Thursday, March 31, 2011

BBC plans to turn Hasidic Jews doc into full series 

A Hasidic Guide To Love, Marriage and Finding A Bride, directed by Paddy Wivell, kicks off the new series of BBC2 strand Wonderland in April, and documentaries commissioning editor Charlotte Moore has put development cash into investigating its series potential.

She said Wivell’s access was “a documentary-maker’s dream” and she wanted to exploit it further.

“It just makes sense to carry on. There is a real curiosity about these hidden worlds that sit alongside ours,” she said.

Although the single was commissioned under the working title My Big Hasidic Wedding, Moore stressed it was not a copycat of Channel 4’s runaway success, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

“I’m not commissioning this on the basis that we’ll get 8.5 million viewers. And they are such a different set of people who live by an entirely different set of codes, I can’t make that comparison,” she said.

ITV announced in January it had commissioned a one-off doc on Manchester’s Hasidic district for its Perspectives strand. Other broadcasters are thought to be investigating similar opportunities.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NYC Comptroller John Liu at Masbia 



Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) has announced the anticipated historic passage of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) provision which will provide TAP monies to income-eligible, post-secondary rabbinical college students to offset the cost of their tuition. Previously, these students were prohibited from receiving TAP because their schools were not under the State Education Department’s (SED) direct supervision. Both the Assembly and the Senate have agreed to enact legislation to include rabbinical college students, and the Governor is expected to take action on this bill as early as today.

“Ultimately, the passing of this legislation is a matter of equity,” Hikind said. “New York State denied these rabbinical college students tuition assistance even though the federal government saw fit to provide aid to these same students in the form of Pell grants. With the passage of this legislation, a grave injustice will be corrected. It sends a message that the State of New York finds a rabbinical education to be equivalent to that of a secular college education.”

Hikind praised Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for their leadership in ensuring passage of the legislation.

“We had many disappointments leading up this moment,” Hikind remarked. “There is no question that this bill could never have become a reality without the stalwart support of Senate Majority Leader Skelos, as well as the strong commitment and leadership of Speaker Silver and the Governor. This bill will positively impact thousands of low-income rabbinical college students.”

Hikind also noted that, “We could not have achieved this success without the efforts of
Rabbi Shiya Ostreicher and Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, along with many other members of Agudath Israel of America who played an essential role in securing this victory for the Jewish community. For ten years, Rabbi Ostreicher and Rabbi Lefkowitz worked with me. They attended countless meetings and tirelessly advocated for our community. People told us it would be impossible to pass this legislation, but with God’s help, the impossible became possible.”

Hikind also recognized the hard work of other legislators and advocates who were instrumental in lobbying for the passage of this bill including: Senator Marty Golden; Senator John Sampon; Senator Diane Savino; Assemblyman Peter Abbate; Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz; Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein; Rabbi Gedaliah Weinberger; Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel; and Mr. Chaskel Bennett.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Falco, O’Neill anouncing for Rockland sheriff 

The first political clash of 2011 is taking shape in the race to success James Kralik as Rockland County sheriff.

Two long-time Rockland police officers —Sheriff’s Chief Louis Falco and Clarkstown Detective Sgt. Tim O’Neill — will be declaring their intentions of running for sheriff.

Falco, 52 of Blauvelt, will kick off the 2011 election season with his announcement at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Casa Mia Manor House, 557 Route 303, Blauvelt.

O’Neill’s official announcement comes at 5:30 p.m. April 14 at La Terrazza, 291 S. Main St., New City.

Now, O’Neil, 56. of Stony Point,l could — and probably will — argue he announced first, that being the night he lost to Kralik four years ago come November.

Both O’Neill and Falco seeking to succeed Kralik, a member of the Sheriff’s Department for 46 and the sheriff since 1991. Kralik announced four years ago he would not seek another term.

Kralik defeated O’Neill after a tough fight in which O’Neill won four of the county’s five towns but lost Ramapo by enough to allow Kralik to squeeze through. The Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic bloc vote proved to be the difference for Kralik. O’Neill was highly critical of the religious community and Kralik and it remains to be seen what his strategy will be this time.

O’Neill and Falco will likely be going head-to-head for the Democratic line during a September primary in advance of the November election.
Rockland Republicans have not chosen a candidate. Kralik, a Republican not pleased with O’Neill, has endorsed Falco, a longtime adi to the sheriff who has become the face of the Sheriff’s Department during the past few years as Kralik has taken a back seat.

Most people in politics expect Kralik will use his influence among the Republicans to try and get Falco the GOP nomination and ballot line in November.

There’s been no word on a any challenger — Republican or Democrat — to Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who will be seeking his second, four-year term in November.



Monday, March 28, 2011

Rabbi pleads guilty in money transfer corruption case 

The spiritual leader for the Syrian Jewish community in the United States pleaded guilty Monday to operating an illegal money transfer business, as part of a massive federal probe into international money laundering and political corruption in New Jersey.

Saul Kassin, the chief rabbi of Congregation Sharee Zion in Brooklyn, New York, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized money transmitting, and agreed to forfeit nearly $370,000 to the government.

He entered the plea in a federal courtroom in Trenton, and was charged in New Jersey because of a transaction that had taken place in Deal, a Jersey Shore town that is a popular summer residence for members of the Syrian Jewish community of New York and New Jersey.

The 89-year-old Kassin appeared frail and hard-of-hearing, with a long, flowing white beard and yarmulke. He was given a court-issued hearing aid device and appeared confused by the proceedings at times, repeatedly asking U.S. District Court Judge Joel Pisano if he could explain to him his side of things.

Pisano explained that it was a plea hearing, and that Kassin would be able to speak during sentencing, which was tentatively scheduled for July 12. Pisano explained to Kassin that although prosecutors had said they would not press for jail time as part of the plea deal, his sentence would be up to Pisano's discretion.

Kassin was among five rabbis arrested in July 2009 and charged with money laundering.

There are 46 defendants in the wider federal investigation. The two tracks of the probe, which became New Jersey's largest corruption case, were tied together by a man named Solomon Dwek, the son of a prominent rabbi from Deal, who agreed to wear a wire for federal authorities after pleading guilty to a $50 million bank fraud.

Alternately posing as a businessman and a corrupt real estate developer, Dwek ensnared several members of his own Syrian Jewish community, as well as other Orthodox Jews, on money laundering charges before branching out to New Jersey officials in what prosecutors say was a cash-for-development assistance scheme.

According to criminal complaints filed by federal prosecutors, rabbis in Deal and Brooklyn laundered tens of millions of dollars as part of an operation between the United States and Israel.

They used charitable entities that they or their synagogues controlled to deposit checks, working with an Israeli who would send huge amounts of money back to the U.S. through so-called "cash houses" in Brooklyn. The rabbis typically kept 5 percent to 10 percent for themselves, according to court documents.

Kassin, as part of his plea deal, admitted Monday that he accepted thousands of dollars in checks from Dwek made out to the Magen Israel Society, a charitable organization Kassin controlled. Kassin then issued checks from the account to other organizations, taking 10 percent commissions from the transactions. Kassin admitted he knew the checks made out to the fund were not used for charitable purposes.

"Few financial crimes offend our sensibilities like those that hide illegal activities behind the curtain of charity," U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement. "Rabbi Kassin admitted that he misused his charity to operate an illegal money remitting business, allowing himself and others to criminally profit through the society's supposed legitimacy."

Kassin said he was unaware that Dwek had become an undercover cooperating witness for the federal government, or that he was wearing a wire and video camera and secretly recording their interactions.

Kassin's attorney, Gerald Shargel, said his client, although admitting to conducting a wire transfer without a proper license, had been manipulated by Dwek as a trusted member of the community, and as a result, had been "duped by a scoundrel."

"Here is one of the most decent, pious religious leaders in the country, the Kassin family has a 700 year history as leaders of their faith," said Shargel, who added the rabbi would soon turn 90 years-old. "He needed to get this case behind him."



Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lecture celebrates legacy of Monsey philanthropists 

As a young man during the Great Depression, Israel Stern accomplished something most would think impossible.

He went door-to-door selling electric vacuums at a time when many families could barely put food on the table. If that wasn't difficult enough, he often worked neighborhoods that didn't yet have electricity. His pitch was that once electricity came, which surely would be soon, the family would be the first to enjoy the luxury of a vacuum.

Stern was born in Poland in 1908, and was raised and educated in New York City. In 1930, he married Pearl Gulker in the Bronx, cementing a partnership that lasted until his death in 1997 at 88.

Theirs was more than a marriage. In 1939, they were partners in the founding of Metropolitan Vacuum Cleaner Co., which moved to Suffern in 1968 and thrives there under management of a second and third generation of Sterns. The company designs, manufactures and markets all sorts of vacuums and air-moving appliances, from dryers to pumps and more.

The Sterns settled in Monsey and became active in the Jewish community there and in the life of the entire county.

Their success allowed them to become influential philanthropists. By the time of Israel Stern's death on April 7, 1997, he was regarded by religious and secular leaders as one of the founders of Rockland's modern Jewish community.

Stern had been chairman of the Rockland United Jewish Appeal; a member of the county Israel Bonds committee; a founding member of what is now the Rockland Holocaust Museum and Study Center; a founder and former president of the Rockland Red Mogen Dovid of Israel; and a master builder of Yeshiva University.

Stern had also been a member of the Rockland County Human Rights Commission, and a founder and board member of the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation. The Sterns also donated the Jewish Community Meditation Room at the hospital.

Rabbi David Chanofsky of what was then Monsey Jewish Center, said of Stern at his death, "He was involved and was a leader of every possible cause and everything for good. He was one of the most perfect people I've ever known. He's just so very special."



Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maxwell House: a Haggadah tradition 

From the White House to the Schein house, Passover is good to the last drop thanks to the Maxwell House Haggadah, lovingly passed down through generations, red wine splotches and gravy smears marking nearly 80 years of service at American Seder tables.

The coffee company’s version of the text used at the holiday meal has been offered free at supermarkets with a Maxwell House purchase since the early 1930s. Now, more than 50 million copies are in print.
They even turned up when President Obama hosted his first Seder in the family dining room of the White House two years ago.

The company is issuing a new edition this year in time for the start of Passover, which begins the night of April 18.

“I feel like I’m passing on a piece of my childhood. They’re familiar and comfortable,” said Lisa Zwick, 44, of Laguna Hills, Calif. Her family, starting with her parents, has used the Maxwell House books for 37 years to tell the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.

For that, Maxwell House owes a debt to Joseph Jacobs Advertising and the Orthodox rabbi it hired back in 1923. The rabbi confirmed that the coffee bean is not a legume but a berry instead, so OK under the dietary rules observed by some Jews during the holiday.

The Haggadah giveaway began about a decade after the rabbi decreed that coffee was kosher for Passover as a way to clear up lingering consumer confusion and end the dip in coffee sales that had been observed each year around the eight-day celebration, said Elie Rosenfeld, who works on the Haggadah account at Joseph Jacobs.

The books have been distributed nearly continuously ever since. The company took two years off when paper was scarce during World War II.

A Haggadah includes special instructions, prayers, hymns and commentary unique to Passover. The manuals are given out to family and friends at the Seder table so all can participate in the retelling of Moses’ deliverance of the Jews from slavery more than 3,000 years ago.

The term Passover refers to the Jewish homes that were “passed over” by God’s angel of death, sent to snatch the Egyptians’ firstborn as punishment for the pharaoh’s refusal to free the slaves.

Susan Schein’s 30 copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah hold precious memories of her late dad, Philadelphia shoe salesman Ray Kaplan. His contribution to the Seder meal was — you guessed it — Maxwell House coffee, still a strong seller today but king to many coffee-drinkers back in the pre-Starbucks ‘60s when he was collecting the guides.

“Every year he would bring another one or two,” said Schein in Sunny Isles, Fla., near Miami, as she hauled out her dad’s books once again in preparation for this year’s Seder, with more than 20 guests expected.

“He was such a nice man. Every time I put them out, I think of him,” she said. “My china even matches. They’re blue.”

This year, 6-month-old Hazel Ray, her granddaughter named for her father, will be at the Seder table.

David Brimm was only 15 when his father died and he began leading his family’s Seder using copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah his parents collected through the ‘60s and ‘70s. He dismisses critics who complain the texts are fuddy-duddy or promote corporate involvement where none should exist.

“I’m fairly certain Moses wasn’t a Maxwell House guy,” joked Brimm, in Deerfield, Ill., near Chicago. “There’s a certain comfort at the table when we open the ‘sacred’ Maxwell House Haggadahs. We’ve augmented the service by singing Passover songs based on Broadway melodies.”

By some counts, more than 3,000 different types of Haggadahs exist today, offering commentary and activities to fill just about any niche — feminist, vegetarian, family fun, eco-conscious, socialist — even one co-edited by a pastor mixing a Christian perspective with the Jewish. Another promises a 30-minute Seder, as opposed to the usual hunger-inducing two- to four-hour service.

Fuggeddaboutit, say Maxwell House aficionados.

“We’ve tried others, but year after year we find our table set for 25 to 30 folks in our home and every place is set with a Maxwell House Haggadah. It makes our Passover Seder good to the last drop,” joked Dana Marlowe of Silver Spring, Md., who built on her mother’s stash of the books over 12 years of hosting her own Seders.

Last drop. Get it? Cracking wise about the famous Maxwell House catchphrase is a popular pastime among fans of the company’s Haggadah. The slogan from the company’s coffee commercials was used on the book’s cover in the early years.

Some families have laminated the books to preserve them or photocopied them to accommodate more guests. Marlowe, who runs a company that makes technology accessible to people with disabilities, had the text made into Braille, converted to larger print and translated into Spanish for guests.

“When I have friends who are deaf attend, I’ve interpreted the entire Maxwell House Haggadah into American Sign Language,” she said.

Rosenfeld, an Orthodox Jew, said the giveaway makes the books easy to acquire. Also, they’re not heavy on commentary, which is a draw for “high holiday Jews” who aren’t religious most of the year but do mark major observances.

The books have been around so long, Rosenfeld said, they’re now “part of the American Jewish experience. One doesn’t need to be well-schooled in Judaism to feel comfortable using this book.



Friday, March 25, 2011

Fraud Trial Nears Hasidic School in Brooklyn 

A civil-fraud lawsuit against a school in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood that serves as the educational arm of the Satmar Hasidic community, and that was caught up in the massive fraud involving Allou Health Care, is moving closer to trial.

Judge Elizabeth Strong of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn denied the United Talmudical Academy’s bid to dismiss a suit filed by a bankruptcy trustee for allegedly aiding and abetting Allou management’s fraud. In a recent decision, Strong granted UTA partial summary on a number of other claims involving almost $30 million in scores of transactions over a six-year period among Allou, UTA and other entities.

Kenneth P. Silverman, the bankruptcy trustee who’s been running Allou since 2003, and lender Congress Financial allege that UTA and some of its senior leaders knew of and actively participated in the massive fraud perpetrated by Allou’s former management, namely members of the Jacobs (aka Jacobwitz) family.

UTA attorney Thomas Kissane said his client had no knowledge about the Allou fraud.

“The judge confirmed that plaintiffs will have to establish that UTA knew about the fraud and fiduciary misconduct at Allou in order to prevail,” said Kissane, of New York law firm Schlam Stone & Dolan. “UTA had no such knowledge and is confident that the ultimate resolution will reflect that.”

UTA was founded in 1949 and operates religious schools in Brooklyn and elsewhere for the Satmar community, which, with more than 100,000 adherents, is one of the largest and fastest-growing sects of Hasidic Judaism in the world. About 7,500 students from prekindergarten through high school attend UTA’s schools. To pay the bills, UTA solicits and accepts donations and interest-free loans and holds an annual fundraising dinner.

According to the trustee’s suit, that structure provided Arthur Meisels, one of UTA’s leaders, with cover to let Allou and the Jacobses “park” money with UTA and launder funds through UTA. The government claimed the brothers siphoned millions of dollars from Allou for their own enrichment by laundering funds through affiliated companies controlled by the family and Meisels.



Hispanics, Hasidics increase 

A marked increase in the number of Hispanic and Hasidic residents fueled population surges in several Lower Hudson Valley villages, according to Census 2010 figures released Thursday.

Three suburban communities emerged with a majority or Hispanic residents: Port Chester, now 59 percent Latino; Brewster, 56 percent; and Sleepy Hollow, 51 percent.

"I think that for a long time now, it's always been assumed that we were the majority (in Port Chester)," said Blanca Lopez, who became the first Hispanic resident elected to office in Port Chester when she was voted on to the school board two years ago. "But now this really confirms it."

But the fastest growth occurred in Ramapo, where the Hasidic Jewish communities of New Square and Kaser grew by 50 and 42 percent, respectively. Surprising growth was also seen in Montebello, which grew 23 percent.

Rockland County's Haverstraw saw its existing Hispanic majority rise further, to 67 percent of residents in 2010, from 59 percent in 2000.

The 17 percent overall gain in Haverstraw's population is likely due in part to new housing developments along its Hudson River waterfront.

Edna Rivera, a lifelong Haverstraw resident and the director of Housing Opportunities for Growth and Revitalization, described the village as a community that resisted being "malled" by big-box stores.

"You've got a sense of community, you've got beautiful geography and then you've got affordability," Rivera said.

In Mount Kisco, a village known to have a fairly prominent Hispanic population, the rise in numbers didn't come as a surprise.

"I know the residents and the makeup of the community," village Mayor Michael Cindrich said Thursday. "This reflects what we already know and are living with."

"The issue in all government is that the culture is different and the language is not shared," Cindrich said. "There could be overcrowding issues in the schools and there could be a strain on some services. But it is what it is. Those are the numbers and it is good to have them to help us plan."



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Custody Battle Waged Over Brain-damaged Mom's Triplets 

Abbie Dorn always wanted children, and in June 2006 she got her wish -- triplets. But during a difficult birth she suffered severe brain damage that took away her chance to raise them.

Now, her parents and former husband are locked in a legal battle over whether Dorn is capable of interacting with her children, and whether they should visit her.

Last year a judge in Los Angeles County Superior Court ruled that Abbie Dorn's parents have the right to fight for visitation rights on her behalf.

The ruling cleared the way for a trial, which began Thursday. No matter who prevails, the case is likely to lead to years of appeals that could result in a legal landmark affecting the rights of mentally incapacitated parents.

Dorn, 34, last had contact with triplets Esti, Reuvi and Yossi in October 2007, when they were toddlers. They turned 4 last June.

Paul and Susan Cohen, a physician and former nurse, are conservators of Abbie Dorn's estate and care for their daughter full-time at their home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A $7.8 million medical malpractice settlement funds her treatment.

Her former husband, Daniel Dorn, is raising the triplets in Los Angeles, California.

Susan Cohen says her daughter has made considerable progress after intensive rehabilitation and now communicates by blinking her eyes.

"One slow blink means 'yes.' No response means 'no,'" said Cohen.

Daniel Dorn maintains that his former wife remains in a vegetative state. She is more than physically disabled, he contends in court papers, she is "neurologically incapacitated" and legally incompetent to make decisions involving her children.

Abbie and Dan Dorn, both devout Orthodox Jews, were in their early 20s when they met in Atlanta, Georgia, and embarked on a whirlwind romance. They married in August 2002 after dating for six months. Dan Dorn took a job with his father in Los Angeles, and his wife moved to Southern California with him.

Three years later, in the fall of 2005, Abbie became pregnant.

"They were very much in love," recalled her mother. But what happened to Abbie when her triplets were born would tear the young family apart.

According to her parents and their lawyers, during the delivery Abbie began bleeding severely and went into cardiac arrest, which deprived her brain of oxygen. Medical personnel were not able to resuscitate her for nearly 20 minutes, according to the Cohens and their lawyers.

After Abbie Dorn was revived, her condition initially seemed to improve. Her organs were functioning. Her blood was clotting. But over the next three days, she took a turn for the worse

With his wife's parents overseeing her medical care, Dan Dorn found himself a young father raising triplets. He believed Abbie's prospects of recovery were faint. One year to the day after the triplets were born, Dan notified the Cohens that he was ready to move on.

"I still love Abbie very much, but I am trying to move on and have been and will continue to parent our children, who are happy and are thriving," Dan Dorn told CNN in an e-mail.

At Dan's request, the Cohens initiated divorce proceedings on Abbie's behalf. The divorce was finalized in the fall of 2008.

Dorn and the Cohens continue to disagree over whether or not Abbie is making progress in her treatment. They also cannot agree on whether she has the ability to interact with her children.



Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chabadnik is running marathon in honour of his late father 

There are probably not too many orthodox Jews from the Chabad Lubavitch community who excel in marathon running. This is where Mendy Wenger, a Concordia University master’s student, comes in.
“I am not sure how many orthodox Jews take part in marathons, but definitely not too many,” Wenger concedes. “I do know that there have been headlines where some Chabadniks participated in the New York Marathon in the past year or two. When I am running, I wear a running cap instead of a kippa.”

Wenger will take part in the 2011 BMO Vancouver Marathon on May 1 to raise funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada. He’ll run the 42-kilometre course in memory of his late father, Rabbi Eliezer Wenger, who lost his battle with cancer a year ago. He is already well on his way to reaching his fundraising goal of $5,000 through the support of family, friends and colleagues.

“I want to make it more than just a physical feat,” said Wenger of his first full marathon. “For me, it is an ideal chance to raise funds for this organization whose cause has affected my life so much.”

Wenger, who graduated from Concordia in 2009 with a bachelor of science degree, received the Governor General’s Silver Medal, conferred annually on the graduating undergraduate student with the best academic record.

Following his graduation, he spent a year working as an actuary with Guardian Life Insurance in New York City. It was in the Big Apple that he picked up his passion for running.

In June 2009 he ran a five-mile fundraising race for prostate cancer in New York. That experience led him to register in February 2010 for the Ottawa Half Marathon that spring. He had to withdraw due to his father’s illness. When he returned to Montreal to begin his graduate degree in mathematics last summer he began training heavily for the Montreal Half Marathon. Completing the race, he took more away from the experience than just personal satisfaction.

“As I crossed the finish line, my elation at completing my first race was only marred by the absence of my father,” he said. “I resolved to take my passion for running and use it to honour the memory of my beloved father. When I cross the finish line in May, I’ll be thinking of him, but not just him. I’ll be thinking of those people out there who are currently suffering from these illnesses. This is what I can do in his memory.”

Wenger said his training for this event has been ongoing for a couple of months already.
“It consists of four to five runs a week, mostly outdoors, plus supplementary training,” he explained. “Each week, I complete one long run and several ‘shorter’ but faster runs. At this point, my long run is anywhere between 18 and 21 miles.

“The runs and constant training can seem tough and difficult at times, especially in the bitter-cold weather conditions, but this challenge is of course no match to the challenges my father faced and the challenges and tribulations that all cancer patients face on a daily basis.

“However, running in a marathon for this worthy cause is a way I can use my own fight and determination to help others.”



Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Simple Jew With a Touch of Gaga 

Last month, the hugely popular Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer, known simply as “Lipa,” released his latest album, “24/6,” a collection of cover songs currently popular at Hasidic weddings.

The release comes almost exactly three years after the singer’s then-largest concert was banned by many prominent rabbis in the Haredi world, and it is only the latest step in what has become an exceedingly successful career.

In early 2008, the then-rising Hasidic entertainer advertised a huge concert at Madison Square Garden dubbed “The Big Event.” Just two and a half weeks before the March 9 show, a ban was published in religious newspapers signed by many respected ultra-Orthodox rabbis. The ban resulted in the cancellation of the concert, as well as of an April show in London. The New York Times quoted Schmeltzer saying that he had no choice but to obey the decree. “I have a career, I have a wife and kids to support, I have a mortgage to pay, I have to get out of the fire.”

Since much of Lipa’s appeal stems from his unrestrained live performances (which often feature freestyle rapping in Yiddish and English), accommodating the ban could easily have scuttled his career. Yet Schmeltzer navigated the storm beautifully, publicly acknowledging his respect for the rabbis, while moving forward with a brilliantly subtle response.

Three months after the ban, Lipa released an album titled “A Poshiter Yid” (“A Simple Jew”), with cover art showing Lipa dressed as a “shtetl Yid,” sitting studying Torah. The semiotics of the album were masterful, proclaiming Shmeltzer a simple Jew, rather than the idolized entertainer the rabbis had accused him of being. Most impressive, thanks to Schmeltzer’s consistent good humor, the statement came across as genuine, rather than cynical.

The album also featured cleverly written lyrics, which, in addition to their literal meaning, provided commentary on Schmeltzer’s situation. On the title track, he sang: “Ikh fir shvere milkhomes mit sonim geferlekhe / az di yinge neshumes zol opvaksin ehrlekhe.“ (“I fight difficult battles with awesome enemies / so that the young souls will grow correctly.”) Delivered in first-person Yiddish, the lyrics speak of the challenge of staying faithful to tradition, while also referencing Lipa’s fight with the activists who organized the ban. A number of the songs on the album became popular on the wedding and bar mitzvah circuit, including the dance hit “Hentelakh.”

The album packaging also included a bookmark featuring the album art and the prayer traditionally recited before Torah study. This put Orthodox educators in the position of either having to ban a bookmark, or allowing all of their students to carry advertising for a “banned” artist.

Ever since that release, Schmeltzer has maintained a heavy concert and recording schedule. After initially toning down some public appearances and pledging not to sing secular music, Schmeltzer resumed his exuberant approach. In March 2009, he headlined a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden (which was not banned), and released an album of wedding hits titled “Non-Stop Lipa,” followed by a May 2010 album of new material titled “Me’imka D’Lipa.” The new album focuses mainly on recent material, although there are some classics too. It also includes a number of riffs from popular songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and K’naan’s “Waving Flags.”

Most intriguingly, Schmeltzer built a shul in Airmont, New York, which he runs. As he told me in a telephone conversation, he views the shul as an opportunity to show people that Orthodox Judaism is a positive lifestyle, as opposed to the experience he had with more radical elements of the community.

“We have an open door for everyone. It doesn’t matter what hat you wear… what clothes you wear,” he said. “As long as they come to pray… we give them a piece of kugel… It’s non-judgmental whatsoever!”

When I asked Schmeltzer about the ban, he quickly told me that he’s past it. In fact, it created new opportunities for him.

“Up until then I was afraid to do this show or that show… It made me stronger mentally and physically… I do whatever I want to, as long as it’s appropriate,” he said.

Looking ahead, Schmeltzer talks about a new album of original material, which he aims to release in September. The activists had hoped to silence him, but the ban had the reverse effect, giving Schmeltzer a bigger pulpit, figuratively and literally.



Graeme Hamilton: Quebec court rejects bid to restrain blogger 

With his ever-present camera ready to document the slightest infraction committed by his orthodox Jewish neighbours, blogger Pierre Lacerte is certainly a nuisance. A court this week described him as “a peculiar personality. He is excessive, meticulous, passionate. He is no picnic.”

But Judge Manon Ouimet of Quebec Court concluded that Mr. Lacerte’s campaign to expose what he calls the “unjustified political influence” of Montreal’s Hasidim was insufficient to justify an order under the Criminal Code that he keep the peace.

“The exercise, however abundant, of the defendant’s right to expression on his blog has a specific aim that does not threaten the personal safety of the plaintiffs,” Judge Ouimet ruled Monday. “It is not to intimidate, threaten or harass them that he is interested in them.”

The case was launched three years ago when Michael Rosenberg, a real-estate developer and prominent member of the Hasidic community in the borough of Outremont, complained to police. He was seeking an order forcing Mr. Lacerte to leave him alone.

Mr. Lacerte lives across the street from a synagogue founded by Mr. Rosenberg’s father. Mr. Rosenberg testified that Mr. Lacerte has harassed him since 2005, taking hundreds of photos of him or his car when it is double-parked in front of the synagogue. He took exception to being mocked and called the “half-billion-dollar man” on Mr. Lacerte’s blog and testified that he felt singled out because of his religion.

“He says that he is the son of a Holocaust survivor,” the judge summarized, “and since [Mr.] Lacerte goes after him gratuitously, he believes he is attacked because he is Jewish.”

He told the court that he considered Mr. Lacerte’s behaviour “excessive and abnormal.” He has stopped attending the synagogue founded by his father to avoid coming into contact with Mr. Lacerte.

Mr. Lacerte maintained that he is “not at all racist” and noted that he is married to a woman of foreign origin. (His wife is from Portugal.) He testified that he had lived peacefully on Outremont’s Hutchison Street for years until noisy renovations began on the synagogue in 2003.

“He is convinced that the city demonstrated unjustified complacency in both the illegal work on the synagogue and the illegal parking because [Mr.] Rosenberg is a rich and powerful man, and the authorities eat from his hand,” Judge Ouimet wrote.

She concluded: “The defendant asserts that he has absolutely nothing against Jews. He criticizes certain behaviour of Outremont’s orthodox Jewish community, and he decided to denounce what he considers to be abuses.”

The ruling comes against a backdrop of uneasy relations between Outremont’s Hasidim, who make up about one-fifth of the borough’s population, and the majority. In 2001, the Hasidim won a court case against Outremont, which had banned them from erecting an eruv, a symbolic string boundary that allows orthodox Jews to perform tasks that would otherwise be off limits on the Sabbath. More recently there have been campaigns against the opening of new synagogues on residential streets.

Mr. Lacerte is representative of a small group of extremely vocal critics, who say they are defending secularism. Typical of his humour, a blogpost jokes that one prominent Hasid will have to protect his car with a shopping bag from a kosher store. In response to Monday’s court ruling, he posted a photo-shopped painting by Rubens depicting Mr. Rosenberg in hell, crying out to a God represented by a shtreimel, the fur hat worn by ultra-orthodox Jews.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of his blog, in 2008, he wrote: “We have asked questions, turned over stones, uncovered questionable and revolting practices. It’s crazy how many bugs came running out when we shone our flashlights in shadowy corners.”

Mr. Rosenberg said in an interview Tuesday that he is disappointed with the ruling. “He’s a person with hate,” he said of Mr. Lacerte. “He and his few friends are trying to make as much trouble as they can. It’s very upsetting.” He plans to continue with a civil suit accusing Mr. Lacerte of slander.

Mr. Lacerte said in an interview that he has nothing to apologize for. His quarrel is not with Jews, he said, only with the “fundamentalist” Hasidim. “They refuse all contact. They even refuse the bylaws if they do not suit them,” he said. “That is what is disturbing.”




Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) is once again calling upon kosher food distributors to keep prices for this year’s Pesach items at or below cost. Previously, Hikind has successfully worked with kosher food manufacturers and distributors to maintain static prices or to reduce costs for Pesach foods, thereby easing the financial burden of so many Jews who would otherwise not have simchas yom tov.

In a letter sent to the CEOs of leading kosher food companies, Hikind wrote, “While some financial experts say that the economy is rebounding, the reality of hunger and poverty is still quite prevalent for many people in our community. And for those who cannot afford even the most basic necessities for yom tov, the advent of the Pesach season inspires real fear, anxiety and even despair.”

Hikind also notes in his letter that, “ordinarily, the outstanding social service organizations in our community would fill in the gaps – helping to ensure that no Jew goes hungry this Pesach by offering food vouchers for free matzohs, fruits, vegetables and chicken. But sadly, their reservoir of donors, including State funding, has dried up, and many such groups have had to close their doors due to lack of monetary support.”

Hikind has contacted Kedem Winery, Norman’s Dairy, Manischewitz, Gefen Foods, Tuv Taam, Mehadrin Dairy, Lieber’s Kosher Foods, and the World Cheese Company. To date, only World Cheese Company, the producers of HaOlam, Migdal and Miller’s Cheese, has responded positively to the Assemblyman’s request.

In a written response to Assemblyman Hikind, Vice President of Marketing for World Cheese Company Mr. Yudi Sherer, states, “It has always been the policy of our company not to raise the prices on our entire kosher cheese line throughout the Pesach season. . . .in fact, this year, in light of the extremely difficult economic times and hardships facing our community, please be advised, on most of our items we have given numerous promos. . . .”

Hikind is hopeful that supermarket owners will also commit to fair pricing practices this holiday season. “Every year at our Sedarim we recite, ‘whoever is hungry, let him come and eat [with us],’” remarked Hikind. “I am trying to ensure that no one will be hungry this Pesach or be forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.”


Monday, March 21, 2011

Kiryas Joel ambulance driver cited for 21 traffic violations 

A Kiryas Joel ambulance corps member faces charges of reckless driving for allegedly running a patrol officer and other motorists off the road in a frantic dash to get to a traffic accident on Route 17.

Officers arrested Menachem Kramer and cited him for 21 violations of vehicle and traffic laws in the Feb. 18 incident. He is scheduled to appear in village court April 7.

According to a police report, Kramer's gray 1999 Chevrolet Tahoe sped head-on toward a Village of Chester patrol officer on Brookside Avenue, forcing the officer to quickly maneuver his vehicle out of the way.

Kramer had his lights and sirens on in an apparent attempt to get to a Route 17 rollover that already was in the process of being cleared by Chester rescue workers, according to the report.

The victims in that rollover also had been determined to be uninjured, and they had refused medical attention, the police report said.

It was unclear Tuesday who had made the call to Kiryas Joel Ambulance, but it is well known that EMS workers from the Hasidic village rush to calls from members of their religion, even if other first responders already are at the scene tending to the wounded.

According to the report, Kramer drove at excessive speeds, as well as down the center of Brookside Avenue, forcing cars in the turning lanes to quickly veer out of the way — some into the path of oncoming traffic.

The Hasidic EMS worker then went through the red light at the intersection of Brookside and Summerville Way, where he made a left to get to the Route 17 Exit 126 on-ramp, the report said.

The pursuing Village of Chester officer called ahead to State Police, who were at the scene of the rollover, and asked them to detain Kramer upon his arrival.

Kramer was given 15 different traffic tickets by Chester village police, as well as an additional six tickets from state police, whose troopers also cited Kramer for driving recklessly.

Kramer and his attorney declined comment. Calls to the Kiryas Joel Ambulance Corps, known as Hatzolah in its community, went unreturned.

Village of Chester police Chief Peter Graziano said ambulance corps members, like all first responders, have leeway in obeying traffic laws when responding to emergencies, but they must use "due care."

"Running people off the road just isn't allowed," he said. The chief added that emergency officials in the village doesn't often drive carelessly.

"Just because you're a first responder, it doesn't give you the excuse to drive like a maniac," Graziano said.



Sunday, March 20, 2011

Purim celebrated at local Synagogue 

The Jewish Festival of Purim started last night, and many local Synagogues celebrated in style this afternoon.

Children dressed up for a masquerade contest and celebrated by reading the book of Esther.

The group also continued in the Purim tradition of giving the gift of food to friends.

In this case, guests feasted on a not so traditional Italian buffet.

Purim commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in ancient Persia.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Freilichen Purim! 


Friday, March 18, 2011

Area Preschoolers Celebrate Purim 

There was a childhood celebration of diversity in Charlottesville Friday morning. Preschoolers dressed up in costumes at Congregation Beth Israel to mark the holiday of Purim.

Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people from destruction. Wearing masks is a custom during the holiday to show how God remained hidden throughout the Purim miracle.

Giving to charity is also the order of the day. Zac Price, the director of early childhood education at Congregation Beth Israel said, "The moral of the story is that anything's possible, that you need to stand up not only for who you are, but also for other people."

The kids ate challah bread, drank grape juice and sang traditional Jewish songs.

Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar. This year it happened to fall on March 20.



Thursday, March 17, 2011

Laguna Chabad Goes Reggae for Purim 

The Chabad Jewish Center will introduce Purim Jamaica at 5 p.m. on Sunday, March 20, in the form of an island-themed holiday bash.

This is an event for all ages, featuring Megillah reading, reggae music and drum café with local musicians Jah Amen Mobely and David Gad, island-themed crafts for the kids, face painting, hair beading, and a Jamaican BBQ buffet. The cost is $15 for adults and $10 for children (aged 3 to 12).

The holiday of Purim celebrates the salvation of the Jewish people living in the fourth century B.C.E. from one of the most colorful villains in Jewish history. It is observed by public readings of the Megillah (Scroll of Esther), sending food to friends, giving gifts of money to the poor, and enjoying a festive meal. It is also customary to eat a cookie called Hamantashen, a triangular pastry filled with poppy seeds or jelly.

Chabad’s Rabbi Eli Goorevitch calls Purim Jamaica a “great combination of ancient Jewish traditions with a modern twist.”

In the spirit of Purim, guests are invited to come in costume. All are welcome to join, regardless of affiliation or background. The Chabad Jewish Center is located at 30804 S. Coast Hwy, across from the Montage Resort. RSVP is requested by visiting www.chabadoflaguna.com or calling 949-499-0770.



Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Baby Formula in Short Supply 

Kosher grocery stores are facing depleted stocks of an imported Israeli baby formula popular among Hasidic Jewish families.

Materna, the manufacturer, is no longer able to make shipments to the U.S., leading to shortages of one of the few dairy-based formulas that conforms to the religious laws followed by Hasidic Jews.

"I'm getting at least ten calls a day asking if it's in," said Yermi Fried, manager of Empire Kosher in Crown Heights. "It's sad, there's a big demand. People are grabbing it off the shelf, whatever is available. I have barely anything left."

While there is a wide selection of kosher formulas available on the market and used by Orthodox Jewish families, Hasidic families have fewer options. They look for a more stringent kosher standard referred to as cholov yisroel. The formula shortage was first reported by the website Kveller.com.

"It's an ultra-Orthodox standard of kashrut, which means the milk has to be watched by a kosher supervisor from the time it leaves the cow," said Sue Fishkoff, the California-based author of a book on kosher food.

The only dairy-based options sold commercially are the Materna formula and a Similac product, which families say is more expensive and doesn't come in a powder form. There are also soy-based formulas that Hasidic families can use.

"I use Materna for my daughter, and it's just not available now," said Chanie Frankel, a Borough Park mother of an 8-month-old. "Similac is way more expensive. It takes awhile for a kid to get adjusted to a formula, and my daughter is already adjusted to Materna. Now I have to go and find something else."

It's unclear why Materna halted deliveries to the U.S. The Materna USA website says the company is "working around the clock to resolve this" and refers to "issues that are beyond our control."

In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration issued an import alert instructing its field inspectors to detain infant formula from Materna Laboratories that had been produced in Post Maabarot, Israel. "This means that the product can be detained without further testing or inspection, as it does not meet FDA standards," an FDA spokeswoman said in an email.

The spokeswoman did not respond to follow-up questions.

A spokesman from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the agency has regulated milk products from Israel since at least 2009 because of the presence of foot-and-mouth disease there, but he was not aware of any specific problems with Materna.

Gabe Boxer, a general manager at Pomegranate supermarket in Brooklyn's Midwood section, said he stopped getting shipments of Materna from suppliers about two weeks ago. "It's a very, very popular item," he said. "We sell hundreds of units a week, if not thousands. We are getting phone calls every day from customers and we only have a few pieces left on the shelf."

Mr. Boxer said he was told by his suppliers that a shipment should be allowed into the country after Passover next month. "Everybody's almost out of it," he said.



Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Airline apologizes for plane prayer scare 

Alaska Airlines has apologized for a weekend incident in which three Orthodox Jewish businessmen triggered security concerns by conducting a prayer ritual on board a flight to Los Angeles.

The men began praying out loud in Hebrew shortly after takeoff on Flight 241 from Mexico City. Flight attendants alerted the flight deck, which then called the tower and alerted law enforcement. When the plane arrived at Los Angeles International Airport, it was met by the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and airport police.

The men were questioned, their bags searched, and it was determined they were not a threat according to the FBI.

"Alaska Airlines embraces the cultural and religious diversity of our passengers and employees. We apologize for the experience these three passengers went through after landing in Los Angeles as well as for any inconvenience to our other customers onboard," Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said.

Alaska Airlines said it plans to update its awareness training of Orthodox Jews and is reaching out to the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle for help.

The airline issued the apology after conducting an internal review of Sunday’s incident, and said it wasn’t just the prayers that worried the flight crew.

"Flight attendants observed unusual behavior from three male passengers that continued during the four-hour flight,” Egan said in a statement issued late Monday.

“Out of concern for the safety of all of the passengers on board, the crew erred on the side of caution and authorities were notified. The crew did not realize at the time that the passengers were Orthodox Jews engaging in prayer ritual in Hebrew."

Egan said three specific instances that went beyond the men's prayers appeared to be unusual behavior to the crew:

Flight attendants instructed everyone to stay seated with their seatbelts fastened as the aircraft flew through turbulence shortly after takeoff. The three passengers disregarded repeated requests, however, and stood up several times to retrieve objects from their luggage in the overhead bin that the crew had never seen, including small black boxes fastened with what appeared to be black tape. The crew learned after the plane landed that these were tefillin boxes worn during the prayer ritual.

The men prayed aloud together in a language unfamiliar to the crew while wearing what appeared to be black tape and wires strapped to their forearms and foreheads and wires on their chests. Their actions and behavior made some other travelers and the crew uneasy. The three passengers responded, but provided very little explanation, to a flight attendant’s questions about the tefillin boxes and what they were doing.

Later in the flight, two of the three passengers visited the lavatories together while the third waited in the aisle and continually looked around the cabin and toward the flight deck door. Flight attendants thought he appeared anxious, as if he were standing guard.

During weekday prayers, some Orthodox Jewish men wear teflillin, or phylacteries - black leather straps wrapped around the left arm and around the forehead. The straps are connected to small boxes with tiny scrolls containing Jewish scriptures. Many Orthodox Jewish men also wear a prayer shawl called a tallit under their clothes, with knotted fringes at each of the four corners.

Rabbi Motti Seligson, a spokesman for Chabad-Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish movement, explained the ritual further to CNN:

Tefillin are two leather black boxes with sacred parchment inside hand-crafted by a special scribe. The boxes are bound on the arm and head during prayer to spiritually align the mind and heart. I would encourage airlines to sensitize its employees to the salient effect of the tefillin ritual – and would be more than happy to put them in touch with local rabbis who can teach their personnel more about this tradition.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, this issue comes up occasionally. Last year after a similar incident, the ADL and Chabad sent a letter and a flier to all the major airlines explaining teflillin, said Deborah Lauter, ADL’s director of civil rights.

"We understand these prayer items may not be familiar. We gave them the suggestions that they do training about it. We had hoped they would include this in their training," Lauter said.

She said she is sending a letter to Alaska Airlines again to remind them.

Lauter said there is an onus on both parties in such a situation.

“The safety of passengers is paramount, and in this age of heightened security people are on edge. I think it’s understandable why people would have this reaction. There has to be a give and take too with the passengers. If they weren’t cooperating, that’s a different problem than religious sensitivity,” she said.

"Education is a two way street. We hope airlines will include this training with their staffs," Lauter said. “It also wouldn't hurt for passengers who are going to be participating in this ritual to alert the staff ahead of time.”



Monday, March 14, 2011

City sanitation worker Lance Lewin saved a life and went right back to work 

Downtown Manhattan looked like a scene from "The Day After Tomorrow" when sanitation worker Lance Lewin was sent to clear Elizabeth St. at the height of the post-Christmas snowstorm.

He came across someone in trouble in a stuck car.

"I knocked on the window, then I opened the door and here's Pinky," said Lewin, referring to Pincus Tusk, who was having a heart attack.

Lewin called for help and stayed with Tusk until paramedics, hindered by impassable streets, finally arrived. They got Tusk, 63, to the hospital.

Lewin, 33, kept on plowing, the days forming a white blur, his encounter with Tusk seeming unreal.

But Lewin's phone rang a few days later, and it was Tusk asking, "Is this my savior?"

"Yeah ...he's alive, he's gonna be all right," Lewin thought.

For his quick thinking, compassion and dedication, Lewin is the Daily News Hero of the Month.

"I'm feeling better," Tusk, of Flatbush, Brooklyn, told The News. "I'll never forget what he did. All I can say is thank you."

Lewin, of Bushwick, Brooklyn, has been with the Sanitation Department for 11 years. On Dec. 26, he had been working for 15 hours.

"We were getting our butts kicked by the snow," he said. "It took one hour and 45 minutes to get from South St. to Elizabeth St. in the Haulster" (a four-wheel drive vehicle with a plow in front and a hopper in the back).

He had plowed in front of the 5th Precinct stationhouse when he turned onto Elizabeth St. and found a dozen cars stuck in the snow.

On Grand St., as he was helping a man get his car out of the way of a fire truck, another man told him, "There's a dude in trouble in that car," pointing across the street.

Tusk had gotten stuck behind a car and helped push it free. Then he started having chest pains.

"He was done," Lewin said of Tusk. "He had no color, he'd been out there for over an hour, his car ran out of gas.

"My phone was dead, so I jumped on the radio, and said, 'Send EMS, there's a guy dying right in front of me,'" Lewin recalled.

"I asked who should I call. I was giving him chest compressions. I knew CPR," he continued. "It was surreal; it seemed like it took forever. I called the last number on his cell phone and got his son."

Suddenly, Emergency Medical Service paramedics came running up the block, bringing a chair. Their vehicle couldn't get down the block.

Tusk was gasping for air.

Firefighters pushed the car out of the way, Lewin helped get the stuck fire engine out, and Tusk was taken to Beth Israel Medical Center .

Lewin, who was born and raised in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, went back to his garage and told his co-workers, "I just saved a man's life." They responded, "Great, get out and plow Second Ave."

He later dropped off Tusk's car keys with his son Moshe at the hospital. "He hugged me. ...I said if it was my father, I'd want someone to be there with him," Lewin said.

"If he was gonna die, he shouldn't die alone."

When the rescue was in The News the next day, "Everyone went crazy, my phone, Facebook, emails," Lewin said. "His son texted me, 'You're an angel.' I got a little choked up."

Lewin finally reunited with Tusk a couple of weeks ago for the photograph shown here.

The act of compassion has earned Lewin a few citations, including one last week from the 7th Precinct, where his sanitation garage is located.

But Lewin said his greatest reward was being there for Tusk.

"It was meant to be," Lewin said.



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cleveland case questions security of lock used in court 

Orthodox Jews are challenging the security of a type of push-button lock used in their homes and some government buildings in complaints before a federal judge in Cleveland.

The complaints have been consolidated into a potential class-action lawsuit against the Swiss lock maker Kaba and its U.S. operations, alleging the locks can be easily breached using a small magnet, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland reported Sunday.

An attorney representing Kaba declined to comment to the newspaper.

The locks are used at the Cleveland federal courthouse, and John Climaco, a lawyer suing Kaba, said the large Cleveland Hopkins airport also uses the locks.

Orthodox Jews use the locks because restrictions for the Jewish Sabbath, from sundown Friday to Saturday night, would prevent them from leaving home with keys in their pockets.

Yeshai Michael Kutoff, 29, a Talmudic scholar in Cleveland Heights who is one of the plaintiffs in the case, called the push-button locks “a really popular solution for Orthodox Jews.” He recently installed a pair of the locks at his home and said he finds it unsettling that a company might sell a lock “that’s not really worth much.”

The locks can cost hundreds of dollars, but rare earth magnets that can open the locks are available online for as little as $30, Climaco said.

Kutoff’s attorney and friend, Mark Schlachet, said the alleged vulnerability was found in New York City by a volunteer for a group that helps out in the Jewish community through good deeds, such as helping residents who lock themselves out of a home.

A transcript of a Louisiana court hearing shows an attorney for Kaba, Mark Miller, has questioned the severity of the alleged vulnerability, The Plain Dealer reported.

According to the transcript, Miller said his research showed the magnet would have to be bagel-sized, indicating it would be heavy and might not be easily hidden.

The people who filed the lawsuit disagreed, offering a video that showed a much smaller magnet opening the locks, the paper said.

In a court filing, Kaba said an upgrade has been developed to resolve the problem, but Climaco said there are still concerns about protecting previously sold locks.

The people who have filed the complaints at least want new or upgraded locks, Schlachet said. The lawsuit doesn’t detail how much compensation they are seeking.



Saturday, March 12, 2011

A trip to Miami 


Friday, March 11, 2011

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

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


Chabad Tokyo Rep Says Area Relatively Safe 

An 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan, the largest to shake the country in at least one hundred years, and subsequent deadly Tsunami have rocked the island nation on Friday. Waves pounded coastal cities, killing hundreds in their wake, and forcing tens of thousands more to evacuate. The Israeli Foreign Ministry reports that 25 Israelis are missing at this time.

Before the onset of Shabbat in Japan lubavitch.com spoke to Rabbi Mendi Sudakevitch, Chabad’s representative to Japan. Sudakevitch reported that while they were frightened from the experience, they were unharmed and relatively safe. Tokyo, where Sudakevich and other members of the Jewish community are based, is 230 miles from earthquake’s epicenter and was relatively unaffected from the destruction.



Thursday, March 10, 2011

Orthodox grapple with ubiquity of Internet 

For Josh, a Brooklyn computer technician who deals almost exclusively with a haredi Orthodox clientele, it was quite the conundrum: A man brings his computer to be cleaned of a virus that Josh believes was acquired while visiting a pornographic website. A few weeks later the man returns with the same problem.

Should Josh (not his real name) advise his client about which sites will give him the rush he’s after without harming his computer?

While this wouldn’t be much of a problem in much of the world, inside the walls of Brooklyn’s insular Orthodox communities it’s a religious and moral dilemma of the utmost seriousness.

Josh feared for his business reputation; his client was frustrated by the recurring problem.

So Josh turned to several rabbis, none of whom gave him the go-ahead to advise his client on where to find virus-free porn. And though in subsequent years he has encountered the problem numerous times, Josh says he abides by the will of the rabbis.

“I know the virus when I see it. I know they got it from pornography,” said Josh, who works out of a basement office strewn with computer equipment and soda cans. “When they come back two to three weeks later and they got the same virus, it’s pretty clear they got a problem.”

The potentially adverse effects of the Internet on everything from neural wiring to the male libido has produced a rapidly expanding body of literature, prompting concerns that the brave new wired world is undermining relationships, fostering anti-social behavior, shrinking attention span and degrading the human capacity for deep thought.

But in the Orthodox world, the ready availability of Internet pornography is merely the most salacious manifestation of a broader challenge: How to cope with a technology that is becoming increasingly necessary for carrying out an ever expanding universe of daily tasks but offers limitless possibilities for religiously inappropriate behavior.

“There’s no question it’s a major problem,” said Rabbi Mordechai Twerski, a Brooklyn therapist who treats patients with a range of conditions he says are exacerbated by the Internet. “Our entire culture is overwhelmed by the flow of information in every facet of life. There’s no way to escape it anymore.”

For a long time, Orthodox Jews could escape it. Many haredi homes lack televisions and don’t subscribe to mainstream newspapers, abstentions that once presented effective barriers against the intrusions of the wider culture. But the Internet’s growing ubiquity has breached those walls in ways that undermine traditional communal taboos.

In response, the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah, the council of rabbinical authorities that routinely issues edicts on Orthodox religious life, repeatedly has urged Jews not to have Internet access at all. And if that proves unavoidable for business reasons, the council has mandated the installation of filters that block the most objectionable materials.

Such injunctions appear to be only marginally effective, however, as the Internet has intruded gradually into every facet of life. More potent may be restrictions placed by religious schools, several of which have official policies that students may not be enrolled if they have Internet access at home.

Gershon Singer’s children attend one such school in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn that is affiliated with the Bobov Chasidic sect. An electronics salesman at an emporium on 15th Avenue, Singer’s inventory includes computers, software and smartphone accessories, but he has no Internet connection at home even though one of his teenagers has been angling lately for it.



Wednesday, March 09, 2011

New Castle home invasion targeted, cops say 

A Yeshiva Road home that two men invaded Tuesday was targeted, police said today.

"Preliminary investigation indicates that this was not a random crime and the home was a planned target," New Castle police said in a statement.

The robbers posed as deliverymen when they went to the home at 12 Yeshiva Road in a gated Hasidic Jewish community around 3:15 p.m. They attacked and bound three people before fleeing when one of the victims freed herself and ran to a neighbor.

The two men remained at large this afternoon, police said. They are described as black males in their 30s. Both were wearing dark jackets and one may have had a beard.

The two may have fled in a white van that was seen parked in the driveway of the home at the time of the intrusion, police said.

A woman at the house told police that she answered her door when man said he had a package to deliver. He then attacked and bound her with duct tape, police said. The second robber then came inside and bound two other people, police said.

The pair fled after one of the women got loose and ran to a nearby house. Police said one woman was taken to a local hospital, where she was treated and released.

Police did not say what, if anything, the suspects got.

Anyone with information is asked to call New Castle police at 914-238-4422.



Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Maccabeats Release New Purim Song 

Following their hugely successful Chanukah-themed hit, “Candlelight,” the Maccabeats have released their latest single, “The Purim Song,” just in time for the upcoming holiday. The song, set to the tune of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” tells the story of Purim, a holiday commemorating a time when the Jews of Persia were miraculously saved from extermination.

“The last video exceeded our wildest expectations,” said Maccabeat Immanuel Shalev of “Candlelight,” which drew more than 4.7 million views on YouTube and garnered national media attention. “We’re touring the country, we’ve been on radio and TV, but the most rewarding thing about this whole experience was being able to tell the Chanukah story to millions of people. Jews who haven’t lit a menorah for years went out and bought Chanukah candles, and non-Jews who may not have known the story were interested in learning more.”

Shalev hopes the Maccabeats latest music video will accomplish something similar with the Purim story, “which is less known, but definitely not less important.”



Monday, March 07, 2011

Rabbi wearing a badge not a police officer 

Behind the wheel of his dark-colored SUV, Bernard Freilich could pass for a cop.

In fact, people close to Freilich say at times he's presented himself as one.

His black GMC is equipped with flashing emergency lights, a police radio, siren, a State Police placard on the dashboard and special license plates that say "official."

In his pocket Freilich carries a State Police employee-identification card, and occasionally he wears a gold State Police badge on a lanyard that hangs from his neck. But where he got the badge is anyone's guess.

Freilich is not a police officer. He's a rabbi paid $100,730 annually as a politically appointed State Police "special assistant," a job he's had since Gov. George Pataki gave him the title in March 1995. Freilich's job, in part, is to serve as a "community liaison" to the Hasidic Jewish community, according to a job description on file with State Police.

But in a period of government austerity some are questioning whether Freilich, 59, is a necessary asset to the State Police. Meanwhile, in a Brooklyn neighborhood where Freilich lives, his police-like credentials have sparked allegations he parks illegally and harassed motorists who believed he was a cop.

Since being appointed during Pataki's inaugural year, Freilich has held his job through the administrations of Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, and now Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo's father, Mario, first assigned a rabbi to the State Police payroll, but Andrew Cuomo has pledged to stem unnecessary hiring. Some former troopers said Freilich's job should get a hard look.

"He shows up, but it's really just to keep people from saying he isn't around," said State Police Lt. Keith Forte, who retired from the agency last August after a 25-year career. "This guy's sole purpose is to put forth a face for the Jewish community, and he has no real purpose with the State Police."

Forte was in charge of recruiting troopers. He worked with Freilich at the State Police's New York City headquarters on Randall's Island. Forte said he believes Freilich has kept his job because "in a nutshell, he gets votes for the governor."

"It's a political position," Forte said. "They always appoint a liaison to the State Police, and that person's job is to handle all Jewish-related affairs in the areas where Hasidic families reside ... but why is the Catholic priest or my reverend or my pastor not part of the State Police like this guy? No one else's community gets that same respect."

Aside from Freilich's murky job duties there are allegations he may have, on occasion, acted as if he were a trooper.

State Police officials said last week they did not issue Freilich a badge. Freilich said they gave it to him in 1995. The agency has a policy against issuing so-called "honorary" badges.

A former State Police superintendent, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said the State Police would not have issued Freilich a badge. The badge Freilich wears is blank where there are normally serial numbers indicative of an authentic shield that's unique to each sworn trooper.



Sunday, March 06, 2011

Amish Fed chickens to Kosher Soup Kitchen 

For the next few weeks the take-home packages at the MASBIA soup kitchens will include a special ingredient for chicken soup. Grow & Behold, a high-end, local meat vendor with an emphasis on animal welfare, will donate surplus, family-pack chicken bones for the soup kitchen. In addition, they will donate 5% of their gross revenue over the next few weeks in the lead-up to the Jewish holiday Purim.

Purim, which this year falls on Sunday, March 20, is the most charity focused holiday in the Jewish calendar, when according to Jewish teaching everyone needs to give charity. Grow & Behold hopes that people will stock up on pasture-raised poultry for the holiday, and thereby also help out the Masbia soup kitchen.

On Sunday, March 6, at 11AM, Grow & Behold staff together with Masbia will launch the campaign in the backyard egg farm of Naftali and Anna Hanau, owners of Grow & Behold, at 668 Sterling Pl. in Brooklyn.

Masbia soup kitchen network, with the help of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, runs 4 soup kitchens throughout New York City, serving 500 hot, nutritious meals every evening to hungry men, women and children. Masbia is open five days a week, and provides weekend packages that include prepared, and raw foods for people to take home for the weekend. " We call this double dipping, when someone donates both money and food," said Alexander Rapaport, executive director of Masbia. "The packs of chicken bones will make the perfect Sabbath chicken soup and the monetary donation will help us keep our doors open so we can continue feeding hungry New Yorkers five days a week."

Grow & Behold offers pastured meats raised on small family farms, mostly run by the Amish in Pennsylvania, that are produced in limited quantities to ensure the strictest Kosher standards, animal welfare, worker treatment, and sustainable agriculture.

"We are all about ethical food, and there is no better way to express this than by sharing with the needy," said Naftali Hanau, CEO and founder of Grow & Behold. "We love feeding people good food. On Purim, and all the time. It's an honor to partner with a great charity like Masbia to connect us to people we can help."


Saturday, March 05, 2011

Cuban trial of Jewish U.S. contractor over, no verdict announced 

The trial of U.S. government contractor Alan Gross, accused of trying to destabilize the Cuban government, ended Saturday, but no verdict was immediately given.

The court was told the verdict would be relayed to Gross' Cuban defense lawyer, but no timeframe was given, said Gloria Berbena, spokeswoman for the American diplomatic mission in Havana.

Gross was arrested 14 months ago. Cuba accuses him of distributing illegal satellite equipment to connect dissidents to the internet as part of efforts to undermine the government. The prosecution was asking for a 20-year sentence.

The United States says Gross was helping the small Jewish community connect to the internet and that he didn't break any laws.

Gross, a subcontractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was tried behind closed doors for two days in a case that derailed tentative efforts by both countries to overcome decades of hostility.

Gross' wife Judy attended the trial with her attorney. Three U.S. officials also attended as observers. She

has appealed to Cuba to release him on humanitarian grounds: His mother has recently been diagnosed with lung cancer and their daughter is recovering from a double mastectomy.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters Friday that Gross had been "unjustly jailed for far too long." He needs to be able to leave Cuba and return home, she said. This is a matter "of great personal pain" to his family and concern to the U.S. government.

Foreign diplomats have speculated that Cuba will find Gross guilty, but could release him fairly quickly on humanitarian grounds.



Friday, March 04, 2011

Diamond District jewelers accused in 'Snatch'-style heist found guilty 

A judge found two Diamond District jewelers guilty Friday of staging a fake heist straight out of the movie "Snatch" to get a $7 million insurance payout.

The phony robbery was a "desperate gamble" that went wrong, and the judge found each man guilty on all seven counts.

Prosecutors had said jewelers Atul Shah and Mahaveer Kankariya paid guys dressed as Hasidic Jews to barge into their store with fake guns, just like in the 2001 Guy Ritchie movie.

"I find that this fraud was predicated on a fake robbery," said Judge Thomas Farber in the bench trial at Manhattan Criminal Court. "The emptying of the safe, to me, is suspicious."

Farber also called Shah's testimony that he buzzed in the two Hasidic-dressed gunmen thinking they were Bombay couriers "frankly ridiculous."

As the judge read his verdict, both men looked straight ahead while their families leaned forward and gripped each others' hands.

Farber said he determined both men worked togetherin the scheme.

"It is clear to me that this was a conspiracy and could not have worked any other way," he said. "This was the most difficult thing I've done in my career. I find the defendants guilty."

The jewelers' insurance bid went sour after officials recovered surveillance video of Shah and Kankariya clearing out a safe two hours before the fake gunmen got there on Dec. 31, 2008.

The partners had attempted to destroy the evidence, pouring Drano over the recording equipment in their offices, but the video was in good enough shape for technicians to repair it.




Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) is calling on Mayor Bloomberg to remove the Boro Park Y and Agudah Senior Centers from the list of senior centers slated for closure. An advisory sent to all senior centers from the New York City Department for the Aging (DFTA) states that unless the $25 million in federal Title XX monies are restored by the state, DFTA will be forced to close up to 110 of the 256 senior centers citywide.
In a letter to Bloomberg regarding the proposed closures of these two centers, Hikind wrote, “This is most certainly a travesty, as these centers provide vital services to the elderly, particularly Holocaust survivors, in the form of social support, hot, nutritious meals, exercise, advocacy and activities. Moreover, it is brutally unfair to target the only two centers located in Boro Park which also serve kosher meals.”

The letter continues, “While I recognize that budget cuts are an inevitable reality given the current economic situation at both the City and State levels, I urge you in the strongest of terms to remove these centers from DFTA’s chopping block as a matter of equity for the Boro Park community. . . . The Holocaust survivors in my district have already sacrificed enough. The closure of these centers would prove nothing short of devastating to them.”

On a daily basis, the Boro Park Y feeds and assists more than 250 people, while the Agudah Center serves 104 meals in-house, 133 home-bound meals, and 48 meals to senior housing projects. Over 70% of seniors who attend these centers are Holocaust survivors. But for these two centers, many of these vulnerable seniors would otherwise go hungry and remain socially isolated.

The State Assembly and Senate are in the process of negotiating the 2011-12 budget.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Unorthodox Cooking: Ex-Hasidic Jew Heralds Shift in Food TV 

From the moment Joshie Berger, a former Hasidic Jew, appeared on screen wearing a white tank top and holding a Tupperware container full of burnt chulent, a Jewish Sabbath stew, it was clear that Worst Cooks in America would be unlike most reality cooking shows. Or any show on the Food Network, for that matter.

Worst Cooks in America, having just finished its second season, has managed to straddle the line between startlingly conventional, family-friendly reality entertainment and groundbreaking television. A campy and competitive contest first and foremost, the show also implicitly—and unexpectedly—broaches major cultural themes from food taboos, to ethics and values in eating choices, to the shame of the Western diet. The success of Joshie, an ebullient 36-year-old from Borough Park in Brooklyn, who overcomes his aversion to treyf (non-kosher) foods, was a highpoint of this past season.

Here is the premise of Worst Cooks in America: take 16 awful home cooks, train them through a culinary boot camp with chefs Anne Burrell and Robert Irvine, then pit them against one another in a series of contests to see who improves the most. It is a clever, unglamorous spin on popular shows such as Chopped on the Food Network or Top Chef on Bravo. The chef-instructors provide lessons to the contestants on what it means to julienne, chiffonade, pan-sear, or braise. Worst Cooks successfully introduces advanced cooking concepts to the average viewer since its contestants are indeed average viewers.

Many of the show's stars seemed to have food aversions, whether a juvenile rejection of all things green, a dislike of the texture of okra, or a fear of the unknown. ("Does anyone know what veal is made from?" one contestant asked. Nobody else could answer.)

However, two food aversions stood out all season-long. Kelly Gray's vegetarianism was challenged by the meat-centric menu offerings. And Joshie's erstwhile kosher eating habits, a holdover from his former religious life, led to interesting exchanges and squeamish movements. Shellfish in particular challenged Joshie, who "used to not kiss girlfriends after they ate it."

Nearly 10 years off the path of an Orthodox Jewish life and now a tireless critic of Orthodoxy, Joshie still displays a characteristic Jewishness, not just through his fear of squid but also through cadence of speaking and storytelling style. "He uses humor to tell stories, and then he can be unexpectedly profound," explained Jay Novella, co-host of the radio show The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe and supporter of Joshie's newfound atheism, who saw Joshie's ability to craft his own narrative as the key to his success.



Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Judge in Mets kosher hot dog case recuses himself for fan cap 

A federal judge overseeing a kosher food vendor's lawsuit against the Mets recused himself from the case Tuesday apparently because the plaintiff's lawyer spotted him wearing a Mets hat outside the courthouse.

Brooklyn Magistrate Judge Andrew Carter said that he was stepping aside because he wanted to make sure there was no public perception that he was rooting for one side, a source told the Daily News.

The News reported Saturday that a lawyer for Kosher Foods Inc., which is suing the Mets forbarring the vendor from selling kosher franks at Citi Field during the Jewish Sabbath, expressed concern that the judge was wearing a Mets cap and a blue-and-orange tie.

Carter declined to comment.



Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Stopping hate by changing minds 

When the crime is ignorance, sometimes the punishment that fits is education.

That is what a group of Spring Valley teens will get, including one who pleaded guilty Friday in Rockland County Court to felony menacing as a hate crime. He was among four teens who confronted Orthodox Jews last April in Ramapo with a profanity-laced tirade and death threats. Two of the teens brandished a baseball bat during the confrontation, police said, but there was no physical contact. Two others had already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Ramapo Town Court. A fourth teen, who was 15 at the time of the incident, was referred to Rockland Family Court.

The teen in court Friday, who was 16 at the time of the incident, admitted his role; the judge has indicated that the April 25 sentencing will include five years' probation, work release with the Rockland County Sheriff's Department, and community service. That service will be spent at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley — 200 hours' worth. This is not light duty, in subject matter or in time. The two sentenced in Ramapo Town Court will also fill their community service — 75 hours apiece — at the Holocaust Center.

Tanja Sarett, executive director of the Holocaust Museum & Study Center in Spring Valley, called the sentence a "special opportunity." And it is. For the youths, it will be an opportunity for them to meet people as individuals, not see them merely as part of a group; to dispel stereotypes; and to build connections among a diverse community. "We want to give him a second chance," Sarett told the Editorial Board, commenting on the youth in court Friday. Sarett said she hopes his time at the center will teach him that "we are people who are caring, caring about his community and hopefully him caring about ours."
Teaching respect

The Holocaust Center teaches about the suffering and systematic killing that took place in Nazi Germany. It features museum displays, education programs, teacher training, community lectures and visits by Holocaust survivors. According to its mission statement, it aims to ensure that "the Holocaust will not be forgotten, and will not be repeated ... the lessons of cultural diversity, mutual respect and understanding of the other are emphasized."

Mutual respect is sorely needed in a community as diverse as Ramapo's. In the East Ramapo school district, which the teens attend, school board meetings often erupt in heated arguments among parents of public school children and Orthodox Jewish members of the school board whose families use the private yeshiva school system. That area of Ramapo, including Spring Valley, is home to large Haitian and Orthodox Jewish communities, as well as a growing Latino presence. It is not always a peaceful co-existence.

That is why the Holocaust Center "sentence" is not just a punishment to fit the crime, but an opportunity to stem future, hate-fueled confrontations. "Hate crimes, that's learned behavior. You have to protect your future victims by addressing that behavior," Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe told the Editorial Board. "You have to make sure it doesn't happen again. Simply punishing doesn't change a mindset."

Zugibe called the community service portion of the sentence "restorative justice" that the victims of the anti-Semitic incident supported. Let's hope, for these first-time offenders and the wider community, justice has been served.



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