Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chag Sameach 


Don't Throw Out That Sukkah! This 'Shadchan' Will Find It A New Home 

When Avi Weiss was a kid growing up in a Williamsburg apartment, he and his family were guests in other people’s sukkahs, but never had their own.

That changed when he bought his own house in Flatbush as an adult in 1977.

A few years after buying his first sukkah, Weiss and his family felt the need to upgrade as prefabricated offerings increased, and bought a larger, sturdier model. But given his reverence for the traditional hut, he was reluctant to simply toss it to the curb.

 “I knew someone could use it, so I put an ad in one of the local papers,” recalled Weiss, (who should not be confused with the activist rabbi of the Hebrew Institiute of Riverdale by the same name.)

The 63-year-old founder of a medical testing company that screens life insurance applicants gave away that sukkah to the first caller and was happy to have done a mitzvah.

But the calls kept coming.

That’s when his daughter, Bracha Leah, then 14, had the idea to put another ad in the paper looking for used sukkahs with the intention of matching them to sukkah seekers.

And the Sukkah Shadchan was born.

For the past eight years, the Weiss family home on East 9th Street has become a clearinghouse for sukkah trafficking, sometimes matching up to 65 units with grateful new owners.

And through it all, no money changes hands.

“If someone has that old Sukkah lying around in the garage we can put it to use,” says Weiss. “Over the years word got out and we started getting calls beginning Rosh Chodesh Elul [the start of the holidays season]. We started to keep a list.” No more advertising --  word of mouth does the trick these days.

The operation was and remains low-tech and extremely low budget. There is no Web site or hotline, just the family’s home number, 718 998-6596. No Excel spreadsheets or even computers involved, just pens and yellow index cards in plastic trays organized on the dining room table by neighborhoods: Borough Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg, Monsey, The Five Towns, Far Rockaway.etc. A New Jersey tray includes Teaneck, Elizabeth and Lakweood calls. Another tray is for "miscellaneous." The farthest call came one year from Toronto.

“We try to keep people in the same neighborhood,” says Weiss. “Sometimes if we know a family has a special need we will bump them up ahead in the list.”

One year the Weiss family got two calls from Monsey, a donor and a seeker, and discovered that the families were next-door neighbors. “They had to go through Brooklyn to get in touch with each other,” said Weiss with a laugh.

In addition to sukkahs, the Shadchan [matchmaker] also matches organic roof material, or schach, such as bamboo rods or rolled mats with new owners.

Full disclosure: The Sukkah Shadchan helped this writer obtain a free  8x10 schach matt, saving him the retail cost of $88-$120. Customer service was excellent. After arrangements were made with a Flatbush resident for pickup, one of Weiss’s daughters followed up to make sure the transaction was going smoothly.

As his family grows, Weiss is bringing new members into the operation, most recently his grandson, Aron Lowenthal, 16. They hope the operation will one day “go global,” serving Jewish communities around the world.

"I deputized him," said Weiss. "He ran the show this year."

"It feels good to help people," said Aron, who hung up signs at his yeshiva, Torah Temima, soliciting used sukkahs.

The Shadchan operation not only saves people money and helps them observe the mitzvah but also helps the environment by reducing trash in landfills and fulfills the Jewish custom of ba’al taschis, avoiding wastefulness.

Selling new sukkas, especially in Brooklyn, is a year-round, highly profitable business. But Weiss says no one minds that he is taking a small bite out of the industry. He sometimes gives his card to sukkah salesmen to give out to people upgrading with new sukkahs who are disposing of the old model.

This year's total, as of Sunday morning, was 49 matches made. On Sunday, Weiss was still getting calls from last-minute builders who change their plans or find their existing sukkahs unusable.

“My wife is always glad when she lights candles on Sukkos [evening],” he says with a laugh. “The phone finally stops ringing.”



Saturday, September 29, 2012

Peter Praeger, a Surgeon With a Health Food Company, Dies at 65 

Dr. Peter Praeger, a heart surgeon who saved a man’s life and as a result wound up owning a gefilte fish company — and who as a result of that wound up starting a successful natural-foods company — died on Sept. 22 in Hackensack, N.J. He was 65.

The cause has not been determined, his wife, Nurit, said. Dr. Praeger, who lived in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.

At his death, Dr. Praeger was a co-chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center. He was also president and chief executive of Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, a maker of frozen natural foods, including veggie burgers and meatless chicken, sold in supermarkets and health-food stores in the United States and abroad.

Though the story of Dr. Praeger’s company — born of two rabbinical prognostications, any number of hairpin turns of fate and the transformative realization that man cannot live by gefilte fish alone — reads like something out of Sholem Aleichem, it began, no less, on a Christmas Eve.

The time was the late 1980s, and Dr. Praeger was then on the staff of Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y. That December night, he was called in with his colleague, Dr. Eric Somberg, to perform emergency surgery. The patient, who had been hit by a drunken driver, had a ruptured aorta, and his life was at risk.

Through the surgeons’ efforts the man’s life was saved, although he was left unable to move his arms and legs. The patient’s brother-in-law, Rubin Ungar, told Dr. Praeger that the family rabbi predicted he would regain the use of his limbs. As a man of science, Dr. Praeger discounted the idea, as did the neurologist he consulted.

The patient regained the use of his limbs.

Several years went by. Then one day in the early 1990s, Dr. Praeger received a call from Mr. Ungar, whom he had befriended in the course of treating his brother-in-law.

The patient was fine, but Mr. Ungar’s gefilte fish company was in trouble. The family rabbi had made another prediction: Any surgeon smart enough to save his congregant’s life would be smart enough to save his congregant’s brother-in-law’s gefilte fish company.

Dr. Praeger demurred: he was, after all, a surgeon, not a fish maven. Mr. Ungar persisted.

What was more, Dr. Praeger did not like gefilte fish, the pale, perennial Ashkenazi appetizer made from poached ground fish.

But who, in the end, can fly in the face of rabbinical foreordination?

“It was like ‘The Godfather,’ ” Dr. Praeger told the magazine New Jersey Monthly in 2007. “They pulled me into it.”

Peter Ivan Praeger was born in Budapest on Sept. 20, 1947. After the Hungarian uprising of 1956, his family left for the United States, settling first in Newark and then in Queens. His father worked as a baker and later opened a men’s clothing store in Harlem.

Peter Praeger earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Bridgeport and an M.D. from New York Medical College. At Hackensack, his responsibilities included implanting left ventricular assist devices, used to aid patients whose hearts are failing.

In the early ’90s, Drs. Praeger and Somberg became partners in Ungar’s Gefilte Fish. They soon realized that the company’s raison d’être was also its undoing.

“Unfortunately,” Dr. Praeger told the industry magazine Food and Drink in 2010, “the only product he was making at that time was gefilte fish.”

In 1994, the two doctors bought the company and gradually developed a line of meatless frozen foods. All are kosher, made from natural ingredients and low in cholesterol and saturated fat.

Dr. Praeger’s first marriage, to Ellen Epstein, ended in divorce. Besides his wife, the former Nurit Gavrielli, he is survived by their daughter, Lexy, and son, Tommy; three children from his first marriage, Larry, Danielle and Jonathan Praeger; a sister, Eva Freed; and two grandchildren.

Today, Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods, based in Elmwood Park, N.J., is a multimillion-dollar concern, selling its wares throughout the United States — retail outlets include Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Zabar’s — as well as in Canada, South America and Israel. Its product line includes falafel, Tex-Mex veggie burgers and sweet potato pancakes.

It also includes gefilte fish, which Dr. Praeger came to love.



421 Kent Street Sells for $40 Million 

It wasn’t clear immediately who the identity of the buyer was, though speculation has swirled whether it is a member of that area’s Hasidic community. The site can accommodate about 400,000 square feet of residential space, but has a restriction penciled into its deed that disallows more than 216 apartments to built on the site, a relatively sparse number of units considering the size of a potential project – the parcel is about two acres in size.

The cap on apartments was a move by former owner Isaac Hager to keep the property in the cloistered Hasidic community, which typically have large families and would seek out the kind of spacious units such a project could create. Mr. Hager eventually lost control of the site to his lender, Manchester Real Estate & Construction, according to written reports. Manchester was the seller in the current deal.

Bob Knakal, chairman of the brokerage company Massey Knakal, led a company team that handled the sale of the property. Mr. Knakal confirmed he was handling the deal but said he couldn’t comment on whether the property had yet traded hands.



Friday, September 28, 2012

Visiting Hasidic Jews Forced To Vacate Brooklyn Basement 

When NY1 approached 899 Montgomery Street, workers were replacing the lock on the basement door to enforce the city's vacate order.

Most legitimate residents we spoke with had no idea what the city says was illegally going on below them.

"I'm just surprised," said one. "I didn't even know that was there, that the door was there."

The door, building inspectors say, is the only way in or out of the basement. The New York City Department of Buildings says the owner illegally converted the cellar into a transient hotel with more than 100 beds.

"That's ridiculous and no one in here knows that," said one resident. "That's putting people at risk. And what kind of people they putting in there?"

The people staying there were dozens of Hasidic Jews from Israel, observing the High Holy days with a Lubavitch Rabbi.

They learned about the vacate order late Thursday and removed luggage, foam mattresses and even wooden beds from the basement.

Some neighbors say they knew something was suspicious.

"You see how things happen right in front of your face, you don't know what's going on," said one. "I knew something was fishy though."

Some say they've seen the visitors outside for a few weeks now. An employee of the building says the owner opens the basement door to visitors every year for the holidays.

"The guests were not worried that they only had one way to escape the basement if there
was a fire.

"God should help," said one. "Once the Messiah will come, we'll have this whole building."

The pilgrims were confident they'd find another place to stay within the community but wouldn't say where.

The building's owner, Clean Realty, faces two building violations, for working without a permit and the illegal conversion. NY1 was unable to reach the company for comment.



Thursday, September 27, 2012

Senior Rabbi Orders Burning Of iPhone 

Rabbi takes a hammer to an iPhone

Apple's Israeli market share might take a serious beating after public censure from one of the country's most senior haredi rabbis.

Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, whom many place in the top five most influential rabbis in Israel, issued a notice on Sunday calling for iPhone owners to burn their devices.

The edict, published on the front page of the influential haredi newspaper Yated Ne-eman, as well as in other orthodox dailies said that the iPhone was forbidden. Kanievsky compared the phones to weapons of war in their potential to cause harm. Kanievsky said that this ruling came about after businessmen asked him if iPhones were allowed under Jewish law.

This pronouncement is just one of a series of blows waged by ultra-orthodox rabbis. Smartphones and the Internet have both attracted the ire of rabbis because they permit easy access to pornography and sources of information from outside the strictures of the orthodox domain.

Many among the ultra-orthodox Jews have so-called "kosher cellphones", with no internet connection or text message facility.

September 12 saw Rabbi Lior Glazer holding a ritual iPhone destruction ceremony in Bnei Brak in response to the malign influence of these phones. The Eda Haredit communal organization has banned the use of iPhone, Blackberry and Android smartphones due to the "spiritual holocaust" they have visited upon people.

The main concern among orthodox Jews is the ready access to uncensored information, according to Professor Yedidya Stern, director of the Israel democracy Institute's Religion and State project. This is an even bigger concern than pornography.

"Haredim seek to isolate themselves from the world, but using an iPhone or any other type of smartphone can, with the flick of a finger and in a split second, give someone access to all kinds of information and values to which they were never before exposed," he added.

Before the Internet, haredi communities relied solely on rabbinic leadership for information and guidance. Television, secular newspapers, libraries and other sources of uncensored or unapproved information was prohibited. Smartphones offer unfettered access to the outside world. Professor Stern added that unlike TVs, smartphones with Internet access are easy to conceal and therefore harder to monitor and stamp out.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Successful Yom Kippur Fast, With a Medical Assist 

It will look like a scene out of a hospital ward.

In a basement room crowded with medical equipment, about 20 people at one time — sick, pregnant, frail and elderly, or on lifesaving medication — will be hooked up to intravenous drips on Wednesday to receive nutrients they need to get through the day.

The unlikely setting will be the main synagogue of the Bobov Hasidic sect, a cavernous house of worship in Borough Park, Brooklyn, that sets up hospital beds and intravenous drips in advance of the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The patients will be frail Orthodox Jews trying to make it, with a little boost, through a day of religiously required fasting.

In recent years, hundreds of frail Jews have turned to intravenous feeding on Yom Kippur, which begins Tuesday at sundown and ends 25 hours later, to avoid violating the prohibition against eating on the holiest days of the Jewish calendar.

“It’s not considered eating if it goes through a vein,” said Yitzchok Fleischer, who inaugurated the program 10 years ago and has seen participation rise sharply. “You’re not supposed to take anything through the mouth or stomach. Anything. Even if you’re allowed to, nobody wants to eat.”

Though some might see the practice as exploiting a religious loophole, it is actually testimony to the lengths some scrupulously Orthodox Jews are willing to go to make sure they do not violate religious guidelines.

Fasting on Yom Kippur is one of those totemic commandments that endure generation after generation when other religious obligations wither away, and even many Jews who do almost nothing Jewish the rest of the year fast. A 2011 study of the New York-area Jewish community sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York found that 61 percent of those surveyed fasted all day on Yom Kippur.

Rabbis have traditionally allowed exceptions for those who are frail or ill, encouraging people to eat rather than gamble with their health. Some Jews ignore their cautions, which explains why Yom Kippur is one of the busiest days of the year for Hatzolah, the volunteer ambulance corps located in many Jewish communities; too many elderly or sick people try imprudently to fast. Yet many of those who are rigorously Orthodox say they feel guilty for breaking the tribal taboo against eating.

Enter Mr. Fleischer, who is active in the Bobov sect’s communal efforts to aid the sick and homebound. Ten years ago, after a frail friend told him that he needed an intravenous feeding to get through the day, Mr. Fleischer, with the help of Maimonides Medical Center nearby, set up virtual clinics at the Bobov synagogue, five other locations and people’s homes. Medical technicians at the clinics administer IV nutrient drips as worshipers lie on 20 hospital cots for half an hour or so each before returning to prayer.

Last year, 200 people used the service. All those participating must orally certify that they have received permission to do so from both a rabbi and a doctor. Healthy Jews are usually excluded.

“Everyone is a difficult case,” Mr. Fleischer said. “It’s not a loophole.”

Although people have long arranged for such drips on their own and there is a similar program in the Hasidic neighborhood of Williamsburg, the scope of Mr. Fleischer’s synagogue-based program is striking.

Mr. Fleischer, a father of nine, said he spoke to three “big rabbis” and all approved the program as complying with Halakha — Jewish law.

“It’s very hard for a person who has always fasted to face the reality of a situation where they have to eat,” he said. “This way they still feel they fasted and Halakhically, they didn’t eat. The mouth is still dry.”

The Bible commands Jews to “afflict your soul” on Yom Kippur as a sign of atonement, and while it does not specifically mention fasting, the commandment has come down to mean acts of repentance like fasting, the wearing of leatherless shoes and abstinence from sexual relations.

Since preservation of life trumps almost any other commandment, rabbis have long held that the frail and those on crucial medications are not only permitted to eat, but also obligated to do so, said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the rabbinical administrator of the Orthodox Union. But because violating a fast is stressful for many observant Jews, some rabbis will, depending on their custom, recommend, for example, eating no more than the size of a large date at intervals of about nine minutes or drinking less than a cheekful of water. Others urge all necessary consumption of food.

So important is the accurate application of Jewish law in this matter that the days before Yom Kippur are a busy time for many rabbinical scholars who answer queries from worried Jews.

Rabbi Gavriel Zinner, a highly respected posek — the Hebrew word for the equivalent of a legal “decider” who applies Jewish law to specific — often ambiguous, cases, sets aside specific times for queries at his synagogue in Borough Park. At his side are Orthodox Jewish doctors who help him with the information he needs to make a determination on breaking the fast for those who need to eat for medical reasons.

Many rabbis have allowed intravenous feeding, even though, according to Web sites on Jewish law, one of the most respected deciders, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who died in 1986, ruled that eating was preferable to an intravenous drip, partly because it is forbidden to inflict a wound other than for healing.

Mr. Fleischer was born in Argentina where his parents, immigrants from Poland, settled after World War II. He operates a jewelry booth in the diamond district, on West 47th Street. In his spare time, he is the founder and executive director of the Bikur Cholim D’Bobov, which provides visits to the homebound, financial assistance with medical bills and food packages.

Mr. Fleischer has also organized non-Jewish pediatricians to tend to sick Jewish children on Yom Kippur and other holidays so their parents will not have to wait for hours in hospital emergency rooms.

“Life is not just eating, davening and sleeping,” he said, using the Yiddish word for praying. “You’ve got to do something for other people.”



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


Protest Held Against Orthodox Jewish Ritual Involving Live Chickens 

The local Jewish community is divided over the ritual sacrifice of chickens on the eve of Yom Kippur, with some activists calling it a cruel, outdated practice.

During kaparot, a ceremony practiced by some Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, the birds are grabbed by the wings and waved over a person's head during chanting prayers for mercy and peace.

However, protesters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn told NY1 on Monday the ancient practice is inhumane and illegal, and the chickens are often mistreated until the ceremonies.

Supporters say the birds are donated to food charities, while critics say is better to give money to the charity rather than to slaughter the birds.

"I did kaparot with money, and when the money is used, it's then donated to a poor person. And the money you have to use is the price of chicken," said protester Keith Sanders.

"The same Torah that tells us not to be cruel to animals is the same one that tells us to do this commandment. We're elevating the chicken by giving it to poor people to eat from it," said Yossi Brysky, who participated in the ritual.

Kaparot is performed on the eve of the Jewish day of atonement.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Town, Village of Woodbury reject annexation request by Kiryas Joel, developer 

Two of the three municipalities asked by a developer and the Village of Kiryas Joel to shift 14 acres from Woodbury into Monroe have now turned down the request.

The Woodbury Town Board voted 4-0 against the annexation petition Thursday night, a little over a week after the Village of Woodbury's board took the same action. That leaves only the Monroe Town Board, which must decide within two weeks.

The property included in the petition is just outside Kiryas Joel and consists of nearly 13 undeveloped acres and an adjacent home that businessman Ziggy Brach owns and a half-acre parcel on which Kiryas Joel has two water-storage tanks.



Sunday, September 23, 2012

New York Post Attempts to Deliver Jewish Themed Welcome Basket to Ahmadinejad 

“This isn’t gonna happen. You have to go,” staff at the New York Post were told by a Secret Service agent, when they tried to deliver a Jewish themed welcome basket to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at his believed midtown hotel lodgings.

The rejected package included a $125 ticket to off-Broadway play “Old Jews Telling Jokes” which was booked in his name, Gold’s Borscht, Manischewitz Gefilte Fish and a brochure for the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. “The Holocaust denier might want to learn something about the subject,” writes the Post.

A card included in the basket carried greeting from New Yorkers, mostly in the form of sarcastic insults.

“Happy New Year 5773. Available for counseling if you need it,” wrote Alan Hifler, a psychologist, ”We’d gladly burn your tongue with coffee,” a woman added.

Although the Drudge Report cited a “source” yesterday claiming that the Iranian President had switched his accommodation plans, to stay at the Manhattan Hilton East instead of the plush Warwick Hotel, the report has not be confirmed, and he is still believed to be lodging at the Warwick.

Ahmadinejad is currently visiting New York City to address the 67th session of the United Nations General assembly, his speech is due to take place on the Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur, September 26th.



Use Fish not Chicken for Kaparot 

Thousands of Orthodox Jews are preparing to swing live chickens over their heads before Yom Kippur, symbolically transferring their sins to the chicken. The chicken is then slaughtered and donated to the poor for consumption. This practice is called ‘Kapparot,’ which literally means “atonement.”

Using fish, money or chickens are acceptable methods of performing this expiation ritual. Using a live creature has the impact of allowing one to appreciate his or her own life and the life of the animal. A deep appreciation for animal life is fostered by seeing an animal slaughtered so that man can survive.

This chicken swinging ritual is controversial both in terms of the practice potentially leading to animal cruelty and the view by many leading rabbinical authorities that the practice should be avoided because of its superstitious nature.

Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Code of Jewish Law, called the practice “heathen, foolish and superstitious.” Other Rabbis especially Kabbalists like Rabbi Isaac Luria encouraged the practice of using a live creature for Kapparot.

Another common objection to the practice is based on the Jewish principle that one is forbidden to engage in tsa’ar ba’alei chaim (causing unnecessary pain to animals). While the ritual itself does not necessitate animal cruelty, the pragmatic outcome may result in the unnecessary suffering of chickens:

Because modern kapparot chickens are trucked into the city from long distances, often in open trucks exposed to the weather and without adequate food or water, the question of … cruelty to animals …. has become an … issue. The birds may also suffer while they are being handled for sale or during the ceremony, because many urban Jews are unfamiliar with the proper, humane way to hold a chicken. (Which should be with a hand above and one below the bird, supporting the weight of the body, not held with the wings painfully pinned back, as is done at some kapparot centers.) In some places in Israel and the United States, chickens are sold on street corners for this ceremony, and not every merchant takes proper care of his chickens during this period. The birds are frequently cooped up in baskets, and some merchants neglect to give them sufficient food or water. In some cases, the caged chickens have been left out in the rain or under the hot sun with no shade or shelter, or simply abandoned in warehouses and left to starve if not sold in time for the ceremony.

Notions of animal cruelty do not apply to fish under Jewish law, so by using a fish for the Kapparot ritual one would avoid causing unnecessary pain to an animal yet still have the benefit of using a live creature for the ritual. Jewish law does not recognize fish as an animal for the purposes of animal cruelty laws. (See Beis Yehudah ביור”ד סימן י” where all opinions say you can cut a piece of fish when it is alive and no one says it is tsa’ar ba’alei chaim. Therefore it must be that there is no tsa’ar ba’alei chaim for Fish). Also ritual slaughter does not apply to fish, therefore it is understood that fish don’t experience the same kind of pain as an animal.

Another advantage of using a fish is that you avoid the concerns of rabbinical authorities that were critical of using chickens. At the same time you are respecting those authorities that said Kapparot should be done on a live creature.

Chickens are required to be slaughtered in a particular method for them to be deemed kosher. In contrast, fish do not require a particular method of slaughter, so by using fish you offset the concerns of the animal being rendered non-kosher due to an improper slaughter procedure.

At this Yom Kipur’s Kapparot, consider using a live fish instead of a live chicken. You will avoid potential animal cruelty under Jewish law. You will be respecting Halachic authorities that were critical of using chickens while also respecting those that encouraged doing the procedure on a live creature. You will also avoid concerns that your animal was slaughtered improperly. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.



Burn your iPhones, top rabbi orders 

In a landmark ruling that is sure to attract attention from the warring attorneys of Apple and Samsung, one of the premier Jewish religious (halachic) authorities has made it known that owners of Apple’s iPhone are not merely forbidden from owning the device, but are required by Jewish law to destroy it.

In Israel, as in many other countries, the moniker “iPhone” has come to represent all smartphones. The ruling is the latest volley in an uphill battle that rabbis in the ultra-Orthodox community have in recent years been waging against internet usage — and especially Web-connected phone ownership — in their communities.

In a responsum to a reader published on Sunday in the ultra-Orthodox daily newspaper Yated Ne’eman, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky said that “it is forbidden to be in possession of [an iPhone], and one must burn it”; this despite the fact that the reader, a business-owner, said it was “crucial for [his] dealings.”

And lest a contrite Jewish smartphone owner think to hawk his device on eBay and pocket the cash, Kanievsky also warned that it is forbidden to sell the phone to a non-Jew, “just as it is forbidden to sell a weapon to a non-Jew.”

In May, 60,000 ultra-Orthodox American Jews gathered at the Citi Field baseball stadium in New York, where they were told by leading rabbis that home internet usage was forbidden, and that even those who thought they needed Web access at work should try to avoid using it, as the urge to go online was likely the nagging of the “evil inclination.”



Saturday, September 22, 2012

Debate planned for Jewish high holy day cancelled 

A Bay Ridge civic group has cancelled the neighborhood’s largest political debate — a heated back and forth between four pairs of candidates that stunned Jewish residents for being scheduled on Yom Kippur.

The Bay Ridge Community Council scheduled its so-named “Great Debate” for Tuesday, apparently unaware that the Jewish day of attonement began on the same night — a move that puzzled many Jewish Bay Ridgites.

“Most government offices are out and most other agencies and groups respect that day,” said Herb Karasik, chairman of the board of trustees for the Bay Ridge Jewish Center, who said Bay Ridge has a mall, yet significant, Jewish population in the predominantly Italian, Irish, and Arabic neighborhood. “There are Jewish people on the Council, and they wouldn’t be able to attend.”

Organizers apologized for what they called a “scheduling oversight” as well as “any offense it may have caused.”

“They must have miscalculated,” said Ted General, a member of the Council’s board of directors. “I think they knew Yom Kippur was the next day but not that the evening was significant too.”

The event was supposed to feature showdowns between State Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) and Democratic challenger Andrew Gounardes, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R–Bay Ridge) and opponent John Mancuso, Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D–Bay Ridge) and GOP rival Tom McCarthy, and Congressman Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) and Democratic contender Mark Murphy.

Debate organizers realized they erred when Brook-Krasny, a Jewish emigre from the former Soviet Union, told them that he would have back out.

“Any other holiday I would be able to attend, but Yom Kippur I cannot do it,” the six-term legislator said.

Brook-Krasny didn’t ask the Council to reschedule — and was trying to work out a plan where he could submit written responses in advance and have them read aloud at the debate — when the group decided to throw the event in the dustbin.

Organizers say they plan to reschedule, but have yet to agree on a date.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Orthodox Jews Perform Kapparot Ritual Ahead Of Yom Kippur 

An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman swings a chicken over her family during the Kaparot ceremony on September 20, 2012 in Bnei Brak, Israel. The Jewish ritual is supposed to transfer the sins of the past year to the chicken, and is performed before the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish calendar, which this year will start on sunset on September 25.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Brooklyn DA to keep underage video locked up in Hasidic spiritual counselor case 

An explicit video of an underage girl having sex with her boyfriend will remain locked in a safe at the Brooklyn district attorney's office — for now.

The tape is a point of contention in the ongoing case against Nechemya Weberman, 53, a Hasidic spiritual counselor charged last year with sexually abusing the same girl.

His attorneys want the video and related investigative files made available to jurors in Weberman's trial, scheduled to begin next month.

They argue that the tape, secretly recorded by the girl's father with Weberman's involvement, triggered her "extreme" anger at Weberman, and a vengeful accusation that he forced her to have sex with him.

Supreme Court Judge John Ingram today denied the request, citing the "very sensitive nature of that videotape." He also noted that Weberman's name only appeared once in the case file, and that investigators never interviewed Weberman about the video. The boyfriend was never charged.

But Weberman won a lesser victory when Ingram agreed to review the file again for evidence of the girl's "traumatized" emotional state, which could be used as legal leverage to have the tape admitted.

"If she's very disturbed, she might very well take those feelings out on the person she holds responsible," said defense attorney Michael Farkas.

Weberman was charged in February 2011 with forcing the then 16-year-old girl to perform oral sex on him during spiritual counseling sessions.

She claims the abuse began when she was 12.

Weberman's tight-knit community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has rallied to his defense, raising money for his high-powered legal team and packing the courtroom with supporters at his hearings.

In June, four other ultra-Orthodox Jewish men were charged with trying to bribe or silence the girl and her boyfriend.

Weberman's trial is scheduled to begin October 30.



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Orthodox Toddler Drowns in Toilet During Rosh Hashanah Celebration 

A 14-month old boy visiting his aunt's house for Jewish New Year celebrations apparently drowned in a toilet, in a tragic holiday accident.

The toddler--Mendi Altman of upstate Monsey--was pronounced dead on arrival at Maimonedes Medical Center.

"I saw all these ambulances and the commotion going on, but I wasn't sure what it was," said Miriam Quinones, who lives on 11th Avenue near 58th Street, where members of the Hatzolah emergency service showed up around 11 pm Monday night, as many families were in the middle of Rosh Hashanah celebrations.

Shortly after the child was pronounced dead, detectives from the 66th Precinct and Special Victims Squad were called in to investigate what happened.

The child's 13 year old cousin told police that when he went to the bathroom about 11pm Monday night, he found the little boy with his head in the toilet, on the second floor of 58-13. 11th Avenue. Police later determined there was no sign of criminality. All of the children in the household had been put to bed earlier without incident.

Mendi's mother had taken her seven children to her sister's house in Brooklyn for Rosh Hoshanah celebrations. A neighbor told PIX 11 the child's father was in Europe visiting a holy site, when the accident happened.

The family was expected to wait for his return to the United States, before the toddler was buried.

A driver for Hatzolah ambulance that PIX met on Tuesday said of the accident, "It could happen any day. It could happen any day...to anyone."

Many Orthodox Jews living on 11th Avenue continued with their trips to the synagogues, as New Year celebrations were winding down. One of them quoted a rabbi who had spoken of the tragedy, "The ways of G-d are hidden."

The same rabbi also encouraged parents with young children to use safety latches on their bathroom doors.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

K'Sivah V'Chasima Toivah 

Wishing all of K'lal Yisroel a happy and healthy year.


How To Blow A Shofar 

Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.



Saturday, September 15, 2012

Evening Read: ‘I Like Vito Lopez’ 

Former City & State reporter Chris Bragg has landed at Crain’s Insider, at least for the time being, according to an email he sent out to his sources earlier this afternoon. “A quick FYI – Starting on Monday, I’ll be writing the Crain’s Insider for at least the next month, along with Andrew Hawkins,” Mr. Bragg wrote. “Whether this goes on longer depends on a few different factors with Crains’ business model, and my own plans, but should be fun for the moment!”

Azi Paybarah, reporting on Lincoln Restler‘s electoral party last night, “But in Hasidic Williamsburg, ‘Boss Vito Lopez and Stevey Levin delivered him 6,000 votes,” Restler said, as he pounded the wooden podium.”

A source in Hasidic Williamsburg who supported Mr. Restler’s opponent Chris Olechowski broke down the numbers further, providing a spread sheet to boot. The source said the city’s preliminary count of the district’s six mostly Hasidic voting sites yielded 5,226 (63%) for Mr. Olechowski, and 3,110 (37%) for Mr. Restler. They noted, “However these numbers include the Hispanic votes for Restler in the mixed ED’s of the public housing where Restler polled much closer to Olechowski.”

The New York Times looked at Chris Olechowski’s seemingly improbable–and still contested–win. Quote one Olechowski supporter, “I like Vito Lopez — he’s good for the community — he saved the summer camps.”

The NYC Board of Elections’ full unofficial results can be found here. Observers of the June 26th primary drama in New York’s 13th Congressional District would caution you from writing these numbers down in stone.

Candidates aren’t the only ones that get to bask in the glory of their wins last night; their consultants are also taking a victory lap. One particularly pleased firm was The Advance Group, which touted almost running the table. ”We won 7 out of 8 races that we had our hands in; most of those insurgent or open seats,” the firm’s president Scott Levenson told Politicker in a statement. “Combined with the Hakeem Jeffries victory of late June, by any analysis it’s been a banner year for our firm.”

Their flagship win might have been Mark Gjonaj securing a majority of the vote against incumbent Assemblywoman Naomi Rivera. While Ms. Rivera is under investigation for abusing her office, she hadn’t been officially accused of anything, and the Bronx establishment went all out. Brooklyn politicos might note that Jon Yedin ran point for the firm on this campaign, which likely sent out some aggressive mailers against Ms. Rivera.

Another consultant pleased with last night is Parkside Consulting, which also won all but one race. Notably, they helped pull Ron Kim, a former Parkside staffer, across the finish line in a tough primary where most insiders felt him to be the underdog on Election Day. “When he is sworn in next year, Ron will become the first Korean American from New York in elective office,” Parkside noted in a press release. “As we all saw so vividly last night, the entire community has embraced Ron as a leader representing the future of our great city.” Parkside also helped Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, who won by one of the most surprisingly large margins of any incumbent legislator facing a serious primary challenge.

Andrew Cuomo batted a cool 5-for5 in primary endorsements.

Lost in the hubbub of yesterday’s elections, the city’s campaign finance board issued a number of violations. Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez seemed to have accrued fines for improperly directing a campaign expenditure to Brooklyn’s likely next Democratic leader, Frank Seddio.



Friday, September 14, 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 'Golus Harim' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


City circumcise warning 

The city's Board of Health voted yesterday to require parental consent for a controversial form of circumcision, involving oral suction, done by some ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The board voted 9-0 to require anyone performing the ritual to get written consent from the infant's parent or guardian. The parents will have to sign a form acknowledging that the department advises against the practice because of risks of herpes and other infections.



Vito Lopez’s ‘Last Stand’: Restler Hustles as Hasidim Rally 

It's primary day in New York City! That means if you go to any polling site in the five boroughs, you're going to see bored workers and low turnout. That is, unless you are in Hasidic Williamsburg, where voters are turning out in throngs to decide who will represent them in an unpaid position in the Kings County Democratic Party. In that race, District Leader Lincoln Restler, a staunch critic of Brooklyn's scandal-tarred Democratic boss Vito Lopez, is trying to win re-election as the establishment moves to try and squash his political career in a battle Mr. Restler has dubbed "Vito's last stand."

We visited a heavily Hasidic polling site off Heyward Street, where indeed, long lines of Orthodox Jewish voters filled a school gymnasium, the atmosphere buzzing with activity. A couple dozen yards outside the entrance, signs in Yiddish urged locals to vote for Mr. Restler or his opponent, community board chairman Chris Olechowski, and young volunteers for Mr. Olechowski sat in a booth, routinely shouting, "Vote!"

Despite Mr. Lopez's woes stemming from serious sexual harassment claims, found credible by the State Assembly, members of the the local Jewish community argue the election is a way to demonstrate their electoral strength for the 2013 elections, where New York City will be electing its next mayor and other top government positions.

"The number of votes for Chris Olechowski in our neighborhood will clearly show the following and support that UJO and Satmar (zalis) have in Williamsburg," an pro-Olechowski email circulating around the neighborhood declared. "Right or wrong, this is precisely how the political world and the media will analyze it and this will form the basis as to how the new democratic party of Brooklyn will form their alliances and loyalty and this election turnout will guide the 2013 Citywide candidates in their quest for Williamsburg support."

It added, "Its a consequential election with the results affecting political calculations for years to come…."

And turn out they did. A poll worker told Politicker that turnout was on par with the June 26th primary election where the two Satmar sects showed up en masse to vote for and against a Lopez-backed challenge to Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. Because the larger sect supports Mr. Lopez's candidates, at least for now, Mr. Restler will need relatively strong turnout in the other parts of the district in order to have a chance at reelection.

Accordingly, Mr. Restler has parked himself outside of a senior center in Greenpoint for the entire 15 hour period that poll sites will be open today. Many of the passerby recognized Mr. Restler, who slipped in and out of Spanish–and, with a little more difficulty, Polish–to greet them and encourage them to take the time to vote.

"There is terrific energy and buzz in the neighborhood about the race, I think we have two hundred individuals who are volunteering for us today and I'm excited about our ability to turn out every independently-minded voter in the 50th Assembly District," he told us.

Of course, it's strange to see such passion and effort for a district leader's race, where both Mr. Restler and Mr. Olechowski have raised far more money and spent far more energy campaigning than one would typically see for such an election. We asked Mr. Restler if it ever dawned on him that despite the tension, he's still campaigning for a position most people aren't even aware of.

"People are aware of it here," he answered.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

New York Mayor Bloomberg seeks to regulate circumcision 

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to regulate and restrict the practice of metziza bipeh, a ritual used by some Orthodox Jews in circumcision, The New York Sun reported Wednesday. The metziza bipeh is an oral application of wine done by the mohel, the person performing the circumcision.

While the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recognizes the health benefits of circumcision and doesn't seek to ban it completely, it wants to enforce a requirement for a written waiver or consent from parents before the metzitza bipeh part of the ritual can be done, according to the report.

Mayor Bloomberg rejected pleas from leaders of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York to cooperate and consult with them on the practicing of metzitza bipeh, the Sun reported.

The mayor's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, replied to the pleas, quoting the US Supreme Court's remark in a 1944 child labor case that "the right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill-health or death," according to the report.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Israel will not receive lulavs from Sinai 

Israel likely will not have palm fronds from the Sinai for this year's Sukkot lulavs.

Terror in the Sinai and a lack of communication between Israeli and Egyptian agricultural agencies are the reasons that the palm fronds will not be imported, Israel National News reported Monday. They are grown in the Sinai's al-Arish area, located west of the Gaza Strip.

Last year, Egypt banned the export of the palm fronds to Israel, leading to fears of a lulav shortage for the holiday and higher prices. Israel's Agricultural Ministry then encouraged local palm farmers to increase production.

Avner Rotem, manager of date palms on Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi in the Beit Shean Valley, told INN that there should be enough lulavs grown in Israel to meet domestic needs and for export.

Israel previously had imported about 700,000 palm fronds a year in the run-up to Sukkot, which is about 40 percent of the annual demand. Another 700,000 of the 2 million lulavs used in Diaspora Jewish communities also came from Egypt.

The holiday begins on the evening of Sept. 30.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Rabbis Urge Single, Orthodox Women to Freeze Eggs at 38 

Rebecca, an Orthodox Jew from California, was two weeks away from her marriage to the son of a respected rabbi when medication she was taking for migraines triggered a debilitating stroke.

She fell to the floor of the emergency room where she was working as a manager and broke her neck, suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries. When her fiance saw the extent of her disability, he called off the wedding.

"We did everything the Orthodox way," she said of their three-month engagement after being matched by family members. "I was in the hospital on my wedding day and they got out the wheelchair, and he was so frightened he backed off."

Now 38 and walking again, Rebecca is single, but her Orthodox faith implores her to find a husband and build a family. So she sought spiritual guidance from three or four rabbis and has decided -- with their blessing -- to have her eggs frozen for the future, when she hopes she will marry and start a family.

Doctors in the United States who are familiar with "halacha" -- or Jewish religious law -- say they are seeing more Orthodox patients who have been sent by their rabbis to freeze their eggs before their fertility wanes.

Orthodox Jews include a number of different sects worldwide, including the large Hasidic communities in New York City, which all place an importance on raising families.

"I couldn't think of a life without children because of our religion," said Rebecca, who did not want to share her name for privacy reasons. "That's the biggest mitzvah [commandment]. To bear kids and to bring them up the right way and to teach them the Torah is a woman's obligation."

Reproductive technology has perfected freezing techniques so that pregnancy rates are about the same as using fresh eggs when in vitro fertilization methods are used.

Rebecca is prepared to spend $7,000 to $10,000 per cycle to freeze her eggs with fertility specialists who can provide religious supervision.

"Most rabbis are strongly recommending this, and most should," said Dr. Sherman Silber, director of the Infertility Center of St. Louis, whose practice caters to Orthodox Jews. "'Be fruitful and multiply' is considered the first commandment."

The procedure helps make these single women more marriageable in the eyes of their communities, according to Silber.

"In truth, however, most orthodox women marry much earlier than this, often at age 20," he said. "So it is an uncommon event, but an important one for them."

About five percent of Silber's patients are Orthodox and his practice is supervised by top halachic authorities in Judaism from Jerusalem.

He recommends egg freezing "for all women who do not anticipate having a baby soon," he said. "Aging of the eggs is the critical and most important reason for the current infertility epidemic worldwide. And I would suggest well before age 38 to do that."

"We do everything we can to follow Orthodox halacha in all of our IVF practice," said Silber. "The patient can get her shots on Friday night before shabbos, and she can get her shots on Saturday night after shabbos. This is never a scheduling or dosage problem."

Rabbis also give special approval in rare cases when egg pick-up must be over the Sabbath, according to Silber, "as life trumps all other mitzvahs," including getting approval for a non-Jewish doctor.

In Israel the procedure is covered by the government. Some rabbis recommend every single woman over age 32 freeze her eggs as an insurance policy against infertility.

More women delay pregnancy for careers, but by their mid-30s their fertility dramatically drops and miscarriage rates rise. Harvesting a woman's eggs literally freezes them in time.

The first "frozen egg" baby was born in 1986, but success rates were so low that it was considered experimental. Unlike sperm, which had been successfully frozen for years, unfertilized eggs contain a lot of water and slow freezing causes ice crystals to form, destroying cell structure. But a specialized fast-freezing technique called vitrification changed all that.

Dr. Jamie Grifo, program director of the NYU Fertility Center in New York City, has done 1,100 frozen egg cycles since 2005, and recommends the earlier the eggs are harvested the better.

"Ideally, the best results are under 35, optimally in their early 30s," he said.

In his studies of live birth rates from 2003 to 2009, the pregnancy rate among 30-year-olds is 61 percent, but at age 44 it drops to five percent.

Grifo is also able to cater to Orthodox patients and has a rabbinical observer in his labs to oversee labeling and storing of eggs.

In accordance with halacha, eggs must be placed in new Petri dishes, even if they have been sterilized.

Rebecca is now in counseling with Rabbi Gideon Weitzman of Jerusalem, who is director of the Puah Institute, which for 20 years has been a "central authority" on infertility procedures performed in accordance with Jewish law.

"There is a very, very huge interface through the millennia between Judaism and medicine and technology," he said. "We've learned to go hand in hand with science."

Weitzman said freezing the eggs of single women is a real "boon" for Orthodox women who are taught at a young age that marriage and children are important.

"We get calls on this question every single week, if not every single day," he said.

Most of the time, women who freeze their eggs do not end up using them after they have found a husband and conceive the usual way.

Jewish law is "permissive" on destruction of unused eggs or embryos.

"Everybody agrees life in a Petri dish isn't life," said Weitzman.

Rebecca, who is of Moroccan Jewish descent, did not grow up in a religious family, but became modern orthodox when she was 27. She observes Shabbat (the Sabbath), prays each morning and dresses modestly in skirts below the knee -- except at the hospital, where she wore scrubs to work.

After his initial hesitation, her fiance later asked her to marry once again, but she refused.

"That wasn't an option for me after the way he behaved in my recovery," she said. "I wanted someone to be there for me the Orthodox way -- to be there for you regardless, someone who is more nurturing."

She wears a neck collar and has multiple therapies for her brain injury, which makes her processing slower.

"As an OR manager and director, I was, all the time, very active," she said. "But now, it's sometimes hard to read a book. I get fatigued easily."

She has been told she can never do nursing again. But with a helping husband, she said being a mother one day is possible.

"I know that I have a long road to recovery and my self-esteem went down," she said of her broken engagement.

Still, she eventually wants to go back to dating and find a husband.

"I feel hopeful," she said. "I am a very positive person. Thank God, I never got depressed and my religion has helped me a lot."



Monday, September 10, 2012

Few see answer for East Ramapo's strains 

Surendra Bansal recalls that when his older daughter was graduating from the East Ramapo school system in 2002, a recruiter from Harvard University who interviewed her made an off-the-cuff comment that could leave a parent proud.

"He said, 'I like East Ramapo kids,' " Bansal said. His grin was all nostalgia.

"I don't think they would say that now," the biochemist and research scientist from Suffern said. "The school system has been degraded. At this time, I would not want to put my daughters in this school system."

Bansal was at his umpteenth planning meeting for the Rockland Academy of Excellence, a charter school proposed for East Ramapo. The dozen or so key planners for the school are professionals from many fields who believe that middle-school-age children from East Ramapo, especially those with special challenges, deserve an alternative to the deeply troubled public schools.

It says a great deal that the lead organizer and would-be principal of the proposed school is Dionne Olamiju, who is assistant principal of Spring Valley High School in East Ramapo. She has worked in the district for more than a decade and helped create a summer program for middle-school students needing academic help. So she knows as well as anyone how the district's younger teens — almost all minorities with few social advantages — are faring today and what they might face tomorrow.

"We want to work in harmony with the school district and not have a contentious relationship," Olamiju said. "We care deeply about the school district and the children of East Ramapo."

Her group's application with the state, which could be approved soon, includes this telling line: "We anticipate that most of our students will start the school year with skills in English Language Arts and Math that are two or three grade levels behind."

Prognosticating East Ramapo's future has become a popular sport inside and outside the district. The divide appears so great between the needy public-school system and the Hasidic and Orthodox communities who live within its borders that many can't picture what a resolution might look like.



Sunday, September 09, 2012

Ultra-orthodox Jewish mother wins right to send children to mainstream school 

The man attempted to obtain a court order which would have barred his wife from sending their “very bright” children to more mainstream Jewish schools where he feared they would lose contact with the traditions and community in which they had been brought up.

He objected to the prospect of his daughters being sent to a mixed-gender school and to his children having unrestricted access to television, cinema, "certain newspapers", the internet and social networking sites, the court heard.

During their 10-year marriage, which ended two years ago, the couple observed the traditions the conservative Chareidi Jewish community in London.

Their observances precluded them switching on a light, catching a bus or making a phone call on the Sabbath.

But after studying for an Open University masters degree, the mother has forged her own career and wants her children to have the schooling she says she never had.

Eleanor Platt QC, representing the father, told the court that he was deeply concerned that his former wife would lead his children away from their community and denigrate his lifestyle in their eyes.

She said that the children are thriving at their current schools and moving them away from the lifestyle would cause emotional harm by separating them from friends they had known all their lives, who might in turn be forbidden from associating with them.

Miss Platt added that the mother now lives a long walk away from the nearest synagogue, a serious problem in traditons in which even use of a pushchair is forbidden on the Sabbath.

But the mother told the court that educating the children at an ordinary Jewish school would give them "infinitely superior opportunities".

The Appeal Court judges rejected the father's application for a joint residency order and for the mother to be refused permission to move the children to new schools.

Lord Justice Maurice Kay, Lord Justice Munby and Sir Stephen Sedley will give detailed reasons for their decision at a later date.



Saturday, September 08, 2012

Jewish Community Members Prepare To Talk About Bus Ads With CHTC 

Representatives of the triangle Jewish community are planning to request that the Chapel Hill town council review the kinds of ads the town allows on buses. That’s a reaction to a controversial advertisement now posted in more than 90 buses that criticizes U.S. government aid to Israel.

Town leaders pulled the ad briefly because it didn’t say who paid for it, but now the church that sponsored it has revised it and put it back up.

Carrboro resident Megan Hucks is headed home. She’s noticed a lot of Church ads on the bus recently, but this is the first time she’s seen the one calling for the end of U.S. Military aid to Israel.

“I think that’s really a bit too intense for the bus,” Hucks says. “They pay to advertise, so it’s their right. It’s their freedom of speech, but there should be lines, I guess, for what can be advertised on public transit.”

The Presbyterian Church of Reconciliation paid for the ads on 98 buses. The pastor of the 350-member Church, Mark Davidson, says the ad’s message has become an important issue to his congregation.

“We are a church that takes very seriously our vocation to be peacemakers and the name of our church in the Church of Reconciliation,” Davidson says. “We’ve always been involved in reconciliation from our founding days as a church and committed to racial reconciliation in the South.”

Davidson says the church decided to run the ad on Chapel Hill buses because it’s an inexpensive way to reach a lot of people.

“It’s a public space for ads that can be used as, we hope, to be a catalyst for conversation on this issue, for education, and informing the public,” Davidson says.

So far, some of that conversation has been negative.

Executive Director of the Durham-Chapel Hill Jewish Federation, Steven Schauder, wants the town to consider banning politically divisive ads.

“Israel has deep meaning for members of the Jewish community and we don’t feel that the ads are really serving Chapel Hill well,” Schauder says.

He feels that commuters make up a captive audience, and that they can’t escape the messages of advertisements once they’re on the bus- and that’s a violation of passengers’ rights.

“Other communities have seen that when you start allowing political ads, then what’s to prevent someone from saying that anti-gay ads, ads against gay people, or ads against planned parenthood,” Schauder says.

Some cities, including Raleigh, already ban non-commercial advertising. UNC Media Law Instructor Elizabeth Woolery says such bans COULD violate the First Amendment, but there ARE ways for cities to enact bans legally.

“If Chapel Hill were to institute a policy where they banned any advertisement that was not commercial in nature, they could do that,” Woolery says. “They would just need to consider that the restrictions be reasonable, and be viewpoint-neutral. That’s how those regulations would pass muster.”

According to town council member Penny Rich, the Jewish community will petition the council to change the current policy to accept commercial ads only, and not political ads.

For Megan Hucks, the answer seems clear.

“If there’s anything like, you know, on a free public bus that’s going to offend people, they should probably take it down,” Hucks says.



Friday, September 07, 2012

Police to double security escort for New Year’s pilgrimage to Ukraine 

Some 20,000 Israeli followers of the Hasidic mystic Rabbi Nachman of Breslav are expected to make the annual pre-Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to the Ukrainian village of Uman to visit his burial site next week.

According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth, 130 flights will depart Ben Gurion International Airport for Ukraine between September 11-16.

Amid increasing concerns of terror threats to Israelis traveling abroad, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Thursday instructed Israeli police to double the number of officers traveling with the pilgrims this year.

On July 18, a suicide attack killed six people, including five Israeli tourists, in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas.

The yearly pilgrimage to Uman has crossed sectarian lines to become one of the central events on the Jewish spiritual calendar in Israel. Rabbi Nachman of Breslav died in 1810 at the age of 38, but is remembered fondly by thousands of his followers in Israel.

Aharonovitch's decision to increase security for this year's pilgrimage was the result of a recommendation by the Counter-Terrorism Bureau.

Last year's pilgrimage was marred by a protest in Uman by the far-right nationalist Svoboda Party. The protesters, shouting slogans such as "Ukraine for Ukrainians," claimed that the influx of Israeli visitors every year to the burial site presented a security and health risk. They also complained about disrespectful treatment of local residents by the pilgrims.



Thursday, September 06, 2012

Venice film critics wowed by ultra-Orthodox Jewish director's debut  

"Fill the Void," a film by Rama Burshtein that was screened on Sunday at the Venice Film Festival, has been arousing great interest among the global media.
Burshtein, who both wrote and directed the film, is an ultra-Orthodox filmmaker and this is her first movie made for a general audience, as opposed to a religious one. Consequently, much of the media interest has focused on her.

The film, produced by Assaf Amir, tells the story of an 18-year-old Haredi girl who is happily looking forward to an arranged marriage, when her sister dies. She is then pressured to marry her bereaved brother-in-law instead, forcing her to make a choice.

Reviews of the film have generally been favorable.

"With 'Fill the Void,' Rama Burshtein's impressive debut, there's so much skill on display that [audiences] disinclined to look kindly on pics presenting marriage as a woman's ultimate goal will struggle to find technical faults," wrote Jay Weissberg in the American magazine "Variety."

Weissberg had high praise for the entire cast, and especially for Hadas Yaron, who plays the lead, and cinematographer Asaf Sudry. The film, he concluded, is "sure to generate hours of post-cinema discussion."

Another American journal, "Hollywood Reporter," also praised the movie. "Not just a charming and accomplished first film, 'Fill the Void' qualifies as one of Venice's most exotic competition entries, throwing open a window on the world of an Orthodox Hassidic family in Tel Aviv," its reviewer wrote.

Israeli reviewer Dan Fainaru, writing in the British journal "Screen Daily," said the film "will have considerable appeal to large audiences, not only for its evident ethnographic interest, but also for the moving, intense drama it deploys." He also praised the "well-chosen cast, intelligent use of camera and a meticulous choice of sets and costumes."

But the Indiewire website, which specializes in independent films, was less impressed. "As you might expect, Burshtein has a real eye for the world and its rituals, allowing the camera to see things that can't have been seen by too many outsiders," its reviewer wrote. "There's a real warmth and humanity to the characters ... It's a shame, then, that the film the characters are given isn't quite so successful. Tonally, the film awkwardly straddles light fluffy comedy and grief-stricken melodrama, hopping from one mode to other from scene to scene."



Wednesday, September 05, 2012

2 men attempt to run down Jewish bakery patrons in Monticello, police say 

Two Monticello men accused of driving a car at people standing outside a Jewish bakery, yelling ethnic slurs at the Hasidic patrons and then punching a man were arrested Sunday, police said.

The suspects were identified as Esai Diaz, 21, and Brandon Morales, 20.

Police were called about 9:30 p.m. to Fialkoff's bungalow colony on Waverly Avenue, where witnesses told police that Diaz, who was driving a 2003 Nissan Pathfinder, tried to hit people standing in the bakery's parking lot. Morales, seated in the front passenger's seat, yelled, "Go home; go back to your (expletive), Jews," the witnesses said.

"People did feel that Diaz deliberately drove at them," Lt. Mark Johnstone said.

The suspects drove off, only to return a few minutes later. Police said Morales got out of the car and punched a man in the arm. The alleged attackers then tried to drive away, but their car wouldn't start. So they ran, with some of the bakery's patrons chasing them. Officers arrested the pair a short time later.

Johnstone said police haven't determined what started this.

Diaz had eight active suspensions on his license, police said.

Diaz was charged with reckless endangerment, a felony, and aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor; Morales was charged with aggravated harassment, a felony, and harassment, a violation.

They were arraigned before Monticello Justice Josephine Finn, who set bail at $2,500, and taken to the Sullivan County Jail.



Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Israel's ultra-Orthodox community tackles the issue of sexual abuse 

The success of a new book aimed at helping ultra-Orthodox parents teach their children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse is a strong indication that a community once reluctant to acknowledge the crime is now beginning to face reality.

The book, "Mutav Lehizaher K'dei lo Lehitzta'er" (which translates roughly as "Better Safe Than Sorry" ), published privately by Ella Bargai and Nitai Melamed, appears to be making significant progress in making the issue less of a taboo topic within the Haredi world.

The book has the backing of rabbis across the Haredi spectrum - Hasidic, Lithuanian and Sephardi leaders alike - and copies were snapped up as word of it spread. The book has sold out its first printing and will be reissued soon.

Both Bargai, who is secular, and Melamed, who is Haredi, are experienced family therapists. They are also known in the Haredi community for the training sessions they've conducted for Haredi rabbis and teachers all over the country on how to teach their charges to protect themselves against predators.

In some institutions, in Beit Shemesh, Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, Rehovot, Petah Tikva and elsewhere, these training sessions were an act of intervention following an incident of sexual abuse in the school. Such training is regularly imposed on a school by the welfare authorities as an alternative to involving the police, Melamed said. As part of the program, the parents are invited to sessions at which the book is used to explain what is being taught to their children.

That a community reluctant to discuss sexual matters would embrace such a book points to the need for culturally appropriate material to deal with what appears to be an increasing problem.

"Every mother and father, no matter in what sector, who has to speak to a child about sexual abuse starts to stutter," said Melamed, who heads the therapist training program at the Michlalah Jerusalem College for Women in the city's Bayit Vegan neighborhood. "But there's no doubt that in the Haredi community the lack of the right words is much more serious. No book [in this community] dealt with this issue, even indirectly."

Unlike in the secular community, where defense against sexual abuse is often part of a general sex education curriculum, "This population isn't interested in conducting sex education in schools," Melamed said.

"A book aimed at Haredi children can't show a boy or a girl naked, with descriptions of their genitals," he said. "It's also culturally inappropriate to educate against abuse in a public way, in a classroom."

The book tries to discuss the subject at hand without saying things outright. "It's like printing a recipe in a cookbook, without saying the word 'food,'" said Melamed.

"Better Safe Than Sorry" is essentially a Haredi version of a book of the same name that was translated from English in 1996. The English original "A Better Safe Than Sorry Book: A Family Guide for Sexual Assault Prevention," was very popular in the United States. Bargai, a former executive director of the Israel Family Planning Association who knew the original book's coauthor, Sol Gordon, was the one who initiated its translation into Hebrew.

Its opening line, "Most of the time it's fun to be a kid," remains unchanged in the Haredi edition. From there, the book takes children through various instances when it's not so much fun to be a kid, such as when one gets hurt or has to be hospitalized. It gradually brings the young reader to recognize other potentially unpleasant situations that belong to the realm of abuse, sexual or otherwise.

The illustrations are decidedly Haredi, resembling those typical of children's books for the community. All the men have beards and sidelocks, while the women have their heads covered.

Ah, yes - there are women and girls in the book. The appearance of girls and women, in fact, made it unacceptable to the Gur Hasidim, who are known for their very stringent approach to sexual matters. They have refused to allow the book into their schools unless separate versions for boys and girls are produced.

"We aren't sure yet if that's going to be possible financially," said Melamed.

But the Haredi perspective is not limited to the illustrations. The book does not distinguish between "good touching" and "bad touching" as do other books on sexuality, but speaks only of "forbidden touching." The book instructs the child to view all touching of one's private parts as forbidden. The explicit reference to "private areas," as the book calls them, is itself the breaking of a taboo.

"In this book we want to talk about your body's private areas. Do you know what your private areas are?" the book asks. "Your private areas of your body are those that are supposed to be covered when you are dressed. Nobody has any right to touch your body's private areas and you are not supposed to touch those areas on anyone else."

The book's biggest accomplishment, according to Melamed, is that it gives parents and teachers a language with which to discuss issues that the Haredi community generally ignores.

"Parents go over the book and learn a language with which they can enter a dialogue with their children and ask questions," he said.



Monday, September 03, 2012

Palestinian man admits to poisoning Jewish family 

A Palestinian man admitted to poisoning a Jewish family in Raanana, saying he "hates Jews."

Adnan Othman Nasaara, 46, admitted to putting pesticides in food and drink in the home of the Lerner family during a robbery  in October 2011, according to reports in the Israeli media Sunday, after a gag order was lifted on the case.

Ynet quoted a police investigator as saying that during his interrogation, Nasaara said he "hates Jews because they're Jews."

Nasaara, of the West Bank village of Beit Furik, as well as two Arab-Israeli men suspected of involvement in the case, were arraigned Sunday in Kfar Saba Magistrate's Court.

The adult Lerners and their toddler son were hospitalized after drinking from a juice bottle in the home. A police officer who drank the same juice also became ill, according to reports. Pesticides, containers of which were found in Nasaara's home when he was arrested, were found in other packages of food and drink in the Lerner's home.



Sunday, September 02, 2012

Palestinian admits to poisoning Jewish family 

A Palestinian Arab man recently admitted to poisoning a Jewish family with intent to kill simply because he "hates Jews."

Israeli courts on Sunday cleared for publication details of the attack, which occurred last October in the central Israel town of Raanana.

The suspect, 46-year-old Adnan Othman Nasaara, was a construction worker who had previously done some work at the victims' house.

The Lerner family initially thought they were the victims of a simple robbery, and called police to the scene. But during the post-break-in interview, Eyal Lerner and one of the police officers collapsed after drinking water from the kitchen.

Eyal's wife, Yifat, and their two-year-old child also became ill. All four were hospitalized, with Eyal spending a week in intensive care in serious condition.

Police later found that most of the drinks and staple food items in the Lerner's kitchen had been laced with highly toxic pesticides. Officers later traced the robbery to Nasaara and two other suspects. They found pesticides in Nasaara's house.

Police told Israel's Ynet news portal that Nasaara admitted to the poisoning, saying he did it because he "hates Jews." Officials are now describing the incident at nationalistically motivated, or, in other words, a terrorist attack.

The attack again brings to light two important aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First, Israel is constantly criticized for restricting the freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria (the so-called "West Bank"), and especially for denying Palestinians easy access to Israeli-controlled areas. But most of those restrictions are new, having only been implemented over the past decade due to rising Palestinian violence. The poisoning of the Lerner family demonstrates why Israel is so careful with access to Jewish areas.

Second, it has become increasingly important to limit access because the Palestinian Authority has so utterly failed to educate its population to view the Jews as neighbors and partners. In fact, it has done the opposite, and many Palestinians today, like Mr. Nasaara, view it as a national and even a religious duty to take the lives of Jews, be they men, women or children.



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