Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Jewish Community Centers Face Third Wave of Bomb Threats Nationwide 

At least 13 Jewish Community Centers were evacuated Tuesday, after the third wave of bomb threats this month was made against the religious centers.

This latest spate of threats, which came in between 10 a.m. and noon, targeted JCCs in at least 11 states and is being investigated by the FBI.

"The FBI and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are investigating possible civil rights violations in connection with threats to Jewish Community Centers across the country," the FBI said in a statement emailed to NBC News. "The FBI will collect all available facts and evidence, and will ensure this matter is investigated in a fair, thorough, and impartial manner. As this is matter is ongoing, we are not able to comment further at this time."

Like similar threats in recent weeks, these were later deemed not to be credible.

Elise Jarvis, associate director of law enforcement outreach and communal security at the Anti-Defamation League, told NBC News the group has been coordinating with law enforcement and members of Jewish groups nationwide to prepare for the worst.

The ADL recently held a joint security briefing with the FBI and almost 700 representatives from Jewish institutions across the country to provide resources and best practices for responding to threats, Jarvis said.

In response to the latest wave of bomb threats against JCCs, the ADL said it is expanding its security training programs, which coordinate with the FBI, local law enforcement agencies and Jewish groups.

"Unfortunately, threats like this are nothing new for the Jewish community," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement. "Still, it is vitally important to take these threats seriously and to ensure that every institution is prepared to respond to this type of security emergency. That is why we are partnering with the FBI, local institutions and law enforcement to ensure that all of our community institutions are safe and secure."

Image: Adults and children return to St. Louis Jewish Community Center on Jan. 18 in St. Louis, Missouri after canine units cleared the building.

Despite the increased security, Tuesday's threats appear to be less widespread than previous scares.

On Jan. 9, 16 JCCs in nine states received threats, Marla Cohen, communications manager for the JCC Association of North America told NBC affiliate WNYC. Nine days later, 28 centers in 17 states received threats.

According to Cohen, the threats came from a mix of robocalls and real people.

Because of past threats, JCCs already have procedures in place in case of a bomb threat, said Albuquerque Police public information officer Simon Drobik, whose department investigated a threat to the JCC of Greater Albuquerque.

Similarly, some police departments have enacted emergency response procedures after past threats. The Binghamton JCC in Vestal, New York, for example, had coordinated with local police prior to receiving Tuesday's threat, Vestal police Lt. Christopher Streno said in a statement to NBC News.

"We see this as a serious concern to the Jewish community and are working with law enforcement to try to address this problem, which has now become a pattern," Elise Jarvis of the ADL said.



Monday, January 30, 2017

Chickens Saved From Religious Ritual Find Home At Ocala Sanctuary 

Travelling for two days and almost 1,000 miles, Cameron O'Steen packed about 30 chickens into the backseat of his blue Prius to give them another chance at life.

O'Steen had called Kindred Spirits Sanctuary, a farm animal sanctuary in Ocala, in late November to find a home for some chickens rescued in Brooklyn from being used in a Jewish kaparot ceremony, said Logan Vindett, the executive director of Kindred Spirits Sanctuary. During the ritual, chickens are slaughtered and donated to a charitable cause, according to the Chabad website.

A former volunteer at Kindred Spirits, O'Steen asked Vindett if she wanted to take eight. She didn't hesitate to say yes.

For about a month, Indraloka Animal Sanctuary in Mehoopany, Pennsylvania, had been caring for the animals and was looking for permanent homes. Vindett saw it as an opportunity to save a few lives and teach visitors to the sanctuary about the cruelty chickens face.

"We were excited to tell a different story than some of our other animals have," she said.

The 30 chickens were among about 200 rescued from the tradition observed by thousands of Brooklyn's Hasidic Jews on Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, Vindett, 31, said.

In mid-December, O'Steen drove down the eastern seaboard, stopping in North Carolina to drop 23 of the chickens off at another sanctuary.

Though Kindred Spirits had prepared for eight chickens, one named Pepper died of a heart attack on the way down, Vindett said. The Cornish Cross Broiler chickens, who came from a factory farm, are prone to medical issues due to their weight.

To make the transition as easy as possibly for the already delicate birds, Vindett started replicating their diet at Indraloka and preparing a wooden coop.

In December, O'Steen pulled up to the sanctuary with seven chickens in tow. Vindett and Michelle Lovegrove, Kindred Spirit's marketing director, donned gloves and booties to meet the then 5-month-old chickens Memphis, Dylan, Hillary, Ginsburg, Wasabi, Olive and Jill. All but Ginsburg had been named at Indraloka.

For an hour and a half, they examined the birds, writing their markings and condition down on their charts, she said. As a precaution, they were quarantined for a month to ensure the safety of the sanctuary's 18 other chickens.

During that month, Vindett and Lovegrove saw the chickens' personalities emerge.

Memphis and Dylan are pushy. Hillary, Ginsburg and Wasabi are sweet and like to be talked to.

Olive and Jill are independent.

On Jan. 11, Vindett opened the front of the coop, allowing the seven to roam around the property. Despite being on a strict diet, the chickens will likely reach a point where their bodies can no longer support their weight, she said.

Though the birds may not live longer than the next six months, Lovegrove, 28, said she hopes visitors see that chickens are creatures with as much right to live as anyone else. Meat chickens like them are usually killed at 42 days.

"Forty-two days old is a baby whether it's an animal or a human," she said.

Vindett hopes visitors see that animals have their own personalities after meeting Memphis, Dylan, Hillary, Ginsburg, Wasabi, Olive and Jill.

"My hope is always that people meet these animals and have a different perspective," she said. "We really want people to see the animals like they see their dogs and cats at home."


Sunday, January 29, 2017


Political diehards from across the spectrum seem to agree: our country is divided. But could our differences ever ignite a second Civil War? Endless blog posts ponder the subject, and thanks to blazing special effects, a new movie illustrates the horrors of home turf conflict.

At one of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival's coveted midnight movie slots, filmmakers Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion (Cooties) unveiled Bushwick, a thriller design to pop the coastal bubbles. Britney Snow (Pitch Perfect) and ex-wrestler Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) star as a pair of Brooklynites fleeing for their lives when a fleet of paramilitary descend upon their neighborhood. After capturing one of the armored soldiers, the pair identify the invading forces as a "Southern alliance" battalion, formed in the wake of Texas seceding from the country. Their captor is a kid from Indiana. His mission: stir up shit by rampaging through a community diverse enough that, in theory, the residents wouldn't rally together to fight back. The Southern alliance knows nothing about Brooklyn, clearly.

Milott and Murnion take an action-first approach to Bushwick, which played well to bleary, 12:01AM Sundance audience. After watching an aerial attack scorch her boyfriend into a crispy husk, Snow's character Lucy outruns the soldiers the only way a born-and-raised New Yorker knows how: walking hastily with her head down and dodging cars when necessary. Bautista's Stupe -- only in Brooklyn! -- provides her with a weapon and enough muscle to bumrush to the Williamsburg Bridge. Stupe's family's in Hoboken, making him the only Bushwick resident to intentionally venture to New Jersey.

The main issue with Bushwick, and why the only people who may enjoy it are those who'd squeal at an appearance of Owl Juice Pub on Wyckoff, is a wavering tone. The situation inciting the action is grave, partisan views driving declarations of war, Americans killing Americans thanks to a right to bear arms. Milott and Murnion play into paranoia: like Lucy, few of us would be ready to survive war, let alone counterattack with provided weaponry.

Bushwick also strives to be a kick-ass midnight movie, with John Wickian bursts of violence that make you stand up and cheer. In one scene, a group of Hasidic Jews chuck Molotov cocktails at a wave of soldiers stuck in an alley. Later, Stupe and Lucy amass of locals to take over McCarren Park in Greenpoint. Spurts of over-the-top, rah-rah retaliation are a blast, but Bushwick whiplashes back to the all-too-real all too often. Nothing kills the mood like a monologue about 9/11.

Maybe it'd go down easier if a new Civil War didn't feel so... plausible. In their post-screening Q&A, Milott and Murnion mentioned that Rick Perry's 2009 comments about an actual Texas secession inspired their film. In response to chants of "secede! secede!" Perry replied, "If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that."

As a run-and-gun actioner, Bushwick's a let down. As a tour of Brooklyn sites, it's a fleeting high. But as a work of speculative fiction at a sensitive political moment, the movie's frickin' terrifying.



Saturday, January 28, 2017

Jared Kushner’s college rabbi recalls a snow-shoveling student mega-donor 

Jared Kushner and Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi at the Harvard Chabad New York Alumni Reception, June 2013. (Harvard Chabad)

Jared Kushner was already a regular at the Harvard Chabad when he walked in one day, took a crumpled piece of paper out of his jacket pocket, put it down on the table and walked away.

It was a personal check for $18,000.

“’I have some deals that really went well, so I want to give something back to Chabad,’” Harvard Chabad Rabbi Hirschy Zarchi recalls Kushner, then a sophomore or junior, saying. Zarchi calls it “one of the largest checks we ever received, not just from a student, but even from a parent.”

Kushner, now son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, established a constant, outsize presence at the Harvard Chabad during his time as a student there, Zarchi and other students recall. Beyond the surprise donation, Kushner attended prayers and Shabbat dinner regularly, recruited students to Chabad’s programs, performed workaday tasks for the house and served as the emcee when Chabad dedicated a new building in 2003.

On a personal level, Kushner was a “like a part of the family” to Zarchi and his wife, Elkie, the rabbi says. From his earliest days at Harvard through his senior year, Kushner attended the Zarchi children’s birthday parties, sent flowers to the family and received chicken soup from Elkie Zarchi at his dorm when he came down with the flu.

“It was most apparent in the first impression what kind of mensch this young man was,” said Zarchi, now 43, who was unabashed in his praise of Kushner. “How considerate and how polite and respectful and appreciative he was at that age. He was always years beyond his age in the way he carried himself, the way he related to others, the way he led.”

In the years since Kushner came to Harvard, his family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Chabad-Lubavitch institutions in the United States and Israel. In 2007, according to the Forward, his family’s charitable foundation gave $150,000 to the institution.

Chabad arrived on Harvard’s Cambridge campus in 1997, two years before Kushner’s freshman year. Run by emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, campus Chabads offer Orthodox ritual services and Jewish programs to students of all backgrounds, often as an alternative to Hillel, the legacy nondenominational Jewish campus organization. Chabad has built a sizable following among Jews who, like Kushner and his modern Orthodox parents, may not be Hasidic themselves but support its programs and outreach efforts.

Speaking at the 2003 dedication, the 22-year-old Kushner, dressed in a suit, blue tie and small black kippah, stood in front of a small room filled with students, rabbis and donors. Kushner’s father, New Jersey real estate mogul Charles Kushner, sat smiling in the front row. Jared complimented Elkie Zarchi’s cooking, quoted Margaret Thatcher and praised the Chabad’s feeling of community. At the end of his speech, he embraced Rabbi Zarchi.

“When people walk into your home, they enter as guests,” Kushner said to the Zarchis, occasionally stumbling over his words. “After conversing and experiencing your warmth, there is not a person who does not leave as another one of your children. We are all grateful for the selflessness and dedication that both of you show on a daily basis.”

Kushner’s relationship with Chabad began when he visited campus for a pre-freshman weekend and attended Shabbat dinner. During the subsequent four years, Zarchi says, Kushner was instrumental in bringing undergraduates to Chabad, which had been geared to graduate students. Two people who attended Harvard with Kushner told JTA that he was quiet, unassuming and dedicated to the Chabad mission.

Kushner would bring friends to Friday night dinner from the Fly, his “final club” (or Harvard-style fraternity), and would sometimes perform yeoman’s work for the rabbi. One night during his freshman year, after spending a few hours with Zarchi studying Tanya, a Jewish mystical text, Kushner saw it had snowed outside, asked for a shovel and cleared the sidewalk in front of the house.

“When he saw importance in a project, he committed himself to it,” Zarchi said. “He was able to galvanize his friends and his social circle to follow and collaborate with him. If he got involved in the project, he worked the hardest. There was no task beneath him and no goal too high to reach.”

Since his graduation nearly 14 years ago, Kushner has stayed connected to Chabad. He has helped organize the institution’s alumni events, including a Shabbat dinner that he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, hosted a few years ago. In 2004 and 2005, while Kushner’s father was on trial in New Jersey for illegal campaign contributions, witness tampering and tax evasion, the family would occasionally eat Friday night dinners with the Zarchis at Harvard Chabad while Kushner’s brother, Joshua, was a student at the Ivy League school. Charles Kushner served 14 months in prison for the charges.

During that time, Zarchi said, Kushner displayed the same total fealty to family that led him to shepherd his father-in-law to the unlikeliest of election wins.

“You rarely see someone who’s more committed, more loyal to his family, than Jared was,” the rabbi said.

Kushner and his wife have bought a home near a Chabad house in Washington, D.C., and Zarchi and Kushner have stayed in touch during and since Trump’s campaign. One week before the inauguration, the two spoke on the phone. Zarchi recalls Kushner saying how he felt humbled by his new role, and excited for the opportunity he has in the White House, where according to Trump he would work on the Middle East peace process.

For his part, Zarchi isn’t surprised by where his student now finds himself.

“You get used to that with Jared,” Zarchi said. “He’s on the stage doing things. Whatever field it was, on the highest level, it’s Jared being Jared.”



Friday, January 27, 2017

Kosher Grocers in Brooklyn End Their Newspaper Ban 

The war between Brooklyn's kosher grocery stores and the Orthodox Jewish press is over, for now. After a tense day of conflict on Wednesday between the grocery stores of Boro Park, Brooklyn, and twenty publishers of Orthodox magazines and newspapers, the two sides have agreed to a deescalation, the Forward has learned.

More than forty kosher grocery stores refused to stock the Orthodox publishers' newspapers on Wednesday. In response, the publishers hired their own trucks to serve as newsstands throughout the neighborhood. The ban came after the publishers refused a demand from the grocers to cut the wholesale prices that they charged the grocery stores for their newspapers and magazines. Late Wednesday evening, the publishers and grocers agreed to a truce. On Thursday, the publishers retired their makeshift mobile newsstands, and the grocery stores put the newspapers back on the shelves.

"The details are still being worked on, but in a show of unity all parties came together to put this saga to an end," said a senior executive at one of the Orthodox publishers, who asked not to be named because of the delicate nature of the ongoing negotiations. A community source with knowledge of the negotiations said that the publishers and the grocers had decided to end the standoff, but had not agreed to change the wholesale prices. The source said that the two sides have agreed that the next time the publications raise their cover prices, they will renegotiate the wholesale prices. "An agreement was made," said a spokesman for the grocers, who said he did not know the terms of the deal. Multiple Orthodox publishers either did not respond to requests for comment from the Forward or declined to discuss the arrangement. 

The one-day ban created a stir in Boro Park and in Orthodox social media circles, as the publishers advertised their temporary newsstands and called on readers to pay for home subscriptions. As the Forward reported Wednesday, the Orthodox media industry has boomed in recent years, with more than two-dozen publications marketed to Orthodox Jews for sale in Brooklyn's Jewish neighborhoods, including two English-language daily papers and three Yiddish weeklies.

More than forty grocers, calling themselves the Boro Park United Grocers Association, sent a letter to the Orthodox publishers in January demanding price concessions. They argued that the grocery stories had supported the newspapers when the Orthodox media industry was struggling, and now deserve a bigger share of the papers' profits. "For many years when the newspaper industry was small… we felt we were doing a service to our customers and to you by providing kosher reading material," the grocers wrote a demand letter issued in January. "We did actually contribute to the growth of your business and in a relatively short few years it has grown into a major industry." In their letter, the grocers spelled out a schedule of new, lower wholesale prices for more than 30 Orthodox publications. The effort by the grocery stores comes as a new low-cost wholesale kosher supermarket, called Bingo, is undercutting other grocers in Boro Park. Bingo was not a part of the effort force the newspaper publishers to cut their prices.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Rockland GOP Committee under fire over Facebook post 

The Rockland County Republican Party has come under fire for a social media post that is being denounced as anti-Semitic.

The county's GOP posted comments on its official Facebook page Sunday that lambasted the Rockland Democratic Committee for posting support for Women's March on Washington and "in all of the liberal cities of our country" against the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

In the post, which has since been removed, the Rockland GOP wrote that it was in favor of "other's right to speak their mind and peacefully demonstrate their views." It criticized the county Democratic Committee for not calling out "the most egregious example of women's oppression in our entire country."

Here is an excerpt from the post, which was circulated by the Jewish Council:

The ultra orthodox Hasidic community's abusive treatment of women is epic. In that community, women must separate themselves from men, must dress as they are told, are forced into arranged marriages, can not divorce without the approval of their husbands and community leaders, they are not properly educated, can't attend college, and can not use birth control, yet, the Rockland County Democratic Committee says nothing: absolute silence. Why? Because the people in that community vote in a block and the leaders of the Rockland Democratic Party want their votes. Please!!!!! Total hypocrisy!!!!

The Jewish Council of Rockland County condemned the post.

Rabbi Moshe Schwab, speaking on behalf of the Jewish Council, demanded an immediate apology for the "ugly anti-Semitic post" and called on local officials to denounce it.

"At a time when tensions between communities are high and Jewish facilities and communities across the state are being targeted, the Rockland County Republican Party used its official Facebook page to launch a viciously anti-Semitic tirade against against the Orthodox community," Schwab said in a released statement.

Lawrence Garvey, chairman of the GOP committee who wrote the Facebook message, said "the post speaks for itself."

"The point of post was to highlight the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party here in Rockland, who rightfully champion the rights of women nationally and ignore what goes on here in Rockland County," Garvey said.

The county GOP leader said he stands by the post, and said the comments were not factually inaccurate.

Garvey said the post was later taken down because "it ran its course."

"We made our point and moved on," Garvey added.

Kristen Zebrowski Stavisky, chairwoman of the Rockland Democratic Committee, said in an email that the county GOP posted a "racist and anti-Semitic rant meant to further divide our community and exacerbate hatred and fear" instead of supporting the millions of women and men who took part in the rallies.

Stavisky said the post "contained falsehoods," "divisive rhetoric" and "blatant lies."

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League's New York regional director, said the social media comments were "deeply troubling."

The ADL reached out to Garvey and the county GOP about the Facebook post and applauded the party's decision to delete it, Bernstein said.

"People that are public figures have to do a better job across the board to understand that these words have a deep impact," Bernstein said. "The fact that Lawrence Garvey and the Rockland GOP were willing to take it down, they should be commended for that. They understood that it wasn't going to be helpful and it was taken down."

Kalman Weber, a registered Republican from Monsey and member of the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities, said "women are respected and looked up to."

Weber said there are no forced marriages in the community although dates and meetings are typically pre-arranged. While women need the approval of their husbands for a divorce, men require the approval of their wives as well.

"By men and women, following the dictates of their religion, does not mean they are being abused," Weber said. "They are very happy to follow the dictates of their religion."

Weber also called on Garvey to step down as GOP leader.

"To have this on the official page of one of our two official parties is an outrage," Weber said. "With all the tension in our community, one should look for unity and not fan the flames of hatred."

Rockland County Executive Ed Day, the county's highest-ranking Republican office-holder, said in response to the post: "I encourage respectful dialogue among the many diverse people who live in Rockland."

Concern over the rapidly expanding Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities in Ramapo, whose population growth ranks among the highest rate in the state, has become a flashpoint throughout Rockland.

During the summer, several powerful fireworks exploded outside the homes of two rabbis in New City. Community leaders and officials rallied against the attack, and characterized it as a "hate crime."

Anti-Semitic graffiti was also found spray painted on a Pomona street in November.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Williamsburg Designer Cuts Hipster and Hasid Fashion From the Same Cloth 

 Seth Braunstein, 56, a Modern Orthodox Jewish clothing designer who's lived in Williamsburg since 1995. 

Modern Orthodox fashion could be the next big trend.

The goal of Heimishe Ventures, a line of wool hats, baseball caps, aprons, baby bibs and assorted accessories, is to bring the Hebrew concept of "Heimishe" to secular people, while making Hasidic folks who already understand the idea proud of themselves and their originality, founder Seth Braunstein said.

"The simple meaning [of Heimishe] is 'homemade,'" said Braunstein, 56, a Modern Orthodox Jewish clothing designer, who's lived in Williamsburg since 1995. Though the term can mean "dowdy" or "frumpy," it can even be "something funky," he said.

His hats read "Hip and Heimishe" in both English and Hebrew. For secular people, the message is about staying humble and in touch with your roots, while still being "with it," Braunstein explained.

"Being down to earth, respect your grandparents, a universal positive message," he said. 

"A 120-year old-person can be hip. I listen to Tupac and I'm thinking about God. [You can stay] close to your roots and keep your intentions to do good."

Among his Hasidic neighbors, Braunstein has gotten varied reactions to his hats. 

"Some of the ladies on the subway they think I'm making a total mockery," he said, noting that others have embraced the caps.

"People like it, they feel good about themselves," he said. "It's not a protest, it's giving them permission to be themselves. They're not dropping out of the system, they're not running to the heavy metal bar in Greenpoint."

Braunstein has a line of hats featuring brightly colored letters, as well as one line that's more modest or "chizuk" — with black-and-gray letters geared toward Hasidic people.

"It's subtle," Braunstein said.

For the designer, the idea of bridging North Brooklyn's music and art scene with its Orthodox community is something he's been working on for years. In the 2000s he ran a concert series called "Schul of Rock" at which he would bring together local klezmer and rock bands to play shows together at dive bars.

Heimishe Ventures is simply an extension of that mission, he said. 

Braunstein's family was in the garment industry and he's run several clothing lines over the years. In the '80s he had a line called "Big and Tall Guys" for larger men, and in the '90s he started a line of hats and jerseys under the name Zydeco Extreme, a streetware brand that was promoted by hip-hop stars like Groove Theory and Smoothe da Hustler. 

After Zydeco, he backed two artists with a brand called Brooklyn Rock, a line screen printed gear he sold at po- up shops around the borough.

Now with Heimishe Ventures, Braunstein hopes to incorporate his own heritage and community into his work.

"This is the first time I'm doing this with my own hands, finally," he said. "I'm paying homage to the tradition."


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

US citizens, Orthodox Jews were targets of Brussels Airport attack 

US citizens and Orthodox Jews were the targets of suicide bombers in Brussels Zaventem Airport in March 2016, a report citing investigation sources said, adding that one of the bombers decided to pursue 2 Jews, instead of 60 high school students.
The report released by AFP, which contacted investigators from different countries probing the attack, states that the Brussels attackers were not targeting random people.

"It's clear they had quite specific targets… We know they wanted to target Americans," one source said on condition of anonymity, adding that one of the suicide bombers "attacked the [US] Delta Airlines check-in."

"We know they were obsessed with the Israelis too," the source added when asked if the bomber targeted Israeli check-ins.

Four American citizens were among the casualties in the Brussels bombings, according to data from the US State Department. Two Israeli citizens were injured in the attacks.

One of the suicide bombers in Zaventem Airport, Najim Laachraoui, a Belgian-Moroccan national, was reportedly standing among about 60 high school students before the attack happened, camera footage never released to the public showed, AFP reports. The extremist, however, suddenly decided to pursue two Orthodox Jews.

"The attacker seemed to rush towards two Orthodox Jews," one of the sources said. "He really, clearly wanted to kill a Jew."

Another source, this time from US law enforcement agencies, claimed that Hasidic Jews were the targets of the terrorists. Hasidic Jews are easy to recognize – they wear beards, kippahs (a brimless cap, usually made of cloth) and peyots (sidecurls).

Investigators "are very confident they were targeting the US, Russia, and Israel," the US government source added.

According to airport data, seen by AFP, flights to the US (United American Delta, Russia's Aeroflot, and Israel's El Al) were scheduled right after the attack, which took place at nearly 8:00am. This information has been circulating in the Belgian media ever since. Unconfirmed reports from June 2016 claimed that Khalid El Bakraoui, one of the suicide bombers, received messages stating that planes from the US, Russia, and Israel take off every Tuesday from Zaventem.

Another US source also confirmed the 'specific target' theory on condition of anonymity.

"Even early on [in the investigation] there were indications that they targeted US, Russian and Israeli check-in counters," the source said. "That understanding has held up with later investigations, including with [Mohamed] Abrini's alleged confession."

Abrini, a Belgian national of Moroccan origin, was captured shortly after the attacks, and later admitted to prosecutors that he was involved in suicide bombings in Brussels. He was also accused of assisting the Paris attacks in 2015.

Unreleased airport CCTV footage allegedly shows Abrini lagging behind the attackers before hiding behind a pillar, AFP said, citing two independent sources.


Monday, January 23, 2017

‘Menashe’ Sundance Review: Father-Son Tale Offers a Rare Glimpse into the Hasidic Cloister 

Menashe Sundance

They’ve given us the sweetest taboo: “Menashe” is a fascinating, poignant and rare glimpse into the world of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, starring members of the Hasidic community. Since much of modern life — including most films — are forbidden in Hasidic culture, and because the film was shot semi-surreptitiously, it’s unclear whether there could be repercussions in this strict, tightly-knit community for those involved in this secular undertaking.

Those who flout the established taboos often face such harsh consequences as losing their jobs, their homes or custody of their children, so the Hasidic actors who appeared in the film courted peril and banishment simply by taking part. (During production the cast and crew was often shooed off by grocers and other local Hasidic business owners.)

Audiences should be grateful the filmmakers and actors took the risk and gave us an intriguingly vivid look into this rule-bound, sequestered society. Not a documentary, but based on the real-life experiences of Menashe Lustig, director Joshua Z. Weinstein’s film was shot guerrilla style in Brooklyn’s Borough Park over the course of two years, and almost entirely in Yiddish. Weinstein co-wrote the film with Alex Lipschultz and Musa Syeed; producer Danny Finkleman, a Hasidic Jew himself, served as both advisor and gatekeeper, ensuring genuine representations of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

“Menashe” is thoroughly absorbing and offers a fresh and probing look at a cloistered community living in plain sight on busy New York streets. The story centers on Menashe (Menashe Lustig) a widower trying to win back the custody of his tween son Rieven (Ruben Niborski). The boy was not taken away by the courts, but by rabbinical dictate. Because Menashe’s wife died, the religious leader deemed it appropriate for Rieven to live with his aunt and uncle. If Rieven does not live in a two parent family, he will be expelled from his yeshiva, the Hasidic school he attends.

But Menashe is heartsick being without his son. He labors at a dead-end job at a local market with an overbearing boss and goes home to a drab and tiny apartment. His judgmental brother-in-law Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus) takes in Riesen to live with his wife and children. He is substantially more successful financially than Menashe and lords it over him. “My son is my only consolation,” Menashe explains simply, entreating his brother-in-law to let him raise his own son.

Menashe accuses his brother-in-law of not respecting him, and from where we sit that appears to be true. Eizik in turn accuses Menashe of not having been a good husband to Eizik’s late sister. Here it’s one man’s word against another; complicating matters, poor Menashe messes up a lot, whether on the job, when making kugel or in caring for a pet. His son loves him, but Menashe is regarded by most who know him as a rather bumbling schlemiel.

To add insult to injury, Menashe feels dismissed and diminished simply for being a single man.
If he re-marries, the rabbi dictates, then his son can return to live with him. But the boy cannot live alone with his blue-collar, hardworking dad. Menashe doesn’t want to marry merely for the sake of propriety. But he desperately wants to be more than a part-time dad.

The film winds up compelling both from a cultural and sociological angle and as a universal story of a parent yearning to be with his son. Menashe, the film and the character, share a sweet spirit. And while the arcane world that it re-creates is one that will be unfamiliar to most viewers, the sentiments within it are highly recognizable.

Certainly, any single or divorced parent will empathize with Menashe. Parents will feel empathy for both the schlumpy grocery clerk and his sensitive son. And while the society Menashe lives in is rife with obligations and directives, there is a vibrant sense of community, camaraderie and mutual regard. The trappings of modern life that most of us take for granted — the internet, modern music and smartphones — are banned in Hasidic culture. Still, their world is alive with music, laughter, scholarship and a strong focus on family ties.

In the only scene in which Menashe doesn’t speak Yiddish, he bonds with a pair of Latino co-workers who insist he his lucky to live alone without having to answer to the demands of a wife and family. Lustig’s acting is terrific. His complex character is funny, fierce, vulnerable and sympathetic. (Lustig had already broken with tradition and caused a stir in the Hasidic community by creating humorous YouTube videos).

Young Niborski is intelligent and credible as a prototypical adolescent, who both yearns for his father and is embarrassed by him, even occasionally disapproving. Weinstein’s background in cinematography (he was director of photography on the documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” and directed “Flying on One Engine”) is evident in the beautiful look of the film. He wrote the screenplay around the actors who signed on, embellishing the 38-year-old Lustig’s personal saga.

“Menashe” is a warm, relatable and tender tale about parental love, religion and belonging, told humanely and with vivid authenticity.




The father of a 10-year-old Jewish Melbourne girl killed in a rampage by a crazed driver in the city’s downtown is at the bedside of his wife and nine-year-old daughter who were critically injured in the incident.

Thalia Hakin was one five of people including a 3-month-old baby killed when Dimitri Gargasoulo, 26, drove a stolen car wildly in circles at a busy intersection in the Central Business District and then ploughed the car into pedestrians in a nearby street.

Local media reports that about 20 people were injured in the incident. Tony Hakin, father of Thalia, reportedly has remained at the hospital bedsides of his wife, Naomi, and their daughter Maggie, 9.

Victorian police say the incident was not a terrorist attack.

Thalia Hakin was a student in Melbourne’s Beth Rivkah Jewish day school.  Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, Principal of Yeshivah – Beth Rivkah Colleges, told JTA: “Our hearts are broken at the tragic passing of Thalia.  Thalia was a well-loved student and friend in the school community.  Our deepest sympathies goes out to her family at this most difficult time”.

“Our thoughts and tefillos (prayers), are with all the victims, their families and friends,” the rabbi said.

He added that the school is providing support and counseling for the students and the rest of the school community to help them deal with the tragedy.

Thalia and Maggie had attended the IDF Training Gym after school program run by Avi Yemini.

“We are all devastated by what has happened. If and when her mother and sister leave the hospital it will be to bury their loved one,” Yemini said.

He said the sisters were “two little girls who came to class each week with bright and warm smiles. They were always happy and bubbly and I am heartbroken to know that they have been torn apart in this most senseless and horrific way.”

Yemini has launched an online campaign to raise funds for the family.



Sunday, January 22, 2017

Spiritual awakening convention closes in Connecticut 

An uplifting Shabbat of strengthening the Torah world's ranks closed the global '"Dirshu" conference held at the Crown Plaza in Stamford, Connecticut, led by great leaders and Torah scholars from all over the United States.

The world conference opened in the middle of last week, with a series of panels and professional discussions led by "Dirshu" branch managers from around the world, group leaders, and well-known rabbis from across the country.

Towards Shabbat hundreds of "Dirshu" examinees, teachers, and organization activists from across the US and Canada arrived at the Unity Shabbat in Connecticut, led by the Torah Sages. The following were members of the delegation were led by the guest of honor of the World Conference, the Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovizh Rabbi Baruch Dov Povarsky, member of the Daily Halacha council: the Telshe Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yitzchak Sorotzkin, the Rosh Yeshiva of Staten Island Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, Rabbi David Shustel, Rosh Yeshiva of Lakewood, the Dayan of Squever, Rabbi M. Steinmetz, Hagaon Abrams from London, Rabbi Benjamin Ekstein, European chairman of Machazikey Das, Hagaon Rabbi Loey, Rav of Toronto, Rabbi Z. Gips, Rosh Yeshiva of Nehardea, Rabbi Olbasky, Rosh Yeshiva of Gur in the U.S., and dayanim, rabbis, and halacha and daf yomi teachers from up and down the east coast.

Shabbat prayers were led by the renowned Hasidic singer, Rabbi Issac Honig - a "Dirshu" alumnus - as members of the Shira choir accompanied him in certain segments.

After the morning service was held a shiur clalli was delivered by Rabbi Povarsky that fascinated the listeners for more than an hour discussing the mitzvah of milah, examining various aspects of the mitzvah.

A surprising event occurred during Shabbat afternoon service, when the third aliyah to the Torah was sold to the highest bidder in pages of gemara learning. After a lengthy bidding session, one of the participants in Dirshu's Kinyan Shas program publicly undertook to learn ten thousand pages of Talmud. The incident moved all those present, and the Roshei Yeshiva did not stop expressing excitement at the fact that yeshiva students tested by the organization demonstrated the ability to absorb such a tremendous number of Talmud pages in one year.

After the uplifting Sabbath, after havdalah and a brief break for preparations, the World Conference participants washed their hands for the Melava Malka meal, which also included a siyum in tractate Bava Metzia recently learned by thousands of daf-yomi learners worldwide. Rabbi Povarsky was honored with reciting the hadran and kaddish gadol, and delivered the keynote address of the conference's central event.

The World Conference continued this morning with a series of discussions and a symposium with the participation of Dirshu branch managers from around the world, along with the organization's president and chief executive in the Holy Land and the United States.

The speakers noted that the traditional Dirshu conference long ago turned into a central regular event to honor the Torah in United States, and Torah emerges from there to all over the U.S. and beyond. The participants dispersed with elation and appreciation, as all hearts beat with a strong desire to continue to ascend in Torah study.



Saturday, January 21, 2017

Celebratory Trump Doughnuts Actually Sold Out at a Brooklyn Bakery 

Brooklyn may have a reputation for being a giant liberal bubble, but one bakery managed to capitalize on a local Republican stronghold on Inauguration Day instead. DNAinfo reports that Gombo’s Bakery in Crown Heights sold out of its special Trump doughnuts on Friday. The doughnuts featured red frosting, sprinkles, and the word “Trump” written across the top in white icing. They cost $1 each and were sold on Thursday and Friday in honor of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

An employee told DNAinfo that they made the doughnuts “just for the fun of it,” and many of the customers were young boys, who presumably couldn’t vote anyway. Still, the bakery sold both Trump doughnuts and Hillary Clinton doughnuts in November, and visitors ultimately bought more of the Trump ones.

Gombo’s, which is a kosher bakery, is very close to the Lubavitch Hasidic community in the neighborhood, which leaned Republican. The enthusiasm for Trump doughnuts in November apparently also came from neighborhoods like Borough Park and Williamsburg, where a lot of people supported Trump as well.

An employee at Gombo’s told Eater that by the end of the day, zero Trump doughnuts remained, and they’re not sure if they’ll keep selling them. But as with any restaurant or bakery serving political food (Trump supporter or not), bakery employee Avi Klein admitted to DNAinfo that the ultimate winner in the situation was the bakery itself.



Friday, January 20, 2017

Ukraine’s Uman airport to service pilgrims thanks to $140m investment 

Ukrainian officials have agreed to renovate an old army airport near the city of Uman and open it to commercial flights, including from Israel.

The renovation, reported on Monday by the news site Life, is made possible thanks to a $140 million investment by unnamed parties from the United states. The opening of an airport near Uman, situated 120 miles south of Kiev, has the potential of redirecting from the international airports of Kiev and Odessa tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who visit Uman to be near the gravesite of the 18th-century luminary Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, a sprititual father of the Breslav hasidic movement. Some 25,000 pilgrims come on Rosh Hashanah alone.

The pilgrimage often has created friction between the predominantly Israeli new arrivals and locals, many of whom resent the cordoning off by police of neighborhoods for the pilgrims.

The Ukrainian lawmaker Maxim Polyakov last month said he had brokered a meeting between Ukraine's trade minister, Stepan Kubiv, and "investors from the United States and Israel," Life reported. They had "discussed the international airport construction project in the city of Uman," Polyakov said at the time.

In the whole of 2016, approximately 50,000 pilgrims came to Uman, with 90 percent of them passing through Kiev's main airport.

The number of flights from Israel and other countries with a substantial number of pilgrims has been rising steadily as well, according to Life. In 2014, Boryspil International airport in Kiev saw 167 such flights with approximately 25,000 pilgrims compared to 302 flights and 45,000 pilgrims last year.

But building a special airport for the pilgrims is not financially viable for the Ukrainian state without foreign investment, according to life. In 2016, revenues from inbound pilgrims totalled in at $350,000.

Uman locals and tourism professionals often complain that the pilgrims do not bring in enough currency to even cover expenses connected to cleaning up after Rosh Hashanah. Many of the pilgrims consume only kosher food, which they will buy only from Israelis and other Jews who set up shop in Uman permanently or ahead of the Rosh Hashanah influx. According to various reports, Israeli crime bosses are also involved in trade in Uman.

Separately, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine, a body affiliated with the Chabad Hasidic movement, announced the opening of two synagogues in Ukrainians prisons: The IR-86 penitentiary in the western city of Vinnitsa and IR-12 in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the news site Jewish.ru reported Wednesday.

There are currently some 200 Jewish prisoners in the Ukrainian prison system and rabbis are working in seven of the prisons, Rabbi Zeev Vinogradov was quoted as saying.

The opening of the synagogue in Vinnitsa colony came at the initiative of an inmate, Vladimir Pedko, who for many years independently studied Judaism in prison, the rabbi said.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sentence delayed for brute convicted of beating of gay man 

The family of a gay, black student beaten to near-death by a band of Hasidic neighborhood watchmen will have to wait two more months to see their son's lead attacker face his fate.

Mayer Herskovic, a member of the ultra-orthodox watchdog group, is batting "serious" medical issues and will have to undergo at least one surgery before he learns his sentence, his attorney said.

"My client is suffering from a serious medical issue that requires medical attention," lawyer Stuart Slotnick said, calling the diagnosis a "recent development."

Slotnick declined to comment on the precise nature of Herskovic's illness, only saying it was a "personal matter."

The 24-year-old was convicted in Sept. 2016 of second-degree assault for taking part in the vicious group attack on Taj Patterson, who was left blinded.

The father-of-two has been out on $50,000 bail since he was found guilty.

Herkosvic faces up to 15 years in prison when he returns to court on March 16.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Shocking moment traffic warden sparks mass street brawl with Orthodox Jews after he ‘ran a man over with his scooter’ 

The men dragged the warden to the ground as they tried to arrest him This is the moment a traffic warden was bundled to the ground in an apparent 'citizen's arrest'

The unnamed traffic officer used his helmet as a weapon when he flew into a furious rage during a row with local businessmen.

Witnesses watched in horror as a man was thrown into the air as the warden ran him over on his motorcycle.

"He revved up his bike and drove straight towards him at full speed," one onlooker exclusively told Sun Online.

"I couldn't believe what was I seeing.

"The bike went up in the air and landed on top of this man.

"Then the warden got his radio and used it to hit the man on the floor before getting his helmet and hitting bystanders left, right and centre."

Eventually the parking warden, who was wearing an official blue tabbard and white helmet, was bundled to the ground as the large group attempted to restrain him until police arrived.

The extraordinary scenes were captured on camera during the clash on Leaside Road, Hackney yesterday lunchtime.

Four men, aged in their 20s and 30s, suffered minor injuries during the row - including one who was knocked down left feeling "shocked and shaken".

The row was sparked when a group of local businessmen told the warden they would be reporting him to Hackney Council for harassment.

He later supposedly shouted: "I don't need my friends I can do it myself. Are you scared?"

A member of the Orthodox Jewish community told The Sun Online: "It was like something out of a movie. The warden literally lost the plot."

He also claimed that his foot was run over by the same warden on October 6, which he had reported.

Witnesses told the Evening Standard the warden was defending himself after being surrounded by the ten-strong group of Jewish men after they blocked his motorcycle into a parking space.

He apparently made a desperate call for help on his radio, onlookers alleged.

Scotland Yard said officers were called to the incident at 1.50pm, following reports of an altercation.

A 30-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm and bailed until February.

Hackney Council have been approached for comment.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Brothers busted for bum rushing Brooklyn woman 

Cops busted two brothers for the terrifying robbery and beating of a 68-year-old woman in Brooklyn, officials said.

Fernando and Jorge Basantes were arrested Monday for the Dec. 27 mugging of the woman on 16th Ave. near 41st St. in Borough Park at about 7:30 p.m.

Security video released by the Boro Park Shomrim, a Hasidic volunteer patrol group, showed the brutal duo bum rushing the woman as she looked through her bags outside a school yard.

The men wrestled the woman to the ground and grabbed her purse, but she refused to let it go and grabbed onto one thief's leg as he tried to get away, the video shows.

The crooks made off with the bag, which contained her credit cards and $300, officials said.

The woman was not seriously harmed.

Fernando Basantes, 27, and Jorge Basantes, 29, both of Flatbush, were charged with robbery, assault and a host of other crimes.

Fernando Basantes has five sealed arrests. He was also arrested in January 2016 for turnstile jumping.

Jorge Basantes has nine prior arrests, including a turnstile jumping collar in 2016.

Cops received information from the NYPD Crime Stoppers line that led them to the brothers, a police source said.


Monday, January 16, 2017

91% of products have double kosher certifications, which causes the prices to rise 

An Institute for Zionist Strategies study found that 91% of food products in Israel have double kosher certifications that includes a private one in addition to the ones given by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

All of the kosher products in Israel must have the Chief Rabbinate kosher certification, who has a monopoly in this field. This procedure is relevant for all food products that can be sold in grocery stores.

Most of the manufacturers have two kosher certifications for their products and 22% of the products even have three. This causes the customer to pay more for each product.

One of the main reasons the manufacturers chooses to add more kosher certifications is because of the low faith kosher keepers, mostly Hasidic Jews, have in the Chief Rabbinate's kosher certifications.

MK Rachel Azaria from the Kulanu party and the Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah movement has proposed a law that should deal with this subject. She proposed to dismantle the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly and this will actually cause the Chief Rabbinate to become a regulator against the private kosher certification institutions.

The Chief Rabbinate opposes this notion but are already working on their solution to the problem when they proposed to transfer the employment of kashrut supervisors to a national corporation so that they will be paid by the state and not be supervised.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

DOT clarifies cost of Woodbury project 

Fourteen months since Blooming Grove Supervisor Robert Fromaget first proposed the idea of switching to a ward system for electing council members, the change could become law within the next few weeks.

A consultant from the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz has drawn up a map, dividing the town into six, equal-by-population wards. The public got its first look at the map Jan. 10, and a public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 24. On Friday, Fromaget said the law could be adopted the same night as the public hearing. He has often talked about the ward shift as a way to promote more responsive government.

"I'm elated. I think it's (election by wards) the right thing for this town," Fromaget said Friday. "People need to know who they're voting for." Fromaget said wards will help voters "stop thinking about party and think about what's right for the community."

The town's four council members are currently elected at-large. After the change, the town supervisor will continue to be elected at-large.

In the beginning, a ward system for Blooming Grove faced an uphill battle because Fromaget, a Democrat, leads a Town Board with a 3-2 Republican majority, and many Town Board members were strongly opposed. But a bipartisan group called the Blooming Grove Citizens Committee organized a petition drive to put it on the Nov. 8 ballot. They got 900 signatures, 400 more than needed.

Voters approved the change by a 2-1 margin. Voters also approved a measure to expand the number of council seats by two. After the election, opposition from the Town Board evaporated. Many town residents, speaking at a Jan. 10 session introducing the map, said they supported the change to wards because it would head off the push for housing from Hasidic residents from the Village of Kiryas Joel. The Hasidic village is just to the south of Blooming Grove's Village of South Blooming Grove.

Since the town has a total population of about 18,050, each of the six wards represented in the proposed map outlined at the Jan. 10 session would contain about 3,005 people.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

B&H Photo Closing Brooklyn Warehouses Where Workers Unionized 

The giant Hasidic-owned camera store B&H Photo Video is closing the Brooklyn warehouse where workers formed a union in 2015 amid stiff opposition from management, and where federal investigators allege Hispanic employees were forced to use separate bathrooms.

In a statement on Thursday, B&H said it would move its fulfillment center from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to a facility 75 miles south in Florence Township, New Jersey. The company is also closing a second warehouse in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

The 335 people who currently work at the Brooklyn warehouses will be offered jobs at the new site, which is an hour and a half by car from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“We outgrew the existing facility some time ago, and the only reason it still works is due to the outstanding efforts of our employees,” B&H’s vice president of operations, Jacob Mittelman, said in a statement. “We value them and hope they will come with us to this new facility.”

B&H said in a statement that it had looked hard for space in New York City and nearby parts of New Jersey, and had settled on Florence Township only after struggling to find locations that fit its needs. The move will be completed by the end of 2017.

A spokesman for United Steelworkers International, Wayne Ranick, said that the union, which represents the newly organized warehouse workers, had been bargaining for a year with the company over the unit’s first contract. B&H informed the union representatives of the planned move during a negotiating session on Thursday.

“We’re quite disappointed and surprised, because we had been bargaining in good faith and this came up totally unexpectedly,” Ranick said.

Ranick said that the union’s representatives had asked to negotiate over the move, but the company declined. A company spokesperson said that the contract negotiations would continue and would “not be impacted by the relocation.”

If few of the Brooklyn B&H workers take jobs at the New Jersey warehouse, it’s not clear whether United Steelworkers would represent the workers there. The labor law questions involved are complex, as the union is still negotiating its first contract with the company. Renick said that United Steelworkers was committed to continuing to represent its B&H members. “We’re exploring every option and we’re going to fight the move,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to keep representing the best interests” of the workers.

B&H is owned by Herman Schreiber, a member of the Satmar Hasidic community, and is a major employer in the ultra-Orthodox communities in the New York area. In Williamsburg, Hasidic leaders are already making plans to ease the economic impact of the warehouse closings on their community.

Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsbug and a leader of the Satmar Hasidic group, said that his organization is setting up a committee to assist former B&H workers and is in touch with the company.

“As soon as we heard about it, we put together a committee to deal with it and to try to help people deal with job placement,” Niederman said.

While B&H is best known for its Manhattan superstore, a famous shopping destination for tourists and photo professionals, it also has a massive online and wholesale business, with government contracts alone worth more than $46 million as of last year. Those operations have been run out of the two Brooklyn warehouses.

Complaints about working conditions at the warehouses drew widespread attention in the fall of 2015, when employees went public with safety complaints as part of a bitter and contested campaign to organize a union for the warehouse workers.

“The warehouses are full of dust,” an employee at one of the warehouses told the Forward at the time. “We don’t have training or knowledge how to use the machines.”

Organizing efforts drew strong opposition from the company, according to press reports. But in November 2015, workers voted overwhelmingly to join the United Steelworkers union.

Months after the warehouse workers voted to organize, federal investigators dropped bombshell allegations charging that B&H had discriminated against Hispanic workers at the Navy Yard warehouse, even forcing them to use separate, dirtier bathrooms than white employees.

The federal Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs charged in a February 2016 administrative complaint that B&H paid Hispanic laborers at the warehouse less than it paid white laborers, and that it had promoted Hispanics less often than it had promoted whites. It also alleged that B&H supervisors had subjected Hispanic workers to “severe and/or pervasive verbal abuse” because of their race.

A spokesperson for B&H said that the case was currently in the discovery phase, and that the “relocation will have no impact” on the matter. Department of Labor spokespeople could not be immediately reached for comment.



Friday, January 13, 2017

Jewish Landlords Arrested in Dangerous Gas Meter Bribery Scam 

Photos of individuals charges by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, on display at Thursday's press conference.

Authorities in Brooklyn arrested dozens of people, including a number of Jewish landlords and property managers, in a dangerous scheme to install gas meters in buildings where the gas lines had not yet been inspected for safety.

Gas company insiders allegedly took bribes from landlords unwilling to wait for the meters to be installed legally.

When the city's Department of Buildings went back to inspect the gas meters after the scheme was uncovered, they found that some of the building owners had used a sort of cheap plastic piping that contributed to recent gas explosions in Manhattan that killed two people.

"For pure greed, they operated a criminal scheme that had no concern for safety rules and regulations," said Brooklyn's acting district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, at a Thursday press conference.

Current and former employees of National Grid, the public utility that provides gas service in Brooklyn, led the scheme. Many of the people arrested for paying for the illegally installed gas meters are Hasidic Jews residing in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

At the press conference, prosecutors played a wiretap recording of the scam's leader, Weldon Finlay, discussing an installation of a meter with a Hasidic man from Williamsburg named Shia Wolf Ostreicher, who was also charged. In the conversation, Finlay complained that one of his allies within National Grid was nervous about getting caught.

"I have special medication for that," Ostreicher said. "You know what the medication is?… Did you ever know about President Franklin? Benjamin Franklin?"

Prosecutors charged seven people for running the scheme, four for assisting them, and another twenty-six landlords, property managers and contractors for a variety of crimes, including bribery and falsifying business records.

Prosecutors acknowledged that the long wait for gas meter installation on a newly constructed or renovated apartment in Brooklyn could cost landlords thousands of dollars in missed rent. The chronic delays had incentivized building owners to seek ways to cheat the system.

The alleged scammers exploited that inefficiency.

According to prosecutors, Finlay was a former National Grid employee who left the company in 2010. Landlords would ask Finlay to install a gas meter in an apartment that had not yet been inspected. In return for an average fee of $1,500, Finlay would have two confederates inside National Grid dispatch the order and install the illegal meter.

"Those who engage in these schemes show utter disregard for the safety of every person living and working in this great borough," Gonzalez said.

Prosecutors say that hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes were paid to the scammers between January and June of 2016.

"The community of corrupt landlords and construction folks is large, but not that large, and a lot of them know one another," said Mark Peters, commissioner of the city's Department of Investigation, which was also involved in the case, explaining how the landlords found Finlay.

Photos of individuals charges by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, on display at Thursday's press conference.

The Department of Investigation uncovered the alleged scheme while listening in on a wiretap in an unrelated investigation. Peters, the commissioner, said that his office had made recommendations to National Grid to improve their internal controls, but that if they didn't, the company could suffer.

"If National Grid makes these changes swiftly, they will deserve the trust necessary to continue as a public utility," he said. "if they do not, my office will meet with their regulator…and will insist on necessary government intervention in their operations."


Chestnut Ridge's environmental review reaffirmed 

Over vehement objection from residents, the Bloomingburg village board reaffirmed the environmental review of controversial housing development Chestnut Ridge, allowing the project to move back to the planning board for amendments to its site plan.

The 396-unit project, still under construction, came back before the village board in November seeking reaffirmation of the State Environmental Quality Review after a state fire code ruling determined that roads within the development need to be widened. Residents who oppose Chestnut Ridge hoped the board would reopen the SEQR, rather than reaffirm it. The original SEQR used calculations based on an average family size of 2.8 people per household, but the development was designed for, and exclusively attracts, Hasidic families that are likely to far exceed that average.

In a barrage of questions and complaints, residents told Mayor Russ Wood and Trustee Rivkah Mosesson that there is no way Chestnut Ridge's three wells will support the full project, and neighbors fear for the viability of their own wells as a result.

"When my well runs dry, I'm coming to you," former village trustee Kathy Roemer said to Chestnut Ridge consultant Tom Shepstone. "And you will be part of my lawsuit."

The public's comments were all the more heated because in the weeks since the last village meeting, Chestnut Ridge developers Shalom Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen were indicted on voter fraud charges, accused by the FBI of bringing in non-local residents to vote in the 2014 village election to swing the results in favor of candidates who supported Chestnut Ridge.

With 22 units occupied, Chestnut Ridge currently uses an average of 207 gallons per unit daily, under the 262-gallon allowance. Village engineer Tom Depuy said the water and sewer use is monitored weekly, and it will be reevaluated when the project is 70 percent complete.

Water usage was not part of the question as to whether to reaffirm the SEQR, Wood said after the meeting. The board was only considering whether the widened roads would take the project out of its original SEQR parameters, and Wood said they would not. All the correct safeguards are in place to ensure that everyone has enough water, Wood said. The project can now go back before the planning board for any site plan amendments the developers wish to apply for.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mystery Hasids Swap Hats and Dance With Senators Lindsey Graham and Al Franken 

On the way to a Senate vote yesterday, Lindsey Graham stopped a group of Hasidic Jews to compliment their hats.

What ensued was a general swapping of fedoras, to judge by a photo that Graham's Senate colleague Ben Sasse posted on Twitter.

Graham, a Southern Baptist, is grinning broadly as men who appear to be members of the Lubavitch Hasidic group place one of their fedoras on his head.

From there the mystery Hasidim appear to have moved on to the Senate's Jewish caucus: Moments later, a reporter for ABC News tweeted that Senator Al Franken had stopped in the Senate hallways to dance with unknown Hasidim.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog