Friday, December 31, 2010

NY sees a surge in hate 

Hate crimes across New York state jumped 14 percent in 2009, led by an increase in attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions, state records released yesterday show.

There were 683 hate crimes reported to police authorities across the state in 2009 compared with 599 in 2008, according to a report released by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services.

In New York City, reported hate crimes rose 6 percent, from 259 to 275. The city accounted for 40 percent of all hate crimes in the state last year.

Brooklyn was the borough with the highest number of hate crimes, 92, followed by Manhattan, 70, Queens, 61, The Bronx, 33, and Staten Island, 19.

Nassau County had 82 reported incidents, down from 100 in 2008, Suffolk County had 80 incidents, up from 62, and Westchester County had 23 incidents, up from 16.

One of the most notorious hate crimes in recent years occurred in Suffolk, where Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was beaten and stabbed to death near the Patchogue train station by a slur-shouting mob.

Jeffrey Conroy, one of seven youths connected to the November 2008 attack, was convicted of manslaughter as a hate crime last year and sentenced to 25 years in prison. The others are serving sentences ranging from five to seven years.

The report found that nearly a quarter of all attacks in 2009 were carried out by two or more people. More than 7 percent were carried out by four or more people.

Also, 31 percent of all known offenders were 24 or younger, and 12.2 percent of all known offenders were women.

Most of the hate crimes in the new state records involved assaults or intimidation, 45 percent, or damage and destruction to property, 44 percent. A total of 179 individuals were arrested on hate-crime charges in connection with the incidents.

Anti-Semitic incidents, which made up 37 percent of the reported hate crimes, were up 15 percent in one year, from 219 in 2008 to 251 in 2009.

The report found anti-black crimes, 21 percent of the total, were down slightly from 147 in 2008 to 144 in 2009. Anti-white hate crimes increased from 21 to 29.

Anti-gay hate crimes were up sharply, with those targeting male homosexuals jumping 32 percent, from 62 to 82, and those aimed at lesbians up by more than 200 percent, from eight to 25.

Crimes motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment rose from eight to 11.

"A hate crime is an offense not only against a specific individual, but against an entire community," said Sean Byrne, acting commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services.

He called it a "form of domestic terrorism."

The report also showed that nearly 30 percent of those convicted of a hate crime were sentenced to prison and 18 percent were given probation.



Thursday, December 30, 2010

The a cappella beat goes on 

Jewish life is about bridging ancient tradition with contemporary culture, something Jewish a cappella groups have done playfully yet masterfully with the rise of their genre. The bum-bums and shh-shhs fill out the sound behind vocals of Israeli Billboard hits, American pop artists and remixed liturgical songs once sung by cantors .

The Jewish Community Center of Houston formed its first a cappella group, the jTunes, over the summer. They'll perform their biggest public concert on Wednesday, opening for the Shabbatones, an all-Jewish a cappella group visiting from the University of Pennsylvania.

"A cappella has been absolutely exploding. There's The Sing-Off (on NBC), and YouTube videos are going viral," said Alex Haber, a sophomore in the Penn Shabbatones, one of the country's first Jewish vocal groups. "There's a vibrant community of Jewish a cappella groups out there. A testament to how popular it is is the ability for us to score gigs on tour."

The growing number of collegiate Jewish a cappella groups and local groups such as the JCC's jTunes drew national exposure for their relatively obscure genre when a Hanukkah video went viral earlier this month.

Yeshiva University's Maccabeats rewrote the lyrics to Tai Cruz's Dynamite to tell the story of the Festival of Lights, singing "I flip my latkes in the air sometimes." The video has made the all-male singing group superstars, with nearly 4 million YouTube views.

"It definitely went viral by traditional standards. It's even bigger by Jewish standards. It's the biggest thing to ever happen in Jewish orthodox music for sure," said Houston native Noah Jacobson, a tenor in the group.

The Maccabeats are all Yeshiva students or graduates, all Modern Orthodox Jews. Their tradition does not permit Jews to play musical instruments on the Sabbath, so the group has become popular entertainment at bar and bat mitzvahs and other synagogue events around New York. The Hanukkah video has expanded the Maccabeats' popularity beyond their Modern Orthodox community.

"We heard from Jews that are not so in touch with their Judaism who are more so because of it and non-Jews who think we're really getting into the spirit of the season and doing something positive," said Jacobson, 20. "I think in some way we were given an opportunity to do something and affect people in a deeply spiritual way."

The Maccabeats' repertoire also includes an a cappella version of One Day by Jewish reggae-rapper Matisyahu and L'cha Dodi, a part of the traditional Sabbath liturgy, sung to the tune of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

"We believe in this fusion between modern and ancient tradition," said Jacobson. "This medium is a perfect way of doing that."

The JCC's jTunes group has spent hours each week rehearsing and studying to balance the sound of the newly formed group, working under the direction of Jaemi Blair Loeb, a doctoral candidate at the University of Houston's Moores School of Music.

The coed cross-generational group has reconnected some with their Jewish identity and brought new faces into the JCC — two of its members aren't Jewish.

For Barbara Winthrop Rose, one of the jTunes creators and the chair of the JCC Arts & Culture Steering Committee, singing in the group reminds her of the feeling she got when she took the bimah to become a bat mitzvah as an adult, reading from the Torah in the traditional style of song-chant.

"The rabbi told me, 'You're putting a very intimate part of yourself in front of the congregation and God, and God shines on you a little more,'" she said. "It's just a whole 'nother level within the Jewish community. You feel like you're really doing something special."



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hoffman’s compensation stuns many in community 

In calendar year 2008, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland paid its president and CEO Stephen H. Hoffman $687,043, more than any other Jewish federation head in North America. Among Jewish communal leaders, only Richard Joel, president of Yeshiva University, received more compensation that year, $853,651.

Hoffman’s compensation for 2008, the latest year reported, is 2% higher than the $673,581 he received in 2007. But the compensation numbers do include some confusing accounting that begs for further explanation.

Since the Forward, a New York Jewish weekly, reported Hoffman’s earnings in its Dec. 17 issue as part of an article on top Jewish communal executives’ compensation, the news has been met with surprise and concern throughout the Cleveland Jewish community. While the compensation Hoffman, 60, receives is high, leaders of the Cleveland Federation say it is appropriate when put in proper context.

What the Forward’s figures do not fully indicate is that under Hoffman’s leadership, the Cleveland Federation oversees nearly $2 billion in assets from donor-advised funds and family foundations, Federation officials say.

The revenues from 44 large charitable foundations whose assets Federation invests and manages are not included in the Federation’s 990 form, per accounting rules. But the IRS form does list the administrative expenses to manage those foundations. This unfairly skews the evaluation of Federation’s performance by the online watchdog organization Charity Navigator, says Michael Siegal, Federation board chairman.
Other federations in cities with much larger Jewish populations, like San Francisco, Atlanta and Baltimore, do not invest and manage nearly as much money. They also pay their top executive less.

When viewed through this lens, Hoffman’s compensation is 0.52% of Federation’s expenses and grant making, not 1.05%, the figure listed by Charity Navigator, says Barry Reis, Federation senior vice president and chief financial officer.

The discrepancy occurs because when Charity Navigator looks at the Cleveland Federation’s 990 form, it sees $65 million in expenditures. It does not see about $67 million in annual grants from the 44 charitable foundations, which brings Federation’s total grant expenditures and operating expenses to $132 million.

However Federation’s performance is evaluated, many Clevelanders think Hoffman’s compensation is way too high.

“I find it incomprehensible, given the dire needs of our Jewish community, that the compensation committee of the Federation would elect to compensate Mr. Hoffman with a $687,000 salary,” says Gregg A. Levine of Pepper Pike. “Based on comparative salaries (published) in the Forward and in Crain’s Cleveland Business, his salary is not in sync with the competitive landscape.



Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jewish Entrepreneurs Network in Orange County 

As the national unemployment rate looms at 9.8% and that of California at 12.6%, a group of Southern California professionals and entrepreneurs have turned the recession into an opportunity for networking and community building.

Meeting monthly in Mission Viejo, a planned community built in the heart of Orange County, Jewish Business Connections is the result of a partnership between Rabbi Zalman Marcus, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to Mission Viejo, and Alexandra Kaplan, MBA, a business coach and consultant for Mark Kamin and Associates, a Houston based educational firm.

Marcus says that since arriving in Mission Viejo he’s toyed around with the idea of bringing professionals from across the community together. When Kaplan approached him with a similar idea just over a year ago, the project became a reality. Kaplan saw the effect of the recession on the community. Tapping into the broad knowledge-base synagogue attendees represented, it seemed only logical that Chabad would serve as the ideal base for the business community to come together.

The problem? Many of the small business owners and entrepreneurs only attended synagogue services on Shabbat and Holidays, not an appropriate time for discussing business matters.

“So many people only come for rights of passages, such as Bar Mitzvahs or the holidays,” Kaplan explains. “And they never get a chance to share their knowledge with others or network.”

By creating an environment conducive to networking, Marcus and Kaplan have succeeded to bring people from across the community together. Though local demographics didn’t seem to support an event geared towards entrepreneurs and small business-owners, the monthly meet-ups in the Chabad House attract upwards of 45 people from as far away as Long Beach and S. Diego.

Each month attendees are treated to a guest lecturer on topics ranging from social media to brand building, followed by a deeper insight into the nature of business and life from Rabbi Marcus. Participants also enjoy the opportunity to network and schmooze.

Marcus is delighted by the response. “People who were previously uncomfortable about attending Jewish events have come to participate.” He says. “Everyone sees the potential in sharing their common experience and learning something new.”



Monday, December 27, 2010

Hatzalah at work in the snow 

Go to :43


Sunday, December 26, 2010

State To Terminate Kosher Food Inspectors In 2011 

The new year won't be happy for New York State's kosher food inspectors, as Gov. David Paterson decided this month to terminate them as of Jan. 1, 2011, as part of an effort to trim a budget deficit that will probably exceed $10 billion next fiscal year.

Paterson plans to slash about 95 percent of funding for the Division of Kosher Law Enforcement, which is part of the state's agriculture department. Currently, the state employs eight kosher food inspectors who carry out about 5,000 inspections a year, examing roughly 3,000 food sellers and manufacturers. All eight will lose their jobs.

Kosher food stores on 108th Street predicted that the lack of inspectors won't change their way of doing business. Jerry William, who manages Chai Kosher Meat & Poultry, explained that his store already has a rabbi who makes sure the products meet kosher requirements. "They [the inspectors] just oversee what our rabbi does," he said.

However, local politicians and other members of the observant Jewish community railed against the decision, claiming that the state will lose its ability to ensure the integrity of kosher products, thus weakening kosher traditions and respect for kosher law.

"These cuts would undoubtedly mean that untrained Agriculture and Markets inspectors would monitor kosher food, resulting in little or no protection from fraudulent products," said State Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky. "Who is going to make sure that hot dogs containing pork products don't wind up next to the Hebrew National ones?"

Senator Stavisky then added: "Eliminating the kosher food unit would save approximately $800,000. Are we really to believe that this is going to help close a budget deficit of almost $10 billion?"

The National Council for Young Israel, the coordinating agency for roughly 150 Orthodox Jewish congregations throughout the U.S. and Canada, has joined the Rabbinical Alliance of America, a group with more than 850 rabbi members in the U.S., in issuing a call to the Jewish community to fight Paterson's decision. 

There are about 82,000 kosher-certified products for sale in New York State, which is the world's largest manufacturer and consumer of kosher products outside of Israel. The state has enforced kosher inspections since 1915.



Baltimore Teen Allegedly Attacked By Jewish Patrol Group 

Police are investigating an attack on a 15-year-old African-American youth by a group of men associated with a Jewish community patrol group, which occurred on Nov. 19 in the Upper Park Heights Community of Baltimore.

According to a police report, the incident occurred at approximately noon when the boy was traveling on Falstaff Road. After he noticed a red, two-door vehicle following him, he told police that he asked the passengers, two Jewish White males, “What’s up? What are ya‘ll looking at?”

The two passengers got out of the vehicle and responded, “What’s up? You’re the guy from yesterday on Park Heights. You want some problems?”

The teen said that as he continued to walk, the men got back in their vehicle and proceeded to follow him. The boy said he then grabbed a wood stick for safety, but threw it down as the men got out of the car a second time.

As the two surrounded him, a third White heavy-set Jewish male pulled up in a van and approached the boy from behind. Then they proceeded to pat him down asking, “What you got in your pockets? Keep your hand out your pockets, you want trouble?”

The heavyset male then proceeded to strike the teen in the head with a two-way radio while the others held him down on the ground placing their feet and knees on his back. He said the three men then got back into their vehicles and left the scene.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the three men were from Shomrim, a Northwest Baltimore Jewish citizens patrol group. They have no police powers beyond those of ordinary citizens and are not sworn law enforcement officers.

Following the incident, a member of the Shomrim patrol group arrived on the scene and treated the teen until paramedics arrived. He was later transported to Sinai Hospital where he was treated for a laceration on the right side of his head.

Police arrested Eli Werdesheim, 23, on Nov. 30 in conjunction with the incident and is charged with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and false imprisonment. According to Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL, he is a volunteer with the group.

Werdesheim’s lawyer says that the Shomrim patrol arrived at the scene in response to a call about a suspicious person in the area. He contends that Werdesheim reacted in self-defense.

“The information available to us is that the young man swung a two-by-four with nails in it at Mr. Werdesheim,” Attorney Andrew Alperstein told WBAL. “Mr. Werdesheim stepped out of the way and defended himself from imminent bodily harm from this young man’s weapon.”

The alleged attacker is currently out on bail.

The victim has not yet spoken publicly about the incident. The Baltimore Sun reported that the youth was not under investigation in connection with the altercation. But a source told the newspaper that he has a juvenile criminal record with theft charges, and WBAL reported that the teen was charged with auto theft six weeks ago. Juvenile records are not available to the public.



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Turkish man goes on trial for plot to kill rabbis 

A Turkish news agency says a court has released a man whom prosecutors accuse of plotting to murder Jewish rabbis and the Istanbul–based leader of the world's Orthodox Christians.

The Anatolia agency says suspect Ismet Recber was freed pending the outcome of the trial following the first hearing Wednesday.

Recber, a carpenter, faces up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of plotting to kill Patriarch Bartholomew I. He denies the accusations.

Anatolia says the man was arrested after an anonymous letter was sent to authorities claiming that a suspect in a separate trial had chosen Recber to carry out the killings.

The separate trial involves an alleged secularist plot to bring down the Islam–oriented government.



Friday, December 24, 2010

NY Court OKs Sale of Schindler's List 

A Manhattan judge has granted an upstate New York memorabilia dealer approval to sell one of Holocaust hero Oskar Schindler's lists of Jewish workers he saved from being sent to Nazi concentration camps, the New York Post reported Friday.

Schindler heir Marta Erika Rosenberg had sought to block the sale by momentsintime.com dealer Gary Zimet, contending she was the list's rightful owner and that selling it would endanger her copyright.

But in a ruling made public Thursday, state NY Supreme Court Justice Louis York found that the copyright was not an issue because Zimet would sell the list, not publish it.



Thursday, December 23, 2010

New standard planned for kosher food 

What does it really mean for your Hebrew National hot dog to "answer to a higher authority?"

For years, it's meant a kosher certification that ensured Jewish (and non-Jewish) consumers were buying a product that met strict religious standards for slaughter and preparation that went beyond government requirements.

Now a controversial Jewish movement believes kosher food must meet an even higher ethical ideal — and they're rolling out a stamp of approval to make it official.

The new Magen Tzedek 'seal of justice," developed by Conservative Judaism's Hekhsher Tzedek Commission, will be tested on at least two kosher food companies in early 2011.

Standards and fees will be adjusted after 10 weeks of reviewing a host of conditions — including labor, animal welfare, consumer rights, corporate integrity and environmental impact — and analyzed by a New York-based auditing firm, said Rabbi Morris Allen, the project's director.

The new seal is a response to poor labor and animal welfare practices at the now-defunct Agriprocessors meat plant in Postville, Iowa, which had earned a kosher stamp of approval from Orthodox rabbis.

The dueling kosher certifications have opened a rift between Hekhsher Tzedek's Conservative backers and Orthodox Jews, who control most existing kosher standards and are the largest consumers of kosher products.

Kosher certification, now available from hundreds of agencies and stamped on more than one-third of American food products, costs anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on a company's size.

Critics say the new ethical kosher movement is an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy in an industry that's already under government regulation. The (Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of America released its own kosher ethical guidelines last January, but emphasized that food supervisors don't have the expertise to recognize or handle illegal or unethical business practices.

"Companies already have enough on their hands," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the rabbinic administrator of the Orthodox Union's kosher division, which had certified Agriprocessors. "We think that the government agencies have the experience and resources to do that better than us."

Menachem Lubinsky, editor of Kosher Today and president of LUBICOM Marketing Consulting, which specializes in the kosher food industry, said most companies don't want yet another symbol on their packaging, and that the Magen Tzedek stamp may even prompt a backlash from Orthodox consumers.

"There's a perspective that those companies will be seen as having caved in to Conservative demands and being more left-leaning," he said, adding that smaller kosher producers won't be able to afford or compete with Magen Tzedek's requirements.

"(Consumers) see this as being superfluous and they have full faith in the government to protect them," he added.

Allen maintains that it's not enough to merely expect kosher food companies to meet or exceed government workplace standards, just as Jews don't leave it to state laws to ensure that food advertised as kosher is actually kosher.

"The government is oftentimes stretched, and is not able to do the kinds of inspections that should take place," Allen said. "It's our responsibility to see that in the production of kosher food, the ethical demands of the Jewish people are also being met."

Allen also dismisses critics who say Conservative Jews are trying to compete with, or supplant, the Orthodox in policing the kosher food industry.

"As far as I know," he said, "there's no unique responsibility for only the Orthodox to be involved in determining standards."

Despite resistance from the Orthodox, ethical-kosher supporter say their efforts will appeal to the wider spectrum of Jewish and even non-Jewish consumers who care that their food comes from a place that paid, not just prayed, properly.

"At the end of the day, it's a win-win for the kosher food industry," Allen said, "because for some people, our symbol will be the only symbol that they will care about."



Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) is alerting the community to what has become a growing problem for area synagogues – postal fraud. Nearly ten synagogues throughout Brooklyn, New York; Teaneck, New Jersey; and even Southfield, Michigan, have reported that checks for donations and membership dues have been stolen from the synagogue mailbox. The problem began just before the Rosh Hashanah holiday in September. Assemblyman Hikind became aware of the fraud after Alan Hirsch, publisher of thevuesonline.com, discovered the issue at his own synagogue.

“People have to be vigilant,” said Hikind. “Most of us do not even think twice when a check clears our bank account. That mentality has to change. It is imperative to review returned checks to ensure the intended payee endorsed it.”

Postal authorities and police are investigating. In one case, a donation for $250 was altered and cashed for $1,250. The majority of the checks are being cleared through Empire Bank and Trust in Clayton, Missouri, as well as a cash-checking business in Florida. Checks which were paid out in Missouri were stamped “KR USA OP Acct.” It is unclear just how much money has been stolen. Synagogues are now taking precautions to prevent future thefts.

If you have been a victim of this fraud, please contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 (select option 3) and call the authorities.

“Ripping off a synagogue is about as low as a person can get,” remarked Hikind. “With God’s help and increased awareness, we will catch the sick individuals who are responsible for these heinous acts.”


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

4 Hasidic Jews protest repeal of ban on gay troops at West Point 

Braving the cold weather, four men from the Hasidic Jewish community in Monsey picketed Monday afternoon just outside of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to protest gays serving openly in the military.

Solomon Diamant, one of the protesters, said they were appalled by the Senate vote that ended the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"Only God can establish what's wrong and what's right. We cannot uproot his rules," Diamant said. "The whole LGBT agenda is evil," using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

One of the protest banners stated that ending the gay ban in the military "breaks the morale and undermines the fighting ability of our devoted self-sacrificing soldiers who give their lives for us and for our country. Those who are imposing this on our troops are supporting America's greatest enemies and destroying the country . Please keep our country faithful to the biblical values upon which it was founded."

Another sign stated: "I want our troops to have divine assistance. Don't downgrade moral standards."

Jim Fox, a West Point spokesman, said the protesters were outside of the academy's property and therefore, he would not comment on their appeals.

"We understand that there were four individuals outside of our Thayer Gate in the village of Highland Falls, exercising their rights to peacefully protest," Fox said.

Diamant said he and others have been protesting not only the repeal of the ban on gays in the military but also other issues involving LGBT, such as gay marriages. They have traveled to Albany, Trenton and Washington to voice their opposition to LGBT causes.

"Accepting LGBT is against God," said Rabbi Yosef Rosenberg. "It's a betrayal against mankind."

The debate over gays in the military has been settled with a historic decision to allow them to serve openly, but big questions lie ahead about how and when the change will take place, how troops will accept it and whether it will hamper the U.S. military's effort in Afghanistan and Iraq.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law this week the legislation that passed the Senate on Saturday, an act some believe will carry social implications as profound as President Harry S. Truman's 1948 executive order to end racial segregation in the military.

The new law probably won't go into practice for months.



Monday, December 20, 2010

Cycling flutist names her band ‘Bike Lane’ 

Meet the first woodwind quartet made from political undertones: Bike Lane, a chamber group named after the ongoing debate between bikers and their mobile nemeses.

Leah Paul — formerly of the flute-rock band, The Bridesmaids (that’s right, flute rock) — started the side project with her own compositions, and gave a killer kick-off show at Barbès in Park Slope earlier this fall.

She’s a virtuoso of a flautist, and she’s an even more avid biker — she’s a scholar in the bike issues covered in this paper.

“Biking is one of the things I love most about Brooklyn — I ride the new Prospect Park West bike lane every day,” Paul said. “In fact, I was stopped by reporters once because I was wearing a short dress while biking, during that whole Hasidic debate over scantily clad women.”

Beyond its zeitgeist-seizing band name, Bike Lane does not make overt support for cycle paths a part of its compositions (it would be hard to do a symphony piece on the city’s abrupt removal of the Bedford Avenue bike lane, for example). Instead, the four-piece group — including a violin, clarinet, bassoon, and Paul on the flute — serenades its audience with deep classical arias that show off Paul’s expertise in harmony and phrasing.

Whatever the band’s rhyme or reason, the fans dig it.

“[The Barbes show] was a rare treat,” said Andy Haynes. “Most of the time, you’ve got some crappy singer/songwriter at these small venues. The chamber music was refreshing.”

This Bike Lane is so good that even Borough President Markowitz won’t be able to oppose it.



Sunday, December 19, 2010

Man Claims Matricide Was A Mercy Killing 

On Friday, 60-year-old Yefim Tsirinsky called Coney Island's 60th precinct and reportedly announced, "I just smothered my mother." Cops quickly arrived at his home and found his mother, Frida Tsirinsky, unconscious in the bed. She was transported to Coney Island Hospital and died a day later, and Yefim Tsirinsky was charged with second-degree murder and first- and second-degree strangulation. However, he claims that he was just pulling a Kevorkian and doing what she asked.

One official told the Times, “He’s got a story. He says, ‘My mother asked me to kill her, so I did.’ He said she came in and said she told him she didn’t want to live anymore." Frida never regained consciousness and thus couldn't confirm her son's claims, but investigators say there didn't appear to be a struggle. They believe Yefim smothered his 86-year-old mother with a pillow and "thought he finished it." One neighbor said, "I’m shocked. He looked like he was so dedicated. I guess he just went off."



Saturday, December 18, 2010

Commission says county didn't violate federal law in limiting chabad's growth 

An Oak Park synagogue's bid to double its occupancy limit was denied for a second time Thursday when a panel ruled the county had not violated a federal law protecting religious exercise.

The decision by the county Planning Commission returns the matter to the Board of Supervisors, although representatives of Chabad of Oak Park expect a court fight may be necessary.

"I am terribly disappointed and terribly heartbroken, but I feel strongly in our position and will continue to fight the good fight," Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky said after the 4-1 decision.

Leaders of Chabad of Oak Park want the commission to raise the occupancy allowed by its county permit from 70 to 145. The ceiling would apply to Sabbath and Jewish holiday services at the converted house in a residential area.

Commissioners rejected the expansion over customary land use issues in July, then took it up again Thursday to weigh whether it's required under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

In a six-hour hearing in Ventura, rabbis and worshipers said their rights to practice their faith had been compromised.

Worshipers cannot easily get to another service if 70 people are already inside the chabad because their beliefs prohibit driving on the Sabbath, Bistritzky said.

"This is a real burden on our community to be asked to go elsewhere," he told the commission.

Although they sympathized, four of the five commissioners said the denial did not violate the federal law.

Commissioners Leo Molitor, W. Stephen Onstot, Michael Wesner and Richard Rodriguez found no violation. Commissioner Nora Aidukas dissented.

Commissioners said that even though they did not find in favor of the chabad, they hoped the Board of Supervisors would consider raising the ceiling over 70 for the growing congregation. But Bistritzky said in an interview that he was not interested in compromising.

"Our position is that 145 is less than what the building can safely hold, and this is the only compelling government interest that we can measure it for," he said. "There's no reason given why it should be less."

Commissioners ruled after Assistant County Counsel Robert Kwong said a variety of technical grounds had to be met. He cited other court decisions involving the law to commissioners, who were skittish about handling issues that are often left to federal judges.

"We are not the Supreme Court," Molitor told the chabad's followers.

To make the finding, the commissioners first had to decide whether the chabad had made a "prima facie" case, or one true at first sight that the county had "substantially burdened" the exercise of religion.

None but Aidukas agreed that the county had done so.

The panel decided unanimously that the government had a compelling interest in the matter. All but Aidukas said the county had acted in the least restrictive manner.

About 50 people attended the hearing, some the orthodox Jews who attend the chabad and others neighbors opposing expansion.

"To be very clear, we are not against any religious organization," said Jeri Fox, a 27-year resident of Oak Park. "We want the chabad to stay small."

A fire inspection last year showed that at least 168 people could safely occupy the structure. An environmental review also cleared the proposed expansion, officials said.

Planning Director Kim Prillhart, though, said zoning rules require compatibility between the chabad and the homes in the surrounding area. Chabad leaders agreed to the limitation of 70 when terms were negotiated for the permit in 1994, she said.

"It could be an arbitrary number, but it was a number that was agreed to at that time," she said.

She added that the federal act does not exempt religious institutions from local land use law, nor does the county zoning code contain special considerations for religion.



Friday, December 17, 2010

Rabbi: Kotel cameras desecrate Shabbat 

A leading Israeli rabbi has declared the Western Wall off limits to the faithful on the holiest day of the week because of security cameras that he says desecrate the Sabbath.

The trouble at the wall is with technology, said Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, a 100-year-old rabbinical authority widely revered among ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Eliashiv says those coming into view of the closed-circuit surveillance cameras activate a light inside the devices, violating the prohibition on operating electronics on Shabbat.

The rabbi overseeing the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, said he and the Jerusalem police were working to fix the problem.



Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Yiddish course offered at SFSU 

The Jewish Studies Department at San Francisco State University is offering a new course in Yiddish culture for the spring 2011 semester.

Titled “Yiddish History, Literature and Society,” the course covers the literary and social background of Yiddish culture and its relationship to Jewish and American history. The course will be taught in English, using historic texts in translation.

The San Francisco Bay Area branch of the Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring of Northern California helped finance the course. Enrollment is open to all SFSU students and to non-matriculating community members who arrange to study through SFSU College of Extended Learning’s Open University, Eldercollege or the Over-60 Degree Program.



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

B’klyn Councilmen Rally To Save Daycare Program 

Amid a sea of black hats, five Brooklyn councilmen, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and others yesterday denounced the planned elimination of a daycare voucher program that primarily benefits the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities.

The program, known as Priority 7, pays for childcare for more than 2,200 children, many of them in Crown Heights, Borough Park, Midwood and Williamsburg.

Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park/Midwood), who led the rally inside the City Hall lobby, explained that the program is necessary because needy Orthodox Jewish families don’t necessarily “fit the profile” under which other anti-poverty programs are designed.

For example, very few such families are female-headed, but for religious reasons, eight or nine children in one household are not uncommon.

All in all, said Greenfield, 100,000 Orthodox Jewish children live below the poverty level, but only 3.5 percent of all available daycare slots go to these children. One problem, several speakers emphasized, may be the perception that there are few needy Jewish children.

Mayor Bloomberg plans to end the program at the end of this month. De Blasio revealed that advocates presented a plan to phase out the plan little by little over the next five years, but that plan was rejected by the Mayor’s Office.

In addition to the hardship to families, said Greenfield, hundreds of daycare workers could be laid off, and seven daycare centers would be forced to close.

City Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Canarsie/Bergen Beach/Starrett City) held up a campaign flyer for Mayor Bloomberg, distributed in the city’s Orthodox Jewish communities during one of the mayor’s election campaigns, that brags about how Bloomberg funded 2,000 Priority 7 vouchers. City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-Flatbush/East Flatbush), an African-American, said, to some smiles, “I’m not Jewish.” However, he said, he is dedicated to helping his Jewish constituents. “If they come to close your daycare centers in the morning, they’ll come to close my daycare centers in the evening,” he told the crowd.

Also speaking were Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights/Downtown/Williamsburg), Councilman Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens/Park Slope) and Queens Councilman David Weprin.

The Orthodox community was represented by members of the United Jewish Organization of Williamsburg, the Satmar Hasidim, the Lubavitcher Hasidim, the Pupa Hasidim, the Board of Jewish Education, Agudath Yisroel, the Bobover Hasidim and the Sephardic Community Federation.

Rabbi Chaim Weinberg of Yeshiva Ateret Torah, a Sephardic yeshiva on Quentin Road, told those assembled that young children, those who have gone to daycare centers and/or preschools perform better on tests than children who haven’t. If we deny funding for preschools, he continued, we will end up spending money for remedial education.

He also said that Jewish charity organizations cannot fill the void that would exist if Priority 7 were canceled, since these organizations themselves are struggling.



Census paints portrait of region 

The latest data on the Village of Woodbury portrays a fairly prosperous, well-educated community: About 45 percent of its adults have at least a bachelor's degree, the median household income is around $103,000, and 21 percent of households own three or more vehicles.

The economic contrast is stark across the border in the neighboring Village of Kiryas Joel. All the numbers on that Hasidic community reflect its emphasis on intense religious study over secular education and careers. Just 4.5 percent of residents 25 years and older hold bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of households have no vehicle at all, and the median income is less than $18,000.

Those figures were part of a deluge of data released Tuesday by the Census Bureau that presents detailed sketches of every place in the United States based on a compilation of survey results from 2005 to 2009.

The American Community Survey captures wide differences among communities in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, particularly between its urban areas and towns that became more affluent during the housing boom of the last decade. The $37,000 median household income in the City of Newburgh, while higher than Kiryas Joel's, was just over half the countywide median and the lowest of the region's four cities. Only about 39 percent of residents over 25 years old had a high school diploma.

In the Town of Hamptonburgh, some 93 percent of adults have at least finished high school, and the median household income was $106,642.

Newburgh also stood out for its vast influx of immigrants. Nearly a quarter of its estimated population of 28,000 was born outside the U.S., mostly in Latin America. About 42 percent of residents are Latino.

The unique cultural practices of Kiryas Joel yield a host of statistical surprises.Its large families mean that more than half the population of roughly 20,000 is under age 14, and the median age is 11.9 — less than a third of the countywide median of 36.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum in this region were the rural Sullivan County towns of Fremont and Forestburgh, where the median age was calculated to be almost 52.

The Village of Washingtonville, a bedroom community for New York City police officers and firefighters, has one of the region's longer average commutes, at 45.1 minutes.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Village of Monticello, at 18.0 minutes, and the Village of New Paltz, at 18.9 minutes. Because of the SUNY college that it hosts, New Paltz also rivaled Kiryas Joel in youthfulness with a median age of 22.3.



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jimmy Kimmel 'sued for YouTube video use' 

Jimmy Kimmel is being sued for using a YouTube video in his show without permission from its star, according to reports.

In August, the presenter of Jimmy Kimmel Live used clips of a Hasidic man ranting, which were obtained from the video-sharing website, and incorporated them into a skit aimed towards basketball player LeBron James, the New York Post reports.

However, Dovid Sondik, who appeared in the video, titled 'Flying Rabbi', has now filed a suit at Brooklyn's Supreme Court, seeking compensation for the "difficulty and pain" he has been caused by the use of the footage.

Sondik's lawyer Robert Tolchin said that his client had been "goofing around" and had not desired or expected that the video would reach an audience of as many as 1.5 million viewers.

"It has caused me difficulty and pain... Now [people in the neighbourhood] think I'm a joke, a comedian," said Sondik, who is not a rabbi but would discuss scripture with the community.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages and accuses Kimmel of appropriate of likeness and violating YouTube's service terms.

A representative for Kimmel said that his team were unaware of any case against him.



Monday, December 13, 2010

Lipa Schmeltzer robs bank 


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Out of the Inbox - Rebuttal to defense of couple on The People's Court - Wigging out on a customer 

Sent in by a Chaptzem reader

There has been some controversy regarding a Frum couple that appeared on a nationally televised episode of The People’s Court. The couple came off clearly looking like frauds, liars and thieves on the show. The judge and the many thousands that have watched the video clip have come to this conclusion as well. However there are some people that won’t acknowledge the obvious even when it hits them in the face.

Below are some half-baked points written up by these gullible folk that somehow are supposed to portray the wig couple as having been misunderstood and unfairly judged. Unfortunately with even some mild scrutiny all of these points fall away.

Here are their points with the bracketed numbers and the rebuttals beneath them.

1] The main impetus of the judge was that this wig she was examining looked like a short wig.
The wig that was ruined was not, repeat not a short wig. It is a long wig. If you look carefully you will see that it is a long wig. It looks like a short wig b/c it's all knotted up, but it is not short.

This point is untrue and is being used as a tactic to confuse the reader.

At no point did the judge indicate that she thought the damaged wig was a short wig. In fact quite the opposite is true. The judge was being led to believe by the plaintiffs that the damaged wig was a long human haired wig, which it most definitely was not. The length of the wig had absolutely no bearing on the judges decision to deem the couple frauds and dismiss the case. The fact that the wig in evidence was different from the one on the receipt was why the judge dismissed the case.

2] The wig maker charged $3000 in total including highlighting, streaking and cutting for ruined wig. The wig heidi was later purchased from georgi as a replacement for the ruined wig.

This makes absolutely no sense.

a) Georgie does not sell Revlon wigs

b) There is no way one can pay $3000 for a Revlon wig no matter how much cutting, coloring or streaking is made. A Revlon wig just does not go for that kind of money.

c) Georgie does not sell Revlon wigs

4] The judge called both Georgie companies. She first called the first number and b/c the office was closed her call was fwd'ed to a woman named Sylvia from company #1 and the judge asertained that Heidi did pay $3000 for a long wig. The judge asked for the receipt number. Sylvia answered that the office was closed. The judge then called the other Georgie company #2 (there was a divorce involved here). The other company said that they do not manufacture that type of wig.

This is by far the most creative and utterly nonsensical point.

Why would the judge call ‘both’ Georgie companies? Believe it or not, the judge was not born yesterday. There was a phone number on the receipt and the judge had no reason to call any other number. If this mysterious woman named ‘Sylvia’ was able to confirm the $3000 purchase from memory why was locating the original receipt necessary.

Furthermore, if the judge truly spoke to ‘Sylvia’ from Georgie who informed her that they were closed why would the judge try calling anyone else afterwards?

Here are some points from the actual People’s Court video that shine a clear light of guilt on this couple.

1) The couple brought absolutely no evidence at all with them. They came to court to prove a case, evidence is usually obligatory for the plaintiff.

2) The couple claimed to have gone to three wig makers who deemed the wig unsavable but could not produce even one document stating this. Is it possible this is because the wig that was washed was a cheap Revlon synthetic wig.

3) When confronted as liars there was absolutely no denial. The only excuse offered was that Georgi was in Paris. This excuse makes no sense. Georgi is a company not a person. If ‘Mrs. Georgi’ is in Paris it seems pretty obvious that business doesn’t come to a screeching halt. Obviously a receipt for a wig can be verified by any counterperson at Georgi’s.

The bottom line is this couple appeared on national television with, according to the judge, the premeditated plan to defraud an honest cleaner.

It seems quite obvious that the wig in question was a synthetic wig that was almost dead already. Probably as a quasi last ditch experiment ‘Heidi’ figured she would have the cleaners wash the wig and see what came of it. Probably after seeing the mess it became and realizing that she had a fairly recent receipt for a brand new human hair wig she tried pulling a switcheroo, attempting to suck three grand out of this cleaner. Fortunately the judge realized and made the right call.

The people defending this couple are sadly extremely gullible and are probably the same people that believe child abuse does not exist in our community. This ‘schtick’ that this couple pulled is by far the most blatant and publicized case of Chillul Hashem possibly ever in our history. This couple truly has what to be ashamed of.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Vicious teens cried 'Jew, Jew' as they punched and beat rabbi unconscious during Thanksgiving attack 

The victim of a Thanksgiving hate crime testified Friday his attackers screamed "Jew, Jew!" as they beat him unconscious on a Brooklyn street.

"They ripped off my clothes, my hat and my yarmulke. They were punching my face," said Joel Weinberger, 26, a Hasidic rabbi and father of four.

Weinberger ended up with numerous fractures and a broken eye socket. He had three steel implants in his cheek, he told the Daily News outside the courtroom.

"I was hit from the back; I lost consciousness," Weinberger testified at an evidence hearing.

He came to, tried to run away, but was hit repeatedly until he blacked out again, he said.

Two 15-year-old boys were charged with assault as a hate crime for the attack on Harrison St. in Williamsburg.

Two NYPD detectives testified that the teens said they attacked "the Jew" because "it was something fun to do."

Detective Nicole Carter said the boys claimed they "were bored," went to a park, bought a "$5 bag of weed, got high" and then decided to go to what they called "Jew town."

One of the teens is accused of later beating two other Orthodox Jews - one last Saturday and another on Monday as he left a Chanukah party.

Because the suspects were charged as juveniles, The News is not publishing their names.

Both are chronic truants and drug users who cannot be controlled by their parents, probation reports say.

One of the teens was laughing during the proceedings, prompting a warning from the judge to "treat the process with dignity."

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 17.



Friday, December 10, 2010

Debate Starts on Crown Heights Rabbis’ Gag Order 

A debate on free speech is rippling through the Lubavitcher Hasidic community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Last week, the rabbinical court known as the Beth Din of Crown Heights ordered members of the Lubavitcher community not to speak to the police or the news media on a range of issues related to crime.

The one-page edict (see below) bars members of the community of 20,000 from giving the news media information about another community member that could lead to “an investigation or intensified prosecution by any law enforcement agency.”

It also requires the permission of a powerful social service agency, the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, for any of the following: filing complaints about the police; complaining about the police to the news media; publishing articles critical of the police; or engaging in “police relations.”

Now, a law school graduate and Lubavitcher who lives in the neighborhood has sent a letter to the Beth Din criticizing the policy.

“Besides the fact that this proclamation violates democratic principles and values as well as victims’ right laws and is therefore against Jewish law because Jewish law requires we follow the law of our country, it is demeaning to victims of police mistreatment,” wrote Eliyahu Federman, a 2010 graduate of CUNY School of Law, where he was executive articles editor of the law review.

Crown Heights Rabbinical Gag Order

Response to Gag Order



Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Beard is Back 

If last Saturday night was any indication, facial hair is back in style.

Club Europa was filled to capacity for an over the top display of goatees and full facial beards, as the 2010 NYC Beard and Moustache Competition got underway. Curious onlookers and serious beard enthusiasts spent the evening getting a look at a variety of contestants ranging from hasidic jews and older gentlemen, to bikers and scruffy hipsters.

“The people competing in this take it very seriously,” said Aaron Kelly, a member of the Gotham City Beardsman Alliance, the NYC area chapter of Beard Team USA. “You’ll see some competitors who drove several hours to make it and even flew in from places all around the world.”

The competition was divided into six different categories: full natural beard, freestyle, moustache, goatee, recession beard, and a new fake beard category for women. Contestants were scored by a panel of judges on a scale of one to 10.

The event also had several internationally ranked competitors on display.

“There are beard and moustache competitions throughout the world,” said Kelly. “Our chapter definitely travels around to a few of them throughout the year and you see some regulars at the events.”

One of the regulars is Paul Beisser, who is currently the natural goatee world champion. In four competitions, Beisser has never scored below second place.

“Sometimes the judging can be tricky,” said Beisser. “There was one competition where I shouldn’t have lost, but they were obviously pulling for the local guy to win.”

Many of the people in attendance were amazed at the beards on display.

“They have facial hair down to their chest!” said Park Slope resident Ashley Cargill. “I’m amazed that they can eat without getting a beard full of food.”

The winners of the night were Lindsay Lutz (fake beard), Steve Klein (goatee), Chris Williams (moustache), William Mitchell (freestyle beard), Ty Baker (recession beard), and Jack Passion (full natural beard). Mitchell also won the overall top prize for best in show.

For many of the competitors at the event, the night was a chance to bond with similar beard-minded individuals.

“If I see someone with a beard, I know that they’re a friend of mine,” said Kelly. “I just haven’t met them yet.”



Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Rabbi sues Army over beard ruling 

An Orthodox Jewish rabbi from Brooklyn sued the U.S. Army Wednesday for denying him a commission to serve as an Army chaplain because his faith prohibits him from shaving his beard.

Menachem M. Stern of the Chabad-Luvabitch community, a Hasidic group in Brooklyn, alleges in federal court in the District that the Army at first approved his application to serve as chaplain in June 2009 and appointed him a reserve commissioned officer (first lieutenant), before rescinding the appointment that September citing the Army's "no-beard" regulation.

Stern's attorneys, Nathan and Alyza D. Lewin of the District, say that since then, the Army has granted a waiver to two Sikh captains and an enlisted man, who were permitted to wear a turban and beard in uniform, and an unnamed, bearded Muslim officer who has served as a surgical intern at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Stern says the Army rules, which only apply on entering service and can be waived for those who cannot shave for medical reasons, are discriminatory and violate the Constitution, especially because waivers have been granted to Sikh and Muslim soldiers. The federal courts in 1976 barred the Air Force from enforcing its beard ban against an Orthodox Jewish chaplain, his suit added.

A spokesman for the Army did not immediately return a telephone call for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) wrote Army Secretary John McHugh about Stern's case, the suit said, and were told that current Army grooming standards do not allow beards.



Another Hasidic man beaten in hate crime - Two teens arrested 

Police arrested two teenage suspects for beating up a Hasidic man on Monday night — and charged them for a similar bias attack against a Yeshiva teacher on the same South Williamsburg street a week ago.

The two juvenile offenders were caught near Harrison Avenue and Walton Street after allegedly punching 45-year-old Moshe Guttman in the face in an echo of the earlier crime.

Two Shomrim patrol officers, Hershy Deutsch and Max Masri, were being hailed as heroes this week for chasing the perps to Varet Street and holding them until officers from the 90th Precinct took the suspects into custody at 11:30 pm.

Cops said that the 14- and 15-year-old suspects confessed to the crime of beating Guttman, who had been visiting Williamsburg for a family Hanukkah party.

The assault occurred less than a block away from where three thugs brutally beat Yeshiva teacher Joel Weinberger, 26, only 10 days ago. In that case, witnesses heard one of the assailants shouting an anti-Semitic slur before the gang beat the teacher, causing severe internal bleeding and a broken jaw, which required extensive reconstruction surgery on his face. He is currently recuperating from his wounds at home with his family.

Community leaders believe the perps singled out Weinberger and the new victim because they were Jewish.
Brooklyn Bridge Realty

“Hasidic Jews and women are easy targets,” said community activist Isaac Abraham. “I just hope these criminals will be charged as adults in both state and federal court for bias.”



Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The People's Court - Wigging out on a customer 



Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brookyln) has learned that the DOT removed approximately a dozen parking spaces on Fort Hamilton Parkway to accommodate FDNY rigs. The parking changes went into effect yesterday.

In an e-mail sent to Assemblyman Hikind, DOT officials wrote, “This email is too [sic] inform you about parking regulations changes occurring on Fort Hamilton Parkway between 47th Street and New Utrecht Avenue. In order to facilitate turns for FDNY rigs we will be taking away parking and establishing No Standing fire zone signs at the intersections/corners of 45th through 47th Street where the traffic islands are located.”

“Instead of admitting that installing these islands was a mistake and addressing the issue, the DOT has further compounded the problem by removing vital parking spaces,” Hikind said. “This does not address the larger issue, which is that these islands pose a safety hazard.” Hikind also noted that this change will undoubtedly hurt small businesses along Fort Hamilton Parkway which are already struggling in this difficult economy.

In visiting the site again this morning, Hikind observed that vehicles, including delivery trucks, are now parking in the FDNY-designated spots because they have no other recourse. Sanitation drivers still could not navigate their trucks in the overly-congested area, and some motorists had even double parked their cars.

“This situation has gone from bad to worse,” Hikind remarked. “This is not an acceptable solution to the danger posed by the pedestrian islands. In fact, this new plan only serves to highlight the sheer incompetence of the DOT.”

Hikind added he intends to continue fighting the DOT until all of the islands along Fort Hamilton Parkway are removed.


Monday, December 06, 2010

Woman who asked for cremation in will is backed by judge after relative said she must be buried 

A no-nonsense judge ended a three-month tug of war over the body of a 105-year woman yesterday - saying the woman's wish to be cremated must be honored.

Ethel Baar's body has been on ice in a Gramercy funeral home since shortly after she died.

In her will, Baar said she wanted her ashes spread in Israel. Her religious grand-nephew, James Pollock, sought a traditional Jewish burial - and the funeral home asked a judge to intervene.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jane Solomon put an end to the battle after reading from the will, in which Baar wrote, "I desire that my body be cremated."

"That, my friends, is all it is," Solomon declared. "If I were a cadaver, I would want my situation resolved sooner rather than later."

She refused to hear testimony about Baar's supposed change of heart, calling it hearsay that cannot trump the signed document.

Ellen Gordon, the daughter of Baar's best friend, hoped to testify that Baar ultimately agreed to be buried.

Baar's other relatives said they don't believe she wanted a burial.

"From anything I know about her, she had no interest in Orthodoxy at all," said her cousin William Wolf. "She was a woman of very strong will and no one could change her mind."

Baar, who died Sept. 11 at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, will be cremated and, following her request, her ashes scattered in Israel, where Pollock lives.

"He can be there when the ashes are dispersed," the judge said.



Sunday, December 05, 2010

Candlelight - The Maccabeats - Hanukkah 


Professional dreidel spinning 

Speaking of dreidels, it appears that dreidel spin offs are becoming quite the competitive event. (I’m not comfortable calling it a “sport”—I mean, it isn’t poker.) Three years ago, a Sacramento synagogue started the World Series of Dreidel.

Now there’s Major League Dreidel. The story from RNS:

This year’s tournament will be held Dec. 9 at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, one day after Hanukkah has ended. The Jewish Festival of Lights began on Wednesday evening.

“We want to extend the dreidel season,” said Eric Pavony, the league’s founder. “We are behind the idea that spinning the dreidel can happen at any point throughout the year.”

Pavony started the Major League Dreidel—or MLD—series four years ago. It has grown from an informal family gathering into a cult phenomenon with a global fan base. Pavony said it all started late one Hanukkah night after his family’s annual dinner party.

He explains, “I’m sitting there and I looked at a dreidel and it looks at me as if to say, `Spin me.’ I started playing around with different ways to hold it, different ways to spin it and I noticed that my spins were getting better. I challenged my dad and some folks at the table to a spin-off. We broke out the timer and before we knew it, people were chanting and fist-pumping.”

A year later, Pavony organized a marathon dreidel night with 32 participants at an East Village bar. Social networking and the Internet has enabled the league to grow exponentially over the past three Hanukkahs. ...
Dreaming up a clever name is half the dreidel battle, according to Pavony. He calls himself “Knishioner.”

Other competitors include the Spintuation (meh) and Jewbacca (solid). I think I’d be the Bladel, right Jay?



Saturday, December 04, 2010

NY rabbi, sons accused of sexually abusing girls 

A Hasidic rabbi and three of his sons are suspected of sexually abusing at least four female relatives after the eldest victim confided in a co-worker at a Jewish school, police said Friday.

The 58-year-old father and his 21-year-old son fled to Israel two days ago and are wanted for questioning in the case, police said. They were apparently driven to the airport by the mother.

Two other sons, a 24-year-old and a 15-year-old, were arrested on sexual abuse and rape charges. It was unclear whether they had attorneys, and a message left at the home wasn't immediately returned.

The suspects' names are being withheld by The Associated Press to avoid identification of victims.

Police say the abuse came to light after the oldest victim, now 20, who worked as a teacher's aide at a yeshiva in Brooklyn, told a teacher there she had been abused. Authorities believe she was assaulted by her father repeatedly for 15 years. The other victims range in age from 8 to 19, and investigators believe the abuse was also repeated.

Police say the father is suspected of abusing at least two of his daughters. The brothers were accused of rape and other crimes for abusing their sisters. The youngest suspect was accused of sexually assaulting the 8-year-old.

Hasidism, a form of mystical ultra-Orthodox Judaism, traces its roots to 18th-century Eastern Europe. Followers live in tight-knit communities nearly closed off to modern society and wear traditional dress — for men, dark clothing that includes a long coat and a fedora-type hat. Men often have long beards and ear locks.

Most of the 165,000 members in the New York City the area live in neighborhoods in Brooklyn neighborhoods are part of three different major sects.

Isaac Abraham, an activist in the Hasidic community who often speaks publicly for the different sects, said the family was not known in the community and he couldn't comment.

The family lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Midwood in a two-story frame house and the father and mother, who are first cousins, had 14 children, police said. All but two live in the home.

The 24-year-old suspect was married and lived elsewhere, as did the oldest child. There are seven girls and seven boys in the family.

New York Police Department chief department spokesman Paul Browne said the investigation was ongoing and it's possible there could be additional victims. The father and son, who is legally blind, left for Israel from Kennedy International Airport on Nov. 29, Browne said. An NYPD detective assigned as a liaison in Jerusalem will assist officers there in the search, Browne said.

The father was a teacher at a yeshiva until about three months ago, when he resigned for unknown reasons. There was no answer at the school Friday; police would not say if it was the same school where the oldest victim worked.

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, whose districts include many of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, discussed sexual abuse among members of the insular world of ultra-Orthodox Jews on a radio show in 2008, prompting dozens of listeners to come forward with stories of abuse. Critics have said sex abuse claims are sometimes handled quietly in Orthodox rabbinical courts, rather than being reported to authorities.

As a result, the state earmarked about $1 million to fund Hikind's plans to teach Hasidic Jews to speak up against child molestation. Prosecutors, counselors and religious leaders in Brooklyn banded together last year to form a program to combat sexual abuse in the community. A hot line was established where victims can call and speak with a "culturally sensitive" social worker.



Friday, December 03, 2010

Eruv Proposal Sends Villages Scrambling for Legal Advice 

A proposal by the East End Eruv Association to create an Eruv boundary around parts of Southampton, Quogue and Westhampton Beach has forced local municipalities to seek legal aid.

The Village of Westhampton Beach has scheduled a meeting with its lawyers this week to discuss the proposal that has many local up in arms.

"We have contacted our attorney to ensure that our rights are protected," said Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller.

Teller said that while there has been no formal proposal for an Eruv filed with the village, he set up the meeting after learning last month that the East End Eruv Association gained approval from the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon to use their poles for a thin wire boundary that would create a symbolic Eruv for practicing Orthodox Jews.

The Eruv, according to the Jewish Orthodox religion, allows Torah-observant Jews to carry their keys and push strollers on the Sabbath.

"From my understanding, they need to have government approval for this proposal," said Teller.

This is not the first time Teller has seen a proposal like this.

A similar proposal was put forth by Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hampton Synagogue in 2008, but was pulled after the application quickly became a sore point in the community, inciting an outpouring of outrage.

It is unclear if Rabbi Schneier is part of the latest effort. A woman answering the phone at his synagogue, said it is unlikely he will comment on the situation.

Schneier did not return phone calls as of press time.

However, Arnold Scheiffer, who runs heads up the Jewish People Opposed to Eruv organization, says he believes the Hampton Synagogue is behind the latest Eruv plan.

"This Eruv is for the benefit of the very few. It is an attempt by the synagogue to raise their revenues. It is for their own personal gain," said Scheiffer,

Scheiffer, a Jew, who has lived in Quogue for 34 years and Westhampton Beach for 17 years, said the Eruv will attract Orthodox Jews to the area just as a similar Eruv did in Lawrence, NY.

"Lawrence was once a vibrant community. Now, it is mostly orthodox. Schools have shut down and property values were destroyed," said Scheiffer.

Scheiffer says he has been fighting the idea of an Eruv for years and said he will continue to do so.



Thursday, December 02, 2010

A pair of Muslims praying on the job 


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Update on Ft. Hamilton Pedestrian Islands Issue 

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) met today with New York City Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner David Wallach about the recent installation of pedestrian islands along Fort Hamilton Parkway. The meeting took place at the contested site, where Hikind was able to demonstrate to the Deputy Commissioner the extreme dangers the islands pose to first responders, firefighters and sanitation workers, as well as the frustration of business owners and motorists.

Since the installation of the islands, firefighters have reported that their response time has been slowed, while the ability of ambulance companies to swiftly reach Maimonides Medical Center has also been negatively impacted. At the Community Board 12 meeting last week, Hikind relayed an incident where a patient in cardiac arrest, who was being transported to Maimonides, died en route to the hospital after traffic was snarled because of the pedestrian islands.

“Did DOT consult with the people who live and work in this community before installing these islands?” Hikind asked Mr. Wallach. “Did you take into consideration that Maimonides is one of the busiest hospitals in New York City, with dozens of ambulance companies shuttling patients to the emergency room, where every second counts?” Hikind also asked Deputy Commissioner Wallach what criteria the DOT used in selecting the four blocks along Fort Hamilton Parkway where the pedestrian islands were installed.

Of the ongoing battle to remove the islands, Hikind said, “The fight is not over. But at least now, the DOT is listening to our concerns. If the community is as determined as I am to fight this, then with God’s help, we will be successful in getting these islands removed.”

Deputy Commissioner Wallach promised to convey Hikind’s questions and remarks to his superiors and report back to the Assemblyman. The DOT has previously defended the installation of the islands, claiming they were necessary to improve senior safety.


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