Saturday, November 30, 2013

Court Orders 14 Jewish Sect Minors to Foster Care 

A court in Quebec Wednesday ordered 14 minors, aged 2 months to 16 years old, to be moved from the isolated Haredi-religious sect Lev Tahor and into foster care.

The sect is currently in the town of Chatham in Ontario, having left Quebec following an investigation into complaints over child abuse, neglect, and not following the educational curriculum of the province.

Child protection officials in Chatham are speaking to their counterparts in Quebec about how to proceed in the matter, having met members of the sect Thursday. A decision has yet to be made on how or whether to comply with the court order from Quebec, reports the Toronto Star.

If Ontario complies with the order, there is little precedent to guide officials as to how one province can legally enforce another province’s court order.

Regarding the meeting Thursday with workers of the Children's Aid Society, sect member Nachman Malkah told Windsor Star "I am glad that they arrived and I was happy to talk to them. They didn't find any abuse. I am certain of my path and know I am a good father."

Members of the sect, which doesn't intend to return to Quebec or follow the court order, blame Israel for their troubles, saying Israel is not helping them because of their anti-Israel stance.

Uriel Goldman said "if you're a Jew and you don't support the state of Israel they see you as a borderline traitor, the greatest enemy, worse than the Arabs or the terrorists."

A statement posted on Lev Tahor's website claims the sect has been demonized.

The statement reads "we beg that instead of talking about what is said about us, or even thinking about what is said about us, which brings unending and incredible brainwashing on our image, you will see us and talk with us with an open heart."

Lev Tahor members are currently staying in roughly a dozen units in a complex of two-unit bungalows just beyond the edge of Chatham. Nachman Helbrans, son of the community’s leader Shlomo Helbrans, said they’ve taken a one-year lease on the units.



Friday, November 29, 2013

The Only Jewish Kid in His Moscow Class 

Once, during a literature lesson in sixth or seventh grade, in around 1981, a note was passed to me from the back of the classroom. It was a sheet of paper ripped from a composition book. “To the Jew from the Russians” (“evreiu ot russkikh”) was scribbled in Russian on the front of the folded sheet. Inside was a short message: “You Shrayer Juboy son of a beach.” Nothing too creative, except the spelling. The note was signed by two of my classmates, Fedya M. and Fedya K. (I’ve changed the names). The freckle-faced Fedya M. and I used to live in the same apartment building. Downhill skiing was his main passion in middle school. The other author, Fedya K., was raised by a single mother. He was a talented cartoonist who spent most of the class time drawing and doodling. I hadn’t had any confrontations with the first Fedya, and I rather liked the other one; from neither of the two Fedyas had I been expecting virulence.

Let’s back up. In September 1974, I had started first grade in School No. 34, situated in the northwest corner of Moscow, a short walk from the high bank of the Moskva River. The sign on the front entrance referred to our school as a “specialized school with some subjects taught in English.” By the time I was starting first grade, winds of the Cold War and forces of stagnation had reduced the “subjects” to four or five weekly lessons of English and the occasional forays into the literature, culture and geography of the English-speaking countries. Nevertheless, the “specialized” language schools continued to carry prestige in the days of my Soviet childhood, and to get into these schools, one usually had to take an entrance examination. For 10 years, Monday through Saturday, I went to school with about 30 boys and girls. Among the students in my year, the bearer of the name “Maxim Davidovich Shrayer” was and remained the only one officially registered and listed as evrei, Jew.

One of the collective amusements was to rummage through the class roster. The pupils would crowd somewhere in the corner; one kid would be positioned on the lookout for the teachers, and the names would be recited alongside the nationalities and grades. This is how I learned the official ethnic make-up of our class. Of some 30 pupils, between 22 and 24 were listed as “Russian.” This included a girl with an Armenian last name, a boy with a Tatar last name and a girl with a German last name; her father must have been Jewish. Between four and six kids were designated “Ukrainian.” And one (myself) was a “Jew.” Was it my Jewish luck to have ended up in a class with no other kids who identified — or whom others identified — as Jews?

When I was in sixth or seventh grade, I took a music appreciation class at the school. Our teacher, Ms. V., named the titles of individual vignettes in Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Then, in turn, she played them on the phonograph. “This next piece,” Ms. V. said, “is called ‘Two Jews.’ It represents —.” Before she had the chance to finish her sentence, half of my classmates exploded with the ugliest of laughs. Mostly boys, but also a few girls, laughed hysterically at the teacher’s mere mention of the word “Jew.” To many of my classmates, the word “Jew” — not even the derogatory zhid, but the normative “Jew” — had the ring of something insulting, dirty and laughable. “Two Jews, two Jews,” several kids kept repeating as they slashed me with their eyes. This humiliation, through which I sat frozen and pretending that it wasn’t affecting me personally, continued as the teacher stood and observed us. Ms. V. finally clapped her hands, restoring order and extinguishing the cascades of savage laugher. It’s almost impossible to talk about these things without self-pity or pathos.

I have met ex-Soviet Jews my age who experienced little or no anti-Semitism from their classmates: no racial slurs, baiting or other expressions of prejudice. As a result, they may remember the school years with fondness, while I look back at mine with acrimony. Despite being what they call a “popular kid,” I was alone. Through 10 years of contact with my classmates, I never felt that I was one of them, never felt accepted as one of their own. With my peers from the last Soviet generation I shared a lack of illusions about the road to communism. In common we had our Brezhnev jokes, our hunger for things Western. I shared with them our generation’s heroic narratives — the central one being the war, where our grandparents had shed blood and defeated Nazism. For 10 years we wore almost identically abominable school uniforms: sackcloth gray in grade school, and later, navy with pewter buttons for the boys and burnt-umber orphanage dresses with pinafores for the girls.

With my classmates I had in common our unsentimental education at summer camps for the Young Pioneers. We knew the names of each other’s parents and siblings, attended each other’s birthday parties. We acted in the same school plays (in an anti-colonial drama we staged in seventh grade, I played, in makeup, a black African among all whites). I admired the same early Soviet rock groups — Time Machine, Aquarium — that my classmates did. What I didn’t have in common with them was my Jewishness.

One of the most liberating moments in my life was my Soviet high school graduation ceremony, in June 1984. After the official part had ended, after the conifer-green diplomas had been handed to the graduates, after the prom, I finally walked out of the school building. Feeling rapturous, I ran out of the half-open wrought-iron gate toward the empty morning street, which was lined with poplars shedding fluff. I was free, at last, of the school and of my classmates. By the time my parents and I were finally allowed to emigrate from the USSR, in the spring of 1987, I had had no contacts with my classmates for nearly three years. We left Moscow on June 7. After a summer of transit in Austria and Italy, we arrived in the United States at the end of August 1987 to settle in New England. I became an American undergraduate, later a graduate student. Years went by. When I visited Moscow — a former refusenik, now a foreigner with a passport from the United States — I had no wish to look up my former schoolmates. They were like smoke over a dumping ground of memory.

Life itself added a postscript to this story. In March 2004, I received the first in a slew of emails from my former classmates. One of the emails contained a save-the-date; plans for a class reunion were already under way. The invitation had stirred up what I thought had been buried in the past. Already after the 20th reunion I had not attended, a former classmate sent me a report, replete with a class photo of those in attendance. How much we had all changed, boys and girls pushing 40! The photos moved me more than words.

Two more months went by, and I unexpectedly heard from Fedya K. My strongest memories of Fedya K. were those of his grandfather, a handsome old gentleman with Alpine-white hair; of his hilarious cartoons, and of the note “To the Jew from the Russians,” which Fedya K. had co-written and sent me in middle school. In his email, Fedya K. wrote that he had read some of my poems and that he was sorry I couldn’t be at the reunion. He had become a successful lawyer and had a 14-year-old daughter. In my reply I wrote this to Fedya K.: “… For twenty years I hadn’t sought contacts with former classmates, because the school years had been very traumatic for me. You probably no longer remember, but I was baited and taunted, especially in middle school. This was difficult.… When I visit Russia, I run across people who pretend that none of this ever was: anti-Semitism, persecution, ostracism. Please understand, it’s hard for me to get over all this stuff, so strong are the memories….” In a flight of weak-heartedness, I didn’t say anything about the wretched note.

Fedya K. replied immediately: “What’s with you? Can you really imagine that your nationality makes any difference to me?! From childhood I was raised… with deep respect for people. I was never, even in childhood, when many things pass without us being conscious of them, permitted to place anybody beneath me, and especially on the basis of ‘skin color.’ Among my present acquaintances there isn’t a single person who would allow himself any sort of vile display of nationalism.”

I have every reason to believe Fedya K. was sincere. The adult Fedya K. was being himself when he wrote the letter. Had he, then, forgotten and moved on? Was it I, then, who was still living in the past? Fedya K. and some of our other former classmates must have the liberty not to remember. But I cannot unremember.



Thursday, November 28, 2013

Germany helps fund restoration of historic Brazilian synagogue  

Brazil has received a major boost with about $422,000 in seed money from the German Foreign Ministry for the preservation of an historic synagogue in Sao Paolo.
The German Consul General in Sao Paulo signed an agreement earlier this month directing the funds to be used to begin the restoration and preservation of the Beth El Synagogue, set to be the heart of a new Jewish museum there, according to a ministry statement.
The museum, which will include a glass annex, will depict the history and culture of Judaism in general, as well as the history of Jews in Brazil, starting with the arrival of Portuguese settlers in the early 16th century.
A ministry spokesperson in Berlin told JTA they were glad to be able to support this project as part of Germany’s “commitment to preserve and support Jewish life.” The project is under the auspices of the ministry’s Cultural Preservation Program.
Some 20,000 German Jews fled Nazi Germany to Brazil. The Beth El synagogue was inaugurated in 1932.



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

After fleeing, families in Canadian Hasidic sect to appear in court 

An extreme Hasidic sect reportedly under investigation by Canadian authorities for child abuse says two families will return to appear in court after fleeing their Quebec homes for Ontario earlier this week, but maintains the dispute is over secular education.

Oded Twik, an activist against the group whose sister Sima Sulemani has lived with the Lev Tahor sect for the last eight years, says that claim is false and the group only decamped after Québécois authorities recommended the removal of 12 children, including eight of his nieces and nephews and four children from another family, into foster care.

According to Twik, Lev Tahor was facing serious allegations of child abuse before leaving in the middle of the night for Chatham-Kent, Ontario, where they plan to settle.

Some 200 of 240 members of the group left Ste. Agathe, Quebec, last week, hours before two families were due to appear in court for a child protection hearing. The rest plan to follow, Yoil Weingarten, a member who stayed behind to help settle affairs, told the Montreal Gazette.

On Monday, Nachman Helbrans, son of group founder Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, told the Toronto Star that the two families ordered to appear in court would travel back to Quebec Wednesday for the hearing.

“Legally, they don’t have to go back to court, but they decided to go back just to honor the court,” he was quoted as saying.

Earlier, Nachman Helbrans told Ma Presse, associated with the Montreal newspaper La Presse, that the welfare authorities in Quebec found no evidence of child abuse, and that the dispute surrounds the amount of secular education the children will receive. Ontario’s laws are more lenient in this regard than those of Quebec.

However, Twik alleged that the group was under fire for abusing children.

“As punishment for disobeying Helbrans, my sister’s children were taken from her for periods of two and three years, and returned to her for only a month at a time,” he told the Times of Israel. “One of her children died in 2009 at the age of a year. To this day we haven’t gotten a clear answer about how it happened. The children wear shoes that are too small, and are physically punished when they disobey.”

According to Denis Baraby, the director of youth protection for the Ste. Agathe region, child protection authorities compiled a file thick with allegations of child neglect, malnutrition, psychological abuse, and health problems, the Toronto Star reported.

Sulemani’s eight living children range in age from 6 months to 14 years.

Twik’s extensive knowledge of the group comes from Nathan, Shlomo Helbrans’ second son. Twik brought Nathan to Israel after Nathan fled the group and he stayed in Twik’s home for two months.

On Tuesday, a Knesset committee on the rights of children held a discussion on the alleged abuse of the children in the group. After hearing accounts from former members and families of those still in the group, committee head Orli Levi-Abekasis (Likud-Beytenu) attacked the Israeli police, who have known of the accusations for over two years, for their lack of action.

“The testimonies coming from there paint a disturbing picture,” she said. “We cannot remain apathetic to this.”

Orit Cohen, who filed a petition in Israeli family court to keep her nieces, 13 and 15, from joining the group in 2011, said she was pleased with the hearing.

“Today was a good day,” she said. “The police need to be called to account for their actions.”

Despite Cohen’s attempts to have the children removed, the court allowed them to be homeschooled by Cohen’s brother and sister-in-law, who are still allegedly under the guidance of Shlomo Helbrans.



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Trouble With Idealizing Hasidim 

Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein have yet to sell shtreimels. But one fashion commentator — and a whole lot of YouTube viewers — think Hasidic garb is worth another look.

“The Substance of Hasidic Style,” a video posted by fashion platform StyleLikeU (and reposted by Upworthy), has garnered more than 170,000 views after it was picked up by Upworthy.com. The 16-minute mini-documentary is comprised of interviews with several Hasidim and focuses on Hasidic attitudes towards fashion, modesty, community, and belief in God.

Elisa Goodkind and Lily Mandlebaum, the mother-daughter team that runs StyleLikeU, could easily have treated the Hasidic community as some sort of oddball curiosity. When I read that they had previously produced short films on the style of monks, nuns, and ballerinas, I was skeptical about how they might portray Hasidim: would they be shown as a freakish “other,” wearing outlandish clothing, stuck in the past?
To the team’s credit, the film treats the Hasidic community quite respectfully and even admiringly. Elisa Goodkind writes that the time she and her team spent among Hasidim in the Catskills was “a 12-hour odyssey that would change us forever.”

“[N]ot only did I begin to identify with some of my own life values, but I found a new group of the coolest people I had met in a long time, who were about to become my new great friends,” writes Goodkind, who describes herself as “a reform and rebellious Jew.” Her film not only depicts Hasidic clothing, but offers a broader looks at the Hasidic way of life. Hasidic views on modesty, community, and femininity are all portrayed sympathetically.

Unfortunately, the film often feels like a PR video which could easily have been produced by Chabad or Orthodox outreach group Aish HaTorah. Over the sound of soft piano-and-string music, interviewees talk about the beauty of Hasidism and Orthodoxy. “My father, and his father, and his father, and going back to when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai – that chain has not been broken,” says Solomon Rosenberg, a Hasidic paramedic.

In its rush to compliment Hasidic Jewry, the video misses several layers of nuance. With the exception of Chabad, Goodkind does not differentiate between Hasidic sects. In failing to do so, she missed a golden opportunity to explore the differences in ritual, theology, and even fashion between Hasidic sects.
At a recent Israel Museum exhibit, “A World Apart Next Door: Glimpses into the Life of Hasidic Jews,” thousands of museumgoers learned the differences among Hasidic sects’ garb, browsing among cases of containing different types of shtreimels (Hasidic fur hats) and bekishes (formal coats).

But StyleLikeU’s film misses the opportunity to explain these rich variations in style. How can we tell a Breslover from a Ger Hasid? A Shomer Emunim from a Satmar Hasid? We never learn how to distinguish among the formal coats – including black bekishes and gold caftans – or the variety of shtreimels worn by each Hasidic court. The difference between the garb of Hasidim and their spiritual leaders is similarly unexplored; in fact, the concept of a “rebbe,” so central to Hasidic, goes unmentioned altogether.

Goodkind rightly praises the strong communities built by Hasidim, who are “committed to helping their neighbors and free of a preoccupation with sensational, pop culture.” I fully agree that Hasidic communities – and Orthodox communities more generally – offer American society an important alternative model for how to build community and lead a meaningful life.

“The big families, the sense of belonging to an extended community, and the reverence for the female body, mind and soul, were among the eye-opening and thought-provoking revelations,” Goodkind wrote.

Again, added nuance would have helped. There are all sorts of downsides to maintaining a tight-knit, insular community. Attempting to leave such a community can be incredibly painful, as shown in a recent tragic episode involving an ex-Skver Hasid. Victims of abuse are also less likely to ask for help from the police. Outsiders are easily noticed (thanks to their different garb, for starters) and are often viewed with suspicion, depending on the sect.

Vigilante modesty patrols have sprung up in a few Hasidic communities, enforcing strict communal tznius (modesty) norms. And by no means would other Jews agree that Hasidic Jewry’s approach to women is as rosy or feminist as the film portrays it.

As a direct descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, I deeply admire the fresh voices that Hasidism brought into the fold of Judaism. I identify as Modern Orthodox, but Hasidic music, Hasidic Torah, and Hasidic prayer are all part of who I am. But I would feel deeply uncomfortable creating a movie portrays the Hasidic community as a monolithic entity free of any flaw.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Kalamazoo-area Jewish community displays menorah for first time in Bronson Park 

For the first time, the Jewish community in Kalamazoo will have a display among Bronson Park's holiday decorations.

Members of the Jewish community installed a 12-foot Hanukkah menorah at the corner of Rose and South Street in Bronson Park on Sunday.

The menorah was purchased by the Jewish Federation of Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan with donations from the Congregation of Moses, Temple B'nai Israel and Kalamazoo Chabad.

"It's nice that the Jewish community has a presence here," said Beth Grode, president of The Jewish Federation of Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan. "I'm very happy and excited."

The menorah is a traditionally a symbol of miracles, but the menorah in Bronson Park also serves as a symbol of collaboration for the 500 practicing members of the Jewish community in Kalamazoo.

The Kalamazoo community is invited to celebrate the "festival of lights" at 5 p.m. each day for a menorah lighting in Bronson Park. The first lighting will take place Wednesday, the first night of Hanukkah.

On Sunday, the fifth night of Hanukkah, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Matisyahu will join the community and lead those assembled in song for the candle lighting before his performance at Kalamazoo State Theatre at 8 p.m.

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the last night of Hanukkah, children and parents from local religious schools will celebrate around the display with traditional Jewish food and treats.

Kalamazoo city officials approved display of the menorah in Bronson Park, Grode said.

Rabbi Mordechai Haller and his wife, Dobrushe Haller, said there wasn't any opposition to a menorah being placed in Bronson Park.

"Hanukkah celebrates religious freedom," he said. "This emphasizes the idea that we can express publicly without fear."

The idea came from a community member who had mentioned having some sort of display in the park during Hanukkah.

In a rarity on the calendar, Hanukkah intersects with Thanksgiving this year. This has never happened since Thanksgiving has been an official holiday, according to Grode, who said it won't happen again for another 70,000 years.



Sunday, November 24, 2013

‘Knockout game’ suspect’s alibi: ‘My girlfriend’s Jewish’ 

‘Knockout game’ suspect’s alibi: ‘My girlfriend’s Jewish’

Some of his friends — and his girlfriend — are Jewish, the man accused of bashing an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn as part of a “knockout game’’ insisted as he was sprung Saturday night on a paltry $750 bail.

“I never hit the guy,” Amrit “Chris’’ Maragh, 28, said after he was arraigned in Brooklyn Criminal Court on charges of misdemeanor assault, menacing and harassment in the attack on Shmuel Perl, 24, early Friday.

Maragh, a barber, has been identified by Perl as the man he heard yapping about the “knockout game” with three pals on a Borough Park street corner and then belted him in the head. Maragh was not charged with a hate crime.

“My girlfriend’s Jewish,” Maragh insisted of an unidentified woman who came to court to wait for his release.

“He has a lot of Jewish friends,” added Dagoberto Hernandez, 38, one of the three friends arrested with Maragh that night, but ultimately not charged.

“None of us touched him,” Hernandez said of Perl. “He was there, and he walked away fast. Less than 10 minutes later, we were arrested.”

There was “no exchange of words whatsoever,” with Perl, Maragh said.

Added another arrested pal, James Santa Cruz, 31: “We don’t play those childish kid games.”



Saturday, November 23, 2013

‘Jewish Taliban’ Flee Quebec Due to Education Authorities 

A sect of orthodox Jews has recently made a serious decision, which led to coining of the phrase ‘Jewish Taliban’ for their strict interpretation of the faith. The group, including 40 families which make almost 200 people, left Quebec on Monday morning moonlight at around 1 p.m. in a convoy of buses fleeing their homes due to what they consider as imminent threat of Quebec’s child protection authorities.

The exodus of the Lev Tahor (“Pure Heart”) community was leading the group as they travelled west along Highway 401 to salvation in Chatham-Kent. Though it is not a promised land, majority families have lodged in two dozen rooms at the local Super 8 motel, considering the southwestern Ontario town of 108,000 as now home. The son of Shlomo Helbrans, the group’s leader and a self-proclaimed rabbi, Nacham Helbrans, informed reporters that they were forced out of Quebec due to conflicts with education authorities, which wanted to enforce their secular curriculum for teaching home-schooled children. Nacham Helbrans alleged that failure to obey their imposition would have led to children being placed in foster care, which many in the isolationist group could not afford.

Having been threatened for the same reason since the past last six months, the group considered moving to various provinces all over Canada until they finally decided to go for Ontario. The decision mainly relied on the provinces relative liberty for faith-based schooling, which has often attracted other religious communities in Quebec, including Mennonites.



Friday, November 22, 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 'Calendar Complications' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Police: 4 men under arrest in Midwood for attacking Jewish man; allegedly playing dangerous ‘knockout game’ 

Police say four men are under arrest today in connection with an attack on a 24-year-old Jewish man. Officials say the man was punched by one of the suspects on 18th Avenue in Midwood. Assemblyman Dov Hikind has linked the assault to the dangerous "knockout game."

The idea behind the violent activity is to punch an unsuspecting person as hard as they can, and render the person unconscious.

"I am hopeful that they will be treated with the severity of the law," said Hikind. "I urge continuing diligence in dealing with this issue."



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sprint now offering free phone web filtering to customers 


How Many More ‘Pious’ Sex Abusers Are There? 

It seems we have an epidemic on hand. Sex abuse seems to be more prevalent today than at any time in history. Or is it…?

My guess is that it is as prevalent today as it was in the past. It has always been an epidemic. The difference today is that we know about it. The media is all over it and the internet spreads the word widely and quickly. Everyone knows about it instantly. And thank God for that.

I say ‘Thank God’ even though it makes the Torah world look bad by being no different than other communities that have these problems. But ‘knowledge is power’. Now that we know more we can do more to prevent it and to help survivors better deal with it.

Although we have a long way to go, things have been slowly changing for the better as some survivors have come forward to expose their abusers and testify against them in court. And major Orthodox religious organizations like the RCA and the OU have publicly supported reporting abuse to the police immediately. Even Agudah and Lakewood support it in theory as long as you consult with a rabbi first. (That this is woefully inadequate is beyond the scope of this post.) The only religious groups who outright forbid it are major Chasidic enclaves like Satmar, Ger, and Toldos Aharon.

As recently as the late 1970s, it was widely believed that sex abuse in our world was extremely rare. To the extent that it existed at all, it was thought to be the rarest of aberrations. People like serial sex abuser Avreimal Mondrowitz were thought to the exception that proved the rule. We believed that our religious values and simple fear of Heaven would prevent all of us (with rare exception) from doing this.

But as we now see, there is a new story of sex abuse almost every day. And it doesn’t matter a bit how religious the abuser acts. It doesn’t matter if he is Jewish or not. I believe that the percentage of abusers per every type of population base is the same. I further believe that there is a lot more sexual abuse than is being reported. Who knows how many untold stories there are?! Sex abuse is under reported for many reasons - even though it would mean putting an abuser behind bars. It takes a lot of courage for a survivor to come forward.

You would think that the religious values of abusers would prevent religious people from doing it. But that is clearly not the case. If an individual has an aberrant sexual appetite and lacks the ability to control his impulses, he will seek to satisfy his lust clandestinely all the time, even as he might feel guilty about it. He thus become a predator. It doesn’t matter how pious he is. Nor does it matter what Hashkafa he has. Or what denomination he belongs to. Or even what his religion is. Or what stature he has in his community.

Which brings me to Rabbi Yakov Yitzchak Roth. I believe this is the first religious leader to have served a 16 year sentence for ‘raping, sodomizing and sexually assaulting a child relative…

Who is Rabbi Yitzchak Roth? He is the Chasidic Rebbe of Shomrei Emunim. Shomrei Emunim was founded by Rabbi Roth’s father Rav Chaim Roth, son of Toldos Aharon founder Rav Aharon Roth. Rabbi Yitzchok Yakov Roth is R' Chaim Roth’s son and one of the current Rebbes of Shomrei Emunim. They are primarily located in Meah Sheraim and Bnei Brak.

His conviction of sexual abuse has now come to light because Rabbi Roth has applied for a visa to come to New York. He lied on his visa application swearing that he had never been arrested or convicted of a sex crime. He was arrested by the New York police Special Victims Squad.

How does a man like this retain any respect in his community? Even after spending 16 years in prison. I guess the answer to that his followers do not believe it. They think he was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit in a court which they do not recognize as valid.

And I’m sure they view those who reported him and testified against him Mosrim (informants). Which they consider to be a capital offense. They do not believe that a man who they see as holy; a man that is exemplary in his public behavior; a man that they see as an icon the son of an icon and grandson of an icon to be holy.

I’m sure that his every public act and his every publicly uttered word is pure Torah. I’m sure he exudes extreme piety. I’m sure that he advises people on how to live holier lives via Tznius and other religious practices that go beyond the letter of the law. I’m sure that he is as Machmir on Shabbos and Kashrus as possible. I’m sure that Chalav Akum or Chalav Stam has never touched his lips. I’m sure he lives in modest dwellings and lives a modest lifestyle. And never speaks a word of Lashon Hara.

With such an image constantly displayed, how is it possible that he sodomized anyone?! The mere thought is sacrilegious! But he was convicted of that in a court of law. It is highly unlikely that he was innocent – even though I’ll bet he still denies it. As we all know they all deny it.

The list seems endless and as I said crosses all lines. From Catholic priests, to evangelical preachers. Rabbis of all Jewish denominations including Orthodox Rabbis, Poskim and Dayanim. It includes all Hashkafos: From Modern Orthodox Kiruv workers to Chasidic Rebbes; from Religious Zionist Mechanchim, to Chabad; from Satmar to Ger; from principals and teachers in Modern Orthodox schools to principals and teachers in Charedi schools. It doesn’t matter what station in life they had. And it doesn’t matter how exemplary their reputations were or how charismatic they were.

I too used to think that people like this were incapable of sexually abusing anyone. Their piety spoke volumes to me. But unfortunately that image has been shattered to me so many times that it no longer surprises me when I hear about it. Although I admit that there is a part of me that still finds such stories incredible.

How many more people in prominent religious positions are there out there, that are yet to be exposed? And how many victims are there who have still not come forward? How many are suffering in silence in all of these communities? How many more are yet to be abused by these predators?

I can’t even imagine the pain of suffering in silence. And I’m afraid to think about just how big the numbers might be. And to make matters worse - is it any wonder that a typical survivor goes OTD when trusted religious icons end up sexually abusing them? It would not surprise me that the vast majority of young people who have gone OTD have done so because they were sexually abused. And frankly, I don’t think we are doing enough about it. We need to do more. But what?



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rabbi held for allegedly hiding monstrous sex crime record 

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi from Israel is being held in New York without bail for allegedly hiding his monstrous sex crime record in order to get a US visa and come to New York.

Yakov Yitzchak Roth — a “rebbe” in the Hasidic group Shomrei Emunim — was arrested Tuesday in Borough Park by cops with the NYPD Special Victim’s Squad.

He had flown here from Tel Aviv in late August after swearing in a visa application that he had never been arrested or convicted, according to the federal complaint against him.

In reality, just six months earlier he had finished serving a 16-year sentence on his 1997 conviction in the District Court of Tel Aviv for raping, sodomizing and sexually assaulting a child relative, the complaint said.

Roth’s attorney, Shulamis Peltz, declined to comment on the case, except to say, “The current allegations are just allegations and have not been proven.”

Roth, whose father, Rabbi Avraham Chaim Roth, led a small congregation of 200 followers in Jerusalem before his death in August, 2012, is due back in Brooklyn Federal Court for a bail hearing on Monday.



Thanksgivukkah, as told by a Hasidic puppet rock band 

Yes, you read that correctly.

Perhaps the most bizarre production to use Thanksgivukkah as a muse is this music video, in which the band Buba Myses rocks out to a holiday-themed parody of the will.i.am/Britney Spears song “Scream and Shout.”

The one thing that separates this video from the ever-growing number of Jewish parodies on YouTube: the band members are Hasidic. They’re also puppets. The band name Buba Myses, Yiddish for “grandma tales,” is also a play on the Hebrew word buba, which means puppet.

But as much as the presentation is impressive, I’ve gotta say that the character I identify with most is the bewildered guest. If I came to a Thanksgiving dinner only to be greeted by a bunch of Orthodox puppets, I’d be pretty confused, too.



Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Brooklyn Rackets Chief Retiring Under Duress 

As Brooklyn District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes nears the end of 24 years in office, a controversial deputy has resigned, but not before transferring two Assistant DAs who sought to dismiss an extortion case against a Hasidic Jew because evidence is lacking, according to news reports.

Michael Vecchione, a 20-year veteran of the office who was head of the Rackets Bureau, filed retirement papers last week. He will leave three weeks before DA-elect Kenneth S. Thompson, who defeated Mr. Hynes in both the Democratic primary and the general election, takes office Jan. 1.



Monday, November 18, 2013

Ex-chief rabbi Yona Metzger arrested for allegedly receiving bribes 

 Former Israeli chief rabbi Yona Metzger was arrested on suspicion of bribe taking and other offenses during his decade-long tenure.

Metzger was arrested Monday following an investigation of several months. A Petach Tikvah court remanded the ex-Ashkenazic chief rabbi to police custody for nine days.

Metzger is accused of accepting monetary and material bribes in exchange for advancing the interests of several nonprofit organizations. The amount of the bribes equals several million shekels, according to reports.

According to the Israel Police National Fraud squad, Metzger also tried to silence witnesses and interfere in the investigation, according to reports.

He was questioned about the alleged offenses in June, at the end of his stint as chief rabbi, and was placed under house arrest.

Metzger served as chief rabbi from 2003 until earlier this year.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

NYPD Investigates Hate Crime In Crown Heights 

Eight men are wanted for their involvement in

The New York Police Department is investigating the assault of a Hasidic man in Brooklyn as a possible hate crime.

Police said the 19-year-old victim was walking down the street in Crown Heights last Sunday night when he was approached by a group of eight men, five of whom were caught by a surveillance camera.

Police said one of the men punched the victim in the face and the group fled.

The suspects are described as in their late teens and early twenties.

Residents said the alleged assault is the latest in a series of several anti-Semitic incidents in the area.



Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fishel Litzman, Hasidic NYPD recruit, suffered religious discrimination over beard: judge 

Fishel Litzman with his daughters (left to right) Chaya Muska, 10, Chana, 7, Itasara, 9, and wife Miriam Litzman. Litzman was fired from the NYPD's Police Academy when he refused to comply with the requirement to shave his beard, which has religious significance, down to 1 millimeter in length.

A rookie Hasidic cop fired by the NYPD for refusing to trim his beard was the victim of religious discrimination, a federal judge said Friday.

The decision appears to pave the way for Fishel Litzman’s reinstatement.

 “I want people to know that you can follow your dreams and never have to compromise your religion,” Litzman, 39, told the Daily News outside his home in Monsey. “That’s what makes this county so great.”
Litzman was fired in June 2012, a month shy of graduating from the Police Academy. He said he got booted because he refused to adhere to department standards limiting beards to no more than 1 millimeter in length.

His lawyer, Nathan Lewin, filed suit on his behalf, arguing that the city came up with an “after-the-fact rationalization” by saying facial hair would prevent him wearing a gas mask with a proper fit. The city at the time said Litzman would put himself and others at risk if he needed to wear the mask in an emergency.

But Federal Judge Harold Baer Friday upheld Litzman’s constitutional claim, criticized police and told his attorney to submit within 10 days a “proposed order.”

“We’re going to ask that he be reinstated,” said Lewin, a legal heavyweight who has fought and won beard battles on behalf of observant Jews with the Army and Air Force. “We hope this is the beginning of the end of the (NYPD’s) refusal to grant full religious accommodations to applicants who may not, for religious reasons, trim their beards.”

The NYPD said it’s reviewing Baer’s decision. A spokeswoman for the Law Department said, “We respectfully disagree with the court and are considering our options.”

Baer, in his decision, agreed that the NYPD would suffer an “undue hardship” if every officer wasn’t capable of wearing a gas mask that seals tightly against the face, without facial hair interference. But he also noted that the NYPD could not provide documentation that the 1-millimeter restriction is an official rule. The NYPD failed to enforce the restriction against cops not granted an exemption, such as undercover officers, he added.

Litzman, a father of five, who has been working as a paramedic since getting canned, says his goal since that day has remained the same.

“The primary objective was always to get back into the academy and do what I always dreamed of doing,” he said.



Friday, November 15, 2013

German gov't knew of Munich art find for 19 months 

The German government knew for 19 months that a huge trove of art, possibly including works stolen by the Nazis, had been found in Bavaria, but kept quiet while prosecutors carried out their investigation.

Jewish groups and lawyers for heirs who might have a claim to the works have criticized the secrecy surrounding the case, and the fact that the government only sprang into action after it was revealed by Germany media earlier this month.

But since Focus magazine reported on the case Nov. 3, the government has put together a specialist task force and urged prosecutors to release details of some 590 items that may have been looted by the Nazis — while stressing that it doesn't want to interfere in the ongoing legal probe.

The government initially acknowledged only that it had been informed about the case "for several months." But a spokesman for the Bavarian Justice Ministry said Friday that federal officials were told about the find on March 21 or 22, 2012 — less than a month after some 1,406 pictures were discovered in a Munich apartment following a tax investigation.

Hannes Hedke told The Associated Press that at the time a representative of the Chancellery in Berlin was also handed a list and photographs of the works seized "because there was a suspicion early on that there might be goods involved that belonged to third parties."

Legal experts have said that claims against Cornelius Gurlitt, the collector in whose Munich apartment the paintings, prints and drawings were found, could be hard to enforce because of Germany's 30-year statute of limitations.

Bavaria's Justice Minister Winfried Bausback told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in an interview published Friday that it would be "difficult to stomach" if the statute of limitations prevented heirs from recovering their pictures, and suggested changes to the law might be possible.

Michael Hulton, a doctor living in the United States, was able to reach an out-of-court agreement with Gurlitt two years ago over the sale of a Max Beckmann picture. The painting had once belonged to his great-uncle, the late Jewish collector Alfred Flechtheim.

Hulton said if the trove now discovered in Munich contains more items from the Flechtheim collection a similar deal might be conceivable.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters Friday that the head of the task force set up to help investigate the works would contact Gurlitt directly. The collector hasn't publicly said whether he wants to have the paintings back.



Thursday, November 14, 2013

England's Orthodox Jewish birthrates soar, report finds 

After half a century of decline, Britain's Jewish community is growing as Orthodox birthrates soar, according to a new report.

The report, titled "Britain's Jewish Community Statistics 2012," suggests that four out of every 10 Jewish births are among the most traditional, Orthodox Jewish sects.

Published by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the report confirms similar findings in the United States. In a comprehensive new survey, the Pew Research Center found gradual rise in the overall proportion of U.S. Jews who identify as Orthodox.

"The growth of the strictly Orthodox community is dramatic and requires the whole Jewish community to reshape its service, for everything from schooling and welfare to social care and religious provision for the future," said Vivian Wineman, board president.

There are 300,000 Jews in Great Britain; of those, 15 percent, or 45,000 people, define themselves as Orthodox.

The board expects Orthodox births and marriages to outstrip those in the rest of the community within a matter of decades. The more assimilated mainstream Jewish community continues to decline in numbers.

Marriages within the Orthodox community are expected to account for more than half of all Jewish marriages in Britain by 2023.

Orthodox Jews accounted for all Jewish births in 2012 in Greater Manchester, which is home to Britain's second largest Jewish community after London.

After declining from a high in the 1950s of an estimated 420,000, the number of Jews appears to be rising. There were 3,860 Jewish births in 2011 and 2,452 Jewish burials and cremations.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

OU To Sponsor Jew in the City’s Jewish All-Stars Awards Party in NYC 

The Orthodox Union has signed on as a sponsor of Jew in the City’s 2013 Yeshaya Fischl Jewish All-Stars Awards Celebration, featuring U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew and Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann, among the ten honorees.

Jew in the City (jewinthecity.com ) is an organization founded by award-winning Jewish influencer Allison Josephs with the goal of re-branding Orthodox Jews and Judaism to the world through digital media and by doing so, to reverse the negative perception of Orthodox Jews and Judaism. “Our mission,” Ms. Josephs declares, is “to break down stereotypes about religious Jews and offer a humorous, meaningful outlook into Orthodox Judaism.”

The Second Annual Awards party will be held Sunday, November 24, just prior to Chanukah and Thanksgiving, on Manhattan’s West Side starting at 7:00PM. VIP red carpet pre-party is at 6:30. The exact location will be sent to those who have purchased tickets.

“While far too many stories in the media track alleged misdeeds of observant Jews — and there is ultimately nobody to blame for that except for those individuals — the overwhelmingly positive, beautiful contributions to society made by Torah-observant Jews often go unmentioned,” observed Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. “At JewInTheCity.com, Ms. Josephs skillfully employs social media, and heavy doses of candor, humor and wit, to correct misperceptions of Orthodox life held by Jews and non-Jews alike and, when appropriate, even seeks to set the record straight. Allison has taken on the role of PR agent for Torah Judaism and the Orthodox Union is proud to support her work.”

This year’s All-Stars include the following categories and individuals:

Law and Government, Jack Lew, U.S. Treasury Secretary

Law and Government, Joseph Shenker, Chairman of Sullivan and Cromwell

Law and Government, Anne Neuberger, Director of the National Security Agency/Commercial Solutions Center

Science and Medicine, Dr. Robert Aumann, of Israel, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, 2005

*Science and Medicine, Dr. Laurel Steinherz, Director of Pediatric Cardiology at Memorial Sloan Kettering and Co-Founder of Camp Simcha for Jewish Children with Cancer

Sports and Entertainment, Rama Burshtein, Director and Producer of Fill the Void

Sports and Entertainment, Naama Shafir, of Israel, First Orthodox Professional Women’s Basketball Player

Sports and Entertainment, Ari Pinchot, Co-Executive Producer of Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Business and Industry, Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg, Inc. Top 10 Entrepreneur and Marketing Guru

Business and Industry, Sarah Hofstetter, CEO of 360i U.S. Ad Agency

“This year’s All-Stars are an extremely accomplished and diverse group,” Ms. Josephs declared. “With the gala taking place right before the rare and historic confluence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving, we will celebrate the freedom our great country provides us which allows Jews to soar to the tops of their fields while staying true to their heritage.”

Many of the honorees are expected to be present at the event, which is sponsored in memory of Yeshaya ben Moshe Mordechai Dov. Other sponsors include Freeda Wigs, Kosher Scene, Baker's Dozen, and Rabbi Daniel Cohen of Cong. Agudath Shalom in Stamford, CT.

The party will include an open wine and whiskey bar, live music, Chanukah/Thanksgiving themed foods, desserts, and an inspirational Orthodox Jewish All-Stars video.

Ticket prices begin at $40. They may be purchased from http://www.eventbrite.com/event/9081377645 .



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Troubled Trial of Sam Kellner Is Delayed — Claimed His Son Was Abused 

The troubled bribery and extortion trial of a Brooklyn man who says his son was a victim of child abuse has been delayed — again.

Laughter could be heard in the Brooklyn Supreme Court courtroom, November 12, when prosecutor John Holmes said that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office was still not ready to try the case, which has dragged on for two years.

Kellner is accused of paying a witness $10,000 to falsely testify in the trial of a Brooklyn cantor on sex abuse charges. He is also accused of trying to extort the cantor’s family for $400,000.

Kellner’s lawyers had anticipated that the charges against their client would be dropped this week.

Lawyer Michael Dowd told the court that prosecutors contacted his office last week to say that they were dropping the case for lack of evidence.

The same prosecutors told the court in July that a key witness against Kellner had given inconsistent testimony.

But, according to the New York Post, Brooklyn rackets chief Michael Vecchione overruled the prosecutors and demoted them.

Prosecutor Holmes said that he did not know who had been assigned to take over the case. Nor could he answer questions posed by Kellner’s attorney or by Judge Ann M. Donnelly.

Donnelly set a trial date for the first week in January.

By that time, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes will have been replaced by Ken Thompson, who shocked observers by beating Hynes in this year’s election.



Monday, November 11, 2013

Jewish Community Remembers “The Night of Broken Glass” 

The South Florida community observed  the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, considered the night the Holocaust began.

On November 9, 1938, also known as “The Night of Broken Glass,” Nazis damaged and destroyed thousands of Jewish businesses, homes and synagogues in Germany and Austria leaving streets covered in glass. It was also the first time, tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

“I remember the trauma. I remember the noise.  I remember the crying and the carrying on, and I certainly remember my father being frightened by the Gestapo that attacked him. I remember that vividly,” said Wendy Rothfield who was a toddler living in Austria in 1938. She and her parents moved from country to country to escape the Nazis.  “Only my mother my father and I, the rest of the family unfortunately were murdered by the Nazis. We were lucky we were able to escape,” she said.

Rothfield is the Kristallnacht Program chair.  The Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, a committee of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation has been holding the event for more than two decades.

Despite their pain, Holocaust survivors want to share their stories.

“I’m the only one survived from my family,” said David Mermelstein, who was liberated from a concentration camp at age 16.  “That’s the reason we do what we do, to make sure it’s not forgotten,” he added.

“This happened yesterday but we want to prevent tomorrow,” said Rothfield.



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Trove of sacred Iraqi Jewish texts goes on display in Washington 

Iraqi Jewish documents

The tattered Torah scroll fragments, Bibles and other religious texts found in a flooded Baghdad basement 10 years ago testify to a once-thriving Jewish population that's all but disappeared from Iraq.

Recovered from the Iraqi intelligence headquarters and shipped to the United States for years of painstaking conservation was a literary trove of more than 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents that are being digitized and put online. A sample of that treasure is now on display for the first time at the National Archives in Washington, in an exhibit that runs through January 5.

"One thing that is particularly touching about them, or particularly interesting about them, is that they connect to a community that no longer lives in Iraq," said Doris Hamburg, the National Archives' director of preservation programs.

The exhibit of two dozen items offers a rare glimpse into a Jewish population that dates to antiquity but dispersed after Israel was created in 1948. But the decision to return the collection to Iraq after its display here has raised bitter feelings among Iraqi Jews in the United States and stirred debate about whom the materials belong to: The country where they were found or the people who once owned them?

Iraqi Jews consider the artifacts part of their heritage and say a nation that decades ago drove out its Jewish citizens doesn't deserve to recover sacred objects of an exiled population. Some also fear there's no constituency of Jews remaining in Iraq to ensure the books are maintained, especially in a country still riven by violent conflict.

A petition circulating among Iraqi Jews seeks to prevent the materials from being returned and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., made a similar public statement to the State Department last week. Some have written newspaper opinion pieces urging the items to be shared with the exiled Jewish community and have discussed burying torn Torah scroll pieces, as is customary for holy texts that are no longer usable.

"The fact is these were archives that belonged to the Jewish community in Iraq," said Gina Waldman, president of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa and a Libyan Jew. "They need to be returned to their rightful owners. They were looted from the Jewish community and they rightfully should be returned."

State Department officials have expressed confidence that the Iraqi government will make the materials accessible in an educational exhibit. The materials will be housed in Iraq's national library and archives, with the goal of helping future generations understand the contributions Iraqi Jews made and the repression that they endured, said Saad Eskander, director of the Iraqi institution. Though an adviser to the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities said there were no current plans to exhibit the materials and that the public and researchers would be able to see them online, Eskander said an exhibition would happen either next year or 2015.



Saturday, November 09, 2013

Where to find kosher pizza in Delaware 

Moses Toati cooks up pizzas. The Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement holds a weekly Sunday pizza sale fundraiser for the jKidz Hebrew School.

It used to be that if Jody Grinberg’s family wanted pizza, they had to schlep to Jersey and make a day of it.

The North Wilmington mom keeps a kosher home, abiding by a number of Jewish dietary laws that govern how foods are prepared and consumed.

Sadly, for the Grinbergs and other observant Jews, there is not one kosher restaurant in all of Delaware.

“If my kids are desperate, they make (pizza) out of tortillas,” she says.

To fill the void, in August the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement in Delaware began selling “Heavenly” kosher pizzas to raise funds for its Hebrew school.

The Sunday sale, held from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on Silverside Road has attracted Jews and non-Jews alike. Some pick up slices before the Eagles game. Others scoop up their kids after Hebrew school and stay for the pizza, popcorn, music and conversation.

Chabad offers free delivery with a minimum order of two pizzas, but customers typically prefer sit-down or pick-up.

Individual cheese slices cost $2.50. Whole 18-inch pies are $16. There are also meal deals with snacks and drinks. Families often take home pies to freeze and eat the rest of the week, according to Chabad Rabbi Motti Flikshtein.

Chabad imports the frozen pies from J Two Pizza, a kosher pizzeria in Lakewood, N.J. A male volunteer, wearing ritual fringes called tzitzit, heats the pizzas in a small oven in the corner of Chabad’s kitchen.

Meat and dairy can’t be mixed, according to kosher laws. Since the center operates a meat kitchen, all the surfaces and utensils must be covered in plastic wrap while the pizzas are baking. Even the heat from the pie can’t reach the counter.

As many as 40 people attend the weekly sale, held in Chabad’s makeshift pizza parlor next to the kitchen with red-and-white checked tablecloths and oregano dispensers. During the Jewish fall festival called Sukkot, the pizza feast moved outdoors to a hut called a sukkah.

Chabad leaders are not sure if the operation has turned a profit. Startup costs were high, since the group had to purchase all new utensils, plates and serving pieces. Currently, plain cheese New York-style pizza is the only option, but kosher toppings could be added in the future.



Friday, November 08, 2013

Rider Sleeping on Shoulder of Orthodox Jewish Passenger 


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Ex-Hasidic Woman Marks Five Years Since She Shaved Her Head 

I remember the first time I felt the cold, prickly air on my newly shaved head. I remember looking in the mirror. I remember staring at the pile of auburn hair in the vanity sink of the cozy basement apartment I now shared with my husband of less than a day. I remember my mother gathering the hair into a garbage bag and disposing of it, unaffectedly. I remember placing the new wig on my bare head and fussing over the few stray hairs the shaytl makher, or wig stylist, forgot to spray into place.

The morning after my wedding, three months after my 18th birthday, my mother shaved my head, and I felt absolutely nothing. Was I supposed to feel sad at this loss? Was I supposed to feel violated? I did not. Married women shave their heads because Hashem and the rebbe command them to do so. According to the Talmud, a woman’s uncovered hair is equivalent to physical nudity. Hasidic rabbis have taken this a step further, requiring women to shave their heads to ensure that not a single hair is seen. For Satmar women like me, it is a grave sin not to shave. You would not be buried in the Satmar beys-hakhayim, and if that weren’t serious enough, you would also put your children, live and unborn, at imminent risk of terrible diseases.

The Satmar Rebbe, Yoel Teitelbaum, famously gave emotional, tear-jerking speeches against married women growing their own hair. “Jewish daughters, our mothers and fathers gave up their lives to our Father in Heaven for the sanctity of His name, but you, their daughters, don’t want to give up even a few hairs?” he asked in a speech on Yom Kippur eve in 1951, according to “The Rebbe,” a 2010 biography by Dovid Meisels. “What does Hashem Yisbarach (God) ask of us? A few hairs! Because of a few hairs you are making yourselves lose both worlds. Jewish daughters, shave your hair and give honor to the Torah.”

The last time I buzzed off my hair — exactly five years ago — was nothing like that first time. The anniversary marks a pivotal juncture in my life, a point of momentous change that led me on a path to a new life. The day before that final shave, on an unusually warm October night, my husband and I sat at an oblong wooden table in a side room of the main Satmar synagogue, in the upstate New York village of Kiryas Joel. At the table were eight middle-aged men in black hats and suits; they sported long gray-and-white beards. I sat with my trembling hands folded on my lap and adjusted my long black skirt — part of the uber-modest ensemble I had carefully chosen hours before — for the umpteenth time, and awaited the storm.

I knew we were in trouble the moment I saw the letter on the official United Talmudical Academy stationary in the mail. The letter was curt and stated unequivocally that because of my failure to dress in accordance with the stringent tznius, modesty, rules of the holy shtetl, our 3-year-old son could no longer attend school. After the shock wore off, my husband and I scrambled to arrange a meeting with the Va’ad Hatznius — the mysterious group charged with maintaining the highest standards of modesty, especially for women. The group was known to resort to extreme measures, such as slashing car tires, when warnings and threats did not work to restore modesty.

As I sat at the table with the Va’ad Hatznius, the head of the group told my husband and me that it could no longer tolerate my modern clothing. This is a holy shtetl, and the rebbe would be horrified if he were still alive, he said in Yiddish, while swaying side to side in his folding chair. Another man chimed in to say he also heard that I have bei-hur, a derisive term used to describe hair on a married woman. They couldn’t confirm it, he said, but oy vey to my family and me. What a disgrace.

I looked down at my dark shoes and thick beige stockings. How did the Va’ad Hatznius find out? It must have been the neighbors who saw a stray hair, who noticed that I wore the same turban all the time. It was the only turban I could find that would fit on top of the large, white knit kippah I bought in the hosiery shop, the type that Hasidic men wear to sleep at night, which held my mass of hair securely in place. I would spend many hours a day with these neighbor women while my children were playing outside. They must have ratted me out. Or, perhaps, the mikveh attendant reported me because I had been absent for more than a year.

Since my hair had started to grow out, I had stopped making the monthly trip to the strict Kiryas Joel mikveh to do the ritual bathing after menstruation, as required by Jewish law. Instead, I went to a mikveh in Rockland County, N.Y., where women with hair are allowed to bathe. I knew that the Va’ad Hatznius was going to catch on to my secret at some point, and now it had.

The group would send a woman to my house to check my head, the older man across from me said — all while keeping his right hand over his eyes to shield me from view. He spoke to my husband, never directly to me.

We left the synagogue, pale and worn down. My husband had tried desperately to counter their allegations, to keep our last strings to our community intact, to get our son back into the only yeshiva he could attend. There was no debating that we would have to prove our commitment to the group. We reasoned that if we rewound the clock, if I returned to the person I was — a model of Hasidic modesty — perhaps the group would let us stay in the place we were born and bred. I needed to lengthen my skirt, buy bigger shirts, cover my wig with a wider headband and, of course, shave my head.

I arrived back home, removed the dusty shaver from the linen closet and stared at my reflection in the mirror. It felt wrong, oh so very wrong, to shave. I felt violated and intimidated. But the thought of being revealed was worse. A woman would ring my doorbell tomorrow, ask me to remove my turban, and see all of my hair. Oh, the humiliation, the shame. My mother, my friends and the community would discover my secret. My son would lose his spot in school. I had no choice.

The decision to stop shaving was not a conscious one. When I became pregnant with my second child, I stopped visiting the mikveh. Once I was out of view of the mikveh attendant, there was no one to scrutinize my head. I simply let my hair grow out, anticipating the inevitable shave after my daughter’s birth. At this point in our marriage, my husband and I had forged friendships outside the little enclave of Kiryas Joel and discovered the vast population of pious Orthodox, and even Hasidic, Jews who didn’t shave their heads. The movies we covertly watched at home with the shades drawn, the illicit vacations we took — they all influenced my decision to forgo shaving. I still felt immense guilt at the thought of condemning my family to hell, and the feeling followed me like a haunting shadow.

But then my beautiful daughter arrived one cold January evening. I continued to let my hair grow. I felt like a woman again, even if my hair went uncovered for only a few hours a day, in the safe confines of my own home. It felt too good to let it go.

Standing in front of the mirror after my meeting with the Va’ad Hatznius, I knew I had skirted the inevitable for too long. Within three minutes, my long auburn hair lay in a sad heap in the same sink as it had five years earlier. I cried onto my clipped hair, hot tears of frustration, anger and humiliation.

That night, my husband and I could barely sleep. The next morning, we decided to leave the community for good. We no longer felt capable of maintaining an extreme Hasidic lifestyle. We ached for a little freedom, for the leash around our necks to be loosened, for my hair to be left in its rightful place, to grow or show as I pleased.

It has been five years. Many lifestyle changes and adjustments later, I no longer cover my hair as many of my Orthodox peers do, and I am no longer capable of accepting, let alone understanding, the practice of forced head shaving, much less the threats and intimidation used to maintain it within the community. But I am grateful for the fact that this very last, most personal violation of mine led my husband and me to gather the strength to take control of our lives and to make decisions for ourselves, our children and for me — my own body.



Wednesday, November 06, 2013

An orthodox woman’s 3-year divorce fight 

I’m helping my friend get ready for a date. It’s Saturday night after Shabbat, and I can see how excited she is as she puts on her makeup and curls her hair. She never met the guy before, but it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Who knows — in just a few months from now, could this be the man she’s engaged to?

As I zip up her dress, I feign a smile — but inside I feel despair. She has what I long for — a life where she’s free to date men. But men can’t even look at me now. That’s because I’m an agunah — an Orthodox Jewish woman whose husband won’t give her a “get.” Under the eyes of God, I’m still married, chained to someone who refuses to release me back into society.

When I first met Avrohom in October 2008, I thought he was great husband material. That’s what my parents and friends told me. After all, in my society you’re expected to listen to them on these matters.
They told me that at 23, he was learned, a great Talmudic scholar from an esteemed family, whose great-grandfather, Moshe Feinstein, was a legendary rabbi.

It’s traditional to arrange the date through a matchmaker. Days later, there was a knock at my front door. My dad opened it and led a handsome, dark-haired man with bright blue eyes into the room. He spoke softly and politely, but seemed shy. I happily got in his car.

Our first date was at a big hotel near the Garden State Parkway, and we sat in the lobby drinking Diet Cokes. In Jewish culture, this is the quintessential way that you get to know a potential partner. Dates always happen in a public place and are very formal. We spoke about our families, and although he seemed interested in what I had to say, it was a little off-putting because he kept fiddling with his phone.

I always think it’s impolite not to accept a second date, so I agreed to see Avrohom again. This time, he only really became animated when he was talking about his expensive watch. I told the matchmaker I wanted to stop seeing him, that we weren’t a fit.

Days later, my parents got an urgent phone call from his parents — begging me to reconsider, saying that the personality he showed me on our dates wasn’t the real him, that he was nervous around girls. My parents asked me to think about it because his parents were so insistent I had the wrong impression of him.
In Orthodox dating, you rely a lot on what other people tell you — what their impression is. So I gave him another chance.

After two months of dating — about twice a week, every week, first sharing sodas in hotel lobbies, then graduating to dinner and visits to the Museum of Natural History — we both knew we were expected to take the next step of getting engaged.

It was a chilly December night, and he took me to a glitzy hotel in Midtown. We were walking around on the mezzanine level, watching all the tourists whizzing around below. Avrohom suddenly dropped to one knee, pulled out a black velvet box with a sparkling, round diamond ring inside, and asked me to marry him.
“Gital,” he said, softly. “We can have a wonderful future together.” He talked about the kind of marriage he wanted, where we’d be equal partners and make decisions together. Suddenly my reservations about him melted away. All I could think about was the excitement of the wedding.

The engagement period in our community, like our dating, is very short. There was so much to do before our February wedding that I didn’t worry too much about our compatibility.

As per our tradition, each side pays for certain things — our side the food, his side the flowers. I didn’t fuss much over these things, but I couldn’t believe how many times Avrohom sent back the invitation because it wasn’t the perfect font. Looking back, I should have seen the signs.

Before I knew it, the big day arrived. Four hundred guests celebrated with us at a gorgeous catering hall in Lakewood. I felt so beautiful in my ivory lace dress and veil, with a white rose bouquet. The band, which Avrohom chose himself, had all the guests, women on their side and men on the other, dancing for hours.
But only three days into the marriage, I knew I made a terrible mistake. It was our first Shabbat together as man and wife — and it was spent in silence. We were about to light the Sabbath candles, and we discussed how each of our families likes to light it. It’s a female tradition, and you typically do what your mother did. When my way contradicted his way, he criticized me and turned angry. Avrohom said: “You have no choice. It’s not my way,” and gave me the cold shoulder for the next 24 hours. From Friday night to Saturday night, we didn’t speak a word.

When I couldn’t stand the hostility anymore, I said, “You can’t just ignore me — this isn’t how a relationship works. We have to be able to talk about these things.” The only response he could muster was: “When I don’t get my way, I don’t know how to function.”

I got pregnant right away. As a Torah-observant man, Avrohom would study in the yeshiva all day while I was in school or working at my mom’s technology company.

I was the sole breadwinner, but he had control over our finances. Several times he would give handouts to his brother, who was unemployed. “Why are you giving away the money that I earned?” I asked Avrohom one day. “You don’t get to make the decisions,” he replied, adding that I’m stupid. “I’m the man of the house.” He wouldn’t allow me to employ an occasional housekeeper so, even though I was pregnant and exhausted, I had to do all the cooking and cleaning as well as work up to 40 hours a week.

His controlling and belittling behavior only got worse. I guess I was in denial about how bad things really were. I couldn’t confide in anybody, not even my mom.

We were sitting down to dinner one night, and I casually mentioned that I’d picked an OB-GYN. “Why didn’t you consult me first?” he growled. “It’s up to me to choose your doctor.” When I asked if he had any better suggestions, he said that I should produce a short list of 10, and that he got final say. He always had to be in the position of control — it’s stifling.

At one point, I suggested we look at places in Lakewood, where there would be more room for the baby and we’d be closer to my family who could help out. He said, “People always fuss too much over new mothers, not the father. You’re too spoiled!” My heart sank. I thought: “How can I bring a child into this world with a virtual stranger? Someone I’m so disconnected from?”

Around my seventh month, after getting the silent treatment over Shabbat again, I told Avrohom that we needed to see a marriage counselor. He flatly dismissed the idea, saying: “You can pack your bags and leave. We’re not going to therapy under any circumstances, and if anyone finds out we have a bad marriage, I’ll divorce you.”

Our son, Aryeh, was born on Nov. 19, 2009 at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital. He was two weeks early, and I wonder to this day if it was because of the mental strain I was under during the pregnancy.
The second the nurse handed him to me, the world was a perfect place. I had this beautiful, perfect person. But I was soon reminded that my husband was quite the opposite. My parents had been in the waiting room for hours during the labor.

When they asked to come in to see me afterward, Avrohom steadfastly refused to let them into the room.
I later found out that he actually manhandled my mom, shoving her back as she tried to walk out of the room. That’s a major taboo against women, and she was very shaken up. My father told Avrohom, “Don’t touch my wife,” and he backed off.

Finally, Avrohom gave in, and they came in to see me.

A few weeks after Aryeh arrived, Avrohom agreed to move together to a rented apartment in Lakewood. It was on one condition: that we took the baby and slept over with his family in Staten Island at least once a week.

Two weeks later, on a frigid December night, Avrohom insisted we drive to see his parents. I didn’t want to needlessly drag a newborn out in the freezing cold, so I said no. He was yelling at me, and the baby started crying because Avrohom’s shouting woke him up. He was only 1 month old.

Avrohom had already stormed out of the house twice after two other rows, but this time I reached my breaking point. I said, ‘This isn’t working, I’m moving back to my parents.’ I packed up Aryeh right then and there, and drove off. I told him I wasn’t coming back, and I meant it.

I said: “You’re not a bad man. We’re just not right for each other.” He snapped back: “You would make any man unhappy.”

When my mom met me at the front door, I blurted out what had happened and how terribly unhappy I’d been. Thank God she was sympathetic. She then told me she and my dad had been increasingly worried about his controlling behavior.

Avrohom filed for full custody of Aryeh a few months later, in March 2010, at New Jersey civil court. He broke with tradition — instead of going straight to a beit din (a Jewish court) to resolve our issues, he filed in civil court, which shocked people because it takes a certain kind of person to thumb his nose at Jewish tradition like that.

But it was all a front. He was actually going to use Jewish tradition against me as a weapon.
While he agreed to a divorce in the civil courts (which blocked his bid for full custody of Aryeh but gave him custody every other weekend, plus every Tuesday and Thursday for a total 12 hours a week), he still holds the trump card. He will not sign the “get,” the all-important bill of divorce which is recognized by halacha (Jewish law).

Civil law governs the legal aspects of life, but under the eyes of God — and everyone who’s important to me — I’m still married to Avrohom. On paper, I am a free woman. But this means nothing in halacha, and I’m still imprisoned by my husband to this day.

On my last mission to ask for a get, a month ago, Avrohom said, “I can’t give you a get — how else would I control you?” I think that’s the key to it all. He insists the marriage isn’t over until he says it’s over.

We’ve tried everything — the informal route, negotiations. I’ve asked him myself, my parents have asked his, our camp tries to reason with his camp, but, counting down from the time when he sued for custody in March 2010 and I first asked him for a get, we’ve been shut down for 3¹/₂ years. One proposal his side put forward in January was for me to agree to override the court decision on custody of Aryeh and hand over a payment of $350,000. There’s no way I can afford that.

It’s been an uphill battle trying to appeal to his family — this almost untouchable, powerful rabbinic family. Many rabbis have called on his grandfather, Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, who heads the Yeshiva of Staten Island, to influence his grandson to give a get, but he staunchly supports Avrohom. Prominent rabbis have even called for the dismissal of his father, Yosaif Asher Weiss, as editor for the major Jewish publisher ArtScroll. Ironically, [Avrohom’s] great-grandfather Moshe Feinstein was a major champion of agunot, and convinced many husbands to give their wives a get in his day. Now Avrohom is one of those insubordinate husbands.

I would love to find a stepfather for Aryeh, and someone who I could have more children with, but right now I can’t even have coffee with a guy. It wouldn’t be fair to him or myself.

If I move on romantically without a get, I would have to leave this community — my friends and family and entire support system — because it’s committing adultery. My children and I would be ostracized and not welcomed in the community.

Some people might argue that I should ignore the traditions of the Torah. But I’m deeply religious and won’t go against the God I believe in. Why should I?

One good thing is that I have gathered a lot of support from people in the community who are horrified by the whole issue of the agunot [women whose husbands won’t grant gets]. They staged two rallies outside Avrohom’s home in Staten Island, with about 200 supporters each, in June 2012 and June 2013. We asked people to make it as non-confrontational as possible and keep it respectful. He never even came out of his house. Even though withholding a get is defined by Jewish law as a form of domestic abuse, Avrohom refuses to give an inch.

[Calls and e-mails from the New York Post to Avrohom Meir Weiss and his family members have gone unanswered.]

I am currently in my last year of a law degree at Rutgers University, but I was planning on being a lawyer even before I got married. I find the idea of the law helping agunot interesting, and I would be willing to do whatever I could to help anyone is such a situation.

The lesson I’ve learned from this whole thing is not to turn people away when they need help, regardless of what kind of situation they’re in. I hope I can use my legal experience to help people, regardless of whether they’re agunot.

It’s an insulated community. It takes a strong push to step out beyond that. This step I’m taking is difficult but necessary. I’ve decided to go public with my story after exhausting every other possible means. the Orthodox are fiercely private, but I am willing to air my dirty laundry if it means I can finally get on with my life.

Avrohom, if you’re reading this, this is my last bid: Let’s both move on with our lives. Let us focus on Aryeh and our future, instead of being stuck in the past.



Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Hasidic woman makes history in winning Montreal council race 

A 24-year-old esthetician, Mindy Pollak, became the first Hasidic woman to hold public office in Montreal.
Pollak, a member of the Vishnitzer sect, defeated four candidates to win her race for the municipal council on Sunday in the Outremont borough. She garnered about 35 percent of the vote in a district that is home to an estimated 5,000 Hasidim.

Among the candidates she defeated was Pierre Lacerte, an anti-Hasidim blogger in Montreal.
Montreal has had Orthodox Jewish councillors but all have been men.

Pollak’s political aspirations were triggered two years ago when controversy erupted in her neighborhood over plans to expand a small Bobover synagogue. Tensions with non-Jewish neighbors already were running high over zoning, noise and congestion issues.

She teamed with Leila Marshy, a neighbor who is of Palestinian origin, to found Friends of Hutchison — named for the street on which the synagogue was to be expanded — to promote dialogue between the haredi Orthodox Jews and francophones.

Her advocacy caught the attention of Alex Norris, a Projet Montreal party borough councillor from neighboring Mile-end, which also has a large Hasidic community.

“A number of us were impressed with her and Leila Marshy’s initiative,” Norris told The Tyee, an online magazine, after which he approached Pollak about running for office for his party.

Pollak is a volunteer for Chai Lifeline, which works with sick children and their families.



Monday, November 04, 2013

Brooklyn District Attorney Candidate Ken Thompson Backpedals on Hasidic Abuse Scandal 

On the campaign trail, Ken Thompson, the Democratic candidate for Brooklyn district attorney, has sharply criticized incumbent Charles Hynes’ prosecution of a prominent Hasidic advocate against sexual abuse, even attending a rally calling for charges against the man to be dropped.

But Thompson, who is widely expected to win the November 5 election, is now hedging his position on the case of Sam Kellner.

“As the D.A. I’m going to get in and look at all the evidence I’m not [currently] privy to,” said Thompson, when asked about the case.

Beyond that, in an October 30 interview with the Forward, Thompson refused to discuss the Kellner case, or his own previous statements questioning Kellner’s guilt.

Asked why it was proper for him to comment in July, when he was a candidate for district attorney in the Democratic Party primary, but not now, Thompson said that since he won the nomination in September he can no longer comment on the case.

“There’s a difference,” Thompson told the Forward. But he acknowledged that given his earlier appearance at the rally for Kellner, “it may appear that I took a position.”

Kellner was arrested in April, 2011, on charges of extortion and bribery related to a landmark sex abuse conviction that has since collapsed.

Prosecutors said that Kellner paid a witness $10,000 to falsely testify that he was sexually abused by Baruch Lebovits, whom Kellner says also abused his own son. Kellner was also charged with trying to extort the Lebovits family over the abuse allegations.

Kellner’s trial, which has been delayed several times, is due to begin November 12.

Thompson’s campaign website still refers to Kellner’s prosecution as “botched”. It’s a fair characterization, given that prosecutors admitted in a pre-trial hearing, in July, that a key witness in the case against Kellner gave contradictory testimony.

But Thompson’s site goes on to claim, erroneously, that “Lebovits’s lawyers used the Kellner prosecution to have his conviction overturned.” In fact, Lebovits’s conviction was reversed because prosecutors withheld a key piece of evidence from the defense at Lebovits’ trial.

Asked about the error regarding Lebovits’s case, Thompson repeated that it was “not proper” for him to comment on pending cases. Thompson stunned political observers in September when he won the Democratic nomination for District Attorney, beating Hynes, who has held the office for 24 years.

Hynes conceded and offered to smooth Thompson’s transition into office. Then, in a dramatic reversal, Hynes changed his mind and opted to run on the Republican ticket.

The Brooklyn D.A.’s race has been marred by mud-slinging on both sides, including vicious Yiddish-language ads. One ad, posted in two Satmar newspapers, blamed Thompson’s primary victory on “the minority element that seeks lawlessness.”

Supporters of Thompson, who is black, have condemned the ad as racist. Hynes denied having sponsored the ad. At the same time, he denied it was racist. Thompson told the Forward that the ad was “disgraceful.”
He also criticized Hynes for his previous statements labeling the ultra-Orthodox community as “worse than the mafia.” Hynes was referring to the prevalence of witness intimidation against victims of sex abuse who choose to cooperate with police.

“The mafia kills. The mafia murders,” Thompson said. “And for [Hynes] as a top prosecutor to compare any community in Brooklyn to the mafia is wrong.”

Thompson said that he would wait until he was in office before he makes a decision about whether to continue Kol Tzedek, a program started by Hynes to combat sex abuse in the Orthodox community.

Hynes controversially refused to divulge names of people accused and even convicted of abuse against Orthodox children. He argued that shielding perpetrators’ names protected the identity of the victim.
Thompson has vowed to end the practice.



Sunday, November 03, 2013

Jackson neighbors take aim at plan to build all-girls Orthodox Jewish high school 

Citing concerns over traffic and water pollution, a group of Jackson residents have banded together to fight the construction of an all-girls Orthodox Jewish high school in their neighborhood.

The Asbury Park Press reports that a coalition of neighbors have formed the Jackson Citizens Defense Fund and hired a lawyer to fight the plan.

Barbara Orsini, a lead opponent of the plan who lives behind the property on Cross Street where the proposed school will be built, told the newspaper that the fund has raised $3,500 so far.

The group hired Red Bank attorney Ron Gasiorowski to represent them at the next zoning board meeting, according to the Asbury Park Press.

The township's zoning board postponed a vote earlier this month on the variance needed to build the school in the residential zone, saying a traffic-impact study was needed.

In addition to traffic concerns, opponents say the school will overwhelm the well and septic system the residential neighborhood uses.

The board plans to take up the case for the Oros Bais Yaakov High School, which will have the capacity for 400 students, at its Nov. 20 meeting, according to the board agenda.



Saturday, November 02, 2013

Kiryas Joel Gets Booted From Monroe Library 

A brouhaha over library services has erupted north of these parts in the Town of Monroe over Kiryas Joel’s relationship to the Monroe Free Library — and the extended Ramapo-Catskill Library System which serves Rockland, Orange, Sullivan, and southern Ulster counties.

MonroeLibraryAs first reported by The Photo-News’ Nancy Kriz, the New York State Board of Regents “approved an amendment to the Monroe Free Library’s charter which now excludes the Village of Kiryas Joel from its service area.”

The bone of contention between the library and village relates to years-long non-payment of taxes for library services rendered. According to Monroe Library Board of Trustees President Sandra Keltai, Kiryas Joel has not paid library taxes since 2005, when the village negotiated a tax-exempt status so that it could build its own library — which was never done.

Kriz reported that an amendment to the Monroe Free Library’s charter means residents of Kiryas Joel loose “ borrowing privileges at the Monroe library or any other public library in the Ramapo-Catskill Library System.” The Monroe Free Library currently serves residents in the Town of Monroe. The new charter would articulate the library’s service area as ”coterminous with the Town of Monroe, including only the Villages of Monroe and Harriman.”

Kiryas Joel is a tiny, densely populated one square mile village in the Town of Monroe that was settled primarily by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect. According to 2008 U.S census figures, Kiryas Joel just notched out Carbondale, Illinois for the place with the highest poverty rate in the country.

Kriz’s article has created quite a discussion in the comments section, from outrage to nuggets of interesting information.



Hasidic Jew Who Converted to Islam Admits Making Anti-Chabad Threats 

A Jewish convert to Islam pleaded guilty to inciting violence, including a call to leave Chabad headquarters in New York “a message from Islam.”

“Yousef Mohamid Al-Khattab (a.k.a. Joseph Cohen), 45, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, pleaded guilty yesterday to using his position as a leader of the ‘Revolution Muslim’ websites to use the Internet to place others in fear of serious bodily injury,” said an Oct. 31 statement from the Alexandria, Va., office of the FBI.
Al-Khattab pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court. He faces a sentence of up to five years when he next appears in court, in February.

Many of his incendiary calls were made during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, among them a call to seek out leaders of Jewish federations “and deal with them in their homes.”

He also posted a map with directions to Chabad headquarters and, according to The Washington Post, called on his readers to “make EVERY attempt to reach these people and teach them the message of Islam or leave them a message of Islam.”

The Post said al-Khattab was a dual Israeli citizen.



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