Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hasidic Brooklyn Shrugs Off Sandy 

The heavily Hasidic Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn escaped major damage from Sandy, suffering only minor flooding and downed trees from the superstorm that caused devastation elsewhere.

Ultra-Orthodox schools opened as usual Tuesday and a few cafes and shops had their doors open as the neighborhood struggled to return to normalcy after the massive storm hit the day before.

"God is watching us, that's it," said a man behind the counter at a cafe on Bedford Ave., who gave his last name as Klein. "(There's) nothing major."
A Hasidic woman walked three young daughters down Bedford Ave., the main street in the neighborhood, as a steely grey sky spat rain and occasional gusts of wind rattled street signs.

Some store awnings were torn up by the winds hours earlier and trees blocked some sidestreets. But power appeared to be mostly on in the neighborhood and there was no signs of severe damage.

M. Sims said he drove from Williamsburg to Boro Park for a Breslov Hasidic wedding at the height of the storm Monday evening. The nuptuals went on as planned and he drove back without incident through the near-empty streets.
"It was awesome," he remarked.

Williamsburg is a low-lying area just a few blocks from the East River. Some parts of it are in the city's Zone A, where officials ordered mandatory evacuations.
Still, the storm surge appeared to be nothing like as serious as the 14-foot wall of water that inundated lower Manhattan and Brooklyn's Red Hook, both of which border directly onto New York Harbor.

At the height of the storm, the street in front of a Satmar Hasidic synagogue on Kent Ave. was seriously flooded, neighbor Joel Glick said. But the water did not get into the shul he said.

The car-less streets also struck Moshe Klein as the most obvious outward sign that a major catastrophe had taken place. He praised the Shomrim security for dealing with many downed trees in Boro Park. There were precious few vehicles on the road from Boro Park to Williamsburg Tuesday morning.
"It looked like July 4," Klein said.



Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Abuse accusations by teen stir uproar in Brooklyn Hasidic sect 

THE MOST high-profile sex abuse trial in years to hit Brooklyn's insular ultra-Orthodox community is scheduled to begin this week. But hundreds of Satmar Hasids are backing the suspect, not the victim.

Nechemya Weberman, 53, is charged with 88 counts of sexual misconduct for allegedly forcing a teenage girl to repeatedly perform sex acts on him when she was between 12 and 15.

Weberman is a prominent Hasidic counselor, whose ancestor is credited with founding the first yeshiva in Brooklyn.

"It's going to be a very interesting trial," said one of the seven attorneys who will argue Weberman's high-stakes case. All are bound by a judge's gag order, and declined to discuss details.

Since coming forward last year, the woman, now 18, and her husband have allegedly been the target of a massive intimidation effort, which advocates have argued has long been an obstacle to reporting such cases in the community. More than 1,000 men showed up at a Williamsburg hall this spring to raise $500,000 for Weberman's legal defense.

But the couple has not wavered in their resolve, even after one man allegedly offered them $500,000 in exchange for their silence, and suggested they flee to Israel. Three other men ripped the husband's kosher certificate from his restaurant, causing him to shutter the business.

The incidents led to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes' filing the most serious witness intimidation indictments ever within the community, against the four men in July.

Their trials are not expected until next year.

The issue of witness intimidation — common in Orthodox enclaves — was highlighted earlier this year in a series of articles that led to criticism of how Hynes handles molestation cases within the community.

Before 2009, only a handful of sex abuse cases came out of the Orthodox community, which prefers to handle matters internally through its civilian police and rabbinical courts.

Then Hynes established a program called Kol Tzedek specifically targeting the sex abuse problem in the Hasidic community, which has resulted in over 100 cases so far, the top prosecutor has said.

In the Weberman case, as the lead member of the ardent Satmar sect's "modesty committee," the unlicensed counselor was allegedly helping the sixth-grade girl because she was believed to be unchaste.

Prosecutors say there were six other women who were counseled by him as part of this "modesty committee" who complained about unwanted sexual advances. But the women would not proceed with pressing criminal charges.

Weberman and the teenager's father secretly videotaped her in bed with an previous boyfriend while she was still underage, which they took to the DA to file statutory rape charges against the man, both the defense and prosecution agree. The teenager threatened suicide, and the statutory rape charges were dropped.
Weberman's defense argues that the new claims against him are in retaliation for the videotaping and statutory rape charges.

But Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice John Ingram found that argument "speculative and not supported by any facts." He forbade any mention of the tape at trial.

The Weberman case has stirred up strong emotions in the Hasidic community, which numbers some 250,000 people in Brooklyn. It's the largest such group outside Israel.

"The community felt we're under attack because he's supposedly a problem solver," while the young woman had left the strictly religious lifestyle, said an acquaintance of the accuser.

Hynes, who had previously came under fire for not releasing names of Orthodox men accused of abuse, has said intimidation of victims and their kin is rampant in that community.

Weberman hails from a prominent lineage. One of his ancestors, Ben Zion Weberman, is credited with helping to establish the very first yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1917. "He is very well respected," A.J. Weberman, a secular distant cousin who compiled the family history, said of the man facing trial.
The publicity this case and similar ones have garnered is beginning to shift attitudes in the Hasidic community, insiders say.

Awareness is on the rise, said Mark Appel, founder of the advocacy group Voice of Justice. "There is a major change happening," he added.



Monday, October 29, 2012

Long Island Orthodox Woman a Volunteer Firefighter 

Shoshana Weiner of Long Island, New York, has been a volunteer firefighter for 12 years. In addition to firefighting, Weiner's day job includes working as a nurse practitioner at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, and as a paramedic instructor at St. John's University in Queens.

Tazpit News Agency caught up (literally) with Weiner during her vacation in Israel, where she took the time to volunteer with the Petah Tikvah fire department, answering some brush fires and dealing with hazardous material.

"Volunteering as a firefighter in Israel is a little different from Long Island," Weiner, 39, told Tazpit News Agency. The fire trucks and the equipment are different from what I am used to in Long Island, but that's all part of the learning experience."

Weiner was born and raised in New York, where very few Orthodox Jewish women volunteer as firefighters, she says. "I kind of fell into volunteer firefighting by accident," Weiner explains. "I was looking to volunteer in emergency medical services (EMS) at a local fire station, but in order to get accepted, I also had to train as a firefighter."

Shabbat evening dinners take on a different routine at Weiner's home. "Multiple times, I've gotten calls right after my husband has said Kiddush, and I'd have to run out and respond to a fire or medical emergency."

"The perks are probably the barbecues," Weiner says with a smile. "At least for my husband."

The difficult point in Weiner's volunteer firefighting career was September 11. "That was probably the worst day in history for New York firefighters. I was lucky I didn't go down to the Twin Towers with the firefighters the first night, when the casualties took place. I joined the second night as an EMS responder."

In Israel, Weiner also had the chance to take part in the Emergency Volunteer Program (EVP), a non-profit international organization that trains volunteers from abroad to assist Israel as emergency first responders.

"It was great to meet other people across the US, from Washington State to Arkansas, who were training to help Israel in an emergency situation," Weiner said. "Although we come from different states across America, and there are differences in the way things work in Israel, we all share the language of emergency response."

Weiner explains that one fundamental difference is the manpower at hand. In "Israel, there are generally two firefighters who do everything during a call—including driving to the emergency and putting out the fire, etc. In New York at least, there are five to six people on every fire truck."

Shoshana believes that the situation in Israel is volatile. "At some point, we all know that Israel will need our help and that's why we are here training together– to assist in whatever situation that happens in the future."



Sunday, October 28, 2012

Minyan for NYC Marathoners 

The International Minyan for New York City Marathoners -- the traditional morning service for Jewish runners -- will once again be held at Fort Wadsworth, the Marathon staging area on Staten Island, prior to the 43rd running of this world-famous race on November 4.

Three services are scheduled this year -- at 8:00, 8:45 and 9:30 a.m. -- to accommodate the many Jewish runners worldwide who are expected to attend.  Participants are encouraged to bring their own siddurim (prayer books), tefillin and tallesim; for those runners who have opted not to check any personal baggage at Fort Wadsworth before the race, the Minyan organizers will have a limited supply of these religious items.

This will be the 30th consecutive year of the Minyan, which is organized and managed by JRunners.  It is believed to be the longest established religious service of any kind, at any sporting event anywhere in the world, and traditionally draws participants from all across the United States and six continents.



Killing the Stigma of Mental Illness 

In the recent past, I learned of two devastating tragedies. One was the suicide of a beautiful young woman: Ivy League graduate, winner of endless awards, prestigious job, and “everything” going for her. The other was the suicide of a close family member of a good friend. The father of three grown children. Both shattering the lives of endless loved ones, friends and acquaintances.

I did not know either of these people, but their loss profoundly hurt me. It hurt me, because every time I hear of a suicide I am instantly reminded of my two close friends who took their lives. Both of whom I had spoken with or seen in the time immediately preceding. Both where I saw nothing, sensed nothing, picked up on nothing and therefore did nothing.

Following a suicide, everyone is looking for a reason, an excuse. Everyone wants to find something or someone to blame. Because when we have a label, it makes it so much easier to separate it from our lives or our responsibility. My one friend suffered from bipolar disorder. Therefore, it somehow made sense to people. He was sick. He either didn’t take his meds, or he took the wrong meds, or the doctors messed up.

With my other friend, no one saw it coming. Sure, after the fact you could recognize that he looked down and was stressed, overwhelmed, and whatever else could be blamed. But only after the fact.

Today I was reading comments about this young woman’s recent suicide. The one with the “perfect” life. And it was unbelievable. People actually wrote that they were convinced that there was no way she would have taken her life. After all, she had a great job, she was beautiful, she was moving up in the corporate ladder, she came from a loving and stable home, she had so many friends. You name it, she had it going for her. Not only did people not want to believe she killed herself, they refused to believe she did it. But it seems that being perfect isn’t so easy. And certainly, staying perfect is pretty impossible.

Here is the thing: healthy people do not kill themselves. Just like healthy people don’t die of illness. But looking healthy and being healthy are two very different things. And just like we have an annual physical to make sure that nothing dangerous is lurking behind our fit and “healthy” bodies . . . so too, it is about time we did the same for our mental health.

We keep saying that the stigma surrounding mental illness must be broken. But we have a very long way to go. Like it or not, the reality is that the world is not ready to hear if we are suffering from a psychiatric ailment. We are not posting it to our Facebook status, we are not telling our coworkers, and we are often not even letting our close friends and loved ones know.

And as long as it is a secret, it will keep killing.

When we were grieving the loss of one of my friends, trying to understand the incomprehensible was the hardest part. In the end, the conclusion was that this mental illness, though undiagnosed and unknown, was similar to finding out that he had a brain tumor. And I truly feel that this is what he had . . . it just was an emotional mass eating away at his mind, not a physical one. And one day, that tumor took over, left no room for anything else . . . and it killed him.

Jewish law forbids the taking of one’s own life. It is considered a grave sin. And yet, in most cases of suicide, the law assumes a suicide victim to have been severely ill, to the point that he or she cannot be held accountable. The understanding is that if these people were healthy, if they were cognizant of the gravity of what taking their lives would mean, they would never have willingly chosen to carry out the horrific act. In cases of impaired mental health, a suicide victim is exactly that. A victim. A victim of a terrible, horrible, devastating illness that needs to be addressed head-on, without embarrassment or reprisals or stigma.

That is the only way we can kill this killer.

If you don’t think you know anyone suffering from a mental illness, think again. You do. We all do. There are people in our lives who are scared, anxious, depressed, and may even be suicidal. They might talk about it, or be too scared to talk about it. But we need to make sure we are offering support not only when it is needed, but even before it is needed. We need to make sure those we love know we are here, without judgment, and that it is okay to have issues, it is okay to feel overwhelmed. The only thing not okay is when one refuses to do something about it.

I look forward to the day when one can post as a Facebook status, “Feeling really depressed and overwhelmed . . . does anyone know a good psychologist or psychiatrist I could see?” the same way we don’t hesitate to write, “Have a terrible sinus infection. Anyone know a good ENT?”

Mental illness is no one’s fault. It is an illness like cancer, or diabetes, or anything else that we don’t cause and we can’t prevent. But the difference is that we can treat it—yet only if we are able to be open and honest enough to get that diagnosis, and seek the support and help necessary.

It is time we take a stand against mental illness. We can speak about it, educate ourselves and educate others. Please, if you are suffering, reach out. Get help. Make an appointment. If you know someone who is suffering, please let them know you care, offer an ear and hand, and help them get the professional help they need. And if you don’t think this applies to you—trust me, it does.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my friends. With one, I have his picture from our wedding next to my Shabbat candles. And every week, when I light, I think of his loss, and how his flame that brought so much love and light was unnecessarily and prematurely extinguished.

Breaking the stigma won’t take away mental illness. But it will take away the fear associated with getting help and addressing the issues. Nothing I can do will bring back my friends. But the loss of my friends will ensure that I do everything in my power to never lose someone else I know in this way. Please, help your loved ones and do the same.



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Oldest known Auschwitz survivor dies at 108 

The oldest known survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp - a teacher who gave lessons in defiance of his native Poland's Nazi occupiers - has died at the age of 108.

Antoni Dobrowolski died Sunday in the northwestern Polish town of Debno, according to Jaroslaw Mensfelt, a spokesman at the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum.

After invading Poland in 1939, sparking World War II, the Germans banned anything beyond four years of elementary education in a bid to crush Polish culture and the country's intelligentsia. The Germans considered the Poles inferior beings, and the education policy was part of a plan to use Poles as a "slave race."

An underground effort by Poles to continue to teach children immediately emerged, with those caught being punished by being sent to concentration camps or prisons. Dobrowolski was among the Poles engaged in the underground effort, and he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz in June 1942.

"Auschwitz was worse than Dante's hell," he recalled in a video made when he was 103.

Dobrowolski, who was born Oct. 8, 1904, in Wolborz, Poland, was later moved to the concentration camps of Gross-Rosen and Sachsenhausen, according to the Auschwitz memorial museum in southern Poland.

After the war, he moved to Debno, where he worked as a Polish-language teacher and as principal at an elementary school and later at a high school for many years.

At least 1.1 million people were killed by the Germans at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Most of the victims were Jews, but many non-Jewish Poles, Roma, homosexuals and others were also killed there.



Friday, October 26, 2012

Anti-Semitic flyers distributed in French Town 

Authorities in the French town of Aix-les-Bains near Lyon reportedly have received numerous complaints about anti-Semitic flyers disseminated in letterboxes.

The tracts refer to Jews as "the main people responsible for the decadence of the White People and the invasion of sub-races" and were signed by "The Church of Wotan," a west Germanic god.

A number of complaints have been made to the police and an investigation is ongoing, the website of the regional edition of the France 3 television channel reported on Thursday. 

The text, which the report charterized as reminiscent of Nazi propaganda, announced: "Here, at Aix-les-Bains, we shall create the structure for the French racial resistance" and called on readers to "drive out the Jews who pollute the television, the radio and the cinema."

Aix-les-Bains is home to an Orthodox Jewish community centered around a prominent yeshiva. Around 1,000 Jews live in the town, according to the European Jewish Congress.

Several residents have complained to police and to city authorities, the report said. The first messages appeared on Monday.



Wilmette Police Blotter: Jewish Woman Reports Swastika Car Carving 

A Wilmette woman told police that someone had removed a Chicago Jewish Day School sticker from her car and had attempted to carve a swastika into the driver's door while the car was parked in front of her home, located in the 600 block of Harvard Street, between 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 and 6:30 a.m. Oct. 15. According to the police report, the responding officer could not determine whether the scratches on the car were an attempt to draw a swastika.



Thursday, October 25, 2012

MPB Fight Unites Ultra-Orthodox And Ultra-Ultra-Orthodox 

Buoyed by the city Board of Health's agreement to delay implementing its consent decree on metitza b'peh (MBP) while a lawsuit is pending, a group of plaintiffs held a press conference earlier this week to galvanize support. (Our invitation must have been caught in the Spam folder.)

Represented on the panel were chasidic rabbis from Satmar, Lubavitch and the haredi umbrella group Agudath Israel of America. But notably absent was any representative of Modern Orthodoxy. While individual opinions in that community on the practice of using oral suction of a wound during a bris may vary, the largest MO rabbinical body, the Rabbinical Council of America has taken a highly nuanced position on defending the practice against authorities who want to discourage it.

Opposing "unilateral government regulation" of the practice, the RCA also notes its belief that MBP "is not an integral part of the circumcision ritual," supporting use of a sterile tube. The group is not part of the lawsuit seeking to stop the Health Department from forcing mohelim in the five boroughs from performing MBP unless they obtain a signed informed consent decree from parents.

"Today is historic, and not in a good way,"  Yerachmiel Simins, a lawyer, told the Orthodox-run newspapers and web sites at the gathering.

"It is historic because Satmar, Agudah and Lubavitch have joined hands to fight this."



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fire destroys grand rabbi’s home in Westchester 

The summer home of Grand Rabbi Jacob Chezky Greenwald of Brooklyn was destroyed by fire Monday morning.

The home at his Kiryas Pupa Hasidic seminary at 340 Illington Road in the Town of Yorktown raced through the building. There were no injuries.

Fire officials believe the blaze started in rear area near the boiler; however, the cause is under investigation.

Rabbi Greenwald operates a school and synagogue in Rockland County as well as summer camps in Sullivan County.

The two-alarm fire in Westchester was extinguished by firefighters from a number of area departments.



Tuesday, October 23, 2012

N.Y. Jewish federation employee sentenced in $2 million donor scam 

A UJA-Federation of New York employee was sentenced to six to 18 years in prison for stealing and selling the personal information of donors.

Tracey Nelson, 25, who had worked at the federation for three years, was sentenced in Manhattan Supreme Court after pleading to grand larceny earlier this month, the New York Post reported last week. She was part of a $2 million identity theft operation that along with targeting the federation also hit banks and a car dealership.

Nelson sold the information of some 200 federation donors, including former AIG chief executive Maurice "Hank" Greenberg and billionaire investor Ira Rennert, according to the Forward. Others in the ring used the information to order duplicate credit cards or create and plunder dummy accounts.

Nelson, the mother of a young boy, collected several unemployment checks after she was fired by UJA in the summer of 2011, despite being in jail. The checks were stopped once the authorities discovered what was happening.

At the sentencing, Nelson wept and apologized for her actions, the Post reported.

According to the Post, UJA-Federation authorities have stressed that no donor suffered financial losses in the scam.



Monday, October 22, 2012

Gold Buyers Beware: Fraudulent Gold Found in the Marketplace 

A fake gold bullion bar makes a fine gag gift, but think twice before making it part of your investment portfolio.

What would happen if the gold bars you bought from a reputable dealer were "salted" with tungsten?

Word has been spreading that some gold experts have cracked open the gold bars that they bought only to discover tungsten (a metal worth about one-fifth of the value of gold) inside. Since tungsten has a similar density to gold, it's easy to confuse people, amateurs and experts alike. With bars of gold that weigh ten ounces or more, using regular x-rays to determine the chemical composition of the metal doesn't work well since the x-rays don't penetrate deep enough.

Some alarmists have referred to the recent findings as evidence of a possible market-shattering conspiracy. What if there are hundreds or thousands of counterfeit bars of gold sitting in the vaults of companies and governments? If you can't trust that the gold you buy is genuine, would you really buy it? Regardless of the veracity of the possibility that gold supplies are tainted, if people simply think that they are, the price of the commodity could start tumbling.

An additional way that falsified gold bars can affect the price of gold is that it also increases the cost of ownership of gold, as there may be increased costs involved in higher level testing for purity.

Regardless of how you purchase your gold, beware of the possibility that the whole gold marketplace might be affected by some bad eggs… just a reminder that you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket, no matter how shiny it is.

Buying novelty fake gold coins or a 24K gold dipped real rose is fine if that is your aim, but before you buy gold for an investment, you might want to read my previous post on buying gold.



Sunday, October 21, 2012

DUMBO restaurant The River Cafe discriminates against Jews: workers 

WRONG FROM WRITE: Two notes provided by an employee of The River Cafe seem to instruct eatery staff to discriminate against religious Jews -- over concerns they may not spend enough money -- by enforcing upon them a unique minimum-payment policy.

WRONG FROM WRITE: Two notes provided by an employee of The River Cafe seem to instruct eatery staff to discriminate against religious Jews -- over concerns they may not spend enough money -- by enforcing upon them a unique minimum-payment policy.

It’s unortho-docks!

The iconic River Café on the Brooklyn waterfront in DUMBO — famous for its floating-barge dining room that offers sweeping views of lower Manhattan — discriminates against Jews dressed in religious garb by requiring them to pay a minimum of $25 per person to sit at the bar, according to one current and one former employee.

The reservationists — who stand at the entrance to the popular wedding venue and tourist destination — are instructed to use code words to alert the maitre d’ if anyone wearing a yarmulke, “religious hat” or “strings” asks to be seated at the scenic bar, the workers say.

“There are several notes in a book that the reservationists use,” said a current employee at the restaurant, which opened in 1977. The book is kept at the greeting stand. New notes are added periodically by management, and employees are expected to read it before every shift, staffers said.

“The book says that if two religious Jews come in, we call ahead to the maitre d’ and say, ‘Is there space for two at the water bar?’ — in which case a minimum of $25 will be enforced that is just for Jews wearing yarmulkes or any sort of religious hat,” a staffer said. “The terminology in the book is ‘special hat’ or ‘religious hat.’ At the bar, the $25 minimum is only enforced for Jews.”

Restaurant officials denied the claim.

“The $25 minimum applies to everyone,” said Teddy Dearie, assistant manager at The River Café. “If it wasn’t applied, that is just someone not doing their job. The phrase ‘water bar’ I’ve never heard before. That phrase, or any deviation from the policy that’s been in place for several years, is not condoned by the restaurant and is indicative of an individual not performing the duties for which they have been hired.”

Images of the reservation book were provided to The Post to back up the employees’ claims.

“If they look as if they will only order water (not that we stereotype or anything) mention the minimum right away,” one note says. “If they ask for the bar and there is room, tell them there is a minimum at the bar as well.”

Another note reads: We “have decided that when people come in for the bar and are A. wearing sweat pants and B. religious top hats and strings, you must say for A. gym bar and for B. water bar. Thanks.”

On Thursday evening, The Post sent a Jewish couple to the bar. The husband, wearing a yarmulke, and the wife, dressed in a simple long skirt, were told the bar was full.

They were told they could sit on the empty terrace and pay a $25-per- person minimum.

Five minutes later, two Post reporters, wearing no religious garb, were seated on the terrace and were not required to pay a minimum. The bill for a coffee and a gin-and-tonic totaled $18.51.

The River Café — a non-kosher eatery famous for its $100 three-course prix-fixe menu featuring lobster, foie gras and rack of lamb — has become a popular date spot with Orthodox Jews, who are required by their religion to choose public places for dates.

Current and former employees said these couples come for the view and non-alcoholic beverages, and are frowned upon because they take up seats and don’t spend enough money.



Halloween hellion busted in bank-rob spree 

A Halloween-loving bank bandit just got a new costume — a jailhouse jumpsuit.

A terrifying robber dressed in a red skeleton mask and black gloves burst into a Brooklyn bank branch Wednesday and barked, “Happy f--king Halloween!” before pulling a gun on the teller.

The thief, later identified by police as Kevin Crawford, 20, allegedly spooked teller Maria Masallo with demands for twenty-dollar bills.

“I told you f--king 20s. Hurry up,” he allegedly yelled at Masallo, demanding $4,000.

She handed him double his stated price in cash and he bolted for the door.

Several witnesses followed the masked robber when he fled, surrounding the thug while they called the cops. He was busted nearby by Borough Park Shomrim volunteers, who held him until the police arrived.

Crawford was at the end of a two-day bank-robbing bender when he was apprehended, according to police sources.

On Tuesday, he allegedly struck at the Dime Savings Bank in Williamsburg, where he tried to open an account with a check written out for only 17 cents.

When a teller denied the request, he became livid and stormed off — only to return later.

The threatening youth allegedly gave a different teller a note: “Give me the money out of the register. I will kill you bitch.”

Crawford allegedly fled the bank with a loot bag containing $1,960.

On Wednesday afternoon, the brazen robber got in the Halloween spirit early when he allegedly hit up the Emigrant Savings Bank on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene.

“Trick or treat, give up the cash or I will kill you, bitch motherf--ker,” he allegedly snarled at the teller.

When the teller did not immediately empty out her drawers of cash — but instead turned to speak with her boss — the robber panicked and fled empty-handed.

The bank employee, Wilhelima Burgher, called 911, but Crawford pulled a disappearing act until later in the day.

Crawford was charged with robbery and attempted robbery.

The Shomrim who stopped Crawford — unarmed, civilian patrols set up by the Hasidic communities in NYC — are supposed to help fight burglary, vandalism and anti-Semitic attacks but do not have any authority to make arrests.



Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mile 11: Where Things Get Quiet in the Hasidic Neighborhoods of Williamsburg 

Marathon runners blaze a quiet trail through the Hasidic section of Williamsburg.

Remember the roar of the crowd at the end of Fourth Avenue? Those spectators on Lafayette who may have sweetly fibbed when they said you looked awesome?

Well, there’s not much of that during Mile 11, which passes through the Hasidic Jewish enclave of Williamsburg. For one fascinating stretch, the joggler will joggle in relative silence.

The majority of Williamsburg’s Hasidic residents belong to the Satmar sect, whose members came here from Romania and Hungary after World War II. This is an insular and complex community, one that speaks Yiddish, wears traditional dress and shuns many aspects of modern life (notice how the bicycle lane abruptly ends at Park Avenue).

My Times colleague Liz Robbins, who wrote the book on the marathon, “A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York” (Harper, 2008), calls this chapter “A Modest Mile.”

The marathon, Robbins writes, runs “counter to the Hasidic community’s strict interpretation of the commandment of tznuit, modesty.” So when the runners reach this stretch, “they are met with silence, interrupted only by the rustling of the fall leaves on the street or the muted sounds of small hands clapping. The runners see stares ­– quizzical, blank or bored — or they see people look away in modesty.”

The sight of thousands of runners in shorts or skin-tights traipsing through such a traditional neighborhood, as men go about their regular Sunday business (Sabbath was Saturday) and women walk with their children and strollers, is unforgettable and so totally Brooklyn.

It is also fleeting. After crossing the aptly named Division Avenue, Bedford slants to the right, putting the ramp to the Williamsburg Bridge into view. The look of the bystanders changes.

At Broadway, and a block to the right, is the beautiful dome atop the original Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, finished in 1875 and currently shrouded in construction scaffolding (Peter Luger Steakhouse is across the street).

Back at the corner of Bedford and Broadway is the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center. Even though it is housed in an 1867 building, this heart of the local art scene is a sure sign that we are back in the New World.



Friday, October 19, 2012

Chassidic Community Shocked: ‘Sabbath Gentile’ a Jew 

The Seret-Vizhnitz Chassidic community in Haifa was shocked to discover this week that the man who for years had served as the local "Sabbath gentile" was in fact Jewish.

The Ladaat website, which revealed the story, reported that the man in question is of Romanian origin and himself believed that he and his entire family were Christian.

He worked for one of the Chassidic community's institutions, and helped many people by performing activities prohibited to Jews on the Sabbath. A "Sabbath gentile" may assist in certain types of prohibited Sabbath labor.

Questions were first raised about the man's background when he mentioned that his mother lit candles on Friday night. At the time, a local Vizhnitz man said, members of the community thought the family was showing knowledge of Jewish customs in order to prove eligibility for Israeli citizenship.

However, chassidim later heard the man singing Jewish songs. When asked what he was singing, he explained that those were songs he had heard as a child.

His employers sent him to a leading posek (Jewish legal scholar) in the city. After a brief investigation into the man's background, the decision came back: the man is definitely Jewish.

A sign has been hung in the community's main synagogue warning that the worker is Jewish and must not be asked to do any prohibited labor on the Sabbath.



Thursday, October 18, 2012

Video of violent bust adds to tensions between cops, Hasids 

A video showing cops in Crown Heights beating an unarmed Jewish man is prompting more bad blood between Hasidim and neighborhood police, adding to tensions that are said to have been simmering for more than a year.

Residents say their relationship with the 71st Precinct and Brooklyn’s top brass was already contentious before footage of officers pummeling Ehud Halevy, 21, in an E. New York Ave. youth center went viral Sunday night.

The video adds to the anger precipitated by a previous recording, captured in September 2011, that showed cops arresting Moshe Sani, a graying Hasidic man who had fallen into a set of bushes on Albany Ave., as he begged the officers to let him go free because Rosh Hashana was about to begin.

“They just pick on people,” Sani, 40, told the Daily News. “They did it again.”

Like Halevy, video of Sani’s collar first appeared on CrownHeights.Info, a news site for the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community.

Conflicts between cops and Orthodox Jews are becoming more common, local leaders said.

“Blacks and Latinos are the ones usually complaining,” said state Sen. Eric Adams (D-Crown Heights). “The problem is impacting all communities.

“It’s gone beyond the Brownsvilles of the city,” he added. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not immediately respond to a request by The News seeking comment.

Sani said he was cuffed after he asked officers to stop interrogating a Hasidic driver who just been pulled over in a traffic stop, because Rosh Hashana was beginning.

“I said, ‘Bring your supervisor,’ ” Sani recalled in an interview with The News on Wednesday. “That made them crazy. (The officer) said, ‘Come over here. Why are you resisting arrest?’

“So I tried to walk away. He tried to run toward me. I put my hands on his chest to say, ‘Relax, I am leaving.’ Then I am in the bushes.”

Sani spent a night in police custody during the holiday that marks the Jewish new year, inciting anger among Crown Heights Jews.

Court records detailing the run-in were sealed, said a spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, but Sani said he was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer and received six months’ probation.

“I just wanted it to go away,” Sani said.

The Jewish Leadership Council provided The News with other cases it has noted since the Sani arrest, incidents in which Jewish crime victims have alleged that investigators were either too aggressive or non-responsive to their complaints.

“We have allegations against police all the time,” said Barry Sugar, who runs the Kingston Ave.-based organization.

Sugar’s most recent example highlights another Rosh Hashana drama. Last month, Shmuel Hahn, a 51-year-old father of 12, was jumped by four men, who beat him and broke his jaw.

Detectives have met with Hahn only once since the alleged Sept. 18 beatdown, prompting Sugar to write police brass demanding an explanation.

Halevy, 21, was accused of assaulting cops and hit with felony charges despite a videotape of the incident that showed him on the receiving end of a brutal police beating.

Elected officials and Jewish leaders have called for the firing of the two cops involved, and the incident is being investigated by the Brooklyn district attorney.

Halevy’s lawyer, Normal Siegel, said, “the goal is to eliminate biases within the NYPD.

“You can’t dismiss the possibility of anti-Semitism,” Siegel added. “There are racial, ethnic, class problems with the NYPD. It is an issue that the police commissioner and the mayor can’t ignore.”



Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Orthodox Jewish Candidate Mindy Meyer Brings Elephant To Fund-Raiser 

It's been a while since we've heard from the Elle Woods-inspired ('cause she's in law school and loves pink, okay?) State Senate candidate, Mindy Meyer. But now we're ready to make up for lost time, because in this latest chapter, young Rudy Giuliani-loving Republican has LITERALLY brought an elephant to the party!

The Post was on hand for a dinner that Meyer held on Long Island. It was a fund-raiser, apparently a very small one: "'I'm humbled by the overwhelming support for my campaign,' the law-school student cooed to the roughly 15 people — including her parents, grandfather and 20-something gal pals — at the dinner at the Inwood Country Club."

She's running against incumbent Democrat Kevin Parker, who has serious rage issues. Meyer has publicly said she was unfamiliar with Governor Cuomo (who works with the State Senate), but she was also featured in a NY Post fashion spread, so it all evens out. Though if she runs for President, she should probably know something about Congress.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Hasidic Community in Crown Heights Calls for Investigation into Innocent Man's Beating and Arrest  

The orthodox Jewish community in Crown Heights joined elected officials at a press conference Monday to protest what they feel is the wrongful arrest and beating of an innocent citizen.

Public Advocate Bill De Blasio, State Senators Eric Adams and Karim Camara, City Council Member Latisha James and other elected officials gathered with key advocates in Crown Height's Hasidic community to call for an investigation into an incident caught on video they feel showed NYPD officers using excessive force.

The incident took place on Monday, October 8, at 4:00 a.m., when 71st Precinct police were called to ALIYA (Alternative Learning Institute for Young Adults), a synagogue and outreach center for troubled youth in Crown Heights, about a reportedly homeless man who was sleeping in the lounge of the center.

The encounter showed two NYPD officers of the 71st Precinct attempting to escort the man from the facility. However, after the man told officers he had permission to be in the center, an argument ensued. The video showed the officers punching the man about his body until backup arrived, and he was finally resisted.

It was later discovered that the man, identified as Ehud H. Halevi, in fact had permission to be there, according to Rabbi Moshe Feiglin, the center's founder. Feiglin also expressed concerned that following the incident, others may now fear coming to the center.

"The tactics that were used are outside of proper protocol for removing someone from the scene or trying to subdue someone," said State Senator Eric Adams, who is also a retired NYPD captain.

Before the video tape was released, officers said that force was used after Halevi attacked them. However, that account is in contrast with what is shown on the video.

"The video tape does not lie. [Halevi] was not in a threatening position. Police officers are not in a boxing match; they are trained to use dialogue to try to de-escalate the situation."

The officers were responding to a call from someone inside of the center, who mistakenly thought the man was loitering on the center's property without permission, according to an unnamed source.

However, Yaacov Behrman, a community activist from Crown Heights, said it does not excuse the officers' use of excessive force and lack of protocol:
"This behavior is unacceptable," said Behrman. "We thank all the good officers that are protecting our streets, but we expect them to follow a proper protocol."

Halevi has been charged with assault on a police officer- which can bring a sentence of 5 years in prison upon conviction – and he is also facing four misdemeanor charges and four violations, including trespassing, resisting arrest and harassment.

Police officials have not yet commented on the incident since the video's release.

"From this video you are seeing that there is a common denominator amongst citizens where a level of excessive force is being used," said Adams. "You're seeing even in the heart of the orthodox and religious community, they are experiencing the same type of encounters."

Adams said he and other community members are scheduling a meeting with the commanding officer of the 71st Pct to ask that the officers in question are re-trained and put on modified assignment.

"We call on the district attorney to immediately drop all charges, and we demand that the 71st Precinct take the police officers off the street until the investigation is complete," said Behrman.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Jewish Man Knocked Unconscious in Paris Metro 

A Jewish man was attacked and rendered unconscious in a Paris metro, a local watchdog reported.

The 52-year-old victim entered the subway directly from his synagogue but wore no markings that would identify him as Jewish, according to a report on the late September incident by the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, a nonprofit watchdog organization. The incident occurred on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

He may have been targeted because of a Jewish philosophy book by the chief rabbi of Paris that he was reading in the metro when he was attacked, the report said.

The attackers, who are unknown, knocked the man unconscious with a sharp blow to his temple and did not steal anything from him as he lay unconscious on the subway floor. He sustained minor injuries.

A female passenger found the man lying on the floor and moved him out of the vehicle at Miromesnil station, near Champs-Elysees.

“It is clear from the pattern of incidents we are seeing that this was in all likelihood an anti-Semitic attack,” BNVCA President Sammy Ghozlan told JTA.

Last week, the security unit of France’s Jewish community, SPCJ, reported a 45 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents during the first eight months of 2012 in comparison with their 2011 level of 266 incidents. SPCJ also reported three separate attacks that occurred during the High Holidays.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

Local Jews' names crossed out on poster 

AN allegedly anti-Semitic poster found on Broadway on Friday has been added to a continuing police investigation.

Winnipeg police Sgt. Monica Stothers confirmed on Saturday that officers are continuing to investigate the original posters, found in mid-September, coinciding with the Rosh Hashanah Jewish new year holiday.

"This one is being investigated with the first ones," Stothers said. "The investigators are doing everything they can to identify the person who produced these posters."

The department's major crime and hate crime units are part of the investigation, Stothers said.

"We do take this seriously. It's an active, ongoing investigation."

The latest poster, which was affixed to a pole on Broadway, lists 13 people -- mostly Jewish -- with all of their names stroked out.

The poster also discusses "cliques, corruption and organized crime," has a reference to Hitler with a dollar sign and has a web address sending people to a recent article in the Jewish Post and News arguing for both Mayor Sam Katz and city CAO Phil Sheegl to resign.

David Matas, senior counsel to B'nai Brith, told the Free Press on Friday he believes the poster is anti-Semitism.

Matas said he believes police should already have been able to arrest the person responsible, especially since the person has allegedly been trying to justify his actions on the Internet.



Saturday, October 13, 2012

Man stabbed to death during fight in Borough Park 

A Borough Park man was slashed to death last night during a fight outside his home, cops said.

The victim had some people over to his apartment on 40th Street near 13th Avenue, said police sources.

An argument broke out while the group was drinking. The brawl spilled outside, and the man was stabbed once in the stomach at about 11:30 p.m., sources said.

The unidentified man was pronounced dead at the scene.

It was not immediately clear what the fight was over, and no arrests have been made.



Jewish Groups Sue NYC Over Circumcision Regulation 

Jewish groups have sued New York City’s Board of Health to prevent it from enforcing a rule that would require written parental consent for oral suction in ritual circumcision.

New York wants to pass the new law out of concern over metzitzah b’peh, a practice among ultra-orthodox Jews in which the person performing the circumcision (mohel) removes blood from the wound with his mouth. Metzitzah b’peh has been linked to 11 cases of oral herpes and two deaths between 2000 and 2011, the city said.

“The city’s highest obligation is to protect its children,” said Dr. Thomas A. Farley, commissioner of New York’s health department, according to the New York Times.

The lawsuit filed by several rabbis and Jewish organizations such as Agudath Israel of America and the International Bris Association states that Jewish families have safely conducted the practice of circumcision and metzitzah b’peh for generations, and that the new law would be unconstitutional.

“Not only is the Department of Health wrong about metzitzah b’peh, it is trying to enforce its erroneous opinions on the people of New York City…By essentially starting a public intimidation campaign that forces private citizens to spread the government’s beliefs, they are shaking the core of our democracy. We believe the courts will stop this overzealous government overreach and keep them out of our speech and religion,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesman for the groups suing the city.



Friday, October 12, 2012

N.Y. Gives Voter Help in Spanish, Not Yiddish 

Spanish-speaking voters in Rockland and Ulster counties in New York will receive assistance at the polls this November to ensure an easy process for casting their ballots. Similar concessions, however, have not been made for the large Yiddish-speaking population of Hasidic Jews in the upstate counties.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that bilingual Spanish/English materials and interpreters will be available before and during election day on November 6.

Schneiderman was acting in accordance with Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that "certain Spanish-speaking voters be provided bilingual ballots, bilingual election-related materials and language assistance at the polls."

According to the 2010 Census, 5.5 million voters in the state do not speak English as a primary language. That number would include large communities of Hasidim who speak Yiddish as a primary language, along with Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union who speak Russian.

One of the largest Hasidic communities is in Orange County, which adjoins Rockland.

Last month, Schenectady County's Board of Elections entered into a similar agreement. Friday is the last day to register to vote for the 2012 general election.



Thursday, October 11, 2012

Campaigners wait on High Court decision over Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School in Mill Hill 

Campaigners fighting the building of a new primary school in Mill Hill are taking their case to the High Court today.

A group of residents angry at plans for the Etz Chaim Jewish School, in Daws Lane, Mill Hill, are seeking an injunction to halt building work that has already begun.

The group claims the site, formerly owned by Wyevale Garden Centre, should be retained for community use.

The former garden centre was used by a number of community groups for the elderly and disabled before it was shut down by owners and sold to the school contractors.

The school has already started one class in the former Sea Scouts building over the road.

Campaigners have lined up buyers who say they would build community facilities on the site.

Barnet Borough Council's planning committee granted permission for the independent school despite fierce opposition from residents.

However, the decision underwent a judicial review, which found the authority did not carry out a proper impact assessment on the local area before granting permission.

A subsequent consultation was carried out and the planning permission was approved last year.

Opponents to the building are today awaiting a decision by the high court on whether or not the building should go ahead.

Barnet Council said it would not comment on the hearing until a decision was made.

No-one from the school has been available for comment.



Wednesday, October 10, 2012

High-Profile Hasidic Wedding to Draw Thousands on Bedford Avenue 

Thousands of jubilant Hasidic Jews are expected to fill Bedford Avenue in South Williamsburg next Wednesday night, to celebrate the wedding of their leader's grandson.

The Rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum, one of the two Grand Rebbes of Satmar Hasidic Judaism, has invited his followers to watch his grandson Chaim Hersch Rosenberger marry Classoner Rav Scher, the daughter of Williamsburg Rabbi Asher Anshel Scher, Hasidic community members said and the Jewish Press noted. "We follow Rabbi Zalman so when his grandchildren get married it's like we're a part of the family," said Simon Weiser, a Hasidic resident and a member of Williamsburg's Community Board One. "I'm very excited."

The outdoor ceremony that begins at 6 p.m. on Bedford Avenue and Williamsburg Street will draw thousands of people, officials said, who noted that a celebration would be held afterward in a building inside of the Navy Yard.

NYPD officers will monitor traffic safety and street closures, officials said.

Rosenberger is the first of Zalman's grandchildren to marry, Weiser said, noting that the last celebration of such proportions was a few years ago with the wedding of Zalman's youngest daughter also outdoors in Williamsburg.

"He has followers all over the world," Weiser said of Zalman. "He's the shepherd to the sheep. We feel very attached to him."



Rabbis step up war on smartphones 

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are stepping up their war on smartphones, using the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah as an excellent opportunity to prove just how serious they are.

On Monday evening, during the traditional singing and dancing with Torah scrolls at the Porat Yosef Yeshiva in Jerusalem, yeshiva head Rabbi Moshe Tzadka ordered one of the worshippers to break his phone.
The Anash News website reported that immediately afterwards, the rabbi ordered anyone in need of salvation to receive a blessing from the man – as a sign that his spiritual level was higher after destroying the device.

Before the phone was broken, Rabbi Tzadka said it was a mitzvah of "Kiddush Hasem" (martyrdom) and that performing it was like acting on the verse dealing with idolatry: "Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones." (Deuteronomy 7:5)
After the phone owner broke the device in two with his hands, the rabbi called on the audience to repeat after him, "So may all your enemies perish, Lord!" (Judges 5: 31)
Haredi news agency Kav Hahasifot ("Exposure Line") reported that in the yeshiva of Rabbi Shmuel Halevy Wosner, one of the prominent Hasidic rabbis, a donation was from one of the worshippers was refused after it was revealed that he owned a smartphone.
During Simchat Torah, some synagogues "sell" readings of the Torah to the highest bidder. One of the most prestigious readings is that of "all the youth", in which the person reading the Torah does it with all the children who have yet to reach their bar mitzvah.
According to the report, one of the worshippers at the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva in Bnei Brak, headed by Rabbi Wosner, "bought" the reading of "all the youth" for a very respectable sum of NIS 10,000 (about $2,500).

Another worshipper, who heard about the purchase, rushed over to the yeshiva head's son and informed him that the buyer owns an iPhone. The son did not hesitate and immediately canceled the "purchase" and ruled that the Torah reading must be resold.
According to one of the synagogue goers, the buyer's pleas and explanations that he only uses the device for his work were 


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Simkin family going down in history 

Although successful in business, to Abe Simkin family was his most important asset.

And it is thanks to Simkin's love of family that in future years, both the Jewish community and the community at large will benefit.

It's because Simkin, 90, the last survivor of the brothers who founded what became the largest company in Western Canada, BACM Industries, which later was merged with Genstar, recently decided to sign the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba's Book of Life.

It's a program in which a person promises to leave the foundation a gift from his or her estate and in return the signor is able to chronicle the family's history.

But Simkin didn't want to do it on his own -- he wanted his more than 50 children, nieces and nephews to join him.

They have, and last week several members of the Simkin family, including Abe, signed the book at a recognition evening event with 18 other individuals and couples.

"They were all delighted in being part of the project when I asked," he said. "It has made me realize the importance of putting down the Simkin history... I felt a strong need to remember and record my family.
"In hindsight I am shocked I waited so long."

The Simkin family joins the more than 700 individuals and/or families who have signed the book since it began more than 10 years ago, with the Jewish Foundation already receiving more than $20 million from several estates.

Marsha Cowan, the foundation's executive director, said the best thing about the Book of Life is "the commitment people are making to the future of this community and Winnipeg.

"It is really exemplary. As a community, we have a debt of gratitude to the people who remembered the foundation in their will."

Simkin was born in 1922, the youngest of seven children born to Samuel and Fanny Simkin. At the time, the family farmed in Pine Ridge, on a property that is now part of Birds Hill Provincial Park.

The family moved to Winnipeg and his father started Simkin's Fuel.

Later, as the brothers, Jim, Saul, and Israel (Blackie), became adults, they all joined the family business and later founded BACM Industries.

At its height, the company employed 10,000 people across the country, built 5,000 houses annually and took part in the construction of every major dam and airport between Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Simkin also had three sisters, Jen Cohen, Clara Erlichman, and Esther, who died when she was two.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community also honoured the memory of former teacher Wanda Tolboom, who taught English for more than 30 years at Ramah Hebrew School and Talmud Torah.

Tolboom died in 2007 and left a bequest to the foundation that has been used to buy books for grades 4 to 6 students at the Gray Academy of Jewish Education.

Daniel Kroft, a recent graduate of the school, said his mother was one of her students, and they all appreciate the books Tolboom's generosity provided.

"(She) felt a deep connection to Winnipeg's Jewish community and had a tremendous impact on hundreds of Jewish children," Kroft said.

"While not Jewish herself, Wanda felt at home in Winnipeg's Jewish schools. She loved the kids, took the time to learn about Jewish culture and religion, attended many bar and bat mitzvahs and even spent a summer in Israel.

"We were blessed to have Wanda Tolboom in our midst."



Saturday, October 06, 2012

Parent on East Ramapo school patrol is sex convict 

One of the parents who earlier this week confronted trespassers at an East Ramapo elementary school to highlight the dangers of failing to secure school borders is a Level 1 sex offender.

Keith Meyers, 47, of Spring Valley pleaded guilty in 1999 to a misdemeanor count of attempted possession of a sexual performance of a child less than 16 years of age, officials at the state Division of Criminal Justice Services said Friday. Meyers told Journal News reporter Mareesa Nicosia of his status, but the information was not included in a story on Page One Wednesday.

Level 1 is the lowest of the state’s three designations, and Level 1 offenders are considered at low risk of repeating their crimes.

There are no local laws prohibiting Level 1 offenders who have successfully completed their probation from being on school grounds, said Patricia Gunning, chief prosecutor for the Special Victims Unit of the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office.

Though registered with the state for a 20-year period, Level 1 offenders are not listed on the state’s sex offender website.

About eight parents patrolled the grounds of Grandview Elementary for two hours Tuesday, confronting walkers as they took a shortcut through the property.

Most of the men and women cutting across the school’s expansive back lawn were Orthodox or Hasidic Jews observing the festival of Sukkot, a time when they typically do not drive.

Joseph Gestetner, a Spring Valley man who writes in the local community and maintains a popular blog, questioned the motives of the parents who patrolled the school and confronted the men and women while they were observing the religious festival.

“There’s a saying in the Talmud that somebody who has failure tends to project that failure on to other people,” said Gestetner, who has a child in an East Ramapo private school.

“Being that he was the guy over there rushing over to people on a Tuesday afternoon in the rain with nothing else on his mind other than wondering if there’s an Orthodox pedophile running around, you have to look at your own books. We did and this is what we found,” he said.



Friday, October 05, 2012

Merchants to city: Put your bad apples in another basket 

Midwood residents are lashing out at the city’s plans to put a truancy center next to a private all-girl’s school on Ocean Avenue — demanding that the city should put its bad apples in another basket.

The new Truancy Processing Center — where school-age children caught playing hooky will be housed until 2 pm or when their parents can come to pick them up — will be located near Avenue M, yet residents, merchants, and local civic leaders claim that the kids housed in the new facility could endanger students at Yeshiva Shaare Torah next door.

“Whoever is making this decision has no idea what he’s doing!” said Yitzi Gruen, the owner of Judaica Place, which is two doors down from the proposed center. “The city’s asking for chaos by putting these kids in a safe area and next door to a girl’s school.”

Other neighboring merchants say they have no interest in adding a bunch of hooky-playing kids to an area that already sees large flocks of rambunctious teenagers hitting the shopping corridor every time Edward R. Murrow High School lets out.

Calls to the yeshiva were not returned, but civic leaders say the whole community will be negatively impacted by the truancy center’s presence.

“I have deep concerns about the unacceptable behavior of truant students,” said City Council Michael Nelson (D–Midwood), who is opposing the plan. “Everyone will be negatively affected — residents, businesses and particularly the safety of other students in the community.”

Other community leaders are outraged that the city did not meet with them first before deciding to drop the truancy center in their neighborhood.

“We don’t know the number of truants that will be brought to the facility or how many will be released to roam the streets of Midwood unsupervised at the end of the school day,” said Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D–Midwood).

A Department of Education spokeswoman said that her agency does not control the placement of truancy centers, even though it will be inside an agency building.

Attempts to reach the Mayor’s Task Force on Truancy and Absenteeism were unsuccessful by our midnight deadline.



The Bulletproof Stockings 

Dalia G. Shusterman, wearing bright red lipstick and a cropped jean jacket, and Perl Wolfe, in a leopard print top, look the part of alternative rock musicians. They talk about "wailing and rocking out" and list influences like Radiohead, the White Stripes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction.

The only tip-off that these young women are not your average rockers are their sheitls, or wigs. Shusterman and Wolfe, Lubavitcher Hasidim living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, are the Bulletproof Stockings – the first-ever Hasidic alt-rock girl band.

By day, Shusterman, in her mid-30s, is a part-time graphic designer and recently widowed mother of four young boys between the ages of two and eight. Wolfe, a 26-year-old divorcée, is a makeup artist who manages a cosmetics store in Boro Park that caters mainly to Hasidic women. By night, the two play gigs at various New York venues and work on writing and recording their first album, the follow-up to the release earlier this year of their four-track EP "Down to the Top."

The band's name hints that the musicians intend to defy stereotypes: "Bulletproof stockings" is a tongue-in cheek reference to the thick, opaque leg-wear traditionally worn by Hasidic women.

Because of the rabbinic prohibition of  kol isha, which bars men from  hearing women sing, only women are admitted to their live performances. Men who want to listen to Shusterman on drums and to Wolfe's keyboard and soulful voice must make do with their MP3s and online videos.

The two see no contradiction in the fact that men are prohibited from coming to hear them play, but can easily hear them online.

"The deal is that it's not a women's mitzvah not to play," explained Shusterman, using a term for a religious commandment. Her speech, in English, is riddled with Hebrew and Yiddish terms. "It's a man's mitzvah not to listen. Anyone who knows halacha [Jewish law] will tell you this. There are plenty of frum [religious] women putting their music out, and YouTube and Amazon and iTunes are the media for getting it out there. And especially for parnasa [income], it's not even a question."

"We could sing in the middle of the street and all the men would have to leave. But for the sake of ahavat yisrael [love of fellow Jews], we don't make issues for people," Wolfe said.

"Where we draw our line is who we will perform live for," Shusterman said. "We are not going to put men in a position where they have to listen to us."

But they are more interested in the flip side of the gender equation. "We are creating a forum where women can freely express themselves without having the male input and presence," Shusterman said.

"We believe there is a beauty in keeping things separate," explained Wolfe. "We want to create this space for women to sing and dance and jump up and down and mosh pit…we need it. Girls need it." Otherwise, when men and women attend concerts by male singers, "the women just sit there. It's the men who get to have a good time and rock out," she said.

They also want to inspire other observant Jewish girls and women to play music. "We really want girls to pick up their instruments and start getting into it. There's a weird misconception that it's not Jewish to do this kind of thing," said Wolfe.

The band is looking to expand to include a guitarist, bassist and string musician. Candidates must be women. "It would be easier if they were Jewish, but it's not necessary," Wolfe said.

The two musicians believe it was bashert – predestined — that they found each other.

Shusterman grew up Modern Orthodox in Potomac, Maryland. She played piano as a little girl, but it was shortly after she turned 16 that she discovered her natural affinity for percussion. At a New Year's party she went onstage and used the drums while the band was on a break between sets.

"I started shaking a tambourine, and I just worked my way up to bongos and the congas. And the next thing I knew, I looked up and the whole room of people was dancing to my playing," she recalled. "It was a total revelation for me."

Soon, Shusterman was busking with other teen musicians on the streets of D.C. While still 16, she hitchhiked across the country: "I had lots of adventures and I eventually landed up in New Orleans, where I was playing a lot of jazz music. People heard me playing on the street and just pulled me up on to their stages."

Her professional career as an indie musician took off when, as an undergraduate studying philosophy and literature at SUNY Purchase, a friend roped her into playing drums to open for the band Boss Hog. That led to several years of recording and international touring with another indie band, Hopewell.

But Shusterman left the indie rock scene when Hasidic Judaism started to feel like a better spiritual fit than life on the road. "As much as I totally loved it, I had one foot off the tour bus," she said. "It's a very spiritual experience when you're performing. There were these massive crowds and it was amazing, but then when you walk off stage and you're facing life."

She discovered Chabad Lubavitch, the Hasidic outreach group, in September 2001 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, when someone handed her a flyer for a Sukkot event in Crown Heights. "That night was my first real Chabad experience, and I also met my future husband that night," she recalled. "I stopped doing the band thing that fall and ended up marrying a rabbi."

Shusterman and her husband, who was also a music lover, moved to Los Angeles and had four boys. The family's life was thrown into turmoil by her husband's untimely death last spring.

Coincidentally, that was the same  time that Wolfe, who had moved from Chicago to Crown Heights after her divorce in 2008, suddenly found herself writing music. She had studied classical piano since age six, but had never written music, lyrics or poetry before.

Wolfe, who was raised in a Chabad family in Chicago, never felt she completely fit in. As a teen she was rebellious and, although she remained within the Jewish community, did not socialize with girls from her religious school.

Uniquely, Wolfe's parents — neither of whom had grown up Orthodox — exposed her to musicians like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. She eventually found her way to Led Zed Zeppelin, The Doors, and punk rock. Wolfe's father played jazz on the piano, leading her to  legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Etta James.

For a time, Wolfe drifted away from observance, but she moved back toward it when she attended a religious seminary in Israel after high school, got married, and started her studies in psychology at Northwestern University. Following her divorce, Wolfe, returning to her roots, felt the pull of the Lubavitch community and made her way to Crown Heights.

Bulletproof Stockings' music has been compared to that of Adele, Nina Simone, Fiona Apple and Florence and the Machine, but Wolfe insists she is not trying to sound like anyone but herself when she writes and sings her compositions — all of which are inspired by Torah and by Lubavitch's version of Hasidic faith.

"I'm trying to channel my soul," she said. "When I'm recording, I'm thinking, 'Hashem, give me the right words, the right intention, so that it comes out the right way to inspire me and the people who will hear me.'"

"I didn't expect to find someone that I would connect with musically," Wolfe said of her encounter with Shusterman last year through a mutual acquaintance. Shusterman, for her part, never thought she would play her drums again.

But does Shusterman, who got off the tour bus long ago, really want to get back on?

"It's true that I never thought I'd go back," she said, hugging her bandmate. "This is the only way I would do it."



Thursday, October 04, 2012

Anti-Hasidic bigotry accusations leveled 

The Monroe Town Board has approved a seemingly minor annexation request that two Woodbury boards rejected, setting the stage for a possible court fight over an issue that has rekindled anxiety about Kiryas Joel expanding and provoked accusations of anti-Hasidic bigotry.

Developer Zigmond Brach and the Village of Kiryas Joel jointly petitioned in May for Monroe to annex roughly 14 acres in neighboring Woodbury. The property consists mostly of undeveloped land that Brach owns and includes a half-acre parcel where Kiryas Joel has erected two water storage tanks.

In separate votes last month, officials representing the Town of Woodbury and the Village of Woodbury unanimously opposed the request. In its rejection, village officials listed numerous technical and substantive reasons, including the prospect that Brach would develop the land at much greater density in Monroe than Woodbury's zoning allows.

The Monroe Town Board voted 5-0 in support of the petition Monday night, declaring that "the property owners appear to face outright hostility" in Woodbury and are more likely to get "fair treatment" in Monroe. Its decision quoted comments made at a public hearing in July, including one about "our friendly bearded neighbors who seek to reshape our village borders."

Monroe Councilman Harley Doles said Tuesday that his board supported the request because "we have a duty to make sure everybody is able to play on the same playing field."

Under state law, Monroe can ask a state appeals court to review the case and approve the requested border shift. Doles said the board hasn't discussed whether to do so.

Woodbury Councilman James Skoufis said opposition to the request was so strong because it was seen as a test case for future efforts to annex large land tracts such as 140-acre ACE Farm into Kiryas Joel to allow the continued development of multifamily housing.

"Whoever wins in court will have precedent on their side," Skoufis said.

He dismissed the suggestion of anti-Hasidic sentiment, saying that an annexation request must "be in the overall public interest, and I haven't heard any argument, compelling or otherwise, why this would be in Woodbury's interest."



Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Monsey Parents Beef Up Security Against Trespassers Near School 

Sick and tired of trespassers near Grandview Elementary School in Monsey, some parents have started their own patrol.

They say security is their primary concern.

There are close to 20 registered sex offenders near East Ramapo schools.

The Journal News reported that parents warned dozens of pedestrians taking a shortcut by the school yesterday.

Most of those taking the shortcut were from the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities and they typically walk from place to place in that neighborhood, and have no choice but to walk on holidays, such as the current one – Sukkot. Observant Jews can’t use buses or cars on holidays or the sabbath.

The Journal News also reported there was some tension including one man accusing the parents of being anti-Semitic. Some allege that they are using concerns about sex offenders to go after the trespassers.

This could potentially be another flash-point in a district with a history of budget and policy disagreements. The religious and secular neighbors don’t always see eye to eye.



Tuesday, October 02, 2012

US Supreme Court won't review kosher exec's appeal 

The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review a 27-year prison term given to a former kosher slaughterhouse executive convicted of financial fraud following a huge immigration raid at an Iowa meatpacking plant.

Without comment, justices declined to consider an appeal filed by former Agriprocessors Inc. vice president Sholom Rubashkin as they opened their new term. The decision lets stand Rubashkin's conviction on 86 counts of financial misconduct and a prison term that could lock up the 52-year-old for the rest of his life.

Rubashkin was convicted in 2009 of bilking the Postville plant's lender out of $27 million by submitting fake invoices that made the company's finances appear healthier than they were so that it could borrow more money. His arrest came after federal immigration authorities raided the plant and arrested 389 illegal immigrants in 2008 in what was, at the time, the largest such workplace raid in the nation.

Rubashkin had argued that U.S. District Judge Linda Reade, who presided over his trial, could not be impartial because records showed she met with investigators to plan the logistics of the immigration raid. He also argued his prison term was too long for a first-time, nonviolent offender.

Rubashkin hired Paul Clement, a top Washington lawyer and former solicitor general under President George W. Bush, to pursue the appeal, which the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of former attorneys general and other legal experts also supported. Clement's office didn't immediately return a phone message.

"This is a sad day for justice in America," said Des Moines attorney Guy Cook, who represented Rubashkin at trial and is still involved in his defense. "It is remarkable the Court would ignore the many briefs submitted by a cross section of legal experts urging the court to review the case."

In urging justices to deny the appeal, the Office of the Solicitor General argued Rubashkin failed to prove that Reade should have recused herself or that he suffered any actual bias as a result. Reade has said that she was never informed who the target of the raid would be or where it would take place. Instead, she was involved in bringing in enough judges and court staff to have hearings at an offsite location, the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, which was used because of the large number of defendants.

The solicitor general's office also noted that Rubashkin's sentence was within advisory guidelines.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence last year.



Jewish-American contractor imprisoned in Cuba may have cancer 

A doctor says Alan Gross, the Jewish American man imprisoned in Cuba, may have a cancerous growth on his shoulder, contradicting the Cuban government, which has said his health is normal.

A lawyer for Alan Gross said Tuesday that a U.S.-physician came to that conclusion after reviewing medical records sent by Cuba. The doctor said the mass that appeared more than five months ago behind Gross' right shoulder must be assumed to be cancerous unless proven harmless.

Gross, 63, has been in prison in Cuba since late 2009. He was working as a U.S.-government subcontractor when he was arrested, and his case has become a source of tension in U.S.-Cuba relations.

The prison sentence relates to his work importing satellite and other communications equipment into the communist country as part of a democracy-building program funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Cuba considers such programs to be attempts against its sovereignty.

A senior Cuban diplomat, Foreign Ministry official Josefina Vidal, said in September that Gross's health "continues to be normal and he exercises regularly."

But Dr. Alan A. Cohen, a radiologist who reviewed medical records sent by Cuba, said in a statement released Tuesday by Gross' lawyer that some of the studies were mislabeled and that the mass "has yet to be properly evaluated."

The doctor said it would be preferable if Gross was immediately examined at a facility in the United States.

Messages left Tuesday with Cuban government officials in Havana and a spokesman for the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, which Cuba maintains instead of an embassy, were not immediately returned. Gross' lawyer, Jared Genser, said Cohen's review was sent to the Interests Section by email Monday.

Genser also released a statement from Gross' wife, Judy Gross, in which she asked Cuban President Raul Castro to allow her husband to be examined by a doctor chosen by Gross and his family. She and her lawyer have made the request before.

"President Castro, I beg you not to let my husband die on your watch," Judy Gross said. "Your country claims to have such a wonderful health care system - yet why have your doctors misdiagnosed him and failed to order the right tests to determine what is actually happening?"



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