Thursday, March 31, 2016

Feds eye rabbi who tried to sell synagogue for $13 million 

A Queens rabbi who is being sued by the congregants of a Lower East Side synagogue for trying to sell their $13 million building out from under them and allegedly make off with the profits, is now under investigation by federal as well as state officials, The Post has learned.

Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, leader of the right-wing Hasidic sect, Ger, was served with papers by two FBI agents as soon as he stepped off the witness stand in Manhattan Supreme Court in the civil case Monday.

Aschkenazi was set to sell the House of Sages of Israel at 25 Bialystoker Place to developer Todd Fine before the state attorney general stepped in last fall and put hold on the transaction.

Aschkenazi's attorney, Michael Bachner, confirmed to The Post that the rabbi is being probed by US Attorney Preet Bharara.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

First Synagogue Opens for Female Inmates in Saint Petersburg Prison 

Rabbis in Saint Petersburg opened Russia's first prison Jewish prayer space for women.

Opened on Tuesday, the Jewish house of worship in the Number 2 Penal Colony of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia has a capacity of 20 worshippers, the news site www.jewish.ru reported.

Services in the space will be led out of St. Petersburg by Rabbi Ifrah Abramov.

"Convicts of Jewish faith received with joy at the news about the opening of a prayer room in the colony," he said.

The opening ceremony was attended by the deputy head of the Federal Penitentiary Service, Valery Nikolaev, and the chief rabbi of St. Petersburg, Menachem Mendel Pevzner, as well as Rabbi Aaron Gurevich, who works with prisoners across Russia.

Elsewhere in Russia, many prisons for men have prayer spaces and synagogues.

Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, at Hanukkah in December visited the synagogue at eastern Moscow's Butyrka Prison — previously a notorious penitentiary for dissidents of Russia's Communist governments. The synagogue opened there two years ago and services 15 men, most of whom were jailed for nonviolent crimes.

"Giving attention and religious services to people behind bars can have a much more profound effect on them than on other populations because these are people facing what is often the most difficult moments in their lives," Lazar told JTA after lighting Hanukkah candles there with prisoners.


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Montreal borough’s Jews allowed to flout bylaw, use buses on Purim 

Hasidic Jews in an upscale Montreal borough avoided being penalized on Purim for having children ride buses on city streets  following the intervention of a city official.

Lionel Perez, a member of Montreal's executive committee, assured minority rights activist Fo Niemi prior to the holiday that unlike 2014 and 2015, the Outremont borough would not issue tickets on Purim to a Hasidic-hired bus company for breaking a 13-year-old bylaw barring buses on streets, the Canadian Jewish News reported.

Still, the bylaw, which the Hasidim feel targets them and want to see canceled outright, remains in place, a potential problem for future Purims.

"We have reached out to the [borough] mayor and asked her to sit down with us and work out a solution, but the mayor has refused to listen," Hasidic spokesman Mayer Feig said.

Human rights lawyers see the bylaw as being discriminatory and as breaking provincial and Canadian human rights charters.

In February, a borough prosecutor withdrew hundreds of dollars in fines for tickets issued in 2014 and 2015, the judge reasoning that the borough did not post enough explicit signage about the bylaw.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Cuban Jewish leader: Synagogues have no need for security 

The vice president of the Cuban Jewish community said in an interview that the country's synagogues do not require security.

"We are the only country with a synagogue that has its doors constantly open, where there is no kind of security at all, no kind of guards," David Prinstein told the Agencia Judía de Noticias news portal. "There is no type of anti-Semitic expression against Jews and synagogues."

Prinstein also praised interfaith dialogue as a priority for Jews on the island.

"We are part of a Cuban interreligious platform, where we hold continuous meetings tackling topics in common and positive for all parties," he said. "This has made possible an excellent relationship with all other religious denominations."

Prinstein called the Cuban government's relationship with the Jewish community "excellent."

"It is a very open relationship, very sincere and above all respectful," he said.

Cuba is home to nearly 1,500 Jews. The island nation has three synagogues and two cemeteries.
"It's just like the saying: two Jews, three synagogues," Prinstein joked.

Last week, Prinstein said of President Barack Obama's historic visit to the country — the first by a sitting U.S. president to the island in 88 years – that it was a milestone for the small Cuban Jewish community and "a transcendental, historic moment."

Last month, Latin Americans aged 25-40 interested in Jewish culture, education and leadership met in Havana for the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship seminar sponsored by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. It was the first time the event had taken place in Cuba since 1959.

Jews first arrived in Cuba as conversos, Spanish or Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism but secretly continued to practice Judaism, sailing with the explorer Christopher Columbus, who landed on the largest Caribbean island in 1492. The country's once 25,000-strong community saw 95 percent of its members flee the Fidel Castro Communist government, mostly to Miami.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

East Ramapo: Advocates seek statewide monitor support 

Advocates for East Ramapo public school students are asking for — and receiving — support from school systems and municipalities statewide for a monitor to oversee the troubled Rockland district.

But that support does not extend to the district's own backyard.

The Spring Valley Board of Trustees declined this week to pass a largely symbolic measure supporting the call for the state Legislature to appoint a monitor for East Ramapo.

"It's shameful," said longtime community activist Betty Carmand, who asked the board to consider the resolution. "It's the children of Spring Valley who are suffering."

Mayor Demeza Delhomme voted in favor of passing the resolution, as did Trustee Emilia White, the deputy mayor.

But three other trustees, the majority of the board, declined to vote on the measure. Trustees Asher Grossman, Vilair Fonvil and Sherry McGill abstained, each claiming the issue was not part of the board's responsibilities.

“It’s about children,” Delhomme said after the vote. “Let’s show that we stand with the children. I am shocked they did not vote for it.”

He sent a letter the following day to state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, stating his support for the measure.

Supporters hope the wide show of support will add power to the argument that the state Legislature should appoint a monitor to East Ramapo. Two reports by experts appointed by the state have also recommended a monitor with the power to veto decisions made by the school board, which both reports criticized for mismanagement.

The Board of Education is dominated by Hasidic and Orthodox men who send their children to private schools. The reports confirmed the claims by public school advocates that the board has favored the needs of private school students over public school students.

The board is against a monitor, maintaining that members were elected by the voters of the district to represent them.

A proposal before the last session of the state Legislature to appoint a monitor with veto power passed the state Assembly but stalled in the Senate.

At least six school districts on Long Island have passed resolutions in support of a monitor.

Long Island is being targeted because that is where Flanagan lives, said Andrew Mandel, a leader of Strong East Ramapo, a volunteer advocacy group.

"We wanted to demonstrate to him that even districts in his own backyard saw East Ramapo as an extraordinary situation that threatened public education and deserved the serious state attention proposed by two separate studies," he said.

One of the districts that has supported the East Ramapo measure is the Three Village Central School District, which is part of Flanagan's district.

Rockland legislators in both parties voted to support the measure.

All 13 members of the Rockland Legislature voted in favor of the resolution at the board's last meeting. Four Ramapo Democrats  —  Aron Wieder, Ilan Schoenberger, Philip Soskin and Alden H. Wolfe  — did not attend. Wolfe later said he supported the measure but was too ill to attend the meeting.



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jewish Leaders Condemn Hanging of ‘Gruesome’ Black-Faced Purim Doll 

Leaders in the Jewish community of New York’s Rockland County condemned the hanging of a black-faced doll with dreadlocks outside a local home apparently in celebration of Purim.

The effigy, which according to a News12 Hudson Valley report Thursday evening was spotted outside a Spring Valley house, angered many African-Americans and others in the area for its reminder of the lynchings — extrajudicial hangings, often by a mob of whites — that have historically terrorized black men.

Barry Kanarek, the director of the Jewish Federation of Rockland, told News 12 Thursday that the effigy was a means of celebrating “the defeating the evil Haman who wanted to kill all the Jews.”

On Friday morning, the federation and the Rockland County Board of Rabbis, a group made up solely of non-Orthodox Jewish clergy, issued a joint statement condemning the “insensitive and offensive ‘hanging of Haman’ practice on display during Purim.”

“There is no requirement in Jewish law for this activity,” the statement said. “We fully recognize, as do the overwhelming majority of the members of the Jewish community, the powerful and hate-filled memories that such images evoke in modern America. We call on all members of the Jewish and broader Rockland community to behave in accordance with the golden rule, ‘Do not do to others what is hateful to you.’ It is only from this principle that a society that respects differences and celebrates diversity can be built …”

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Monsey posted a separate condemnation on his Facebook page, linking to it from the comments section on the News12 site and urging people to “like/share” it as a sign of support.

Horowitz’s statement, which has been shared 49 times, describes the effigy as “gruesome” and offers his “sincere apology to my African-American neighbors who were understandably hurt/offended by it.”

According to his website, Horowitz has studied and taught at numerous haredi Orthodox yeshivas. He is founder of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey and founder/director of Project Y.E.S., which provides mentoring and other services for “at-risk teens.”

Home to a growing population of haredi Orthodox Jews, many of them Hasidic, Rockland County has been the site of numerous conflicts between the haredi community and others. An issue spurring particular tension has been the East Ramapo Central School District, where the elected school board is majority haredi Orthodox and has been accused of illegally siphoning funds from the public schools to enrich the yeshivas. Last week, the FBI raided several yeshivas and companies in Rockland County as part of an ongoing fraud investigation.

Wilbur Aldridge, regional director of the NAACP, told News12 this was the second consecutive year a black-faced doll was displayed for Purim. “I’m sure they can find some other way of depicting their disdain for this particular king,” he said.

In the comments on the News12 article, several viewers expressed outrage.

Tammy Kay Kuiper of Piermont wrote: “Please don’t say this represents an ancient king … there were no jeans, t-shirts or hoodies during king Haman’s time. I also seriously doubt he wore dreadlocks … If someone hung a dummy dressed as a Hasidim out their window on Purim or Halloween or any other ‘occasion’ the Hasidim would be relentlessly all over them, accepting no excuses, demanding arrest and filing law suits …”



Friday, March 25, 2016

Second FBI Probe Of Orthodox Yeshivas Eyeing School Lunch Fraud 

Federal raids last week of yeshivas in Brooklyn and in Rockland and Orange Counties in New York have set Hasidic communities on edge, as concern spreads about a possible government crackdown on Orthodox exploitation of the federal E-Rate technology subsidy program.

Now, the Forward has learned that Hasidic leaders believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation could also be engaged in a second probe into Orthodox schools’ exploitation of another key federal program.

A person who works in the ultra-Orthodox schools in Williamsburg, Brooklyn told the Forward that school leaders at the Central United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg are claiming that the March 16 raids on their facility were focused on funds provided by the National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes food for low-income students, and not on E-Rate.

That means the Federal Bureau of Investigation could be engaged in two separate probes into fraudulent use of federal funds by Orthodox yeshivas.

Investigators tracking spending of National School Lunch Program funds had paid a surprise visit Central UTA two weeks earlier, the person who works in the Williamsburg ultra-Orthodox schools said. That inspection had caused other Williamsburg Hasidic schools to exercise caution in recent weeks in how they spend their NSLP funds.

On the afternoon of March 16, FBI agents, accompanied by agents from New York City’s Department of Investigation, visited Central UTA’s administrative offices on Rutledge Street in Williamsburg. Central UTA is affiliated with the followers of Aron Teitelbaum, the Satmar grand rabbi based in Kiryas Joel, the Hasidic village in upstate New York. It is a distinct entity from United Talmudical Academy, the similarly-named Satmar school system affiliated with Zalman Teitelbaum, Aron Teitelbaum’s Williamsburg-based brother and rival.

Michael Tobman, a spokesperson for the followers of Aron Teitelbaum, declined to comment on the raid. “We cannot confirm any subjects or areas of investigation, and have no comment beyond that,” Tobman said.

Hasidic schools, which serve low-income populations, can be eligible for large cash payments for school food programs. In 2011 and 2012, Satmar school systems linked to both Satmar groups received a total of $14.7 million in federal and state NSLP reimbursements. The Buffalo City School District, by comparison, received $12.4 million during that year.

The Rockland County raids, which also took place on March 16, as did those in Brooklyn were part of an investigation into ultra-Orthodox schools’ use of E-Rate, according to the Journal News, a regional newspaper. E-Rate, which is administered by a semi-governmental not-for-profit acting under the auspices Federal Communications Commission, provides subsidies to schools and libraries for Internet and telephone connectivity. The $2 billion annual program has been plagued with fraud over its two-decade existence.

A spokesperson for the FBI told the Forward that the Brooklyn and Rockland County raids were not connected. The NSLP probe has not been previously reported. Hasidic yeshivas receive millions of dollars each year from both E-Rate and the NSLP.

The FBI spokesperson said that the Rockland and Orange County searches were part of an ongoing fraud investigation, and that the Brooklyn searches were part of a separate ongoing investigation.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose prosecutors are carrying out the upstate fraud investigation, declined to answer questions about the raids. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, whose prosecutors are carrying out the Brooklyn investigation, declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.
A spokesperson for New York City’s Department of investigations, which investigates corruption in city agencies and in groups that receive city funds, also declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.

The National School Lunch Program is one of a number of federal programs administered the United States Department of Agriculture that provide free or reduced-price meals to low-income students. Schools qualify for the program based on the incomes of their students’ families, and can receive bulk food and cash subsidies paid with a mix of state and federal funds.

While little information is available about a possible NSLP investigation, it seems that the reported E-Rate investigation has been in progress for a number of years. The E-Rate consulting group E-Rate Central noted in a post on March 21 that at least one vendor targeted in the Rockland County raids has been essentially cut off from E-Rate funds since the 2012 fiscal year.

The Forward was the first to report in 2013 on ultra-Orthodox exploitation of the E-Rate program. The Forward wrote in February 2013 that Orthodox institutions had claimed to be libraries to earn eligibility for E-Rate funds, and had received disproportionally high payouts from the program. In April 2013, the Forward reported that the ultra-Orthodox town of Lakewood, New Jersey, had received more in E-Rate funds than any other municipality on the state.



Thursday, March 24, 2016

A Freilichen Purim! 


Appeals court: Ramapo yeshiva provided no proof of bias 

A Ramapo yeshiva that had accused several villages of anti-Hasidic bias never provided any evidence to support its accusations, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in dismissing its civil rights lawsuit.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas last March to throw out the lawsuit filed by Modos Chofetz Chaim.

The latest decision will likely end the yeshiva's long legal fight against Pomona, Chestnut Ridge, Wesley Hills and Montebello and their officials, according to attorney Greg Saracino, representing Pomona.

"I don't expect the yeshiva to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, as there are no novel constitutional issues at play," Saracino said Wednesday. "It's a clean ruling with no dissent. Simply, the plaintiffs failed to come forward with any evidence of discrimination from the villages. The case was entirely based on innuendo and opinion."

The yeshiva accused the communities of incorporating as villages to curtail the expansion of Hasidic neighborhoods through restrictive zoning. It also claimed the villages tried to hide behind environmental laws in an attempt to block the construction of housing and a study center on Grandview Avenue — a use allowed under the town of Ramapo's adult student housing zone.

Rabbi Aryeh Zaks, his family and other Chofetz Chaim officials claimed in their lawsuit that the villages conspired to deprive the yeshiva of its civil, religious and equal protection clause rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Fair Housing Act.

Chofetz Chaim sought $100 million in damages.

The yeshiva and Ramapo have also battled the same villages in state court since 2004 over accusations of zoning and fire violations at the development.

In the federal case, the appeals court upheld Karas' 76-page decision, in which he ruled the rabbis "have offered nothing more than conclusory, unsubstantiated assertions" of civil rights violations.

Yeshiva officials could not be reached for comment.

Chofetz Chaim rabbis bought 4.7 acres on Grandview Avenue in 1997, after the federal government declared the former Nike military property surplus. Chofetz Chaim built a study center, 32 two-bedroom units and 28 four-bedroom units, supposedly for students and their families.

A federal lawsuit settlement against New Hempstead for blocking development put the land back under Ramapo's jurisdiction.

The Zaks family, which is politically active in Ramapo and some villages, claims kinship through marriage with the Chofetz Chaim, an influential Russian rabbi and ethicist (born Israel Meir Kagan) who died in 1933.



Wednesday, March 23, 2016

After attacks, Antwerp Jews told not to wear Purim masks 

The crisis management center of the Jewish community of Antwerp urged locals not to wear masks on Purim following Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels.

In addition to this instruction, the Jewish Crisis Management Team in Antwerp requested in an announcement published Tuesday that revelers, including children, refrain from carrying toy weapons or using firecrackers or any other device which produces loud bangs. 
"With the police and army on very high alert, all these cause confusion and are potentially dangerous," the announcement read.

Antwerp's Jewish quarter is among a handful of areas in Western Europe where the holiday of Purim, often referred to in Belgium as "the Jewish carnival," is celebrated publicly on the street. Thousands of members of the city's large ultra-Orthodox community take to the streets in colorful costumes on Purim.

The unusual announcement follows the terrorist attacks at Brussels' main airport, where some 14 people were killed, and at a Brussels metro station, where at least another 17 died.

A concert planned for Antwerp featuring the Gat Brothers, popular Hasidic singers from Israel, was cancelled after the singers, who were en route to Belgium when the attacks happened, were redirected to the airport of Liege south of Brussels, the website Kikar Hashabbat reported.

Two large Purim events planned for Brussels also were cancelled.


Rockland County goes after controversial development as part of backtax crackdown 

Rockland County officials on Tuesday announced that they are now taking an aggressive approach to targeting tax delinquents.

One of the biggest offenders reportedly has a tax bill of more than $500,000, and it just happens to be part of a controversial construction project.

County Executive Ed Day and County Attorney Thomas Humbach unveiled the new effort to expedite the foreclosure process for non-residential tax delinquent properties that are confirmed to be vacant, with the new policy recognizing that the county is permitted to legally foreclose on land parcels that owe real property taxes in two years instead of three years.

The new policy also allows the county to seek foreclosure against property owners who breach pre-arranged installment payment agreements in a timely fashion.

"This new policy will help to alleviate the financial burden that these properties impose on our taxpayers," Day said. "Starting this week, we will move aggressively on foreclosures when they become ripe, and not delay unnecessarily."

Day made the announcement outside the 208-acre Patrick Farm property in Ramapo, which is the largest non-residential tax delinquent property in Rockland. It is also at the heart of one of the most controversial proposed developments in the county, with a group called Rosa for Rockland suing to stop the project.

In 2001, the 208-acre property was purchased by a Hasidic developer who plans to build more than 400 units of housing. Over the years, the town has approved zoning changes that would clear the way for multi-family homes, but opponents fear the untouched open space, which is part wetland, will turn into a densely populated exclusionary community a la Kiryas Joel.

Now, the county is moving to foreclose on Patrick Farm due to the back taxes.

Scenic Development, LLC., which owns the Patrick Farm parcels totaling over 150 acres, owes more than $350,000 of tax debt. At this time, this amount is anticipated to rise to $500,000 or more when the county receives its 2016 tax transfer from the Town of Ramapo within the next few weeks.

Even if the tax bill is paid, the developer -- who didn't respond to an Eyewitness News request for comment -- faces an uphill battle with 17 separate lawsuits pending against the project.

Working with Rockland's Department of Finance, Humbach has identified 125 non-residential tax delinquent properties from Stony Point to Sparkill to Suffern that owe more than $3.3 million to Rockland County.

"This effort is about turning liabilities into assets," Humbach said. "Controlling the county's costs involves seeking payment from tax debtors. The county is making every effort to collect money to maintain the funding needed to provide the services the taxpayers demand."

Officials say properties that have accrued delinquent taxes have negative spillover effects that impact neighboring properties and, when concentrated, entire communities. Research links foreclosed, vacant, and abandoned properties with reduced property values, increased crime, increased risk to public health and welfare and increased costs for municipal governments.

"Today we send a clear message to delinquent property owners that my Administration will seek out money owed to the County of Rockland with vigor and intent using new and innovative approaches," Day said. "As we work every day to restore the County's fiscal health, we expect this effort to generate much-needed dollars."


Possible yeshiva tech fraud uncovered years ago 

While dozens of FBI raids in Rockland County were carried out only last week, it turns out two people were sounding the alarm about the possible abuse of federal technology funds in the Hasidic community years ago.

In a community in which computers and the Internet are shunned and often forbidden, dozens of private yeshivas accepted millions of federal dollars over nearly two decades to modernize classrooms. News 12 cameras were rolling last week as federal agents raided many of those yeshivas across Rockland, investigating possible fraud within the E-Rate program.

Now, it appears that the raids can likely be traced back to the Flatiron section of Manhattan and the investigative work of two journalists who happen to be Jewish.
Julie Weiner is the former associate editor of The Jewish Week publication. Upon hearing news of the raids, she said her "main surprise was that it didn't happen earlier."

Three years ago, Weiner and her then-co-worker Hella Winston first revealed possible E-Rate abuse in a bombshell investigation that she says raised red flags from the get-go. Weiner says she hopes that the raids will result in more accountability of taxpayer dollars, if anything.

So far, no arrests have been made in the wake of the raids. The FBI has not provided further details regarding the case.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Shaul Spitzer, convicted firebomber, marries in New Square 

Shaul Spitzer got married in New Square on Monday night before family and the grand rabbi of the Skver Hasidic sect.

Spitzer was released from prison in October after serving 3 1/2 years for severely burning New Square dissident Aron Rottenberg in 2011 during an attempt to firebomb the Rottenberg family's house in the village. Spitzer was 18 at the time of the incident.

Spitzer married Chava Reitzenstein, whose father Avraham Reitzenstein is an ardent supporter of the grand rabbi.

Spitzer's attack was reportedly motivated by Rottenberg's decision to pray outside the village's synagogue on the sabbath, bucking the Hasidic community's grand rabbi's edicts. Spitzer had worked as a butler for New Square Grand Rabbi David Twersky and lived in the rabbi's house with other devotees.

New York state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly released Spitzer early from his seven-year sentence after awarding the young man retroactive youthful offender status.

An appeals court had sent the case back to Kelly for resentencing over the youthful offender issue.

District Attorney Thomas Zugibe opposed Spitzer's release, as did Rottenberg, who left the village after getting a nearly $3 million settlement.


The New York Times’ Obsession With Female Jewish Modesty 

Is the New York Times obsessed with tznius — Jewish modesty?

It sure looks like it. How else to explain the paper's decision to devote column inches to a feature on a clothing store in Borough Park, Brooklyn, catering to Orthodox-Jewish women who dress modestly.

"Junee and other stores like it have seen their sales rise in recent years because of a flood of new products designed to make modesty and fashion compatible," the Times claims. The newspaper doesn't provide any actual numbers on revenues to back this up, however. Nor does it explain how it knows that the increased sales are the result of "new products," rather than, say, a population boom or increased disposable income among religiously observant Jews.

Throughout, the article erroneously assumes that Jewish women who dress this way are "Hasidic," a term the Times also uses to describe the Borough Park neighborhood overall. The paper doesn't seem to have considered the possibility that non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews of other sects in the haredi category might dress this way, or shop at any of the three stores mentioned. Nor does it quote the owners of any of them — just a woman it identifies as a "clerk." Would the Times write about one of its big department store advertisers quoting only a clerk?

This article is only the latest in a series of Times pieces that examine the habits of Orthodox Jewish women in New York City from a detached, almost anthropological, perspective, as if the paper's correspondent were explaining the rituals of some obscure tribe on a South Pacific Island.

A Times article in October 2014 profiled the "creative force" behind a website focusing on modest styles for Orthodox women. Another Times article, in April 2015, focused on a Brooklyn yoga studio catering to Lubavitchers, where instructors aimed at "complementing tznius with positive body image talk."

The articles are never written as if the person reading them might be an Orthodox Jewish woman. On the contrary, they assume the reader is some secular person who needs the peculiarities of Jewish customs explained.

Why any of it rises to the level of news for the New York Times is a mystery to me. But if the paper is going to decide this is news, the least it can do is cover it accurately and respectfully, rather than in a sloppy or less-than-authoritative way, which winds up gawking at the subjects of the articles, as opposed to genuinely seeking to understand where they are coming from.


Outfitting Hasidic Women With Stylish, Yet Modest, Fashions 

Sifting through the crop tops and sheer blouses for sale at Junee, a boutique in Borough Park, Brooklyn, is an unexpected clientele: some of New York City's most modest women.

Filled with bright colors and the latest fashions, the store specializes in outfitting Hasidic women, who follow a deeply conservative sartorial doctrine that, among other things, requires their elbows, collarbones and knees to always be covered, and if married, their hair to be hidden under a scarf or wig.

Junee and other stores like it have seen their sales rise in recent years because of a flood of new products designed to make modesty and fashion compatible. There are items like tape to tighten up a collar that sags toward impropriety, felt dots that muffle the provocative clack of pumps and cloth tubes that can extend a short sleeve into something more acceptable.

Women's undershirts are so popular among those wanting to cover their collarbones that entire shops have opened selling nothing but undershirts, also known as shells. Even dickeys, shirtless collars once the purview of only the nerdiest of nerds, are getting a second look. In Borough Park, one of the most heavily Hasidic neighborhoods in New York, dickeys are a hot item: Fitted into a sweater, they can make even a cowl neck look demure.

Tznius, or modesty, has taken on a renewed focus in recent years, Hasidic Jews and religious experts say, as the wider world encroaches on their insular community. In response, some Jews have ratcheted up their observance of tznius as a way to draw a brighter line and to spread their beliefs. The move parallels similar ones in Israel and London, where issues concerning modesty have come to the forefront.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Widespread support for Trump among US Hasidim 

Jacob Kornbluh, a New York-based reporter for Jewish Insider, told the news outlet that there is "no question support for Trump is widespread" among Hasidim, and that the majority of Hasidic voters he's spoken to have said they plan on supporting Trump.

Unlike the majority of US Jews, who are exceedingly liberal, nearly two-thirds of haredi Jews say they are politically conservative, while 57 percent of Orthodox US Jews identify with or lean towards the Republican party, according to a Pew survey of Jewish Americans.

There have not been any polls of Hasidic voters ahead of the primary election, reported VICE, but the fact that Trump has done well thus far among evangelical Christians in the primary states is a fairly good indicator of how Hasidim will vote. Since 2000, haredim in New York have voted in national elections in extremely similar patterns to how evangelical Christians voted, Sam Abrams, a political scientist at Stanford University who studies the politics of American Jewish voters, told the news site.

"Among my circle of friends, at least 90 percent [support] Trump," it quoted Yanky Lichtman, who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, as saying. "I like the way how he says it. He tells you straight what he thinks and that's a big plus."

Lichtman added that he and many of his friends, who are also supporting Trump, are "fed up with the establishment on both sides. [We] gave them a chance and nothing worked."

David Gross, of Brooklyn, said "when Trump decided to run I got excited."

"He is honest, an everyday person," Gross said. "A lot of people I know agree with him, but they just don't want to say it."

Like Brooklyn's Gross, Lichtman says that if Trump is not the nominee he probably won't vote in the general election at all.

Yossi Gestetner, a Hasidic political consultant and commentator, pointed out that "Trump has a long history of being friendly to people in the Jewish community." He also has a personal connection to the Jewish community through daughter Ivanka, who converted to Orthodox Judaism in 2009 and is married to a high-profile Orthodox real estate businessman, Jared Kushner.

And yet, many Hasidim and those who closely track the community noted that the support for Trump may not actually translate into votes. Gestetner agreed there is genuine interest in Trump but he was skeptical whether Hasidim will actually vote for Trump in the New York primary, on April 19.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

In Israel, a new generation of ultra-Orthodox Jews seek integration 

A quiet revolution is arising inside the insular world of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — chipping away at the ghetto walls its leaders have erected to protect against what they see as the dangers of secularism. More and more, young ultra-Orthodox insist they can continue to lead pious lives while also embracing technology, the modern workplace and their fellow Israelis.

Experts have long warned that Israel faces long-term economic ruin if its fastest growing sector, known as the Haredim, continues to reject the mainstream education system, enjoy sweeping military draft exemptions, raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts and devote themselves almost entirely to their cloistered world of scripture and study.

The current call for reform, however, is coming from within a community long resistant to outside pressures to change.

Some are leaving ultra-Orthodoxy entirely — one in 10 is moving on to more moderate Judaism or secular life. But others like Avigdor Rabinovitch, a single, 25-year-old political science student at The Open University, are building a grassroots movement that strives to transcend a life of poverty and isolation, and to redefine what it means to be an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Israel.

“It’s a new identity that I call ‘Israeli Haredim,'” said Rabinovitch, who organizes events for like-minded reformers. “We’re not trying to be like anyone else. We want to be ourselves but to open up to new worlds as well. We want to be involved and not just watch from the side.”

After generations have shunned military service, more young Haredim are looking to improve their future job prospects by joining combat and intelligence units that have been set up for them. According to the military, some 2,300 enlisted during the last draft year, up from 288 in 2007. Far more are enrolling in higher education as well.



Saturday, March 19, 2016

How NYC’s Jewish Food Scene Got Hip 

Too heavy. Not enough spice. Gelatinous. Gourmets have loved knocking the cuisine of traditional Eastern European Jews for years.

But just as it began to get tough to eat a potato knish, a latke or a slice of kugel without raising eyebrows, nothing short of a minor culinary miracle occurred—bagels, lox, kasha varnishkes (buckwheat and bow-tie pasta) and egg creams are suddenly trendy again in the Big Apple.

Several new restaurants, with serious foodie credentials, are serving up dishes that your bubbe or zayde (grandma or grandpa) would approve.

“I don’t think that it’s a passing fad,” says Ted Merwin, associate professor of religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College and author of Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli.

“Now that Jews are rapidly becoming assimilated into American society, along with their foods, there’s a desire to bring Jewish food up to date and make it relevant again.” It doesn’t hurt, he adds, that there is now a slew of fashionable Jewish celebrities, including Jon Stewart.

The current fascination with artisanal products and traditional cooking methods couldn’t be a better fit for the cuisine, since so many of its recipes (and the surviving establishments making them) have often existed for decades.

The old-world charm of Russ & Daughters, which has resided in the same neon-bedecked storefront on Houston Street for nearly a hundred years, now not only attracts a range of hungry shoppers from the five boroughs and the surrounding suburbs, but also way beyond.

In its infancy, the shop was one of hundreds of so-called appetizing stores in the city that sold a range of foods, including smoked, pickled and cured fish and cheese. Now it’s one of the city’s last.

But after falling apart and building up again (albeit with a completely different and trendier demographic), the Lower East Side is one of the Big Apple’s most desirable areas—and Russ & Daughters is finally being treated as a culinary treasure.

The store was even the subject of a charming 2014 documentary, The Sturgeon Queens, which explored the family behind the institution.

That same year Russ & Daughters also launched a café a few blocks away on Orchard Street serving such new creations as the ‘Super Heebster’ (bagel toast, whitefish, baked salmon salad, wasabi-infused roe and horseradish dill cream cheese) and the ‘Mensch’ (sturgeon, butter, tomato, onion and capers).

It’s been so successful that its owners (the family’s fourth generation), Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, just opened a kosher 70-seat restaurant inside the Jewish Museum on tony Fifth Avenue.

The new outpost will soon have an appetizing counter selling, you guessed it, knishes and smoked fish and some of its other signature items. “We’ve never been more busy,” says Russ Tepper. “We’ve started reaching people who aren’t Jews.”

Not far from Russ & Daughters, on a chic block of West Broad way in SoHo, is the trendy Sadelle’s.



Friday, March 18, 2016

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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


These Orthodox Jews use karate to defend the faith 

On a recent Sunday evening at a Jewish center in Brooklyn's Midwood section, dozens of boys and men — ages five to 40-something — practice their kicks, strikes and jabs. They are clad in the usual all-white uniform, tied at their middles with cloth belts — mostly white, but some yellows and greens, too.

As is traditional martial-arts fashion, their feet are bare. But their heads are not — most are covered with black velvet yarmulkes. Some have curly peyos hanging underneath. 

At the head of the class is Mordechai Genut, a third-degree black belt and founder of Frum Karate, a class geared toward Orthodox, even Hasidic, Jews.

While "regular" karate classes often include rituals like bowing in honor of ancestors or burning incense as a gift to the gods, Genut removes any and all "avodah zarah" — foreign worship — aspects from the practice.

His goal: To help members of his community train their minds, bodies and spirits.

"We try and focus on physical exercise and relaxation, and we use martial arts as a vehicle to connect to God," Genut says. "And we remove anything that's contradictory to the Torah."

Genut is a karate master in the Tora Dojo system (the name is a play on tora, the Japanese word for tiger, and the Torah; a dojo is a school of martial arts). The system was founded in 1967 with a mission to teach martial arts to the Jewish community.

Though his class is geared to religious Jews, Genut recognizes that some who lean more conservative may be turned off initially, try as they might to live strictly according to the Torah and stay away from secular society.

"The word karate can be a big no-no because it's associated with fighting," he says. "I understand that. But the truth is we see in the Torah many places where God says that you should protect yourself."

In addition to running Frum Karate, Genut is also a licensed acupuncturist and expert on Qi Gong meditative breathing.

And though often associated with Eastern religions, meditation doesn't contradict Judaism, says Genut, pointing in particular to the works of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, a 20th-century rabbi and kabbalist who wrote extensively on meditation.

Mordechai Genut, the founder of Frum Karate, uses "martial arts as a vehicle to connect to God." Genut has learned much from Eastern practices, but is able to sift through them to borrow aspects with which he feels comfortable as an Orthodox Jew.

"Everybody has the same body and same internal energy," he says. "The only thing that's different is the philosophy. I don't need to be able to believe in Buddha to do these things."

Genut began practicing martial arts as a teen in Brooklyn after some near-violent, anti-Semitic-tinged incidents in his neighborhood. Upon earning his black belt, Genut was given a Japanese name, as is standard: Jian Guo, meaning "to invigorate a nation."

Through his role as a teacher, Genut is trying to do just that — though to his students he's now known as Sifu Mordechai, which translates into "master."

And though it may sound counter-intuitive, Genut stresses the importance of avoiding violence to his pupils.

"If, Chas Ve'shalom [God forbid], someone is coming after you, you run away," Genut told the younger of his two classes, which are split between 5- to 11-year-old's and 12 and up. He also teaches safety tips, like not having yarmulkes embroidered with their names, lest strangers fake familiarity with kids. (It's a classic police tip, though usually applied to backpacks.)

"Jews value life, we don't glorify violence," Genut says. "And we don't encourage fighting."

"I have no shame in running away from a situation," chimes in Jack Newman, a fifth-degree black belt who has been involved in Tora Dojo since the early 1980s and came to help Genut with his classes that Sunday night.

"But sometimes you can't run away. In that case, you have the knowledge you get from your Sensei," says Newman, using the Japanese word for martial arts teacher. Newman credits his karate practice for helping him stay sane during his 30-plus years on Wall Street.

The recent rash of stabbings in Israel, along with hate crimes around the world targeting Jewish people, have made it even more important for members of the religious community to have knowledge of self defense, Genut and Newman add.

"The problem in religious communities is that there's not enough education on self-defense," Newman says. "Because of what's happening now, in Israel and here, the yeshivas on every level should have some sort of program to show people the essence of how to protect themselves."

A woman named Orlit is among several wig-wearing mothers who have brought their sons to the Sunday-night class. One of her sons has ADHD, "and for him it's about fitness and focus," she says. Another son, who is in the older class, gets nervous on the streets in their Flatbush neighborhood.

"I want him to be more confident," she says.

Moishe Blumenthal, who is waiting for his son to finish class, says he appreciates the activity — mostly for the exercise, but also for the discipline.
While he describes his son's school as "yeshivish," he says he suspects some Hasidic people might not be interested in the class for fear that it's too far away from the world of religious learning.

"Though the fact that girls and boys are separate definitely helps," he adds.

Earlier this month, Genut launched the first separate — but concurrent — class for women and girls in the same location, which is run by Sensei Ellen, a female first-degree black belt. (Orlit says she'll consider sending her girls there, too).

While religious women often take female-only exercise classes like Zumba or kickboxing, Genut wanted women to have an opportunity to hone karate's concentration and focus, he says.

And as someone who also organizes self-defense seminars for women, he also sees the importance in teaching frum women — and all women for that matter — how to protect themselves and avoid becoming victimized.

One Hasidic man, typing at his laptop while his 9-year-old son practices his kicks, jabs and bows, says Frum Karate has become a regular routine for them.

"We have a lot going on on Sundays," the man says, "but my son won't let me out of it. He loves it."


Thursday, March 17, 2016

NYS Senator Calls For Congressional Involvement Following FBI Raids In Ramapo 

The FBI conducted raids Wednesday in Rockland County's Ramapo and Orange County's Kiryas Joel to see if millions of federal dollars earmarked for technology in religious schools were misused. Now a state senator from the region is calling on congressional representatives to get involved.

The Journal News reports that investigators asked the schools to provide records of equipment allegedly bought through the federal government's E-Rate program. The program pays for technology—including Internet access—in schools and libraries. The newspaper says FBI agents and investigators from the Rockland County District Attorney's office demanded that vendors and yeshivas provide records and account for equipment allegedly bought by religious schools that receive millions in these federal education technology dollars.

State Senator David Carlucci, whose district includes all of Rockland County, says he met Thursday morning with monitors of the East Ramapo School District to learn more about the E-Rate program, which is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company under the direction of the Federal Communications Commission.

"I talked to the monitors at the East Ramapo School District to make sure that I fully understood what was going on here. And this is an issue where you have these non-public schools that have directly applied for these funds. And when the funding has been rewarded, it hasn't gone through the school district; it goes right to those schools," says Carlucci. "I think what we need to do is make sure that there's accountability in this funding. Now this is a federal program, so that state, we do not have jurisdiction over this funding, but I'm going to be reaching out to our congressional delegation to make sure they know how serious of a problem this is for us in the community, given the FBI raids that we've seen."

A spokesman for the East Ramapo School District declined to comment, citing having just learned about the raids. He adds that he is unaware of any connection to the public schools. Some 24,000 of the district's 32,000 students attend private schools, mainly yeshivas. About 8,500 attend public schools and are predominantly African American or Latino. In August, a state-appointed three-person monitoring team led by former New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott began examining operations and in December provided a report to the Board of Regents. As for the raids, here's Rockland County District Attorney Thomas Zugibe.

"Yesterday's operation was strictly about an ongoing fraud investigation involving public funds. It was conducted as a joint operation between the Rockland County DA's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation," says Zugibe. "It was not related in any way to any public corruption investigation. There are no indictments or arrests that are imminent. And it'd basically be irresponsible even to speculate on future action as a result of this investigation."

He adds: 

"There was approximately 260 FBI agents and about 30 officers from my department participating in this as well as uniformed officers from a number of the town and village departments," Zugibe says.

The Journal News reports the raids began at vendor offices in Ramapo as well as a hamlet and village in the town — Monsey and Airmont — spreading to yeshivas in Monsey. Again, Zugibe.

"Twenty-two separate locations in Rockland County were the subjects of search warrants issued," Zugibe says.

"And, of those, how many were vendors as opposed to yeshivas?" asks Dunne.

"I believe it was an even split between vendors and schools," answers Zugibe.

He confirmed that, in addition, two search warrants were served Wednesday in neighboring Orange County as part of the Ramapo investigation. Both were in the Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel. Zugibe declined to comment on the items seized. However, in local television news footage from Rockland, FBI agents are seen carrying computers.

An emailed statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York says, "Yesterday, the FBI, working with our office, conducted searches in connection with an ongoing fraud investigation.  If and when charges are filed, they will eventually become public.  This remains an ongoing matter, and we are unable to provide any additional information at this time."


New law targeting Hasidic Jewish realtors lays bare tensions, but is it anti-Semitic? 

The Tri-State has long been known for its ethnic diversity, but as that diversity continues to increase, it can bring with it new opportunities and new concerns, depending on how they're viewed, and who is affected.

This Jersey Shore town is now at the center of that tension, and an ordinance that goes into effect here at the end of the week is raising concerns about anti-Semitism, overly aggressive sales practices and the politics of changing demographics, that are all tied up in the overarching issue of diversity.

A look around streets in the north end of Toms River, near the township line with Lakewood, its municipal next door neighbor, speaks volumes.  There's a house-for-sale sign right across the street from a sign that says "Toms River Strong."  The latter is the emblem of a movement to help stop some not-good practices that have been occurring  more and more often on these Central Jersey streets.

"I don't understand why they should be allowed to come in and badger us," said Michael Dedominicis, a lifelong Toms River resident.  He's one of the organizers of the Toms River Strong group, which seeks to ensure that residents can resist pressure to sell when they don't want to.

He is among some 9,000 Toms River residents whose requests of the township to stop unsolicited visits from realtors has led to an ordinance going into effect this week to shield them.

On Friday, a cease and desist order goes into effect, essentially expanding a no-knock ordinance already in effect to include realtors, most of whom are Hasidic Jews from Lakewood, which is itself majority Hasidic.

Lakewood's population is also expanding by leaps and bounds.  According to records from Lakewood released to the Associated Press, its population has gone from 93,000 in the 2010 census to 120,000 now.  That's a 25 percent increase in just over half a decade.

It's got Toms River's mayor explaining the need to ensure that demographic change happen organically.  It also had him saying on Wednesday that, even though the ordinance is targeted at realtors who are mostly Hasidic Jews, that it's not a discriminatory rule.

"It galls me to hear that some people think we're anti-Semitic," Mayor Thomas Kelaher told PIX-11 News.

"The only thing this is designed to do is stop the type of conduct that was driving people crazy," he said.

Among the reported actions were countless instances of realtors knocking on houses displaying no-knock decals.  Unsolicited calls occurred frequently on Thanksgiving or Christmas, when it was virtually guaranteed that residents would be home.

Recently, neighbors have complained of letters being placed by hand in their mailboxes, asking them to consider selling.  The letters are stamped, with the stamps crossed out by hand to invalidate them, rather than by having them processed through the U.S. Post Office.
"That's mail fraud," said Dedominicis.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for a Hasidic advocacy group told PIX11 News that the new ordinance is not necessarily anti-Semitic.  Rabbi Avi Shafran referred to an op-Ed article he'd written for the Orthodox Jewish publication Hamodia.

It said, in part, "The law of supply and demand won't be violated... that's fine and good... What isn't fine and good, though, is pressuring residents by visiting them, unbidden, to make that case. And what's even less fine and good is doing so on non-Jewish holidays, when residents are more likely to be home, but are undoubtedly more likely to resent uninvited guests."

However, not everybody is agreeing with Rabbi Shafran. Late Wednesday afternoon, the mayor of Lakewood, Menashe Miller, called on Toms River's Mayor Kelaher to apologize for calling the real estate situation an "invasion."



Wednesday, March 16, 2016

FBI raids in Ramapo target yeshivas, tech businesses 

FBI agents and Rockland district attorney's office investigators fanned out across Ramapo on Wednesday with search warrants demanding that vendors and yeshivas provide records and account for equipment allegedly bought by religious schools with millions in federal education technology dollars.

Agents descended around 1:30 p.m. on vendors at 21 and 29 Robert Pitt Drive, Monsey; 161 Route 59, Monsey; and 386 Route 59, Airmont, among other locations. The raids spread in the late afternoon to yeshivas in the Monsey area.

A group of FBI agents were seen outside a yeshiva at 93, 95 and 97 Highview Avenue, all converted single-family homes. They would not comment.

At the Yeshiva High School of Monsey on College Road on Wednesday afternoon, two investigators standing inside a garage that had been converted into a classroom were looking through an opened safe as they took notes. A reporter was asked to leave the grounds. Students in the backyard tossed a football around as investigators did their work.

FBI and district attorney's office detectives also were at a yeshiva at 72 Route 306, a dark brick building with a small circular driveway.

The FBI-led raids, which involved 22 separate search warrants in Ramapo, are part of an investigation into whether local yeshivas properly spent money obtained through the federal government's E-Rate program, overseen by the Universal Service Administration Co. for the Federal Communications Commission. It came into existence in 1998 and today allocates more than $4 billion annually for computer and Internet access across the nation.

Some raids on the same topic were also carried out in the ultra-Orthodox community of Kiryas Joel in Orange County.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's Office said: "Today, the FBI, working with our office, conducted searches in connection with an ongoing fraud investigation. If and when charges are filed, they will eventually become public. This remains an ongoing matter, and we are unable to provide any additional information at this time."

More than 300 agents and officers were involved in the operation, authorities said, adding that no arrests have been made and none were expected Wednesday.

FBI agents were inside a multi-tenant commercial building at 21 and 29 Robert Pitt Drive for several hours. Agents could be seen occasionally stepping outside. Clarkstown and Spring Valley police were assisting them.

Members of the Orthodox community were milling around the warehouse, talking among themselves and asking members of the media what was going on.

The target at that address is Hashomer Alarm Systems and its owner, Peretz Klein, officials said. In a 2013 interview with The Journal News, Klein credited the E-Rate program with making it possible for many needy yeshivas and other Orthodox Jewish schools to install computers and modern technology for their students.

The E-Rate program reimburses up to 90 percent of the cost of infrastructure wiring, maintenance and other services.

"The government created this program to get technology in the schools," he said. "It's a very big help for many schools. We service the schools, do all we can to help them."

Klein's company brought in millions in E-Rate grants to install infrastructure — servers, extensive wiring and more — at private schools in Rockland County and Brooklyn. His company is one of many across the country that focus their business on the long-controversial E-Rate program, created under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 to help schools and libraries in low-income communities keep up in the digital age.

On Wednesday, Klein didn't respond to calls for comment. He later got into a gold SUV and drove off.

At 386 Route 59 in Airmont, about a dozen FBI agents and Ramapo police officers gained access to a suite at the back of the brick office building at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday by sending two agents through a window. They questioned a man outside the suite but no arrests were made.

Two of the agents wore jackets with "FBI Cyber Task force" written on the back. After the initial entry, the agents removed their bullet-proof vests.
A Journal News reporter at 161 Route 59, Monsey was told by another tenant that agents' activity was limited to one particular office suite inside. Seven FBI agents eventually walked out of the nondescript office building after a four-hour search. They wouldn't comment.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe also had no immediate comment on the raids or the investigation.

East Ramapo school district spokesman Darren Dopp said in an e-mail late Wednesday afternoon that the district was just learning about the raids and had no comment.

"We're not aware of any connection to the public schools," Dopp added.

Questions about the ultra-Orthodox community's use of E-Rate funding were first raised in 2013 articles in the Jewish press.
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The Manhattan-based Jewish Week and The Jewish Daily Forward published reports questioning the high percentage of E-Rate dollars in New York state going to Hasidic and other Orthodox schools and libraries, noting many of the schools prohibited student access to the Internet.
The Jewish Week's first article outlined how the religious schools in Rockland and New York City obtained the federal money, while focusing on the vendors and then the investigation that led one to return $900,000.

​The E-Rate program has been investigated for fraud many times, with even its own administrators questioning the program's accountability
Wednesday's raids come as state and federal prosecutors continue jointly investigating potential governmental corruption in Ramapo and Clarkstown. A joint federal-district attorney task force successfully convicted the former Spring Valley Mayor Noramie Jasmin and Deputy Mayor Joseph Desmaret of bribe-taking involving a local development. More recently both a Ramapo councilman and the Spring Valley building inspector have faced state fraud charges.

Robert Rhodes, chairman of Preserve Ramapo, said reports about misused technology grants previously have been posted on the grassroots political party's website.  He said he had no information about Wednesday's raids but said his party had given documentation to the FBI over the years about various issues.

"We expect eventually there will be conspiracy indictments and the same people who are involved in different areas of illegal activities are interconnected," Rhodes said.


East Ramapo: Resolution supporting monitor passes Rockland Legislature 

Rockland county legislators voted overwhelmingly to support a monitor with veto power for the East Ramapo school district.

The largely symbolic resolution passed across party lines during the Rockland Legislature's regular meeting Tuesday.

"It shows that all of Rockland cares about East Ramapo," said Antonio Luciano, a longtime advocate for public school students. "Not just East Ramapo parents."

Supporters hope the vote will add power to the argument that the state Legislature should appoint a monitors to the troubled school district.

All 13 legislators voted in favor of the resolution except for four who did not attend the meeting: Ramapo Democrats Aron Wieder, Ilan Schoenberger, Philip Soskin and Alden H. Wolfe.

Wolfe said in a statement he issued Wednesday that he supported the measure but was not at the meeting because of a "medical issue."
Weider, Schoenberger and Soskin represent areas with large Orthodox and Hasidic communities.

People in those communities have argued against a monitor with veto power over the school board, pointing out that the board was elected by a majority.

Reports done by two separate teams of monitors both recommended a monitor with veto power over the board, which the reports said made poor financial decisions.

Behind the scenes: East Ramapo Monitor Dennis Walcott

The Board of Education is dominated by Hasidic and Orthodox men who send their children to private schools. The reports confirmed the claims by public school advocates that the board has favored the needs of private school students over public school students.

A proposal before the last session of the state Legislature to appoint a monitor with veto power passed the Assembly but was stymied in the state Senate.

Rockland legislators have said they will try again during this session.


NYPD Investigating Hate Attack on Williamsburg Jews 

The NYPD is investigating an attack by six suspects against two Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg, Brooklyn Tuesday night.

The incident is considered a hate crime, according to JP Updates. The attack took place on Harrison Avenue and Gerry Street. The two Jewish men were accosted by six men, who stole a hat from one of the victims and tried to steal a tefillin bag of the other. The attackers then ran away laughing.

The two Jewish men gave chase, at which point the suspects threw the hat on the ground and disappeared, but not before hurling a bottle at the victims.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Toms River, New Jersey Mayor Decries 'Invasion' of Hasidic Jews 

Toms River Mayor Thomer Kelaher says his constituents in the New Jersey locale have complained to him about aggressive realtors trying to bully them out of their homes to accommodate an influx of Orthodox Hasidic Jews moving there in large numbers, the Mail Online reports.

The newspaper says the problem is due to a housing shortage in the nearby town of Lakewood, home to one of the largest populations of Hasidic Jews in the United States.

Real estate agents try to scare Toms River residents into selling their homes by cautioning they are soon liable to be the only non-Jews living in the area, Kelaher is quoted to have said.

"It's like an invasion," Kelaher says. "It scares the hell out of people."

Rabbi Avi Schnall, state director of Agudath Israel of America, which represents ultra-Orthodox Jews, slams the mayor's remarks, tweeting on the social media site:

"The town has seen a spike in bank robberies and break-ins, and the area is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy, yet the mayor feels 'aggressive realtors' are the biggest concern."

James Jackson of Toms River, a town of more than 90,000, says he was approached by a man in a black suit in the fall and after he said he didn't want to sell his home the man put his hand on Jackson's shoulder and told him he might want to reconsider.

Many of his neighbors in Toms River, the man said, already planned to sell to Jewish buyers like those he represented.

"He asked me why I would want to live in a Hasidic neighborhood if I wasn't Hasidic,' Jackson said. "He asked if I would really be happy, if it would be in my family's best interests."

"He was trying to intimidate me, but not in a physical way."


Father of man refusing to grant wife a religious divorce ordered jailed 

A rabbinical court in Israel ordered the jailing of an American haredi Orthodox businessman for being behind the refusal of his son to grant his wife a religious divorce.
The Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court ordered the unnamed man jailed for 30 days over his son's 11-year refusal to grant his wife a get, a Jewish religious divorce.

The American husband, also haredi Orthodox, was visiting Israel with his wife and two children in 2005, when the wife had a serious stroke that left her disabled, according to Israeli media reports. The husband abandoned his family in Israel and returned to the United States, where he went into hiding, supported by his parents and the haredi Orthodox community.  The couple has been married for 19 years.

The Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court ruled two years ago that the husband was obligated to give his disabled wife a get, which he has failed to do.

The husband's parents recently visited Israel and were banned by the rabbinical court from leaving the country, which ordered the confiscation of their passports. They were summoned to testify in front of the rabbinical court, the Jerusalem Post reported.

"It is he who is the central and active figure behind the captive situation of his daughter-in-law, due to his son," the court said in its 45-page ruling, according to the Post. "He can extend her captivity if he wishes, or shorten it and, therefore, appropriate and suitable sanctions must be issued against him."

The 30-day jail sentence has been suspended for 10 days while the father, a major donor to the Jerusalem-based Erlau Hasidic court, appeals the verdict, Haaretz reported.

The sentence has been labeled "unprecedented" and "groundbreaking" by Israeli media.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Hasidic Purim tradition at odds with Montreal borough ordinance 

Hasidic Jews in a tony Montreal borough could be penalized again on Purim for driving through its streets on buses and having kids hand out traditional holiday treats.

Since 2013, police in Outremont have slapped tickets totaling hundreds of dollars on the bus company hired by the Hasidim for breaking a borough ordinance barring buses on residential streets.

Human rights activists say the bylaw violates Canadian human rights charters and deliberately targets Hasidic Jews.

Although on the borough's books since 2003, the ordinance was first enforced three years ago. The bylaw has an exemption for "special events," but the municipality has refused to grant it to Hasidim, adding to long-existing tensions with Outremont's French-speaking majority.

Last month, a municipal court judge canceled the ticket fines from 2014 and 2015 because of a lack of street signs explaining the bylaw.

"The question is what happens now," Fo Niemi, director of Research-Action on Race Relations, told The Canadian Jewish News. "Will the police stop issuing the fines this Purim, or will the borough put up signs before then?"

"This is not over yet. The bylaw is still on the books."


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Israel’s Cult Crackdown Could Snare Yoga, Rabbis, and Meditation 

Amid all the turmoil of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—most recently, last week’s horrific stabbing of 10 civilians, including one American citizen—the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, has found time to introduce a strange “anti-cult law” meant to combat New Age sects in the Jewish state, but which could also impact yoga ashrams, controversial rabbis, and meditation groups.

Contrary to appearances, the conflict and the cults are closely related to one another.

The bill, proposed by Israel’s nationalist Yisrael Beytenu party and supported by the conservative governing coalition, would provide an additional charge for any spiritual leader charged with other crimes: leading a “harmful cult.”

A harmful cult is defined elliptically in the bill as any group that “rallies around a person or an idea, in a way that there is exploitation, dependency, authority, or emotional distress experienced by one or more members, uses methods of mind control or controlling patterns of behavior, and operates in an organized, systematic, and sustained fashion, while committing crimes under Israeli law that are felonies or sexual offenses or serious violence.”

If a spiritual leader is charged with another crime—kidnapping, say, or embezzlement, or fraud—this additional crime could be added onto it.

The consequences are severe, not just for the cult leader, but for followers as well. Once a “harmful cult” has been established, the state could appoint custodians to make decisions on the members’ behalf, even if they are adults who have have freely consented to take part. Such a custodian could implement forced deprogramming sessions, take control over finances, and actions that would otherwise constitute kidnapping, like holding or institutionalizing members for re-education.



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