Sunday, June 30, 2013
Shomer Shabbos shul in Boro-Park continues to allow this known convicted child molester Yechiel Baruner to roam freely in the shul to arrange minyanim and molest your children. This is a very dangerous man who has been removed from many shuls in Boro-Park yet he continues to molest children with no intention of stopping. He has himself said that the only way to stop him is to cut his hands off.
Let Rabbi Tirnauer know that you want this filth out of the shul.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Here, on a Christian farmer’s land five miles from the Mexican border, lies the holiest of fields for some of New York’s most observant Orthodox Jewish communities. Wheat harvested on these 40 acres is destined to become matzo, the unleavened bread eaten by Jews during the eight days of Passover.
It is not an everyday plant-and-pick operation, and the matzo made from this wheat is not everyday matzo.
Yisroel Tzvi Brody, rabbi of the Shaarei Orah synagogue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, stood at the edge of one of the fields on Monday, stooping to rub a grain of wheat between his wrinkled thumb and index finger. Removing his glasses, he brought the grain close to his eyes and turned it from side to side, like a gemologist inspecting a precious stone.
“It is to ascertain that it’s not sprouted,” Rabbi Brody explained. “If it has, it’s not valid.”
For seven weeks, while the wheat grew in scorching heat under impossibly blue skies, two men clothed in the traditional black and white garments of the Hasidim stayed in a trailer overlooking the crop, to be able to attest that the wheat, once matured, had been untouched by rain or other moisture. Workers were prohibited from carrying water bottles in the field. Dust danced in the air as the wind blew, but unpaved roads could not be wet while the wheat was growing. The goal was to prevent any natural fermentation from taking place in the grains before they were milled into flour and the matzo was baked, sometime in the late fall.
Tradition calls for keeping watch over the matzo from the time the wheat is milled. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have carried that practice several steps further, guarding the grains before the wheat is harvested to ensure they are not overripe or wet from rainfall. That can be a challenging task on the rainy East Coast. Nonetheless, one segment of the Satmar sect, the largest Hasidic group in the United States, grows its wheat there, following seasonal weather forecasts to search for areas where rain is least likely to fall right before the wheat matures.
Five years ago, another Satmar group began shifting its wheat-growing operation here, where rain is rare at this time of year. That opened a new front line in the competition for the most rigorous standards in the production of matzo. (In a taste test, though, Vos Iz Neias?, a Jewish blog, chose neither, picking instead matzo made by the Pupa and Zehlem Matzoh Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is run by Hasidic Jews of the Puppa sect. It is said that they, too, have used Yuma wheat.)
Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York, whose research focuses on the social ethnography of Jewish Orthodox movements, said the competition between the two Satmar groups — each led by one of two brothers — was about one-upmanship.
“One is always looking to be more authoritative than the other,” Professor Heilman said, “and one of the ways they’re making this happen is over matzo — our matzo is more kosher than yours, we’re more scrupulous and careful over matzo baking than you are.”
Zalman Teitelbaum is the younger of the brothers and a rabbi in one of the Satmar congregations in Williamsburg, where many of the sect’s members live. The bakers who follow him use East Coast wheat.
Aaron Teitelbaum, the older brother, is the chief rabbi of the Satmar community based in the village of Kiryas Joel, N.Y., settled by his uncle, Joel Teitelbaum, the dynasty’s founder and its grand rabbi. Wheat used there comes from Yuma.
On Monday, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum got something close to a rock star reception when he paid a visit to the farm, straight from New York, to bless the wheat harvest. Rabbis and congregants at the farm formed a tight knot around him, taking pictures and jostling for a chance to touch him.
Rabbi Brody, clad in a bekishe, a traditional ankle-length black coat, approached Tim Dunn, the farm’s owner. “How many degrees is now?” he asked.
“It’s about 108 degrees,” Mr. Dunn told him.
Rabbi Brody sighed.
Mr. Dunn remembers a call five years ago from a man who asked if he had any interest growing kosher wheat. He said yes, without any real idea about what working with ultra-Orthodox Jews would require. The first lesson came when his wife reached to shake hands with a visitor and the man, a rabbi, pulled back. (By custom, men and women are to avoid touching, unless they are related.)
Friday, June 28, 2013
But last year, the Hasidic community could no longer deny its own problems, a young women came forward to tell police her rabbi, Nechamya Weberman, had sexually abused her for years. It was a rare instance of a Hasid going to outside authorities to report a crime.
The community leaders within are dealing with this.
Avraham Berkowitz is a local rabbi in the community and he says people are now acknowledging that sexual abuse is happening and insists that they can handle the problem themselves.
Whatever these types of crimes are, they have to be eradicated, and in order to eradicate them. We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. Because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.
Snyderman: There are, there have been crimes and the Weberman case has shined a very unflattering light on the community.
Berkowitz: So I spoke about violent, public violent crimes of murder and rape very low, very little. When you talk about sexual abuse of children it's something that's being exposed. It's a silent crime and there are deviants in every society and it's not just in our community but as you see in the Catholic Church ……Snyderman: And are you able to look at your community with a critical eye and say, "This is not okay"?Berkowitz: So, absolutely. First of all we absolutely have to look at it with a critical view, the question is what do we, do we have to have this conversation in public, how do we resolve, that's a question within the Chasidic world, how do they grapple with these dark, dark problems and how do they solve it. So if it's talking about pushing it under the rug, no way…In our community, for example, when it comes it's a much more open and public debate. We are one of the largest Chasidic communities in Brooklyn,the Rabbis work together hand in hand with the authoritiesand the children are now taught that if someone is doing something inappropriate to you, you have the ABC's. And I was so pleased with my six year old daughter tells me, "Daddy, the 'D' of the ABC's, do tell. Someone does something inappropriate I'm ganna tell."
Snyderman: We have images of a young girl who was molested being heckled by adult men as she was going to court and even so disturbing to see a young girl who had suffered being made the villain.Berkowitz: I'm very disturbed by those images. But again, there, we have to remember one thing. Whatever these types of crimes are have to be eradicated and in order to eradicate them they have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside the community becomes more insular. So the community needs to face this, the community leaders within are dealing with this, but sometimes what they say to the outside seems as if they're covering up for it.But I must say again these deviants must be punished and they now know because of the awareness that's happening they now know that they cannot continue to commit these crimes.They know that they'll be caught and our children are also taught because of like I told you, you say that we are separated… they are now taught what is considered inappropriate …… And I must say as a parent it's the number one thing that I worry about in our camps, in our schools, what are you teaching your staff, our teachers to make sure that our children are protected. And I'm very pleased that the new programs that the Chasidic schools are teaching within our, with their sensitivities, to teach our children about the differences.
In the story, he said 'the community can handle the problem themselves.' Rabbi Berkowitz says he was referring to the community handling efforts to prevent sexual abuse – not whether to report sexual abuse to police. He says he has always advocated reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies…
Thursday, June 27, 2013
Once again Chabad is on top of the issues while the others are still stuck in the dark ages.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
He is also a polarizing figure in the Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews and was an instigator in a bitter, long-running dynastic struggle between two Satmar factions — even once provoking a brawl in a Brooklyn synagogue.
The fund-raiser, Jacob Brach, 55, gathered more than $30,000 in donations for the Thompson campaign this year, mainly from Satmar Hasidim and their business associates. He is the third largest bundler for Mr. Thompson, who has been raising money feverishly and making a strong push for Orthodox Jewish support in Brooklyn as he makes his second run for mayor.
All but one of the 180 contributions Mr. Brach collected were for $175 — the maximum that the city will match under its voluntary campaign financing program.
Mr. Thompson has a personal connection to Mr. Brach: his father, William C. Thompson Sr., a former judge, was a lawyer for Mr. Brach's Satmar faction. The elder Mr. Thompson appeared in court, as part of the faction's legal team, on a day in 2001 when Mr. Brach was questioned about his behavior and his criminal record.
Mr. Brach has not aided Mr. Thompson exclusively. In early 2012 he bundled at least $8,000 in donations for the mayoral campaign of Bill de Blasio, records indicate.
And he is not the only Satmar raising money in the mayor's race, or the busiest. Herman Friedman, a 34-year-old Brooklyn entrepreneur, collected more than $80,000 for the campaign of Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker. Through a spokesman, Mr. Friedman said he advocated for various issues in Brooklyn but declined to provide details or be interviewed.
Mr. Brach, also known as Yossi Brach, came to the attention of law enforcement officials as early as 1988, when he was accused by Union Carbide of Canada and another Canadian company of bilking them out of more than $300,000 by offering them patent rights to a disposable toilet seat cover.
Two years later, Mr. Brach, who then lived in Kiryas Joel in Orange County, posed as the millionaire owner of a knitting mill and got officials in Randolph, Wis. (which had a population of 1,600), to lend him $250,000 to relocate there. Tommy Thompson, the governor at the time, appeared with Mr. Brach at a news conference saying the move would create hundreds of jobs.
Mr. Brach pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 1990 in the Canada and Wisconsin cases. He agreed to reimburse the fraud victims, but a federal judge, Vincent L. Broderick, rejected his request for leniency and sentenced him to 27 months in prison.
"The picture I have is a man who develops schemes to enrich himself at the expense of others, schemes which are elaborate and which are drenched in fraud," the judge said. "You have been engaging in a way of life that involves deceiving and defrauding people on quite a sophisticated level."
A year later, Mr. Brach obtained a one-day medical pass from his minimum-security prison and did not return. Arrested in March 1992, he received an additional 10-month sentence.
In 2002, he was charged in Florida with securities and telecommunications fraud, accused of selling $25,000 in fake stock in an Internet company to a retired police chief who was dying of cancer. Prosecutors dropped the case after Mr. Brach refunded the money.
Mr. Brach did not respond to repeated telephone and e-mail messages on Sunday and Monday. A spokesman for Mr. Thompson's campaign declined to comment.
Within the publicity-averse Satmar community, according to Hasidim and others who know him, Mr. Brach has a reputation as a political operator and provocateur. He is associated with the Aroynem, a branch of the Satmars headed by Aron Teitelbaum, the leader of Kiryas Joel. The Zaloynim are a rival faction, based in Williamsburg and named for Zalmen Teitelbaum, Aron's brother.
During the 2001 New York mayoral race, while Zaloynim leaders were overseas, Mr. Brach led a contingent of Aroynem who endorsed Mark Green, a Democrat who was then the public advocate, without making clear that only one Satmar faction was on board. The stunt achieved little beyond embarrassing Mr. Green.
When the Satmar schism boiled over into the secular courts, Mr. Brach was named a plaintiff in a lawsuit by the Aroynem. His criminal record was discussed during cross-examination, and his antics in and out of the courtroom became a liability for the Aroynem, lawyers said.
The judge urged prosecutors to investigate Mr. Brach for inundating the court with what he called "false, incredible stories" accusing court officials of bribery and other improprieties, records show.
Defying a court order, Mr. Brach repeatedly disrupted worshipers in the main Satmar synagogue and at other events, shouting invectives against the Zaloynim and triggering repeated contempt-of-court citations, according to court papers. He was sentenced to 30 days.
Then in 2004, prosecutors said, Mr. Brach provoked a melee in the synagogue after he sat in a special chair reserved for the grand rabbi. Mr. Brach's leg was broken, according to news accounts.
Mr. Brach has also been associated with Der Blatt, a Yiddish-language newspaper aligned with the Aroynem. As recently as a year ago, he took the Aroynem's side in a radio debate with Hank Sheinkopf, a Zaloynim spokesman. Mr. Sheinkopf is now a political consultant for Mr. Thompson.
Monday, June 24, 2013
At least, if what you were hoping for were straightforward answers from a relatively liberal member of a group most of us don't really interact with all that much ("Honestly, I don't see any reason to leave. I'm pretty comfortable the way I am," etc). And clarifications on the ethics of weed smoking.
In response to one user who asked about the Hasidic stance on weed ("I used to live in London's Stamford Hill and like 80% of the Hasids there loved to burn with us! They said it was a great mitzvah," he noted), Jew_Pac wrote, "They usually despise it because its named drugs. But once they get to learn the difference between weed vs cocaine they usually "get it" [...] Call me naive but shomrim really doesn't give a shit about your pot smoking."
So, case closed on that one. Anyway, the whole thing is pretty entertaining and worth reading, and confirms at least one thing we already knew: the Hasidic community is actually pretty into Citi Bike.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Shame on Shomer Shabbos for letting convicted child molester Yechiel Brauner roam freely and molest children in shul
Shame on Shomer Shabbos shul for allowing this known convicted child molester Yechiel Brauner who has hurt hundreds or even thousands of Yiddishe kinder to roam freely in their shul and continue to molest daily.
Shame on the Rav of Shomer Shabbos Rabbi Tirnauer who is refusing to stop this piece of dirt and is turning a deaf ear to the people who have begged him to throw Brauner out of the shul. Under his father Rabbi Y Tirnauer after much pleading Brauner was not allowed into the shul. But now that he is no longer with us Brauner has gotten back his guts to prowl again. Rabbi Tirnauer, follow what Satmar and many other shuls have done and save Yiddishe neshamas and get rid of this garbage from your shul.
This is not a joke! This man is a dangerous molester who will not stop! If you see him let him know that you know what he does and let Rabbi Tirnauer know that the people do not want this filth in their shul.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
In the heart of New York City, a deeply religious community has created its own secluded island, where Yiddish is the primary language, men wear towering black hats and long robes even on the most sweltering summer day, and mothers lead broods of eight or 10 children.
They are Hasidic Jews - the descendants of a small group of ardent followers whose Eastern European villages were all but decimated during the Holocaust. For the better part of the last century they've been building their own communities in Brooklyn, maintaining the dress, language and traditions of their ancestors.
There’s an estimated 300,000 people living in various Hasidic communities in New York City, and they're poised to become the largest Jewish denomination in the city in the next two decades.
"There's a conviction that their way of life is special, unique, authentic," says Samuel Heilman, professor of Anthropology at Queens College. "It's a belief that what comes from the past is superior to what is in the present."
Much of the secular world is off-limits, including television, non-religious books and most websites.
Instead, religious study is emphasized, as is devotion to God and family. Most Hasids are wedded in arranged marriages while in their teens or early 20s. In a few years, they’re expected to be on their way to building a large family.
Avraham Berkowitz is a rabbi in the Lubavitcher Hasidic community. He says that this focus on family and religion is worth preserving.
“The modesty in the dress, the language in the house, standing up for parents, not interrupting when adults are speaking. That kind of protected lifestyle, that is what we have today,” says Berkowitz.
“You have to be able to pick and choose what to bring in and what to keep out that's negative.”
LEAVING THE COMMUNITY
But that seemingly simple life, while comforting and fulfilling for some, can feel oppressive for others.
“Most of the individuals that are coming to us, what we're seeing is they just want to learn. They want to study physics. And they want to study how atoms work. And they want to study math.” says Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, the only organization in New York that helps people leave Hasidic communities.
Sam Katz is a Footsteps member. A yearning for knowledge drew him away from the Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn where he was raised and into Manhattan. He describes sneaking into the Museum of Natural History, where the dinosaur skeletons caught his imagination like nothing in his religious books.
“There was something so connected about standing next to a dinosaur, something so-- universally harmonious-- for lack of a better word,” says Katz. “It was just a feeling of this fantasy world.”
Katz’s secular education stopped when he reached middle school, when he, like other Hasidic boys, began focusing exclusively on religious study. Yet, he’s managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, and is headed to Berlin in the fall on a Fulbright scholarship.
Hindy Sabel, who also left her Hasidic upbringing with the help of Footsteps, says she started questioning the Hasidic way of life as a child. She wanted to ride bikes around the neighborhood, says Sabel, like the boys could. And she wasn’t ready to get married before finishing college.
“I couldn’t be a leader in that community and I wanted to do something with my life,” says Sabel. That’s when she came to Footsteps with an older sister. Today, she’s working full time and studying for an MBA at New York University.
But picking up and leaving behind everything they’ve ever known isn’t easy. The process can take years of catching up.
“Footsteps members are very much like immigrants,” explains Santo. “But they're immigrants to a country that they're citizens in.”
CONFRONTING PROBLEMS WITHIN
For Judy Braun, 31, getting out was particularly difficult.
Braun grew up strictly Hasidic in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and recalls a happy childhood filled with summer camping trips in the Catskills.
But when she was 12, Braun says she had a terrifying experience that would haunt her the rest of her life – she found her friend trying to hang herself in the bathroom, and learned she’d been sexually abused.
Braun says the adults she told about the attempted suicide turned a deaf ear. She says she saw firsthand how the community refused to acknowledge that one of its own could abuse a child.
“Our rules and our laws will keep us pure, will keep these things from happening. Coming to terms with the fact that they will happen regardless undermines the entire idea of the truth,” says Braun. “If our way of life doesn't prevent our men from turning into beasts, then what's the point of our way of life?”
Feeling trapped by tradition, Braun ultimately got married and had children. But in her mid-twenties, she started secretly writing about what she saw as a child.
That fictionalized account of her ordeal, "Hush," was published anonymously in 2010. While some supported her efforts, when her real name leaked out as the author, she said threats started coming in. She received a copy of her book covered in fake blood, her car windows were smashed, and threatening messages were left on her phone.
“When you're an author of a book and you publicly shame the community, there is a full-out campaign against you at every level,” says Braun.
Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz says people are now acknowledging sexual abuse is happening.
“These type of crimes have to be eradicated,” He says. He insists, though, that the community can handle the problem internally. “We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. Cause sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.”
In the last two years, Braun has come out publicly as the author of "Hush" and started speaking out against abuse in the community. She recently divorced her husband and moved her children outside the boundaries of her old Hasidic neighborhood.
“It gives you more psychological safety,” says Braun. “Even though it's not that far a drive, but you’re in a different place.”
Friday, June 21, 2013
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Gottdenger, who grew up in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, is a product of ultra-Orthodox Jewish day schools in which, numerous students report, math and English classes are barely taught, despite state laws requiring such instruction.
"In the heder we had English and math classes, but it was always at the end of the day and lasted only an hour each," Gottdenger said in a telephone interview with the Forward. "It was like a joke; the focus was entirely on keeping us in the class for two hours in order to show the government that we were being taught English, but it was nothing to do with actual teaching."r
The situation got even worse during his high school years, when Gottdenger attended a Viznitz yeshiva in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park.
"In the yeshiva there was nothing whatsoever; they weren't even pretending to teach," Gottdenger recalled. "From age 13 to 18, I did not have any English or math classes. I left there with pretty much zero knowledge in English or math."
(Efforts to reach officials at Ahavas Israel and Imrei Chaim, the Brooklyn schools that Gottdenger attended, for responses to his allegations were unsuccessful despite repeated phone calls.)
On June 5, Gottdenger saw a huge billboard while driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that reminded him of the dilemma he faces. The advertisement quoted a phrase from the Talmud (in Hebrew): "One should make sure to teach his son a trade."
The billboard was funded by Yaffed, an advocacy group of individuals raised in ultra-Orthodox communities, that seeks to improve secular studies in New York's ultra-Orthodox day schools. According to Naftuli Moster, founder of Yaffed, the goal of the ad is to create an attitude change.
"We want to go past the community leaders and go directly to the people," Moster, 27, said in a phone interview with the Forward. "To get to those people who do believe in education and enable them to speak up and ask their leaders to make some changes so their children can have a better future."
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The Hasidic war against the Internet has been an ongoing campaign—in May 2012, a massive asifa held by the anti-Internet rabbinical group Ichud Hakehillos sold out Citi Field in Queens, N.Y.—but this year's asifa came with a new threat, almost biblical in tone: Those caught using the Internet for nonbusiness purposes, or without content filters, would have their children expelled from the Satmar yeshiva.
The cost of having large families has forced many ultra-Orthodox Jews to do business outside of the community. Often, this means adopting technology that plunges people with 19th-century values into the aggressively uncensored world of Chatroulette and Reddit. While some rabbis are convinced that this is a gateway to pornography addiction (or worse: secular life), many Hasids, from the media-savvy Lubovitch to the ultraconservative Satmar, use the Internet regularly without detracting from their customs. In many cases, it has fostered connectedness among the ultra-Orthodox and boosted their economy. And, most importantly, it may prove to be a remedy for the unchecked sexual abuse that has plagued the community.
The Chabad-Lubovitch sect, headquartered in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, has embraced media for years, with radio broadcasts, public access TV, and now a dynamic Web presence, including Facebook and Twitter. This is part of their interpretation of Ufaratzta, the imperative to spread Hasidism to secular Jews, which, they believe, will hasten the return of the Messiah.
"We've always been at the forefront of communication," says Mordechai Lightstone, a Lubovitch rabbi and social media director for the Lubovitch News Service. Lightstone is also a regular at SXSW, where he draws Jews seeking a Sabbath meal with the hashtag #openshabbat. "There's actually a midrash, a Jewish teaching, that says 'Why was there gold in the temple in Jerusalem? Why is there gold in the world? Gold is a source of greed; idols are made out of gold. In this case, gold was there to glorify God's name and to make a beautiful structure that can be used as a place to encourage people to come together to unite, to pray, and not as a source of greed, fighting, and then war.' The same idea would exist within social media, that it can be used for very negative things and for very positive things."
He adds, "I'm convinced that when the Messiah comes, there's going to be a tweet."
While the Internet can be a doorway to faith, it can also show others out, as Libby Copeland wrote last year in Slate. But the most likely to drop out may be the ones who are already looking for an exit. At 24, Ari Mandel left the Nikolsburg sect, a branch of Satmar, and spent the next five years in the U.S. Army. The Internet, he says, was instrumental to him leaving the fold, but it wasn't the cause.
"I was kind of bored," he says. "I had outgrown the books that were available in the community, and I just wanted more variety." At 20, Mandel began sneaking into the public library. Reading was a gateway to the Internet, where he found other Hasidim who similarly questioned their faith.
To Mandel, now 30 and a full-time student at New York University, banning the Internet is not only ineffective, it's illogical. "The Internet is a tool," he says. "If you're going to ban the Internet, you should ban the Bible, because there are bad books. You should ban all Orthodox magazines because there is Playboy—that's just silly. It just makes no sense."
This recent wave of anti-Internet activity coincides with the release of the Venishmartem Cloud Filter, a software developed in Romania (where the Satmar originated) by the company Livigent "at a cost of six million dollars and specifically designed to cater to the sensitivities and needs of the Jewish community," according to their website.
In Late May, Venishmartem held a "Filterthon" in Midwood, Brooklyn. Orthodox men were invited to bring their electronic devices for free installation of filtering software with features such as "skin color blocking," which scans Web pages for immodest quantities of human skin tones, and "accountability solutions," which send a user's browsing history to a third party.
For $7.99 a month, Venishmartem will control their customers' access to certain content as well as their ability to activate and deactivate the filter itself. This effectively creates a virtual Orthodox enclave by shrinking the World Wide Web down to a tiny neighborhood of frum-friendly sites. "Guard Your Eyes," Venishmartem's Internet addiction treatment and prevention wing, offers images of naked Holocaust dead to turn off users who are tempted to seek sexually arousing pictures, among other "Practical Tips."
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Sam Kellner, 50, spoke out about the sexual abuse of his son, 16, and others in the Hasidic community. Now he is charged with trying to extort the abusers.
Five years ago, this gray-bearded and excitable man with a black velvet yarmulke spoke out about the sexual abuse of his 16-year-old son by a prominent Hasidic cantor. As Mr. Kellner helped investigators with the Brooklyn district attorney's office search for other young Orthodox victims of this man, the Orthodox establishment grew ever angrier at him. The rabbi at his Hasidic synagogue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, denounced Mr. Kellner as a traitor and forbade parishioners to talk with him on the street. Yeshivas barred his sons. His businesses dried up — he pawned his silverware to meet his bills. And he still fears that he will never find a marriage match for his son.
"I felt murdered and abandoned," Mr. Kellner said. "I'm ruined."
This, however, was a prologue to a worse situation. In April 2011, after the district attorney's office gained a conviction against that cantor, Baruch Lebovits, the prosecutors turned around and obtained an indictment of Mr. Kellner. They said, based on a secret tape and the grand jury testimony of a prominent Satmar supporter of Mr. Lebovits, that he had tried to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Lebovits.
District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has shown great deference to the politically powerful Hasidic community over the years, and it has rewarded him with large margins on election days. Even his heralded crackdown on Hasidic sexual abuse was a fist wrapped in the softest velvet, as he took the unusual step of refusing to publicize the names of defendants — even the convicted.
Mr. Hynes extended no such courtesy to Mr. Kellner. "We allege that Kellner sent emissaries to Lebovits's family telling them that he controlled the witnesses against Baruch Lebovits," the district attorney said at a 2011 news conference, "and that in return for $400,000, he would ensure that the witnesses would not testify."
This indictment stunned the small, embattled community of Hasidic whistle-blowers. Mr. Kellner, to their view, took enormous risks in a righteous fight. That he could sit in the dock next month is a message not lost on anyone.
"If he's convicted, no one will ever come forward again," said Rabbi Cheskel Gold, a member of a rabbinical court in Monsey, N.Y., that gave Mr. Kellner religious permission to investigate Mr. Lebovits. "No one."
Mr. Kellner posted $25,000 bail. And to pile legal insult atop injury, Mr. Lebovits's lawyers used his indictment and other technicalities to persuade a state appeals court to overturn his conviction. Even today, Alan M. Dershowitz, one of Mr. Lebovits's lawyers, portrays Mr. Kellner and other prominent whistle-blowers as extortionists. "We see Kellner as a leader of a major extortion ring," he said in an interview. "He is not a do-gooder."
I talked with Brooklyn prosecutors about the case against Mr. Kellner. By way of throat-clearing, the prosecutor Nicholas J. Batsidis demanded to know if I'd read the indictment. As it was five pages long and contained little detail, I allowed that I had managed to stumble through.
He pointed to the key evidence, a secretly taped, rambling and excited conversation between Mr. Kellner and Meyer Lebovits, the cantor's son. Mr. Kellner is also accused of paying witnesses to testify against Mr. Lebovits. "When you have an audiotape where Kellner is warning him that he's going to bring other victims, it speaks for itself," Mr. Batsidis said.
That explanation sounds better than the tape itself. The transcript reveals a conversation soaked in ambiguity, and rendered in overwrought language. It depicts Mr. Kellner as a tortured father trying to find justice. The younger Mr. Lebovits at times seems to accept that his father committed some acts of abuse.
Hella Winston of The Jewish Week has profitably plowed the fields of this case, exposing its many weaknesses. Ms. Winston notes that, far from persuading fake witnesses to testify, Mr. Kellner worked closely with a rabbinical court in Monsey, and with a Brooklyn assemblyman, each of whom helped him find alleged victims of Mr. Lebovits.
Two weeks ago, I talked with the three-member rabbinical court — known as a Beit Din — in Monsey. These rabbis rarely grant interviews, but spoke now of their moral obligation. Their community for too long has resisted coming to grips with sexual abuse.
They view Mr. Kellner as a brave pioneer. He did not seek out witnesses at random; rather their court, with the help of local leaders in Williamsburg, gave him the name of a victim.
"Lebovits is known to have a long history" of sexual abuse, Rabbi Chaim Flohr said. But Mr. Lebovits has powerful supporters, and people are fearful, he added.
Mr. Lebovits's lawyers maintain that he is innocent of all charges.
The rabbis frowned at talk of extortion. Mr. Kellner spoke to them of being offered bribes, and of his determination not to let abusers buy him off. "We are not aware of Mr. Kellner ever asking for money," Rabbi Flohr said.
Mr. Kellner takes pain to insist that he is no saint. He wanted only justice for his son. Now, though, he hears from more and more Hasidic families, with their own stories of more abuse, and asking for his help.
If I win my case, he asked, what should I do?
"I'm not clear how this happened," he said, his voice keening. "I got into this to avenge my son. Do I have the strength to go on?"
Monday, June 17, 2013
The $1 billion-plus widening project is entering a new phase at the 405's Wilshire Boulevard interchange, where new flyover ramps will eventually replace the 60-year-old cloverleaf ramps.
The construction means that a small and unobtrusive wire that runs along light poles on Sepulveda and Wilshire boulevards must be taken down for several weeks, thus breaking the boundaries of a kosher eruv in Westwood, eruv sponsors said.
A eruv is a ritual enclosure as a means to allow Jewish residents or visitors to carry objects outside their home.
The Los Angeles Jewish Journal reports that the broken eruv means conservative Jews cannot carry things, even baby stroller or prayer shawls, outside their homes during Shabbat. Ancient Jewish law prohibits the carrying of any items except inside a private home or courtyard during Friday evenings and Saturdays.
An eruv extends the private space through the use of a wire, forming an enclosure that transforms a public space into a private domain for religious purposes.
Hoard Witkin, head organizer of the Los Angeles Community Eruv, writes on the organization's website that 200 feet of eruv wire have to be removed, making the eruv not kosher.
"We hope to have a workaround for next week, but the next three weeks will be problematic as the contractor rushes to finish new, and demolish old bridges at Wilshire," Witkin wrote.
Three of the eight connecting ramps at the Wilshire interchange have been rebuilt, but work is about to begin in earnest on the remaining five. Some transition routes will be closed this summer as old ramps are demolished to make way for new ones.
When finished, the flyover cloverleaf will eliminate dangerous weaving and merging maneuvers at the interchange, one of the busiest in the state.
It costs the eruv group group more than $100,000 per year to maintain the eruv wires, even without having them pulled down for construction work, Witkin wrote.
"The eruv always runs short of funds in weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah," Witkin wrote. "We will need an additional $10,000 to get through summer and keep the eruv up."
The group can be contacted at laeruv.com, the Jewish Journal reported.
Stav said that during the proceedings, several youths shoved him and attempted to hit him and pour water on him.
As he left the wedding, the youths also called him "an evil man" and "sheigetz," a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish male.
The incident comes following comments made by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef on Saturday night who called Stav "an evil man" and said that he was dangerous to Judaism and the Torah an unfitting to be chief rabbi.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman called on Monday morning for haredi and religious leaders to publicly condemn the attack on Stav.
"We expect from the religious leadership, regardless of their outlook, to unambiguously condemn, and certainly not to encourage, injury to another religious leader," Liberman said.
"It is a shame that within a political contest, especially for the chief rabbinate, there is someone leading the public to these dark corners. There are 70 faces to the Torah and not one of them is violence and incitement of one rabbi against another."
Sunday, June 16, 2013
The anti-Semitic vandals entered the family’s garage and added more graffiti on furniture inside, including a swastika on a baby’s high chair, according to a report on CTV news.
It was the second time in past weeks the family, which has young children, had been targeted, according to the report. Previously, vandals had left a swastika on their car.
“That an individual or group of individuals feel bold enough to invade someone's home and attack them because they are Jewish is a very dangerous turn of events in this city,” said FSWC President and CEO Avi Benlolo in the statement.
The Toronto Star was unable to confirm that police are investigating the event, though CTV reports that police are taking the incident seriously and treating it as a hate crime.
Saturday, June 15, 2013
Concerned about drug use in the Orthodox Jewish community, more than 130 people have signed a petition urging Rockland prosecutors to take a hard line against a Monsey man charged with selling drugs.
The petition organized on the website change.org calls for prison time for Shlomo Ettlinger as a deterrent. The petition features a photo of Ettlinger and is signed by local residents and a dozen Orthodox rabbis, including those from the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Jewish Union.
Ettlinger, a member of the Nanach Breslov Hasidim, was charged in April with possessing two pounds of marijuana, 370 grams of hashish oil, a .357-calber Smith & Wesson with ammunition and $2,000 cash. The Ramapo police investigation led to the arrest of five people on minor possession charges involving the purchase of marijuana after a party at Ettlinger’s house on Blauvelt Road.
District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who gets email updates on petition-signers, said the petition will not influence how the case will be prosecuted.
“We take all these cases very seriously, especially when the allegations include drugs and young people,” Zugibe said. “We consider multiple factors when assessing a case, but a petition is not one of them. This case will be considered on the merits.”
Ettlinger, an ordained rabbi, does not have a criminal record.
He has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The unlicensed gun, with ammunition in a bag, was found in his home.
Ettlinger could not be reached for comment. He is scheduled to appear in Ramapo Justice Court on July 9.
The larger concern for the petition-signers is drugs in the community.
Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz said the Orthodox Jewish community is not immune to drug use and other negative behavior. As founder of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Center for Jewish Family Life in Monsey, Horowitz works with families and has several secular videos out on raising children and dealing with social issues.
Friday, June 14, 2013
Thursday, June 13, 2013
Despite assurances that it wasn't their intention to do so, that appears to be exactly what the Satmar Hasidic community did on June 9, when they gathered a reported 30,000 men in lower Manhattan to protest Israeli efforts to draft thousands of ultra-Orthodox men into the army.
Satmar Hasidim are known for their anti-Zionist theology, but organizers insisted before the protest that they would focus specifically on the Israeli draft. Yet despite a strictly enforced ban on anti-Israel placards, speakers addressing the crowd in Yiddish voiced anti-Zionist sentiment.
"Today's rally is a declaration of war against the enemies of God and the enemies of religion," said the Monsey, N.Y.-based Rabbi Yaakov Weiss, who was the protest's opening and closing speaker. "We hope the evil Zionists will not be successful in destroying our holy Torah studies."
Speakers used the Yiddish word reshoim, or evil people, to describe Israeli politicians specifically and Zionists generally. And Rabbi Nachman Stauber, who leads a Satmar yeshiva in Queens, made a comparison in his address between Zionists and Amalek, the biblical Jews' greatest enemy.
The rally came days after the release of a UJA-Federation of New York poverty study finding that 45% of Hasidic families in the New York area live in poverty. The mainstream Jewish community in New York has responded to this need in recent years, supplying substantial resources to Satmar through the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, among other agencies.
In the days after the rally, however, responses from the mainstream Jewish community suggested that the protest had strained ties with the Satmar community.
"I would call on the Hasidic community to think carefully — I would not connect our help to them to their policies — but I just very clearly believe that they should think carefully about the ramifications of such a rally here on these shores," said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Modern Orthodox rabbinic association that condemned the rally.
The JCRC, which has particularly close ties to the leadership of Satmar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, defended the group's right to protest, but objected to their language. "Sunday's Foley Square protest against an announced Israeli policy was an expression of free speech," said Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the JCRC, in a statement issued in response to a Forward inquiry. "However, some of the speakers attempted to outrageously demonize the IDF and the government of Israel. We consider such rhetoric offensive and we categorically condemn it."
Neither UJA-Federation of New York nor the Met Council responded to inquiries about the anti-Zionist statements read from the stage at the Satmar rally. And in the days leading up to the June 9 rally, mainstream Jewish communal officials displayed a relative indifference to the Satmar plans.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
For years, Jewish athletes have been held back by several factors — Saturday games to name one. But the playing field to about to level off. Pretty soon, the list of "Famous Jewish Sports Legends" will be longer than a Tolstoy novel.
Ber Cohen, a Pittsburgh area "kid in Yeshiva" has created the Action Kippah, the solution to the 11th plague — the kippah that keeps falling off. Cohen is working on patenting and producing the line — the simple design attaches a kippah to a headband — and has turned to Kickstarter for funding. The project's fundraising date ends Wednesday, with $7,000 left to go as of Tuesday afternoon.
If Cohen's face looks familiar, you may remember him as Agent Emes from the popular kids DVD series. His father, director Leibel Cohen, is helping Ber with his latest endeavor.
But even if Action Kippah doesn't reach its fundraising goal, there are other options for the Jewish athlete. Klipped Kippahs, founded by Jon Kaweblum, a former basketball coach, have built in clips underneath the kippah to prevent them from falling off. Northwestern University basketball player Aaron Liberman notably wears one on the court.
Klipped Kippahs also has style options for the non-athletic Jewish sports fan. Pro Kippahs are emblazoned with logos of baseball teams and are officially licensed by Major League Baseball.
As the market continues to grow for Jewish-centric athletic wear, it shouldn't be long until the NBA begins retiring kippahs in the rafters.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Monday, June 10, 2013