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Friday, August 18, 2017

Brooklyn Hasidic School Executives Bilked Millions from Federal Meal Program 

The prestigious, Brooklyn-based chain of Yeshiva schools were supposed to providing kids federally subsidized suppers five nights a week per what the two leaders, Elozer Porges, 43, and Joel Lowy, 29, were claiming. Yeshivas are Jewish institutions that focus on the study of traditional religious texts like the Torah and Talmud.

Porges, the former executive director, and Lowy, the assistant director, of Central United Talmudic Academy, pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and fraud during their arraignment hearing. The federal investigators stated that Porges and Lowy submitted documents claiming weeknight suppers between 2014 and 2016 for low-income and at-risk children at three of their schools. Evidence suggests that those suppers never happened.

Many of the three schools – 762 Wythe Ave, 84-44 Sandford St, and 25 Franklin St – have students that participate in federally subsidized breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. However, those students do not stay for a dinner meal. Bus drivers at the Wythe location told The Post that school is out at 4:45 p.m. and no supper is served.

Employees of the schools are shocked, remarking to reporters, "I just know they are fine people," and "They have families and are normal people."

The FBI and city Department of Investigation worked together to look into the reimbursement process to ensure that meals were actually being served at the Williamsburg schools. Speaking with staff at the schools, included the kitchen and custodial staff, to confirm that the only meals served were breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

The authorities contend that Porges and Lowy inflated the number of meals being served at the schools drastically so that they could keep more of the reimbursement from the federal government's Child and Adult Care Food Program. The program focuses on helping vulnerable and at-risk kids. They took advantage of "a program designed to assist the most vulnerable members of our community," Acting United States Attorney Bridget Rohde said.

Commissioner of the city Department of Investigation Mark Peters added, "As charged, these defendants stole food from children in need by diverting millions of dollars in public funds intended to pay for their dinners."

Porges and Lowy face felony charges of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. If convicted, they face up to 20 years behind bars.

Porges' lawyer Henry Mazurek said, "Any public money that was received by the school was used only for the benefit of students and teachers. Not one cent of public money was used for anyone's private interests." He called his client a "dedicated school officer," not some thief. His client had arranged the bond of $500,000 when he was first arrested in May.

Lowy was released on $200,000 bond. His attorney Marc Agnifilo insisted his client would "fight the charges."


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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Mahwah’s Message to Monsey 

There's not a single major Jewish publication in the tri-state area (I believe I've scanned them all) that has escaped the reverberation of the echo chamber.

In case your Shabbos table is one of the few where the topic of the "Mahwah Eruv" has not been rehashed, then let me rehash it for you here. To quote Srully Epstein ("Good Fences, Good Neighbors, The Jewish Link, August 3, 2017): "The month of Av got off to an unpleasant start last week with a petition circulating online to 'Protect the Quality of Our Community in Mahwah,' a New Jersey town, barely 15 miles from my home in Bergenfield. The petition calls on the local electric company to 'remove all eruvs from our Township and revoke all permissions for future installations.' An eruv, the petition explains, is 'used by the Hasidic sect,' and its removal is 'in order to prevent further illegal incursions into our community.'"

Then starts the seamless echo, like a choreographed ballet, where each hands the button off to the next. The code of honor amongst brothers is understood. "Don't really think about what you're saying. Don't investigate the true drivers of the story. Just repeat it like a mantra: Anti-Semitism…"

There's a potpourri to pick from, but let's keep it local.

Srully Epstein: "Never before have I actually felt the sting of anti-Semitism so up-close and personal. I was disgusted and depressed." (For the record I'm a lifelong fan and friend of Srully, his writings, opinions, and I applaud his article here.)

Justin Feldman: "Sure, I had heard about anti-Semitic current events, but they never hit close to home. Until this past Thursday night."

And, Michael Cohen: "Let's work together to defeat hate speech, and stereotyping, and replace it with civil discourse and dialogue."

Well… what if we rather work together to consider another possibility.

What if we consider what happens when we drop that victim cloak, 'cause y'know it's a funny thing—and by funny, I mean tragic—that here too, as with most every news story, the hot buttons of the masses, and the reality, are dearly departed from each other, and close to never dancing together.

As of just 10 days ago I had yet another personal meeting with another of the government personnel of Ramapo, where I live. She was watching her dog run and play, while I was playing with my motorcycle, trying to make it run. Inside the privacy of my head, unshared with her, I was amazed at how she knew every last detail, it seemed, of every last player, and the backroom deals that have taken place here in the Greater Monsey domain. "Well, that's just there in Ramapo," you might think, and say, "What does that have to do with Mahwah?" Well, if you think the phone lines are down between Mahwah and Ramapo … those wires are not being taken down anytime soon. They're right across the Mahwah River.

Here's the thing. The next time you point your fingers because your plan fell through, look down at your hand, and you'll notice (maybe) that you've got three more fingers pointing back at you. It's called taking achreyut, taking responsibility for what befalls you.

Looking over the Mahwah River, from their perspective, you see some ugly realities. And as a fellow human being—not a Jewish one, or gentile one, or a black one, or white one, not a tall one, or skinny one, or rich one, or poor one—just simply as a fellow one, can you not relate to the human instinct to not want to bring your neighbors problems into your own home?

Now, here's the other thing. One of the four greatest value lessons I've learned so far in my life is the uselessness of "being right." In business negotiations, in marriage, in politics and in life in general, a juice box and being right are both worth less than a dollar. So with that in mind, let's start with the now nationally infamous East Ramapo school board battle (in which Orthodox Jews ran for and attained a majority on the school board after having its busing and students with special needs requests ignored and marginalized for too long). If you comb through it slowly, carefully and fairly, as I have, you will probably conclude that "the Orthodox" are "right." Yay. Here's your juice box. Now go home. One of the most involved players of the Mahwah school board said, "Actually, I also think the Orthodox are right on this one. Great. Keep it in Ramapo. We're not looking to be right, and we're not looking to be wrong. We're looking to not be next in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times."

If there was but one life lesson I wish I could impart into the consciousness of my yarmulke-wearing Monsey friends involved within this conflict, it would be to ask yourself but two questions, knowing that the answer to the first question is pennies to dollars in relative value to the answer to the second. (1) Are we right or wrong on this issue? And if right, (2) What is the cost, and long-term consequence, of "being right"? And is it worth the trade-off? The chillul Hashem, and thereby fodder for the malice of men, that you spawned, is now here to haunt you. The ghosts of our past are taking form. Look down. See your hand? Here's your juice box.

Then comes the rezoning of the zoning codes. Now here's where it gets truly ugly. So ugly I won't share details. I'm not looking to add to the crucifixion with my own pen And truth to power, here it gets complicated too. One house per acre(ish) is simply not a reality for an exploding population. It's hard to stand up (and be) straight, when you can't fit into a preset space. Legit., good point. Don't bring it here.

There's three more hot topics in this hot mess. (1) The leverage of people in power with the "big three" that influence the decision-making process of most men. Two of the big three are power and money. All three have been used here. (2) Demographic, hence social environment, changes. And (3) Unavoidable collateral damage of structural and topography changes, but I'm out of allotted space here too, so let's just put our hand back in our pocket, and ask ourselves, (a) Are "they" different from me in simply wanting to protect themselves from their neighbors' mess? (b) Is this a wake-up call to each of us to look down at my hand, see those other three fingers, and start taking achreyut? And (c) Is it still my greatest value to be "right"? If so, here's your juice box. Go home. You won't be welcome anywhere else.

Drop the hackneyed safety cloak of victimhood and start taking achreyus. Then maybe things will change. The Mahwah message to Monsey, then, is "Get your act together, and you'll be welcome everywhere—eruv and all."


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Palm Tree supporters, foes voice opinions 

Supporters of a proposal to separate Kiryas Joel from Monroe by creating a new town had a simple message for Orange County legislators on Tuesday night: vote "yes" to allow a referendum so Monroe residents may decide the future of their own town.

"Please, I beg you," Dorey Houle, a mother of five from Monroe told lawmakers seated on the stage at Central Valley Elementary School. "Let me decide. Let my husband decide what happens to the Town of Monroe."

Other speakers taking turns at the microphones in the auditorium argued the proposed Town of Palm Tree would be unconstitutional or said it hadn't been studied enough, urging lawmakers to vote "no" or postpone voting until more information was available.

"Please just put the brakes on this," Monroe resident Donna Henry said. "It's happening too fast, and without enough information."

A few hundred people attended the public hearing, the first of two the Legislature will hold before voting Sept. 7 on whether to allow a referendum in Monroe on the proposal two months later. If at least 14 of 21 lawmakers authorize a town vote, Monroe voters will decide on Nov. 7 whether to separate the 40-year-old Hasidic village and its 10,000 voters from Monroe, ending a political divide that has long stoked tensions in Monroe. Palm Tree would consist of Kiryas Joel - including 164 acres the village annexed in 2015 - and 56 additional acres.

Both Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus and Pat Davis, the Democrat challenging Neuhaus in the November election, urged lawmakers to support the referendum.

Neuhaus argued that letting Monroe voters determine the outcome was the only issue. He commended the United Monroe citizens group for taking the initiative in negotiating peace with Kiryas Joel leaders, calling the longstanding split in the community "a political Chernobyl that's spilling over into other towns." He dismissed complaints that those talks were held in private, pointing out that four county lawmakers were present to share information with municipal leaders.

"What was the alternative? Harley Doles making the decision on behalf of the town?" Neuhaus asked, to audience laughter, referring to the Monroe town supervisor.

Davis, his challenger, lives in Monroe, and he urged lawmakers to "give me and my neighbors an opportunity to decide our future."

"We must consider this an opportunity to look to the future," he said.

Michael Sussman, the civil-rights attorney from the Town of Chester, recalled representing dissident community members in Kiryas Joel for about 20 years and suing once on their behalf to try to dissolve the village, which he said violates the constitutional separation of church and state. He argued that forming a new town for the Satmar Hasidim would perpetuate that constitutional breach.

"Creating a new religious town echoes the terrible precedent set 40 years ago when the village was carved out of the Town of Monroe," Sussman said.

Supporters of the separation argued that it presented Monroe residents with a brighter future by liberating town government from Kiryas Joel's voting blocs and sparing Monroe-Woodbury School District the fate of East Ramapo School District in Rockland County.

Other speakers countered that Palm Tree's creation will affect towns other than Monroe and that the Legislature vote effectively will decide the outcome, if both Kiryas Joel and United Monroe leaders rally voters behind the town proposal in a referendum.

John Allegro, one of United Monroe's leaders, reversed that argument by saying that just eight county lawmakers could deny more than 20,000 control of their town's future by voting against allowing a referendum. He compared that to a vote by Doles and three other Town Board members in 2015 to let Kiryas Joel annex 164 acres.

"A decision by eight of you not to allow a vote will tie Monroe to KJ forever," Allegro said.


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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Man Menaces French Jewish Family With Knife 

French police detained a man on suspicion of threatening a Jewish man with a knife in the southern city of Cannes.

The Jewish man, identified by the Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism as B. Olivier, said the suspect assaulted him Thursday morning at 11 a.m. while he was trying to cross a road with his wife and baby. Olivier said the man, who appeared to be of European heritage, failed to stop his car at the pedestrian crossing.

According to a report by the anti-semitism watchdog group known in France as BNVCA, passersby prevented the driver from continuing after he narrowly missed hitting Olivier and his family. Olivier then confronted the driver, who told him to "screw his mother."

The driver then got out of the car with a knife and advanced toward Olivier, who was wearing a Star of David pendant, shouting that he would "kill the Jew." Olivier and his family fled the scene.

BNVCA said police were able to identify a suspect, but did not mention whether he had been detained. The group urged the judiciary to charge the suspect with aggravated assault in an indictment that reflects the allegedly anti-Semitic character of the incident.


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Sign at Swiss hotel directed to 'Jewish guests' draws scorn 

Switzerland's tourism office is expressing regret over an "unfortunate" incident in which a small Swiss Alpine hotel posted a sign asking "Jewish guests" to shower before swimming in the hotel pool.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center demanded the closure of the Paradies Arosa hotel in eastern Arosa. On Twitter, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called for "justice."

Swiss Tourism spokesman Markus Berger on Tuesday called the sign "unacceptable," adding it has been removed and hotel management has apologized.

Under "To our Jewish Guests," the sign read: "Please take a shower before you go swimming. If you break the rules, I am forced to cloes (sic) the swimming pool for you. Thank you for your understanding."

Berger cited a trend among some Orthodox Jews of summer travel to the area.


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Monday, August 14, 2017

Court dismisses claims against Charedi schools 

Children attend a Haredi school in Beit Shemesh. A group of former members of the strictly-Orthodox community claim the lack of a core education at their Haredi school damaged their job prospects

The Jerusalem District Court has postponed what could be a landmark ruling on the state's obligation to provide all citizens with a modern education. 

Thirty-three former members of the strictly-Orthodox community say that their applications for university places and jobs have been damaged by their education in schools that do not teach "core subjects" of mathematics, Hebrew, English and sciences. The case was dismissed as the statute of limitations has passed, but it will almost certainly find its way ultimately to the Supreme Court.

Israel is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that every child "should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society". In addition, the government, worried about low productivity and employment within the Charedi community, has been trying for years to convince more strictly-Orthodox schools to teach the "core subjects", in the hope of improving their future vocational skills. 

However, the political power off the Charedi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, which are vital components of the current coalition, has stymied these plans and government funding has continued, despite the rabbis' refusal to adapt the schools' curriculum.

The claim brought by 42 graduates of Charedi schools could create a legal precedent, holding the government responsible for the education of all Israeli children. The state's position is that it provides various types of schools and that it is the parents' responsibility to choose. 

The state attorneys also argued in court that a majority of the claimants are not eligible under the statute of limitations as more than seven years have passed since they left school. The claimants argued that the seven years should be counted from when they applied to university but the court on Thursday accepted the government's argument, meaning that 33 claimants who are over 33 have had to relinquish their case.

Nine claimants remain but the court's prior ruling doesn't bode well for them either. It is unlikely that a district court will make a ruling with widespread implications for the entire political system. 

A similar case is also heading to the courts in Quebec, Canada, where two former Hasidic Jews claim they were "abandoned" by the government in illegal schools, which they left without obtaining elementary or secondary school diplomas.


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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Monsey Jews protest 'anti-Semitic abuse' of 3-year-old boy 

Members of the Jewish community in Monsey, New York are up in arms over the alleged mistreatment of a three-year-old haredi child who was reportedly thrown into the back of a police squad car after being left outside of his home.

The incident occurred last Friday afternoon when the three-and-a-half-year-old boy returned home from summer school to find that the doors of his home were locked and no one appeared to be home.

A non-Jewish neighbor witnessed the boy sitting outside of the front door, and notified police.

Before a police squad car arrived, another neighbor, a member of the haredi community, took the boy inside his home to wait for his parents to arrive.

When the police came, they spoke with the neighbor who had taken the child in to wait for his parents, then left the scene, leaving the child in the care of the neighbor.

Shortly thereafter, however, the officers returned, saying that they were obliged to take the child to a local police station to wait for his parents, and that they could not leave him in the neighbor’s custody.

Witnesses say that the child was frightened by the prospect of leaving his neighborhood with the officers, and that the officers threw the boy into the back of the squad car.

“The boy was thrown like a sack of potatoes into the car,” a witness said, Behadrei Haredim reported.

After waiting at the station for roughly an hour, a relative came to pick up the boy and take him home.

The boy’s family and witnesses claim the police mistreated the child, throwing him into the back of the police care with no apparent concern for his well-being, and that no steps were taken to calm the terrified boy, who was so frightened that he wet his pants during the drive to the station.

Outraged members of the local haredi community blasted the officers’ behavior, and organized a protest, scheduled for 4:00 p.m. local time Sunday.

“Dear Monsey residents,” organizers wrote in their announcement, “we all know what happened last Friday, when two officers dragged a three-and-a-half-year-old boy to a police car with no legal right! Dragged him from the house [of a neighbor] to a police car, with the child in shock [causing him] to wet himself in the police car. That is outrageous! This is absolutely anti-Semitic, they had no legal right to take a person from inside a home without a warrant or a court order!”

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/233864

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Hearings to allow public to weigh in on proposed Town of Palm Tree 

The spectacle of a divided electorate in Monroe could not have been more stark than in the town elections of 2013.

That November, residents from the bulk of Monroe streamed to the polls to vote for Emily Convers and her United Monroe running mates, enduring long lines and ballot shortages to try to overcome what they knew would be a unified vote for the opposition by Kiryas Joel residents.

But voters on the other side of Route 17 did the same thing in mirror image, turning out in droves to cast ballots for Harley Doles and his slate, the candidates endorsed by the Hasidic community’s political leaders.

Vote counts finalized more than two weeks later showed that 5,990 people outside of Kiryas Joel had voted for Convers for town supervisor, and only 396 had supported Doles. But the outcome was even more lopsided in Kiryas Joel: 6,418-6 for Doles. Doles had won the race by almost 800 votes, despite massive turnout and a voter enrollment edge in the two villages and unincorporated town areas outside Kiryas Joel.

Almost four years later, the 2013 election looms over a momentous decision about whether to split off Kiryas Joel into its own town. Under a proposal coming before the Orange County Legislature next month, the Hasidic village and its 10,000 voters would depart from Monroe and its contentious elections, and a new Town of Palm Tree would come into existence.

The Legislature vote is a preliminary hurdle. Monroe voters ultimately would decide on Kiryas Joel’s proposed separation in a townwide referendum on Nov. 7, but only if a two-thirds supermajority, at least 14 of 21 legislators, agree to let the petition proceed to a town vote.

County lawmakers will hold two public hearings on the proposal this week, one in Central Valley on Tuesday and another in Kiryas Joel on Wednesday.

Both Kiryas Joel and United Monroe are supporting the proposed town, having negotiated a reduction in its size and a separate legal agreement with conditions each side had sought. For Kiryas Joel, the proposal offers to conclude litigation over its expansion efforts and defuse tensions over its voters dominating Monroe elections. For United Monroe, it promises elections without Kiryas Joel’s voting blocs and the candidates they empower, and involves less land than Kiryas Joel leaders had initially sought.

“Separating from Kiryas Joel now means Monroe has control over our own zoning, Town Board, planning and future,” Convers, the chairwoman of United Monroe, wrote in a lengthy post on United Monroe’s Facebook page. “Not separating from Kiryas Joel now means being controlled by Kiryas Joel forever. That means high density housing throughout Monroe, that means people like Harley Doles on your Town Board ... forever.”


Doles, in a 2,100-word email on Tuesday to every county lawmaker and a couple dozen other people, questioned the premise for separating without exactly opposing it. Doles himself had suggested separating Kiryas Joel from Monroe upon taking office in 2014. And in his discourse on Tuesday, he argued that “most agree a new town has merit,” but complained about United Monroe negotiating terms that affect the town and bristled at the suggestion that Kiryas Joel had influenced town policies.

“Do they offer any proof?” he wrote. “No! The Where, When or How KJ get special treatment is never explained.”

A four-year land conflict

The Palm Tree proposal is the culmination of a conflict that began at the start of 2014, with the filing of a petition for Kiryas Joel to annex 507 acres from Monroe. That set off a charged debate over the growth of the densely populated Hasidic community and the impact its expansion would have on the otherwise rural and suburban areas surrounding the village.

The ensuing saga has since taken many turns in government halls and courtrooms. Today, Kiryas Joel, which had been 1.1 square miles since its first expansion in 1983, officially controls 164 more acres that the Monroe Town Board allowed it to annex in a climactic vote in 2015. Two court cases challenging that annexation are pending in a state appeals court, following a judge’s decision to dismiss them in October.

Two months before that ruling had come in, the Hasidic community tried a new approach by petitioning the county Legislature to authorize a referendum on separating Kiryas Joel from Monroe. The initial proposal would have joined 382 acres, including the 164 annexed acres, with Kiryas Joel to form a new town. Kiryas Joel leaders later cut 162 acres from the size of the proposed town in negotiations with United Monroe.

How the proposal will fare in the Legislature in September is unclear. The Monroe Democratic Committee announced last weekend it had passed a resolution urging lawmakers to let the proposal advance to a referendum, declaring it “the very essence of democracy” for people to choose their own government. The town’s Republican Committee hasn’t taken a position.

“The proposal to divide Monroe gives the people on both sides of the town the opportunity to solve a number of long-standing problems,” the Democrats’ resolution read. “We believe the people of Monroe should decide the shape of our town, and that the County Legislature should endorse the right of the people of Monroe to make our decision.”

County Legislator Myrna Kemnitz, who issued that statement as the Democratic Committee’s secretary and who will vote with the Legislature on Sept. 7, later said she’ll keep an open mind at the upcoming public hearings, but believes Monroe residents should get a chance to vote on the proposal. Three other lawmakers have so far stated support, and one has come out in opposition.

Monroe reactions

Reactions in Monroe have been mixed, colored by attitudes toward Kiryas Joel, United Monroe and Doles, and by changes that have taken place since the 2013 election. Two Town Board candidates backed by United Monroe won seats in 2015 with a surprising assist from the smaller of Kiryas Joel’s two voting blocs, shifting power away from Doles and his board allies. And several previously dormant housing projects are now under way or awaiting construction, raising the prospect of a growing Hasidic population outside Kiryas Joel.

That suggests to some separation skeptics that a bloc-vote influence may reemerge, even though only about 200 of the 12,580 town voters outside Kiryas Joel are from Hasidic households.

Dan Burke, a former town councilman who lost his seat in the 2015 election, raised a host of issues he said had not been addressed yet, including a detailed analysis of the potential impact that Kiryas Joel’s separation will have on Monroe’s town finances. But he pointed out that he voted in 2015 to encourage Kiryas Joel to separate, and said he’ll vote for the Palm Tree proposal if a referendum is held.

Burke suggested in an email, though, that further discussions take place, writing: “The strong desire for the formation of a new town for our neighbors in the Village of Kiryas Joel presents the opportunity and the leverage for a Grand Plan that would negotiate and settle all issues and allow peace between neighbors for many decades.”

Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin recently proposed to meet with Woodbury leaders to try to settle their legal conflicts, a potential sticking point for some county lawmakers in the upcoming Palm Tree vote. Woodbury and seven other municipalities, along with the county itself, are parties to one of two lawsuits challenging Kiryas Joel’s annexation. Both challenges are pending in the Appellate Division, and would be rendered moot by the creation of Palm Tree, since the annexed land would be part of it.

Supporters argue the benefits of the town proposal outweigh any misgivings, particularly if the alternative to separating is that Kiryas Joel elects a new Town Board and exerts its will over development in the entire town.

Addressing some of those qualms in her Facebook post, Convers argued: “This means that all of those concerns you have about all of the aforementioned issues will be multiplied by 13,000 acres instead of 56.”

http://www.recordonline.com/news/20170812/hearings-to-allow-public-to-weigh-in-on-proposed-town-of-palm-tree

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Hasidic congregation secures $8M in public funding 

An Orange County agency agreed to issue $8 million in tax-exempt bonds for a Hasidic congregation in June, money that the group misleadingly said it would use to buy the two boys schools and surrounding property that it had been renting on County Route 105 in Monroe and Woodbury.

Congregation Bnai Yoel's application referred to the property owner as a "related entity," which was an understatement. Public records indicate that the same seven men run both the congregation and Cody Inc., a shell company created in 1990 to hold the congregation's property. And what was presented as a cost-saving property purchase appears, in reality, to have been a method of refinancing a $5.7 million bank mortgage that Bnai Yoel and Cody Inc. jointly obtained in 2013 and 2014.

There's no sign that the bonding the Orange County Funding Corp. approved for Bnai Yoel was improper, apart from the congregation's deceptive explanation for why it wanted the money. Laurie Villasuso, chief operating officer and executive vice president for the funding agency, said that helping nonprofits refinance their debts is a legitimate use of the corporation's bonding authority. She pointed out the agency did something similar for Mount Saint Mary College in 2012, when it approved up to $75 million in bonds for the Newburgh college to renovate its Dominican Center and pay off earlier bonds.

The funding corporation is not allowed to issue bonds for religious activities. But its bond attorneys had determined the $8 million in bonds for Bnai Yoel "was allocable to portions of the school that relate to secular education and other secular school-related activities," Villasuso said.

Yitzchok Tyrnauer, who is board secretary for both Bnai Yoel and Cody Inc. and signed the bond application, didn't respond to calls and emails from the Times Herald-Record to discuss the transaction.

Stephen Weiss, a Long Island financial adviser who spoke for the congregation at the funding corporation's meeting in May, told the Record he had referred the matter to an attorney for the project and hung up.

Edward Ambrosino, the Long Island attorney who represented Bnai Yoel at the same board meeting in New Windsor, didn't return phone calls.

Less than two months before he sat at that Orange County meeting, a federal grand jury on Long Island indicted Ambrosino on eight counts of wire fraud, tax evasion and other charges, accusing him of depositing in his own account $800,000 in legal fees that belonged to his law firm and failing to pay more than $250,000 in taxes. Ambrosino, who specializes in economic development and financing, had collected $1.3 million in payments from two Nassau County economic development agencies from 2013 to 2015, according to federal authorities. He's free on $250,000 bail while his criminal case is pending.

County records show that Bnai Yoel and Cody Inc. borrowed $5.7 million from the Bank of Princeton through two transactions in 2013 and 2014. The purpose of the mortgage, according to a court petition they submitted to get permission to borrow, was to pay off $4.6 million in private loans and a 2006 mortgage on which the congregation still owed just more than $300,000.

The court papers listed 23 private loans and indicated they had been made to pay for school construction. A financial statement noted that several Bnai Yoel board members had personally lent the congregation $914,000, and said that most of the private loans were repaid right after the initial Bank of Princeton mortgage in 2013.

Bnai Yoel was founded in 1989 and runs religious schools for Kiryas Joel families who don't belong to the Hasidic community's main congregation or use its yeshiva system, known as the United Talmudical Academy. About 2,000 children now attend Bnai Yoel schools, according to the bond application.

The congregation's bond application in March said it was borrowing $8 million to help buy the two schools for $11.5 million. It stated the transaction would provide "lower debt service and lower annual operating costs" and create 20 jobs, giving no explanation for the new jobs.

The county agency that approved the bonds has the same seven-member board and support staff as the county's Industrial Development Agency, but serves a different purpose. The IDA offers property-tax abatements and other tax breaks to encourage companies to locate or expand operations in Orange County. The funding corporation's functions include issuing bonds, typically for nonprofits or manufacturers, according to its mission statement.

The corporation merely acts as a "conduit" for the bonds, which means Bnai Yoel has sole responsibility for making regular payments to the bond holders. The corporation plays no part in that debt service and wouldn't be liable if the congregation defaults, Villasuso said.


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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Newport congregation seeks rehearing in fight over Touro Synagogue 



The congregation that worships in America's oldest synagogue building will ask for a rehearing of the case that gave control of its pricey artifacts to the building's historic trustees.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston last week ruled in favor of Manhattan's Shearith Israel, which is the oldest Jewish congregation in the country, giving it control of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, the religious home of Congregation Jeshuat Israel.

The decision also gave the Manhattan synagogue ownership of silver Torah ornaments, called rimonim and valued at $7.4 million, that the congregation in Newport had hoped to sell in order to build an endowment.

Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who occasionally sits in on cases in the 1st Circuit and wrote last week's decision, this week gave the Newport congregation an extension until Sept. 5 to file a rehearing petition at the congregation's request, the Associated Press reported.

The case concerns "the continued vitality of the congregation that has prayed in that synagogue for well over a hundred years," read the Jeshuat Israel filing, according to the AP.

The historic Touro Synagogue was founded in the 18th century by a Sephardic Jewish community whose numbers declined over the years. Shearith Israel, a Sephardic congregation that was established in 1654 and has worshipped at various sites in Manhattan, has served as trustee of the Touro Synagogue dating back to the early 19th century. Jeshuat Israel,  founded in 1881 as Ashkenazi immigrants began flooding America from Eastern Europe, has worshiped at Touro for more than a century.

The current dispute began in 2012, when Jeshuat, which still holds regular services at Touro, attempted to sell the silver ornaments to establish an endowment to maintain a rabbi and care for the building, which was designated a national historic site in 1946. Shearith Israel sued to stop the sale and attempted to evict the 120-family congregation from the building.

The rimonim have been on loan from the Touro Synagogue to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which had made an offer to purchase them. The museum has since rescinded its offer.


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Wednesday, August 09, 2017

$4000 per marriage? 

The "Rebbe," or Grand Rabbi of Boyan met with all the local matchmakers Monday, and urged them to male a special effort to marry off the "older singles" in his community.

"Older singles" is a term used for unmarried men over 23, and women over 21.

The Rebbe promised a $4,000 reward to anyone whose suggestion led to marriage.

A similar initiative was recently adopted by the Belz Hasidic group.

The Center of the Belz institutions made it clear that on instructions from the Rebbe, any matchmaker who successfully matched a young man or woman over the age of twenty in the next six months would receive $1,000.

The Skver Hasidic sect in the United States currently gives matchmakers $3,000 for every marriage they make involving an older single.

Hassidic Jews are expected to marry young, often at 18, and one that does not succeed to finding a match before the age of 23 is often considered 'damaged goods,' making it significantly harder in a community where men and woman are expected to meet through a matchmaker.


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Millburn officials looking into anti-Semitic faxes 

Pages seen on top of a fax machine at Town Hall in

Municipal officials are looking into an anti-Semitic diatribe that was faxed to Town Hall on Monday.

The one-page fax sent to the municipality multiple times says that in Europe before World War II, the Hasidic Jewish group, Chabad, would "kidnap Christian peasant boys and slice off their penis[es]."

The text reads as follows:

"The impoverished Christians of Europe dearly loved their beautiful, innocent boys, but the religious Jews viciously mutilated them. The Hasidic Jews would then sing and dance joyously all night in their Yeshivas and synagogues."

The 79-word text was written in all capital letters.

Assistant Township Business Administrator Jimmy Homsi said he kept one of the printouts, which were located on a fax machine on the second floor of Town Hall when he arrived Tuesday morning, and he shredded the remaining printouts.

"We're looking into it where it came from, when and all that stuff," Homsi said. He declined to say whether the Millburn Police Department had been notified.

Two phone messages and an email to a Police Department spokesman were not returned on Tuesday.

Township Business Administrator Alex McDonald was not immediately available for comment.

The text bears a similarity to the centuries-old false allegation that Jews murder Christians, especially Christian children, something referred to as blood libel, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

It is not the first time such a fax has been sent to a local government, a spokesman for the ADL said.

The Miami Dade Attorney General's office received a similar fax in December 2016. In January 2016, village halls in the Rockland County, N.Y. municipalities of Wesly Hills and Pomona received similar messages via fax, said Joshua Cohen, regional director for the ADL's New Jersey office.

"Incidents like these are deeply disturbing," Cohen said. "No one should have to receive a fax or a phone call or an email, which in this case was an anti-Semitic diatribe.

"It's imperative that when individuals, or in this case Millburn Town Hall, receives a hate-filled rant like this, that they immediately contact law enforcement, make a report and work with law enforcement to identify the sender."


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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

SCHOOLS ILLEGAL : FIRST VICTORY FOR EX-HASIDIC JEWS 

A couple of ex-hasidic jews, Yohanon Lowen and Clara Wasserstein, who sued the government of Quebec because it is thought to have been abandoned in schools illegal from Boisbriand, has won a first victory in front of the court, learned VAT News.

Their request could be heard by the court and their case will go forward, ruled the tribunal, which has dismissed recently the request of the attorney general of Quebec that wanted to cancel the procedure.

“The government has tried to reject, at the preliminary stage, our motion for declaratory judgment. However, the superior Court instead denied the request of the attorney general of Quebec. This is a first victory for us. The court comes to say that our clients have a clear interest to submit the application and that it is a serious issue which deserves to be decided by the courts”, has explained to Me Clara Poissant-Lespérance.

“They come to ask the government to stop doing nothing in the folder of the schools illegal and they want a decision in this sense. This couple, former members of the hasidic jewish community of Boisbriand, has no diplomas of elementary and secondary education. They felt abandoned by the government which tolerates these schools illegal,” says their lawyer.

https://sherbrooktimes.com/schools-illegal-first-victory-for-ex-hasidic-jews/26584

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Monday, August 07, 2017

'You cost us a Knesset seat' 

Yaakov Litzman

Health Minister Yakov Litzman (UTJ), who represents his party's Agudat Yisrael faction, slammed the Lithuanian-haredi faction Degel Hatorah for losing the party seats.

Agudat Yisrael is the hasidic-haredi faction of the Ashkenazic-haredi UTJ.

Speaking to MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ), who leads the Degel Hatorah faction, Litzman said, "I'm not going to explain two years of political fights against me in five minutes. We have a committee of Torah scholars, and so do they. He won't force me to think the way he does. I have a right to think differently."

Earlier, Gafni accused Litzman of working to prevent Degel from garnering support in Haifa. Responding to this, Litzman said, "I did not disturb Degel Hatorah's work in Haifa. On the contrary, I met with Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and encouraged him to allow the Degel Hatorah representative to be his deputy. I did everything I could to help, but they rebuffed all my offers."

The United Torah Judaism party is a joint list of the hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction and the non-hasidic Degel Hatorah faction. Degel Hatorah was founded in 1988 at the behest of Rabbi Elazar Shach, who had pushed for the establishment of a party dedicated to the needs of the non-hasidic haredi community. Currently, Agudat Yisrael is represented in the Knesset by four of UTJ's six MKs, while Degel has two.

"The Degel Hatorah faction thinks our party should be comprised 60% of their representatives. They lost us a mandate. I think we [UTJ] should be comprised 70% of our Agudat Yisrael party."

"It was the Lithuanian-haredi community who did not vote for us. Degel Hatorah needs to do some soul searching and think about the damage they have caused. And they should not ask us for compensation right now."

Sephardic-haredi Shas party head Aryeh Deri, who serves as Israel's Interior Minister despite resigning from the position in 1993 after being charged with corruption, said, "Despite what LItzman has said, you should know that Litzman and Gafni sit together in the Knesset and cooperate so well you would think they were a pair of doves."

A recent poll showed UTJ as retaining its current six Knesset seats, down from seven in 2013. Shas, on the other hand, would drop to four seats. Another poll showed UTJ receiving seven seats, with Shas remaining stable at six seats.


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Sunday, August 06, 2017

Uneasy Welcome as Ultra-Orthodox Jews Extend Beyond New York 

 

To the gentrifying stew of bankers, artists and college graduates who are transforming this once blue-collar city across the Hudson River from Manhattan, add an unexpected flavor.

In a heavily African-American neighborhood, 62 families from a number of Hasidic sects based in Brooklyn and rarely seen here have bought a scattering of faded but roomy wood-frame rowhouses whose prices are less than half what homes of similar size would cost in New York — roughly $300,000 compared with $800,000.

These families are pioneers in a demographic and religious shift that is reshaping communities throughout the region. Skyrocketing real estate prices in Brooklyn and Queens are forcing out young ultra-Orthodox families, which are establishing outposts in unexpected places, like Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, the Willowbrook neighborhood on Staten Island and in Bloomingburg, N.Y., in the foothills of the Catskills.

The influx, however, has provoked tensions with long-established residents, as the ultra-Orthodox seek to establish a larger footprint for their surging population. Residents complain that investors or real estate agents representing the ultra-Orthodox community have been ringing doorbells persistently, offering to buy properties at “Brooklyn prices.” Jersey City, Toms River and Jackson have all passed no-knock ordinances barring such inquiries under the threat of fines or have banned solicitations altogether.

The mayor of Jersey City, Steven Fulop, said his town took pride in its diversity but had been concerned about “very aggressive solicitation.”

“They literally go door to door and can be very pushy trying to purchase someone’s house,” Mr. Fulop, a grandson of Holocaust survivors and a graduate of yeshivas, said in an interview. “It’s not the best way to endear yourself to the community, and there’s been a lot of pushback.”

In Jersey City, a Hasidic influx has provoked some tension among longtime residents who complain of aggressive tactics from buyers seeking to purchase homes for Hasidic families. The city now prohibits door-to-door solicitation. Credit Bryan Anselm for The New York Times
New York City and the surrounding suburbs are home to the largest concentration of Jews in the country and because of their high birthrate — five or six children are common — Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox Jews represent the fastest-growing subset. They are now estimated to number about 330,000 in New York City alone — one-third of the city’s overall Jewish population.

They have become a more muscular political and social force and have turned the generally liberal profile of the area’s Jews more observant and conservative. Lakewood Township, near the Jersey Shore, voted for Donald J. Trump last year by the largest margin — 50 percentage points over Hillary Clinton — of any New Jersey community, according to an analysis by NJ Advance Media.

Squeezed out of their traditional neighborhoods, ultra-Orthodox Jews have taken steps that have raised concerns as they settle into new communities.

Michele Massey, a former Jersey City councilwoman who is the executive director of an organization that oversees a commercial corridor along Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, said Hasidim had opened a synagogue on the avenue despite a recent zoning change forbidding new houses of worship.

“It’s not because they’re Jewish,” Ms. Massey said of her opposition. “It could have been any other religion or group. It was simply the zoning law. I’m a person of color. Obviously I don’t care who lives where.”

The Hasidim contend that they have been primarily buying boarded-up or vacant homes and that solicitations have come from outside investors, not from the families that have moved in. They support the city’s no-knock law and point out that the Hasidic families that have moved into the Greenville neighborhood are a minuscule fraction of the area’s 47,000 people, half of whom are black.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/nyregion/ultra-orthodox-jews-hasidim-new-jersey.html

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Saturday, August 05, 2017

Email shows Hasidic community knew about slumlord abduction for 2 hours before calling cops 


Jona Rechnitz sent an ­e-mail to Mayor De Blasio saying that a Hasidic community patrol knew about an infamous 2014 abduction of a Brooklyn slumlord two hours before notifying police.

An e-mail released Friday showed that the real-estate investor — a major mayoral donor now implicated in a corruption scandal — notified De Blasio that the Shomrim patrol was aware of Menachem Stark’s abduction in a message titled “Hassidic [sic] Jew burned.”

“The shomrim knew 2 hours before they called then [sic] NYPD. Maybe police could have caught the killers early enough had they known,” read the e-mail dated Jan. 4, 2014.

Stark was abducted and thrown in a Dodge Caravan on Jan. 2, 2014. His body was later found burned inside a dumpster. Two brothers were nabbed in the murder in 2016.

http://nypost.com/2017/08/04/email-shows-hasidic-community-knew-about-slumlord-abduction-for-2-hours-before-calling-cops/

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Friday, August 04, 2017

Hasidic Jews protest Monsey store's sale of smartphones to religious community members 

Ping Cellular at the Town Square mall on Route 59 in

Several hundred Hasidic men protested Friday outside Ping Cellular, saying the store, owned and managed by Orthodox Jews, is selling smart phones to young Hasidic men, whose rabbis prohibit phones that can connect to the Internet.

Protesters, including members of the anti-Israel groups Torah Jewry and Neturei Karta, said the store's management is defying rabbinical orders and has been spoken to about selling the phones to younger members of the religious community.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jewish rabbis have ordered a ban on the Internet for their followers on the grounds that exposure to the secular world leads to moral corruption, sexual promiscuity, and infidelity. The Internet also provides news that the community leaders can't censor.

Basic cell phones without Internet connections are permitted.

"The store pushes young people to buy smartphones when all they want is the basic phone," protester Dov Cohen, of the group Torah Jewry, said. "They are defying the word of the rabbis and the Torah."

Ping Cellular, a Verizon Wireless dealer, is located in the Town Square Mall along Route 59. The strip mall includes the Evergreen Supermarket and other stores that cater the religious community.

Store manager Pinchas Blau said the protesters has the right to raise their voices.

"America is a great democracy that allows freedom of speech, including the freedom to protest peacefully,"  Blau said. "I embrace this concept and practice as a patriotic American."

Blau said the store agrees the "dangers of unfiltered and unfettered access to the internet, especially for children, is well-documented by researchers and professionals. "

He said they "strongly recommend and refer our customers to a community-based volunteer organization ...  which will install filters free of charge."

The protesters held up signs in Hebrew and chanted slogans, as they lined up in the parking lot. A half-dozen Ramapo police officers were at the scene. The officers also spoke with the manager of Ping.

Sgt. Anthony Giardina said the protest remained peaceful, for the most part.

"Some people got a little rowdy," he said.

Emotions got a bit hot when TzaliFortgang unfolded an Israeli flag to protest the protesters opposed to the state of Israel.

"We all agree the Internet can be very dangerous if it's used the wrong way," Fortgang said inside the store. "It can kill a child forever. Next door, they sell bleach and ammonia, which can kill a child if misused."

He said the key is not to ban smartphones but to educate people. He said the police moved him from the scene.

"If they can protest, I can raise the flag of Israel," Fortgand said. "We all have that freedom in America."

Massive community meetings by Hasidic Jewish leaders in New York and Israel during the past few years, attended by thousands, have urged bans against the Internet and smartphones.

In Monsey on Friday, protester Joseph Rosenberg said the pressure would remain until the  Ping Cellular owners stop selling smartphones. He said other stores that sell smartphones in Monsey keep the devices under the counter, and don't promote them.

"All the rabbis say we should not use smartphones," Rosenberg said. "We came to tell them. They still try pushing the smartphones. We came to protest against this."

http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/rockland/2017/08/04/hasidic-jews-protest-monsey-stores-sale-smartphones-religious-community-members/540802001/

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Thursday, August 03, 2017

Three teens identified in Boston-area Jewish cemetery vandalism 

Police have identified three teenage boys as responsible for the toppling of headstones in a historic Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts.

One of the teens, who all live in Melrose, a city near Boston, is facing felony charges of damaging headstones and malicious destruction of property over $250. The discovery of the vandals' identities was announced Tuesday.

The other two teens were present when the six headstones were kicked over at the Netherlands Cemetery on Thursday morning are not being charged as of now. Only the footprints of one teen were found on the toppled headstones and other ones, according to the Wicked Local news website for North of Boston, citing local police.

The vandalism is not being treated as a hate crime, according to police.

The incident was a "bad decision by youths," a police spokesman told the local news website, and did not include elements of bias.

The Netherlands Cemetery, formally called the Netherlands Cemetery Association and Roxbury Mutual Society Burial Ground, is the third-oldest Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts and contains about 475 graves, according to the Mayor's Office. It was established in 1859 by a group of Dutch Jews living in Greater Boston.


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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s son, Yoni, jumps in race for City Councilman David Greenfield’s seat 

Yoni Hikind

Looks like there will be a race for Councilman David Greenfield's seat after all.

Yoni Hikind — son of Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a political rival of Greenfield's — is jumping in the race as an independent candidate, he told the Daily News.

"I want people to appreciate and understand that democracy means their right to have a choice," Hikind said. "I look at this as a job interview."

Greenfield announced last month he not would run for re-election and would instead become the CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. But he made it public after the deadline for candidates to get on the primary ballot — clearing the way for Kalman Yeger, an ally of Greenfield's, to take his spot on the Democratic ballot. Yeger was appointed by a committee to fill vacancies controlled by Greenfield.

Hikind's name has since come up repeatedly as a potential challenger — sometimes floated by his father. But while many insiders will see the younger Hikind's challenge to Yeger as a proxy war between his dad and Greenfield, the new candidate dismissed that as "inside baseball."

"There are people who know my father and know that's not what it's about for them and people who know me and know that that's certainly not what it's about for me," he said. "There's (an) open seat which is now going to have a race as opposed to no one opposing Mr. Yeger, and there's someone named Yoni Hikind who wants the voters to have the choice about who will represent them in the Council."

Hikind said he will begin collecting petitions Wednesday, to run on his own line called "Our Neighborhood."

His entry comes into the race after good government groups criticized the timing of Greenfield's departure.

Hikind, 36, of Midwood, has his master's in social work and has worked as a counselor — and said he sees elected office as another way to help people on a larger scale.

The younger Hikind also held a part-time spot in the Assembly, that his dad admitted to The News he'd helped secure — which paid little but involved just enough hours for Yoni Hikind to get health insurance, which was not offered at the yeshiva where he worked at the time.

Hikind said he took the job, with Assemblyman Peter Abbate, to learn more about politics — to "get my feet wet, not just being my father's son."

While he admits he'll look to his dad for advice "every once in a while," Hikind said he'd be running as his own candidate.

"I laid down the ground rules for my father when I made this decision and I told him, 'I'll call you when I want to ask you a question,'" he said. "This is my campaign and he really respects that and he understands the need for me to do it."

The Yeger campaign did not immediately comment on Hikind's plans to enter the race.


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Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Upper Saddle River man arrested in eruv tampering 

Police cited an 80-year-old borough man who on Friday was allegedly found tampering with a religious boundary recently installed by a New York Hasidic group, according to authorities.

Around 3:30 p.m., police discovered Edmund Zelhof removing a PVC pipe from a Sparrownbush Road utility pole, Detective Lieutenant Edward Kane said in a statement.

Hasidic Jews from Monsey have used the pipe to mark their religious perimeter, or eruv.

Police issued Zelhof a summons for criminal mischief, a disorderly persons offense, according to Kane.

His statement did not say if the offense constituted a bias crime.

In the days prior, police discovered vandalism to the eruv in other areas of Mahwah and Upper Saddle River.

A police investigation is remains underway, according to a statement from Upper Saddle River.

http://www.northjersey.com/story/news/bergen/upper-saddle-river/2017/08/01/upper-saddle-river-man-arrested-eruv-tampering/531208001/

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