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Friday, April 28, 2017

Accused child molester sues synagogue in ‘hostile takeover’ attempt, congregation charges 

Zvi Geller, 40, sued Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom on Rodney St. in Williamsburg, calling for new board elections.

Leaders at a Brooklyn synagogue say a former congregant is trying to force his way into a leadership role and accuses him of inappropriate conduct with teenage boys.

In August, Zvi Geller, 40, sued Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom on Rodney St. in Williamsburg, calling for new board elections. He also said the board wouldn't let him build a youth center.

But the synagogue leaders, which members describe as the last Orthodox, non-Hasidic place of worship in the neighborhood, say Geller is attempting a "hostile takeover."

In an affidavit filed Tuesday against Geller's suit, synagogue president Martin Needelman said Geller opposed the appointment of a new rabbi after its longtime leader retired.

"Geller strongly opposed the Congregation's attempt to seek a new rabbi and without being formally appointed, he began acting as if he were the effective rabbi of the Congregation," Needelman stated.

The affidavit further accuses Geller of sleeping on the synagogue's premises at least three Friday nights while alone with a 16-year-old boy who'd joined him for the Sabbath. The document also cites an ad in a local Jewish publication that accuses Geller of being a molester.

Geller has not been charged with any criminal conduct and vehemently denies the allegations.

In 2015, he was elected to the synagogue's board as trustee and became second vice president. He insists he's still in good standing. The affidavit from Needelman claims Geller told the congregation he wanted "to construct facilities for his youth programs" — including a dorm.

"Geller's plans were of incredible concern to the Congregation, considering the unrefuted claims that he is a child molester — not to mention the potential liability arising therefrom," Needelman stated.

Even though the board voted against building the youth center, Geller allegedly took steps toward creating one, the synagogue claims.

Geller's lawyer, Baruch Gottesman, rejected the accusations of inappropriate conduct with boys as "completely bogus." He told The News Needelman was using them to "discredit the case that (Geller) brought against them."

Needelman, meanwhile, voiced suspicions of Geller's motives.

"He has no life, he's desperate," Needelman said. "The whole thing is crazy. It's a completely baseless case."

Gottesman insists his client is still a member in good standing.

The heart of Geller's lawsuit is religious — namely, he believes the synagogue lost its way after the longtime rabbi's retirement, Gottesman said.

"That's what the lawsuit is about, that he wants it to be run as an Orthodox congregation," Gottesman said.

Synagogue lawyer Leopold Gross says the suit isn't about religion at all.

"Geller is attempting a hostile takeover of a synagogue," he said. "He now hopes to achieve this result through the courts."

Both sides are expected back in court on Friday.


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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Eastern Europe Urged To Return Stolen Jewish Property 

The United States' special envoy for Holocaust issues urged East European nations to honor their largely-unimplemented promise from 2009 to offer restitution for property stolen from Jews.

Thomas K. Yazdgerdi appealed to these countries "to provide justice for survivors and their families for the expropriation of their property" during a high-level conference in Brussels Wednesday on restitution, where special attention was devoted to the 2009 Terezin Deceleration. In that statement, many European countries for the first time vowed to resolve Holocaust-related property claims. Many of them, however, have not followed through.

"We will continue to encourage countries to restitute illegally-confiscated communal and private property to rightful owners," Yazdgerdi said. "We fully support our European partners in their work towards achieving the principles set out in the Terezin Declaration."

Among the cosignatories of the landmark declaration from 2009 was Poland, which has resisted calls to follow the example of other European countries and pass legislation offering restitution for billions of dollars' worth of privately owned property which used to belong to Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Romania, another co-signatory which does have laws passed in the previous decades that ensure restitution of privately-owned and communal property, has systematically delayed their implementation, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which co-organized the conference at the European Parliament in Brussels together with officials from the parliament.


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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

New Charges Implicate NYPD Brass In Gun Pipeline 

Brooklyn businessman Jeremy Reichberg, right, leaves Manhattan federal court in New York, Monday, June 20, 2016, after he was charged with showering New York Police Department officials with tens of thousands of dollars in bribes, including vacations, prostitutes and home improvements so that he could use the NYPD as his private police force.

Escalating a probe of the New York City Police Department, new criminal charges unveiled Tuesday accuse a former lieutenant, two former officers and an ex-Brooklyn prosecutor of feeding gun licenses to "cottage industry of parasitic profiteers."

"When police officers violate their oath in this way, they not only betray the public they have sworn to protect, but their fellow officers who do their jobs the right way, remaining faithful to the duties they owe to the public and to each other," Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim told reporters.

The Tuesday morning press conference marked Kim's first since the firing of his predecessor, Preet Bharara, who opened the NYPD corruption case last year.

"We continue today what we started a year ago," Kim said.

The original complaint had accused high-ranking officers including of providing "cops on call" to businessmen who bribed them with flying a private jet with a prostitute to Las Vegas for Super Bowl weekend.

Though prostitutes, luxury travel and entertainment still abound in the new charges, Tuesday's filings link the NYPD's Licensing Division to a business that boasted an ability to expedite gun permits.

Sgt. David Villanueva has pleaded guilty to corrupting the NYPD's licensing division, the newly unsealed records show, joining his colleague Richard Ochetal, who announced his cooperation with the government last year.

"The information that they provided, along with the other evidence we've gathered, paint a devastating picture of pervasive corruption at the licensing division," Kim said.

Prosecutors also nabbed a secret October plea from gun license broker Frank Soohoo. Court papers show the 55-year-old working with Villanueva, Ochetal, ex-Lt. Paul Dean and former officer Robert Espinel.

"Specifically, in 2015, Dean and Espinel, along with Villanueva and Ochetal, went to two parties at Soohoo's store, at which Soohoo arranged, at Dean's request, free food and alcohol, and for dancers and prostitutes to attend at Soohoo's expense," the 26-page complaint states.

Last year's indictment charged businessman Alex "Shaya" Lichtenstein with plying Villanueva and other licensing department contacts with bribes to help arm a Hasidic neighborhood watch group known as the Shomrim.

Apparently envious of his subordinates in the department, Dean attempted to extort Lichtenstein to keep this "pipeline" flowing to him, prosecutors say.

"I'm done watching people make money off of my back," Dean allegedly griped in a recorded conversation on Dec. 8, 2015. "I'm the one whose signing off on everything, I'm the one who's taking care of everything. you're making money you, and dozens of other people."

Prosecutors say Villanueva and his wife even honeymooned in Hawaii on Soohoo's dime in late 2015.

Soohoo also picked up the travel and lodging a year later for Villanueva and Ochetal in the Dominican Republic.

The complaint quotes Dean as bragging that Villanueva "should buy his wife a shovel, because they would make so much money that they would have to dig themselves out of it."

In return, the officers stocked Soohoo with already-signed "pink slips" — a type of NYPD gun license — that the broker would sell to his clients, prosecutors say.

Soohoo also allegedly paid $2,000 for Villanueva to approve a carry license for his client, who had prior convictions for gang assault and rape.

Court papers do not identify the client who received the weapon, but NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill told reporters that the department flagged 440 of the licenses as "suspicious" and suspended about 100 to date in an ongoing review.

"We've replaced all the supervisors left, and we've increased the supervision," O'Neill said.

Despite emphasizing the department's transparency, O'Neill would not commit to a request by Courthouse News that the department release a report it has prepared on its internal investigation.

The former Brooklyn prosecutor newly implicated by the scandal is John Chambers, 62, who was in office between 1983 and 1985. The government says Chambers gave Villanueva tickets to Broadway shows, sporting events, an $8,000 watch, sports memorabilia and cash to grease his own license-expediting business, which operated at the website nygun.com.

"You know I have that 1500 in an envelope in my office for u — so you can pay off the credit card," Chambers told Villanueva in a text message, according to the complaint.

U.S. Attorney Kim told reporters that the men sometimes also passed off bribes hidden in magazines.

Prosecutors say Gaetano "Guy" Valastro charged $1,250 for a training course and helped customers get their pink slips. The 58-year-old Queens man's business was called Valastro Academy.

Dean, Espinal, Chambers and Valastro will face a federal magistrate this afternoon. The bribery and extortion charges against them carry maximum sentences ranging between 15 to 20 years.


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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jewish high school students protest outside Queens home of former Nazi concentration camp guard 

They have not forgotten. 

The Queens home of Jakiw Palij — the last known Nazi concentration camp guard still living in the United States — was the site Monday of a massive demonstration by yeshiva students commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Students from the Long Island-based Rambam Mesivta, a private Jewish high school in Lawrence, L.I., protested in front of Palij's two-story, brick Jackson Heights home.

"It is outrageous that a Nazi who is involved in killing thousands of innocent men, women and children should be able to walk the same streets that we do," said Rambam Mesivta senior Benjamin Kattan, 17, who helped organize the protest.

Assemblyman Hikind claims his deportation ad was blocked
While Palij, 92, lives on Social Security checks on a quiet Queens street, victims who suffered in concentration camps continue to have nightmares about their horror.

"That these events took place generations ago when neither I nor my classmates were born, does not take away from our obligation to remember what evil is and to forcefully speak out against it," Benjamin added.

Though local residents describe Palij as a nice elderly man, demonstrators reminded neighbors that Palij was a cog in the evil wheel of genocide, guarding a death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943 where 6,000 Jews were killed.

Eli Rosenbaum, the nation's top Nazi hunter who directs a special justice department investigation unit, once called Palij "an essential component in the machinery of annihilation."

Palij, who worked at the Treblinka concentration camp in Poland, was adjudicated in U.S. courts as a Nazi war criminal.

The Justice Department said Palij also worked at the nearby Trawinki training camps for secret service troops who would carry out the extermination of Polish Jews.

A federal judge ordered Palij deported in 2004, but none of the three European countries to which he could be sent — Germany, Poland and Ukraine — wanted to take him.

Jakiw Palij is seen outside his Queens home in 2006. At age 92, he's the last known former Nazi concentration camp guard still living in the U.S.

He moved to the U.S. in 1949, claiming at the time to be a farmer. He became a citizen in 1957.

Holocaust records project launched at FDR Library and Museum
In court papers, Palij has denied any wrongdoing — claiming he and other young men in his Polish hometown were coerced into working for the Nazi occupiers.

Palij did not appear to be home during Monday's protest and could not be reached for comment.

People who live near Palij — some weary of the protests that have become a ritual over the years — described Palij as a good neighbor.

"I knew he was a Nazi," said one neighbor, a 31-year-old man who did not want to be named. "You hear things. I wasn't surprised since the protesters come every year. I see him sometimes. He's old, you know? I try to help him sometimes. He usually stays inside. He's a nice guy. He's always been a nice guy to me.

"Just because he was in the war doesn't mean he hates people. He doesn't do nothing around here. He doesn't harm anyone. He barely comes out. We're all puppets. I'm a puppet, you're a puppet. Maybe his country just made him do those things. Who knows, man."

The school's dean, Rabbi Zev Friedman, said he isn't swayed by time or age — especially as the window for justice is closing.

"He's 92," Friedman said. "People will ask me, why not leave him alone? He was 20 years old when these crimes took place. I view him as a 20-year-old murderer that got away with crimes for 72 years, not a 92-year-old nice old man.

"If Osama Bin Laden moved into the neighborhood, we wouldn't say, 'Oh, he's an old man, leave him alone.' He's a murderer!"


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Monday, April 24, 2017

European nations not returning Jewish properties taken during Holocaust era 

Many European nations behind the former Iron Curtain have failed to return property taken from Jews before and during World War II, according to a report released Monday, which also is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The report, entitled "The Holocaust (Shoah) Immovable Property Restitution Study," is the first comprehensive study of which national signatories to a 2009 declaration on the treatment of immovable property restitution for Holocaust-era assets have made good on their commitments.

Known as the Terezin Declaration, it was drafted eight years ago to deal with the looting and property theft of Jews during WWII. A total of 47 countries signed the declaration and committed to resolving Holocaust property issues that remained for decades after the end of the war.

One of the key findings of the report, co-authored by the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and the European Shoah Legacy Institute, is that a high number of Eastern European countries have only complied partially with their commitments. Some -- like Poland and Bosnia – have done nothing to honor their commitments.

Most Western European nations were found to have complied with the Terezin Declaration.

"[S]ome countries, particularly Poland, have not yet addressed the legacy of property looted during the Holocaust," Gideon Taylor, WJRO's chair of operations, said to Fox News. "It is urgent that countries provide restitution or compensation now, while the remaining survivors are alive to benefit."

Taylor says that Poland — where Nazi forces killed nearly 90 percent of the Jews — is the only major country in the former Soviet bloc to not pass any comprehensive law to return property that was confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by Communist forces.


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Sunday, April 23, 2017

'We must stamp out prejudice and anti-Semitism everywhere', Trump tells World Jewish Congress 

I am deeply honored to speak with you tonight, as the World Jewish Congress gathers in New York City with the leaders from across the world.

First, I want to thank Ronald Lauder, not only for his many years of friendship - and he truly has been my good friend, he even predicted early that I was going to win the presidency - but also for his leadership of this organization. He has done a fantastic job.

Today we are reminded of this organization’s long and heroic history fighting for the Jewish people. Your brave leaders warned the world of the planned atrocities that sought to extinguish an entire people.

On Yom HaShoah, we look back at the darkest chapter of human history. We mourn, we remember, we pray, and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again.

The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror, and the loss. Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide. They were murdered by an evil that words cannot describe, and that the human heart cannot bear.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, we tell the stories of the fathers, mothers and children, whose lives were extinguished and whose love was torn from this earth. We also tell the stories of courage in the face of death, humanity in the face of barbarity, and the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.

Today, only decades removed from the Holocaust, we see a great nation risen from the desert and we see a proud Star of David waving above the State of Israel. That star is a symbol of Jewish perseverance. It’s a monument to unyielding strength. We recall the famous words attributed to Theodor Herzl: If you will, it is no dream. If you will it, it is no dream.

Jews across the world have proved the truth of these words day after day. In the memory of those who were lost, we renew our commitment and our determination not to disregard the warnings of our own times.

We must stamp out prejudice and anti-Semitism everywhere it is found. We must defeat terrorism, and we must not ignore the threats of a regime that talks openly of Israel’s destruction. We cannot let that ever even be thought of.

To all of you tonight, who have come from around the world, let it be known, America stands strong with the State of Israel.

The meaning of that state for so many is captured by the words of a German Jewish musician. Escaping Germany before 1937, he settled in the ancient land of Israel. Sometime later, he received a visit from a British official, who found him living in a hut, with only his piano for company. The official recognized the musician and said: This must be a terrible change for you. The musician looked back at him and replied: It is a change - from hell to heaven.

Many of you here today helped fulfill the same dream, the dream of Israel for millions, a dream that burned in the hearts of oppressed and fallen and which now draws the breath of life from a joyous people each and every day.

Thank you for your leadership, for your service, and for your vision of a world that is more free, just and peaceful place for all of god’s people.

Thank you, and God bless you all.

http://www.worldjewishcongress.org/en/news/we-must-stamp-out-prejudice-and-anti-semitism-everywhere-trump-tells-world-jewish-congress-4-0-2017

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Man who snapped viral 'this is my America' photo says he's receiving death threats 

A moment in time captured aboard a Brooklyn-bound F train featured a Hasidic couple who scooted over to give a Muslim woman enough room to nurse her child.

Snapped by a Brooklyn man, Jackie Summers, he called it "my America."

"With the climate that we're living in – politically right now – there are elements that are trying to divide us," he told PIX11 News. "This should be how everyday should be - we shouldn't have to think whether or not someone worships the same God, looks the same way."

After sharing it on social media on Easter Sunday, the photo hit viral status and the reception — for the most part — was positive until a few days later when the tide had turned.

"[Wednesday] morning I woke up and looked at my Twitter, a lot of white nationalists and there's no other word to put it but Nazis, were threatening violence and were threatening my life," he said.

"I think there are people who are threatened by the idea that oppressed people could work together to solve problems," Summers explained. "If we work together, we're pretty much unstoppable and that's upsetting to certain folks and that's ok."

Summers, who is a contributing writer for the "Good Men Project" — a blog that addresses social issues pertaining to masculinity – has been the target of cyber trolls in the past. That experience left him unfazed by the recent threats where he didn't even report them to Facebook or Twitter.

Summers did however take note of how a simple gesture of decency has become such an anomaly in our modern world.

But in the diverse city of New York, according to him, not so much.

"Its something I think New Yorkers don't think twice about," he said. "We don't think twice about being decent to folks as long as we're getting where we're going on time."

Despite the threats of violence, Summers says he will continue to use social media as a tool to spread positivity and as for the haters who continue to troll him, the plan is to "delete, block, repeat."

https://www.aol.com/article/news/2017/04/21/man-who-snapped-viral-this-is-my-america-photo-death-threats/22049920/

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Legislature may set public hearing dates soon on North Monroe proposal 

The Orange County Legislature may take the next formal step in its halting review of an eight-month-old petition to create a Town of North Monroe by voting in June to schedule public hearings on the proposal.

Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia said this week that he expects the Rules, Enactments and Intergovernmental Relations Committee to discuss setting hearing dates at its May meeting, and that at least two hearings likely will be held in different locations. The Rules Committee met Wednesday, but didn't take up the scheduling of hearings or revisit steps required for an environmental review that it had tabled in March.

Some 2,240 people petitioned the Legislature last August to create a new town by detaching the Village of Kiryas Joel and surrounding land from the Town of Monroe. If approved by a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature, or at least 14 of 21 lawmakers, the proposal would be put to Monroe voters to decide in a referendum in November.

The petition asked to join 382 acres of unincorporated Monroe land with 691-acre Kiryas Joel to form North Monroe, although the amount of additional land involved could decrease through negotiations. Brescia, who hoped to find a compromise most Monroe voters could support, recently held a private meeting with three legislators representing the area and leaders of Kiryas Joel and the United Monroe citizens group to let them air their views on the position.

Participants say the discussion was cordial and productive, but only an opening conversation. No agreements were reached, and the parties decided to share no details about the discussion.

Brescia said he plans to hold another private discussion about the North Monroe proposal that includes members of the Monroe Town Board, and perhaps another meeting after that to involve representatives of the neighboring towns of Woodbury and Blooming Grove.

The 382 additional acres in the town petition includes 164 acres that Kiryas Joel annexed in 2015, an expansion that the Monroe Town Board approved and that United Monroe, Orange County and eight towns and villages continue to challenge in court. A state Supreme Court judge dismissed two separate lawsuits by those parties last year, but the plaintiffs have appealed the decision.

The creation of a new town would give Kiryas Joel additional space to accommodate its rapid population growth and constant housing demand. At the same time, it would separate the Hasidic community and its large voting blocs from Monroe Town Board elections, a longtime source of contention in the town.


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Brooklyn Lots, Warehouse Sell Well Above Asking Price 

Prezant Auto Glass has sold two vacant lots and a warehouse totaling 12,725 square feet at 814-826 Bedford Ave. in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a local private developer for $12 million.

"The property is a strategically located corner development opportunity. Being one of the few sizable footprints yet to be developed in this submarket, it offers developers unique economies of scale," Jakub Nowak an associate broker at Marcus & Millichap's Brooklyn office, told Commercial Property Executive. "The sale's timing was driven by the seller's motivation to make a move, not our recommendation on market timing."

The corner development site is situated by the Myrtle Avenue retail corridor, just a 10-minute walk from the Flushing Avenue and Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues G train subway stops. The property is also close to the Pratt Institute.

"This part of Bedford Stuyvesant that is in high demand from both traditional developers and the nearby Hasidic community," Nowak said. "The three lots are all zoned for mixed-use development. The buyer plans on developing a Synagogue with either apartments or a hotel above. They will be tearing down the existing structure."

According to Nowak, once the properties went on sale, there were several rounds of competitive bidding and the Marcus & Millichap team was able to negotiate a completely non-contingent contract and a sale of $314-per-buildable-square-foot, representing $1 million above the original asking price.

Jason Grunberg assisted on Nowak's team in the sale.

"814-826 Bedford Avenue was one of the largest sites remaining in an area that saw significant development over the past few years," Grunberg said. "This dramatic transformation from an industrial stronghold to an emerging neighborhood has been driven by the substantial increase in property values and rents." 


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Taoist man snaps viral NYC subway photo of Hasidic couple, Muslim mother on Easter Sunday: 'This is my America!' 



A Taoist man found "America" on the F train. 

The man, Jackie Summers, snapped a heartwarming photo of a Hasidic couple sitting next to a Muslim woman holding her baby onboard an F train on Easter Sunday — and the image quickly went viral as social media users touted it as a symbol of New York City diversity.

"A Taoist (me) gives up his seat so a Hasidic couple could sit together. They scoot over so a Muslim mother could sit and nurse her baby, on Easter Sunday," Summers captioned the photo, which had been shared over 31,000 times as of early Tuesday.

"This is my America: people letting people be people," Summers added.

A number of Facebook users praised Summers' sentiment — and took slight jabs at President Trump, who has been accused of peddling racism and xenophobia since launching his historically divisive campaign.

"THIS, is what makes America great and these days I've been struggling to find ways to feel good about America," Lisa Smith Zwart commented on the photo. "Thank you for restoring a little of my faith in humanity today, Jackie."

The photo had Jessy Wilson, a Brooklyn native living in Tennessee, missing her hometown.

"If only the whole country embraced this sort of diversity and inclusion," she tweeted.


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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

28 ultra-Orthodox journalists arrested on suspicion of extortion 

Police arrested 28 employees of an ultra-Orthodox newspaper on Tuesday morning on suspicion of extortion and harassment.

In a nationwide sting, police arrested senior staff and editors of the ultra-Orthodox daily newspaper Hapeles, following a six-month investigation.

Police also searched the newspaper’s offices and collected files, following dozens of complaints that over the past year the newspaper allegedly extorted major corporations, including government-owned companies, in order to force them to purchase advertising in the paper.

Some 250 police officers, investigators and other security personnel took part in the raid, arresting suspects in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit, Ashdod, and other parts of the country.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews rioted in Bnei Brak as the arrests were taking place.

The suspects will be brought to Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s court.

The alleged harassment came in the form of constant phone calls, emails and faxes to the CEOs of companies. The investigation found that the suspects would make use of a call center which they had set up, known as the “battle line,” in which they would set daily targets of which companies would be harassed and to what extent.

Once the call center had received its daily instructions it would allegedly make dozens or hundreds of phone calls, and send faxes and emails, to the heads of the companies and even to their family members, which disrupted the running of the companies.

The paper is the mouthpiece of the Jerusalem faction of the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community. It is affiliated with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who instructed his followers to take part in a series of protests and riots over the past few weeks against ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the IDF, blocking streets and fighting with police.

Among the companies targeted were Coca-Cola, Shufersal, Materna, Tnuva, Strauss, Terra and Optica Halperin, as well as the Interior Ministry.

A spokesperson for the paper told the Hebrew ultra-Orthodox website Kikar Hashabat, “This is a dictatorial attempt to silence us, reminiscent of dark regimes. It will not stop us but will lead us to a stubborn and unprecedented battle.”

Rabbi David Zicherman, a student of Auerbach, told Army Radio that the arrests were an attempt by the government to end the anti-draft protests.

“There was a similar wave of arrests three years ago… also on suspicion of harassment. Nothing came of it,” he said. “Nothing happened because there was nothing.”

Zicherman claimed that the arrests were a modern form of blood libel.

“It is against all rules of a democracy… This doesn’t happen even in the third world, that police work against journalists,” he said.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/28-ultra-orthodox-journalists-arrested-on-suspicion-of-extortion/

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jewish Families Preview Next Year’s Cars at Javits on Chol Hamoed Passover 



Jewish families in the metro New York area had no trouble figuring out this year what to do with their children – they took them to the Javits Convention Center to see the International Auto Show.

One of the annual dilemmas for families in New York is the question of what to do with the kids that will be fun and “appropriate” during the Chol Hamoed (intermediate) days of the Passover holiday.

http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/jewish-families-preview-next-years-cars-at-javits-on-chol-hamoed/2017/04/16/

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Berlin to see its first Jewish campus after the Holocaust 

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal doesn't get much sleep these days, but says it's well worth it. The community rabbi and head of the Jewish outreach group Chabad in Berlin has been campaigning relentlessly to turn his dream of creating a Jewish campus in Germany into a reality.

For years, he's lobbied the German authorities, raised millions of dollars in funds and bought a 3,000 square meter plot of land next to Chabad's synagogue in the German capital's Wilmersdorf district.

More than just a new facility, Teichtal sees the center as a step toward Chabad's goal of re-establishing a vibrant Jewish community in the former Nazi capital, in part by welcoming and integrating Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union and encouraging interactions with non-Jews.

"Everyone in Europe talks about fears and uncertainties, we're talking about going forward," said the 44-year-old orthodox rabbi, looking across the large empty plot where a few containers have been set up as a temporary extension of Chabad's kindergarten.

The planned seven-story building will be dedicated to Jewish education, culture and sports, the first of its kind in Germany. If all goes to plan, the groundbreaking is scheduled for September and the entire campus is slated to be finished in late 2019.

German authorities approved some of the still-outstanding permissions earlier this month.

"With all the challenges we're facing today, building this campus is a signal: We're here to stay — otherwise we wouldn't build," says Teichtal, who wears a traditional beard, a velvet kippah and a black caftan.

Germany has experienced a strong influx of Jews in recent decades and Berlin has the biggest Jewish community in Germany, with about 40,000 members. Those numbers are still a far cry, however, from Germany's flourishing Jewish community of more than 500,000 before the Nazi period, with some 120,000 Jews in Berlin alone.

Overall, some six million European Jews were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Because of its history, Germany took in some 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union since the fall of communism in 1989 — most of them secular and with only little knowledge about their own religion.

When Rabbi Teichtal and his wife Leah set out from Brooklyn to Berlin 20 years ago, they came with the goal of reaching out to this group, but also to the established German Jewry. Though New York based, Chabad members are sent out as "Jewish messengers" around the globe with the aim of getting mostly unaffiliated Jews in touch with their religion.

In the last two decades, the Chabad community in Berlin has kept growing and there are now around 600 to 700 families who regularly take part in the community's offerings, Teichtal said.

Chabad has a synagogue, an educational center, a kindergarten, an elementary and high school — but the facilities are spread over the city and so popular that the Jewish group can't offer places to all the applicants.

With the establishment of the new 7,000 square-meter (75,300 square-feet) campus, all Chabad schools will all be united under one roof and also offer more facilities, including a library, cafeteria, movie theater, concert hall and a ballroom for weddings and other festivities. The sports center will include an indoor basketball court and opportunities for soccer and other ball games. Outside, there'll be a playground and a garden.

The cost of the entire campus is projected at around 18 million euros ($20.3 million). It's being funded by the federal government, Berlin's state government, several German foundations and private donations.

Unlike most Jewish institutions in Germany, which are behind fences and tightly guarded against anti-Semitic attacks, Teichtal says he wants the Jewish campus to be open to everyone.

"It should become a place where Jews and non-Jews can come together and meet," he said.

http://rapidcityjournal.com/lifestyles/berlin-to-see-its-first-jewish-campus-after-the-holocaust/article_a4eddeb6-734a-5462-955f-866bcbe138e3.html

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Passover in Coney Island 

Hasidic Jews took to Coney Island beach and amusement park for part of the Passover holiday, which extends from April 10 to 18. The warm weather brought out many families with schools being closed and adults taking off from work for the religious observance.

Coney Island has two amusement parks — Luna Park and Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park — as well as several rides that are not incorporated into either theme park.

http://www.metro.us/news/local-news/new-york/passover-coney-island-photos

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

One person injured in Passover fire at Brooklyn synagogue 

Firefighters had the blaze under control by 3 a.m.

One person was injured after flames tore through the roof of a south Brooklyn synagogue early Thursday, as Jews across the city capped off the second day of Passover, officials said.

Firefighters responded to a fire at the Kneses Israel on Nautilus Avenue in Sea Gate shortly after midnight. The blaze was under control by 3 a.m., officials said.

One person suffered minor injuries, according to authorities.

Members of the local Hasidic community gathered outside as news of the fire spread.

Video posted to social media showed flames and thick plumes of smoke spewing out the top of the two and a half story synagogue.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the blaze.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/person-injured-passover-fire-brooklyn-synagogue-article-1.3050942

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Nazi Graffiti Smeared on Northern Virginia JCC on Seder Night 



Police in Annandale, Fairfax County, Virginia, on Tuesday issued a statement saying: “Our detectives are investigating two incidents of bias-motivated graffiti that were reported today at two religious institutions in Annandale. Around 7:15 AM, staff at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, 8900 Little River Turnpike, reported anti-Semitic symbols and words had been spray-painted on the building’s exterior. Then, around 8:50 AM, staff from the Little River United Church of Christ, 8410 Little River Turnpike, reported similar anti-religious symbols and words were spray-painted on the exterior of their building and on the property. No other damage was uncovered and the suspect(s) did not enter either building. It appears the crime at the JCC occurred between 1 and 4 AM.”

This means that the hateful graffiti was smeared on the JCC’s exterior near the end of the traditional Passover seder in many local Jewish homes.

David Posner of Fairfax, wrote on his Facebook page that “the Northern Virginia JCC needs your support today. Monday night while we were celebrating the first night of Passover and embracing our freedom from hate and bigotry at our seder tables, our local JCC in Fairfax was sprayed with anti-Semitic graffiti. The windows, brick walls, white fences around the playground where my daughter has played at the JCC preschool are all covered in anti-Semitic graffiti. There is no doubt that the perpetrators knew they were doing this during the first night of Passover when the JCC was empty and closed.

“The police & Jcc are working together to find the person(s) who committed this horrible act. In the meantime the cleanup begins. I hope you will join me in making a donation to the JCC to help raise money to cover the expenses necessary to erase the physical marks from this awful anti-Semitic act. Our community needs to come together to send a loud and clear message that anti-Semitism will NOT be tolerated. Give today or volunteer your time! (Click here to donate).”

“Regardless of whether you can donate, please keep our Northern VA Jewish community in your thoughts and prayers,” Meg Gustin Nelson posted. “And continue to do whatever you can to fight the small-minded intolerance and hatred that tries to infiltrate our world. It will be stamped out by tolerance and light.”

She also wrote: “This act of hatred affects the whole community. All of us. Not only because the center offers classes and workshops for all beliefs, preschool, and other services. But because it is heinous and unbelievable that this can happen in the 21st century and in an area as diverse and culturally wealthy as Northern Virginia. Because what affects one part of our community should, and needs to, affect us all. And because love and hope will always win.”

http://www.jewishpress.com/news/us-news/nazi-graffiti-smeared-on-northern-virginia-jcc-on-seder-night/2017/04/12/

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Chag Kosher V'Sameach 

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and Kosher Pesach.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Trump Will Hold Last-Minute White House Seder 

The White House plans to host a Passover Seder after all, according to Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff. Sources told Jewish Insider that the Trump Administration will indeed mark the holiday with a Seder Monday night, which is the first night of Passover.

Barack Obama began the tradition of hosting a Passover Seder at the White House in 2009.

The Times of Israel has reported that President Donald Trump, the first American president with an immediate family member who is Jewish, will host the Seder. It is unclear who else — including the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — will participate. There are a number of Jews in the Trump administration, including Senior Advisor Stephen Miller.

http://forward.com/fast-forward/368667/trump-will-hold-last-minute-white-house-seder/

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Saturday, April 08, 2017

New Ultra-Orthodox Town Is Still Growing, Even After F.B.I. Arrests Its Builder 

A few months ago, real estate developer Shalom Lamm’s attempt to grow a Hasidic shtetl in Bloomingburg, New York, collided with a brick wall.

Federal agents arrested Lamm and two colleagues, charging them with conspiring to corrupt village elections in Bloomingburg. In a single morning, years of careful planning and delicate maneuverings seemed to have been spoiled.

Yet the fledgling Hasidic community in the village isn’t going quietly.

Just days ago, scores of young Hasidic boys marched down the village’s Main Street to celebrate the opening of a local yeshiva, situated in a converted warehouse on the outskirts of the tiny downtown.

When a Forward reporter visited the warehouse in late November, it was a gutted shell. Today, it’s ready to receive students.

“People feel so enthusiastic,” said Moshe Meisels, a Hasidic resident who has been living in Bloomingburg for just over a year. “Like it’s going to happen. It’s happening.”

The yeshiva opening was presided over by Zalman Teitelbaum, the grand rebbe of the Satmar Hasidic sect. Teitelbaum, whose community is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been a champion of the Bloomingburg development. Many of the new Hasidic residents are members of Teitelbaum’s sect, and the new yeshiva will operate under his auspices.

In a video of the yeshiva dedication ceremony, dozens of boys sing to Teitelbaum, who mounts a makeshift dais in the school’s large lunchroom.

Meisels said that Teitelbaum’s visit to Bloomingburg, which lasted nearly a week, was an affirmation and morale-booster for the community. “The people were so happy,” he said. “It was wonderful.”

Meisels says that the upcoming Passover holiday will mark the first time that almost a hundred Hasidim have celebrated a Jewish festival in the village.

The rebbe’s visit came after months of uncertainty inspired by Lamm’s arrest. In federal indictments, prosecutors charged Lamm and two colleagues, Kenneth Nakdimen and Volvy Smilowitz, with trying to rig the village’s 2014 mayoral elections in a cash-for-voters scam. The alleged plot arose after the village’s planning board voted to block their projects.

Lamm and his co-defendants are awaiting trial. Meisels said that on the day of a March hearing, community members prayed for Lamm.

Meanwhile, local opponents of the development are keeping up their efforts. A new lawsuit filed by the town of Mamakating, which encompasses Bloomingburg, seeks to pause construction on Lamm’s main development project, called Chestnut Ridge.

Locals have also objected to a plan to turn to townhouses at Chestnut Ridge into a temporary community center, according to the Times Herald-Record, a local paper that has covered the Bloomingburg controversy closely.

In local elections in March, incumbent village trustee Aaron Rabiner, who is Hasidic, defeated a write-in challenger.

“I think we’ve got years to go,” said Holly Roche, founder of the Rural Community Coalition, a group that has opposed the development. “I have no idea how it’s going to turn out…. All I hope is that the community that is there after all of the big deal implodes, are people that can get along.”

http://forward.com/news/368459/hasidic-yeshiva-opens-in-bloomingburg-months-after-fbi-arrests/

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Victim beaten half-blind by Hasidic Brooklyn man accuses city of cozy ties to his attacker’s community in suit 

A Brooklyn man who wasted no time fighting his conviction for a gang beating that left a gay black man half blind is now trying to litigate his way out of a related federal civil case.

Taj Patterson is suing Mayer Herskovic, the city and others after a vicious 2013 assault.

Patterson filed his civil rights case in June 2016 — about six months before Herskovic got a four-year sentence this past January for gang assault.

Herskovic is appealing the case, where prosecutors say they found his DNA on Patterson's sneaker.

The lawsuit claims there's way too cozy a relationship between orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch groups in Brooklyn and the NYPD.

Patterson said these blurred lines led to the Shomrim, a Jewish neighborhood patrol, to play a larger role and, ultimately, the assault.

In court papers filed in Brooklyn federal court, Herskovic's lawyer, Amy Marion, rejected the notion that her client was in cahoots with cops and prosecutors who ultimately brought a case against him.

She repeated the idea that Herskovic was no big wheel at Thursday's court conference.

Herskovic, who is Hasidic, wasn't associated with the Shomrim and didn't have a Shomrim jacket, she said.

"The state prosecutor needed somebody to grab" and that was Herskovic, according to Marion. She couldn't recall a prosecution case with less evidence in her 30 years of defense work, Marion said.

Garaufis added, "This is a little more complicated than your normal police brutality case," the judge said.

He noted the dismissal bids, but said "it sounds like a lot of the claims might need some examination."


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The Grape Juice Wars of Passover 

For most Americans, grape juice is an occasional treat. For Orthodox Jews, it is an obligation.

Orthodox Jews bless and drink a cup of wine three times on the Sabbath and four times at each of the two Seders for Passover, which will begin at sundown on Monday. Parents often buy grape juice so the children can accustom themselves to fulfilling the commandments. And since Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox families typically have six, seven or more children, that's a lot of grape juice.

Welch's, the American titan of grape juice, has noticed. It has flooded the Orthodox market, having made its intentions clear last year when it teamed up with the kosher colossus Manischewitz. This year, Welch's Manischewitz demonstrated that it really meant business by turning out juice with an additional kosher certification from a panel of exacting rabbis from the rigorous Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox communities.

"You're getting two powerhouses coming to this market," said Sara Stromer, the assistant brands manager for Manischewitz, which is supplying Welch's with its expertise in distribution to the kosher market.

But in doing so, the almost 150-year-old Welch's, whose name is practically a synonym for grape juice, and the 129-year-old Manischewitz, the world's largest matzo manufacturer and a kosher wine and food producer, have set off a fight with the long-reigning emperor of kosher grape juice, Kedem.

The move demonstrates the lengths some Orthodox Jews will go to make sure they are keeping kosher by standards that might seem esoteric to the outside world. The more stringent designation seems to be aimed squarely at a growing sector of the Jewish population. A UJA-Federation of New York study released in 2012 showed that 40 percent of the city's 1.1 million Jews were Orthodox, as were 74 percent of the city's Jewish children. In a similar study 10 years before, the percentage of Orthodox among the city's Jews was 33 percent.

The turf war has been especially evident in the frenzied weeks before Passover — a season when 40 percent of all kosher products in the United States are sold, according to Menachem Lubinsky, the publisher of the online newsletter Kosher Today — in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods like Kew Gardens Hills in Queens or Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn, and in Orthodox towns like Lakewood and Teaneck in New Jersey. The Welch's Manischewitz opening shot has been a series of steep discounts.

In Kew Gardens Hills, an enclave of garden apartments and modest houses, where Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel grew up in the 1950s, customers at Seasons supermarket on Main Street could for two days in late February buy a 64-ounce bottle of Welch's Manischewitz Concord grape juice for $1.99. With a coupon for an extra $1.50 mail-in rebate, they could end up buying the bottle for 49 cents. The price in late March was $3.49, but that was cheaper than Kedem's 64-ounce bottle, which sold for $4.99, and Welch's Manischewitz still offered the same rebate. Eli Siegel, the manager at Seasons, said he sold about 400 bottles a week of Welch's Manischewitz.

Shulem Brach, the manager of Wasserman's, another supermarket a half-mile down Main Street, said that in his store Kedem responded not by lowering prices but by offering jumbo 96-ounce bottles (usually sold only in warehouse clubs like Costco) for $6.49. "That way people can get more value for their money," he said.

Officials of Kayco, which distributes Kedem, declined to comment beyond an email from its chief executive, Mordy Herzog, that said: "We welcome the competition. Our primary emphasis has been to deliver a quality product at fair prices for six decades, and we are confident of the continued loyalty of our customers."

Mr. Brach, a Satmar Hasid, said Kedem juice sold far better than Welch's Manischewitz. "People are still afraid to take Welch's because it's new," he said.

Welch's Manischewitz has not yet instilled the comfort zone Orthodox Jews require to consume new kosher products. The biblical laws of kashrut (the rules for permissible foods) specified the types of animals that could and could not be eaten, forbade the mixing of milk and meat and, on Passover, prohibited the eating of leavened bread (as a way of commemorating the Israelites' hasty flight from Egypt, which did not allow time for dough to rise).

In the following millenniums, the sages expanded these prohibitions with a welter of interpretations intended to fortify the taboos against forbidden foods. A commandment in Exodus and Deuteronomy not to cook a young goat in its mother's milk became, in modern times, an insistence on separate dishes, cutlery, sinks and dishwashers for meat and milk products.

Grapes are inherently kosher, but the rabbis of the first centuries of the first millennium wanted their religion to avoid any resemblance to cults whose followers would pour wine on the ground as an offering to idols. They specified that wine — or nonalcoholic juice of the grape — be watched over by observant Jews from the time of the grapes' crushing to the juice's bottling. They also recommended cooking the wine, because removing flavor would assure that it would never be used for idol worship.

Observant Jews are assured a food is kosher by a seal — known in Hebrew as a hechsher — on the label. The most common imprint is the letter U circled by the letter O, the symbol of Orthodox Union, the world's largest kashrut certifier, which is based in New York. Its imprint appears on 800,000 products in 100 countries, including cans of Coca-Cola and Hershey bars. But Hasidic sects and ultra-Orthodox Jews prefer to see certifications from their own tribes. "It gives them a sense of comfort and independence," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, chief executive officer of OU Kosher.

Rabbi Shmuel Teitelbaum, whose rabbinical court, Minchas Chinuch Tartikov, certified Welch's, said that in September some 20 rabbis ventured to a factory in Westfield, N.Y., outside Buffalo, and monitored the grapes for a week.

"The OU is an extremely high standard," Rabbi Teitelbaum said. "But we represent the ultra. We call ourselves super-kosher."

Welch's first made an effort to enter the kosher market in the 1990s but pulled out after a year. This time it hopes the pairing with Manischewitz and the extra certification will make the difference.

Mr. Lubinsky, who also produces the annual Kosherfest trade show in Secaucus, N.J., predicted that Welch's Manischewitz would have "an awful hard hill to climb" because of Kedem's history with Orthodox families. "It's difficult to make people change even if you make the argument your taste is better," he said. "It has everything to do with ingrained taste buds going back generations."

He did note that matzos manufactured in Israel have slowly been able to cut into the markets of brands like Manischewitz and Streit's with lower prices, despite complaints that the Israeli companies have the advantage of government subsidies and cheaper labor.

Kedem is not an obscure brand. It is the flagship of an enterprise whose roots stretch back to Mr. Herzog's ancestors in what are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1848.

But Welch's is almost as venerable. It was started in 1869 by Thomas Bramwell Welch, a Wesleyan Methodist who advocated temperance and urged grape juice as a substitute for wine in the Eucharist.

A customer at Seasons, Marilyn Iseson, said she liked the Welch's Manischewitz bottle's rectangular shape, which takes up less space than the round Kedem bottle. "I always bought Kedem, but now I buy whatever's on sale," she said.

Shopping at Wasserman's, Chava Hakimian, a mother of five, said she would buy either brand because her children didn't discriminate.

"They like grape juice," she said. "I don't think they notice the difference."


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Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Ex-Mayor Of Guatemala Town Jailed For Expelling Hasidic Sect 

The former mayor of a small town in western Guatemala was sentenced to a year in prison for expelling the Lev Tahor sect of haredi Orthodox Jews.

Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez of San Juan La Laguna was found guilty of coercion in the expulsion, which took place in 2014.

Up to 500 members of the controversial haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor were forced out of the village following religiously tainted disputes with its Mayan residents, who are Roman Catholic. The local elders' council voted against the Jewish group, which practices an austere form of Judaism.

Perez said during his trial that he forced the sect out to end the "clash of cultures," the AFP news agency reported.

Perez was given the option of paying a $1,000 fine instead of jail, according to the report.

Lev Tahor had maintained a small presence in San Juan La Laguna, a village about 90 miles west of Guatemala City, for about six years.

Lev Tahor shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed.


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Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Parole board recommends early release for sex offender rabbi 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland at the Jerusalem District Court in Jerusalem on August 1, 2016.(Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The Prison Service parole board recommended on Monday that a rabbi serving a prison term for a sexual assault conviction be granted an early release, months after being jailed following an international manhunt.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, 80, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in November after being convicted of two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault as part of a plea deal.

His 2016 capture in South Africa followed years of authorities trying to bring him to justice after he fled Israel in 2013.

Under the conditions of his early release, Berland would remain under house arrest at a hotel adjacent to Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Center and be under constant surveillance until October 2017, the parole board decided.

He would also be required to fulfill all of the conditions agreed upon with the Parole Board and attend follow up meetings as part of his release, as well as pay for the mandated constant security presence.

According to Channel 10, Berland is suffering from numerous cancerous growths.

The Parole Board did not specify at which Hadassah campus in Jerusalem Berland would be treated.

Despite the Parole Board's recommendation to reduce Berland's sentence from 18 months to a year and grant him an early conditional release, the State Prosecutor's Office requested a delay of Berland's release, as it remains strongly opposed to the decision and is expected to appeal, the Haaretz daily reported.

Considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the Bratslav Hasidic sect, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.

He was on the run from authorities until 2016, eluding several Israeli attempts to extradite him. He moved between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.

According to the indictment, Berland would often receive people in his homes in Jerusalem and in Beitar Illit and held private meetings intended for spiritual guidance, counseling or benedictions. The rabbi would sometimes take advantage of the meetings and of his position in the community to commit sexual acts with women, including minors.

Berland, founder of the Shuvu Bonim religious seminary in Israel, had also been accused of instructing two of his disciples to hurt anyone who tried to expose his actions.

Days after his July 2016 return and subsequent arrest in Israel, Channel 2 aired a recording, allegedly of Berland admitting to rape. Berland's attorney denied that the voice on the recording was Berland's, saying his enemies were trying to hurt him.

In the summer of 2015, prior to a move to South Africa, Berland fought his extradition from the Netherlands on the grounds that the alleged assaults happened in the West Bank and that Israel does not have jurisdiction there.


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