Thursday, May 31, 2012

Residents: Cameras could mean trouble for everyday citizens 

Residents of Midwood say they have mixed feelings over news that Agudath Israel of America was given $1 million to place surveillance cameras in the neighborhood — fearing that an organization that discourages Jews from reporting sex crimes to police without first consulting a rabbi wouldn't protect all residents.

"It's not right," said Katherine Martinez. "God forbid something happened to a poor girl — if she's a Hispanic, will it be reported?"

The cameras, which will be placed outside of synagogues and schools throughout the two neighborhoods, was designed to catch sex predators, but critics fear that Agudath Israel and the Shomrim, a volunteer security force that is poised to take control of the cameras, would shield Jewish criminals from cops. The police are allowed to look at the feed, but only "authorized officials" will have access, according to Assemblyman Dov Hikind's office (D–Borough Park).

But Michelle Perricone doesn't believe Agudath Israel would doctor or alter the surveillance footage — especially since cops will be able to look at the feed.
"As long as the police are involved in the actual surveillance, It will be fine." Perricone said. "Orthodox Jews just don't like to talk about abuse."

Orthodox residents polled outside the Avenue J station had nothing but praise for Agudath Israel's camera project — but wouldn't talk about the group's practice of "mesirah," a code that frowns upon Jews handing fellow Jews to secular authorities unless a rabbi thinks the criminal complaints are credible.

"Safety is always good," said one Orthodox Jew, who only identified himself as Simon.
Shlomie Katz agreed.

"It's a good idea because a lot can happen after midnight on these streets," Katz said. "But that's a solid chunk of money."



Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ramaz Students On Tzedakah’s Cutting Edge 

Most tween and teenaged girls are not thinking about other people when they're getting a haircut. It's a time of life when the pressure to look a certain way, to measure up to the standards of both friends and crushes, is intense.

But last week, a group of about 17 girls, students at the Upper East Side's Ramaz School, defied that pressure to donate at least eight inches of their hair to Zichron Menachem, an Israeli organization that makes wigs for young cancer patients.

The girls found an eager partner in a neighborhood salon, the Shaggy Hair Studio, owned by two Israelis who were happy to shut down the entire operation the afternoon of May 22 to treat the girls, and a few of their teachers, to a free haircut after school.

"It's not easy to get rid of long hair. You have to shape it, and give them a new style," said co-owner Yossi Shaar, originally from Netanya. "They were very nice, and very brave.

Join us for this intergenerational dialogue!

Fans of the movie "You Don't Mess with the Zohan," in which Adam Sandler plays an Israel Defense Forces commando who comes to America to style the ladies who line up outside his Manhattan salon for his many services, might wonder if the Shaggy Hair Studio was an appropriate place to bring a gaggle of young girls. Shaar says his salon is not that kind of place.

"We have fun at work," Shaar said, "but we're more professional. We don't have a back room."

He and partner Oren Lanzanski have already given free cuts to those donating their hair to Locks of Love, a similar, U.S.-based organization.

"Because this supports Israel, we feel even more connected," he said. "I told them, 'Call me or my partner any time. We'd be happy to do it again.'"



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Vandals damage mosaic floor at ancient synagogue 

Vandals damaged an ancient mosaic floor and spray painted walls at the fourth century CE synagogue located at the Hamat Tiberias heritage
site in the Galilee overnight Monday.

Police were investigating the incident and seeking suspects. The vandals wrote messages apparently directed against the director-general of the Israel Antiquities
Authority, Shuka Dorfman and in protest of archaeological digging at the graves of ancient rabbis.

The Hamat Tiberias synagogue is administered to by the National Parks Authority. It is believed to have been built in the Sanhedrin period, in the fourth century CE.



Monday, May 28, 2012

Orange Bureau Confidential: Federal court tosses claims challenging new Assembly lines 

A federal court has dismissed claims that threatened to upend newly drawn lines for Assemblywoman Annie Rabbitt's district and those of surrounding Assembly districts in Orange and Rockland counties.

A legal challenge brought by a Town of Ramapo councilman had accused state lawmakers of diluting the voting power of Ramapo's large Hasidic population by separating the Hasidic villages of New Square and Kaser into two Assembly districts rather than keeping them in the same one, as they are now.

The plaintiff, Yitzchok Ullman, also wanted the new lines invalidated because the state has been violating its own constitution since 1972 by dividing the Town of Ramapo into three Assembly districts, when it should have only one. Rabbitt, whose district is mostly in Orange County, represents a slice of Ramapo.

But a court panel has dismissed those objections and allowed the new Ramapo division to stand. In a series of rulings on various redistricting objections signed May 16, the judges noted that Ullman's attorney had retreated from his claim of religious discrimination, leaving him with no federal claims to assert.

And without that, they said, they wouldn't even consider the question of whether splitting up Ramapo violates the state constitution.

The ruling averts a wholesale redrawing of local Assembly lines, since forcing state lawmakers to fit Ramapo in a single district would also have required them to adjust all the districts around it.

Rabbitt's new district — if she's re-elected this year — will include a different mix of Orange County towns and new parts of Ramapo, including the Village of Kaser. Myrna Kemnitz, a Monroe resident and Democratic Orange County legislator, plans to challenge the Greenwood Lake Republican in November.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Trader Joe's Dealing With Kosher-Cookie Crisis 

A subtle change in how non-dairy chocolate chips were being bagged forced a run at Trader Joe's with Orthodox Jews and the lactose intolerant racing to get the last bags of non-dairy sweets.

Why the rush? Trader Joe's chocolate chips are no longer "pareve,"

meaning they now may come in contact with milk products.

Trader Joe's chocolate chips are still made on non-dairy equipment with the same non-dairy, or "pareve," ingredients as before. But a company spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that the cleaning process for the chip's bagging line recently changed. Trader Joe's said the chip company can no longer guarantee that there is no dairy residue in the assembly room.

Not kosher. In fact, kosher law prohibits adherents from mixing meat and dairy at all times.

The Trader Joe's chocolate chips used to be popular with Orthodox Jews and lactose intolerant people alike. But the bagging change prompted a Jewish organization that certifies products as "pareve," meaning they can be eaten with meat or dairy, to de-certify the chips.

The unnamed bagging-company reportedly made the switch as a cost-cutting measure.

Some have responded by clearing shelves at Trader Joe's with the last pareve-friendly chips available.

Others have taken to Facebook and the Internet to try and get the company to change their ways.

A change.org petition drew close to 5,000 signatures in about a week demanding the chips abandon the new bagging process.

The new chips no longer carry the kosher label and the Food and Drug Administration is requiring that they be outfitted with a milk allergy warning.



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Protecting the unholiest sinners 

There exists in this city a group of unparalleled perverts that's wrapped in Teflon — more resistent to charges of sexual exploitation than John Travolta.
I'm not talking about Hollywood nimrods or Catholic priests, but a sect not generally associated with serious crime — ultra-Orthodox Jews.

A scandal of epic proportions is brewing in Brooklyn as District Attorney Charles Hynes uses kid gloves to handle creeps and demons charged with, or convicted of, sexual abuse that too often brutalizes children.

While monsters of other faiths are paraded in shame through the public square, Hynes this week refused to reveal the identities of Hasidic scumbags.
Some of the deviants committed crimes from rape to sodomy to incest in sex attacks on kids.

Some have enjoyed sweet plea deals. Others are out there as we speak — preying on the weak in blessed anonymity.

"We're talking about thousands upon thousands of victims,'' said Ben Hirsch, co-founder and president of Survivors for Justice — and a Brooklyn-bred Orthodox Jew.

"He is very reluctant to prosecute these cases and only does it when forced to by the media spotlight.

"He's made a pact with the devil.''

So mothers — are your babies at risk from men wearing yarmulkes and side curls?

Hynes, who enjoys lavish support in the ultra-Jewish community, admits he treats people of the chosen faith differently.

"I departed from the policy of identifying defendants,'' Hynes told me. "The reason is that, within days, people within this relentless community would identify the victims. Then, the intimidation would start.''

Sexual-assault victims, especially kids, said Hynes "would be thrown out of summer camp, arranged marriages would be stopped. Kicked out of the yeshivahs. It's the only community that has this kind of problem.

"If the Amish were living in Brooklyn,'' he said, "maybe I'd have something like that."

Hynes' chief of sex crimes against children, Rhonnie Jaus, said her office has prosecuted 97 Jewish pervs since instituting Kol Tzedek — or "Voice of Justice'' — three years ago.

"We treat these cases very aggressively,'' Jaus said.

But advocates for victims call that politically motivated rubbish.

Awarding perpetrators anonymity "runs counter to the fundamental concept of Megan's Law'' — which requires sex offenders to be identified publicly, said Hirsch.

"Society can only protect itself from child molesters if it knows their names,'' Hirsch said.

One such deviant is Michael Sabo, a 38-year-old nurse who got a 20-year-to-life sentence this week after he admitted molesting a Hasidic boy and girl over several years. The girl's family was threatened in synagogue by Sabo supporters, who vowed to pack the courtroom if she testified.



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Petal-push crackdown 

Life is anything but rosy for illegal flower peddlers in Borough Park.

Cops in the predominantly Hasidic neighborhood are cracking down on the unlicensed hawkers after legit florists complained they are costing them between $5,000 and $10,000 a week in sales.

The squeeze comes on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, when tradition calls for thousands of flowers to adorn the inside of homes and synagogues.
"We're going to be enforcing illegal vendors and making sure the legal vendors comply with their licenses," NYPD Deputy Inspector Michael Deddo, of the 66th Precinct, recently told a meeting of community leaders that was attended by at least 20 neighborhood florists.

"We don't want to see our shops have to shut their doors because somebody's not paying taxes. "

Since Friday, cops from the precinct issued 13 summonses to illegal flower vendors, and even seized products from four peddlers, said NYPD spokeswoman Inspector Kim Royster.



Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Jersey Woman Claims She Was Fired for being Too Hot 

A fashion industry worker claims she was fired for being "too hot" to work in the office and the firing came after she was told to tape down her breasts and forced to wear a bathrobe to cover her body.

Lauren Odes worked doing data entry in Manhattan's garment district for a lingerie company called Native Intimates.

She claims her supervisors told her that the company's Orthodox Jewish owner wanted her to cover up more so men at the office wouldn't look at her.
"I was appalled when my supervisor told me to tape down my breasts and wear my boyfriend's oversized t-shirts," Odes says.

Attorney Gloria Allred announced Monday that, on behalf of Odes, she is now filing a charge of gender and religious discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Allred says, "She was told by a supervisor, 'You are just too hot for this office'."

On her final day of work, Odes says her female supervisor came up to her and walked her over to a closet.

"(She) suggested that I put on a bright red bathrobe and sit at my desk and wear it all day," Odes says. "I felt completely humiliated."

Odes says she asked to go buy a sweater so she wouldn't have to wear the robe. She says she was fired over the phone as she was trying to purchase the sweater.

Odes, who is Jewish, says she does not feel that any employer has the right to impose their religious beliefs on her when it is, "selling thongs with hearts placed in the female genital area and boy shorts for woman that say 'hot' in the buttocks area."

"We should not be judged by the size of our breasts," Odes says.

The company would not comment to Fox 5 News about the suit.



Monday, May 21, 2012

We're Stronger than the Internet 


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Watch Anti-Internet Asifa Live 


Orthodox Web Cafe in Brooklyn Keeps Internet out of Homes 

In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, local tech cafe  iShop, owned by Joseph Oppenheim, filters access to websites in the area at the back of his store when Orthodox Jewish customers can go online. 

Oppenheim’s goal, as he is part of the Satmar hasidic sect, is to follow the point of view of Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum about technology/Internet by offering a place to keep web access out of Hasidic homes in the neighborhood and instead offer a safe place for the local cliente to surf the Web.
According to The Jewish Daily Forward, if he had his way, Teitelbaum would have “kiosks like the ones in Oppenheim’s store will be the only way that his thousands of followers will be able to access the Internet.”  Oppenheim added, “in our community, we were raised and grow up in a way that we should not be exposed to the whole world.”

The filters at Oppenheim’s shop block social networking sites as well image search sites like Google images.  Yahoo is blocked too because it melds hard news with entertainment and all blogs are blocked.  “I might lose business from some kind of customers, but if I want the place to be a kosher place, I want to be comfortable that if I have someone who is very strict with themselves come in, [they will] not feel that I fooled them,” said Oppenheim to the Forward.
Possible loopholes to the Orthodox Web cafe’s is that there is still access to public libraries and other tech such as smartphones.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Brooklyn DA Hynes Does Damage Control Over Orthodox Sex Scandal 

A week after a blistering series in the New York Times detailing his apparent complicity in an effort by Brooklyn's Ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic leaders to cover up sex abuse in their communities, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is in damage-control mode.

We noted earlier this week that some journalists in the Jewish press felt the Times was remiss in failing to credit the work of reporters who had come before. But even those critics acknowledge that the ability of the Times to command public attention was a tremendous boon to those seeking reform.
It looks like they're right: in the week since the series ran, Hynes has been on the defensive. Sunday, he gave an interview to WCBS, attempting to re-frame his position. "I didn't object to someone going to see a rabbi..but I certainly expected that they would report promptly any allegations of sexual abuse," he said.

He also defended his special policy of not releasing the names of Orthodox Jews charged with sex crimes, arguing that to do so would lead to retaliation against the victims.
But the hits kept coming. On Tuesday, former Mayor Ed Koch weighed in with a column on the Huffington Post, concluding,
"At this point, unless District Attorney Hynes announces that he will release the names of all defendants, including those of ultra orthodox Jews charged with child abuse, sexual or otherwise, and will pursue criminally anyone who engages in obstruction of justice, advising someone not to assist the police in their investigation of a child abuse incident, the governor should supersede him in these cases and appoint a special prosecutor to handle them."
Hynes fired off an email to Koch, reiterating his argument that by protecting sex criminals he is actually protecting victims. This kicked an exchange that Koch later released to the Times and the Jewish Week.

Koch wrote back, pointing out Hynes's double standard: " Your fear of disclosure of victim identities would apply to Catholic clergy and the many altar boys who were victims of sexual abuse. Yet you disclosed, as do all district attorneys, the names of the alleged predators in the Catholic clergy."
Hynes countered that Catholic clergy sex abuse cases don't lead produce victim intimidation the way Orthodox sex abuse cases do, to which Koch responded by stating the obvious: "The answer to the problem is, you have to go after those in the Hasidic community who are engaging in the obstruction of justice and intimidating the victims and their families."

Today, the Jewish Week reports that Hynes may finally be looking into doing just that, assembling an expert committee to examine how to address issues of witness intimidation in Ultra-Orthodox sex abuse cases.

What that commission might look like, and whether its recommendations will lead to action once the glare of the media spotlight dies down, remain open questions. But activists and longtime observers say the long fight to make Hynes take the issue seriously may finally have turned an important corner.



Friday, May 18, 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 Art of Comedy' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Why I Won't be at the Anti-Internet Rally 

When I first read about the anti-internet rally online, I thought it was a really clever spoof. Then I read online that it was real, and was spooked. I had so many questions to Google. Why would someone in the year 2012 be anti-internet? How does someone inform the masses of their anti-internet rally without the internet? Who would be Facebook-invited to this gathering? Would it be tweeted live? If I can't make it there, could I catch some sort of live telecast?

Alas, I kid. And you're gathering from my tone that I'm certainly not among the event-planners, nor am I supporter. In fact, despite the fact that there are thousands of people expected to attend the "Jews Against the Internet" rally at CitiFeild this Sunday, I don't personally know anyone that will be attending.

Why? Because I am Chabad. And proud.

While the Lubavitch community is also Chassidic and practically just as "ultra-orthodox" as the folks arranging and attending this rally, we will have virtually no representation. Not because we can't agree with the concern, but because we can't be concerned.

Remember us? We're the ones that built the Chabad.org and began educating and inspiring millions of Jews around the world way before anyone had any time to consider any "internet dangers." You tell a Lubavitcher "The internet is scary, stay far away," and he will laugh and say "Dude, where have you been?"

Oh, the gifts the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave us. The power be see our strict commitment to Jewish law and principle as going hand-in-hand with modernity. To see all of the world—yes, with all its potential ills—as a means towards a powerful end.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe never emphasized the disease, always the cure. And in every physical, emotional and ! spiritual case of sickness, the solution was always about introducing an active, real and alive force of good. The Rebbe was not naive to certain modern dangers. He encouraged people (privately, not taking time in a public address) to be careful with lots of modern inventions, including contacts and ultrasounds. But when it came to technology, the Rebbe was amazed, encouraging and anxious to use it for healing, for education, for the betterment of the world. While some got caught in the dangers and fear of modernity, the Rebbe knew it was all here for us to orient it towards a better, more productive, more united world.

In effect, where the rest of the world sees a problem, Chabad sees a resolution. Where all the other "Greats of Israel" see a stumbling block, we see an opportunity. When everyone is getting their feathers ruffled in the excitement of banning and inducing fear, Chabad always has a positive message of "Yes you can, here's how."

How much time have the Yeshivish and Chassidic communities of New York (and indeed the world) wasted on their protests and anti-this and anti-that banners? Have they ever stopped to consider that a little light will dispel a lot of darkness? That, just imagine, there are sparks of Godliness inherent in everything? That almost anything, when used as a force of good, becomes a force of good?

I would never imply that the Chabad community is immune to the potential "dangers" of the internet. I'm not saying that the spiritual havens that are our homes can't use a break from the internet, or even a good internet-guard.  What I am saying is that we're certainly more sensitive to our worldly responsibility to uplift God's inventions. And we definitely don't insult Him by using our God-given time and voice to rally against them.

The joke is that the rally is planned for the first day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, a day considered fortuitous in regard to children's education. The idea that combatting the "evils" of the internet i! s a important step in the growth of our children is actually disastrous. Banishment may keep the bad away, but since when does it encourage good? What will take it's place? What we all need, and specifically our youth, is something that is given forth with strength and positivity, not another message of "don't touch this" and "be careful." The rest of the ultra-Orthodox world has a lot to learn from Chabad in this regard. For starters, giant rallies of music and floats and chants and cheering, all centered around our beloved heritage. The real kind of rally. The kind of rally that rallies were invented for.

Sure, the question will always linger regarding what the Rebbe would say now of the plethora of new inventions and their societal implications today. But this wondering is almost null: heed the Rebbe's voice of uplifting everything towards the divine and staying busy with the spiritual revolution and you won't need to lose y! our voice shouting about the dangers of something that 99% of the world sees as wonderful device of messianic proportions.

So sorry Chabad can't make it. We're just a little too busy changing the world with our blessed internet and everything else.

If only religious Jews would see the internet not as a place of violence, sexuality and the spread of doubtful information, but a place of tremendous opportunity to illuminate, connect and grow. If only religious Jews would learn that "In the times of Moshiach, the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d" and realize that, hmm, that sounds like the internet! But mostly, if only religious Jews would understand what Chabad has known all along: that being "anti" will never make a pro.

P.S. One more thing: I will be at CitiFeild this month. On May 30th, to watch my husband Moshe perform his inspiring and soulful Jewish music, to inspire the masses and make a t! rue Kiddush Hashem. Because that's how we roll here at Chabad.



Victim’s boyfriend sparked rowdy protest in Jewish Williamsburg 

The rowdy protest in Williamsburg's Hasidic enclave Wednesday night blasting supporters of an accused child molester was organized by the teenage victim's boyfriend.

Hershy Deutsch, 24, used Facebook to spread the word about the protest outside the fundraiser for Nechemya Weberman, 53, at the Continental Caterers dining hall at 75 Rutledge Street.

"I see her crying every day," Deutsch told The News about the campaign for his 17-year-old girlfriend. "I was a victim too. I know how it feels."

Cops busted Weberman in February 2011 after the teen reported he was her therapist and forced her during counseling session to perform sex acts starting when she was 12-years-old.

Religious law prohibits a Jew from reporting another Jew to authorities. Ultra-religious victims often ask for rabbinical approval before talking to cops or prosecutors.

Yiddish posters in the neighborhood

advertised the legal defense fundraiser for Weberman, a respected counselor at neighborhood Satmar yeshivas.

The victim was blasted in the posters which also insisted Weberman was innocent.

About 100 protestors showed up at the event which was attended by more than 1,000 Hasidic men.

Many held signs reading "protect victims not abusers," and traded harsh words with Weberman's supporters. Cops arrested two people charging them with disorderly conduct.

"It is a huge shift. People were standing up for themselves," said Joel Engelman, 26, raised Satmar in Williamsburg and one of the first to go public with charges of sex abuse in 2006.

"A lot of young people came out last night. This wouldn't happen here a year ago."

Deutsch, founder of Jewish neighborhood watch group Kings County Security Patrol, said he was abused at the age of 14 by a camp counselor, but has never reported the incident.

"Coming forward in the community is intimidating," said Deutsch, who started dating the teen around the time Weberman was arrested.

The victim's mother said she "wasn't against" the relationship between her daughter and Deutsch.

"He feels obligated to help her," she said. "He feels that it is his responsibility to help her."

Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes who has been criticized for working too closely with rabbis who advise victims, championed those who turned out to protest.

"Anytime people support the victim we encourage that," said Schmetterer.



Hasidic Writers, Plugged In 

If you want something to read in Yiddish you can stop by any Brooklyn seforim store, where there are fat Satmar newspapers running to hundreds of pages. Their content is always the same: eulogies, wedding reportage, news digests, economic reports, sermons, serial novels meant to stoke the fires of Eastern European nostalgia, and condemnations of Zionism. Their sameness is part of a holy mission: These publications are not just reporting, but creating and reinforcing their world. Women and girls are left on the cutting room floor, as are Jews from other denominations and non-Jews in general. I try to read them every once in a while out of a sense of duty to contemporary Yiddish literature, but I find them boring, and I stop.

But there are other periodicals, a kind of parallel literature, which you can buy in the same stores and at the newspaper kiosks in the Borough Park or Williamsburg neighborhoods of New York—or which you can easily get for free as PDFs that get emailed around or posted on Facebook. Such a magazine can occasionally spring up as an alternative to Der Yid, the great gray official organ of Satmar Hasidim. For a while, Der Shtern (The Star) was one of these. Full-colored, trim, an attractive package, it included articles on topics from the wider world (science, nature, crime, war, espionage), not the usual empty rabbinic encomia—but in Yiddish, of course, and with the seal of approval that marked it safe for Hasidic consumption. It walked the line between crowd-pleasing and kosher.

In March of this year, however, something unforeseen happened as the outcome of internal Satmar political struggles: In posters plastered over Hasidic Brooklyn, rabbis declared these magazines unsuitable for the Jewish soul. Kiosk owners were ordered not to carry them. The editors of Der Shtern recruited rabbis to represent their side in a rabbinic court, and disseminated a desperate letter asking the censors to hear them out. However, despite a public campaign to reinstate the publication, they were unsuccessful, and as of this writing, the magazine has closed down.

Isaiah (not his real name) was a writer for that magazine. He has a day job, a wife, and six kids, but his true passion is the search for some truth amid his doubts. He is a Hasidic writer creating from inside with all his objections, confusions, and contortions, whose style has been shaped by the same communal constraints that he chafes under.

Isaiah and I were together recently in the Bronx at the home of a grand-dame of Yiddish letters, where we talked about his writing. He has something of a reading public, probably due to his involvement with Der Shtern, but more practically because of his blogging. He told me that recently, a popular badchan (Hasidic entertainer) who goes by the stage name "The Pester Rebbe" asked Isaiah if he could use one of his posts for an upcoming album—but with modifications.

"He wants to edit it from my 'literary' style into something more accessible," Isaiah told me, looking piqued. "My friends don't understand what I write either. They say it's too abstract.



Cohen escapes 'Hasidic nutcases' during 'Dictator' filming 

Sacha Baron Cohen ran for his life when he was chased by a rock-wielding gang of "Hasidic nutcases".

'The Dictator' star angered a group of Hasidic Jews by wearing a camp version of their traditional costume in Jerusalem and he feared for his life as he was being chased by the mob before hiding in a bathroom store.

He said: "A bunch of Hasidic Jews ran after me with rocks and I ended up hiding in a bathroom store.

"Normally in dangerous situations I have a getaway car. But as I ran towards the getaway car it drove away.

"So I found myself running down the street, running for my life, and being chased by these Hasidic nutcases.

"I turned round to calm them down, and I shouted in Hebrew 'I am Jewish', which apparently is the worst thing ever you can tell Hasidic Jews.

"It was then they decided that they wanted to really kill me."

Sacha admits he has come "close" to being murdered or seriously hurt while shooting his previous two movies, mockumentaries 'Borat' - which featured him as a controversial Kazak journalist and sparked anger among the Kazakhstan community - and 'Bruno', where he played a homosexual Austrian fashion designer.

He is quoted by the Daily Mirror newspaper as saying: "In those last two movies there were lots of people with guns who got angry and it became a little hairy at times.

"I never felt I'd get killed, but it has been close."

Sacha's latest movie 'The Dictator', which sees him star as fictional leader General Aladeen, has also sparked controversy among the Arab community.

Nadia Tonova, director of the National Network for Arab American Communities, said his latest role "perpetuates a negative stereotype against Arabs".



Thursday, May 17, 2012

For Ultra-Orthodox, Clash Over Allegations 

As thousands of supporters of a Brooklyn man accused of being a child molester attended a fund-raiser for his legal defense Wednesday night, a group of about 100 people supporting the young woman who alleged that he sexually assaulted her rallied outside.

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It was a scene of anger and division over the issue of child sexual abuse that residents of the insular neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said they had never before seen. In front of the Continental catering hall on Rutledge Street, where the fund-raiser was being held, a tightly packed crowd of Hasidic men who supported the accused man, Nechemya Weberman, stood and stared down the young woman's supporters, who stood behind police barricades. "Protect victims, not abusers," their signs said.

"I'm here to support the young girl, the victim, who has been vilified and dragged through the mud," said Robert H. Hoatson, a former Catholic priest who stood with ultra-Orthodox supporters of the girl, other victims of child sexual abuse and their advocates.

At about 8 p.m., a Hasidic man from the fund-raiser rushed the protesters' barricades. The police grabbed him, put him in handcuffs and led him away.
Two women who supported Mr. Weberman said that he was a good man, and that they did not believe he was capable of sexual abuse. They called the girl a liar and got into a dispute with Pearl Engelman, a victims' advocate who was at the protest.

"How do you know he is innocent?" Mrs. Engelman asked. "Because you know him? That is proof?"

Members of the ultra-Orthodox community who report abuse cases to the police — rather than allowing rabbinical authorities to handle the matters — regularly face harassment, and it is not unusual for ultra-Orthodox synagogues in the New York area to take up collections for the defense of those accused.

The fund-raiser was held to support Mr. Weberman, 53, an unlicensed therapist who has been indicted on charges that he sexually assaulted a girl, starting when she was 12, during sessions intended to promote her religious practice. His trial is set to begin as early as June.



Smear cited in outcome of Monroe-Woodbury vote 

An anonymous letter and flier distributed shortly before Tuesday's school board election reinforced the panicky message that had made the rounds for nearly two weeks.

"Kiryas Joel Dissidents Attempt Take-Over of Monroe Woodbury School Board," blared the flier, warning that Hasidic residents had aligned themselves with three board candidates and wanted "$1 million to send their students to a private special education school," among other things.

Mark O'Brien, one of the candidates targeted by the campaign, fumed Wednesday that the accusations were untrueand that he and two other candidates with no connections to each other or the Hasidic community had been smeared.



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jacob Ostreicher Case: Videos and Documents 


Jacob Ostreicher is a 53-year-old flooring contractor from Brooklyn, N.Y. After the construction industry collapsed in the U.S. in 2008, Jacob said he heard from a family friend, a prominent lawyer in Switzerland, about a promising investment opportunity: growing rice in Bolivia.

Ostreicher said he put $200,000, his life savings, into the venture and became a very junior partner in a $25 million project.

But in 2011, Bolivian police arrested one of Ostreicher's former employees and accused him of being involved with drug criminals. Ostreicher said he cooperated fully with police -- and then was arrested himself. Prosecutors claimed they were investigating whether the $25 million that started the rice business came from drug money.

Ostreicher has spent the past 11 months at the Palmasola prison in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, accused of money laundering but not charged.



KJ faction loses bid to halt camp permits 

Kiryas Joel's ruling faction has been unable to stop Ulster County from issuing summer camp permits to their Satmar adversaries.

Ulster Supreme Court Judge James Gilpatric declined Monday to issue a restraining order on the county's May 9 awarding of four camp permits to allies of Zalman Teitelbaum. Tuesday's initial inspection of the Wawarsing and Rochester campgrounds was therefore able to go ahead as scheduled.

Zalman's Hasidic faction dominates Brooklyn, but older brother Aaron Teitelbaum's sect controls the Kiryas Joel synagogue. Both brothers claim to be the rightful successor to Satmar Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, who died in 2006.

Aaron's lawyer — Richard Mahon II — also filed a complaint Monday aimed at overturning Ulster County's decision.

"The county did what it never should have done: it picked sides," Mahon wrote in a letter to the court Thursday.

Gilpatric plans to make a final ruling on the permits by the camps' June 26 start date, said Ben Ostrer, Zalman's lawyer.

Some 3,500 Hasidic teens attend the camps in Dairyland, Kerhonkson, Napanoch and Ulster Heights each year. The Brooklyn-based Rosenberg family has run the camps for the past five decades.

Aaron's sect withdrew from Rosenberg's camps in 2007 and created their ow
n, parallel offerings in Sullivan County.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Fury over posters advertising fundraiser for rabbi accused of molesting a child 

A campaign to raise funds for a rabbi who has been charged with sexually abusing a teenage girl has sparked anger from the victim's family.

Posters promoting a fundraising event at Continental Caterers restaurant in Williamsburg for alleged child abuser Nechemya Weberman were put up at shopping areas in the city on Monday.
Written in a mix of Hebrew and Yiddish the signs show support for the Jewish clerical figure who has been charged with molesting a 12-year-old girl over a period of three years between 2007 and 2010.

Weberman pleaded innocent to the charges in February and the case is now going through the court process.

Police said the 53-year-old was charged with a criminal sex act, rape, endangering the welfare of a child and sexual abuse.

The alleged victim, now 16, reported that the rabbi had forced her to perform oral sex and other lewd acts during counselling sessions while acting as her therapist.

According to NYDailyNews the victim's mother described seeing the adverts supporting Weberman  as 'very painful,' adding: 'The community has taken his side.'

One of the posters displays a cartoon of a missile falling on to a crowd of Orthodox Jewish men announcing a danger hitting the neighborhood.

It is against Jewish religious law to report a Jew to secular authorities without rabbinical oversight and the posters protest Weberman's innocence by dismissing the victim's story and questioning why she decided talk to the police.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has worked with religious leaders to ensure rabbis take responsibility for deciding which cases need to be passed on to police, but there is reported to be growing criticism of his methods as more rabbis are arrested for sexually abusing children.

Hershy Deutch is founder of the Kings County Safety Patrol, a civilian group in the Jewish section of Williamsburg.

He helped to organise a counter-protest against Wednesday's fund-raiser for Weberman.

According to the NYDailyNews he urged Weberman supporters not to cover up what is happening to children in the community.

He added: 'This has been happening for too many years. I want a lot of people out there for the family to show people that giving money to this perpetrator is wrong.'

Weberman's lawyer George Farkas defended the actions of Weberman's supporters insisting that his client is an innocent man whose reputation is forever ruined.

'He is an accused molester. The damage is done,' said Farkas who is aiming to take the case to trial instead of brokering a deal with prosecutors. 'There are many supporters who believe of his innocence.'



Monday, May 14, 2012

Hudson Bureau Confidential: Ulster County makes decision in spat among Hasidim 

Ulster County was the reluctant parent to the Satmars sibling rivalry.

Older brother Aaron Teitelbaum pleaded for Ulster County to pull this car over and resolve the backseat wrestling match for the shiny toy: control over Catskill summer camps.

Not a chance, Ulster said at first.

"Since my office cannot resolve the issues that exist solely among your clients, I find no benefit in having a meeting," county attorney Bea Havranek wrote Jan. 27.
Younger brother Zalman has had the run of the four Hasidic campgrounds ever since the siblings' 2007 spat, but Aaron had a different idea. He used the name of Congregation Yetev Lev to get Ulster County's blessing. The county had been instructed to grant camp permits to only Congregation Yetev Lev, and by March 27, two applications had arrived in the name: one from Zali, and one from Aaron.

The county relented and offered to play peacekeeper.

"If you still believe a meeting with my office and counsel would facilitate a resolution between your clients, I am available to have such a meeting," Havranek wrote March 27.

Zali's lawyer claimed victory after mid-April meetings with Havranek and Ulster executive Mike Hein, saying the county agreed to issue permits to their allies and had even set campground inspection for May 15.

Nonsense, the county said.

"No inspections are scheduled for any of the above referenced camps at this time," Havranek wrote April 27.

Twelve days later, Ulster awarded the permits to the Zalis and made arrangements for an inspection.

The proposed date? May 15.



Sunday, May 13, 2012

Montreal's Hasidic Jewish community reaches out 

Montreal's normally reserved Hasidic Jewish community has opened its doors a crack, inviting neighbours for a dialogue to ease tensions after a series of recent controversies.

The Hasidic population makes up about a quarter of the city's Outremont neighbourhood, a tree-lined cosmopolitan district dotted with sidewalk cafes and French bistros.

From the outside, there's a certain mystery and misunderstanding about the close-knit community, from its distinct garb -- black coats and sidelocks for the men, long dresses for the women -- to rumours about the extent of their religious rules and rituals.

Founded in Europe in the 18th century, the ultra-Orthodox sect teaches observers to show their love of God through daily actions -- such as shunning physical work and artificial power on the Sabbath.
A few dozen Hasidic families arrived in Montreal around the Second World War, settling in the city and expanding quickly alongside their francophone neighbours, with a birthrate several times the Quebec average.

Lately, the community has been in the headlines, thrust once again into the centre of the province's debates about accommodating minorities.

In March, a group of Hasidim celebrating a holiday on the street were involved in a heated dispute with a local city councillor known for challenging the community.

The shouting match drew attention after it was posted online and, ultimately, led to a temporary ban on all religious processions in the district.

That clash followed a failed attempt last summer to expand the local synagogue. The move was blocked in a referendum -- an eye-opener for many Hasidim as to how they were regarded by neighbours.

In response, the religious community has stepped outside its comfort zone and embarked on an informal public-relations blitz.

Two Hasidic men started a blog called outremonthassid.com, intended to open up an "honest and sincere dialogue with our neighbours here in Outremont."

At the same time, a group of Hasidic and non-Hasidic residents decided to organize a public meeting where residents could air grievances, share stories, and create a "friendlier" neighbourhood.

Over a hundred residents -- some in the dark clothing typical of the Hasidim, others in jeans and t-shirts -- crammed into a conference room in a local library on a recent sunny Sunday afternoon.
"It was really initiated around the time when we had the referendum on synagogue," said Rabbi Mayer Feig, who helped lead the discussion.

"We wanted to open dialogue, and just talk."

Most at the meeting were sympathetic to that goal. Others offered up a laundry list of complaints, ranging from Hasidic drivers' penchant for double-parking to their lack of commitment to French.
"The effort isn't there," said Pierre Lacerte, who writes a blog critical of religious accommodation and led the fight against the synagogue's expansion.

Lacerte, though, was denounced by all but a small minority of the crowd at the meeting. One man, originally from France, suggested the framing of the debate needed to be rethought.

"In this kind of discussion, we talk about community against community... We need to start talking about individuals," said Hubert Hayoud, adding that his children get along well with his Hasidic neighbours, sometimes playing on their trampoline together.

Another resident was more blunt in her assessment of the complaints.

"I think it's motivated by racism," Elizabeth Ball said in an interview outside the meeting. "My kids make just as much noise as any other person's kids."

Things reached an ugly climax last summer in the lead-up to the referendum on the application to expand the synagogue.

Anonymous posters appeared on lampposts calling the synagogue "illegal," and at one point vandals broke into another synagogue and drew swastikas on the pulpit.

The 'No' side won by 243 votes to 212.

"I've never felt like that in my entire life," said Abe, a Hasid who asked only to be referred to by his first name, referring to a public meeting on the synagogue expansion.

"The air was thick. It was disheartening."

Abe said the gathering at the library had a much different feel, and it was heartwarming to see people finding common ground.

"I could stay here for hours," he said.

As much as they may try to avoid it, though, controversy is nothing new to Montreal's Hasidim.
In the past, the community has engaged in battles with Outremont council over the use of charter buses in residential streets and the placement of the eruv, the symbolic enclosure made of string used to carry items on the Sabbath.

Then, in 2006, news that the neighbourhood YMCA had switched to frosted windows to obscure Hasidic students' view of women in exercise wear helped ignite a torrent of discussion on so-called "reasonable accommodations," a debate about minority rights that has never quite subsided.
Feig said the community has learned from past disputes, and hopes the new effort at dialogue represents a step in the right direction.

"We're a closed kind of people, and we generally have very good relationship with our neighbours," he said.

"There are things we can do better. I don't say we're perfect, but no one is perfect. We'll try to do better."



Saturday, May 12, 2012

6 rob man of van in Ramapo for joyride, police say 

Six young men accused of robbing a man of his minivan early Thursday, apparently to kill time and ride around Ramapo, have been arrested, police said.

The robbery occurred at 1 a.m. at the Wald Pavillion strip mall on Route 59, just east of College Road, Detective Lt. Mark Emma said.

Before the robbery, five of the men drove to Brooklyn with the 35-year-old minivan owner and when they came back to Ramapo, they decided to meet a sixth man, Lazer Feuerwerker, 20, of Monsey at the strip mall, police said. They were accued of pushing the driver against a wall and grabbing his key and trying to take his cellphone, Emma said.

His keys were ripped from his belt clip, Emma said. “They then drove off. They apparently wanted to take a joyride.”

The minivan owner called the police. He also called one of the men, whose cellphone number he had, Emma said, but they refused to give back the minivan.

Officers found five of the six men at 2:30 a.m. near the strip mall at 245 Route 59, across from Walmart and down the road from the Police Department, Emma said.

The sixth man, Feuerwerker, had gone home, where the police arrested him, Emma said.
“This was not your classic robbery and carjacking,” Emma said. “But it was a strong-armed robbery. Even though two made physical contact with the victim, they all were responsible for robbing the van.”

All six young men were arraigned before Airmont Justice Daniel Goldman.

Abraham Cy Stern, 17, Monroe, Orange County, was charged with two counts each of second-degree robbery, third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle, and second-degree harassment. Stern also was charged with fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. He was being held on $15,000 bail.
Feuerwerker was charged with two counts each of second-degree robbery, third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle and second-degree harassment. He was being held on $15,000 bail.

Charged with two counts of second-degree robbery and third-degree unauthorized use of a vehicle were Moshe Feuerstein and Isaac Landau, both 18 and from Monroe, Moshe Meir Weiss, 18, of Spring Valley and Pinchas Braver, 17, of Brooklyn.
Each was released after posting $5,000 bail.



Friday, May 11, 2012

Race for Monroe-Woodbury school board takes odd turn 

The race for three Monroe-Woodbury school board seats next week has veered in an unlikely direction, with one board member contending in a widely distributed email that three candidates support Kiryas Joel residents who want special-education services for their kids at Monroe-Woodbury's expense.

Board member Jen Trumper, who isn't up for election but backs two incumbents and their running mate, warns that three other candidates "will be sympathetic" to dissident Hasidic families who want services from providers other than Kiryas Joel's public school for disabled children.

"The dissident group seeks private special education for their children at Rabbi Deutch's school in Rockland, cost to the taxpayer = $1 million and that is just the beginning," she wrote in a May 2 message.

The accusation stems from an ongoing dispute between dissident leaders and Monroe-Woodbury officials and from one candidate's election petition, which includes signatures by Hasidic families living outside Kiryas Joel in the Town of Monroe.

The three people accused of representing the dissidents have expressed shock, saying they are not running together and knew nothing about the convoluted special-ed conflict.

"All I did was get signatures — my God," said Guilaine Leger-Vargas, a retired New York City police sergeant who now works part time for the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

The other candidates named in the email were Clara Munoz-Feliciano and Mark O'Brien. Trumper is supporting incumbents Eleni Kikiras Carter and Natalie Brooks and newcomer John Otero, who are running as a ticket in Tuesday's election.

The background issue is that Kiryas Joel's dissidents — a minority faction in the divided Satmar Hasidic community — want Monroe-Woodbury to offer other special-ed providers to parents with children in two private schools just outside Kiryas Joel. Monroe-Woodbury, which makes the call because the schools are in its district, contracts with Kiryas Joel School District for those services and doesn't want to switch.

Dissident leaders say they've had no involvement in the Monroe-Woodbury race other than to help Leger-Vargas gather last-minute petition signatures at the request of Monroe Councilman Harley Doles, who is friends with Leger-Vargas.

They question the relevance of their dispute to Monroe-Woobury voters — Kiryas Joel taxpayers pay for special-ed services for any Kiryas Joel residents — and suggest it was invoked to distract voters from controversy over $13.6 million in surplus funds the district amassed.

"It doesn't cost Monroe-Woodbury a cent," said Jacob Ferencz, former administrator of Sheri Torah school on Larkin Drive.

Trumper referred questions about her email to Monroe-Woodbury Superintendent Ed Mehrhof.

Mehrhof says the district has resisted allowing the dissidents other providers because Kiryas Joel's services are excellent and its employees are certified. He provided a December 2008 letter from the state Education Department supporting that decision.

There is a wide disparity in how many children the two sides say are involved. The dissidents say roughly 200 students attending Sheri Torah and B'nai Yoel get special-ed services through Monroe-Woodbury; Mehrhof presented a district tally indicating 12 students.

After a reporter explained to Leger-Vargas who Kiryas Joel's dissidents are and the nature of their special-ed conflict, she said that she has a son with autism and would indeed feel sympathy for parents going through similar struggles.

"If that's my badge, that I'll be sympathetic to the needs of any special-needs child, I'll wear that badge proudly," she said.



Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ulster County says KJ dissidents can keep running camps 

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein ruled Wednesday that Kiryas Joel dissidents can continue to operate four Jewish summer camps in the southwestern portion of the county.

"The Ulster County Department of Health does not have the authority to divide these camps among the two factions of the Satmar community," County Attorney Bea Havranek wrote in a three-page letter.

Camp Rav Tov has been run for years by affiliates of Hasidic leader Zalman Teitelbaum.
But this year, Zalman's older brother — Aaron Teitelbaum — also filed a permit to run some of the camps. Hein's office decided to keep on issuing all the permits to allies of Zalman.

Aaron's faction is in charge of the Kiryas Joel synagogue, but Zalman's allies are dominant in Brooklyn.

Some 3,800 Williamsburg-area teens attend the religious summer camps in Dairyland, Kerhonkson, Napanoch and Ulster Heights. The camps cost roughly $650 per family.

The Brooklyn-based Rosenberg family has been running the Rav Tov campsites for the past four decades.

After the 2006 death of Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum, Rabbi David Rosenberg aligned himself with Zalman.

"The camps will be run the way they always have been, by the people who have always run them," said Rabbi Issac Mandel, an ally of the Zalman faction.

Both Zalman and Aaron's supporters claim to be the rightful leaders of Congregation Yetev Lev in Brooklyn.

Courts have ruled that the Satmars must work out secession issues among themselves.
Yetev Lev owns the camps in Wawarsing and Rochester.

Zalman's followers — representing themselves as the sole congregation members — transferred all the camp property to Rosenberg in December 2010.

Aaron's followers challenged the transfer in court, arguing that the congregation's leadership remains under dispute.

Supreme Court Judge James Gilpatric voided the property transfer in September 2011.
"The initial application by the (Zalman's) is the quintessence of non-disclosure, bordering on a fraudulent application," Gilpatric wrote.

Four months later, Zalman and Aaron's followers — both calling themselves Congregation Yetev Lev — filed for permits with Ulster County's Health Department to run the camps. Hein met with both sects on two occasions, while Havranek met with the lawyers once. They reached the conclusion, according to Havranek's letter, that the Hasidic foes wouldn't solve the dispute on their own.
"A deep divide exists amongst the Satmar community that extends beyond the issue at hand," Havranek wrote. "The County does not wish to be part of that controversy nor will it."


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hasidic enclave in upstate NY gears up for holiday 

Thousands are expected to gather at a Hasidic Jewish enclave in upstate New York for a holiday celebration.

The village of Kiryas Joel (keer-YAS' JOE'-ell) will hold its annual traditional bonfire to mark the Jewish holiday of Lag Baomer (log bah-OH'-mer) on Wednesday night. Organizers say the celebration will be attended by tens of thousands of Satmar Hasidim from all parts of New York.

While bonfires are held in many Jewish communities, organizers at Kiryas Joel say theirs is the largest such celebration in the United States.

Kiryas Joel was incorporated in 1977 by members of the Satmar Hasidic sect from Brooklyn.



Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Victims Protest: Rabbis, Protect Our Children 

Yoelly Twersky (name changed to protect his identity) grew up in the Hasidic community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. His father wore a sleek fur hat, and his mother smelled of vegetable soup and rugalach. When Yoelly started eighth grade, his new teacher seemed to take an immediate dislike to him, striking him almost every morning.
"I thought the teacher knew what was best," Yoelly says, thinking back. "Physical punishment was normal in my school, and I figured it had to be that I deserved it."
Six months into the year, his teacher called him into the school's boiler closet. In that dark dank room, the teacher pulled down both their pants, and raped the little boy.
"I was screaming the whole time," Yoelly recalls. "When he finished, he went back to the classroom and I stayed where I was, in shock, gushing blood."
Hasidic children are not given sexual education and Yoelly had no words to describe the rape that continued to occur for the remainder of the school year.
For Yoelly, those awful days were not the worst of it. A few months later, he found the courage to tell his father what had happened. His father slapped him and told him never to mention such immodest things again.
"That day was the worst day of my life," Yoelly says. "I realized that I was all alone. There was nobody to keep me safe."
The teacher who raped Yoelly still teaches at that school. As an adult, haunted by the thought that other children were enduring what he had, Yoelly sought a private audience with the grand Rebbe, or leader, of his Hasidic sect, to discuss the issue. After he told the Rebbe what had happened, the Rebbe turned to his personal assistant.
"He's a shaigetz," the Rebbe said, using a derogatory slur for a non-Jew. "Get him out of here." Yoelly was hustled out of the room with threats of violence.
My story is different. I was the fifth of 11 children in a non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox family. As a teenager, I realized I didn't want to be as religious as my family.
"I want to go to college," I told my mother.
"We'll have you locked up!" she thundered at me in reply. My parents consulted with rabbinic leaders and by the age of 16, I was ostracized, and shortly thereafter, left to fend for myself on the streets of New York. I found an apartment and a minimum wage job, and learned to call a handful of ketchup dinner. Some days, when I couldn't afford the subway token, I walked from Brooklyn to my job in Manhattan. But the terror of my parent's abandonment and my community's rejection was worse than any poverty. Naive and alone, it wasn't long before I was found by people quick to take advantage of me.
When Ari Mandel thinks about his vulnerability as a religious child in Monsey, N.Y., it isn't abuse or neglect that jumps out at him, as much as math class -- or the lack thereof.
"As an 11-year-old, I was in school from 7:30 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, studying religious texts. We had 'English' from 4 until 6 at night, but the class was treated like recess, and after a long day of learning, we had no patience to sit in our seats."
At the age of 12 Ari was sent to yeshiva where he studied religious texts exclusively. That was the end of his secular education.
"When I got married at 18, we had to sign up for Food Stamps and Medicaid," Ari says. "I thought credit cards were free money and racked up thousands of dollars of credit card debt. I couldn't do basic multiplication or division and my English vocabulary was hugely limited."
Ari went on to earn a GED by himself, at the age of 24, so he could join the U.S. Army, but he still can't sign his own name in cursive and only gained a basic grasp of geography as he was stationed around the globe.
"It's a staggering handicap," Ari says. "When we deprive our children of a basic education, we leave them hugely vulnerable to abuse, poverty and even crime."
When Yoelly, Ari and I heard that thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews from many different communities were gathering together to rent Citi Field, to address a pressing issue in the religious community, you might understand that we were frustrated -- no, furious -- that the issue being addressed at the unusually elaborate meeting was the dangers of the Internet.
We don't deny that the Internet is a serious concern for a community that strives to shelter its members. But we do feel that the Internet should not be getting more attention than the safety of children.
If it were only Yoelly, Ari and me, we'd still believe that is cause for soul searching and reform, but our experiences are not unique. There are far too many stories like ours. Although some efforts have been made to address these issues, not enough is being done.
And so, on May 20, Yoelly, me and Ari, along with defenders of children from every walk of life, religious and secular, Jewish and non-Jewish, male and female, old and young, will gather outside Citi Field to raise awareness about the need to develop reforms to keep our children safe. Neither God nor Judaism is being attacked in this protest. This is strictly a message to rabbinic leadership to work harder to keep our children safe by ensuring those who abuse children are reported to the appropriate authorities, that families are supported to stay together even if they make differing religious choices and that children receive a basic education.
Although some worry that this protest is an inappropriate airing of "dirty laundry," we say, when it comes to the safety of our children, we must be united and unabashed in our actions.



Monday, May 07, 2012

Success Amid Secrets for Brooklyn D.A. 

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes may be virtually alone in setting up a special program to prosecute child sex abusers in the Orthodox community — and then refusing to disclose their names. But a Forward survey of several other jurisdictions with large concentrations of Orthodox Jews suggests Hynes's record of indictments and convictions of such predators far outstrips that of prosecutors with less focused, if ostensibly more transparent, policies.

The interviews, conducted after Hynes's office formally acknowledged its policy of non-disclosure in a recent letter to the Forward, did not cover every Orthodox community. And the issue is further complicated by evidence that Hynes's claim to have charged 85 Orthodox adults with sexual abuse in three years may be inflated.

But in Florida's Miami-Dade County, Leah Klein, liaison to the Jewish community, recalled just one Orthodox abuse case during the past five years. A spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said she, too, remembered only one Orthodox abuse case in recent years. Ocean County Prosecutor Marlene Ford, whose office covers Lakewood, N.J., said she could recall only three abuse cases against an Orthodox adult since she took up the post five years ago.

Ford was one of several prosecutors who said it was unusual that Hynes refused to release the names of Orthodox abuse suspects he has compiled via Kol Tzedek, a special outreach program to Orthodox victims of sexual abuse. But several other prosecutors also declined to release such names.

Patricia Gunning, chief of the sex crimes unit in Rockland County, N.Y., said her office keeps no formal list like the one Hynes has compiled but she is currently handling about half a dozen Orthodox felonies plus multiple misdemeanors. Asked to disclose the names of these defendants, she refused.

The rarity of indictments or convictions of Orthodox sexual predators in other jurisdictions, compared with Hynes's Brooklyn, suggests the complexity of evaluating the Brooklyn D.A.'s claim that pursuing sexual abuse in Orthodox communities requires a special approach.

His policy of not publicly disclosing alleged or even convicted Orthodox sexual predators was highlighted formally and in writing for the first time in Hynes's response to a Freedom of Information Law request from the Forward and other media outlets. The Forward requested the names of the 85 alleged or convicted child sex abusers Hynes has publicly claimed to have charged in the last three years under the Kol Tzedek program.

"The circumstances here are unique," Assistant District Attorney Morgan Dennehy wrote in his April 16 denial of the Forward's request. "Because all of the requested defendant names relate to Hasidic men who are alleged to have committed sex crimes against Hasidic victims within a very tight-knit and insular Brooklyn community, there is a significant danger that the disclosure of the defendants' names would lead members of that community to discern the identities of the victims."

Hynes has been criticized for years by abuse victims and their advocates — and in editorials in media outlets such as the Forward — for his handling of sex crimes in the Orthodox community. The prosecutor not only refuses to name Orthodox individuals who have been charged with abuse, he is withholding the names of 14 people who were convicted of abuse-related crimes and 24 Orthodox adults who were released on probation after pleading guilty to lesser charges. They include at least 13 people who have registered or who will have to register as sex offenders.

Advocates for full disclosure argue that releasing names would enable members of these tight-knit communities to better protect their families. Institutions such as schools could also more easily ensure they don't hire child sex abusers — who sometimes move from one Orthodox community to another — for positions that involve contact with children, advocates say.



Sunday, May 06, 2012

Satmar war camps 

Four upstate Jewish summer camps are the latest battleground between warring Hasidic brothers — and two prominent Brooklyn pols are helping them slug it out.

On one side is Brooklyn Democratic boss and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is going to bat for Zalman Teitelbaum. The rabbi was designated the leader of the Satmar Hasidic sect by his late father, Grand Rebbe Moses Teitelbaum.

On the other is Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a Democrat whose district was just redrawn to include Hasidic Williamsburg. She is backing Teitelbaum’s older brother, Aaron, who wants to control half the camps.

Velazquez, who’s been in Congress since 1993, faces a tough primary challenge from close Lopez ally and City Councilman Erik Dilan.

It’s a fight where every vote counts, even if the candidates have to campaign 100 miles north of Brooklyn.

Both sides have made appeals to Ulster County Executive Mark Hein, whose administration must decide who will get the permits to operate the lucrative summer camps. Lopez even paid Hein a visit last month.

“I have jurisdiction here, and I have a right to participate, and I will,” Lopez said, insisting he’s in the fight for the kids, not the votes.

Hein refused repeated requests from The Post for comment.

For years the camps, attended by some 3,800 children from New York City, were controlled by the Zalman faction, known as the Zalis.

But this year, Aaron Teitelbaum’s followers, the Aaronies, filed for a permit with Ulster County to run at least some of the camps.

“This is an attempt to sort of embarrass one side by the other side and not at all to deal with the issues impacting the young kids,” Lopez told The Post.

He blamed Velazquez for starting the fight.

“She’s taken a minority position and maybe she might even win. Is that a smart political decision? You add up the numbers,” Lopez said.

At stake are some 8,000 votes. Most of the Satmars in Williamsburg are Zalis, and they vote as a bloc.

Lopez has long linked himself with the Zalis, making it nearly impossible for Velazquez to secure their support.

“The Zalman faction controls two-thirds of the vote. She’s after the other third,” noted one political observer.

Velazquez supports splitting the summer camps, which cost about $650 per family, so the Zalis and Aaronies get two each to control.

“The congresswoman contacted the county executive to urge that a fair, equitable solution be reached which satisfies all parties’ interests and ensures all the children may enjoy this facility,” a spokesman for the congresswoman said.

The camp war is the latest power struggle in the biblical battle between the brothers, which dates to 1999, when the Grand Rebbe picked Zalman to head his Williamsburg synagogue. He left his older son, Aaron, in charge of the synagogue in Kiryas Joel, an upstate town of Satmars.

The Grand Rebbe died in 2006, and a Satmar court ruled that Teitelbaum’s will left the empire to Zalman. That meant he was in charge of a sect that now numbers some 100,000 people in New York, mostly in Brooklyn, and real estate worth some $372 million.

But Aaron never accepted the division, and court battles ensued. The state’s high court in 2007 ruled that it was a matter for the Satmars to work out among themselves.



Saturday, May 05, 2012

Cambria Heights residents oppose Lubavitch synagogue dorm plan 

Years of littering and swarms of rude visitors has a group of Cambria Heights residents fighting an Orthodox Jewish synagogue’s plan to expand.

The Ohel Chabad Lubavitch, adjacent to the graves of two of the sect’s former leaders, is seeking a zoning variance to expand its facility to better accommodate overnight visitors.

The Rebbe Menachem Schneerson’s grave and that of his father-in-law Rebbe Yosef Schneersohn, attract an estimated several hundred followers a day. That number swells into the thousands during the high holy days, residents say. Many visitors come on the Sabbath, which means they stay overnight to avoid traveling on the holy day.

The congregation, which owns five single-family homes next to its community center on Francis Lewis Blvd., wants to build a structure in the center’s backyard and join the homes together, creating one large building.

But residents opposing the plan say visitors park in front of their driveways, leave trash strewn about the street and hog parking spots. Building a permanent dorm in the residential neighborhood would just worsen the problem, they said.

“The character of our neighborhood would be altered due to higher intensity of use, increased population, increased traffic, and the adjacent property to the west would be directly affected by encroachment into the yard setbacks,” members of the Cambria Heights Civic Association wrote in a letter to the city Board of Standards and Appeals, which will make a final decision on the plan.

The community opposes the plan, in part, due to years of perceived disrespect by the Ohel’s visitors, said Community Board 13 District Manager Larry McClean.

“There is emotional scar tissue there,” he said. “On the anniversary of his passing, upwards of 20,000 people come to pass through his graveside.”

The synagogue has contended that followers will come at all hours of the day whether the dorms are built or not.

“When the Rebbe passed away in June 1994, Lubavitchers as well as his followers around the world were left without a leader,” attorney Lyra Altman wrote in a letter to the BSA. “People began turning to the Rebbe’s grave to continue to seek his blessing and inspiration.”
When interviewed at the synagogue on Thursday, its leader Rabbi Abba Refson declined to comment on the proposal as a decision has yet to be made.

“We’ll leave it to the wise judgement of the city planners,” he said.

The proposal, which is scheduled for its fifth public hearing before the BSA on May 15, was rejected by both Community Board 13 and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall last year.

McClean said community members may be more amenable to the idea if the synagogue could coordinate an easier transportation route with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or if they were other compromises.

But for some neighbors, no amount of concessions will get them on board.

“This is a residential area,” said Al Williams, who has lived in his 227th St. home for 40 years. “It’s just not the right place for something like that to be.”



Friday, May 04, 2012

Respect Neighborhood Watch 

Like much of America, we're watching the Trayvon Martin/ George Zimmerman case in Florida, but we'll take no position on it before the courts rule.

We're also following a similar case in Baltimore that hits closer to home.

There, the trial of Eliyahu and Avi Werdesheim, two Orthodox Jews accused of beating a teenage African-American boy in their neighborhood Nov. 19, 2010, while on a Neighborhood Watch patrol, is under way.

In a twist to this case, the alleged victim approached the judge last week and asked that the charges be dropped. The judge told him that was up to the prosecutor, but she did excuse him from testifying.

Even if the boy doesn't want to proceed, CBS News reports that the prosecution has a pretty good eyewitness — a retired Navy SEAL.

The network also reports that a Baltimore Jewish Times reporter admitted under oath that he permitted one of the brothers — Eliyahu — to edit a story he wrote two weeks after the incident, which included exclusive interviews with both brothers.

All of which makes for interesting reading, but we're not going to take a position on this case either. This is why we have courts, and they should be allowed to do their jobs.

We are going to take a position — express concern, actually — for Neighborhood Watch, which is a great idea that may need some tweaking to keep its reputation intact.

It concerns us that two racially charged incidents involving Neighborhood Watch (never mind that Zimmerman wasn't actually part of an official Neighborhood Watch patrol) have put the entire idea in the spotlight.

Across the country — and that includes Pittsburgh — many good people of all races and ethnic groups give up their time to stand watch over their neighborhoods at night to keep them safe and be extra sets of eyes and ears for the police. In most cases, they do their jobs right.

According to the National Sheriff's Association, Neighborhood Watch groups "typically focus on observation and awareness as a means of preventing crime and employ strategies that range from simply promoting social interaction and watching out for each other to active patrols by groups of citizens."

They do not tail or confront suspects themselves.

Whether Zimmerman and the Werdesheim brothers are guilty or not guilty, they definitely ignored the set parameters of Neighborhood Watch groups. Zimmerman should never have followed Martin (even the 911 operator told him not to), and the Werdesheims should never have engaged the youth in their neighborhood.

But they did, and the Neighborhood Watch concept has been given two undeserved black eyes.

The question is, how to stop this from happening again.

That may not be possible. There will probably always be a few overly zealous citizens who stray beyond the rules and cause a public incident. Nevertheless, training for Neighborhood Watch volunteers should constantly be reviewed and upgraded when needed.

Above all, those who volunteer for Neighborhood Watch patrols should not be tarred and feathered by bad acts of a few. What they do is a mitzva, and that should be respected.



Thursday, May 03, 2012

A hope for harmony on Hutchison 

Hutchison is one of those streets that most city-dwellers dream about: leafy, quiet but only minutes—seconds, even—away from one of the city's principal thoroughfares. But every now and then, tempers will flare over some niggling local issue, with the added twist that the people who are doing the complaining are white francophones, and the people they are complaining about are Hasidic Jews. The most recent mini-uproar involved a proposed, then cancelled by municipal order, nighttime procession to welcome a Hasidic rabbi from New York state in early April. A month before that, independent city councilor Céline Forget, a longtime Hasidim antagonist, was surrounded and loudly booed and jeered by a group of Hasids as they prepared to celebrate Purim. The grim encounter can be seen on YouTube.

Caught in the middle of the secular-Hasidim clash are Hutchison residents, who are increasingly saying they are sick of—and sickened by—the ongoing tension. This Sunday, May 6, the Friends of Hutchison Street residents organization are holding a public meeting and get-together that will, members hope, soothe some ruffled feathers and foster some much needed understanding.

Friends of Hutchison was born in the ashes of the failed referendum to allow the building of an extension on the Gate David of Bobov synagogue, a failure co-founder Leila Marshy blames on the concert­ed efforts of Forget, blogger Pierre Lacerte and a small handful of others. "I was sitting on my porch and could see [Forget and Lacerte] going up and down the street, knocking on people's doors to remind them to vote," she says. "But they never knocked on any Hasidic people's doors. Not once. It seemed that they were completely outside the possibility of a dialogue."

Realizing there was a need for conversation, she and some like-minded friends set about engaging with the Hasidic community, and found them responsive. "We've wanted to put on our own public event for a while, and this coincides with what happened in March," she says. She admits to being shocked by what she calls the "terrible incident" on March 8. The Hasidim, she says, "behaved uncharacteristically. It was a rare outburst."

According to Meyer Feig, an active member of the Hasidic community and Gate David congregant, the mood on Hutchison is generally quite good. "You have a couple of people who vented their anger, and it's past," he says. "Some people are continually trying to stir up more trouble, putting papers through doorways and spreading lies and hate, but we see through their smokescreen."

One thing that would help foster a rapprochement would be some opening up of the Hasidic community. Feig says that even though he thinks relations are otherwise fine, there is "no question, we need to do a better job. We don't have to change our lifestyle, and we won't. But we are open to dialogue, to discussion, to forums in which we can explain ourselves."

He admits the need is pressing: "We know we're under a microscope, we know we're being watched."

For Marshy, who describes herself as "half-Palestinian, half-Newfie—I tell a joke and it bombs," she sees "a lot of willingness on the Hasidim's part to open up. When the only activity you see [out­side your community] is by people who are against you, it can be scary. But [after the 2011 referendum] they looked up and saw a whole neighbourhood saying, 'We support you.'"

The Friends of Hutchison event takes place on Sunday, May 6 from 1–4 p.m. outside the Mile End library (5434 Parc). Look for them on Facebook.



Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Woodbury Jewish Center to evict Morrell Caterers 

Woodbury Jewish Center has filed a petition to evict long-time kosher caterer Morrell Caterers from its premises in the wake of allegations by two former employees that they were directed to prepare non-kosher food in kosher kitchens – a practice forbidden among observant Jews.

The petition comes just days after Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Vito DeStefano ruled that Woodbury Jewish Center could revoke Morrell's license at will. Morrell Caterers had filed a temporary restraining order to prevent any eviction, but DeStefano vacated that order in an ruling last week. That allowed the synagogue to proceed with the eviction filing Monday.

An eviction hearing is scheduled for May 17 at Nassau County District Court in Hempstead.

"We expect to prevail as we have prevailed in all the proceedings so far," Morrell attorney Ron Rosenberg said. "We will celebrate there next year and for the years to come as the synagogue continues to fruitlessly pursue expensive litigation for years to come."

Woodbury Jewish Center said Morrell Caterers stopped making contributions toward the maintenance of the facility in January 2010, citing that as grounds to revoke the company's license. But Morrell Caterers, which brought legal action against Woodbury Jewish Center in July 2010, said it stopped paying due to the synagogue reneging on its promise to maintain the Temple's property and catering facility, thereby breaching the license. Whether the caterer still owes payment is still being litigated.

"This case is going to go on for years," Rosenberg said. "It would create a ridiculous precedent. My client spent millions of dollars building up the catering facilities. … To say that any catering entity would enter into a catering agreement that can be revoked at will is commercially ridiculous."

Relations between the Woodbury Jewish Center and Morrell Caterers became even more strained in February when allegations by former employees, including a chef and general manager, accused Morrell owner Scott Morrell of directing them to violate kosher laws.

Morrell has vehemently denied the allegations, repeatedly stating these claims by former employees are an attempt at extortion by his former attorney, Howard Fensterman, who Morrell has filed an unrelated civil lawsuit against.

Morrell Caterers has operated out of Woodbury Jewish Center since 1989. The Woodbury synagogue is one of three temple locations Morrell Caterers prepares its kosher food out of, along with Temple Beth Torah of Melville and Temple Israel of Lawrence.



Tuesday, May 01, 2012


After 19 years without change in leadership, Community Board 12 voted in Mr. Yidel Perlstein as new chairman on March 27th. Perlstein, the first Hasidic Jew to be voted into this position, won 60 percent of the board's vote. The board serves 200,000 residents of Borough Park, Midwood, Kensington and Dahill in matters and issues pertaining to the city government.

"Yidel Perlstein is a true leader who has the vision, passion and commitment that this community board needs," said Councilman David Greenfield. "I am thrilled that history was made last night in Borough Park with a Hasidic Jew elected to lead this important body, and that the democratic process was allowed to play out. My thanks to former chair Alan Dubrow for his years of dedicated service, and to all the board members for their volunteer work on behalf of the community. The time was right for new leadership, and I'm confident Mr. Perlstein will help the board move forward in a unified manner."

The vote was nearly aborted when the previous chairman raised a bylaw that would invalidate Perlstein's eligibility to run. However, Councilman Greenfield, an ex-officio board member, spoke out against the Chair's ruling and cited the city corporation counsel's determination that the board may vote to override the chair's determination. As a result, the board voted to approve Mr. Perlstein's candidacy and then proceeded with the election, which Mr. Perlstein soundly won.
"I was pleased that democracy prevailed last night and the board was able to have a fair and open election for community board chair," Greenfield added. "I look forward to continuing to work with the entire board membership on important issues impacting the community. When working effectively, community boards, along with local council members, truly should serve as the go-to place for residents as they attempt to navigate city agencies and bureaucracy."



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