Friday, February 28, 2014

Conan O'Brien's Hasidic Maskmaker 

Behind The Mask: Stanley Allan Sherman’s works can be seen in the show ‘Queen of the Night.’

‘When one puts on a mask, one frees oneself,” said Stanley Allan Sherman. Sherman has been making masks for over 30 years, yet his career defies easy categorization. His clients have ranged from pro-wrestlers to high-wire walker Philippe Petit, for whom he created a top hat that would remain on his head during performances. Sherman is a clown, mime and director, and is perhaps best known for his frequent appearances on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” as the hasidic Jew during the ’90s.
I visited Sherman as he prepared for Shabbos in his home on the border between Chelsea and the West Village. Sherman is tall, with a long beard and a way of telling stories that makes the commonplace enchanting.

I followed him through a darkened parlor where leather masks hang from the walls alongside a complete set of Talmud volumes and into his workshop at the back of the apartment. Here he designs and crafts his masks, working mainly in leather but also in the lighter-weight neoprene latex. A single mask can take months to make.

“I have to put souls in my masks for them to really live,” he told me. Sometimes when Sherman speaks, his eyes brighten and grow wide, and for a moment reality seems almost to dissolve. “It’s important for me to live the character that I’m sculpting,” he said, describing how he employs theatrical exercises while sculpting to imbue his masks with emotion so that they may come to life. “I can do it technically — but it would be a totally different mask, even if it’s from the exact same mold. And each mask is different.”

One of Sherman’s creations can currently be seen in the show “Queen of the Night,” which opened on New Year’s Eve to a sold-out run at the Diamond Horseshoe. The interactive theater piece is based on Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” and combines cabaret, dance, acrobatics and a decadent meal. (“Unfortunately it’s not kosher!” Sherman noted with a laugh; the offerings include full roasted pigs.) Fashion designer Thom Browne commissioned the mask for the show’s lead.

Browne’s team used one of Sherman’s minimalistic theatrical training masks as a base for their design. Entirely white, the mask extends out into a generous halo crowned by a jewel, and almost seems to levitate on the face of performer Katherine Crockett. Sherman called it one of the most challenging masks he’s ever made. “I positioned the stone so that if the lighting designer happened to notice it and shined a light on it, the light would fracture in all different directions,” he said. When Crockett appears on the stage in Sherman’s creation, a laser strikes the stone, throwing shattered light across the theater and shrouding it in a psychedelic fog. Originally, the team had envisioned a much more embellished mask, but in collaboration with Sherman, developed a simpler design. “With masks, simple lines help create the magic,” Sherman said. “If you give every single detail of exactly what you want someone to feel and see, there’s no room for their imagination… It’s how you invite people to participate.”

Sherman first began to work with masks while a student at the Paris school of Jacques Lecoq, one of the century’s most influential physical comedy teachers, whose methods emphasized the importance of improvisation and mime as the foundation of dramatic training. By a providential turn of events, Sherman found out about Lecoq, who would become his central teacher, through a woman he met while hitchhiking in the desert by the Dead Sea shortly after graduating high school in Oregon. “There is destiny,” remarked Sherman of the incident. “It’s written, but it’s not written. It’s up to you to take action. In Pirkei Avot it says: ‘We win our bread at the risk of our life.’ If we’re not risking, we’re not living. It took faith to actually walk into the sea.”



Thursday, February 27, 2014

Female Day Laborers In New York Face Sexual Harassment 

Every morning, scores of women crowd the corner of Division Avenue and Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in hopes they'll get hired to clean the homes of the area's Hasidic Jewish families. Work is sometimes scarce and the pay small, but for many of the women, who hail from all over Latin America, there are few other options.

"Without papers, without rights, without language, you're exposed to any kind of abuse" Javier Bosque, director of the South Side Community Mission, tells Vocativ in this short documentary. "And that's what happens with these women."

The abuse includes sexual harassment. One female worker recalls being asked to give a male client a massage. Another says a client filmed her while she cleaned, ordering her to "bend over."

With no legal status, and a only a tiny grasp of English, many of the workers never report the harassment.

For more, watch the video above, or check out this feature in The Nation from last year.



Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hasidic Jews Pay $7K for 'Beard-Transplant' Therapy 

Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn are reportedly paying thousands of dollars for facial hair transplants that allow them to have fuller beards.

New York City plastic surgeons say observant Jewish men are among the prime markets for their procedure that runs up to $7,000, DNAinfo reported.

“Whether you are talking about the Brooklyn hipster or the advertising executive, the look is definitely to have a bit of facial hair,” Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, a facial plastic surgeon who has performed the procedure for 12 years, told the web site.

It’s not just Hasidim that are seeking a fuller facial look. Beards and mustaches are becoming hipper as young men seek alternative looks.

Hasidic Jews tend to come in for denser sidelocks, doctors told DNAinfo. Other clients include men who have struggled since adolescence to grow proper beards and women undergoing sex changes to become men.

Facial hair transplantation restores hair to areas where hair growth is thin or missing. It can be performed on beards, sideburns and cheeks, though the most common places are the goatee and mustache areas, Epstein says on the website for his Foundation for Hair Restoration medical practice.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Rabbi who fled Israel on sex crimes charges seeking return 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland of the Breslev Hassidim may be on his way back to Israel soon, nearly a year after he left the country wanted for questioning on sex crimes allegations.

People close to the rabbi said Berland has hired the services of attorneys Roi Belcher and Moshe Mazor, ahead of what may be an attempt to return to Israel. He also reportedly told his followers to cancel a visit to Africa to spend the Purim holiday with him, though a man close to the rabbi said the decision was made solely to keep the event – presumably to be held in Johannesburg – small, not because he expects to be in Israel by then.

“The rabbi is ready and willing to come back to Israel, but only if police change their approach and treat him with respect, not like some sort of criminal”, a man close to the rabbi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Berland has spent the past year traveling with an entourage of followers from one country to the next, living in countries that don’t have an extradition treaty with Israel.

Not long after leaving Israel he made his way to Morocco, where he set up shop in Marrakech and began forming a local community of Breslev followers.

In November, Breslev left Morocco for South Africa, reportedly after he was deported from Morocco on the order of King Mohammed VI. Other reports have stated that he left Morocco after the local Jewish community complained about the presence of dozens of the rabbi’s followers, who stuck out in the Muslim city and were attracting too much attention.

Berland, the founder and head of the Shuvu Benim Yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Old City, has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by a number of female followers.

The Israel Police does not have an arrest warrant for him, but he is considered “wanted for questioning” in connection to the allegations.

The lawyers he hired are also part of the legal team representing Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, the rabbi at the center of the corruption case involving Menashe Arbiv, the former head of the Israel Police unit LAHAV 433.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Hasidic Development Plans Spark Bitter Feud in Upstate N.Y. Town 

One night in January, an Orthodox Jewish real estate developer brought a handgun to a planning board meeting in a small upstate New York town.

The gun was on the waist of one of the two uniformed security guards accompanying Shalom Lamm, who may be the most hated man in the town of Mamakating. The guard’s hat said “Security” on it, and his weapon was in full view.

Over the past decade, Lamm’s firm has bought up a lot of land in Mamakating. It owns an airport, a mountaintop tract slated for luxury homes and, most controversially, a development in the tiny village of Bloomingburg, within Mamakating, that could soon be home to thousands of Hasidic Jews.

The fight over the Bloomingburg development has ballooned into a massive brawl over jobs, Jews and the rural identity of Sullivan County, where the town is located. Voices have been raised. Lawsuits have been filed. Nasty words have been swapped. But until that night in January, no one had brought a gun to a planning board meeting.

“Never in a million years did I think he would bring an armed guard in with him,” said Bill Herrmann, the Mamakating town supervisor. “That’s like inciting a riot.”

Lamm is a middle-aged man with a black yarmulke and a quick, gap-toothed grin. He never wears a coat, even in the depths of the Catskills winter. His father, former Yeshiva University president Norman Lamm, is one of the most respected figures in Modern Orthodoxy. This winter, Shalom Lamm has a crew of 175 people building 396 two-story homes in a field in Bloomingburg, one of two villages within Mamakating’s boundaries.

The Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn has taken an interest in the Bloomingburg development, which seems tailored specifically to their needs. The townhouses officially have three bedrooms, but an upstairs “office” and “exercise room” could easily be converted into extra bedrooms, bringing the total to five — perfect for large Hasidic families.

Today, Bloomingburg has a single stoplight and 400 residents. Lamm has bought up much of the village: The three buildings down a cul-de-sac off Main Street belong to his firm, as does the empty hardware store, the closed cupcake cafe, and single-family homes up and down the block. In the window of Happy Dragon City, the Chinese restaurant at the town’s lone intersection, there’s a hand-written sign: “Yes, we own the building. No, we don’t plan to sell it. We’ll be staying in this town for a LONG time.”

Teek Persaud, who owns a diner near the village and a house up on the ridge, is worried about what will happen when Lamm finishes building out the 396 homes in 82 separate buildings on the snowy field on Winterton Road. In the paddock in front of Persaud’s house, a speckled boarder horse stands knee-deep in the snow. “The new development will totally change the way of life as we know life in Bloomingburg,”

Persaud said. “I love driving up Winterton Road, you know, the farms, the farmhouses, the fields getting cut in the summertime. That will not be there anymore.”



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pomona fire not reported because of Sabbath, firefighters say 

Firefighters responded to an automatic alarm at a home in Pomona on Saturday morning and learned that there had been a fire but no one called 911.

Officials said the mattress fire was not reported by phone because the home’s Orthodox Jewish occupants were observing the Sabbath. No one was injured.

Chris Kear, the public information officer for the Hillcrest Fire Department, said the fire at 16 Tara Drive started in a second-floor bedroom, where a man had used a pillow to dim a lamp for a child. The pillow and a mattress began smoldering. When the smoke increased the man took the mattress down the stairs and out of the house. The mattress caught fire along the way as it encountered new oxygen, Kear said.

“The situation could have been a lot worse,” Kear said.



Saturday, February 22, 2014

Bridge Building discussion led by Montreal Hasidic Jew 

Bridge Building discussion led by Montreal Hasidic Jew

Montreal Councillor Mindy Pollak has an interesting story to tell a Calgary audience.

A story, she feels, is pertinent to them as it was to her as she lived through it.

The story is about how two women - Pollak, an Hasidic Jew and Leila Marshy, a Palestinian - broke down walls of prejudice to revitalize a neighbourhood in Montreal and transform a community.

The Friends of Hutchison promotes dialogue between ultra-Orthodox Jews and francophones.

Pollak, a Montreal Borough Councillor and the first Hasidic woman elected to public office in North America, will be in Calgary on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Calgary Jewish Community Centre to talk about Bridge Building.

“The talk is about building bridges and telling people how I managed to do that in Outremont. Just sharing my story and what I lived through and seeing what lessons we can take out of it and seeing how they can be applied to other neighbourhoods,” says Pollak.

Pollak, a Montreal native, was a Projet Montréal candidate in last year’s municipal election.

She and Marshy co-founded Friends of Hutchison, a neighbourhood association created when a referendum was held to block renovation plans for a synagogue on the street.

“Reality is often very different than perception,” says Pollak. “As human beings, we shouldn’t let little differences between ourselves - whether they be big or little, ideologies, religion - come between us and stop us from getting to know the other person and building a relationship with someone, getting to know someone without putting all that stuff in front of us as a stumbling block.

“My faith is part of who I am of course. But it’s not something I put in front of me to keep people away or I cannot let people approach me. Because that’s something that I got a lot over the last years. They didn’t know if they could talk to us, if they could approach us, if we could talk to them. So for me, eventhough my religion is part of who I am it’s not something that prevents me from getting to know people and working together with people and building relationships in the neighbourhood and working together towards common goals.”

Pollak says she was brought up with values of family, friendliness and being good neighbours. Values other people are brought up with as well.

“That a 24-year-old woman with no specialized training or credentials could help transform a neighbourhood reminds us that each one of us can make a difference, if we are only willing to try,” says Rabbi Yisroel Miller of the House of Jacob - Mikveh Israel in Calgary.

“Mindy Pollak and Leila Marshy came from totally different worlds, yet they worked together as a team to create a true sense of community. We in Calgary can surely do the same, if we reach out to one another with love and respect. That two women accomplished what so many men could not, makes you wonder, might world peace be within reach if we just put women in charge of all the member states of the (United Nations)?”



Friday, February 21, 2014

Surveillance Cameras Going Up Across Brooklyn Neighborhoods 

The installation of 320 surveillance cameras in Brooklyn is under way.

As part of the the Leiby Kletzky Security Initiative, the cameras — four each in 80 units — are being placed in Borough Park, Midwood and Flatbush.

The cameras were purchased using a $1 million state grant, are being installed by private contractor SecureWatch24 and monitored exclusively by the NYPD, said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, who pushed for the cameras.

“It’s going to give the community a great sense of additional security and a message to the bad guys: If you do anything in our community, you’ll be on camera, and we’ll be able to get you,” Hikind told 1010 WINS.

The initiative is named after Leiby Kletzky, an 8-year-old boy who was kidnapped and murdered in the Kensington section of Borough Park after getting lost while walking home from a school day camp. Levi Aron was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison for killing the boy.

“This is in memory of Leiby Kletzky, the young boy who went missing and was only discovered as a result of a (private) video camera,” Hikind told WCBS 880.

The installation of the cameras has drawn some criticism because they are being placed in a section of Brooklyn known for its low crime and large Hasidic Jewish population.

“Cameras are much needed here in our community,” Brownsville community activist Tony Herbert told CBS 2 in September.

Hikind, however, said he supports expanding cameras to communities throughout the five boroughs.

“Should everyone else have them? Absolutely,” he said. ” … It’s a good thing for everybody. And a crime committed in any neighborhood is a crime that affects the community, and these surveillance cameras will make such a difference.”

Hikind also dismissed concerns about people’s privacy being violated.

“We’re talking about public streets, people walking in streets,” he said. “And I think people have an expectation when you’re walking in the street that you may be recorded; someone may take a picture. But we’re only interested in the bad guys. We’re only interested in those who commit crimes.”



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto Suspected of Bribing Police and Intimidating Witnesses 

Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto is suspected of systematically collecting information about senior police officers, demanding that some of them be replaced, threatening an officer, offering bribes worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and intimidating witnesses, according to a document prosecutors sent to Pinto and his wife, Rivka, a few weeks ago.

Prosecutors are now busy turning the 10-page document detailing these suspicions into an indictment, as Pinto waived his right to a hearing. The likely charges will include offering bribes, obstructing an investigation, suborning witnesses, making threats and money laundering. Pinto denies all the allegations.

The document, whose contents Haaretz is revealing for the first time, opens with the case of the now-defunct charity Hazon Yeshaya, run by one of Pinto’s associates, Abraham Israel. In 2011, some of the charity’s employees began suspecting Israel of embezzlement and demanded that he resign. Israel refused, and sought Pinto’s help, which Pinto agreed to provide.

Pursuant to this agreement, the document said, Israel transferred control of Hazon Yeshaya and its assets to Pinto. Some of Pinto’s associates were appointed to its board, and $1.1 million was transferred from Friends of Hazon Yeshaya to Rivka Pinto’s bank account. The Pintos “made use of this money for their personal affairs, such as paying for flights and hotels, paying their children’s nannies, money for their relatives, and legal fees.”

In December 2011, a complaint to the police sparked an undercover investigation of Israel and Hazon Yeshaya. Pinto soon discovered this, though who told him isn’t known. He then “decided to obstruct the investigation,” lest incriminating evidence against himself, his wife and Israel be found, the document said. To this end, “The rabbi began gathering information about the progress of the investigation and the people conducting it,” including senior police officers.

In January 2012, the document said, Pinto – possibly via his wife – ordered Israel not to return from a trip abroad in order to hinder the investigation. Israel ended up staying overseas for four months. In addition, having concluded from the information he obtained that police were probably wiretapping Israel and other Hazon Yeshaya employees, Pinto “instructed Israel to avoid speaking freely or mentioning names during phone calls. Israel acted accordingly.”

Pinto also pressured the complainants to “recant … their testimony to the police.” In part, the document said, he did this by making religious threats against them, since most were Orthodox Jews.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Developer Shalom Lamm offers $330,000 to buy church in Bloomingburg 

The builder of the controversial 396-home Hasidic development may soon be adding a venerable old church to the many buildings he owns in this eastern Sullivan county village. Shalom Lamm has offered $330,000 for the white-shingled, Mountainview United Methodist Church, which is more 150 years old.

"The church has been for sale for a long time as it continues to consolidate its finances," said Lamm. "We feel proud and privileged to help a faith community."

Lamm says he isn't sure what he will do with the church. He already owns at least a dozen homes, apartment complexes, storefronts and other buildings in this village of some 400 residents.

"But the idea would be to keep it for education," said Lamm, who plans to build a private girls' school, and at least one mikvah — a ritual purification bath — for the community.

The Rev. Pastor Robb Hewitt says "duly recognized" church members will be able to vote on the sale Feb. 27 — after three church hearings about it — and he explains the deal is necessary because the old church with stained glass windows is "no longer sustainable."

Between September and December, the church used 950 gallons of heating oil and now owes $7,500 — with $4,500 of that past due, according to a church resolution about the sale.

"The fact is, it's not just a sustainable reality, that we're going to be able to keep the church going for the next 100 years," says Hewitt, who says he's never met Lamm.

Opponents of the development who fear its residents will take over this one-stoplight community see the sale as another example of "a nightmare that never ends," says Judith Hosking, 61. She attended the church's Sunday school as a child and now opposes the sale, calling it "so sad."

But Hewitt stresses the proposed sale is part of a decade-long plan of consolidation of the Mountainview United Methodist Church group, which includes a church in Walker Valley and another in Pine Bush, which is also being sold.

So if the Bloomingburg church is sold, the congregation would meet in Walker Valley — just outside Pine Bush — for up to two years while it tries to build a new church in the area with many families from the Pine Bush School District.

"I understand the sadness," says Hewitt. "But we need to build a new church to serve the needs of the people of the Pine Bush School District."



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why My Son Underwent Metzitzah B'Peh 

The controversial and potentially life-threatening practice of metzitzah b’peh, the oral suctioning of a baby’s circumcision wound by the mohel, is back in the news. As the controversy continues to brew in the secular media, and as Bill de Blasio takes his time coming up with an approach that is “much more effective at protecting the lives of our children,” Hasidic babies the world over are subjected to this dangerous practice each and every day.

But what is the solution? And if there is a solution, is it as simple as a parental consent form?
I don’t believe so. To bring about change in a community that values its customs and traditions, we should focus on educating its leaders. We should not be putting the onus of consent on the parents, who categorically trust their leaders. It simply is not a feasible solution to this health risk.

Close to nine years ago, a middle-aged Hasid and respected mohel put his mouth on my son’s newly circumcised penis. I was home, lying in bed, recovering from a grueling 12-hour labor and subsequent Caesarean section. I was clueless as to what the bris entailed; I only knew that the penis was cut in some shape or form. There was no reason for me to question any further, no reason to believe anything was amiss. Nothing — and I mean nothing — would have deterred my 19-year-old self from absolute trust in the system and its practices. Not even an informed consent form which clearly stated the risks involved. I watched trustingly as my eight-day-old baby was whisked away to shul in my mother’s arms — the same arms that held the other grandsons on the days of their brises, and brought them back safe and sound to their mothers.

Because MBP is believed to be a commandment from God, written in the Mishnah by learned sages, elevated by mystical interpretation, change will not come easily. The precise meaning of this particular Mishnah has been the source of controversy for centuries. The On the Main Line blogger translated this halachic exchange between Rabbi Moses Sofer and his disciple. The rabbi, more commonly known as Chasam Sofer, was a revered leader of ultra-Orthodoxy of the 19th century and his teachings are still widely studied and admired in the Hasidic world today. In the exchange, Chasam Sofer clearly stated his position on MBP: it is unnecessary.

“…I further say that even if it was explicit in the Talmud that the suction is meant to be oral, nevertheless since this is not an integral part of the circumcision, but only adjoined because of a health measure, so if one circumcised and did not suction the blood, he has already performed the commandment, and the baby is permitted to eat terumah [an offering], and the father may make a Passover sacrifice.”

Since bloodletting has given way to modern, safer medicine, many Orthodox rabbis modernized their approach in turn, swapping the oral suction for a sponge or pipette to draw the blood from the wound, as the Mishnah requires. However, the Hasidim and a handful of other ultra-Orthodox factions vying to one-up the Hasidim, have held onto this archaic and dangerous practice.

When customs and traditions take absolute precedence, no enthusiastic mayor with a stack of consent forms will change that. The parents of infants who are circumcised in this manner will overwhelmingly resist signing a consent form if they are not explicitly permitted by their rabbis to do so, or they will sign it paying no heed to the risks. A consent form has no value when the rebbe decries its perceived threats to circumcision from his pulpit, and prohibits the parents from signing it. Furthermore, mohels are venerated and treated as pure and pious. To question a mohel’s health would be unthinkable.

So what is the solution to this? Does the government have the power to influence unimpressionable Hasidic rabbis? Does the government even have a right to interfere, or is this a matter of religious freedom and autonomy? When a child’s life is put in danger, and the parents are willfully consenting to it, what, if anything, can we do about it?

I do not know all the answers, but banning MBP is not one of them. Neither is mandatory consent forms. Only education, and perhaps putting pressure on the leaders, will work.



Monday, February 17, 2014

City ends fight against Hasidic cop who refused to trim beard 

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

The city will stop its fight to fire a Hasidic cop who refused to trim his beard.

Fishel Litzman, who was booted from the police academy for sporting a beard longer than the permitted length, won a ruling from a federal judge finding his firing was religious discrimination. He said his strict beliefs barred him from trimming his facial hair.

City lawyers quietly filed paperwork Friday opting not to appeal.

Litzman, 39, has been reinstated and assigned to the Bronx.

“The case is over. It’s finished. He feels good. It’s been a battle but it’s good to see the NYPD now say, ‘Enough’ and he gets to be a police officer again,” said his lawyer, Nathan Lewin.

A spokesman for the city Law Department declined to comment.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Long Branch school board sells West End School to Hasidic Jewish group for $3.3 million 

Long Branch school board is selling the West End School to a religious school organization that also happens to be suing the city for alleged discrimination.

The organization, known as the Menachem Learning Institute, is purchasing the 2.26-acre parcel and school for $3.3 million. The institute, known as the Chabad of the Shore, also alleges in a pending lawsuit that the city zoning board discriminated against it when the board rejected its proposal to build a synagogue in West End.

The Long Branch school board voted Jan. 29 to sell the West End School to the Chabad. The 132 West End Ave. property is assessed at $3.64 million, according to public records.

The district is working its way through a multi-year, multi-facility construction program and is removing obsolete and unnecessary inventory off its maintenance and insurance lists, schools Superintendent Michael Salvatore said.

Ideally, Salvatore said, the properties would be returned to the tax rolls. At the very least, the sale of West End School and the potential sale of other schools would provide tax relief as the school board seeks to finalize its next school budget.

The board also is trying to sell the former Alternate School on Chelsea Avenue and the former Church Street School. Bids for both are due by noon Feb. 19.

“We had a lot of interest,” said Salvatore of the eight bid packages that were picked up by potential developers of the West End School. “This group happened to be the only bidder.”

The school board first sought bids in November. In the end, only the institute followed through with a $50,000 down payment with $150,000 to follow and additional payments scheduled as the organization seeks a mortgage. The sale is expected to close in July, Salvatore said.

Lawsuit ongoing
The Chabad in its Superior Court complaint says it was rebuffed when it sought a variance to build a 20,000-square-foot, two-story synagogue in a commercial district where a house of worship is not a permitted use. After a year of sometimes contentious hearings, the city Board of Adjustment in June voted against the proposal.

The Chabad maintains the board’s rejection of the synagogue proposal was motivated by “bias and prejudice against Chabad and a predetermination that it would not allow a religious use on the property.” The group is asking a judge to overturn the decision.

Chabad lawyer Steven Tripp had argued before the board that the synagogue should be approved on the grounds that it is an inherently beneficial use for the city’s West End.

The Chabad argued that replacing a long-abandoned theater and underutilized adjacent storefront and vacant apartments would improve the area, located across from the city’s iconic West End beach.

But local merchants disagreed and board members ultimately determined the project was too big for the neighborhood, which is zoned for a mix of homes and commercial uses.

Tripp declined to be interviewed. Lawyer Martin J. Arbus, who represents the city Board of Adjustment, could not be reached for comment.



Satmar Rebbe Blames Cancer on Makeup 

Ladies, there is a cure for breast cancer! No more pink Octobers, Angelina Jolie op-eds on mastectomies and suffering the world over.

Last Tuesday evening, February 4, in a roomful of learned men, the Satmar Rov of Williamsburg, Mendele Teitelbaum, announced that Sephora eye shadow in all colors and MAC lipsticks, the regular and long-lasting kinds, cause cells to become cancerous. His father, Aron Teitelbaum, was the one who discovered the cure, yet he humbly sat to his son’s right, relinquishing the podium for this breakthrough announcement. “We are not in heaven, and we can’t necessarily point fingers at what precisely is the cause [of breast cancer], but when we see things by women [who apply makeup], and then we see them suffer [of cancer], they must do tshuva — repent. And this is makeup on women and young girls.”

I listened to the recorded speech on a hotline called “Kol Satmar,” after reading this article about the event. Breast cancer was one of three issues on the agenda for the meeting and the subsequent fast day on Thursday. The first was a device called “Sansa,” an innocent mp3 player which has been deemed “Kosher” for listening to Torah lectures. The second was breast cancer. The third item was a sefer torah that had toppled in the Satmar shul in Williamsburg.

As a woman, a mother of a girl, and a diligent breast self-examiner, I was eager to hear the Satmar findings for the root cause of breast cancer, discovered by Aron Teitelbaum. After all, he is a recipient of a doctorate in Causative Holistic Medicine from the Institute of Blame Women.

“This is a pirtzeh [religious breach] which causes others [men] to sin,” his son, Reb Mendele said. He recounted a series of phone calls, presumably for his wife, by a woman from a Williamsburg clinic who urged them [the Teitelbaum rabbis] to do something about the recent uptick in breast cancer diagnoses within the Hasidic community. It is unclear of the position of this woman in the clinic, but we know that “she does not even speak a good Yiddish.” In other words, she is not Hasidic, but very familiar with the Hasidic community. She called back a week later, he said, to say that physical awareness will not suffice, because she is “seeing things she has never seen before.” We need a spiritual intervention.

The Rebbe, Aron Teitelbaum, was consulted, and he traced the source of this terrible tragedy to all sorts of facial beautification beyond “bringing back the natural color of the skin.”

Actually, the “spiritual” theory that all ills — from hurricanes to cancer — arise from women’s untznius (immodest) dress is not novel; it has been around for as long as I can remember — intensifying any time there is a tragedy. One personal incident that comes to mind: Six years ago, I discovered irregular lumps in my left breast. This was about a half year after I weaned my daughter from breastfeeding. After scheduling an appointment with my physician, I called my mother. Her reaction, which did not come as a surprise at the time, was that perhaps if I extended the length of the scarf-like headband covering my short wig, it would help ward off the what I imagined was cancer metastasizing in my breast. It did not seem irrational at the time, and I don’t hold it against her today. We were conditioned to believe that mascara, uncovered wigs and other breaches of extreme modesty are to blame for everything. And I mean everything! Hashem keeps close tabs of all his Hasidic ladies, wields a powerful stick, and brings swift punishment onto his people. For eyeliner, cancer; for a skirt that’s above four inches below the knee, a hurricane; for stockings that are not bulletproof, a car accident; and so on and so forth.

Most of us, whether we believe in a higher power or not, have respect for science and its evidence-based power to diagnose illness and discover cures. But where science is not appreciated or understood, one grapples in the dark for answers, and someone needs to shoulder the blame. Women are an easy target.
“Next week, we are going to call a meeting of all mothers to announce the new tekunes (rules),” Mendele said. “They may seem a little extreme, but we HAVE to do it. The father [the Satmar Rebbe] says that if we don’t do something, this [the tragedies] will not end.”

Amen. I look forward to hearing what they come up with. In the meantime, I may have to discontinue those pesky self-checks and begin the purging process of my pink cosmetic box.



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Denmark to ban halal and kosher slaughter methods 

Denmark's Agriculture and Food Ministry has announced that as of Monday the Jewish and Muslim traditional method of animal slaughter will be banned in the country, following similar measures already in place in Poland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

A new law requires that all animals are stunned before being slaughtered, which is contrary to Islamic and Jewish teachings. This means that observant Muslims and Jews living in Denmark will no longer be able to purchase their meat from local butchers, and will have to buy imported halal and kosher meat instead.

The ministry argues that halal and kosher slaughter methods are unethical and that religious rights do not come before animal rights. However, Muslims and Jews insist that their slaughter methods cause minimal suffering to the animals.

European Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, condemned the ban, saying that it “contradicts European law.”

Agriculture and Food Minister Karen Hækkerup, acknowledged that Muslims and Jews were upset by the new measures, but vowed that the ministry would not change its policy.



Friday, February 14, 2014

Southern supermarket giant Winn-Dixie bets big on kosher 

Stroll past the kosher section of most large supermarkets in America and you could be forgiven for thinking that Jewish diets consist mainly of jarred gefilte fish, unsalted matzahs and Tam-Tam crackers.

Not so at the Winn-Dixie supermarket in this affluent South Florida suburb.

There’s a kosher bakery with fresh pizza and dairy and pareve desserts; a meat and deli counter with hot foods like chicken wings, potato kugel and meatballs; a refrigerated case with cold salads; pre-packaged Winn-Dixie-branded matzah balls, chicken soup and carrot “tzimmise,” and even a kosher sushi chef who makes rolls to order.

Just don’t ask for eel: Non-kosher sushi is not available in this store.

The whole operation is supervised by a team of kosher supervisors, or mashgiachs, who work for Winn-Dixie and are certified by the Orthodox Rabbinical Board of Broward and Palm Beach Counties, known as the ORB.

“I’ve lived in a lot of Jewish communities, especially in New Jersey, and no standard supermarket has the breadth of merchandise that Winn-Dixie has,” Chanie Kirschner, a mother of four who moved to the area a year and a half ago, told JTA. “It’s a huge convenience. At their full-service deli you can walk up to the counter and get your meat cut for you, which is something even the local kosher supermarket doesn’t have.”
The Winn-Dixie in Boca is one potent illustration of the growing U.S. market for kosher food and the lengths to which major grocery chains are going to cater to kosher consumers. It’s also a sign of the rising demand for kosher food in South Florida, where Winn-Dixie, a chain with more than 480 stores in five states in the South, now has three stores with in-store kosher operations — in Boca, Aventura and Tamarac.

The Jacksonville-based company, which is owned by BI-LO Holdings, spent nearly $3 million revamping its store at 7024 Beracasa Way in Boca Raton last year to focus on kosher (the store also carries non-kosher items). Company officials say the investment is paying off: Since the turnover was completed last fall, business in the store’s newly kosher departments has tripled.

“We knew it would be a successful store. That’s what you get when you build what the community wants,” said Deborah Shapiro, Winn-Dixie’s director of loyalty marketing and the person who spearheaded the company’s expansion in the kosher market. “We want to make ourselves a one-stop shop.”

The Winn-Dixie in Boca is hardly the only big-box supermarket in the country with in-store kosher facilities. A Kroger  in Atlanta has its own kosher Chinese restaurant. There are large kosher deli counters at Jewel-Osco in the Chicago area, Ralphs in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla and Acme in central New Jersey. Stop & Shop bakeries all over the Northeast are kosher.

What makes the Boca Winn-Dixie unique is the unusual volume and variety of its offerings, including a kosher nonperishables section that’s larger than many kosher-only supermarkets. The store also has many yarmulke-clad stock boys and checkout clerks.

Supermarkets first began experimenting with in-store kosher operations two decades ago, mostly with kosher bakeries, but over the last 10 years the market has expanded dramatically, says Menachem Lubinsky, an expert on the kosher food industry and CEO of Lubicom Marketing Consulting.

“Supermarkets are recognizing that it just makes economic sense to court this particular constituency,” Lubinsky said of kosher consumers. “It’s a lead-in to keep the customer shopping the rest of the store, which sometimes is more lucrative than what they’re buying in the kosher sections.”

A lot goes into turning a supermarket kosher. First, there’s the market research, which in Boca’s case meant surveying a three-mile radius around the store to assess demand. The company collected data from Jewish federations, institutions and local synagogues; interviewed Jewish community leaders; convened focus groups of shoppers and even considered the local Muslim community, whose needs for halal meat can be satisfied by kosher.

Winn-Dixie, which went into bankruptcy for a year in the mid-2000s, already had figured out that niche markets could be a big win — not just kosher, but Hispanic and organic too.

Winn-Dixie’s first successful kosher operation was a small deli counter that opened in 2004 in a store in Aventura, near Miami. That was followed in 2007 by the opening of a kosher deli and bakery in its Tamarac store, and then an expansion in 2011 of the Aventura store that doubled the kosher deli’s size and added a meat cutting room and bakery. Business soared. Within months, Winn-Dixie was adding specialty items from Israel and New York and drawing up plans for Boca, which would be its biggest-ever kosher operation.

Meanwhile, Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew who was Winn-Dixie’s kosher category manager at the time, was leading a companywide kosher expansion, getting kosher certification for as many Winn-Dixie private-label products as qualified for it. In the last eight years, the company’s kosher brand presence has grown by 80 percent, according to Shapiro.

The company also launched a Winn-Dixie-branded kosher line of pareve (non-dairy) baked goods, including black-and-white cookies, linzer tarts, macaroons, rainbow cookies and challah. Today, customers can walk into any Winn-Dixie store in the five states the company operates — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi — and buy challah or have the store order it for them.

In all, 135 Winn-Dixie stores carry some specialty kosher items, though only the three in South Florida have in-store kosher supervision.

One of the biggest hits at the flagship store in Boca has been the kosher pizza, which at $9.99 for a pie with toppings is a steal by kosher standards. Some customers take home unbaked pies; others have the store bake the pizzas for them and then eat them at the store’s small seating area.

“The kosher pizza is so popular that even in our stores where we don’t have kosher pizza it doesn’t go as fast as the kosher pizza in Boca,” Shapiro said. “The loss that we get from not having pepperoni doesn’t outweigh the gain we get from offering kosher pizza.”

Despite the scope of its kosher offerings, Shapiro says Winn-Dixie is not trying to drive kosher-only markets out of business. The owner of the closest local kosher grocer in Boca declined to discuss the impact of Winn-Dixie’s expansion on his business.

“We’ll never be able to carry 100 percent of what they offer,” Shapiro said. “He can have four different cuts of veal and five different cuts of lamb; I might have just a lamb chop.

“We are there for the convenience of a one-stop shop, so if you decide you want to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, we have the basics — plus a little bit extra.”



Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bloomingburg mayor, newcomer in running 

Mayor Mark Berentsen, the target of legal action to remove him from office for alleged conflict of interest over approvals of the 396-home Hasidic development, is running for re-election. His opponent will be political newcomer Frank Gerardi, a seven-year Bloomingburg resident and retired school grounds worker in Long Island.

Gerardi is running as a candidate of the Rural Heritage Party, which counts new Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann as a member. In an example of the tangled, contentious politics of this small slice of eastern Sullivan County, Herrmann just defeated another controversial politician, Harold Baird, who's running with Berentsen for Village Trustee on the Bloomingburg Strong line. The other trustee candidate is incumbent Charlie Griswold.

Gerardi is running with trustee candidates Katherine Roemer and James Johnson.

Tuesday was the deadline to file papers for the March 18 village elections.

Tuesday was the deadline to file papers for the March 18 village elections.

Berentsen did not return calls for comment. But opponents of the development — who back Gerardi — in December filed papers in state Supreme Court accusing Berentsen of violating municipal law by signing off on an agreement that would specifically give land he bought from developer Shalom Lamm access to the sewer and water system being built by Lamm. The system would serve the 396-home development and the village.

Berentsen has said, "I strongly disagree with the allegations. My focus has been and will continue to be for the residents of the Village of Bloomingburg."

That development — and its approvals — are sure to be an issue in the election. It's almost certain that it will draw more than the 24 voters in the last election, when Berentsen ran unopposed.

Berentsen has also come under fire for what development opponents say are violations of the spirit, if not letter, of the Open Meetings Law. Bloomingburg has only held one regularly scheduled Village Board meeting since August. Thursday night's meeting has already been canceled.

Gerardi says he's "100 percent against the way the development was approved."

"We want the village to stay rural and the people want change," he said.



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Jewish camp seeks to settle down in Chestnut Ridge 

A Bergen County-based Jewish organization that is set to use the Chestnut Ridge Middle School for a children’s day camp this summer wants to pitch its tent — more permanently — on property next door.

Representatives for Camp Shalom of Teaneck, N.J., are in preliminary talks with village planners about establishing a day camp for several hundred children on Red Schoolhouse Road.

The 10 ½-acre property is in a residential zone adjacent to the middle school and bordered by Red Schoolhouse Road and Summit Road.

Camp Shalom owner Yosef Levine is one of several parties that have expressed interest in buying the land, said Yshay Manos, real estate broker for property owners Clem and Suzanne Benedetto of New City. Owners have listed it for $1.85 million.

Before any plans may be realized, however, Camp Shalom must contend with zoning regulations.

Day camps are not permitted under the current R-35 residential zone and a variance would be required for Levine’s purposes, Village Attorney Paul Baum said in a Jan. 10 memo to village officials. The memo was a response to a summary of plans Levine submitted to the Chestnut Ridge Community Design Review Committee in early December.

“That was my determination based on my review of the code,” Baum said Wednesday.

The committee examines preliminary plans before applicants formally address the village planning and zoning boards.

Camp Shalom could seek an amendment to the zoning code in order to use the property as a camp, but its next step remains unclear.

Levine declined to comment when contacted by The Journal News. His attorney, Ryan Karben, said: “The camp’s proposal is in its early stages. No site plan has been submitted and when it is, we look forward to a full conversation with village officials and the community about our plans for the site.”

According to the review committee’s documents, Camp Shalom has served 600 campers on both sides of the Rockland-Bergen line during the past two summers. Its motto: “A summer of fun the Torah way.”



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

'Jewiest Dog' Falls Short at Westminster Show 

The ‘Jewiest dog in show’ returned to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show Monday — but fell short in the prestigious competition.

Pleasant Hill Magnum Of Samara, a Canaan Dog with roots in Israel, failed to make the top 4 in the herding dog category at New York’s Madison Square Garden Monday night.

Spokeswoman Julie Lux said the proud pooch had nothing to hang its head about — as it made it to the penultimate round of the Super Bowl for dog breeders and handlers.

“People who breed and exhibit dog aspire their whole lives to get into that group ring at Madison Square Garden,” she said.

Known in Hebrew as Calab Kna’ani, the Canaan Dog is the national breed of Israel and has lived in the land, at points alongside and with the local population of the region since ancient times.

After the Romans invaded and destroyed Israel, the dogs fled to the desert, where they lived largely untamed for about 2,000 years, until they were re-domesticated in the 1930’s by. Rudolphina and Rudolph Menzel. During World War II and the Israeli War of Independence, they played key roles as guards, messengers, and mine detectors.

With only 2,000 or 3,000 today, the rare breed, with its dingo-like form, has become a favored show dog, praised for its agility and temperament.

Lux said each breed is judged by the written criteria for its specific species, and going up against dogs with completely different standards.

“A Canaan Dog is in the herding group, meaning they were bred to herd some form of livestock,” she said. “So you want a certain length of leg, a certain amount of bone. A lot of these things are for stamina, because if you’re herding cattle you need the energy to do that.”

Riverside Telltail Coco Posh, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, won the contest for that category and moves on the coveted Best in Show competition.



Monday, February 10, 2014

Israel's Sephardim abuzz at expanded Spanish citizenship offer 

The expansion of Spain's offer of citizenship to descendants of Jews it expelled en masse in 1492 has sparked interest in Israel, where the so-called Sephardim make up around a quarter of the population.

While no one predicts an Israeli exodus to economically bruised Spain, a passport granting access to the wider European Union appeals to many in the war-wary Jewish state - especially its disproportionately large Sephardic underclass.

Amending a decades-old law, Spain on Friday said it would allow foreign Sephardim - old Hebrew for Spaniards - who become nationals to keep their original citizenship.

Though the amendment awaits parliamentary ratification, the Spanish embassy in Israel said on Monday it had received "many" inquiries from potential applicants. Israeli media republished Madrid's list of typical Sephardic names, meant to help locate eligible kin, and celebrity candidates debated the opportunity.

"There is true pride in an Israeli passport, but if I also have a Spanish passport in my drawer, so what?" the best-selling Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper quoted model Natalie Dadon as saying.

Around 300,000 Jews lived in Spain before Inquisition-era monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand ordered them and the country's Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave.

Most of the Jews expelled settled elsewhere in the Mediterranean and Middle East. Their descendants who moved to Israel after its 1948 founding were often sidelined by the dominant Ashkenazim, or Jews of northern European extraction.

Some Israeli Ashkenazim are dual nationals of European countries from which their families fled during the Holocaust.

"Finally we see the buds of equality," comedian Nadav Abakasis told Yedioth. "Now those (Israelis) of North African origin will also have somewhere to flee to in the next war."

Estimating that between 2 million and 3 million of Israel's 8.1 million citizens were descended from Jews expelled from Spain, broadcaster Army Radio quizzed a Sephardic lawyer, Leon Amiras, on how the ancestry could be proven.

He suggested presenting an old family Bible with Ladino inscription or an ancestor's Sephardic wedding document, adding that Spain stood to gain from drawing resourceful immigrants.

But Abraham Haim, head of the Council of Sephardic Community in Jerusalem, played down Madrid's new law, saying its outreach to Sephardim dated back to 1924 and through World War II, when Spain was neutral and some of its diplomats saved Jews from the Holocaust by giving them citizenship.

"This (amendment) will not bring thousands of new immigrants to Spain," said Haim, who framed the move as part of a rapprochement between Spain and Israel, which formally established ties only in 1986.

Among Israeli beneficiaries of Spain's Sephardic ingathering was Malaga resident Yehuda Cohen, 57. Seeking a reprieve from Israel's tensions, he said he obtained Spanish citizenship after proving his parents came from the Sephardic community of Turkey.

"It took three years. No one in Israel should delude themselves into thinking this is a quick process. And there are a lot of documents that have to be presented," he told Reuters.

An importer of religious ornaments, Cohen said he uses a different first name in Spain as Yehuda, in its local pronunciation, invokes New Testament villain Judas Iscariot.

"It's a Christian country, after all," said Cohen, adding that, after 12 years, he and his wife were returning to Israel next month.

"We miss the sense of family, the Jewish holidays," he said.



Sunday, February 09, 2014

State Honors Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl, Marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day 

The State Legislature marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day Monday, honoring the late Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandl for his efforts saving European Jews during World War II.

At the risk of his own life, Weissmandl played a lead role in saving thousands of lives in Hungary. Among his many efforts, Weissmandl informed world leaders, including President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, of the atrocities being carried out in Eastern Europe during the war. He established a network that smuggled letters and telegrams out of Eastern Europe and formed an underground organization, the “Working Group,” that raised money to bribe the Nazis to delay mass deportations to the death camps.

He also worked to promote the “Auschwitz Protocols,” a 30-page report describing the atrocities in the Nazi death camp. The report included a detailed map of the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, drawn by Weissmandl, accompanied with a plea to bomb the death factory and the rail tracks leading to it. Translated into several languages and widely distributed, the report led the Allies to pressure Hungary, which halted its death camp deportations in July 1944, sparing the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.

Many of these survivors later came to live in New York. In Brooklyn, it is estimated that Rabbi Weissmandl was responsible for over two-thirds of Holocaust survivors, including a majority of the survivors and their descendants in Williamsburg’s 70,000 member Jewish community.

“Rabbi Weissmandl was a defender of freedom and of liberty,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol, who sponsored the Resolution in the Assembly. “He is a hero for all generations of Jews – but also for everyone who needs a brave man’s example to look to when help is needed for those who are persecuted and threatened with annihilation in today’s world.”

The Resolution was sponsored in the Senate by State Senator Simcha Felder. “Even 55 years after his death, the memory of his heroic acts still burns brightly for so many people in the Jewish community,” Felder remarked. “His selfless behavior is a lesson for the ages.”

Rabbi David Niederman, Executive Director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, which represents many of the community’s survivors and their families led the invocation at the Legislature Monday. “I can’t think of a more fitting way to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day than commemorating this unsung hero,” said Niederman, who lost three of his own siblings to the Nazis. “Even though we mark International Holocaust Memorial Day only once a year, for us and for all the remaining Holocaust survivors we have with us today, not a day goes by that we don’t remember the relatives we lost.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day was established in 2005 by the UN General Assembly to commemorate the January 27, 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by Soviet troops.

“On this very important day we pause to remember those who died in the Holocaust,” said Lentol. “We remember their families, and we remember those brave individuals who did everything in their humanly power to save the lives of other people without regard to their own peril. We never forget them and we use their memory and their goodness and holiness to fight against all holocausts against humankind for ever more.”



Saturday, February 08, 2014

How Steve Rosenfield's 'Jews Of New York' Got Young Orthodox Jews Talking About Taboo Topics 

ben faulding

"Imperfection is beauty."

This statement, expressed by Yeshiva University student Dasha Sominski, is an underlying theme in Steve Rosenfield's photography series "What I Be," a version of which was recently rejected by Yeshiva University.

When Yeshiva University students Mati Engel and Dasha Sominski, set out to exhibit Rosenfield's work at their school, neither of them knew exactly what they were getting themselves into.

Engel first encountered Rosenfield's work while visiting Princeton University where the show was exhibited as part of the school's Mental Health Week 2013. Upon learning the photographer was Jewish, Engel felt compelled to bring the exhibit to Yeshiva.

Rosenfield's portraits are vulnerable and daring, depicting subjects close up, brightly lit with their deepest insecurities written across their faces, necks and arms.

"The images were kind of uncomfortable but so real," Engel said. So she pitched it to YU, and the administration agreed to work with her. Engel highlights the positive tone of the early phase of negotiations, "They could have said 'no' from the get-go."

Ultimately, Yeshiva rejected the project after months of negotiation. However, Engel, Sominski and other students involved in the project continue to affirm loyalty to their school. The students insist that the Modern Orthodox university wanted to work with them but didn't know how to embrace a controversial photography series that focused on issues such as sexual abuse, homosexuality, racism and identity.

The school offered the following statement from Dean of Students Dr. Chaim Nissel:
As a university based on Torah ideals, Yeshiva University supports and encourages the artistic exploration of diverse ideas by its students and offers robust programming in dramatics and the arts—all while keeping in line with our values. After close review and much discussion of this event with the student organizers, and taking the sensitivities of all of our students into consideration, we determined that a YU venue would not be able to showcase the project in its entirety.

Engel, Sominski and Rosenfield all agree that there are certain topics the school likely does not feel comfortable with, and this reflects larger taboos within the Orthodox community. Engel was particularly sensitive to the tension from the beginning saying, "I couldn't sleep at night," she said. "I wasn't sure if we were doing the right thing." In Sominski's mind, though, Rosenfield's exhibit is particularly relevant for the Jewish community. "It's important to bring the work to this audience, which needed it perhaps more than any other audience."



Friday, February 07, 2014

Man pleads guilty to paintball attack on Hasidic Jew 

One man has pleaded guilty to the anti-Semitic paintball attack on a Hasidic Jew in a New York suburb.

Prosecutors say two alleged accomplices may have charges against them dismissed.

Shashi Ramsaroop pleaded guilty Thursday to assault and faces 60 days in county jail and two years' probation when he's sentenced April 1.

The Journal News says the case against his girlfriend, Lindsey Peaks, and Demetrius Latrell Torain ended with an adjournment contemplating dismissal.

All three were charged in the hate-crime attack for firing paintballs from a passing car in the Hasidic community of Kaser, N.Y.

The victim, Josef Margaretten, was hit twice in the abdomen.

Authorities say the three were driving through the community with the purpose of assaulting Jews.



Map shows Hasidic inventory 

The blunt title says it all: "Map of Hasidic Jewish land owners Surrounding Kiryas Joel."

It's dated Jan. 14, and it was drawn by the same engineering firm that mapped the 507-acre annexation request delivered to Monroe Town Hall a few weeks earlier. It appears to represent the broader territorial ambitions of Kiryas Joel's leaders and landholders.

The map, provided to the Times Herald-Record with no information about who commissioned it or why, shows neighborhoods outside Kiryas Joel that are largely occupied by Hasidic families, and large, undeveloped tracts with Hasidic owners, stretching from the former Lake Anne Country Club in Blooming Grove to Larkin Drive in Monroe. Most of the vacant land was scooped up years ago, presumably to await the next expansion push.

The entire inventory of Hasidic-owned tax parcels take up a total area of 6.25 square miles, including the 1.1 square miles of Kiryas Joel at its core, according to the map made by the Monroe office of AFR Engineering and Land Surveying.

Kiryas Joel leaders have long weighed various strategies for commandeering more territory, whether through annexation or by forming another village or town. Neighboring communities, meanwhile, have taken preemptive steps to protect their zoning by forming the villages of Woodbury and South Blooming Grove in 2006.

For now, the petition to move 507 acres of Monroe into Kiryas Joel is the only proposed border shift under consideration. No such requests have been made in Woodbury or Blooming Grove, although Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan said he expects to see one soon.

"We're anticipating some kind of annexation attempt in the near future," he said. "We feel it's going to be coming fairly quickly."

AFR's map indicates that Hasidic-owned properties outside Kiryas Joel total 900 acres in Monroe, 1,100 acres in Woodbury and 1,300 acres in Blooming Grove.

Two-thirds of the Blooming Grove land consists of the former Lake Anne Country Club, an 851-acre property that Hasidic investors bought for $15 million in 2006. The ownership group, whose development plans have never materialized, filed for bankruptcy in November to stave off foreclosure. In court papers, the owners say they've clashed with South Blooming Grove officials "over the scope and density of the proposed development," but are now formulating "a more workable development plan" to win village approval.

Mayor Robert Jeroloman said in response Thursday that the owners have never submitted a formal subdivision plan and have given no indication what they are considering now.

"The hangup is that they keep filing litigation after litigation, trying to change the zoning for this property," he said.

Two lawsuits to undo Woodbury's zoning are pending in state Supreme Court. One was filed in 2011 by Kiryas Joel and affiliated plaintiffs, who demanded that multi-family housing be permitted in an area where Hasidic Jews have bought homes and vacant land.

A similar suit was brought a year earlier by a group called United Fairness. A judge initially dismissed that case, but an appeals court panel reinstated it last month and allowed developer Ziggy Brach to substitute himself as the plaintiff.



Thursday, February 06, 2014

WhatsApp Spreads Fast Among Ultra-Orthodox — and Rabbis Cry Foul 

Ultra-Orthodox leaders are targeting a new threat to their community: the smartphone messaging service WhatsApp.

Orthodox Jews have swarmed this service ever since a 2012 anti-Internet campaign tightened communal restrictions against social networking sites like Facebook. Now, some leaders are launching a new crusade against WhatsApp, an SMS-like tool that allows users to share digital media.

“The rabbis overseeing divorces say WhatsApp is the No. 1 cause of destruction of Jewish homes and business,” read the headline of a January article in Der Blatt, the Yiddish-language newspaper published by members of the Satmar Hasidic group.

Programmers at Meshimer Filter, a Satmar-linked Web filtering firm, are seeking to block filtered phones from sharing video, photos and audio through WhatsApp, according to a member of the Satmar community who uses the filter and who spoke with employees. The firm did not respond to a request for comment from the Forward.

“It’s not under the radar anymore,” the Satmar community member said.

At a massive June 2012 rally at CitiField in Queens, ultra-Orthodox rabbis set down a firm position against unfettered Internet use. The leaders called for the use of Web filters on all computers used by Orthodox Jews, and discouraged the use of social networking and video sharing sites.

Satmar Hasidic schools now ban children whose parents have Internet access in their homes, and require that parents use Web filters on their smartphones.

Ever since the bans, followers have sought to skirt these rules, and WhatsApp has emerged as a popular dodge.

Sources were generally unwilling to be quoted by name for this story, citing both general communal aversions to appearing in the press and specific concerns about being embroiled in the coming internal debate over WhatsApp.

Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn told the Forward that the app acts as a closed social network that provides quick communication among community members with little information let in from outside. “It’s self-created media, it’s not the outside media,” said one member of the Hasidic community in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. “[It’s] an inside ghetto media, not outside.”



Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Firefighters union leader blasts lack of charges in fatal blaze 

The leader of the Philadelphia firefighters' union on Tuesday called the decision not to charge the owners of a dilapidated Kensington mill that burned in 2012, killing two firefighters in a wall collapse, "shameful."

"There are no words that can describe the absolute frustration felt by the firefighters and paramedics," said Joe Schulle, president of Local 22. "There will be no closure for the families, and no one will be held accountable."

A grand jury that spent nearly two years investigating the fire in the former Thomas W. Buck Hosiery complex said the owners allowed the building to become a "firetrap," but determined that no criminal charges could be brought against them   .

Schulle took aim at District Attorney Seth Williams, noting that Williams is not bound by the recommendations in the 110-page grand jury report released Monday.

"The district attorney seems more interested in maintaining a high conviction rate than taking on difficult cases," Schulle said.
Williams rebutted that assertion Tuesday, pointing to his office's prosecution of members of "the Catholic Church hierarchy" for crimes related to the priest sex-abuse scandal.

"We are not afraid to prosecute anyone for any offense, and we have done that repeatedly," he said.

The biggest challenge to prosecuting the New York-based building owners, Nahman and Michael Lichtenstein, was the fact that the cause of the fire was never determined, Williams said.

Williams and the grand jury were highly critical of the Lichtensteins for not responding to the city's notices of code violations before the fire, and for not securing the property against drug addicts, scrap-metal scavengers, and squatters.

While one of those intruders likely started the fire, "that's not enough in a court of law," said Ed McCann, Williams' first assistant district attorney.

"I can't stand in front of a judge and say the fire was caused because the owners didn't secure the property. That's a threshold issue," he said Tuesday. "If we can't do that, we don't have a prosecution."

McCann compared the fire to the Pier 34 nightclub collapse into the Delaware River in 2000, killing three women. After a legal battle that went all the way to the state Supreme Court, the club operator pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and the owner pleaded no contest. Both received house arrest.

In that case, McCann said, prosecutors had evidence that both men had been warned that the pier was in imminent danger of collapse. There was no similar link with the Lichtensteins, he said.

"If we had evidence that the fire was started by someone who broke into the property . . . then we might be in a different situation right now," he said.

Schulle, however, drew a different comparison - to the 2004 fire that killed Capt. John Taylor and Firefighter Rey Rubio. That blaze started when a basement pot farm smoldered into flames. The home's owner was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

"The circumstances were different, but in both situations, the owners were negligent," Schulle said. "We understand that it's a difficult case, but it's a fight worth fighting."



Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Another stop work order in Bloomingburg for Shalom Lamm 

In yet another legal obstacle for the controversial 396-unit Hasidic development in Bloomingburg, the Town of Mamakating has issued a stop work order on a building that was supposed to be used for a Mikvah — a ritual purification bath — for the development.

The town acted after workers apparently began construction on the building owned by developer Shalom Lamm without planning board approval or a building permit, says Town of Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann.

Lamm appeared before the Mamakating Planning Board last week to present the project that would be built at 51 Winterton Road, just a few hundred feet from the development where a judge just halted most construction on an unrelated legal matter.

When the town building inspector, Mary Grass, went to look at the building, she saw construction had begun. So she ordered work stopped until the town granted the necessary approvals.

"They had no permit and they knew they needed one," Herrmann said. "It's very difficult to deal with someone who skirts around the rule of law."

This latest legal entanglement means much of the construction has been stopped on the Villages of Chestnut Ridge and its related projects — all of which have drawn waves of protest in eastern Sullivan County and the surrounding area from residents who fear it would overwhelm them and change their rural way of life.

On Friday, a Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge ordered virtually all work stopped on the town house development until a March hearing. Opponents argue that the residents of the land annexed from Mamakating into Bloomingburg for the development had their constitutional rights violated because they didn't get a chance to vote on the annexation.

Last month, Bloomingburg Building Inspector Michael Grass (Mary's husband) stopped work on a Main Street building owned by Lamm that will have new businesses to serve the development. The building didn't have planning board approval to change its use from mixed commercial to retail, said Grass.

In December, the Bloomingburg Planning Board voted down a proposal for a private girls' school that would serve Chestnut Ridge — a vote that brought a lawsuit from Lamm, who essentially said the board bowed to pressure from residents motivated by anti-Hasidic bigotry, since zoning allows the school.

While Lamm declined to comment on the stop-work orders, he did say last week he is "very optimistic" his development group would "prevail'' in the March hearing about the restraining order on work on his development.



Monday, February 03, 2014

Hasidic Owners Cleared in 2012 Philadelphia Factory Blaze That Killed 2 Firefighters 

A Philadelphia grand jury has decided not to bring criminal charges against the Hasidic owners of an abandoned factory that burned down in Philadelphia in April 2012, causing the deaths of two firefighters.

District Attorney Seth Williams announced that an investigation failed to produce sufficient evidence of guilt against Michael and Nahman Lichtenstein, members of a prominent Brooklyn-based family that also owns the popular Haredi newspaper Hamodia.

“We’re all frustrated, we wish there was something that we can do to give the firefighters and the Neary family and the Sweeney family closure,” Williams was quoted saying in the Philadelphia City Paper.

Nahman and Michael Lichtenstein reportedly own about 30 other properties throughout Philadelphia, many of them vacant.

Though vindicating them of guilt, the grand jury’s report was reportedly critical of the two owners, whose negligence allegedly turned the vacant structure into “a firetrap.”

The report further criticized the Department of Licenses and Inspections and other government agencies for failing to hold the Lichtensteins accountable for safety issues in the lead-up to the fire.

“Licenses and Inspections…needs to have a thorough and complete review, from top to bottom,” Williams said according to the City Paper.

The investigation ultimately failed to produce an exact cause or source of the blaze.

“We can’t just charge people because we have a bad taste in our mouths or we’re angry,” Philly.com quoted Williams saying. “We are bound by the law.”



N.Y. newborn contracts herpes from controversial circumcision rite 

A newborn in New York contracted herpes from a controversial Jewish ritual circumcision rite.

The baby boy is undergoing treatment for neonatal genital herpes, according to the Forward, contracted through metzitzah b’peh, in which the ritual circumciser places his mouth directly on the child’s circumcision wound to draw blood away from the cut.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a health alert about the baby’s case on Jan. 28. The baby was treated for the genital rash five days after his circumcision.

At least 11 boys contracted herpes from the practice between 2004 and 2011, according to New York City health officials. Two died from the disease and two others suffered brain damage, the officials said.

In September 2013, the city’s Board of Health voted 9-0 to require mohels to obtain signed consent forms from parents; the haredi Orthodox Jewish community opposes the forms. Several months earlier, the city had struck an agreement with city hospitals to distribute pamphlets about the ritual’s dangers to the mothers of newborns.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said shortly after taking office on Jan. 1 that he would leave the signed consent forms in place while looking for a more effective solution, according to the Forward. The haredi Orthodox community had believed de Blasio would do away with the forms.

Metzitzah b’peh is not used in most Jewish circumcision ceremonies, but many in the haredi Orthodox community still adhere to the rite. Many haredi leaders have resisted calls to use alternative approaches.



Sunday, February 02, 2014

Inside Lev Tahor: Jewish sect is traditional and radical, but is it illegal? 

Lev Tahor director Mayer Rosner sits with his youngest son at his home near Chatham, while...

Head down, hand on his wide-brimmed hat to hold it in place while his robes flap, a Lev Tahor man steels himself against a stiff winter wind. The gusts howl down the long laneway at Spurgeon Villa, a collection of modest older duplexes outside Chatham, surrounded by frozen corn fields.

The man ducks into a small office building that’s been converted into a makeshift synagogue and school for boys. Lev Tahor, a controversial ultra-orthodox Jewish sect, whose name means “pure heart” in Hebrew and is led by the radical Rabbi Shlomo Helbrans, is making do here in a remote corner of southwestern Ontario, where it fled from Quebec in November.

On Monday, an Ontario Court judge will decide if local child protection workers can act on a Quebec order to seize 14 Lev Tahor children and put them in temporary foster care. Quebec authorities believe the kids were physically and psychologically abused at their former settlement north of Montreal in Ste. Agathe-des-Monts, Que., the sect’s home for a dozen years.



Saturday, February 01, 2014

Hasidic cop fired because of religiously-significant beard reinstated, assigned to Bronx 

The Hasidic cop fired because he said his religious beliefs prohibited him from trimming his facial hair was reinstated and has been assigned to the Bronx, his lawyer said Thursday.

Officer Fishel Litzman was fired in June 2012, a month shy of graduating from the Police Academy, because he refused to adhere to department standards limiting beards to no more than 1 millimeter in length.

Litzman, 39, a married father of five, went to work as a paramedic to support his family and filed a federal suit to get his job back.

In November, Judge Harold Baer ruled that Litzman was the victim of religious discrimination.

In December, he ordered Litzman reinstated and billed the city $137,000 in lawyer fees.

Litzman’s first day on patrol in the 46th Precinct was last week, his lawyer Nathan Lewin said.

Lewin said the city shortly after the ruling filed its notice to appeal the ruling. He said he is hoping the new administration will drop the appeal.

“I’m very pleased Fishel is back on the police force,’ Lewin said. “He’s going to be a tremendous police officer.

“I have no doubt about that.”

A city Law Department spokesman said, “We are still reviewing our options.”



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