Monday, November 30, 2009

A citizen's patrol informed by faith 

At 10 p.m. on a Monday in Northwest Baltimore, more than 20 Orthodox Jewish men are packed into a two-room apartment with a couch and maps of the nearby synagogues, eating kosher chili and discussing how to respond to the next neighborhood emergency.

Those gathered here are members of Shomrim, Hebrew for "watchers," and they make up a round-the-clock citizens patrol, complete with matching jackets, radios and a hot-line number that area residents know as well as 911. Members have intervened in suicide attempts, divided the neighborhood into quadrants and fanned out to look for missing people, thwarted bicycle thefts and saturated areas hit by burglaries to report suspicious people to police.

"They're an invaluable service to the district," said Maj. Johnny Delgado, commander of Baltimore's Northwest District. "There's not a day that goes by that we're not in contact about something."

Here's how serious Shomrim members are: Last year they brought a playbook to an informal game of flag football with a group of district police officers and won, 40-13. This year's rematch, a fundraiser at Northwestern High School earlier this month, raised $21,000 for the Police Department's mounted unit and was attended by Mayor Sheila Dixon and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

The group, which counts among its members a lawyer, an auto mechanic, a pharmacist, a jeweler, a psychologist, a salesman, a roofer and an accountant, started in late 2005 after a rash of burglaries in the city's Orthodox community around Upper Park Heights and Greenspring. Several men, including business owners, decided to start patrolling the streets in the early morning hours.

"We had guys out from midnight to 4 pretty much every night, with the concept that anybody out on the street between then is a possible suspect or victim," said Ron Rosenbluth, one of the founding members and owner of Tov Pizza, a kosher pizza place on Reisterstown Road. "And we got lucky in the first couple days to catch one of the burglars."



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Refuah Health Center in New Square awarded grant to expand 

One of four federally funded health clinics in Rockland has been awarded a state grant to help double its space as the number of patients using its services continues to grow.

The expansion comes as Refuah Health Center , which was founded to serve the Hasidic residents of New Square, makes an effort to reach out to nearby communities such as Spring Valley that have large numbers of residents who do not have access to health care.

”We want the community to know that our services are available to everyone,“ said Corinna Manini, a physician who serves as medical director to the clinic. ”Reaching out to the community is a very high priority for us.“

Refuah, which means ”recovery“ in Hebrew, was founded more than 20 years ago, primarily to serve New Square, an exclusively Hasidic Jewish village in Ramapo.

In the past six years, the patients it serves has more than doubled, according to a grant application filed by the center with the New York state Department of Health.

There were 51,690 patient visits in 2002. By 2006, that number increased 112 percent to 109,524 visits, according to state records.

”Refuah is currently functioning at near-maximum capacity,“ the center wrote in an application to the state Department of Health seeking approval for its expansion plan.

The center is in the process of constructing a five-story building next to its current location on North Main Street.

Refuah estimated the cost of the new building will be $4.7 million. Much of that will be paid for with a combination of grants.

The center has been awarded a $1.45 million grant from the HEAL NY program to expand primary care at its New Square location and is asking for permission from the state Department of Health to use those funds to help pay for the new building.

HEAL NY, or Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers, is a state program designed to make health care more efficient. It seeks to emphasize primary and preventive care in community settings rather than costlier hospital care.



Saturday, November 28, 2009

Pictures of the opening of the new Masbia in Flatbush 



Friday, November 27, 2009

Eight nights of apps: iPhone programs put Chanukah in the palm of your hand 

On the road during Chanukah and feel the need to light candles? There’s an app for that.

Lost all your dreidels and want to play a quick game? There’s an app for that.

Need to know how many days you have left to buy Chanukah presents? There’s an app for that, too.

Chanukah-themed applications have been a presence in Apple’s iTunes App Store almost since its inception, and with the holiday beginning Dec. 11, a number of new applications have cropped up to help iPhone and iPod Touch users meld technology with the ancient holiday.

When Apple debuted the App Store in July 2008, it contained 500 applications (known as apps) that could be downloaded and installed on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Earlier this month, the company announced that it had just surpassed 100,000 apps and 2 billion downloads.

Jewish developers have pounced on the ability to bring a little Yiddishkeit to the handheld devices, and today there are dozens of Jewish-themed apps available at the store.

Some of them are obvious: Siddur, iTalmud, Hebrew Date. An app called Mikvah shows users the nearest mikvah and provides a checklist of pre-mikvah preparations. The Los Angeles–based Kabbalah Centre International sells the Dialing God app, featuring kabbalistic meditations and blessings.

Then there are the more offbeat apps. ParveOMeter counts down the waiting time between eating dairy and meat; iCharity allows one to deposit virtual coins into a virtual tzedakah box; and if you’re wondering whether mahi-mahi is OK to eat, download Kosher Fish.

And then there are the holiday-based apps: Megillas Esther for Purim, several Omer-counting apps and numerous Passover apps, including haggadahs and a game called Find the Matzah.

But when it comes to Jewish holidays, Chanukah has a clear monopoly on the App Store. From iDreidel to DaysTo Hanukkah to Mobile Menorah, there’s an app for everything you might need for the holiday — except maybe one that makes latkes.

“All the kids in my family are always grabbing at my iPhone, so I figured they should play a Jewish game,” said Jeff Howard, creator of a Chanukah-themed app called Super Dreidel.



Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bethel voting results unchanged 

The challenged voters in Bethel were not plentiful enough to make a difference in the outcome of the race for councilperson in Bethel.

About 90 ballots of challenged voters were set aside and remain unopened. But the other absentee ballots, more than 200 of them, were opened November 19, and slightly widened the gap between councilperson Denise Frangipane and her rival, Benji Freihling. Her lead stands at about 130 votes. Thus, there are not enough challenged votes to change the election.

On November 16, lawyer Gerald Orseck went before Judge Frank LaBuda and asked him to dismiss the challenges to the vote because the voters were informed of the challenges a day later than they should have been. But now that the point is moot, Orseck has withdrawn the motion.

However, that does not mean there is an end to the matter. It must still be determined whether the Hasidic voters who listed buildings in bungalow colonies as their local addresses will be allowed to remain as registered voters in the town.

Lawmaker David Sager, who challenged the voter registrations and who founded the group Voters for Election Integrity (VEI), said that the group plans to move ahead with the challenges. He said, “It’s been our contention all along that we weren’t challenging a simple election, we’re challenging the process and asking what are the requirements of a valid voter in a community.”

VEI’s position has been that bungalow colonies, which are unheated and uninhabited for much of the year, do not qualify as addresses for voting purposes under state law which requires “fixed, permanent and principle residences.”

Faith Kaplan, a Sullivan County Board of Elections commissioner, said that the board would be making a determination some time in the future, but has not set a date.

Frangipane said of the election results in an email, “This was a long and, at times, difficult election. I am glad to be through the process. The voters of Bethel have spoken and I am looking forward to continuing to work on their behalf. I now have four years to work with the board and the community to move forward on the issues and ideas for which I was elected.”

Freihling said he was thankful for the support he got from residents, and he would be working hard in the future to further the interests of the town and its businesses. He also said it was very possible he would be running for political office in the future.



Board hiring 'a declaration of war' 

A lawyer embroiled in a controversy over more than a half-million dollars in state pension payments has been hired by a bloc of the East Ramapo Board of Education, sending the already-divided community into turmoil.

“This is a declaration of war,” said the district’s deputy superintendent, Joe Farmer, at last week’s school board meeting.

The five men who approved employing Albert D’Agostino offered no reasons for their vote, which came in the early hours while the school board president, Nathan Rothschild, was away. Rothschild did ask the board to reschedule the vote for a special meeting, but it went forward anyway.

There has long been an undercurrent of tension between the public and private religious school communities in East Ramapo. The Hasidic Jewish community, which largely sends its children to private yeshivas, has clamored for years for lower school taxes. In recent years, more and more Hasidic Jews have joined the school board, with four now holding seats on the nine-member board.

There are— public schools in the East Ramapo Central School District, which is the largest district in Rockland County. The district’s budget of $293 million does not account for a new, more expensive lawyer, Schools Superintendent Ira Oustatcher said.

D’Agostino would charge $250 an hour, a rate about twice that of the former lawyer, Stephen Fromson. Because D’Agostino would commute from Long Island, he has also asked for $125 an hour for transportation.

Oustatcher estimated that D’Agostino would cost the district $600,000 to $1.36 million over the school year, as opposed to Fromson, who charged as little as $350,000.

“I think we’ve betrayed the public trust,” said one board member, Mimi Calhoun. “I think we’ve betrayed an attorney who has served us in a stellar capacity for 33 years. He’s just been the backbone of this district and has been very wise in his guidance.”



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hassidim Orthodox Jews portrayed in Stamford Hill photographic exhibition 

A photographic exhibition giving a rare insight into the rituals of the Orthodox Jewish community is on display in Stamford Hill.

The self-contained Hassidim community is something of a mystery, even to other London Jews, and documentary photographer Andrew Aitchison puts it down to building relationships and gaining their trust that he was able to photograph them over the course of five years.

The photos can be seen at Madame Lillie's Gallery, 10 Cazenove Road in Stamford Hill, from Friday to Sunday from noon to 6pm.



Tuesday, November 24, 2009

East Ramapo board makes bad decision on attorney 

I just watched a YouTube video of last week’s East Ramapo Board of Education meeting. (Go to www.youtube.com/polanve to view video of the Nov.' meeting.) At the meeting, the school board decided to replace its longtime attorneys to hire a Long Island lawyer, Albert D’Agostino, who is under investigation by the New York attorney general.

The current attorneys charge the district $120 per hour, with no transportation surcharge. The new attorney will charge the district $250 per hour, with a $125 per hour transportation charge. Since the office of the attorney in question is in Valley Stream, that means a minimum of an hour to an hour and a half travel time each way, making the minimum cost of a one-hour consultation $500. Aren’t there qualified attorneys who work out of Rockland?

But it gets worse.

Three members of the East Ramapo school board indicated that they had not been notified in advance that the proposed attorney was coming to be interviewed, and therefore were unprepared with questions. No other prospective candidates were interviewed, nor were the current attorneys informed that the school board was contemplating changes. The current attorneys, therefore, were given no chance to propose changes to the way they conduct business to bring them into line with the board’s expectations. Nathan Rothschild, the president of the school board, wasn’t present at the meeting, but Superintendent Ira Oustatcher said Rothschild had sent a letter requesting the attorney matter be tabled until the next meeting, when it could be the only item on the agenda.

Several school board members repeatedly asked what the bottom line cost would be, and how the increase could possibly be paid for. The board member pushing for a vote, Aron Weider, who chaired the meeting, said he could not provide exact figures.

The actions undertaken at the Nov.' meeting should be reviewed by the New York State Department of Education.



Monday, November 23, 2009

East Ramapo request for election change languishes with state 

Shavuot celebrates the day Jews believe God gave the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai. This year, it coincides with the annual school budget voting date.

In July, the East Ramapo Central School District sent a change-of-date request to the state commissioner of education, asking that the election be moved up one week, from May 18 to May 11.

In a community that is largely composed of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, twice the amount of children attend private and religious schools as opposed to public. And although the polls would be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on May 18, observant Jews would be unable to vote after sundown, cutting nearly three hours off their polling time.

More than four months have passed since the request was filed. Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the Education Department, said Education Commissioner David Steiner is looking into the matter. He couldn’t provide any specifics as to when it might be resolved.

"I don’t see this as a big deal," East Ramapo Superintendent of Schools Ira Oustatcher said of the request. "We will be curtailed by one week."

Even though East Ramapo is the sole petitioner to change the election date, the commissioner’s decision could affect the whole state — roughly 750 districts, according to Sandy Cokeley, the director of community relations for the Pearl River school district.

"This will result in many districts having to make a lot of adjustments," Cokeley said.

Dunn could not confirm whether or not the commissioner’s ruling would affect the entire state.

If statewide, however, the dates for school board candidate nominating petitions, property-tax report card, and the budget hearings, mailings and notices would all have to be moved up in order to vote by May 11.

"The date is the same everywhere in the state," said Steve White, an East Ramapo parent and frequent critic of the school board. "They have a calendar that no one really understands and every year they make a big stink about it."

If the request is denied by Steiner, a portion of East Ramapo voters would be unable to go to the polls.

"Two-thirds of the district are religious Orthodox Jews that will be observing the holiday," Oustatcher said. "We would like an alternative and we asked for it."



Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pictures of trailer smashing into underpass in Flatbush 



Saturday, November 21, 2009

Seaside Heights man sentenced to 25 years for bias robberies 

A 43-year-old Seaside Heights man who admitted driving much younger men to violently rob Orthodox Jews was sentenced this morning to 25 years in prison for his role in the crimes.

Before he was sentenced, Jose Diaz Jr. of Franklin Boulevard professed to have no advance knowledge that violence was going to be imparted during the crimes.

But First Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Ronald F. DeLigny said Diaz was almost twice as old as the two men he transported to the crimes, and he did that "knowing full well" the victims of the robberies were likely to be injured.

"I didn't know who was getting hurt," he told Superior Court Judge James Den Uyl. "I knew about a robbery, but hurting somebody, no, I don't think so. I don't hate nobody."

Diaz pleaded guilty on Sept. 21 to conspiracy to commit robbery and bias intimidation in connection with an incident on May 25, 2008 in Lakewood in which David Davidovish, then 38 and visiting from Israel, was attacked with a baseball bat and robbed of several hundred dollars and a laptop computer. Authorities said a codefendant, Devon Hardy, 20, of Lakewood smashed the windshield of Davidovish's car with a baseball bat as the victim was parked in the lot of a convenience store on Route 9.

Diaz also pleaded guilty to robbery and bias intimidation in connection with an incident on July 8, 2008 in Lakewood in which a rabbi, Jack Goldbaum, then 41, of Lakewood was accosted in front of his home.

Diaz has admitted that he drove Hardy and Timothy Swift, 19, of Toms River to that robbery, knowing that Hardy was armed with a knife. Goldbaum was punched and stabbed four times, and his wallet stolen.

Authorities said Orthodox Jews were targeted because they were unlikely to resist the robberies.

Den Uyl ordered that 15 years of Diaz's 25-year sentence be subject to the state's No Early Release Act, which requires that 85 percent of the term be served before he can be considered for release on parole.

Den Uyl on Oct. 9 sentenced Hardy to 30 years in prison for the two robberies, and Swift to 10 years in prison for the robbery he participated in. Both must serve 85 percent of their prison terms before they can be considered for release on parole.



Friday, November 20, 2009

Hasidic voting issues linger in Town of Bethel elections 

While absentee ballots in Bethel won't change outcomes in town races, the issue of whether newly registered Hasidic residents from several bungalow colonies will be allowed to vote in future elections will linger into the winter.

Incumbent Councilwoman Denise Frangipane picked up a few votes over Benjamin Friehling for a seat on the Town Council, the only race in doubt.

Frangipane, a Democrat, and Republican incumbent Richard Crumley will take the two seats. Supervisor Dan Sturm also easily won in his race against former Supervisor Harold Russell.

While Frangipane held a sizable lead over Friehling, there was a possibility her race would be thrown into state Supreme Court next week.

That's because some 89 ballots from newly registered Hasidic voters from the bungalow colonies were challenge and have not yet been counted.

After other absentees were counted, Frangipane unofficially held a 126-vote lead, meaning that the 89 challenged ballots can't affect the race. The Board of Elections will review each challenged ballot to determine if they should be counted.

It is likely, however, the issue will wind up in court this winter. Hasidic groups began a voter drive this summer after the town and the Brooklyn-based United Talmudical Academy went to court over the rapid construction of a shul on Schultz Road.

"We challenged the validity of the registrations," Legislator David Sager said.

He vowed to press on until the law is clarified to determine if the new registrations meet the residency requirement.

"We are not just challenging the votes of a certain election. This has long-term implications."

Moshe Goldberger, who newly switched his registration from a Brooklyn address, drove up to watch the opening.

He owns a piece of land in Bethel, and a mobile home on Route 17B.

"The only reason I was challenged is because I am Hasidic," Goldberger said. "I proved to the Board of Elections there was a house there."



Lakewood development plan heads to Trenton 

The town's development footprint for the next 20 years heads to Trenton to seek the state's blessing after the township committee adopted the controversial measure Thursday with some minor amendments.

Following a series of public input forums that culminated last month with a divided crowd of more than 500 people, committee members voted unanimously to accept a smart growth plan that includes dense commercial centers and double the housing stock in the next two decades.

"Just because we don't pass a plan doesn't mean construction will stop," Committeeman Steven Langert said. "What we need to do is find a way to control it."

Opposition lay mostly with seniors and preservationists who insisted the town did not have the infrastructure or public support to welcome an expected 230,000-person population by 2030.

"That Route 9 is going to be the same problem all the way down if you keep building and building," Joe Kirsch, 76, said of the congested north-south artery through town.

Town planners emphasized that improving Route 9 was the plan's number one priority. Other minor changes and clarifications included altering circulation and parking following concerns from Georgian Court University.

The town's largest population segment, Orthodox Jews, have largely praised the development direction that will accommodate the growing demand from yeshiva students and families to move here. Lakewood has moved from the 20th to the eighth largest municipality in the state in under a decade.

The plan will now be submitted to the State Planning Commission, whose backing is crucial. If the plan gets state endorsement it will be incorporated into the town's master plan, a process that could take more than two years.

"Not to go forward with this and stagnate this again will put us behind the eight ball," Mayor Robert Singer said.



Thursday, November 19, 2009

State gives new owners of Postville plant $600,000 in aid 

The new owners of the former AgriProcessors in Postville received $600,000 in state assistance, plus tax credits, Thursday for a $15 million proposal to update and modernize the Kosher beef and poultry meatpacking plant.

Agri Star Meat & Poultry, owned by Canadian Hershey Friedman, says it will remodel the plant and introduce a new line of oven-baked beef and chicken, state documents show. The company plans to retain 168 jobs and create 140 jobs. Employees will earn at least $11.65 an hour, records show.

The Iowa Economic Development Board agreed to provide the company with $600,000 in loans and grants, plus an estimated $941,652 in tax credits, based on the company’s capital investment in the plant.

The board said incentives are contingent on Agri Star having an approved environmental plan in place and complying with federal immigration laws. In 2008, the plant was the subject of a federal raid that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of immigrant workers who were in the country illegally.

Criminal charges were filed against most of the workers and the plant’s former owner, Sholom Rubashkin, who was convicted of 86 federal financial fraud charges last week.

Board member Robert Riley said the plant is important to the northeast Iowa community and state. The company said will process about 500 cattle each day. “The cattle processing capacity is essential for Iowa,” said Riley.

The company also received $145,000 in local tax abatements over five years and $50,000 in state job-training assistance.



B&H Photo Sued for Talmudic Discrimination Against Women 

B&H Photo Video, the famously well-stocked, reasonably-priced, and knowledgeable-staffed midtown store, employs a large number of orthodox Jews on the floor and in management, but plaintiffs in a lawsuit say they're not so good about hiring and promoting women. Naskinsha Cushnie and three other female job-seekers claim discrimination. Cushnie says she was told she couldn't move from cashier to sales clerk because Jewish law forbids it...

The ladies' lawyer, Richard Ancowitz, cites not only civil but religious law: "I have consulted with leading authorities, and it is quite clear that there are no tenets of Jewish law that require the sales force to be male-only."

B&H strongly denies the charges ("B&H has a policy of not discriminating against employees and applicants"). In 2007 the retailer settled a discrimination suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging underpayment and underpromotion of Hispanic employees, for $4.3 million.



Kosher soup kitchens to open in NYC 



Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hasidic voter challenge put on hold 

Lawyers agreed Tuesday to postpone a hearing on whether to allow some 90 Hasidic residents to vote in the Town of Bethel.

While residents packed the courtroom, lawyer Gerald Orseck and County Attorney Sam Yasgur said they had reached an agreement whereby the question would be put off until the absentee ballots are counted. The Board of Elections will open about 300 ballots on Thursday.

Both sides have agreed to drop the case if the absentee ballots do not change the outcome of any of the races.

Orseck had asked Judge Frank LaBuda to dismiss challenges to 95 new registrations on a technicality.

County Legislator Dave Sager challenged the registrations after Hasidic groups this summer commenced a voter registration drive while in a dispute over the construction of a shul on Schultz Road.

If outcomes do change, all the parties will be back in court before LaBuda.



Tuesday, November 17, 2009

3 kosher soup kitchens to open in NYC 

Three kosher soup kitchens are opening in New York City in the coming weeks.

The're called Masbia (MAHZ'-bee-uh) - which means "satiate" in Hebrew.

They'll be located in the Midwood and Williamsburg neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and the Rego Park area of Queens. There's already a "Masbia" in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood.

The Midwood location once housed an upscale restaurant.

Organizers say that even as soup kitchens they'll offer Orthodox Jews with a fine dining experience complete with five-course dinners and waiter service. Dividers will provide privacy.

Jewish leaders say they've seen increases in hunger and poverty in their communities.



5 Minute Parking Grace Period to Be Vetoed by Bloomberg 

Today the City Council is expected to pass two laws that would give motorists more wiggle room when fighting parking tickets. The first bill would create a five-minute grace period for drivers for certain no parking zones, such as alternate side parking regulations and expired Muni-Meters. (The bill does not include regular coin-operated, single-space meters, seen failing here.) A second piece of legislation would require the DOT to post notices of new and changed parking restrictions in affected neighborhoods and online up to one week in advance. (Last October, Orthodox Jews in Williamsburg were outraged when the DOT wrote tickets for over 90 vehicles that were violating new parking regulations—on a Saturday.)

But Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to veto the grace period bill, telling reporters today, "I will veto that. I think it’s a very misguided piece of legislation. A five-minute grace period is only going to lead to chaos and enormous increases in the number of contested tickets, and in argument. Whose watch are you going to use?" And Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White says, "I fail to see how the hands of a wristwatch—no two of which seem to read the same time in this town—are a fairer judge than a clearly expired parking meter. This is irresponsible pandering that will lead to more arguments at the curbside, and a profusion of illegal parking."

According to an extensive analysis conducted by the Times last year, almost 300,000 alternate side violations were issued within five minutes of the rule taking effect in 2007. Of those, nearly 28,000 tickets were issued exactly on the hour that the rule went into effect. In a statement, Council Member Simcha Felder, one of the bills' sponsors, said, "Anyone with common sense and decency understands the need for a five-minute grace period to eliminate ‘gotcha’ tickets."



Out of the Inbox - In memoriam of Motty 

Sent in by a Chaptzem reader

What exactly happened to Motty Borger during the last few seconds of his life I will never know.
One thing I do know is that Motty loved people. He loved everyone around him and was a good friend who you could always count on for a quick sharp one-liner or a good hearty laugh.
I spent a lot of time with Motty throughout the years, he was there for me in my time of need, fully and completely without hesitation and without the expectation of reciprocation.

Motty was a true friend and I now miss him dearly.

There are many things that I do not know, but I know one thing for sure. I want to remember Motty exactly the way he was on his wedding day, happy, joyful and full of hope, looking eagerly into the future to his whole life ahead of him.

May we learn from Motty and follow in his footsteps and may we all be better friends one to another like Motty was.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Fewer Hasidim Backed Mayor, Study Finds 

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was getting an earful. “He created this crisis so that he can take credit for fixing it and get our votes in exchange,” one commenter wrote on a Brooklyn blog, Vos Iz Neias, Yiddish for “What is News.” Someone else remarked, “I got to my store I got 2 tickets from the Sanitation police. I sure deserved it Bloomie. I will NOT vote for you.”

The writers were reacting to the news late last month that Mr. Bloomberg would restore money for an after-school voucher program that is popular among Orthodox Jewish families. But some scorned the move as blatant political expediency days before the election.

Without question, Mr. Bloomberg was eager to woo the city’s Hasidic Jewish voters. He met behind closed doors with influential rabbis, courted their congregations, and gave an eight-page interview to an Orthodox magazine, describing the challenge of growing up Jewish in an Irish and Italian neighborhood.

Still, his share of the vote fell sharply in Brooklyn’s largest Hasidic enclaves on Nov. 3, and the decline was one of the sharpest among any group of voters.

“We didn’t vote as Hasidim. We voted as New Yorkers,” said Mendy Hecht, 36, a Lubavitcher in Crown Heights, who pulled the lever for the mayor’s Democratic opponent, Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr. “My vote was a vote of protest against Bloomberg.”



Sunday, November 15, 2009

Suicide groom twist 

A Brooklyn newlywed who jumped to his death from a hotel balcony the night after his wedding was tormented by memories of being sexually molested as a Jewish student, sources say.

After joyfully singing and dancing at their lavish celebration in Williamsburg on Nov. 3, Motty Borger, 24, bared his secret anguish to his bride, Mali Gutman, the next day -- and the revelation caused a strain, a source close to the family told The Post.

"That entire day he discussed it with her. He told her the story of his life, how he felt so awful and he couldn't go near her," the source said. The couple had met just last July, after a matchmaker set them up.

"When he got married, he realized he couldn't face up to it, and he told his wife that he needed help."

The stunned bride responded, "So, why did you marry me?"

Borger reportedly answered, "You are absolutely right. It was not right of me to get married."

At 6:45 a.m., while Mali slept, Borger climbed a railing outside their seventh-floor room at Avenue Plaza Hotel and leaped, police say. He died hours later at a hospital.

Friends insist that Borger -- described as fun-loving, smiling and cheerful -- wouldn't take his own life.

"I know Motty, and I know he didn't jump. It was an accident," one said. The rabbi who spoke at his funeral called reports of suicide "wickedness."

A security video at the hotel shows him looking "agitated" in an elevator with his wife, cops said.

The city Medical Examiner ruled his death a suicide. The NYPD is investigating the sex-abuse allegations, said a police official.

A source familiar with the tragedy said Borger had confided in close relatives that he was molested while a teen attending a yeshiva, possibly by a rabbi, but they never went to police.



Hasidic group, Bethel hit upon settlement 

A Hasidic group has reached a settlement with the Town of Bethel in an ongoing dispute over a shul, whereby it will pay the town $20,000 for road improvements, submit new plans and consent to further inspections.

Bethel has agreed to grant the United Talmudical Academy a six-month temporary certificate of occupancy for the shul and community building on Schultz Road, and allow the group to proceed with the final phase of construction.

UTA sued the town this summer after the town attempted to prevent the group from using the shul and to stop work on it.

While UTA obtained a court order that temporarily allowed it to use the building, the lawsuit has lingered.

Attorneys will go before a judge later this month to put the settlement on the record.

"The case is over," said the UTA's lawyer, Henri Shawn. "In reality, the lawyers stepped out of the picture and allowed the parties to meet. Apparently they have met and they have reached an agreement, which has resulted in the town giving the UTA a new temporary certificate of occupancy, which have conditions agreed to it."

The temporary certificate spells out nine conditions the UTA must meet before the town will grant a final certificate.

Within four months, UTA will have to pay Bethel $20,000, which will be put into escrow until the final certificate is granted and then used to improve Schultz Road. UTA will also have to make payments for an additional three years to maintain the road. The amount of these payments will be worked out later, but must be a minimum of $1,000 each year.

UTA will also have to submit a modified building plan with electrical, plumbing and mechanical plans, obtain an operating permit and consent to a final inspection. UTA must also do landscaping and street lighting and improve the parking lot.

Supervisor Dan Sturm said he is optimistic the case will soon be over.

"It is close," he said.



Details emerge from Weiss plane crash 

A preliminary report concerning a fatal plane crash last month offers some new details about the crash, but does not include a cause.

The Oct. 25 crash killed pilot Chaim Weiss, 58, of Spring Valley, N.Y. He was the lone passenger aboard the four-seat, Cessna 172 that crashed into a remote, wooded area of Whipstock Hill after several attempts to land at the William H. Morse state airport.

Witnesses saw approach

Investigators have been puzzled as to why Weiss was in the area to begin with, and the report offers no explanation. Police said Weiss told family members he was going for a short flight in the area when he took off from the Greenwood Lake Airport in West Milford, N.J., less than two hours before the crash. A flight plan was not required and none was filed.

The preliminary report prepared by the National Transportation Safety Board this month said witnesses reported the plane making two approaches to Runway 13, one of two runways at the small airport on Bennington’s west end. Each approach was followed by a "go-around" about 20 feet above ground level.

The plane was seen at a low altitude and in level flight with the engine running normally before the sound of impact, which was followed by silence, according to the report.

The plane was found the following morning at an elevation of about 1,080 feet, according to the report. The body of the plane was found about half a nautical mile from the approach end of Runway 13. A nautical mile is approximately equal to 1.15 miles.

Witnesses told investigators the plane was making a right-hand pattern for the approach. According to the report, the published pattern for Runway 13 requires a left-hand pattern. The airport’s other runway is suitable for right-hand patterns because of Whipstock Hill, which is just south of the airport.

According to the report, the wreckage path was about 143 feet in length. The fuselage was inverted and the left wing was severed and found lodged about 35 feet above ground in a tree. The right wing remained attached to the fuselage. Both of the plane’s fuel tanks were ruptured and investigators found no measurable fuel remaining. About 1.5 ounces of residual fuel was recovered from fuel lines.

Investigators removed the engine from the plane’s fuselage for examination at a nearby workshop. They found both propeller blades were bent, but engine components appeared to have been in working order.

Weiss held a private pilot certificate, issued in 2005, with single-engine land privileges, according to the report. His logbook contained records indicating Weiss had recorded about 174 hours of flight time. Weiss had logged 11.2 hours in the previous year, including 2.4 hours of nighttime flying, prior to the crash. It had been dark for about 45 minutes when Weiss crashed.

The report states Weiss had a total of 14.5 hours of night flight time logged, and his last recorded night flight prior to the crash was Sept. 21 when he logged four night landings. The logbook did not give any indication that he had previously flown patterns or landings at the Bennington airport.

Local police and other rescue personnel began searching on foot for the crash site shortly after receiving several 911 calls. The New York State Police searched from the air with a helicopter. The search was eventually postponed until the following morning, when local residents found the plane.

Weiss was a psychologist with the Kiryas Joel School District in Orange County, N.Y., according to reports. Kiryas Joel Village is a community of mostly Hasidic Jews within the town of Monroe, N.Y.

A final report is not expected to be completed for 12 to 18 months. The report may include a cause for the crash, and could revise what is contained in the preliminary report, according to the NTSB.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

School board pres. accused 

The president of a Long Island school board, who is also has a primary position in a chain of nursing home, has been accused of taking a $50 million bribe from the nation's largest pharmacy.

Murray Forman was first elected to the board of the Lawrence School District in 2005. With the accusations against him, Forman now facing a federal civil matter. Forman has denied the allegations, and said that the government's case lacked merit.

This is not the first time that Forman has been associated with a case.

Earlier this year, parents of students in the Lawrence school district filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against members of the board, stating that the board does not offer enough support to its students, and favors students of a certain religion. The board is composed of seven Orthodox Jews, six of whom educate their own children outside of the Lawrence school district.

That case has since been dismissed.



Singer Matisyahu in sync with Olympic spirit 

Matisyahu, whose music merges Hasidic Judaism with reggae beats, hip-hop and rock, is lending his voice to NBC's promotion of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The network has chosen his uplifting anthem "One Day" as the theme song for its "Countdown to Vancouver" promotional campaign.

"One Day" is the lead single from Matisyahu's third album, "Light," which Epic released in August. He describes the song as being about "unity and coming together for one common cause; about putting aside all differences and issues to connect in some way."

The spot premiered November 3, ran November 4 on all of NBC's affiliated cable networks, including Bravo, Oxygen, MSNBC and USA, and will air on NBC through February. It features Vancouver contenders Apolo Ohno (speed skating), Lindsey Vonn (alpine skiing), Shaun White (snowboarding), Gretchen Bleiler (snowboarding) and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (figure skating) describing what the Olympics means to athletes and spectators alike. The Winter Games take place February 12-28.

"When you see what those athletes go through and being the background for that," Matisyahu said, "it pulls on the heartstrings."

For the week ended November 8, "One Day" experienced a 13 percent increase in download sales -- its first weekly increase since the beginning of October. To date, the song has sold 117,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In keeping with his cross-genre style, Matisyahu said fans can expect a new version of "One Day" featuring Akon to premiere in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, Matisyahu is touring in support of "Light," working with Kenneth Cole on the "One Day for Change" viral campaign on Twitter and participating in a Charity Folks online auction -- the prize being a Brooklyn bike ride with the recording artist. Matisyahu is also finalizing details for his fourth annual Festival of Light in New York during Hanukkah, which begins December 11.



Friday, November 13, 2009

Illegal Dumping at Homowack Causing Headaches 

This past summer's drama involving the old Homowack Lodge has had a new wrinkle added to it. Several weeks ago, a mysterious trailer loaded with demolition debris was abandoned in the main parking area across the road from the old resort. The trailer, which is essentially a dumpster on wheels, was left there after it had been filled with debris, apparently from the demolition of a building near the post office on the lower part of Phillipsport Road.

Mamakating Supervisor Robert Fiore said he was made aware of the truck's existence during a recent inspection of the facility.

"We found out about it several weeks ago," Fiore said.

Fiore went on to say that he had discussed the issue with Town Building Inspector Mary Grass, and was told by her that the owner of the truck actually had a permit to haul debris from the demolition of the building; Grass, according to Fiore, said that the parking of the truck at that location was a 'temporary measure' and that it would only be there for a few days. The owner of the truck, however, appears to have overstayed his welcome, as the trailer has now been there for at least four weeks. Additionally, the trailer's legs, which are typically extended at the time a trailer is uncoupled from its rig, have since broken through the parking lot's asphalt. The front end of the trailer now sits partially on the ground (see photo), and, as a result, will likely require a crane or other piece of heavy-lifting equipment to remove.

The trailer was first discovered when town officials, along with a representative from the NY Department of State, were surveying the facility. According to Fiore, the official told him that the state was already aware of the situation, and that the owner of the truck was already under investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's office. How the state official knew this remains unclear. However, the truck did at one time have Maine license plates, which were apparently confiscated by either the state police or the NY Department of Environmental Conservation. Pieces of heavy equipment also have various identification numbers on the chassis, which would allow police or other officials to trace the owner.

The presence of the trailer is also attracting other illegal dumpers, apparently, as there is now an assortment of old household items — including an old futon frame — laying on the ground nearby. Fiore used the term "attractive nuisance" to describe the trailer's presence. He said that he was worried that the condition of the old resort could attract even more illegal dumping.

"Attractive nuisances have to be removed," Fiore said.

It remains unclear at this point whether the town will initiate the trailer's removal, or whether the current owners of the Homowack — a Hasidic congregation from New Square in Rockland County —would be responsible for the removal. Earlier this year, the group had been engaged in a dispute with town and state officials over the existence of an illegal summer camp at the old resort.



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leave Our Beards Alone, Say Orthodox Jews 

Can't a dude wear a beard? That all-important question is at the heart of a complaint three Orthodox Jews are bringing against the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Department.

The three men, who don't shave in accordance with their religious beliefs, said the Department is preventing them from riding on calls because they're unable to wear specialized safety masks with their beards. The beards can't be worn with the breathing masks, since it reduces the seal of the masks.

They've filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that this violates their religious rights. They contend that there are alternate masks available, but that the Fire Department isn't accommodating their requests. They also allege that their membership in a different rescue agency that's mainly made up of other Orthodox Jews is one of the reasons they were prevented from going on calls with the Pikesville Fire Department.

We know what some of you are saying: "Just shave the damn beard." Others are likely thinking, "If they want to participate, they have to follow the rules."

That's a valid argument, but the men claim that there's no real reason for them to have to wear the masks. They serve as medics, not firefighters. Since they're not entering burning buildings or putting themselves in overly dangerous situations, there's little need for a breathing apparatus, they say.

Furthermore, they allege that they've been suspended for not wearing masks that the Fire Department doesn't even own. The three men are claiming that the Fire Department only raised the issue because they were planning on purchasing the masks at some far-off date.

For now, the complaint is moving forward.



Ruffled feathers 

New Square needs to stop dragging its heels on holding a public hearing on controversial plans to site a kosher chicken processing plant in town. The proposal, for which a dearth of information has been made public, has stirred anger and nervousness in neighboring residential communities. A public hearing might allay some of those concerns; even if not, neighbors are entitled to get answers to their many questions.

The processing plant may, as supporters have described, be a state-of-the-art facility that will have minimal impacts on its neighbors. It may increase jobs. It may be a worthwhile investment, as deemed by the Empire State Development office, which has awarded a $1.62 million Restore New York grant to the venture.

If that truly is the case, though, New Square’s leaders and the plant’s prospective operator, Adir Poultry Processing Plant, should be eager to share the substantiating information. Unfortunately, that has not been the case as scheduled public hearings have twice been postponed. Officials have said Adir needs more time to gather environmental impact information for the plant.

New Square Deputy Mayor Israel Spitzer, spokesman for the Hasidic municipality, said he has had discussions with those opposed to the plant, but these have been private affairs, not public meetings. He recounts speaking with one activist, who he said came around to the view that the plan was no detriment. Spitzer, however, declined to identify the activist.

"I think it was very wrong for the neighbors to not reach out with the village and try to arrange a meeting with village officials and get the facts straight before rushing into demonstrations and protests," Spitzer said.

Perhaps, but wishing for such restraint is futile where, as here, obfuscation has been the rule.



Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Orthodox Jews flock to SD, support leader on trial 

In the musty conference room of a South Dakota hotel, Sholom Rubashkin helps a disheveled man in a hooded sweat shirt wrap black bands around his left arm and head. Attached to each is a black box containing inscriptions from the Torah.

"It's on your arm close to your heart, on your head close to your thoughts," Rubashkin, a leader in the Orthodox Jewish community, tells Robert Graham in a thick Brooklyn accent. Graham nods.

For the 50-year-old Rubashkin, and the dozens of Orthodox Jewish men who arrive almost daily from across the country to support him, such spiritual guidance is partly why God led him to his federal trial in Sioux Falls.

The former manager of Iowa kosher slaughterhouse Agriprocessors Inc. is accused of defrauding a St. Louis bank and, if convicted, could spend the rest of his life in prison. But for now, he's spreading his spiritual message to people like Graham, a South Dakota Jewish man who was only remotely familiar with the broadest outlines of his religion's traditions.

That devotion and respect for the Rubashkin family is what draws the men to support a fellow member of their Hasidim, a branch of Judaism that translates to "the pious." Its members are easily identifiable in long black coats, fedoras and beards. They know Rubashkin more as the former teacher at an Atlanta Jewish school explaining his faith to young pupils.

"They have a solemn faith it's going to go the way it should," said Graham, a bus driver from Sioux Falls. "Even if it comes back guilty, they would say that's what God wanted."

While they pray in the hotel conference room, a jury of seven women and five men discuss in a courthouse five blocks away whether Rubashkin is guilty of 91 counts including bank, wire and mail fraud. They carry a combined maximum prison sentence of more than 1,000 years.

Rubashkin also will face a second federal trial on 72 immigration charges.



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An East Village Synagogue Gets a Jazzy Rabbi 

At first glance, the term “jazz rabbi” might seem incongruous, but the recent installation of Greg Wall, a well-known jazz musician, as the rabbi at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue, a modern Orthodox congregation in the East Village, shows that the porkpie and the yarmulke are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

In an Oct. 31 concert to mark the start of his tenure as senior rabbi, Rabbi Wall brought his blend of the sacred and the avant-garde to the sanctuary of the 70-year-old building, which was originally a Lutheran church. Several weeks earlier, Rabbi Wall had stood in the same spot giving a sermon on Yom Kippur, but at Sixth Street, this night was different from all other nights.

“I doubt these walls have ever heard music like this,” said Seth Glass, who recently joined the synagogue and played guitar in the concert.

More than 100 people, many of them senior citizens, attended the concert, despite a heavy rain and the distractions of Halloween in the streets. Accompanied by nearly 20 musicians from several continents, Rabbi Wall played in a variety of styles, including straight-ahead jazz, klezmer and African drumming.

“Two of my greatest passions come together with this job, where I don’t have to choose if I’m a musician or a student of our religion,” Rabbi Wall, who was also celebrating his 50th birthday, told the congregation. “I still can’t quite make a living as a rabbi, though, so I need to have something to fall back on — like being a jazz musician.”

Earlier that night, Rabbi Wall, dressed in a black suit and draped in a tallis, or Jewish prayer shawl, finished the week’s prayers and left to prepare for the concert. Minutes later, he returned to the sanctuary in a loose-fitting maroon paisley shirt and a decorative, arabesqued yarmulke. But the change in outfit didn’t mean he had abandoned his rabbinical duties for the night.

“If you start talking about spirituality during a show, then you’re seen as a fanatic, but if you’re a rabbi, they cut you some slack,” he said. “It’s like James Bond getting his license to kill. I get a license to talk about spirituality.”



Monday, November 09, 2009

Pictures and video of opening of new Masbia free Kosher soup kitchen in Williamsburg 



Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rubashkin draws a loyal following 

Sholom Rubashkin awakens early in his downtown Sioux Falls motel, prays at 6:45 a.m., chats with his lawyers and heads four blocks south for the legal fight of his life.

Behind him, in a wood-paneled federal courtroom, throngs of Orthodox Jews with beards and skullcaps gather to watch his trial.

The unusual scene has repeated itself for almost a month now, as Agriprocessors Inc.'s former vice president stands trial on 91 financial fraud charges.

Supporters have come to Sioux Falls, S.D. - a quiet Midwestern city of about 142,400, with one synagogue listed in its phone book - from Australia, England, New York and other Midwestern cities. The stream of well-wishers has filled hotel rooms and turned heads on the street.

The supporters mostly keep to themselves, praying every morning and watching Monday Night Football and the World Series at night. Many have brought their own kosher food from New York, Minneapolis and other locales to adhere to their strict religious diet.

"It is a sacrifice," said Shmuel Raices, a rabbinical student from New York. "This is a very busy time for me. But you know what? Sholom would do this for me in a second."

Rubashkin's son, Getzel, 25, said his father has earned the support through years of charity work and other good deeds. The Orthodox Jewish community has followed the case closely, he said.

"All these people feel that supporting him is worth the trip to Sioux Falls," the younger Rubashkin said. "My father is loved and respected by many people, only a minute percentage of which have been physically able to attend the trial."

Prosecutors say Rubashkin's support in the Orthodox Jewish community and his charity work are irrelevant in the eyes of the law.

Rubashkin, 50, is charged with 91 financial crimes, including bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and ignoring an order to pay livestock providers in the time required by law. He faces a maximum 1,280-year prison sentence if convicted of all counts. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin Monday.

He also allegedly conspired to hire and harbor illegal immigrant workers at Agriprocessors. A second federal trial for Rubashkin on 72 immigration charges is set to begin in Sioux Falls in December. He has pleaded not guilty.

Rubashkin critics blame the high-profile meat man for creating conditions in Postville, Ia., that made it a ripe target for law enforcement. Federal immigration agents raided Agriprocessors in May 2008 in a crackdown that exposed the alleged fraud but destabilized the local economy.

The raid, code-named "Operation Cedar Valley Junction," was based on evidence and tips collected over two years.

Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams objected to extensive references to Rubashkin's religion or charity work Thursday, before the former slaughterhouse executive testified. Defense lawyers countered that some references were needed to explain Rubashkin's appearance and his behavior at Agriprocessors.

"In a court of law, everyone is equal," Williams said Thursday. "Frankly, what Mr. Rubashkin does for charity doesn't matter."

Some supporters expressed anger at what they view as an unfair crackdown on Rubashkin and the plant he managed for years. Orthodox Jewish supporters point to the industry practice of hiring immigrant workers and ask why Agriprocessors was targeted.

"This is a witch hunt," said David Moskovitz, an Orthodox Jew from Chicago. "And you can quote me."

The supporters range in age from teenagers to men with white beards hanging over their chests. They squeeze into rows of wooden courtroom benches, muttering prayers and listening to testimony. Some sway back and forth - "shuckling" in Yiddish - while reading psalms.

At one point during testimony, U.S. District Judge Linda Reade admonished one supporter for sleeping in the courtroom. Reade warned the group again Thursday when a few spoke out loud during Rubashkin's turn on the witness stand.

Rubashkin has embraced supporters during down time at the courthouse. One well-wisher from Chicago was talking to a reporter from The Des Moines Register during a break last week when Rubashkin walked up, patted the man's back, grinned, and looked at the reporter.

"This is a good man," Rubashkin said, then turned and walked off.



Saturday, November 07, 2009

Hot Dog Swindler Sentenced To 15 Years 

A kosher meat salesman who admitted to swindling investors out of nearly $2.5 million has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Arnold Zaler, 60, was sentenced Friday after admitting to a Denver stadium hot dog sales scheme in which he forged food orders to make it seem he was selling more than he was. Zaler was indicted in early 2008 but fled to Israel when he was released on bond.

Zaler was returned to Colorado after being nabbed at the Atlanta airport in February. Zaler apologized to his victims in court Friday and said that he has a mental illness and was trying to be "a big shot."



Friday, November 06, 2009

Groom death plunge 

A newlywed groom on his honeymoon yesterday plunged to his death from a Brooklyn hotel in an apparent suicide -- as his bride slept, unaware of the tragedy, sources said.

Motty Borger, 24, died at Lutheran Medical Center after the seven-story plunge from The Avenue Plaza Hotel in Borough Park -- just two days after marrying his love, Mali, in a lavish ceremony, according two sources.

Borger's bride was sleeping in the room when her husband, who worked with his videographer dad, opened a window, stepped onto the balcony and jumped at 6:45 a.m.

Mali didn't know what had happened until she was awakened by the hotel concierge.

Friends were shocked at the young man's death, saying there was no sign at Borger's wedding in Williamsburg on Tuesday that he'd try to end his life.

"He sang, he danced, he was the happiest kid on the planet," said a friend who was at the wedding among 500 pals and loved ones.

"The guy was super energetic," said another reveler.

The couple shared a meal of boiled salmon Wednesday night in a postwedding celebration and seemed to be in good spirits.

"They were both happy," said a waiter.

"They were laughing, talking about what they should order."

Detectives were poring over security video, including a clip that shows an agitated Borger in an elevator with his wife.

A police source described Borger as "emotionally disturbed."

The apparent suicide stunned family members who just 48 hours earlier were celebrating the young couple's union.

"The guy was so full of life," a friend said. "He was so happy to marry her."

Friends said they couldn't believe Borger would want to kill himself or that there could have been any marital strife.

"She's a nice, sweet girl," a friend said of the bride. "They have money, so that wasn't a problem."



Bethel voter drive unlikely to change election results 

A much-ballyhooed registration drive from Hasidic groups in the Town of Bethel might have spurred a surge in absentee ballots, but is not expected to change the outcome of Tuesday's races.

The Sullivan County Board of Elections received 262 absentee ballots to date from Bethel voters, and eight affidavits. Hasidic groups began a voter drive this summer after the town and the United Talmudical Academy, a Hasidic organization based in Brooklyn, went to court over the rapid construction of a shul on Schultz Road.

There are more absentee ballots than usual from Bethel, but not hugely so. In 2007, the Board of Elections issued 228 absentee ballots and got back 202, said Election Commissioner Faith Kaplan.

A group led by Legislator Dave Sager has challenged 152 new registrations, claiming the seasonal residents do not qualify to vote in town. Most switched this summer from addresses in Brooklyn, and stay in bungalow colonies that are open only in the summer. Sager says his organization will take the challenge to court if necessary.

"This is something that is going to present itself every year and there needs (to be) a clear determination with regard to election law," Sager said.

It won't be clear, however, how many of this year's absentee ballots came from the voter drive until the ballots are opened tentatively on Nov. 17.

Supervisor Daniel Sturm holds a 180-vote lead over former Supervisor Harold Russell. And while Russell hasn't conceded, Sturm says he's not worried.

"With the machine count there, I am statistically in good shape," he said.

Incumbent board members Richard Crumley and Denise Frangipane hold 154- and 97-vote leads, respectively, over Benjamin Friehling. The top vote-getters win the two seats.

Sturm believes he and other incumbents were targets of the drive, but it might have helped them in the end by activating Bethel's other community groups.

"Maybe people were more cognizant about the importance of voting," Sturm said.



Thursday, November 05, 2009

State promises to fix FDR Drive-Brooklyn Bridge ramp 

Possibly the worst thing about living in Brooklyn — the debilitating traffic congestion on the Brooklyn Bridge’s entrance ramp from the southbound FDR Drive — may be getting just a little bit better.

The state Department of Transportation announced this week that it will make cosmetic changes to the frustrating exit ramp from the FDR onto the fabled span — initially paint and new signage, but, eventually, a wideing of the ramp to two lanes so it can better handle the traffic.

“That’s the five-year project,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights), who said he was pleased that the long-term plan will widen a ramp that sometimes backs up as far as the Manhattan Bridge, encouraging [expletive deleted] drivers to cut in at the last minute.

That ramp — which officially bears the name of Ari Halberstam, the 14-year-old Hasidic boy who was killed when a gunman opened fire on the roadway in 1994 — is “nothing short of infuriating,” Squadron added in the understatement of the year.

For now, the first-term lawmaker got a commitment from state DOT to make immediate superficial improvements, including new paint on all lane markers, making them easier to read and clearer about when the merge is approaching; two repetitions of the words “EXIT ONLY,” to discourage cutting; and replacing the current sign that reads, “Bklyn-Battery Tunnel” with a new sign that reads, “Exit 1 / Battery Pk / Staten Is Ferry.”

“It will be clearer for people and for the police to do enforcement,” Squadron said.

When reminded that catching cheaters at that entrance ramp would be as easy as handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500, Squadron pointed out that the current lane markers aren’t as clear as they could be.

“There is one point where it says ‘Do not cross solid line,’ but it’s not solid at that point,” he said. “We all know that the long-term solution is a two-lane exit — and that’s going to happen.”

There isn’t a Brooklyn driver who hasn’t been caught in traffic at that ramp, though at least one motorist said Squadron’s “powder and paint” won’t help the problem.

“When it’s a two-lane exit, fine,” said driver Jen Frayne. “But they’ve put down paint before. People still cut in, penalizing those of us who play by the rules. The only way to stop it is to put a cop on the ramp all day long.”

That said, there is some recent research that suggests that late mergers do not, in fact, slow down traffic, despite other drivers’ frustration.



Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Democrats win Board seats in Monroe 

Two longtime Republican incumbents lost their Town Board seats, thanks to the changing loyalties of powerful voting blocs in the Hasidic Village of Kiryas Joel.
Councilmen Don Weeks and Peter Martin lost to Democratic challengers Gerard McQuade and Richard Colon.
Cards giving voting instructions within Kiryas Joel before the election suggested the outcome even before the results came in.
The powerful main voting bloc, which has historically supported incumbents on the Town Board, threw its support behind Weeks, but not Martin, who has served 20 years as a councilman. It also supported Supervisor Sandy Leonard, who beat challenger Gary Defilippis, the former Harriman police chief, to retain her seat.
Weeks had been on the board for 32 years and had the endorsement of the major Hasidic voting bloc, but not that of the less powerful dissident group in the village, which threw its support behind the Democratic challengers.
Martin said Tuesday he believed that Harley Doles, the lone Democrat on the Town Board, had a hand in changing the loyalties of Kiryas Joel voters. Doles has had an especially rocky relationship with his board colleagues since last week, when Councilman Jim Rogers allegedly attacked him during a board meeting.
Doles is married to town justice candidate Maria Vazquez-Doles, who also won her race with the endorsement of Kiryas Joel voters.
“Harley Doles is the Karl Rove of Monroe politics,” Martin said, “and he has chastised the incumbent Republicans for benefiting from a bloc vote, while the whole time he’s been over there trying to get that bloc vote on his side; and from the sound of things, it looks like he’s accomplished that.”
Monroe voters approved a proposal to raise the Monroe Free Library’s budget by $69,855 to $1.7 million. The additional revenue will go toward more DVDs and audio-visual offerings, as well as a fund to expand the current building.
Kannon, Murray take Chester
In other elections, longtime incumbent Democrat Cindy Smith lost her seat on the Chester Town Board to Republican Matthew Kannon. Republican incumbent Jerry Murray kept his seat on the board.
And in Blooming Grove, Republicans Kathy Wells-Calhoun and Michael Jahn, won board seats, beating out two Democratic and two Conservative challengers.



Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Yeshiva row over Messiah goes to court 

What began as a brawl in a Brooklyn yeshiva dorm over a revered rabbi has left six members of a Jewish patrol group facing gang assault charges in a state Supreme Court trial that started Monday.

The fight - over whether the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is an emissary of God - also led to broken bones, a $150 million lawsuit and a battle between two rival patrol groups.

"I'm going to call the Messiah as my first witness," defense lawyer Tedd Blecher quipped after the trial's first day.

With six defense lawyers objecting at once, a kibitzing crowd and the first witness having trouble telling six bearded defendants apart, the trial veered close to farce.

The defendants, members of the Shomrim watch group, face 15 years - and prosecutors were serious when they told Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Albert Tomei of possible witness tampering just before opening statements. The six defendants were called to a Yeshiva dorm on Eastern Parkway to break up a fight between four members of the Messianic group and others on Dec. 29, 2007.

"It seems that the defendants had one goal and that was not to mediate," Assistant District Attorney David Weiss told jurors. "It was to beat up a bunch of yeshiva students."

Defense lawyers said the case was instigated by an attorney affiliated with Shomrim's rival guard group who also filed the lawsuit.



Monday, November 02, 2009

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Bill goes radio silent vs. slur 

Bill Thompson yesterday failed to challenge an anti-Semitic statement by a caller on a radio show who slammed Mayor Bloomberg as caring only about "the Jewish people of his persuasion."

The Democratic mayoral hopeful was appearing as a guest on KISS-FM's "Open Line" during the final 48 hours before tomorrow's general election when a caller who identified himself as "Carl from Harlem" greeted him and said, "I believe that you will be a good mayor . . . you are for the people, for all the people."

He went on to say Bloomberg is "divisional . . . He just thinks about helping the rich, the rich contractors, and the Jewish people of his persuasion, and I think that it's time for that type of thinking and that type of people to be moved out of office."

The host thanked Carl before moving on to two other callers. Thompson replied to a policy question but never referred back to the earlier call.

Thompson later told The Post that he would have denounced Carl had he stayed on the line and said, "I didn't hear the full comment that the guy had . . . If you go back and look, everyone ignored him. I think they basically just kind of cut him off."

Thompson's campaign issued a statement from the candidate, saying, "I received a lot of calls from New Yorkers today, and I did not hear anyone say anything anti-Semitic.

"Obviously, if I had, I would have immediately denounced it or any other statement offensive towards any New Yorkers."

The Post reported this summer that Thompson was similarly silent when the host of a campaign-sponsored small-business roundtable referred to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn as a "whore."

Two weeks ago, Thompson and other Democrats blasted comments former Mayor Rudy Giuliani made to a group of Hasidic Jews about the city's crime rate before he took office. Many viewed them as racially coded.

Sources close to Thompson privately noted yesterday that Bloomberg never repudiated his predecessor's remarks.

Meanwhile, Thompson rallied with Sen. Charles Schumer and state Sen. Malcolm Smith in Queens, while Bloomberg rode along part of the New York City Marathon route in the city's parade car with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

Later, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Midtown, Bloomberg joined a crowd of 500 in a standing ovation for controversial activist and Independence Party leader Lenora Fulani at a get-out-the-vote rally.



Sunday, November 01, 2009

State Department evacuated Yemenite Jews 

The U.S. State Department has secretly brought about 60 Yemenite Jews to the United States since July, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Another 100 are likely to come to the United States in the coming month, the newspaper reported over the weekend.

There were about 350 Jews in Yemen before the operation, according to the report. In addition to the Yemenite Jews who will come to the United States, about 120 want to move to Israel and another up to 30 want to stay in Yemen. Some of the Jews who want to leave are having difficulty selling off their homes and other assets.

The immigrants to the United States are being resettled in Monsey, N.Y., which has a large concentration of Jews from Yemen, by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Jewish Federations of North America pledged $750,000 toward their resettlement.

The State Department had to pressure the Yemenite government to issue the emigrants exit permits and passports; the Yemenite government had preferred to move the Jews to a safe haven in the capital, the Journal reported. Several families missed the two flights offered to them by the U.S., the Journal reported.

The evacuation followed a year in which the Jewish community was subjected to increasing harassment and violence. In December 2008, a Yemenite Jew was killed by a Muslim man who ordered Jews to convert or be killed. The killer was been sentenced to death.



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