Monday, February 28, 2011

Rabbi, how do you like my glasses? 

Leaders of the Vizhnitz Hasidism have issued new instructions in regards to the purchase of eyeglasses, as part of their attempt to combat modernization.

In a special sermon to the young yeshiva students of the Hasidic dynasty, considered one of the biggest in the haredi sector, Rabbi Israel Hager, the successor of the Vizhnitz Hasidism's founder, discussed the dangers inherent in modernizations on the secular street and urged the students not to wear metal glasses and contact lenses.

The rabbi made the remarks as part of the Shovevim period - an acronym for the Jewish weekly Torah portions of "Shemot", "Va'era", "Bo", B'Shallach", "Yitro" and "Mishpatim". During this period, it is customary to be more careful not to violate any of the sex-related transgressions commanded in the Torah and study the laws relating to such transgressions.

Rabbi Hager said in his sermon that the students must "beware of the dangers hiding on the street." He added that, "a student who wishes to delve into Torah studies and observe mitzvot must detach himself from all nonsense and not let them infiltrate."

The rabbi called on students wearing modern metal glasses to remove them and move to anti-modern plastic glasses. Rabbi Hager also spoke out against yeshiva students wearing contact lenses.

According to a Hasidism source, metrosexual men and students of the modern Lithuanian yeshivot were the only ones wearing contact lenses.

"This is the reason why the rabbi called on the students not to wear them. We are well aware of the statement made by the former Vizhnitz rebbe, who said we must wear the exact opposite of what is worn in Paris."

A Vizhnitz source explained that the essence of the Hasidim was to stay away from the nonsense and modernism of the world. "We are interested in keeping our distance from anything linked to party goers, recreational activities and clubs, and be on the other end in a way in which we won't even know that world exists," the source explained. "This is why our segregation is even applied to the type of eyeglasses."\



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two Indian-American accused of staging 'Snatch' styled robbery Read more: Two Indian-American accused of staging 'Snatch' styled robbery 

Two Indian-American jewellers have been accused of carrying out a phony robbery, inspired from the 2001 Guy Ritchie film 'Snatch', to get their hands on $7 million of insurance money from Lloyd's of London.

Prosecutors say that Atul Shah, 49, and Mahaveer Kankariya, 44, hired gunmen dressed as Hasidic Jews to carry out a robbery with fake guns.

In the movie, actor Benicio Del Toro and other diamond thieves disguise themselves as Hasidic Jews.

The two men were arrested in February 2010 and charged with were charged with grand larceny and insurance fraud.

The heist was carried out on December 31, 2008. Shah and Kankariya got caught because they failed to destroy surveillance footage that showed them emptying a safe before the fake robbers came on the scene, officials said, as reported by the NY Daily News.

"They emptied out the big safe," Assistant District Attorney Eugene Hurley said at the trial in the Manhattan Supreme Court, earlier this month.

"They were going broke, they tried a desperate gamble," he added.

"They arranged a fake robbery to collect $7 million." The two men, now bankrupt, had poured drain cleaner over the security recordings but technicians were able to salvage the tape, prosecutors said.

Defence lawyers, however, said that no jewels have ever surfaced and no fake robbers were caught, Daily News reported.

"This is a theory without a case," Shah's lawyer Benjamin Brafman said. "The district attorney's case should require proof--they don't have proof."

Braffman also insisted that Shah had suffered a memory loss when he told Lloyd's that he had not touched the safe on that day. The video showed the opposite.

"He did not remember taking things out of the safe prior to the robbery," the lawyer said, noting that $700,000 in diamonds were found in the office after the attack.

Meanwhile, Kankariya's lawyer Michael Bachner said that the fake black guns were only found a year after the two men had vacated their office and they defendants could not be tied to the guns.

The New York Post, however, reported that the surviving video could prove very damaging for the two Indian- American businessmen.

It also shows them walking together into the kitchen where the video equipment is stored just two hours before the robbery. Then, the video image from one of four cameras begins flicker.

No one else goes into the kitchen, at least not until after the sputtering device dies two hours later, in mid-robbery. More damaging, The Post, reported was footage of jewelers methodically pulling shoebox-sized jewelry storage boxes off of the five shelves inside of a refrigerator-sized safe.



Saturday, February 26, 2011

Brooklyn ‘Rabbi’ Accused Of Molesting Girl Since She Was 12 

A father was convinced his 16-year-old daughter was having a relationship with a 17-year-old boy, so the father set up a hidden camera in the house. What he recorded shocked him — what he saw the daughter doing to please the young man.

They are Orthodox Jews, in Brooklyn. The father had already taken the daughter to seek counseling with Rabbi Nechemya Weberman in years past. Just as he had taken her older sister. It is a common practice in the community for a respected person to be a counselor, or serve as a therapist. Weberman is affiliated, police said, with Brooklyn’s United Talmudic Community, a yeshiva.

Now, the father went to the Brooklyn DA’s office with the tape, and Rabbi Weberman. The Brooklyn DA’s office has set up special channels of communication to bridge cultural gaps that might be beneficial to both sides. However, the more that investigators talked to the parties involved — especially when they spoke with them separately — the more that there were questions which indicated something was not right. Around Feb. 16, the girl told a counselor at school that the rabbi has been raping her for years. The counselor reported it, and when the investigators talked to her again, she claimed there were at least 16 incidents at 263 Classon Avenue, in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, which serves as Weberman’s home and office. It is where the counseling sessions took place. The girl told investigators it began in 2007, when she was 12; and continued through 2010.

Detectives assembled sufficient preliminary evidence to start a case; and arrested Weberman on Wednesday. He was brought to Brooklyn Criminal Court that night, and told he was being charged with rape, endangering the welfare of a child, sexual abuse, sexual misconduct against a child, and engaging in a criminal sexual act.

The Orthodox Jewish community that has gone to Weberman as a therapist and counselor, especially for young people, are in shock. Reeling. The debate has even gone to blogs on the Internet. But Weberman’s lawyer, George Farkas, told me, people should not jump to conclusions, warning that this all began within what he called “a dysfunctional family,” referring to the father setting up the hidden camera and the possibility that the daughter is striking out in anger against her father, who is trying to shut down her relationship with her boyfriend and slam Weberman in the process.

“The charges (against Weberman) are horrendous. They are disgusting. And they’re despicable. Not just — it’s absolutely awful. But what I will tell you is that this man will die before he’s branded a child molestor,” Farkas said.

Sources in the case said Weberman is not a licensed therapist. But on Friday NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly added one thing more: “The rabbi … is NOT a rabbi! He’s a 52-year-old male arrested for molestation of a young woman who is still a minor.”

After hearing this, I called Farkas, Weberman’s attorney. He took a deep breath.

“Have I asked to see his rabbinical diploma? No. Does he have a congregation? No. Does the Gentile world always understand when my world uses the term ‘rabbi’? No. I think you do, Pablo,” Farkas said. “We know each other. But many do not. Now: with that said, have people taken their children for years to see him as a counselor? Yes. Is he viewed as a therapist? Yes. Is he ‘respected’? Yes.”

Another respected member of the Brooklyn Orthodox community told me, “This is all very difficult for us. There is unfortunately a ‘tradition’, if you will, of the pedophile continuing to function, when he is in such a respected position. And the victim being ostracized. We have worked hard to change this. But it has been a long, uphill battle. Now, I do not know this man. But I will say this: since word began circulating, people are talking. Others are coming forward. I believe there may be as many as five other people who are preparing to report their own encounters with this man. We have to see what happens in the justice system.”

Some who are involved in the case have told me that is exactly what’s happening. More evidence is being presented, right now, to a grand jury.

Rabbi Weberman is due back in court March 9. Detectives are gathering information for a possible indictment.



Friday, February 25, 2011

Inside the private world of London's ultra-Orthodox Jews 

On my way to meet Isaac Kornbluh, who runs the Schomrim neighbourhood patrol (the word means 'guardians’) in the Haredi Jewish enclave in Stamford Hill, I managed to misplace his address and found myself lost.

The Haredi – strictly-Orthodox Jews who trace their ancestry to 18th-century Eastern Euope – are one of the most close-knit, insular and private communities in Britain. More than 20,000 live in Stamford Hill, in north-east London. But it is a community, it seems, in which everybody knows everybody, and where a stranger is noticed.

As I fumbled through my notebook, a woman stopped. 'You look lost,’ she said helpfully. Ah, I wanted Isaac? First left, then right, number 16.

It is a community too in which everybody seems to be in a hurry.

Earlier that afternoon, I had been sitting on Clapton Common, a small park adjacent to a busy main road. Stamford Hill is a cosmopolitan neighbourhood, but even here the Haredi are strikingly conspicuous. Across the park stood a large, Victorian brick building - a centre of learning, perhaps, or a synagogue, and men and boys moved back and forth across the park, all dressed in variations of the traditional Haredi dress - the high-crowned black hats, ringlets and frock-coats.

In the 18th century, the Hasidim - the largest group of Haredi Jews, who comprise perhaps ninety per cent of the Stamford Hill community - were noted for the ecstatic fervour of their worship. 'They conduct themselves like madmen,’ railed a denunciation by the rabbinical authorities of the day, 'and explain their behaviour by saying that in their thoughts they soar in the most far-off worlds. When they pray...they raise such a din that the walls quake.’ But on the streets of Stamford Hill they looked as solemn as undertakers, hurrying purposefully along, their gazes fixed firmly ahead, a world apart from from the idlers outside the betting shop, the hoodies loitering on the green.

Beneath their hats and locks they had a scholar’s pallor. Many, one noticed, wore spectacles. It was once assumed that it was strain brought on by the long hours of study in the yeshive, or Torah schools, that affected the eyesight of so many Haredi men. However, a study in Israel suggested that much of the blame lay with shockelling - the fervent rocking backward and forward motion that students make as they read the texts, and which causes an incessant change of focus in the eyes leading to myopia.

'Let me tell you something,’ said Isaac Kornbluh. He was a short stocky man of 61, grey bearded, curls protruding from his yarmulke. He was dressed in a white shirt, the tzitzit, or ritual tassels - a reminder of God’s commandments - dangling over his black trousers. 'People in this community have lots of children, and they’re always busy. 24 hours a day. They’re going to the synagogue, going to study, to work, to see their family, back to the synagogue, social events in the evening. It’s a very full life.’

Kornbluh is, by his own description 'a fitness fanatic’ who jogs five or six miles each day - not a type, it seems, much found in the Haredi community.

'I try telling my friends, you need to live healthy. They say, “I’ve got no time...”. I maintain, if a person wants something he’ll find the time. I say to them, in the morning after you go to pray, go out for a brisk walk...’ He laughed. '“Got no time....”’

While mainstream Judaism in Britain is in decline, as people 'marry out’ and abandon the faith, the Haredi community is expanding at a phenomenal rate.

A report by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 2008 estimated the size of Britain’s strictly Orthodox community at close to 30,000 people, around 10 per cent of the nation’s Jewish population. Within the Jewish community at large, the Haredi have traditionally been regarded as , eccentric, inward-looking - some would say religious extremists.

In many ways they are a community frozen in aspic - a repository of life as it was lived in 19th century Eastern Europe, where tradition is held sacrosanct and modernity is largely scorned.



Thursday, February 24, 2011

Food fight over Brooklyn store in market for $2M tax break 

An angryly divided community board has voted to support a controversial tax break for a Midwood supermarket.

Supporters and opponents of the $2 million tax break for Moisha's Discount Supermarket clashed at a raucous Community Board 12 meeting Tuesday night over the plan - and allegations district manager Wolf Sender lied to city officials when he said the board supported the subsidy, even though members had never considered it.

"Stop trying to knock people that are trying to bring costs down," said Zvi Gluck, 30. "They're pillars of the community....People cannot afford to go to the high-end supermarkets."

City officials say the market, whose owners have given big money to local pols, qualifies for breaks targeted at neighborhoods desperate for fresh food, even though there are 10 other supermarkets in the area.

The vote to support Moisha's - which passed with 29 yes votes and six opponents abstaining in protest - came after a tumultuous meeting interrupted by screaming matches between board members and residents.

Sender was a no-show at the meeting, prompting chants of "Where is Wolf?" from some in the audience. CB12's chairman read an apology on his behalf.

"He is employed by our city and he lied," said neighbor Natalie Denicola. "He should be held accountable and be stripped of [his position]."

Board member Jacob Haas countered with a theatrical speech hailing the district manager as "our great hero," adding, "how could people in good conscience go and tread on as pure a soul as Wolf Sender?"

Store owner Moisha Binik said the city would benefit in the long run because his expansion would generate sales tax revenues.

"We found on the Internet that they were offering the credit," he said. "We didn't have any political people work for us."



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How To Understand Yeshivish 

Browsing on the Internet while working on last week’s column, which had to do with a blessing in the morning prayer, I came across the following:

“The lechatchila time for shacharis is neitz. B’dieved, if a person davened from amud hashachar and onwards he is yotzei. In a shas hadchak he may daven from amud hashachar and onwards lechatchila…. After chatzos it is assur to daven shacharis. One should wait till after mincha and then daven a tashlumin. The possibility for a tashlumin doesn’t exist for someone who was bemaizid.”

As strange as this passage may seem, there is nothing very unusual about it. It is written in what has semi-jocularly been called “Frumspeak” or “Yeshivish,” a perfectly normal form of discourse for many Orthodox Jews in America. Translated into ordinary English, it would read:

“One should plan to say the morning prayer no earlier than sunrise. After the fact, if a person unknowingly prayed earlier, starting with the break of dawn, he is considered to have performed the commandment. If he has no choice [because he will not have time after sunrise], he may knowingly pray starting with the break of dawn…. After midday, saying the morning prayer is forbidden. One should compensate [for having missed it] by waiting for the afternoon prayer and repeating that a second time. Such compensation, however, is unacceptable in the case of someone who acted deliberately [in skipping the morning prayer].”

There are, by my count, 13 different words or terms in the Yeshivish passage, some used more than once, that would be incomprehensible to any non-Jewish speaker of English, as well as to a great majority of non-Orthodox Jewish speakers. Yet, is Yeshivish really a different language in the way that Yiddish, say, is different from German? Or is it just ordinary English with foreign words — in this case, rabbinic Hebrew ones with an Eastern European inflection — inserted into it? How, linguistically, is it to be analyzed?

On the face of it, it’s ordinary English with foreign words. If one looks at its English vocabulary, there seems to be nothing grammatically, morphologically or lexically deviant about it. Yeshivish isn’t like Yiddish, in which, in addition to its non-Germanic elements, German words themselves may have changed their original form, be pronounced differently, be conjugated and declined in different ways, and be joined together in different syntactical structures. You don’t have to learn a new language to understand Yeshivish; you simply have to know some rabbinic Hebrew.

On the other hand, we do occasionally find English words in Yeshivish that have meanings that do not exist for other English speakers. Here are two examples culled from an Internet chat site conducted in Yeshivish. The subject of discussion is, again, the morning prayer — or, more precisely, how fast it can or should be recited. Example 1 goes:

“I was speaking to a litvishe bochur [a non-Hasidic yeshiva student] and he was saying how he used to daven [pray] behind the rosh yeshiva [headmaster] but couldn’t stand how he had to wait so long with nothing to do until the R’Y [rosh yeshiva] finished the shemone esrei [silent prayer]. So he changed his place to next to the sefarim [bookshelf]. That’s a great story, but the way he said it was, ‘My R’Y has an 11-minute shemone esrei and I have a 4-minute shemone esrei.’ It didn’t ring right.”

In standard English, of course, one would say, “It didn’t sound right,” or “I didn’t like the way it sounded.” Although our chatter apparently speaks English as a native language, he was using the English verb “ring” like the Yiddish verb klingen, which means “to ring” but also “to sound” in an expression like “s’ klingt modne,” “It sounds strange.”



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Zealand Chabad House Crumbles 

Two and a half months ago, when Rabbi Shmuel Friedman arrived at Chabad of Canterbury to join Co- Directors Rabbi Menachem Goldstein and Sara Goldstein to bring Yiddishkeit to the Jewish community and the twenty thousand Israeli “backpackers“ arriving in the South Islands annually, he could hardly have anticipated being part of an such a momentous earth moving event.

The earth did, indeed, move.

Christchurch, New Zealand, the country’s second largest city, suffered a 6.5 level earth quake which shattered and toppled buildings, destroyed city infrastructure, and caused many deaths. This temblor followed a September event which despite its 7.4 rating was less destructive. In this latest event, 65 are reported dead, many are injured and (as of Tuesday night, New Zealand time) at least 100 remained trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings. Among those killed is a young Israeli traveler, reportedly from the city of Hadera. His name has not been released.

Prime Minister John Key called the city “a scene of utter devastation,” saying “We may well be witnessing New Zealand’s darkest day.” The 6.3-magnitude quake which shook New Zealand’s South Island has caused extensive damage. The sea, too, has been affected: more than 30 million tons of ice broke away from the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s biggest.

Chabad is working in cooperation with the members of Canterbury Hebrew Congregation to attend to the needs of the community. For the second time, t he building housing the Chabad Center has tumbled. An emergency center has been established in Latimar Square, a center city park. Calls are being made to alert travelers to stay away from the city and to call parents and report their safety.

Chabad is “a home away from home” commented Goldstein, Chabad’s New Zealand Co Director, and shliach in New Zealand for four years. “The timing is somewhat miraculous,” he continued, “There were over 100 guests for Shabbat. Only three people were in the center at the moment of the quake and all are safe.” Efforts immediately turned to finding and accounting for the thousands of young Israelis in New Zealand. (One, as noted, was killed by falling rubble. The car in which he was traveling was hit.)

Contact information and personal details were gathered and presented to the Israeli Embassy in Wellington. With the airport shut down, Shemi Tzur, Israel’s Ambassador to New Zealand, has been unable to travel to the site of the disaster by air, but is scheduled to arrive by car. He has asked Israeli travelers to leave the city. The Foreign Ministry estimates that 120-150 Israeli travelers were in Christchurch at the time of the quake, and is working to contact them.

“In the aftermath of the quake,” Goldstein told the Algemeiner, “a number of Israeli backpackers, many of them recently active IDF members, ran into collapsing buildings to help with the rescue efforts. They have saved many lives, incurring minor injuries in the process.”

In New York, a spokesman for the Israeli government conveyed to the Algemeiner that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had spoken with his New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully and expressed Israel’s condolences to the people of New Zealand and offered to send aid to the devastated city. As authorities continued to assess the city’s needs, Israel, said the spokesman “stands ready to assist.” Support in the form of supplies and equipment has been proffered. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed that efforts be made to see how Israel can “help local authorities in rescue missions and help Israelis.” ZAKA has also offered its services.

The community shul, the “Canterbury Hebrew Congregation has, according to its vice president, sustained an undetermined amount of damage. No other deaths or serious injuries are reported. “People are in shock but coping.” “Many parents are calling and are on the internet trying to locate their children. Over 100 backpackers have emailed the Chabad website which is carrying an alert instructing people to contact parents immediately,” according to Goldstein.

All members of a delegation of 43 American government, business and community leaders in Christchurch for a United States New Zealand Partnership Forum meeting is believed to be safe.. Nine U.S. Congressmen attending the meeting were reported to have left the city before the quake struck.

Rabbi Goldstein urges that “everyone to pray for the victims of this terrible tragedy, many of whom remain trapped in the rubble.”



Monday, February 21, 2011

Monticello's preservation forever linked to Jewish family 

I've never met an American who didn't have a soft spot in his heart for Thomas Jefferson and Monticello, his home and plantation in Charlottesville.

After his term as president expired in 1809, Jefferson lived full time at Monticello. The house, which Jefferson called "his essay in architecture," is a testament to his genius. The 11,000-square-foot neoclassical mansion has 21 rooms, and from the moment you set foot in the reception and waiting room, with its grass-green floor and museum-like exhibits of natural history specimens, Native American and African artifacts, you know are in the domain of a man of taste, knowledge and broad interests.

During his lifetime, Jefferson spent freely and entertained lavishly, often hosting dozens of guests for weeks at a time. When he died in 1826, he was about $100,000 in debt (about $2 million in today's dollars). Jefferson's heirs could not afford to keep Monticello and, to the shock and sadness of everyone who admired his book room (which once held more than 6,000 volumes), bedroom (where the latest gadgets and technological inventions surround his bed), dining room (with its dumbwaiters, hidden in the fireplace, that brought wine up from the cellar), guestrooms, art collection and dome room, the plantation had to be sold.

Historical treasure or not, no one wanted Monticello. In 1827, Jefferson's daughter and grandson auctioned off the slaves, possessions and even the stored grain and farm equipment. The empty house decayed from lack of upkeep. Finally, the estate was purchased by James Turner Barclay for $7,000, but he held on to it for only three years before selling it in 1834.



Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yeshiva plans scaled back in Chester 

The Hasidic owners of the former Inn at Chester are scaling back their plans to build a yeshiva at the site, as a deadline nears for them to start work on the project or risk shutting the school down.

Yeshiva Toras Chemed of Mount Kisco has until August before a settlement with the town to use trailers at the site as a temporary school runs out. The school, which traces its roots to a Holocaust scholar-hero, has touted for more than three years that it would build a formidable yeshiva, attracting students from all over the world.

The original site plan approved several years ago included a three-story 36,000-square-foot school building and a 9,000-square-foot dormitory. However, construction of the project never began, and a new engineer on the project, Kirk Rother of Warwick, approached the Planning Board early this month with a new scaled-down proposal that would build a two-story 24,000-square-foot building and a 4,500-square-foot dormitory.

The new version would also leave out a proposed drive that would connect the school to another access to the school from Route 17M. Officials with the school declined to answer questions about the changes.

Plans for the yeshiva drew attention in 2005, when Yeshiva Toras Chemed purchased the property, taking the ratable, assessed last year at $1.3 million, off the tax rolls. The school then violated multiple building codes in constructing a temporary school made of trailers.

The town settled the violations with the property owner under the condition that it make good on its promise to follow the law and to build a new school. The temporary use of the trailers would also be limited to 18 months.

But that deadline has been extended twice, and work has yet to be started. The temporary school also drew complaints from residents, who feared hitting the dark-clad yeshiva students while they walked along Route 17M, especially at night.

Building Inspector Joel Mlcoch said the town will likely grant another extension of the deadline, as long as the new site plan is approved by the Planning Board.



Saturday, February 19, 2011

Brooklyn rabbi sentenced to four years for extorting $4 million from hedge fund 

A Brooklyn rabbi convicted of extorting $4 million from a hedge fund was sentenced Friday to four years in prison.

Milton Balkany, 64, who headed a religious day school for girls in Borough Park, faced up to nine years in prison, but Manhattan Federal Court Judge Denise Cote said she took into account the rabbi's good deeds.

A lower sentence "would be appropriate based on a lifetime of good works and generosity for those in need and people who are the forgotten of society, the most unfortunate among us," Cote said, citing 87 letters written on Balkany's behalf.

And yet, despite the rabbi's plea for a no-jail sentence, Cote said some prison must be imposed to teach him a lesson.

"You were subject to criminal charges because you engaged in criminal behavior," she said. "You picked up the phone and tried to extort $4 million from a hedge fund ... the lack of contrition, remorse and sense of responsibility here in my mind is very profound."

Balkany was a "spiritual adviser" to a federal inmate who he said told him about insider trading at billionaire Steve Cohen's SAC Capital, prosecutors said.

The rabbi then demanded money from the fund or he'd tell the inmate to tell the feds about the trades. He even went as far as to contact the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan to get prosecutors to talk to the inmate.

SAC Capital advisors is a controversial Connecticut hedge fund who has had several ex-workers either charged or investigated in a massive insider trading probe by the U.S. Attorney's office.

Neither Cohen nor the firm itself has been charged, and jurors at Balkany's trial did not hear about the issue.

Balkany, a politically connected rabbi who skirted a federal investigation into bribery, misuse of HUD funds and other charges a decade ago, did not address the November conviction but denied the old bribery charges.

"I never gave a toothpick to a public official in my life," the rabbi said.

He also cited a letter of support from former U.S. Attorney Alan Vinegrad and said that current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a former member of Vinegrad's firm, would "be my first witness" to prove he never bribed anyone.

"I'm just hoping and praying that your honor will take the totality of (this) situation," Balkany said.

His lawyer asked that the judge postpone his imprisonment until after the Sabbath, which begins Friday night. But Cote denied the request.

Before being taken away by federal marshals, the white-bearded rabbi waved at his more than two dozen family members and supporters, called out "Good Shabbos" and blew his wife a kiss.



Friday, February 18, 2011

U.S. Justice Department Joins Jewish Group In Lawsuit Against Litchfield 

The U.S. Department of Justice has decided to intervene on the side of a Jewish group that is suing the Borough of Litchfield after being denied a permit to build a synagogue on the town green.

Chabad Lubavich of Litchfield County, a conservative Hasidic group that has been active in Litchfield over the past decade, filed its suit in federal district court in Bridgeport in 2009, alleging that the town's denial of a building permit violated the terms of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The act prohibits local governments from imposing zoning regulations that restrict religious freedom.

The lawsuit followed contentious hearings before Litchfield's Historic District Commission during which commission members made derogatory remarks about Jewish symbols before denying the group's application to build the synagogue and community center.

Last August, federal Judge Janet C. Hall found that statements made by commission members "may contain evidence of discrimination directed against Jewish people in general and the Chabad in particular," warranting a trial.

In January, lawyers for Litchfield filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that the RLUIPA is unconstitutional.

Litigants claiming that a federal law is unconstitutional are required to file notice of their action with the Justice Department, which then must decide whether it will enter the case to defend the constitutionality of the law. The Justice Department filed papers with the court on Wednesday saying that it plans to defend the constitutionality of the RLUIPA law as soon as it receives approval from the federal Solicitor General.

National experts on the RLUIPA statute say Justice Department intervention in such cases, while frequent, usually indicates that federal attorneys consider the case to have merit.

"The federal courts have unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the RLUIPA law," said Roman Storzer, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who has represented dozens of religious groups on land-use disputes similar to the Chabad case. "The defendants' argument [made by the Borough of Litchfield] sounds like a desperate ploy to avoid the applicability of the law. This kind of argument has never been successful, and it helps to have the federal government involved."

Hartford lawyer Kenneth Slater, who represents Chabad, said, "It's significant that the U.S. Justice Department agrees with us that the act is constitutional."

Litchfield's attorney, James Stedronsky, said he is relying on the expertise of his expert co-counsel, Prof. Marci Hamilton of Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law, to help the borough prevail.

"The Borough of Litchfield has retained the country's foremost constitutional scholar on RLUIPA to assist it in challenging the constitutionality of the law and the inadequacies of the plaintiffs' other constitutional claims," Stedronsky said. "The thrust of our argument is that our First Amendment does not allow municipalities to grant special indulgences to religious entities."



Thursday, February 17, 2011

Freed Defendant Blasts Prosecutors in $150 Million Suit 

abbar Collins, the jailhouse lawyer whose dogged investigation persuaded a federal judge to free him after he had served 15 years in prison for murder, sued New York City, Brooklyn prosecutors and city detectives for $150 million in damages yesterday.

Mr. Collins charged that prosecutors within the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes "had wrongfully withheld a key witness' recantation, had knowingly coerced and relied on false testimony and argument at trial, had knowingly suppressed exculpatory and impeachment evidence, and had acted affirmatively to cover up such misconduct for 15 years."

The civil rights complaint in Collins v. The City of New York, 11-civ-766, names as "the principal individual defendant" Michael F. Vecchione, a mainstay of Mr. Hynes' office who is now head of the rackets bureau and who led the 1995 prosecution that secured Mr. Collins' "unconstitutional conviction."

But it also alleges that the city is liable for the unlawful actions of defendant police detectives and prosecutors who acted in conformity with "affirmative or de facto municipal policies, practices and customs" or because as their employer, the city showed "deliberate indifference" to their misdeeds. Rather than disciplining the employees, the complaint says, Mr. Hynes and other policy makers "praised and promoted them, thereby encouraging future constitutional violations to occur."

The district attorney's office reported to Eastern District Judge Dora Irizzary just weeks before a June 8, 2010, hearing that the prosecution had inadvertently failed to disclose to Mr. Collins that one of its key witnesses recanted prior to changing his mind and testifying at trial. But Mr. Hynes later that day staunchly defended Mr. Vecchione's conduct, declining to investigate how the case had been handled (NYLJ, June 9, 2010).

The 106-page complaint filed in the Eastern District by attorney Joel B. Rudin also seeks damages individually from six other Brooklyn assistant district attorneys, two detectives assigned to the district attorney's office and two NYPD detectives. It lists 10 state and federal causes of action, including malicious prosecution and deprivation, denial of due process and a fair trial, fraud and negligent representation and—against the city—negligent training, hiring and supervision.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office declined to comment.

The lawsuit, which has been assigned to Judge Frederic Block, faces substantial hurdles.

Prosecutors are absolutely immune from suit for any actions, even misconduct, taken in the course of their official function. In an effort to surmount that problem, the complaint contends that in state and federal post-conviction proceedings, Mr. Vecchione was no longer functioning as a prosecutor, but as a fact witness.

There also are limitations on city liability. To prevail, Mr. Collins must show that the city maintained what is tantamount to an "official" policy of violating civil rights.

Mr. Collins was arrested on Feb. 6, 1994, and charged with the robbery and murder of Abraham Pollack, a landlord and member of Brooklyn's Hasidic community, at a time when it was criticizing the police for laxity in investigating crimes against its members by blacks.

According to the complaint, police settled on Mr. Collins as their principal suspect after receiving a tip, despite the fact that others had been fingered for the crime. By the time his trial began about a year later, Mr. Vecchione allegedly was encountering problems with his three principal witnesses.

One had recanted, another was refusing to testify and a third was beyond the court's jurisdiction in Puerto Rico in violation of the terms of his probation, the complaint says. It charges that the police and prosecutors secretly coerced witnesses to give false and unreliable testimony.

Edwin Oliva initially told the police that he had overheard Mr. Collins plotting the killing of the landlord with another person, but then changed his story.



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Brooklyn man faces 25 years in jail for yeshiva mowdown 

The Brooklyn man accused of mowing down a beloved yeshiva teacher faces up to 25 years in prison after a grand jury indicted him on aggravated vehicular homicide charges.

Anel Kolenovic ran through a red light at Ocean Avenue and Avenue N while driving recklessly on Nov. 29, 2010, killing Moshe Berkowitz and injuring two other women, authorities charged.

He was initially charged with criminally negligent homicide – a much less serious crime – but a grand jury returned a 16-count indictment, which included previously uncharged drunk-driving offenses.

Kolenovic’s blood alcohol content was 0.02 percent in a test taken three hours after the crash. The legal limit for driving is .08.

But, according to Todd Greenberg, Kolenovic’s lawyer, prosecutors are attempting to "reverse extrapolate" to figure out what his blood alcohol content was at the time of the crash.

Greenberg said experts have called the method "dubious at best" and said the formula does not take into account differences in people’s metabolism.

"They use an average," he said.

Greenberg said Kolenovic’s heart went out to the families of Berkowitz and the two injured women, but, "this is a tragic car accident."

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango ordered Kolenovic’s bail doubled to $400,000 abd told him to return to court on April 14.



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fire destroys cabin at camp on Sylvan Lake 

A fire destroyed an unoccupied cabin at a sleep-away camp in the Town of Beekman.

The fire, at Camp Kinder Ring, a Jewish overnight camp for children on Sylvan Lake, was reported at 12:05 a.m. Tuesday, authorities said.

The camp was closed for the winter and no one was in the cabin when the fire broke out, police said.

Construction workers were in the cabin Monday, sanding and refinishing the floor. Investigators are looking at construction material and equipment as a possible cause of the fire, said Dutchess County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. John Watterson.

The Town of Beekman fire department put out the blaze, he said.

The fire department could not immediately be reached for comment.



Monday, February 14, 2011

Solomon Dwek a liability in trials? 

When Solomon Dwek ran his national real estate Ponzi scheme, he used the power of persuasion to con relatives, investors and even a major bank out of tens of millions of dollars.

When Dwek later worked undercover for the FBI, 46 politicians, political operatives and rabbis were arrested on money laundering and bribery charges, mostly because Dwek had convinced them he could be trusted.

Now, though, Dwek's silver tongue may have lost its luster.

In the last year, the developer has had mixed results convincing federal juries that he is indeed telling the truth. The tally: one conviction, one partial conviction and one acquittal. Federal prosecutors didn't bother calling him to a fourth trial.

"Witnesses, unlike wine, don't get better with time," said New York lawyer Stuart Slotnick, a former trial attorney in the Brooklyn district attorney's office who has followed the Dwek case. "Generally the more witnesses testify and the more they are cross-examined by defense attorneys, the greater the holes in their stories appear."

Dwek's testimony helped the government secure corruption convictions against former Jersey City Deputy Mayor Leona Beldini and former state Assemblyman Daniel Van Pelt, R-Ocean. Beldini, though, was acquitted of two more serious charges.

The third case ended in an acquittal when Ridgefield Mayor Anthony R. Suarez was found not guilty of bribery, conspiracy and extortion charges. Dwek was not used in the fourth corruption case, that of former Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, D-Hudson, who was eventually acquitted.

Those two losses were the first defeat for the government in a corruption case since 1999, when four West New York police officers beat racketeering charges. Since that time, the U.S. Attorney's Office had gained guilty pleas or convictions in more than 150 corruption cases.

Dwek, formerly of Ocean Township, endured several days of intense grilling on the witness stand in both the Beldini and Van Pelt trials last year.

Defense attorneys Brian Neary and Robert R. Fuggi Jr. outlined various unsavory facets of Dwek's life, from the bribes he admitted paying to secure his religious school diploma, to the methods he used to bilk his uncle, Joseph Dwek, and his mentor Jack Adjmi, of millions of dollars.



Sunday, February 13, 2011

Masbia Soup Kitchen Breakfast 


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Montana Prisoner Sues Over Lack of Kosher Food 

Shelly Tischler, an inmate at Montana Women’s Prison, is suing state corrections officials claiming they aren’t willing to provide her with kosher food, which is in violation of her right to religious freedom.

Tischler filed a complaint with the U.S District Court in Billings, Montana explaining that she is Jewish and practices her faith by eating kosher meals. She went on to say that not only do prison officials deny her right to appropriate food; they also discriminate against her by delivering slurs about her faith.

The upcoming law suit names several defendants including the Montana Department of Corrections, the Montana Women’s Prison, Jo Acton (warden), Bob Paul and Sue Orand (deputy wardens), and three others.

Tischler was sentenced in 2005 to 20 years in prison for negligent homicide and criminal endangerment.

During her 6 years in prison thus far, Tischler has spent most of her time in Billings, but was also treated at the Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs. The prisoner was granted the ability to have or order kosher food for observance of Jewish holy days while at the Women’s Prison, but the Hospital would not allow the same privileges.

At one point, the suit claims that the Women’s Prison offered to have food prepared in a “kosher manner”, but Tischler doesn’t believe this to be acceptable.

“A kosher diet conforms to the divine will of God as expressed in the Torah which teaches that the slightest morsel of forbidden food taints not only the body, but the soul itself,” Tischler argues.

Complaints that Tischler has filed about the kosher food issue have been ignored. In fact, Tischler continues to be subjected to slurs from staff and inmates. Prison administrators don’t step in to prevent or discourage the derogatory comments.

Tischler is now seeking a jury trial, punitive damages and an injunction requiring the defendants to provide her and other Jewish inmates with kosher meals, if requested.



Friday, February 11, 2011

Brooklyn-Area Medical Equipment Company Owners and Operators Plead Guilty to Fraud Scheme Involving Diabetic Shoe Inserts 

The owners and operators of a Brooklyn-area durable medical equipment (DME) company pleaded guilty yesterday to defrauding the Medicare program, announced the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS).

Parke Levy, the owner of a DME company called Americare, and his mother Lorraine Levy, the director of customer service for Americare, each pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge I. Leo Glasser in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud. In their plea, Parke Levy, 48, and Lorraine Levy, 79, admitted that they billed Medicare for equipment and supplies that were never actually provided to Medicare beneficiaries. Sentencing is scheduled for May 17, 2011.

According to the indictment, Lorraine Levy solicited Medicare beneficiaries to whom Americare could provide diabetic supplies, including “free” shoes and inserts every year, even if the supplies were not medically necessary. Parke Levy and others met with Medicare beneficiaries to measure their feet using a measuring stick or ruler. Parke Levy and Lorraine Levy then submitted or caused to be submitted false Medicare claims for three pairs of custom molded inserts per patient, when in fact only off-the-shelf inserts were provided to beneficiaries.

The guilty pleas were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch of the Eastern District of New York and Thomas ODonnell, Special Agent-in-Charge of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) New York office.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Katherine Houston of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The case is being investigated by the FBI; HHS-OIG; Department of Labor, Office of the Inspector General; and the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General.

This case was brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Since their inception in March 2007, Medicare Fraud Strike Force operations in seven districts have obtained indictments of more than 850 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.1 billion. In addition, the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.



Thursday, February 10, 2011

Opening the Kaba Simplex Lock: Just How Easy Is It? 

I have received a plethora of e-mail from concerned security officers and locksmiths throughout the world, in both commercial and government sectors, wanting to understand the magnetic attack on the Kaba Simplex series of locks that was the subject of my original article on February 1, 2011.

Kaba is one of the world’s biggest lock manufacturers, and my article about the class action against it caused everyone to want to know just how simple or difficult the attack is to accomplish and whether they (or their clients) are at risk in their facilities or homes.

Because of the number of locks that may be affected throughout the world (with many in critical facilities), I view this as an extremely important security concern. So, for the past week I have been investigating three critical issues as a follow-up: just how the vulnerability was discovered by non-experts in relation to the Simplex series of locks, what is the fix that Kaba has devised to ensure the security of thousands of facilities that rely upon these devices, and is their fix effective?

Yesterday, I interviewed one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He is Jewish, Orthodox, lives in Brooklyn, deals in real estate, and until last summer, had confidence that his Simplex push-button lock would protect his property from unauthorized entry. It seems that Kaba has found a niche in the Orthodox community, especially in New York. Everyone uses their Simplex locks. Why? Because during the Sabbath, one cannot carry keys nor do any other work that would violate religious doctrine.

Essentially, Orthodox Jews cannot drive, use the phone, utilize anything electronic, or perform functions that are normally accomplished during the week. The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest in all respects. However, security is still important, and locking and unlocking doors becomes a major issue for those who cannot use keys on Friday and Saturday.

The Kaba Simplex solves the problem because it is a mechanical lock that utilizes push-buttons, which, believe it or not, are allowed under Jewish law. So Kaba has, in effect, created what I will refer to as its “Kosher Locks!” According to the plaintiff that I spoke with (who wishes to remain unnamed), virtually the entire Orthodox community relies upon Kaba for their security, both in their homes and many of their businesses.

Enter the dozen or so volunteers, the Jewish Geek Squad as it were, who help the elderly of the community when they need things fixed, technical-gizmo related assistance, or to get into their houses in Brooklyn when they have forgotten the combination to their door locks. It seems that in the summer of 2009, one of these volunteers figured out that many of the Kaba locks could be opened with a relatively inexpensive magnet.

So, for the past eighteen months, they have been performing Magnetic Mitzvahs (a good deed or charitable act under Jewish law) for the residents of Brooklyn, compliments of the deficient or defective design of the Simplex. The home and business owners thought it was a miracle: How can you wave your hand in front of my door lock and it opens? “Magic,” the saviors answered. “The Lords work.” They never told anyone how they were doing it. In fact, it appears they never told anyone about their secret until this fall.

And then the word leaked out and eventually ended up in the hands of lawyers, who decided that everyone was at risk and had been misled as to the security of the locks. They filed a lawsuit in November.



Wednesday, February 09, 2011

South Florida Hasidic Synagogue Files for Chapter 11 

Oy vey! Another Hasidic synagogue in South Florida has filed for Chapter 11 protection to stop a foreclosure.

The Chabad House Lubavitch of Palm Beach, which owes lender TD Bank $538,577, filed for bankruptcy protection to stop a foreclosure hearing that was set for Tuesday, according to the Palm Beach Post. The original loan was made by Fort Pierce-based Riverside National Bank, which first sought foreclosure in 2009. Riverside, whose assets were taken over by TD Bank after Riverside closed down, had said the synagogue didn’t repay nearly $700,000 on two loans backed by synagogue property.

Rabbi Shloime Ezagui told the Post in an interview Tuesday that the synagogue hasn’t been able to make loan payments and that the bankruptcy filing was only a temporary halt to the foreclosure suit. He noted that congregants started contributing less during the recession in 2008, and the contributions haven’t yet bounced back. And the wealthy have been making excuses not to contribute, he said.

“The Jewish people who have the money should feel a guilt trip,” Ezagui told the Post. “I see them in their Rolls Royces, I go to their million-dollar houses and they say, ‘I don’t have the money, Rabbi.’”

Chabad House Lubavitch bankruptcy attorney Robert Furr told the Post that Chabad synagogues are especially vulnerable because unlike other sects, Chabads don’t require regular member dues. “[The bankruptcy filing] gives them time to get the word out in the community that they need help,” Furr said.

According to documents filed Monday with the West Palm Beach bankruptcy court, Chabad House Lubavitch reported assets and debts each between $1 million and $10 million.

The Chabad House Lubavitch filing follows the bankruptcy filing last June of the Chabad-Lubavitch of Greater Boynton Beach, whose lender had also threatened to foreclose on the property. The Boynton Beach synagogue was able to say “shalom” to bankruptcy in December after settling a dispute with Stonegate Bank over a $3.8 million mortgage loan.



Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Synagogue's expansion plans anger neighbours 

A small ultra Orthodox synagogue on Hutchison Street is creating a stir with residents in the area.

Plans to expand the Gate David synagogue were approved by the Plateau Mont Royal borough Monday night.

Critics of the plan say the expansion will lower the standard of living in the area.

Some call the synagogues on Hutchison Street noisy and a nuisance, claiming that they attract illegal activity.

But the mayor of the Plateau insists the ultra Orthodox community has not broken any rules.

Other residents in the area say that accepting diversity is part and parcel of living on the street.

Opponents may ask for a referendum on the expansion plans. And so it may be months before the community knows it will receive its building permit or not.



Monday, February 07, 2011

'Snatch' diamond heist trial opens in Manhattan 

Prosecutors said it's a $7 million insurance scam right out of Guy Ritchie's movie "Snatch" -- with a pair of desperately broke jewelers hiring thugs to dress as gun-toting Hasidic Jews and "rob" their foundering Diamond District business.

But the two jewelers went on trial today, insisting that the thugs -- along with the entire New Year's Eve, 2008 heist -- were real.

"This was a real robbery," Michael Bachner, lawyer for defendant Mahaveer Kankariya, told a Manhattan judge in opening statements for the non-jury trial.

"This is a theory without a case," added Ben Brafman, lawyer for defendant Atul Shah.

Prosecutor Eugene Hurley told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Thomas Farber that his evidence, including the recovered surveillance footage -- shows the defendants conspired to pull the actual jewelry out of the safes and fill the safe with empty cardboard jewelry storage boxes prior to the robbery.

"They filled the safe with empty jewelry boxes so they could be strewn around the room by the fake robbers," Hurley said in opening statements.

The footage also shows how inept the "hired" thugs were, Hurley said.

"No real robbers would ever act like these guys," he said.

The defendants allegedly unwittingly tipped off investigators with Lloyds of London by lying about details of the crime during civil depositions. The pair counter that they got rattled, 13 months after the robbery, by the aggressive insurance investigators and simply made honest misstatements.

The duo are charged with grand larceny and insurance fraud.

Kankariya and Shah, US citizens who were born and raised in India by old-money jeweler families, are related by marriage. They ran joint businesses in a warren of shared offices at 2 West 46th St., according to court papers.

Kankariya's company, Real Creations, bought and sold jewelry to retailers. Shah's company, Dialite, bought and sold loose diamonds under three carats.

At 3 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2008, as Kankariya was home in New Jersey, two men dressed as Hasids gained entry to the defendants' offices by posing as customers -- but pulled guns and tied up their captives shortly after they were escorted inside a back office.

The two thugs then used spray paint to black out the surveillance camera lenses, and poured a sticky brown liquid into the recording equipment in the office's closet.

Trouble was, the liquid -- Pequa Heavy Duty Drain Opener, an empty bottle of which was recovered from the trash -- did not seep into the device's mother board.



Sunday, February 06, 2011

Lakewood, N.J.'s fastest-growing town, is defined by its diversity 

On one block are Gelbstein’s Bakery, Bookman’s Kosher Meat and Poultry, and Schreiber’s Shoes, all owned and frequented by members of Lakewood’s large Orthodox Jewish community.

Down the street are Puebla Travel and Latin Music, El Nuevo Mexico Records and Panaderia Mexicana, which cater to the town’s growing Latino population.

By 4:30 p.m. on a Friday, the tempo shifts, as the Jewish-owned shops close for the Sabbath, but the pulse picks up in the Latino businesses.

Clifton Avenue is more than Lakewood’s Main Street business district. In this Ocean County community — named by the 2010 Census as the fastest-growing town in New Jersey during the past decade — the street is a microcosm of how the town functions, and a portrait of the residents who have turned this onetime iron foundry and resort town into Jersey’s boom town.

To the surprise of almost everyone outside of Lakewood, Census data released last week showed the township’s population soared by more than 32,000, from 60,352 residents in 2000, to 92,843 in 2010. The increase vaults Lakewood into the state’s top 10 list of most-populated towns, at number seven.

The 54 percent population increase, according to residents and community leaders in Lakewood, was fueled by growth in the Jewish community, the Latino community and a third group, senior citizens. The town’s African-American population, meanwhile, dropped slightly.

"There was a time when I was the only pizza place in town," said Moseh Lankray, 46, who has lived in Lakewood for 20 years and owns Pizza Plus. "With the growth, seven other pizza stores opened up."



Saturday, February 05, 2011

Teacher, rabbi discrimination case settled 

A tentative settlement has been reached in the case of a veteran teacher and local rabbi who sued the Edison School District claiming discrimination on the basis of religion, age, gender and hostile work environment.

Bruce Neal alleged in May 2009 that former Orangewood Elementary School Principal Mark Holmes "intentionally and unlawfully harassed, discriminated and retaliated against him" between 1999 and 2008.

Details on the settlement were not disclosed.

“It was negotiated in good faith,” said Jacob Weisberg, Neal’s attorney. “It was satisfactory to all sides.”

The settlement details must be approved by the board of the school district’s insurance provider. This could take about a month.

Weisberg said Neal would not comment on the settlement.

Neal is an ordained Orthodox rabbi and second-grade teacher. Neal complained he was forced to remove his yarmulke, criticized for his diet and religious clothing and subjected to negative comments from co-workers about his being Jewish.

Holmes resigned from the district in January 2008, shortly after receiving a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct letter, and was informed the Edison school board would investigate his actions.

A trial was scheduled for June 7, 2011. Edison’s attorney, Leonard Herr, who could not be reached by press time Friday, said last month they hoped the case would be resolved as soon as possible.



Friday, February 04, 2011

Rabbis Plan Facebook Ban 

Rabbis in the ultra-orthodox community are reportedly readying a Facebook ban. The religious leaders will bar other ultra-orthodox Jews from the popular social networking serving on the grounds that the site promotes online communication of the sexes, thereby leading to questionable conversations, photographs, and activities.

The group argues that the site is has no business use (huh?), and is therefore a waste of precious time. A more othrodox-friendly social network might be promoted in place of the risqué Facebook.



Thursday, February 03, 2011

Guilty plea in Ponzi scheme said to target Orthodox Jews 

Joseph Shereshevsky, a former chief operating officer at WexTrust Capital LLC, pleaded guilty to felony counts of securities fraud, mail fraud and conspiracy in Manhattan federal court, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Shereshevsky, 54, could face a prison term of 210 to 262 months under his plea agreement, and will be required to make restitution to victims. Sentencing is scheduled for May 13.

WexTrust's founder and chairman, Steven Byers, pleaded guilty last April to one count each of securities fraud and conspiracy over the same scheme.

Mark Harris, a lawyer for Shereshevsky, declined to comment.

Shereshevsky lives in Norfolk, Virginia, prosecutors said.

Investigators including the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission had accused Byers and Shereshevsky of conducting at least 60 private placements purportedly to fund commercial real estate ventures, when in fact they were diverting money to themselves or to pay off prior investors.

In a 2008 civil complaint, the SEC said Chicago-based WexTrust raised the $255 million from at least 1,196 investors, mainly between 2005 and 2008.

The SEC said that Byers was involved with real estate investments, while Shereshevsky's role was to oversee real estate and diamond mining assets and use his "wide contacts" in the Orthodox Jewish community to solicit investors.

The case is U.S. v. Byers et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 08-01092.



Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Dutch Jews want fast punishment for anti-Semitism 

Jewish groups in the Netherlands called Wednesday for swifter punishment for Holocaust deniers as parliament debated how to combat rising anti-Semitism.

Among other measures, a Jewish umbrella organization said it wants Holocaust deniers punished under rules usually reserved for drunk drivers, shoplifters, and football hooligans.

Under the "snelrecht," or "fast justice" policy, police and prosecutors offer offenders a choice immediately after their arrest between a fine or a court appearance within two months.

"I don't understand why it should be difficult for policeman to give a fine directly to perpetrators of these remarks," said Ronny Naftaniel of The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, in a telephone interview.

He added that he would support the same measure for anti-Moroccan discrimination, which is also on the rise in the Netherlands.

Anti-Semitism has become a hot-button issue as many native Dutch blame anti-Semitism on the country's Muslim minority, while Muslims say there is a double standard and discrimination against those of Moroccan and Turkish ancestry goes unpunished.

A national police report in September found a 48 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents to 209 in 2009. The same report found that anti-Moroccan incidents rose 17 percent to 103.

After a wave of immigration in the 1990s Muslims make up around 1 million of the country's 16 million population. After being decimated during World War II, the Dutch Jewish population is estimated at 40,000-50,000.

Rising anti-Semitism "can be attributed to the rise of influence of Islam in the Netherlands," said Freedom party member of parliament Joram van Klaveren during the debate. "The more Islam, the more anti-Semitism."

Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, whose VVD party leads the country's ruling conservative coalition, was among several MPs who rejected those remarks.

"It's not your belief that counts, but your behavior," she said.

The exchange reflects the state of politics in the Netherlands.



Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Synagogue torched in Tunisia: Jewish leader 

Arsonists set fire to a synagogue in the southern Gabes region of Tunisia, a leader of the local Jewish community said Tuesday.

"Someone set fire to the synagogue on Monday night and the Torah scrolls were burned," Trabelsi Perez told AFP, criticising the lack of action by the security services to stop the attack.

"What astonished me was that there were police not far from the synagogue," added Perez, who is also head of the Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba, the oldest synagogue in Africa.

Twenty-one people were killed, including 16 European tourists, when Al-Qaeda bombers attacked Ghriba in April 2002.



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