Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ramapo affordable-housing project faces scrutiny on claim that investors bought most units 

A Rockland County housing agency representing the federal government is reviewing Ramapo's affordable-housing project on Elm Street, based on a complaint that investors bought up most of 24 units already sold, for potential rental properties.

Bruce Levine, a former legislator and Spring Valley village attorney, also sent his complaint to the state Comptroller's Office and Attorney General's Office. 

Levine asked for an investigation into what he called "abuses and illegalities" by Ramapo and its quasi-economic development agency, the Ramapo Local Development Corp.

The corporate ownership and condominium rentals could jeopardize $1.44 million from the state and $200,000 from the federal government aimed at lowering the cost of the units, which were priced at $349,000 for the first 48 units.

The complaint states that County Clerk's Office records show 17 of approximately 24 condominiums already sold have been purchased by limited liability companies, a business entity that's not a corporation.

Only seven units sold so far by the Ramapo Local Development Corp. are owned by people, the complaint says. Five of those individuals gave Brooklyn addresses, one signed was by an LLC owner in Ramapo, and one gave a Monsey address.

"Of these units, 17 were sold to LLCs (sometimes multiple units to one LLC) even though the rules of the development are that the units be owner-occupied by eligible (means tested) families," Levine wrote in his complaint.

"There is also evidence that some of the investor-owned units are in fact being rented out," Levine wrote. "In addition to the affordable financing and affordable housing issues, there are also gifts of public funds issues that arise from these actions."

Levine's complaint spurred a review by the Rockland Office for Community Development on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Women to the rescue 

A group of Hasidic women who were denied membership in an all-male Orthodox ambulance corps has decided to branch out and start a women's-only EMT group.

Hasidic lawyer Ruchie Freier held a recruitment drive in her Borough Park home on Sunday and managed to sign up about 50 female EMTs trainees who had been turned down by Hatzalah.

The new core is called Ezras Nashim – Hebrew for "helping women" – and will assist patients giving birth who are uncomfortable being treated by a man.
"We're energetic, smart Hasidic women and we're fighting for modesty," Freier told the Post.

Freier had won the endorsement of several prominent rabbis and Assemblyman Dov Hikind in her efforts to get women into Hatzalah.

But Hatzalah higher-ups decided to keep the organization men-only for fear of mingling the sexes and of possibly delaying response times by stopping to pick up the women EMTs.

"We initially were looking to join Hatzolah as a separate division. We got the endorsement from some [rabbis]. But when we approached Hatzalah, they said it would create a delay in service," Freier said.

"We decided we don't want that. We weren't looking to create controversy in the community."

Ezras Nashim plans to get its sirens wailing by September.

"We're really excited about it," Freier said. "We just felt it was the right thing to do we were determined to make that happen."



Monday, February 27, 2012

The Scandalous Acquisition of Fame and Fortune 

Read our original Op-Ed article as published in this month's Country Yossi Family Magazine.

Book Art

DISCLAIMER: This article is not affiliated in any way with Deborah Feldman or her book Unorthodox. All characters mentioned or inferred are completely fictional. Any similarities to any people alive or otherwise are completely coincidental.


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Jewish group loses alleged bias lawsuit over town's rejection of synagogue plan 

A federal judge has dismissed a Jewish group's discrimination lawsuit against town officials who rejected plans for a synagogue.

U.S. District Judge Janet C. Hall issued a 40-page ruling last week saying Chabad Lubavitch of Northwest Connecticut didn't present evidence supporting its allegations of religious bias.

Chabad Lubavitch, a traditional Hasidic group, claimed its constitutional right to freedom of religion was violated when the Borough of Litchfield's Historic District Commission decided in 2007 that the group couldn't convert a 135-year-old Victorian house it owns into a 21,000-square-foot synagogue. Commission members said the proposed expansion of the building was too big for the local historic district.

Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach says Chabad Lubavitch's board and its lawyer are reviewing the ruling and will decide whether to pursue further legal action.



Saturday, February 25, 2012

N.Y. Congressmen Attacked in Rock-Throwing While Touring Desecrated Jerusalem Cemetery 

Two U.S. congressmen viewing acts of vandalism that marred a historic Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem nearly became victims themselves to the violence they had come to see.

Visiting the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery on Friday, a group that included Reps. Eliot Engel and Jerrold Nadler, both New York Democrats, was attacked by an unidentified man who threw a large “baseball-sized” rock at the group, nearly hitting Nadler, Nadler’s spokesman said.

Spokesman John Doty told City and State:

“He’s fine. No one was hurt,” Doty said. “I think they were waiting for their bus, and then a rock was thrown…and then Israeli police officers chased the person away. They didn’t catch them. Then they got on the bus and left.”

Engel confirmed the story in a statement:

“As we were about to board the bus at the conclusion of our visit, I heard a rock hit a car about 100 feet from us. I saw police jump out of their vehicle to ensure our safety. I don’t know if the rocks were thrown at us or at the police. All I know is we heard a thud and later someone brought over the rock. We were told that incidents happen like this all the time, but it is disconcerting to actually have been a part of it.”

Nadler’s spokesman disputed an earlier report in The Jewish Press which stated that the group was attacked by a “rock-throwing Arab mob.”

The group including Jewish American leaders was visiting the Mount of Olives cemetery just outside the Old City of Jerusalem which has been subjected to repeated acts of Arab vandalism.

The Jewish Press’ Managing Editor Yishai Fleisher, who guided the tour around the vandalized spots, told his newspaper:

“The attack the congressmen faced is part of the day-in day-out reality of Jewish communities who live in proximity to the ancient Jewish cemetery at the Mount of Olives and that is what we need to fight. However, when people ask me whether we are scared to live here, I tell them that while there is danger, it does not have to translate into fear. The enemies of Jewish rights in Jerusalem use terror as a tactic to keep us away. But we will not bow to the bullying.”

The incident in which the congressmen found themselves occurred on the same day Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians throwing rocks after Muslim prayers at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.

One recent case of vandalism at the cemetery was recorded by security cameras in November. The Arab man seen toppling over Jewish tombstones in the video below was found guilty and sentenced to three months in prison for desecrating the cemetery. He told police he received 1,000 NIS ($370) to vandalize the cemetery, according to Israel National News. In response to the increased vandalism, the Israel Police decided in January to open a police station to guard against grave desecration and stoning of mourners and tourists, as the congressmen witnessed firsthand.

A public meeting was called for Saturday night in Jerusalem including members of Knesset, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Malcolm Honlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in order to address the recent acts of Mount of Olives desecration.

According to the International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim [Mount of Olives], the cemetery is 3,000 years old and holds 150,000 graves, including the final resting sites of the prophets Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi, leading rabbis, and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Though it is unknown who was behind the rock-throwing or who paid the November vandal caught on tape, Palestinians and their supporters frequently deny the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and other locations in Israel. Examples include rebranding Jewish holy sites as Muslim, denying the Jewish Temple ever existed in Jerusalem, and identifying Jesus as a Palestinian. Erasing the Jewish connection to the Mount of Olives can only serve the political efforts to bolster the Palestinian claim to the Jerusalem, while challenging Israel’s.



Friday, February 24, 2012

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 'The Scandalous Acquisition of Fame and Fortune' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Williamsburg Public Housing Tenants Face Weeks Without Gas 

Hundreds of residents at a public housing building on Taylor Street are facing weeks without gas after a leak was discovered in a basement supply line, according to the city housing authority.

But anguished residents at the Independence Towers, at 125 Taylor St., say they were told Wednesday night by housing workers that the wait could be considerably longer — up to a year, they said.

"This is nauseating," said Rachel Smith, who has lived in the building for more than three decades. "Nobody's telling us anything."

New York City Housing Authority spokesman Zodet Negrón denied the one-year time frame, estimating instead that it will likely take 4-5 weeks for the gas to be restored after it went out on Feb. 14.

The gas was turned off, he explained, due to a leak in the basement supply line that supplies the whole tower.

"The only way to stop the leak was to shut down service to the entire building," he wrote in an email.

The prospect of not having gas has residents of the 122-unit building, near Bedford Avenue, upset.

Many say the hot plates have broken, caused burns and have been inadequate to provide for their families.

"This isn't to cook, it's only to heat up food," said resident Sol Maria Rivera of a hot plate she carried into the building lobby Thursday afternoon, after her first one failed to work.

Upstairs another woman watched over her sister's pot of chicken soup slowly warming on a newly purchased electric stove.

As soon as the outage occurred, the woman said her sister—a mother of eight—made a beeline to the store to buy the Presto Griddle, but even after four hours the water had not reached a boil.

"I hope things work out!" said the woman. "We're not going to die of hunger, but it's quite a high percentage of stress."

As for the impending Jewish holidays, the Hasidic woman rolled her eyes at the thought of cooking in the apartment without gas.

"I'm definitely worried," she said.

Assembly Member Lincoln Restler, who rushed to meet with the residents Wednesday night, called the situation "absolutely egregious on the part of the housing authority," and has been pushing the agency to restore the gas immediately.

And State Senator Daniel Squadron expressed similar dismay with the housing authority.

"It's time for NYCHA to come up with a long-term plan to address and prevent these types of outages, which occur far too often," he wrote in an email.

A similar gas outage occurred at the Lower East Side's Smith Houses occurred in November last year.

Negron said details about the timeframe of the gas outage will be provided at a meeting at the building Thursday at 6:30 pm.



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mulling Run for Congress, Boteach May Face Questions About His Charity 

Shmuley Boteach wants to be the first rabbi elected to the U.S. Congress.

The onetime Chabad emissary is perhaps best known for his books about sex and for his celebrity ties. But now he is taking his message about Jewish values to New Jersey's electorate, in the process raising questions about how the outspoken public relations whiz will transition to the more constrained world of the political campaign.

A Forward examination of public records reveals that the charity Boteach heads spends a significant portion of its revenues on payments to Boteach and his family. The examination also raises the possibility of a future conflict between the group's role supporting Boteach's work and Boteach's political campaign.

"Why would a rabbi run for Congress?" Boteach asked in a column in early February. "Because the problems we're seeing in our great nation are not caused by an economic downturn but by a values erosion, and I intend to be the values-voice that Congress so desperately needs."
Boteach, who lives in Englewood, filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission on January 31 to run as a Republican in New Jersey's 9th Congressional District. He says he won't make a final decision about his run until March 14. Primary elections are to be held in June.

The district is heavily Democratic, and the winner of the hotly contested Democratic primary is expected to win the congressional seat. But one local Republican official expressed enthusiasm for Boteach. He's a "very dynamic guy, if I don't say so myself," said Robert Yudin, chair of the Bergen County Republican Organization. "He has name recognition, he's written books. He would certainly give the Democrats a run for their money."

In an essay posted on the Huffington Post and Jerusalem Post websites, Boteach outlined a political platform that hews closely to the Republican mainstream, with a particular focus on social issues. He supports a flat tax, an aggressive foreign policy, and school vouchers. He also proposed an extension of the so-called blue laws, religiously motivated legislation common in New England that keeps certain stores closed on Sundays.

"[L]et's consider legislation to recreate an American Sabbath so parents have an incentive to take kids to a park rather than teaching them to find satisfaction in the impulse purchase," Boteach wrote.

In a departure from Republican Party norms, Boteach called for a de-emphasis on opposition to gay marriage and abortion in favor of a focus on opposing divorce. Boteach, who is a marriage counselor, is proposing that marriage counseling be made tax deductible.

The 45-year-old rabbi has had little involvement in politics. An online database of donations to federal election campaigns going back two decades revealed no gifts by Boteach.



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

“Unorthodox” Belongs in the Fiction Section 

Who would have guessed that Anti-Semitism could lurk in the allegedly autobiographical words of a young Jewish woman? But they have, in ‘Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots’, the memoir of Deborah Feldman, with stories she tells about growing up as a Satmar Hasid.

I don’t think that Feldman meant to create this monster, yet the intentions, for good or bad cannot stop the destruction this creation is causing. Many in our community say we should let it slide, to ignore it because it will go away in a few weeks and is not worth giving a platform to. I vehemently disagree. I think if we don’t address this lie we are no better than Ms. Feldman because we are allowing the lie to spread.

If we allow a New York Times bestseller filled with half-truths, untruths and outright lies to be the uncontested representation of the truth of our lifestyle and a butchery of Halacha (Jewish law), we are doing ourselves a disservice of the highest proportions. Joseph Goebbels, The Nazi minister of propaganda, used to repeat Hitler’s “Big Lie,” which paraphrased over time simply says, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.”

While some encourage those in our community to ignore it, saying, “Why don’t you let it slide into oblivion?” the big lie is repeated and repeated and repeated. Obviously even negative PR plays into the hands of such a book, because any controversy is good for book sales but by not contesting the truth and speaking out, a larger evil grows—that of the “Big Lie.”

As of today “Unorthodox” is a New York Times best seller, and I’m not surprised. It’s a book about religious Jews, with our Yarmulkes (skull caps) and traditional dress, our religiously protective and seemingly mysterious lifestyle. We do seem somewhat enigmatic to the general population. Many of those reading this book already think we are all extremely wealthy. They whisper all kinds of rumors about how we conduct our personal lives, what we believe, how we live—all based on the stories of a young girl who admits she hated, resented and rejected everything about her faith, her people and her community. To look for her to deliver a fair and balanced perspective of Orthodox Judaism is to expect an atheist to describe religion in a positive manner.

This is a direct attack on the Ultra Orthodox community, on the Torah (Bible), and on all that we hold dear.

I do not doubt that Ms. Feldman grew up in a tremendously difficult environment. I do not contest the fact that her decisions and her perceptions in life are hers to make. We must all live with the consequences of our decisions and I feel that it is important to point out how her actions have affected others.

I am not attacking Ms. Feldman. I am championing truth. Look around and see how the beautiful, family-values-based kosher lifestyle is being portrayed to the average American’s consciousness in the most degrading way. If left unchecked, that image will change the way practically every non-Jew perceives the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

I don’t know how I ended up being the person to write this but someone has to step up to the plate—to take a stand. This is not the time to be reticent.

The coals of the fires of Anti-Semitism have been banked since WWII, but they have never been fully extinguished. I believe that those who fanned the flames of hatred against the Jews half a century ago, can quickly fan the flames again.

There are enough well written pieces and reviews of the book, detailing how its author has essentially written a compelling work of fiction that should cause concern. ‘Unorthodox’ provides a narrative to those who would depict orthodox Jews in the same fashion that allowed the perception of ‘Jews as evil’ to persist in the middle of the 20th century, leading to genocide.

All mighty oaks grow from small acorns. A liberal media, and a world of readers hungry for criticism of Orthodox Jews are watering the acorn that this young woman has planted. The well-written and positive reviews of this book are fertilizing an idea, a perception, a fear and a hatred of Jews among nations who do not know us.

This is why our community must not bury our heads in the sand and wait for all this to go away. We need to come out and forcefully say, “This is not us, at all.”



The Secret Life Of Hasidic Sexuality 

Though I am not entirely sure why, people seem just plain fascinated by the (supposedly) cloistered communities of black clad Jews who briskly swarm -- entourage and side curls in tow -- through the streets of Brooklyn, the Diamond District and Old Jerusalem. For sure, some of it is the sheer "otherness" of their look and their seeming lack of interest as to what is occurring street level, including you and all the other passers-by. But whereas the Amish seem to spark a warmer, folksy response for their dogged embrace of the sartorial choices of their 18th century forbearers, Hasidim are often treated as circus freaks for having made a similar decision. I think it is this same lurid fascination that compels us to respond to the barkers call to gawk at the bearded-lady and the boy with the lobster claw hands that draws our imaginations to contemplate Hasidic intimacy.

I saw two examples of this in action in the popular media this past week. The first was through the lens of Deborah Feldman, a former Satmar Hasid whose rejection of that tradition has recently garnered her a good measure of media exposure -- and book sales. The ladies of "The View" tremulously queried her as they might an escapee of the Taliban or some tribe of Cannibals, but the discussion could not conclude until Barbara Walters (prompted by the producer) gave her all of 60 seconds to explain the (apparently primitive) Satmar mating practices. What she did manage to cover, though it ended up sounding like some antiquated misogyny rite, formed the basis of Taharat HaMishpacha (family purity), a brilliant and beautiful concept that is practiced by religious Jews of all stripes -- from the most Hasidic to the most left-wing modern Orthodox.

To hear a better explanation of the idea, I would direct you to Oprah Winfrey's generous and open-minded interview with four Lubavitch women in Crown Heights. There too, she wanted to hear about how they had sex, but unlike Ms. Feldman, who seems to have had an unusually negative experience, these women were proud of their tradition and eager to talk about it.

In short, religious men and women physically separate during the days of menstruation and add on an additional "clean week," making about 12 days out of the month in total. This is not done, as Ms. Feldman suggests, because the women are considered "impure," which is a common and unfortunate mistranslation. Rather, the women are tameh -- a word that indicates a spiritual change as the result of the loss of potential life. When men ejaculate, they also become tameh and also require immersion in a mikvah or ritual bath (though due to the relative frequency rates, most men -- Hasidim excluded -- do not hold themselves to this standard). In neither case is there any assumption of dirtiness or lack of purity. In that same vein, a human corpse is considered the most tameh object on Earth as it is now the empty shell of a former actualized living force. The mikvah -- through its laws, dimensions and construction -- is a kabbalistic practice that restores the non-corporeal equilibrium of the practitioner.

For those who don't accept the spiritual basis for the practice, there is a sociological one as well. As correctly explained by one of the women conversing with Oprah, when there is no physical outlet available for a couple, they are compelled to deal with each other on an intellectual and emotional level. They communicate only through words and body language which engenders another -- perhaps deeper -- level of intimacy. In addition, many couples describe the conclusion of this period of separation as a monthly honeymoon, and in a time when the majority of marriages fail, sustaining the excitement level can only be a good thing. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, it does wonders for other anatomical regions. In truth, to the average observant Jew, sex is not something mundane and titillating, but, rather, holy and sacred. From this perspective, it is the puerile obsessions of the secular world which are bizarre, not the concept of family purity and seeing one's intimate life as something sanctified -- to be guarded and cherished.

Ms. Feldman also intimated that the purpose of Hasidic (aka Jewish) martial intimacy was solely to procreate. This is obviously not the case as couples continue to perform the mitzvah (right action) of intercourse during pregnancy, after menopause and when there is a biological inability to conceive. Actually, the main purpose of sex -- as explained by Jewish law -- is to create something called devek, best translated as an intense spiritual/emotional cleaving between the couple. The stringencies associated with this practice -- general separation of the genders, refraining from physical contact with the opposite sex and the modesty laws -- are all designed to promote the ardent primacy and exclusivity of the marital relationship. Nothing is meant to stand in the way of its fullest development.

Are there times when devotees, or entire communities, fall short of these lofty goals? Yes. Does that mean that their underlying principles are weird or beyond the contemplation of the average person? No. In fact, the world at large would do well to consider the adoption of a version of them. I've heard it said that divorce is the second most traumatic experience that a family can go through next to the death of a close relative. Wouldn't it be in be in everyone's interest to gird marriage to the greatest extent possible thus sparing couples, families and nations from voluminous anguish?

Their style might not be everyone's cup of tea, but in this regard, the Hasids have it right.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Man arrested in Capitol sting talked of synagogue target 

A Moroccan man who allegedly wanted to conduct a suicide bombing attack on the U.S. Capitol had considered attacking a synagogue, according to authorities.

Amine El Khalifi was arrested Friday as soon as he accepted a phony suicide vest and a disabled gun from federal agents, according to news reports.

An FBI spokesman would only confirm the arrest. El Khalifi planned to head for the Capitol, but in earlier conversations with undercover operatives, he said he had also considered a federal building in Alexandria, Va., a restaurant and a synagogue.

Officials close to law enforcement told JTA that Khalifi's plans were never close to being realized, and that there is no imminent danger to any Jewish target.



Bearded Matisyahu Grants Special Wish 

Reggae star Matisyahu had two surprises in store for concert-goers who had come to see him perform at The Tarrytown Music Hall on February 16.

The first was the re-growth of his beard. No sooner had the singer's famous facial hair disappeared than it was back again — though it will obviously take a while for it to reach its prior Hasidic-style length. Either Matsiyahu simply got tired of shaving or he has had a religious change of heart…again.

The second special treat for the audience was a guest appearance on stage by a young boy named Luke Weber, who sang the megahit "One Day" with Matisyahu. The bald Weber, who is suffering from a serious illness, belted out the hope-filled lyrics, "Sometimes in my tears I drown/but I never let it get me down/So when negativity surrounds/I know some day it'll all turn around," as his music idol put his arm around him and sang along. The duo's outfits were even color-coordinated, with Matisyahu's velvet yarmulke matching Weber's reddish-brown jersey.

It was clear that the standing ovation at the end of the performance was for Weber, and that the gracious Matisyahu, who gave Weber a hug, was very pleased about it. As an introduction to a video of the performance, Matisyahu posted on his official Facebook page: "Moments like this are why I create music. My new friend Luke, who's been pretty sick, came onstage and sang 'One Day' with me at an event on Thursday night."

Weber's appearance onstage with Matisyahu was a dream made possible by Chai Lifeline, an organization that offers financial, social and emotional support to children battling serious diseases and medical conditions.



Monday, February 20, 2012

Is Feldman's Story More Than 'Unorthodox'? 

There is something that seems slightly worrisome about Deborah Feldman. She has written a sensational first book, the memoir “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots,” which is newly published by Simon & Schuster and grew out of an anonymous blog she kept while trying to work her way out of life as a Satmar Hasid. Now questions are being asked about her veracity.

Her story, which The Sisterhood’s Judy Bolton-Fasman wrote about here, is riveting: Left by her mother as a very young girl, Feldman’s father is developmentally delayed, and she is raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by his parents. The confines of a Satmar girl’s life, particularly that of a girl whose family has neither money nor lineage to boast of, are rigid. She is married at 17 to a man she’s barely met and becomes pregnant as soon as they figured out how to consummate their marriage.

It is a life most of us can hardly imagine. And as a result, Feldman has been getting lots of press. In addition to a spot on “The View,” the book has been reviewed in The Forward, and covered by The New York Post and ABC News.

There is much that is shocking in Feldman’s story. Her best friend suffers terrible injury by her new husband when neither of the young marrieds has any idea how things were supposed to work on their wedding night. Another surprise (and I won’t give it away here) is why Feldman’s mother really left her.

Sometimes “Unorthodox” seems written in the voice of a girl still on the cusp of adolescence. And while it is memoir, so of course completely subjective, some of the portrayals of people in her life are so broadly written as to seem like caricatures.

The most stunning of what Feldman writes about is the gruesome murder of a 13-year-old boy by his father, for masturbating, and the subsequent cover up by the Orthodox volunteer ambulance corps Hatzolah. In her book, Feldman says that the boy had his penis cut off and was nearly beheaded by his enraged father, and that the body was buried within 30 minutes after it was discovered in an effort to cover up the crime.

But the New York Jewish Week’s Hella Winston now writes that the story Feldman tells is untrue. Instead, Winston writes, a 19- or 20-year-old young man killed himself, and the death was reported to secular law enforcement.

I spoke with Feldman about it on Saturday night. She was defensive about Winston’s story. “I don’t have a response. My response is always no comment. I am not a journalist…You read the book, you saw how I portrayed that story. I don’t even know why you would try to engage about it.”

Other people besides Winston seem to have questions about Feldman and her book. A new blog is devoted to “exposing Deborah Feldman,” and the holes it says are in the stories she tells about growing up Satmar.

Whatever the truth, something about Feldman still seems very young, though she is now 25 and the mother of a nearly 6-year-old son. In photos in the Post, posing in a sequined, sleeveless mini-dress, and at pictures on the ABC News website, where she sits on a park bench, wearing high heels, tight jeans and holding a cigarette in her hand, she looks like nothing so much as a young girl posing the way she thinks grownups are supposed to.

She reminds me of 13-year-old girls I see at some bat mitzvahs, teetering around on stiletto heels and wearing minis so short they can’t safely sit down.

Now living on the Upper East Side with her son, she said there is nothing she misses about life in the Satmar community. “Everything I miss I can have,” she said. “If I want cholent, I make cholent. I have it all now. I am just exhilarated by it. There is not even within me even one shred of regret.”



Sunday, February 19, 2012

Woman endures 'unorthodox' custody battle after leaving strict community 

This rabbi’s daughter has an unorthodox custody battle on her hands.

Pearlperry Reich, 30, a stunning mother of four, said she’s done with the Hasidic community after it fought tooth-and-nail against her repeated attempts to end her rocky marriage — despite her claims of emotional and physical abuse.

“It was an arranged marriage,” she said of her betrothal at the tender age of 18. “We got married and right away we had issues.”

Now, after 12 years of “war zone” living, she wants custody of her kids, is trying to launch a career in acting and modeling, and no longer plans to follow the Hasidic teachings she was raised with in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Her husband, Sinai Susholz, wants his children to remain within the faith.

“There are issues of her leaving Orthodoxy,” said Susholz’s attorney, Richard Sevrin. “It’s not in the best interest of the children to raise them other than how they’ve been brought up.”

But apparently that isn’t the only bone Susholz has to pick.

In a Facebook exchange, someone identifying himself as Susholz leveled accusations including “promiscuous sexual activities.”

“There are much more deeper issues involved,” the Facebook post noted. “She has no ability to think in long term logical terms and behaves on her sexual impulses all the time.”

Reich — who now lives in Lakewood, NJ, where she says she continues to keep a traditional Orthodox home — contends Susholz is trying to portray her as unstable merely to make it harder to get a “get,” or a divorce, in rabbinic court.

Even her father, a prominent rabbi of the Riminov line, has encouraged her to remain married.

“My father gave me a very hard time. He didn’t want me to get divorced, period,” she said. “They discouraged me from making police reports about abuse — my father, the rabbis and my husband’s family . . . His parents made a meeting with my parents. They called me a bitch and a whore, and my parents accepted it.”

Reich’s father and husband refused to comment.

Reich claims that Susholz cut up her $4,000 wig, threw her sneakers in the garbage, stole her glasses and told their daughter that her mother was a “slut.”

Lakewood Police records show that Reich has been granted at least one restraining order after she received a text from Susholz stating, “You are playing with fire and by the time you realize it will be too late.”

The couple’s custody case will begin in a New Jersey Family Court in April.



Saturday, February 18, 2012

Orthodox Jew cleared of failing to carry ID, because it was Saturday 

An orthodox Jew has been found not guilty of failing to produce an ID card because it was against his religious principles to carry any object on Saturday – the Jewish sabbat - the Telegraaf reports.

The Hague appeal court ruled on Friday the man should not be prosecuted for failing to prove his identity as required by police. He had faced a €150 fine.

‘This religious requirement is more important than the requirement to meet Dutch laws,’ the court press spokesman told the paper.



Friday, February 17, 2012

'Unorthodox' Author’s Claim Of Murder Cover-up Rebutted 

With allegations of communal cover-ups involving child sexual abuse dogging the haredi community over the past several years, it may not be much of a stretch for some readers to believe a gruesome story that appears in a new memoir about growing up in, and leaving, the Satmar community.

The story, recounted by Deborah Feldman in "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots" (Simon and Schuster), involves the alleged mutilation and murder of a boy by his own father — supposedly for masturbating — and the subsequent cover-up of the crime by Hatzolah, the community's volunteer ambulance service.
The only problem, however, is that based on information obtained by The Jewish Week, the story seems not be true.

Feldman claims she first learned of the grisly crime from her husband who had, in turn, heard about it from his brother, allegedly a member of Hatzolah at the time, who had been called to the blood-soaked scene. Apparently, the boy's "penis was cut off with a jig saw and his throat was slit too," Feldman writes.
Feldman recounts that her husband told her his brother "said the neighbors told him they heard loud arguing coming from the house. When he called the [volunteer ambulance] dispatch, they told him to go home and keep quiet about it, that they would take care of it. He said they buried him in thirty minutes and they didn't even issue a death certificate."

In a pre-publication interview with Julie Wiener in The Jewish Week, Feldman was questioned about the veracity of the story. Feldman not only insisted that she was not lying, but asserted that the father was known to be mentally ill and implied that he had escaped justice for his crime.

"I worry about his other children," Feldman told Wiener, "and I worry about people thinking if he could get away with that, then they can get away with anything."

This is not the first time Feldman has made this allegation. Indeed, in December of 2008 it appeared on her then anonymous blog, Hasidic-Feminist, where it was described as a "Class A secret." In the blog post, Feldman recounted the story of a "thirteen year-old boy [who] had been castrated with a jig saw and bled to death."

The incident, according to Feldman, took place "two years ago on an Erev Shabbos in [Kiryas Joel]." She goes on to elaborate that when Hatzolah arrived at the crime scene (a basement) and tried to question the father, "he refused to cooperate, saying only that his son deserved it and that he was a chazar, a pig, because he touched himself." Feldman then notes that no police report was ever filed and the boy was "under ground" in 30 minutes. "People of KJ," she warned, "a murderer walks in your midst."

While some of the 31 comments on the blog post were credulous of Hasidic-Feminist's claims, several expressed serious skepticism. At least one claimed knowledge that the death was in fact a suicide and that the young man (who, one commenter noted, was not 13 but 19) was well known to have been mentally ill.

"Our community would not have ignored a murder," wrote a commenter with the screen name Product, "but anyone familiar with Hasidic culture knows that any mention of a familial disgrace such as suicide would be stifled. This explains why the story is so shrouded in mystery."

A few commenters even chastised Feldman, in the guise of Hasidic-Feminist, for not reporting her knowledge to the police. "[No] one has gone to the police," she responded to one of these charges, "because no one wants to be publicly outed as a musser — a tattletale. That's a sin that merits 'honor killing.'"

However, The Jewish Week confirmed that the state police do in fact have a record of the incident and its office provided the paper with the names of two of its investigators called to the scene, John Van Der Molen and Michael Colern. Calls to the two officers were not returned Thursday.

Further, a death certificate obtained by The Jewish Week indicates that the death — which it noted occurred in a "storeroom" on a Friday afternoon in Kiryas Joel around the approximate date Feldman's blog alleged — was ruled a suicide by coroner Thomas A. Murray, and lists the cause of death as "partial decapitation, severed carotid arteries due to circular saw." The deceased's age was listed as 20. 

Several e-mails to Feldman and her publisher, Simon and Schuster, seeking comment did not receive a response.

Privacy laws prevent Hatzolah from commenting on any case, but Moses Witriol, the director of public safety and chief constable for Kiryas Joel, told The Jewish Week that the story was patently false.

"When the first Hatzolah member showed up on the scene, he cordoned off the area and contacted the public safety office, which in turn immediately contacted the state police. Except for them and the coroner, no other people were in the room [where the boy was found]. The state police conducted a full and thorough investigation and interviewed every member of the family.

"If Mrs. Feldman knows about a crime in the village [of Kiryas Joel]," Witriol continued, "I invite her to come forward to law enforcement."

Reached by phone, a relative of the deceased told The Jewish Week, "I cannot understand how a person could possibly find it within themselves to fabricate such a gruesome story and slander a completely innocent, grieving and tragedy-stricken family in such a horrific way. The facts are that the boy had a long history of mental illness, and his family and the community did a lot to try and help this individual. It was a very tragic end to a life full of suffering."



Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jewish rapper Matisyahu is letting his beard grow back 

For fans of Matisyahu's signature bushy beard, it was nice to see the latest photo the Jewish singer tweeted of himself (with his young son) last week.

His grey-brown facial hair is filling in a month since he shocked fans and fellow Jews by going clean-shaven. He spent years performing religious-themed reggae-rap with that beard, an outward sign of his Hasidic beliefs as a member of the Chabad-Lubavich community.

In December 2011, Matisyahu offered vague explanations for why the beard was gone, citing his continuing journey through Jewish spirituality, and promised that it would be back.

"Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth," he blogged. "And for those concerned with my naked face, don't worry…you haven't seen the last of my facial hair."

His decision to let go of his "big, Jewish beard" made headlines everywhere from TMZ to Rolling Stone, plus plenty of music and Jewish blogs.

Matisyahu is best known for his 2005 hit "King Without A Crown."



Kid City thrives in Brooklyn 

Welcome to Kid City.

A swath of Brooklyn has the most kids compared to other neighborhoods across the city, with the largest number of children under the age of 6.

The highly concentrated pocket of kids stretches across Hasidic- Jewish Borough Park and also includes growing numbers of Chinese, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in Kensington, Sunset Park, and Flatbush.

"There is no other place like it on the planet," said CUNY Graudate Center sociologist Philip Kasinitz.

"You have a lot of Hasids who have a lot of kids. And you have immigrants in Kensington and Sunset Park who have a lot of kids. Where else are Bangladeshi, Mexicans, and Hasids, going to come together?" Kasinitz said.

Department of City Planning's crunch of U.S. 2010 Census data totals the pint-sized community at 26,221. The second largest kiddie cluster is on the Upper West Side, only one-fourth of the size of Kid City.

While Jewish families continue to lead in the Kid City count, other immigrant groups are quickly catching up.

Asians, for instance, 17 years and under, nearly tripled in population since 1990 from 3,379 to 8,644.

"The diversity is tremendous," said granddad Gene Tully, 66, who raised his two daughters and now his grandson Christian Hoffman, 9, in Kensington.

Christian, a third-grader at P.S. 230 on Albemarle Road, where parents said 60 languagues are spoken, claims Pakastani immigrant Muhammad Luqman, 9, as one of his best pals.

"I am learning English from him," said Muhammad, who moved to Brooklyn when he was 5.

All those children can create kid gridlock.

"We have a long wait list of children," said Helene Reisman, the daycare director at the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association on 8th Avenue which has nearly 1,000 kids waiting for 343 seats. "The need is so great, and we can only do so much."

The area's main hospital, Maimonides Medical Center, prides itself on keeping up with the young demand. Maimonides leads the state in births, delivering about 8,000 newborns each year, where 80 percent of moms are on Medicaid.

It also has a separate childrens' hospital with its own pediatric emergency room and neonatal intensive care unit.

Health officials said they treated 36,000 children in the ER last year. 20 percent were Chinese.

"Our clinic volume has done nothing but gone up," said Maimonides CEO Pamela Brier, adding hospital staff speak

70 languages.

P.S. 230 third-grader Ariel Bonill, 8, said he doesn't worry about living in Kid City, but wishes the school and nearby playground weren't always so packed.

"It's always very crowded," said Ariel whose mom is from Mexico. "When you parents come to pick you up, there is always a line."



Borough Park tree serves as pacifier bush 

Even the trees in the city's baby capital are going gaga for the little ones.

Rubber pacifiers hang off the branches of saplings surrounding the brick apartment building at 1450 48th Street in Borough Park.

Super Yusuf Oner works with local mothers who donate their tot's soother once she feels her babe has outgrown it.

"The moms put it up when their babies don't need it anymore," Oner said.

Oner said the three-decade-old tradition serves as a shrine for the community's ever-growing child population.

In 2010, Borough Park led the city in bambinos with 3,152 of them, according to the Department of City Planning's U.S. Census analysis.

That's nearly twice the amount of the city's second largest baby capital, the Upper West Side which had 1,618 people under the age of 1.

Borough Park's high numbers are tied to the Hasidic Jewish tradition of producing large families averaging about six kids and sometimes growing to a dozen or more.

"It's a good example for the little ones," said Oner about the dangling pacifiers showing the stroller crowd that weaning off them is a good thing.

Moms say '"Look, your brother can do it. So you can do it,"' Oner said.

Parents from across the neighborhood flock to 48th Street to use the trees.

"It's all about the memories," Oner said.

But the branches get so packed that the pacifiers drop to the ground prompting Oner to sweep them up at least once a week.

"It's cute," gushed one young mom who just moved into the building with her husband and new infant. "It's a very child friendly place."



Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kate Middleton Goes Hasidic Chic 

Just last week we were treated to a provocative fashion spread in Israel's Belle Mode magazine that was both inspired by and meant to protest the exclusion of women in the public sphere. In it, the models struck sexy poses, wearing ultra-Orthodox garb, in a vintage bus.

As highly unlikely as the scenes in those photos would be in real life, we now learn of another highly improbable connection between high fashion and the Haredim. It turns out that none other than the Duchess of Cambridge is walking around in clothes meant to imitate those worn by ultra-Orthodox Jews. We're not even talking about the long skirts and high necklines of Haredi women's wear — but rather referring to the long (typically black) coats, or capotes, worn by Hasidic men.

According to New York Magazine, the taste of the former Kate Middleton (now officially Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) runs toward coats modeled after a capote that once likely belonged to a Haredi teen. Katherine Hooker, one of the Duchess's preferred designers, revealed in an interview that she started her outwear label after deciding to replicate a coat she found in a used clothing store in Jerusalem in 2003. "I bought a young boy's Hasidic coat in a junk shop," she said. "And it was an old one, like when clothes used to be made for people as opposed to mass market. I was 18 and tiny and skinny, and it fit me absolutely perfectly; it was made for a 14-year-old boy or something."

The coats, which Hooker had made in India, were such a hit that she opened her shop in London in 2004. She is doing trunk shows in New York, but does not yet have any plans to open a shop in the U.S.

When asked why she thinks her coats are popular among with the Duchess, her sister Pippa Middleton and other royals (including Princess Beatrice of fascinator fame), the designer suggested, "They're made much more in the way clothes used to be made before everybody had their clothes mass produced. The structured, more tailored styles are cut with high armholes so they're very elongating, which also gives you mobility."

The "Tori," a double-sided cashmere merino with six fabric panels in the back and a price tag of $1,750, is Hooker's most expensive model. However, most of her (shall we describe them as "Hasidichic"?) coats cost at least $1,000, which The Shmooze confidently assumes is far more than she paid for that second-hand capote.



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rebbetzin answers the call to inspire others 

THOSE close to Rebbetzin Fruma Schapiro of Chabad North Shore often refer to her as a "super rebbetzin" or the queen of multi-tasking.

On any given day, she's running the shul's long daycare centre, teaching a shiur, mentoring bat mitzvahs, doling out advice to those in need – all the while raising her own eight children.

Her good work hasn't gone unnoticed. The 42-year-old rebbetzin was recently selected by her peers to be the keynote speaker at the annual women's International Convention for Chabad women emissaries in New York from February 16-19.

It is the first time an Australian rebbetzin has been bestowed with the honour.

"I'm humbled," Schapiro told The AJN.

It is expected that about 4000 women emissaries will fly in from all over the world to attend four-day convention culminating in a gala banquet, at which Schapiro will speak. The speech will be streamed live on www.chabad.org, while North Shore Chabad will also hold a live screening at its centre on Monday, February 20, at noon.

The rebbetzin said she planned to talk about life as a Chabad emissary and the concept of being a role model.

"It's a message to take home – the mandate of what it is to be who we are. It's inspiring in that vein."

Schapiro always knew that this would be her calling. As the daughter of Rabbi Pinchus and Pnina Feldman, heads of NSW's Yeshiva Centre, she grew up in a deeply religious and spiritual environment. Later, she married Rabbi Nochum Schapiro and for the last 22 years, the couple has served as directors of Chabad North Shore.

Among her duties, Schapiro delivers weekly shiurs in the new Chabad centre  in St Ives, and prepares girls for their bat mitzvahs. She also offers marriage and family counselling to those in need and serves as director of  the Ganeinu Long Daycare Centre, a pre-school for children up to the age of four.

Meanwhile, she is busy rearing her own children aged from four to 22. "It's a juggle," she admitted, "but I feel I get help from above.

"It's getting strength from a higher place. I believe very strongly in the value of giving back to the community. As rebbetzins, we're very fortunate to give to others because that's the biggest gift we can give ourselves and our families in life."



Monday, February 13, 2012

Former Deadhead starts synagogue for NYU students 

nce he followed the Grateful Dead. Now he leads a flock that follows Hasidic Judaism.

Rabbi and former Deadhead Dov Yonah Korn says he plans to harness the punk-rock energy of Manhattan's Bowery "in a Jewish way."

Korn and his wife, who met at a concert, are starting a synagogue for New York University students.

The New York Post says the Lubavitch (loo-BAH'-vihch) shul (shool) will be just a stone's throw from the former home of legendary rock club CBGB.

The synagogue's $8.3 million price tag was paid for by donations from hundreds of past and present NYU students. It's in a commercial section of a condo building that's also home to Grammy winner John Legend.



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dutch Chief Rabbi Offers a Positive Outlook 

Despite the loss of 90 percent of their Jewish population in the Holocaust and periodic legislative battles against kosher practices and ritual circumcision, the vast majority of the people of the Netherlands are not anti-Semitic, Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs concluded during a speech in Oxford, England.

Speaking about the phenomenon of European anti-Semitism and the future of Dutch and European Jewry, Jacobs, president of the Rabbinical Council for the Netherlands, told those gathered at the Oxford University Chabad Society’s Slager Jewish Student Centre that, to be sure, the Netherlands had much to answer for in its across-the-board indifference to the fate of its Jews during World War II. Dutch police were instrumental in the rounding up of Jewish citizens and refugees on behalf of the Nazis, noted the Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi, and any attempt to whitewash that reality by focusing on the small number of cases in which individual people hid Jews is “serving a grave injustice to a Jewish community that was decimated in the Holocaust.”

In that context, Jacobs was critical of the official government and tourism emphasis on the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam at the expense of sites such as Westerbork, where Jews were assembled by police forces before their deportation to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Nevertheless, he pointed to such events as the recent public apology by a Netherlands police chief as evidence that “lessons have been learned from the past.”

Jacobs was welcomed by Oxford Chabad Society director Rabbi Eli Brackman and introduced by student vice president Matt Kaplan. The address followed a high-profile Holocaust Memorial Lecture the week before by Auschwitz survivor Victor Greenberg, Kinder transport refugee Fritz Sternhell and Oxford lecturer Alexandra Lloyd.

On the whole, Dutch society is not anti-Semitic, stated Jacobs, who offered examples of popular support he encounters across the country. Although Geert Wilders’ PVV party has received criticism for its anti-Islamic stance, there are no anti-Semitic parties in Dutch politics, unlike in European countries, he added.

Those groups opposing ritual kosher animal slaughter, he pointed out, appear to be doing so on purely animal rights grounds.

The biggest threat, as the chief rabbi sees it, to Dutch Jewry is a high rate of assimilation, which he attributed to Holocaust survivors being raised by non-Jewish families after the war.

Using the Netherlands as a model, he said that the future looks bright.

“While Jews in Europe should never become complacent, and should always be committed to preventing a repetition of history,” he emphasized, “the future looks very positive for European Jewry. European multiculturalism sits very comfortably with the Jewish outlook, whereby each community has its own role within society, and can live side-by-side, appreciating each other’s contributions rather than attempting to cast everyone into the same mold.”



Saturday, February 11, 2012

After arson-attack deal, New Square returns to normal 

Residents in this insular Hasidic Jewish village are hoping to forget last spring’s arson attack on a dissident community member and Tuesday’s guilty plea in the incident from an 18-year-old follower of the grand rebbe.

People are going about their normal routines, working, praying in the synagogue and studying in the yeshiva, several residents said.

Even in winter, the streets, lined with high-density housing and named after U.S. presidents, are filled with women pushing strollers while young men dash between prayers and school.

Not much has changed through the generations among the Skver Hasidim, a sect founded in Chernobyl and now led by Grand Rebbe David Twersky. Many feel no changes are necessary within the village off Route 45 nestled between Hillcrest and New City.

Shmarya Rosenberg, who monitors Hasidic culture on his Failed Messiah website, said Thursday that the 57-year-old community’s rigid traditions under Twersky will continue following the arson assault last May by Shaul Spitzer against Aron Rottenberg, a 44-year-old married plumber with children.

“I think they are definitely loyal to the rebbe,” Rosenberg said of the New Square Hasidim. “There will always be exceptions who will buck the normal behaviors. There are always people twisting on the fence. I don’t see any signs of them rejecting him or what New Square is.”

Spitzer, who lived in Twersky’s house and worked for him as a butler, admitted his guilty plea Tuesday to first-degree assault when he set himself and Rottenberg on fire during a confrontation. Spitzer admitted he acted because of Rottenberg’s defiance of the grand rebbe’s edict that all his followers pray in the community’s only synagogue on Truman Avenue. Rottenberg had received threatening calls a week before the attack and said people loyal to the grand rebbe marched on his house and vandalized his home and car months earlier.

Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns across 50 percent of his body. Spitzer suffered severe hand and arm burns.



Friday, February 10, 2012

Chutzpah Winfrey 

Oprah Winfrey has discovered her inner Jewishness.

Winfrey, who rarely does interviews, sat for a TV chat with a Hasidic rabbi on the day last fall she immersed herself in Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods.
The interview, produced by Oprah's OWN network and posted Wednesday only on chabad.org, the Web site of the Lubavitcher sect, was a rare scoop for a site that deals mainly in religious practices.

"There's more Hasidic Jew in me than I know," says Winfrey — dressed in a modesty-preserving ankle-length skirt— at the end of the interview with Rabbi Motti Seligson, the Web site's media liason.

"She was very real and very warm and easy to connect with," Seligson told The Post yesterday. "What I really think was nice about this was [Winfrey's] willingness to experience Hasidic life — as opposed to just going off stereotypes."

Last October, Oprah took cameras into Hasidic homes in Borough Park, Crown Heights and a mikvah, a ritual bathhouse, in Brooklyn Heights as a part of her "America's Hidden Culture" segment on her weekly "Oprah's Next Chapter Show" show.

Seligson is briefly featured at the beginning of Sunday's episode, in which Winfrey also visits the Ginsberg family.

In the interview, Winfrey says that her experience dispelled some of her misconceptions about Hasidic Jews.

"I have been perhaps, like most people who've walked down the street and seen Hasidic Jewish men, in particular . . . oftentimes wearing the hats and long beards and always found it somewhat formidable or intimidating," she says.

"This experience has really confirmed and affirmed what I truly believe as one of my deep spiritual principles — that we're all more alike than different."
Winfrey also says she was "speechless" that, when she visited the Ginsberg family — and mentioned Mickey Mouse, Shrek, Beyoncé and Jay-Z to their kids — none of them recognized the references.

"They said they didn't even care and weren't even curious about it," she tells Seligson.

"We live in a culture where seven-and-a-half hours a day are spent consumed by some electronic device . . . It's amazing to me that, right across from Manhattan, there's a whole world of children who aren't doing that and who are happy, fulfilled and loved."

"I had a few questions I wanted to ask her," Seligson said yesterday, explaining innocently how he got the interview.

"I really wanted to hear about her experiences," he said.



Thursday, February 09, 2012

Orthodox Jews mount appeal for Eruv in Sydney 

Orthodox Jews have appealed to a court in Sydney to overturn a decision to deny them an Eruv.

Plans for a symbolic religious enclosure have been underway for more than five years on Sydney's north shore, but last year the local council voted against allowing the construction to go forward.

The New South Wales Land and Environment Court is this week considering the case after the organizing committee of the Northern Eruv appealed the decision.
A heated debate has raged among locals in Sydney's north shore with many opposing the idea of a designated religious enclosure for the several thousand Jews who live there.

An Eruv has existed in the eastern suburbs around Bondi Beach - where most of Sydney's 40,000 Jews live - since 2002.



Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Plea averts trial in NY Hasidic firebombing case 

A Hasidic teenager pleaded guilty Tuesday to assault, averting a trial in an attempted murder case that brought unusual attention to a religious dispute in a Jewish enclave.

Shaul Spitzer, 18, accepted a plea bargain as jury selection was about to begin at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City, said defense attorney Deborah Lowenberg.

Spitzer had been accused of severely burning neighbor Aron Rottenberg with a firebomb outside Rottenberg's home in New Square, an insular Hasidic village of 7,000.

Spitzer and Rottenberg were seriously injured on May 22 when the flammable liquid ignited. Rottenberg suffered third-degree burns on half his body. Spitzer had burns on his hands and arms.

"We just both burst into flames," Rottenberg said.

Rottenberg claimed in a lawsuit that Spitzer was acting at the direction of the village's chief rabbi, David Twersky. Spitzer occasionally worked for Twersky. 

Rottenberg alleged that Twersky was angered because Rottenberg had stopped praying at his synagogue.

The rabbi denied involvement, criticized the attack and was not charged. Spitzer's lawyers also said the rabbi was uninvolved.

Rottenberg's relatives said that they had endured broken windows and threats after Rottenberg began worshipping at a nearby nursing home and that they feared an attack.

Under the plea bargain, a state Supreme Court judge promised a sentence of no more than 10 years, Lowenberg said.

She said sect leaders didn't pressure Spitzer to accept the plea bargain to avoid a trial.

"Mr. Spitzer took counsel only from the defense team," she said. "We understood the evidence was very strong against our client and explained to him that there was a significant risk of facing 25 years.

"This way, he has the peace of mind of knowing the sentence won't be more than 10 years," she added. "We hope to show the judge that a less severe sentence would be appropriate."

Sentencing was set for April 17.

New Square is about 30 miles north of Manhattan. Nearly all of its residents are members of the Skver Hasidic sect. The sect and the village are named for the Ukrainian village of Skver, where its members were killed during the Holocaust.



Tuesday, February 07, 2012

U.S. tourists to Israel advised to dress modestly 

The U.S. State Department is advising visitors to Jerusalem to dress modestly when visiting certain neighborhoods, or to avoid the areas entirely, in hopes of not provoking local sensitivities.

The State Department guidance did not specify which neighborhoods are considered problematic, or what, exactly, constitutes "modest" attire.

The Jerusalem advisory, updated on Jan. 10, says travelers "should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays" and "dress appropriately" when visiting ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and the Old City of Jerusalem, where religious Jews, Muslims and Christians live in distinct quarters.

The warning notes that most roads into ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are blocked off on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Jewish holidays, and that "assaults on secular visitors, either for being in cars or for being 'immodestly dressed' have occurred in these neighborhoods."

The advisory was added to the State Department's website for travel to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It comes in the wake of many recent incidents in which ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremists physically or verbally attacked women they said were dressed immodestly.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women cover up everything except their faces, necks and hands.

In Beit Shemesh, a city between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, extremists have attacked religious schoolgirls on their way to school, deeming them not religious enough.
For years, ultra-Orthodox Jews have also stoned cars driving in or near their neighborhoods on the Sabbath or holidays.



Monday, February 06, 2012

Building a Better Gefilte Fish 

What in the world has gotten into Jeffrey Chodorow?" muttered one of the food snobs at my table as he took a perfectly brined pickle from the exceptional "delicatessen" board at the rashly conceived, surprisingly accomplished "modern Jewish-American" restaurant Kutcher's Tribeca and crunched it happily between his teeth. Chodorow, of course, is the restaurateur New York food snobs love to hate. Over the years, the successful entrepreneur (he's made millions in real estate, among other investments) has been derided by members of the self-appointed culinary smart set as a hopeless populist (his five China Grill franchises are wildly profitable), a purveyor of overpriced, passé luxury foods and schlock décor (the samurai-sword-covered Kobe Club), and a serial sponsor of endless star-crossed, crackpot dining schemes (Rocco DiSpirito's reality-TV restaurant Rocco's, as well as Wild Salmon and Brasserio Caviar & Banana, to name just a few).

But lately, Chodorow's dark reputation has begun to brighten. In the past few years, while many restaurateurs have been cowering on the sidelines, he's put his money behind a string of popular, even critical hits, including Bar Basque, Zak Pelaccio's Fatt 'Cue and Fatty Crab, and the fashionable new Chinese farm-to-table establishment RedFarm. Now comes Kutsher's, which has been designed by Chodorow's young partner Zach Kutsher as a kind of upscale homage to his family's famous Kutsher's Country Club resort in the Catskills. The room, on Franklin Street, is appointed in a stylish, nouveau-Fontainebleau way with gold-colored light fixtures, whitewashed backlit walls, and a bar top made of copper. There's a dish called pickled herring "two ways" on the menu, the kasha varnishkes are made with wild mushrooms and quinoa, not kasha, and the house gefilte fish is molded into decorative gourmet pedestals and feathered with micro-greens and a parsley vinaigrette.

"This is not my grandmother's Kut­sher's," said one of my guests as the first wave of newfangled, heretical deli creations began arriving at the table. A platter of kreplach, filled here with creamy ricotta, was dismissed out of hand by the assembled experts ("This tastes like something from a kosher Italian restaurant in Scarsdale," one said), but the contents of the excellent house delicatessen plate (which include pink veal tongue and strips of soft, house-cured duck and ­deckle pastrami with pickles, mustard, and a pot of delicious horseradish aïoli) were quickly devoured. The same thing happened to a platter of crisped artichokes alla Judea (frizzled in the Roman style with garlic, Parmesan, and lemons) and to the ingenious aforementioned herring dish, which is also cured in-house and served in two little Alfred Portale–style towers, one of them dressed in the traditional way, with sour cream and pickled onions, the other with wasabi and yuzu.
Kutsher's executive chef, Mark Spangenthal, has worked at top kitchens around the city, and if there's a problem with his radical interpretations of these ancient dishes, it's that some of them are actually too good. At least that was the twisted, Talmudic argument presented by one of the food scholars at my table, who pronounced his matzo-ball soup to be "overstudied." The smooth chopped chicken liver at Kutsher's is folded with unorthodox spoonfuls of gourmet duck liver ("nouvelle chopped liver," one of the scholars called it), and you can get your (slightly sodden) potato latkes topped with three kinds of caviar or a compote made with local Greenmarket apples. The traditionalists at the table were confused by the weirdly elegant shape of the gefilte fish, but the texture and taste, it was generally agreed, were a cut above what they'd been forced to endure over the decades at family holiday feasts.

The entrée list at Kutsher's is filled with similar game attempts to enliven old canonical favorites. The falafel-crusted salmon tasted like a piece of cafeteria-quality fish with a shmear of dry falafel on top, but the Catskill Mountain trout is cut in two nicely roasted fillets and served with Meyer-lemon confit on the side. My order of Friday-Night Roast Chicken was overbrined, but the totemic Eastern European beef dishes (gray blocks of flanken braised in red wine, improbably tender Romanian skirt steak smothered in sweet onions), my experts assured me, are as good as anything served by the tottering old waiters at Sammy's. The bountiful lunchtime deli-style sandwiches (try the Reuben or the KT pastrami) may not have quite the pedigree of the venerable classics at Kats' or Carnegie, but you can complement them with towers of fries tossed with duck schmaltz, or order a first-rate La Frieda special-blend burger, served on wedges of toasty sesame-seed challah.

On the evenings I dropped in, the tables were crowded with a mix of swank-looking downtown diners ("This is JDate ground zero," someone said) interspersed with groups of bewildered-looking elders bundled in their thick winter coats. There's no Manischewitz on the wine list at this decidedly un-kosher restaurant. Instead, you can obtain a glass of Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne to sip with your caviar-topped latkes, along with a selection of $12 cocktails with belabored Catskill-era names like Bug Juice and Bungalow Bunny. The desserts include a bread pudding awkwardly constructed from chocolate babka and a decorative rainbow sundae with spongy rainbow cookies at the bottom. But after a heavy dinner, the best option is the cookie plate, the ceremonial contents of which (hamantaschen, weighty macaroons, house-baked rugelach) are designed to be nibbled with a digestive cup of tea.



Sunday, February 05, 2012

Escape from Williamsburg 

Deborah Feldman’s memoir, “Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots,” begins with Feldman describing her father, a mentally disabled Hasid employed by pitying community members to preform simple tasks, like picking up people from the airport. Sometimes he takes along 5-year-old Deborah.

“I know it’s strange for me to enjoy visiting the airport itself,” Feldman writes in the first chapter, “when I know I will never even get on a plane, but I find it thrilling…. Watching the crowds hurrying to and fro with their luggage squealing loudly behind them, knowing they are all going somewhere, purposefully. What a marvelous world this is, I think, where birds touch down briefly before magically reappearing at another airport somewhere halfway across the planet. If I had a wish, it would be to always be traveling, from one airport to the other. To be freed from the prison of staying still.”

“Unorthodox” is a memoir about a young woman who has a lot of opinions. But in the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic world of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, opinions in general, and certainly those of young women, are not appreciated.

I grew up in a similar world nearby, the Hasidic world of Boro Park. Reading “Unorthodox” was like seeing a variation on my own life mapped out meticulously, down to the last traditional detail. I found it oddly compelling, visiting scenes and dialogues that so perfectly encompass a world so familiar. When Deborah and her older cousin, Mimi, go to an ice skating rink, a young girl offers Deborah a Hershey chocolate kiss and tells her that it’s kosher:

“You can’t eat the chocolate,” Mimi announces. “It’s not kosher.” “But she’s Jewish! She said so herself! Why can’t I eat it?” “Because not all Jews keep kosher. And even the ones that do, it’s not always kosher enough….”

And Deborah’s grandfather makes it clear that secular books are evil, a toxic influence on a chosen, pure soul.

When my zeide gets angry his long white beard seems to lift up and spread around his face like a fiery flame. “Der tumeneh shprach” [“The evil language”], he thunders at me when he overhears me speaking to my cousins in English. “An impure language, zeide says, acts like a poison to the soul. Reading an English book is even worse; it leaves my soul vulnerable, a welcome mat put out for the devil.”

“Unorthodox” is a fascinating book, and well written in English. My favorite part comes in the early chapters, when 12-year-old Deborah secretly purchases a translation of the Talmud so that she can understand the forbidden mysteries of the Torah. She lies to the elderly salesman in the bookstore, mumbling that the book is a purchase for her cousin.

You can feel her excitement as she walks down the block, holding the precious book, quickly hiding it under her mattress when she reaches home. Before reading it, she waits until the house is empty. And then, on page 65, she reads about King David who took Bathsheba as a wife after sending her husband, Uriah, to the front battle lines, where he was killed. Upon looking into the women’s eyes, though, King David recognized his sin, and Bathsheba was sent back to the harem, ignored and forgotten until her death.

Not only did David cavort with his many wives, but he had unmarried female companions as well, I discover. They are called concubines. Con-cu-bine. I whisper aloud this new word, con-cu-bine, and it doesn’t sound illicit, the way it should. It only makes me think of a tall stately tree. The concubine tree. I picture beautiful women dangling from its branches. Con-cu-bine. … I am not aware at this moment that I have lost my innocence. I will realize it many years later.

It is in chapter four, when Deborah is a freshman at Satmar, a girls high school, that she loses her innocence, and then immediately the story begins to hurry up. It is as if the author, a talented 24-year-old graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, is trying to pack a lifetime of big moments into a book too slender for the weight it carries. There is so much to say about this strange and different place: adolescence, all-girls summer camp, teenage angst, high school, pre-marriage, and, of course, the short-lived marriage arranged by the family, the bride serving only as an observer.

But as Deborah grows, she becomes a stranger to her own life, and by the fifth chapter the innocence is lost in her mind and in her writing. The believing child turns into the disillusioned adult, and words become tinged with bitterness. There is a rush of events and a loss of the wonder that has given her writing power until then. We are introduced to seemingly significant characters randomly. Most are never heard of again. Teachers, family and friends come and go, portrayed as flat, one-dimensional characters, notable only for their ignorance.

As a member of the Hasidic community for the first three decades of my life, I well know that one can be ignorant and still have an endearing personality; one can have blind faith but still have a vivid character. Compassion and narrow-mindedness, sweet innocence and crude naivety, mix easily, creating nuanced personalities where black and white, and sometimes a hint of gray, coexist. Feldman, though, shows only what we thought we knew about the Hasidim: There is little that brings them to life.

By its second half, “Unorthodox” reads like a hastily written diary, as if the author wanted to hurry already to the good part — the part where she is no longer in Williamsburg. It is as though Feldman does not want to spend one word more than absolutely necessary on the parts of life she worked so hard to be rid of. This is a pity.

Reading the descriptions of Feldman’s life, I found I was walking with her. I found myself in scenes crowded with people I knew, in moments so intimately familiar to anyone who grew up in the Hasidic world: the shviger, or mother-in-law; the ceremonies, the l’chaim, or celebration of engagement, set up before you ever met the groom. I found myself back in a place where, yes, there is superstition and fanaticism, absurdity and suppression, but there’s a darkness that exists alongside a rich and vibrant culture, a community that has survived centuries of persecution and is still so very much alive.

I wish Feldman had delved more expansively into the elements that infuse the Hasidic community with life and meaning and joy. I wanted to sense her wonder as a teenager, as a bride, as a new wife. There is a strong sense of purpose in this ancient world; that’s how it has lasted for so long. There is a binding connection with the past, a powerful core of identity, so that even if you do not agree, you can understand why most never leave.

Still, it is worth the read. Even with what is lacking, Feldman’s voice resonates throughout. You badly want to know what happened to the little girl watching people rushing to and fro in the airport; you want to see the kind of woman she becomes. With a baby on the way and a disintegrating marriage, Feldman has a story that is a journey, and I won’t spoil any more of it. The curiosity will keep you reading if only to watch how she untangles herself from her past, and how she ultimately frees herself from “the prison of staying still.”



Saturday, February 04, 2012

Gur Hasidim and gender separation 

One day in 1976, a student entered our classroom at Beit Yaakov Seminar in Tel Aviv, weeping passionately. She informed us that the revered Gerer rebbe - the so-called Beis Yisroel - Rabbi Israel Alter, had died. Classes at the seminar, which was affiliated with the Gur Hasidic sect, were suspended immediately, and all of us, including girls from the Lithuanian community (those ultra-Orthodox Jews historically opposed to Hasidism ) to which I belonged, bawled our eyes out.

The Beis Yisroel, who ruled Gur Hasidism from 1948 to 1976, was a dominant leader who revolutionized that sect, which in those days won admiration in the ultra-Orthodox world - even though, or perhaps because, it had always been steeped in secrecy when it came to relations between men and women. Over time it emerged that the unusual Gur customs in this realm are tied to the concept of kedusha (sanctity ), from which stems the unique attitude to sexuality and conjugal relations within the sect. (Much of our understanding of the topic is the result of the research of Dr. Benjamin Brown of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem over the last few years ).

A new study that focuses on the private and public lifestyle of Gur Hasidim lifts the veil further on sanctity in the sect. "Sanctity is the ideology of the art of drawing apart," says Dr. Nava Wasserman, whose study of private and public life among Gur Hasidism was the subject of her doctoral dissertation (which she wrote under the guidance of Prof. Kimmy Caplan, at Bar-Ilan University ).

According to Wasserman, "This view dictates the strict separation between the sexes in this Hasidic sect, and primarily the practices of prishut [separation] that guide the relationship between spouses in this society, which is unparalleled in other ultra-Orthodox groups. Hasidism is doing more than is demanded by Jewish law. If in the Western world sexuality is a constant presence, it is precisely against this that Gur Hasidim fight. They don't want to get anywhere near the atmosphere and tension of sexuality, even if matters do not reach the level of prohibition. This is the fulfillment of Hasidism: Separation beyond that which Jewish law requires."



Friday, February 03, 2012

Katz Women’s Hosp delivers baby No. 1 

In the four times Rosa Kichikova has given birth, she never mistook the hospital for a hotel.

But that almost happened the fifth time, when the Flushing mother last week became the first woman to deliver a baby at the new Katz Women's Hospital in New Hyde Park.

Little Avital Kichikova was brought into the world at 10:24 p.m. Jan. 24, the first birth at the new hospital.

"It feels like something special," Kichikova said. "It's very nice here. Beautiful. It's like a hotel. It's very comfy here. Privacy, your own room. Your own place, your own privacy. It's what I like."

What gives the hospital the look of a hotel are its single-bedded rooms and amenities, such as a meditation center and a women's garden.

"This is really what the whole new building is all about and we're thrilled to have a new women's hospital," said Chantal Weinhold, executive director of Long Island Jewish Medical Center, which runs the women's hospital. "I think what we've done is transformed it into looking like a hotel. We're very proud. This is really, from our perspective, the future of health care."

The $300 million hospital, named after donors Saul and Iris Katz, opened Jan. 23.

Saul Katz was chairman of the North Shore-LIJ board of trustees and Iris is an associate trustee.

Rosa's husband, Ilya Kichikova, gave their child the name of Avital, which means "gift from G-d" in Hebrew.

As Orthodox Jews, the couple waited until the girl was born before naming her.

"We were thinking the whole night," Rosa Kichikova said. "Usually mommies look and they know."

Rosa said she looks forward to the day when she can tell Avital how she was the first baby born in the new hospital.
"She's going to be excited to hear that," Rosa said.

The Flushing couple have four other children: two boys, ages 6 and 8, and two girls, 3 1/2 and 5.

Avital was delivered by Dr. Sarah Linkie, who helped deliver babies at nearby LIJ for 17 years.

"It's an honor and a pleasure to have delivered the first baby at Katz Women's Hospital," she said.



Thursday, February 02, 2012

New Square arson trial starts Tuesday; teen charged with attempted murder 

An 18-year-old New Square man who worked for the Hasidic Jewish community's rabbinical leader is scheduled for trial next week on a charge of attempted murder stemming from accusations that he set fire to a fellow village resident who had defied the edicts of the community's spiritual leader.

Shaul Spitzer waived his right to a pretrial hearing Wednesday in state Supreme Court. Justice William A. Kelly scheduled jury selection for Tuesday in his fourth-floor courtroom at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

Spitzer opted for trial because he faces five to 25 years in state prison if convicted of the top charge of attempted murder, the only offer made by Rockland County prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea.

Spitzer and his lawyers can change their minds about going to trial, but Spitzer likely would face up to 15 years in prison from the justice if he pleads guilty.
Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said prosecutor Stephen Moore has made no special plea offer and that a sentence is at the justice's discretion upon conviction.

Spitzer is accused of setting Aron Rottenberg on fire after trying to burn down the family's Truman Avenue house at 4:15 a.m. May 22, tossing a homemade incendiary device onto the back porch of the house, Ramapo police investigators said.

Because of months of threats — including telephone calls days earlier — and vandalism, Rottenberg's son had been monitoring surveillance cameras installed on the house.

The elder Rottenberg then confronted the masked man and during a struggle another incendiary device carried by the man detonated, burning Rottenberg and Spitzer. Spitzer ran off and a resident treated him for his burns.

Rottenberg, 44, a plumber, suffered third-degree burns across 50 percent of his body, leading to skin-graft surgeries and months of hospitalization.
Spitzer, who lived with Grand Rebbe David Twersky and did butler work for him, suffered third-degree burns to his arms and after several weeks of hospitalization returned to school in the community.

Rottenberg and several other village residents were targets of street protests and vandalism for not praying in the grand rebbe's synagogue, less than 100 yards from Rottenberg's house on Truman Avenue.

There is one synagogue in New Square, and the grand rebbe wants all his followers to pray with him. Weeks after the attack, Twersky condemned the violence and offered prayers for both men to recover.

Rottenberg led a weekly Sabbath service at the Friedwald Center rehabilitation facility, about a mile from the center of the Ramapo village.

One other family moved out of the village following the protests they and Rottenberg said were orchestrated by minions who enforced the grand rebbe's edicts.
Rottenberg has filed a civil lawsuit against Twersky and Spitzer. The grand rebbe's followers were supposedly raising money for a settlement offer, but Rottenberg is ready to testify at the criminal trial, his son-in-law Moshe Elbaum said Wednesday.

"We're ready to go, and we're happy that it's finally starting," Elbaum said. "Hopefully they will finally learn their lesson that they are not above the law."
Following a Ramapo police investigation into the May incident, a Rockland grand jury indicted Spitzer in June on charges of second-degree attempted murder, second-degree attempted arson and two counts of first-degree assault, all felonies.

On Wednesday morning, defense lawyer Kenneth Gribetz told Kelly that Spitzer waived his right to a hearing on the admissibility of statements he gave to police.

Spitzer's defense lawyers are not challenging that the teen was at Rottenberg's house during the early morning hours. Gribetz has contended that Spitzer did not intend to harm Rottenberg or to set his house on fire.

The night of the confrontation coincided with the Lag BaOmer festival, when religious Jews have bonfires marking the anniversary of the death of a leading rabbi and a revolt against the Roman Empire. A community group circulated a letter in August claiming Spitzer just wanted to make mischief that morning.
Gribetz and co-defense lawyer Paul Shechtman said the defense case will develop during the trial.

"The defense will come from the lips of the witnesses," Gribetz said after Wednesday's court appearance. "We don't want to make any other statements."
Spitzer also faces a charge of second-degree criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, in New Square Village Court. On Oct. 26, a photograph taken by a village resident surfaced, showing Spitzer in front of Rottenberg's Truman Avenue home about 3:15 p.m. Oct. 4. That case is scheduled for this month.



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