Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Kiryas Joel posts new signs for visitors 

A large new sign greets visitors as they cross over Route 17 on Forest Avenue and enter a world where the skirts and shirt sleeves are always long, regardless of the season.

"Welcome to Kiryas Joel," it reads. "In keeping with our traditions and religious customs, we kindly ask that you dress and behave in a modest way while visiting our community."

The main congregation in this community of 22,000 Satmar Hasidim recently posted identical notices near two village entrances to ask outsiders to respect their ways while visiting, which includes "covered necklines," "appropriate language" and "gender separation in all public areas."

The wording is polite, and there is no threat of enforcement.

But even so, passers-by who have spotted the sign near County Route 105 and Bakertown Road in Monroe have taken umbrage at what they see as an expectation to conform to one group's religious beliefs and dress codes in a public place.

"I know it's a request, and it certainly was a polite request," said James Murphy of Highland Mills. "But it puts me in an uncomfortable position. Why should it bother you what I'm wearing?"

David Ekstein, president of Congregation Yetev Lev, says the signs were meant to guide outsiders so they don't offend village residents, especially during the summer. No single incident or spate of visitors with objectionable clothing triggered them, he said.

"If our standards of modesty are not what is practiced in the surrounding communities, then it is even more incumbent to provide this polite reminder," he said.

Modest dress is strictly observed in Hasidic communities for the same reason that unmarried men and women stay apart and risque images are shunned: to block sexual impulses.

Women can't wear provocative clothing. And men aren't supposed to see anything that may inspire inappropriate thoughts. In New York City, where cultures mix more freely than in self-contained Kiryas Joel, some Hasidic men avoid temptation by removing their glasses while in public or turning away from women.



At B&H Photo, Employees Say Not Everything Is Picture Perfect 

Walking in the doors of B&H Photo in Midtown Manhattan is a study in classic New York contradictions. The first thing you hear is the mechanical whirring of conveyor belts overhead, zipping goods from the stock room to the registers in front. The shop takes up an entire city block and the second floor, where the cameras are located, can only be described as cavernous.

While the equipment is state-of-the-art, 21st century goods, there is a large sales force of Jewish men, almost all of them wearing yarmulkes and many of them with curly Hasidic pais that look more 19th century.

While big-box chains and online stores increasingly dominate the retail landscape, New York City remains home to many independent shopping meccas. And for many tourists in the city B&H is one of their first stops.

“The amount of stuff here is insane,” says 24-year-old Sophie Gosselin from Toronto. "It looks like Walmart on a Saturday afternoon. I've never seen a store like this in my life. It’s part of the New York experience, you have to see it."

Another tourist, Sophie Lesourd from France, has her hands full of bags as she shepherds her four kids through the narrow channels and sales islands of B&H.

“I think it's very modern shop, very efficient,” Lesourd says. The family is visiting from Paris for a few days, but B&H is at the top of their list. “I bring all my kids, I say you will see it's very interesting -- so much different things.”

Some of the different things include: a vast array of cameras both digital and film, professional audio recording gear, a television recording studio, telescopes, glass bowls filled with colorfully wrapped Brazilian taffies, a plethora of used equipment as well as a telephoto lens wrapped in camouflage that looks more like a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and costs as much as a new car.

But despite the modernity of the products, there are still some old-fashioned business practices. The store is closed on the Jewish Sabbath, and the owner decided that even the website will not accept orders from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

“There is, in his mind, something more important than whether or not you can buy a UV filter at 4:30 on a Saturday or have to wait until 8:30 on Saturday,” says B&H spokesman Henry Posner.

One thing Posner wouldn’t comment on, however, is a current discrimination lawsuit filed against the store. As far as the large number of Hasidic employees, Posner says they may look different, but they’re as up to date on the news and changes in technology as anyone else.

“The mindset is traditional, the idea of maintaining a distinction -- clothing and behavior -- I think every employee has a cell phone, personal electronics,” Posner says. “By the same token, it's tough to stand around the water fountain talking about the last episode of 'Lost' with a bunch of Hasidic employees.”

The store was sued in 2007 by Hispanic employees who work in the warehouse and were paid less than their Jewish co-workers. The company settled without admitting any wrongdoing, paid out $4.3 million and agreed to regular monitoring by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Currently, seven women are accusing the company of paying female staffers less than their male counterparts -- and reserving the coveted sales positions almost exclusively for men.

The lead plaintiff, Nakisha Cushnie, 30, from the Bronx says the $9 an hour she made was less than half of what her male co-workers told her they were paid. And she says she watched several males get promoted ahead of her.

"Why are there only men in sales and not sales women? We do the same thing -- both have to be trained for that. Why was that not done awhile ago?" Cushnie says.

Cushnie was fired in late June after joining the lawsuit. The store declined to talk about the lawsuit, or anything to do with the make-up of its staff. But it doesn’t take a lengthy investigation to confirm at least one of her allegations: Walk through the store, and you will see very few female employees wearing the green-vest that easily identifies sales clerks. On a series of recent visits, between zero and three of the dozens of sales clerks were women.

“Most right minded people would not want to shop in a store that discriminates against African Americans, Hispanics, or Jews for that matter,” says Attorney Richard Ancowitz, who is representing Cushnie and the other plaintiffs.

But on a recent morning, several customers didn’t seem bothered by the ratio of female to male employees.

“I’ve never seen many women selling this kind of stuff anywhere in the world actually, and I travel around quite a lot,” says David Trojeski, from South Africa.

“I think it should be more multicultural, but I’m talking about the service that I get. I enjoy the service and I’m quite sure everybody else agrees,” says Mary Newman from Florida.

But certainly, basic labor laws require equal opportunities for promotion. Columbia Law School professor Suzanne Goldberg says she’s wondered why B&H hadn’t been sued sooner for gender discrimination.

“It is certainly not permissible for a store to refuse to hire women as sales people, even if the store had certain religious commitments; a store is open to the public,” Goldberg says.

B&H insists it follows the highest ethical standards. Spokesman Henry Posner says it’s in the DNA of the company founded 37 years ago by Herman Schreiber and his wife Blimie: "His overall philosophy permeates our business. He believes that we should run an ethical business with unimpeachable integrity, and he believes that his success is something for which he gives all credit to the Lord. And if you're going to live that lifestyle part of living that lifestyle is obeying the rules.”

But obeying religious rules can be different than obeying civil law.

To win the current suit, this set of seven plaintiffs will have to prove that B&H systematically favored one sex over another. In a statement from their lawyer, B&H denies the allegations and says the store is following all employment laws.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Armed bank robber nabbed in Brooklyn after failed heist, carjacking, wild chase 

An armed bank robber was nabbed in a Brooklyn alley by cops Monday following a failed heist, a carjacking and a wild chase involving a Jewish neighborhood patrol, police and witnesses said.

The 39-year-old held up an Apple Bank on 13th Ave. at 46th St. in Borough Park about 1 p.m., but was forced to flee empty-handed when members of the Shomrim neighborhood patrol arrived on the scene, police sources said.

As the robber fled, he fired two shots into the ceiling, hitting no one, the sources said.

The robber hopped into a silver Toyota Camry and tried to escape down 13th Ave., but got stuck in traffic and ditched the car on 47th St., said Marc Katz, one of the members of the Shomrim Patrol who chased the suspect.

Once the robber bailed out of the Camry, he was tackled by an unidentified good Samaritan and then by Katz and company.

"We jumped him," Katz said. "As were were jumping him, he took a gun out. He shot."

The shot missed, but gave the robber a chance to run away. He sprinted a few blocks down 13th Ave. and then carjacked an Asian woman at gunpoint near 49th St.

As the robber forced the woman out of her white Nissan, Katz said he tried to coax him into surrendering by pretending his radio was a gun.

"I took my radio, I said, 'You put it down or I shoot!'" Katz said, noting that the robber pushed the woman out of the way and jumped behind the wheel.

But traffic blocked the robber's escape yet again, forcing him to make another break for it, Katz said.

The robber fired once again, intentionally shooting into the ground as the Shomrim members pursued him into a residential yard in the vicinity of 48th St., Katz said.

Desperate, the robber ran down a nearby alley, where NYPD detectives caught up with him and placed him under arrest, Katz said.

Police officials confirmed that the suspect was collared in the alley by detectives from the 66th Precinct. Charges were pending against the robber, who was not immediately identified.

Members of the Emergency Service Unit were searching the area for the robber's handgun, police said.



Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jewish Community Center Theft 

Filled-in registration forms on file and $100 were stolen between Aug. 15 and 24 from a safe at Anita Stone Jewish Community Center, 3450 196th St. There were no signs of forced entry into the safe.



Saturday, August 28, 2010

Black and Jewish, and Seeing No Contradiction 

In yeshivas, they are sometimes taunted as “monkeys” or with the Yiddish epithet for blacks. At synagogues and kosher restaurants, they engender blank stares. And dating can be awkward: their numbers are so small, friends will often share at least some romantic history with the same man or woman, and matchmakers always pair them with people with whom they have little in common beyond skin color.

They are African-Americans and Orthodox Jews, a rare cross-cultural hybrid that seems quintessentially Brooklyn, but received little notice until last week, after Yoseph Robinson, a Jamaican-born convert, was killed during a robbery attempt at the kosher liquor store where he worked.

At his funeral and in interviews afterward, a portrait emerged of a small, insular but energized community that is proud but underpinned by a constant tug of race and religiosity.

In Crown Heights, one of the city’s hubs of Orthodox Jewish life, blacks and Jews have long lived side by side and have occasionally clashed. In 1991, riots broke out after a car in a motorcade carrying a Hasidic leader veered onto the sidewalk, killing one black child and badly injuring another.

Nobody keeps track of how many black Orthodox Jews are in New York or across the nation, and surely it is a tiny fraction of both populations. Indeed, even the number of black Jews over all is elusive, though a 2005 book about Jewish diversity, “In Every Tongue,” cited studies suggesting that some 435,000 American Jews, or 7 percent, were black, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian.

“Everyone agrees that the numbers have grown, and they should be noticed,” said Jonathan D. Sarna of Brandeis University, a pre-eminent historian of American Jewry. “Once, there was a sense that ‘so-and-so looked Jewish.’ Today, because of conversion and intermarriage and patrilineal descent, that’s less and less true. The average synagogue looks more like America.

“Even in an Orthodox synagogue, there’s likely to be a few people who look different,” Professor Sarna said, “and everybody assumes that will grow.”

Through the Internet, younger black Orthodox Jews are coming together in ways they never could before.

In Crown Heights, a group has struggled to form a minyan, the quorum of 10 men required for group prayer, though Mr. Robinson’s death leaves them one short. On the first Wednesday of each month, about 15 to 20 called “Jews of color” (not all of them Orthodox) meet to trade their experiences and insights. There is also a New York branch of the national group Jews in All Hues.

“They are strengthening their blackness through Judaism,” said Asher Rison, 62, a black Jew who lives in the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn, said of the younger generation. “They don’t have a place of their own, so they are trying to carve out their own niche.”



Friday, August 27, 2010

Yeshiva approval to be conditional 

Ramapo's Planning Board was right to ask the Bobover of Monsey congregation to complete some homework before it will approve its site plan for a two-story yeshiva on Route 306.

The site has made headlines repeatedly because of the congregation's wrongful conduct, which has suggested that it can do what it wants whenever it wants. Now, at least, the board has set out stipulations that have to be met by Oct. 19 in order for the board to approve a plan to raze an existing single-family home and replace it with a two-story yeshiva for no more than 200 students.

The Hasidic congregation actually operated an illegal yeshiva at the site for several years. During that time, it was cited for numerous health and safety violations and was forced to close in August 2009.

Among the highlights of past problems were exposed wires, the illegal conversion of a garage for use as classrooms and the lack of a sprinkler system.

In addition, they were cited by the Health Department for operating an unapproved kitchen and for sewage problems.

Outrage reached a peak when a student of kosher butchering slaughtered a calf on the property and left the carcass hanging from a tree. When authorities responded to complaints about that, they found bloody parts of the calf in a classroom. That episode brought a $5,000 fine, which the congregation paid.

Deputy Town Attorney Alan Berman says none of that is relevant to the planning determination. To us, it is indicative of the congregation's past disregard for health and zoning codes.

Against that backdrop, it is wholly proper that the Planning Board is asking that Bobover of Monsey tackle a list of items before it next considers the site plan and a request for a special permit to operate a yeshiva in a residential zone.

Bobover of Monsey needs to resolve fire-safety issues, including the location of a hydrant on the property. It also needs to resolve driveway issues with a neighbor and the state Department of Transportation.

The size of the proposed yeshiva has already been scaled back; it would accommodate 200 students, instead of 250 students, with a maximum building height of 24 feet and no more than 15 classrooms for students ages 7 to 13.

Holding off on a final approval, pending resolutions of those outstanding issues, seems a good way to ensure that, at least at the beginning, the students will be in a safe environment.



Thursday, August 26, 2010

Weinstein Gets Bail in $200 Million Ponzi Scheme 

Eliyahu Weinstein, a New Jersey man charged with leading a $200 million Ponzi scheme that targeted fellow Orthodox Jews, was granted $10 million bail today by a U.S. judge.

Weinstein, 35, was accused Aug. 12 of running a real-estate investment fraud that duped victims in New Jersey, New York, Florida, California and abroad.

Weinstein, who faces as many as 50 years in prison, has been in custody since his arrest. A prosecutor opposed bail for Weinstein, saying he poses a “profound” risk of fleeing if released before trial.

The bond must be secured by four properties with $4.2 million in equity. Weinstein must live under 24-hour house arrest in Lakewood, New Jersey, and undergo electronic monitoring with a global positioning system, said U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk. Weinstein also can’t go near any airports.

“There’s no question that given the circumstances here, there is a risk of flight,” Falk said in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. “While none of this is foolproof, it certainly is the best that is available and would impose a serious obstacle to someone trying to fly out of the country.”

Weinstein was charged with committing bank fraud and wire fraud from 2005 to this month. Vladimir Siforov, 43, who was charged with wire fraud, remains at large.

Community Ties

By using “lies, threats, deliberate misrepresentations and even counterfeit checks,” Weinstein and Siforov “exploited the close community ties of the Orthodox Jewish community for one goal: to steal money through an elaborate real estate and Ponzi scheme,” Michael B. Ward, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Newark, said in a statement on Aug. 12.

New victims come forward daily, and the fraud caused “at least a $200 million loss,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Intrater said today at the bail hearing. “The vast bulk of this money is missing, and the number keeps climbing.”

Weinstein, a bearded, bespectacled man with a wife and five young children, appeared at the hearing in a green shirt from the Hudson County Detention Center. About 40 members of the Orthodox Jewish community supported him in the courtroom.

His attorney, Ephraim Savitt, asked Falk for a $5 million bail package secured by the four properties. He also proposed home confinement and electronic monitoring, saying Weinstein posed no risk of flight and is “eminently bailable.”

Savitt assailed the investors who went to the FBI, saying one perjured himself in a civil deposition.

‘Unregulated Money Lending Machine’

“These victims are really an unregulated money lending machine,” Savitt said.

In a letter to the judge, Savitt said Weinstein was close to settling an $80 million lawsuit against him in Trenton, New Jersey, and that judgments had been entered against him of $35 million in Philadelphia and $6 million in New York.

After Weinstein’s arrest, Savitt said, he was the victim of extortion attempt at the jail, when he was “approached by a gang member who said he would provide for Mr. Weinstein’s protection within the facility.” The alleged extortionist was released on bail, and he called Weinstein’s wife to demand a down payment, Savitt told Falk.

Intrater argued that Weinstein has “a profound motive to flee,” saying that he has flown out of the country 40 times since 2007, including to Israel, Russia and Ukraine.

Of the four properties Weinstein was posting to secure his bond, one was owned by a man who was convicted of failing to file a currency transaction report, Intrater said. When authorities searched Weinstein’s house, the prosecutor said, his wife, Rivka, “attempted to sneak jewelry out of the house in the undergarments of a housekeeper.”

‘Very Relieved’

After the judge granted bail, Savitt said in an interview: “I’m very relieved. It was the right result.”

The FBI arrest complaint said Weinstein falsely represented that he owned or could buy property and that victims could make “a healthy profit in a short time period.” He sold his real or fake interest in property multiple times, fraudulently altered checks, drew up phony leases and hid zoning changes from his victims, according to the FBI.

When investors tried to collect their earnings, he ignored them, promised payments that never came, and paid smaller amounts than he owed, according to the complaint.

Weinstein used proceeds of the fraud to amass manuscripts and antique Judaica worth $6.2 million, a jewelry and clock collection that he bought for $7.6 million, and another jewelry and watch collection valued at $6.2 million.

He also charged $1.7 million to an American Express account, according to the complaint.

The case is United States of America v. Weinstein, 10-mj- 7115, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lakewood Orthodox Jewish leaders want abuse accusations addressed 

One man's criminal accusation that a teacher molested his young son has widened the rift in the Orthodox Jewish community over where religious rights stop and the justice system begins.

Some inside the tight-knit enclave praised the child's father for bypassing religious protocols last year and reporting the alleged attack first to Ocean County prosecutors. Others believe he committed a sin because he failed to get permission from a rabbinic court before pressing charges against a fellow Jew.

"The first step is to go to rabbis,'' said Rabbi Shmuel Meir Katz, a senior Dayan, or decider of Jewish law. He teaches at Beth Medrash Govoha, a yeshiva in Lakewood that is one of the foremost Jewish universities in the world. "We have our own system. We have our own laws, and as long as the Bais Din (rabbinical tribunal) feels competent on taking care of something themselves, that's our surest recourse in our circles.''

At the center of the controversy are the criminal charges against Yosef Kolko, 36, a former camp counselor and local yeshiva teacher. At his arraignment Tuesday, Kolko pleaded not guilty to charges of aggravated sexual assault and child endangerment. The child was between 11 and 12 years old when the more than yearlong alleged abuse began in Lakewood, according to the indictment. The Asbury Park Press is withholding the father's name to protect the child's identity.

The case is a stark example of what Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Lynch Ford described as a "wall of silence'' in the community that has made investigating crimes difficult.

The decision of the child's father to go immediately to authorities last year has sparked reprisals, according to prosecutors and witnesses. Attempts were made to pressure the father to drop the charges. Fliers about him were circulated. In June, a Lakewood resident was arrested and charged with witness-tampering.



Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Cops Question Suspect in Brooklyn Liquor Store Murder 

New York City police say they have a person of interest in connection with a fatal shooting that occurred at a Brooklyn liquor store last week.

The suspect -- who has not been identified -- was reportedly tracked down overnight by detectives. Authorities say they arrested him after receiving a number of tips.

Liquor store clerk Yoseph Robinson died in the robbery, so detectives are turning to Robinson's girlfriend -- who was also present during the robbery -- to positively identify the suspect. However, the gunman was wearing a mask during the time of the incident, so she never saw his face.

Robinson was working at a kosher wine and liquor store located at 2388 Nostrand Ave. last Friday, when the shooting occurred. According to police, the suspect was attempting to steal his girlfriend's jewelry, and when Robinson intervened, the mugger began shooting.

Originally born in Jamaica, Robinson had converted to Orthodox Judaism and was planning to release a book about his spiritual journey in December. More than 100 people from the Orthodox and Hasidic neighborhood gathered at the liquor store that evening to mourn Robinson's passing and celebrate his life.

Police released surveillance video of the shocking attack late Friday. In the video, the suspect is seen opening fire the victim before fleeing the scene.

Robinson's family and friends gathered Monday for a funeral remembering his life. His body will be taken to John F. Kennedy Airport and returned to Jamaica for burial.

So far, no charges have been filed.



Monday, August 23, 2010

Garbage dumping in Kiryas Joel stems from dispute over unauthorized weddings 

The garbage-dumping that nearly blocked a main road in Kiryas Joel and led to disorderly conduct tickets for four men over the weekend stemmed from an ongoing fight over a wedding hall just outside the village where dissident community members have held services since January.

For several weeks, zealots had been littering the village with fliers denouncing the nine young couples who have wed at the B'Nai Yoel hall in Woodbury without the approval of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, the leader of Kiryas Joel's main congregation and grand rebbe to one faction in the divided Satmar Hasidic movement.

Enraged that the fliers had photographs of the grooms and phone numbers for the couples, their families and the rabbis who officiated, protesters sent out a text message last week declaring a “Code G,” the signal to dump bags of household trash on top of any piles of fliers too numerous to remove.
The goal was to force the village to collect both the garbage and strewn leaflets.

Joseph Waldman, a dissident leader who said he was not involved with the protest, explained the reasoning behind the tactic on Monday and said he didn't condone it, even if he sympathized with the frustration that led to it.

“There's a very understandable reason behind it,” he said. “It became a desperate situation.”

Waldman said callers have been harassing the people whose numbers were listed in the fliers.

Dissidents resorted to dumping trash only after repeatedly complaining to the police and coming under attack while trying to pick up and remove the fliers, he added.

The leader of Kiryas Joel's main congregation countered Monday that dissidents have often distributed similar fliers against their targets – including him last winter, while the two sides were battling over a dissident synagogue that has been shut down by court order.

“The streets were white every morning with fliers against me and others working under me, listing all our numbers,” said David Ekstein, president of Congregation Yetev Lev. “I don't think you have seen me throwing garbage on the streets ‘to force the village to remove them.'”

The garbage dumping did force a street cleanup, as intended. By Monday, as a result of those labors and two days of torrential rain, the streets in Kiryas Joel were mostly clean.



Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ex-con shot rabbi's son over $5: cops 

An ex-con mugged and shot a rabbinical student and son of a prominent Brooklyn rabbi for a measly $5, sources said yesterday.

Baruch Halberstam, 25, was outside his home on South Ninth Street in Williamsburg on Aug. 10 when Jaquan Vaughn, armed with a gun, and another thug allegedly approached him and demanded money.

Halberstam, a father of four, fought back and was shot once in the stomach during the struggle. He remains hospitalized in stable condition from his wounds.

Vaughn and an accomplice swiped the paltry sum and sped off in a white van, sources said.

A witness gave a description of the vehicle to cops, who later found it. Officials then lifted a print off the van and allegedly traced it to Vaughn, who had been on parole for robbery.

The suspect, arrested Friday, confessed to shooting and robbing Halberstam, sources said.



Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rabbi not allowed to serve in army with beard 

An Orthodox rabbi is being forced to choose between serving his country or his religion.

The rabbi was recently accepted to become a U.S. army chaplain, but the acceptance came with the condition that he shaves his beard.

That demand directly contradicts Jewish law that states shaving is forbidden.

"Everybody has a beard. This is not just a rabbi, us as a community. That's the norm. We don't touch it, we don't shave it," Rabbi Menachem Stern said.

Rabbi Stern is talking about the Chabad community.

It's a faith practiced by his family for generations, and they are beliefs he brought with him when he came to the U.S. from Jerusalem at age 13.

"Yes there are many people out there who are Orthodic Jews, and many who consider themselves Hasidic that shave," Rabbi Stern said.

Rabbi Stern does not shave and neither do Chabads.

The U.S. Army said that he'll have to shave it off if he wants to be one of their chaplains.

"I went through my interview with the Chief of Chaplain, I went my interview with the chaplain at West Point. I went through my medical and physical. I went through my FBI background check. Everything was approved," Rabbi Stern said.

Rabbi Stern found out about a shortage of army chaplains two years ago, and quickly applied.

A letter dated September 1st documents his acceptance as a first lieutenant.

But, in a letter dated the very next day, the army rescinded his offer.

"It said, we apologize, but this commissioning is pending the shaving of your beard," Rabbi Stern said.

Army Command Policy states, "Males will keep their face clean shaven" and, "Grooming practices based on religious reasons will not be singled out for special accommodation."

The army stopped giving out exceptions to their grooming policy in 1984. But, soldiers who already received a waiver have been allowed to continue to serve.

Colonel Jacob Goldstein is one of seven Orthodox Jewish Chaplains in the army.

He's a Chabad Rabbi who enlisted 33 years ago.

The army says Stern can still serve as a chaplain, and then apply a waiver to grow beard once he begins his service.

"That's hypocrisy in my eyes," Rabbi Stern said.

Last month, Senators Gillibrand and Lieberman wrote a letter on Stern's behalf saying, "No man should have to choose between his religion and service."

"It compares to the 13 attributes of God, because a beard 13 parts to it. It's a channel of God's blessing into the day to day life of a person," Rabbi Stern said.

It's a blessing he won't be able to share with the troops, if he keeps his beard.



Friday, August 20, 2010

Yoseph Robinson, Former Hip-Hop Exec Turned Orthodox Jew, Murdered in Robbery 

A robbery in Brooklyn Thursday night led to the death Yoseph Robinson, a man whose life led him on a journey from street criminal, to music executive, to a conversion to Orthodox Judaism.

The former hip-hop record executive who converted to Orthodox Judaism, was shot and killed while trying to stop a gunman from taking a woman's jewelry at a Brooklyn kosher liquor store where he worked.

Police say Robinson was shot in the chest and arm Thursday night at the MB Vineyards liquor store in the Flatbush section of the borough.

Residents say the 34-year-old Jamaican-born man had recently converted to Judaism and enjoyed telling customers about his spiritual journey.

"He was a good guy. Rock solid," Rabbi Ezra Max told the New York Post of Robinson.

More than 100 people from the Orthodox and Hasidic neighborhood gathered outside the liquor store to pay their respects.



Thursday, August 19, 2010

$17M surplus surprises East Ramapo school board 

The East Ramapo school board is holding an estimated surplus that tops $17 million as members meet tonight to try to set a tax rate for the 2010-11 budget year.

The surplus comes after a tumultuous budget debate resulted in massive personnel and spending cuts in the $196 million budget, which district voters approved in June on the second attempt.

The projected tax rate increase is between 4.09 and 7.09 percent, depending on the amount of surplus that is used by the Board of Education.

The nine-member board can draw from the surplus funds to set a lower property tax rate increase — even one below 4.09 percent — when it meets at 7:30 tonight at district headquarters on Madison Avenue in Spring Valley.

Superintendent Ira Oustatcher said he hopes the board will restore some positions to staff school programs.

"There will be no more program cuts," Oustatcher said, suggesting the board set a tax increase of less than 7 percent.

The surplus — several million dollars more than in previous years — rose through lower expenditures in several areas, including costs in retirement, transportation and maintaining school facilities, officials said.

Surplus money has been dedicated to a special reserve fund that is used to pay businesses that challenge their property assessments and are awarded tax decreases.

The district also has set aside money to lower future taxes or for emergencies.

The school district also has a potential $3.1 million windfall from the sale of Hillcrest Elementary School to a New Square congregation. As part of the sale, the board designated that the $3.1 million be put into a fund to purchase property for construction of modern school buildings.

The district hasn't closed on the sale, which a district parent is attempting to block through an appeal to the state education commissioner.

Steve White, the parent, has argued that the public has the right to vote on selling public property and that the district did not get a fair market value for the building and the property's 12 acres.



Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thousands gather in Lakewood to hear from Jewish spiritual leader 

An estimated 5,000 Orthodox Jews flocked to the former Little League park off Clifton Avenue this morning for the arrival of spiritual leader Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, visiting from Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, Israel.

Shteinman, who is on a brief world tour, arrived by car this morning to speak at the Bais Medrash Govoha Yeshiva in Lakewood, before he moved to the Little League field where thousands waited to hear his inspirational speech.

Shteinman was in Monsey, N.Y. Tuesday and has already visited Mexico and Panama on his recent world tour.

”He is our leader. Even our rabbis rely on him for guidance,’’ explained Judah Abramsky, 27, of Lakewood, who came to listen to the man described as the Grand or Great Rabbi of the Orthodox Jewish community.

This was the fourth visit by Shteinman in the past ten years, according to Abramsky.

Officials said about 5,000 people were in attendance at the Little League field.



E. Ramapo board owes explanation 

Members of the public and reporters have tried to shake loose from the East Ramapo school board key information used to justify the $3.1 million sale of Hillcrest Elementary School to Yeshiva Avir Yakov of New Square. From all appearances, the yeshiva got a great deal, paying much less than the $10.2 million the Town of Clarkstown assessment office said the property is worth. But another appraisal purportedly values the property at $5 million, while another puts the value at $3.2 million. What exactly do these appraisals reveal? Who inspected these appraisals? Were taxpayers treated fairly?

Those are among the many questions that have gone unanswered by the school board, despite the many pleas of parents, taxpayers and reporters, who have filed Freedom of Information Law requests seeking documents concerning the sale. Inconceivably, these quite reasonable requests for information have been summarily denied — no matter the public's right to know, nor the obvious public interest in the transaction.

The secrecy is untenable for public officers and the disposition of public property. Moreover, the lack of transparency only adds to the ample distrust and skepticism — not all of it justified — that already envelop the board's activities. The district is effectively controlled by the block-voting Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish community; their members do not use the public schools but, nonetheless, control the purse.

In their individual capacity, board members have not been forthcoming; most have replied "no comment" to questions about the sale. A Freedom of Information Law request was denied. An appeal is pending. Inasmuch as the board has been tight-lipped to a grievous fault, the Office of the State Comptroller should intervene on behalf of taxpayers. Who else to untangle the transaction and ensure that the public interest was served?

School district parent/community activist Steven White is among those who have been stonewalled by the school board. Having been rebuffed by the local officials, White has taken his pleas to the Office of the State Education Commissioner. White contends, among other things, that the $3.1 million sale price cannot possibly make sense; the district spent more than that — $3.5 million — on improvements to the school since 2001. He contends that the district didn't make a good-faith attempt to get the best possible sale price. At this juncture, the board offers few clues to help decide this question.

Ironically, White's bid to get the state officials to intervene is now used as cover for reticent school board members; they deem White's action as litigation, and reason to keep their mouths shut. What they should be doing is explaining to the taxpaying public how they flipped prime school property for a bargain. If they won't tell, the state Comptroller's Office should.



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kicking up a stink in Glen Eira 

JEWISH families have asked for manual toilets in parks in St Kilda East and Caulfield North because they can’t use automated facilities on holy days.

Submissions to Glen Eira Council’s 2010 public toilet strategy also highlighted lack of wheelchair access, poor hygiene, and used syringes on baby change tables.

“The toilets in Allnut Park (Bentleigh) are always filthy, with many mums choosing to toilet their children in the garden areas rather than risk standing/sitting in someone else’s mess,” one resident wrote.

Referring to the loos in Princes Park, Caulfield, another said: “I have seen parents encourage their children to pee on the garden behind it.”

Of the 19 submissions, 10 were from Jewish residents who felt excluded from Greenmeadow Park in St Kilda East because of its toilet, which has an electronically-operated door and flush.

Orthodox Jews cannot use electronic devices on Sabbath or festival days.

The council adopted the five-year public toilet plan at last week’s meeting.

Mayor Steven Tang said the frequency of toilet cleaning would be reviewed.

“But due to the benefits that automated toilets provide for safety and preventing anti-social behaviour, we will persevere,” Cr Tang said.



Monday, August 16, 2010

Visiting Prince of Wales Hospital? Kiss the Mezuzah 

At a special ceremony on the fifth floor admission area of the hospital, the CEO of Sydney’s The Jewish House Rabbi Mendel Kastel attached the Mezuzah to the wall at the entry.

Assisting him were the hospital’s Chief of Staff Professor Graham Newstead and General Manager Deborah Latta. Rabbi Kastel has also introduced to the hospital special battery driven Shabbat candles. Latta said: “We checked regulations and there is no way we can have naked flames in the hospital so Rabbi Kastel has found a suitable alternative.

She told the meeting that the hospital has a large turnover of Jewish patients and visitors. The Royal Hospital for Women, part of the POW complex is the birthplace of many members of the Jewish community at which recently ten Jewish babies were born in one week.

Rabbi Kastel is one of the hospital’s chaplains and has been responsible for many of the medical unit’s initiatives includingfull Kosher menus and Kosher snacks in the vending machines. Jewish House offers its counseling services any patients in need of advice or help.



Sunday, August 15, 2010


LEVI MEISNER’S SHOFAR SHOP is really the corner of the living room of his third-floor apartment on 12th Avenue, and it is open for browsing for the Hebrew month of Elul. That month leads into Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which this year begins at sundown on Sept. 8. Mr. Meisner, 27, has a full-time office job, but every fall he sells about 100 shofars, the ram’s horns turned into musical instruments that are a signature of High Holy Day services. His customers, often rabbis, come through word of mouth and fliers posted on streets. Mr. Meisner’s horns, purchased from a dealer in Israel, are made under rabbinic supervision — hologram stickers affirm they are kosher — according to biblical and Talmudic law: softened by heating and partially straightened before a hole is drilled in the tip. They range in price from $30 to $300. On Wednesday, Mr. Meisner selected a huge spiral horn from dozens in a Dole banana box and blew a series of long and short blasts that sounded like an operatic ram stuck in a trap. “It’s not an impulse purchase,” he said.



Perv rabbi gets special jail meals 

It's unholy.

A rabbi convicted of sexually abusing a teenage boy has his kosher meals picked up from a Queens store by an on-duty jail captain.

Baruch Lebovits, a once-respected Satmar rabbi from Brooklyn, gets the special food brought straight to his Rikers Island cell, even though the jail already provides kosher dishes for its Jewish prisoners.

Apparently, they aren't blessed enough for Lebovits, 59, who has been moaning for months that he couldn't eat the food because it hadn't had proper rabbinical supervision, sources said.

Lebovits' adherence to holy law apparently didn't preclude repeatedly sexually abusing a 16-year-old classmate of his son, a heinous crime for which he was sentenced in March to up to 32 years in prison.

The Brooklyn rabbi is on Rikers awaiting trial in another sex abuse case.

On Thursday, a Rikers jail captain was ordered to pick up $60 worth of glatt kosher canned meals for the sicko, including Salisbury steak, stuffed shells, cheese ravioli and barbecued chicken wings from Alle Processing in Maspeth, Queens, an e-mail obtained by The Post shows.

The company offered to mail the food, but because of a delay, the captain went in person to pick up the package.

Lebovits' special daily diet also includes dry cereal, a box of matzo, four ounces of kosher grape juice and fresh fruit and veggies -- provided to him uncut, lest they were touched by a knife that cut non-kosher food.

Paulette Johnson, the Correction Department's head of food services, approved the arrangement.

Lebovits' own influential Satmar rabbi, Moshe David Neiderman, played a key role in convincing jail officials.

"This is not a privilege or an accommodation -- it's a right," said Neiderman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

"Any Jewish prisoner has the religious right to eat food that is appropriate according his religious traditions."

But a Jewish advocate said: "That's a big chutzpah."

"They are bending over backwards to help this molester," said the advocate, who asked to remain anonymous.

"None of the other Jewish inmates can get that same food," he said.

Correction officials say they're just following protocol.

"The department provides glatt kosher meals consistent with its requirements," said spokesman Stephen Morello.

This latest scandal comes a year after The Post exposed correction chaplain Rabbi Leib Glanz as wielding such power over the city detention center in lower Manhattan that he allowed a convict to hold his son's bar mitzvah there.

Glanz and a department chief resigned in wake of the reports.

FDNY chaplain Rabbi Joseph Potasnik criticized Lebovits' deal, saying, "There's no reason to give special food to one inmate."



Saturday, August 14, 2010

Brooklyn man, teen arrested for drug possession, police say 

A man and a teenager from Brooklyn were arrested and charged with drug possession Friday, said Monticello police.

Yitzchok Belsky, 18, was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and having an open container, and Efraim Levy, 17, with felony fifth-degree criminal possession of controlled substance.

Both were arrested after village police patrolling North Street around 3:20 a.m. stopped to investigate a group of people sitting on a stone wall with beer bottles.

Police say they found a clear plastic baggie containing cocaine near Levy's feet and were in the process of arresting him when Belsky approached carrying a bottle of whiskey. A search of Belsky's wallet turned up a clear plastic baggie containing marijuana, police say.

Levy is being held in Sullivan County Jail on $2,500 bail. Belsky was released and ordered to return to the Monticello Village Court on Aug. 27.



Friday, August 13, 2010

Two New Jersey Men Charged in $200 Million Fraud Targeting Orthodox Jews 

Two New Jersey men were charged for their role in a $200 million Ponzi scheme that targeted Orthodox Jews, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. prosecutors.

Eliyahu Weinstein, 35, was charged with orchestrating a real-estate investment fraud to dupe fellow Orthodox Jews in New Jersey, New York, Florida, California and abroad, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said today in a statement. Vladimir Siforov, 43, also was charged in the scheme.

By using “lies, threats, deliberate misrepresentations and even counterfeit checks,” Weinstein and Siforov “exploited the close community ties of the Orthodox Jewish community for one goal: to steal money through an elaborate real estate and Ponzi scheme,” Michael B. Ward, special agent in charge of the FBI’s office in Newark, New Jersey, said in a statement.

Weinstein, who was arrested at his home in Lakewood, New Jersey, faces as long as 50 years in prison if convicted on charges of bank fraud and wire fraud. He used the investments of victims to “amass a substantial collection of art, jewelry and Judaica,” according to the FBI arrest complaint.

Weinstein appeared today in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, where he was ordered held without bail until a detention hearing set for Aug. 17.

Siforov, of Manalapan, New Jersey, was charged with wire fraud. He remains at large, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.

‘Fattening His Wallet’

“Weinstein is charged with offering an array of lucrative investment opportunities that served the single purpose of fattening his wallet,” Fishman said. “It is always offensive when someone steals from others to finance his own luxurious lifestyle, but it is especially galling to exploit a community with whom one shares an inherent trust.”

Weinstein falsely represented that he owned or could buy property and that victims could make “a healthy profit in a short time period,” according to the FBI arrest complaint. He sold his real or fake interest in property multiple times, fraudulently altered checks, drew up phony leases and hid zoning changes from his victims, according to the FBI.

When investors tried to collect their earnings, he ignored them, promised payments that never came, and paid smaller amounts than he owed, according to the complaint.

Weinstein used proceeds of the fraud to amass manuscripts and antique Judaica worth $6.2 million, a jewelry and clock collection that he bought for $7.6 million, and another jewelry and watch collection valued at $6.2 million.

He also charged $1.7 million to an American Express account, according to the complaint.

Weinstein has “‘multiple passports” and told one of his victims “If I want to run away, I can,” according to the FBI.

The case is United States of America v. Weinstein, 10-mj-7115, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).



Study: Mental health needs of Orthodox Jews not being met 

The mental health needs of the Orthodox community are not being sufficiently addressed, according to a new study from Yeshiva University.

The service gaps are particularly pronounced in the haredi Orthodox and Chasidic communities, according to the study.

Eliezer Schnall, a YU psychology professor who led the research team, was to present his findings Aug. 13 in San Diego at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Researchers asked approximately 250 Orthodox mental health professionals to assess the state of services offered to the Orthodox community today, compared to 25 years ago. The 100 respondents perceived little if any improvement, particularly among the Chasidim.

Schnall called the results a “wake-up call,” and said there is still a stigma in the Orthodox community attached to mental illness that prevents people from seeking help. An additional factor impeding good mental health services is their cost, he said.

The study showed that the most common problem for which Orthodox Jews seek mental health services is marital difficulties. More services for children and teenagers are needed, and there is a lack of services for substance abuse problems, the report found.

Most respondents said few of their patients were referred by their rabbis. Researchers said this indicates the need to train Orthodox rabbis to recognize mental illness and understand that proper treatment can help.



Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hasidic man’s family blames cops — not anti-Semites — for shooting 

The family of the Hasidic man who was shot in the stomach in front of his Williamsburg home on Tuesday are blaming a lack of police — not anti-Semitism — for the robbery attempt-turned-shooting. “I don’t want to make accusations, but we just need more police in the area,” said the victim’s mother, who requested that her name not be used.

Community members led by United Jewish Organization President Rabbi David Niederman also refused to play the race card, though the victim, 25-year-old Burech Halberstam, told police that his assailants were Hispanic.

Cops have revealed little about the early Tuesday morning on the corner of S. Ninth Street and Driggs Avenue. Halberstam was talking on his cellphone at around midnight when two men approached. The thugs tried to take his phone, then rummaged through his pockets before firing at him when they didn’t find any money.
Cobble Hill Fitness Collective

Then the crime took an even more brutal twist. “After they shot him, they were laughing,” one witness said.

The trigger-happy perps drove their white getaway van down Driggs Avenue, but another witness drove after them, following them to Berry Street. The men waved a gun and the Samaritan circled back to the scene of the shooting. Police found the alleged getaway car on Jefferson Avenue near Franklin Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant about an hour after the crime. Meanwhile, Halberstam was taken to Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital, where he was operated on and remains in stable condition. His family said he could be home as early as Wednesday.

“He lost a lot of blood, but he’s lucky the bullets didn’t hit any of his vital organs,” said his mother.

No arrest has been made in the case, leaving Halberstam’s mother spooked. “I was born here, but felt less safe over the years,” she said. “I even tell my son to call me when he gets home from visiting me at my house.”

Police from the 90th Precinct, which comprises the Southside and Bushwick, could not be reached for comment, but NYPD statistics do not suggest that the area has gotten lawless.

So far this year, there has been one murder in the entire precinct, down from four by this point last year. Assaults are down, but robberies are up — though neither by statistically significant amounts.

And, historically, crime is a tiny fraction of what it was when Halberstam’s mother was raising her wounded son.

In 1990, there were 24 murders recorded in the precinct.



Russia refuses to turn over Jewish library to US 

Russia has rejected a U.S. court ruling to turn over a Jewish library to a Hasidic group in New York.

A U.S. judge last week ruled against the Russian government for its refusal to return thousands of manuscripts that once belonged to a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi. The library was seized by Red Army in Nazi Germany as war booty.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said late Wednesday that the ruling is a "rude violation" of international law.

It said the library was nationalized because its owner, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, had no heirs. Schneersohn was forced to leave Russia in 1927.

The ministry said the library is available for scientific study and worship.

Chabad-Lubavich said it feared some manuscripts were headed to the black market.



Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramapo Planning Board delays decision on Route 306 yeshiva 

The Ramapo Planning Board heard from both sides on Tuesday night before adjourning a decision on whether a Hasidic Jewish congregation can open a controversial two-story yeshiva along Route 306 near Pomona.

The board members told Bobover of Monsey to resolve three issues by Oct. 19, when the board would again consider final site plan approval and a special permit to operate a school in a residential area.

The congregation needs a final review letter from the Hillcrest Fire Department concerning location of a hydrant on the property, a wider street and other issues.

The congregation must resolve an issue of a shared driveway with a neighbor, who will get a new driveway.

The third issue is getting the written approval for a driveway from the New York State Department of Transportation.

Opposed by many of its neighbors, the congregation's plan calls for knocking down the existing house and building a two-story yeshiva on 2 acres at 609 Route 306. The yeshiva can house a maximum of 200 students in 15 classrooms.

The congregation's plans drew opposition from many neighbors. The neighbors have expressed concerns about traffic, safety for the children and the congregation's history of health and safety violations.

Bobover operated the school illegally for two years before closing down in August 2009. Adding to the controversy, a man studying kosher butchering slaughtered a calf at the school, with remnants found dripping blood outside the building and animal's head and intestines stored in a classroom. The congregation paid a $5,000 fine.

The slaughtering issue was not raised at the Planning Board hearing by opponents.

The proposed school came on the heels of Ramapo's approval of a four-story dormitory school on nearby Babcock Lane and the development of nearly 500 houses on the 200-plus acre Patrick Farm. A large dormitory and rabbinical school by Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov is being proposed in the area, but remains stalled in federal court.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hasidic Jew shot once in Brooklyn during robbery attempt 

A 25-year-old Orthodox Jew shot was shot in Brooklyn early today during a robbery attempt, police sources said.

Burech Halberstam, son of Rabbi Zalman Halberstam, is in stable condition at Bellevue Hospital after he was shot once in the stomach.

The shooting took place around 12:30 a.m. on South Ninth Street in Williamsburg when Halberstam was approached by two men, believed to be either black or Hispanic.

Police said one of them pulled out a gun and shot Halberstam once in the stomach.

A witness followed the van, with the gunman on board, and at one point, one of them pulled out a gun and made treats, causing the man to back off the pursuit.

The witness continued to follow from a distance and the perps jumped out of the van on Jefferson Avenue in Bed-Stuy, sources said.

The van is later found on Jefferson Avenue, a vehicle cops said is a rental.

No arrests have been made.



Rubashkin moved to downstate N.Y. prison 

Convicted fraudster Sholom Rubashkin was sent to a downstate New York prison last week that can meet his religious needs as a Chabad-Lubavitch Jew, according to federal court papers.

U.S. Marshals moved Rubashkin to the FCI Otisville, a medium-security federal prison for male offenders in southeastern New York. The prison, about 70 miles northwest of New York City, was one of two facilities Rubashkin’s lawyers had requested.

Rubashkin was sentenced to 27 years in prison in June for his leadership in the massive bank fraud scandal at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville. The kosher meat plant was the site of a May 2008 federal raid, which led to the arrests of nearly 400 illegal immigrant workers. Rubashkin, 50, headed the plant’s day-to-day operations.

Rubashkin arrived at the prison on Aug. 2, court records show. FCI Otisville houses a large population of Orthodox Jews, who adhere to strict dietary rules and prayer rituals as part of their faith.

Rubashkin lawyer Guy Cook said the defense team appreciated the move to be near his family and accommodate his religious needs. “We are hopeful, however, he will be transferred to a lower security facility as the matter is a non-violent offense as we pursue his new trial and appeal,” Cook said.

The move to FCI Otisville was first reported by FailedMessiah.com, a blog that covers Orthodox Judaism and has closely followed the Rubashkin case.



Monday, August 09, 2010

Ramapo considers approving religious school at site of cow slaughter 

The Planning Board will consider final site plan approval tomorrow for a Route 306 religious school that a Hasidic Jewish congregation ran illegally for a few years and where a calf was slaughtered.

The Planning Board meeting is scheduled to meet at 8 p.m. in Ramapo Town Hall, 237 Route 59, Airmont.

The request for final site plan approval by the Bobover Yeshiva of Monsey is on the agenda, along with an adult student housing proposal on Route 306, across from Brick Church Road.

The school will be a maximum height of 24 feet, for no more than 200 students in 15 classrooms. The students would be 7 to 13 years of age, with pre-kindergarten classes.

The Bobover proposal will again draw opposition from neighbors, who remember the congregation opened the school inside a house without town approvals about three years ago.

The congregation was later cited for safety violations after Hillcrest firefighters responded to an alarm at the house. The town violations included exposed wiring, conversion of a two-car garage into classrooms, and no fire-prevention system.

The Health Department cited the congregation for sewage issues, operating a kitchen, and slaughtering a calf.

Remnants of the cow were found dripping blood outside, and the head and intestines were stored in a classroom. The congregation paid a $5,000 fine for allowing the kosher slaughtering.

The congregation was forced to close down the school in August 2009, moving their students to a school in Spring Valley.

The proposed school comes on the heels of Ramapo approving a four-story dormitory school on nearby Babcock Lane and the development of nearly 500 houses on Patrick Farm. A large dormitory rabbinical school by Tartikov is being proposed in the area, but remains stalled in federal court.



Sunday, August 08, 2010

Nursing Home Negligence Leads to Wheelchair Accident 

A basic part of almost all nursing home care is the guarantee that staff members will ensure that the most vulnerable residents be given near constant supervision to prevent harm. Many patients in these facilities decided to begin living there precisely because they had conditions which required close monitoring to ensure their safety. Yet, despite the simplicity of the task, day in and day out many nursing home staff members fail to follow through and give inadequate supervision, leaving vulnerable residents alone.

That is what happened last week at a nursing home in Scranton. The Times-Tribune reported on the serious accident at the Jewish House, involving 81-year old resident Elizabeth LaCoste.

After watching a musical performance with several other residents away from the facility, Mrs. LaCoste was left outside the performance center in her wheelchair. The sidewalk where she was left was slanted, with one side pitching downward toward a side street. Without nursing home staff to assist her, Mrs. LaCoste's chair eventually started traveling down the slope. Eventually, her wheelchair rushed all the way to the bottom, popped over the curb, and threw the helpless nursing home resident into the middle of the hard, paved road.

The careless nursing home staff incident resulted in Mrs. LaCoste breaking her collarbone, suffering head injuries, bruises, and abrasions. She died a month after the accident.

Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti sympathize with the friends and family of Mrs. LaCoste and understand their outrage at the treatment of their loved one. Elopement occurs all too often at these facilities, where residents are ignored for too long or in too risky situations, resulting in harmful accidents like this. If you know of similar problems at a nursing home near your, please contact our offices to learn what can be done to stop it.



Saturday, August 07, 2010


Rabbinical College of Telshe, Inc., Plaintiff-Appellee,
U.S. Bank, et al., Defendants.
[Appeal By Rabbi Zalmen Gifter].

No. 93643.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga County.


Stephen M. O'Bryan, Patrick J. Krebs, Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP, 3500 BP Tower, 200 Public Square, Cleveland, OH 44114-2302, Attorneys for Appellant Rabbi Zalmen Gifter.

Joel Levin, Christopher M. Vlasich, Aparesh Paul, Levin & Associates Co., LPA, The Tower at Erieview, Suite 1100, 1301 East 9th Street, Cleveland, OH 44114, Attorneys for Appellee.

Kerin Lyn Kaminski, Melissa A. Laubenthal, Giffen & Kaminski, LLC, 1300 East 9th Street, Suite 1600, Cleveland, OH 44114, Attorneys for Defendant U.S. Bank.

Jay E. Krasovec, Schottenstein, Zox & Dunn Co., LPA, 1350 Euclid Avenue, Suite 1400, Cleveland, OH 44115, Attorney for Defendant Chase Bank.

Before: Stewart, J., McMonagle, P.J., and Cooney, J.


{¶ 1} This is an appeal from the judgment of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas denying appellant Rabbi Zalmen Gifter's motion to intervene and granting plaintiff-appellee Rabbinical College of Telshe, Inc. ("Telshe"), through its board of trustees ("the Board"), a permanent injunction against two of the banks that housed the college's accounts. Appellant assigns three errors challenging the trial court's denial of his motion to intervene, the grant of a permanent injunction, and the denial of his motions for reconsideration and relief from judgment. For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

{¶ 2} Telshe is a not-for-profit corporation incorporated in Ohio in 1941 to provide traditional Jewish scholarship and learning. Located in Wickliffe, Ohio, Telshe provides an Orthodox high school, a teachers' seminary, and training for the rabbinate. On June 15, 2009, Telshe, through its Board, filed a complaint seeking injunctive relief against U.S. Bank, Chase Bank, Key Corp, Amtrust Bank, and Huntington Bank after the banks refused to allow the Board to replace the names of the signatories on the college's accounts with newly appointed signatories. The complaint alleged that the persons named on the accounts were no longer authorized to act on behalf of the college and, as a result, there was no one with authority to act on the accounts. The complaint alleged immediate and irreparable harm from the banks' refusal to allow the college to place on the accounts the names of those authorized by the Board to act on behalf of Telshe.

{¶ 3} The trial court granted Telshe's application for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") and ordered the banks to take action only upon the direction of the newly appointed signatories. A hearing on the matter was set for June 29, 2009. Prior to the hearing, the college voluntarily dismissed its claims against three of the defendant banks, leaving only Chase and U.S. Bank in the action.

{¶ 4} Appellant Gifter, a former member of the Board, filed a motion to intervene in the action and a motion to dissolve the TRO. The Board opposed intervention and supported the opposition with a copy of a document translated from the Hebrew language captioned "Agreement of the Members of the Board of the Telshe Yeshiva," dated April 24, 2007, and signed by the eight Rabbis, including appellant, who constituted the Board of the Rabbinical College at that time. By their signatures on the document, the individual members agreed, among other things, that "all matters of administration of the Yeshiva, whether in spiritual matters or in materialistic matters or in financial matters, shall be decided pursuant to the determination of a majority of Board members. An individual Board member has no power or authorization to do anything on Yeshiva matters on his own say without the consent of the members of the Board [to determine which matters are in this category is subject to a decision by the members of the Board.]"



Friday, August 06, 2010

The Rabbi - Questions for Yehuda Krinsky 

Newsweek just published a list, “The 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America,” and placed you at No. 1. As a Hasidic rabbi and a leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, do you think you can rank rabbis or any other religious leaders as if they were athletes?
I am of the opinion that you can’t rank human beings. Every person has something to contribute to the welfare of the next human being. No two people think alike or look alike, and everyone has something that another person does not have. Who’s to say who is higher and who’s lower? In terms of the essence of human beings, I don’t feel it’s proper to rank them because we don’t really know what their mission in life is.

What’s bothersome about the best-rabbi list is that it seems to exemplify a culture in which religious leaders of all stripes are fixated on power and politics, rather than philosophical questions.
Politics and religion are not soluble. They don’t mix. I learned from the rebbe, my teacher, my mentor. The rebbe in his tenure received Bobby Kennedy and many other politicians. He gave them all the time they needed and discussed whatever they needed to discuss. But he never chose, never gave any indication of who he favored.

You’re referring to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the former leader of the Lubavitcher movement, which is based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. Weren’t you his chauffeur in your youth? Where did you take him?
I will tell you. He never left the city. The only traveling he did was to visit the gravesite of his father-in-law, which was about a 25- or 30-minute drive to Queens from Brooklyn.

He died in 1994 and named you as the executor of his will, but the Chabad movement has since split over the issue of whether he was the Messiah.
I was always opposed to that. I felt it was wrong. But there was a group of people that felt that the rebbe implied during his lifetime that he was a Messiah. They became very vocal about it and sometimes more than vocal. They made a lot of noise, like a penny in a can; shake it, and it makes a lot of noise.

How large is your endowment?
We don’t have an endowment. If we had any money in the bank we would be remiss if we didn’t invest it in Jewish life. If I had $50 million now, I could get rid of it within a few weeks. We run at a deficit.

What do you think of Mayor Bloomberg?
He’s a Bostonian, as am I. He betrayed me. He deserted the Red Sox.

What else besides baseball do you admire in American pop culture?
Bob Dylan comes to the Lubavitch outpost from time to time. Did you know that? He was at my house for dinner a couple of times.

Do you like his music?
I’m blowing in the wind.

What do you make of the popularity of various kabbalah centers that have created a fashion for Jewish mysticism?
What do you want me to say as a rabbi? That I’m elated Madonna studies kabbalah?

She is learning Hebrew; she lights candles; she seems sincere about it.
So what? In order to understand kabbalah, the Jewish tradition going back to the Zohar, you have to spend years in Torah study. In fact, many communities banned the study of kabbalah until the student finished 40 years of Torah studies.

Why are ultra-Orthodox men so regressive in their treatment of women? You wouldn’t ever shake my hand, would you?

Why not?
That’s the custom. It’s a matter of modesty, the sexes not mingling.

I don’t understand why you’re unwilling to embrace social change, when you can embrace technological change. Why is e-mailing allowed?
Why should it be disallowed? If there’s anyone transforming the modern world with all this equipment and technology, it’s Chabad. We’re using all of it. We are trying to make the world a more God-friendly place.



Thursday, August 05, 2010

Rubashkin Judge Accused of Massive Conflict of Interest—Acted as Both Judge and Involved with Prosecutors, Attorneys Say 

Chief District Judge Linda Reade both coordinated with prosecutors and acted as judge in the contentious conviction of Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse operator Sholom Rubashkin, according to internal federal documents and court filings obtained by this reporter. According to the documents, Judge Reade personally participated in many aspects of the raid and prosecution “game plan” nearly from its planning inception in October, 2007 some six months before the raid and long before the ultimate trial of Rubashkin before her. Her continuous week-to-week involvement in the organization of the raid and ultimate prosecution was not disclosed to defense counsel or a House Judiciary Sub-Committee during hearings on the matter. Ultimately, Judge Reade sentenced Rubashkin to 27 years imprisonment for financial crimes related to the original immigration case. That sentence was two years longer than requested by prosecutors and startled many legal experts as inexplicably harsh.

The revelations have caused Rubashkin’s attorneys, Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin of Washington D.C. and Guy Cook of Des Moines, to file emergency court papers this morning demanding a new trial and the immediate recusal of Judge Reade. While the motions have been filed in Judge Reade’s court, they ask her not even to rule on the motion and instead “to transfer this motion to another judge for determination” in order “to preserve public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial system.”

Judge Reade has previously disclosed in writing that she engaged in so-called limited “logistical cooperation” with law-enforcement authorities but only to ensure that attorneys and interpreters would be available for the almost 400 aliens and other workers arrested in Postville, Iowa and then processed in nearby Waterloo.

But copies of Department of Justice emails, memos and Blackberry messages in their totality paint a different picture, one of a Judge who was consulted and the over-all raid was arranged to meet her specifications and even her travel plans. Attorneys have stated, had they known about her involvement in the investigation, arrest and prosecution, they would have demanded her recusal from the outset.
Operation CJV—Cedar Valley Junction, as it was dubbed by Minnesota and Iowa agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--involved weekly interagency meetings as far back as fall 2007. Judge Reade was involved or briefed on the progress of those meetings, and in many cases, the documents reveal.

For example, an October 20, 2007 ICE internal summary states that “On October 29, 2007, the case agent and the co-case agent met with the USAO [United States Attorney’s Office] for a scheduled weekly meeting. The USAO was presented the information regarding a possible enforcement action for the week May 11, 2008. The USAO did not appear to have any issues with this date and discuss the dates with the Chief US District Court [Linda Reade] to see if that meets her scheduling needs.”

Another ICE internal memo dated January 28, 2008 reports in-depth on the coming raid and preparations to discuss “prosecution charges, and the scheduled meeting with the U.S. District Court Judge.” That memo continues to specify the role the Judge played and concluded the Judge is “willing to support the operation in any way possible.” The memo specifies, “At 1:30 local time, a meeting was held with the Chief District Judge. There were many attendees at the meeting as requested by the Judge. The attendees included the Judge, the clerk of court, USMS [United States Marshals Service], Probation, USAO, and ICE. The Judge was updated on the progress with the Cattle Congress [temporary facilities for a detention and processing center for the many anticipated arrestees] as well as discussions about numbers, potential trials, IT issues for the court, and logistics. The court made it clear that they are willing to support the operation in any way possible, to include staffing and scheduling.”

The January 29, 2008 memo continues and concludes the Judge is “very supportive.” It states, “The U.S. District Court Judge asked that one concern be relayed to ICE HQ. She has asked that ICE/GSA enter into a contract with the Cattle Congress as soon as possible so that she can continue to hold the court's schedule for that time frame. Again, she was very supportive of operating at an offsite location but just wants to make sure we get it locked in as soon as possible.”



Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Judge rules against Russia on Jewish documents 

A federal judge has issued a judgment against the Russian government for its refusal to return a library of historic books and documents to a Jewish group.

Royce Lamberth, the chief judge of U.S. District Court in Washington, ruled that taking the material was discriminatory, not for a public purpose and occurred without just compensation to the Jewish religious organization that is suing, Chabad-Lubavitch.

At issue are 12,000 religious books and manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik revolution and the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1925 and 25,000 pages of handwritten teachings and other writings of religious leaders stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II.

The documents seized by the Nazis were transferred by the Soviet Red Army as trophy documents and war booty to the Russian State Military Archive.

Last year, lawyers for the Russian government argued that judges have no authority to tell the country how to handle the sacred Jewish documents.

Under the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a sovereign nation is not immune to lawsuits in cases where property is taken in violation of international law.

Lamberth found that the religious group had established its claim to the material, which he said is "unlawfully" possessed by the Russian State Library and the Russian military archive.

According to court papers reciting the history behind the case, Russian President Boris Yeltsin once gave an explicit assurance to President George H.W. Bush's emissary, Secretary of State James Baker, that the Russian government would return the library of religious books and manuscripts to Chabad-Lubavitch.

Lamberth issued his decision on Friday.

Nathan Lewin, a longtime Washington lawyer representing the religious group, said that the U.S. government "has always supported the return of these materials. I would hope that the State Department would not interfere with enforcement of this order."

The State Department declined to comment because the issue involves an ongoing legal case.



Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Hillcrest School's $3.1M price tag in doubt 

Though the East Ramapo Board of Education approved the sale of Hillcrest Elementary School to a Hasidic congregation from New Square for $3.1 million, it appears that most board members never saw the most recent documentation of the property's worth.

Although an appraisal had been done on the Hillcrest school in May, valuing the land at approximately $5 million, the sale price agreed to Wednesday was based on an appraisal that Albert D'Agostino, the school district's attorney, had obtained that placed the value at about $3.2 million, board President Nathan Rothschild said.

Rothschild said the appraisal was never formally presented to the board and that only a handful of the board's nine members were provided access to the document.

Numerous attempts by The Journal News to see the appraisal documents were unsuccessful.

Rothschild said that he, too, was unable to secure a copy of the document, despite several attempts.

District Clerk Cathy Russell said Friday that she had been instructed to refer all questions regarding the appraisal to D'Agostino.

Several attempts to contact D'Agostino were unsuccessful.

Many public-school parents and advocates opposed the sale of Hillcrest Elementary School. The price tag, many parents said, was far below market value.

Even district officials were displeased with the low bids for the property.

"It's beyond comprehension how they can vote to do something without seeing the appraisal," said Antonio Luciano, a retired New York City police officer and public-school advocate, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the school board this year. "Of all my experiences in 17 years with the police department investigating corruption and misconduct, this reeks."

Located in Clarkstown, the Hillcrest school sits on 12 acres along Addison Boyce Drive in New City and borders New Square.

The school board voted 7-1 on Wednesday to sell the school and its acreage to Congregation Yeshiva Avir Yakov for $3.1 million.

The Clarkstown Tax Assessor's Office set the value of the property at $10.2 million.



Monday, August 02, 2010

Hasidic Rapping in Brooklyn, 20 Years After Crown Heights Riots 

A bunch of elected officials are gathering outside Brooklyn Borough Hall on Monday at 1 p.m. to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots, when racial tensions in the neighborhood boiled over into thee days of violence. The riots helped put an end to the David Dinkins mayoral term, and usher in the Giuliani era at City Hall (with a little help from a Cuomo in Albany).

In light of the recent spate of bias crimes, Monday's event may take on a special resonance.

Another reason to check this event out: it will feature Hasidic hip-hop, a genre that, in my limited world view, was only apparent in videos like this.)

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, State Senator Eric Adams, City Councilwoman Tish James and Assemblyman Karim Camara are expected to attend. Here's the release:

20 Years After the Crown Heights Riots, Black and Jewish Community Leaders Endorse DeScribe’s “Harmony” Hip Hop Music Video as a Groundbreaking Tool for Unity and Racial Harmony in Brooklyn

DeScribe (Born Shneur HaSofer), Crown Heights’ Hassidic Hip Hop and R&B artist, will host a press conference at Borough Hall on August 2nd, 2010 at 1:00 pm with NYS Senator Eric Adams and Borough President Marty Markowitz, Council Member Letitia James and Assembly Member Karim Camara to premier his revolutionary “Harmony” music video, which celebrates diversity, understanding and harmony amongst the Crown Heights’ Black and Jewish communities. This event is presented in collaboration with heads of the Crown Heights community and Shemspeed, an independent recording label and artists’ promotional agency based in Crown Heights. The event is sponsored by COLlive.com, one of the most prominent Chabad Hassidic media outlets providing constant up to date information about the movement’s worldwide news and initiatives, and Marley Coffee, owned by Bob Marley’s son, Rohan Marley, which helps promote and support environmental and social justice causes, including aiding Jamaica’s poor communities and “going green.”



Sunday, August 01, 2010

Hatzalah Goes Public 

for 35 years, the volunteer emergency medical service, which is operated largely by Orthodox Jews but refuses no call for help (the Hebrew name means Rescue), would not accept government support, despite the real relief they bring to the New York City EMS system – they handle, free of charge, some 50 thousand calls a year, half of which end up in an ambulance trip to the hospital.

Last month, this group of 12 thousand volunteers, headed by CEO Rabbi David Cohen and President Heshy Jacob, decided to break with its time-honored fiscal tradition, and accept a one-time gift of $445 thousand from Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, to cover the cost of renovating their command center in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Weinstein was joined by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

The grant will cover the expense of an upgrade to the emergency radio and telephone communication system, "Providing such excellent care comes at a price," Weinstein said, adding that the improvement will give Hatzalah "the finest dispatching equipment available."

Silver said that "with this upgrade, Hatzalah, which is already an outstanding model of coordination and efficiency, will be able to do even more for the communities that it serves."

When Weinstein handed the oversized check to Rabbi Cohen and Mr. Jacob, she commented on the fact that some times these checks may be large in area surface but not in their amount. "This one is a big check that’s a big check," she said.

"It’s important to understand that Hatzalah saves the government every year between ten and twenty million dollars," said rabbi Cohen, pointing to the 50 thousand annual calls and 25 thousand annual ambulance trips Hatzalah provides, services which would have burdened the public coffers but "so far we haven’t billed anybody for anything."

Heshy Jacob, who has been with Hatzalah since 1968, said the organization never ceases to amaze him in its capacity to grow and to innovate. He cited as an example a recent change in the running of the night shifts. "We realized that we were a little slower to respond than during the day," which could prove critical in some cases. "During the day we get to a call in under four minutes, but when our volunteers are sleeping, it’s difficult to get to the call this quickly."

The solution, according to Jacob, was for the night volunteers to stay up in their cars and remain mobile, so that when the call comes in they’re already in motion, and are able to get to the patient in two to three minutes.

Jacob was beaming with pride when he cited his organization’s record in handling cardiac events. He said the nation’s highest save rate for these cases was held by Washington State, where the schools teach CPR, and consequently, "their save rate is four percent, with a witnessed arrest. New York City’s rate is less than one percent. Our save rate exceeds fifteen percent."



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