Thursday, January 31, 2013
N.Y. rabbi charged with sexually abusing 3 teenage boys
A rabbi at a religious school in New York's ultra-orthodox Jewish community has been arrested on charges of sexually abusing students, a law enforcement official says.
The arrest of Yoel Malik, 33, of Brooklyn comes amid mounting pressure to report allegations of abuse within the insular, secretive community, the largest outside Israel, and barely a week after a respected religious counselor in the same sect was sentenced to 103 years in prison for sexually abusing a girl.
Both cases come from within the Satmar Hasidic sect, the official said.
Malik was taken into custody Wednesday after reports he may have brought two students to motels for sexual liaisons, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. A third encounter was reported in a car. The official said the victims were all teenage boys, ages 14 to 16, and the encounters took place between March of last year and last week.
A news release from the police department did not mention the school or identify Malik as a rabbi. Instead, it provided his name, age and address and said he was charged with "sexual crimes" involving three teenage males. It listed the charges as 12 counts of sexual abuse, four counts of criminal sexual acts, 11 counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of forcible touching.
The school, located in Borough Park in Brooklyn, has been closed amid financial disputes with the family who runs it and has been described as a small, private establishment for at-risk kids. It's not clear how long it has been closed.
The allegations arose through an anonymous tip to a confidential hotline. Malik is part of the family that ran the school in Brooklyn.
It has been difficult to prosecute cases of abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community. Families are encouraged to speak to their rabbis instead of going to secular authorities, and when they do go to police or prosecutors, they are often harassed or shunned. In the case of Nechemya Weberman, convicted last month of sustained sexual abuse, the accuser testified that her family was threatened and harassed.
Four men were charged with trying to bribe the girl, now 18, and her husband with $500,000 to drop the case against Weberman, 54, an unlicensed counselor who worked with families for years. She had been sent to him because she had been questioning her faith and needed help getting back on the religious path, she testified. Prosecutors said there were at least 10 other victims, but the statute of limitations passed on many of them. Weberman maintains his innocence and said he never abused her or anyone else.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who has dismissed rumors that he overlooked crimes in the community because he is too cozy with powerful rabbis, has set up a hotline specifically for victims of sex abuse. He has implored victims to come forward and promises support for them if they do.
Brooklyn is home to more than 250,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Senior British rabbi filmed telling alleged child abuse victim not to go to the police
A senior British rabbi has been filmed telling an alleged victim of child sexual abuse not to go to the police.
Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, who is leader of the UK's Strictly Orthodox Jewish community, told the alleged victim that it was "mesira", or forbidden, to report a suspected Jewish sex offender to a non-Jewish authority.
His advice, which was secretly recorded as part of a Channel 4's Dispatches investigation to be shown tonight, will reignite the controversy about the cover-up of child sex abuse by religious groups following global scandals surrounding the Roman Catholic church
Strictly Orthodox Jewish people, known as Charedi, number 40,000 people, around a sixth of the Jewish population in Britain.
Rabbi Padwa, who is head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations in Stamford Hill, north London, was recorded by a former member of the tight-knit community using a hidden camera.
The footage shows the alleged victim telling Rabbi Padwa about someone "who sexually abused me when I was younger, when I was a child and I'm looking for your advice, to be honest, what to do…Would do you think maybe, is it a good idea to speak to the police about it?".
"Oh no," Padwa answers, explaining that doing so would breach Rabbinic Law. The alleged victim says that child sex abuse is a "very serious issue", but is told not tell the police. Rabbi Padwa adds: "Men Tur Nisht," which is Yiddish for "people must not tell tales." He continues: "The police is not the solution."
Another Charedi Rabbi claims later in the program that Rabbi Ephraim Padwa recently forbade a father who had told the police that his son had been sexually abused from pursuing the case.
The man taped speaking to Rabbi Padwa agreed to help investigate possible sex abuse cover-ups after claiming he was abused as a child by a fellow Charedi, Channel 4 claims.
Rabbi Padwa's organisation, the UOHC, sent Channel 4 a letter responding to the allegations stating: "The Jewish Community considers the safety and protection of our children as paramount."
Last night it released another statement outlining its procedures for dealing with child sex abuse complaints. It said: "The Orthodox Hebrew Congregations have a special Committee to deal with incidences of attacks of this kind on the children of our congregations. The members of the Committee consist of rabbis, educators and members of the community, among whom there are those who have been trained in the right way to tackle this.
It added: "The Committee which will deal with it [sex abuse complaints] according to the advice of the Rabbinical Court and according to the law of the land."
California Patient Kills Orthodox Jewish Doctor
An elderly patient killed orthodox Jewish Dr. Ronald Gilbert in his medical office in Newport Beach, California on Monday. The alleged murderer was captured, but no motive has been established.
Dr. Gilbert was scheduled to perform surgery on the patient, who was arrested at the Hoag Hospital after six or seven shots were fired at the urologist.
Kristen Cotty, an office supervisor in the nephrology laboratory on the third floor of the building, told the Orange County Register, "What's going on with the world today? I mean, schools, now I got to worry about going to work. This has got to stop."
Dr. Gilbert, survived by his wife and two children, was a member of the Orange Coast Urology team that specializes in treatment of disorders of the urinary tract and genital conditions.
Gerry Crews, who has known Gilbert since high school with his brother, said he was "one of the most caring, giving, generous people I knew. I doubt you would find anyone who would say anything bad about him."
Modesty in Ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Is Enforced by Secret Squads
The Brooklyn shopkeeper was already home for the night when her phone rang: a man who said he was from a neighborhood "modesty committee" was concerned that the mannequins in her store's window, used to display women's clothing, might inadvertently arouse passing men and boys.
"The man said, 'Do the neighborhood a favor and take it out of the window,' " the store's manager recalled. " 'We're trying to safeguard our community.' "
In many neighborhoods, a store owner might shrug off such a call. But on Lee Avenue, the commercial spine of Hasidic Williamsburg, the warning carried an implied threat — comply with community standards or be shunned. It is a potent threat in a neighborhood where shadowy, sometimes self-appointed modesty squads use social and economic leverage to enforce conformity.
The owner wrestled with the request for a day or two, but decided to follow it. "We can sell it without mannequins, so we might as well do what the public wants," the owner told the manager, who asked not to be identified because of fear of reprisals for talking.
In the close-knit world of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, community members know the modesty rules as well as Wall Street bankers who show up for work in a Brooks Brothers suit. Women wear long skirts and long-sleeved, high-necked blouses on the street; men do not wear Bermuda shorts in summer. Schools prescribe the color and thickness of girls' stockings.
The rules are spoken and unspoken, enforced by social pressure but also, in ways that some find increasingly disturbing, by the modesty committees. Their power is evident in the fact that of the half dozen women's clothing stores along Lee Avenue, only one features mannequins, and those are relatively shapeless, fully clothed torsos.
The groups have long been a part of daily life in the ultra-Orthodox communities that dot Brooklyn and other corners of the Jewish world. But they sprang into public view with the trial of Nechemya Weberman, a prominent member of the Satmar Hasidim in Brooklyn, who last week was sentenced to 103 years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing a young girl sent to him for counseling.
Mr. Weberman, an unlicensed therapist, testified during his trial that boys and girls — though not his accuser — were regularly referred to him by a Hasidic modesty committee concerned about what it viewed as inappropriate attire and behavior.
The details were startling: a witness for Mr. Weberman's defense, Baila Gluck, testified that masked men representing a modesty committee in the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, N.Y., 50 miles northwest of New York City, broke into her bedroom about seven years ago and confiscated her cellphone.
The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, who prosecuted the Weberman case, has now received allegations that members of a modesty committee forced their way into a home in the borough, confiscating an iPad and computer equipment deemed inappropriate for Orthodox children, officials say. Allegations have also surfaced that a modesty committee threatened to publicly shame a married man who was having an affair unless he paid the members money for what they described as therapy.
"They operate like the Mafia," said Rabbi Allan Nadler, director of the Jewish studies program at Drew University in Madison, N.J.
Rabbi Nadler, who testified at Mr. Weberman's trial, said that modesty committees did not have addresses, stationery or business cards, and that few people seemed to know where their authority originated, though it was doubtful, he said, that they could continue operating without the tacit blessings of rabbinical leaders.
"They walk into a store and say it would be a shame if your window was broken or you lost your clientele," he said. "They might tell the father of a girl who wears a skirt that's too short and he's, say, a store owner: 'If you ever want to sell a pair of shoes, speak to your daughter.' "
In Israel, there have been similar concerns. Though no modesty committee was overtly involved, there has been anger over ultra-Orthodox zealots who spit on and insulted an 8-year-old girl for walking to school through their neighborhood in a dress they considered immodest.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Seminary Girls Want to Have More than Fun
Every year, hundreds of eager eighteen-year-old girls from all over the world step off the plane at Ben Gurion airport to spend a year studying in seminaries across Israel. These girls, also known as 'sem girls', devote their whole academic year to Judaic study programs. Although learning is a major aspect of the seminary year, there are other important experiences that motivate many recent high school graduates, especially from America, to spend their gap year in Israel.
For Talia Epstein, who hails from Boston, coming to Israel for the seminary was the next stop following her high school graduation. A student at Jerusalem's Midreshet Lindenbaum, Espstein told Tazpit News Agency that her decision to study in Israel for the year was a popular choice for many high school graduates from her Boston Jewish community. "It is a popular decision from where I'm from," she said. "But this was my decision to come to Israel and I hope to gain a lot knowledge in Halacha and Hebrew studies this year."
Others, like Jackie Federbush from New Jersey, who is studying at Machon Maayan in Givat Washington are not only interested in learning religious studies. Federbush explains that she was also "looking to explore the land of Israel."
One of the unique aspects of the seminary year, is the opportunity it provides girls from abroad to give back to Israel. Through the encouragement of their seminaries and their own will, many girls choose to participate in countless chessed (volunteer) opportunities.
There are even organizations that assist seminary girls in volunteer activities. One such student organization is known as Kedma, which has branches in both Israel and the US. For the past 15 years, Kedma has been working with university, seminary and yeshiva students, encouraging them to get involved with disadvantaged communities in Israel.
Having reached over 10,000 students through its leadership training and social action programs, Kedma has alumni serving in leadership positions on campuses, youth movements and Jewish communities all over the world.
In Israel, Kedma partners with well-known Israeli chesed organization such as Magen David Adom, Yad Sarah, Meir Panim, and others, and creates unique volunteer programs for visiting seminary girls and yeshiva students. These programs include everything from blood drives and medical clowning to volunteering in soup kitchens, old age homes, and women shelters. Kedma even has a traveling choir.
ChanaRivka Poupko, the special projects coordinator at Kedma, told Tazpit News Agency that the volunteering programs are a positive experience for everyone involved. "Once the girls start volunteering in these programs, the impact is positive for everyone. Volunteering in Israel adds another important element to the seminary year and getting to know Israeli society."
Recently, Kedma held their annual inter-seminary choir competition called Songs of Hope, which raises money for special Kedma projects aimed towards women in need. Girls from seminaries across Israel created and performed musical productions with the themes of Jerusalem and Israel in a special evening that took place at Jerusalem's Ramada Hotel in January. The money raised from the evening will be used for care packages that will be sent to mothers of cancer patients.
Thanks to these 'chesed' experiences, there are seminary girls who further deepen their connection to the land of Israel, that some even decide to make aliyah and move to Israel permanently.
Gabriela Mizrahi who is studying at Migdal Oz from Boston, said that "volunteering at a local Jerusalem school through my seminary has really influenced my decision to make aliyah next year."
"I came into this year expecting to have some fun and learn a bit but in the end I got so much more. I had the opportunity to give back to my country and I have now a forged a deep connection to the land and the people," said Mizrahi.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Animating the Talmud
Rabbi Eliezer, in his purple robe and flowing gray beard, curls his fists in concentration as he miraculously reverses the direction of a river's flowing, cerulean water. A paper-cut Moses looks on in surprise as Rabbi Akiva teaches his many students, all colored in yellows and pastels. Rabban Gamliel, sporting a bow tie and monocle, shakes his jowls and wields his gavel as he publicly shames a thin and meek Rabbi Yehoshua.
The Talmud has never looked so good.
Last August, a group of young Jewish artists gathered at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum to write, record, and animate the short films from which these scenes are taken. Over the course of one intensive week, the participating animators and storytellers, many of whom were encountering the Talmud for the first time, brought to life six of the Babylonian Talmud's best-known tales. Organized by G-dcast, the Jewish nonprofit production company best known for its animations of the Bible, this new initiative, called Studio G-dcast, is out to change the way American Jews approach the Talmud.
Sarah Lefton, G-dcast's producer and executive director, sees the studio as an experiment in using the tools of animation and filmmaking to teach Jewish texts. "For today's media-drenched kids, there's value in trying out this kind of learning as well," said Lefton. Rendering on screen the Talmud's sparse and convoluted narratives necessitates close reading—filling in details and interpreting ambiguous passages. "When you're drawing, you have to get down and dirty with the material," Lefton added. "It forces you to figure the text out."
Though the studio is a natural outgrowth of G-dcast's work animating the Bible, its roots go back further. In 2005, Lefton and writer Matthue Roth, now G-dcast's editorial director, met in San Francisco. Excited by the then just beginning daf yomi Talmud study cycle, the two decided to produce a daily podcast of each page, to be called Daf Jam. When Lefton presented the idea to Zvi Septimus, a Talmud scholar now teaching at the University of Toronto, he was skeptical. "You haven't done enough learning even to think about this project," Lefton recalled him saying. "He said: 'Try out the idea using the Torah. Keep learning and come back in a few years.' That's exactly what we did."
Seven years later—just as the daf yomi study cycle concluded—and with a two-year grant from the Covenant Foundation in hand, Lefton and Studio G-dcast educators Roth, Septimus, Girls in Trouble musician Alicia Jo Rabins, and animator Jeanne Stern chose the six stories that would be the focus of the first, pilot studio. In addition to being among the Talmud's best-known narratives, all address the theme of "tradition versus innovation," one of the central concerns of rabbinic literature.
Twelve animators and storytellers, a religiously and artistically diverse group selected from some 60 applicants, arrived for a grueling week in San Francisco. After receiving a crash course lecture in Talmud the first day, the participants were divided into six pairs—a nod to the traditional hevruta method of partner learning—and assigned their texts. The remaining long days and nights were devoted to producing the films. "The deadline was super intense," said participant Judith Prays, an Atlanta-based artist and filmmaker. "The first day you get your partner and your text, and you basically have three days to write, record, and animate."
The difficulty of fitting the digressive and convoluted Talmudic stories into 4-minute films was also a source of tension. Some groups did not want to use the entire story given to them, instead preferring to focus on one particular episode, while others wanted to cap the stories with a definite ending or lesson. Sepitmus, however, was adamant that the films had to be, first and foremost, accurate reflections of the Talmud's narratives. "I explained to them that their job is not to say what the story means," he said. "Their job is to reproduce the rich ambiguities of the original."
"It was difficult to condense such a long story," said Sam Grinberg, a student at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts, whose film "Talmud Tales" uses a comedic, cartoon style to animate the story of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. "We had to sacrifice some material that we thought would be funny, but in the end we had to make it funny and work at the same time. I'm glad I was pushed as much as I was."
Saturday, January 26, 2013
A Brush With Justice Turns Sect Inward
When a judge sentenced a religious counselor from an ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave in Brooklyn to 103 years in prison this week, he framed the punishment as a message: Victims of sexual abuse will find justice, no matter their community.
But the closely watched prosecution of 54-year-old Nechemya Weberman, found guilty last month of repeatedly molesting a young girl, might not become the milestone sought by victims' advocates. Some within the Satmar Jewish sect said the 103-year sentence might reinforce suspicions that their community is being targeted by outsiders.
"It's not a good number," said Gary Schlesinger, head of a charity linked to Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, a leader of the Satmar.
The sect runs its own schools, ambulances and informal justice system, all meant to preserve a distinct religious culture in Brooklyn's Williamsburg section. To critics inside and outside that world, the closed-off community creates a culture of silence that deters abuse victims.
For Mr. Schlesinger, the severe punishment is likely to make his neighbors even more wary of secular justice.
"The 103-year sentence is going to discourage future victims from coming forward because nobody wants to have that on their conscience their entire life," he said. "Sometimes you can have a person rehabilitated for a much shorter time."
Prosecutors see the outcome as a significant victory, said Rhonnie Jaus, chief of the Brooklyn district attorney office's sex-crimes division.
"I hope that people can see that if they come forward, that there are measures in place to help," she said. "We take everything that they tell us seriously, we will prosecute people who intimidate them, we will have detectives surround them."
Speaking to reporters after Mr. Weberman's sentencing on Tuesday, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes underscored a lesson from the case: Everyone, he said, has "a moral, if not a legal, obligation to promptly bring allegations of child sexual abuse to secular authorities."
Mr. Hynes has come under widespread criticism for failure to prosecute child-abuse cases within Brooklyn's Orthodox neighborhoods. His office responded in 2009 by launching Kol Tzedek—Hebrew for "Voice of Justice"—as an outreach effort that helps abuse victims bypass local police precincts.
"People were afraid to go to the police," Ms. Jaus said.
To date, she said, the program has resulted in 113 arrests with a 70% conviction rate, including the Weberman case. Prosecutors have investigated 40 other cases, most of which were past the statute of limitations.
"We've made tremendous progress, but we still have a long, uphill way to go," said state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew who represents Brooklyn's Borough Park and Midwood areas. "On a scale of one to 10, we're at 1.5."
"Six years ago, people would get angry at me when I even used the words sexual abuse," said Mr. Hikind, who has discussed the subject frequently on his radio show. "Now they're talking about it, even if it's not always out in public."
Other signs of progress are less measurable but still visible. Mr. Hikind pointed to sexual-abuse awareness meetings between parents and summer-camp administrators and efforts to make more classrooms visible from the outside.
Like Mr. Hikind, Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg has long fought sexual abuse in Brooklyn's ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Over his two-decade campaign, those hostile to his work have thrown bleach in his face and disrupted his home with incessant phone calls.
"The rabbis sold people [on the idea that] the Jew is not supposed to be an informer," said Rabbi Rosenberg, who once identified as a Satmar but has left the sect. "We do see the changes. But it will take time for people to realize the government is stepping up."
"We don't have the right trust yet," he added, "but it's coming."
Inside the close-knit Satmar community, there is little consensus about whether change is inevitable or desirable.
"It's a completely different world here," said Mr. Schlesinger. "That's why you have so many good things—a lot better things sometimes."
Other close observers of the Satmar community worry about the outcome of the Weberman trial. Dovid Zwiebel, vice president of Agudath Israel America, a group that works closely with Brooklyn's Satmar population, said the case should have been handled more "delicately."
"Many people felt it wasn't as if Mr. Weberman was on trial, it was as if the community was on trial," he said.
Mr. Zwiebel, who said he applauded the crackdown on abuse, worried that a 103-year sentence might suggest "the system is rigged against Hasidic Jews."
"The reaction I've heard from many is maybe we shouldn't be cooperating with law-enforcement authorities," he added.
Mr. Hynes said his office asked for the maximum prison term knowing that the sentence—similar to those given to others convicted of such sex-abuse charges—would likely be cut to 50 years on appeal, which is typical in such cases.
But that change might come too late to alter the perceptions of the community.
Even Mr. Hikind, one of the most determined advocates for stepped-up prosecutions of sexual abuse within the Orthodox communities, questioned the wisdom of the sentence.
"As horrible as all of this is, I would have been happier if it would not have been 103," he said. "This almost says to people who already have a chip on their shoulder that the Orthodox community isn't getting a fair shake that they're right."
Friday, January 25, 2013
Orthodox school's bid to settle abuse case rejected
A Brooklyn judge has rejected an Orthodox Jewish day school's attempt to settle a civil lawsuit brought by a boy who said he had been sexually abused by one of the school's teachers.
Supreme Court Justice Jack Battaglia denied Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah Inc's motion to enforce a confidential settlement because the parents of the alleged abuse victim changed their minds and rejected the deal after they signed it in 2011.
"The court cannot say on the record presented that the refusal of (plaintiff)'s parents to proceed with the settlement in accordance with the Feb. 15, 2011, settlement agreement is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious," Battaglia wrote in a ruling Wednesday.
The underlying lawsuit was one of several filed by alleged abuse victims and their parents against Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah, which operates Orthodox Jewish day schools in Brooklyn, the ruling said.
The case was brought in 2006 by a boy who said he was abused by Rabbi Joel Kolko during the 2003-2004 school year. It was not immediately clear whether Kolko still teaches at Yeshiva Torah Temimah.
The boy, who according to the ruling is now 15 years old, is not named in the decision. His parents are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The claims include negligence in hiring, supervising and retaining Kolko and breach of fiduciary duty.
In 2011, the parties reached a confidential settlement agreement, which was signed by the boy's parents, the ruling said. Days later, the parents reversed course and said they no longer agreed to the settlement, which they said had been signed under "duress," the ruling said.
The parents also said they had come under fire from some members of their community. A rabbi at the school told them they would "bankrupt" the yeshiva and destroy it in the way "the Nazis (have) destroyed" the "yeshiva in Europe," the ruling said.
Lawyers for the school disputed that the parents had signed under duress, according to the ruling. They moved for an order approving an infant compromise, which would allow the court to approve a settlement involving a claim brought by a minor.
Battaglia rejected the request.
The settlement "might well be found to be in the infant plaintiff's best interests, but that is not the standard for a settlement contrary to the judgment of the infant plaintiff's parent and counsel," the judge wrote.
The school and a lawyer for the plaintiff did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.
Kolko, a first-grade teacher who taught at the Yeshiva Torah Temimah in Brooklyn, was indicted by local prosecutors in 2007 for sexually abusing a former student. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to three years' probation.
He was rearrested in 2010 after prosecutors accused him of violating a protective order that barred him from interacting with the boy who had accused him of abuse. Following a jury trial last year, Kolko was acquitted of violating the protective order.
A lawyer who represented Kolko in the criminal case did not immediately return a request for comment and Kolko could not be reached for comment.
It is unclear if the boy in the criminal case is the same as the one in the civil lawsuit before Battaglia. It is unclear whether Kolko still teaches at Yeshiva Torah Temimah.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes has come under scrutiny in recent years for his office's handling of sex abuse cases involving members of Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish community. In some media reports Hynes has been accused of helping community leaders cover up high-profile accusations. Defending his office's actions, Hynes has said secrecy may be necessary in some cases to help shield victims from harassment and intimidation.
In 2009, Hynes created a program called Kol Tzedek -- Hebrew for "voice of justice" -- to help victims of sexual abuse in Brooklyn's insular Orthodox Jewish communities come forward. The program has led to 112 arrests and there are about 50 cases pending, according to Hynes's office.
On Tuesday, a Brooklyn judge sentenced an Orthodox counselor, Nechemya Weberman, to 103 years in prison for abusing a young female patient.
The case is John Doe No. 4. v. Yeshiva & Mesivta Torah Temimah Inc, New York State Supreme Court, Kings County, No. 37492/2006.
For the plaintiffs: Frank Floriani and Glenn Nick of Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo.
For the defendant: Avraham Moskowitz and M. Todd Parker of Moskowitz & Book.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Brooklyn's Biggest Yeshivas Violating Federal Law
The 7 year old attends Lamplighters Yeshivah, a Jewish school located in the heart of Hasidic Crown Heights. For Sidof and his fellow classmates, the more fervent the prayer, the more minutes they receive for recess.
And a nice long recess provides Sidof with a welcome break from the challenging and mandatory math, English and science classes he must take every day--- subjects the majority of the 84,000 children who attend conservative Jewish schools in Brooklyn never get. Lamplighters Yeshivah is an exception, as the majority of Orthodox Jewish schools don't teach secular subjects at all, despite being legally bound to do so.
Now take Shmueli Lowenstein. The 25-year-old is a former student at Oholei Torah, a typical yeshiva in Crown Heights, where, he told a news source, "I did not grow up learning English or any kind of secular studies at all" and math was "nonexistent."
"Everything was done in Yiddish until seventh or eighth grade, and then they would switch to Hebrew," Lowenstein said. "I don't think I ever received a paper with English writing on it, except for maybe a permission slip for a school trip."
Under New York State and federal regulations, general subject such as history and math are mandatory to all New York schools, both public and private.
While NY state law does allow religious students to bypass questions regarding evolution on standardized tests, completely excluding all science from the curriculum is prohibited.
"Many schools in Borough Park and Williamsburg are testing the waters" in regards to omitting "secular studies altogether or ratcheting it down another few levels," Zalman Alpert, an expert on the Orthodox community, told a media source.
"In some schools, they're taught very similar to public school … where the English department is fairly normative. But those schools are very few in number and they're rapidly disappearing."
Rabbi Sholom Skaist of Williamsburg's massive United Talmudical Academy told DNAinfo.com the school does teach general subjects — just not very much.
"We teach math, English, some social studies and some science," Skaist said. "They do not have secular studies in all the grades, only from fourth to eighth grade."
Like other schools in poverty stricken areas, Brooklyn's conservative Jewish students receive federal, state and city aid in the form of free lunch programs, educational materials and federal Title I allocations to educate students from poor backgrounds. However, year after year of reports from the United States Department of Education show that federal education officials have to practically beg the city and state to exercise more control over how private schools in their jurisdiction spend federal money.
"The NYC Department of Education staff indicated that private school principals have the final authority on which of the eligible students receive Title I services," the 2012 report states. "The [New York State Education Department] must require all its LEAs [Local Education Authorities] serving private school children to maintain control of their Title I programs."
While federal and state officials confirmed that New York City Department of Education is ultimately responsible for ensuring both that the city's private schools spend government money appropriately and that they provide the minimum standard of instructed mandated by law--- this simply isn't happening.
Case in point, Hershy Gelbstein, 18, who got the majority of his education at Brooklyn's United Talmudical Academy: "I can't read, I don't know anything about the outside world," he said. "I have to struggle every time I have to read a menu for a restaurant."
However, Libby Pollack, a Williamsburg local who was educated in the Jewish school system, said it's practically impossible that officials don't know what's going on.
"What's going on is illegal, it's totally illegal," Pollack said. "Unless somebody just arrived to Ellis Island, there's no such thing that they grew up here and they don't speak the language of the land — it's a disgrace, and it's the norm in Hasidic Brooklyn."
And Pollack isn't alone — the Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), an organization comprised of former yeshiva students, has spent over a year trying to "sound the alarm" to education officials. They say that religious Jewish schools should never violate federal policy. In other words: in conjunction to Torah studies, they must also teach what the state requires.
"Pick a random Hasid off the street and just talk to them, it will be obvious that they're lacking in education," Pollack told DNAinfo.com. "With sex abuse, a lot of people try to deny it, but here [with education] you can't deny it — it's not something that could be hidden. If a person did not get an education, it's going to come across."
In other words, perhaps all these schools can take a few pointers from Lamplighters, which integrates secular courses into religious studies. "We give our children a sense from a very young age," says the school's director Yocheved Sidof, also the father of young Uriyah. "The whole world is one, the whole world is God's work, it's not separate."
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Jewish Youth Brutally Beaten by Cops Sues Police
Ehud Halevy, the 21 year old Jewish man whose assault at the hands of NYPD officers was caught on camera, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the policemen responsible for the attack.
Halevy has accused officer Luis Vega and officer Yelena Bruzzese of attacking him in a Jewish youth center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He was charged with a felony count of assault and three misdemeanors: resisting arrest, obstruction, and criminal trespass.
The charges were later dropped after the center confirmed that Halevy had permission to stay there. A petition to drop the charges at change.org received over 100,000 signatures.
Norman Siegel, Halevy's attorney, says that his client is receiving counseling for pain and trauma suffered from the incident. "For all the New Yorkers who saw the video, when you see it, you want to put your hands over your eyes because very rarely do you see this kind of stark video of police brutality," Siegel said.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Satmar Hasidic counselor Nechemya Weberman gets 103 years for sexually abusing teen girl
A prominent Satmar Hasidic counselor was sentenced Tuesday to 103 years in prison for his repeated sexual abuse of a teenage girl during a three-year stretch of depravity.
Nechemya Weberman, 54, said nothing as the stunning jail term was handed down after his victim delivered a heart-wrenching statement inside a Brooklyn courtroom.
"I remember how I would look in the mirror," the victim recounted. "I saw a girl who didn't want to live in her own skin. A girl whose innocence was shattered at age 12.
"A sad girl who wanted to live a normal life, but instead was being victimized by a 50-year-old man who forced her to perform sickening acts again and again."
Weberman, who served as a counselor for members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar sect, was convicted last month on 59 counts of abuse for the repeated attacks that occurred from 2007 to 2010.
The victim said she was forced to perform oral sex and act out scenes from pornographic movies up to four times a week when she met with Weberman for counseling.
The victim, now 18, went to authorities in February 2011 to detail the abuse that began when she was just 12 years old.
Weberman, who did not speak at the sentencing, was sent to Rikers Island without bail after his conviction. He faced a maximum sentence of 117 years behind bars.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Guilty pleas in Orthodox sex cases offer hope
Two members of Rockland’s Orthodox Jewish community recently pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing children, heartening children protection advocates who have been pushing for increased awareness and prosecutions of such cases. A third man is facing pre-trial hearings in County Court.
A 58-year-old Monsey man admitted in court Friday that he had anal sex with a 14-year-old boy.
The admission came after a judge promised the man a sentence of 10 years’ probation to spare the child from having to testify.
Moishe Turner of 5 Dana Road, a heavy-set man with a long beard streaked with gray, had been accused of having anal and oral sex with the boy on seven occasions during July 2011.
Turner was the second person who avoided incarceration last week by pleading guilty to a sexual crime involving a child. He has been free on $75,000 bail and awaits sentencing March 19.
Herschel Taubenfeld, 33, once a teacher in the New Square Hasidic community, admitted to forcible touching of a young boy in 2011. The admission came in exchange for six years’ probation on a misdemeanor charge handled in New Square Justice Court.
Taubenfeld originally had been charged in December 2011 with 10 counts of forcible touching, 10 counts of endangering the welfare of a child and 10 counts of third-degree sex abuse, all misdemeanors.
Another man, Dovid Kohn, 59, of Monsey, faces 40 criminal counts of having oral sex with a girl when she was between 12 and 15. Kohn is challenging telephone conversations between him and the girl taped by police as inaudible at pretrial hearings in Rockland County Court. Prosecutors and Ramapo police said the girl, now in her 20s, remains a witness in the case.
Shmuel Dym, 32, of Monsey is fighting his guilty plea to sexually molesting a boy. Supreme Court Justice William Kelly has twice turned down Dym’s request to withdraw his guilty plea.
The increased prosecution of sex attacks on children within the Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox community has been welcomed by advocates for children. The advocates said police and prosecutors are just skimming the surface, arguing there are unreported sexual attacks on children.
“The epidemic of child-molestation threatens an entire generation of children,” said Monsey-based Rabbi Noson Leiter, founder of Help Rescue Our Children. “Many of these molesters are arrogant, narcissistic, deceptive, and downright evil. Even though some of them appear unable to control themselves, that is because of choices they repeatedly and intentionally made.”
Leiter, a leader of Torah Jews for Decency in Monsey, said Taubenfeld’s guilty plea “is a trail-blazing case — the first in which a survivor from within New Square prosecuted a molester within the community.”
He said he hopes other families will find the strength to come forward and fight off community pressure not to report sexual abuse. He praised the Ramapo police for their efforts when told about children being abused.
“Taubenfeld’s own admission to molestation charges also confirms that current New Square leadership clearly failed to stop this vile, manipulative ‘educator’ and is unqualified to deal with the molestation crisis,” Leiter said.
Rockland District Attorney Thomas P. Zugibe said the religious community has been more open with police and prosecutors. He said historically the major issue confronting law enforcement was the “insular community often protected the accused at the expense of the victims.”
Zugibe said he was encouraged by the Taubenfeld case. He said families in the religious community have “recognized finally that if you protect the victims all you are doing is creating a new generation of offenders and victims.”
“In the latest cases, particularly Taubenfeld, I have to credit the community for being more forthcoming,” Zugibe said. “We have a long way to go. I am hopeful this is a new trend.”
Families face being kicked out of the religious community and having their children denied schooling and services.
The family of the boy abused by Turner faced pressure from the community leaders to drop out of the case, authorities said.
Prosecutor Jennifer Parietti said Friday in court that Zugibe approved the no-prison sentence for Turner.
Turner faced seven years in state prison under the felony charge. The case was down for a pretrial hearing with Ramapo Detectives Peg Braddock and Robert Fitzgerald ready to testify.
She told Kelly that she supported the sentence “to spare this victim the difficulties of the trial.”
“The victim is under tremendous pressure,” she said. “This plea will relieve that.”
Turner admitted he had anal sex with the boy under questioning from Parietti in July 2011. He admitted he knew the boy was 14, making him incapable of consent under the law.
Turner’s lawyer, former District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz, said after court that he’s not aware of any rabbi or religious community leader putting pressure of the boy or his family.
Turner, who prayed before court, doesn’t speak fluent English. He speaks Yiddish and needed a translator to tell him what was discussed in court and for his responses.
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Convicted sex assaulter Nechemya Weberman abused many other females, News finds
Nechemya Weberman, the unlicensed Hasidic counselor slated to be sentenced Tuesday for sexually abusing a Brooklyn girl, violated at least 10 others — including teens and married women he counseled, a Daily News investigation revealed.
The self-proclaimed religious adviser even invoked Kabbalah — a form of Jewish mysticism — to convince his victims that having sex with him was kosher.
“He’s a monster,” said a man whose daughter was repeatedly brutalized by Weberman a couple of years before the victim at trial came forward.
The beautiful, 18-year-old Brooklyn woman testified how Weberman, 54, touched her private parts, forced her to perform oral sex and ordered her to reenact porn during a three-year period that started when she was only 12. The disgraced Satmar counselor was convicted of all 59 counts against him last month.
Other women who were sexually abused by Weberman refused to speak publicly for fear of retribution. But those close to them described a pattern of nurturing and grooming where he would shower outcast teens with attention, take them on road trips — and even buy them lingerie.
He told one young victim, “That ‘I learned Kabbalah and we were a couple in another incarnation,’ ” said a friend of the woman.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who runs a Jewish youth program, said he was told by victims Weberman used the Kabbalah line on them too.
“The intimate acts he was performing were intended as a form of repentance for sins committed in their previous lifetimes,” said Horowitz.
He would tell teens who had been deemed troublemakers for being immodest, “No one will ever believe messed-up kids like them,” said Horowitz.
“A master manipulator,” said Rhonnie Jaus, chief of the sex crimes division at the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.
Weberman used women’s lowly standing in the ultra-Orthodox community to prey on the vulnerable, sources said.
“He is probably the only male who has ever given them the time of day and listened to them,” said a law enforcement source. “He had a huge amount of psychological hold over them.”
The father who spoke to The News about his daughter’s ordeal refused to give details about what was done to her, but other sources said her experience was similar to the sick deviations described by the victim at trial.
“Not only the sexual abuse,” the father said, “but the psychological abuse. . . . Why?”
He said his strong religious beliefs kept him from reporting Weberman when he heard of the attacks.
The father was assured that Weberman would stop counseling girls — and was shocked when charges were lodged against the counselor in February 2011.
The News found five additional people who said they were aware of Weberman’s misconduct years before he was arrested.
The criminal case finally came about, sources said, after the victim was told by friends that her adviser “was a known pervert.”
“It’s a common occurrence in cases we deal with,” said Kevin O’Donnell, the lead prosecutor in the case. “Kids can compartmentalize, justify, somehow live with their own abuse and most of them think it’s happening to them only and nobody else.”
He added that hearing of other victims “frequently prompts someone to come forward.”
No other alleged victim has been willing to press charges against Weberman — out of fear of being ostracized or because the statute of limitation had expired.
“It’s very difficult to go with only one victim. We always want to have more than one victim,” Jaus said. “And when you know there are more out there, it is hard, very hard . . . but you do the best you can.”
Prosecutors have stated in court they are aware of four married women and two underaged girls who were bedded by Weberman. The News has since found four more.
The prosecution attempted at trial to have the jury hear from other Weberman victims — including a woman who had sexual relations with him while he was her marriage counselor. She refused to speak with The News.
Weberman, who is facing 117 years in prison, declined to meet a reporter at the Manhattan lockup where he’s being held.
His defense team — which vowed to appeal — also complained about being precluded from presenting certain evidence.
“I don’t think they have other victims,” defense lawyer Michael Farkas said of prosecutors after the trial ended.
“A lot of people were willing to give them information and I am very suspicious [of that information].”
The list of victims identified by prosecutors and found by The News includes at least four married women now ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s — three of whom he counseled. The other lived in his building.
The other six victims are not married, but all of them went to him initially for counseling.
One of the witnesses the defense called to the stand was a runaway who ended up living in Weberman’s office for three years. She denied any inappropriate behavior on his part, even when grilled by prosecutors about getting caught in a compromising position with him.
“He still has her in his grip,” said a friend of hers.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Auckland's Jewish community has offered to help a youth who descrated its headstones with swastikas in an attack last October
Robert Moulden, 19, has pleaded guilty to intentionally damaging headstones in Auckland's Symonds St Cemetery in Auckland District Court and will be sentenced next month. A co-accused has denied the charge.
Some of the gravestones were damaged beyond repair and some were of people who had lost family in the Holocaust.
Jewish Council of New Zealand chairman Geoff Levy said Moulden had a difficult family background and community members sought to help him during a restorative justice session.
This included inviting him to a traditional dinner at a Jewish home on a Friday evening and offering to help him get further education and employment.
Mr Levy says punitive measures against a 19-year-old would not achieve much.
Friday, January 18, 2013
Jewish Population Is Up in the New York Region
Borough Park in Brooklyn, with its preponderance of Orthodox synagogues and kosher restaurants, is the most Jewish area in the New York City region, with 78 percent of households there identifying as Jewish. Close behind is Great Neck, Long Island, with its thriving enclave of Persian Jews, and then the Five Towns, also on Long Island, where a higher percentage of Jews identify as modern Orthodox than anywhere else in the region, according to a Jewish demographic study released Tuesday.
The Jewish population in the New York area grew by 9 percent over the last decade, reversing a longstanding trend of decline, the study found. But the growth did not affect all Jewish neighborhoods equally. Two-thirds of the rise was propelled by two deeply Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn with high birthrates — Williamsburg and Borough Park. Some of the city's more affluent areas, like Brownstone Brooklyn and the Upper East Side, saw declines in their Jewish population, according to the study.
"There is no typical Jewish community," said Dr. Pearl Beck, lead author of "The Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011," sponsored by the UJA-Federation of New York. "We found significant differences from area to area."
Brownstone Brooklyn, the study found, was the most secular of the region's Jewish enclaves. In its neighborhoods, from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens to Brooklyn Heights, 43 percent of Jews identified themselves as nonreligious or secular.
Brownstone Brooklyn also had the highest rate of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews in the city, Westchester or Long Island, at 59 percent. And it had the lowest percentage of children receiving any form of Jewish education. Only 15 percent of Jews surveyed there said they felt "a lot" connected to the Jewish community.
But a short drive away, in the intensely observant enclaves of Borough Park and Williamsburg, less than one percent of Jewish children receive no Jewish education, the study found. In those neighborhoods, where lifelong religious study by men is prized, poverty is common.
In Williamsburg, for example, more than 30 percent of adult men reported no employment, and 78 percent of Jewish households earned less than $50,000 a year.
About three-quarters of the 1.8 million people who live in Jewish households in the New York area live in 1 of 30 distinct geographic areas, the study found. There are as many Jews on the Upper West Side — 70,500 — as there are in all of Cleveland, Dr. Beck reported, and more Jews in central Brooklyn, consisting of Flatbush, Midwood and Kensington, than in all of Baltimore.
The area with the largest increase in Jews over the last decade was Washington Heights and Inwood in Upper Manhattan, with a 144 percent increase. But there were still fewer than 24,000 Jews there. On Long Island, the Huntington area had the largest Jewish population increase, 50 percent.
The study, based on nearly 6,000 telephone interviews with Jewish families across the region, followed a previous report, based on the same survey, that showed that the New York area has growing numbers of both Orthodox Jews and those considering themselves partially Jewish. But New York still has strong enclaves of Conservative and Reform Jewry, according to the latest report.
Of the 30 areas studied, six had Jewish communities where at least 30 percent of families described themselves as Conservative, including Kew Gardens, Roslyn, Plainview and Great Neck.
And in five areas, more than 40 percent of the Jewish population identified as Reform, including in north central and northwestern Westchester County, as well as on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Traditional Jewish values appeared to extend even to places where identification with the Jewish community had grown weak.
Brownstone Brooklyn, for example, had the lowest level of philanthropic giving to Jewish causes: 29 percent, Dr. Beck said. But about half of families did volunteer for charities, even if not always Jewish ones.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Russia Slams US Fine Over Disputed Chabad-Lubavitch Archive
Russia's Foreign Ministry has criticized a ruling by a United States judge to fine Moscow $50,000 a day for its failure to return a historic but disputed Jewish library to the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish group.
Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court ruled Wednesday that Russia should pay the fine until it complies with the 2010 order to return the collection of tens of thousands of religious books and manuscripts, some hundreds of years old, to the Chabad-Lubavitch group based in Brooklyn, New York.
The documents are being held by Russia's State Library and the Russian military archive.
The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday called the ruling "an absolutely unlawful and provocative decision" and threatened a "tough response" if U.S authorities try to seize any Russian property.
"We are outraged that the Washington court took this unprecedented step, which is fraught with the most serious of consequences," said the ministry.
The archive, which is referred to in Russia as the Schneersohn Library in honor of its original owner Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, was seized by the Soviets in Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, AFP reported.
Most of the 12,000 texts and 50,000 documents it contains have since been transferred to the Russian state archive and library system.
Officials said they had no intention of parting with a collection gathered in the 18th century and regarded with veneration by Hasidic Jews who populated Eastern Europe and have since largely settled in New York.
"Every citizen of the world can come to Moscow, become a reader of the Russia State Library and read everything that he needs," Russian State Library Director Alexander Vislov told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
The U.S. State Department has argued that court decisions of the kind issued by the District Court were complicating both the case and bilateral ties, according to AFP.
Russia's deputy culture minister said on Thursday that the fine could actually harm Americans' future access to the Jewish archive.
"The US court decision first and foremost will have negative consequences on the access to Russian cultural assets by American citizens," Grigory Ivliyev told the RIA Novosti news agency.
"In Russia, only the Russian courts have jurisdiction."
A spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia said that from a moral point of view the library should be returned to its former Jewish owners but using the courts was the wrong course of action.
"The Chabad-Lubavitch community in New York is the legal heir to the library," Borukh Gorin said by telephone.
"But the tactic it has chosen does not stand a chance," Gorin conceded. "These rulings can only help raise attention to our cause."
The archive, which reflects the devastating history of European Jewry in the last century, was originally kept in the Smolensk region town of Lyubavichi, located in western Russia.
The collection was split up during World War I and partially nationalized by the Soviet Union in 1918. The other part was slipped out of Russia in 1927 and was seized by Nazi troops in Poland after spending some time in Riga in 1939, according to AFP.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Man charged with stalking in Bergen County
A Brooklyn man who allegedly harassed a woman by telephone for several weeks has been charged with stalking and harassment, authorities said.
Yekeseil Gluck, 30, surrendered to detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office on Thursday following a month-long investigation by the prosecutor's computer crimes unit.
Gluck, who is single and employed by Tri-State Packing in Brooklyn, allegedly used electronic equipment to "telephonically" stalk and harass the victim with whom he had no personal relationship over a period of several weeks, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said in a statement.
New York City and Nutley police assisted in the investigation.
Gluck was released on his own recognizance.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Tensions between Hasidic community and neighbour bring battle to court
Tensions between members of the Hasidic community in Outremont and some of their non-Jewish neighbours played out in a Montreal courthouse Monday.
Writer Pierre Lacerte has spent a decade obsessing his Outremont neighbor, Michael Rosenberg, a wealthy real-estate mogul who lives on his street.
Lacerte runs a blog in which he posts photos of Rosenberg, purportedly showing him parking illegally, or traffic jams near the local synagogue, or other perceived infractions of Outremont bylaws.
It's all part of a longstanding quarrel Lacerte has with Outremont's Hasidic community.
Tired of it, Rosenberg filed a $375,000 defamation suit against Lacerte.
“Defamation, breach of privacy,” said Rosenberg’s lawyer, Julius Grey. “While the other side is claiming abuse of procedures.”
Last year, Rosenberg failed in an attempt to obtain a restraining order against his neighbor.
Now Rosenberg complains that Lacerte's blog is costing him business -- though he wasn't able to provide evidence in court Monday.
On his blog Monday morning, Lacerte posted a caricature of Rosenberg as a Godzilla and himself as a Lilliputian. At the courthouse, he tried to taunt Rosenberg’s supporters.
The relationship between the Hasidic community and its neighbours has never been an easy one in Outremont, but this current fight goes beyond anything ever seen before: Both sides have spent huge amounts of money, taken up precious time from the courts, and increased tension within the community.
Rosenberg openly describes Lacerte as anti-Semitic.
Lacerte denies being anti-Semitic, and claims Rosenberg has the definition all wrong.
Monday, January 14, 2013
NY Daily News Opinion: Court makes the right ruling on circumcision practice
In a thoroughly convincing ruling, Manhattan Federal Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald has upheld the city's mild regulation of a circumcision procedure used by some Hasidic Jews.
In metzitzah b'peh, the mohel removes blood from the incision using his mouth. City health officials, backed by national medical experts, assert there is a risk of transmitting herpes this way. Herpes in a newborn can kill.
And so, carefully weighing constitutionally protected religious activity and public health concerns, the city simply and sensibly sought parental consent. Buchwald refused to block the regulation. Protecting babies was the right call.
Sunday, January 13, 2013
Orthodox Jewish Singer Alex Clare Nominated for BRIT Award
Alex Clare, the Orthodox Jewish, British musician best known for his double platinum single “Too Close,” has been nominated for a BRIT award in the Best British Single category, along with Adele, Florence & The Machine, and other acts. Clare, who dated fellow Jewish Brit Amy Winehouse before he was famous, has been orthodox for around five years, according to the JTA.
Clare’s career has seen ups and downs. A year ago, his label dropped him when his album “The Lateness of the Hour” flopped. That was before Microsoft decided to use “Too Close” for their Internet Explorer 9 ad campaign. The ad campaign began March 5th and by April 1st, “Too Close” had sold 100,000 copies. Universal/Island picked his contract back up.
Now that he’s a star, Clare strives to balance his orthodox lifestyle with touring life. He travels with a full set of meat and milk dishes and pots, as well as a suitcase of canned and dried kosher food. He studies Talmud and the Chassidic Tanya every day. He says his bodyguard helps keep him shomer negiah (avoiding physical contact with members of the opposite sex.)
Clare plans to release a new album next year, with more spiritual themes, including a song based on Shir HaShirim [Song of Songs].
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Arabs Laugh as They Terrorize, Abuse Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem
Friday, January 11, 2013
Women Behind Creative School in Crown Heights
There's a new Hasidic Montessori school for elementary boys in Crown Heights and creative women are behind the change.
Lamplighters Yeshivah opened two years ago, driven by a group of Crown Heights parents who "allowed themselves to dream; to envision a new holistic educational experience for their children," the school's website says.
Lamplighters is a small school of 40 students still in its early seedlings, yet it has tripled enrollment since its inception in 2010. Although the school includes a mixed-gender preschool, the revolution lies in its boys' lower elementary class, which is challenging the mainstream institutional approach. The curriculum includes child-directed learning centers, art and Montessori materials to integrate Torah and secular subjects. It also caters to parents and children who are not satisfied with the status quo. (The other Hasidic boys' schools in Crown Heights do not teach any English subjects, at least not until fourth grade.)
Lamplighters celebrated its innovative approach at a December event for 400 women called "In the Glow: Basking in the Light of Creative Jewish Women" that featured Hasidic women artists, performers and entrepreneurs, plus comedian Yael Hanover as emcee.
"The event ties into the mission of the school that every child is unique and can be successful," executive director Yocheved Sidof told the Sisterhood. "Women are creating an environment where we nurture, celebrate and support each other."
Vendors filled Beth Rivka's Roza Hall with everything from chic Hasidic fashion, jewelry, art and photography to organic food, cosmetics, wellness and fitness displays. While crowds of girls and women milled about sampling and shopping, about ten women prepared backstage for individual performances of dance and music that lasted over two hours.
These artists are part of a burgeoning art scene in Crown Heights, particularly for women, who according to Jewish laws of modesty only perform for other women and until recently have not had much opportunity to showcase their talent. Within the last few months, new venues and groups have formed for creative types in Brooklyn's Chabad enclave. On Sukkoth last October, a local pop-up gallery featuring fresh art from both genders hosted open mikes for Crown Heights men and women. The event was organized by the Creative Soul, a new group of Hasidic artists whose founder, Yitzchok Moully, is a Hasidic Jewish pop artist himself.
Then came Mikimi, a Crown Heights organization started by Menachem Reich and the Hasidic blogger known as "Pop Chassid," Elad Nehorai. Devoted to creativity, they organize events for artists and performers with Jewish values. On a recent Saturday night at an open mike Mikimi held in a Crown Heights synagogue, men waited outside as women performed inside. Only when women left the stage did men enter; women, however, stayed to watch the men perform, which is allowed according to Jewish law (with a partition separating the genders). The group also hosts separate events for men and women at its new designated space in the neighborhood.
Many of the women appearing at these open mike nights also graced the stage at Lamplighters' "In the Glow." The slew of talent included young singer-songwriters Rivka Eilfort, Sarah Chaya Elisha, Chava Shapiro, Sarah Dukes, Tanya Guterson and Shaindel Antelis; actress, singer and founder of Jewish arts group ATARA Miriam Leah Droz, and Bulletproof Stockings, a female Hasidic alternative rock band formed a year ago specifically for Lamplighter's first "In the Glow" event.
Singer Esther Freeman, who has a son at Lamplighters and bears a striking resemblance to musical diva Barbara Streisand, performed despite feeling sick because, she said, she believes so much in the school.
"When the students learn secular and Jewish studies they're learning math in a Jewish way," Freeman told the Sisterhood. "Through counting Chanukah candles and through the Parshah (weekly Torah portion). All studies are connected, you just have to find the Jewish approach. Then the child feels he has a well-rounded view of the world and doesn't feel he needs to search the secular world."
The name Lamplighters was chosen for the school based on the Hasidic belief that each person can transform darkness into light.
"You can only light the world if you're in tune to your own individuality and gifts," Sidof says. "Then kids can figure out what they're good at, what they love to learn. Every person has their own unique glow, their imprint on the world."
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Charedi crisis over sex abuse claims
Allegations of inappropriate behaviour with women by a senior strictly Orthodox rabbi have this week led to a schism within the Charedi community.
The community has been convulsed for months following complaints made by women about marriage counselling sessions run by Rabbi Chaim Halpern of the Divrei Chaim Synagogue in Golders Green.
One group believes that Rabbi Halpern has been maligned, while another is angry at what it argues is a failure by an umbrella body, the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations — whose president is Rabbi Halpern's father — to investigate his behaviour.
On Tuesday, the North Hendon Adath Yisroel synagogue in north-west London pulled out of the Union after the shul's rabbi, Dovid Cohn, said the Union's "lack of willingness or ability" to deal with the issue was "a matter of great embarrassment".
The fallout from the allegations against Rabbi Halpern has divided rabbis, highlighting tensions between the more professional and prosperous congregations in north-west London and conservative factions in Stamford Hill.
Feelings are so highly charged that police are investigating complaints of harassment lodged by one of the rabbis who has opposed Rabbi Halpern.
A police spokesman said on Wednesday that they were investigating allegations that "a man in his mid-60s" had received more than 50 phone calls which included "profanities in Hebrew".
Henry Ehreich, secretary of North Hendon Adath Yisroel, which has around 180 members, explained that its decision to leave the Union and go independent was because "of the way the Union has been dealing, or not dealing, with the problem. We were faced with a situation where members of our shul were voting with their feet."
If the synagogue had remained affiliated, he said, it would have appeared to have been in agreement with the Union's perceived "inaction".
He added: "We think this may be a catalyst for other shuls to do the same."
Last Monday, the Union's religious head, Rabbi Ephraim Padwa, appeared to have taken firm action against Rabbi Halpern by authorising the expulsion of his synagogue from the Union.
But only a few hours later, Rabbi Padwa let it be known that an announcement of the move had been a "misunderstanding". Union officials confirmed that Divrei Chaim remained within the Union.
The rethink followed a meeting at the home of Rabbi Halpern's father, Rabbi Elchonon Halpern, the elderly president of the Union. Police were called when witnesses in the street reported hearing heated exchanges with supporters of Rabbi Chaim Halpern inside. No arrests were made.
Several Golders Green rabbis, including former London Beth Din Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, who have examined some of the evidence against Rabbi Chaim Halpern, have previously declared him unfit to serve as a rabbi.
Rabbi Halpern maintains his innocence, saying that his counselling sessions have been conducted in accordance with Jewish law.
Although he resigned his position as a Union dayan and other communal roles, he continues to lead Divrei Chaim and teach Torah classes in the area.
A senior Orthodox activist from north-west London said: "The rabbonim of north-west London, along with the entire community, have completely lost confidence in the UOHC. They, or their leader, are utterly incompetent and should be replaced; either scenario calls into question the reliability of their communal activities, including kashrut."
Rabbi Chaim Halpern, he said, "has disgraced his position as rav. The sooner he leaves north-west London, the sooner the community can begin to heal itself".
In December, the Union announced plans to set up a special Beth Din convened by a leading rabbi from Israel to examine the allegations. But the lack of any further detail has fuelled accusations of impotence.
Rabbi Halpern, meanwhile, continues to enjoy support within the Charedi rank-and-file. One Stamford Hill supporter said: "I have heard a lot about him, that he's always got time for people who have got problems. I don't believe the rumours."
'Blue Bloods' Hasidic Costumes Fool Boro Park
It was a little tricky telling who was a real Hasidic Jew and who wasn't on 13th Avenue in Boro Park earlier this week. The CBS police drama "Blue Bloods", starring Donnie Wahlberg, was filming there, and the extras dressed as Hasidim were throwing the real members of the tribe for a loop.
If you watch the clip that someone filmed and put on YouTube, you can see why telling the Jews from the non- would have been hard. This is one instance where the actors didn't look like they had pasted-on fake beards and side curls. We extend kudos to the makeup and wardrobe departments.
The video is worth watching if only to see one (real) Hasidic man walking around dumbstruck at how authentic the extras look. "I can't believe it," he keeps on exclaiming. "It's mindboggling. You have to watch out. You don't know who you're talking to."
If one of the "Hasidic" actors looks kind of familiar, it's because he's the famous star of Yiddish theatre and television, Fyvush Finkel. You have to look carefully to recognize the 90-year-old actor beneath the heavy beard and other Hasidic accoutrements. The actor tells the person behind the video camera it took a full hour to get made up like this.
The video is a real hoot. But for the Hasidic man who just can't seem to believe it, there is real danger lurking behind the make-believe. "It's a pachad (fear) from now on who you might be talking to," he says. "You might be talking to a mamishe (real) goy."
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Orthodox Jewish girl disqualified from ping-pong tourney for sitting out the Sabbath
An 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish table tennis phenom was reportedly disqualified from a national tournament last month after declining to play one of her matches on the Sabbath.
The Christian Post reports that Estee Ackerman, from Long Island in New York, opted out of participating in the conflicting match while competing at the 2012 U.S. National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas.
"I advanced in my round robin and then we looked at my schedule and saw the next match would be during Friday night, which is our Sabbath, so of course I'm disappointed," Estee told The New York Post.
Glenn Ackerman, Estee's father, said the family had been expecting the potential conflict to become a problem.
"I believe everyone in life has certain things that they love to do, maybe they love to cook, they love to play golf, they love to work, but the Sabbath, unless you're a doctor or a fireman – you have to save people's lives – the Sabbath takes precedence over all these things," Glenn Ackerman told the Christian Post.
Ackerman said tournament organizers did a "very good job" in spite of his daughter's disappointment, acknowledging the difficulty in rescheduling a five-day competition involving 60 events and 800 players.
"We clearly try to be inclusionary in the manner in which we run our events," Michael Cavanaugh, CEO of USA Table Tennis, told The Christian Post. "Estee entered eight events and played to completion in all but one of them."
For Orthodox Jews, Childhood Is for Enculturation
Orthodox Jews live on a spectrum, from those who seek engagement with mainstream culture (modern Orthodox) to those who choose to remain within an insular enclave and view the outside world as base and fundamentally corrosive of the values of Judaism and its traditions (Haredi, or fervently and anxiously Orthodox).
In general, no matter where one is located on this spectrum, raising children as Orthodox Jews means making certain that they are literate – able to access Jewish sources, from Bible through Talmud in the original language – and that they have a personal knowledge of the Jewish experience. The child is first and foremost someone who must be educated. Childhood is not for fun. It is generally a time for instruction and laying the foundation for a solid core of Jewish identity and knowledge.
For the modern Orthodox, the outside world has much to offer – though never at the expense of their Jewish observance and beliefs. This leads to many of their children feeling pressured from early on to carry a dual curriculum, becoming literate in both Jewish and secular subjects, standing with a foot in two worlds and finding a way to creatively harmonize them even when they seem to be at odds. For such children, the double burdens to succeed and to navigate between various worlds can lead to a childhood and education that is very stressful as well as a feeling that only those who are like you can truly appreciate the life you lead and how you feel. While this fosters a high sense of solidarity with other modern Orthodox Jews, it also promotes separateness and ethnocentrism.
For the Haredi Orthodox, insularity is a desideratum. Secular knowledge is played down, and only what is Jewish is viewed as genuinely valuable. To keep people inside this cultural and voluntary ghetto, a high degree of conformity and a conservative worldview are encouraged, coupled with the outcasting or demonization of outsiders … or even those who dare to be different. It's as if one wants the child to think, "We are lucky to be the kind of Jews we are, and we'd never want to be like the others around us." This leads to an even higher degree of solidarity and ethnocentrism, but also to powerful pressures to hide even a minor deviance from the norm. This can result in a Manichaeistic world for children, who could very well be getting the following message: "Those who are not with or like us are against us."
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Juror: We convicted Nechemya Weberman because he abused a teen, not because he was Jewish
They convicted him because of the facts, not because of his religion.
A juror in the sexual abuse case pitting a teen accuser against Hasidic leader Nechemya Weberman said he broke the panel's silence to refute the notion the jury returned a guity verdict out of anti-Semitic bias.
"It wasn't religion, it wasn't their background, it wasn't revenge," said the 42-year-old man, who asked not to be identified. "It was a young girl and an old man alone in a room."
The juror offered the first public account of the jury's thinking during deliberations in the high-profile trial, which ended Dec. 10 with a guilty verdict to all 59 counts.
Weberman, 54, was convicted of molesting the now 18-year-old for three years starting when she was 12, forcing her to perform oral sex and reenact porn scenes. She started to see the unlicensed therapist after running afoul of the insular sect's stringent modesty rules.
Weberman's lawyer George Farkas had claimed after the conviction that Hasidic Jews do not have "the same shot with a jury as anyone else."
But the juror said he had no preconceptions about Weberman's community, adding the panel didn't view him as "a monster."
"We realized we couldn't make a flippant decision and ruin a man's life," the juror recalled. "It was, 'Oh boy, we have a serious job.'"
The juror said the panel accepted the victim's "emotional" testimony, which stretched over four days, but didn't want to rely solely on her words.
"We needed something else," he said.
"Something else" came in the form of social worker Sara Fried, who testified she diagnosed the girl with post traumatic stress disorder over the years of molestation.
"That's what clinched it," the juror said during an hour-long interview at a Brooklyn diner last week. "We took the vote and everyone was unanimous."
He also noted there were multiple locks in Weberman's home, that he admitted to driving the girl upstate alone and that he housed other runaway teens.
"It raises a lot of red flags," he said.
The panel of 12 jurors — a racially diverse group of different ages, including a college student and a retiree — weighed Weberman's fate for about five hours. After, jurors were ushered out of a side exit, escaping the media glare.
Weberman, who's facing a maximum of 117 years, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, though it will likely be later this month.
No bids at IRS auction of Yeshiva
The IRS received no bids at its auction last week of the Yeshiva Academy and Yeshiva Achei Tmimim synagogue, and has released the Newton Avenue property back to the religious organization.
The federal liens against the property, which total $472,000, remain.
But the prospect of federal agents changing the locks of the 22 Newton Ave. synagogue and Hebrew day school — and forcing out the congregation that built the building in 1959 — is no longer imminent.
"That was the news I was praying for," Rabbi Mendel Fogelman said in an interview in his office Monday afternoon. "Obviously, we have a long way to go. We'll have to wait and see if we can work out a deal with the IRS."
While the ordeal and possible loss of the his congregation's home, school and spiritual center was daunting, he said he has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the Jewish community — from Worcester, New York and abroad. More than 170 individuals have donated more than $47,000 on savetheyeshiva.com, with some donations coming from as far away as Australia and South Africa.
But it is still only 10 percent of what the Yeshiva owes to the IRS in payroll taxes, dating to 2004.
"We are enthused by the outpouring of help, which literally came from throughout the whole world," he said. "It's a testament to the wonderful work my father and mother have done for 60 years."
His father, 90-year old Rabbi Hershel Fogelman, has been the leader of the synagogue and school for many years. He recently has fallen ill, and is recovering at the Jewish Healthcare Center.
Rabbi Mendel Fogelman said the hard work of paying off the organization's loans and liens will continue.
"We have to work hard; we're still trying to raise funds for this building," he said. "But I want to say, we're not limited to square footage. Our community is the 5,000 or 6,000 Jews in the region. We will continue to nourish their souls and instill Jewish pride in them."
The school, which once had as many as 130 students in kindergarten through Grade 12, has dwindled to 30 students.
"We've never turned away any Jewish child here for lack of funds," he said. "Whatever we needed, we went out and raised the money; we made sure every child who needed an education received one."
In addition to the IRS tax bill, the synagogue and school also owe thousands of dollars to the city of Worcester in unpaid water and sewer bills, and they also owe money to National Grid. In 2011, Commerce Bank foreclosed on the former girls' dormitory building on Midland Street, and it was sold to a member of the congregation, Steven Gaval, for $61,000.
Rabbi Fogelman said despite the financial problems facing Yeshiva, the synagogue continues to hold three services a day, holds nightly classes on a range of topics, like how to make Challah or a Torah studies class.
The synagogue has regular meetings with local college students as well as regular community parties.
Over the holidays in December, hundreds of people came through the building, he said.
"We have a full, active schedule of events," he said.
He is hopeful that in the coming days and weeks perhaps someone will walk through the door "to give us a big boost that we so richly deserve."
Monday, January 07, 2013
Orthodox Jews fear severing Midwood council district will hurt
Orthodox Jews fear they'll get less political pork if a plan to split their Midwood council district becomes law, and are calling on the city to make sure that doesn't happen.
Residents of the 48th Council District, which is represented by Michael Nelson (D–Midwood), claim that necessary funding to local community groups will dry up if the city Districting Commission's succeeds in splitting Southern Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish stronghold into two different district — moving a portion of the voting block to the 48th Council District, which is represented by Jumaane Williams (D–E. Flatbush).
"Jewish communities should not be sliced and diced," said David Pollock, the associative executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. "It minimizes their ability to catch the attention of elected officials."
And without that attention, residents fear necessary community groups that get subsidized with city dollars will be left high and dry.
"We have our own organizations that need support from the city council," said Josh Mehlman, Midwood resident who would be switched from the 48th to the 45th council district. "We have our own interests and our own community groups that deserve funding."
Residents also fear the move will make the new 48th District a lot less conservative thanks to the fact that it would absorb a large community of left-leaning Russian Jews living in the Warbasse apartments in Brighton Beach — even if they agree on international issues like the state of Israel.
"The Orthodox are concerned about values issues, like homosexuality," Pollock claimed. "Races being fought over gay marriage and those kind of things are not too much of a concern for the Russian voters."
Still, the new lines are not yet drawn in stone, and the city says the residents will have be able to voice their concerns at a public hearing on the plan at St. Francis College on Remsen Street in Brooklyn Heights on Jan. 10.
"They will have an opportunity to come and testify regarding that," said Carl Hum, the executive director of the Districting Commission.
And those against the plan are sure to be there to speak their minds.
"We're extremely worried," said Shimon Lefkowitz, who lives on Avenue I in Midwood, and would be taken from the 48th district and put into the 45th. "This is something that caught us all by surprise. We've always been able to vote in numbers and this is being taken away from us."