Thursday, December 31, 2009

N.J. man allegedly scammed Orthodox Jews 

A New Jersey man is suspected of swindling more than $200 million from Orthodox Jewish investors in a real estate scam.

Police are investigating Eliyahu Weinstein of Lakewood, N.J., on suspicion that he bilked millions from members of Orthodox Jewish communities in New York, Miami and London through bogus real estate deals, according to court papers obtained by the New York Jewish Week.

The Jewish Week reported that 14 investors, almost all Orthodox Jews, have filed complaints with the New Jersey Federal Court against Weinstein alleging that he misappropriated their money.

According to one of the complainants, the 35-year-old entrepreneur used his background as a yeshiva student to gain their trust and then embezzled their money.

Weinstein "engaged in a criminal enterprise designed to steal sums of money... by offering knowingly false representations... relating to the identity of various alleged investment properties, property values, ownership, debt, mortgage positions, and development status of property," the Jewish Week quoted one of the complainants as saying.

Weinstein has not been charged with any of the allegations, which are subject to an ongoing police probe.

Gary Ginsburg, an attorney speaking on behalf of Weinstein, denied the complainants' claims. He told the Jewish Week that the losses to investors were the result of the downturn in the real estate market rather than malfeasance on Weinstein's part.



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Gay YU Panel Broadens Discussion, Debate 

A standing-room-only public forum last week at Yeshiva University could take the discussion about gay Jews in the Orthodox community from a single meeting hall to the entire movement, focusing on the balance between empathy for individuals and the halachic ban on homosexual activity.

An estimated 600 to 800 people last week attended “Being Gay in the Modern Orthodox World,” a panel discussion on the university’s Washington Heights campus sponsored by YU’s year-old Tolerance Club and its Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

More than 100 people were turned away for lack of space, according to news reports.

The event, which featured gay students and alumni from the college, with YU administrators serving as moderator and post-panel commentator, focused on the participants’ personal stories rather than halachic or psychological issues regarding homosexual behavior.

And it appears to have widened a schism at the university between liberal and conservative elements, reflecting a division over homosexuality in the general Modern Orthodox community as to how much attention to give it and whether to cast it in a softer or harsher light.

Separate statements issued by President Richard Joel, and by leading members of the rabbinical school’s Talmudic faculty, distanced themselves from the event while not outright condemning it.

The program was the latest example of an internal debate that has taken place at the school for several years over the limits on acceptance of behavior condemned, according to leaders of the Orthodox community, by the Torah and Jewish law. And, as the most visible sign of a slowly increasing toleration within Modern Orthodoxy for largely isolated gay Jews, it may spark a further reexamination of Orthodox attitudes, say gay Jews with ties to the university.



Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Judge shuts down New Square poultry plant 

A federal judge has ordered a New Square kosher poultry slaughterhouse padlocked for unsanitary conditions that pose a health risk to the community.

The U.S. Attorney's Office filed papers asking Judge Stephen C. Robinson to temporarily stop New Square Meats from slaughtering and processing chickens following years of attempts by the USDA to bring the plant into compliance with the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act.

A lawyer for New Square meats did not oppose the government's efforts to close the plant during a hearing today in U.S. District Court in White Plains. But he asked that the plant be allowed to continue operations for two weeks for the community and the plant's owners to find another source of poultry for the community.

Government lawyers opposed that, saying the risk of illness or worse was too great to allow the plant to continue operating.

Robinson agreed with the federal government.

"It is not clear to this court that the defendant has ever fully appreciated its actions or the potential harm to the community it purports to serve," he said.

The ruling comes as New Square Meats is seeking to build a larger, state-of-the-art facility in New Square, a Hasidic Jewish village in Ramapo.

Federal authorities said New Square Meats has been selling uninspected poultry since 2002.

During an April visit to the plant, federal investigators said they found poultry residue on walls, light fixtures, and the manager's office.

Employee restrooms had no soap or hand sanitizer while rubbish and foul-smelling pools of water were found outside the plant, according to court papers federal authorities filed asking for the temporary restraining order against the plant.



Another protest in New Square draws about 800 

For the second time in two nights, protesters took to the village streets on Monday.

Ramapo police were still looking into the cause, but they believe the protests centered on who can worship at a synagogue at 91 Washington Ave. and other conflicts involving two factions within the Hasidic Jewish community.

Ramapo police arrested five village residents on trespass violation after they were accused of refusing to leave the building. Their names were not released this morning.

The Monday demonstration started at 10 p.m. and included an estimated 800 people in and around 91 Washington Ave., Sgt. Margaret Sammarone said.

The building houses Congregation Ber Yakov, a yeshiva where students are permitted to worship.

The rabbi who oversees the school could not be reached. Police are investigating whether the rabbi was the target of Sunday night's protest.

Police suspect the demonstration on Monday countered a Sunday protest on Bush Lane against a rabbi that drew about 500 people about 9:30 p.m.

Police were given advance information about the protest on Monday. Ramapo officers were assisted by officers from Spring Valley and the Sheriff's Department.

In both demonstrations, the protesters dispersed when the police arrived. No property damage or injuries were reported.

A YouTube video of the Sunday night demonstrations includes people chanting, "Stop the Terror" outside the Bush Lane house.



Monday, December 28, 2009

Yiddish takes another blow 

It survived Hitler, Stalin, the decision to make Hebrew the official language of the State of Israel and the adoption of English by immigrants to the United States.

Now Yiddish, for 1,000 years the everyday language of European Jews, is facing another threat: budget cuts.

At the University of Maryland, which has stood alongside Harvard and Columbia as one of the nation's few schools to consistently offer instruction in the Germanic tongue, the recent announcement that the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies would be dropping it in the fall shocked area enthusiasts.

"U- Maryland has had the biggest commitment to Yiddish as a language anywhere in a hundred-mile radius," says Harvey Spiro, president of Yiddish of Greater Washington, which organized a letter-writing campaign. "We're not a particularly political organization, but this kicked us in the gut."

The center now has cobbled together the money to pay its longtime instructor through the next academic year. But after that, director Hayim Lapin says, it is unlikely to continue funding a full-time faculty member dedicated to the language.

"This is not about Yiddish," Lapin says. "What this is about is responding to the budget crisis and actually cutting back on just about all of our visiting faculty and programming, So we have less Bible than we had. We have less history than we had. We have less or no Yiddish."

Professor Miriam Isaacs, who has taught elementary and intermediate Yiddish at Maryland for 15 years, worries about a future without the language.

"It's not just at Maryland that I'm concerned," says Isaacs, born in postwar Germany, where Yiddish was her first language.

"We're at a critical point in that the generation of Holocaust survivors, my parents, they're not around anymore," she says. "Or if they're around, they can't do a lot of translating. So if nobody learns it, you know, the Holocaust Museum archive is full of Yiddish materials. The University of Maryland has been acquiring Yiddish books galore. Who is going to read them? Who is going to be able to have access to them?"



Sunday, December 27, 2009

Kosher hosp cop canned 

The cockroaches in one of Montefiore Medical Center's cafeterias were definitely not kosher.

But the Bronx hospital denies the charges of a food supervisor who has raised holy hell about the creepy crawlers, plus alleged nonkosher foods and other taboo practices in the kitchen at the Weiler Division.

The hospital fired Robert Frank, a mashgiach, or kosher-food supervisor, this month for badmouthing and "spreading false and/or misleading information" about the cafeteria.

Frank, one of three mash giachs at the Eastchester Road center, claims he was booted for doing his $18.55-an-hour job.

"Nonkosher food comes in all the time and is prepared by the cooks and served to unsuspecting patients and patrons," Frank wrote Nov. 29 to Rabbi Yaakov Luban, his liaison at the Orthodox Union -- a Jewish group hired by the hospital to certify the kitchen as kosher.



Saturday, December 26, 2009


A major Jewish community leader is criticizing the Obama administration’s top official dealing with anti-Semitism.

Alan Solow, a longtime backer of President Obama and chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, issued a statement criticizing the U.S. offical, Hannah Rosenthal.

At issue is a report in Ha’aretz stating that Rosenthal criticized Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, who had described the positions of J Street, a dovish pro-Israel group, as “inimical” to Israel’s interests.

Rosenthal, who was on J Street’s board until her appointment earlier this year, reportedly told Ha’aretz that the comments were “most unfortunate.”

“As an official of the United States government, it is inappropriate for the anti-Semitism envoy to be expressing her personal views on the positions Ambassador Oren has taken as well as on the subject of who needs to be heard from in the Jewish community,” Solow said in his statement, according to Politico. “Such statements have nothing to do with her responsibilities and, based upon comments I am already receiving, could threaten to limit her effectiveness in the area for which she is actually responsible.”

Two left-wing members of the Conference of Presidents – Americans for Peace Now and Ameinu – issued statements earlier this month criticizing Oren over his comments about J Street.

The White House is reportedly circulating a statement from a State Department official praising the Israeli ambassador.

Rosenthal, who could not be reached by JTA for comment, reportedly said that the current Arab-Israeli conflict is “unacceptable” and said that American Jewish views across the spectrum, from right to left, “need to be at the table” in considering the need for Israel to make peace. And she cautioned against confusing criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.

“I do believe that some of the criticism against Israel is anti-Semitism but not all of it is,” Rosenthal was quoted as saying in the Ha’aretz interview, which was published Thursday. “And I think that healthy democracies – and Israel is one – have to do self reflection and the world looks at the light unto the nations and says I agree to this policy or I don’t agree – that is not anti-Semitism.”

Rosenthal described the United Nations Human Rights Council’s persistent singling out of Israel as “crossing the line” into anti-Semitism. She defined it as “having the U.N. single out Israel for 170 resolutions over the last five years – when everybody knows that Sudan is committing genocide and they have only five resolutions.”



Friday, December 25, 2009

Homowack Group Hopes to Prevent More Illegal Dumping 

The group that owns the former Homowack Lodge — which is now known as Machne Bnos Square — has erected a fence to keep out illegal dumpers. Aron Taub, who is a member of the group's board of directors, says that the fence is but the first step in restoring the old resort.

"We plan on doing everything necessary to bring the property into compliance," Taub said.

The group currently has an application before the Town of Mamakating Planning Board, with the ultimate goal being to secure a special use permit that would be required if the group hopes to operate a girls' camp this summer.

Last year, the group had defied local and state authorities by operating this camp despite lacking the required permit. Taub, however, says that Machne Bnos Square is determined that this not happen again this year. While he says he understands the skepticism many of the local residents surely feel, he hopes that, in turning over a new leaf, the group's actions during the ensuing months will be judged with an open mind.

"We want to set a new direction [for the property]," he said.

Eventually, Taub says, the group intends, in addition to the camp, to restore the hotel operations at the site. Taub also wanted to state for the record that the group is reconsidering plans for a Hasidic village — or, shtetl — on the property. Taub says that the current state of the economy has had an impact on the group's original plans.



Controversial Rezoning of Broadway Triangle Halted 

The controversial Broadway Triangle rezoning has been approved by the City Council and halted by the New York County Supreme Court all in the same week. The Broadway Triangle is a 31-acre development site in Brooklyn that borders the neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant and Williamsburg and is mostly underdeveloped.

The city has said the area could be used to build 1,851 housing units and apartments, 46 percent of which would be affordable housing. However, many local residents have complained that they were given little say in the project and that twice as many affordable housing units could be produced.

Plans to develop the Triangle were halted due to a request by the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, which is made up of around 40 community groups. The request was granted by Justice Emily Goodman, according to a release from her office.

The lawsuit claims that the transfer of the site from the city to the United Jewish Organization (UJO) of Williamsburg and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council (RBSCC) violated several laws, and constitutional clauses.



Thursday, December 24, 2009

Orthodox Jews claim discrimination over beards 

The beard that Matthias Goldstein has worn since high school - full, but trimmed short - didn't seem to be a problem during his first 15 years as a medic with the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Co.

It didn't prevent him from answering thousands of calls while staffing Saturday nights at the Baltimore County firehouse, or serving as an instructor in basic life support, advanced life support and EMT recertifcation, or being named the company's paramedic of the year in 2003.

But now his beard is at the center of a legal dispute over fire safety, religious practice and - Goldstein believes - rivalry between neighboring volunteer rescue agencies.

Earlier this year, Goldstein and two fellow Orthodox Jews were told they could not ride on emergency calls because their beards might interfere with breathing masks that the Pikesville company was considering buying for its medic corps.

The three men - Goldstein, Avi Gross, a paramedic recruit who hadn't begun to ride with the company, and Avi Green, a medical technician who was denied a job - maintain their beards in obedience to Torah injunctions against "rounding the corners of the head" and "marring the corners of the beard." Shaving, they say, is not an option.

After months seeking some sort of accommodation - months in which, Goldstein says, other medics were not required to wear the Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus - they have filed complaints with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company denies any wrongdoing. Goldstein, Green and Gross accuse the fire company of religious discrimination and retaliation for their involvement with an upstart volunteer rescue organization organized by Orthodox Jews in Northwest Baltimore.

That organization, Hatzalah - Hebrew for "rescue" - was founded in 2007 to bridge the gap between an emergency and the arrival of the Baltimore Fire Department. With 20 emergency medical technicians and five paramedics, the group operates its own dispatch system, using a telephone number publicized within Northwest Baltimore.



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hasidim vs. Hipsters In Williamsburg 

By now, everyone knows the story. The city recently closed down a bicycle lane on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, and many people said that the Bloomberg administration had made an election deal with the Satmar Hasidim to close it down, although the Mayor’s Office denied it.

It seems that the Satmar Hasidim objected to young women with “immodest” attire, such as shorts, bicycling through their neighborhood. The Satmars frown not only on shorts, but on women wearing pants in general, since they consider these “men’s clothes.” They, and the smaller, allied Hasidic sects that live in the area, clothe women from head to toe, with long skirts, long sleeves and wigs (lest a woman’s natural hair excite someone).

The local cyclists, many of whom were no doubt “hipsters” (and were described in the media as such) were outraged. First, some of them illegally repainted the bike lane in the street. But secondly, some female cyclists decided to ride topless through the Hasidic neighborhood in protest, stymied only because of a winter storm. One must note that established cycling organizations, such as Transportation Alternatives, didn’t support the topless protest.

Many of the protesters and their supporters, who no doubt have a negative attitude toward religion in general, made some rather nasty comments about the Hasidim. For example, one said that if the Hasidim want to totally live their own lifestyle with minimal contact with the outside world, they should live in their own town with their own rules. Probably unknown to whoever made these statements, by the way, is the fact that there is such a town, New Square in Rockland County, where even the sheriff is Hasidic.

On the surface, one can understand the attitude of the Hasidim. They look around and see a breakdown of civil society — girls getting pregnant at age 16, four-letter words on prime-time TV, stars wearing outfits that reveal almost everything, an increasing number of out-of-wedlock births, one of every two marriages ending in divorce.

But most people — including modern Orthodox Jews — would say that the Hadisim’s “remedy” is worse than the “disease.” In some Hasidic boys’ textbooks, even totally innocent pictures of girls are blacked out, less they lead to licentiousness; and when a Hasidic woman has her period she can’t even hand a salt shaker directly to her husband, lest he become “contaminated.” Also, Hasidic men are not allowed to listen to a woman singing, since this, too, is considered indecent.

One can also understand the anger of the hipsters. By and large, these are people who grew up in unhappy home situations and who have moved to Williamsburg from other parts of the city or the country to “be with their own kind” and live their own unconventional lifestyle. Many, if not most, were teased during their childhood because they were “different,” and fiercely want to defend their hard-fought right to live their lifestyle without interference.

The two communities can coexist in nearby areas, but they must make some concessions. The hipsters must become more sensitive to the Hadisim’s ideas of modesty, and not deliberately do things that unnecessarily provoke them. For example, they shouldn’t turn up their stereo full blast on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, if they live next door to a Hasidic synagogue.

And the Hasidim must realize that they don’t make the laws — for example, they can’t stop someone from driving down the aforementioned Lee Avenue on Saturday. They also have to realize that not everyone adheres to their code — that when a woman wears a pants suit, for example, that doesn’t mean she is a fallen or immoral person.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

City Council approves Mayor Bloomberg's Broadway Triangle plan for Williamsburg 

The City Council passed Mayor Bloomberg's controversial plan to build housing at Williamsburg's Broadway Triangle - including 800 affordable units.

Opponents had charged two politically connected groups got no-bid land giveaways from the city to develop apartments that will favor Hasidic families over blacks and Latinos.

Bloomberg said the Brooklyn plan will "transform a largely vacant and underutilized area into a thriving new neighborhood."

Opponents, who have brought a suit saying the plan breaks anti-discrimination laws, plan to ask a judge today to issue an injunction to stop it.

The Council okayed the project, 36 to 10, Monday.



Monday, December 21, 2009

Rabbi Sentenced Two Years for Tax Fraud 

The head of an Orthodox Jewish group was handed a two-year prison sentence today in Los Angeles for his part in what prosecutors said was a decade-long tax fraud and money laundering scheme.

The 61-year-old rabbi, Naftali Tzi Weisz, pleaded guilty last August to criminal conspiracy charges before U.S. District Judge John F. Walter.

"I'm embarrassed beyond words,'' Weisz told the judge. "My remorse is deep and heartfelt.''

Prosecutors said Weisz and other sect members helped donors avoid paying federal income taxes by having them make contributions to charitable groups run by Spinka, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Orthodox Jewish group led by the rabbi.

An assistant, Gabbai Moshe Zigelman, 62, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and was also sentenced to a two-year federal prison term.

The operation, according to the government, had two goals: to obstruct the Internal Revenue Service and to further an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Although Weisz had faced up to five years in federal prison, Walter imposed the lesser penalty, determining that the rabbi did not undertake the fraud to enrich himself.

"I'm convinced he never took a penny for himself,'' the judge said.

Weisz, several associates and five charitable organizations associated with Spinka were indicted by a federal grand jury in late 2007.

According to court documents, Weisz and Zigelman secretly refunded up to 95 percent of the charitable contributions through several methods.

In some cases, the contributors received cash payments through an underground money transfer network involving various participants, some of whom owned businesses in downtown Los Angeles' jewelry district.

A second method involved wire transfers from Spinka-controlled entities into accounts secretly held at a bank in Israel, prosecutors said.

The accounts were established with the assistance of an international accounts manager at the bank, Joseph Roth, who previously pleaded guilty in the scheme, court documents show.

Roth, 66, of Tel Aviv, admitted helping contributors in the United States obtain loans from the Los Angeles branch of the Israeli bank that were secured by the funds in the secret bank accounts in Israel.

The contributors could then use the funds in the United States.

After their money was placed in the secret accounts at the Israeli bank, contributors also could hire Spinka to help secretly repatriate the money into the United States in exchange for an additional money laundering fee, according to the indictment.

In his plea agreement, Weisz admitted he learned from Zigelman that the Spinka charitable organizations had received $8,493,659 in 2006 and that Spinka had "profits'' of $744,596, after deducting the amounts paid back to the various contributors.

Prosecutors have said they are investigating more than 100 others who were contributors to Spinka organizations.

In sentencing one donor earlier this year, Walter rejected a bid for probation and imposed a six-month prison sentence, saying the crime reflected "arrogance'' and warning that other contributors who do not come forward to authorities could face "significantly higher'' sentences.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mumps takes toll on NY 

The largest U.S. outbreak of the mumps in several years is taking its toll on New York.

At least 152 people in the Rockland County towns of Monsey and New Square have been diagnosed with the highly infectious disease since the summer.

Scores more people have fallen ill in the village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County and hundreds are sick in Brooklyn.

Investigators have traced the U.S. outbreak to a Jewish summer camp in Sullivan County, and a boy who unknowingly carried the illness over from England.

Most of the people now being afflicted are in the state's tightly knit communities of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.

Mumps is spread by coughing and sneezing.

Common symptoms include fever, headache and swollen salivary glands, but it can sometimes lead to more serious problems.



Too cold for nude protest, NYC bikers switch gears 

Bicyclists who planned to go topless to protest the removal of a New York City bike lane have switched gears. Some pinned plastic breasts over their jackets as they rolled into a snowstorm.

Dozens of protesters biked through an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn on Saturday.

Bike messenger Heather Loop organized the event. She says the lane was removed because the neighborhood's Hasidic Jews "can't handle scantily clad women."

Some Hasids say the issue is not showing leg but rather a concern for safety for the children being dropped off by school buses.

The protesters planned to read through the streets without their tops, but wintry weather forced them to stay dressed.

The bikers' plastic tactics did not amuse faithful Hasids leaving synagogue services with their families on the Sabbath.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bicyclists Strip Down to Protest Loss of Williamsburg Bike Lanes 

Some brave Williamsburg bicyclists are scheduled to strip down and take to the streets in protest Saturday, despite snowy conditions.

The "Freedom Ride" is the latest retaliation by cyclists infuriated with the city's decision to remove a 14-block bike lane from Bedford Ave.

The bike lane was reportedly removed preceding the mayoral elections to appease the neighborhood's local Satmar Jewish population, who complained that scantily-clad Bedford bikers were an offensive sight to the Orthodox community.

Safety was also cited as a reason for the two-year old lane's removal, as residents say reckless cyclists routinely flew through traffic and around school buses, endangering pedestrians and people getting out of their cars.

Protest organizers have promised to wait until after sundown when the Sabbath is over to begin their brisk ride in the buff.



Friday, December 18, 2009

Williamsburg's $26,000 Bike Lane to Nowhere 

The on-again off-again bike lane in Williamsburg cost $11,000 to install and $15,000 to tear up. That's $26,000 of taxpayer money that isn't making bicyclists any safer.

The wasted money is probably doing very little to protect the sensibilities of those who object to the sight of scantily-clad cyclists -- as aggrieved riders plan a protest for Saturday that involves more skin that the usual December bike ride.

Cyclist Heather Loop and at least 50 other bikers plan to take to the former lane in their undies on Saturday and throw off their shirts in opposition to reports of religious leaders' political power play to have the bike lane removed, according to The Brooklyn Paper.

"If you can't handle scantily clad women … live in a place where you can have your own sanctuary, like upstate," Loop, 27, told the paper.

The bike lane was initially constructed in 2007, but it's been the subject of intense controversy in Williamsburg, a community cohabited by hipsters and Hasidim. Religious law forbids Hasidic members from seeing scantily clad women. And these scantily clad, Spandex-wearing women have been using the bike lane for over a year now.

In November, the bike lane was sandblasted away in what a source close to Mayor Michael Bloomberg says was, "an effort to appease the Hasidic community just before last month's election," according to The New York Post.

Frustrated that they'd be forced to use the bike lane on Kent instead of Bedford Avenue, vigilantes took it upon themselves to repaint the Bedford bike lane last week. Some even got arrested.

"A small portion of this lane is being removed as part of ongoing bike network adjustments in the area, which have included the recent addition of a barrier-protected connector lane on nearby Williamsburg Street and the completion of a unique, two-way protected lane on parallel Kent Avenue," Department of Transportation spokesman Seth Solomonow told NBCNewYork.com. "We will continue to work with any community on ways we can make changes to our streets without compromising safety."

The Hasidim in the community maintained the bike lane was removed for safety purposes, but most riders think that's not true.

"It was a political deal," cyclist Geoff Zink told the Brooklyn Paper. "The street is for everybody. [They] say the removal of the lane was for safety, but how does that make any sense? It's a bike lane."

While most protesters don't actually believe their efforts will make the city restore the lane, they believe it's important to stand up – and they're calling all cyclists to do the same.

"Get on your bike and ride – show the community that we do use and need all bike lanes," event organizer Barbara Ross told the Brooklyn Paper.



Thursday, December 17, 2009

East Ramapo board to review hiring of lawyer 

The East Ramapo school board voted Wednesday night to extend the contract for a Nyack-based law firm until Jan. 6, in effect delaying action on the board's controversial vote to hire attorney Albert D'Agostino.

The board met in a late executive session to discuss a request for proposal, which board President Nathan Rothschild said was missing when the board hired D'Agostino on Nov. 18. A request for proposal allows law firms to bid on a contract, providing the board members with a variety of choices before a final decision can be made.

After the executive session, Rothschild said the board requested a report from the district clerk about hiring regulations that the members will review "at some point in the very near future."

The hiring of D'Agostino, who is being investigated by state District Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for his alleged role in improperly accepting more than $600,000 in state pensions, was approved Nov. 18 in a 5-3 vote.

By appointing D'Agostino, the board was also dismissing the district's longtime attorney, Stephen Fromson, who has held the position for 33 years.

On Dec. 2, before a crowd of about 450 residents, the board announced the hiring of Feerick, Lynch and MacCartney, a Nyack-based firm, to counsel the board on D'Agostino's hiring. Also, a parent has asked the state education commissioner to reverse the hiring.

The same evening, the board announced that Fromson would continue to work on behalf of the district until the legality of D'Agostino's appointment could be decided.

After Wednesday's public session, the board voted 8-0 to renew the contract for Feerick, Lynch and MacCartney until the next regular board meeting, on Jan. 6.

Rothschild said the state education commissioner has denied the stay.

"I feel that it is inappropriate for us to even consider what to do next," Rothschild said.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Israel Billionaire Leviev Mired in New York Property 

Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev told a roomful of reporters in August at the beachside Tel Aviv Crowne Plaza hotel he owns that his Africa-Israel Investments Ltd. would seek to restructure about $2 billion of debt.

“Our biggest mistake was our investments in the U.S.,” said the diamond mogul turned real estate investor, who just two years earlier was ranked by the Israeli newspaper TheMarker as the country’s richest man. The revelation, in Leviev’s Russian- accented Hebrew, rocked Israel’s markets, sending its benchmark stock index to its biggest drop since June.

Leviev, 53, born in Soviet Uzbekistan, went from success to success in the decade before the credit crisis. He made his fortune as owner of the world’s largest cutter and polisher of diamonds before turning Africa-Israel into a multibillion-dollar company, with assets from Moscow to New York. He then bought landmark Manhattan properties with borrowed money just as the market reached its peak.

“He became, slowly, slowly, a very great believer in himself -- that everything he touched turned into a success and that everything he did had God’s blessing,” said Avi Nota, who in 2007 stepped down as chief executive officer of an Africa- Israel division that develops projects in central and eastern Europe. “When the crisis emerged, he was caught blindsided.”

Leviev, a member of the Chabad-Hasidic movement who travels with a band of bearded bodyguards, is now trying to reach an agreement with Africa-Israel’s creditors to avoid having to seek bankruptcy protection. Africa-Israel bonds make up about 0.6 percent of the total amount of pension savings that Israeli financial institutions manage, the Finance Ministry said in August.

His Own Money

A proposal presented to the court on Dec. 2 would cut Leviev’s stake to 53 percent from 75 percent and inject about $200 million of his own money into Yehud, Israel-based Africa- Israel. The company had filed with an Israeli court to hold an official assembly, in which bondholders would vote on the debt deal.

The biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression has reduced demand for real estate, making it harder for Africa- Israel, which has reported a loss in five of the past six quarters, to cover debt payments.

Leviev was one of several Israeli investors in New York real estate during the boom years, including fellow billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva, whose holding company purchased the Plaza Hotel in 2004 for $675 million.

Africa-Israel made its highest-profile acquisitions just before the onset of the credit crunch in 2007. They included the former New York Times headquarters on Times Square for $525 million and Manhattan’s Clock Tower building for $200 million.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Moldovan Jews Undeterred 

The Jewish community of Moldova appeared unfazed Monday night, several hours after the publication of a video showing an Orthodox priest and his followers smashing a Chanukkah menorah set up in the capital Chisinau, using hammers and iron bars. "It’s only politics and things will calm down," said Rabbi Zalman Abelsky, the manager of the Chabad kindergarten in the city. "This was only an attempt to create some noise."

Talking to Ynet, Abelsky added that "this is not a conventional thing, but one must understand that there is a lot of politics involved. There were elections here several months ago, and the parties still don't get along.

"The relations between the ruling party and the opposition parties are not good, and some of the Jews who were present in the candle lighting event belong to the previous party. This is the root of things here. They are creating provocations against each other."

The rabbi, who has been living in the eastern European country for many years, expressed his surprise over the incident and said that anti-Semitic phenomena in Moldova were not common.

"Ever since I've been in Moldova, nothing of the kind has happened. There is no anti-Semitism here. On the contrary, Moldova can set an example to the entire world on this issue, and suddenly something like this happens. The authorities here will make sure that this never happens again. We are continuing the holiday celebrations," he said.

Moldova's Jewish community includes some 12,000 members. About 66,000 Jews lived in Moldova some 20 years ago, but most of them immigrated to Israel.

Menorah replaced with cross
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) urged the government of Moldova and the leadership of the Orthodox Church to punish those responsible for uprooting the Hanukkah menorah.

“The Moldovan government and the Orthodox Church must punish the perpetrators of this despicable anti-Semitic crime and send a clear signal to Moldovan society and to the Jewish community that the government and the church will not tolerate anti-Semitism,” said ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman.

During the incident, the priest's followers held signs, chanted anti-Semitic slogans and clarified that they would not allow Jews "to control Moldova". They removed the menorah and replaced it with a cross.

The 1.5 meter (5-foot)-tall ceremonial candelabrum was retrieved, reinstalled and is now under police guard. Police said they were investigating but there was no official reaction from Moldova's Orthodox Church, which is part of the Russian Orthodox Church and counts 70 percent of Moldovans as members.

The national government said in a statement that "hatred, intolerance and xenophobia" are unacceptable. Jewish leader Alexandr Bilinkis called on the Orthodox Church to take a position over the priest's actions.



Monday, December 14, 2009

Soggy protest over Bedford Avenue bike lane 

Cops vastly outnumbered cyclists at yesterday’s “funeral procession” for the Bedford Avenue bike lane — and rain dampened activists’ enthusiasm for another attempt to repaint the late lamented cycle path.

All manner of NYPD vehicles rolled into place right on time at 2 pm, with officers outnumbering protesters by 15 to five on the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge — the meeting place for a ride and rally to urge the city to restore the 14-block lane between Flushing Avenue and Division Street that was removed two weeks ago and repainted by activists last week.

The few cyclists who showed up scoffed at the NYPD’s show of force — as detectives took photos from unmarked vehicles and traffic cops sat at the ready in full riot gear — though the rebellious repainting of the lane did lead to two arrests and one viral YouTube video.

Procession organizer Monica Hunker smiled as she dodged the question of whether the group would try to repaint the lane again. “You can’t really paint in the rain,” she said. “I think we’re all prepared to get arrested.” (There were none on the day, however.)

The suggestion of guerilla tactics was about as far as it got, unless you count a small impromptu dance party at Wallabout Street and Bedford Avenue, the end of their memorial route, and a few soggy protesters holding signs reading, “We love bike lanes.”

But the message was clear: bike lanes are safe and environmentally friendly, and their removal doesn’t remove riders. Most protesters had one theory or another on the nature of the loss.

“It was a political deal,” said rider Geoff Zink. “The street is for everybody. The [Hasidic community] say the removal of the lane was for safety, but how does that make any sense? It’s a bike lane.”

Even within the insular Hasidic community of South Williamsburg there are deep divisions. Some Hasidic leaders claim that cyclists slow down buses dropping off children at nearby religious schools, yet other Hasidim were said to have been involved in the repainting.

Few protesters believe that the city will restore the lane, so for now, they’re calling for a show of force.

“Get on your bike and ride — show the community that we do use and need all bike lanes,” said event organizer Barbara Ross.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nine-foot menorah lights up Main Street 

Although the oil froze in the 23-degree weather, Rabbi Chaim Bruk was able to get the two candles on a 9-foot-tall steel menorah lit for the second night of Hanukkah.

“Maybe we’ll make our own holiday miracle tonight,” Bruk joked to the group who gathered to watch Saturday night’s menorah lighting in front of First Security Bank at Bozeman Avenue and Main Street.

This is the third year that Bruk, head of the Hasidic Jewish Chabad Lubavitch of Montana, has organized the event in celebration of the Jewish holiday, which commemorates the Maccabees’ recapture of the Jewish Temple from Syrian Greeks.

The eight-branched candelabra will be lit on each night of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights.

“The celebration of Hanukkah is to illuminate the darkness of the world with as much light as possible, and there’s no better place to do that than Main Street,” Bruk said. “This menorah will stand for eight days proudly, to tell the world that no matter how dark it can be, there will always be light.”

Bozeman’s menorah is one of thousands worldwide, Bruk said, symbolizing religious freedom and the power of light over darkness.

After Saturday night, the candles will be replaced with electric bulbs, with a new one blinking on with each day of the holiday. Hanukkah began on Friday and lasts until Dec. 19.

Saturday’s celebration also represented a sense of community for those like Stephanie Greenbaum, whose family moved to Bozeman from New York three years ago.

“Coming from New York, where every other person was Jewish ... this is wonderful,” Greenbaum said. “It’s heartwarming. It’s family. It’s heritage.”

Ron Farmer, president of First Security Bank, was asked to light the center candle in appreciation of his hosting the menorah outside his business.

“I consider it an honor,” Farmer said. “We obviously celebrate a number of holidays at this time of year, why not be able to celebrate Hanukkah in front of the bank?”

In a speech, Mayor-elect Jeff Kraus referenced both the Main Street explosion and the reemergence of a white supremacist movement this fall as reasons why, perhaps more than years past, the public display of diversity was important.

“Given the year we just had, with the tragedy across the street and the darkness up the street, I can’t tell you how huge it is to have a menorah on Main Street,” he said. “It is our dedication to each other that binds our community.

“That is the triumph over the darkness,” Krauss said.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snow removal ceases in Outremont for Sabbath 

Snow removal operations will be put on hold Friday night in parts of Outremont to respect Hasidic Jews recognizing the Sabbath.

The Jewish Sabbath runs from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday, and during that time, observant Jews are not allowed to perform any kind of work, including moving a car out of the way of snow plows.

As it has done for the past 20 years, snow crews will skip parts of Outremont on Friday and Saturday to accommodate the Hadisic residents, 25 per cent of Outremont's population.

Snow removal will also cease in Plateau Mont-Royal for the weekend as a cost-cutting measure.

Meanwhile, 25 per cent of snow removal operations have been completed following Wednesday's 28-centimentre dump, the City of Montreal confirmed Friday.

Some 3,000 employees are using 2200 pieces of equipment to clear streets in the city's 19 boroughs.

City officials are urging Montrealers to use public transit and take advantage of the 6,200 spaces in public parking lots, available from 6 p.m. ot 7 a.m. throughout the duration of the snow removal process.



Friday, December 11, 2009

A freilichen Chanukah 


Jewellery launched to lift spirits 

It’s a story with a lot of sorrow, but a lot of heart and soul too.

Seven years after his brother was attacked and murdered in Toronto, Thornhill resident Shlomo Rosenzweig is on a mission to nurture the spirituality he believes is in each of us.

His recently launched website, ruspiritual.com, sells a series of sterling silver jewellery with the word “spirituality” engraved on each piece. The goal is to get people connecting with their inner selves, he says. The website also features an inspiring video with script and images that explores the idea of spirituality.

The website and jewellery is a tribute to his brother, David Rosenzweig, whose 2002 murder made international headlines. Partial proceeds of the jewellery sales will go towards the David Rosenzweig Fund for Victims of Terror, an organization that was formed after David’s death, along with other charities.

Rosenzweig is a practicing Hasidic Jew but says the website and its message are non-denominational. For him, spirituality can be as simple as appreciating the laughter of a baby or saying hello to a stranger on the street. It could be God, he says, but it could also be acts of kindness or simply being in awe of a beautiful sunset or sunrise.



A place to call their own 

Hasidic Jews concentrated in the Outremont and Mile End areas are facing a housing crisis.

The combination of large families and rising real-estate prices is behind what Meyer Feig, director of the Jewish Orthodox Council for Community Relations, calls a "desperate" situation.

Initial plans to participate in a major housing development in western Laval, in an arrangement with a private developer, Construction Betaplex, have fallen through, however.

In a full-page ad in the Heimish News, a brochure targeting the Hasidic and Orthodox communities in Outremont and Mile End, Feig said that project was designed for an initial 75 homes, with future expansion for up to 1,000 families.

Since he is well connected with these communities, Feig agreed to act as a sales representative for Betaplex.

"Housing is expensive in this neighbourhood. The community is growing, and it's not affordable for our large families," Feig said yesterday.

A synagogue and a mikvah, or ritual bath, were to be features of the Laval project, even in its initial phase.

The community is still looking for housing alternatives because the basic problems remains, Feig said.

Followers of the Belz, Satmer, Wiznitz, Skver and other rabbinic traditions are concentrated in the area bounded by Outremont Ave., Van Horne Ave., Jeanne Mance St. and Fairmount Ave.

The Hasidic population there is increasing. It totalled 4,700 in 2002 and, based on the large families most of its followers have, demographer Charles Shahar of Federation CJA estimated it at about 6,000 people now.

His analysis of the 2001 census shows the three areas with the highest gains in Jewish population in the Montreal region from 1991 to 2001 were Outremont (20.7 per cent), Park Ave./Park Extension (19.1 per cent) and the rest of the Montreal metropolitan area (17.1 per cent), which includes the 3,000-member Tosh Hasidic community of Boisbriand.

Shahar also found that Outremont, with a median age of 18.1, and Park Ave./Park Extension, with a median age of 21.2 years, were by far the youngest Jewish communities in Canada.

Combined with the demographic challenge is the area's high and rising price of real estate: a standard two-storey house in Outremont was selling for $450,000 and a typical condominium unit was priced at $330,000 this summer, according to the latest Royal LePage survey.

As a result, Feig said, young Hasidic Jews seek "affordable options, off-island or on the island. And it doesn't have to be new housing."

"Our community, thank God, is multiplying, and there is not enough room here to accommodate everybody.

"Outremont and the Plateau (Mont Royal) are lovely, but we don't expect prices to come down and we just can't afford it."

Moving to Boisbriand is not an option, Feig said, because the Tosh Hasidism who live there follow "extreme ultra Orthodox, with very strict rules," compared with the Hasidic residents of Outremont and Mile End.

"They have their own private community. It's one sect in particular and you would have to adhere to their rules," he said.



Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yeshiva fight ends in one minor conviction 

A jury acquitted five of six Orthodox Jews charged in a wild fracas - but found one guilty Wednesday of a simple misdemeanor. All were facing as much as 15 years each on gang assault charges when their trial began five weeks ago.

The brouhaha erupted inside a yeshiva when students from two different sects began battling over a bed in the dorm room. The sects have had a long-running argument over who they believe is the true messiah.

Brooklyn jurors found one member of the local Shomrim guard group guilty of a single misdemeanor.

"It was all a big waste of time," said Nechemia Slatter, one of the so-called "Shomrim six" acquitted in the Dec. 29, 2007 dustup.

"It's the district attorney's money," said lawyer Joyce David, whose client, Chaim Hershkop, was also acquitted. "A lot of resources for nothing."

Many of the charges, including felony gang assault, were dismissed by Justice Albert Tomei before jurors began deliberating. Jurors took five hours to find all but Godi Hershkop not guilty.

The case, which began when two groups in an Eastern Parkway yeshiva began fighting, revealed divides in the community over whether the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson is the messiah.

It also put Shomrim, criticized by some as too aggressive, on trial. All six vowed to stay with the group.

Hershkop, 37, faces as much as a year in prison but defense lawyer Israel Fried, noting that his client will probably lose school bus driver job from the conviction, said he'll probably not get any jail.

"Community service?" Fried asked, "He's already doing community service: he's Shomrim."



War of the Roses: Satmar sect split seeps into zoning showdown 

Borough President Marty Markowitz found himself in the middle of a simmering feud between the leaders of two rival Hasidic factions over a troubled Williamsburg waterfront development project this week.

After failing to receive a positive recommendation from Community Board 1 on December 1, representatives of the building applicant made their pitch on Monday to rezone 3.7 acres of the Williamsburg waterfront off Kent and Division avenues to make way for a three-tower, 800-unit mixed use building, known as Rose Plaza, with a promenade down South 11th Street. This time the audience was Markowitz, who tartly dismissed ancillary arguments regarding the political context and history behind the development.

“Your dirty laundry should not be aired in public,” said Markowitz during the December 7 hearing at Borough Hall. “To the outside world, you are one. Ninety percent of Brooklyn does not know what you’re talking about. You guys, someday I pray, you will have to work things out. Happy Hanukkah.”

The building is owned by Certified Lumber’s Isack Rosenberg, a longtime Williamsburg businessman who has developed several projects in South Williamsburg.

Rosenberg is an honorary president of UJCARE, a Williamsburg social services organization that has increasingly competed with the United Jewish Organizations, a 43-year-old Williamsburg-based nonprofit and services provider, for resources and political allies.

Both organizations serve primarily members of the Satmar community, Williamsburg’s largest Hasidic sect, which remains bitterly divided from a 2006 schism, the result of a power struggle between the two surviving heirs of the late-Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum.

This past year, UJO and UJCARE were on opposite sides of two City Council campaigns and Brooklyn’s largest city-owned rezoning project, the Broadway Triangle, in which the UJO is an applicant.

With the Council’s Land Use Committee’s passage of the Broadway Triangle earlier that day on December 7, the fight over property development in South Williamsburg shifted towards the Rose Plaza project.

During the hearing, UJO Executive Director and CB1 member Rabbi David Niederman reiterated his disapproval of the project, citing the community board’s negative recommendation, which passed by an overwhelming margin, and concerns over paucity of three- and four-bedroom units, of which there are only eight.

“Few people living in the community over there will be able to afford this building,” said Niederman. “Unless the communities are being addressed, this project will not go forward.”

Rabbi Leib Glanz, Executive Vice President for UJCARE, however, contrasted the project with the Broadway Triangle, which will ultimately receive public funds for development, in his arguments for Rose Plaza project.

“I am a great supporter of affordable housing,” said Glanz. “It seems to be a double standard. This is private funding for affordable housing and these are people who are willing to give back to the community.”

Regarding affordable housing, Markowitz challenged Howard Weiss, a representative of Rose Plaza LLC, to raise the level of affordable housing above the 20 percent minimum.Weiss, however, argued that a higher level of affordable housing units could endanger the profitability of the project.

“There is no other waterfront project developed on private land that is required to provide more than 20 percent affordable housing,” said Weiss.

Markowitz has 60 days to review the project and make his recommendation before the City Planning Commission will take it up. Rosenberg’s allies believe the reception at the CPC will be more favorable towards the development, though the squabbling within the Satmar sect lingers.

“There are two sides of the (Satmar Hasidic) community and that’s the reason we’re here tonight,” said Moishe Indig a Williamsburg resident and spokesperson of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, one of the heirs to Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum. “It’s unfortunate to say it in public, but its something that we have to take into consideration.”



Spring Valley mayor hires East Ramapo trustee as assistant 

An East Ramapo school board trustee who was a target of community anger after supporting the firing of the district's longtime attorney has been hired as an administrative assistant by Spring Valley's new mayor.

Aron Wieder, the school board's vice president, was appointed to the $45,000-a-year post Monday by Mayor Noramie Jasmin.

Late last month, Wieder, along with several members of a board voting bloc representative of the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, were at the center of a community backlash after voting to fire Stephen Fromson, the district's lawyer for the past 33 years.

By majority vote, the board selected Albert D'Agostino, an attorney embroiled in a controversy over $600,000 in state pensions, currently being investigated by state District Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, to replace Fromson.

That D'Agostino would have cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional fees drove more than 550 people to attend a school board public session.

Last week, the board announced that Fromson would continue his work for the district and that a special counsel would be contracted for 15 days to advise board members until the legality of the vote to hire D'Agostino could be decided at the coming board meeting Wednesday.

Steven White, a Spring Valley resident who filed a petition to the state commissioner of education requesting a reversal of the decision to hire D'Agostino, called Jasmin's move to hire Wieder "unusual" and questioned Wieder's professional background and qualifications.

"This sounds like a purely political appointment," he said.

Jasmin said she was not sure who held the administrative position prior to Wieder and that the post required someone who was "academically fit."

"He will assist me in tackling some daily activities that are going on in the village," she said, adding that Wieder would be a "floater" who would assist in several day-to-day activities in her office.

Jasmin would not comment on Wieder's actions as vice president of the school board.

Wieder declined comment about his past employment experience and administrative qualifications.

"I'm looking forward to working under Mayor Jasmin to enhance the village of Spring Valley to its fullest potential," he said via an e-mail Tuesday.



Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Bikers in the spokey 

Police yesterday busted two of the hipster Brooklyn cyclists who repainted whole sections of Williamsburg bike lanes the city had just removed at the request of the neighborhood's Hasidic community.

Quinn Hechtropf, 26 and Katherine Piccochi, 24 -- who surrendered hours after posting a video of the guerilla public-works operation on YouTube -- allegedly used paint rollers and stencils to recreate all the markings that had been sandblasted away.

"We're self-hating Jewish hipsters," Hechtropf joked last night as the two walked out of the 90th Precinct with desk-appearance tickets.

"They handcuffed us," Piccochi complained.

Both were hit with criminal-mischief charges as well as a violation for defacing the street.

The neighborhood patrol Shomrim grabbed Hechtropf and Piccochi in the incident at 3:30 a.m. Monday. Cops took their names but at the time did not arrest them.

"The cops told them they wouldn't get arrested, but the police must have come under pressure by the Hasidim," said Baruch Herzfeld, the unofficial spokesman for the pro-bike-lane group.

Detectives asked them to come in to the precinct and they did, accompanied by a lawyer.

Cyclists have decried the removal of the bike lanes, but many Hasidic residents had complained that all the bikers whizzing by posed both safety and spiritual risks to the community.

Many of the hipster cyclists wear too little clothing for the Hasids, who are not supposed to stare at members of the opposite sex and wanted the enticement removed.

Herzfeld contends the activists were comprised of both Hasidic and hipster riders unhappy with the removal of the 14-block bike lane. On the video, the team is shown repainting the lanes with rollers as a pulsating rhythm plays in the background. They used a stencil and spray paint to recreate a bicyclist icon on the roadbed at Bedford Avenue and Williamsburg Street.

The group's message appears in white text on a black background:

"We are New York City bicyclists and our message is clear. Don't take away our bike lanes. We use this stretch of Bedford Avenue because it is a direct route to the Williamsburg Bridge.

"We will continue to use it whether or not there is a bike lane here, but not having one puts us at greater risk from cars."

The statement says the group will restore the lane markings if they're removed again.

And the city Transportation Department said it will remove any unauthorized markings.

Hasidic residents complain they are being portrayed as the enemy, when it is the cyclists who are breaking the law.

"That unauthorized painting on New York City property is unlawful, but that is overlooked because it's committed against the terrible Hasidim," Moshe Goldberger said.



Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Rezoning of Brooklyn’s Broadway Triangle Advances 

The contested plan to rezone the 31-acre sliver of Brooklyn known as the Broadway Triangle completed another station of the Ulurp cross this morning when the City Council’s Land Use Committee voted to modify the plan and send it on to the Department of City Planning.

The Land Use Committee’s 12-to-6 vote followed a 3-to-0 vote earlier Monday by its Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions. The planning department now has 15 days to certify the plan and send it back to the Council.

The modifications approved Monday are minor and call for the city to give a preference for open public space in proposals for city-owned lots in the southern part of the Triangle, said Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick of Manhattan, chairman of the subcommittee.

The rezoning plan — part of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, known as Ulurp — would allow up to 1,851 units of housing to be built in the Triangle, a partly city-owned area in a long-neglected corner of the borough where Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick meet that is now zoned for industrial use. If all 1,851 units were built, 844 of them would have to be moderately priced; critics of the plan say it is likely to have far fewer such apartments.

The plan has also been criticized for the city’s decision to grant early rights to develop city-owned sites in the Triangle to two nonprofit groups, the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, which represents part of the fast-growing Hasidic population, and the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a group founded by Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, who is also the Brooklyn Democratic chairman, without competitive bids.

In another attack on the plan, a lawsuit filed in September charges that it discriminates in favor of Hasidic Jews by including too many three- and four-bedroom apartments. Hasidic families tend to have large numbers of children.



Monday, December 07, 2009

Ramapo's Orthodox cop put on leave 

Ramapo's first Orthodox Jewish police officer has had her badge and gun confiscated and been placed on administrative leave pending an evaluation of whether she will remain an officer after her probationary period ends in February.

Police Chief Peter Brower ordered Officer Baile Glauber on Nov. 22 not to come to work again until Ramapo officials decided if she will be permanent ly hired.

The department sent officers to her Spring Valley home to take away her badge and gun, a police union official said. If she wants to come to police headquarters, she must go through the public entrance to the front desk.

Brower said Friday that his policy is not to comment on personnel matters. Brower would make a recommendation to the Police Commission on Glauber's future for a decision in January. Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence and the four Town Board members act as the Police Commission.

Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein said he also couldn't comment on Glauber's status.

"I can say she's still employed by the Ramapo Police Department, she was on limited duty because of an injury, and she's still getting salary," Klein said.

Ramapo police union president, Officer Dennis Procter, said the police chief used his authority to place Glauber on administrative leave, and the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association would represent Glauber.

Procter said he wasn't aware of the chief's reasoning for his decision. He said when dealing with a probationary officer, the PBA cannot do much because of the officer's nonpermanent status.

Glauber has filed a federal labor complaint against the town and some fellow officers accusing them of discriminating against her because of her religious beliefs.

Procter said town officials investigated her accusations, including interviewing the officers, and found no grounds to support her contentions that she was mistreated by her colleagues.



Sunday, December 06, 2009

In fallout of fraud sting, IRS joins hunt 

It was only a matter of time before the IRS began looking at the master informant behind a massive money laundering and corruption sting that led to the arrests of dozens of elected officials, rabbis and political operatives in July.

The tax inquiry, however, could also be a ticking bomb for anyone else who gave money and expected kickbacks from the religious institutions and schools at the focus of the ongoing criminal probe.

Solomon Dwek, 37, agreed to serve as an informant after authorities accused him of a $50 million bank fraud. He pleaded guilty in October to federal and state criminal charges. According to court filings, the Internal Revenue Service, in a civil proceeding, is now looking closely at the financial details behind Dwek's fraudulent transactions -- and also at the millions of dollars in contributions Dwek made to the Deal Yeshiva, a school where he once served as vice president.

The tax probe could have much further repercussions if others contributed money to the charities involved in the case and subsequently received kickbacks, as Dwek did as part of the sting.

There is precedent for thinking that, as intense as the focus has been on the politics side of the scandal, the effect on the religion side could become just as far-reaching.

In Los Angeles, more than 100 contributors to a Hasidic Jewish sect in Brooklyn are being investigated by the U.S Attorney for the Central District of California in connection with the same kind of kickbacks spelled out in the New Jersey cases.

While no one has yet been targeted in New Jersey, records from several institutions tied to the case have already been seized by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey. Officials would not say if the investigation is being expanded to look at contributors.

Dwek's bankruptcy attorney did not return calls for comment, and IRS officials declined to discuss the matter. But in sworn statements, Dwek, a one-time real estate developer, acknowledged his individual tax returns for 2005 and 2006 were being audited in connection with two $25 million checks he wrote out of a closed PNC Bank account in an effort to cover a loan he had obtained fraudulently from HSBC Bank.

"I believe they came in talking about the PNC check wondering if the income -- the money, let's say the $20 million that went from PNC to pay HSBC -- is taxable," stated Dwek.

Dwek had been involved in a far-reaching real estate Ponzi scheme, obtaining millions in loans and financing for dozens of properties that did not exist. The scheme collapsed after HSBC Bank belatedly conducted a title search and discovered it did not own the mortgages on properties it believed it was financing in Neptune on behalf of Dwek.



Saturday, December 05, 2009

Where Prosperity Breeds Proximity 

MANY blocks in Midwood, with its rows of orderly detached homes and private driveways, give the feeling of a carefully planned suburb — a serene surprise after turning off a thoroughfare like Coney Island Avenue or Ocean Parkway.

But closer inspection reveals that the landscape has, in fact, been altered: on virtually every block, at least one or two homes have been significantly expanded — built up, built out, even built down.

The larger homes blend in as best they can with their smaller neighbors, but their oversized shadows are hard to miss: they are evidence of the wealth and the larger families that a thriving Orthodox Jewish population has brought to Midwood in recent years.

“Midwood has always been Jewish, but it wasn’t always Orthodox,” said David Maryl, a broker at Jacob Gold Realty. “Now for every family that’s moving out, it’s an Orthodox family moving in.”

Brooklyn’s Community Board 14, which covers the eastern half of Midwood, fields several home expansion requests each month from the area, said Alvin M. Berk, the board’s chairman.

He said the board first noted the steady trickle of requests about eight years ago and now handles about 30 a year. “This seems to be a fairly high rate of building expansion,” he said. “But there’s generally no opposition — maybe just some concerns about a proposed enlargement reducing a neighbor’s light and air.” But applicants often make concessions to ease those concerns, he added.

Rather than building a larger home, Bill and Diana Spiegel bought one. They’ve moved about a mile east. “We love the area,” Mr. Spiegel said.

They walk more than a mile each way to attend the synagogue in their old area, because “we have a little separation anxiety,” he said. But on their way, they probably pass more than a dozen synagogues; they will probably switch to one nearby once the weather turns cold. “It seems like there’s a real sense of community here, and they welcome you,” Mr. Spiegel said.

Brokers say that Orthodox families first moved into Midwood about 25 years ago as they were priced out of Borough Park, a better established Orthodox neighborhood to the west. Nowadays, Midwood is “very sought after, because people want to be near family and friends, a yeshiva or a synagogue affiliation,” said Sora David, a broker with Eisberg Lenz Real Estate. Being within walking distance of a synagogue is critical for those who observe Orthodox Jewish laws forbidding driving and other activities on the Sabbath.

There are dozens of synagogues and many yeshivas scattered throughout Midwood. Some Hasidic synagogues, known as shtibls, are in single-family homes where the rabbi might live upstairs and the congregation might meet on the first floor.

Mr. Berk says synagogues are allowed as of right in any residential zone. But many of them have growing congregations that eventually require more space. He said that the community board had fielded and helped approve many applications for variances to turn houses into larger synagogues.



Friday, December 04, 2009

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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


Assemblyman Dov Hikind meets with Civil Court Judge Noach Dear 

Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Civil Court Judge Noach Dear meet to discuss legislative issues.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Senator Sampson and State Senate Pass Budget Deficit Package, Saving Yeshivas from Midyear Cuts 

State Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson was critical in the recent passage of a budget deficit reduction package, preventing millions of dollars in midyear school cuts, with direct impact to yeshivas across New York State.

Following numerous outreach to local legislators and advocates, including Assemblyman Dov Hikind and local Jewish leaders, on the devastating impact of the budget deficit package (DRP) proposed by Governor Paterson, the legislature was able to pass a plan that would protect school children, seniors and taxpayers.

The legislation passed by the Senate closes nearly $3 billion of the state’s budget gap and puts New York back on sound fiscal footing.

“Through my years of working closely with the Jewish community, I understand that affordability and sustainability of yeshivas throughout the state has become one of the biggest issues facing Jewish families today and I am proud to have delivered a budget plan that included no midyear school cuts,” said Senator Sampson. “Passing a fiscally sound budget that would not place an extra burden on New Yorkers was essential and while the process took longer than any of us would have liked, the result was worth the wait.”

Following weeks of bipartisan negotiations, the Senate achieved its goal of balancing the budget without any new taxes or fees of any kind. The Senate successfully fought to:

· Cut education spending without imposing midyear school cuts –to both public and parochial schools--that would have taken money out of classrooms and potentially raised property taxes for working families;

· Reduce health care spending without loss of approximately $750 million in federal funding for medical services; and

· Prevent the loss of over 12,000 jobs from cuts to vital services.

By working with the Governor and Assembly to find alternative cuts, the Senate successfully turned back a number of proposals that would have cost the state hundreds of millions in lost federal funding, established new taxes, and left nursing homes without the funding they needed to continue vital services for the elderly.

“We passed a budget plan that balanced the budget on our values and not on the backs of working families across the state,” said Senator Sampson. “This package will put New York in the right direction, by reducing wasteful spending and cutting with care, as we look to address the upcoming budget.”


East Ramapo rehires fired lawyer 

The East Ramapo school board on Wednesday night announced that longtime district lawyer Steve Fromson would continue to work on behalf of the district.

The board also is going to hire a special counsel to deal with the state commissioner of education's action about whether to reverse the original, controversial vote to hire Albert D'Agostino.

The firm — Feerick, Lynch and MacCartney of South Nyack — will be contracted for 15 days until the next board meeting on Dec. 16.

The hiring of D'Agostino ”is on hold for the next two weeks,“ school board President Nathan Rothschild announced, adding ”this special counsel will advise us through the process until we are able to sort this all out.“

The night before, the school board voted 8-1 to hire the law firm of Kuntz, Spagnuolo and Murphy.

The Bedford Village-based firm was to counsel the district in the aftermath of hiring of D'Agostino, who, through a 5-3 vote, was hired to replace Fromson.

Kuntz, Spagnuolo and Murphy backed out before Wednesday night's meeting and was replaced by Dennis Lynch of Feerick, Lynch and MacCartney.[0xa0]

Fromson had been abruptly let go after serving as East Ramapo counsel for the past 33 years.

Trustee Aron Wieder apologized to the public and tried to answer some of the unanswered questions from the Nov. 18 meeting.

”Change we can believe in comes with bold and daring actions that can be controversial,“ Wieder said.

The board's action Wednesday night followed a tumultuous public sesson in which about 40 people spoke and board members met in executive session for more than two hours.

More than 400 people crowded inside the East Ramapo administration building gymnasium Wednesday night, while about 150 others listened from the halls.

Parents, students and residents addressed the board on issues ranging from the privatization of East Ramapo transportation to the contentious hiring of Long Island-based D'Agostino.

The lawyer has been embroiled in a controversy over more than a half-million dollars in state pension payments.

The five members who voted in favor of hiring D'Agostino had not provided an amended budget. D'Agostino would charge $130 an hour more than Fromson.

He also would charge for transportation to and from his offices on Long Island.

Several members from the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities have expressed that D'Agostino's expertise would be worth the additional monies.

The five-member bloc that voted in favor of D'Agostino's hiring represent the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities in the district, most of whom send their children to yeshivas, or private religious schools.



Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Jewish group drops lawsuit over kosher symbol 

A group of orthodox Jews has withdrawn a federal lawsuit alleging a northwest Indiana convenience store chain illegally used a trademark for kosher food.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America filed a motion Monday to dismiss its complaint against Luke Oil Co. Inc. in U.S. District Court in Hammond. Court documents say the two sides reached a settlement.

The Jewish group had alleged that Luke Oil used the kosher trademark - a U inside a circle - as part of its logo. An attorney for the group says people rely on the symbol to determine which food is prepared according to Jewish dietary law.

Luke Oil attorney John Senica says the resemblance was unintentional. He says Luke Oil has agreed to modify its logo without admitting any liability.



E. Ramapo board meets to hire interim firm 

The East Ramapo school district met Tuesday night to vote on hiring Kuntz, Spagnuolo and Murphy, a law firm based in Bedford Village, to counsel the district in the aftermath of the hiring of a controversial attorney.

All school board members but Mimi Calhoun voted to hire the law firm as advisers at a rate of $175 an hour at least through Wednesday night's meeting.

”We want to make a factual, law decision,“ board President Nathan Rothschild said.

”I feel like having the firm represent us through the process will keep this about the law,“ he said. ”There will be no gray area.“

The eight-minute meeting came after a nearly hourlong executive session that was closed to the roughly 350 people who showed up. The public will be able to address the board Wednesday night.

During its regularly scheduled meeting Nov. 18, the school board voted 5-3 to hire Albert D'Agostino, a lawyer embroiled in a controversy over more than a half-million dollars in state pension payments.

Although Rothschild asked for the meeting to be rescheduled because he couldn't be there, his request was denied, and Trustee Aron Wieder led the voting process.

Excerpts of the debate over D'Agostino's hiring were uploaded to YouTube after the meeting.

On Monday, Steven White of Spring Valley filed a petition to the state commissioner of education requesting the reversal of the decision to hire D'Agostino.

The tension on the school board is rooted in the varied cultural and religious communities that make up East Ramapo.

The five-member bloc that voted in favor of the hiring represent the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities, most of whom send their children to yeshivas, or private religious schools.

”I think the five board members are trying to fend us off for another day,“ said Mariel Pina, who graduated from Ramapo High School in 2003. ”We are all outraged, but hopefully they will make a change.“



DOT Sandblasts 14 Blocks of Bike Lane Off Bedford Avenue 

As reported by Gothamist, DOT is removing a 14-block stretch of the Bedford Avenue bike lane between Flushing Avenue and Division Street in Hasidic Williamsburg. Workers were seen sandblasting this morning, taking away a safer cycling connection to central Williamsburg that had been in place since 2007. The northbound bike lane now ends abruptly at Flushing, with space that once belonged to bikes already converted to left-turn lanes and the like.



Tuesday, December 01, 2009

140 registered voters not full-time residents 

Sullivan County sheriff's deputies have determined that roughly 140 people who registered to vote in Bethel during the last election don't live there full time.

The Board of Elections asked deputies to investigate after a citizen group challenged numerous registrations from Hasidic residents, who stay in the bungalow colonies during the summer.

Deputies checked nine locations where people registered addresses and found only one person who seemed to live there year-round. Other places were padlocked and the electricity and water were shut off, Undersheriff Eric Chaboty said.

"They didn't live there full time," Chaboty said. "The rest is up to the Board of Elections to determine. We just gave them the information. They have to determine now if it follows their criteria."

Hasidic groups commenced a registration drive in the summer after the United Talmudical Academy became embroiled with town officials over the construction of a shul on Schultz Road. Roughly 95 people who were on the challenged list voted in the last election. Those ballots were set aside and now won't be opened because they will not affect the outcome of the town race.

However, the question of whether the newly registered voters can vote in future elections is still an issue the Board of Elections commissioners must rule on.

Roughly 155 registrations have been challenged on the basis of residency.

Both sides have indicated they plan to press the issue, and it might ultimately be thrown into Supreme Court later this winter.



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