Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Instead of Taking Down a Fruit Tree, Building Around It 

Sheya Wieder owned a small old house on a large lot in Borough Park, Brooklyn, until about six years ago, he said, when he decided it was time to knock it down and build an upgrade. He was all set to go when it occurred to him that the big, shady tree, standing tall and proud right where his new stoop would go, might cause a problem. He took a branch to Brooklyn Botanic Garden, where he was told it was a mulberry tree.

"The rabbis wouldn't let me take it down," Mr. Wieder said. "They told me if there is any possibility, even if it costs you money, you should work around it."
So he did.

Today, a black metal staircase wraps partly around the tree, and a beige wheelchair-accessible elevator stands beside it. The tree looks perfectly happy, right there in front of the door.

"It cost me over $100,000 to save it," Mr. Wieder said.

In certain Orthodox Jewish communities, from Borough Park to Monsey, N.Y., rabbis say, there is a strong aversion to chopping down fruit trees, which results from some combination of biblical verses, Jewish law and mystical documents that prohibit destroying them wantonly. In New York City, where space is tight and the option to build out in another direction generally does not exist, that means friendly neighborhood foliage can present an especially hard challenge.
"It's an extraordinary reminder of the kind of spiritual consciousness people need to be able to sustain, particularly in urban settings," said Rabbi Saul J. Berman, an associate professor of Jewish studies at Yeshiva University. "You see this tree and the way it's being guarded, and suddenly you realize there's something going on here besides just human needs."

This broader consideration, however, does not always come cheaply, as Mr. Wieder can attest to, or easily.

Others have wrapped more than just a staircase around a tree in the name of keeping it alive — like, for example, an entire building.

At Shloimy's Bake Shoppe on 12th Avenue in Brooklyn, where flaky perfection can be found in the form of hand-rolled rugelach, there is a glass enclosure toward the back, right behind a giant oven and stacks of baking trays. Inside this glass box, which is open to the sky, is a berry tree.

"When we bought this place, we thought we would build all the way back, and then it became summer," said Joe Leiberman, whose family owns the bakery. "We saw it was a fruit tree, and we changed all the plans."

Interpretations may vary, but several rabbis, including Rabbi Berman, Rabbi Mayer Schiller and Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, who has written more than two dozen books on Jewish law and tradition, say this practice emerged from a passage in Deuteronomy: Even in wartime, one should not chop down your enemies' fruit trees. There are also Talmudic sources, some said. And a mystical document called the Will of Rabbi Yehudah HaChosid, which dates back nearly 1,000 years and tends to hold more sway in Hasidic communities, took it further.

"He very cryptically asserted that it's really dangerous to cut down a fruit-bearing tree because you're tampering with God's property," Rabbi Berman said. "And if you want to tamper with God's property, be cautious."

Caution might also be advised to those left to deal with pre-existing fruit trees.

On a piping hot afternoon last week in Borough Park, a woman in a long black skirt struggled to get a stroller down the front stoop of her sister's house. The double-wide buggy was empty and the stairs were tidy, yet the woman faced a distinct challenge: The steps extended from the house sideways at roughly a 45-degree angle to avoid a tree directly in front of the doorway.

"They are fruit trees," the woman said of the tree in her path and another nearby, protruding from a brick shelter that housed the building's trash cans. "That's why they made the steps crooked, because they didn't want to take it down."

She jerked the buggy awkwardly to the left, then the right, before sighing and releasing her grip. She watched as the stroller bounced to the sidewalk.
All of this does not mean that exceptions cannot be made, said Rabbi Zinner, sitting in his cozy wood-paneled library last week surrounded by volumes and volumes of worn leather books. And if a tree is a danger to people, he continued, it can certainly go. A few years back, he said, he received a call from members of an Orthodox community north of New York City asking what they should do about a fruit tree that was attracting bears to an area where children played. He said they could chop it down.

"We have to respect a tree," Rabbi Zinner said. "But we have to have respect for human beings, also."

Though some groups take this prohibition more seriously, there are communities where stories circulate about tragedy or hardship, like a lost business or a sick child, befalling those who take the restriction lightly, and those can have staying power.

"It is a fear," Rabbi Schiller said of the attitude in certain groups. "A mystical fear of mystical forces."

Asked about his personal approach to the subject, he said, "I try to maintain the traditions of my community." And besides, he added, "why take a chance?"



Catskill regional medical center holds summer kick-off session 

More than 40 members of the Orthodox Jewish community and Catskills Hatzolah came to Catskill Regional Medical Center on July 6 for a presentation on CRMC's services and an open discussion on services to the Orthodox.

The hospital also presented a plaque to Moshe Fried, CRMC's summer liaison for the Orthodox Jewish community.

Fried has proven to be invaluable to CRMC, as he not only strengthens relationships with the Orthodox Jewish community but also provides exceptional patient experiences to everyone who comes through CRMC's emergency department.

The plaque will be placed in CRMC's Chesed room, where members of the Orthodox community can sit, relax and pray. The Chesed room is equipped with kosher snacks, packaged meals, Jewish reading materials, tapes and other sources of information.



Monday, July 30, 2012

How To Cover My Hair 

It's not exactly revelatory that people tend to categorize one another. This isn't necessarily malicious — honestly, it's probably useful in some ways. Jews are no exception, Orthodox Jews included.

In Modern Orthodoxy there are myriads of ways to classify people, with clothing being an exceptionally easy one. There are the women who wear long skirts, the women who wear short ones and the women whose skirts are a bit above the knee. The more entrenched you are in the community, the more you make assumptions about how people will act based solely on their clothing.

Now that I am engaged, I have started to consider a whole new world of categories and how I will interpret them for myself. One of these is hair covering. While the decision might seem simple, I know it will be a chance for others to classify me and make assumptions about my religious practice, or character. And this scares me.

"Will you be covering your hair?" Everyone sweetly asks. And by everyone, I really do mean everyone. My friends. My mother's friends. My friends' mothers. Even people I don't know.

"Just with a hat," I respond blithely, so used to the question that I forget how weird it would sound to anyone not familiar with Orthodoxy.

Since I've been young, I've known I would cover my hair when I get married, which is a practice Orthodox women have been upholding for centuries. My mother wears a wig (sorry to give away your secret, Mom), and until recently I'd always assumed I would too. Then my sister got married and decided to wear a hat that only covers the top of her head. This choice seemed reasonable to me, plus a hat is a lot less itchy and expensive than a wig. Also, I've grown rather attached to my hair over the years. So hats it would be.

But I know that by choosing the hat I will prompt others to put me into some box or another. And once I've been pegged, expectations arise.

If I wear a wig, then this might mean to others that I probably only wear long skirts and am more right-wing. Some might also interpret it to mean that I keep strict observance of kosher and Shabbat and any other commandment you can think of.

Choosing to wear a hat instead will message that I'm more lax. Or that I can't afford a wig. If my hair shows under the hat then it says that I'm Orthodox, but Modern Orthodox. Some might deduce from this that I might even wear pants. (The horror!) And so on, and so on and so on.

These anticipated assumptions become second-nature in the Orthodox community, but they are burdensome all the same. Personally, I find it difficult to deliberate thoughtfully about religious choices when many of them are thrust upon me by others' expectations.

I'm new to the hair-covering scene (still pushing off buying those hats), so I don't know precisely what my category says about me, or who my box-mates are, but I already feel stifled. I hate being stereotyped. I hate knowing that someone will look at me and come to conclusions based solely on how I dress. Yes, it's something we all do, whether religious-related or otherwise, but it would just be so nice if it could stop.



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Siyum HaShas 2012: Why 90,000 Jews Will Gather In MetLife Stadium To Celebrate Reading The Talmud 

Some books you just can't put down.

On Aug. 1, some 90,000 Jewish men and women will attend a celebration of one such tome -- the Talmud. Organizers bill the event as the largest party for Jewish learning in 2,000 years.

The Siyum HaShas is the completion of reading all six orders of the Babylonian Talmud, the compendium of Jewish oral law that was written down in the fourth and fifth centuries.

It's no small feat: The Talmud is 2,711 pages of coded Aramaic and Hebrew legalese with no vowels or punctuation.

In 1923, a Polish rabbi, Meir Shapiro, devised a system to encourage Jews all over the world to learn the Oral Law together. Called Daf Yomi (literally, "page of the day"). The informal program takes seven and a half years to complete.

On Aug. 2, 89 years after Rabbi Shapiro started the tradition, the 12th cycle of reading will come to a close; and on Aug. 3, the 13th cycle will begin.

The Siyum HaShas will take place at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Aug. 1, with smaller gatherings hosted elsewhere in the United States and Israel. According to the Jewish Press, there will be no live streaming of the event. However, live feeds will go out to more than 100 communities around the world.

This isn't the first gathering of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews in an sports stadium this year. Sixty thousand gathered in May at CitiField in Queens, New York to raise awareness about the dangers of the Internet.



Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rockland County Parents Ask State to Oust 5 Orthodox Jews on School Board 

In the East Ramapo Central School District here, the children of Caribbean and Latin American immigrants have filled the classrooms in recent years. About 85 percent of the students are black or Hispanic, and only 7 percent are white.

“They seem to care less and less about what anyone thinks,” Steve White said of the board.
But on the school board, seven of the nine seats are held by Orthodox Jews.

Now, after years of increasingly bitter discord between parents and the board, the parents are trying to force the state to intervene.

A public-interest law firm, acting on behalf of 14 residents, filed a petition last week with the State Education Department, seeking the removal of five of the Orthodox Jewish board members and the appointment of a special monitor to oversee the district. The parents say that the five Orthodox Jewish board members have improperly aided private schools, which are mostly Orthodox yeshivas.

“For the healing process within the East Ramapo school district to occur, the irresponsible board members must be removed,” said Hiram Rivera, president of Padres Unidos, a parent organization. “It is imperative that we, as a school district, focus on all of the children of our district, and not on a single group to the detriment of others.”

Under state law, the education commissioner can remove local school officials for willful misconduct or neglect of duty. Officials note that has happened very infrequently. (The two Orthodox Jewish members not cited in the complaint are new to the board.)

The East Ramapo district, in Rockland County, is one of only three in the state where more students attend private schools than public ones. The district has about 8,000 students in the public schools and 19,000 in private ones. The immigrant and minority population has swelled in some parts of the district, even as the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish population has mushroomed in densely populated Orthodox Jewish centers like Kaser, Monsey and New Square.

Because of their success in turning out voters en masse, the Orthodox Jews have a political influence that exceeds their numbers.

Very few of the Orthodox Jews send their children to public schools. But Orthodox Jewish residents say they are affected by school policies because of the taxes they pay and the services provided by the district to private school students, including special education.

The school board president, Daniel Schwartz, said in an interview that the petition, filed by Advocates for Justice, represented the views of chronic complainers. He said any insinuation that Orthodox Jewish board members could not focus on the needs of non-Jewish children was offensive and anti-Semitic.

At a school board meeting in May, long before this action was filed, he stunned audience members with remarks that, he acknowledged, have come to be known as “Schwartz’s Rant.”

“We are headed on a crisis, a horrible, horrible crisis,” Mr. Schwartz began. He referred to Auschwitz and Treblinka, and to statements against the board and Jews that he said had been made by district students.

“If you don’t like it, find yourself another place to live,” he said.

In the interview, Mr. Schwartz said it was insulting to contend that Orthodox Jews did not have an interest in excellent public schools.

“What they are suggesting is that Orthodox Jews as a whole are an entire subgroup that doesn’t give a damn about anyone else,” he said.

Whatever the arguments, the district is troubled.

The petition claims that the district has laid off about 25 percent of its teachers over the past few years. Joel Klein, the superintendent, said 300 positions had been eliminated in the last few years. The district now has 1,600 employees.

Dr. Klein said the district faced continuing fiscal issues because it was not adequately reimbursed for the majority of children in the district who go to private schools but often are entitled to use district resources for transportation, books or special education.

In their petition, the residents noted that the State Education Department had determined that the district has had a practice of placing students with disabilities in private schools without first documenting that there was not an appropriate service for the students in a public school.

The petition also cites the board’s efforts to sell two former elementary schools to yeshivas. Critics said the sales were for prices below what the buildings were worth. One sale has been annulled by the state and the other has been halted pending an investigation by state officials.

The gulf is also a cultural and personal one. The petition points to one of Mr. Schwartz’s remarks about the fiscal problems. “Get rid of graduations,” he said. “It’s a superfluous expense.”

Steve White, a longtime critic of the board, said the chasm seemed to be widening: “They seem to care less and less about what anyone thinks,” he said about the board.

Both sides agree the board’s makeup reflects the electoral power of the well-organized Orthodox Jewish community. Mr. Schwartz said critics could hardly fault anyone for showing up to vote.

Each side said it had reached out to the other, only to be rebuffed.

Mr. Schwartz said the notion that the Orthodox Jews should not take part in school board politics because they did not send their children to public schools was offensive.

“Not only is it un-American, it is also illogical and stupid,” he said at the board meeting. “If you want to say that Orthodox Jews don’t have the right to legislate for public school children, then by extension, black people don’t have the right to legislate when it affects white people and women don’t have the right to legislate when it affects men.”

The board’s critics responded that, aside from the turmoil in the district, the town of Ramapo had been a place where diverse groups got along. They said the issue was policies, not religion.

“People can stomach a lot,” Mr. White said. “But they really value education. A lot of people think, ‘O.K., maybe you can interfere with my opportunities now for today, but don’t interfere with my kids’ opportunity for a better future.’ That makes people want to scream.”



Friday, July 27, 2012

DEP, rabbi at odds over Lakewood dump site 

A sandy clearing amid tall scrubby pines covers thousands of illegally dumped trash bags filled with religious articles. The fact that the bags — part of the shaimos Orthodox Jewish religious tradition — remain there is part of a legal battle in which state officials are taking to task the rabbi responsible.

The clearing is part of a dump site near an active water well off Vermont Avenue that was first discovered in 2010 by residents who reported suspicious activity in the woods. The landfill was created by members of the Orthodox Jewish community to dispose of discarded religious items, known as shaimos, such as sacred scrolls and religious clothing. The Orthodox tradition forbids burning of certain items or throwing them in the trash.

The land now belongs to Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc., which is owned by Rabbi Chaim Abadi of Miller Road in Lakewood. For two years, Abadi and the state Department of Environmental Protection have been battling over the dump site. The DEP has ordered him to remove the items because the agency contends it could contaminate a township drinking well.

In April, Ocean County Judge Craig L. Wellerson issued Abadi a 60-day notice, which expired June 18, to remove and relocate the bags to an appropriately prepared dump site that meets DEP standards. However, the religious items have not been moved, officials said.

Now, Abadi is due in court this morning in Toms River before Wellerson.

DEP officials contend Abadi is in "blatant defiance" of the court order to remove and relocate the materials, according to the lawsuit filed in Ocean County Superior Court in Toms River. Named in the DEP's complaint are defendants Abadi and Hard Maple Realty LLC, Vincezo Metee, Champion Subcontracting, and Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc.

The DEP is asking the judge to impose a fine of $1,000 for every day that the illegal dump site remains.

In 2010, Abadi hired a contractor to dig a hole in a clearing and dump the bags filled with religious texts and clothing, then cover them with dirt, on land he did not own.

The property was owned by Grace Fitzgerald, 84, of Long Island. She inherited the land in 1985. On July 2, Fitzgerald deeded the property to Abadi's Congregation Minyan Shenalu Inc., according to the records at the Ocean County Clerk.

Fitzgerald and Abadi could not be reached for comment Thursday. A call to Abadi's attorney, Steven Secare, was not returned.

More so, Abadi has applied to Lakewood's Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow him to use the land as a cemetery, said Daniel A. Greenhouse, deputy attorney general in a July 11 letter to Wellerson. The June 4 zoning board application hearing was rescheduled for Aug. 27.

In Jackson, Abadi also "unlawfully buried truckloads of unwanted materials in 2009," Greenhouse said in his letter. However, at a prior hearing with Wellerson, Greenhouse said the Jackson site was dug with the DEP's knowledge.

Larry Simons, a resident who keeps a close eye on government activities, was one of the people who originally reported the illegal dumping in 2010, he said. On Thursday, Simons walked along the cleared trail leading to the site and talked about the day when he and some friends took photographs of the bags and heavy equipment, he said.

"This was virgin forest," Simons pointed out. "You can see where the trees were removed and the road was cleared to accommodate the trucks coming in. I don't care if (Abadi) puts it in his backyard but I want it removed from Vermont Avenue."



Thursday, July 26, 2012

Rubashkin Revenge: Ethical Certificates at Center of Dispute 

About eight months ago, when Katsuji Tanabe agreed to display the Tav HaYosher certificate in the window of his one-year-old restaurant on Pico Boulevard, the head chef and owner of Mexikosher knew that the “ethical seal,” issued by the Modern Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, would inform customers that he treats his workers with respect and in accordance with California labor laws.

Tanabe didn’t know that in displaying the certificate he was also, in effect, choosing a side in a mostly covert battle between two segments of the Orthodox Jewish community.

On one side is Uri L’Tzedek, a four-year old nonprofit promoting social justice causes that has been supported by a handful of prominent Jewish foundations, including the Joshua Venture Group, Bikkurim, and the Jewish Federations of North America. On the other are an unknown number of individuals who are acting independently and largely anonymously.

At Mexikosher, the certificate hung in the window for between four and six weeks; during that time, Tanabe said he received phone calls from individuals identifying themselves as being from “different Chabads,” and threatening to boycott his restaurant if he didn’t take the certificate down.

Tanabe, who said he hadn’t changed any of his policies to earn the Tav, decided to remove it.

“I don’t talk about politics or religion in the restaurant,” said Tanabe, 31, who describes himself as “Mexican-Japanese-Catholic.” “We only talk about food.”
Although the pushback against the Tav appears to be coming primarily, if not exclusively, from individuals affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement, there is no evidence that any official encouragement came from Chabad, according to the organization’s leaders and those involved in the anti-Tav efforts.

The headquarters of Chabad of California is located on Pico Boulevard, within blocks of a dozen Kosher-certified restaurants, including at least one that displays the Tav. In a recent interview, the group’s CEO, Rabbi Chaim Cunin, said he hadn’t heard of the Tav or Uri L’Tzedek until very recently, and that he knew of no coordinated effort to oppose the program.

“If there’s any such conspiracy it’s deep underground,” Cunin said.

The battle between Uri L’Tzedek and the mostly nameless Orthodox Jews threatening to boycott the 100 restaurants nationwide that participate in its signature program may be taking place in the shadows, but it illuminates a rift within American Orthodoxy stemming from the 2008 raid on the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

Uri L’Tzedek established the Tav Hayosher in 2009 as a free certification. To qualify, employers must demonstrate that they calculate worker’s hours accurately, pay wages—including overtime – promptly and in full and grant breaks to their employees, as required by law. Studies have shown that many food-service businesses – both kosher and non—fall short of these basic legal requirements.

Over the last few months, multiple owners of kosher-certified businesses who display the Tav have been urged to take it down.

“People are threatening the 100 Tav owners around the country, saying they are going to hurt their business and boycott them,” Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, the founder and president of Uri L’Tzedek, wrote in an email to The Journal on July 9.

The hardest-hit are in Los Angeles, Yanklowitz said, where Tav-certified businesses have received more complaints than in any other city. Yanklowitz said three local restaurants chose to drop the certification in the face of this controversy. As of July 20, nine Los Angeles-based businesses were listed among the certified restaurants on the Tav’s website.

The issue appears not to be the Tav certification, per se, but rather that in 2008, Uri L’Tzedek was the instigator of a boycott of products from the Agriprocessors meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa, in the wake of the massive immigration raid that closed down the plant.



Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The runner and the rabbi 

It was erev Pesach and the runner had a problem. He needed lots of carbohydrates before a major meet and that meant eating chometz…could the rabbi help?

And so the athlete sought advice from Sydney Rabbi Levi Wolff whom he had never met before….

Let the Central Synagogue rabbi tell the rest of the story….

"This past Erev Pesach a young fellow came to see me in the Shule office. When he walked in I quickly recognized him from a story in the local Jewish media about a Jewish boy who was the fastest under 20 runner in Australia.

He told me that he came to speak to me about a big dilemma he had. The following week was Pesach and he had one of the biggest races of his career ahead of him and he needed to eat lots of carbohydrates. Although he is not AT ALL religious, he told me he never ate chametz on Pesach! His coaches thought he had gone absolutely crazy by refusing to eat chametz as he had been training for this race for months. If he won that race he stood a chance to be selected as a member the Australian team competing in the Olympic Games in London.

When I asked him if matzah counted for carbohydrates, he laughed saying 'it doesn't even let you run to the toilet… never mind the field!'  So that was not going to be an option. I asked if rice could do the job. He said it is not the ideal choice but it might be suffice. So I took the chutzpah to tell him that since many Sephardic Jews eat rice on Pesach, it would be the only carbohydrate I could think of that he might be able to eat. I then went on to tell him the story of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Bardichev who went searching for bread amongst all the Jews just hours before Pesach and he could not find any….yet other things banned by the local government were secretly available. He turned to G-d and said, "Look how special your children are!"

I then said to him, I believe that if you do what you need to do, Hashem will do His part in looking after you! We put on tefillin together and he committed that on Pesach, come what may, he would not eat chametz regardless of the pressure he was under!

Steven Solomon is representing Australia in London and he is very proud to represent his Jewish people!



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Neighbor charged with threatening Hasidic campers 

A man has been charged with threatening to use a firearm against people at the Camp Rav Tov on Ulster Heights Road in the Town of Wawarsing if they didn't quiet down. The Ulster County Sheriff's Office also said that on Sunday John Buckley threatened to send his dogs into the camp to attack people.

Buckley, 53, was charged with a misdemeanor for menacing and a violation for harassment.  He was arraigned and sent to the Ulster County Jail in lieu of $1,000 cash bail or $5,000.   An order of protection was issued directing him to stay away from the camp.



Monday, July 23, 2012

Israel Museum to introduce sex-segregated visiting hours for Haredi exhibit 

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem will have separate visiting hours for men and women to its new exhibit about Hasidic Jews. For the first time, the museum decided to introduce separate visiting times, Haaretz has learned, in a bid to attract ultra-Orthodox visitors in the three weeks that yeshivas are closed during the summer.

The museum said the separate hours will apply only to the specific exhibit, "A World Apart Next Door: Glimpses into the Life of Hasidic Jews," depending on demand from ultra-Orthodox groups.

"It all depends on demand," said Shai Yamin, head of marketing at the Israel Museum, adding that the separate hours would not impinge on the museum's regular hours, and might be held after 5 P.M. when the museum closes, or on Tuesday mornings, when it is not usually open.
"A World Apart Next Door," which has been open for about a month, depicts Hasidic culture and features rare editions of Hasidic books, clothing, photographs and video clips of events in various Hasidic courts.

The Israel Museum, best known for its art and archaeology exhibits, has never particularly drawn a Haredi audience. But "A World Apart Next Door" has attracted the attention of the ultra-Orthodox unlike any other exhibit at the Jerusalem institution.

In April, the leader of the Karlin Hasidim, Rabbi Baruch Shochat made the first-ever official visit by a Hasidic leader to the museum, as Haaretz reported, which struck a chord in the Hasidic world.

An ultra-Orthodox firm has been handling PR for the exhibit over the past few weeks and has brought journalists and public figures from the Haredi world to view it. The visits have generated a number of approving articles, which have ignored the fact that the Israel Museum is open on the Sabbath.

The many Haredim who have visited the exhibit over the past month have not allowed issues of modesty or the museum's Sabbath hours to deter them. The Israel Museum's directors see this as an achievement, but now want to bring a wider Haredi audience to the exhibit, taking advantage of the period known as Bein Hazmanim when yeshivas are in recess.

The museum's head of marketing, Yamin, said the move would not affect other visitors to the museum. "It's like the way we open the Shrine of the Book to groups of pilgrims," he said, referring to the practice of opening the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit to visitors when the rest of the museum is closed on Tuesday mornings.

"We hope the exhibit on Hasidim will be the beginning of Haredim getting to know the museum as well, and perhaps they will come to the section on Jewish art and see the old synagogues, or archaeological displays or the Aleppo Codex," Yamin said. "This is an opportunity to draw in groups that would not otherwise visit; another opportunity to extend a hand and say 'please come.'"



Sunday, July 22, 2012

‘Testy’ judge sacked after beer blunder 

Judge Noach Dear has been booted from Brooklyn Criminal Court a month after his bizarre ruling barred police from ticketing public drinkers unless cops lab-tested their booze.

The ouster comes amid outrage over his June 14 decision, which dismissed a case against a Brooklyn man, Julio Figueroa, who admitted he was sipping a beer on the street.

The judge concluded that enforcement of laws on drinking in public is racially biased.

Dear, 59, a scandal-scarred ex-city councilman elected to the bench in 2007 and relegated to hearing low-level debt disputes in recent years, had volunteered to take criminal cases on the weekends in a bid to get promoted, courthouse insiders said.

“Somebody here messed up,” a court source said. “He never should have been given that assignment.”

The state acknowledged that Dear’s part-time gig was over.

“The judge was, in fact, volunteering on the weekends because of a resource shortage, but at this point his services are no longer needed,” said courts spokesman David Bookstaver.

Dear’s ruling nullified a long-accepted police practice — sniffing a suspect’s beverage — and meant police would be required to conduct a chemical analysis to make their cases stick.

Open-container summonses are a widely used policing tool, resulting in more than 12,000 arrests for other crimes in 2011, by one police supervisor’s estimate. Cops wrote 124,498 drinking tickets during the year.

“I’d say 10 to 15 percent of the time we issue a violation, we find they’re wanted for something else,” a NYPD source said.

Legal experts slammed Dear’s ruling for going well beyond the scope of a judge’s authority.

“He’s legislating from the bench,” said legal analyst Arthur Aidala. “He’s saying we’re not going to enforce the law even though people of color violate the law. That’s ludicrous.”

The ruling raised memories of how Dear got his gavel — in a backroom deal orchestrated by Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez.

Dear, who spent 18 years as a Democratic city councilman before being term-limited out in 2001, was dogged by scandals, many involving improper overseas junkets paid for by charities. When he ran for Congress in 1998, his staff allegedly forged signatures to duck campaign-donation laws.

In 2003, after two years as TLC commissioner, he tried to run again for City Council but was knocked off the ballot for accepting campaign financing from taxi companies.

Because he had nearly defeated Kevin Parker in a state Senate race in 2002, Lopez saw him as a threat to the party’s candidates.

So the boss backed him for judge — even though Dear was never a practicing lawyer and got a thumbs down from the Brooklyn Bar Association.



Fury at Hasidic biz dress codes 

Brooklyn has lost its right to bare arms.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish business owners are lashing out at customers at dozens of stores in Williamsburg, trying to ban sleeveless tops and plunging necklines from their aisles. It’s only the latest example of the Hasidic community trying to enforce their strict religious laws for everyone who lives near their New York enclave.

“No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Neckline Allowed in the Store,” declare the English/Spanish signs that appear in stores throughout the Hasidic section of the hipster haven. The retailers do not just serve Jews — they include stores for hardware, clothes and electronics.

Hebrew speakers are also put on notice: “Entry here in modest dress only,” the signs read.

When a Post reporter visited Lee Avenue in a sleeveless dress, some store owners stared at her shoulders, while others refused to look her in the face.

The policy, an outgrowth of the sect’s thousand-year tradition of dressing modestly, is rankling non-Hasidic residents.

“Religious freedom is one thing, but we do not have the right to enforce our beliefs on someone else,” charged Bob Kim, 39, comfy in tight jeans and a T-shirt.

“Why should they be able to say that on their signs? It’s not OK,” added Hana Dagostin, 32, wearing a sleeveless top.

“People should be able to wear what . . . makes them comfortable,” said Fabian Vega, 34, also wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

Store owners and managers defended the dress code.

“We have our way of life, and this is the way we want everyone to respect that,” said Shalom Cooper, a manager at Glauber’s Cuisine on Division Avenue.

Orthodox men typically wear suits and black hats in public, while women dress in long-sleeved blouses and below-the-knee skirts.

“We’re not concerned about the way women dress in Manhattan — but we are concerned with bringing 42nd Street to this neighborhood,” said Mark Halpern, who is Orthodox and lives in Williamsburg.

Some called the policy un-American.

“It’s further evidence of this era’s move toward Balkanization in the United States,” said Marci Hamilton, a First Amendment scholar at Cardozo School of Law. “It’s no longer sufficient that they have shared norms among themselves, they are increasingly trying to impose their norms on the rest of the culture.”

The dress code appears to be the latest effort by the Hasidic community to separate itself from the greater population.

There’s an Orthodox ambulance service and a private police force called the Shomrim.

On the B110, a privately operated public bus line that runs through Orthodox Williamsburg and Borough Park, women are told to sit in back, also in accordance with Orthodox customs.

The neighborhood embarked on a successful 2009 crusade to remove bike lanes from a 14-block stretch of Bedford Avenue — fearful of the scantily clad gals who would pedal through.

Even Hillary Clinton was caught up in the mix last year — her image in the situation room the night of Osama bin Laden’s killing was scrubbed from a Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper because readers might have been offended by a woman’s presence in a sea of men.

“There’s a movement toward insularity among religious groups. It’s dangerous for tolerance, and it’s also dangerous for peace,” Hamilton said.

City lawyer Gabriel Taussig said the signs appeared kosher, provided they don’t “impermissibly discriminate based upon gender, religion or some other protected class.”

But the dress code covers up a bigger problem, according to Shulem Deen, a former Hasid who now lives in Bensonhurst.

“It goes to the basic human value of empathizing with others that are not like you, and I think the Hasidim have no awareness of such a concept,” he said.



Saturday, July 21, 2012

Police kill rampaging goat in Monsey 

Town police were forced to kill a goat Saturday after the animal got loose from its owner and began knocking into numerous women and children, police said.

Ramapo police responded to the area of 46 Brewer Road about 6:30 p.m. Saturday after receiving reports that the animal was causing problems for the people in the neighborhood, officials said.

Officers witnessed the animal knock into several people walking on the street and attempted to control it, police said.

When the owner of the goat was contacted, he refused to assist officers in securing the animal, police said.

After several more attempts to control the animal failed, officers, to eliminate the potential risk to the neighborhood people, were forced to shoot the animal, police said.

Police said the goat’s owner had refused to assist in controlling the animal because of religious beliefs that prevent him from engaging in such activity during Sabbath.

No serious injuries were reported as a result of the incident and police said that as of this evening, no one had been charged with any wrongdoing.



Friday, July 20, 2012

Pro-Vito Satmar Sect Counters Rival Faction’s ‘Distorted’ Claims on Velázquez/Dilan Race 

A few weeks back, The Politicker posted a press release from a Satmar faction in Williamsburg in which they claimed the results of the race between Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and her challenger, Councilman Erik Dilan, in the June 26th Democratic primary showed their influence was growing. Mr. Dilan, although unsuccessful, was supported by Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez, a close ally of the larger of the two Hasidic groups in Williamsburg, both of which have functioned as impressively solid voting blocs for and against whichever candidate was supported by Mr. Lopez in recent years. However, the smaller faction, the Aroynem, felt they had overperformed and enlisted the help of George Arzt Communications to argue their point.

The larger faction, the Zaloynim, decided not to take that sitting down, however, and apparently hired Sheinkopf LTD to send out their own press release today contesting the Aroynem analysis.

"The facts speak for themselves," Zaloynim Rabbi Abe Deutsch said in the statement. "Those that would seek to say that our vote has been weakened are dealing in myths, and illusions. The numbers being thrown about are distorted for personal and political gain with no basis in fact. It's easy for the dissidents to concoct pie in the sky fantasies before the final numbers are in, now it's time for them to come back to earth and face the reality of the numbers."



Thursday, July 19, 2012

Defense claims teen rape accuser of Hasidic leader Nechemya Weberman is seeking 'revenge'' 

A teenager accused a prominent Hasidic leader of raping her only after she learned he persuaded her father to secretly record her having sex with a boyfriend, defense lawyers argued Wednesday.

The explosive allegation was made in Brooklyn Supreme Court as the trial date for the Satmar leader, Nechemya Weberman, 53, was set for the end of October.
"There is a motive of revenge," defense lawyer George Farkas said when asking to introduce the sex tape evidence at trial.

"I haven't seen the video, but I heard it's very explicit," a source said.

Prosecutors acknowledged the tape was shown to them and that the case against the boyfriend was eventually dropped. They note that Weberman accompanied the father to the district attorney's office in 2010 to make an allegation of statutory rape.

But they argued the decision of the alleged victim, now 17, to accuse Weberman of molesting her at age 12 came after she heard that he molested others.
"We would strongly oppose to bringing in the complainant's other sexual activities," said prosecutor Anthea Bruffee, citing the stringent rape shield law, which generally precludes evidence on victims' sexual conduct.

"You have a high hurdle to leap over," Justice John Ingram told Farkas.

The judge will rule in late August on whether to make an exception to the shield law and allow the jury to hear about the sex tape.

He will also issue a decision on prosecutors' requests to bring other witnesses who claimed Weberman abused them - even though no other charges have been filed against him - and to introduce a Hasidic cultural expert as a witness.

The Williamsburg religious leader was charged in February 2011 with forcing sex acts on the young girl when he served as her counsel after she was deemed unrighteous.

The high-profile case has already seen numerous twists and turns. Four Hasidic men were charged last month with intimidating the accuser and her boyfriend and trying to offer them a $500,000 bribe.

The current beau, who also organized a recent protest against a fund-raiser for Weberman's legal fees, is not the one who was caught on tape with her, sources said.



5 East Ramapo trustees face ouster attempt, accused of using funds to support religious schools 

Critics of the East Ramapo Board of Education are asking the state education commissioner to remove Orthodox and Hasidic board members they say have spent millions of taxpayer dollars to support private religious schools while ignoring the growing needs of students in the public schools.

The New York-based public interest law firm Advocates for Justice, on behalf of 14 East Ramapo parents and community members, said it is calling for the removal of five board members and the appointment of a state monitor to oversee all spending and special-education placements at the district.

The nonprofit organization said it sent the state education commissioner a 52-page document Wednesday that accuses the East Ramapo school board of, among other things, improperly placing students with disabilities in private schools, conducting real estate transactions based on faulty appraisals, and buying religious textbooks to loan to religious schools.

The petition addresses school board President Daniel Schwartz, Vice President Yehuda Weissmandl, and members Moses Friedman, Moshe Hopstein and Eliyahu Solomon, and calls on the state education commissioner to bar them from holding future office.

The men are part of the seven-member board majority that often represents the interests of the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities of the East Ramapo school district. These communities send their children to private schools within the public district and receive textbooks, transportation, special education and other services provided by the district, which account for millions in East Ramapo's budget each year.

The petition "emerges from several years of problems and tensions" within the district, as public school parents have become increasingly concerned about the board's financial decisions, including budget cuts that have eliminated hundreds of teachers and curtailed kindergarten programming, the group said in the statement.

"The East Ramapo school board has repeatedly snubbed the parents, students and teachers of the district. ... The board members have abused their authority and then thumbed their noses at the state, which gives them their authority," said petitioner Steven White, a former school board candidate and frequent critic of the board whose son is a graduate of the district.



Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Nazi war criminal arrested in Budapest 

The world's number one Nazi war crimes suspect has been arrested in Budapest.

He was taken into custody in the Hungarian capital earlier today.

He is accused of helping to organise the deportation of 15,700 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp during the Second World War.

A spokesman for the public prosecutors office in Budapest today said: 'Csatary has been taken into custody.'

He corrected an earlier statement that had said the elderly man had been charged with war crimes. Further details are expected at a news conference later today.

Csatary - full name Laszlo Csizsik-Csatary - is number one on the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's wanted list.

During the war, he was a senior police officer in Kosice, which at that time was occupied by Nazi ally Hungary and is now in Slovakia.

In 1948, a Czechoslovakian court condemned Csatary, who the Wiesenthal Center said was in charge of the Jewish ghetto in Kosice, to death in absentia.

But he had made it to Canada, where he worked as an art dealer in Montreal and Toronto until in the 1990s he was stripped of his citizenship there and was forced to flee.

He ended up in Budapest where he has lived undisturbed ever since until the Wiesenthal Center alerted Hungarian authorities last year, providing it with evidence it said implicated Csatary in war crimes.

He was then tracked down by the Sun newspaper, who photographed him after confronting him at his front door.

Acting on the information provided by the Wiesenthal Center, which was supplemented by fresh evidence last week over the deportation of some 300 other Jews in 1941, prosecutors began an investigation in September.

A statement by prosecutors on Monday, however, appeared to limit the chances that the old man will end up in the dock.

The events 'took place 68 years ago in an area that now falls under the jurisdiction of another country - which also with regard to the related international conventions raises several investigative and legal problems.'

Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi-hunter, said on Sunday that he has been 'very upset and very frustrated' about the lack of action by Hungarian authorities.

The fact that Csatary lived freely in Hungary for some 15 years and the lack of progress by prosecutors also added to worries about the direction of the EU member state under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Almost exactly a year ago, a court in Budapest acquitted Hungarian Sandor Kepiro, 97, of charges of ordering the execution of over 30 Jews and Serbs in the Serbian town of Novi Sad in January 1942.

The Wiesenthal Center, which had also listed Kepiro as the most wanted Nazi war criminal and helped bring him to court, described the verdict as an 'outrageous miscarriage of justice'.

Six weeks later Kepiro died.

Recent months have seen something of a public rehabilitation of controversial figures, most notably of Miklos Horthy, Hungary's dictator from 1920 until falling out with his erstwhile ally Adolf Hitler in 1944.

Anti-Semitic writers like Albert Wass and Jozsef Nyiro, a keen supporter of the brutal Arrow Cross regime installed in power by the Nazis in 1944, have also been reintroduced into the curriculum for schools.

Other incidents include the verbal assault of a 90-year-old rabbi, Jozsef Schweitzer, when a stranger came up to him in the street and said 'I hate all Jews!'

The decision by the speaker of the Hungarian parliament, Orban ally Laszlo Kover, to attend a ceremony in May honouring Nyiro, prompted Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to return Hungary's highest honour in disgust.

Holocaust survivor Mr Wiesel, 83, said: 'It has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary's past.'

The speaker of Israel's Knesset followed this up by withdrawing an invitation to Kover to a ceremony this week in Israel paying tribute to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved Jews during the war.



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

British Airways steward says he was sacked after 'antisemitic' row 

An air steward has claimed British Airways sacked him after a row with a colleague who allegedly shouted antisemitic abuse.

Jean-Paul Van der Velde told an employment tribunal that an argument erupted in a New York bar when BA staff discussed the Nazis and the alleged tirade left the Jewish steward "shocked and insulted".

But Mr Van der Velde, whose father survived two concentration camps, was dismissed following the March 2010 incident when colleague Paul Meek appeared the following day with a black eye and claimed he had been headbutted.

A month later Northern Ireland-based Mr Van der Velde was suspended by BA and was ultimately dismissed in August that year. He is claiming unfair dismissal.
BA crew manager Marc Learoyd told Watford Employment Tribunal that Mr Meek had claimed he had been berated by his Jewish colleague for living in Germany and had then been assaulted during the ensuing bar row.

None of the pair's colleagues witnessed the fight, but BA later conducted an internal investigation and dismissed Mr Van der Velde for misconduct.

The tribunal continues.



Monday, July 16, 2012

Trial date set for alleged Australian day school child molester 

A former security guard accused of sexually abusing children at the Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne where he worked will stand trial next July.

David Cyprys, 44, an ex-guard at Yeshivah College, will stand trial starting July 29, 2013, a Melbourne County Court judge ruled last Friday, as Cyprys stood before him.

Cyprys is charged with 41 counts of child molestation, including multiple counts of rape. He said he would fight the charges in court.

The charges, which date back to the 1980s, were brought by 12 alleged victims, at least two of whom now live in the United States.

Manny Waks, the only alleged victim who has spoken publicly, said that "There are still a number of perpetrators who are yet to face justice and many victims who are still suffering. We need to facilitate an awareness campaign about this critical issue so that the wrongs of the past are never repeated and that those who are responsible for past wrongs are held to full account."



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Matisyahu sings at L.A. Dodgers' Jewish Community Day 

The Los Angeles Dodgers conducted their 13th annual Jewish Community Day at today's game against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium, with the reggae and alternative rock musician Matisyahu singing two songs and throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.

Matisyahu sang "One Day," from his 2009 album "Light," whose single sales reached gold album status, and "Sunshine" from his album "Spark Seeker," which will be released Tuesday.

Kosher food was available at some concession locations.

A portion of the proceeds of ticket sales were donated to various Jewish organizations, the team said.



Saturday, July 14, 2012

Germany’s Jews won’t be punished for circumcisions 

Germany’s Jews and Muslims will not be punished for breaking the law if they carry out circumcisions on young boys, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said.

“For everyone in the government it is absolutely clear that we want to have Jewish and Muslim religious life in Germany,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Friday according to Reuters. “Circumcision carried out in a responsible manner must be possible in this country without punishment.”

Earlier this week Europe’s main Orthodox rabbinical body held an emergency meeting in Berlin after a Cologne court ruling that said the religious ritual could be considered a criminal act. Regardless, the rabbis urged Jews in Germany to uphold the commandment to circumcise newborn sons.

The decision came in the ruling in the case of a Muslim boy taken to a doctor with bleeding after circumcision. The Cologne court said the practice inflicts bodily harm and should not be carried out on young boys, but could be practiced on older males who give consent. The ruling by the Cologne Regional Court applies to the city and surrounding districts.

In a press conference held Thursday at the Amano Hotel in central Berlin, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said his organization was ready to back Jews in challenging the May ruling by a Cologne district court, which Jewish groups see as symptomatic of a trend across Europe against some Jewish rituals.  Rabbi Goldschmidt did not give details about what actions his group could take.

The rabbinical conference also announced that it is joining with the Orthodox Rabbinical Conference of Germany to create an association of mohels, or ritual circumcisers, to be supervised by the Association of Jewish Doctors and Psychologists

Goldschmidt, who is chief rabbi of Moscow, told JTA he didn’t think “that 70 years after the Holocaust a German court would put a parent or a mohel in jail for performing a Jewish religious commandment.”

The Central Council of Jews in Germany has condemned the court’s decision and promised to work with German lawmakers to reverse the ruling. Muslim groups also have proposed bringing a test case to German courts.

Goldschmidt said his rabbinical group applauded the Central Council’s action and wanted to back it with moral and religious encouragement on a European level. He also said that the rabbinical conference had received assurances from Germany’s ambassador to Israel, Andreas Michaelis, that the German government will work on legislation to rectify the legal situation.

Seibert, according to Reuters, said that Merkel’s office would continue to work to resolve the legal issues.

The German Medical Association has advised doctors to not perform circumcisions until the legal questions are resolved, according to Reuters.



Friday, July 13, 2012

A community’s take on genetic tests 

Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn are wrestling with the question of genetic testing -- and what should and should not be revealed to people who use it. The community is using a screening program that targets genetic flaws common among Ashkenazi Jews originating in small, tightly bound communities in Central and Eastern Europe.

Many Jews now get tested to find out if they carry such mutations, but in many Orthodox communities, the kind of screening typically used is complicated by privacy, religious prohibitions, and conflicts with some of their communal values.

So community members came up with a new approach to identify people carrying genetic mutations for diseases who, if they were to marry one another, could result in children with lethal conditions. The program, called Dor Yeshorim ("upright generation" in Hebrew), tests young people for nine conditions common among Ashkenazi Jews and keeps the information in a database. Before a couple is betrothed -- or sometimes even meet -- their families call Dor Yeshorim with identification information and find out whether the couple is "compatible". If they are not, the relationship is usually abandoned.

What is unusual about the program is not what it tells people, but what it doesn't. Rabbi Josef Ekstein, founder of Dor Yeshorim, describes it as a "prevention program." As the Wall Street Journal reports, the purpose of the program is to prevent births of children with a defective genetic condition by pointing out the risks to potential spouses.

The gene-testing field is rife with contention about how much information doctors should reveal to people. Some geneticists argue that scientists still do not grasp the relevance of most gene mutations, and that sharing information whose meaning is uncertain could be harmful. However others believe in a right to know everything, and that withholding information amounts to genomic paternalism. Ekstein argues that too often people don't consider the "negative part of knowing" one is at risk. He argues that equal attention should be paid to "the right not to know".



Thursday, July 12, 2012

US Jewish girl sets weightlifting world record 

A 10-year-old Orthodox  girl from New Jersey is now the world-record holder for weightlifting. Naomi Kutin, also known as "Supergirl" has set the new world record for the 97-pound division raw squat event by lifting 215 pounds at the RAW Unity weightlifting championships in Texas.

Born into a religious Jewish family, the soon-to-be sixth-grader weighs just under 44 kilograms (97 pounds) but somehow managed to lift more than two times her own bodyweight.

Earlier in July, Kutin broke two additional regional records for her age group."It's kind of weird being stronger than an adult," Kutin told the Jewish daily Forward when asked about her unusual powerlifting capabilities.

Kutin began competing two years ago. When she was eight, her father introduced the sport to her after watching her outshine the boys in her karate class. She practices lifting in the family's basement, with her parents encouraging her throughout the way. "Come on, Supergirl," her mother said when Kutin showed signs of struggle. "You can do this. No fear."

The Kutins are a modern Orthodox family from New Jersey. Ed Kutin, the father became religious as an adult, while Neshama, the mother converted from Christianity. They try to refrain from competing on Saturdays in order to observe the Sabbath. The main problem they face is how to get to the competitions when they are held on a Saturday.

Another problem the Kutins face has to do with the physical act of weightlifting. The Torah prohibits carrying objects on the Sabbath to a public area from a private home. "We try to avoid it," Ed Kutin said.

In most competitions, women and adolescents compete on Saturdays and the men compete on Sundays. However, due to the special circumstances, Naomi is forced to lift at the Sunday meets, which are typically filled with muscle-bound, tattooed men.

"They are an unusual look for us," Neshama Kutin said. "It's not like you go to synagogue and see that."

At Yeshivat Noam, Kutin's religious elementary school, Naomi like all the girls there, wears a long, dark skirt that covers her knees. Naomi's powerlifting outfit is a very different look.

According to Neshama Kutin, Naomi's teachers have cheered on her powerlifting, placing a newspaper clipping of one of her record-setting competitions in the hallway trophy case.

Linda Stock, the assistant principal at Yeshivat Noam's elementary school, said that Kutin's athleticism has earned her the admiration of her peers. "The powerlifting apparel," she added, "does not clash with the school's modesty standards."

"I don't think it plays into anything," she said. "We have plenty of kids who wear pants outside of school, or sleeveless shirts. When they come in, they are dressed appropriately."



Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shidduch club looks to make a love connection 

The 15 women sitting around Renee Glick's West Orange living room take
seriously the maxim that if you make three matches, you earn your place
in heaven. Each was serving as a representative for someone looking for
love — a daughter, a friend, a fellow congregant, even someone they had
just met. For 30 seconds, they offered a brief bio of each person on
their lists.

"This is E.R. She is 23, Modern Orthodox machmir," or religiously strict, said one of the women, holding up a photo and reading from a brief bio.

She then went on to describe where "E.R." lives, where she went to
yeshiva, where she attends synagogue, and what she does for a living.

"She's an easy-going and positive person with a sense of humor," said
the woman. E.R., she added, is "looking for a real mensch, mature,
responsible, who values emes [the truth]…and has a positive attitude and a sense of tsnius [modesty] in the way he behaves."

Others in the circle described "a 38-year-old Lubavitchba'al teshuva," or newly Orthodox Jew, as well as never-marrieds, the recently
divorced, and widows and widowers variously described as "beautiful,"
"bubbly," and "yeshivish."

And so it went, at the third meeting of the Shidduch Project of West
Orange and Livingston, a matchmaking club that recalls an era before
JDate and other websites usurped the roles of community shadhanim.

Begun about six months ago by Glick, a resident of West Orange and
member of Congregation Ahawas Achim B'nai Jacob & David, it joins
matchmaking clubs all over the east coast, including the North Jersey
Shidduch Club. While there are on-line dating services serving the
Orthodox community — including frumster.com and sawyouatsinai.com — the shidduch club aims to be a grassroots response to what some call a "matchmaking
crisis" in the Orthodox community. In short: The pool is too small, the
expectations of single people can be too high, and modern matchmaking
has lost the heimische touch.

"There seems to be a growing number of people who are single in our
area," Glick said. "And this is such an easy mitzva with the ability to
change people's lives."
Still, she was wary in forming the club.

"I've been to shidduch club meetings before, and they can be
so depressing, with all these mothers representing their daughters. And
you get 20 guys and 120 girls," said Glick.

While women are welcome to present their daughters, Glick said, she is
trying to right the gender imbalance by actively tapping into the young
men in her own community.

"I go to shul on Shabbos and walk around after the kiddush, talking up
the young guys to get their single friends. The best way to tap into the guys is to go through their friends," she said.

So far, her list includes 60 women and 40 men.

At the most recent meeting, the women offered a few tidbits about
various candidates. They passed around photos and exchanged meaningful
looks, and occasionally whispered the name of someone they thought might be a good match or scribbled a note about whom to contact. Those
seeking a match ranged in age from 19 to 71.

Among the singles were a regional bank manager, a speech therapist, a
nurse, and a teacher. Some were young and probably didn't need the
services of the shidduch group as much as older candidates looking for companionship did.

On this particular day, most of the people being presented were
Orthodox, ranging from "very modern" to "black hat." There were one or
two liberal Jews for good measure. And while most were from the
Livingston and West Orange Orthodox communities, there was at least one
person from Elizabeth.
At previous meetings, according to Glick, there was more denominational diversity, enabling her to fix up, for example, a man from the
Conservative Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell with a woman from
Temple B'nai Abraham, an independent liberal synagogue in Livingston.

So far the group has arranged at least a few dates, but no weddings — yet; Glick remains hopeful.

Barbara Listhaus of Livingston shares Glick's enthusiasm. She comes to
the meetings with her smartphone in hand, scrolling back and forth
through her own lists. She has already made dates for six people
presented at previous meetings — including one couple that had been
fixed up in the past. So far, none blossomed into relationships, but,
like Glick, she persists.

After the presentations, the women exchanged information and possible matches over dessert.

In addition to these meetings, Glick keeps a data base of the people
who have been presented. For each person, a form must be filled out that includes more information than can be offered in 30 seconds —
everything from religious affiliation to specific levels of observance
to height and eye color. One man — described as a "very good looking
guy" — specified that he was looking for a woman who doesn't restrict
her wardrobe to skirts, doesn't insist on covering her hair if she
marries, and doesn't have more than one child already.

Although the forms are very specific, Glick wonders if all the
information encourages people looking for dates to narrow their criteria too far. "What happened to just getting set up with people with similar values and seeing what happens?" she wondered aloud.

The group is still in its infancy, and the next meeting will be just
for administrators and synagogue representatives to refine the process
and work on networking with larger organizations, such as North Jersey
Shidduch Club and YU Connects, the matchmaking effort of Yeshiva

Sitting in on the meeting is enough to make almost anyone start
thumbing through those mental address books, looking for a match.
L.W., if you are reading this, are you interested in E.R., described above?

The next open gathering has not been scheduled, but will be held in early August or September.



Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dancing Hasidic Robots Ask Us To 'Hang Up The Phone' In Gaga-Esque Music Video 

Apparently Lipa Schmeltzer is a Hasidic pop super-star. I'm not very
current on what's trending in Hasidic circles, and I'm hopelessly bad at anything related to pop music, so I'm going off of the word on the
proverbial street here. But I do have a definite phone addiction. A
hopeless dependence on my "other wife" (according to my wife, at least.)

This is an all-too-common affliction these days, but especially among  internet types like me whose job relies on staying hyper-connected as
much as possible.
This is a bizarre Lady Gaga-esque video, made the more so by its
somewhat conservative message juxtaposed against dancing Hasidic robots. For those of us who are not Orthodox Jews and speak very little Hebrew, its bilingualism makes it all the more dizzying (though I imagine many
in the Hasidic community would find the video off-putting as well.)

Aside from it simply not being my cup of musical tea, I think Lipa's
made a lyrical mistake. "Hang up the phone" won't do the trick. How many of you actually spend all that much time talking on the phone any more? How often do you find yourself in a position where you might need to
"hang up" anything?
Personally, I spend more time texting, Tweeting, and browsing the
internet than I do talking. Lipa addresses these other issues, of
course, but his chorus (and title) miss the boat.



Breaking From Hasidism, Online 

In my Hasidic community, people knew me as
the young newlywed, mother of one, daughter of so-and-so, and married to such-and-such, with a scarf over my head and an apartment in the new
development. But on the Internet, I was anonymous. I was anyone. I was
everyone. I was a mystery, and I was hidden. I was whoever I wanted to
be, and I could say whatever I wanted to say without fear.

I didn't intend to create this dual identity. I hadn't been prepared
for what could happen to Hasidic life in the Internet age, because no
one knew. My husband purchased a laptop with Internet access for some
business ventures, and when I used it I chanced upon some blogs by
fellow Hasidim and soon after created my own. It was an impulsive act.
The topics of conversation online were enthralling and broke every
taboo. It broke the prohibition of men and women conversing and
shmoozing, it broke the barriers that divide those who left from those
who are in the community. It gave anyone a space to be heretical and
outrageous without the social repercussions that usually come with it:
ostracization, having your children expelled from the Hasidic schools or even worse, your parents sitting shiva over you.

The social environment online was diverse and gritty, and I was there anonymously. I could finally say things, express my opinions and
confusion and use my own voice, which had been trained to be silent. No
one knew or would ever know that indeed I was so-and-so's daughter, the
pious-looking woman who swayed to and fro in prayer like everyone else
in synagogue. Under the guise of an authorial pseudonym, I commented,
posted, and debated. Not for many months after I began blogging did I
realized that my little literary adventures on the Internet—on those
dawns while the challah was rising and my Hasidic family was still fast
asleep—were life-changing acts.

The contrast of my Internet and Hasidic identities was dramatic. By
day, I shopped with my friends in the busy shopping center where we
looked for the finest ingredients for our gourmet cooking while we
talked in Yiddish about our babies' eating habits and our husbands'
eating preferences, both of which we were expected to please. By night,
or by dawn, or sometimes even all night, I sat with the laptop and
wrote. With time, I wrote less and read more. Then I read even less and
began thinking more—much more.

I was not raised to think. I knew what I needed to know: about tznius and that modesty is, or should be, my most important preoccupation. I
knew that striving to have seven or 10 or a dozen children and being a
good and pious homemaker is the pinnacle of achievement for a woman, the thing I was brought into this world to accomplish. Secular education
was frowned upon. More than frowned upon: Being educated, oifgeklert,
was a shame, a blight on the family. There was the very bare minimum of
secular education, of course: reading and writing and elementary math.
But even that was an afterthought. Fear of God, being a good girl, and
growing up a pious Hasidic woman was the meat and potatoes of our

On the Internet, I cared about so many topics, yet knew that I still
knew so little. The world, the physical boundaries, the world of ideas,
the world of dangerous questions and of even more dangerous answers
seemed big, wide, and endless. It was a world of things I never imagined and never even dared to try and imagine.
I got to know some people on the Internet. A rabbi from Brooklyn,
father of six children, emailed me that he read my questions about the
prohibition on birth control and that he would be glad to show me the
rabbinic sources on the matter and that a lot of what I was taught in my Hasidic girl's school might be not be true. A woman, Modern Orthodox,
responded to my description of the Hasidic ritual of shaving the head by asking, "Why in the world do you do it?"
Because you have to, I said.

"Because we have to!" my husband said, stunned and frightened, when I later asked why I needed to do these things. But by then his answer
wasn't enough for me. I had new answers that I learned online in
conversation, there in the cloud, inside the boundaries of my
10-x-12-inch screen, where there were pseudonyms and no walls.

Eventually my thoughts began to come fast, new and sharp and
revelatory. Every day when I woke up the world looked somehow different, a tad tilted, the effects of the change in rotation, from the sun
around the earth to earth around the sun. I lay in bed lost in thought,
the paradigm shift making me woozy. I thought about evolution and rabbis and choice. I thought about my parents my husband and my son and how
devastated my family would be. I thought about myself and my
possibilities, for the first time in my life.

In the community individuality was impossible. Not that thinking is
necessarily proscribed. But striving for anything not explicitly prescribed by the community is just … weird. Why would someone want to do anything else? Where, indeed, would they get these foreign ideas from? Being an
artist or a scientist or a lawyer or a doctor or a garbage collector was unthinkable. These career options were for those other people, those
living on the outside, just on the periphery of our awareness. Those
poor souls not lucky enough to know what the bashefer truly wanted of
us. For those of us growing up on the inside it was impossible to
imagine even wanting to be any of those things, or even wanting anything at all. Wanting was irrelevant. You were going to be what you were
taught to be, and that was that.
What I read online shocked me, but it also clung to me. It wasn't
right that I should keep having children, that I should never go to
college, that I should decide who my son should marry upon his 18th
birthday. "Because we have to" suddenly rang hollow, because what we
have to do is live our 70 years of life with a few messy mistakes and
the lessons learned and in the process figure out who we are and who we
want to be.

My deviances grew larger, and the tolerance for my deviance from
family and community grew smaller. When I boarded the bus and got a
copper birth-control device at Planned Parenthood, the pit in my stomach told me that this is the beginning of the end, that I was growing out
of the community. One early morning, while the laptop lay on the floor
between our beds, my husband packed his tzitzit, his black hats, his
long coats, and the white socks, and left me for good. My heart ached
with terror and longing but I couldn't cry. I couldn't run after him and stop him because I had logged into the world of knowledge, and I knew
my innocence, like my marriage, was gone forever.

I left the community with my son, taking our computer along. We left
for the world outside, for the world I had glimpsed through my computer
screen. Now in a different world, I am not the daughter of so-and-so
with the headscarf anymore, but I continue to don the cloak of anonymity in order to visit, and comment upon, the worlds of my past and my
future that merge and coalesce on the Internet. I cling to the hope that if I take off the veil slowly, and very gently, my family will be able
to see me and come to terms with who I am.

I watch the numbers of venues and voices from the Hasidic community
online grow, as more Hasidim leave the community and many, many more
acquire web-enabled handheld devices. Online I find a smorgasbord of
debaters on literary sites and blogs, Twitter and Facebook groups and
Yiddish journals, where bigotry mixes with tolerance, misogyny mixes
with feminism, and debates take the tone for which Jews are notorious.

We often discuss the future of Hasidism in the Internet age, at a
time when you need only a few dollars to get a touch-screen phone, when
the walls Hasidism erected in the past century can no longer keep the
world out. The Internet can't be banned, like other mediums of secular
influence, despite attempts by rabbis to do so. It has become a
necessary part of life and of earning a living.

With the Internet, certain Hasidic communities will have to find a
better way to educate their youth than through enforced ignorance. A
belief system that is so easily refuted and based on so much
misinformation cannot withstand Wikipedia and Google. Times are changing for a community that has been fighting time. In the age of the
Internet, the Hasidism that I grew up in, and married in, and had
children in, now belongs to the past.



Monday, July 09, 2012

New York wants to ban Jewish circumcision ritual 

A controversial Jewish circumcision
practice in which the blood of a baby's cut penis is sucked by a
religious leader has been condemned after the deaths of two infants.

The 'metzitzah b'peh' performed by ultra Orthodox Jews sees the eight-day
old baby have a traditional circumcision but the 'mohel' then places his mouth around the wound and sucks up the blood.

But the practice - intended to prevent infection - has sparked controversy
in recent years after the death of two infants and the contraction of
herpes in at least 11 others between November 2000 and December 2011.

Heath chiefs in New York are now
pushing through regulation forcing anybody wishing to have the procedure
carried out on their babies to sign a consent waiver.

But some Orthodox Jews have complained about the measures claiming that they infringe on their 'religious freedom'.
Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of Talmudic Law and Bioethics at Yeshiva University, told KTLA that the practice was 'primitive nonsense'.
ritual has nothing to do with religion. It's only their customs. But
they've managed to convince the city that it's a violation of their
religious freedoms,' he added.

rituals originate from Scriptures, in which God tells Abraham that all
men must be circumcised eight days after they are born.
believed that blood was the 'life-giving element' and sucking it from
the baby's penis was initially thought to prevent infection.
medical advances over the last hundred years have made clear that it
can actually spread diseases. It is practiced widely in Israel and among
Hasidic Jews.

Numbers of cases in New York alone
emerged after the city's health department launched an investigation
following the deaths. The most recent of the deaths was in Brooklyn last September and a criminal investigation is still ongoing.

The earlier death was in November 2004, when a twin caught herpes after undergoing the procedure. The other survived.
Almost 20,500 baby boys had the procedure carried out in New York in June this year.

According to the findings of the
investigation, infants who were circumcise with suction between April
2006 and December 2012 had a risk of catching neonatal herpes (HSV-1)
infection of 24.4 per 100,000 cases.

New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said in a statement:
'There is no safe way to perform oral suction on any open wound in a

considering ritual circumcision need to know that circumcision should
only be performed under sterile conditions, like any other procedures
that create open cuts, whether by mohelim or medical professionals.'

Jeffrey Mazlin, a certified mohel and physician in New York who regularly
practices circumcision procedures, said Orthodox Jews look view the
religion as 'more important than individuals'.

'Because blood is the life-giving element, they believe that it's supposed to be part of the whole procedure,' he said, adding that there were 'no known medical benefits'.

alternative to the practitioner removing the blood with their mouth is
to use a sterilised glass tube or pipette to create the suction, which
some Jews have started incorporating into the ritual.

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Daniel S. Berman defended the practice in a
paper published in the Jewish journal Dialogue. He claimed there is no
evidence that the 'metzitzah b'peh' procedures caused the infant deaths.

Dr Berman also accused New York government chiefs of 'racial bias'.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2170825/New-York-wants-ban-Jewish-circumcision-ritual-causes-fatal-HERPES-babies.html#ixzz207yGCqjx


Sunday, July 08, 2012

Tales of the shmatte business and one family’s RV vacation 

Sunday, July 8, day three of the Jerusalem Film Festival, offered a mix of movies focusing on Jewish America and Israelis vacationing in the US.

11:30 am brought me to the Cinematheque for the festival’s first of three showings of “Dressing America: Tales from the Garment Center,” a nearly hour-long documentary about how entrepreneurial Jews helped build New York’s garment business, known to many as the shmatte business. I had starred this movie during my first perusal of my now-worn screening guide, because I tend to be interested in anything dealing with the fashion industry, whether Israeli, American or European.

The documentary offers a fairly comprehensive look at the industry’s growth in New York, from the Lower East Side sweatshops of the last 19th century to the gradual creation of retailers and designers that form the bulwark of today’s fashion industry. It doesn’t delve into the development of department stores, an interesting facet of the fashion world at one time, nor did the filmmakers snag interviews with the Jewish titans of the fashion world, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein or Donna Karan, who all got their start in the simpler side of the shmatte business. But the movie is enjoyable nonetheless, and elicits more than a few laughs.

I was back at the Cinematheque in the evening — the main theaters being used for this year’s festival are the Cinematheque, the Begin Center across the street and the relatively nearby Smadar theater on Lloyd George Street in the German Colony — for the showing of “Family Time,” an intensely personal documentary by Nitzan Gilady about his family’s RV trip to the Grand Canyon over one long Passover week.

In spite of the fact that the audience was filled with family members, friends and members of the production team for this first-time screening, it was impossible not to be drawn into this intimate portrait of an Israeli family of Yemenite descent. There are certain indelibly Israeli jokes, such as their ritualistic cracking of sunflower seeds or the can of Elite instant coffee that is brought along on the trip, but there are the common family themes as well, from the way the parents and three adult sons poke fun at one another to the difficult conversations that are held over the course of the week. And in typical Jerusalem Film Festival form, Gilady got his time at the podium, handing out flower bouquets to his parents, brothers and production team.



Saturday, July 07, 2012

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks attacked over gay marriage opposition 

A group of prominent community figures have admonished Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks for opposing plans to allow civil marriage for gays and lesbians.

In a letter to the JC, the Jewish human rights organisation Réné Cassin and 22 lawyers, academics and other individuals, including actor Stephen Fry, declared that it was "a matter of great regret that Lord Sacks has chosen to make a statement in his official capacity opposing the right of gay and lesbian men and women to marry".

Other signatories included author Lisa Appignanesi, communications expert Julia Hobsbawm, Times executive editor Daniel Finkelstein, lawyer Anthony Julius, who is chairman of the JC, and Dinah Rose QC, the barrister who successfully challenged JFS's exclusion of the children of non-Orthodox converts.

They wrote: "Even if same-sex marriage is contrary to Jewish law, it does not compromise the position of Orthodox Jews to let others marry as they wish."

Jewish law, they said, should "play no part in a modern secular society in restricting the lives of non-Jews - and Jews - who do not accept its restraints".

Arguing that the Chief Rabbi should have refrained from public comment, they said: "Speaking when silence is required is no virtue."

Both the Reform and Liberal movements have backed the proposal for equal marriage, arguing that it does not go far enough in allowing only civil, but not religious, marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
But the Chief Rabbi, in a joint response from his rabbinical court, the London Beth Din and the United Synagogue rabbinate to a government consultation, contended that marriage was a sacred union between a man and a woman and any redefinition would undermine it.

The Chief Rabbi had been urged for several months by other Orthodox rabbis to take a stand on the issue, especially after the Catholic Church strongly condemned the proposals.

He declined to comment on this week's letter.

Some of those who signed it, while doing so in a personal capacity, hold senior communal roles.Clive Sheldon QC is co-chairman of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues - which has taken no public position on the question of same-sex marriage - while solicitor James Libson sits on the Jewish Leadership Council as chairman of World Jewish Relief.

Mr Sheldon said that the Chief Rabbi had been "ill-judged" to speak "when he didn't need to give a response. If it were something that directly affected his [own Orthodox] community, that would be different."
Mr Sheldon, who is a member of a liaison committee for Orthodox and non-Orthodox synagogue movements, said that there had been "no cross-communal discussion about this as far as I am aware".
Simone Abel, director of Réné Cassin, said that since the government was planning no change to religious marriage, "we think it was entirely unnecessary for the Beth Din to weigh in on the proposed reforms, which will have no impact on Jewish marriage.

"Quite apart from the fact that the position stated by the Beth Din is not universally accepted amongst religious Jews, it is hard to see how the consequence of stating this position will be anything other than to alienate sections of the Jewish community."

Offering same-sex couples civil marriage was, she said, "a step towards ending discrimination" .
But the Federation Beth Din head, Dayan Yisroel Lichtenstein, came to Lord Sacks's defence.
"The Chief Rabbi is someone who speaks on moral issues and ethical values," he said.
"By virtue of his position, he represents the Torah point of view. There is an obligation on Jewish people, as we consider ourselves as a beacon of morality to the world, to teach what is right and what is wrong."



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