Friday, August 31, 2012
Queens polling site changed from church after Jewish concerns
A polling site in a Queens, N.Y., neighborhood has been moved after some Jewish voters raised concerns about violating their religious beliefs by having to enter the building.
Kew Gardens Hills residents will now not have to vote at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church because their voting venue is being switched to the Kew Gardens Hills Library, according to the Times Ledger, a newspaper in Queens.
"It's an issue for certain people that religiously don't feel it's right to ask them to vote in a church," state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Queens) told the newspaper.
He has been helping the city Board of Elections identify alternate polling places.
The area's previous polling place can no longer be used because the U.S. Justice Department said it was not handicap-accessible, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Report: Policemen look on as Vienna rabbi is insulted by soccer fans
Soccer fans have insulted Vienna community rabbi Shlomo Hofmeister, giving him the 'Hitler salute', the Austrian news platform 'Die Jüdische' reports. Policemen present at the scene did not intervene, despite repeated calls by the rabbi to do so and an Austrian law which bans public support for the Nazis and their policies. Rabbi Hofmeister said he would lodge a complaint with Vienna police.
The incident happened before the return match of Rapid Wien against the Greek team of Paok Saloniki. During the first match in Thessaloniki hast week, supporters of both teams rioted.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Lakewood officials look to resolve controversy over neighborhood school
A house at 1536 Massachusetts Ave. — once a four-bedroom home of a local veterinarian and now an Orthodox Jewish school — is at the center of a controversy.
Purchased in 2002 for $850,000 by Somerset Development Corp., the company received zoning approval in 2008 to include a school on the property. Since then, the house and its barn became an Orthodox school with multiple trailers and an inground pool. Now, the company wants township approval to build a 10,000-square-foot gymnasium on the site.
But some senior citizens living in two nearby gated communities strongly oppose the expansion.
Residents' complaints have included noisy activities at night at the school. The original house was built in 1964 on 6 acres that sits on a peninsula of land abutting the two senior communities of about 3,000 homes.
"We already receive a poor return on our tax dollars," said Bill Hobday, who lives in the Fairways, one of the two senior communities.
Hobday said nearby residents want Lakewood officials to consider an ordinance prohibiting schools next to senior communities. Some seniors also said they want the school to move off Massachusetts Avenue, where heavy traffic on the county road has already claimed the life of one man who was killed near the school last year.
"On Wednesday nights, they line the street with cars," Hobday said. "I don't know what kind of activities they hold, but about 9 p.m. the traffic is horrendous. They make U-turns and it is an accident waiting to happen."
The township posted signs prohibiting those turns.
"They still do it," Hobday said.
Township officials said they are trying to reach a deal by offering a land swap with the school's owner to appease the school's students and the nearby senior citizens.
In an Aug. 20 letter sent from the township to the Fairways Homeowners Association, Michael Muscillo, township manager, said the Township Committee is aware of the senior community's concerns and is working to resolve the matter.
The township "will work to facilitate this property exchange request in a timely manner in order to bring about the best possible use of the land," Muscillo wrote.
However, a land swap would require the property owner of the Mikor Hatorah school to withdraw its application to the township's Planning Board for the gymnasium, he said.
School officials could not be reached for comment.
Something has to be done, said Richard McGowan, who regularly visits family in the Fairways.
"It is unsightly in a residential area," McGowan said. "It is out of sorts. You go from what is set up here with proper roads and fences and then you have a basic eyesore of a house with trailers and a barn."
NYC man gets 40 years to life in prison for kidnapping, dismemberment of 8-year-old boy
A hardware store clerk was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to kidnapping, killing and dismembering a lost little boy, bringing an end to a gruesome crime that horrified a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.
Levi Aron had pleaded guilty this month to lesser charges in a deal that spared him a criminal trial and the possibility of life in prison without parole. When asked Wednesday if he wanted to speak at his sentencing hearing, the 37-year old whispered "no." He will be eligible for parole in 40 years.
Aron wore a black yarmulke, bushy beard and orange prison jumpsuit, and kept his head down and eyes closed for much of the hearing. His attorneys said Aron suffered a head injury as a child that went untreated.
"As a child and a young man, he should have been treated for his mental illness," attorney Howard Greenberg said. Outside court, his attorneys said Aron was sorry — but a public apology would ring false.
"He's sorry and he wished he hadn't done it," attorney Pierre Bazile said.
Aron admitted he kidnapped and killed 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky after the boy approached him on a Brooklyn street and asked for directions on July 11, 2011. The boy was Hasidic, an ultra-Orthodox version of Judaism, and the killing shocked the community in Borough Park, a safe and somewhat insular neighborhood home to one of the world's largest communities of Orthodox Jews outside Israel. Aron, who lived nearby, was Orthodox but not Hasidic.
Despite the outpouring of support for the family, there were few people in the courtroom Wednesday. Aron's family did not attend the sentencing, nor did Leiby's family. A prosecutor read a statement from the boy's father, Nachman Kletzky, that said, "God did not abandon our son, nor our family, for one second."
"There is no way one can comprehend or understand the pain of losing a child," he wrote. "Esther and I faced this unspeakable tragedy last year when our little boy Leiby was ruthlessly taken from us. ... A day doesn't pass without our thinking of Leiby — but today we close the door on this one aspect of our tragedy and seek to remember only the gifts that God has bestowed."
The statement was previously read to the news media after Aron's Aug. 9 guilty plea by state assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Borough Park and served as a spokesman for the family. He said Wednesday the family wants to put the killing — and the horiffic details — behind them.
"It changed our community," Hikind said of the killing, speaking outside court. "It affected everyone in our community. All over the world, people understood what it meant, that it could've been their child."
Leiby got lost on his walk home from a religious day camp. It was the first time he was allowed to walk alone, and he was supposed to travel about seven blocks to meet his mother, but missed his turn.
Barely two days later, detectives found the boy's severed feet, wrapped in plastic, in Aron's freezer. A cutting board and three bloody carving knives were found in the refrigerator. The rest of the boy's body was discovered in bags inside a red suitcase in a trash bin about a mile from Aron's apartment. His legs had been cut from his torso.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Man takes joyride in garbage truck, strikes empty school bus, cops say
A drunken 23-year-old New Square man stole a garbage truck early Tuesday morning and rammed into an empty school bus before getting it stuck in front of a house, police said.
Chaim Surkis was arrested shortly after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday and is facing several criminal charges, including grand larceny.
While Ramapo police were investigating a report that a garbage truck had struck the bus in front of 766 N. Main St. (Route 45) in New Square, they received word that the truck was stuck a few miles away on the lawn and driveway of 44 Sandy Brook Drive in neighboring New Hempstead.
The action didn’t end there, police said.
After Surkis was taken into custody, he allegedly tried to kick out the window of the police cruiser.
Ramapo police Detective Lt. Mark Emma said Surkis didn’t offer any explanations for his early morning exploits.
“He didn’t have much to say to us,” Emma told The Journal News.
Surkis was charged with two felonies: second-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of stolen property. He was also charged with a variety of misdemeanors: two counts of fourth-degree criminal mischief, attempted fourth-degree criminal mischief and driving while intoxicated.
This wasn’t Surkis’ first experience with the law.
He had an outstanding arrest warrant in Ramapo for criminal possession of stolen property, identity theft and petit larceny, Emma said. He was also processed on that warrant on Tuesday.
Surkis was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in Ramapo Justice Court. Bail was set at a total of $45,000 — $20,000 for each of the incidents in New Square and New Hempstead, and $5,000 on the previous charges. He was scheduled to be taken to the county jail in New City.
No one was injured during Surkis’ joy ride but about a dozen Hillcrest firefighters helped contain a hydraulic fluid leak from the garbage truck, Hillcrest fire Chief Lloyd Hovelmann said. More than 100 pounds of absorbent material was used to collect the fluid that was seeping out of a 50-gallon storage tank near the house.
Rockland Paramedics and Spring Hill Ambulance also assisted at the scene.
Last December, Surkis’ younger brother, 17-year-old Pinches, was arrested by Ramapo police, accused of robbing two women and trying to sexually abuse one of them. Both of the women were Hispanic and worked as house cleaners.
Civic leaders: Give us a real stoplight at Oriental Boulevard and Ocean Avenue
Oriental Boulevard's pedestrian-activated stoplight at Ocean Avenue is designed to slow down cars, but it's also bringing religious Jews trying to cross the Manhattan Beach thoroughfare to a complete halt on the Sabbath, residents claim.
Manhattan Beach residents say religious Jews who go to synagogue each weekend are forbidden by Jewish law to press the button that would turn the flashing yellow signal to a red light — leaving them with only two options: crossing the street against the light or going four blocks out of their way for a stoplight that turns red at regular intervals.
"There are quite a few religious Jews who live in Manhattan Beach who wouldn't have to desecrate the Sabbath if the light was automatic," said Rabbi Abrohom Winner of the Chabad Lubavitch synagogue in Manhattan Beach, who said that lighting a spark — which also means flipping a switch — is forbidden during the sabbath, according to Jewish law "By turning on a light switch, we're creating a current flow of electricity, which is considered a fire," Rabbi Winner said. "So it's forbidden."
This paper asked the Department of Transportation if the agency considers religious laws, Jewish or otherwise, when deciding what type of street lights are installed in a neighborhood. The Department of Transportation responded, but wouldn't address the issue of religion.
"The Department of Transportation is currently re-evaluating this intersection to see if it meets the criteria for a traffic signal," an agency spokesman said. "That study is expected to be completed next month."
The agency said it has not received any complaints against the pedestrian-activated streetlight since it was installed in 2005. The Department of Transportation also went over the button's operation with community members prior to its installation, but no concerns were raised, according to the Department of Transportation spokesman.
But community leaders dispute the city's claims.
"Saying that this problem has been never discussed is not true," said Community Board 15 chairwoman Teresa Scavo. "We were in the commissioner's office several months ago and it was discussed again."
Scavo says CB15 routinely demand traffic signal studies to see if the intersection warrants a traditional signal. The Board, she said, was led to understand that the flashing light could be removed if residents didn't like it.
"It was supposed to be a test, and if the community didn't think it was good, we were under the impression that it would be turned into a traditional traffic light, but that never happened," Scavo said.
Even local legislators are calling for a traditional red, yellow, and green stoplight at the intersection.
"The city must reexamine the boulevard to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to cross safely, without exception," said Chaim Deutsch, a spokesman for Councilman Michael Nelson (D–Sheepshead Bay). "Having the red light button is crucial for pedestrian safety, but it needs be replaced with a steady signal to allow people of the Jewish faith to travel safely, without having to desecrate the Sabbath."
Yet some say all the fuss is unwarranted since Oriental Boulevard is not Brooklyn's version of Queens Boulevard, where several people have been killed by speeding cars.
"It's not such a busy street," resident Stan Ulis said.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Hitler store in India asked to change name
Members of the Jewish community in Ahmedebad in the west of India have asked the owner of a shop called Hitler to change its name.
The proprietor Rajesh Shah said he intended no offence: “Hitler was a nickname given to my business partner Manish Chandani's grandfather because of his strict nature. Frankly, till the time we applied for the trademark permission, I had only heard that Hitler was a strict man,” the Times of India reported.
Members of the local Magen Abraham synagogue went to meet Mr Shah on Sunday to ask him to change the name. Mr Shah has refused, saying he has spent a lot of money on branding, from registering the business to printing business cards, but would change it if compensated.
The secretary of the synagogue told the India Express that Mr Shah had agreed to change the swastiska on the board in front of his shop to a Hindu swastika.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Chabad Discussed In The New South Wales Parliament
Parliamentary Secretary David Clarke has addressed the NSW State Parliament on the subject of Chabad… its history and purpose.
The Hon. DAVID CLARKE (Parliamentary Secretary) [3.59 p.m.]: It gives me great pleasure to highlight the growing and positive outreach for good of the Jewish faith-based movement Chabad as it continues to set new heights of achievement through its programs of service to the people of New South Wales and, indeed, in many other places throughout the world. The Chabad movement is an energising outreach movement within Judaism that emphasises an understanding and observance of Judaic religious traditions that reach back thousands of years into history. Its late leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was, from all accounts, a man of great charisma and spirituality and revered by many.
A gifted writer and engaging speaker, he inspired those around him and left behind an undeniable and indelible imprint on the worldwide Chabad movement, which he led. He taught that there was no conflict between science and God because all truth emanates from God, who cannot be in conflict with Himself. He emphasised that mankind should seek godliness in their daily lives and in their dealings with each other. He pointed to the seven Noahide laws given by God to Noah as a universal moral code for all mankind. To Rabbi Schneerson our daily lives should be lived with humility, joyfulness and always with a positive approach. He encouraged those who sought his counsel to promote education and charitable and humanitarian programs as a means of practising godliness. This was the vision that he encouraged within Chabad and this was the vision that it wholeheartedly embraced in thought and in deeds. It is a vision that is alive and well today.
As part of that vision Chabad operates a worldwide network of schools and teaching institutions, including here in Sydney. It conducts a multitude of humanitarian and charitable programs and initiatives that are recognised for their effectiveness and pioneering methods. These programs and initiatives reach out not only to those within the Jewish community but also to those in the wider community regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious background. The vision of Rabbi Schneerson that inspired such initiatives also touched and inspired into action a young Chabad married couple in Sydney. Rabbi Dovid Slavin and his wife, Laya, despite a busy life which included the raising of their seven young children, had a vision to use food preparation and its charitable distribution as a means to connect with people in need of a helping hand.
In 2007 they established Our Big Kitchen, now operating as an iconic not-for-profit institution in Sydney and brought to reality in the basement of the Yeshiva Centre of the Chabad community in Bondi. They were joined by a great array of hardworking Chabad members and non-members. Almost everything was donated, not only the labour but also the equipment. Our Big Kitchen does not operate as a conventional soup kitchen where people line up to receive food donations. As Rabbi Slavin said at the beginning, “We want to give people not only meals but empower them to empower others.” That is exactly what happens at Our Big Kitchen. It is a commercial grade multipurpose facility where volunteers engage in food preparation and cooking as well as in cleaning and administration work. Meals are provided to nursing homes and food care packages are donated to the emergency health services and to our Police Force in appreciation of the work they do for the community.
Young mothers suffering postnatal depression or who feel overwhelmed receive assistance through the provision of prepared meals, as do parents who may have lost their jobs or are going through other difficulties and find themselves with their backs to the wall. Senior citizens groups and others organise cooking work days at the kitchen where they prepare meals to raise funds for a wide range of worthy causes. As a means of character formation, local school groups use the kitchen’s facilities to prepare meals for various charitable causes as well. Because the kitchen contains cooking facilities for the disabled, those with disabilities are encouraged to use such facilities as a means of therapy. Our Big Kitchen also operates a successful program of rehabilitation activities for inmates of some of our State’s correctional institutions, with some having gone on to eventual employment in the food services industry as a result of skills acquired whilst working there.
As Rabbi Slavin says, “Our Big Kitchen is there to promote character building, to foster a sense of service to the community and to get to people before they hit rock bottom.” And Rabbi Slavin leads by example. He sets an energising pace and never stops. The oversight of Our Big Kitchen is but one of his humanitarian-centred activities. He serves on the ethics committee of the Cancer Institute. He established and directs Gift of Life, a body that tests people for compatibility as potential bone marrow donors to those suffering from leukaemia. He facilitates donors to the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry run by the Red Cross.
The citizens of our State and the Parliament of New South Wales can be well proud of Our Big Kitchen and the fine work it does. The Governor of the State has praised its good work and the Governor-General of Australia has done likewise. Many members of this Parliament, including the Premier, the Hon. Barry O’Farrell, have observed firsthand its good work and offered praise. I have been privileged to visit Our Big Kitchen on a number of occasions and have seen firsthand its wonderful work. It is a testament to the success of faith-based organisations in providing charitable support to the community. I pay tribute to people such as Rabbi Dovid Slavin and his wife, Laya, and to the volunteers from the Chabad movement and others who put their heart and soul into this enterprise for good. It is an honour for me to be able tonight to record in our Parliament’s Hansard this acknowledgement and thanks for the service they provide.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Merkel: We’re taking circumcision issue very seriously
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday that her government was hard at work trying to find a quick solution to the circumcision controversy raging in her country.
Last week, a criminal complaint was filed against a German rabbi for performing several hundred circumcisions. The charge came in the wake of a recent court decision which held that the rite, if performed for non-medical reasons, could be considered illegal.
“The chancellor considers the safeguarding of the Jewish religion and culture as a special obligation,” an official in Merkel’s office wrote in a letter to Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the CEO of the European Jewish Association, which has been active in trying to overturn the court ruling. “The chancellor is very grateful that Jewish life has again found a place in Germany. Therefore the federal government takes this problem very seriously and is working intently on finding a swift solution for religiously motivated circumcisions. There shall be no doubt that the freedom of religion is a solid part of our democratic society.”
The European Jewish Association was one of many Jewish advocacy groups that protested the complaint filed against Rabbi David Goldberg, the rabbi of the Bavarian town of Hof, and demanded the federal government in Berlin pass a law creating legal clarity for ritual circumcisors.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai and President Shimon Peres wrote to Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck, respectively, calling on German authorities to ensure that Jews can practice their rites in the country without fear of prosecution.
The court decision that prompted the complaint against Goldberg caused a major uproar in Germany’s Jewish and Muslim communities, leading the Bundestag to pass a resolution underlining the right to ritual circumcision. “A medically professional circumcision of boys, which does not cause unnecessary pain,” should be “generally permissible,” the resolution read. All parties but the far-left Die Linke voted in favor of the resolution.
Already on Thursday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made a statement similar to Merkel’s, saying that Berlin must “ensure the possibility to keep Jewish and Muslim traditions without legal non-certainty” and that a clear agreement on the matter should be reached quickly.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Peres: Circumcision 'at core of Jewish identity'
Circumcision is "a Jewish ritual that has been at the core of Jewish identity for thousands of years and defines the Jewish people, from the time of the first commandment given by God to Abraham," he wrote.
"I am therefore confident, Mr President, that Germany, in keeping with its values, will remain committed to conduct their Jewish religious traditions in freedom," Peres said in the letter quoted by his office.
Germany's ethics committee on Thursday supported the practice of religious circumcision but with conditions, a German official said, after a court ruled the practice was tantamount to grievous bodily harm.
The ruling stirred an uproar from religious and political leaders in Israel as well as Muslim countries.
Christiane Woopen, chairwoman of the 26-member committee which advises the government, said the ethics panel had supported a compromise allowing for the rite to be carried out in Germany under certain provisos.
"There must be a green light for circumcision but under the conditions of a full explanation to the parents, the agreement of both parents, the treatment of pain and the expert carrying out the circumcision," she told AFP.
In a ruling published in June, a German court said removal of the foreskin for religious reasons amounted to grievous bodily harm and was therefore illegal. But in July, German MPs adopted a motion urging Berlin to protect religious circumcision.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Baltimore Rabbis Warn Convicted Sex Offender Could be in Area
Leaders of Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community are taking steps to warn residents of the possibility that Rabbi Stanley Levitt, who pleaded guilty last month to molesting three boys in the 1970s in the Boston area, could be moving here.
Levitt, 66, who owns a home in Upper Park Heights, was sentenced to 10 years probation by Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Geraldine Hines.
In addition, Levitt, who also has lived in Philadelphia, was ordered to wear a GPS monitoring device during his probation, along with being forced to comply with the sex offender registry laws of any state in which he resides.
As part of his guilty plea, Levitt admitted to improper physical contact with a boy he visited in the hospital and to two similar incidents that occurred at his Massachusetts home in 1975 and 1976.
Due to Levitt's ties to Baltimore, Suburban Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim Rabbi Shmuel Silber recently sent his congregation an email warning them about Levitt's possible arrival.
"We have an obligation to be vigilant and ensure that the shul remains a safe place for our children …" Rabbi Silber wrote. "If you see Mr. Levitt enter our shul, please notify me or one of the shul officers immediately."
Rabbi Silber's email comes at the same time that Shearith Israel Rabbi Yaakov Hopfer posted a letter with Levitt's picture in his congregation offering similar warnings. The letter has circulated to several other area shuls and has been posted on multiple Jewish websites.
"Stanley (Zusia) Levitt … has faced multiple accusations that he molested young children in both Philadelphia and Boston," Rabbi Hopfer wrote. "He recently pled guilty to these charges. This, of course, warrants our being cautious about him."
Nancy F. Aiken, executive director of the Counseling Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women, said she has followed Levitt's case for months. She added that she is pleased to see such public, proactive steps being taken within the Orthodox community to warn members about Levitt possibly coming to Maryland, where one of his victims currently lives.
Aiken continued that this is a positive step to diffuse the perception that Orthodox Jewish leaders don't do enough to combat child sexual abuse.
"Stanley Levitt fits the classic pedophile profile," Aiken said. "He has never really accepted responsibility for his actions, and there is no reason to believe he will change his behavior. I give a lot of credit to those leaders who stepped up and shared this information with the public."
Traveling the land, kosher style
A bearded man in black clothes walked though a stream, filled with the vacationers of mid-August, in the northern part of the country. As the water gushed over slippery pebbles, he made his way with a confident stride. On his chest was a carrier from which an infant's head peeked out. From time to time one of his other small children climbed onto his shoulder and jumped into the water. His wife, her head wrapped in a scarf, also carried a toddler and a large bag in her hands. Along the way she sang and recited poems to him. When they arrived at a little pool, along with other hikers, they stopped for a break.
"We've come here from Tiberias and we don't have a GPS," the woman related, smiling, adding that her family was renting an apartment in the town, from which they went on outings in the area. "I got pretty confused on the way," she continued, explaining that after coming across another ultra-Orthodox family at one point, they had followed them to the water hole. To their great surprise, they found many such families en route, the woman said. Hasidic garb was carefully folded up on the banks above the stream, while hats were passed carefully from hand to hand until a safe place was found for them on tree branches high above the water.
During the course of a few days' vacation in the northern Galilee and the Golan Heights earlier this month, secular people were conspicuous by their near-total absence among the masses of ultra-Orthodox and national religious daytrippers. For their part, the Haredi families who inundated the nature reserves and recreation sites en masse, and filled local hotels and attractions, are a sign of a new and expanding movement. The evident enthusiasm of the adults as well as the children when hiking in the open air despite the tremendous heat - after spending virtually all of the year within the four walls of the beit midrash (study house ) and in crowded neighborhoods back home - was plain to see. Indeed, in recent years, the ben hazmanim period - the three weeks of break from the yeshivas and the kollelim (yeshivas for married men ), from the day after Tisha B'Av to the first day of the month of Elul - has become a kind of ultra-Orthodox vacances, as the French call their near-universal August vacation.
"If in the past the ultra-Orthodox went on vacations mainly in the guise of visits to therapeutic mineral baths or holy sites," says Riki Shushan, an ultra-Orthodox journalist for the weekly Sha'ah Tova, "today there is no need to disguise the fact that they are going on holiday."
A new study, conducted at the University of Haifa Center for Tourism, Pilgrimage and Recreation Research, characterized the various types of ultra-Orthodox family vacations in Israel according to the vacationers' socioeconomic status. At the bottom are yeshiva students, who cannot afford all the trappings of a proper holiday, and tend to swap apartments with other ultra-Orthodox.
"The idea is for them to get a change of atmosphere," says Dr. Lee Kahaner of the university's geography department, who conducted the study together with his colleague Prof. Yoel Mansfeld. "In Jerusalem they enjoy the weather and the proximity to the Western Wall. In Haifa and Ashdod they enjoy the possibility of going to the beach every day. This is an inexpensive vacation that includes savings on the cost of food, which they bring from home, and on expenses of travel, by public transport or in chartered buses."
There are gemahim (free-loan societies ) and other agencies that arrange apartment swaps for Haredim. Some families spend a very small amount of money to sleep in empty yeshivas, which ultra-Orthodox entrepreneurs have made into improvised vacation lodgings. From there the families go on excursions or enjoy nearby attractions. Lawns that provide a sense of space, inflatable toys for the children and lectures for the adults seem to suffice.
"Children who live in the area of Geula [a neighborhood in Jerusalem], where can they ride a bike?" asks Shushan. "It is enough for them to see cows, to ride a donkey - this is an attraction."
One step up are those who pay for accommodations in bed and breakfasts or hotels, each family according to its means. Thus, for example, in one of the Golan communities Haredi children were seen riding bicycles a week ago with obvious delight. They never left the place during their entire vacation.
A certain proportion of the ultra-Orthodox public that can afford to, do travel abroad on organized vacations to hotels that have become popular religious destinations, with strict kosher lamehadrin certification and the like.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Bill would ban entrance of hostile foreign government officials
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) has sponsored a bill designed to ban entry into the country by officials of any foreign government complicit in violating the rights of imprisoned Americans.
Nicknamed Jacob's Law, the bill was written in honor of Jacob Ostreicher, a haredi Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn who has been in prison in Bolivia since June 2011 for allegedly doing business with people in Bolivia who are wanted there for links to drug trafficking and money laundering.
Ostreicher invested millions in a rice-growing venture in eastern Bolivia.
The Justice for Imprisoned Americans Overseas Act, its official name, "is in direct response to several reports about U.S. citizens being held in foreign prisons around the world while their fundamental due process and human rights are being flagrantly violated," Smith said in a statement to JTA.
"American citizens on travel anywhere around the world need to know that the United States will go to bat for them when they are being denied fundamental human rights or basic due process rights by foreign government officials who abuse the rule of law," Smith said.
Ostreicher continues to maintain his innocence. Smith visited him in prison in June and also met with Bolivian officials on behalf of the father of five and grandfather of 11.
According to Smith, Ostreicher is imprisoned on the premise of guilty until proven innocent and has not been shown any evidence against him. Also, Ostreicher has had almost $50 million worth of agricultural and financial assets stolen from his business.
Jacob's Law has five cosponsors, including one Democrat and four Republicans.
Rabbi Is Sued For Circumcision
Jewish leaders in Britain and across Europe expressed outrage this week after charges were filed against a rabbi in Germany for performing circumcision, just weeks after a court ruled against the practise.
Rabbi David Goldberg, the Chief Rabbi of Hof in Bavaria and one of the few Orthodox mohels in the country, is believed to be the first person to be targeted for legal action following June's ruling by the Cologne District Court that circumcision amounted to "bodily harm".
In a ruling which sent shockwaves through Jewish communities worldwide, the court said: "The fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweigh the rights of the parents." The ruling came in a case involving a four-year-old Muslim boy who suffered heavy bleeding after the procedure.
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While Rabbi Goldberg has yet to be informed of any charges and claims he hasn't performed any brit milahs in Germany since the ruling earlier this summer, Jonathan Arkush, vice president of the Board of Deputies, said: "The proposed prosecution of Rabbi Goldberg is misconceived, especially in the light of the German government's stated intention to overturn the affect of the Cologne court decision. We look to Chancellor Angela Merkel to secure the religious rights of the Jewish community in Germany as quickly as possible and lay to rest any further doubts."
While stressing that the legal ruling earlier this summer was a "decision of a local court and not a ban" and that he anticipated an appeal if politicians do not step in, Arkush said that in the wake of this week's development, the Board contacted German Jewish leaders to offer advice and support. Also calling for swift action from the government was the Conference of European Rabbis which described this week's development as "another grave affront to religious freedom" and the European Jewish Congress.
EJC President Dr Moshe Kantor branded the move a "very troubling escalation sending a deeply problematic message to the Jewish community. It has been many decades since a Jew was charged for practicing Judaism openly and is reminiscent of far darker times. We hope that in Germany, of all places, the authorities would remain far more sensitive to this issue".
He added: "We hope the government will immediately intercede, especially after the office of Chancellor Merkel reaffirmed the right of Jews to continue practicing circumcision. The government needs to send a clearer message that Jewish religious life should be allowed to continue and thrive in Germany and to enact legislation without delay to clear matters as there is obviously a lot of confusion."
The news emerged as Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was in the country to hold talks over the issue of circumcision. It has been reported that a doctor in the state of Haase made the complaint against Goldberg, who told the Jewish News last night that he hoped a new law would make clear the right to perform religious circumcision but he was concerned he could be brought before a court.
If asked to perform a brit now in Germany, he said he would consult a lawyer and the country's Jewish leaders. He said: "If they advised against it I would look to perform the brit in a neighbouring country."
The Rabbinical Centre of Europe said "several" European businessmen are ready to contribute "any funds necessary" to ensure he will have high-level legal representation if the case reaches that stage.
Brooklyn-Based Writers Should Get to Know Their Neighbors
Many writers don't understand the significant differences between Modern Orthodox Jews and their Ultra-Orthodox cousins, explains Yair Rosenberg at Tablet. It is the latter community, of course, that tends to insist on exclusively domestic roles for its women, while the former has a history of women with high achievement in academia and the professional sphere:
"That no woman has emerged as a political candidate [in New York], despite the Orthodox community's growing size and political sway, is largely a result of women in the community being relegated or elevated, depending on one's perspective, to a domestic role—expected to dress modestly, live quietly, and draw little attention to themselves in the outside world. Some women won't shake the hands of men," Yarrow [a writer for Newsweek/The Daily Beast] wrote. "Others refuse to speak in gender-mixed company, be photographed, or wear a color as flashy as pink." Yarrow also expressed astonishment that Meyer's candidacy had not elicited "blowback" from Orthodox leaders, dubbing her "The Unorthodox Candidate."
But this sort of blanket generalization about Orthodox Jewish women is profoundly misleading and fails to take into account the differences within Orthodoxy—which are so vast that to ignore them is to completely misunderstand Mindy Meyer's story. The fact that Meyer is Orthodox, unmarried, in law school, and pursuing a public career is only surprising if one is woefully ignorant of the impressive professional achievements of contemporary Modern Orthodox women.
More here. Most Americans could be forgiven for not knowing much about the various major strands of Judaism, but you'd think writers for sites like The Daily Beast—who, like Yarrow, tend to live in Brooklyn, where religious Jews are hardly invisible—would know something about their neighbors. Then, of course, there's Wikipedia. If none of that sounds appealing, one always can take one of the Chassidic Discovery Center's tours of Crown Heights.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Jewish day school apologizes to child sex abuse victims
The Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal apologized "unreservedly" to the victims.
The apology, issued Monday in a letter from the head of the Yeshivah College and the head of the Yeshivah Center, which houses the headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in Melbourne, said: "We understand and appreciate that there are victims who feel aggrieved and we sincerely and unreservedly apologize for any historical wrongs that may have occurred."
Outlining safety measures the college had taken, the letter said it "wants to make it absolutely clear that we condemn sexual abuse in any form."
It comes six weeks after a judge ordered David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to the college, to stand trial next year for multiple child sex abuse charges allegedly perpetrated over two decades ago on 12 students – three of whom now reside in America.
Manny Waks, the only Australian-based victim who has spoken publicly, said that the apology was "an important milestone."
"The other past victims and I sought recognition of the ongoing and serious sexual abuse we suffered from the very institution that we hold partly responsible for that abuse. Today's statement by the Yeshivah leadership is an acknowledgement of the abuse we suffered," he said.
But the apology is "only a first step," he continued.
"The reality is that Yeshivah has not apologized for their despicable behavior over the past year," Waks said. He also criticized the letter's claim that they are cooperating with police even though detectives had accused the college of a cover-up in court.
One blogger slammed the letter as a "lawyer-drafted piece of propaganda" and a "non-apology apology" that "does not include an admission of guilt."
Moves are afoot to extradite David Kramer, a convicted pedophile in America, over allegations he committed child sexual abuse at Yeshivah College in the 1980s. Kramer taught at the college.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
First female religious DJ makes her mark
She does a soundcheck while checking that the partition between the men and women is in place and rocks the crowd to the sounds of the latest Hasidic hits. Introducing DJ Netanela, probably the first ever religious female DJ in Israel.
"My family didn't really love the idea," Netanela, 29, from Givat Shmuel admits adding "and the religious public didn't really know how to take it, but I believe that my purpose is to make people happy – and God graced me with this talent."
While she mainly performs before women Netanela told the 'Kipa' website "I do also perform before men and women, but with a partition."
When she's invited to perform she first finds out what the nature of the event. "I received many offers to perform at secular events, but even though they offered me a great deal of money, I refused," she noted.
"(Clients) who really want me compromise and place partitions. Sometimes my secular relatives who invite me to a family event say they've never seen a show like mine – even in secular circles where you can find everything."
Every few days she goes into the DJ booth, installs her equipment, puts on her earphones and does her thing. "I play everything," she declares but immediately qualifies: "if the words are immodest I censure them. I play what the customer wants me to – Hebrew, Hasidic, trance and dance music."
Netanela performs at weddings, parties, national religious music festivals and even a massive event for 30,000 Hasidic men in the US.
"God is my business partner and we DJ together."
Monday, August 20, 2012
First Hasidic wedding performed in Alaska
On Wednesday, in a traditional ultra-Orthodox Jewish ceremony, Mushky Greenberg married Levi Glitsenstein, an Israel-born student living in New York, underneath a chuppah adorned with pink roses and lilies on the third-floor deck of the Dena'ina Center. Her family said it was the first Hasidic Jewish wedding ever held in Alaska.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Kansas City Gets a Taste of Kosher BBQ
BBQ is a Kansas City tradition. Kansas City style bbq is prepared differently than any other region of the country. But one local bbq competition is taking the way KC prepares bbq to a different level.
There are plenty of bbq restaurants all over Kansas City, but if you are Kosher, the Jewish dietary standards prohibit you from eating at those restaurants, however people at this bbq competition can enjoy more than just the smell– they can eat too.
“Kosher is the rules of eating according to the Torah, according to the Bible,” said Mendel Segal with Vaad HaKashruth of Kansas City.
All of the meat is slaughtered according to Jewish tradition and you won’t find any pork ribs on any of the smokers either. However, there was plenty of spicy trash talk between the guys from Chicago and Kansas Citians.
“They may know pizza, but they don’t know barbecue,” said Lawrence Langley of KCK.
David Weissman and Michael Dhaliwal say they’ve spent the past four months learning how to smoke meat and they believe their apricot glaze and other tidbits will set them above the rest.
“We were warned that if we come to this contest we have to know what we’re doing,” David Weissman of Chicago said.
Kansas Citian Lawrence Langley says using real wood instead of charcoal vies his bbq an added flavor you can’t beat. Langley says he’s ready to smoke the competitors because they’re no threat. The only challenge he faced is using two small smokers that were given to everyone in the competition.
“The little barbecue pits that they gave us are not what you would typically see in a barbecue contest,” Langley said. “I’m thinking how do you get beef ribs on there? It was a challenge.”
The grill posed a problem for the Chicago team, too.
“The brisket was a challenge,” Weissman said. “We didn’t think it was going to fit. We were worried that we would have to cut it in half.”
Aside from the saucy talk, the competitors say this Kosher bbq was a lot of fun and great opportunity to eat bbq instead of just smelling it all over the city.
Despite the guys from Chicago perfecting their bbq skills, a local team from Olathe called Smoke to Perfection won the competition.
Organizers’ are hoping this barbecue will become a new Kansas City tradition.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Hitler’s Jewish Magician
The curtain opens on a frightening scene: Post-World War I Germany. Punishing reparations, a war-scarred public and a fractured society have doomed Germany’s Weimar Republic, paving the way for Nazism.
Amidst the chaos, a clairvoyant Jew named Erik Jan Hanussen cleverly exploits a desperate public’s fascination with the occult, rising to Berlin society’s top rank, and even entering into the inner circle of Hitler’s demonic advisors. Was there something exceptional about Hanussen? Fellow hypnotists marveled at his unique powers and declared, “This man must be in league with the devil.” He was known as “Europe’s greatest oracle since Nostradamus.” Yet, paradoxically, he failed to predict his own downfall in the brutality of the rising Nazi regime.
Arthur Magida’s new biography, The Nazi Séance, explores Hanussen’s supernatural ability to wield magic and foretell the future. Masterfully weaving the history of the Third Reich’s rise to power and Hanussen’s strange eccentricities that catapulted him from obscurity to prominence, Magida explores the intricacies of magic, alternately as both skeptic and believer, and follows the life trajectory of a complicated man whose mind plumbed the depths of some of the world’s most notorious evildoers.
“I’ve always been interested in magic,” Magida tells audiences as a prelude to discussing The Nazi Séance. An exciting adventure, Magida’s search for Hanussen’s legacy brought him in contact with characters as unique as Hanussen’s long lost daughter, a 90-year-old woman living in Italy who claims to be in touch spiritually with her murdered father, as well as the modern magician, “Teller,” of the famed duo, Penn & Teller.
Teller’s remark that “mentalists are insufficiently confident to admit that what they do is a trick” undoubtedly helped Magida balance his own conflicting perceptions of Hanussen, enabling him to portray Hanussen on stage and interpret his performances. Through sharp rhetorical questions, readers engage in the scientific discourses of the era. When Hanussen dazzles crowds by successfully navigating the streets of Berlin blindfolded and miraculously discovers a hidden object in Potsdamer Platz, his critics argue that he was merely unusually adept at sensing the minute muscle twitches and nonverbal cues of his audience, subtle actions that revealed the location of the object.
Although Magida acknowledges arguments dismissing Hanussen’s powers as parlor tricks, he also gives credence to Hanussen’s remarkable abilities, detailing how the seer repeatedly stood trial and defeated claims that he was a fake. During trials in Czechoslovakia and Berlin, Hanussen managed to bring to light critical evidence resolving a prosecutor’s murder case, predict the untimely death circumstances of a friend’s brother, and even avoid trick questions asking him the significance of specific dates in European history. True clairvoyance is hard to fake.
Hanussen became an international sensation and his reputation in Europe was secure. His public performances made him a celebrity, the rock star of his time. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s Hanussen operated a spiritual consulting business out of his Berlin home, attracting many wealthy and famous clients. He also ran the newspaper, Erik Jan Hannussen’s Berliner Wochenschau, eerily predicting the events precipitating Hitler’s consolidation of power and nefariously merging his prophesies with the Fuhrer’s propaganda machine.
If there were a motive for Hanussen’s betrayal of his fellow Jews, and his “alliance with scoundrels,” Magida suggests that he likely was apathetic about the turbulent social, economic, and political drama that was taking shape in Germany, believing that he was above the fray, destined to be revered as a national spiritual icon. His unexplained return to Berlin, after a successful escape to Switzerland with his family, reveals Hanussen’s irresistible addiction to fame and his unquenchable need to remain in the spotlight to the end.
Clever, at times humorous, anecdotes describe the mad men and women who attended Hanussen’s séances and relied on his advice, making The Nazi Séance a fast-paced, enjoyable read. Packed with new analysis of the desperate cultural and political climate that enabled the Nazis, the book’s only fault may be that readers aren’t given an opportunity to cheer for Hanussen’s conversion to a better cause and or his ultimate survival. Audiences learn early in the book that the Nazis murdered Hanussen in April of 1933.
By the time the curtain closes, however, Magida’s well-crafted portrayal of Hanussen’s magical performances and the clairvoyant’s personal life establishes an enigmatic character of the interwar years whom audiences will sympathize with and ponder for years to come.
Friday, August 17, 2012
Hasidic pop star dons IDF togs
An ultra-Orthodox musician has made an unorthodox music video in which he trades his traditional black garb for an IDF uniform.
Lipa Schmeltzer, described by some as the Lady Gaga of Hasidic music, shot scenes for his latest music video in the heart of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox district while dancing wearing an IDF uniform.
The video is to accompany Schmeltzer's song "Mizrah-Maarav" (East-West), which has gained popularity at Haredi events due to its accompanying dance moves.
The video was reportedly a response to a heated debate in Israeli society over the drafting of the ultra-Orthodox into the army. While Israel requires army service from all Jewish 18-year-olds, most ultra-Orthodox get exemptions.
Many in Israel have called for the ultra-Orthodox to enlist in the army, though most in the community are opposed to the idea. The army and Knesset are both working on new legislation that will likely include some provision for drafting Haredi soldiers.
Schmeltzer, who lives in Brooklyn, decided to film a video clip for the song that would pay tribute to the Nahal Haredi army unit, which consists of of ultra-Orthodox soldiers.
The 34-year-old Schmeltzer arrived at Zion Square in Jerusalem earlier this week accompanied by hordes of former Nahal Haredi soldiers and then danced his jig for the cameras, dressed in an IDF uniform. The filming has reportedly provoked debate in ultra-Orthodox circles, where affiliation to the IDF is often considered taboo and donning an IDF uniform sacrilege.
The final video clip is due to be released in two weeks after final editing, Maariv reported.
Schmeltzer is known for his sometimes-outlandish videos, such as one for his song "Hang up the phone."
While Schmeltzer is one of the ultra-Orthodox world's biggest stars, rabbis have in the past denounced him for "ribaldry."
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Drug-cash rap vs. Hasid trio
Three Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn were busted yesterday for allegedly laundering millions of dollars for an international drug ring that operates in Israel, England and the US.
The suspects collected drug cash in New York, Boston and Hartford on the orders of the gang's Israeli leaders, then laundered it through a check-cashing business in Brooklyn, Manhattan federal prosecutors charged.
Samuel Ashkenazi, 43, allegedly served as the courier, with court papers saying he picked up "bulk currency" in amounts of up to $400,000.
The money was then counted, split up and distributed through The Money Spot in Brooklyn, which is owned by Samuel "Benzi" Goldberger, 34, Manhattan federal prosecutor Daniel Tehrani said in court.
The third defendant, Samuel Blau, 50, helped arrange a March pick-up of $300,000 from a Manhattan apartment, according to the men's indictment.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Anti-Semitic Hungarian far-right leader discovers he's Jewish
As a rising star in Hungary's far-right Jobbik Party, Csanad Szegedi was notorious for his incendiary comments on Jews: He accused them of "buying up" the country, railed about the "Jewishness" of the political elite and claimed Jews were desecrating national symbols.
Then came a revelation that knocked him off his perch as ultra-nationalist standard-bearer: Szegedi himself is a Jew.
Following weeks of Internet rumors, Szegedi acknowledged in June that his grandparents on his mother's side were Jews — making him one too under Jewish law, even though he doesn't practice the faith. His grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor and his grandfather a veteran of forced labor camps.
Since then, the 30-year-old has become a pariah in Jobbik and his political career is on the brink of collapse. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
At the root of the drama is an audio tape of a 2010 meeting between Szegedi and a convicted felon. Szegedi acknowledges that the meeting took place but contends the tape was altered in unspecified ways; Jobbik considers it real.
In the recording, the felon is heard confronting Szegedi with evidence of his Jewish roots. Szegedi sounds surprised, then offers money and favors in exchange for keeping quiet.
Under pressure, Szegedi resigned last month from all party positions and gave up his Jobbik membership. That wasn't good enough for the party: Last week it asked him to give up his seat in the European Parliament as well. Jobbik says its issue is the suspected bribery, not his Jewish roots.
Rising star of the far right
Szegedi came to prominence in 2007 as a founding member of the Hungarian Guard, a group whose black uniforms and striped flags recalled the Arrow Cross, a pro-Nazi party which briefly governed Hungary at the end of World War II and killed thousands of Jews.
In all, 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, most of them after being sent in trains to death camps like Auschwitz. The Hungarian Guard was banned by the courts in 2009.
By then, Szegedi had already joined the Jobbik Party, which was launched in 2003 to become the country's biggest far-right political force. He soon became one of its most vocal and visible members, and a pillar of the party leadership. Since 2009, he has served in the European Parliament in Brussels as one of the party's three EU lawmakers, a position he says he wants to keep.
The fallout of Szegedi's ancestry saga has extended to his business interests. Jobbik executive director Gabor Szabo is pulling out of an Internet site selling nationalist Hungarian merchandise that he owns with Szegedi. Szabo said his sister has resigned as Szegedi's personal assistant.
In the 2010 tape, former convict Zoltan Ambrus is heard telling Szegedi that he has documents proving Szegedi is Jewish. The right-wing politician seems genuinely surprised by the news — and offers EU funds and a possible EU job to Ambrus to hush it up.
Ambrus, who served time in prison on a weapons and explosives conviction, apparently rejected the bribes. He said he secretly taped the conversation as part of an internal Jobbik power struggle aimed at ousting Szegedi from a local party leadership post. The party's reaction was swift.
"We have no alternative but to ask him to return his EU mandate," said Jobbik president Gabor Vona. "Jobbik does not investigate the heritage of its members or leadership, but instead takes into consideration what they have done for the nation."
A taboo subject
Szegedi's experience is not unique: The Holocaust was a taboo subject during Hungary's decades of communist rule that ended in 1990, and many survivors chose to keep their ordeals to themselves. Russian far-right firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky was anti-Semitic until he acknowledged in 2001 that his father was Jewish.
Szegedi, who was raised Presbyterian, acknowledged his Jewish origins in June interviews with Hungarian media, including news broadcaster Hir TV and Barikad, Jobbik's weekly magazine. He said that after the meeting with Ambrus, he had a long conversation with his grandmother, who spoke about her family's past as Orthodox Jews.
"It was then that it dawned on me that my grandmother really is Jewish," Szegedi told Hir TV. "I asked her how the deportations happened. She was in Auschwitz and Dachau and she was the only survivor in the extended family."
Judaism is traced from mother to child, meaning that under Jewish law Szegedi is Jewish. Szegedi said he defines himself as someone with "ancestry of Jewish origin — because I declare myself 100 per cent Hungarian."
In the interview with Hir TV, Szegedi denied ever having made anti-Semitic statements, but several of his speeches and media appearances show otherwise.
In a November 2010 interview on Hungarian state television, Szegedi blamed the large-scale privatization of state assets after the end of communism on "people in the Hungarian political elite who shielded themselves in their Jewishness."
Speaking on a morning program in late 2010, he said that "the problem the radical right has with the Jews" was that Jewish artists, actors and intellectuals had desecrated Hungary's national symbols like the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, the country's first Christian king.
Szegedi also complained of "massive real estate purchases being done in Hungary, where — it's no secret — they want to bring in Israeli residents."
Szegedi met in early August with Rabbi Slomo Koves, of Hungary's Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community, whose own parents were in their teens when they discovered they were Jewish.
"As a rabbi ... it is my duty to receive every person who is in a situation of crisis and especially a Jew who has just now faced his heritage," Koves said.
During the meeting, Szegedi apologized for any statements which may have offended the Jewish community, and vowed to visit Auschwitz to pay his respects.
Koves described the conversation as "difficult and spiritually stressful," but said he is hopeful for a successful outcome.
"Csanad Szegedi is in the middle of a difficult process of reparation, self-knowledge, re-evaluation and learning, which according to our hopes and interests, should conclude in a positive manner," Koves said. "Whether this will occur or not is first and foremost up to him."
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
A return to the bad old days
With the Jewish vote assuming a prominent role in the presidential race, a New York Times columnist is openly hoping for a return to the days when then-US secretary of state James Baker infamously dismissed Jewish voters with the declaration, “F--- the Jews, they don’t vote for us.”
In his August 1 column, Thomas Friedman claimed the purpose of Mitt Romney’s recent visit to Israel was “to grovel for Jewish votes and money.” He complained that “the GOP decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats,” and this, he alleged, has “shut down the peace process.”
Friedman’s solution? A return to the days when America’s Middle East policy was guided by men like James Baker, secretary of state from 1989 to 1992, who ignored domestic pressures and was willing “to get in the face of both sides” and who “told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader.”
Some of the “blunt” words for which Baker is remembered actually were written by his friend and tennis partner, Thomas Friedman. A Baker remark comparing his role in Arab-Israeli diplomacy to that of an obstetrician was lifted almost word for word from Friedman’s 1982 book From Beirut to Jerusalem.
And Baker credited Friedman with conceiving his public message to Israel, “When you’re serious about peace, call us,” complete with a sarcastic recitation of the White House phone number.
But the bluntest of Baker’s “truths” was also the most vulgar. In the New York Post in March 1992, former New York mayor Ed Koch reported Baker’s “F--- the Jews” remark. Baker vehemently denied it.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler called Koch’s report “garbage.” But in a 2008 book (co-edited by this author), Koch finally revealed his source, and it was unimpeachable: then-secretary of housing and urban development Jack Kemp. That’s about as close to proof as we are likely to have in this lifetime.
Baker’s remark was not merely obscene, but also betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of American Jewish political behavior. Baker, in 1988, was talking as if it was still the 1960s – only 10 percent to 15% of American Jews voted Republican in the presidential races of 1960, 1964, and 1968. But as the Democratic party shifted to the left, Jewish voters began moving the other way. The Jewish vote total for the GOP doubled in the 1970s and 1980s, ranging from 30% to 32% in four of those five races.
The peak was in 1980, when about 60% of American Jews deserted president Jimmy Carter, with about 40% voting for Republican nominee Ronald Reagan and 20% for Republican-turned-independent John Anderson.
Carter’s policies toward Israel deeply alienated many American Jewish voters, and they responded as citizens in a democracy do.
One could argue that Baker’s attitude toward Jews and Israel was not a response to Jews spurning the Republicans, but a cause of it. After all, look at the Jewish vote for Republican candidates in the races that followed Baker’s obscenity: 11% in 1992, 15% in 1996, 20% in 2000.
Whether Jewish support for the GOP will continue to follow that upward trajectory remains to be seen.
Repairing the damage that Baker did to the Republicans’ relationship with American Jewry has not been quick or easy. But as Friedman notes, crudely but not inaccurately, “the GOP decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats.”
In 2009, following the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, 60 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed a letter urging the Obama administration to send US aid to Gaza. No Republicans signed it. In January 2010, another letter urging aid to Hamas-controlled Gaza was signed by 54 Democrats in the House – and again, no Republicans.
And in March 2010, 333 members of the House signed a letter reaffirming the US-Israel alliance, in the wake of the Jerusalem housing controversy. Of the 102 members who did not sign, 94 were Democrats and only eight were Republicans. Twenty-four senators declined to sign a similar letter – 20 Democrats, and four Republicans.
This is not James Baker’s Republican Party any longer. And the Jewish community has changed, too.
Orthodox Jews, who are politically the most conservative element in the community, are approaching 15% of US Jewry and rising, thanks to a high birth rate and few intermarriages. A recent study of the New York City area – the heart of American Jewry – found that 32% of Jews there are Orthodox. Russian Jewish immigrants and their children comprise about 12% of American Jewry, and former Israelis make up about 7% – two blocs that likewise tend to be politically conservative.
There’s one more group to factor in. In the 1980 race, Reagan did best among Jews aged 30 to 45. Unlike their parents, they had no track record of deep-seated loyalty to the Democrats, so when Carter turned against Israel, they turned against him. Today they are in their 60s and 70s, and pulling the lever for the GOP – if they again perceive the incumbent Democratic president as unsympathetic to Israel – will be even easier the second time around.
Which brings us to perhaps the greatest irony of all: Thomas Friedman, to judge by the positions he has articulated on various issues over the years, very much fits the profile of the previous generation’s typical American Jewish voter – in other words, exactly the kind of Jewish voter whom Baker had in mind when he uttered his famous obscenity.
But the changes that both the Republican Party and the American Jewish community have undergone and are continuing to experience suggest that the political assumptions and alignments of the Baker-Friedman era are becoming a thing of the past.
The writer is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and author or editor of 15 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest, coauthored with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, is Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the “Jewish Vote” and Bipartisan Support for Israel.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Jerusalem exhibition lifts the veil on Hasidic Jewish culture
The crowd standing in front of the video projected on to the museum wall was unusual. A young woman with loose curls tumbling over her bare shoulders and clad in tiny denim shorts craned to get a better view; just behind her stood two ultra-Orthodox Jews in customary heavy black overcoats and wide-brimmed hats.
This sight, rarely seen in Jerusalem, was an illustration of the remarkable success of an exhibition examining the life and culture of the 250-year-old Hasidic Jewish movement. In a city where ultra-Orthodox Jews have become such a visible and influential presence, their way of life is a mystery to most outsiders.
A World Apart Next Door, the aptly titled exhibition at the Israel Museum, has become an unexpected success since opening two months ago. It is attracting round 1,300 visitors each day – big numbers for a city with a population about a tenth of London's. Half the visitors are from the ultra-Orthodox community.
"It's a phenomenon – a kind of a blockbuster. It's definitely exceeded expectations," said James Snyder, the museum's director. "For the ultra-Orthodox, it's the first opportunity to see their communal culture elevated and celebrated in a museum setting. For everyone else who sees members of the community on the streets, it's an opportunity to learn about a culture of which you can't help but be aware, but about which you know little."
The exhibition displays historic and contemporary photographs and artefacts, with separate sections focusing on the lives of men, women, children and rabbis. Clothing and headwear, some bought especially for the show and some borrowed from members of the community, are accompanied by explanations of different dress codes and requirements.
Most compelling are the videos, around which crowds gather throughout the day. Some, projected on to big display spaces on the walls, show religious gatherings and festivals, dancing and singing. An extraordinary wedding scene shows an apparently tense masked bride being led around a big arena by a dancing rabbi as male guests, dressed in customary monochrome, ecstatically and rhythmically sway and stomp. The women – forbidden from dancing in the presence of men – appear subdued.
Smaller screens show interviews with Hasidic Jews: a young mother explaining the role of women in the community; a hatmaker describing his trade and displaying his skill; a boy having his first ritual haircut at the age of three. All are presented with empathy, and many show not just devotion and reverence, but joy and exuberance.
Curator Ester Muchawsky-Schnapper, who spent 18 months assembling the exhibition after five years of research, said there was some co-operation from the community, but she also encountered anxiety and hesitation. "I spent a lot of time building relationships of trust," she said. Photographers and videographers were careful to observe religious and cultural mores.
She is delighted with the exhibition's reception. "I expected it to be a success, but not to this extent. I didn't dream of it. It has created dialogue between groups that otherwise would never meet."
The museum, aware that the ultra-Orthodox may be unwilling to visit the exhibition in mixed-sex groups or in the company of those outside their communities, ensured that rabbis knew that special after-hours group sessions could be arranged. "There has not been a single request," said Snyder. "It's extraordinary to see all these people side by side, and talking to one another."
He was also prepared for tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and other Jews to surface in the context of the exhibition. Many Israeli Jews, both secular and religious, are deeply resentful of the ultra-Orthodox communities over their exemption from compulsory military service. They also complain of an unfair economic and social burden, given that many ultra-Orthodox men spend their lives in full-time subsidised religious study while fathering very large families.
"These issues have not come up. The abrasion that exists on the street is not present at the museum," said Snyder.
The exhibition, which runs until 1 December, contributed to a record July for the museum, with 84,000 visitors. It is expected to travel abroad next year, following requests from museums in Europe and North America.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Feeling like an outsider at MetLife stadium
While attending the Siyum Hashas celebration at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, I realized just how much the American Jewish landscape is slowly beginning to look like the current State of Israel: a people with a shared past, slowly diverging from each other into two separate civilizations.
Reflecting on my life the other day, I realized that I am used to spending most of my time around Jews. Growing up I attended a Jewish day school. Most of my Shabbatot were spent in my Conservative synagogue with my family, and sometimes were spent attending shul with my Orthodox friends and their families. I attended Jewish camp and was active in USY, a Jewish youth group. Nearly, if not all, of my friends to this day are Jewish. Generally, I attend to excel at the game of Jewish geography, as I rarely find that I am more than one or two degrees of separation away from most other Jews.
However, the 90,000 Jews that I spent last Wednesday night completing the seven a half-year cycle of Talmud study with were an entirely different crowd. The only other person I knew that evening was my modern Orthodox friend who had bought us the tickets. All of us present that evening may have come together to celebrate the same book, but that was the extent to which our commonalities manifested themselves. I grew up in an environment where it was expected we would be strong supporters of the State of Israel and where we would learn to speak Hebrew, whereas this event may have been the first large Jewish gathering I can recall that did not play Hatikvah: a reflection of the ambivalence that many ultra-Orthodox Jews feel toward the modern State of Israel. Several divrei Torah were delivered, but more of them were delivered in Yiddish (and understood by the majority of people in attendance) than Hebrew.
There was also a moment during the ceremony when I realized that the speakers were advocating for a much more exclusive definition of K’lal Yisrael than the more inclusive one I am used to promoting from the pulpit. Generally, when progressive American rabbis speak about the Jewish people collectively, we tend to speak in rather broad strokes, whereas many of the speakers, one even quite bluntly, acknowledged how wonderful it was to have the entire Jewish spectrum united and represented that evening: from “black hats, to streimels, to velvet yarmulkes, to kippot srugot (crocheted), and even baseball caps.”
This of course left me wondering, whether among the 90,000 gathered there was room for the non-kippah wearing Jew. Or, perhaps, for the women who sat under dimmed lights in the upper deck behind multi-tiered mechitzas whose cost was estimated at $250,000?
Certainly, it is no secret that there is an increasingly rightward shifting haredi community in America – in particular, surrounding the New York metropolitan area. I just had no idea in my naïveté that they could be so isolated and enclosed to other forms of Judaism like the Israeli haredi community continues to be. Living in the Diaspora, I have watched the events transpiring in Israel between the Haredi community and secular Israelis with interest, but with a degree of skepticism about that happening here. Unlike Israel, to stay on the Jewish community’s radar screen, American Jews must make more of an effort to connect. We must affiliate with a synagogue, belong to a Jewish Community Center, or give to a Jewish Federation to remain as a part of the community. More American Jews are connected to the religious establishment than Israeli ones, which I thought had given us at least minimal religious and cultural ties to the haredi population. Now, I am not so sure.
The event did live up to the hype; I have attended two Giants games in MetLife Stadium, but never in my life did I ever dream that I would find myself praying in a minyan there alongside 90,000 other Jews. The multimedia video presentations dazzled, and the programs were glossy and professional. There was dancing, celebration, and a sense of joy at having completed the Daf Yomi Talmud cycle.
But I left the stadium wondering whether this was a celebration for the entire Jewish people, or just a selection of it. Sitting in MetLife Stadium, I felt like a stranger among my own people. Many of them may not have even counted me among them at all. As the event proceeded, I came to the realization that the event would never belong to me, nor to the other eighty percent of Jews in America.
Instead, it belongs to a K’lal Yisrael in which increasingly, like the State of Israel, we are not seen as playing a legitimate part in the religious life of the country.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
El Al Again Says It Will Honor Tickets Sold At Wrong Price
Ending four days of uncertainty, El Al Israel Airlines on Thursday declared that all tickets purchased on travel sites during a glitch that caused unplanned lower fares will be honored.
“Although a review of this occurrence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate EL AL passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service," said EL AL Vice President and General Manager Danny Saadon. "Hopefully, we have provided an opportunity to many first-timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”
Thousands of people, alerted to the low fares by bargain-hunting travel sites and socia media, purchased tickets Monday for travel during the winter to Tel Aviv, with stopovers, for as low as $350. El Al has not disclosed how many tickets were purchased at the lower fares. In a statement Monday the airline blamed an unnamed third-party company that posts the fares for leaving out the fuel surcharge. Initially saying the tickets would be honored, on Tuesday a spokeswoman said no decision had been made, leaving would-be travelers perplexed and anxious.
In addition to keeping their tickets, the lucky tourists will also have an opportunity to upgrade their ticket to a direct flight for an additional $75. In the unliikely event of buyer's remorse, purchasers can get a refund with no cancellation fee, El Al said.
"We're incredibly excited about being able to take this dream trip," said Bethany Mandel, a Manhattan resident who scored two round-trip tickets for $700 and will travel with her husband in the fall.
"The most frustrating part about the situation has been El Al's mixed messages. We're glad to have a final, final decision and are hoping that [our] taking these tickets won't endanger the airline or outside companies. We'd love to take a cheap trip, but not at the expense of lost jobs."
The incorrect fares posted on Aug. 6 placed El Al in the unenviable position of choosing between a public relations disaster and a financial loss.
In a conversation with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy's.
"If we're honoring passengers' tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection," said Saadon explaining the company's rationale behind the add-on offer.
The decision to honor was "mainly to save face with El Al," noted Saadon. "We’re talking about thousands of passengers," he added. "Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”
To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of 2 hours before the process is finalized, said Saadon.
Although El Al provided no incentive for customers to return the tickets other than waiving the cancellation fee, many Orthodox Jews expressed opinions via social media that taking advantage of the mistake was unethical at best and impermissable at worst.
Moment Magazine's blog asked Randy Cohen, the former Ethicist columnist for the New York Times Magazine for his opinion on the subject.
"]E]ven if El Al offers to make good on the tickets, we are not supposed to exploit someone," Cohen said. "If you see someone’s wallet on the ground you are supposed to return it, not keep it."