Friday, November 30, 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 'Banding Together' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Judge gets snippy over courtroom snapshot outing accuser, 4 men detained in connection with illegal photo 

A teen who says a Hasidic counselor demanded oral sex from her has been outed on the Internet, where photos of her testifying against her alleged abuser have surfaced.

Four men were detained Thursday in connection with the illegal photo sharing and are expected to be charged with criminal contempt, law enforcement sources said.

The disturbing twist in the case involves a cell phone photo — clearly showing the 17-year-old — that was snapped Wednesday inside the Brooklyn courtroom, incensing Supreme Court Justice John Ingram.

"This is on the Internet now," the angry jurist told the four ultra-Orthodox men. "It's probably streamed all over the world."

The judge admonished the foursome — whom he identified as Lemon Juice, Abraham Zupnick, Joseph Fried and Yona Weisman — saying they violated a rule prohibiting photography in court.

"What you have done, apparently, is take the photos in the courtroom yesterday and today," Ingram said. "You know about the law, you know about the Torah, you know about rabbinical courts — this is a civil court."

The judge also hinted that they should expect repercussions.

"You might want to avail yourself of counsel," Ingram said. "Never come into my courtroom ever again and bring a phone with you."

Nine cell phones were confiscated as part of the probe, he added.

Fried works as a news reporter and runs a Twitter feed aimed at the insular Satmar sect, to which the accused abuser, Nechemya Weberman, belongs, a source said. Called Satmar Headquarters, the account has some 8,000 followers.

uice, a staunch Weberman detractor, according to relatives, works at a bakery. Weisman has a referral business, and Zupnick is supported by a wealthy father, said a person who knows all four men.

The bizarre event is the latest development in a long and sordid saga that already included bribery and intimidation allegations before and during the trial.

Weberman, 54, is accused of molesting the girl over a three-year period — beginning when she was 12 — while counseling her in his office apartment. The alleged victim was sent to Weberman because she objected to wearing thick tights and other clothing she considered overly modest.

Now married, the teen — whose identity had been withheld because she is an alleged sex assault victim — has spent 12 hours on the stand over three days. Her testimony is expected to continue Friday.

A spectator told court officers he noticed someone snap a cell phone photo from the back row Thursday afternoon, triggering the investigation.

An image of the teen, which was obtained by the Daily News, was taken Wednesday. That's the same day Weberman was also accused of staring the girl down as she rested in an interview room during one of the court breaks.

In response, to shield her from intimidation, the girl was escorted in and out of the courthouse Thursday by a plainclothes police officer, sources said.

After the sneak photos were discovered, all spectators had to voucher their cell phones before returning to the packed courtroom.

"This is not some sporting event where people can bring their phones to take photos," Ingram told spectators. "It's against the law."

Even before the pictures were snapped, the case against Weberman had caused friction in the Orthodox Jewish community, with supporters raising money on his behalf and detractors rallying against the fund-raising.

In June, a man was charged after he allegedly offered a $500,000 bribe for the teen to drop the charges. Three other people were accused of intimidation after the kosher certificate was torn from a restaurant owned by the teen's then-boyfriend.

The girl — who spent most of Thursday deflecting probing and intimate questions about her relationship with a former beau — appeared depleted as she stepped off the stand at day's end. For the first time, she dabbed tears from her eyes.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

Accused Hasidic perv twist 

The explosive sexual-abuse trial of a Hasidic leader got even more heated yesterday when the defendant was accused of trying to intimidate his alleged victim — in the courthouse.

Nechemya Weberman, 54, accused of sexually abusing the girl starting when she was 12 years old, allegedly stared her down through the glass door of a Brooklyn Supreme Court conference room, law-enforcement sources and a victim's advocate said.

His alleged victim, now a married 17-year-old, was composing herself in the conference room with her husband during a break in her testimony when Weberman appeared outside the glass, said Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a family friend of the victim.

"He gave her an angry, threatening look and wouldn't leave," said Horowitz.

"She jumped up and said, 'Get out of here!' When I came in, her hands were shaking."

Law-enforcement sources confirmed that the alleged intimidation was reported to the court.

A defense attorney for Weberman said it never happened.

"We can't control any alleged complaints. I'll only say that it's pure, unadulterated bulls--t," said defense attorney George Farkas.

The pretty blond teen testified under cross-examination yesterday about the sexual abuse she allegedly suffered at a business run by her father and Weberman, a Satmar leader.

The business produced a phone directory of Orthodox doctors and specialists.

The teen testified that Weberman would lock her into a small room in the business offices and sexually abuse her, even while others were working in the offices outside, including her sister. 



Brooklyn's 33rd Council District will see influx of Hasidic potential voters in Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy: sources 

Vito Lopez's last-second inclusion isn't the only controversy swirling around the proposed new City Council redistricting map mess.

Political insiders say that under proposed new lines, the 33rd Council District will see an influx of approximately 5,000 Hasidic potential voters in Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. That development is expected to boost the reelection chances of Councilman Steve Levin (D-Greenpoint), the scandal-scarred Lopez's former chief of staff.

"Packing Hasidim into the district seems to be counter to the trend of the area, which is towards greater diversity," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York.

"The deciding factor here may well be incumbency protection and we don't believe that the charter is designed to encourage that." Levin is expected to face a fierce challenge from reformer Lincoln Restler, 28, who has wide support in the district's upper-class areas, like Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO.

But Restler's strong base in Park Slope and Gowanus is being moved into a neighboring district.

"Unfortunately back room deals remain endemic in New York City politics to the detriment of our communities," Restler said. "Ripping up neighborhoods for political gain is a clear violation of that principle."

Levin staunchly defended the new lines, arguing that nothing was negotiated behind closed doors.

"The changes to the 33rd District were logical and appropriate and based on sound reasoning," he said.

Over the past 10 years, sections of Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy have experienced a tremendous influx of white residents, Levin added.

Carving out those parts would allow the neighboring 35th District, currently represented by City Councilwoman Letitia James (D-Crown Heights) to maintain its status as a minority district, he argued.

As for Park Slope, many government insiders support the suggested move, noting the district is currently represented by two separate city lawmakers.

Based on the proposed changes, the entire area would fall under the 39th District, represented by Councilman Brad Lander (D-Cobble Hill).

Problems with the map surfaced after the commission charged with the task quietly moved Lopez's home into the district represented by Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Williamsburg), who is term limited out in 2013. The changes were done as a favor to Lopez pal Councilman Erik Dilan (D-Bushwick).



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

HILLSBOROUGH: Residents raise objections to school calendar 

 The second day of the Jewish high holy day of Rosh Hashanah, Friday, Sept. 6, may not be the first day of the 2013-2014 school year as the calendar currently proposes.

   Residents attending Monday night’s Board of Education meeting objected strenuously and the school board will reconsider its earlier decision.

   ”I believe the 2013-14 calendar for the school year should be revisited and revised,” said resident and former district teacher Toby Kansagor in the public comment session. “Sept. 6 is a Friday. I do not believe this meets the needs of students. It is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar. It is insensitive and insulting to the Jewish community. Parents and students will be forced to make a choice between religion and the first day of school.

   ”Teachers will have to figure out how to handle it for those who miss. How will you deal with teachers who miss?”

   Teachers are required to give five days notice before taking a personal day. She wondered how that might be handled before school starts.
   ”The choice of this day as the opening of the school year is insensitive,” she continued. “Think of the example you are exhibiting.”

   Resident Bonnie Kohn strongly agreed. “It is appalling to me that we are having this conversation in 2012.” She said she is a teacher in Somerset County.

   ”The point is, I would hope we have come far enough that we can be sensitive, respectful. To open these schools on Rosh Hashanah would be akin to asking students to come to school on Christmas and Good Friday,” she said. “Nothing is going to be accomplished. The first day of school is organized bedlam. Nothing is going to happen on that day that could not happen on Monday. There are some things that are wrong. It never should have come to the table or been discussed as an option.”

   Noting that the student population is growing more diverse and many different religious holidays need to be considered, resident Shangar Nandra said, “You as a Board of Education member have to come up with the criteria on what religious days the school should be closed. I hope you will give us your feedback” (on how the decision was made).

   Board President Thomas Kinst responded, “I cannot comment on how the calendar was put together in the past. There are a lot of constraints.”

   He said schools must start in September; there must be in-service days for teachers; and, there are constraints on extending the school year into the summer.

   Also considered is whether there would be a large portion of the student body and teaching staff absent.

   He noted there is now only one snow day this year when the board usually tries to schedule three.

   ”This is the best output. It does not mean that we cannot change it,” he said.

   Superintendent Jordan Schiff noted he does not think any group in Hillsborough values education more than any other group.

   Board of Education member and Education Committee Chair Judith Hass agreed with the public.

   ”We have the option of having additional school days in November with the teacher’s conference,” she said. “We can respect everybody’s holidays. We’ve had a lot of letters and phone calls. A lot of people are upset about it. The calendar is a nightmare. It always will be a nightmare. I think we can do better. I’d like to bring this up again to be discussed in committee.” The board agreed.

   Mr. Kinst asked that teachers’ contractual issues also be explored.

   Earlier in the meeting, Ms. Kansagor suggested that sensitivity training be added to new teacher training and she said there should be more offered in the curriculum on sensitivity and diversity.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Abuse trial of prominent Orthodox leader Nechemya Weberman begins as insular Satmar Hasidic sect becomes Exhibit 1 

The explosive sex abuse trial of prominent Orthodox leader Nechemya Weberman began Monday, and the insular Satmar Hasidic sect both he and the teen accuser belonged to became Exhibit 1.

"It's pretty much an entirely different world that's just a couple of minutes away from this courthouse," said Assistant District Attorney Kevin O'Donnell of the Williamsburg-based community.

Weberman, 53, is charged with touching the alleged victim's genitals and forcing her to perform oral sex on him starting in 2007 when she was 12. He counseled her after the teenager was deemed heretic because she questioned religious teachings and "did not follow the modesty rules," such as the required thickness of hosiery, prosecutors said.

"A woman questioning authority is not allowed," said O'Donnell.

The defense agreed the teen was "a free spirit" who wrote poetry and read forbidden magazines like Cosmopolitan and People.

"Rather than relishing her differences, the community tried to kick them out of her," said defense attorney George Farkas.

But he contended that she found a trusted listener in Weberman, who was a friend and business partner of her parents.

The defense had argued that Weberman conspired with her father to secretly videotape her in bed with a boyfriend while she was still underage — which they took to the DA to file statutory rape charges against the man.

But the judge barred Farkas from disclosing any details of that case to the jury. The lawyer merely said in court that the teen felt betrayed after blaming her counselor for an arrest of "a boy she loved."

He claimed the first time she brought up the allegations against Weberman was in February 2001, two weeks after the case against the boyfriend was dropped.

She wanted "to bring down the entire community," Farks said in his opening statement. "It was great vengeance and furious anger."



Monday, November 26, 2012

Jewish Toy Store Owner Donates $10,000 Worth of Toys to Sandy Victims 

Toys to Discover, a Jewish-owned toy store on 18th Avenue in Borough Park gave away over $10,000 worth of toys to children affected by hurricane Sandy.
On the weekend of November 18, owner Yonasan Schwartz handed out over 600 packages of toys to Brooklyn and Long Island children whose homes were heavily damaged or destroyed by the epic storm.

In an interview with JTA, Schwartz said he "decided… to do a little sharing" after witnessing the destruction, handing out gift packages including two types of building blocks, Jewish children's books, colorful children's bandages, Jewish figurine toys, and kitchen play sets.  The total value of each package was approximately $150.

Schwartz told JTA he had planned to hand out 500 packages, but quickly put together another 100 after requests from Seagate and Far Rockaway showed more children were in need of some cheer.

Schwartz said he would continue to offer deep discounts to anyone coming into his store and saying they were affected by the storm.  He expressed his hope that the new toys would fill the holes in the children's hearts left by the loss of their old toys.



Sunday, November 25, 2012

Matisyahu's New Chanukah Song to Benefit Sandy Victims 

Jewish reggae artist Matisyahu has released a new song titled “Happy Hanukkah” to celebrate the upcoming holiday.

All proceeds from the song will go to the Jewish Federations of North America and The Robin Hood Foundation to help victims of Hurricane Sandy until the end of Chanukah on December 16.

"I am from New York and wanted to give back to my incredible community in the wake Hurrican Sandy,” Matisyahu said, according to the Cleveland Jewish News.

Matisyahu’s first Chanukah song, “Miracle,” received critical acclaim after its release in 2010.

The Grammy nominated recording artist will kick off his sixth annual “Festival of Light” Chanukah tour on December 8. He is currently in the middle of his fall college tour, which has taken him to college campuses around the country.

The “Happy Hanukkah” song can be downloaded via iTunes, Amazon and MatisyahuWorld.



Saturday, November 24, 2012

New Child Sex Scandal Erupts in Australia 

Another major Jewish organization in Australia is embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal, adding to the trauma triggered by recent revelations of similar cases involving students at two schools in Melbourne, run by Chabad and Adass Israel, respectively.

Because of a suppression order issued by an Australian court, the name of the organization, the alleged sexual abuser and the alleged victims cannot be disclosed.

The Forward can, however, reveal that a man faced Melbourne Magistrates Court on more than 25 counts of child sex abuse, including indecent acts with a minor and sexual intercourse with a child.

Despite the involvement of the unnamed Jewish organization in the case, the defendant is not believed to be Jewish. He entered a “not guilty” plea and is scheduled to face court again in December, with a trial date expected to be set for next year.

The alleged sexual abuse is understood to have taken place during an overseas trip about a decade ago.

A representative for the Office of Public Prosecutions also confirmed to the Forward that there are multiple complainants. Not all of them are believed to be Jewish.

Manny Waks, who broke his silence last year about the alleged sexual abuse he suffered two decades ago as a student at Chabad’s Yeshivah College, in Melbourne, said: “It’s devastating to learn of the additional serious allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-up within our community. These new revelations highlight that instances of child sexual abuse are not unique to one segment within our community.”

News of this latest scandal came just days after Prime Minister Julia Gillard called for a royal commission of inquiry into the “insidious evil acts” of institutional child sexual abuse across religious denominations in Australia. Royal commissions are established in Australia when the judicial system is deemed to have failed. Although the terms of reference have yet to be finalized, they have powers of subpoena.



Friday, November 23, 2012

North Dakota Welcomes Full-Time Chabad Presence 

Like so many Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries before them, Rabbi Yonah and Esti Grossman set out to devote themselves to a Jewish community, and to help bring Jews of varied backgrounds together to celebrate and grow in Jewish tradition and knowledge. Their journey has taken them to Fargo, North Dakota, where, at the newly-formed Chabad of North Dakota, they've begun hosting weekly Shabbat meals and conducting prayer services, while gearing up for a public menorah lighting next month.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has been helping Jews in the Dakotas for decades, starting with the "roving rabbis" who travel there each summer, holiday services requested by residents, and periodic shipments of Judaism resources. Seeing the need for a full time presence, the Grossmans have moved to Fargo full time.

While recent estimates put the total amount of Jews scattered throughout North Dakota at about 400, and a similar number is estimated for South Dakota, the Grossmans are confident that they have a positive contribution to make for all. "We're here to help with whatever's needed," explained Yonah Grossman.

In addition to communal programming geared around Shabbat and holidays, the Grossmans will be working to build a mobile Jewish lending library in Fargo, a Hebrew School in Grand Forks, and spiritual support for Jewish prisoners. The couple is already getting people together to bring in shipments of kosher meat and other kosher food products, and aspire to build a mikvah. Rabbi Grossman is developing a series of educational programs, and by early next year intends to be running weekly Torah classes and services.

The Grossmans have gone door to door to introduce themselves to community members, and have been fielding questions from area residents who are not Jewish about Judaism's approach to the widest variety of subjects. "Many tell us that they've been waiting for us for years," said Rabbi Grossman.

Moshe Sellam has been living in Fargo for eight years while traveling to Minneapolis for major holidays and Jewish events. The last time he was there he heard that there was a new Chabad rabbi in Fargo who was seeking out local Jews.

"When I found out that Rabbi Grossman was here, I thought to myself, 'You make one step toward Hashem and He makes ten steps toward you,'" he said. "Now there's a Chabad rabbi in Fargo! It's amazing!"

As it turns out, the rabbi had already heard of him, too, but had not yet tracked him down since Sellam is not listed in the phone book. The two have since connected and mapped out plans to join together for prayer and study and lots of celebration. "I think it's great, and I think that Rabbi Grossman is going above and beyond to make things happen," said Sellam.

Though there are not many Jews in Fargo, Sellam said that he anticipates the Grossmans' presence to help the local community "further stabilize and grow." Sellam added that, upon commencement of Chabad's activities, he discovered that "there are even more Jewish people in town than I thought."

Rabbi Moshe Feller, the Upper Midwest Regional Director of Chabad-Lubavitch, said he's glad there will be a permanent Chabad presence in the area. "We always wanted to provide the communities with a full-time emissary family," he said, explaining that it was the intention of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, to reach every single Jew, wherever they might be. Feller said that communities feel an acute difference between periodic rabbinic visits and the presence of a full-time emissary family.

Harry Leichter of Grand Forks said he's glad to see the new rabbi and his wife in North Dakota. "They're very energetic, very warm, and very helpful in any way they can be. The rabbi and his wife are bringing a lot of excitement to the area. I see them doing a fantastic job in North Dakota."

Summing up, Esti Grossman says: "We're thrilled to be able to serve this community, we're so happy with the relationships we're building, and we're very moved by the appreciation so many have expressed to us for making this choice."



Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rabbi seeks geriatric joketellers 

Got a good Jewish joke? Aspiring comedians older than 60 are invited to audition for "Old Jews Got Talent," a stand-up comedy show.

Comedians can tell up to three jokes to a panel of judges, who will choose the best performers for the Feb. 5 show, sponsored by Rabbi Without Walls, an outreach program for unaffiliated Jews.

Tryouts begin at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 7 at the Sandler Center on the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County campus west of Boca Raton. Call 561-852-6021 for an audition appointment.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Orthodox store owner in Brooklyn the latest serial murder victim 

Three Brooklyn store owners, two of them Orthodox Jews, have been murdered at work by the same gunman, according to New York police.

The latest murder, in the Flatbush neighborhood, was on Nov. 16 in the store of Rahmatolla Vahidipour, 78, of Great Neck, NY. Vahidipour was shot in the head and chest in his She She Boutique, and then dragged to the back of the store and covered with clothes, according to the New York Daily News.

The newspaper cited police sources as saying the shell casings from the murder matched those of two other Brooklyn store owners who also were found dragged to the backs of their stores.

Vahidipour, who came to the United States from Iran, was scheduled to attend the bar mitzvah of one of his nine grandchildren, according to the newspaper.

In August, Isaac Kadare, 59, an Orthodox Jew born in Egypt, was shot in the head and stabbed in the neck in his Amazing 99 Cent Deals store in the Bensonhurst neighborhood.

A month earlier, Mohammed Gebeli, 65, a Muslim originally from Egypt, was shot in the neck and killed in his clothing store in the Bay Ridge section.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Neturei Karta hold pro-Palestinian rallies 

Satmar Hasidim from the extreme faction of the Neturei Karta sect held an anti-Israel protest at New York City's Times Square on Sunday, together with hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists.

During the demonstration, the Hasidim ripped Israeli flags and raised signs slamming the Israeli government, the IDF operation in Gaza and the "Zionist entity."

The New York rally joins many other demonstrations held in by pro-Palestinian activists in the past few days in central cities worldwide, including Paris, London and Sydney, some of which were attended by extreme Orthodox men who spoke out against Israel's right to defend itself.

The haredi Kikar Hashabat website reports that several Palestinian channels rushed to broadcast the images of the Jewish Orthodox reinforcement. The Palestinian "Jerusalem Network" aired a video allegedly taken at the New York protest, in which members of the extreme haredi faction are seen tearing the Israeli flag while chanting, "Free Palestine."

Another anti-Israel demonstration was held over the weekend in Toronto, Canada. The protest was particularly infuriating in light of the fact that a pro-Israel rally was held on the other of the street and that one of the keynote speakers was Rabbi David Feldman who said, "We all stand in solidarity with the suffering people of Palestine.

"We need to remember that this story didn't start yesterday or the day before," he added. "This is a long chain of tragedies going on already for decades. This is a terrible disaster, it is a Nakba, it is a catastrophe for Palestine, but not only for Palestine. This should be considered a catastrophe for all of us and for humanity."

To the crowd's applause, the rabbi went on to say that "a human being should not be able to remain silent by seeing what's going on in Palestine already for decades and we don't see the end of the tunnel.

"I'm here as an Orthodox religious Jewish person and I say that for myself and for many communities like myself, this is embarrassing because this is being done supposedly in our name, in the name of all Jews, and sadly in the name of the Holy Torah. This is not Judaism.

"Jewish people worldwide stand up because they don't want to see other people suffer again. This is painful, this is embarrassing."

Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim, a spokesperson for the extreme ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit faction in Jerusalem, slammed Neturei Karta on Monday, clarifying that they had nothing to do with the Satmar Hasidim and Eda Haredit members in Jerusalem.
According to Pappenheim, "The actions of Neturei Karta members contradict the method of the Satmar rabbi. It is prohibited, at a time when the Jewish people sitting in Zion are suffering, to do such things and to defy our soldiers and people in danger."

The rabbi added that the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta faction in New York concentrated today around a yeshiva led by Rabbi Moshe Ber Beck, a former Vizhnitz Hasid who split from the Hasidic dynasty about 40 years ago.

One of the prominent spokespersons of this group includes Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weis, who met in the past with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Muslim leaders.

According to Pappenheim, additional Neturei Karta groups live in Canada and London. "They have been ejected from Israel, so they go abroad and make a lot of noise," he said.

Rabbi Pappenheim further argued that the late founder of the Satmar Hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, had slammed Neturei Karta at the time, claiming that the phrase "Let there be no hope for informers" was directed at them.

"We have nothing to do with them and we condemn them," he added.



Monday, November 19, 2012

Hasidic couple introduces yoga to Israel's ultra-Orthodox 

Avraham and Rachel Kolberg at their yoga institute in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

The yoga studio that Rachel and Avraham Kolberg run is situated at the end of the street, a useful location for preserving secrecy. And secrecy is vital because the Kolbergs, a couple in their thirties, teach yoga to ultra-Orthodox residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh, where the practice is widely regarded as taboo.

The fact that the Kolbergs are themselves strictly observant members of the Breslav Hasidic sect, and the fact that men and women are taught separately has not softened the opposition to yoga in this Haredi neighborhood of Beit Shemesh.

About two weeks ago a student at a Hasidic seminary (high school for girls ) came close to jeopardizing her future when someone tattled to the school administration that she was practicing yoga. She had in fact begun learning yoga upon the advice of her homeroom teacher but when the principal heard she was going to a "place of idol worship," as she said, the girl's parents were warned she would be expelled from the seminary unless she stopped. Expulsion from the seminary could destroy her chances of a good match; the girl gave up yoga.

The seminary administration did not spare Rachel Kolberg either. "They said this is a place of impurity that encourages immodesty," she relays, "and that I stay with the girls after the classes and introduce them to prohibited things." Lately she has been waking up every morning with the fear that derogatory pashkavils [wall posters] with her name on them are plastered around the neighborhood.

The studio, a bright and intimate space paneled in wood from the floor to the high and sloping ceiling under the tile roof, does not look as though it belongs to the ugly street outside. It is on the second floor of the Kolberg home and to reach it, it is necessary to pass through the family's living quarters. Despite the holy books and the pictures of rabbis, there is a personal touch in the apartment and a mysterious and pleasant atmosphere, as the sound of a clarinet playing a Hasidic melody wafts from one of the rooms.

Shortly after the start of a class, an embarrassed girl appears. She hastens to get dressed and a few minutes later reappears with pants under her long skirt. Her black stockings will remain on her feet throughout the entire class. A women whose clothing indicates she belongs to an extreme Hasidic sect doesn't even change her clothes and tensely hastens to find a spot for herself in the room. She and her friends sneak in here like thieves in the night. As they come in they seem to shrink their bodies - they are uncomfortable with the other women's gaze. They do not write their names on the disposable water glasses as is customary, for fear of being identified. But it seems they are longing for this tranquillity, agonizingly acquired. And anyone who hasn't seen a Hasidic woman resting on her heels and closing her eyes in a typical yoga pose has never seen rest in his life.

According to Kolberg, a minority of her students are religious women from English-speaking countries who know why they are coming. The others, she says, the strict Hasidic women and Lithuanian (non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox ) women, "would never have imagined practicing yoga, and for them there is a problem. They are cut off entirely form their own bodies. Usually they come here only after they are in dire straits health-wise."

The two teachers regard changing the attitude toward yoga in the ultra-Orthodox world as their mission. It took some time until they realized that the hardest cases from the extreme religious factions were being sent to them, instead of being referred to the authorities. For example, at one of the classes for men given by Avraham Kolberg, a teenager showed up with the story, "He's bored but his parents won't let him quit the yeshiva until the match is made for him," relates Rachel. Eventually they found out that the youngster admires Hitler and tortures cats. After a while he disappeared and subsequently he was tried for rape and went to prison. "The community," says Rachel, "isn't really interested in solving these problems. They give some kind of alternative treatment, Ritalin, and then they think: 'We'll marry him off and it will go away.'"

Avraham Kolberg relates that there are instructions the Hasids have a hard time following, in part because "they don't know the names of some of their body parts. They don't know how to raise their arms. They come to the class in their everyday clothes and insist on keeping on their tzitzis (fringed undershirt ). They don't have sports clothes."

The recoiling from yoga is deeply rooted. "If they ask a rabbi he will tell them it is idol worship," says Avraham Kolberg. For Kolberg, yoga is a way to worshipping God. "The moment a person needs to be aware of his heel, with his eyes turned to a certain place and I ask him to concentrate on a different place in his body, observation of what is unseen is created. This is spirituality."

Rachel believes that when one is cut off from one's body there is no possibility of doing spiritual work. "This is my challenge to the ultra-Orthodox," she says. "When my son sits in the lotus position in his Gemara lessons at the yeshiva, they yell at him that he is acting like a Gentile. Why, if this helps him to concentrate? This is a tool they refuse to use."

The Kolbergs began their turn to religion in India, through the study of yoga. Rachel, 39, immigrated to Israel from the Soviet Union in 1990, when she was 17 years old. Her name in Russian was Yula and she grew up in Moscow. Her father was a Spanish teacher and was Fidel Castro's personal translator into Russian.

A year after she arrived in Israel, she did full matriculation exams in Hebrew. In her 20s she met her husband under his former name, Dagan Yifrah,. He hen lived in Ramat Hasharon. At that time she also discovered yoga. "Like a good Russian girl I did acrobatics from an early age. When I came to Israel I tried other areas until someone introduced me to yoga. I was swept away and I swept up my husband." They lived in the Sharon area, practiced yoga and taught at the Beit Berl College School of Art - he. photography and she, painting. In 2000, married and with a 3-year-old son, they went to India to study the Iyengar method. (B.K.S. Iyengar is the father of modern yoga.

"The yoga bug grabbed us hard," says Rachel. They were not classic backpackers: They didn't go to Goa, they didn't smoke drugs. They lived in a small city, woke up early every morning and went to study yoga.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

‘Likudnik’ Website Hacked by Palestinians 

The Likudnik website (www.likudnik.co.il) was hacked by a Palestinian hacking group called “Network Hackers Palestine” on Sunday.

The site is black and for a split second upon loading a picture of a Palestinian girl wearing a kefiyah in the Arab  colors green, red, and white can be seen.

Likudnik considers itself the “unofficial” website of the Likud and is read by party activists. Members of Knesset and new candidates for the Knesset pay premium rates during election season to rent advertising space on the front page.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

Twitter called anti-Semitic after suspending Orthodox Jew's accounts 

Controversial cartoon depicting the Obama office stabbing the Israeli nation in the back (@RealGazaPeace via Twitter)

Violent threats like "Death to Jews"? Fine. But a political cartoon criticizing the U.S. for stabbing Israel in the back? That’s grounds for suspension. At least that's the message provoking ire and getting Twitter accused of anti-Semitism after the social media giant abruptly suspended three accounts belonging to an Orthodox Jew. Twenty-five-year-old Benjamin Reisman had tweeted an anti-Obama cartoon showing Israel being stabbed in the back earlier this week. Though Twitter reps have not confirmed why the action was taken, the anger today appears to be stemming from the fact that anti-Israeli groups like Hamas and others have tweeted violent threats (like "Death to Jews," noted above) without similar repercussions.



Friday, November 16, 2012

Jewish groups join call for $1 billion for housing assistance 

The umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups joined other religious organizations in asking Congress to provide $1 billion to the National Housing Trust Fund.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Catholic Charities (USA) and the National Council of Churches are working together to elevate poverty in the national dialogue, according to a press release issued by JCPA Thursday.

The call for more funding is part of the fifth annual Fighting Poverty with Faith mobilization, which is dedicated to building opportunity through affordable housing.
From Nov. 8 to Nov. 18, members of the interfaith coalition are participating in poverty simulations, building homes with Habitat for Humanity and helping out at emergency shelters.

Among the 45 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh groups endorsing the effort are 17 Jewish groups, including representatives from the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist streams.

Fighting Poverty with Faith began with a blessing at an apartment complex in Washington D.C.

"Affordable and quality housing like this should not be the exception," JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said at the event, joined by Muslim and Christian officials. "Subsidized housing for low-income people not only stabilizes individuals and families, but can revitalize communities. Children with a home to return to are more likely to succeed at school and families are more likely to invest in their neighborhoods.".

More than 630,000 Americans are homeless, Gutow said. "It is our moral duty to ensure we are doing all that we can to bring our brothers and sisters from the street," he said.

The $1 billion requested "will ensure affordable and quality housing for 3.5 million extremely low-income households over the next 10 year," Gutow said.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hasidism, in Living Color 

With all due respect to the impressive collection of circular fur hats, the best and most revealing exhibits at "A World Apart Next Door: Glimpses Into the Life of Hasidic Jews," the Hasidic-themed show now at Jerusalem's Israel Museum, are the videos. In one of a half-dozen such offerings, mitzvah tantz (difficult to translate beyond "mitzvah dance"), a bride, dressed and veiled so that the only skin you see are her hands and a flash of bare jawline, grips a long sash that serves both as an umbilical attachment and a barrier to the dancing rebbe at the other end: From a modest but breached distance, the two circle each other at mismatched tempos in front of a pulsating wall of Hasidim.

It's a weirdly intimate moment, in a different spiritual key than we're used to: There are no other women in the frame. Although the bride's movement is restricted to stepping in time with the way-more-excited rebbe, they are without question dancing together. (If you don't appreciate how momentous that is, may I suggest the excellent Roman archaeology exhibit across the hall?) In tish (literally "table" in Yiddish, it denotes a kind of semi-mandatory rebbe-centric get-together), an enormous table surrounded by waves of sitting and standing and screaming Hasidim is headed by the rebbe, who stoically dispenses fruit from towering platters. Everyone is clamoring for a piece, like it's manna. A boy walks on the table—it's the width of a one-way street—and with all of his weight drags one of the platters closer to the rebbe.

These videos, along with much of the photography, are poignant and surreal, in equal parts compelling and confusing, as edifying as they are mystifying—and, for precisely these reasons, make for great art. There's an uneasy beauty to the rituals and their opaque choreography, to the masses of identically costumed men, to the fierce devotion to customs that most of us probably can't relate to. Hasidim, say what you want about their sartorial sense, make for very arresting visuals.

The best of the exhibit illuminates and artistically leverages the tension between rituals' normalcy (on their end) and strangeness (on ours). We are uncomfortably transfixed—maybe because we can stare without shame or reproach. "I can't believe we're of the same religion," I overheard a non-Hasidic American Jewish tourist mutter to his wife. There are photographs of Hasidic rituals I'd never heard of, like pouring water from an urn into a pan to ward off the evil eye, or that I had thought were no longer performed, like the redeeming of a firstborn donkey (delightfully decked out for the occasion in, yes, a black hat). Photos of Hasidim in full garb in a wheat field, reaping for their matzoh; dressed up as Cossacks on Purim; in crowded family portraits; and firing arrows at a target representing the yetzer harah, the evil inclination: There is humor, joy, weirdness, pride, death—the constant is celebration of the extraordinary nature of everyday life.

But the exhibit, however compelling, is arguably less interesting than the fact that there is an exhibit at all, because Hasidic culture a) isn't lost or dead, and therefore isn't an obvious suspect for museum treatment; and b), is extraordinarily insular and suspicious of the outside world. Here's an overlap of two worlds—hoity-toity secular museum culture and the beard 'n' sidelocks crowd—that pretty much never get along, and yet somehow the result has been a runaway success, even among Hasidim, who've been literally lining up to see it (including, amazingly, some rebbes, one or two of whom, I'm told, went incognito). But to understand how a Hasidic exhibit avoids the social and artistic politics you'd imagine would have plagued it, and why it was not only not shunned by the Hasidic community but even on some level embraced, you have to understand that the exhibit—and Hasidism in general—is not only, or even really, about religion.



This Dunkin’ Donuts branch answers to a different authority 

West Orange may be among the few towns to have two Dunkin' Donuts under two different kashrut authorities, serving, by design or happenstance, two different types of clientele.

Last month, Adam Goldman, owner of the Dunkin' Donuts franchise at 581 Northfield Ave., announced that his baked goods are now certified under the supervision of Rabbi Isaiah Hertzberg, administrator of the Teaneck-based Quality Kosher Supervisory Service.

Earlier in the month, Samir Shah, owner of the Dunkin' Donuts on Pleasant Valley Way, announced that his store is kosher under the supervision of the Vaad HaKashrus of MetroWest.

It's an important distinction for many Orthodox Jews in the area who accept the Vaad's authority, but not Hertzberg's. Goldman acknowledged that Hertzberg's authority is generally not accepted by Orthodox Jews, but added that it is acceptable to most Conservative Jews. "I have a Conservative clientele, and they really appreciate it," said Goldman, who lives in West Orange. "My customers can now bring doughnuts to Golda Och Academy, or to soccer games, and into their homes."

While GOA head of school Joyce Raynor said the school would accept the doughnuts at the Northfield Avenue location as kosher, there is no consensus among Conservative Jews regarding Hertzberg, or any other kashrut authority. Rabbi Paul Plotkin, chair of the kashrut subcommittee of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the Conservative movement's halachic body, said the committee has not issued movement-wide statements accepting or denying the authority of individual kashrut outfits since 1999. The best that can be said, he suggested, is that rabbis of a particular region accept or do not accept this authority.

While there is no consensus in Essex County, where the shop is located, among Conservative rabbis regarding Hertzberg, Conservative rabbis in the Teaneck area, where he is located, do not accept his authority.

However, Plotkin pointed out, he himself has provided kosher certification for baked goods at Dunkin' Donuts store franchises near his hometown in Margate, Fla., where the store also sells nonkosher items prepared in an oven. "Because the ingredients and the means of production are hechshered [produced under kosher supervision] and entirely separate from the treif stuff, one can certify certain products without certifying the whole store where there is no cross-pollination of ingredients."

Goldman's store has such a setup, where baked goods come from an Elizabeth production facility that is under the kashrut supervision of Rabbi Elazar Teitz.
Goldman said he was disappointed that he couldn't work something out with the Vaad, a consortium of local Orthodox rabbis. Conservative Jews who keep kosher will normally accept the authority of an Orthodox supervisor, but not the other way around.

"We recognize our limits," said Goldman. "We were never going to get Orthodox supervision because we are open on Shabbos."

Although his Dunkin' Donuts  franchise on Pleasant Valley Way is also open on Shabbat, Shah is not Jewish. From a halachic, or Jewish legal, perspective, Jewish owners must literally answer to a higher authority.

Goldman also owns two Dunkin' Donuts franchises in Paterson.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Drug addict jailed for thefts at Torah Vodaas Primary School, in Golders Green 

 A drug addict who stole charity boxes from a Jewish school to feed his habit has been jailed for nine months.

Schneur Simmons worked as a security guard at the Torah Vodaas Primary School, in Dunstan Road, Golders Green, before he began regularly breaking in over a two-year period.

The 23-year-old used his knowledge of access codes and the school's security system to gain entry on the Sabbath, when he knew he would not be disturbed.

Simmons, of Finchley Road, Golders Green, mainly stole from charity boxes containing donations from parents and congregants of the synagogue.

In July, following a period of six months without a break-in, two thefts occurred. In each case, there was no forced entry but the school office was ransacked and the charity boxes emptied.

Simmons later told police that in that six months he had travelled to Israel to "sort his life out". On his return, his benefits were stopped and he owed money so he broke into the school again.

Officers investigating one of the July break-ins found a finger print on a charity box that matched Simmons, as well as CCTV footage showing him on the premises.

In interview, he admitted stealing from the school on numerous occasions over the two-year period.

At Wood Green Crown Court on Monday, Simmons pleaded guilty to four counts of burglary, with 11 other counts taken into consideration, all at the school.

In a statement read out in court, the principal said the damage done to the school office had caused excessive extra work in the day-to-day running of the building. 

They added that, as a former employee of the school, Simmons had caused a great "misplace of trust", which was "distressing".

Detective Constable Tony Silcox said: "This was a short sharp sentence handed out to a man who had committed numerous previous burglaries from the same premises.

"Good forensic work led police to the accused. Simmons took advantage of a position of trust to steal from a vulnerable institution without regard to the consequences. Drugs played a significant role in this sad story." 



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Brooklyn lumber store providing customers with donated Muni-Meter receipts to pay off parking tickets 

 Muni-Meter receipts are collected in a box at Boro Park Lumber & Home Center.

This gives new meaning to the concept of charity.

A Borough Park lumber store is collecting used Muni-Meter receipts from customers in a cardboard box above its checkout counter in a new scam to help scofflaws trick the cash-strapped city.

The swindle is simple.

Drivers who have been slapped with parking tickets on the streets close to the Borough Park store can search for matching receipts donated by other drivers. Those lucky enough to find one with the same block and time can then use it to challenge their ticket, falsely asserting that the traffic agent failed to see that they had actually purchased the required meter receipt.

"People come in here all the time to check it out," said an employee outside the Boro Park Lumber & Home Center at 4601 New Utrecht Ave.

Newer receipts with remaining time can also be used by customers.

A store manager Tuesday said the box wasn't setup by a staffer.

"Somebody outside the store did it. We are not involved in it," he said.

The box was initially labeled a "gmach," the Hebrew acronym for kind acts. The term is typically used for charitable loan services that include everything from cash to wedding dresses to folding chairs for people sitting shiva after the loss of a loved one.

But the box is a new take on the expanding network of community loans.

In September 2011, the Bloomberg administration took down its old pole-mounted coin meters and switched to the solar-powered Muni-Meter boxes that can handle eight parking spots.

City traffic agents issued 9,012,854 tickets and collected $513 million in resulting parking fines in fiscal year 2012, which ended in June, city records show.

"No one can dispute the fact that our city is ticket-happy," said Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), the chairman of the Transportation Committee, "but fraudulently helping people fight tickets when they are actually guilty is over the top."

The city's Transportation Department and Finance Department declined to comment.



Rabbis launch war on self-locking doors 

Prominent Hasidic and Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are demanding that public institutions avoid installing self-locking door handles, which make it impossible to open rooms' doors from the outside.

According to the rabbis, such a situation causes men and women to violate the "Yichud" prohibition – the seclusion of a man and a woman who are not married to each other in a private area.

Rabbis Shmuel Wosner and Nissim Karelitz, the most senior "poskei Halacha" (arbiters of Jewish Law) in the Ashkenazi Orthodox public, have determined that such doors are considered locked even if no human action has been taken to lock them, and that therefore men and women must be careful not to be left alone behind them.

A warning published by the "Halacha Watch", a body sponsored by the two rabbis' tribunals, argued that late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, "the generation's great posek," had also warned against this halachic obstacle which can be found in clinics, workplaces, etc.

"Recently-introduced door handles almost seem like regular handles from the outside, and the handles can be shifted from the outside as well, but they have an automatic electrical locking that prevents the door from being opened from the outside," the ad explained.

"There is a 'Yichud' prohibition, and whoever is familiar with these handles could recognize them by paying attention."

The "Halacha Watch" called on the public to avoid using this locking mechanism, both in entry doors and in internal rooms, so as not to create an obstacle. It invited "places with special needs" to contact its people "in order to reach a proper solution."

The proposed solutions include keeping the door slightly open.



Monday, November 12, 2012

No to Israel, yes to Obama 

Mitt Romney’s support for Israel — compared to President Obama’s perceived weaker pledge of allegiance — spurred an Orthodox Jewish but anti-Israel enclave upstate to vote for the incumbent, sources said.

“We were unofficially told to vote for Obama because Romney is pro-Israel,” a resident told The Post.

The counterintuitive voting pattern in the village of Kiryas Joel is a result of beliefs held by the some in the Satmar sect that Jews are supposed to remain in exile until the arrival of the messiah.

Even kids got in on the ballot act.

A source said he was about to cast his vote Tuesday when a child asked him if he was planning to vote for Obama.

“I said, ‘Do you want me to vote for Obama? And he said, ‘Yes — because the other one is going to be good for [Israel].’ ”

Added Satmar Shimon Rolnitzky: “Some people voted for Obama to make a statement that they disagree with what they believe are unfair attacks against the president by Zionist interests.”

Official results for the village won’t be ready for weeks, but unofficially, out of 5,286 votes cast, 1,904 went to Romney and 1,442 went to Obama, according to a person familiar with the tally — a huge jump for Obama, considering four years ago, John McCain took home about 90 percent of the vote in Kiryas Joel.

The village is home to the followers of Aaron Teitelbaum, who is jockeying with his brother Zalman Teitelbaum, who leads the Williamsburg faction, over control of the Satmar empire, once unified under their father, Grand Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum.

Pols, such as scandal scarred Assemblyman Vito Lopez — a ‘Zali’ ally — court the sect because of their strong turnout on Election Day.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Save NYC Dump Bloomberg 

Buy this bumper sticker here


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Close contact at school led to mumps outbreak in Orthodox Jewish communities 

A 2009 outbreak of mumps in the USA that primarily affected Orthodox Jewish teenage boys may have been perpetuated by close schooling conditions, say the authors of a study published in TheNew England Journal of Medicine.

Albert Barskey (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA) and colleagues explain that the chavrusa style of schooling, where boys spend up to 15 hours a day studying closely with multiple work partners, could explain why the disease affected this group without spreading to other populations.

"The high proportion of cases among males attending yeshivas [single-sex religious schools] in this study suggest that a high-density setting, in which there are certain behaviors that facilitate transmission of the virus, may overwhelm existing antibody levels," they write.

Notably, Orthodox girls, who attend conventional schools, and non-Orthodox persons were affected to a much lesser extent.

The authors used data received by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that between June 2009 and June 2010, 3502 cases of mumps were reported from multiple communities in New York and New Jersey.

In all, 97% of the cases occurred in Orthodox Jewish persons, and 71% were in males. Just over a quarter occurred in adolescents between 13 and 17 years of age.

The Orthodox Jewish population had similar mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine coverage to the surrounding communities. In patients whose vaccination status was known, 76% had received the recommended two doses of the vaccine, as had 89% of the adolescents who were infected.

However, the authors found that patients who had been vaccinated experienced fewer common complications. For example, orchitis occurred in 7% of patients aged 12 years and over, but the rate significantly differed between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients (7 vs 4%). Similarly, rates of deafness, meningitis and oophoritis in female patients were less common in vaccinated patients, although this did not reach statistical significance.

The authors say that their findings underline the importance of vaccination programs.

"There remains an ongoing threat of imported infections and of endemic transmission of mumps virus. The outbreak reported here highlights that importance of maintaining a high rate of two-dose MMR vaccine coverage in all communities," they conclude.



Friday, November 09, 2012

Hasidic Heir Who Rides a Harley 

Audiences at the 2012 Starz Denver Film Festival earlier this month likely found it uncomfortable to sit through the 29 minutes of Pearl Gluck's's short film, "Where Is Joel Baum." That, however, is a good thing, because the film tells the kind of story that introduces you to a disturbing, yet riveting, title character, and leaves you wanting to know what happens to him next. That is precisely the intention of the filmmaker, who intends to turn this short into a full-length feature.

Joel Baum is the heir to a Hasidic dynasty in Brooklyn. Now an adult, he has been living since childhood with his grandmother and grandfather, the Grand Rabbi, following the death of his parents and siblings in a car accident. Joel, with his peyes and tzizis looks the part of a Hasid, and he seems to appreciate his heritage and the religious way of life. But at the same time, his obsessions with riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle, and with listening to raunchy Lenny Bruce recordings, clearly hint at the fact that Joel is not your usual bearded, kapote-wearing, young Jew.

Joel is beyond eccentric. He is mentally and emotionally unstable, and this instability appears to reach a painful crescendo during an arranged date with a young Hasidic woman from Montreal. However, we soon learn that this is only a prelude to the tragic climax of the film, which takes place during a heated, sexually charged exchange between Joel and Anya, an attractive Polish cleaning woman hired by the grandmother to clean the house before Shabbat.

Gluck first made her mark as a filmmaker with her 2003 documentary, "Divan" about her travels from her native Hasidic community in Brooklyn to Hungary to reclaim a family heirloom: a couch slept on by great rabbis. "Where Is Joel Baum" marks her first foray into fictional filmmaking.

A graduate of CCNY's MFA program, and a professor of filmmaking at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, Gluck says she always urges her students to keep their storytelling tight. "I tell them to think of their films as short stories," she said in a recent phone interview with The Arty Semite. Gluck decided to take her own advice and consequently sharpened the focus of "Where Is Joel Baum." Originally, she had wanted to include a story line about Hasidic community dynamics (particularly about the Shomrim, the Hasidic vigilante patrol) but ended up opting to wait for a full-length feature to include that.

Instead, the film focuses tightly on the three main characters: Joel, the grandmother and the cleaning woman. Ultimately, the grandmother has to see her grandson for who he is, "after having for so long looked away physically and metaphorically," as Gluck put it.

The excellent cast Gluck assembled helped her sharpen the focus and heighten the drama. "I learned a lot from them, and they had a large hand in shaping their characters," the director said of Luzer Twersky (himself a former Satmar Hasid) who played Joel; veteran film, TV and stage actress Lynn Cohen who played the grandmother, and Danusia Trevino (herself once a cleaning woman in Hasidic homes).

"There are a lot of stories I want to tell in and outside of the Hasidic and Jewish world, both as dramatic features and as documentaries," Gluck said. We look forward to seeing those, and with her already working on the script for the feature version of this new short film, we can anticipate meeting the fascinating Joel Baum again.



Thursday, November 08, 2012

Judge approves extratdition of dual U.S.-Israeli citizen to Australia on abuse charges 

A judge in the United States has cleared the way for the extradition to Australia of a man wanted in connection with alleged child sex abuse at a Jewish school.

David Kramer, 51, a dual Israeli-American national, is accused of sexually abusing pupils at the Yeshivah College in Melbourne between 1989 and 1993.

A judge in St. Louis, Mo., sustained the motion for Kramer's extradition on Oct. 2 and U.S. marshals moved Kramer to Texas on Oct. 26, apparently in preparation to transfer him to Australia, JTA has learned.

Parents at Yeshivah College, an Orthodox boys' school that is run under the auspices of Chabad-Lubavitch movement, accuse school officials of helping Kramer flee Australia in 1993 after complaints were raised about alleged sexual abuse on pupils. The allegations were never reported to police at the time.

Kramer went first to Israel and then to America, where he was jailed in 2008 after pleading guilty to molesting a 12-year-old boy at a synagogue in Missouri.

Kramer was arrested on April 23 in response to Australia's application for his extradition, a spokesman for the Australian Attorney General's department told JTA.

"David Kramer is wanted by authorities of the Australian state of Victoria to face prosecution for the offenses of indecent assault and indecent acts with a child under the age of 16," the spokesperson said.

He added it was the government's "longstanding policy not to comment on operational matters, including the timing or logistics of potential surrenders."

Meanwhile, David Cyprys, a former security guard contracted to Yeshivah College, will stand trial next July on multiple counts of child molestation, including child rape. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against 12 defendants who were students at Yeshivah College in the 1980s. Three of them now live in the United States.



Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Re-elected Obama retains support of 7 out of 10 Jewish voters, exit poll says 

US President Barack Obama, who was re-elected on Tuesday for a second four-year term, has won the support of 69 percent of Jewish voters, according to an exit poll, while 30 percent backed his Republican challenger Mitt Romney. The survey, posted on CNN's website, was commensurate with projections by pre-election polls by Gallup and other pollsters that Obama would win two-thirds or more of the Jewish vote.

In the final days of the campaign, both Democrats and Republicans targeted Jewish voters in swing states, particularly Ohio and Florida.

Jews constituted 2 percent of the overall CNN response group, but the network did not reveal the total number of people it asked after they had cast their ballots, so it was impossible to assess a margin of error.

In 2008, exit polls showed Obama beating Republican candidate John McCain by 78 to 21 percent among Jewish voters. The Solomon Project later estimated that his actual share among Jewish Americans was actually closer to 74 percent, taking into account the small sample size of the exit poll.



Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Quiet King of Orthodox Music 

One evening last month, under a ceiling visibly weighed down by a library of over 10,000 books, Yossi Green, one of the most prolific and talented composers in the world of traditional Jewish music, performed a kumzitz. Part VH1 Storytellers episode and part campfire singalong, the performance was for a 40-strong gang of jittery, somewhat inattentive 18- to 21-year-old yeshiva bochurim. Green, who speaks in the style of Don Corleone and dresses in designer shoes and glasses, played with genuine spirituality and, ever the entertainer, molded his reactions and songs to the audience’s desire for a more jaunty experience. They wanted to sing and shout, and Green obliged them.

Though you might not know it, even a cursory look at the contemporary Jewish music scene reveals Green’s comprehensive influence. He is the composer behind the stars of contemporary Orthodox music, with its ecology of popular songs, including those of Mordechai Ben David (“Anavim, Anavim,” “Rashi’s Niggun,” “Da’agah Minayin”), Avraham Fried (“Aderaba,” “Tanya,” “Yerushalayim Oro Shel Olam,” “V’Zakeini”), Yaakov Shwekey (“Ata Shomer,” “Yedid,” “Ki Hatov”), Dudu Fisher (“Akeidat Yitzchak,” “Kaddish”), and Lipa Schmeltzer (“Wake up Leap of Faith,” “Kaveh”). Green also works closely with many of the rising talents of the current generation, including Shloime Daskal, Shimon Craimer, Shloime Gertner, Shloime Taussig, Shragee Gestetner, and Cantor Yitzchok Meir Helfgot. His eighth album was released this summer. Green’s acolytes treat him like a visionary genius, underappreciated in the wider Jewish community.

At a time when right-wing rabbis ban large concerts—given the prominence of singers, Green’s genius is both essential to his community and imperiled. In many religious communities, music plays a central role in spiritual life. But in the Hasidic communities, music plays a more pronounced and foundational role, given the mystical and spiritualized bent of Hasidic thought. A song gives shape and voice to the innermost feelings on the whole of life. It is one of the greatest paths toward divine intimacy. In the Hasidic world, composers serve as singular creators of conduits to the divine through their music, no more so than in the niggun, a wordless, ambling, often unstructured melody that travels across souls. A niggun, in all its emotional strength, offers an unparalleled meditative opportunity to connect not only to the divine, but to the rabbi and others in the room. At times, important Hasidic rabbis will personally request a melody from Green. “The challenge to the composer at such times,” Green told me, “is to attempt to understand and access the depth and the reason beyond the request, using this as the ultimate inspiration and direction for the new composition.”

Green is also known beyond the confines of the Jewish scene. His audiences have included dignitaries, royalty, and leaders, in performance venues such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. Any attempt to place him on any larger musical map runs into numerous problems, which stem from the different roles that music is perceived to fill in a religious and a secular society. Stylistically, Green ranges freely across musical genres. He feels comfortable in styles as varied as jazz, classical, gypsy, and samba. What distinguishes Green’s vision of Jewish music from secular music is his sense of religious meaning. He finds little room for the cynicism or even the playfulness of today’s music. For Green, anything other than an outpouring of the most intimate details of his soul would stray from his vision of a higher purpose, which he finds anywhere and everywhere in the contemporary musical landscape. A proud Satmar, his ability to cherish the Beatles, or to refer to Pavarotti as “divine,” or to fawn over the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, speaks to the overwhelming power of art on his sensitive soul. Before Green, Jewish music either entailed a rambling niggun sung by Hasidic masters, or the more classic verse and chorus of Shlomo Carlebach’s folk-infused style. Moreover, previous composers tended to rely heavily on the well-known poetry of the Psalms, rarely straying for personal lyrics or arcane sources. In this sense, Green views his music writing as both an act of Jewish learning and prayer.

In fact, the only person who belongs in the same conversation as Green is the complex figure of Shlomo Carlebach, whom Green loved and learned from in the twilight of Carlebach’s life. Green can tell Carlebach stories for hours, but perhaps the one that fully captures their relationship is one Green told only at my behest: At some point in the 1990s, Green walked into a kumzitz at a hotel in the Catskills, Carlebach honored the young composer by prophesying that in the time of the Messiah Green’s music would be used as the soundtrack to usher in the redemption.

The Orthodox world bears a necessarily ambivalent relationship to art and artists; the imperative that all life serve as worship of God must limit the mind and vision of an artist like Green. His work can be imagined as a potential threat to the fabric of any sort of ordered society. Singers have the ability to stoke a range of complex emotions, but they are limited in writing songs, which tend to focus on religious inspiration. Performances stay away from the garish without any hints of sensuality. Lipa Schmeltzer, who is forward-looking for a Hasidic singer, courted intense controversy for his 2008 concert at the WaMu Theater in Madison Square Garden. His charity show, which was billed as “The Big Event,” garnered reproof from the right-wing newspaper HaModia, in an editorial signed by numerous rabbis, which included “a serious prohibition to attend or perform,” adding that it is “forbidden to hire these singers to sing at any party, celebration or charity event.” Schmeltzer canceled the concert because of the pressure, and the Israeli charity, which finances weddings for orphans, lost $700,000.

Green is no stranger to this Orthodox love-hate relationship with music. He grew up in a strict Satmar family that barred instruments in their home and fostered a sense of fear and guilt over fire and brimstone consequences of any deviance or sin. Yet he also easily acknowledges the importance of his mother on his musical development. He described her to me as a beautiful, stately woman full of grace. “We were not wealthy at all,” he said. But somehow she “made sure that we were beautifully attired, tables were impeccably set, meals were creatively prepared and presented with flair, and our home was appointed with the nicest furnishings.” Significantly, Green recalls how his mother bought any and every record she could find. Consequently, Yossi listened to Beethoven’s Fifth and the soundtrack of Camelot, a play he knew before he could define the word musical. He felt that God implanted a homing beacon in his soul that spoke only in the language of melody.



Monday, November 05, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Brings Two Worlds Together 

New York City's ultra-Orthodox Jews live in a world apart from the rest of the city. They have their own neighborhoods, send their kids to religious schools and wear a uniform of black hats and suits that makes them as distinct as an Amish farmer in Times Square. After the storm hit New York, hundreds of elderly and frail New Yorkers from the African-American and working-class neighborhoods of Far Rockaway and Coney Island had to be evacuated when their assisted-living facilities flooded or lost power. They were moved to the Park Slope Armory, where the only food available was Army rations—high-preservative, high-sodium ready-to-eat meals. So Brad Lander, a local city councilman, called Rabbi Alexander Rapaport, who runs the MASBIA soup kitchen in the ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Boro Park.

"We were supposed to be closed on Tuesday, what with the blackouts and the flooding," Rapaport said. "But this food they had, it was a like a mix between cholent [a traditional Sabbath stew] and lasagna, and it came in this inner pouch that they somehow call 'food.'"

Rapaport and Lander put out the message on Facebook and Twitter that the soup kitchen needed volunteers. Even as the city still struggled to slough off the effects of Sandy, nearly 100 showed up, peeling potatoes, dicing squash. They delivered 200 lunches of eggplant and pasta that day and made twice that many chicken and meatloaf dinners. By Wednesday, their stocks were depleted, so they put out another call on social media; more donations came in. At week's end, they were still making hot meals for evacuees and volunteers all over the city, delivering hundreds of meals to a command post in the flood-ravaged Seagate neighborhood in Brooklyn. All of this while the regular lines at the soup kitchen are growing longer.

"A lot of people who would never eat in a soup kitchen are now staying with someone who let them in, a distant friend or a distant relative," he said. "We have a lot more middle-class people who are at a loss, who don't even know where to put their head down."

Does this mean that the ultra-Orthodox reputation for insularity is a false one? "I don't know," Rapoport said. "My agenda is to feed people. If you want to find a new cultural trend here, that is up to you."



Sunday, November 04, 2012

Hipster or Hasidic 


Saturday, November 03, 2012

Anti-Semitic incidents in the US down by 13%, ADL audit finds 

The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States declined by 13 percent in 2011, an annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents found.

The annual Anti-Defamation League Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released Thursday, reported a total of 1,080 incidents of assault, vandalism and harassment, compared to 1,239 incidents reported in 2010.

It is the lowest number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded by ADL in the past two decades, the organization said.

The report showed an increase, however, in the number of incidents of school bullying, with Jewish students reporting being harassed and intimidated by their peers using offensive anti-Semitic stereotypes or comments evoking the Nazis or the Holocaust.

The 2011 ADL Audit includes incidents recorded in 45 states and Washington DC, including 19 physical assaults on Jewish individuals; 731 cases of harassment, threats and events; and 330 cases of vandalism.

The states with the highest incident totals were those with large Jewish populations. The top four states were California, with 235 incidents in 2011, down from 297 in 2010; New York, with 195 incidents in 2011, down from 205 in 2010; New Jersey, with 144 incidents in 2011, up from 130 in 2010; and Florida, with 111 incidents in 2011, down from 116 in 2010.

Other states with double digit totals in 2011 include Massachusetts, with 72 in 2011, up from 64 in 2010; Connecticut, with 43 in 2011, up from 38 in 2010; Pennsylvania, with 38 in 2011, down from 42 in 2010; Illinois, with 21 in 2011, down from 28; and Texas, with 17 in 2011, down from 37 in 2010.

“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director. “To the extent that these incidents serve as a barometer, the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Semitism and pushing it to the far fringes, making expressions of anti-Jewish hatred unacceptable. These declining numbers, while promising, must nevertheless be viewed in the context of other factors, including online expressions of anti-Semitism that are impossible to quantify and often go unchecked.”

The decline in incidents in the United States comes as there has been a rise in serious incidents of anti-Semitism around the world.



Friday, November 02, 2012

Fighting violence against women, in Yiddish 

The Bikur Holim Hospital in Jerusalem has begun handing out information leaflets about violence against women – in Yiddish. The target audience: Women from Hasidic factions.

Under the title, "Stop hitting women and hitting in general," medical sources appeal to women arriving at the emergency room following recent acts of domestic or community violence, urging them not to remain silent and to try to uproot "the torturing of the soul."

The hospital also warns that "hitting and torture in a haredi home could even lead to death."

The female patients are encouraged to seek help from the police, hospital doctors and women's organizations like Na'amat.

In the leaflets, the hospital mentions names of associations and organizations specializing in caring for religious women, but fails to include organizations which treat all Israeli sectors, such as the hotline of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.

Nurit Tzur, former director-general of the Israel Women's Lobby, believes that the incidence of domestic violence is not necessarily higher in the ultra-Orthodox sector.

"We can't say that there are sectors where it is more frequent, but there are sectors where this issue is more repressed, like among the Arabs and haredim, due to their refusal to cooperate with state authorities. There, it is customary to wash one's dirty linen at home," she says.



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