Tuesday, May 31, 2011

British rabbi attacked thrice in within weeks 

A rabbi in England has been targeted three times by suspected anti-Semitic vandals. In three separate attacks this month, bricks were thrown twice through the window of the home of Rabbi Shmuli Pink's home, and a brick also smashed the window of his car. Pink is the rabbi of the Leicester Hebrew Congregation, located in the East Midlands region. He and his wife have seven children. He has lived in the community, serving its approximately 400 Orthodox Jews, for nearly ten years, the ‘Jewish Chronicle’ reported.

Police are reportedly treating the attacks as "religiously motivated" since the intended victim is a rabbi, the newspaper reported. "It has been an unpleasant experience but we have got the support of other faith groups and we are working very closely with the police," Pink told the ‘Leicestershire Mercury’.

Lawrence Jacobs, the synagogue's security officer, told the same newspaper: "When you have three attacks in as many weeks there is a reason for that and it looks like they were religiously motivated. We have no idea at all who has done it. These attacks werhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gife frightening for the children in the house at the time. We are very happy with the police response and we hope those responsible will be caught. The police are treating it with a lot of gravity."



Monday, May 30, 2011

Victim Condemns the New Square Attack 


Rabbi files lawsuit against D.C. elections board 

An Orthodox rabbi in Washington and two of his congregants have filed a class-action suit against the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics.

The complaint, filed May 27, claims that the board placed an unconstitutional burden on observant Jews by scheduling a special election on the last day of Passover this year.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom-the National Synagogue and the two plaintiffs want the Board of Elections to adopt a procedure that ensures that elections are not scheduled on any religious holidays, according to plaintiff lawyer Steven Lieberman.

“In the next three years, there are 10 Tuesdays” that are Jewish holidays, “so this very well can happen again,” Lieberman said.

A lawyer for the board had no comment.

Herzfeld had first sued prior to the April 26 election, asking that the date be changed or that voting hours be extended about two hours so that observant Jews could vote after Passover, which ended at approximately 8:40 p.m.

Orthodox Jews may not write or use electronic devices on holidays.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan had rejected Herzfeld’s motion, but said that had the Board of Elections sought a change of date due to the holiday conflict, he would have granted it.

The board scheduled early voting for the previous Sunday, April 24, which was Easter Sunday.



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Grand rebbe's word is law in New Square 

The New Square man who was severely burned in an arson attack last week had become an outcast in his Hasidic world for daring to go against the wishes of a figure who is not often defied.

The "grand rebbe" of the Skver Hasidic sect that runs New Square is a 70-year-old, rarely seen, Romanian-born rabbi who comes from what's known as a "dynasty" of Hasidic leaders.

David Twersky is the rebbe, guru and monarch of the nearly 7,000 residents of New Square, making every significant decision about their way of life. Like other Hasidic leaders, he is believed by many to be an intermediary with God, so his word is not to be questioned.

"The rebbe never says things that are wrong for the people," resident Menasha Luftig, 33, said.

The May 22 attack on a New Square man who defied Twersky by not attending the village's main synagogue has raised many questions outside New Square's borders about the extent of the grand rebbe's influence on his followers and whether Twersky is indirectly responsible for the shocking outbreak of violence.

Aron Rottenberg, 43, suffered third-degree burns on half his body after his family endured months of broken windows, threats and the expulsion of their daughter from a village school.

The suspect in the case, Shaul Spitzer, 18, who also was injured, had been a devoted aide to Twersky, living in his home for more than a year and screening visitors.

Rockland County Sheriff James Kralik, who served as the department's first liaison to New Square almost 50 years ago, said the community should have known the Rottenberhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifgs were in danger.

"The fear of disunity has driven people there to this illogical ending," he said.

A few in New Square have openly blamed Twersky for not responding to a campaign of intimidation against Rottenberg's family.

"The only one who could stop this is David Twersky himself," said Pinches Dirnfeld, 26, who plans to leave New Square.

Twersky did condemn the violence on Thursday in a statement to yeshiva students, asking followers to pray for Rottenberg.



Saturday, May 28, 2011

New Square rabbi condemns violence; burn victim's family seeks federal probe 

Grand Rebbe David Twersky publicly denounced violence and said he's praying for Aron Rottenberg's recovery from Sunday's near-fatal arson attack in his community, but the victim's family on Friday rejected the overture and blamed the rabbi for inciting the attack by a teenage assistant who slept in his home.

The family said in a statement that the Skver Hasidim's rabbi "gave the clear signals to continue with this terror against any non-believers of him. As this attacker came directly from his own inner circle, the rabbi's personal butler, who personally knows best of the rabbi's will and desires firsthand."

Twersky on Thursday issued his first public response to a group of students. Transcripts of the speech were widely circulated on the Internet.

"The use of force and violence to make a point or settle an argument violates Skver's most fundamental principles," the rabbi said.

Shaul Spitzer, 18, is charged with attempted murder in the attack that left Rottenberg with third -degree burns across 50 percent of his body. The teen, who is also hospitalized with third-degree burns to his hands, is accused of trying to set the family's Truman Avenue house on fire.

On Friday, Rottenberg's lawyer wrote U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for a federal investigation of the "religiously motivated" hate crime.

"This horrific act, evocative of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany, culminated months of bigotry, harassment and violence toward the Rottenberg family directed by the village's religious leadership headed by Grand Rebbe David Twersky," lawyer Michael Sussman of Orange County wrote.

Detective Lt. Mark Emma of the Ramapo police said that "there may be federal crimes involved" and that his department would not rule out assistance from the U.S. http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifAttorney's Office and the FBI.

Until Thursday, Twersky had been publicly silent on the attack, though the community's religious court had condemned it. Unsigned notices of sympathy also had been posted in the community's synagogue.



Friday, May 27, 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 'Summer Fun' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Hasidic burn victim wants US, NY to investigate 

A lawyer for a man who was badly burned at his home in a Hasidic Jewish village is seeking a federal investigation into what he calls "hate crimes" by the community's religious leadership.

He said the attack evoked "the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Germany."

The attorney, Michael Sussman, in a letter dated Thursday, said Sunday's violence was the culmination of months of harassment directed by religious leaders of New Square, headed by Grand Rebbe David Twersky, against Aron Rottenberg. The Hasidic sect that populates New Square, about 30 miles northwest of New York City, was decimated during the Holocaust.

Relatives said Rottenberg, 43, was targeted because he stopped worshipping at New Square's main synagogue. Sussman said Rottenberg prays with a new congregation outside the village.

Sussman's letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said intolerance has long infected New Square. He described the attitude as, "Obey the Grand Rebbe or face harassment, violence and expulsion."

A woman who answered the phone at the synagogue office Friday hung up on a reporter. Twersky said in a speech Thursday that the use of force is "never permissible."

In a translation provided by the Committee of Friends of New Square, a group of concerned citizens whose spokesman is political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, Twersky said, "I am anguished by the heartbreaking events of this past week. ... We who have suffered so much from brutality must embody the path of peace and tranquility."

Twersky said New Square takes pride in its unity but, "Unity does not mean agreement on everything. It means the willingness to live side by side and to love one another, despite differences."

Early Sunday morning, Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns over half his body when he confronted behind his house a man who was carrying a flammable liquid in a bottle. Rottenberg is hospitalized in New York City.

Police arrested teenager Shaul Spitzer, a village resident who also was burned. Spitzer, 18, was arraigned in his hospital room Tuesday on charges of attempted murder, attempted arson and assault. Police said he apparently was trying to burn down Rottenberg's house.

A lawyer for Spitzer didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment Friday.

Rottenberg's son-in-law, Moshed Elbaum, said Thursday the family had received anonymous phone calls saying, "Your house won't be worth a penny."

"That means they're going to burn it down," Elbaum said.

Rottenberg's wife, Ruth Rottenberg, said, "We're terrified of everyone now."

Police said they would investigate thoroughly, but Sussman said local authorities do little because of the congregation's political influence. New Square often delivers a bloc vote. For example, in the 2000 U.S. Senate race, Democratic contender Hillary Rodham Clinton took 1,400 of New Square's 1,412 votes



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Big Brother at a kosher restaurant near you 

Talks on using cameras in the kitchens of kosher restaurants have led to accusations of "Big Brother" tactics by the supervisory body.

The scheme could mean officials at the London Beth Din could log in online and access cameras inside its 17 restaurants at any time.

The footage could alert the KLBD to staff breaking any of the strict conditions required under its supervision, including scrutinising and cleaning vegetables of all insects and ensuring fish and meat are prepared separately.

Rabbi Jeremy Conway, executive director of the London Beth Din Kashrut Division, said: "We have no immediate plans to install cameras in restaurants.

"However, this is a great idea which could help reduce the amount of inspection required and thus the costs of supervision. The concept of using modern technology to enhance Jewish living is at the centre of the KLBD approach to kashrut and the ability to have 24/7 supervision for minimal cost is definitely something we should be looking at."

One London restaurant owner said: "I think it is quite intrusive and while we would have nothing to hide, it kind of says the Beth Din doesn't trust its licence-holders, and smells a bit of Big Brother."

But others did not object to the idea. Leor Nissim, who owns the White House and Isola Bella chains, said: "When I was in the process of opening a new restaurant in Golders Green earlier this year, I was asked by the Beth Din about the cameras and was told they were looking into having access to them.

"We install cameras anyway and our staff all know they are being watched. It may seem like an invasion of privacy but if a restaurant hasn't got anything to hide, why not?

"Our camera systems are on the internet so you can log on at any time and have access to the cameras."

Other batei din are also considering similar schemes.

Manchester Beth Din, which licenses six restaurants, began accessing cameras at Pagoda in Whitefield six months ago. Registrar, Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, said: "We will look to take advantage of those licensees who already have cameras.

"It's not a substitute for inspections, but an added safeguard and opportunity to exercise vigilance. It is useful in places where there is not full-time supervision."



Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Square burn victim's family shouted down at press conference 

A press conference held today by family members of a man badly burned in an arson attack turned into a shouting match when a village man called the family's lawyer an anti-Semite for going against the grand rabbi.

At the press conference held in front of Aron Rottenberg's Truman Avenue home, attorney Michael Sussman said the 43-year-old plumber was targeted with protests by the village Hasidic Jewish community's leadership for not praying in grand rabbi David Twersky's synagogue . Sussman called for state and federal investigations into the arson attack Sunday that left Rottenberg severly burned.

Rottenberg's son Jacob, 21, said he had spent the evening of the attack nervously watching the security camera he had installed a week earlier after threatening phone calls.

Jacob Rottenberg said the suspect, Shaul Spitzer, 18, of Adams Lane, had approached the home wearing a scarf over his face. The two men were injured when Rottenberg tried to remove the scarf.

Aron Rottenberg's son-in-law, Moshe Elbaum, was interrupted several times at the press conference by village resident Shulem Sofar.

Sofar refuted the family's claims and during a heated exchange said Sussman was "anti-semitic ." When Elbaum asked what his father-in-law had done wrong, Shulem replied: "It's the wrong thing to do against the rabbi."

Aron Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns across 50 percent of his body during Sunday's attack. He underwent skin grafts Tuesday at the Westchester Medical Center.

Ramapo police charged Spitzer with felony counts second-degree attempted murder, first-degree attempted arson and first-degree assault.

Spitzer, who worked in the grand rabbi's house and is a cousin of the village deputy mayor, was released Tuesday evening from custody after his family and community members posted $300,000 bail.

They posted cash and a bank check with the court, District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said today. Zugibe said the case will be brought before the grand jury.

He remhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifains in the Cornell Medical Center burn unit in Manhattan for severe burns on his hands and arms he suffered during the attack.



Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) is calling upon City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the City Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, and local Council members to block Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to assess a fee for garbage pick-up against religious institutions and nonprofit organizations beginning in July 2012. The City has said such a measure would generate $17.2 million a year in new revenue.

“This is a move which would disproportionately affect Orthodox Jewish communities throughout New York City, be they in Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Kew Garden Hills or even Far Rockaway,” said Hikind. “At a time when so many of our yeshivos cannot even make payroll and our shuls cannot meet their overhead expenses, this is nothing short of an outrage.”

In a letter to Speaker Quinn and Council members, Hikind wrote in part, “The City’s budget should not be balanced on the backs of our religious and nonprofit groups which can least afford to pay yet another oppressive tax. While this plan is still in an exploratory phase, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to make your opposition to this ill-conceived scheme known to the Mayor.”

“The bottom line is that the City needs to stop dumping on our community,” noted Hikind. “We’ve already taken a huge hit with cuts to priority 5 and 7 vouchers. It seems like just when our community is recovering from the last wallop, we find ourselves reeling again. This plan is wholly unacceptable, plain and simple. The City Council should put this proposal in the trash, where it belongs.”


11 year old raising $25,000 for Masbia Soup Kitchen 


Monday, May 23, 2011

Attempted murder charge filed in NY burning case 

A charge of attempted murder has been added against an 18-year-old New York man who allegedly set a neighbor on fire in what may have been a religious dispute in a Hasidic Jewish village.

Ramapo police Chief Peter Brower said Monday that Shaul Spitzer of New Square was trying to burn down Aron Rottenberg's house when both men suffered burns and were hospitalized Sunday.

Brower said the 43-year-old Rottenberg had third-degree burns on half his body. Spitzer had burns on his hands and arms. He now faces charges of arson, assault and attempted murder. Police did not know if he had a lawyer.

A relative said Rottenberg's family has been threatened because they do not worship at New Square's main synagogue. Brower said only that there had been "other instances" at the home.



Sunday, May 22, 2011

Police: NY man badly burned in religious dispute 

Police say a New York man has suffered severe burns during a fight over a religious dispute within his all-Hasidic Jewish village.

The altercation happened early Sunday in New Square in suburban Rockland County.

Police say the 43-year-old victim fought off a village resident armed with an incendiary device. Ramapo police arrested 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer on felony counts of first-degree attempted arson and first-degree assault. The suspect had serious burns to his hands and arms and has been hospitalized. No information on an attorney for Spitzer was immediately available.

The victim also is hospitalized.

Police told the Journal News that the victim's family had been targeted before because the victim prayed outside the main synagogue used by the community's grand rabbi.

The Journal News is withholding the victim's name.



Saturday, May 21, 2011

Twins from France prepare for Lag Baomer parade 


Friday, May 20, 2011

Kosher pizza restaurant wants University Heights City Council to drop delivery-only requirement for summer 

A kosher take-out pizza restaurant seeks to have City Council drop a restriction it imposed last summer that would require the business to do home delivery only from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Talia Gahanian and Zahava Seltzer, co-owners of Top It Off Pizza, are appealing a May 11 decision by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to deny any modification to that ruling by council.

Council was set to hear the appeal May 16, but Fred Bolotin, legal counsel for Gahanian and Seltzer, asked that the appeal be tabled until council’s next meeting so more data could be provided about traffic flow patterns around the business.

Since Nov. 1, Top It Off Pizza has been offering curbside pickup out of the lot adjacent to the Heights Jewish Center Synagogue, 14270 Cedar Road.

Council granted the request to table, so the appeal will be heard at 6:30 p.m. June 6.

Council normally starts its meetings at 7:30 p.m., but Gahanian and Seltzer, both Orthodox Jews from University Heights, requested an earlier time since they believed the Jewish holiday of Shavuot begins at sundown June 6.

Although the two-day holiday actually starts at sundown June 7, the meeting time will remain 6:30 p.m., Mayor Susan Infeld said.

Meanwhile, council voted May 16 to allow Top It Off Pizza to continue to offer curbside pickup for four days after Memorial Day: May 31 through June 3.

Bolotin noted the city’s swimming pool is closed those four days. The main reason council granted the business a special use permit for one year, effective Oct. 1, with the condition of delivery only — no pickup — from Memorial Day through Labor Day is that is basically the city’s summer pool season.

The Heights Jewish Center is adjacent to Purvis Park, at Cedar and Wrenford roads, and the synagogue’s parking lot is used for access to the swimming pool and the park.

Concerns about traffic and safety caused council to not allow any pickup of pizzas while the pool is open.

But the pool, which is open Memorial Day weekend May 28-30, closes again May 31 and does not reopen until June 4.

So council members saw no harm in allowing the restaurant to offer pickup those four days while the pool is closed.

Gahanian said business has been “sporadic” at Top It Off Pizza. She said it averages about 15 vehicles a day with a high of 37 in one day.

May 11, Gahanian told the BZA the restaurant has not generated as much traffic as she had anticipated. Robert Altshuler, vice president of Heights Jewish Center, said the synagogue doesn’t even notice the traffic from it.

“It doesn’t impact us in any way,” he said. “It’s basically minimal. We’re in favor of (the delivery-only requirement being dropped).”

Gahanian added it would be “cost prohibitive” for the business to do delivery only during the summer.

“It’s quite likely we would have to close,” she said.

But BZA membhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifer Rick Adante said he was inclined to send the matter back to council.

BZA member Thomas Cozzens agreed. He added if the board denies the application, Gahanian and Seltzer could appeal to council, as they did last year, when council overturned the BZA’s decision to deny a special permit.



Williamsburg Cyclist Has Helmetcam Footage of Homicidal Hasidic School Bus Drivers 

Well this won't do much to cool the summer South Williamburg bike wars: a Brooklyn cyclist with helmet-mounted camera recently took to the streets for first-hand footage of alleged Hasidic-hipster aggression. What he found wasn't exactly the street-fighting, bike-trapping reported elsewhere, but it's worrisome nonetheless.

The cyclist who shot this footage, who told Gothamist, ""I bicycle through Williamsburg every morning with a camera mounted on my helmet," has his closest call when an apparently stopped school bus roars into action and seemingly deliberately cuts him. After some window-banging and exchanged words, the driver apologizes for attempting to kill the cyclist, and everyone agrees to share the road and be nice—until the cyclist comes across another school bus.

Anecdotally, avoiding the Hasidic school buses has long been my way of justifying getting to work late. Ride through South Williamsburg at 10:15am on a weekday and it's calm cruising, but anytime before ten one's bound to come across at least one (likely many, many more) such bus swerving and stopping diagonally on Kent or Wythe avenues. For all their wide-swinging turns and sudden accelerations, though, my interactions with the bus drivers have always been civil if not downright courteous. That said, my commute doesn't involve riding along BQE-adjacent death trap Williamsburg Street, as the video-making rider's does, apparently.



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Behind The Scenes At B&H 

A photographer named Linhbergh Nguyen bought a camera from B&H photo in New York, a camera store run by Satmar Hasidic Jews in a manner that more resembles Katz’s Deli with its arcane ticketing/receipt system than a retail establishment. On the camera he found some shots inside what appears to be a testing lab in the store, which is interesting but not the real draw.

What’s missing here is what the store conveyor looks like inside. See, when you pop into the shop, you pick the item you want, the clerk has it brought up, and then you get a slip to give to the cash register folks who ring you up. Then the item you bought is stuck onto a little conveyor that dumps the purchase out at the front http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifwhere you hand over your receipt and grab your prize. It’s basically the most convoluted anti-theft system you’ve ever seen and seems to be a holdover from the old days when everything in the store was behind the counter.

Anyway, the photos are pretty cool and it looks like those guys are having a blast talking cameras and rocking out to AC/DC or whatever they have on those headphones.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hasidic Jews love 'nothing better than a wedding' 

North London's highly orthodox and intensely private Hasidic Jewish community "loves nothing better than a good wedding", a BBC documentary has revealed.

Filmmaker Paddy Wivell who spent three months with the Hasidic Jews, found despite men and women being segregated at weddings, the reception is a time for both sexes to celebrate.

The father of the groom, Avi Bresler showed his nerves, and put on drinks, food and dancing for his guests.

Hasidic Jews can attend about 100 weddings a year in their community.



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Grand Jury Indicts Suspect in Synagogue Terror Case 

A grand jury in Manhattan has indicted Ahmed Ferhani, one of two men accused of participating in a plot to blow up synagogues and kill Jews in New York City, the AP reported.

The charges against him will likely be unveiled in court on June 16, 2011.

The office of New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is taking more time to present its case against the second suspect, Mohamed Mamdouh.

In a daytime takedown, detectives with the Intelligence Division, which investigates terrorism, arrested the two men, Ferhani, 26, and Mamdouh, 20, in Manhattan at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. Moments earlier, Ferhani bought guns, ammunition and an inert grenade from an undercover cop, the NYPD said.

The men claimed to be upset over the treatment of Muslims around the world. Ferhani also expressed his intent to participate in a "Jihad," according to the criminal complaint.

They were arraigned last week on initial charges including conspiracy as a crime of terrorism, a rarely used state law.

Through attorneys, the men have denied the allegations.

Mamdouh's lawyer agreed Tuesday to give prosecutors until June 2 to take the case against Mamdouh to a grand jury.

The men were recorded discussing a synagogue attack, prosecutors said.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office declined to get involved in the case. Some sources have said the federal authorities were not comfortable with the NYPD's case.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Schools Fight Gets Heated 

The large Orthodox Jewish community here sends most of its children to private schools but took control of the public school district six years ago.

Now, there's a heated school board election pitting three Orthodox Jewish candidates against so-called "public school candidates," who have or had children in the school system.

Critics say the current school board has favored private schools, closing two public schools and arranging for them to be used by yeshivas, or private Jewish schools.

Members of the Orthodox Jewish community say the board is acting appropriately and trying to make sure that the needs of children attending private school aren't ignored.

At a Parent Teacher Association candidate's forum last week, the only candidates that showed up were public school candidates. None of their opponents made an appearance.

It was the same story at an NAACP candidate's forum earlier this month. The Orthodox candidates complain they never received an invitation.

"There has been a lot of division, unfortunately," said Kim Foskew, president of the Parent Teacher Association Council. "I wish there weren't. People are getting angry. It's just the culmination of everything and it has built up a lot of animosity."

Similar power struggles have taken place in communities with large Orthodox populations, such as Lawrence, Long Island, and Lakewood, N.J. But in the East Ramapo district, residents say the conflict has reached the breaking point. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the New York Civil Liberties Union have written letters to school officials expressing concerns about various issues in the district.

Situated about 35 miles northwest of New York City, the East Ramapo district faces an unusual situation. Its public student population of roughly 8,100 is dwarfed by a private student population of about 20,000. The majority of private students are educated in yeshivas.

For years the Orthodox community—migrating to Rockland from Brooklyn—held a couple of seats on the nine-member board. But as the private student population grew, they began contesting more seats.

In 2005, Orthodox members became the majority on the East Ramapo school board. In a subsequent election the first Hasidic was elected to the board. Since then, the Hasidim have become the majority.

Critics claim that the school board has ignored the needs of a student population that is about 90% minority, with large Haitian and Latino populations. More than 60% of the district's public students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch last year.

One of the closed schools was leased to two yeshivas; the other was slated to be sold to a yeshiva. The sale is on hold pending a review of a complaint filed by Steve White, an activist heading up the campaigns of the public school candidates, to state officials, alleging that the sale price was undervalued.

Parents critical of the board also allege that the board has improperly placed Orthodox Jewish special education students in private and other public schools. A state education audit last year found that the district was placing students with disabilities in private schools when spots were available in public schools.

The local branch of the NAACP filed a complaint with the federal Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights alleging discrimination for special education placements, among other things, which is currently under investigation.

Some parents and activists were further angered when the board replaced its long-time local attorney with a Long Island attorney who charges a higher hourly rate and has represented an Orthodox-controlled board in Long Island where he helped with similar legal challenges regarding school closures and special education.

Samuel Heilman, a professor of Jewish Studies at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said Hasidic and Orthodox populations, such as in Ramapo, have many internal divisions and sects. But when it comes securing more resources for their community, they will rally together.

"They vote as a bloc," said Mr. Heilman. "They vote based on who is going to provide them with services. They have a very strong grass-roots network and everybody knows who they have to vote for."

Aron Wieder has been leading the Orthodox faction of the school board since his election three years ago. Mr. Wieder abruptly decided not to seek re-election.

At a "Kosher on the Go" Shell gas station in Monsey last week two men speaking in Yiddish asked Mr. Wieder why he wasn't running.

Mr. Wieder explains that he became a lightning rod of controversy so he decided not to run. But he remains concerned that the Orthodox could lose their majority. Others in his community share his concern. They say that the board should be equally concerned with both public and private students.

"I think the purpose of the school board is to make sure that all kids get an education," said Shaya Green, an Orthodox Jew from Monsey who has four children in private school. "All kids include private school kids. And public school kids. There's very little that we get back from the district. I'm very worried that if they get in they will take that all way."

The district pays for the transportation for private school students and textbooks, as mandated by state law, as well as the education of all special needs students.

Many in the Orthodox and Hasidic communities defend the placement of special needs students in schools outside of the district. "Not every child in the Hasidic community is the right fit and the comfortable fit to be put into a public school class," said Yehuda Weissmandhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifl, a Hasidic Jew who is running for the school board. "And that is something that needs to be understood and respected."

But the opposition candidates, such as Peggy Hatton, who lost a campaign in 2009, say the cultural misunderstandings go the other way, too.

"The people who are currently running the school board do not understand the culture of the children who attend the public schools and they don't quite frankly have skin in the game," said Ms. Hatton. "Why do they want to be a part of the school board to begin with?"



Sunday, May 15, 2011

Monsey Bochurim Attacked on Shabbos 

Town police were searching for a man who pushed a Jewish teenager to the ground Saturday and fled in what possibly could turn out to be a hate crime.

The 16-year-old boy was not seriously injured in the incident, which occurred at about 4:40 p.m. on Crabapple Court, police said. The residential street is about a quarter-mile north of Rockland Community College. The area is home to Orthodox Jews.

Three 16-year-old boys were walking on Crabapple Court when an orange pickup truck passed them and returned a short time later, according to police. A white man got out to the truck and pushed one of the boys to the ground. The truck then fled west toward Forshay Road.

"The injuries were minor and did not require any kind of hospitalization," Ramapo police Lt. Daniel Hyman said on Saturday night.

The suspect is described as in his twenties, about 6-foot-0 and 250 pounds with short brown hair. He was wearing a blue shirt. The vehicle is a newer model dark orange pickup.

Hyman said it's not clear how many people were in the truck. Initial reports said there were three white men.

Hyman said it was too early to determine if the incident was motivated by hate.

The Rockland County Sheriff's Bureau of Criminal Identification is assisting Ramapo in the investigation.

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident, or has further information on the suspect and/or suspect's vehicle, is asked to contact the Ramapo Police Detective Bureau at 845-357-2400.



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Local synagogue members come together to restore aging Torah scrolls 

A visibly nervous Rachel Pufahl placed her hand on the feathered quill just above the guiding hand of Rabbi Moshe Druin.

"I was feeling very emotional, very scared," she would later say of the once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Together, the Bakersfield woman and the bearded Torah scribe moved the point of the pen on the 150-year-old parchment, restoring a single Hebrew letter, one of 304,805 letters in the handwritten sefer Torah, the ancient Holy book of the Jewish people.

"Now you are fulfilling the final mitzvah of the Torah," Druin said in Hebrew and in English.

In the Jewish tradition, a mitzvah is both a commandment and a good work, and the event held Tuesday night at Congregation B'nai Jacob certainly qualified.

The small, conservative synagogue on 17th Street, adjacent to Mill Creek, has hired the Florida-based Druin to begin restoring all three of the synagogue's centuries-old Torah scrolls.

It's no small task as a single scroll can reach nearly the length of a football field when completely unrolled. All of the scrolls are of European origin, but each is different in age and the style of its script.

"If letters in the Torah are faded or smudged, it's considered non-kosher and can't be used during services," said Howard Silver, a longtime member and acting rabbi at B'nai Jacob.

But there's a deeper urgency and meaning behind the congregation's collective desire to save the scrolls for future generations. In a sense, these sacred texts have been witness to a panoramic history.

European Jews likely read from the oldest of the three even as America's founding fathers were conceiving a new nation that would welcome people of all faiths, even those who had endured centuries of religious strife and persecution.

Like the peoples who would carry them and protect them for future generations, the scrolls may have been present during forced relocations, pogroms or even the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust before they ultimately found their way to this quiet little congregation in Central California.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment," said B'nai Jacob congregant Aimee Rothkopf. "To hold the quill is a great honor."

Druin, the Torah scribe, also known as a sofer, said no errors are permitted in the painstaking restoration of the script.

"Not one," he said.

"It cannot have any added letters," he stressed. "It cannot have any fewer letters."

Druin's skill is well known, so much so that he is called upon to do this specialized work around the world. But one of the reasons he is sought after is because he leaves no ego, no trace of himself in his work.

"I am a glorified forger," he said, smiling. The style and integrity of the original script must be maintained.

Last year it was determined that the congregation's three Torah scrolls -- the oldest is thought to be about 240 years old -- were invalid for use in religious services due to the faded condition of the ink on the parchment. The congregation's board of directors decided to have the scrolls restored to a "kosher" status, a major undertaking, as each faded letter must be restored by hand using a quill dipped in an inkwell.

The cost is expected to be between $10,000 and $12,000, Silver said. Some restorations can take nearly a year, but Druin said he expected to complete the work in about 40 hours.

He compared the Torah to a computer.

"Take out one tiny chip -- or one letter in the case of the Torah -- and the makeup of either ceases to exist."

Fabian Glazer and his two sons, Gabriel, 15, and Spenser, 12, each participated in the restoration event.

The elder Glazer was only half-joking when he said afterward, "Now I can die because I have completed my final mitzvah."

With two young sons to care for, the proud father has every intention of being around for years to come. But his statement illustrates the tradition and significance behind the 613th mitzvah.

The Torah contains hundreds of commandments, and traditional Jews believe that at some point in their lives they must write in a Torah. A single letter is enough to fulfill that mitzvah.

As he listened to the parables and life lessons Druin provided to everyone who stepped forward, Glazer was amazed. Each story the rabbi told was different and was connected in some way to the letter each participant helped repair.

As young Spenser Glazer listened, the rabbi talked about the concept of repeating what you learn to benefit others, or "sharing the lesson of what it means to be Jewish."

"The purpose of what we are doing is not in the writing of it," Druin said of the Torah script. "It's what we do with it."

The Torah contains the first five books of Moses from the writings Christians refer to as the Old Testament -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

As a result, there's interest in the Torah among many local Christians, Silver said. He teaches a Torah class, and it's not unusual for members of prominent area Christian churches to attend.

But for Jews, the Torah seems to embody more than a religious blueprint.

The scrolls, robed with a piece of protective fabric, have been held in the arms of generations of worshippers. They cradle it, kiss it, dance with it and protect it.

As the Torah scribe continued his work, B'nai Jacob member Carol Schaefer pointed toward several old photographs hanging on the walls of the building showing young boys in the congregation who are now middle-aged men.

"This is my family away from home," she said, looking around the room. "We've been around for a very long time. We want to be here for many more generations to come."



Friday, May 13, 2011

Airmont spent $450G on yeshiva student housing lawsuits 

Village officials spent $450,863 fending off a congregation's plans to build a school with housing and in a failed attempt to beat a civil rights lawsuit brought by federal prosecutors for the second time in the village's 20-year history.

After 10 years of legal battles and fees, Airmont officials agreed last week to a federal order forcing them to amend the community's zoning code to allow student housing.

If Airmont does not change its zoning code by Oct. 15, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the office will resurrect the lawsuit accusing the village of discrimination.

Airmont Mayor Dennis Kay and former Trustee Joseph Meyers, now a Rockland County legislator, argued the money was well spent to defend the village's zoning code.

On the other side, former Mayor John Layne, the congregation's lawyer and some residents said the village wasted taxpayer money by defending a zoning code that they knew discriminated.

Layne said Wednesday that he had negotiated a settlement with Congregation Mischknois Lavier Yakov before the U.S. Attorney's Office filed its 2005 civil rights lawsuit.

The village board approved Layne's settlement by a vote of 3-2.

After Anthony Valenti won election to the village board, he joined Kay and Meyers to rescind the settlement with the congregation. The U.S. Attorney's Office in White Plains filed its lawsuit soon afterward.

"I don't think $450,000 of the people's money is worth spending when the indications early on was this was not a winner," Layne said. "All this accomplished was delay at the expense of the taxpayers. The government is not supposed to be rolling the dice with the people's money."

Kay and Meyers said the village defended its zoning, a main function of government.

As a result, they said, the congregation has not built its school and 170-student dormitory, along with 30 apartments for faculty and married students, on 19 acres along Hillside Avenue.

Meyers, a lawyer, said settling the case wouldn't have stopped the the U.S. Attorney's Office from filing its lawsuit. He said the village founders were wrong to adopt a zoning code prohibiting synagogues in residental areas and student housing.



4 East Ramapo seats up for grabs, $200.5M schools budget to be decided 

Residents in the East Ramapo school district will see several new faces on their Board of Education and could see an 8.9 percent tax increase after voters take to the polls during Tuesday's school board elections.

Voters will decide on four seats currently up for grabs on the nine-member school board and will either approve or reject a proposed $200,520,617 schools budget for the 2011-2012 academic year.

The school board contests pit public school advocates against candidates associated with the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities who currently comprise the school board majority. The public school advocates claim the board majority has acted in the best interests of the yeshivas attended by many of the district's Jewish children; members of the majority insist their decisions benefit all students.

The seats are those held by school board Vice President Aron Wieder, trustee Moshe Hopstein and trustee JoAnne Thompson. The seat once held by former board President Nathan Rothschild will also be on the ballot. Rothschild resigned from his position with the school district amid allegations that he engaged in mail fraud while working as a fire commissioner in Monsey.
First seat

Running for Rothschild's seat are Antonio Luciano, 54, of Chestnut Ridge, and Yehuda Weissmandl, 35, of Spring Valley.

Luciano, a Chestnut Ridge resident since 1991, is a retired New York City police lieutenant with a son at Spring Valley High School. He said that his position with the NYPD required him to control costs while maintaining a budget, work he believes has prepared him for a spot on the school board.
Luciano, who garnered more than 7,600 votes in an unsuccessful bid for the board last year, has been highly critical of many decisions made by the Board of Education and said an investigation into district spending is necessary.

"I feel one of the first things that needs to be done is a forensic audit of the district's federal and general funds to understand how funds have been spent," Luciano said. "If irregularities are found, we need to know how they will be corrected."



Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spreading Jewish pride as director of the Maccabeats 

Taio Cruz’s song “Dynamite” was a hit, but hum the tune amongst Jews and you may be treated to a sing-along of “Candlelight.”

As music video director for the Maccabeats (the Yeshiva University a cappella group), Uri Westrich is responsible for the most popular contemporary Chanukah song since Adam Sandler’s novelty classic.

The video, which has over 5,000,000 views on YouTube, was featured in news outlets around the world, and has been enjoyed by Jews and non-Jews alike.

The newest video of the “Purim Song” (to the tune of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass”), is also a hit, and spreads the message of a less-well known holiday.

Despite appearing in both videos, Westrich is not a singer or an official Maccabeat. In fact, he had already graduated from YU when he made “Candlelight.”

Directing has long been a hobby of Westrich’s, and his other works include the earlier Maccabeats music video for a cover of Matisyahu’s “One Day,” and the satirical sketch, YU Boys Will Be Stern Girls.

Westrich also recently filmed a promotional video for cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot’s concert with Itzhak Perlman during a rehearsal in Perlman’s home. He is proud of the work he has done, particularly on its effect on the Jewish community.

“‘Candlelight’ showed that Orthodox Jews can be normal and have fun,” says Westrich, “And people who aren’t Orthodox or aren’t even Jewish can still relate to them and enjoy the video.”

Westrich has received e-mails from all over the world telling him that “Candlelight” made them proud to be Jewish. “I feel very lucky to be a part of it,” he says.

Brains, too: Westrich was valedictorian of Yeshiva College; he graduated with a bachelor’s in economics in 2009.



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

West Bank proxy battle seen in falafel war on Bedford Ave 

Bedford Avenue is becoming the new West Bank — and you can blame falafel.

An Israeli food truck is encroaching on territory long claimed by Williamsburg’s beloved Palestinian-owned Oasis restaurant, forcing foodies to choose their sandwiches carefully.

For eight years, Oasis has satisfied the neighborhood’s hunger pangs with fresh, fully adorned falafel sandwiches for only $3 from its humble N. Seventh Street storefront.

But highly touted Manhattan-based Taim Mobile planted its flag into Brooklyn this month by parking its shiny, jet-black truck on Bedford Avenue on weeknights.

Taim is wooing discriminating foodies with its brand of made-to-order Middle Eastern meals that make you want to scream, “L’Chaim!”

So far, Williamsburg residents are raving about falafel specials such as Kalamata olive falafel with Israeli salad, pickled cabbage and tahini sauce ($6.50) and irresistible toppings such as pickled mango chutney, cilantro garlic spicy sauce, and feta cheese, as well as freshly-made fruit smoothies.

Jesse Sullivan, who picked up a sandwich on the way to his softball game, said it’s one of the best falafels he’s ever had.

“I like the hot peppers, and the bread is fresh,” said Sullivan.

And Michael Feinstein, who ordered a banana, dates and lime smoothie — with no added sugar — called his drink “f–ing delicious.”

“I didn’t even know I liked dates,” added Feinstein.

Naturally, Oasis’ Ihab Jibril sees the proliferation of food trucks on Bedford Avenue as a looming threat.

“It’s not just falafel — hamburgers, coffee, ice cream, tacos, maybe they could just stay in the park,” said Jibril. “It’s not fair for us. We pay a lot of rent and they don’t.”

Jibril says he has perfected the falafel sandwich — perhaps the best deal in Williamsburg — by keeping an almost holy devotion to his recipe and refusing to raise his prices. Oasis worker churn out 500 sandwiches a day — five times as many as Taim’s truck.

“Falafel in the Middle East is nourishment food for the poor, street food, and we tried to make it a popular sandwich here,” said Ibril. “I think we’ve succeeded.”

Like Taim, Oasis has its devotees.

Customers remarked how the sandwich has a perfect balance of sweet, sour and tangy flavors and almost never falls apart in your hands — unlike other sandwiches in the city.

Ben Van Leeuwen, who manages his eponymous ice cream truck a block away, says that Bedford Avenue is big enough for both falafel joints.

“In America, everyone can live in harmony — but Oasis’ prices are incredible,” said Van Leeuwen. “For $3, I feel like I’m robbing them.”



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Second Hasidic newspaper drops Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason 

Shmarya Rosenberg, the blogger at Failed Messiah who first wrote about the doctored Situation Room photograph, has uncovered a second altered photograph in a Jewish magazine.

De Voce, a weekly Brooklyn Hasidic magazine, has dropped Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from its pages, much as the Der Tzitung newspaper did. The magazine does leave somewhat blurry lines to suggest the photo was altered, as if a ghost Clinton still lingers, but the females are nevertheless scrubbed from the room.

In a statement, Der Tzitung said, “Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women.” Both magazines are Hasidic, an ultra-orthodox form of Judaism. Yossi Gestetner, a PR consultant within the Orthodox Jewish community, wrote in an e-mail that the removal of Clinton has much less to do with women in power than it does in keeping with the sense of full-scale modesty within the community.

However, many other people saw the incident as an example of the religion’s supression of women. “Extreme discomfort with the presence of women or even images of women is common to virtually all totalitarian religious communities, regardless of the tradition involved,” Brad Hirschfield, a Jewish blogger for The Post, writes.

Others took issue with the affront to journalistic standards. One reader on my previous post about the photo manipulation cited a section the Code of Ethics according to the Society of Professional Journalists. It reads: “Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.”

Albert Friedman, editor of Der Tzitung, said that according to the editorial practice of most Hasidic publications, it is a known practice to never run images of women. Usually, the photographs are cropped to only show men. “It’s clearly stated in our editorial,” he said via phone. Most other Hasidic newspapers published only half the photograph, cropping Clinton and Tomason from the image. His photo editor was “carried away with the fog of victory,” and thought to experiment by photoshopping the picture.

“In Israel, ultra-orthodox or haredi papers routinely refuse to show women,” Michelle Goldberg writes at the Daily Beast. “A 2008 Jerusalem Post story quoted someone from the community explaining, ‘Photoshop works overtime in a haredi newspaper.’”

Friedman said the story mentioned Secretary of State Clinton in the write up, though the article appeared on a separate page from the photograph.

He said it would be a one-time occurrence at the paper. They would stick to cropping photographs, not photoshopping them. Women will still remain off the pages of the paper. “It’s nothing negative connotation to the women. My wife runs my paper. Without women where would be?”

Stephen Colbert spoke about the paper’s controversy on his Monday night show.



Monday, May 09, 2011

NY village agrees to amend zoning for yeshiva 

A suburban New York village has agreed to amend its zoning code to allow construction of a Jewish boarding school.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department six years ago against Airmont, 27 miles from Manhattan.

Federal prosecutors said the village's prohibition of student housing violated the Religious Land Use Act. The statute prohibits governments from using zoning to impose an unreasonable burden on religious rights.

A congregation of Hasidic Jews had been denied permission to build a yeshiva in 2002. The village said student housing was not allowed.

The village has until Oct. 15 to amend the code. It agreed to pay a $10,000 penalty but did not admit any wrongdoing. Village attorney Michael Zarin said Monday the new zoning language could be a national model.



Hasidic newspaper regrets editing Hillary Clinton out of photo 

Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper Der Zeitung has apologized for publishing an iconic photograph of President Obama and his national security team with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security team member Audrey Tomason photoshopped out.

As the blog Failed Messiah first noted last week, the newspaper published the edited White House photograph showing the national security team monitoring the mission against Osama bin Laden despite a White House note that "[t]he photograph may not be manipulated in any way." (A portion of the altered image is above at left; that portion of the original is at right.)

The Jewish Week subsequently suggested the photograph had been altered because including women in photographs "could be considered sexually suggestive."

Der Zeitung has now released a statement saying that "[w]e should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department," the Orthodox Jewish newspaper Vos Iz Neias reports.

Der Zeitung addressed what it cast as "allegations" that the women had been removed from the photograph because "religious Jews denigrate women or do not respect women in public office," calling such suggestions "malicious slander and libel."

The newspaper offered kind words for Clinton and said it respects all government officials, but that religious considerations prevent it from showing images of women.

"In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status," Der Zeitung said. "Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive."



Sunday, May 08, 2011

Jewish Schools, Community Centers Win $250K in Chase Contest 

Chabad-Lubavitch affiliated institutions represent 10 percent of 100 finalists in the first round of this year’s Chase Community Giving competition. Thanks to voting on the program’s Facebook page, each of the organizations stands to receive a $25,000 grant.

In addition to Hillel Academy of Milwaukee, Wis., which is run by Chabad-Lubavitch emissary B. Devorah Shmotkin, American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington, D.C., Chabad of Argentina Relief Appeal, Chabad House of Connecticut in Hartford, Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch of Michigan, New Haven Hebrew day School, Cheder Chabad of Monsey, N.Y., Conejo Jewish Day School, Chabad’s Children of Chernobyl, Russian Jewish Community Center in Hollywood, Calif., and the Sonia and Max Silverstein Hebrew Academy in Great Neck, N.Y., will now compete against 90 other organizations for another round of grants, including a grand prize of $500,000.

Voting in the second round begins May 19.

Following its inception in 2009, the Chase contest has already awarded $10 million to 300 small and local charities, including a significant number of Chabad schools and community centers.

“It is very gratifying to see that the work of our community organization is supported by the wider community,” said Rabbi Moshe Bryski, of Chabad of the Conejo in Agoura Hills, Calif. “We sincerely appreciate the effort Chase has put in to sponsor this program again, showcasing their devotion to the many local charities around the country.”



Saturday, May 07, 2011

Di Tzeitung Removes Hillary Clinton From Osama Picture 

From FailedMessiah


Friday, May 06, 2011

Amnon's Pizza delivery man dies after hit-and-run accident in Brooklyn 

A 22-year-old pizza delivery man died after he was mowed down by a hit-and-run driver on a Brooklyn street Thursday, cops and witnesses said.

Luis Torres was at Fort Hamilton Parkway and 59th St. on his bike delivering pies for Amnon Kosher Pizza when he was hit by a Budget box truck, police and family said.

The 25-year-old driver of the truck attempted to flee the scene of the 6:30 p.m. accident, but was apprehended by police a block away, cops said. He was expected to be charged Thursday night.

Torres was taken to Lutheran Hospital, but could not be saved.

His wife, Laura Campoberdecq, 19, was too distraught to speak.

"He was a good person," said his uncle, Edgar Ingacq, 33. "My heart is too much in pain."

Torres and his wife moved to Brooklyn from Ecuador two years ago to save money for their child, 2-year-old Kelly Denisse Inga.



Thursday, May 05, 2011

Kosher home on the range: New overnight camp in High Sierra will let Jewish girls experience ranch life 

Nestled in the center of Plumas National Forest, Quincy, Calif., isn’t the type of town where you’d expect to find Orthodox Jews.

But this summer, this Northern California hamlet is going frum.

For three weeks, the LL Ranch in Quincy will host the inaugural session of the Cowgirl Camp for Jewish Girls, founded by Los Angeles resident Baila Romm and her organization, the Wellsprings of Miriam Foundation.

The camp is planning to host 30 Orthodox girls, ages 10 to 15, from June 26 to July 17. As of last week, 16 girls were signed up. Most of the girls will be from Southern California, with a few coming from as far away as Toronto and Israel.

In many ways, Cowgirl Camp will function just like any other sleepaway camp, secular or Jewish. There will be horseback riding, singing, improv and overnight trips. Campers will go fishing, tubing and panning for gold.

Yet the camp will be strongly grounded in Orthodox Judaism, with a modest dress code, daily prayers, glatt kosher food and discussions of Jewish traditions and values such as Shabbat and derech eretz, respectful behavior.

The kitchen at the ranch will be kashered, and a mashgiach, Rabbi Kovi Kessler, will be onsite to observe food preparations. Kosher food, including meat and cheese, will be shipped from Los Angeles, and campers will bake their own bread, cakes and challah. The camp also will have an eruv.

The ranch setting will lend itself to hands-on Jewish learning. Campers will learn how to spin wool, mend fences and harvest grain grown on the ranch, while connecting those activities to the 39 Melachot, the types of “work” prohibited on Shabbat. They also will visit a nearby farm where they will milk goats and learn how to make goat cheese that is cholov Yisroel, the kosher standard for dairy products.

Cowgirl Camp will operate as a functional ranch, and campers will do an hour and a half of “homestead chores” every morning, except on Shabbat.

But the focus will be on horses, with lots of riding and learning about horse grooming, saddle care and other topics with Meggie Bell, listed on the staff list as “head wrangler.”

Despite the camp’s dress code, Romm insists that the girls will be doing “authentic Western riding.” That means a comfortable skirt over pants or leggings — no side-saddle.

Cowgirl Camp has been in the works for about three years, ever since Romm worked with LL Ranch owner Terry Howard on a Jewish boys camp at the ranch in 2008. Howard, whom Romm calls a “righteous non-Jew,” is her partner in the venture and will work as director of ranch activities during the camp.

Romm grew up in a traditional Conservative family in New York. She got a master’s degree in film and stage design from the Tisch School for the Arts at New York University, and came out to Los Angeles in 1989 to be a production designer for film and TV.

By 1995, though, she was tired of showbiz.

“I was turning 40, I wasn’t married,” she said. “I decided I wanted to do something else.”

Seeking a spiritual connection that she hadn’t found in her Conservative upbringing, Romm attended a talk by Olivia Schwartz, co-director of the Chabad-affiliated Chai Center in Los Angeles.

“My soul, my essence just sprang to life,” Romm said about that talk. She became observant, got married and had a son.

She also started doing event planning for the Jewish community. But after a while, that wasn’t enough.

“It wasn’t satisfying,” she said. “I was making other people happy, but I wanted to bring more to life than making parties and events.”

Romm started thinking about her next move, and it finally dawned on her that what was missing from the Orthodox community was a way for women and girls to connect with nature.

“Jewish women are so involved with life — cooking, cleaning, childrearing — and it doesn’t always allow us to realize our power as a woman,” she said.

So Romm founded Wellsprings of Miriam, the goal of which is to provide animal- and nature-oriented retreats and camps for Orthodox women and girls.

After working with Howard at the boys camp thee years ago, Romm was approached about creating a camp for girls. She jumped at the opportunity.

“There are other Jewish overnight camps in California, but to the best of my knowledge most of them are more secular, even if they’re shomer Shabbos and kosher,” Romm said. “I have no problem with that, but there are girls who want to be more modest and still do nature and adventure things.”

This year’s Cowgirl Camp will be relatively small — Romm is looking for a maximum of 30 campers, though she is planning to expand in subsequent summers. “I don’t want to start too big,” she said.

Other plans for the future include a mother-daughter week, as well as renting the ranch and other locations for retreats for women.

“Everyone loves this idea of horseback riding in a Torah environment,” Romm said. “I want women to have laughter and joy and dance in their life … my bringing that to them will allow them to release their stress and connect to the godliness in nature.
“Growing up frum from birth, a lot of these women are put in a box, and they don’t want to be in a box. They have aspirations outside the religious circle, and this is the perfect environment for that — where they can explore their adventurous side in a safe way.”



Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Bike lane? What bike lane? Drivers, cyclists clash over Bedford Avenue 

The clash of cultures over a Williamsburg bike route has gotten physical.

Orthodox Jewish motorists collided with cyclists and fought them in the street several times last month while the bike riders use a dangerous stetch of Bedford Avenue that once included a bike lane until it was removed by the city last year after complaints from drivers.

A bus driver even trapped cyclist Christine Sandoval against a parked car near Flushing Avenue as she was commuting to work on April 15.

But the blowhard screamed at the cyclist, even kicking her bike in anger.

“The driver and another man grabbed my arm and masses of Hasidic people started to gather around,” said Sandoval. “I needed to flee. I was in a lot of danger.”

Three days later, her husband saw a cyclist get hit by a car on Bedford Avenue, and a day later, she saw another confrontation between Hasidic residents and cyclists.

Now the Bedford-Stuyvesant resident avoids taking Bedford at all because of the incidents.

She’s not alone.

Cycling advocates have been grumbling for months about double-parked cars and aggressive harassment from drivers in South Williamsburg, where the 15-block bike lane between Flushing and Division avenues once carved out a space for bikers until the city removed it 18 months ago after complaints from Hasidic residents. Vigilantes repainted the lane in an act of protest vandalism, setting off tense relationships between cyclists and Hasidic motorists that continues to this day.

Now conflict has broken out over a one-block section of the lane that remains between Flushing and Park avenues.

Hasidic leaders say that cyclists should find another route.

“You have a densely populated area that hundreds of people cross those streets every single day,” said former Council candidate Isaac Abraham. “You’ve got a ballroom, two schools and five synagogues. Traffic there is tremendous.”

Williamsburg bike maven Baruch Herzfeld, who hosted a debate between bikers and Hasidim last January, says the tension has resulted from the lack of parking spaces in South Williamsburg and not a conflict between Orthodox residents and yuppie cyclists.

“The Hasidim park in the [former] bike lane because there is no other place to park and the city has limited resources to enforce it,” said Herzfeld.

Still, Community Board 1 member Ryan Kuonen avoids Bedford Avenue entirely because she says it’s unsafe.

“There’s a misnomer in Hasidic community that bikers can’t be on that street [because there’s no official bike lane], so they’re more aggressive toward bikers,” said Kuonen. “My roommate got threatened and chased by a bunch of guys late at night. And there’s always massive double-parking there.”

Bike lane or no bike lane, cyclists still take Bedford Avenue because it’s the most direct route from her home to Williamsburg.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

Fort Greene resident Sabine Spanjer said she gets into arguments with drivers all the time.

“It’s turned into a mess, they don’t want [cyclists],” said Spanjer. “It’s not right. Everybody has a right to bike.”



Tuesday, May 03, 2011


Following a month-long survey of 22 local banks in Boro Park which revealed that the Orthodox Jewish community is not adequately represented in the existing workforce, Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) has organized a meeting with branch managers and human resources personnel to discuss community outreach strategies and potential vacancies.

Surveyors were asked to observe how many people, including tellers, worked in the bank?; How many were identifiably Jewish?; and Of those who are identifiably Jewish, how many were Chasidic, yeshivish, modern-orthodox or other? Hikind’s office also surveyed a dozen local banks located in Chinatown and half-dozen banks in Bedford Stuyvesant/Crown Heights as a means of comparison.

“Our findings revealed that more than a dozen banks serving the Borough Park community have not made a concerted effort to recruit, train or hire the best and the brightest that our community has to offer,” Hikind said. “Though we are aware of many qualified candidates, the character of the Boro Park community is simply not reflected in the workforce of local banks. An evaluation of the same financial institutions located in Crown Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Chinatown found that the people who lived in those neighborhoods also worked in the local banks.”

Representatives from Astoria Federal Savings, Apple Bank, Chase, Dime, HSBC, Sovereign Bank, TD Bank, and others are expected to attend. The meeting will take place this Thursday at the Assemblyman’s district office. Mr. Zisha Novoseller of the Emergency Parnossa Initiative will also be present.

Hikind previously partnered with the Orthodox Union to hold a job fair which, to date, has yielded employment for 67 people. “There is no better feeling in the world than knowing you have helped put someone back to work,” remarked Hikind. “I am hopeful that this meeting will result in even more opportunities for people in our community.”


Monday, May 02, 2011

Black Hats Traditionally Worn by Orthodox and Hasidic Jews Are Now Trendy, According to the Times 

The Borsalino hat, a wide-brimmed black felt fedora commonly worn by Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish sects, has now gotten trendy amongst hipster folks, the Times reports. Kids in Williamsburg are wearing them with skinny jeans and sneakers, and Cole Haan shot Trinidadian hip-hop artist Theophilus London (who is decidedly not Jewish) wearing his in their spring ad campaign. When the Times asked him about it, he answered:

“This one is from the Jewish store,” Mr. London said, motioning toward southern Williamsburg, where the haredi still outnumber the hipsters... “I liked the shape of it.”

Since then, it’s become a part of his urban uniform. He wears it to pick up dinner at his local roti shop, to parties at the Top of the Standard, and even onstage.

The Times is eager to probe the religious undertones of such sartorial choices, interviewing several academic experts about the hat's symbolic meaning in Jewish culture. After all, the blending of religion and fashion is always ripe for overanalysis. But one interviewee takes the wind out of everyone's sails by pointing out that everyone's wearing these hats for an entirely different reason altogether: Mad Men!

“I don’t think the yeshiva boys or the hipsters get their black hats from any kind of religious background,” said Maya Balakirsky Katz, who teaches art history at Touro College and is the author of “The Visual Culture of Chabad.” “It’s all from ‘Mad Men.’ In the ’50s, when the actual Mad Men were wearing Borsalinos, yeshiva students who were living in Manhattan said ‘Oh, this is how to acculturate.’ And that style is back in fashion again.”

We happen to think it's more likely that folks are wearing wide-brimmed hats because, in this gross rainy weather, you want to wear the closest thing to an umbrella on your head.



Sunday, May 01, 2011

Unmarked Police car accident in Williamsburg 

Williamsburg child watches scene of accident between unmarked Police car and civilian.


Wedding Guests Donate to Charity 

The last thing that Suzanne Gavin Gould and Jeffrey Gould wanted from guests attending their wedding last June was another vase.

A second marriage for both, the Long Island couple already had everything they wanted: a large, blended family with three children apiece, fulfilling careers and good health (the couple met during a spin class).

"We felt so lucky to have found each other and to have such a great life together," says Mrs. Gould. "We're so lucky, we wanted to give back."

So they encouraged their 100 wedding guests to pass on a mitzvah—a good deed—to others. Guests contributed through the UJA-Federation and in their honor to a program that assists Long Island and New York adults and children who are victims of domestic violence.

The program, operated by the nonprofit FEGS Health and Human Services System, recently received $20,000 from the couple and their guests.

The gift will go toward critical services—including covering housing payments to prevent an eviction or foreclosure, medical bills, insurance, gas and utility costs—for families that have suffered domestic violence. The aim is covering needs "to prevent a real crisis," says Mrs. Gould.

A psychotherapist in private practice in Great Neck, N.Y., Mrs. Gould, 46 years old, has worked for more than 20 years as a clinical social worker.

During her career, Mrs. Gould has regularly encountered elements of domestic violence, no matter what the socio-economic level, she says. It's especially true when she's called on to help with high-conflict, litigious divorces.

Mrs. Gould says that the cases of domestic violence "follow her" wherever she goes and that she's familiar with the unique needs of these families.

Mr. Gould, 45, is president and chief executive of BRT Realty Trust, a commercial lender for the real-estate industry based in Great Neck, N.Y. His family has long been active in charitable causes associated with the UJA-Federation.

The couple—who have four boys and two girls, ages 8 to 21, between them—say that both of their families have made philanthropy a tradition and it's one of the things that united them. They say that the wedding gift is the start to doing more.

Mr. Gould has hopes for a fund-raiser that's "beyond what we were able to do this time," he says.

"Right now, our lives are very crazy with six children, and Jeff working and my practice, but we certainly hope to in the future expand this to do a lot more for these families," says Mrs. Gould.

"My dream is one day to open a shelter," she says. "That's the ultimate goal."



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