nai Avraham synagogue while filming an upcoming Hasidic-themed episode for her OWN network's new show, "Oprah's Next Chapter."
Winfrey didn't actually take a dip in the mikvah -- a purifying, traditional bath used by female members -- said Rabbi Aaron Raskin.
"She just wanted to see it and had the women give her a tour and explain the details of how it works," he said of her Wednesday visit.
Raskin said Winfrey's camp contacted the synagogue a few weeks ago to ask about visiting the mikvah.

The rabbi said he didn't need much convincing to open the synagogue's doors to Winfrey's cameras.
"Any opportunity that we have to make the mitzvah [good act] of mikvah known -- the beauty of mikvah known -- we're happy to do," he said.
"She did have security," Raskin said, "And therefore, any room she was in, nobody was allowed to go into besides those who were doing the interview."
Raskin said that during his own chat with her, their discussion naturally turned to religion.
"She told me that she tries to be a channel to do God's will in the world," the rabbi said.
In addition to the mikvah, Winfrey visited neighborhoods in Crown Heights and Borough Park to learn more about the daily life of Hasidic Jews, reported the Jewish news site chabad.org.

She sat down with two Hasidic families, ate a traditional meal and talked about community affairs with five local women, the site said.
In the new TV series, Winfrey searches for interesting stories and reports on them.



Thursday, October 27, 2011

New Square arson suspect charged with violating court order 

The 18-year-old New Square man charged with trying to murder a village dissident through an arson attempt was arrested Wednesday on a charge of violating a court order to stay away from the family.
Ramapo police arrested Shaul Spitzer after he left the Rockland County Courthouse in New City following an appearance on felony charges of attempted murder, arson and assault.
Spitzer has been indicted on felony charges of trying to set Aron Rottenberg's Truman Avenue house in New Square on fire at 4:15 a.m. May 22.
During a confrontation outside the house, one of Spitzer's incendiary devices exploded, burning Rottenberg over 50 percent of his body, police said. Spitzer, too, suffered severe burns to his arms and hands.
Rottenberg and his family became targets of late-night protests and vandalism by residents loyal to Grand Rabbi David Twersky from September 2010 to a week before the alleged attempted arson in May.
Rottenberg and other male residents had drawn the ire of religious leaders and Twersky for publicly refusing to follow the rabbi's edict that his followers pray during the weekly sabbath in the village's only synagogue.
Rottenberg instead led a contingent that prayed with residents at the Friedwald Center on New Hempstead Road, less than a mile from New Square.
As part of Spitzer's $300,000 bail, the judge signed an order mandating Spitzer stay away from the Rottenberg family, their home and business.
Police on Wednesday accused Spitzer of walking outside Aron Rottenberg's Truman Avenue house on Oct. 4 at 3:15 p.m. in violation of the court order.

Spitzer appeared before Ramapo Justice Rhoda Schoenberger on a misdemeanor count of second-degree criminal contempt.

The Rockland District Attorney's Office didn't recommend additional bail, deciding the $300,000 bail set on the felony charges was sufficient, Ramapo Detective Sgt. John Lynch told Schoenberger. Spitzer is scheduled to appear in New Square Justice Court at 6 p.m. Nov. 21. Defense attorney Kenneth Gribetz said after court Wednesday that Spitzer would plead not guilty.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Russian ship changes course amid fears it could be seized over fight with Chabad 

A Russian sailing ship due to stop in San Francisco's port on Friday unexpectedly changed course - apparently over fears it might be seized in connection with an unrelated dispute over ownership of a major Jewish library collection in Russia.
The ship, the Nadezhda, diverted to Mexico instead of making its planned ceremonial visit to the American port, apparently out of concern it could be seized in connection with an ongoing legal dispute over the Schneerson Library, of which the Brooklyn-based Chabad Hasidic movement claims ownership. 
The Chabad movement obtained a court judgment in the United States confirming its ownership of the library, a collection that was reportedly amassed over a period of about 200 years prior to World War II that is said to contain 12,000 books and 50,000 documents. But the Russian government disputes the authority of the U.S. court to rule on the matter. Chabad's ownership of the collection was also confirmed by a Soviet-era court, but the Soviet Union collapsed before the court's decision could be carried out.
The Nadezhda is the educational flagship of the Russian Pacific fleet and is technically owned by the Russian government. The ship was scheduled to enter San Francisco harbor at 9:30 A.M. local time, but about an hour earlier, word was sent to the ship's captain and to his hosts, apparently based on a decision by Russian government officials, that the visit was to be scrapped.

Russia claims the Chabad Hasidic movement never owned the disputed collection, but it was apparently concerned that the Nadezhda could be seized to force the transfer of the library.
The American court judgment on the ownership of the library has also impeded the loan of Russian-owned artwork for display in U.S. museums, out of concern that it would be seized for the same reason.
The flap over the ship's visit not only caused embarrassment for its American hosts vis-a-vis the Russians, but also with Poland, because the ship was built in Poland and was to be greeted by members of the Polish community in San Francisco. The Russian consul, who was to attend the welcoming event, got word of the cancellation minutes before he was due to arrive at the ceremony and was reported by those present to be embarrassed and angry.
The ship was also due to make a visit to the American port of Honolulu in Hawaii, but that also appears to have been scrapped.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Haredi woman loses 93 kg for shidduch 

Love, so they say, changes people forever. But a changeover like the one undergone by Merav Yitzhaki, a young woman affiliated with the Chabad Hasidic movement, must have required some help from God as well.

As part of her attempts to find a proper match, Merav had a series of operations, lost 93 kilograms (205 pounds) and redefined the concept of a diet. Now, with her new look, she feels available for a serious relationship (preferably with a Chabadnik, of course).

'I started taking things seriously'

"I was always a fat girl," says Merav, 25, of Netanya. "My parents tried to encourage me, saying that being fat is not an offense, and I preferred to just ignore my weight and eat."

And Merav did eat, until at the age of 21, when religious girls start seriously thinking about getting married, she reached the weight of 155 kilos (342 pounds).

"I was warned that I should be thin when I enter the 'shidduch' world, so that I could be matched to a good-looking guy. But I had already accepted the fact that I would probably be matched to a fat guy and that's it."

But Merav didn't really accept the situation, and at some point found herself on the operating table at the Assuta hospital, where a ring was adjusted on her stomach to reduce her appetite.

"I started taking things seriously and eating in a healthy way, and with the help of diets the weight just kept falling off until my dietician stopped me," she says.

And then, about a year ago, she looked in the mirror and saw a girl weighing 62 kilos (137 pounds) with a lot of excess skin, which used to cover her 155 kilos in the past. "I looked really weird, only in a different way this time," she says.

In order to look her best and fit into the dating world, Merav was treated by Dr. Tali Friedman, a senior plastic surgeon from the Assia Medical Center in Tel Aviv.

"The problem of obesity is extremely relevant to the haredi-religious sector these days," says Dr. Friedman. "I have been exposed to many patients from the sector who have undergone weight loss treatments and body shaping. Merav is a very impressive and highly motivated young woman, who has done very well."

At the end of the treatments, Merav said goodbye to the excess skin as well and finally joined the world of single women and men.

"I have never gone on a date before," she says. "Even when I had already lost weight, I wasn't offered any matches because people didn't know about it. But I know that God will send me what I deserve."

In the meantime she's happy ("I thank God Almighty 10 times a day") and recently began working as –believe it or not – a pastry cook. "That's what it's about, watching but no touching," she laughs.

To conclude: Sense of humor – check; new look – check. All that's missing is a good ultra-Orthodox groom.



Monday, October 24, 2011

B'klyn man who allegedly killed Leiby Kletzky is insane, defense argues 

He's insane -- at least that's what his lawyer says.
The lawyer for the Brooklyn man accused of allegedly killing and dismembering little Leiby Kletzky he will pursue an insanity defense when his client goes to trial, saying the confession was coerced.
Levi Aron had been ruled fit to stand trial for Kletzky's murder this past July, but defense lawyer Howard Greenberg said today his client is insane and that they intend to prove their client is not guilty by reason of insanity.
"Anyone who thirsts for Levi Aron's blood can take solace that [if found guilty] he'll spend the rest of his life in an asylum -- never to see the light of day," Greenberg said outside Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Aron, 35, appeared in court today through a video conference as both the prosecution and defense filed a series of motions this morning before Supreme Court Justice Neil Firetog.
Aron, who sat in a chair, did not move or say a word throughout the brief hearing, appearing catatonic.
"My opinion is you'll get him to admit he shot Kennedy if you spent enough time with him," Greenberg said.
Aron has pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping charges.
Greenberg said the case against Levi is "easy."
"He's either evil or crazy," he added.
Greenberg also said that "statements attributed to [Aron] will come to bite the DA on the tuches."
But State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) called the insanity claim "outrageous."
"This guy knew what he was doing," Hikind said of Aron's involvement in Kletzky's murder.
Kletzky, 8, got lost walking to meet his parents in the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Borough Park when he was allegedly picked up by Aron.
The creep said he had picked up Leiby on July 11 after the helpless boy asked him for directions to a Judaica bookstore, according to prosecutors.
Aron offered him a ride, but "on the way, he changed his mind," the fiend said, according to records.
The pair wound up at the wedding of Aron's cousin in Rockland County before heading back to Brooklyn.
"I brought him to my house, thinking I'd bring him to his house the next day," Aron said, according to the DA.
Leiby watched TV and then fell asleep, and was still asleep when Aron woke in the morning and had to go to work, the confession said.
"I woke him, and told him I'll bring him to his house when I get back," Aron said.
Instead, the cowardly creep panicked at the wide scope of the search, and decided he had to kill Leiby -- after making him a tuna sandwich -- and then chopping him up.
Body parts and bloody knives were found inside Aron's apartment. The boy's severed feet were found in a freezer.

The alleged confession leaves out at least one horrifying detail: the Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Leiby had been heavily drugged, having been forced to swallow "an overdose of muscle relaxant, antipsychotics, pain medication and acetaminophen" before he was smothered.



Sunday, October 23, 2011

12-Year Old Boy Missing In Catskills 

A search is on for a 12-year-old boy who went missing in the Monticello area.

Benyamin Simantov-Linkov was last seen at 1 p.m. Oct 22 leaving his residence at 30 Landfield Ave. after an argument with a family member.

Simantov-Linkov, originally from Brooklyn, was last seen wearing a white dress shirt, black pants and black shoes.

There are two command posts set up in order to look for the boy. One is at the Monticello Police Department located at 2 Pleasant St., Monticello and another at the Jewish Hebrew Day School located at 4718 State Route 42, Kiamesha Lake.

Village of Monticello police said there are currently 50 to 60 people looking for the boy, including those going door to door and searching the woods in the area.

Principal of the Jewish Hebrew Day School Rabbi Menachem Fruchter said that searchers at his command post will not be looking in the woods but will be checking public areas and continue going door to door to search for the boy.

Searchers are expanding their search to Fallsburg and Liberty and sending crews to the local Shoprite grocery stores with photos of Simantov-Linkov. Emergency response teams from Brooklyn, the Village of Kiryas Joel Fire Department, state and local police are looking for the boy.



Saturday, October 22, 2011

NY may close bus service that makes women sit in back 

The Private Transportation Corp, which operates the city's public B110 bus under a franchise arrangement, has come under criticism following publicity about its practice of making women give up their seats in the front to promote Hasidic customs of gender separation.

New York City's Department of Transportation spokesman Scott Gastel said the agency's executive director Anne Koenig has asked the company to respond to the allegations and was waiting to hear back.

"Please be advised that a practice of requiring women to ride in the back ... would constitute a direct violation of your franchise agreement and may lead to termination of that agreement," Koenig wrote.

If such a violation is found, the franchise could be revoked, the DOT said in a statement.

The Private Transportation Corp declined comment.

The B110 bus runs through the sections of the borough of Brooklyn that are heavily populated by Orthodox Jews.

A student reporter at Columbia University in New York published a story about a woman told by other riders to give up her seat in the front. Other news organizations then sent reporters who encountered similar situations.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference on Wednesday that gender separation is "obviously not permitted" on public buses.

The DOT said the public bus has been franchised to Private Transportation Corp since 1973 and is not subsidized by city money. No exemptions have been granted to the company to comply with the city's anti-discrimination standards, it said.

Deborah Lauter, director of Civil Rights for the Anti-Defamation League, said in an e-mail to Reuters: "We oppose the practice of gender-segregation on public buses as discriminatory and unlawful. If a community feels it needs gender-segregated buses, then they should not involve the city."



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Women Riding Brooklyn's B110 Bus Told To Sit In The Back 

In many ways, the B110 bus that connects South Williamsburg and Borough Park seems like any other bus. It has a route number and blue bus stop signs like any other city bus, and it's open to the public. But the B110 is operated by a private company, Private Transportation Corporation, which pays the city for the right to provide a public service. And reporter Sasha Chavkin finds that on this bus—which caters to a predominately Orthodox Jewish ridership—special rules apply. Namely, women get the Rosa Parks treatment.

Chavkin recently asked an acquaintance to ride the B110 recently and found that female passengers are asked to sit in the back. Her canary in the Hasidic coalmine encountered a bus full with "Orthodox Jews with full beards, sidecurls and long black coats, who told her that she was riding 'a private bus' and 'a Jewish bus.'" When she asked why she had to move, a man scolded her, explaining, "If God makes a rule, you don’t ask ‘Why make the rule?" Also, HaShem is everywhere, even on the B110, and are you going to make Him walk all the way to the back! (By the way, did you ever hear the one about the Goy's teeth?)

A female Post reporter had a similar experience when she sat in the front of the B110, where signs written in Hebrew and English also direct women to use the back door during busy times. DOT spokesman Seth Solomnow tells us, "This bus route is operated pursuant to a franchise which was publicly and competitively solicited. There is no cost to the city for the maintenance or operation of this unsubsidized service, operated by Private Transportation, which is available for public use.

"The franchisee is required to comply with all applicable laws and is prohibited from discriminating in the provision of the bus service on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, handicap, marital status, or real or perceived sexual orientation. No exception from compliance with these requirements has been granted in this case." Below, you can see the letter the DOT has fired off to Private Transportation about the matter.

B110 Letter



Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Child Sustains Head Injury After Allegedly Jumping Off Kiddie Ride On Coney Island 

An ambulance was called to the Deno's Wonder Wheel amusement park around 4 p.m. today after a small child was injured on a kiddie ride. The extent of the child's injuries are unclear; the FDNY and NYPD would not comment on the incident, but one initial report said that the child had "serious head injuries" with multiple fractures. Dennis Vourderis, the park's owner, downplayed the incident when we called the park for more.
"All I can tell you is a small child, maybe 2-3 years old, jumped off one of the kiddie rides," Vourderis tells us. "He panicked and jumped out of a ride called the Pony Carts, which has been in the park for decades. It's nothing serious; he cut his head but he's going to be okay." Vouerderis did not know what hospital the child was taken to, but he did say that the injured toddler was visiting with a group of Orthodox Jews enjoying the park during the Sukkoth holiday. We'll update when we know more.


Monday, October 17, 2011

In air, land and sea: Portable sukkot 

Chabad youth have installed traditional temporary huts on dozens of off-road vehicles which will travel across Israel throughout the holiday of Sukkot and serve hikers and IDF soldiers in places where there are no permanent sukkot.

Some 50 vehicles have been rented by the Hasidic movement for the holiday operation. The cars will also carry decorations, sets of the Four Species, pamphlets with information on the holiday and a sound system for Hasidic music.

The s'cach, which covers the sukkah, will be kept folded throughout the journey so that it doesn't blow in the wind, and will be taken out on every stop.

n addition, as it does every year, the organization is setting up many 'Fellowship Sukkot" in city center, hospitals, absorption centers and even prisons, in order to allow everyone interested in observing the holiday mitzvoth to do so.

Around the world in a temporary flat

And what is happening around the world? The Chabad House in Venice has set up a sukkah on a boat sailing in a local canal, between hundreds of gondolas, in order to help Jewish tourists observe the mitzvah.

In Nepal a sukkah has been built on a rickshaw, in New York dozens of Chabad sukkot have been placed in strategic sites, including Wall Street and opposite the United Nations building.

In Paris you'll find a temporary hut at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, in Strasbourg – outside the European Parliament building, and in Nepal – in the Thamel tourist district.

"The sukkah and Four Species mitzvot are important commandments, which are especially relevant these days," explains Chabad Youth Chairman Rabbi Yosef Aharonov.

"Israel's split society, which is crying out for social justice and equality between all citizens, can learn a thing or two from this week in which we all live in a temporary flat and prove that the etrog (citron) is as important as the aravah (willow branch)."

"In order to reach as many people as possible with these messages, we are using jeeps and off-road vehicles which will allow us to reach places where setting up a permanent sukkah is impossible."



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Hasidic Group Warns Of Increased Pedophilia Risk Now That Gays Can Marry 

Now that homosexuals can get married in New York, pedophilia is on the rise, says a fringe Hasidic group in Brooklyn that's launching an "awareness campaign" to save the children from gay married molesters. The Hasidic watchdog blog Failed Messiah, which recently broke news about a series of Yiddish street signs telling women to step aside for men, reports that the group wants signs put up in all-male mikvehs warning of the dangers.

In a press release announcing the free signs, the group, vaguely dubbed the Jewish Political Action Committee [JPAC], asserts that "since the gay marriage bill in New York was introduced, there has been a surge of gay attacks against youngsters in New York." Of course, you won't hear about it in the mainstream media... or any media for that matter, because these gay marriage-fueled attacks have only happened in the twisted minds of whoever's producing these signs. Nevertheless, the blogger behind Failed Messiah gamely tries to reason with the group, G-d bless his little heart.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Toronto ‘rabbi’ arrested for immigration fraud in U.S. 

A former lawyer who calls himself a rabbi was arrested in Toronto and faces extradition to the United States where authorities allege he ran a massive immigration fraud scheme.

For years, the man who goes by the name Rabbi Avraham David, 47, lived the life of a rabbi, writing scholarly articles and a book on Torah and indulging his passion in gematria, or Hebrew numerology. In online postings, he said he was descended from a Hasidic dynasty. He became involved in a downtown Toronto Orthodox congregation.

But authorities in the United States contend the man, whose real name is Earl Seth David, had for 15 years run a multimillion-dollar operation that provided fake papers for thousands of undocumented immigrants. He was arrested in Toronto on Oct. 11.

A Canadian citizen, David passed the U.S. bar in 1988 and practiced law in New York until he was suspended in 2004. He fled to Canada two years later.

Together with 26 other people, he is accused of operating a scheme through his Manhattan law practice. For fees of up to $30,000, clients were allegedly supplied with fake documentation stating they had been sponsored by U.S. employers to help them immigrate to the United States and secure legal status, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.

His license to practice law was suspended as a result of an unrelated incident some 12 years earlier. According to court documents, David was peripherally involved in a stock manipulation and money-laundering scheme in which he cooperated with authorities and was not charged.



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chag Sameach 


1st Sukkah in Times Square Announced 

Stonehenge Partners, an owner and operator of luxury apartment buildings in New York City, announced today that it will build the first Sukkah in the Times Square
district, titled Sukkah in the City, for the upcoming Jewish holiday. This Sukkah will be located in the Ritz Plaza Firefighter's Memorial
Park at 235 West 48th Street, between 8th Avenue and Broadway and adjacent to its luxury rental apartment building, The Ritz Plaza. It will be open to the public daily from 10:00AM to 8:00PM. During these hours, members of the community are welcome to bring their meals and eat in the Sukkah. In addition, Chabad Lubavitch of Midtown will have volunteers on site to welcome and inform the public about the meaning of the Sukkah and the Estrog and Lulav connection.

The unique façade of Stonehenge's Sukkah, which features giant sized sunflowers, lady bugs, and blue sky, takes its inspiration from the Sukkah City erected last year in Union Square. Stonehenge also recognizes that the changing season is an opportunity to reconnect with our agricultural past, to reflect on a time of impermanence, and to celebrate Manhattan, and specifically Times Square, as a crossroad of culture.

"In the tradition of the Bryant Park Sukkah and synagogues throughout the city, Stonehenge is honored to open the first annual Sukkah in the heart of it all, Times Square," states Stonehenge Creative Director, Michael Stern. "The most important part of the Sukkot observation is warm hospitality, and Stonehenge is pleased to host New Yorkers under the branches of our Sukkah and our rooftops within the city's skyline."About Stonehenge Partners Founded in the early 1990's by Ofer Yardeni and Joel Seiden, Stonehenge Partners is a fully integrated real estate company based in New York. The firm which has 55 employees is primarily invested in Manhattan multifamily real estate. Stonehenge, together with its investment partners, currently owns and manages a real estate portfolio valued at nearly $1.8 billion. The portfolio is comprised of 19 properties representing approximately 3.2 million square feet, including 2,560 residential apartment units,
office, retail and garage space.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

City workers remove Yiddish signs directing women to move aside for men in Hasid neighborhood 

City workers have removed signs warning women in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn to step aside for men.
But the Parks Department says the teardowns in South Williamsburg had nothing to do with the message itself; it's just illegal to post signs on street trees.
"We do not know who put up the signs," said Parks spokeswoman Trish Bertuccio.
The large signs started popping up in the neighborhood more than a week ago. They had a Yiddish message that translates as: "Precious Jewish daughter, please move to the side when a man approaches."
Neighborhood residents were annoyed the plastic signs, which were bolted into the wood, were taken away.
"The signs don't bother anybody," said Abraham Klein, 18. "Men and ladies don't go together. It's just our religion."
Faye Grwnfeld, 70, said the signs were "a private thing" - even though they were posted on public property.
"It's taking away freedom of speech," she said.
The signs didn't indicate who put them up, but talk in the neighborhood suggested they were posted by a hard-line rabbinical group.
Deborah Feldman, an ex-Hasid and author of "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots," said no one in the neighborhood, where she once lived, would have been surprised by the signs.
"This is standard practice in Hasidic communities all over: Step aside when a man is approaching you from the opposite direction," she said.
She said the signs likely were posted as part of a crackdown on rebellious behavior by women.
"It's a way of the community reminding people to stay in line, so to speak," she said.
Feldman noted that similar signs can be seen in Hasidic strongholds like upstate Kiryas Joel and New Square - and they didn't make the papers like the ones in Williamsburg did.
"This is nothing new. It's getting attention because it's Brooklyn, and Williamsburg is no longer an isolated bubble," she said.


Two arrested in Sullivan for steal copper from Hasidic community 

State Police have arrested two people on charges that they stole copper from a Hasidic residential community in Bethel.
William Lewis, 26, and Katherine Young, 31, both of Mongaup Valley, are each charged with felony second-degree burglary and misdemeanor charges of criminal possession of burglar's tools, criminal mischief, petit larceny and second-degree criminal trespass.
Police were alerted to the theft by a caretaker at the community, who saw the suspects on the premises stealing the copper. They fled the scene with the witness following in his own car.
Police located the car with Lewis and Young in Middletown where they were stopped and arrested.  They were arraigned and remanded to the Sullivan County Jail in lieu of $15,000 bail each. 


Monday, October 10, 2011

Libya Remains ‘Judenrein’ 

It is just another sign that the Arab Spring is turning into an autumn of Muslim religious persecution. While the world media is currently focused on the latest Christian murders at a demonstration in Cairo, a much smaller, but equally telling, incident of religious intolerance played itself out in Libya today.

David Gerbi, a Libyan Jew who fled his country for Italy in 1967 to escape the recently deposed Muammar Gaddafi’s persecution, was forced to leave Libya again Tuesday after unsuccessfully attempting to reopen the Dar Bishi Synagogue in Tripoli. Dar Bishi, closed 41 years ago, was to be Libya’s first functioning synagogue in decades. In an indication of the devastation visited on Libya’s Jewish community, in 1941 there were 44 synagogues in Tripoli alone and Jews formed 25 percent of the city’s population.

Gerbi’s desire to re-establish the more than 2,000-year-old Jewish presence in his native land ended in failure when several hundred angry protesters showed up last Thursday to oppose his initial efforts to clean out the abandoned building for prayer. Granted official permission, he broke down the synagogue’s bricked-up entrance.

But a peaceful protest wasn’t sufficient for the citizens of the “new” Libya. Holding signs that read, “There is no place for Jews in Libya” and “We don’t have a place for Zionism,” the demonstrators also demanded Gerbi’s expulsion from the country and tried to storm his Tripoli hotel. After speaking with Libyan and Italian authorities, Gerbi agreed to leave the country “to ease the tensions.”

“This incident has served to expose the dangerous reality simmering beneath the surface,” Gerbi noted. “I want to contribute to, not obstruct, the building of a new, democratic and pluralistic Libya. It is sad and absurd that my mere presence in Libya should set off so much hostility and I regret this.”

The fact some of the protesters’ signs were in Hebrew, and a demonstration against the synagogue re-opening also took place in Benghazi indicates the hostility Gerbi “set off” was not necessarily spontaneous or entirely local. Most likely the product of Islamist forces with international connections, the anti-Semitic protesters may also have wanted Gerbi expelled from the country because he is seeking the position as the rebel National Transition Council’s (NTC) representative for Libyan Jewry.

There had been a thriving Jewish presence in Libya for 2,300 years. When Libya became an Italian colony in 1911, Jews lived mostly in Tripoli and Benghazi. Italian occupation was a fairly positive experience for Libya’s Jews until Italy’s fascist regime grew more anti-Semitic in the 1930s. And as the anti-Semitism intensified, “anti-Jewish incidents increased in Libya” and Rome “privileged Libya’s Arabs over its Jews.” Worse, however, was yet to come.

“As the Axis solidified in the late 1930s, Rome imposed anti-Semitic race laws on both Italy and Libya,” writes Michael Rubin in a review of Maurice Roumani’s book, The Jews of Libya. “Libyan Jews were interned in local labor camps, deported, and, in some cases, transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.”

During the war, German troops also plundered the Jewish quarter in Benghazi and deported more than 2,000 Jews, including women and children, across the desert to an Italian work camp in western Libya that Gerbi visited. Gerbi “sat shiva” for the 600 prisoners who died there during a typhoid epidemic and visited the cemetery where they are now buried.



Sunday, October 09, 2011

Rabbi's Sadness As Shul Is Put Up For Sale 

A Jewish community has reluctantly put its city centre synagogue up for sale.

The Highfields Street home of Leicester's orthodox Hebrew community was put on the market after the dwindling numbers of worshippers meant less money for the building's upkeep.

Rabbi Shmuli Pink, who leads a small congregation in prayer four times a week, said the sale was needed to ensure the future of Leicester's Jewish residents.

He said: "It's sad to part with the synagogue, but it's the people which make the community, not the building.

"We've had to re-evaluate and plan for the future.

"The reason for the sale is the changing demographic and the building is just too big for us at the minute.

"Young Jewish men and women are gravitating towards places like London and Manchester, and away from Leicester, and there aren't enough new members coming in to fill the deficit."

There are about 600 orthodox Jews in Leicestershire. At its height, the community numbered in the thousands after many refugees came to the city after the Second World War. However, the community soon went into decline and now just a handful regularly attend the synagogue.

They are now looking for a place of worship in Oadby.

Rabbi Pink said: "To be honest a move has been on the cards for about 40 years.

"But it's only now that it's got to the stage where we're actually looking at selling.

"We're looking for another community who can use the building for worship. It's beautifully refurbished and a tremendous opportunity."

Rabbi Pink, who has been in charge at the synagogue for 10 years, hopes the building's future owners will also buy the nearby community centre, which stands just a few yards away, in Tichbourne Street.

So far six people, including representatives from the Muslim and Sikh communities, have been to visit the listed building and large community venue. The property's agent, Innes England, describes the building as being "suitable for alternative faiths and uses".

Rabbi Pink said he welcomed interest from members of all faith communities.

The two storey synagogue, on the market for £275,000, was built in 1898. The community centre was built in 1950.

It is the only orthodox Jewish synagogue in Leicestershire.



Saturday, October 08, 2011

A New Space for Women in Crown Heights 

In a Hasidic community, where ritual life is separate for men and for women, there is lots of ‘women’s space,’ like their section at synagogue and at the mikvah. But recently there has been a new kind of space for women, one created by Bronya Shaffer. Bronya, a life-long adherent of the Lubavitcher rebbe and his teachings, is a renown teacher of brides-to-be and counselor to couples. I am lucky to be able to also call her my friend.

On the second night of Rosh Hashana this year she had a holiday meal dinner party bringing together an ever-changing group of her friends who are single. They range in age from their 40s to their 90s. Some are divorced or widowed, while others haven’t married. Some are frum (Orthodox) from birth, while others are ba’alei teshuva, or people who adopted observant life but weren’t raised that way. Some are professionals, others artists.

They are as eclectic a group as Bronya’s entire circle. She began the holiday meals in 2008, about a year after her husband, Gedalia, was killed by a drunk driver.

They had been married 38 years, and together had created a traditional home where they raised their 10 children and welcomed a steady stream of visitors from all over the world who came to both of them for advice and counsel on a wide range of matters. Holidays were celebrated the way they usually are in a religious home, with Gedalia leading the ritual aspects for his family. Well, maybe they were a little more interesting at the Shaffers’, where discussion would range from Hasidic thought to science and art and world affairs.

Passover in 2007 came just a few weeks after his death, and Bronya and their children went to her brother’s house. But after a lifetime of hosting seders, it just didn’t feel quite right to be someone else’s (even a family member’s) guest. The following year, as the holiday approached, they considered their options.

“We discussed what are we going to do? It’s never going to be like it was. Now what do we do? What we didn’t want to do is just be someplace.”

She encouraged her married children to go to their in-laws for the seders or to run their own Chabad community seders. Her unmarried children went to different Lubavitch emissaries to assist leading community seders.

Bronya herself stayed home and invited some of her single friends over. When they asked, “who is going to lead, how will we do it?” Shaffer told them “we all will, we’ll figure it out.” Aside from the requisite ritual, “there were no rules,” she said. “it was a regular, traditional seder, but was adult-focused, decidedly not child-centered.”

When the evening came, Bronya took out the array of a dozen or so different haggadahs Gedalia had always spread before him at the seder table. For the first part of the evening, the women sat around small tables in her living room, reclining. Comfort was important. “I said, ‘No high heels allowed!’”

After the 3rd cup of wine, someone cracked an irreverent joke “and that was it,” Shaffer said. “At first I thought ‘I can’t let this happen!’ Then I saw just so much relief and release. We did everything we had to do, but after that I just let it go, the vibe would be what it would be.”

When Shavout came, seven weeks later, she gathered more of her friends together for an evening of learning. “Women were teaching and just connecting in a very deep and spiritual way to the things we were talking about.”

And suddenly, Bronya saw that this new space for women was a rare and precious thing, for her friends but also for her.

“All of my adult life, when we had guests, my husband and I were the hosts here, it was our home. It’s the first time in my life that I invited people to my home as a single woman. Part of the bond is that we’re all single Jewish women. I was never there before,” she said.

One of her guests later sent her a note saying, “I’ve loved being in so many different homes and families since I moved to Crown Heights, but [at Bronya’s] there was an experience of individuality that was so refreshing for me…in the company of only women, without any kind of ‘political’ statement to make for the whole world to pay attention…an atmosphere that was always the most pleasant and welcoming and warm in your family, and being in that same atmosphere when it’s only you as an individual, not as the wife and mother of the home……you an individual and me an individual and each one of us…an environment that was feminine and encouraging… women friends around the table talking about everything and anything…the seuda completed by a women’s mezuman [grace after meals] (a first for me, just like it was a first or you)….How did I feel? I felt open and at ease, comfortable in my surroundings and comfortable to be me…not about bashing anything, but about a group of friends having a yom tov meal together.”

For Bronya, creating these holiday meal gatherings has been transformative, helping her move from the sudden end of a vital chapter in her life to the next. This chapter is different, and not something she had ever hoped for, but something she continues to make a rich experience nonetheless.

“I wish this weren’t unusual, for women in all communities to feel free to celebrate yom tov in ways most satisfying to them. Jewish life is so family centered, but that’s not always the reality for people. True Yiddishkeit is about an individual and God.”

The day before Yom Kippur begins, she realizes she hasn’t yet done all the inviting for the Sukkot seudah she wants to host. It is sure to be another intimate evening of friendship, spirituality and fun. And at least for the moment, like no other women’s space in Crown Heights.



Friday, October 07, 2011

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


Thursday, October 06, 2011

Jewish sect girls ordered back to Israel 

It is an enclave of ultra-Orthodoxy in the midst of the Laurentian mountains of Quebec, and its family practices have sparked an international tug-of-war with Israel.

Lev Tahor, a community of religious Jews on the edge of the forest north of Montreal, has carried on largely away from the glare of public scrutiny for years. Women and even little girls dress head to toe in chador-like veils and marry as young as the age of 16. Residents have limited contact with outsiders.

But now the Hasidic sect in Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts has become the focus of attention since two teenaged girls headed here were stopped by Canadian authorities and sent back home.

The girls, aged 15 and 13, were forcibly detained by Canadian immigration officials in Montreal and returned to Israel apparently under order of an Israeli court.

The girls’ great-uncle had petitioned for the writ out of concern that the girls would be harmed by the group in Canada, that their property would be taken, and that they could be forced to wed male members of the Lev Tahor sect. In Israel, the sect is sometimes called the Jewish Taliban because of the way the women dress.

The spiritual leader of Lev Tahor in Canada, Rabbi Shlomo Elbarnes, opened his study to a journalist on Wednesday to deny that he is coercing anyone to come to his community. He insisted anyone is free to leave.

“Use force? We want everybody who is not 100 per cent happy ... to leave us,” Mr. Elbarnes said in an interview on Wednesday in the book-lined room, about 100 kilometres north of Montreal.

He said girls typically marry as teenagers, and partners are “suggested” for them. But he said marriages are not forced. “The women here choose of their own will.”

Mr. Elbarnes was convicted in 1994 by a U.S. court of kidnapping a 13-year-old boy studying with him; he fled to Canada in 2001 on a temporary visa and later obtained refugee status. He eventually brought followers of his anti-Zionist sect to the Laurentians, and the group in Sainte-Agathe has grown to about 50 families.

The goal is to recreate strict religious observance in an “old-fashioned” way of life, he said. “It is necessary to keep our traditions.”

Girls and women walk amid the partly unpaved roads and modest homes in flowing black robes, with head scarves tied tightly under their necks and capes covering long dresses. Only the women’s faces and hands are visible.

Two years ago, the woman leader of the sect in Israel, Bruria Keren, was convicted of severely abusing her mentally-retarded son and sentenced to four years in prison.

When social welfare agents accompanied by police arrived to take the child away, a small riot broke out in the community.

A majority of Beit Shemesh’s 72,000 people are ultra-Orthodox Jews from a variety of Hasidic sects. Lev Tahor is one of the most extreme.

While Hasidic men, noted for their curled sidelocks, dress in black suits and formal black hats, and Hasidic women wear black head scarves, black skirts, black stockings and black shawls over white and grey tops, in Israel the women of Lev Tahor are dressed totally in black, including their faces.

The group believes that the sight of women may excite men into sinning and the responsibility for preventing such sins rests with the women.

Even in Israel, where almost everyone wears black, the “Taliban women,” as they are called, stand out. They are not popular.

“One of the families lived in this building,” said Yitzhak Frankel, a real estate agent. “I’m glad they moved out.”

“Nobody here liked them; the rabbi was very opposed to what they were doing,” he said. “They’re not normal.”

Much of the criticism of the group focuses on the women’s dress, described by most people here as being Islamic-style. However, a booklet distributed by the group argues that Jewish women were covered in this way long before Muslim women. “They copied it from us,” the literature says.

Israeli Judge Rivka Makayes found “there is some defect in the parents’ perception of ways of life,” and ordered that the girls be returned to Israel.

The writ, the judge said, would remain in effect until an Israeli family court holds a hearing next week to determine whether the extremely pious lifestyle practised by the parents involves such a defect and whether the court should intervene in the affairs of the children.

The judgment of the court could have implications for other members of the sect, most of whose 300 or so members live in Beit Shemesh, about 40 minutes west of Jerusalem, not far from where David is believed to have fought Goliath.

If the court rules the lifestyle is illegal or inappropriate, social welfare agencies would be empowered to remove children in the Lev Tahor community from their parents’ care.



Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Yiddish Signs Order Women In Williamsburg To Step Aside When Men Pass 

A series of colorful street signs directed at women walking on Bedford Avenue are creating controversy in the predominantly Orthodox Hasidic neighborhood of South Williamsburg. Now, it's been a while since we brushed up on our Yiddish, but we think the signs roughly translate to, "Move, bitch, get out the way." Or, as the blog Failed Messiah translates it, "Precious Jewish Daughter: Please move to the side when a man approaches!"

It's unclear exactly where in South Williamsburg the signs appear, but a tipster tells the blog that the signs "are bolted to publicly owned trees along Bedford Avenue." Of course, this isn't the first time the local Satmar community has posted their own signage—you'll recall that at the height of the great Williamsburg bike lane wars, someone erected an unauthorized detour sign on Kent Avenue instructing drivers to head one block east to avoid delays caused by Hasidic school bus drivers blocking traffic to protest the contentious Kent Avenue bike lane.



Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Wigging Out Over the Sheitel Business 

On Rosh Hashanah, Jewish liturgy tells us that we can avert the evil decree in the coming year through tefillah, teshuvah u'tzedakah (prayer, repentance and charity). However, after reading a recent article in the New York Post, I was left to wonder how some Orthodox women have any money left for tzedakah after they spend up to $1,600 a pop to have their wigs cut and styled.
The story, "Wigging Out," is an account of how several of New York's biggest name hair stylists are increasingly catering to sheitel-wearers.
I have never completely understood the whole business of married Jewish women wearing wigs to cover their natural hair, especially when the wigs far more attractive than one's own hair. And now I understand it even less, as I am learning how expensive the whole business is. And it is indeed a business.
To find out more about why sheitels and their upkeep cost so much, I turned to a Canadian high-end wigmaker I met recently. Isadore Sternhill started her Toronto-based company, FeatherLite Hair Systems, about five years ago after, "the first time I bought a wig, it turned into matted, tangled dreadlocks as soon as I washed it." Upon realizing that she had just blown $2,700 on an un-wearable sheitel, Sternhill pulled it apart herself to see what the problem was. She determined that while the wig's construction was good, its hair quality was bad.
Sternhill learned everything she could about wigs and started FeatherLite, which makes well-constructed wigs only out of "virgin" hair. Virgin hair is untouched and undamaged by the chemical processes usually used to dye and unify the texture of hair.
Sternhill buys hair from all over the world. "Believe me, when people refer [like in the Post article] to European hair wigs, the hair is almost never really from Europe. It's not like some Italian woman is walking around with a shorter ponytail, having given hair for your wig."
Sternhill deals with different virgin hair collectors in obscure corners of the earth via the Internet. She painstakingly combines strands from different ponytails (it usually takes about seven to make a single wig) to create specific colors and shades. Sternhill then sends the hair to a factory in China to construct the wigs.
FeatherLite does both wholesale and retail business, making and selling "a few hundred" wigs and hair pieces a year. Most of her clients are from the U.S., the U.K. and France, and only half are Jewish women seeking natural-looking sheitels. Other clients have lost their hair to cancer treatment or alopecia.
Her wigs cost from $1,250 to $4,500 depending on length and how customized they are. Harder-to-get hair colors and textures, "Like carrot-red
curly hair, which a lot of women seem to want these days" cost a buyer more.
When I told her that I can't understand how wearing a beautiful wig that makes you even more physically attractive than your own hair fits with the notion of sexual tznius (modesty), she used an analogy. She likened a Jewish woman to the Torah and holy ark in a synagogue. "The Torah is adorned in beauty. When you see it, you are in awe of it, but you don't want to steal it. It's the same with a woman wearing a beautiful sheitel." As for the possibility that a man could be turned on by such lovely hair, she said, "You can take any ideal and pervert it."
Sternhill recommends that a woman own three wigs or hairpieces (like a band fall). She takes issue, however, with the extravagant amounts of money the women in the Post article pay for upkeep, cutting and styling of their wigs. She says that women can have their wigs taken care of by her or others she recommends for $45 per wash and set. She only guarantees her wigs if a client uses a recommended *sheitel macher * who knows how to deal with virgin hair wigs.
This peek into the world of sheitel making and wearing was edifying, but I am still left thinking about something Sternhill said.
Sternhill understands women's wanting to "look natural, to look like themselves, like they have hair" because it was extremely hard for her to cover her own hair when she got married.
So then why spend tens of thousands of dollars to wear someone else's hair?
How about being grateful for your good health and covering your hair with a modest hat or scarf and giving that money to tzedakah, for cancer or alopecia research, for instance.



Monday, October 03, 2011

El Al to Hasidim: Don't smoke on plane 

The El Al rabbi this week issued a leaflet with strict instructions to Hasidic pilgrims flying to Ukraine for the High Holidays, following passengers' inappropriate behavior on the airline's planes in recent years – including smoking, refusing to put on their safety belts and destroying equipment.

Some 22,000 Hasidim have embarked on the pilgrimage to Rabbi Nachman's grave in the city of Uman on 120 different flights operated by Israeli and foreign airlines.

El Al's chief purser issued his own memo to the air crews, reminding them to thoroughly examine the credit cards used by the Hasidic pilgrims, not to leave their bags in the luggage compartments and to lock their cellular phones in the cockpit to avoid theft, which is said to be common on these flights.

In his appeal to the Breslov Hasidim, Rabbi Yohanan Hayut, director of El Al's religious services division, notes that the company is glad to have them on its plane and asks them to obey the air crew's safety instructions in order to allow an enjoyable flight for everyone.

The rabbi clarifies that passengers must not change seats during the flight, "protect the plane's property and avoid damaging or destroying it," and that smoking in or near the plane is strictly forbidden.

"Smoking anywhere in the plane, including the lavatory, is extremely dangerous. Anyone who fails to obey this order will be punished accordingly."

Rabbi Hayut provided details on the kosher food served on the plane, and noted that any movie screened during the flight will be a nature film examined by a rabbis' committee, without any sight or voice of a woman.

Special Duty Free for haredim

El Al's chief purser, Nimrod Demajo, noted in his memo that a special Duty Free booklet had been issued for the flights to Uman, with 40 products known to be popular among ultra-Orthodox passengers.

"Please pay attention," Demajo wrote. "El Al flights are known as flights in which many attempts are made to use fake credit cards, so make sure that the money is collected according to procedures."

A senior El Al crewmember told Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday that every single steward tries to avoid serving on flights to Uman, which include male flight attendants only.

"People have no respect for the property and crew. They smoke freely during the flight and walk up and down the plane even when it's forbidden. For many of them it's the first time they fly, and they don't know how to behave on a plane. In some incidents, they even got into real brawls with the crew."

Monday saw flights to Uman, through Odessa or Kiev, delayed by two to 13 hours. A source in one of the airlines explained that many of the passengers get held up at the Duty Free stores, ignoring calls to board the plane and causing delays in departure.



Sunday, October 02, 2011

High Holidays In Afghanistan With Chabad 

Rabbi Jacob Goldstein will lead Yom Kippur services this year dressed not in the black fedora of his Lubavitch Hasidic sect, but in full battle gear at a Combat Operating Base in eastern Afghanistan. He makes up part of the crew of four military rabbis who will be helping Jews serving in Afghanistan to observe the High Holy Days, which began with Rosh Hashanah on the evening of September 28.

Nearly 100,000 American troops are currently stationed in Afghanistan. The number of Jewish service members is unknown, though at least 37 Jews have died there and in Iraq since 2001.

Interviewed on September 27, Goldstein said he expect about 30 participants at the Rosh Hashanah services he will hold at a base near Pakistan. Meanwhile, a Modern Orthodox rabbi and Army chaplain named Avi Weiss will hold High Holy Day services in northern Afghanistan.

Services in a combat zone aren’t quite the same as those back in the United States.

The rabbis come from different denominations, and their military services bear their own imprint. Goldstein’s services will feature a mechitzah, a divider separating men from women, and will follow a prayer book used by the Lubavitch community. Only men will be called to the Torah. Goldstein said that these practices had caused “no issues” in the past.

Goldstein will be doing some traveling. After Rosh Hashanah, the Lubavitch rabbi was planning to go with his bodyguard and assistant, an African-American soldier from Louisiana, to Combat Operating Bases and Forward Operating Bases in the midst of Afghanistan’s combat zones.

“I will be conducting the services in full body armor, full battle gear, which means helmet and full body protection,” Goldstein said. “That’s the way you live in a COB or an FOB. That’s not Crown Heights, right?”

Even in the relative safety of the larger bases, Goldstein said, he wears his army uniform rather than the typical Lubavitch hat and coat. A friend of his wife knit him a camouflage-patterned gartel, the belt Hasidic Jews wear while praying, which he brought along.

Goldstein, a colonel, has been an Army chaplain since 1976. His first deployment was to Granada in 1983. Just like the Lubavitchers who fill the streets of New York, Goldstein offers to help the men stationed at the Forward Operating Bases he visits to put on tefillin, and offers Sabbath candles to the women.

Meanwhile, in Kabul on Yom Kippur, soldiers will break the fast with fare that would appeal to the heart and stomach of any Ashkenazi.



Saturday, October 01, 2011

Hasidic Jewish pilgrim drowns in Ukraine 

After prayer a group of Hasidic pilgrims went to immerse themselves in a lake in the central Ukrainian town of Uman, the location of a famed annual pilgrimage, the deputy head of the Uman district administration said.

"One of them died, his relatives pulled him out of the water, he was already gone," Petro Payevsky told AFP, noting the lake was not suitable for ritual bathing considered important for all Hasidic men.

Each autumn thousands of Hasidic pilgrims flock to Uman which is famous as the burial place of Rabbi Nachman of BreslovRa, a venerated 18th century rabbi and a key figure in the Hasidic branch of Orthodox Judaism, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Some 26,000 people, many of them from Israel, arrived in Uman this year, the Jewish community said. Officials would not comment on the nationality of the victim.

Rabbi Nachman, who died in 1810, promised he would save his followers from Hell who came to his grave on the Rosh Hashanah which this year started on Wednesday.



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