Monday, January 31, 2011


The Department of Agriculture and Markets, which oversees New York State’s Kosher Law Enforcement Unit, recently announced a plan to train 85 food safety inspectors for kosher inspection. However, funding to staff the enforcement unit, which was cut by former Governor Patterson has yet to be restored. Several lawmakers, Jewish leaders and kosher businesses are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to fund the unit maintaining that the inspectors are necessary to prevent fraud and ensure that stores and restaurants honestly disclose their kosher certification. The Department maintains an on-line registry of food products represented as kosher.



Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rabbi who caused Helen Thomas’ downfall named editor 

Rabbi David Nesenoff, whose impromptu interview with journalist Helen Thomas led to her resignation, has been named the publisher and editor of The Jewish Star.

The newspaper, based on Long Island in suburban New York, made the announcement late last week on behalf of its owners, Clifford and Stuart Richner.

Nesenoff is an independent filmmaker and runs a blog called RabbiLive.com.

On May 27, on the sidelines of the first Jewish American Heritage Month event at the White House, Nesenoff asked Thomas if she had "any comments on Israel."

"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she said.

Nesenoff then asked Thomas where the Jews should go.

"Go home," Thomas said. Asked to elaborate, she said, "Poland, Germany and America, and everywhere else."

The following month Nesenoff posted the exchange on his blog. The public outcry let to Thomas' resignation from her job as a columnist for the Hearst Corp.

Nesenoff has spoken and written about the incident and present-day anti-Semitism, according to the paper.

“When it comes to Jewish news, local is global,” Nesenoff said in an article in The Jewish Star announcing his appointment. “And when it comes to Israel news, global affects us locally.”



Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dissident leader in KJ cleared of harassment 

A Town of Monroe jury has cleared Kiryas Joel dissident leader Joseph Waldman of a harassment charge stemming from a run-in with the head of the village’s public safety force in August 2009.

Kiryas Joel Director of Public Safety Moses Witriol had charged Waldman with harassment and obstruction of governmental administration, accusing Waldman of “putting his arm around my neck while I was attempting to stop a vehicle from hitting my public safety officers.” Monroe Justice Maria Vazquez-Doles dismissed the obstruction charge, and a jury found Waldman not guilty of harassment after a trial in Town Court last week.



Friday, January 28, 2011

Petitions fight Bethel sewer OK for Hasidic group 

A Satmar Hasidic group that went to war with town officials in 2009 and organized bloc votes against certain town officials is again at the center of a storm in Bethel.

Residents and two Town Board members are trying to stop the group from getting sewer services for future residential buildings off Route 17B on Schultz Road.

The colony is affiliated with the United Talmudical Academy, which had a highly publicized standoff with town officials in the summer of 2009 over the rapid construction of a synagogue and later started a petition drive targeting Town Board members. On Dec. 8, the Town Board voted by majority to extend the boundaries of the Kauneonga Lake Sewer District, prompting residents to gather petitions to force a permissive referendum on the extension.

Bethel Supervisor Daniel Sturm said the board had no good reason to deny the extension.

"Our attorney said if you turn it down without a good reason, you could get sued and lose," Sturm said. "So we have an obligation to avoid lawsuits and protect the taxpayers, especially if is the right thing to do."

The applicant, Kollel Averichim Torah Veyirah, has asked for an extension across Schultz Road. Sturm said group members plan to tear down some old bungalows and build a couple of multifamily buildings on a 5-acre parcel near the synagogue.

The group hasn't presented a project to the Planning Board. This sewer boundary extension was a preliminary step.

The group's attorney, Jay Zeiger, wouldn't speculate on why this issue has caused such a stir.

"You will need to speak to them," Zeiger said.

Roughly 90 residents of the district signed the petition, which was filed with the town this month. Kollel has challenged the legitimacy of the petition in state Supreme Court. The matter is tied up in court.

Board members Denise Frangipane and Robert Blais voted against the boundary extension. Frangipane wrote in an e-mail that she voted "no" over the issue of growth.

"As I stated at the meeting, the sewer upgrades and extension were done with the goal of providing infrastructure along Route 17B to attract commercial business and economic development to the town," she said. "By granting the extension, I believe that the Town is setting a precedent for future extensions and increased density which was not the intent of the investment that we made in the sewer district."



Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dad says ex-wife too religiously extreme for son 

A woman who is now married to a Hasidic Jew accuses her ex-husband of not following their custody agreement to support her religion.

Elina Margolina and Nelson Debrigny both say they want what's best for their school age son. The two got together in 1995 when Margolina was a stripper at a nightclub Debrigny managed. Both said they got out of the adult entertainment business years ago.

Margolina accuses her ex-husband of not following their 2007 child custody agreement, in which she is to lead the religious directives. Debrigny said he's fine with reasonably accommodating his son's Jewish upbringing, but thinks his ex-wife is now too religiously extreme.

Judge John Carr is hearing the case. Neither Margolina nor her lawyer David Grund would speak to the media about the case. Her ex-husband is represented by Joel Brodsky.

"I am trying to teach him that he can be Jewish but it doesn't have to limit him in his exposure to other outside pursuits," said Derbigny. "You know you can be Jewish and not have to wear it on your sleeve every day."

Testimony over the past two days has centered on a psychologist's report paid for by Margolina that says the child's best interests are served by growing up in a strict Jewish setting. She is now remarried to a Hasidic Jew and accuses Debrigny of undermining their religious beliefs.

"I was never told I couldn't feed him bacon. There's no restriction on what I can feed him," said Debrigny.

Thursday's court hearing on shared custody was about who is the better decision-making parent.

"She is absolutely entitled to her beliefs, but her religious beliefs almost require her to marginalize dad. And we are going to show that to the court," said Brodsky.

This family law expert, says visitation, custody and childcare issues are always modifiable -- but

"He signed up for raising the child in the Jewish tradition and part of the Jewish tradition is to follow certain standards. So I am not sure he can go as far as saying he is going to change it," said Corri Fetman, family law attorney.



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

An Israeli Mobile Phone Provider's Hasidic Blues 

An Israeli mobile phone provider is in trouble over an aborted ad campaign aimed at Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Cellcom, the country's most popular mobile carrier, received a rare order from the Israeli Communications Ministry to stop a marketing campaign targeted at haredi (ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic) Jews. The laws of the Middle Eastern country grant the Communications Ministry wide latitude to intervene in the business practices of mobile phone providers.

The trouble comes from a price war between Cellcom and Mirs, a smaller mobile carrier with extensive ties to the haredi community. Mirs has become popular among Israel's haredi Jews thanks to their aggressive marketing of kosher phones--inexpensive handsets that are crippled in order to disable their text messaging, voice mail, gaming and application functionality.

While most kosher phones are blocked from accessing the internet entirely, several high-end models permit access to a handful of websites approved by influential haredi rabbis.

In a legal development that would be unlikely to arise in the United States, Mirs filed a cease and desist order against a Cellcom marketing campaign targeting haredi Jews. Surprisingly, the Communications Ministry acted on their behalf and forced Cellcom to end their haredi marketing campaign.

Mirs alleges that Cellcom's intentional poaching of their customers violated Israeli law. According to Gad Perez of the Israeli business daily Globes, “the ministry based its decision on the grounds that if Cellcom had targeted the haredi community as a whole, it would not have intervened, but the direct targeting of Mirs' customers violated the terms of Cellcom's license.” According to a letter sent by Mirs to the Communications Ministry, Cellcom's pricing plans were “predatory.”

Cellcom was offering a highly-discounted package to haredi customers which included 2,000 minutes of airtime a month for US$10, a handset rebate and compensation for any costs incurred by changing carriers.

Israel has approximately 730,000 haredi Jews. Haredi clergy have largely frowned upon the use of mobile phones while accepting them as a necessary evil. One influential rabbi, Ovadiah Yosef of the theocratic-leaning Shas parry, formulated a missive urging yeshiva students to avoid purchasing smartphones:

We heard of small, new devices that let you watch movies and surf the internet, heaven forbid, and reach all sorts of foul places--in one instant a man can stumble and fall, heaven forbid, to the bottom of the pit […] Therefore […] we urge [you] to keep as far away from these dangerous devices as possible, keep restraint and beware.

Other statements made by the sometimes controversial Rabbi Yosef have targeted women, homosexuals, atheists, liberals, Arabs, and Jews of Eastern European descent.

Mirs specifically targeted the haredi community with a series of pricing plans that catered toward members' lifestyles with low monthly subscription fees, cheap extra handsets and free minutes monthly for all family members. Haredi Jews, following the Biblical injunction to “be fruitful and multiply,” traditionally have had large families. A large portion of the Haredi community lives on public assistance, which has also assisted Mirs in market penetration through low-cost, no-frills plans.

Micromarketing of custom-tailored mobile phone plans to specific demographics is common practice in Israel among all mobile providers. These include special phone plans tailored toward soldiers, Arabs and Israelis working in foreign countries.

Cellcom did not incur any fines or penalties due to the Communications Ministry's ruling.



Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Plant operations suspended TUBROVILLE KOSHER WORKS: State says New Bremen facility guilty of numerous sanitary-code violations 

he state Department of Agriculture and Markets has temporarily shut down operations at a kosher plant here and may revoke its license after discovering a litany of sanitary-code violations.

The milk plant permit of FJB LLC, which operates here as Tubroville, was suspended Friday, and a hearing has been scheduled for Monday to consider revoking that permit, according to Ag and Markets spokeswoman Jessica C. Ziehm.

"They are to suspend all operations, at this point," she said.

All finished products at the 7705 Route 812 plant in the town of New Bremen were seized by officials from the state agency, although the company was allowed to sell raw milk to another processor, Mrs. Ziehm said.

Sanitary-inspection reports from nine days in December and earlier this month indicated the plant was in violation because products were unfit for food and "produced, packed or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth or rendered diseased, unwholesome or injurious to health," according to a four-page order of summary suspension of the plant permit.

The state agency on Jan. 10 also found homogenized, skim and chocolate milk that "contained excessive standard plate counts of bacteria and excessive amounts of coliform bacteria," the document alleges.

The order states that a dairy products specialist with the agency seized the following unsanitary products:

■ Dec. 27: 14,901 pounds of packaged milk and 23,283 pounds of bulk processed milk that had been handled in unclean equipment prior to pasteurization, along with 1,008 pounds of raw heavy cream that had been held at 56 degrees Fahrenheit, which is above the legal maximum temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

■ Dec. 29: 1,720 pounds of heavy cream that had been held at 49 degrees Fahrenheit.

■ Jan. 14: 3,800 pounds of cottage cheese that contained an "unfit ingredient" and was being held at 60 degrees Fahrenheit for the lowfat portion and 50 degrees Fahrenheit for the regular portion.

Mrs. Ziehm said Monday that she was unable to provide further paperwork documenting all alleged violations to be presented at the hearing, but she indicated some date as far back as July.

Menachem and Schneur Bistritzky, owners of FJB, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The Bistritzkys in February 2009 purchased the assets of Ahava Entities, including the New Bremen facility and a kosher plant in Ogdensburg, through two financial institutions that had liens on Ahava through Chapter 7 bankruptcy of that company's owner, Moise A. Banayan.

However, Ahava of California, operated by Mr. Banayan and his brother, Fariborz, but not included in Ahava Entities, continued to occupy the New Bremen plant through a lease agreement with Lewis County Dairy, the name under which the plant had previously operated.

A state Supreme Court judge in August 2009 granted FJB a preliminary injunction allowing it to operate the facility, but two court cases between the corporations are pending.

The plant had employed about 50 people, but that figure has reportedly dropped significantly during the past year.

The state Department of Labor on a couple of occasions last fall investigated bounced checks to employees at both kosher plants and levied a $2,000 civil penalty in September.

The Ogdensburg plant, which operates as Tubroburg, a couple of weeks ago had operations halted after National Grid cut off its electricity Tuesday because of unpaid bills. The owners had planned to bring in backup generators to resume operations, but on Monday afternoon, the Main Street plant's parking lot was empty and its front door was locked.

A sign that was posted just inside the front door informed employees of a new policy, effective Wednesday: "Visitors are not permitted on the premises without first signing in."

Several milk producers have reportedly stopped doing business with the plant, and it is involved in a protracted court battle over what the city deems to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid rent, tax and utility bills.



Monday, January 24, 2011

Black female rabbi, congregation parting 

Less than two years after she arrived in Greenville as the world's first black female rabbi, Rabbi Alysa Stanton is moving on.

Stanton was the center of international media attention when a small Jewish congregation picked her as its leader in 2009. But the board of Congregation Bayt Shalom recently voted not to renew her two-year contract.

This spring, the Pitt County synagogue plans to conduct a search for a rabbi.

"We went through an exhaustive consideration, and it would be inappropriate to discuss the details," said Samantha Pilot, president of the congregation, which is affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative branches of American Judaism.

Pilot added, "She wasn't a good fit for the congregation."

Stanton, whose contract expires July 31, said she was "humbled and blessed" to have served the congregation and may stay in North Carolina.

"Greenville is my home," she said in a written statement. "At this point and time in my life, my desire is to remain here as long as I can to serve the community as a spiritual leader."

Stanton did not specify what she would do, but one of her strengths has been interfaith relations and community outreach. She is also a licensed psychotherapist.

As the first black female rabbi, Stanton, 47, drew intense media interest when she graduated from Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009. Her acceptance of the job in Greenville was offered as proof that the South had moved beyond its racist past in calling a black woman to lead a predominantly white congregation.

Members of Bayt Shalom said race was never discussed when Stanton interviewed for the job.

"It was a non-issue," said Michael Barondes, past president of the synagogue.

Stanton was born into a Pentecostal family in a mostly Jewish suburb of Cleveland. She began her own spiritual quest at age 9, trying various Christian denominations and exploring some Eastern religions.

At 11, her family moved to Colorado, where Stanton continued her spiritual quest and later earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master's of education in counseling and multiculturalism from Colorado State University.

She converted to Judaism in 1987 and gradually grew more involved with her newfound faith as a chaplain, cantor and Sunday school teacher. Ultimately, she returned to Ohio to attend seminary.

Upon arriving in Greenville in late 2009, Stanton was deluged with requests to speak at area synagogues, churches and universities. In May, she accepted an invitation from President Barack Obama to recite a poem at the first Jewish-American reception held at the White House.

The Greenville congregation, which has about 50 families, reached its decision in late October, but made it public this month.

"Rabbi Stanton brought a lot of gifts," Pilot said. "I wish her well as she continues her journey."



Sunday, January 23, 2011

Councilman opposes moving meetings for religious holidays 

Government meetings are being shuffled around to accommodate religious holidays, prompting at least one elected official to question if a change in policy might be warranted.

“I mean no disrespect to anybody or any religion,” Beverly Hills Councilman John Mooney said. “My position has always been that only national holidays should cause a cancellation in any type of business being done by this government.”

His fellow council members disagreed, voting 5-2 Tuesday to reschedule two village meeting dates in 2011 to accommodate the Jewish holidays of Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

“You don't want to intermingle religion with government, but my perception is that Beverly Hills has a significant population of Jewish residents,” Councilman Todd Stearn said. “For them not to be able to participate in the council meetings on Rosh Hashanah particularly, I think is a disservice to the residents.”

Councilman Doug Prew also voted against the motion, for the same reason as Mooney.

Birmingham officials went through a similar exercise last year when one of their meeting dates fell on the first night of Passover. Since then, the city opted to follow a meeting schedule that manages to avoid 24 religious holidays.

Christmas is one of 10 national holidays set by law.



Ban Ki-Moon Wears Kippah for a Day, Honors Holocaust Victims 

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wore a kippah in a New York synagogue Saturday to honor Holocaust victims and survivors, one day after he reiterated sharp criticism of a Jewish presence in United Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.

Moon is a “mensch,” Yiddish for a good man, said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, leader of the high-profile Park East Synagogue and also a survivor of the Nazi regime.

Rabbi Schneier, who has been termed one of the leading rabbis in the United States, told his congregants in Moon’s presence that the United Nations official is a believer in "compassionate diplomacy, diplomacy from the heart."

Ban stated in the synagogue that the Holocaust was "the darkest chapter in history…. We can never tolerate anybody who denies the Holocaust."

Speaking two weeks before International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, Rabbi Schneier commented, "I never thought I would see the day when I would see the German and Russian ambassadors sit next to each other here.” Rabbi Schneier fled from Austria to Budapest in 1938, where he survived in the ghetto.

A graduate of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Schneier is the founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. He has served as the spiritual leader of Park East since 1962, is the alternative representative for the United States in the U.N. General Assembly and has headed dozens of interfaith missions.

Two years ago, he hosted Pope Benedict XVI at the synagogue.



Saturday, January 22, 2011

Williamsburg: Far From Secret, Still a Success 

With its thriving art and music scene, Williamsburg is now regarded as a hub of all things hip. But two decades ago, it was a largely working-class stronghold bordered by the East River.

Then as now, there were large communities of Hasidic Jews and Latinos, as well as Poles, Italians and African-Americans. Today, Williamsburg also attracts a diverse mix of young singles and older professionals, drawn by the area's vibrant nightclubs, galleries, handmade-crafts boutiques and a collection of ethnic and upscale eateries near the L train stops.

Williamsburg's transformation dates back to the 1990s, when young artists and hipsters flooded into the area, drawn by its easy access to Manhattan and relatively low rents.

Since a 2005 rezoning, several luxury condominium towers have sprouted along the East River waterfront. As the waterfront towers fill, the immediate area is starting to attract more amenities, which have traditionally clustered around the L subway stations at Bedford Avenue, Lorimer Street, Graham Avenue and Grand Street. One of these new businesses is indieScreen, a movie theater that recently opened on Kent Avenue at South Second Street.

"There's a lot more foot traffic and a lot more activity," says David Von Spreckelsen, division president of Toll Brothers City Living, which developed two of the new waterfront towers, One and Two Northside Piers.

One Northside Piers, which opened in 2008, is now sold out; its sister project has so far sold about 130 of its 270 units, Mr. Von Spreckelsen says. The high-end buildings feature Manhattan views, a fitness center, heated pool and hot tub, children's playrooms and an outdoor deck.

Units in Two Northside Piers, which range from $399,990 for a studio to $2.3 million for a three-bedroom, are selling at discounts of 10% or less from their asking prices, Mr. Von Spreckelsen says, an improvement from some sales at the first tower that were more deeply discounted.

According to StreetEasy.com, the median sales price for houses, co-ops and condos in Williamsburg has risen 2.4% over the past three years, from $562,907 in the fourth quarter of 2007, to $576,329 in the most recent fourth quarter. By comparison, median prices rose nearly 30% in neighboring Greenpoint, and dropped 14% in the city overall over the same period.

Smaller developments are scattered throughout the neighborhood, previously comprised largely of low-rise buildings and wood-frame houses.

Among these new buildings is the Bedford, which includes nine one-bedroom and studio apartments with a shared roof deck a block from the Bedford Avenue L station. Asking prices start around $319,000 for a studio and $490,000 for a one-bedroom, according to StreetEasy.

Parks: McCarren Park, on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, is a 35-acre expanse which includes baseball fields, playgrounds and tennis courts. Within the park, the city has completed about a third of a $50 million renovation of McCarren Pool. The Depression-era pool closed in 1984, though it had a second incarnation from 2005 to 2008 as a concert venue. The city expects the refurbished pool, recreation center and bathhouse to open next spring.

Plans for 28 acres of waterfront parkland were included in the 2005 rezoning, though most of that is still in the planning stages. The East River State Park, a seven-acre park along the waterfront, opened in 2007.



Friday, January 21, 2011

Talmud to be translated into Italian 

The Talmud will be translated for the first time into Italian thanks to an official collaboration between the Italian government and the Italian Jewish community.

A protocol launching "Project Talmud" was signed Friday in Rome by cabinet ministers, the president of Italy's National Research Council, the president of the umbrella Union of Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) and Rome's chief rabbi.

The project foresees the translation of the original Aramaic version of the Babylonian Talmud, with commentaries, as well as an introductory volume about the structure, contents and language of the Talmud.

UCEI president Renzo Gattegna said the initiative demonstrated how "the cultural collaboration between state institutions and the reality of Italian Judaism has assumed new awareness and meaningful commitment."



Thursday, January 20, 2011

Verizon Sues 3 Towns on Behalf of Jews 

Verizon sued three Long Island towns on behalf of observant Jews. The villages prohibit the phone company from posting "lechis" on utility poles - little strips that create an "eruv," or zone where Orthodox Jews can carry objects or push baby carriages or wheelchairs to synagogue on the Sabbath and on Yom Kippur.
Verizon New York and co-plaintiff Long Island Lighting Co. say the towns must allow Orthodox Jews to tie the lechis to utility poles, to comply with religious observances,.
The defendants in the federal complaint are the Village of Westhampton Beach, the Village of Quogue and the Town of Southampton.
(The Long Island Lighting Company also does business under the name LIPA.)
"Lechis are wooden or plastic strips that do not interfere with the use or operation of utility poles; they have been installed in many locations throughout the country, including on Long Island, and they raise no health or safety concerns," the complaint states.
Verizon and LIPA say they "are not aware of any aesthetic, safety, traffic, fiscal, or other problem that that would be caused by the attachment of lechis to utility poles in Westhampton Beach, Quogue, and Southampton, and are not aware of any compelling governmental interest sufficient to restrict the attachment of such lechis."
So they authorized written agreements with the East End Eruv Association granting permission to place the eruvs, according to the complaint.
"Representatives of defendants have stated publicly that they will not permit the Eruv to be established, that the installation of lechis would violate various local laws, and have threatened to impose fines and/or to take other legal action against Verizon New York and LIPA if they permit the installation of lechis," the complaint states.
The East End Eruv Association claims the towns' threats violate the First Amendment.
The plaintiffs say the issue has sparked "intense local debate and opposition," leading to the formation of groups such as Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv and the Alliance for Separation of Church and State in the Greater Westhampton Area.
Other opponents "expressed a desire to avoid an influx of Orthodox Jewish people into the affected area, including citing fears that the Eruv will lead to the creation of an Orthodox Jewish enclave, that property values will decline, or that the 'character' of the communities will be disturbed," the complaint states.
The utility companies say they are not taking a side on the controversy.
"Defendants' threats and actions have created a situation in which the obligations and rights of Verizon New York and LIPA are uncertain and the resolution of which turns, in part, on significant questions of federal constitutional and statutory law. ... No matter which party or parties are right, Verizon New York and LIPA require clarification of the applicability and enforceability of the cited local laws and of Verizon New York's and LIP A's associated rights and obligations," the complaint states.
The companies say the towns cannot enforce the regulations barring the creation of eruvs until the courts address the matter. "That controversy is ripe and appropriate for resolution by this Court," the complaint states.
Verizon and LIPA ask that the towns be barred from enforcing laws restricting the construction of eruvs, unless the court specifically allows the regulations.
Verizon and LIPA are represented by Michael Wiles of Debevoise & Plimpton.



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alef Bet Learning for Kids on iPad 

At a recent Family Camp experience with twenty other young Jewish families, I noticed something that had changed from the previous year's gathering. iPads. This year, they were everywhere. You might think that it was the adults using Apple's slick tablets to read books, check email, or play Angry Birds. But it was actually the youngest of participants who were using the iPad, which could be the most expensive toy for the under 5 demographic.

App developers have realized that four-year-olds might not have her own iPad, they are using Mom and Dad's quite often. And they are creating apps for toddlers and kindergarteners with that in mind. Chicago-based Davka Corp. released Alef Bet Schoolhouse 1.0, a universal app for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad that introduces Hebrew letter basics to children ages 3 and up. Priced at $3.99 and available exclusively through the App Store, it features four activities that teach pronunciation of Hebrew letters, recognition of letter shapes, the order of the Hebrew alphabet, and the differences between letters of similar appearance.

The 'Meet the Alef Bet' section displays each Hebrew letter with a picture of a word that begins with that letter, accompanied with delightful animation and audio pronunciation of the letter and word. The 'Magical Alef Bet Game' presents a sequence of Hebrew letters that need to be placed in their proper order. The 'Unscrambulator' requires players to reassemble scrambled Hebrew letters into their correct shapes, while 'Name that Letter' places different letters of similar appearance on the screen that must be identified and distinguished from one another.

Hopefully, Davka's new app will help thousands of little preschoolers get a head start on their Hebrew literacy with the iPad. That is, if they can keep their parents from playing Angry Birds long enough to get some screen time!



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Appeals court tosses one count against rabbi who molested his daughter 

A perverted Hasidic rabbi who sexually abused his daughter throughout her adolescence could get 10 years knocked off his sentence under terms of an appeals court decision this morning.

Israel Weingarten was improperly convicted on one count involving incest that occurred during a trip from Belgium to Israel, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled.

The unanimous decree says that citizens can't be found guilty in America for crimes committed overseas unless there's a "territorial nexus to the United States."

The three-judge panel upheld other convictions covering abuse that took place during travel from Brooklyn to Belgium, and from Israel to Brooklyn.

Weingarten, a member of the Satmar sect of Hasidic Judaism, was sentenced to 30 years in the slammer for traveling across international borders in order to molest the girl, the second-oldest of his eight kids.

The now-grown woman tearfully testified against Weingarten during a 2009 Brooklyn federal court trial at which he acted as his own lawyer and angrily cross-examined her on the witness stand.

A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney's Office said prosecutors "will review the Second Circuit's decision and consider our options."



Monday, January 17, 2011


Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s (D-Brooklyn) investigation into postal fraud involving stolen checks from synagogue mailboxes intended for donations and membership dues has attracted the attention of the FBI. A total of thirty synagogues and nonprofits in Brooklyn; Queens; Staten Island; Long Island; Rockland County; Teaneck and Deal, New Jersey; and even Southfield, Michigan have all reported check thefts ranging in amounts from a mere $20 to as much as $18,000.

“I have no doubt that even more synagogues and institutions have been victimized, but have yet to come forward,” Hikind said. “We are likely dealing with the theft of millions of dollars.”

As the probe continues to widen, Assemblyman Hikind has been in regular contact with FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Division Janice Fedarcyk, as well as Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office Diego Rodriguez. More than 15 representatives from area synagogues will join Hikind at a press conference today to share their experiences and alert the public.

To date, eleven check-cashing businesses and banks have been identified in the investigation: KR USA; WorldPay Processing Services; SMU Charity Collections; GFX; Change Net; Enterprise Bank & Trust of Missouri; Centennial Bank of Florida; Huntington National Bank of Ohio; Bank HaPoalim in Israel, and Bethex Credit Union and M & T Bank, both of New York.

Hikind will have a sampling of the stolen checks available for review at the press conference.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vandals strike at four synagogues, Jewish school 

Vandals struck at four synagogues and a Jewish school in Cote St. Luc and Hampstead very early Sunday morning, hurling rocks through windows of the buildings.

The synagogues struck were Dorshei Emet, Tifereth Beth David Jerusalem, Beth Rambam and Beth Zion, while the Yavne Academy in Cote St. Luc was also vandalized, Rabbi Reuben Poupko said.

Poupko, chairman of the Jewish Community Security Coordinating Committee, believes the vandals attacked very late at night, likely around 2 a.m.

"These are cowards who act under the cover of darkness, who fling rocks in the middle of the night, and they will not determine how the Jewish community behaves or gathers for prayer or for study," Poupko said. "We will continue to use our institutions despite these continued assaults on our buildings."

Police have been alerted to the incident, and say there is surveillance video available to assist with the investigation.

Just two months ago, another synagogue in Laval suffered extensive damage after it, too, was targeted by vandals who placed a garden hose into a pipe that leads into the building's oil tank and left it to flood overnight.

About 2,300 litres of oil spilled onto the back lawn, causing contamination and other damage to the Young Israel of Chomedey synagogue.

The cost of the damage ran up to $100,000, but within weeks the synagogue received about $30,000 in donations to help with the repairs.

In another troubling incident last March, a synagogue in Outremont was defaced with swastikas.

Vandals broke into the Congregation Ahavat Israel at the corner of Van Horne Ave. and Durocher St. overnight and threw religious symbols such as prayer shawls to the ground and drew swastikas on the pulpit.



Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jewish Mother Responds to "Chinese Mothers Are Superior" Controversy 

Controversy over the Wall Street Journal's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" book excerpt by Yale professor and author Amy Chua heated up even further today, as a Jewish author and mother responded with a new essay in the same newspaper championing a more relaxed approach to parenting.

Titled "In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom," Ayelet Waldman's essay humorously outlines differences between what she sees as the lackadaisical approach taken by western mothers and the strict regimen Chinese mothers use on their children that Chua discusses.

The Wall Street Journal piece, which took excerpts from Chua's parenting memoir "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," ignited a heated debate across the Internet this week. Critics claimed that the book advocates abusive parenting, while others asserted that it will lead to xenophobia and feed China haters.

Aided by the controversy, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" reached the No. 6 slot in the Amazon sales rankings on Tuesday, the day it was released.

In her response to Chua's piece, Waldman, author of "The Mommy-Track Mysteries" series of novels and the wife of best-selling novelist Michael Chabon, jokingly tells of allowing her children to quit the piano and the violin to spare her from attending boring recitals while letting them sleep over at their friend's houses to save money on babysitters.

Yet her tone gets more serious when she describes how she let her daughter know her disappointment when her report card didn't have straight-As -- though this was without the "screaming, hair-tearing explosion" that Chua described in a similar situation.

"The difference between Ms. Chua and me, I suppose -- between proud Chinese mothers and ambivalent Western ones -- is that I felt guilty about having berated my daughter for failing to deliver the report card I expected," Waldman wrote. "I was ashamed at my reaction."

Waldman, 46, goes on to describe how her daughter Rosie overcame mild dyslexia and learned to read using a special intensive reading program that she was not pressured by her parents into taking, but chose to struggle through on her own.



Friday, January 14, 2011

Jewish dibbuk spirit gets Sam Raimi makeover 

A disembodied spirit out of Jewish folklore is to be the subject of a new horror film.

Spiderman director Sam Raimi is to produce “Dibbuk Box”, which will tell the story of a family cursed when they open a mysterious haunted box.

The film, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Grey’s Anatomy fame, is set to be released in time for Halloween.

Traditionally spelt with a Y, a dybbuk is said to be a malicious spirit that escapes from the soul of a deceased person and attaches itself to that of a living person in order to complete something left unfinished.

A dybbuk last appeared on screen in the opening scene of the Coen brothers’ film A Serious Man.

It also made it on to the internet in 2009, when a renowned Israeli master of kabbalah attempted to exorcise a dybbuk from a Brazilian man during a Skype session.



Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hamptons Eruv Dispute Heads to Court 

An Orthodox Jewish group trying to erect an eruv in the Hamptons filed a suit in federal court Thursday, alleging that local officials are discriminating against them and violating their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The East End Eruv Association is suing officials in the villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue, as well as Southampton town.

As The Journal reported earlier, the nonprofit wants to erect a symbolic boundary that allows Orthodox Jews to conduct certain activities otherwise prohibited during the Sabbath, such as pushing strollers or carrying objects. The boundary, known as an eruv, can be created by natural boundaries or wire or wooden markings on utility poles.

There are dozens of eruvin in Jewish communities across the region, most of which go unnoticed.

Last year Verizon and the Long Island Power Authority gave the East End Eruv Association preliminary approval to put lechis –- small wooden markings -– in a boundary that includes all of Westhampton Beach and the hamlet of Quigue, as well as parts of Quogue village and Westhampton. All of the communities are in the town of Southampton.

Quogue and Southampton officials have sent Verizon letters indicating that municipal approval is required to affix the lechis on the poles and doing so would be violating existing signage laws. The letters, the suit says, have prevented Verizon and LIPA from executing the contracts necessary to establish the eruv.

The lawsuit also claims the signage laws that some local officials say would be violated are not strictly enforced and that the lechis are not signs.

“The object, motivation, and effect of the actions of the Defendants is to suppress the religious practices of the plaintiffs and other Orthodox Jews,” the suit says. “These actions have specifically targeted Jewish citizens, as the laws that the Defendants seek to invoke to prevent the establishment of the Eruv is not enforced against citizens of other faiths.”

The suit seeks an injunction to prevent officials from interfering in the creation of an eruv, as well as damages and legal fees.

Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller said he knew nothing about the suit and had no comment. “There is no request to establish an eruv before us,” he said. Other local officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Controversy over the proposed eruv has raged in Westhampton Beach since 2008, when the issue was first presented to local officials. The proposal was abandoned because of staunch community opposition, which included the formation of a group, Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv. Opponents fear that eruv will change the character of the community and attract an influx of Orthodox Jews.

“It’s like social engineering,” said Arnold Sheiffer, founder of the opposition group. “We [the Jewish people] fought like hell to get out of the ghetto and now they want to create that again. The opposition in the village here is very, very high.”



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jewish leaders reach out to public school kids in effort to deter hate crimes 

Jewish leaders Tuesday began talking to Williamsburg public school students after a rash of hate crimes in the neighborhood targeting Hasidic residents.

Hasidic and Hispanic residents have lived side by side in the neighborhood for years - but rarely talk to each other or understand much about each others' worlds.

For the students at Intermediate School 318, what they heard about how their neighbors lived surprised them.

"In our community many families don't have television or radio," said United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg Rabbi David Niederman as the students gasped in disbelief. "We don't go to movies but our children are happy just like you even though we are dressed very differently."

Niederman also said the two groups had more in common than either might believe: "We all want to feed our children. We all breathe the same air."

A panel of rabbis and activists led by Borough President Marty Markowitz kicked off the program yesterday with the first of several visits to Williamsburg schools.

Five speakers, including Niederman, explained elements of Hasidic culture to about 550 students at the Walton St. school - citing traditions such as wearing hats and growing their sidelocks long.

One child asked why Hasidic men wear a hat. "We cover our head in the presence of God," said Niederman.

What they heard seemed to make an impression on the students.

"I never talked with a Hasid before, but now I see they're just like us," said Matyna Grochecki, 13.

Markowitz organized the program in response to two beatings of Hasidic men that occurred in Williamsburg in November.

"Many of our students see Orthodox Jews on the street every day but don't have a clue of what the culture really is," said Markowitz.

Hasidic residents hope the panel's efforts will help ease worsening anti-Semitic tensions in Williamsburg.

Two 15-year-old boys are charged with assault as a hate crime for an attack that occurred in the neighborhood on Thanksgiving.Yesterday a detective testified that one of the teens confessed to beating up strangers, three of them Jewish, "for fun" over the past couple of months. Hasidic residents are worried the violence will continue.

"The Jews here are afraid to walk the streets at night," said Moishe Roth, 35. "It's worse than it's been in years."




Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) today praised the Bloomberg administration for its prompt response to last night’s snowfall, even as he conceded that the approximately nine-inch snow totals did not reach anywhere near the levels of the post-Christmas blizzard.

“Obviously, Sanitation’s job was made easier by significantly less snowfall than last month’s blizzard,” Hikind said. “But I want to give credit where it’s due, and the Sanitation Department stood at the ready before the first snowflake even fell. This is the kind of reaction New Yorkers have a right to expect.”

Hikind noted that plow operators were working throughout Midwood, Brooklyn in the late evening and early morning. “I knew they could get it right,” Hikind remarked.

Hikind is encouraging his constituents to call his office at 718.853.9616 if their street remains impassable or conditions are hazardous.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Kosher Inspections Seen As Better Than Nothing 

As New York State begins training food safety inspectors to replace kosher law enforcement staff, reaction in the Jewish community is mixed.

Some are skeptical that the 85 inspectors, who are in charge of checking sanitary conditions at bakeries, warehouses, slaughterhouses and other facilities will be able to effectively police compliance with the state’s laws regarding disclosure of kosher certification standards.

In a joint statement, the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of American and the Rabbinical Alliance expressed appreciation that the inspections will continue but said they will “continue to monitor the effectiveness of the new enforcement program during the next few months to assure that like all consumers, kosher consumers can be assured that what is represented as kosher certified is indeed kosher.”

In an interview Tuesday, David Zwiebel, executive vice president at Agudah said “Clearly this will be one small slice of a much larger pie that these inspectors will have to worry about. You wonder how effective it will be. On the other hand it’s better than not doing anything.”
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Gov. David Paterson, who stepped down on Jan. 1, terminated the state’s kosher inspectors last month as part of budget cuts. His successor, Andrew Cuomo, ordered the safety inspectors to be trained to take on their work by Rabbi Luzer Weiss, director of the kosher law enforcement division of the Department of Agriculture and Markets.

Outgoing commissioner Patrick Hooker said last week the change will “consolidate responsibilities and eliminate overlapping services … saving the State nearly $1 million, all while providing the same level of service.”

Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus magazine, said the new system is “a futile attempt to confuse the public that something is being done. When you take a safety inspector and add another job onto his workload you won’t get the same commitment.”



Monday, January 10, 2011

Cisco Lawyer's Digs At Jews Get Plaintiff A New Trial 

A company suing Cisco systems for patent infringement got a new trial because Cisco's attorney made remarks about a plaintiff's religion, drawing attention to the fact that he is Jewish.

The case, Commil USA vs. Cisco Systems, involves a patent for methods of setting up a wireless private branch exchange and communication between mobile units and a base station. The suit was originally filed in 2007, and eventually resulted in a win for Commil, of $3.72 million.

But Commil filed for a new trial because the company felt the jury verdict was too low, as the infringement was direct, and not indirect. The problem, Commil's lawyers said in their filing, was that Cisco's attorney drew attention to the fact that Commil's owners were Jewish, and set up an "us versus them" mentality in the juror's minds.

The remarks, by one of Cisco's attorneys, Otis Carroll, were in a cross examination of Jonathan David, one of Commil's principals. According to the filing, Carroll said, "Well, did you eat dinner with him? Did you talk to him? Did you say hi to him?" David answered yes, they had had dinner at Bodacious Barbeque and Carroll said, "I bet not pork."

The last part about pork, Commil's lawyers said, was designed to point out that David is Jewish. The judge admonished Cisco's lawyer during the trial after asking how the comment was relevant.

At the closing, Carroll, "And when you figure out what the truth is, you'll know how to answer that verdict form. You remember the most important trial in history, which we all read about as kids, in the Bible had that very question from the judge. What is truth?"

The reference is to the trial of Jesus, which Commil's lawyers said implied that the jury was a group of Christians and the owners of Commil were Jews, in order to prejudice the jury against Commil.

One of Cisco's lawyers, Jeffery Ostrow, wrote in the answer to the motion for a new trial that the remarks were innocuous, that Carroll had apologized for them, and that there is no factual basis to say that the verdict of the jury was in error.

But the judge disagreed. In his order granting a new trial, Judge Charles Everingham IV wrote, "When these comments are considered as a whole, the court concludes that the comments prejudiced the jury's findings regarding indirect infringement and damages. These comments had a tendency to appeal to the prejudices of the jurors... As such, even though no objections were made to these remarks, the court is convinced that the jury's verdict is inconsistent with substantial justice."

A new jury is set to be selected on April 4 and pre-trial conferences are set for March 24.



Sunday, January 09, 2011

City Hearings on Blizzardgate Get No Response from NY State Government 

In response to evidence that rank-and-file members and supervisors within the New York City Department of Sanitation intentionally refused to carry out their duties after the recent blizzard as a way to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policies, the New York City Council is launching hearings on Monday January 10, 2011 into the matter. Prompted by the uncovering of damning evidence by Queens Councilman Dan Halloran, the Council is holding two citywide oversight hearings, as well as a series of public hearings to fully gauge the impact of the sanitation department and union’s failure to adequately respond to the crippling snowstorm.

The city’s Department of Investigation, which is responsible for looking into allegations of corruption, is also launching its own investigation into the matter. Former New York Governor David A. Paterson, a Democrat, announced on December 30, 2010 that he would be launching an investigation into the Department of Sanitation and its leadership. Paterson’s response to the poor Department of Sanitation response to the blizzard which piled as many as 20 inches of snow on some parts of the city follows the release of a report by Halloran, a Republican, alleging an orchestrated department-wide systematic breakdown in its response, organized by department supervisors and union bosses.

Paterson’s call for a criminal investigation accompanies recent calls by other elected officials for probes into the matter. Bloomberg promises to investigate Halloran’s claims by probing the Department of Sanitation and its union members, while the Democrat-dominated NYC Council announced earlier in the week that they were launching a probe of Bloomberg next month, in what will undoubtedly be a politically-charged episode, considering that the vast majority of council members oppose Bloomberg’s budget proposals and rely on bloc votes from the city’s various labor unions, who are hardly supportive of efforts to reduce the municipal workforce in order to balance the city’s budget.

While the city’s response, as well that of Paterson, were appropriately robust, the new administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has been anything but concerned with investigating the matter. Both ran on distinctly progressive political platforms, thus under minding and shortchanging the city’s efforts to seek justice for damages done by the union.

In what can only be described as a mutiny, members of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association Local 831 are believed to have purposely slowed down slow plowing and clean-up efforts as a means to express their displeasure with Bloomberg’s decision to lay off over 400 workers and to freeze pay increases, as well as to maximize “time-and-a-half” overtime payments by deliberately slowing down their response, by unnecessarily raising plows, deliberately smashing plow blades, and by even refusing to take plows out of Department lots, according to various reports.

Further evidence has become available, as of Sunday, January 2, 2011, which indicates that the union revolt has also taken the form of an exorbitant number of sanitation workers calling in sick in the aftermath of the blizzard. According to reports, between 660 and 720 sanitation workers called in sick for the cleanup of the blizzard last Monday and Tuesday, more than double the usual rate, amounting to over 12% of the department’s 6000-member workforce. In response to these allegations, the NYC Department of Investigation has also announced that they would be launching an investigation into the matter.

Adding insult to injury, allegations have also arisen regarding sanitation supervisors, who are represented by the Sanitation Officers Association Local 444 union, and are believed to have purchased beer and sat in their department-issued cars for hours, instead of working, claiming that their cars “ran out of gas.”

Councilman Halloran, who is also an elected member of the New York State Conservative, Independence, and Libertarian Parties (as New York is one of a few states to allow fusion voting, in which candidates can run on multiple party lines), reports that several guilt-ridden sanitation workers visited his district office and confessed that union leadership and Department of Sanitation supervisors in the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens told workers that they must “take off routes [and] not do the plowing of some of the major arteries in a timely manner.”

The workers told Halloran that the purpose of this gross dereliction of duty was to protest Bloomberg’s policies, which the union opposes, including demotions of numerous supervisors, reductions in salary and overtime hours, and overall budget cuts and restructuring of the department. As far back as 2002, Bloomberg, who prides himself as a fiscal conservative, has warned of sanitation layoffs as a means to close a budget deficit of over $5 Billion, without union concessions and state and federal aid. Ironically, that same year, Local 831 endorsed Republican Governor George E. Pataki for re-election. In November, Bloomberg also announced that in order to close a FY 2010 budget deficit of $3.3 Billion, there would be a layoff of 8,264 municipal workers by FY 2012, including the elimination of 200 supervisor positions in the Department of Sanitation and the redeployment of supervisors to frontline sanitation worker positions.

To date, no other municipal workers union has responded to these budget proposals with the type of egregious on-the-job insubordination seen by the sanitation union. While Bloomberg’s budget calls for the layoff of 350 auxiliary positions within the New York Police Department (NYPD) and 51 officer positions within the Department of Corrections (DOC), no on-the-job insurrection of members of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association or the Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association (the respective labor unions of these two city departments) has yet been documented.

While Paterson was quick to caution against what he perceived as possible “rumor and innuendo which we should probably table until there are facts to back that up,” he did admit that due to the horrific ramifications of the union mutiny, a criminal investigation is not out of the question, and that “criminality is a heightened sense of wrongdoing and there are examples of people whose lives were threatened severely.”

The Outgoing Governor is particularly incensed over the fact that due to DOS negligence, there have been several cases where emergency vehicles could not reach critically ill persons, including newborn babies and the elderly, resulting in several deaths. In response, the city’s EMS Chief, John Peruggia, has been terminated, and the sanitation supervisors responsible for the Brooklyn South area which was hardest hit, Joseph Susol and Joseph Montgomery, were both removed earlier in the week.

Ironically, in 2009, the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Union, along with many other municipal unions, backed Bloomberg’s legislative push to abolish term limits, which enabled Bloomberg to serve for an unprecedented third term. One year after his reelection, Bloomberg reneged and supported a Ballot Initiative to restore term limits. Union Head Harry Nespoli, who also heads the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group representing all major municipal labor unions, also endorsed Bloomberg in his 2009 mayoral election, citing the mayor’s “flexibility at the bargaining table.” According to Nespoli, “he's the best candidate to lead us through these tough financial times and into recovery."

However, the political alliance between Bloomberg and the sanitation union has come to an abrupt end with Bloomberg’s budget cuts. The politically-charged nature of the sanitation mutiny is also well-supported by evidence that particular neighborhoods were targeted by the protesting sanitation workers. Middle Village, Queens, and Borough Park, Brooklyn, were specifically targeted by the union members, one of whom said, “Borough Park was specifically targeted because of its ability to sort of gin up the p.r. machine."

According to statistics, Borough Park, a community of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, overwhelmingly supported Republicans in the 2010 statewide elections, and went 97.6% to Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain in 2008. Middle Village overwhelmingly supported Bloomberg in his 2009 reelection bid, and has a long history of sending Republicans to the NYC Council and State Legislature.

Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat who endorsed Republican Congressman-Elect Michael Grimm, worked to elect Ronald Reagan, is rated “Anti-Choice” by NARAL Pro Choice New York, and has condemned Barack Obama, has also called for an investigation, and even called upon the National Guard to intervene in what he perceived as a “state of emergency.”

Adding insult to injury, sanitation workers piled gargantuan mountains of snow against the fence of Borough Park’s Washington Cemetery, causing the fence to break, toppling dozens of headstones, many belonging to deceased Holocaust survivors and Jewish victims of the gulags. The same cemetery, earlier in December, was the target of anti-Semitic vandalism, as several headstones were toppled and smashed. Not even the deceased were able to escape the wrath of union negligence.



Saturday, January 08, 2011

Israeli Supreme Court encourages gender segregated buses 

Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that buses for ultra-Orthodox Jews that force women to sit separately from men are illegal, but also added that they could not halt voluntary segregation.

Ultra-Orthodox women and their supporters launched a legal battle three and a half years ago leading up to this point. They challenged the rules on "kosher" bus line that caters to Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Several years ago, the Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC) filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Transportation and two privately owned bus companies, accusing them of discriminating against women by operating these buses. The bus lines in question required that female passengers wore modest clothing and must board and sit at the back of the vehicle. The lawsuit was filed immediately after five women came forward saying they were both verbally and/or physically attacked, and in some instances, denied permission to board the bus because they failed to observe the modesty and boarding regulations.

Anat Hoffman, the centre's executive director, called yesterday's Supreme Court ruling "a tremendous victory".

"We are ecstatic. The fact that the court ruled that segregation on the buses in Israel is not in accordance with democratic values of equality, the equality of women, is fantastic," she told AFP.

Hoffman followed by expressing her disappointment regarding the court’s decision to continue allowing women to "self-segregate" by voluntarily boarding the buses via the back door and sitting in the rear.

"The court unfortunately left one thing undone, they allowed the bus back door to remain open, which means that women who are trained to sit at the back will continue to enter there rather than going in the front," she said.

"I would like them to shut that back door. I want the women to enter with the men through the front door, everyone together."

Hoffman believes that with continued rallying, this may be a possibility within the next year.



Friday, January 07, 2011

The Hassidim of the Consumer Electronics Show 

Walking around the CES showroom floor, there is one specific cultural group that stood out to me. (No, it was not the booth models.) A surprising number of Hassidic Jews seemed to be exhibiting at and walking around the show.

When I wondered about that out loud on Twitter, a variety of New Yorkers told your humble West Coast lifer, "Duh, that's because of B&H." Apparently, B&H Electronics was founded and continues to be run by Hassidim.

"Known as 'Beards and Hats' because of the many Hasidic Jews who work there, B&H has become an authentic New York experience," the Associated Press wrote in 2006. "Shopping there is akin to ordering a pastrami on rye at Katz's Delicatessen."

The AP continued: "Ask how business is going and you get this: 'Baruch Hashem,' or 'Blessed be God' -- meaning, roughly, 'Thanks to God, things are good.'"

Like any successful company, some of its employees have gone on to found their own competitors and variations on the theme. So, now there are several electronics distributors run by Hassidic Jews that are here at CES.

I stopped to chat with Asher Shtesl, the CEO of one such company, Ideal Sales of Brooklyn, New York. They're a classic middleman operation: they buy from the manufacturers and they sell to independent electronics stores. They've long focused on photographic equipment but have been expanding their reach into more general electronics. Shtesl said he's built his business from a basement operation 10 years ago into a "multimillion dollar" enterprise now.

And how does being Hassidic impact the business? "People look at us as very honest people," he offered.



Thursday, January 06, 2011

Leading Rabbis from Monsey, NY visit VA 

This past Tuesday, January 4, 2011, Richmond had the distinct and rare honor to host Rabbi Moshe Green, Dean of the Yeshivah of Monsey, in Monsey, NY, one of the leading Ultra-Orthodox Rabbis in the US today. It is extremely rare for Rabbi Green to leave Monsey, or to leave NY at all, particularly since he has suffered two strokes and uses a wheelchair, and this was a tremendous blessing to the community. Despite his physical disabilities and ailments, Rabbi Green delivers a highly advanced Talmudic lecture daily in his Yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in Monsey, NY. Rabbi Green was accompanied by his son Rabbi Abraham Green and his grandson Rabbi Jacob Flohr. The were driven by car from Monsey to Baltimore, MD, where they slept for a few hours, and continued in the pre-dawn hours to Virginia, where they participated in the daily 7:15 am prayer service at the Yeshiva of Virginia in the Near West End of Richmond. After the prayer service, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Chait, the Dean of the Yeshiva of Virginia and a former resident of Monsey, NY, introduced Rabbi Green, and Rabbi Green spoke a few words of inspiration based on the Book of Exodus from the Bible, which is the current Torah portion in Synagogues around the world. He spoke of the Israelite's freedom from Egypt leading to their service to God, and compared it to the freedom that servitude to God through Torah study and observance gives us from our own egos and desires. It was particularly noteworthy that Rabbi Green delivered his words in English, because his main language in New York is Yiddish. A video of Rabbi Green's words can be found here. He then gave individual blessings to the students and local rabbis who were present.

After breakfast, Rabbi Green was joined by Rabbi Simchah Shorr, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Monsey, and Rabbi Jacob Joseph Moskowitz, a scion of the illustrious Shotzer Hasidic Dynasty and Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ner HaTorah in Monsey, who arrived by airplane together with Rabbi Chaim Hersh Freund and Rabbi Hershel Friedman, who are prominent activists who work in prison outreach. They then continued together Hopewell, VA, for the main purpose of their visit, which was to give spiritual encouragement to the Jewish inmate community at the Petersburg Federal Prison in Hopewell, VA. Among the inmates is a prominent Hasidic Rabbi from the Monsey community.

The Rabbis were accompanied by Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski, who is the Rabbi of the Nachalei Emunah Hasidic Institute of Richmond, VA, and also provides Rabbinical services to Congregation Kol Emes/Young Israel of Richmond, as well as to the Petersburg Federal Prison.

The Rabbis spent several hours with the Jewish inmates in the chapel of the prison. One of the inmates described the horrors of prison life, stating that not only is the body in prison but so is every level of his soul. As their visit ended, the Rabbis engaged in a Hasidic dance singing the words from the daily liturgy ממצרים גאלתנו ומבית עבדים פדיתנו "The Lord our God helped us out from Egypt and redeemed us from slavery", referring both to the Torah reading from Exodus and the hope that those wrongfully imprisoned should be freed. As the rabbis left, the inmates began to cry, and the rabbis wished their blessings.

After the visit, the Rabbis returned immediately to Monsey. Rabbi Friedman, who was one of the visiting rabbis, offered an interview on the popular Yiddish News Hotline "Kol Mevaser". The number for Kol Mevaser is 212-444-1100. To hear the interview, one presses 3 then 1 then 386#.

All in all, the visit was a tremendous source of inspiration both to the local community who benefited from Rabbi Green's visit and to the inmates.



Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) is joining forces with the FBI to investigate recent reports of postal fraud involving stolen checks from synagogue mailboxes intended for donations and membership dues in Brooklyn, New York; Teaneck, New Jersey; and even Southfield, Michigan. To date, more than 15 synagogues have been defrauded, and the FBI has asked Hikind to work with them by sharing information he obtains from local synagogues.

In one case, a donation for $250 was altered and cashed for $1,250. The majority of the checks are being cleared through Enterprise 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.” The FBI is already aware of the so-called “KR USA” account and is investigating.

“I urge anyone with information relating to this case to please call my office at 718.853.9616,” said Hikind. “Every person who comes forward brings us that much closer to apprehending the people responsible for these monstrous acts.”

Hikind has also encouraged the community to review returned checks to ensure the intended payee endorsed it, while synagogues are now taking precautions, including securing their mailboxes or installing mail slots in lieu of mailboxes in order to prevent future thefts.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Jewish crime group member fights back on charges 

More questions are being raised about a member of a Jewish crime patrol group charged with assaulting a teenager in Northwest Baltimore.

A lawyer for Eliyahu Eliezer Werdesheim, who says he's a former member of the Israeli special forces, said in court on Monday that the youth wasn't injured in the way police had described. Authorities said the youth had broken his wrist during the altercation; the lawyer described the injury as a "boxer's fracture," associated with punching a hard object.

The prosecutor wouldn't comment and the attorney was careful to avoid saying precisely how the youth was injured. But it raised questions during Monday's bail hearing about how the altercation took place.

Police said in charging documents that Werdesheim struck the youth and told him, "You don't belong around here." The youth is black, and the incident sparked anger in the predominantly African-American Park Heights community and raised tensions with Orthodox Jews.

Monday's bail hearing centered around whether Werdesheim could leave the country to visit Israel while his charges are pending. A Baltimore judge allowed the trip over the objections of the prosecutor, who said in court he feared an extradition battle. The suspect's relatives pledged to put up $50,000 if Werdesheim doesn't return. He holds a round-trip ticket.



Monday, January 03, 2011

Restore kosher division, new N.Y. Gov. Cuomo urged 

Lawmakers, Jewish leaders and kosher businesses are lobbying New York's new governor Andrew Cuomo to restore the state's kosher law-enforcement division.

Budget cuts and retirements over the last year have left the division with one employee, the division's director, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The cuts in the department, which once employed 11 kosher inspectors, will save up to $1 million a year in salary, benefits and services, according to the newspaper, citing a state Department of Agriculture and Markets spokesperson.

The department said last November that the jobs have become obsolete since a 2004 change in the state’s kosher law prevented state inspectors from enforcing Orthodox standards of kashrut.

According to the new law, kosher establishments must disclose the standards they use and under whose authority they operate, but are not required to adhere to Orthodox regulations. State kosher inspectors may only ensure the establishments are doing what they purport to do.

Jewish groups such as the Rabbinical Alliance of America and the National Council of Young Israel have come out against the proposed cuts.



Sunday, January 02, 2011

New York's Strongest leaps into action to save stranded heart attack victim 

There was at least one shining moment for New York's Strongest during the blizzard: A Brooklyn man says a sanitation worker saved his life.

Pincus (Pinky) Tusk says he would have died after having a heart attack during the colossal storm if Lance Lewin hadn't leaped into action, performing CPR and calling for help.

"I was very lucky this gentleman from the Department of Sanitation came by," Tusk said from his bed at Beth Israel Medical Center.

"Besides thank you, there's very little I can say that would reflect how I feel."

Tusk, 63, of Flatbush, was returning from a wedding in Meadowbrook, N.J., in the midst of Sunday's storm when he got stuck behind a car trapped in a snowdrift on Elizabeth St. in Manhattan.

The furniture salesman, who has a history of heart troubles, helped push the car free - then started having chest pains.

Tusk called his son Moshe, who was in another car, and told him he felt ill. But he gave him the wrong location of where his car was stopped.

Lewin, 33, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, had just finished plowing in front of a police stationhouse when he turned onto Elizabeth St. and found a dozen cars stuck in the snow.

A young man flagged him down.

"He said there was a man who needed help," Lewin recalled. "It was snowing really hard at that point and the car had gotten covered over. You couldn't really see in the windows, but I saw there was a man in there.

"I knocked on the window and he didn't respond. I opened the door and pulled him out, and here he was gasping for air. I asked him if he was having a heart attack and he said he was," Lewin added.

Lewin, an 10-year Sanitation Department vet, radioed his supervisor and told him to get an ambulance. He then dusted off CPR skills he learned years ago at a previous job and began giving Tusk chest compressions.

"I wasn't 100% sure I was doing it right," he said. "It had been a long time."

He took Tusk's cell phone, called the last-dialed number and got his son.

"I told him I was with his father and help was on the way," Lewin said.

With the streets clogged with snow and abandoned vehicles, it took longer than usual for that help to arrive, and paramedics had to walk the last 1-1/2 blocks. Tusk was taken to the hospital, where doctors implanted a stent.

Later, when Lewin went to return Tusk's car keys, he had an emotional meeting with the son. "He came over and just hugged me and said, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you,'" he said. "I told him I was just glad I was there - if it was my father, I'd have wanted somebody to stop and help."

Tusk's son-in-law, Jason Salzberg, said if it weren't for Lewin, "My father-in-law might have died."

"Who knows if they would have found him in time?" he said.

Since then, Lewin has worked around-the-clock shifts, but Tusk said he is eager to meet his savior.

"I will be calling him," he said.



Saturday, January 01, 2011

Great Neck: Kosher cert pulled from Tel Aviv 

A day after Amos Hayon left the kitchen at Tel Aviv, the Great Neck restaurant has lost its kosher certification from the Vaad Harabonim of Queens. VHQ is a local organization that supervises kosher establishments and ensures that they adhere to all the standards of kashrus, the Jewish dietary laws.

Hayon had been executive chef for about a year when, in October, he bought the restaurant from Michael Ginor, who had opened it in 2008. In 2009, Ginor opened a second restaurant in Great Neck, Lola. According to Ginor, VHQ objected to his involvement in Tel Aviv because Lola is not kosher. Ginor estimates that the clientele at Tel Aviv is about 95 percent kosher.

An employee at VHQ confirmed yesterday that Tel Aviv had indeed lost its certificate, but attempts to get more details today were thwarted by sundown: the Orthodox organization did not respond before the Sabbath observance began.

Ginor said he thought the sale of Tel Aviv to Hayon satisfied VHQ’s concerns.

According to Ginor, the terms of the sale were that Hayon would buy the restaurant over the course of two years, paying monthly installments until the purchase was complete. Should Hayon leave before the sale was complete, the restaurant would revert to the original owner.

When Hayon announced he was leaving a few weeks ago, Ginor said, he began talks with VHQ since there was no other buyer on the horizon. Talks apparently fell through because this morning he received a fax from VHQ revoking its supervision.

Tel Aviv continues to observe all the same kosher and Sabbath laws. The restaurant is closed tonight and will reopen tomorrow evening an hour after sundown, around 6:30 p.m. Ginor said that, for the time being, nothing would change. Over the next few weeks he will consider whether to seek the supervision of another kosher organization.



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