Thursday, February 28, 2013

New Zealand Jewish grave vandal avoids prison 

A New Zealand man who admitted to desecrating Jewish graves with anti-Semitic graffiti at a historic cemetery in Auckland avoided prison.
Robert Moulden, 19, was sentenced by Judge Russell Collins in Auckland District Court Wednesday to 320 hours of community service work. He was also ordered to pay about $2,500 in reparations.
Moulden pleaded guilty to a charge of willful damage in November. Another man, also accused of desecrating the cemetery, is fighting the charges.
During the sentencing, the judge said the community work should include work with Auckland Council's graffiti team.
More than a dozen headstones in the Jewish quarter of the Symonds St Cemetery were vandalized with swastikas, the numbers 88 – code for "Heil Hitler,"  and anti-Israeli slogans on Oct. 19.
The Jewish community offered restorative justice with Moulden. One family invited him for Shabbat dinner, and others offered financial assistance with his education.
"To your credit, you were willing to engage with the Jewish community and a more extraordinary outcome is the forgiving nature of the members of the Jewish community," Judge Collins said.
"Their forgiveness of you needs to be admired considering how wounding and distressing your actions were."
Auckland Council has spent about $10,000 on trying to repair the vandalism, but some of the vandalism is irreparable, according to local media, with the damage estimated to cost some $23,000.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hasidic Rebels Find Home in Brooklyn Chabad Congregation 

On a freezing Friday night in Brooklyn, a group of 18 Crown Heights residents scurry through the crowds of Jews leaving synagogue and make their way to a second-story apartment on Rogers Avenue for Shabbat dinner.

Inside, hippie art and vintage John Lennon photos share wall space with drawings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late leader of the Chabad hasidic sect, and a yellow "Moshiach" flag, the symbol of the movement's messianic wing. A large glass table holds the evening's spread: sauteed vegetables, kale salad, vegan cholent and a challah so perfect, attendees say, "only a gay man could have baked it."

After a ceremonial blessing over wine and bread, the guests get to talking. A disc jockey, graphic artist and rabbi are having a heated discussion about Chabad's influence on Indian meditation, while a photographer is explaining to a pregnant lady why Mitzvah Tanks, Chabad's outreach vehicles, are the most brilliant thing to happen to planet Earth since Miles Davis.
This is not your typical Shabbat dinner in Crown Heights, the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad movement.

While nearly all the participants were raised in hasidic homes, most have strayed from strict religious practice. Yet rather than flee the neighborhood, they have chosen to remain in the heart of the Chabad community.

"The way I grew up, you had to either be 100 percent committed to religion or you're out. There was no picking and choosing," said Shmuley Toron, the 25-year-old gay man from Cincinnati responsible for the perfect challah. "But there are parts of the religion that I love, which is why we're still here in Crown Heights. And I know I can be as religious as I want to be without having to leave completely."

Toron and his friends are part of a community of Chabad misfits who, while not fully embraced by the Crown Heights mainstream, are beginning to find a place for themselves in an outwardly conformist community. His apartment has gained a reputation as the place people go to party, relax or escape the neighborhood's rigid social norms – a situation that is virtually unthinkable in other hasidic communities, which are more likely to shun members that don't fully abide by communal standards.

"The acceptance fringe members see in Crown Heights is really rare to that community, and it wouldn't happen anywhere else," said Hella Winston, a sociologist and author of the 2006 book "Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels." "Crown Heights is a type of place that is much more tolerant that most insular, hasidic communities. And their attitude is that they will mostly meet you where you are."



Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Instagramming Purim in Hasidic Boro Park 

People in Boro Park tend to stick with traditional Hasidic clothing like headscarves, shtreimels, and rekels. But on Purim you're bound to see people dressed as clowns, princesses and even SpongeBob SquarePants. Here are a few Instagram photos from around the neighborhood that give a sense of what it's like on Purim in Boro Park.



Blackface apology: New York assemblyman apologizes for blackface party costume 

A state assemblyman apologized on Monday for donning blackface and wearing an Afro wig at a party celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim, a costume that drew criticism from fellow lawmakers and the Anti-Defamation League bias monitoring group.

Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind of New York City, who had earlier defended the costume on his blog, said he did not mean to offend anyone with the outfit, which also included black sunglasses and an orange jersey.

"It was not meant to offend anybody, it was not meant to hurt anybody. I'm sorry that anyone was," Hikind said in an impromptu news conference, a video of which was posted on the New York Post website.

The costume, which he wore at a party at his home on Sunday, had drawn criticism from the Anti Defamation League, which said that he had "showed terrible judgment," according to the New York Times.

Assemblyman Karim Camara, the chairman of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, said he hoped Hikind could recognize the painful history behind blackface.

Blackface was often used in minstrel shows in the 19th and early 20th centuries featuring white performers portraying African Americans, often in a degrading manner.

"A lot of black leaders and clergy - elected officials, everyday citizens - were very upset or offended, and had a lot of questions as to, from their point of view, how could someone be so insensitive," Camara was quoted by the New York Times as saying.

Hikind had earlier defended the costume on his blog, saying the objections amounted to "political correctness to the absurd."



Monday, February 25, 2013

Spring Valley religious school principal slapped pupil, cops say 

The principal of a major religious school has been charged with assault, accused of slapping a 10-year-old student in the face several times.

Rabbi Meilech Spitzer was charged late last week following an investigation by the village police.

Police officials have not returned telephone calls about the arrest and have not released details of the Feb. 12 incident involving the administrator of the United Talmudical Academy, a Satmar Hasidic Jewish school on Madison Avenue.

But in a criminal complaint obtained by The Journal News, Spitzer is charged with third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, and accused of intending to physically harm the child. The complaint is signed by Spring Valley Police Detective Kevin Freeman.

Spitzer slapped the victim “numerous times on the left side of his face and left ear,” according to the complaint.

The boy’s left eye swelled up as well as the left side of his face and ear, according to the complaint. The boy also had red marks across the left side of his face and ear.

The incident had been reported by some blogs that cater to the the ultra-Orthodox community. One blog posted photographs of the boy’s face.

Spitzer, who gave the police a Brooklyn address of 147 Rutledge St., could not be reached for comment at United Talmudical Academy.

A message was left at his home on Monday with a woman who identified herself as his wife. She said she would give him the message.

Spitzer’s lawyer, James Licata, declined to comment when contacted Monday morning. Licata represents Spitzer as a private lawyer, but he has been the county chief public defender since 1993, an appointed position by the county executive.

Licata said Spitzer has not appeared in Spring Valley Justice Court. His court appearance is scheduled for April 4.

The United Talmudical Academy operates a number of schools under that name in New York City, specifically Brooklyn, and suburbs like Rockland, including Monsey and Spring Valley, for boys and girls in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

Along with operating the school for hundreds of students, the academy owns a building on South Main Street, up the block from Route 59.

In April, the academy was cited by Spring Valley for doing jack-hammering an old school administration building's balcony for removal, causing an asbestos-insulated ceiling to partially collapse.

School officials filed for the permit but had not gotten approval because the Building Department still was reviewing its plans.



In Mayoral Bid, Thompson Hopes Old Ties Attract Jewish Votes 

William C. Thompson Jr. knows not to initiate a handshake with an Orthodox Jewish woman. He sprinkles Yiddish phrases into his conversations with observant Jews. He is familiar enough with the rituals that, on a recent Friday visit to a home in Midwood, Brooklyn, he commiserated with a woman about the work involved in preparing for the Sabbath.

Mr. Thompson, an Episcopalian, is the only African-American candidate in the 2013 mayoral campaign, and he is focusing much of his effort on rallying support from blacks and Hispanics. But he is also claiming an edge among one of New York City's fastest-growing groups: Orthodox Jews, who are up for grabs in the election and are concentrated in the very Brooklyn neighborhoods that Mr. Thompson's father represented as a legislator and that he has frequented since he was a boy.

"I still remember his bar mitzvah," joked Ben Barber, an observant Jew who owns a linen business in Borough Park.

The wide-open Democratic primary race promises to be a bit of a free-for-all, in which the candidates, with few ideological distinctions among them, jockey for advantage among the many neighborhoods and demographic groups that make up the electorate. Mr. Thompson's courtship of Jewish voters is emblematic of calculations being made by all of the candidates: perhaps 600,000 New Yorkers are expected to participate in the Democratic primary, and many of those voters are expected to be black or Jewish.

For the first time in years, no major Jewish candidate is running for mayor. Mr. Thompson, a former city comptroller, Board of Education president and deputy Brooklyn borough president, is pushing for Jewish support.

Jews outside Manhattan could constitute one-sixth of primary voters, according to demographers, and of that group, maybe 30 percent are from the fast-growing Orthodox population, mostly in Brooklyn.

"I think Billy is going to surprise a lot of people in terms of his support in the Jewish community," said William E. Rapfogel, the politically connected executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. "He's extremely well liked by the Jewish community, and he's built up a lot of credibility and good will over the years."

In the 2009 mayoral race, as the Democratic nominee, Mr. Thompson held his own among Jewish voters against Michael R. Bloomberg's $100 million third-term juggernaut. Whereas Mayor Bloomberg had trounced Fernando Ferrer in Brooklyn's Orthodox neighborhoods in 2005 by five to one, Mr. Thompson lost by just two to one, and drew almost even in Crown Heights and Williamsburg, said John Mollenkopf, director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York.

Ask Orthodox leaders about Mr. Thompson and the responses are uniformly warm. He was there as a child when his father forged alliances with religious leaders. He helped to defuse tensions after the Crown Heights riots. He fought for Orthodox Jews' interests on education and business issues. And last month, he was the only Democratic candidate at a news conference denouncing Brooklyn College for a discussion of a movement that advocates boycotts of Israel.

That familiarity began with Mr. Thompson's father, William C. Thompson Sr., who, as a state senator, city councilman and judge, represented an evolving swath of central Brooklyn, beginning in the 1960s.

Mr. Thompson's father, who still practices law, routinely resorted to Yiddish phrases. Also, his father's second wife, Sybil Hart Kooper, a state appellate judge who died in 1991, was Jewish.

"It goes back to when I was a child," Mr. Thompson, 59, said in an interview. "I remember being in the car with him — was I 14? — and going to Crown Heights. Even to this day, people that you meet say, 'I remember when you were a teenager.' "

As an aide to Representative Fred Richmond (whose career was later derailed by corruption charges), and then the Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden, Mr. Thompson served as an emissary to Orthodox neighborhoods.

Never were his diplomatic skills more in demand than in 1991, when Mr. Golden tracked him down on vacation in France and asked him to return immediately to pacify black and Jewish activists because, Mr. Thompson recalled, "Crown Heights was burning."

"He was helpful as someone who represented authority yet had a common background, or a common race, who manifested a desire to keep things calm, and reason with people," said Milton Mollen, a deputy mayor under David N. Dinkins. "Excellent temperament."

After the Crown Heights riots, Mr. Thompson was active with the organization Blacks and Jews in Conversation, which was co-founded by his father, then an appellate judge. He also found ways, as the Board of Education president, to supply yeshivas with computers and supplies and to ease bus rules for students in religious schools, said Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, the longtime chairman of Community Board 9 in Crown Heights.

Orthodox Jews are hardly monolithic, thanks to divisions among the Satmars and differences among Russian immigrants, Bukharin Jews and others. But there could be 30,000 Orthodox voters in the Democratic primary this year, and they often vote in blocs, said Councilman David G. Greenfield, a Democrat who represents Borough Park and Midwood.

And while Mr. Greenfield has not endorsed anyone, he said he believed that voters would consider longstanding friendships and issues like child care, education and religious liberty.

In the 2001 Democratic primary for comptroller, Mr. Thompson defeated a better-financed candidate, Herbert E. Berman, a Jewish Brooklyn councilman. Mr. Berman said Mr. Thompson "very intelligently kept up his ties with the Orthodox community, and as a consequence, when I felt I should have gotten the endorsement of the Jewish press, they didn't endorse either of us."

Mr. Thompson said he was the first comptroller to make city investments in Israeli bonds. He also took part in a panel, at a 2007 conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee headlined by Vice President Dick Cheney, on financial sanctions against "Iran and other state sponsors of terror."

Early this month, Mr. Thompson was the subject of a lengthy profile, in Hebrew, by an Orthodox magazine, Bakhila. And in December, Mr. Thompson made quite an impression by attending two Hanukkah events in Brooklyn and Manhattan, scheduled for the same hour, and drawing rousing receptions at both.

"Thompson's reputation walked into the room before he did," said Jonathan Greenspun, who served as Mr. Bloomberg's unofficial liaison to the Orthodox community, and was an informal adviser during the 2009 campaign against Mr. Thompson. "Jewish leaders want you to show up, and they want to know: 'Does this guy get me? Does he understand who I am and what my needs are?' And a guy like Thompson — that familiarity, that credibility — is there, without question."

Of course, all of the declared and presumed Democratic candidates are reaching out to Jewish voters. For instance, Bill de Blasio, the public advocate and a former councilman with Borough Park ties, has been attuned to issues grating on Orthodox Jews, like business fines and parking. Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, met recently with Orthodox women who own or manage businesses in Williamsburg. John C. Liu, the comptroller, has tirelessly attended community events.

But at a breakfast with Mr. Thompson at his house in Midwood, Chaskel Bennett, a businessman, used Yiddish to differentiate Mr. Thompson from other politicians. Mr. Thompson, he said, was a "mensch" and had never asked for a dime. Others, by contrast, were "schnorrers" — transactional officials who begged for dollars and votes but did not reciprocate when help was needed.

Mr. Thompson, nodding, noted that he went to middle school a few blocks away. "This isn't about relationships from 5, 10 years ago," he said. "This is my life."

Mr. Bennett added that many voters had "buyer's remorse" about 2009, because they believed the Bloomberg administration was too Manhattan-centric and ruthless in levying fines and fees.

"There are a lot of people in the Orthodox Jewish community who feel that maybe our relationship with Gracie Mansion, with City Hall, would be a lot better had Bill won the election," he said. "Good friends are hard to find, and Bill Thompson is a friend."



Sunday, February 24, 2013

Smartphone app Has Text of Megillah and Drowns Out Haman’s Name 

Unique Purim apps available to smartphone users help make the holiday marking the salvation of the Jewish people in ancient Persia an even more unique experience both in Israel and across the world.

For the complete reading of Megillat Esther, there is an app available for Android users, which includes the Hebrew text of Esther, complete with vowels and cantillation marks, seven different font sizes, as well as a verse-by-verse English translation. One of its unique features is that it provides a noisemaker (grogger) to drown out the name of the evildoer Haman during the reading, with several options for noisy sound effects.

The English translation is based on the 1917 Jewish Publication Society version, whose text has been updated to replace “thee” and “thou,” “hast” and “didst,” and similar archaisms.

In addition, the app also includes the text for the Purim Service (seder Purim) with the appropriate texts for four different customs: Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Nusach Sefard and Nusach Ari.

The app is available on Google Play Store by the name of Esther by ZigZag Inc. and costs $1.99 or NIS 7.46.

Other Purim apps, which are both fun and free, include the Megillas Esther app, which was made available to Android users this year after having been available to iPhone and iPod Touch users last year.  According to the Google Play Store description, the app allows you to scroll through verse by verse with a flick of a finger and the ‘virtual’ noisemaker allows you to choose the noises, including crowd booing, air horn, firecrackers, and machine gun for the reading of Haman’s name. There is also a helpful Haman highlighter.

And finally, in order to enjoy a safe and happy Purim, there is SoberApp, developed in Israel, which helps a person monitor the intake of drinks and estimates the blood and alcohol level. By entering basic information about weight and gender and the type of drink a person has had as well as the time he had it, the app will inform if one can drive now or later or if the drinker has exceeded the alcohol limit in whatever country he is located.

The free app is available on Google Play Store and is especially suitable to those celebrating Purim with plenty of traditional drinking. Happy Purim!



Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Freilichen Purim! 


Rabbi Halpern released 

Rabbi Chaim Halpern and three other Orthodox men who were arrested in Barnet on Wednesday morning were released by police on Friday.

They have been bailed to return in March pending further inquiries.

Rabbi Halpern, of the Divrei Chaim Synagogue in Golders Green, was arrested in connection with investigations into alleged sexual assault and perverting the course of justice. The other three were questioned on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in connection with his arrest.



Friday, February 22, 2013

Four held in Jewish sex abuse probe 

Four men have been arrested by police investigating sexual abuse allegations among one of Britain's largest Orthodox Jewish communities.

A 54-year-old - who is understood to be a senior rabbi from Golders Green - was arrested yesterday on suspicion of sexual assault and perverting the course of justice. He remains in custody at a north London police station.

Three other men - aged 25, 62 and 64 - were also arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in relation to the arrest of the 54-year-old, the Metropolitan Police said.

Met Police borough commander for Barnet Adrian Usher said: "In Barnet we are currently working with members of all our communities to ensure the voices of victims of abuse are heard.

"My message to those victims is simple - come forward and we will listen to, support and believe you."



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Barclays Center Offers Separate Men's And Women's Seating For Orthodox Jews At Concert 

The home of the Brooklyn Nets is courting a new crowd.

In what is believed to be a first for a major sports and entertainment venue, Barclays Center is offering gender-divided seating for ultra-Orthodox Jews at a public event.

Several hundred seats are being set aside so that Jewish men and women can sit in separate areas -- as is custom -- at a Feb. 28 concert by violinist Itzhak Perlman. The night features Jewish music and cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. The tickets for the aisle-divided section cost $50. The remaining seats are open to anyone else.

The new arena will also augment its regular Avenue K kosher food service that night with entrees from Abigael's, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan.

Bruce Ratner, Barclays majority owner and developer, said "to [his] knowledge" the ultra-Orthodox arrangement was a first.

"Being in Brooklyn and being an arena that caters to such diversity, the opportunity to do things different than elsewhere is enormous," Ratner told The Huffington Post.

Ratner, who is Jewish and a fan of liturgical music, said marketing to the strictly observant is worth a try. He said he will soon discover whether the demographic is "too niched."

However, the potential customer base is there. About 40 percent of New York City's 1.1 million Jews consider themselves Orthodox, according to a UJA-Federation study published in The New York Times, and many of them live in Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Borough Park is home to 130,000 Jews, most of whom are among the most conservative, according to a UJA follow-up in the Forward. Williamsburg has 74,500 Jews, also predominantly ultra-Orthodox.

Benny Rogosnitzky, a cantor under Helfgot at Manhattan's Park East Synagogue, helped coordinate the concert. He noted that marketing, which includes ads in Jewish newspapers, has its challenges.

"The ultraorthodox have been reclusive for years," he explained to HuffPost. "They have not been open to outreach."

Barclays will cut the main arena's 19,000 concert capacity to 5,000 for the Perlman performance, meaning that a good chunk of patrons in the center's Cushman & Wakefield Theater could be from the most traditional communities.



Wednesday, February 20, 2013

American Rabbi Elected to Israel’s Parliament 

The first American-born emigrant elected to the Israeli parliament in a generation is in a unique position to contribute to the defining issue in Israeli politics. Dov Lipman is a 41 year-old rabbi from Silver Spring, Maryland and he is probably as surprised as anyone to be a new member of Israel's Knesset.

"Sharing the burden" is a catchphrase known by just about every Israeli since the national election last month. It refers to the fact that nearly all of the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel – tens of thousands of them – are exempt from the military service that is mandatory for most of the rest of the country. They rely heavily on government subsidies and spend long hours in full-time religious study for much of their adulthood. Many do not enter the workforce and therefore do not pay much in the way of taxes.

The situation has caused no small amount of resentment among Israeli voters and they want it to change. So does Rabbi Lipman.

The rabbi's road to the Knesset ran through the less-then-glamorous Israeli city of Bet Shemesh. In late 2011, Bet Shemesh was a cultural battleground. It was big news when members of the Ultra-Orthodox community harassed and spit on an 8 year-old Jewish girl for not dressing modestly enough.

In Bet Shemesh, Lipman became a very public advocate against the extremism and self-imposed isolation of the Ultra-Orthodox community. And for that, he says he was spat upon, had rocks thrown at him and even received death threats. But he kept it up, calling on the Ultra-Orthodox to do more to integrate into mainstream Israeli society.

"It's mostly the political leadership of the Ultra-Orthodox community," Lipman told me last summer. "The average Ultra-Orthodox person on the ground is ready for some kind of a change."

Lipman spoke with me at a small demonstration in Tel Aviv, where a group of young army veterans in t-shirts and jeans were demanding that the Ultra-Orthodox either join the army or do some kind of national service.

The rabbi stood out in this crowd. He was the only person there whose style of dress marked him as an observant Jew. The black yarmulke on his head and his black pinstriped suit was probably similar to the outfit he wore during his time at yeshiva. Judaism puts an emphasis on learning the Old Testament – or Torah. But Lipman told me that there needs to be a better balance.

"Listen, I love studying Torah, I dedicated my life to the rabbinate," he said. But he conceded, "I couldn't sit and study Torah day and night for my entire life. It's not a normal thing."

"There's an elite group that I'm sure can do it and the country's ready to support them and support them well. We're not talking about going into the study halls and clearing them out and giving them a gun and saying, 'serve in the army.' They're talking about community service within their own communities."

That message of compromise earned Lipman a spot in a new political party led by one of Israel's rising stars, Yair Lapid. The former journalist and his Yesh Atid party – it means, 'there is a future' – made "sharing the burden" a centerpiece of their campaign. And they surprised just about everyone in the recent election by winning the second-highest number of seats in the new parliament.

At the beginning of the month, I spoke with Lipman at the Knesset. It was the day he took the oath of office. This meant he had to give up his American citizenship, which he told me was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do.

"You know America meant so much to my family, taking in my family from persecution in Russia and the Holocaust," Lipman said in the crowded entryway of the parliament building.

"America has given me so much in terms of my values of tolerance and respecting one another, I felt like I was smacking my country in the face."

But Lipman seemed giddy to be have a shot at making his mark in Israeli politics. He said he wants his work in the Knesset to be a continuation of what of he was doing as an activist in Bet Shemesh.

"Extremism happens with the Ultra-Orthodox community is isolated. So, the more they're isolated, the more they're not part of the broader society, the more extremism can be bred."

"What we're trying to do is create a situation where they continue religious observance as they are, but they're serving in the army, serving in national service, going to school, working," Lipman said. "It'll be a process, but as we get to that point, there will be less extremism. And events like [what] happened in Bet Shemesh will not happen again."

Lipman repeated to me his belief that many people in the Ultra-Orthodox community are ready for change. And with his religious background, he said he can be a bridge between them and the Israeli mainstream.

But this will not be easy, according to Gil Hoffman, who covers politics for the Jerusalem Post.

"It's true that there is a lot of Ultra-Orthodox grass-roots who realize that things have gotten out of hand," Hoffman said during an interview at his home in Jerusalem. "Unfortunately, it's the rabbis who make the decisions for them. And their rabbis aren't going to realize that anytime soon."

"The challenge," Hoffman said, "can't be underestimated. You're talking about changing a culture among people who are raised to be uncompromising."

Last week, Dov Lipman spoke in parliament for the first time. And he made his pitch for compromise to his Knesset colleagues.

Some 70 years ago, Lipman said his grandmother, Mrs. Ethel Kleinman, emerged from Auschwitz. And as she told him, "there were no sectarian divisions in the death camps."

"No one spoke of secular, religious, traditional or Ultra-Orthodox," Lipman said in American-accented Hebrew. And neither did the Nazis.

"As far as they were concerned, they were all Jews, subject to the same cruel fate."

Lipman went on to call on his colleagues to do the same, by breaking down the sectarian divisions in Israeli politics and society today.



Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Report: Yeshiva got millions for technology it bans 

An all-boys school in the Hasidic village of New Square has accepted more than $3.3 million in federal funds earmarked for Internet and telecommunications technology, even though students there do not have access to computers, an investigation by the Manhattan-based Jewish Week newspaper has found.

According to a Feb. 15 report at www.thejewishweek.com, published by the newspaper, Yeshiva Avir Yakov in New Square “is just one of many fervently Orthodox Jewish schools in New York State that, despite publicly eschewing Internet use and despite offering their students minimal, if any, access to computers, have spent large sums of E-Rate money.”

The Hasidic community is “deeply concerned about the perceived social threat posed by the Internet” and views the Web as a “corrupting force capable of undermining their way of life,” according to the newspaper.

The newspaper said it obtained video from inside Avir Yakov that showed no computers in classrooms, but the video was not posted on the paper’s website.

The report notes a rally held about the dangers of the Internet at the Citi Field and Arthur Ashe stadiums in Queens in May 2012 that attracted 60,000 Orthodox Jews. What’s more, it says, the community’s schools require parents to sign waivers stating there is no Internet access in their homes as a precondition for enrollment.

E-Rate, a federal program that subsidizes telecommunications services and infrastructure for schools and libraries, paid more than $30 million to 285 Jewish schools in New York in 2011, according to the report.

The newspaper found that while Jewish schools enrolled approximately 4 percent of the state’s K-12 students, they were awarded 22 percent of the program’s allocations to schools and libraries that year.



Monday, February 18, 2013

Outremont's Hasidic Jews brace for Purim conflict 

Montreal’s Hasidic Jewish community is preparing for this Sunday’s Purim, a Jewish holiday that caused conflict among neighbours in Outremont last year.

To celebrate the holiday, Orthodox Jewish children in Montreal go door-to-door in costume singing and collecting money for their schools and for the poor.

Minibuses are normally used to shuttle the kids around the neighbourhood, even though there is a borough bylaw banning double-axle vehicles on residential streets.

The bylaw was put in place in 2003 to ban intercity coach buses from traveling through the borough's streets.

A controversy was caused last year when borough councillor Céline Forget and a group of Purim revelers got into an argument for which the police were called.

“She called public security, she called the police, she stood in the middle of street and tried to make it into a scene, and people got angry,” said Mindy Pollak, a co-founder of the group the Friends of Hutchison and a member of Montreal’s Hasidic Jewish community.

This year, the community appealed to the borough council seeking an exemption to the bylaw banning buses, but their request was denied after some residents complained at a council meeting, Pollak said.

The motion at that meeting asking for an exemption also failed to get a seconder.

“It was shocking to see how much opposition there was to it,” she said.

Pollak said community members are trying to make alternative transportation arrangements for this weekend.

Former borough mayor and current councillor Marie Cinq-Mars declined to comment.



Orthodox Communities in NYC Continue To Evolve 

There are limited choices for Orthodox Jews in the NYC area – From Great Neck to Teaneck, the Upper West Side to Lawrence anyone in the frum community is aware of shuls, walking distances and the like. Naturally, real estate throughout New York City continues to explode price wise regardless of where it is.

Certain traditionally religious areas are however seeing real changes – on Flatbush Avenue for example at 167 Johnson Place developer Ron Hershco has developed over 500 units – and it’s at a fraction of the price of elsewhere in NYC. Michael Burke, director of the Downtown Brooklyn Council says “That entire area is on the verge of moving forward.” Brooklyn indeed is a different place than it was in years past – and others in the community are building, including Isaac Hager at Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street, and Isaac Katan on Myrtle Avenue.

In Long Beach, even after Sandy prices and sales continue. The Meridian is a small luxury building and was the 1st Long Beach building which got prices well above $1 Million (it is also a Ron Hershco building).  Of course, prices in Five Towns and Great Neck continue to be well above that.

No matter where it is real estate seems to be thriving.



Sunday, February 17, 2013

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Spread Into Once-Black Brooklyn Neighborhoods 

If you’re looking to move to an apartment on or near Park Avenue, be prepared to break open the piggy bank. Prices are higher than ever and developers are squabbling over construction rights.

That’s Park Avenue, Brooklyn – not its swankier Manhattan namesake.

For decades, this derelict corner of New York’s most populous borough was the domain of dangerous street gangs and dilapidated industrial buildings. The name of its neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant, was synonomous with urban decay and crime. But driven by the explosive growth of the Jewish population in neighboring Williamsburg, a stronghold of the Satmar hasidic sect, untold numbers of haredi Orthodox Jews recently have moved into the area, and now many consider it part of Jewish Williamsburg.

“Ten years ago there were no Jews living here,” said Moishe, a construction site manager of a large residential building who declined to give his last name. “Then they changed the zoning. Now it is going heavy.”

The changes in the neighborhood are among the consequences of the explosive growth of the Orthodox Jewish population in America’s most Jewish city. That growth is altering not just the composition of America’s largest Jewish community, but city neighborhoods, too.

A study released last month by the UJA-Federation of New York identified Williamsburg as home to the second-fastest Jewish population growth in New York City. About 74,500 Jews – mostly haredi Orthodox – lived there in 2011, up from 52,700 a decade earlier. The fastest-growing Jewish neighborhood of the city was Borough Park, another haredi Orthodox stronghold in Brooklyn. More than 130,000 Jews lived there in 2011, up from 76,000 in 2001. Together, these two areas accounted for two-thirds of the 10 percent increase in the number of Jews living in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County between 2001 and 2011, according to the study.

With these neighborhoods’ rapid growth has come new challenges. Affordable housing is increasingly scarce. The median real estate price in the Park Avenue area is just under $500,000, higher than nearly 80 percent of New York neighborhoods, according to Neighborhood Scout, a real estate data website. Meanwhile, average income in the area is lower than 90 percent of U.S. neighborhoods, according to the site.

“The prices are going up and up, and it’s becoming harder and harder for young families to buy in this neighborhood,” said Gary Schlesinger, the executive director of United Jewish Community Advocacy, Relations and Enrichment (UJCare), a haredi organization based in Williamsburg. “I personally have two married children. They have no prospects of owning land.”



Saturday, February 16, 2013

New York City suing ultra-Orthodox for posting modesty guidelines in stores 

Does a requirement that customers at Satmar-run stores in Brooklyn dress modestly run afoul of human rights law? That is the question at issue in the upcoming trial of seven businesses being sued by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights for having signs in their storefronts stating, “No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low cut neckline allowed in this store.”

The businesses are all located along a two-block stretch of Lee Avenue, Williamsburg’s main Hasidic shopping street, which bustles with cars and pedestrian shoppers during the week but on Shabbos becomes silent but for the men wearing prayer shawls hurrying to synagogue along the sidewalks.

“These stores are public accommodations, and they are prohibited from posting any kind of advertisement specifying a preference for one type of customer or another, or expressing discrimination against one type or another,” said Clifford Mulqueen, deputy commissioner and general counsel to the human rights commission.

Public accommodation is a legal term meaning entities like stores, public or private, that are used by the public.

The signs are “pretty specific to women,” Mulqueen said. “It seems pretty clear that it’s geared toward women dressing modestly if they choose to come into the store, and that would be discrimination.”

The virtually identical modesty signs began appearing in Williamsburg store windows in 2011 and 2012, and the human rights commission filed the lawsuits in August 2012. There is a pre-trial meeting at court scheduled on March 12th, Mulqueen said.

The business owners are pushing back, claiming that in fact it is the city’s bias against Satmar Hasidim that is motivating the lawsuits.

“The only bias I see in these lawsuits is a stereotype by the City Commission of Human Rights that ‘all Hasidim must be guilty of discrimination because they’re all misogynists,’ ” said Marc Stern, a civil rights expert who works as counsel to the American Jewish Committee. Stern said he is informally advising the attorney representing the businesses. “It reflects a bias on the part of this commission.”

The stores named in the lawsuits range from Friedman’s Depot, a grocery store, at one end of the stretch, to Tiv-Tov hardware store, Lee Avenue Clothing Center, and Sander’s Bakery, at the other end. Also being sued are Imperial Luggage and Gestetner Printing.

They have moved, as a group, to have the lawsuits dismissed, said Devora Allon, the lawyer representing the businesses. She is an associate in the New York office of the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.

“The complaints do not allege discriminatory intent, and that is what the human rights law outlaws,” she told Haaretz. “The signs do not actually discriminate between men and women, and apply equally to men and women,” Allon said. “No service was ever denied on the basis of how somebody was dressed.”

Kirkland is representing the Williamsburg owners on a pro bono basis because, Allon said, the outcome of the cases “has implications for religious rights, and for religious freedoms.”

Stern said that the complaints “were self-generated by the commission.”

“It’s not even clear these store owners ever enforced the signs,” said Stern. “Where’s the evidence?”

But Mulqueen of the commission said that people in Williamsburg “complained to us about having to observe these standards.”

Businesses are allowed to set dress codes, said Stern, citing as examples private clubs in Manhattan, where “if you walked in in shorts and a halter top, you’d be tackled by the old doorman.” He also said that employment discrimination courts have determined that each gender can have a different dress code, such as requiring skirts for women and suit and tie for men. “They’ve even upheld the Hooters dress code,” which requires female servers to wear skimpy orange hotpants and cleavage-baring tops, he said.

“How is it, within three miles of the city commission’s office, there are God knows how many restaurants with different gender-based dress codes, and the city commission doesn’t pursue them?” said Stern. “If those don’t get challenged why does this?”



Friday, February 15, 2013

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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


Orthodox anger over plan for compulsory evolution lessons 

Government plans to make the teaching of evolution compulsory in UK state primary schools have caused consternation within the Orthodox educational world.

The National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos), which represents most Orthodox schools in the country, said that it was "very concerned" about the proposals, which were part of a draft national curriculum published for consultation last week.

Rabbi Shimon Winegarten, who is principal of several Najos schools, declared that evolution was "against our belief. Moreover, the theory of evolution is just that — theory; unproven, with unexplained gaping gaps. It is too difficult to explain all that to primary school children."

Rabbis, he said, were "not in favour of this theory becoming mandatory primary school teaching" within the Orthodox sector.

The national curriculum is binding on most state-aided schools, including religious schools, although not on the new style of free schools.

According to the draft proposals, year 4 pupils (aged eight to nine) should be taught to recognise "that living things have changed over time and that fossils provide information about living things that inhabited the earth millions of years ago".

It is also suggested that they could take a look at Charles Darwin's work.

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag, chairman of Najos, said: "The challenge presented by the theory of evolution to traditional understanding of the Creation of the world is against the major principles of our faith."

Orthodox Jewish schools, he said, would look for "the appropriate exemptions from mandatory requirements in accordance with the principles of freedom of religion and conscience".

Najos executive director Jonathan Rabson said that it would seek "an audience at the highest level" to register its concerns.

Mill Hill United Synagogue's Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet also attacked the government proposals, saying that the authorities "argue against teaching creationism in the classroom and then advocate teaching evolution. I find that blatant double standards and is just another secular assault on religious teachings".

Attitudes to evolution and scientific ideas vary, however, across the Orthodox world. The Hertz Chumash, once the standard for United Synagogue communities which was published in the 1930s, believed that there was "nothing inherently un-Jewish" about evolution, which reflected "the activity of a supreme, directing Intelligence".

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, in a TV discussion with Darwinist Richard Dawkins, last year observed: "Adam and Eve is clearly a parable because there was no first human…"

Rabbi Harvey Belovski, of Golders Green United Synagogue and founding principal of the new Rimon free school, an Orthodox Jewish primary, said that he would have "no problem" with evolution being "taught carefully" in a science class there.



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Disgraced Designer John Galliano Dressed As A Hasidic Jew For Fashion Week 

Convicted anti-Semite John Galliano was seen on the streets of New York yesterday wearing what many would suggest was an outfit reminiscent of traditional Hasidic Jewish garb.

Photos of the disgraced designer dressed in a large hat and long curled tendrils to attend Oscar de la Renta's 2013 Fashion Week show in New York surfaced on Tuesday. Critics pointed out that his curls looked like peyos, the curled sidelocks traditionally worn by Orthodox Jewish men.

"He's trying to embarrass people in the Jewish community and make money on clothes [while] dressed like people he has insulted," Isaac Abraham, a Williamsburg community leader, said to The New York Post. "It looks like the hairstyle he added was done purposely to insult."

The outfit appeared to be right out of Galliano's 2013 Paris Fashion Week menswear show, down to the bucket hat and cropped pants. The curled hair, however, was a misguided deviation from the collection.

"If it was just anyone else, I wouldn't know what to say," Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind told The Post. "But considering who this guy is, considering his background and what he's said in the past, let him explain it to all of us: Are you mocking us?"

Galliano was famously fired from Christian Dior in 2011 after a video of him yelling, "I love Hitler!" and anti-Semitic slurs in a Paris café surfaced and went viral online. He was convicted in France of making racist public insults and fined €6,000. Subsequently, he was shunned by the fashion industry that had formerly embraced him.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dispute Settled Over Yiddish Literary Trove 

The dispute over the papers of the late Yiddish writer Chaim Grade has been settled in favor of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the National Library of Israel, according to a recent press release. The two organizations have also gained control over copyright to Grade's published work.

Grade was one of the most highly regarded postwar Yiddish writers. His oeuvre includes novels such as "The Yeshiva" and "The Agunah," as well as the novelistic memoir "My Mother's Sabbath Days." He was also the author much untranslated poetry and several novels that were serialized in the Yiddish press but have never appeared in book form.

The collection was recovered from the writer's home by the Bronx Public Administrator after the death of Grade's wife, Inna Hecker Grade, in 2010. It includes 40 boxes of letters, photographs and manuscripts, as well as Grade's 20,000-volume library.

According to YIVO Executive Director Jonathan Brent, YIVO and the National Library of Israel made identical bids to the Bronx Public Administrator and decided to combine forces. Other institutions that were invited to bid included Harvard University, the New York Public Library and the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

"We will now begin as quickly as we can to sort through the materials," Brent told the Forward. "The contents of Grade's apartment were simply put into boxes with no attention paid to themes or subjects or kinds of materials. So it's going to be a fairly painstaking process."

While YIVO will retain physical possession of the collection, both institutions will share responsibility for translation, publication and digitization of the material, and they anticipate raising money toward that end. They will also attempt to raise funds for a $150,000 fellowship for a scholar to organize the material and to write a book about Grade and his world. After it has been organized the entire collection will be digitized as part of the agreement.

Since Grade's death in 1982, his widow restricted publishers' and scholars' access to his work. Now YIVO and the National Library of Israel intend to make it available to both Yiddish and English-reading audiences.

"We are going to begin as quickly as possible to put all of Chaim Grade's work back in print, and if necessary, in new translations," Brent said. "Making his works in Yiddish available for the Yiddish speaking world is a prime concern and goal."



Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Jewish Canadian rapper Drake wins first Grammy 

The Jewish Canadian singer Drake won a Grammy Award, his first, for Rap Album of the Year.

Also, the indie pop band fun. won Song of the Year with "We Are Young" and Best New Artist at the 55th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. Its lead singer, Jack Antonoff, is Jewish, and he thanked all the band's fans after fun. won in the latter category.
"We've been touring for 12 years and we haven't made money for a very long time," he told the crowd, extending a shout-out to girlfriend Lena Dunham.

For Drake, his album "Take Care" brought him the Grammy before the televised portion of the show began. He beat out Lupe Fiasco, Nas, The Roots and Rick Ross.

Drake had been nominated 10 times before breaking through this year. He also was nominated for Best Rap Performance for his song "HYFR" and Best Rap song for "The Motto."

Fun. also performed at the Grammys, playing its hit "Carry On" during a staged indoor rainstorm at the Staples Center.

In his introduction of the group, actor Neil Patrick Harris said, "As legendary gangsta rap icon Katharine Hepburn once said, 'If you obey all the rules, you don't have any fun.' "

Other notable Grammy winners were the English folk band Mumford & Sons, who won Album of the Year for "Babel"; Gotye, whose hit "Somebody That I Used to Know" won for Record of the Year; and Adele, who won her seventh Grammy for her live performance of "Set Fire to the Rain."



Monday, February 11, 2013

Counselor’s Penalty for Child Sexual Abuse Is Halved, to 50 Years 

The state's corrections department has reduced by more than half the prison sentence of Nechemya Weberman, the unlicensed Hasidic counselor from Brooklyn who was convicted in December of child sexual abuse charges.

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Mr. Weberman was sentenced last month by a judge to 103 years in prison, but the state cut his penalty to 50 years, making him eligible for release for good behavior when he is 97, in 2055. His maximum sentence would end in 2062.

Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the corrections department, said Friday that the sentencing reduction was a result of a state penal law that mandates a maximum sentence of 50 years for the combination of felonies of which Mr. Weberman was convicted. The law does not bind judges, who can legally impose longer sentences if they choose.

The sentence reduction was previously reported by The Daily News.

William Gibney, head of the criminal practice special litigation unit at the Legal Aid Society, said it would be unlikely that the sentencing judge in this case, Justice John G. Ingram of State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, would have been unaware that his prolonged sentence would later be reduced.

"If a judge wants to put on the record that he or she thinks that a longer sentence is appropriate, then they will often just impose that sentence," Mr. Gibney said. The longer sentence can send a message about the judge's view of the severity of the crime, or guide a parole board in its future decisions, he said.

Mr. Weberman, 54, was convicted of repeatedly molesting a girl during therapy sessions over three years, beginning when she was 12. Before sentencing him on 59 counts of abuse, Justice Ingram told the court, "The message should go out to all victims of sexual abuse that your cries will be heard and justice will be done."

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the New York courts, said Justice Ingram sentenced the defendant as he saw fit. "The end result will remain the same, life in prison," he said.



Sunday, February 10, 2013

Orthodox Woman's Journey From Teen Wife to Advocate 

Fraidy Reiss was married at the age of 19 to a man she despised. Outwardly, she had a choice. The ultra-Orthodox matchmaker she went to gave her two men to choose from. She went on a couple of dates. She desired neither. But as a girl perilously close to 20 in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn, she finally agreed to marry one.

A week into the marriage, Reiss’s husband woke up late and, in a blind rage, punched a hole in the bedroom wall. It was the beginning of nearly 15 years of living with a man whose constant physical threats against her — though he never actually beat her — came to dominate Reiss’s daily life.

Today, Reiss sits in a crowded coffee shop at New York’s Port Authority and reflects on the huge distance she has traveled in the past 18 years, from that marriage to her current role as head of a not-for-profit group that helps women — Jewish and non-Jewish — get out of forced marriages.

“It’s hugely cathartic,” she said. “When I can give somebody the support that I didn’t have, every time that’s healing.”

It was in 2011, after her ultimately successful struggle to leave her marriage, get a college degree and work as a journalist and, later, as a private investigator, that Reiss resolved to help women going through what she had experienced.

Unchained at Last, the not-for-profit organization she founded that year, seeks to support women from all cultures or religions who want to leave a forced marriage. Acting as a sort of social services middleman, the organization connects women with pro bono divorce lawyers, social workers, counselors and psychotherapists — all volunteers. Reiss and her board members — each from a different community in which arranged marriage is common — also put women in touch with mentors from a similar background, to help advise them on how to navigate these difficult waters.

Reiss says that her organizations helps women from Jewish and Muslim families, and from South Asian and African cultures.



Saturday, February 09, 2013

After These Jewish Prayer Services, Things Come 'To Life' at Open Bar 

Come Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, the atmosphere at Rabbi Sholom Lipskar's synagogue near Bal Harbour, Fla., turns festive. The eating and drinking start early.

Very early.

The synagogue, called The Shul, attracts anywhere from 500 to 800 people each week. Most attend services in the main sanctuary that start around 9 a.m. But some early birds show up for prayers that begin at 7:15 a.m. and conclude by 9:15. Then it is party time for the largely male crowd.

This elegant seaside place of worship is on the cutting edge of the Kiddush—a lavish repast that has helped transform the staid postservice fellowship hour to the kind of boozy, over-the-top spread synonymous with weddings.

Such affairs have become so de rigueur to luring congregants that Rabbi Lipskar has solicited donors for a special "Kiddush bank" to fund the pricey libations and epicurean fare that can cost anywhere from $1,800 to $3,600 per week.

"It is perfect," says Rabbi Lipskar, whose synagogue is part of the Hasidic Lubavitch movement. "God didn't make the delicious stuff only for non-Jews." Those who want a shot of hard liquor—they don't say "let's have a drink," but "let's have a L'chaim," he says, referring to the traditional Jewish toast "to life."

"This is not a drinking fest," he adds. "The drinks are in small cups."

In the face of dwindling attendance at religious services, many rabbis have become similarly creative. At the Bal Harbour shul and other synagogues, the sumptuous food, fine wines and liquors are a way to help draw congregants.

As early as January, Rabbi Marc Schneier was already well into planning his synagogue's summer worship in New York's posh Hamptons community. He is lining up guest speakers, interviewing assistant rabbis—and considering ways to improve on the martini bar.

The "L'chaim" table of high-price spirits is the most popular feature of The Hampton Synagogue's Saturday summer service. "There is always vodka, an assortment of single malts, tequila," says Robert Fisher, a friend of the rabbi who serves as adviser on food and drink.

Rabbi Schneier notes that the fetes don't get overly boisterous. It is all about the "M-word," he insists—not martinis, but "moderation."

The same might not be said about the food. One weekend the entrees included pan-seared sesame salmon and sliced steak with horseradish cream. There is always seafood salad—the rabbi's favorite dish—albeit made with pollock and whiting since the congregation adheres to kosher laws banning shellfish. The "herring bar" features 12 different variations named after each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Raising a glass during or after services isn't strictly an Orthodox phenomenon, says Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, who is president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the umbrella group of Conservative rabbis. Among both Conservative and Orthodox Jews, he has witnessed what he calls "the cult of alcohol on Sabbath morning in shul," which means men leaving even during prayers to have a drink with their buddies. As kosher certifications for wine and spirits have exploded, observant Jews have had access to finer wines—and they have indulged.

"Finding a really good Kiddush—that's a blood sport in the Jewish community," says Rabbi Skolnik, who presides at the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, New York City.

Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan's West Side was a mob scene last Saturday as congregants gathered in the elegant new $50 million sanctuary to pray and then descended on the "Gala Kiddush"—an array of gourmet dishes piled high on different table—meant to help draw new members to the institution.

"It is very competitive," says Ora Hamelsdorf, one of two people assigned to oversee the Kiddush.

The Orthodox synagogue's newsletter announced the formation of its own "L'Chaim Club," asking members to contribute $100 for the purchase of liquor. In doing so, the bulletin added, a person can partake of the booze "guilt-free."

Entrance to the striking, brand new $50 million Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York City.
It wasn't always this way. Traditionally, Kiddush consisted of some "stale sponge cake and Tam-Tam crackers," with a smattering of herring, says Rabbi Schneier. It was a modest interlude, like its Christian counterpart, the church coffee hour.

"Once upon a time, some people went to synagogue to talk to God. Nowadays, more and more people come to see their friends," says Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. The prayers and sermons "are a distraction. Conviviality goes better with a drink."

Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills has six different Kiddushes on any given Saturday, corresponding with different services, including one for "young professionals." But the rabbi, Kalman Topp, says the growing trend is to have "breakaway Kiddushes" beyond synagogue walls. These are held in people's homes and typically are men-only, with liquor being a big attraction.

"It usually involves quality whiskey," says Rabbi Topp. "The perception is, the more expensive the bottle, the more prestigious the Kiddush."

In Westhampton, N.Y., Rabbi Schneier's synagogue has private sponsors each week who shell out $7,200 for food and $1,800 or more for the ever-changing bar—which may, incidentally, include rum-based mojitos, Champagne-infused Bellinis and the like. The L'chaim liquor table costs an additional $1,800—so the total can exceed $10,000 for a single Sabbath. Despite the steep cost, there are always eager sponsors, says the rabbi.

Last year in Bal Harbour, one donor made an unusual contribution. Each Friday afternoon, on the eve of the Sabbath, his driver appeared carrying a leather suitcase with a giant 1.75 liter bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue label tucked inside. At the Saturday Kiddush, a special volunteer handed out shot glasses of the $500 scotch. "It went pretty fast," Rabbi Lipskar says.

Inside the sanctuary of the elegant new Lincoln Square Synagogue building.
Some of the faithful cast a cold eye on such excess. "It is very upsetting. It is not in keeping with Jewish standards of modesty," says Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president emeritus of the Orthodox Union, an umbrella organization for Orthodox congregations.

Neither does Rabbi Hershel Billet, of Woodmere, N.Y., approve of heavy drinking as a part of synagogue culture. He recalls how, a few years ago, men were getting up and leaving in the middle of his own services. "They'd return drunk, loud. It had to stop," he says.

While he himself likes a glass of fine wine, he decided to ban liquor in the synagogue several years ago. Some members left in protest.

Meanwhile, Kiddush in the Hamptons is shaping up to be more upscale than ever. On a recent evening, Rabbi Schneier and Mr. Fisher brainstormed about the season ahead, which starts on Mother's Day weekend and lasts till Thanksgiving.

"Do you think we could have a Kentucky Derby Kiddush?" Mr. Fisher muses. Some summer residents start the season early by coming to check on their homes. "We could serve mint juleps," he says. The women, he imagines, could don fancy hats.



Friday, February 08, 2013

Blue Bloods "Men in Black" - Show filmed in Boro-Park with 'Hasidim' airs on Shabbos 

Blue Bloods Season 3 Episode 14 Men in Black (6)

Blue Bloods Season 3 Episode 14 "Men in Black"

Blue Bloods "Men in Black" Season 3 episode 14 airs Friday Feb 8 2013 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Episode Synopsis: Before a Hasidic Grand Rebbe passes away, he chooses his youngest son to succeed him. But when the new appointee dies suddenly, Danny investigates the oldest son and others within the Hasidic community. Meanwhile, Henry reveals a family secret to Frank, on BLUE BLOODS, Friday, Feb. 8 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Show Summary: BLUE BLOODS is a drama about a multi-generational family of cops dedicated to New York City law enforcement. Frank Reagan is the New York Police Commissioner and heads both the police force and the Reagan brood. He runs his department as diplomatically as he runs his family, even when dealing with the politics that plagued his unapologetically bold father, Henry, during his stint as Chief. A source of pride and concern for Frank is his eldest son Danny, a seasoned detective, family man and Iraq War vet who on occasion uses dubious tactics to solve cases with his loyal and tough partner, Detective Jackie Curatola.

The Reagan women in the family include Erin, a N.Y. Assistant D.A. who also serves as the legal compass for her siblings and father, and single parent to her teenage daughter Nicky; and Linda, Danny's supportive wife. Jamie is the youngest Reagan, a recent grad of Harvard Law and the family's "golden boy." Unable to deny the family tradition, Jamie has decided to give up a lucrative future in law and follow in the family footsteps as a cop.



Thursday, February 07, 2013

Dreyfus becomes second Jewish AG 

Mark Dreyfus this week became just the second Jewish federal attorney-general, a position first held by Sir Isaac Isaacs nearly a century ago.
Dreyfus, who has been a Labor MP since 2007, was appointed to the post as part of a ministerial reshuffle, forced on Prime Minister Julia Gillard after several of her lieutenants, including former attorney-general Nicola Roxon, quit politics.

Speaking to The AJN moments after being sworn in by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at Government House in Canberra on Monday, Dreyfus said he was "deeply honoured".

"It's a great opportunity, and I look forward to continuing the work of our Labor government in this term and the next term," Dreyfus said, dismissing speculation that the reshuffle was indicative of a government in the death throes.

"Quite the reverse. [The cabinet reshuffle] shows the depth of experience and talent that there is in our parliamentary party," Dreyfus explained.
The Member for Isaacs in Melbourne (the seat he won by a whopping 22 per cent in 2010), Dreyfus was rewarded for his work as parliamentary secretary for climate change as well as a glittering legal career.

The 56-year-old Queen's Council hit the ground running when he was forced to defend the government's unpopular proposed consolidation of anti-discrimination acts, with his tenure as the country's first law officer just hours old.

A hot-button issue with the Jewish community, Dreyfus said the spotlight should be cast on the Coalition's proposal to repeal Section 18C of Racial Discrimination Act, also known as the Racial Hatred Act. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott last year said he would scrap the act if elected, a move met with scepticism by Jewish leaders.

"The government's position is that the hate speech provisions, which have been in the Racial Discrimination Act sine 1994, should continue unchanged.
By contrast the position that the Coalition has taken is that Tony Abbott has called for repeal of Section 18C, George Brandis has called for repeal. The government is firmly committed to the continuation of those ­provisions."

Dreyfus refused to concede that recent decisions by the government to abstain on a UN vote to give the Palestinian territories observer status and Foreign Minister Bob Carr's condemnation of Israel's planned settlement expansions signalled a change in federal Labor's attitudes towards Israel.
"Differences of opinion over particular votes or international decisions that are taken by Australia need to be seen properly in context and not immediately assumed, because there's some difference of opinion, to represent any lack of support for Israel, which continues – as I would hope it continues from the Coalition."

The great-grandson of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, Dreyfus last week took exception to comments by senior Liberal Christopher Pyne, conflating the Gillard government with the depiction of a crumbling Third Reich in the movie Downfall.

"There is no place in Australian political debate for comparing any Australian government to Hitler's Third Reich."

"He [Pyne] has responded to my call for an apology by failing to apologise. I'm going to leave it by simply referring him to the circumstances of my father's and my grandparents' arrival in Australia."

Pyne told The AJN he was merely comparing the "chaos and dysfunction" of the government with "scenes from the fictional movie, Downfall".
"Nevertheless, if this has caused any offence I apologise," Pyne said.

He noted that Dreyfus accused Tony Abbott of being like Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels in an op-ed last year. "While I have publicly retracted my statement, Mr Dreyfus has refused to apologise for his comment and in fact claims to stand by it."



Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Haredi paper censors women's shoes 

Ultra-Orthodox press censorship is breaking its own records: The Hamodia daily, one of the United Torah Judaism party's official journals, decided to "erase" women's shoes from a picture of a shoe drawer published in a news report, likely due to "modesty concerns."

The haredi sector's daily newspapers, which operate under the strict supervision of a "spiritual committee," have an old tradition of refraining from publishing pictures of women. In the past, they even avoided mentioning women's first names.

Sometimes, due to the great sensitivity of the issue, new restrictions are formed – as in this case.

Hamodia published a report about a baby who opened a shoe drawer, which blocked the door to the room he was in. He got trapped inside the room and fell asleep – before being rescued by firefighters and emergency forces.

A member of the rescuing force, Asaf Abres of the Jerusalem Fire Department, took a picture of the baby with the drawer and distributed the photo to the media. In the haredi paper, however, it was only published after the graphics department deleted a pair of women's shoes which were in the drawer.

A source in the newspaper confirmed that Hamodia permits the publication of accessories like bags but censors feminine items like clothes and shoes.

This isn't the first case of strict censorship in Hamodia. Several months ago, the newspaper reported that the cause of a fatal road accident near the Tapuach Junction in the West Bank was a car's collision with two "wild other things," referring to wild boars which are not mentioned by the haredi public as they are not kosher and a symbol of impurity.



Orthodox Jewish Groups Exploit E-Rate Library Subsidy Program 

Down a gritty dead-end alley in ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, past a loading dock and a couple of dumpsters, a set of stairs leads up to a small room with bare walls and a dozen computers.

The plaque on the door at Kollel L'Horauh calls the room a library. As a library, it has received $135,000 in congressionally mandated library subsidies. But there's no librarian, and the room's "collection" consists of a subscription to a single digital database of Jewish books that is not even available on all the computers. In Brooklyn, not being a library is no barrier to receiving library subsidies. A Forward investigation has found that E-Rate, the federally backed library subsidy program, has committed $1.4 million to ultra-Orthodox religious institutions in Brooklyn that don't actually qualify as libraries.

Nine such groups have received an average of $161,000 in commitments from E-Rate since 2010 — more than twice the average amount committed to libraries in New York State during the same period.

The library association legally tasked with serving as a gatekeeper for E-Rate eligibility in New York City chose not to exclude these ultra-Orthodox groups, which in some cases didn't have librarians or card catalogs.

That wasn't their only option. Elsewhere in New York, another gatekeeper agency has taken a stand to block questionable libraries from E-Rate. In 2010, around the same time that the Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox groups were seeking to become E-Rate eligible, a "flurry" of ultra-Orthodox congregations from Rockland County, N.Y., applied to join an upstate library association and become E-Rate eligible, too, according to John Shaloiko, executive director of the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council.

"We didn't want to take just any organization in when it believes it should get E-Rate when it's not really a library," said Shaloiko, whose group serves as the E-Rate gatekeeper for a handful of counties to the north of New York City.

Prompted in part by concerns over the legitimacy of the ultra-Orthodox applicants, Shaloiko's group drew up new library membership guidelines, requiring that area libraries have online card catalogs and librarians with master's degrees, among other criteria, to join their association and become eligible for E-Rate.

The handful of ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregations that have applied to join the group since the adoption of the new guidelines have all dropped their requests after learning of the organization's membership requirements, Shaloiko said.



Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Dressing for the Bitter Cold, but Still Observing the Sabbath 

Hasidim have hoodies too — though theirs are intended for winter Sabbaths.

Many New Yorkers have wondered how Hasidic fashion changes with the seasons, given their seemingly year-round custom of having men wear three-piece dark suits and women calf-length skirts, long-sleeved blouses and thick stockings. Some observers have figured out that except for lighter fabrics Hasidic summer wear is not all that different from, say spring or fall attire. The heat, Hasidim will tell you, doesn’t seem to bother them as it does most New Yorkers. They cool themselves with the satisfaction of obeying the letter of God’s law.

Winter, it turns out, has some genuine nuances, too. One distinctive feature is the hoodie, as Alexander Rapaport, a Hasid who directs a food pantry, wryly calls the hooded plastic raincoats Hasidim wear on top of their overcoats on the Sabbath in snow, sleet or rain.

The hood attached to the raincoat’s collar is large enough to cover the round fur shtreimel that married Hasidic men traditionally wear on the Sabbath. They can cover the black hats they wear on ordinary days with a transparent plastic sheath or even a shopping bag, but on the Sabbath that covering is forbidden because many Hasidim believe donning an accessory that is not part of standard garb constitutes carrying, a type of work not permitted on the Sabbath. But a hood attached to a raincoat gets around the prohibition and has the added benefit of safeguarding a man’s shtreimel, which can cost over $1,000.

Six days a week in winter, a long overcoat coat is standard for men — always black — and so are three-piece suits underneath. The hats too are the same black, high-crowned, wide-brimmed homburgs worn year-round. Some Hasidim, however, prefer tall fur astrakhans — called kuchmas — in winter. Footwear is standard too, always black, though the men in some Hasidic sects may wear high boots as their ancestors did in Europe. Women wear long coats and various styles of hats that emphasize modesty.

What is different is what Hasidim wear in winter on the Sabbath, the day for which food, clothing, furnishings and customs all have special and sometimes elegant variations. To lend the day its distinction, Hasidic men wear a satiny coat known as a reshvulka, made of genuine silk for the few who can afford it but glossy polyester for the majority who cannot.

The cheaper version is usually made in China and comes with a zip-out lining made of either artificial down or artificial fur and costs about $200, said Samuel Dresdner, a salesman at GB Clothing in Brooklyn. The store dispatches supervisors to China to make sure the clothing is manufactured according to Hasidic traditions and Jewish laws, which for one thing forbids mixing wool and linen.

What makes the reshvulka particularly Sabbath-like is that it has no pockets — pockets could imply carrying — and the buttons are hidden by a seam, a custom that some Hasidim say harks back to centuries ago when coats worn in Eastern Europe were robelike.

“It’s the Hasidic way,” Mr. Dresdner said as he showed off an elegant reshvulka.

The grand rabbis and other Hasidic dignitaries may wear a reshvulka all week in winter often adorned with wide fur collars known as “pelts” as signs of their status. In January, Hasidic newspapers and blogs had photographs of the Grand Rabbi of Viznitz, Menachem Mendel Hager, whose seat is in Israel, receiving visits in Williamsburg from the Grand Rabbi of Spinka, Isaac Horowitz, and from one of the two Grand Rabbis of the Satmar sect, Zalman Teitelbaum. All three leaders wore pelt collars so wide they looked like stoles.

When it’s biting cold, a Hasidic man will also wear ear muffs over his ears or a band known as an ear warmer — both come only in black. The gloves are also black. But a Hasid will not wear gloves on the Sabbath, according to Jacob Feder, manager of Crown Dry Goods in Brooklyn, because that constitutes carrying. So coats are styled with extra-long sleeves, which allow a man to draw in his hands against an icy wind.

The rules for women do not seem to have as many nuances because they can wear a good coat of any kind on the Sabbath as long as it comes in muted colors and covers their arms and much of their legs. However, married women will wear plastic see-through bonnets to guard their wigs against snow or rain and so forestall an expensive appointment with a stylist.

Wearing a bonnet, explained several customers at Silksation Plus, a women’s clothing store, is not seen as a violation of the prohibition against carrying on the Sabbath because a wig is considered virtually part of the body — if it gets wet the skull gets wet — and so a bonnet is entirely permissible, unlike the man’s plastic covering for the head.



Censoring the Language of Sexual Abuse 

Numerous Orthodox Jewish websites censor the word "sexual" in the context of discussing sexual abuse. Such censorship sends the message to young people that body parts, sexuality and sexual abuse are so shameful, that adults can't even mention them in public.

By refraining from using words such as "sex" and "sexual," Orthodox Jewish websites are unwittingly sending the message that sexual abuse is not something that should be discussed. This only perpetuates the existing shame, secrecy, stigma and fear surrounding the issue of sexual abuse.

Parents of pre-adolescent children certainly have a right to determine the age-appropriate language when discussing sexual abuse with their children, but that is no excuse for websites censoring terms necessary to define abuse.

If children are old enough to be on the Internet, they should be mature enough to hear the word "sex" or "sexual" in the context of discussing abuse.
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the nation's largest anti-sexual violence organization, recommends "[t]alking openly and directly about sexuality" in order to teach "children that it is okay to talk to you when they have questions." In a sexual abuse awareness seminar held in Crown Heights, experts explained that a lack of education makes adolescents more vulnerable to abuse.

The lack of discussion around the human body, intimacy and sexual issues, in essence, robs children of the ability to speak because they are not provided with the proper language.

Maintaining Halachic standards of Tzniut (modesty) does not conflict with the necessity of discussing sexual abuse openly and candidly. Tzniut concerns laws related to modesty of both dress and behavior—when dealing with normal, healthy interactions—not when educating the public on the dangers of sexual abuse.

The Talmud relays a story of a student that hid under his teacher's bed to learn how his teacher was being intimate with his wife. The student commented on the inappropriate language of his teacher to which his teacher exclaimed, "Get out! It's not proper (for you to be here)!" To which the student replied, "It is Torah—and study it I must."

In contemporary society, the student might be accused of voyeurism—but this story illustrates the need to rise above the taboos of discussing sexuality. There is nothing shameful, sinful or obscene about having candid conversations about the subject – particularly in the context of educating the public on sexual abuse.

When the language center is shut down, the abuse survivor is less likely to speak, because they are fearful of voicing what is perceived as shameful, and so, sometimes, they can't even articulate their trauma.

Censoring the use of accurate language around sexual abuse perpetuates the notion that such discussions should be secret and such language is shameful. Living in secrecy is painful and damaging to an abuse survivor. We need to empower potential victims to talk openly and candidly about their experience.



A Ritual Jewish Boundary Stirs Real Town Divisions 

Every Saturday, Eugene Milanaik, a nurse anesthetist, walks more than five miles back and forth between his Orthodox synagogue and his weekend house on Dune Road. When it rains, he gets soaked, because he cannot carry an umbrella. When his 3-year-old grandson is in town, as he was last weekend, his wife must stay home, because she cannot push his stroller.

Life would be much easier, in Mr. Milanaik's view, if Westhampton Beach would finally permit a series of narrow plastic strips, known in Hebrew as lechis, to be placed on the village's utility poles. The strips would create an eruv, a ritual boundary that would allow those Orthodox Jews who do not push or carry things outside the home on the Sabbath to do so when within the eruv's perimeter.

Eruvim are an arcane matter to most people, but they are not unusual: much of Manhattan lies within the boundaries of an eruv, as do scores of Orthodox communities around the country.

"If other towns have it, we should have it," Mr. Milanaik, 68, said on Friday, after stashing a backpack filled with his Sabbath essentials — two prayer books, a prayer shawl, and phylacteries — in a plastic bin at the Hampton Synagogue, so he would not need to carry them on the Sabbath. "I'm getting by without it, but it would be nice. It's like being handicapped."

It has been five years since the Hampton Synagogue first proposed constructing an eruv in this quaint beach side village, prompting a divisive and emotional dispute that pits less observant Jews against more observant ones, storekeepers who fear the eruv against older Jews in wheelchairs, and village officials who believe the eruv would wrongly entangle the government in religion against residents who call that view discriminatory.

The eruv would consist of about 60 10-to-15-foot-long, five-eighths-of-an-inch-wide PVC strips affixed to utility poles, and painted to blend in with them. They would be difficult to see, and would be shorter than the poles themselves, said Robert G. Sugarman, the lawyer for the East End Eruv Association, which wants to erect it.

Three federal lawsuits have been filed over the matter, and on Monday, Judge Leonard D. Wexler, of United States District Court in Islip, dismissed one of them: a lawsuit brought by an anti-eruv group, the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach. That group said it would appeal to the Second Circuit in Manhattan. He also set a timeline for the other two suits, one brought by the East End Eruv Association to erect the eruv, and one between the three villages on whose land the eruv would exist, Westhampton Beach, Quogue, and Southampton, and the utility companies that own the poles.

The final rulings could have broad implications affecting the legality of eruvim across the country. But here in Westhampton Beach, where the year-round population of 1,500 swells to 15,000 in the summer, many residents are simply hoping the courts can bring an end to the tension the issue has caused.

"This used to be an amiable little town," said Ellen Indursky, a member of the Hampton Synagogue, who said Saturday that she now regrets her synagogue's ever bringing up the idea. "It's created an us and a them; you are either on one side or the other," she said, adding, "There's more feelings of anti-Semitism here now than there has ever been."

Only a small percentage of Westhampton Beach residents are Orthodox, and the Hampton Synagogue is the only Orthodox congregation in the area. Only about 20 of the synagogue's year-round congregants, and about 200 families in the summer, are so observant that they need the eruv, according to the rabbi, Marc Schneier.

But many in Westhampton Village — a diverse mix of Catholics, Protestants and Jews — say they fear the prospect of more Orthodox Jews moving in if the eruv is constructed. The mayor, Conrad Teller, estimated that perhaps 90 to 95 percent of Westhampton Village is now against it. "It's divisive," he said. "I believe they think somebody's trying to push something down their throats."

Storekeepers on Main Street have voiced practical concerns, because Orthodox Jews traditionally don't spend money on the Sabbath. "Retail is hard enough as it is," said Anick Darbellay, sitting in her dress shop on Friday. "I don't want to have to shut down on Saturdays. Have you been to the Five Towns?" she asked, referring to an Orthodox Jewish enclave in Nassau County. "That's what happened there."



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