Sunday, March 31, 2013

Governor’s Office Rumored to Be Negotiating Sale of Marcy Armory to Satmar Factions 

The Satmar Hasidim of South Williamsburg have their own schools, their own ambulance service, their own police and their own courts. And soon, they may have their own armory.

Rumors have been swirling within the community that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, represented informally by Orthodox businessman Abraham Eisner, is on the verge of concluding a deal between the warring Satmar factions—led by the late Grand Rebbe Moshe Teitelbaum’s two sons, Aaron and Zalman—over disputed property.

The two factions, according to the rumors, would jointly purchase the 165,166-square foot, 3.2-acre Marcy Armory from the state, which has been trying to offload the property. The armory would be physically divided between the two camps, though the Zalmanites would pay more than the Aaronites. In exchange, the Aaronites would renounce their claims—claims unlikely to be backed by secular courts—on summer camps in Ulster County and a matzoh bakery on Broadway in Williamsburg.

“These rumors are simply untrue,” said Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Governor Cuomo. “No one in the governor’s office is involved in any ‘deal,’ and in reality the armory is going to be subject to a competitive RFP process.”

Mr. Eisner hung up on The Observer when reached this afternoon on his cell phone.

The Marcy Armory, a red brick structure dating back to 1884, is bounded by Harrison and Marcy Avenues and Heyward and Lynch Streets. It has played host to many important Satmar events over the years, including weddings and anniversary celebrations of the late Grand Rebbe Joel Teitelbaum’s safe passage into Switzerland in 1944 on the Kastner train, escaping the Holocaust.



Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Hasidim Wars: Women, Sex and Youth in Brooklyn 

Until recently, you could have lived your entire life in the United States and never have bumped into any Jewish Orthodox Hasidim, who live in scattered communities, mostly in the New York’s borough of Brooklyn.

In the last few years, however, the media have publicized the Hasidim’s cultural clashes with their non-fundamentalist neighbors. In each instance, the conflict has pitted the Hasidic view of women’s modest traditional dress and their appropriate role in the family, on the streets, and in their community against the sexualized dress and behaviour of their neighbours.

The first widely-publicized controversy over women’s modesty occurred in the neighborhood known as Crown Heights. On a warm, summer evening in the summer of 2010, Clara Santos Perez’s new and trendy kosher café, Basil Pizza and Wine Bar , was filled with Orthodox Jews from the Lubavitcher sect of Hasidim, West Indians, and the local young professionals who have gradually moved into the neighborhood. Classical music played softly in the background and the café seemed to reflect the peaceful multicultural neighborhood of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

But it didn’t last.

At eight p.m., according to a New York Times magazine article, a young man “arrived and walked in with a young woman wearing a summery, skimpy dress and they took two of the empty stools at the bar, leaning in close to each other to talk.” Four more young people, wearing tank tops and miniskirts, soon arrived and drew severe stares, though they didn’t seem to notice them.

Clara Santos Perez, a devout Roman Catholic, worried whether angry Lubavichter Hasidim would confront her about the women’s immodest dress and behaviour. After the young people left, Rabbi Don Yoel Levy, who heads OK Kosher Certification, which is supposed makes unannounced kitchen inspections to ensure kosher kitchen practices, did in fact appear, and expressed concern about the “inappropriate attire and immoral behaviour at the bar.” Apparently, someone had called him to complain.

Many of the café’s customers want the cafe to be a cross-cultural experiment that brings together West Indians, young, liberal, professionals, and the Lubavitcher Jewish community, which settled there after the Holocaust had destroyed their European communities.

The Lubavitcher, however, feel that their neighborhood is being invaded by people who do not share their value of female modesty. Since that cultural encounter, the community has wrestled with these problems largely through blogs and meetings meant to bring together the Orthodox, the young professionals and the West Indian groups.

The result is more of a stalemate, than genuine peace, especially as the growing Orthodox community seeks larger swaths of real estate. In an open letter to the community, one disgruntled Hasidic landlord described how young people had invaded and gentrified the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and were now doing the same to Crown Heights. In his letter, titled “Take Back our Neighborhood,” he wrote, “Young, upwardly mobile professionals may seem to be pleasant tenants who bring in reliable income, but they also introduce a very different way of life: new nightclubs and bars, sun tanning on rooftops, bike lanes and an increasing amount of immodesty on our streets. Some of these changes are hard to ignore; for instance, one of the sun tanning parties is visible for our young children to see from the window of a local school.”

The various Hasidim sects not only fear the immodesty of their neighbors; they also worry about the small but visible number of young Hasidim who pierce their ears, ride bicycles, dress as hippies, start punk bands and start theatre groups. Although their parents worry they are straying from the fold, one young man explained to the New York Times that both God and music bring light and redemption. He saw no contradiction between his music and his submission to his faith. “To me, Judaism is like punk rock,” he said. “Real Judaism is very much in your face. The world is chasing after desires for money and sex and drugs and materialism, and Judaism is the opposite. Judaism is like, this world is nothing. This world is only to serve."

One woman, told by a Rabbi she could not perform in the theatre or sing, said, “I’m hitting these brick walls….I knew I can’t be a rabbi, I can’t be a cantor, I can’t be a singer. Where does that put me?" So she decided to form the Arts and Torah Association for Religious Artists, by and for Orthodox women. Their mission “is to promote creative and performing arts expression within the framework of Jewish religious law.” Through a journal, several conferences, and a variety of open-microphone performances, the association, though small, has spread to a variety of Hasidic communities.

An underground youth scene of Hasidim is slowing spreading through Brooklyn. The Hester Supper Club, founded by Orthodox women, provides kosher food and evening performances. One guest, quoted in The New Yorker Magazine, wrote, “As the night wore on, guests tossed back cocktails, swayed to the beat, and snapped iPhone pictures. They had the enthusiasm of any normal rock concert-goers, but they looked different. Almost everyone in the all-female crowd wore a long skirt and a sheitel, the wig customarily worn by Orthodox wives.” In Williamsburg, the Orthodox painter Elke Reva Sudin created a widely-publicized exhibition titled “Hipsters and Hassids,” “to help the two sides understand each other.”

Across Brooklyn, closer to Manhattan, lives a different Hasidic community in Williamsburg. Unlike the Lubavitcher Hasidim in Crown Heights, who seek to recruit other Jews into their orthodox community, the Hasidim in Williamsburg, are extremely orthodox, and generally look away when you greet them.

Walk around Williamsburg on a hot, muggy summer day and you see men dressed in heavy, three-quarter length black wool coats, fur hats, and long socks tucked into black shoes. The wear long beards, and ringlets of hair curl down the side of their faces, (called peyes in Yiddish). Some wear large fur hats, which puzzles tourists who wander into their neighborhood. Each style of hat signifies the particular sect to which they belong.

The women, too, cover every part of their body. They wear long skirts, topped by long sleeved, high-necked blouses, and dark stockings cover their legs. Depending on their specific Hasidic group, the married women shave their heads, wear wigs, or cover their hair with a scarf. Those who dress or act in immodest ways can be shamed, shunned, or even spit upon. Modesty, however, is not sufficient; bearing many children is viewed as women’s spiritual contribution to the community. Birth control is discouraged, but abortion is allowed if it saves the life of the mother. Trailed by large numbers of children, they look like they’ve just arrived, by time machine, from 18th century Poland, which is, in fact, where they came from.

This is where another widely-publicized cultural confrontation over modesty recently took place. What happened is that Hasidic “modesty squads” confronted store owners about the “immodest” mannequins displayed in their store windows. One store owner told the New York Times in January, 2013, that a Hasidic man came and said, “Do the neighborhood a favour and take it out of the window…..We’re trying to safeguard our community.” The store owner took the threat seriously because, in Hasidim Williamsburg, according to the New York Times, “it is a potent threat in a neighborhood where shadowy, sometimes self-appointed modesty squads use social and economic leverage to enforce conformity."

It is almost impossible to gain access to these closed communities. But a 2005 Public Broadcast Network documentary of the Hasidim, called “A Life Apart: The Hasidim in America” managed to gain the trust of enough men and women who explained why women’s modesty and their role as mothers are so essential to maintaining their religious community. The Hasidim explained that women must dress and behave modestly because their greatest spiritual mission is motherhood. Girls, therefore, are educated separately from boys and rarely study beyond high school. Parents arrange marriages, although children may refuse their choices and ask for different matches. Women often work outside the home, dressed in modest clothing, so that their men may study and pray all day.

The vast majority of Hasidim women---except those who leave however, do not view themselves as second-class citizens. One woman interviewed in the documentary explained why raising and protecting her family is her greatest joy. “Who cares about running Westinghouse?” she asked. “Children are your legacy forever.” Another woman pointed out that she finds her “spiritual fulfillment in motherhood, in raising children, teaching them values, and thanking God for the breakfast she has laid out for them.”

Most Hasidic women--except those leave--do not view themsevles as second-class citizens in their communities. Professor Anne Braude of Macalaster University, who has studied the Hasidim, offers a different opinion. “If women’s role is really so important,” she asks, “why don’t you have a mother be the rebbe? We’re told that… if men hear women’s voices, they might be distracted…. Well, if I were God, I wouldn’t pick somebody who is so easily distracted that if he hears a woman’s voice he couldn’t pray anymore. I’d pick the women.”

Braude’s perspective, however, is not shared by most Hasidic women. Yet some women do, in fact, leave the community and write about the narrow bleakness of their lives through online magazines or in books, such as Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels, by Hella Winston.

But it is not modesty that they reject. What they seek is the opportunity to pursuehigher education or to participate more equally in Jewish religious life. Some might also be fleeing domestic violence. Hidden by a conspiracy of silence, a few scholarly works have documented domestic violence among women in American Hasidic communities. In addition, the Hasidim are still recovering from the shame that one of their one reported child abuse that took place in their community.,

As the documentary concludes, “The Hasidic rejection of America’s popular culture and education has resulted in goals deeply desired by many Americans: stable families, strong communities and lives infused with meaning. In return, Hasidim pay a price most Americans would find too high: they adhere to strict rules of behavior; they live in a traditional society with clearly defined and prescribed roles for each member; and, within the Hasidic world, individualism is suppressed for the sake of community.”

For women, it is a stiff price to pay. Being part of this community means that Jewish law, as well as the will of their fathers and husbands, govern their entire lives. But equality is not their goal. For the most part, Hasidic women—at least the majority who do not leave—are satisfied to live in a stable community, dress modestly, raise their children, and work outside the home. It is in these closed and cohesive communities that they find spiritual fulfillment. It is here that they can avoid a secularized and sexualized America that celebrates individualism, materialism, and consumerism. And it is here, fortified by the Hasidic way of life, that they can avoid the consequences of modern life---social isolation, family instability, lack of community cohesion, and a profound spiritual thirst.

Although it doesn’t provide the freedoms and opportunities enjoyed and valued by modern women, it is - with all its rules and regulations - their spiritual home.



Friday, March 29, 2013

'Redemption of the Firstborn Donkey' Ceremony 

A boy carries a donkey as Ultra Orthodox Jews take part in the "Pidyon Peter Chamor" ceremony, or the "Redemption of the first born donkey" in the Meir Sharim neighborhood on March 28, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. The traditional ceremony is part of the 613 laws commemorated in the Torah.



Thursday, March 28, 2013

David Leon starts shooting on feature Orthodox 

Zeitgeist Films' Orthodox starts shooting next week in and around Newcastle.

The feature, directed by David Leon, is the result of a successful shot film produced last year. Around 70 per cent of footage from the original short film will feature in the finished film.

Orthodox tells the story of Benjamin, an Orthodox Jew with boxing connections. Having lost touch with his Jewish routes, he struggles to reintegrate with the Jewish community.

“The world that these characters inhabit is so rich it’s always seemed like a natural canvas for a film," says Leon. "Benjamin is a man caught between two worlds, the Orthodox Jewish community and mainstream life, yet the challenges he faces are much like those that we all have to confront. Through the decisions he makes he becomes an ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.”

The film stars Stephen Graham (This is England, Boardwalk Empire), who is also executive producer. Other cast members are Michael Smiley (Kill List), Christopher Fairbank (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Giacomi Mancini (Top Boy).

Orthodox is produced by Daisy Allsop, with executive producers Gareth Wiley and Stephen Graham.

The team is also planning a further film, Driven, to be shot in the region early next year.



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Weapons of Mass Construction: Satmars’ Secret to Keeping Housing Prices Low 

Strolling down Bedford Avenue, you’re greeted by a solid wall of new six-story brick buildings.

The apartments are spacious and cheap by New York standards. For half a million dollars, you can buy a three-bedroom condo in a new elevator building. The tan brick buildings won’t win any design awards, with their looming, protruding window cages and diagonally cascading balconies built solely for constructing booths during Sukkot. But the apartments are big enough to raise a kid or seven.

Cross Broadway north into the trendier section of Williamsburg, though, and half a million will barely buy you a studio. The new construction appears formidable, but it pales in comparison with the torrent of demand streaming into the neighborhood.

Sexy new towers have cropped up on the waterfront, but the trendy inland neighborhoods of northern Brooklyn—Bed-Stuy, Bushwick and inland Williamsburg and Greenpoint—are for the most part capped at three or four stories, and all but the smallest buildings must include parking. As a result of the disconnect between supply and demand, prices have risen dramatically, almost tripling in Williamsburg since 2004.

How the ultra-Orthodox have succeeded in building thousands of units and keeping the neighborhood affordable for families—on private land, and without public money—is a testament to their strongly pro-development attitudes and a bloc voting strategy reminiscent of the ethnic politics patterns of the Tammany Hall era. In a city slow to accommodate new development, they have managed to keep on building in a way that the city’s storied real estate interests can only dream of.

Satmar, as the Hasidic dynasty founded by Joel Teitelbaum is known, have been pushing up against the bounds of their South Williamsburg heartland since the 1970s. Borough Park and suburban enclaves upstate helped relieve some the pressure on the Teitelbaums’ notoriously fecund followers, but the community was spilling out of its tenements, with children sleeping in bathtubs in extreme cases.

So during the 1990s, private Hasidic developers, seeking to house their multiplying masses, began asking for—and receiving—variances to build apartment buildings, without subsidies, on land around the edges of South Williamsburg that was otherwise zoned exclusively for industrial and commercial use.

At the time, the city was freely granting these one-off exemptions, but was not willing to rezone entirely, said Sheldon Lobel, a land use attorney whose name shows up on many of the applications. “But about 10 years ago,” Mr. Lobel told The Observer, “getting variances became more difficult.”

So it was in the late 1990s that the current building boom kicked into high gear. Hasidic leaders lobbied for—and won—the right to build housing on industrial land around South Williamsburg, including a large swath in northern Bed-Stuy, around Bedford and Flushing Avenues, in 2001. No longer did the Hasids need to beg the Board of Standards and Appeals for permission on each individual project—new six- and seven-story residential buildings were now allowed as a matter of right.

A solid wall of buildings rose in northern Bed-Stuy, in an area some in the community now call “New Williamsburg.” The development was not the piecemeal building that takes place in the rest of the borough, but an entirely new neighborhood, anchored by beige apartment blocks, embellished with faux classical touches and served by new synagogues, schools, grocery stores and shops.

And it didn’t stop there. In the early 2000s, outgrowing their new territory in northern Bed-Stuy, the Hasidic community began to apply pressure to the Bloomberg administration to rezone the Broadway Triangle, an industrial enclave wedged between Bed-Stuy and South and East Williamsburg. It took the better part of the decade, but the Satmar eventually got their wish: the right to strike out to the east.

The rezoning had both a public and private component, and it’s the public portion of the project—an affordable housing complex that was to be built in part by the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the secular wing of the largest Satmar faction—that attracted the most controversy. Black and Latino leaders claimed that the affordable housing complex—to be built on city-owned land, some of which would be seized by eminent domain—would give a disproportionate number of units to the ultra-Orthodox, as traditional public housing projects nearby had in the past.

A judge halted the mixed-income housing development in 2009, but resentments linger. While nothing has happened on the city-owned land, the stay on private development has been lifted, and Hasidic developers are closing in fast.

“This is why it’s such a cruel irony what’s happened now,” said Councilman Stephen Levin, who represents a district snaking from Park Slope to Greenpoint. “The market-rate housing is getting built, but the affordable housing is not. It’s the inverse of the public policy goal.”

Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the United Jewish Organizations, begged to differ, saying that both the public and private aspect of the rezoning are needed. “We believe in supply and demand,” he said. “Imagine if 200 people are fighting for one unit”—something that New Yorkers outside of Hasidic Williamsburg won’t have to try very hard to do. “Prices are going to go up like crazy.”



Monday, March 25, 2013

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach 


Israelis get kosher cigarettes for Passover 

Observant Jews in Israel craving a smoke during the week-long Passover holiday that starts at sundown Monday can now enjoy a rabbi-approved puff.

It's the first time cigarettes have joined the long list of goods stringently checked to ensure they comply with Passover rules on what items are allowed, or kosher for the holiday—meaning they have not come in contact with grains or other forbidden ingredients.

The stamp of approval came from the Beit Yosef private rabbinic group, which certifies foods as compliant with Jewish dietary restrictions. Last month, Beit Yosef approved three local cigarette brands for smoking during Passover. The chief rabbinate in Israel, however, disapproved of the measure, saying cigarettes are life-threatening and should not be approved by rabbis.

"Poison is not kosher. For all days of the year, not just Passover," said the chief rabbinate's spokesman Ziv Maor.

But Rabbi Igal Ben Ezra, Beit Yosef's chief supervisor, said the certification was meant for Israeli smokers who only buy products marked as "kosher for Passover" and who might be concerned about buying cigarettes without such a label. It's "mostly for people who have doubts on this subject," said Ben Ezra.

The Jewish holiday of Passover celebrates the biblical Exodus story of the Israelites' escape from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. According to tradition, the Israelites were in a rush and had no time to let their bread rise asthey fled. To commemorate the hasty Exodus, Jews eat matzo, or flat wheat crackers that symbolize unleavened bread, and refrain from foods containing leavening such pasta during Passover.

During the holiday, Jewish law forbids chametz—anything consisting of grains that may have come in contact with water, starting the process of fermentation.

Jews, including many who are not religiously observant the rest of the year, spend weeks ahead of Passover cleaning their homes and belongings to rid them of any morsel of food considered to be chametz.

The week-long Passover diet is in addition to the year-round kosher regulations that ban pork and shellfish, require meat to be ritually slaughtered and forbid the mixing of meat and dairy.

And even though only about 20 percent of Israeli Jews identify themselves as Orthodox, statistics suggest almost everyone attends the traditional Passover meal and most Israeli Jews refrain from eating foods that contain forbidden grains throughout the holiday.

To accommodate them, the Israeli food industry transforms ahead of Passover.

Manufacturers of popular snacks substitute their regular recipes with ingredients approved for Passover. Cows eat corn and alfalfa instead of grain-based hay so that observant Jews can drink their milk because religious practice forbids deriving benefit from an animal that has eaten banned grains. Kosher restaurants, including kosher branches of McDonalds, serve buns made of alternative ingredients, such as potato flour.

Determining what exactly is permitted during Passover has become more complicated in the modern age, as rabbis have pondered what to do with products like pet food and pills. Many industries have adapted and as a result, there are now pet products and medicines that are labeled kosher-for-Passover.

This is the first time, however, that cigarettes in Israel are carrying such a label for the holiday.

Ben Ezra, the Kosher supervisor, said the local cigarette company, Dubek contacted him to help settle the kosher debate.

After an inspection of the company's factory a month ago, he concluded that Noblesse, Time and Golf cigarettes could be deemed kosher for smoking on Passover—as long as the factory used ingredients that had not come in contact with leavened products. He would not specify those ingredients, saying he was sworn to secrecy.

Ben Ezra said he himself quit smoking eight months ago but used to smoke during Passover even without such a thing as "kosher cigarettes."

Maor, the spokesman for Israel's chief rabbis who oversee kosher supervision of foods, said they do not approve of labeling cigarettes as kosher and permitted for Passover, but were unable to prevent it because they only regulate the food market.

"There are some communities who consider it important that everything they bring home has a kosher stamp on it," said Maor.

Cigarettes have not been alone in the debate over what's kosher for Passover.

In the 1990s, some particularly devout officials asked the national water authority to stop pumping water on Passover from the country's sole freshwater lake, the Sea of Galilee. They were concerned that Jews could break Passover rules by drinking tap water possibly "contaminated" by fishermen who may have thrown grain-based fish food into the lake or picnicking Israelis who may have tossed breadcrumbs into it.

As a result, Israel's water authority began plugging the pipe from the Sea of Galilee three days before Passover and pumping water from underground aquifers and water reservoirs instead—though most rabbis, even from the strictest streams of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, say this is unnecessary.

"No one feels the difference," said Uri Schor, spokesman of the water authority. "Whenever you open the faucet, you have water."

Hours ahead of Passover, many Israelis were finishing cleaning their homes Monday of every last bread crumb, feverishly cooking and swarming supermarkets to stock up on food for the Seder, the traditional Passover meal.

In Jerusalem, smoke filled the air as some religious Jews burned the last of their bread crumbs while others dunked their plates in large vats of hot water set up around the city, so their dishes would be completely free of bread products.

The airport was busier than usual with travelers taking advantage of the holiday to travel abroad, and local TV stations gave Israelis advice on avoiding traffic jams when driving to their relatives for the Seder.

The military announced a two-day closure on the West Bank to keep Palestinians out of Israel at the start of the holiday, with exemptions for medical emergencies and other humanitarian reasons. The army imposes such security closures during Jewish and Israeli holidays.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Casino stumping in the Eruv tonight 

When James Pasternak left City Hall on Thursday, he looked wearier than usual. The councillor for Ward 10 (York Centre) had spent the day explaining to reporters what an "Eruv" is. And although clarifying lesser-known elements of Judaism is generally his cup of tea, he probably would have preferred if the reasons for inquiring had been different.

Rob Ford — as Rob Ford often does — had made himself the story. The Orthodox Judaism was just the uncomfortable backdrop.

At 6:00 on Monday, March 18, Mark Mandelbaum, chairman of Lanterra Developments, held a gathering at his home. The invitation to it, printed on classy card stock, had been handed out by Pasternak to his colleagues. It read, in part:

The Toronto Eruv Committee
Mordechai & Lindy Mandelbaum
cordially invite you to a cocktail reception in honour of our esteemed municipal councillors who have been so helpful in the establishment of the Toronto Eruv
James Pasternak was the "guest of honour." The invitation listed Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) and Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's) as coming.  Others who made the snowy trek to the Bathurst and Wilson area included Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) and Chin Lee (Ward 41, Scarborough-Rouge River).

The card also included a rather excellent summary of just what an Eruv is:
Observant members of the Jewish faith do not carry anything outside of their homes on the Sabbath or Yom Kippur. For example, they are prohibited to push baby carriages, strollers, or even carry a house key …

However, the Eruv makes all of these permissible and consequently greatly enhances welfare and harmony in the Jewish community. The word Eruv means "mixture." A properly completed Eruv mixes or pools all private and public property rights within its boundaries for the sole purpose of creating a Sabbath domain, the equivalent of one's own home.  The Toronto Eruv presently encompasses the area between Hwy. 407 in the north, the CP tracks (around Dupont Street) in the south, the CN tracks (around Leslie Street) in the east and the CN tracks (around Keele Street) in the west.  This enclosure was created by utilizing fencing, hydro poles and wire which in most cases already existed. . .

The soiree was held, in part, to announce the planned expansion of the Eruv into the downtown core, as far south as the Gardiner Expressway.

"It was a very noble, courteous event," says Councillor Mihevc, who has a doctorate in theology and social ethics.

It was about sharing "information and also kind of getting to know each other," says Councillor Lee. "I think the community was getting to know various councillors better. And I had my chance to speak to many of the people there." He had a long converation with the coordinator of the Eruv, who "sort of gave me a bit of the education on the Jewish faith. So that's very good, because to represent people, we have to understand what they're about, and we have to respect each other."

Then Rob and Doug Ford showed up. Soon after entering, the mayor — apparently displaying an abnormal degree of energy — launched into a blistering tirade.

Lee laughs when asked what the mayor spoke about. "He talked about next year's election and how he supports the casino, and then if councillors do not support his agenda, he's gonna run people against councillors that don't support his agenda," he says. "At this event, he was talking about that. It was the main crux of his speech."

Did he mention the Eruv at all? "I don't remember him mentioning too much about the Eruv." (Lee says that Ford did, however, "give them a proclamation, letter of congratulations and so on. And he read from the letter.")

Mihevc describes it further: "His political rant was about going after people who were not on his side politically, and how they were going into full-court press mode on the casinos and how important it was that everyone here gathered tell their councillors to support the casino."

Judaism, it should be noted, does not tend to take an especially favourable view of gambling.

"And it is unfortunate that the mayor used the occasion to go on a casino and next-election rant that had nothing to do with the purpose of the evening. And frankly embarrassed the councillors that were there present," says Mihevc.

Asked how the mayor looked that evening, Mihevc pauses, choosing his words. "And to come in a disheveled appearance was not helpful, either."

It was apparently quite the spectacle, even by Ford standards. JP Boutros, a senior advisor to Karen Stintz who was not himself in attendance, later tweeted that the speech had been "one of the more odious things" he'd heard about during his two years at City Hall.

Rabbi Moshe Lowy, on the other hand, is philosophical and measured in his recollection.

"We were surprised he spoke about it, because that wasn't what the gathering was about," the rabbi for Agudath Israel of Toronto says. But Lowy doesn't hold it against him: Ford is a politician, and he saw an opportunity. "He's a mayor that cares, and he felt that was good for the community."

Thursday morning, Pasternak is happy to explain the principle behind an Eruv but becomes laconic when asked about Ford's diatribe. "You are correct, there was a pitch for casinos," he says. "Now, I'm not sure why, I can only assume that if there's a casino, he wants it in the Eruv."

Attempts to reach Mandelbaum — a registered lobbyist whose house the mayor had previously visited for a Pasternak fundraiser — were unsuccessful Thursday.



Saturday, March 23, 2013

Orthodox Jews pursue alternative housing arrangements 

While many students are stressing over their roommates for next year, College sophomore Doniel Sherman always knew who he would live with.

“I have always lived with Orthodox Jews,” Sherman said. “It was a choice I consciously made in the housing process.”

Sherman’s housing experience reflects the tendency of religious Jews at Penn to live with one another.

For many Jews, it is important to have roommates whom they share customs with. Some Jews keep a kosher kitchen — separating dairy and meat products, among other things — and do not use electronics on Shabbat, which is every Friday night to Saturday night.

To ensure that he lived with like-minded people in terms of his religious practices, Sherman requested his freshman year roommates, whom he came into contact with through the Penn Jewish community.

This year, many are competing for the 25 spots in the Jewish Cultural Studies Program in Rodin College House. Students had to write an essay and make a presentation of ideas for social and educational activities for next year. Once in the program, students are evaluated in the middle of the year based on their participation to determine the number of priority points they will receive in the following year’s room selection process.

Others do not immediately enter into Jewish housing. College sophomore Aviva Koloski lived in the Quadrangle her freshman year with random roommates, “but I did it knowing that I would live with Orthodox people next year,” she said.

While Koloski’s freshman year roommates were accommodating of her religious traditions, some of her friends “struggled” with having non-Jewish roommates, she added.

However, there is some overlap between the different Jewish denominations — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — in the Jewish housing system.

“There are houses or rooms where denominations do overlap,” Hillel president and College junior Josh Cooper said. “In either case, it’s not about denomination but who I’m friends with.”

Others make their closest friends through the Hillel community, whom they end up wanting to room with.

“If the Jewish community is such a big part of my life, it makes sense that they would be my roommates,” Cooper added.

Orthodox Jews at Penn seem to follow a housing pattern, Koloski explained. According to Koloski, freshmen usually live in Harnwell College House or choose to have random roommates for the “freshman experience.”

Upperclassmen typically live in the lower floors of Rodin or in off-campus “Orthodox Houses,” she added.

Rooms in Rodin and Orthodox houses host birthday parties, Onegs — receptions following Friday night services — and other events that the community takes part in.

“To me, there’s a lot of strong benefits to living with people you have a community with,” Cooper said.



Friday, March 22, 2013

Hasidic Women Feel Pressure for Children, But Fathers Fret About Providing 

As a man, I will never know what it is like to be a mother. I will certainly never know what it's like to be a Hasidic woman expected to bear children year after year and withstand the challenges and pressures of motherhood — like the ones Judy Brown described so poignantly in her two most recent articles.

But I do know what it is like to be a young Hasidic father overwhelmed by the lack of choice of a different kind.

Judy's articles sparked heated discussion about motherhood and women's roles in the Haredi world, with other bloggers and commenters adding passionate views of their own. This is an important and necessary discussion.

But as I was reading it all, I couldn't help thinking of the flip side of it, a side we rarely hear about: That of the unprepared Hasidic young man. Barely in his 20s, already with one or two kids and perhaps another on the way, he realizes with a jolt that it's his responsibility to figure out how to feed, clothe, house, pay tuition and wedding expenses for a dozen or so 13 offspring. With zero marketable skills, limited command of English, and Section 8 slots in limited supply, his is not a burden easily carried.

And birth control isn't an option for him any more than it is for his wife.

I remember what it was like for me. I was 21, married for two-and-a-half years, and a student at the kolel — yeshiva for married men — in our Hasidic village in Rockland County, N.Y. Our second child had just arrived, 16 months after our first. Rent was overdue. We'd maxed out our credit at the supermarket, the fish market and the butcher. A seemingly endless list of expenses was weighing us down.

It all seemed so sudden, and no one had told me that $430 a month — the amount of my monthly kolel stipend — would not suffice for a growing family.

I remember the panic, anxiety and depression that followed for a long time after, as another and yet another bundle of joy arrived. Each child was a blessing, of course. But how was I going to provide for so many blessings?

My wife sympathized, but it wasn't her job to figure out the finances. She made the babies and cared for them. Paying for it was my job — except I had no idea how it was done.



Mitzvah Tanks Roll Into Town Today For Mobile Guilt Trip 

If you look out your window today and see a fleet of converted motor homes with photos of Hasidic-looking folk, don't be alarmed: it's just the annual Mitzvah Tanks parade, a yearly reminder pre-Passover to be a good boy/girl. This is because we haven't called our moms recently, right? But jeez, don't they know we're drowning in digital communication!

The Mitzvah Tank parade honors the the birthday of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The Tanks are mobile "education and outreach center" that can also act as a mini-synagogue. You could view this like the Orthodox jewish equivalent of the NPR pledge drives, or you could view them as the chance to learn a bit more about a religion you maybe don't know so much about. Oh, and a chance for free Matzah!

According to a press release, "The Tanks will be equipped with Passover needs for the upcoming holiday, including hand-baked Shmura Matzah. People will have the opportunity to don the Tefilin and pray, receive Sabbat candles and inspirational literature for Jews and non-Jews."

The parade starts from Lubavitch World headquarters in Crown Heights, crosses the Manhattan Bridge and rides north on 6th Avenue until 59th Street. The parade continues south on 5th Avenue until 23rd Street. Hopefully none of the vehicles will break down.



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Judge set to free man convicted in NYC rabbi's 1990 killing after case unravels 

A man is set to be released after more than 20 years in prison for killing a New York City orthodox rabbi, after a review found detectives mishandled the investigation.

When one eyewitness in the case was asked to view police lineups in the cold-blooded slaying of a rabbi in Brooklyn in 1990, detectives made it clear who they liked as the killer.

"Pick the guy with the big nose," the witness recalls being told by police.

That meant David Ranta, who eventually was convicted of murder and has languished behind bars ever since.

Ranta's story is set to change in dramatic fashion on Thursday, when prosecutors say they'll ask a judge to vacate his conviction based on a recent review that cast doubt on witness testimony and concluded detectives had mishandled the investigation.

If the judge agrees, Ranta, 58, could walk out of the courtroom as a free man. His reversal of fortune was first reported this week by The New York Times.

"I'd lie there in the cell at night and I think: I'm the only one in the world who knows I'm innocent," Ranta told the Times from a Buffalo prison. "I came in here as a 30-something with kids, a mother who was alive. This case killed my whole life."

In paperwork filed in advance of Ranta's appearance in state court in Brooklyn, prosecutors didn't say they think Ranta is innocent. They instead told the judge they want the murder indictment dismissed because they "no longer have sufficient evidence to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

The decision by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office has shocked relatives of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, a Holocaust survivor and a leader of the Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighbourhood, said Isaac Abraham, a close family friend. They believe there's still credible evidence Ranta participated, he said.

"For this to happen 23 years later is mind-boggling," Abraham said. "He can only claim he wasn't the shooter but he can never claim he wasn't involved."

The case dates to Feb. 8, 1990, when a gunman botched an attempt to rob a diamond courier in Williamsburg. After the courier escaped unharmed, the man approached Werzberger's parked car, shot him in the forehead, pulled him out of the vehicle and drove away in it.

Thousands attended the rabbi's funeral, and then-Mayor David Dinkins offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. After the arrest of Ranta — a drug-addicted, unemployed printer — Hasidic Jews surrounded the car that carried him to jail and chanted, "Death penalty!"
Though no physical evidence linked him to the crime, a jury found Ranta guilty in May 1991 based on witness testimony and circumstantial evidence. He was sentenced to 37 1/2 years in prison.

"Now you people do what you got to do, because I feel this is all a total frame setup," Ranta said at his sentencing. "When I come down on my appeal, I hope to God he brings out the truth because a lot of people are going to be ashamed of themselves."

The case began to unravel after the DA's office launched a review by its newly formed Conviction Integrity Unit in 2011. That same year, a man named Menachem Lieberman had approached Ranta's trial lawyer to tell him he "had uncertainty and discomfort" with his identification of Ranta, and later gave the unit a sworn statement recounting the "big nose" episode.

Other interviews done by the unit suggested an alleged accomplice-turned-prosecution witness — now dead — had pinned the shooting on Ranta to save himself. A woman also repeated claims that her deceased husband privately confessed he was the killer.

The unit also found gaps in police paperwork intended to document their investigation. And Ranta denied he knowingly signed police file folders with statements saying he'd helped plan the robbery.

Ranta "claimed he had signed a blank file folder ... only because he thought it was a form to allow him to make a phone call," court papers said.

One of the long-retired detectives from the case, Louis Scarcello, has defended his work.

"I never framed anyone in my life," he said.



Wednesday, March 20, 2013

President Obama at Sheva Brochos in Boro-Park 


The Maccabeats - Les Misérables - Passover 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Innovation & Job News Federal grant targets violence against women in Orthodox Jewish community 

A grant from a federal agency is funding a three-year long effort to combat violence against women and girls in Baltimore's Orthodox Jewish community. The U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women this month gave $350,000 to Baltimore's Counseling, Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women (CHANA), to develop an awareness and education campaign.
Of Greater Baltimore metro's 93,400 residents in Jewish community, 21 percent, or 19,614 are Orthodox Jews, according to the latest demographic survey. Baltimore's Orthodox Jews, the most traditional branch of Judaism, live primarily in the Park Heights-Cheswolde and Smith-Greenspring neighborhoods.
CHANA Executive Director Nancy Aiken is developing the campaign in partnership with Jewish Women International (JWI), a Washington, D.C., advocacy nonprofit that applied for the grant on behalf of CHANA.
Located in the Park Heights neighborhood, CHANA is an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. It provides counseling, crisis intervention, legal advocacy and a safe house.
Aiken says the campaign will be based on JWI's "Good Guys" curriculum that involves men and boys on the issue of domestic and sexual violence. Aiken intends to reach adolescent boys through male leaders in the Jewish community.
"Previously, this was considered a women's issue but the thinking has changed to engaging men and boys as allies," says JWI Director of Programs Deborah Rosenbloom. She says she sees the CHANA campaign as a national model for faith-based communities.
Aiken says the rate of domestic violence in the local Orthodox community is the same as in the general community. But the community met the requirements of the grant for culturally-specific communities and enables CHANA to create a campaign geared to its members.
"To religious communities, it is important to target the remedies to them, to make it relevant to their religious values," she says.
The justice department's Office on Violence Against Women awarded a total of $12.6 million to 20 social service agencies around the country.



Monday, March 18, 2013

Every Hair in Its Place 

"If life was fair, I'd be 5 foot 5," Atsuko Tanaka said as she fondled a thick strand of hair and worked it over with a comb and blow dryer. Even with the stylist chair set to its lowest level, and standing on tiptoes, Ms. Tanaka had trouble styling the higher regions of the client's head.

"I'm only four-eleven, so I have to wear heels," she said.

Another testament to the random nature of life is that Ms. Tanaka, 39, who grew up in Japan with no knowledge of Jewish culture, now specializes in styling expensive wigs worn by ultra-Orthodox Jewish women seeking to conform to the requirement of religious law to cover their hair after marriage.

"They call me the Japanese sheitel macher," she said, using a Yiddish term for wig seller. Ms. Tanaka does not speak Yiddish and she does not even sell wigs, but she has become the stylist to see for a certain set of moneyed women who follow a tradition often associated with modesty, even if the wig prices can top $5,000.

Looking modest is not a strong suit here at the Julien Farel salon on Madison Avenue, where Ms. Tanaka works. A wash-cut-blow dry for a wig can take more than two hours, and her prices start at $450.

"They're paying too much for modesty," Ms. Tanaka said. "My clients want me to cover their head with something that looks better than their own hair."

These weeks before Passover, which begins on March 25, are her busiest of the year. Last weekend, she was flown to Toronto to style wigs at an ultra-Orthodox wedding. Out-of-town jobs are common, as are house calls. She is constantly ferried by car service to style wigs in private homes in the Five Towns on Long Island or in Brooklyn or Monsey, N.Y.

Then there are the clients who simply have their wigs driven in. It is not uncommon for a black car with a driver to pull up with a wig in a box in the back seat, Ms. Tanaka said, and the same driver will pull up a couple of days later to pick up the wig, styled and in a carrier box.

One recent weekday, Ms. Tanaka was working on a wig being worn by Pesha Blum, 27, a fashion publicist who lives on the Upper West Side and who said her wig of "European virgin undyed" hair cost roughly $5,000.

The sleek salon is a far cry from the basement beauty salons of "sheitel ladies" in ultra-Orthodox enclaves in Brooklyn, where many wig-wearing women go. On Ms. Tanaka's counter one recent weekday were several head-shaped stands that supported wigs whose combined prices could cover a down payment on a starter home.

Ms. Tanaka has handled some high-pressure hairdos — working on Japanese and Saudi princesses, and celebrities like Scarlett Johansson and Marisa Tomei — but nothing is scarier, she said, than cutting a wig.

"The hardest part is that you cannot mess up — the hair will not grow back," said Ms. Tanaka, who had just finished shaping a $7,000 wig. "You make one mistake, and it's ruined."

Now she was working on a wig worn by Rivka Cohen, 25, of the Upper West Side. Ms. Tanaka, whose tiny hands seem well-suited for styling shears, shaved strands and snipped ends of wig hair, always in small takes.

"If you spend thousands of dollars on a wig and the stylist botches the color, you're not going to come back," Ms. Cohen said.

And this is where Ms. Tanaka's Japanese background comes in.

"These women know I'm from Japan so I have to be perfect — it's our culture, we have to be precise," she said. "They're bringing their culture to me, so I want to bring my culture to them."

Ms. Tanaka lives in Tenafly, N.J., with her husband — he is Jewish, but hardly religious — and their 6-year-old daughter. Starting out as a teenager, Ms. Tanaka apprenticed in salons in Tokyo. She had never cut a wig or had a Jewish client when she came to New York at 22. But she learned the ropes working for Mark Garrison, a well-known stylist whose East Side salon specializes in high-end wigs.

Soon, her name got around, and now all her business comes by word of mouth. Ms. Blum said her hairstylist in Israel recommended Ms. Tanaka.

"You spend $5,000 on a wig — you don't want to mess around with it," Ms. Blum said. "We don't have to wear a wig out of modesty. We do it because it's what God wants us to do."

Then she looked at Ms. Tanaka to clarify, but got only a shrug.

"Don't ask me," Ms. Tanaka said with that familiar mischievous twinkle in her eye. "I'm Japanese."



Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mishpacha Magazine inadvertantly prints picture of woman breastfeeding child 

Sent in by a Chaptzem reader


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Building owner fined $5,000 over illegal Nanuet apartments 

A New Square-based property manager will pay $5,000 to cover town violations of subdividing a Nanuet house into apartments, officials said Wednesday.

Joseph Klein, a major housing manager-owner with a history of violations, was cited 15 months ago after firefighters found subdivided apartments when battling a fire on Dec. 14, 2011, at 149 Pipetown Hill Road.

Inspectors issued Klein violations for failure to obtain a certificate of occupancy and noncompliance with an order to restore the house off Route 59 and across from condominiums and the Hyenga Lake senior complex.

After months of court delays, Klein agreed to pay $5,000, Deputy Town Attorney Paul Scholfield said Wednesday outside Justice Craig Johns’ courtroom. The town had been seeking $10,000.

Scholfield said the settlement reached with Ramapo attorney Robert Conklin calls for Klein to pay by April 10, a tentatively scheduled court date.

“If he pays the fine, he doesn’t have to appear in court,” Scholfield said. “If he doesn’t, he has to appear.”

Conklin said the agreement doesn’t include any admissions by Klein to any violations.

“This is a civil compromise that makes the town happy and satisfies everyone’s concerns about safety and health issues,” Conklin said.

Klein has managed numerous properties under his or his wife’s name and corporate names.

Klein has a history for more than a decade of being cited on municipal and Rockland County Health Department charges of subdividing houses into apartments, creating boarding houses, and allowing violations of fire and safety codes to mount.

Klein was paying off $20,000 in fines in Spring Valley last year on guilty pleas to violations at 14 of his rental properties in the village. He restored six illegally converted buildings to single-family homes and agreed to pay $1,000 a month.



Friday, March 15, 2013

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 'Rarin' n' Ready To Go' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Jewish artifacts illegally dumped in N.J. 

Thousands of black plastic bags filled with Jewish religious artifacts line a dirt road in the woods near where Larry Simons lives.

Nearby, 10 tractor-trailers sit filled with the bags, recently unearthed from their burial ground. The bags are part of an Orthodox Jewish custom known as shaimos, where Jewish books and other sacred objects that are no longer of use must be buried.

"The whole thing troubles me because, one, I am Jewish," the 76-year-old Simons said, as he walked passed the piles of bags. "As a Jewish person, I do not like to be denigrated. But when (I see) what I perceive as an abuse ... of the law, it bothers me."

What concerns Simons, and the state Department of Environmental Protection, is that these bags were buried illegally in the woods in Jackson and Lakewood. A state Superior Court judge ordered the rabbi overseeing the site, Chaim Abadi, to remove the bags. But nearly a year later, Abadi is still searching for a new location for the artifacts -- while the bags, and the fines, keep mounting.

"I don't know where I am going to put it. I guess the DEP will find out by following me around to see where it will go," said Abadi, who faces thousands of dollars in fines for missing deadlines to move the items.

Starting in 2009, Abadi has filled two burial sites in Jackson and Lakewood, a warehouse in Farmingdale and several tractor-trailers with shaimos.
After Simons, a resident of a nearby senior community, and other residents called the DEP to alert them to the illegal landfill, a court case ensued. Abadi was ordered to remove the buried artifacts in 2012 and place them on property he owns in Lakewood.

Only there was too much shaimos, leaving Abadi still looking for a new burial site. The Ocean County landfill has offered Abadi space, but so far, he has yet to accept.

So now, options for burying the shaimos are dwindling. The city of Jackson fined him $10,000 in February and the state reserves the right -- but has yet to impose -- fines of $1,000 a day for noncompliance.

Between Purim and Passover, Jews discard shaimos and pay a rabbi typically between $10 and $30 per bag for the proper burial, religious authorities said. The DEP ordered Abadi to stop collecting shaimos until his cleanup work is complete and he is in compliance with county and state authorities.

The DEP is stepping on Jewish culture, Abadi said.

"There are many customs," Abadi said. "We don't ask questions as to why and what. Someone gives us something to bury, we bury it."

Years ago, people had very little shaimos and were able to easily store writings about God because books and materials were made by hand. But today, teaching materials, printouts and anything with God's name is considered shaimos, increasing the volume of materials, said Rabbi Yosef Schwartz of Monroe, N.Y. The buried materials raise environmental concerns because ink used in the print can leach into water sources -- a problem with shaimos that reaches beyond Lakewood, he said.

Abadi collected and buried shaimos in Jackson in 2009 and Lakewood in 2010. State and county officials and some local residents, chief among them Simons, took exception to the burial sites. In April 2012, Abadi and his co-defendants agreed to a court-imposed 60-day deadline to remove the shaimos from the two landfills and bury them in a state-approved site, according to the agreement.

After Abadi missed his first deadline, Superior Court Judge Craig Wellerson on Sept. 28 amended the April deadline and issued new ones. The state is yet to impose fines while reserving the right to penalize the rabbi. The greater concern is cleaning up the properties, officials said.

Abadi's shaimos-filled trailers are parked in a lot in Lakewood, plus more lay in thousands of bags -- enough to cover a quarter of a football field. The work to date has cost Abadi and his synagogue and co-defendant, Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc., about $150,000, he said.

"As you know, the Ocean County landfill remains willing to work with you to accept the shaimos material and arrange for its disposition in a respectful manner. You are strongly encouraged to further explore this option," the DEP said in a Jan. 31 status letter. Abadi has not said what he will choose but hopes to find a new location that is close by to avoid costs in hauling the material away.

If the county landfill will work with Abadi, Schwartz said it might be best to get the matter settled. Abadi, like Schwartz, had applied to have one of his properties declared a cemetery after he had buried the materials. He did not receive the zoning change he requested.

Abadi has an excellent opportunity to enlighten the secular and Jewish community about the problems of shaimos, Schwartz said. Beth Genizah, a shaimos cemetery in Liberty, N.Y., is overseen by the local council of rabbis, which purchased more than 12 acres specifically for shaimos.

The property is going through all the permitting processes in New York and has received praise from Jewish lawmakers there, Schwartz said. He suggested Lakewood find a similar way to bury shaimos as the growing Orthodox community is large enough to support one.

"Perhaps a spot in an industrial-type park," Schwartz said.

Beth Genizah will be collecting shaimos in New York and in Lakewood, the website states.

Shaimos is a difficult subject for the secular world to understand, Schwartz said. Even some Jews could use a lesson on what exactly constitutes shaimos. It could help reduce the amounts needed to be buried.
But Larry Simons said he is not going to give up.

"I plan to contact DEP and ask them what is going on," he said last week. "We have contacted the DEP two to three dozen times among the various members of our group who have been checking on this."



Thursday, March 14, 2013

Hasidic Leaders Fight 'Culturally Insensitive' Passover 'Spider-Man' Shoot 

Spider-Man may scale skyscrapers for the greater good, but some city dwellers want the superhero off their streets — at least during a sacred season.

A "culturally insensitive" plan to close off blocks during Passover to shoot "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" would create a parking nightmare in South Williamsburg, Hasidic Jewish leaders said.

"Now is the busiest time of year, when not only are the families home, but everybody's having guests," said community leader Rabbi Moishe Indig of the high holiday. "It's already congested, and there's so much parking in need. It's not fair to take away so much space."

Columbia Pictures, which is filming the "Spider-Man" sequel at the Marcy Avenue Armory, plans to close off parking on the surrounding streets from March 22-27, company representatives said.

But with Passover beginning March 25, Hasidic residents said the production company should at least rearrange its schedule out of respect.

"It's a particularly sensitive time, because people can't move their cars...People don't drive during that time," said local resident and attorney Martin Needelman of religious tenets prohibiting driving during the observance of Passover. "It's a major parking problem."

And Williamsburg Community Board 1 member Simon Weiser said he "would just love if they move up [the shooting] a few days."

Kat Donohue, a representative from Coumbia Pictures who attended Williamsburg's Community Board 1 meeting this week, said the production company already received permission to use the streets surrounding the armory.

But the following day, a spokeswoman from the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment said that official permits had not yet been granted.

"The production is in communication with our office and the community to determine the parking plan," said spokeswoman Marybeth Ihle.

Gary Schlesinger, chairman of non-profit UJ Cares, said that if the city moves forward with granting the permits, it would fly in the face of local residents' needs.

"When they schedule films like this, they should look at the calendar," he said. "If it falls on a holiday such as Passover, it's not culturally sensitive to book a film and to close down parking that week, when everybody is staying home and enjoying their families."



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jewish Support For Hynes’ Re-election Complicated 

In the four years since he was easily re-elected to his fourth term, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has seen his political fortunes, and the landscape around him, dramatically change.

He's garnered harsh criticism both from inside and outside the Jewish community on a range of issues, including his office's prosecution of child sexual abuse cases in the fervently Orthodox community. In addition, the case of Jabbar Collins, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering a rabbi and is now seeking $150 million for the 15 years he spent in prison, has dogged Hynes.

And he now faces two well-financed challengers, former Manhattan prosecutor Abe George and former Brooklyn federal prosecutor Kenneth Thompson, seeking to wrest the Democratic nomination (tantamount to victory) from him in September. Together they have raised more than $500,000 in the past six months, far outpacing the incumbent, suggesting that donors see Hynes as vulnerable.

So this race may turn out to be even tougher for Hynes than the 2005 battle in which more than half of primary voters didn't support him. He won 41 percent of the vote while State Sen. John Sampson won 37 percent; Mark Peters got 15 percent, and Arnold Kriss, a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn and a former deputy police commissioner, received 7 percent.

The Jewish vote, particularly the cohesive Orthodox vote, play a significant role in Brooklyn elections, and so how Hynes has managed his complicated relationship with various chasidic and haredi communities in the borough may well be a key factor.

The race is likely to be heavily influenced by the endorsements of Orthodox leaders and newspapers.

"The fact is that [Orthodox Jews] make up 10 to 15 percent of the electorate," said Leon Goldenberg, a politically active Orthodox real estate broker.

"Hynes will probably lose a lot of the chasidishe vote because of Weberman, whether that is justified or not," he said, referring to the high-profile case of Nechemya Weberman, the unlicensed therapist convicted of sexual abuse late last year. "The fact that he got 103 years suggests to them that a chasidic Jew can't get a fair trial in New York, though I personally believe he is guilty."

(Weberman's sentence was automatically reduced by half because of state sentencing guidelines.)

Goldenberg, who has supported Hynes in the past and believes he probably will this time, said that while the DA stands to lose some votes among chasidim and haredim, his opponents have yet to make a serious outreach effort to the Orthodox.

Hynes has been blasted by elected officials, as well as by former Mayor Ed Koch last year, because of allegations that he passively allowed Brooklyn's fervently Orthodox community to vet accusations of sexual abuse through rabbis rather than go directly to his office or the police. Hynes insists he never supported that practice.

But in an article last year, The New York Times quoted Agudath Israel of America official Rabbi David Zwiebel as saying that Hynes "expressed no opposition or objection" when the rabbi notified him that his fervently Orthodox umbrella group was urging the practice.

Last summer, responding to pressure, Hynes formed a task force that would probe allegations of intimidation against those who come forward to complain about abuse. The widespread problem of communal intimidation in the haredi community — which The Jewish Week has been covering for years — was highlighted in the Weberman trial.

Four men have been separately charged with trying to interfere with the prosecution of that case and others were arrested for taking photographs of the alleged victim at the trial.

Some of the hundreds of people who attended a May fundraiser for Weberman and who profess his innocence may hold the case against Hynes, as might those who feel he became more zealous in prosecuting Orthodox sex crimes only because of recent extensive coverage in The Jewish Week, The Forward and The New York Times.

Others, such as abuse victims and their advocates and supporters, may vote against him because they believe his Kol Tzedek hotline for abuse victims, launched in 2009, does too little, too late, and that he fudges the number of leads it has garnered. The DA has also been roundly criticized by the city's editorial pages for refusing to disclose the names of Orthodox defendants in sexual abuse cases, citing victim privacy concerns.
Hynes dismisses the idea of any significant political fallout.

"I see no evidence of any lingering anger against me or my office from any chasidic sect," he told The Jewish Week in a phone interview. "I think we had some positive changes, especially when the Crown Heights Beis Din last year issued an edict telling members of the community they have an obligation to go to secular authorities [to report sexual abuse allegations]."

"I remain optimistic that I can convince the leadership of Satmar and others to do exactly that."

Hynes said a measure he supports that would mandate clergy members to report cases of suspected abuse is going through "a slow crawl through the system before both houses of the [New York State] Legislature." It was approved by the state's DA Association.

But the serious allegation— strenuously rebutted by the DA and his supporters — that Hynes has curried favor with the influential fervently Orthodox and chasidic voting blocs by dragging his feet in investigating abuse cases to the fullest extent is likely to dog him in the primary.

"I don't think he has zealously prosecuted these cases for decades," said Abe George, the former Manhattan prosecutor who is challenging Hynes in September's Democratic primary.

"When the light was turned on him in The New York Times, that's when he started to show more interest."

Hynes told The Jewish Week that the criticism is "not supported by the facts. At the time the criticism started, we had 96 members of the Orthodox community under arrest in various stages with a 70 percent conviction rate. In 1997 we created the first Crimes Against Children Bureau in this country." (The Jewish Week and other media outlets have challenged these numbers.)

"People will say all kinds of things in a political campaign that have nothing to do with the facts," Hynes added.

George said that the successful Weberman prosecution raises skepticism about Hynes' insistence that victims and witnesses in the chasidic community will not come forward, and shows that "when there's a will there's a way."

"[Hynes] says, 'For 20 years no one did anything until I formed Kol Tzedek,' " George told The Jewish Week in a recent interview. "Well, you've been DA for 20 years. It wasn't someone else's watch. It took you that long to form that unit."

George says he does not believe Hynes' rationale for withholding names of accused Orthodox abusers.

"If you do this on every other case, why aren't you doing it here? If it's abuse within a family, a father and a daughter or any sort of familial relationship [I agree with non-disclosure]. But when you don't have that type of relationship, there is no excuse not to give out names. There should be no different level of justice if you live in Williamsburg or Borough Park than if you live in Bed-Stuy or Park Slope."

Thompson also accuses Hynes of a double standard. "Clearly, the DA imposed two separate and wholly unequal standards of justice in those cases, and that's never a good thing—particularly when it puts our children's safety at risk," he said in an email message Tuesday. "In order for the criminal justice system to work and to have legitimacy, everyone must receive the same level of protection under the law." Thompson leads the pack in fundraising with $341,508 in receipts compared with $210,777 for George, according to January's filing covering the prior six months.

Hynes raised just $27,275 in that time, but he needed less because of his existing war chest. He now has $373,165 on hand, far more than both opponents, according to the state's Campaign Finance database.

Observers see a tough fight ahead, but won't count out the power of incumbency.

"Despite his deficiencies and opposition, Hynes appears likely to win," says Baruch College political science professor Doug Muzzio.

Isaac Abraham, a Satmar activist and former City Council candidate  said Williamsburg residents have taken note of the fact that task forces against drugs and sexual assault and the work of his prosecutors have taken criminals off the streets. "There are a lot of people who finally feel that something is happening and it's not just a free-for-all," he said.

Abraham notes that early in the DA's tenure, the Orthodox community blamed a first-term Hynes for the botched prosecution of Lemrick Nelson for stabbing Yankel Rosenbaum during the Crown Heights riots in 1991.

(Nelson later admitted the crime in a federal civil rights trial. Hynes blamed the first verdict on jury nullification of the evidence, but a report by the state's Division of Criminal Justice found flaws in both the prosecution and the conduct of the presiding judge.)

That hasn't prevented Hynes from getting a large share of the Orthodox Jewish vote in his re-election bids since 1994. Hynes insists he never indicated support for that practice.

Abraham said that Hynes is strong in community outreach and meets regularly with Orthodox leaders. "He has his work cut out for him, but there is still half a year before the [general] election and no one should draw any conclusions," said Abraham.

That point of view was shared by Ezra Friedlander, a Democrat political consultant who specializes in the Orthodox vote.

He said that even those who believe that allegations of abuse should be handled within the Orthodox community would concede that the problem has not abated.

"There has not been a proven track record [of the community itself stopping abuse]," he said. "But I certainly don't believe that Joe Hynes deserves the brunt of blame for this very, very complicated issue."



Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lawyer for ex-Staten Islander requests exclusion of Jews from jury in terror trial 

The lawyer for former Staten Island resident and accused wanna-be terrorist Abdel Hameed Shehadeh has asked a federal judge to exclude Jews from serving on the jury, saying his client's anti-Israeli views might set jurors against him.

Jury selection in the trial of the former Annadale and Prince's Bay resident is scheduled to start this week.

Shehadeh's attorney, Frederick Cohn -- himself Jewish -- first broached the possibility of such a request at an earlier court hearing. "Your honor ... as you know, I'm not wild about having Jews on the jury in this case," Cohn told Judge Eric Vitaliano in February. "Given that there's going to be inflammatory testimony about Jews and Zionism, I think it would be hard for Jews to cast aside any innate antipathy. The American Jewish community is heavily aligned with Israel and Zionism. Here is a guy who is a Muslim, who is opposed to those things."

Such a move -- excluding jurors on the basis of religion -- would be considered unconstitutional, federal prosecutors William Sarratt and James Loonam argued: "I don't think Judge [Robert] Levy will be ready to violate the Constitution and exclude people from the jury on the basis of their religious beliefs," Sarratt told the judge, according to published reports.

Magistrate Judge Levy -- who is also Jewish -- is set to begin jury selection this week.

Shehadeh, now a resident of Hawaii, is charged with three counts of making false statements to the FBI regarding a trip to Pakistan during which he allegedly attempted to join the Taliban.

A one-time Tottenville High School student, Shehadeh so wanted to join a jihadist group that he allegedly flew to Pakistan and Jordan in 2008 but was turned away by both countries. The U.S. citizen also tried, unsuccessfully, that year to enlist in the U.S. Army, as a means to deploy to Iraq, where he intended to commit "treason" and kill U.S. soldiers, prosecutors allege.

In 2009, Shehadeh bought an airline ticket to Dubai in June, but was intercepted by FBI agents who told him he was on a "no fly" list.

In subsequent interviews, he allegedly admitted he had hoped to join the Taliban and receive training in "guerrilla warfare" and "bomb-making," according to court records.

Cohn has also been seeking to suppress an FBI report in which Shehadeh made incriminating statements about himself and also implicated dozens of other New Yorkers he felt were pro-jihadists, including a student from the College of Staten Island.

Shehadeh was arrested in 2010 by the FBI-NYPD Joint Terrorist Task Force, which had been investigating him, "and several other individuals in connection with a plot to travel overseas and wage violent jihad against the United States and other coalition military forces," according to the criminal complaint against Shehadeh.

The trial will take place at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. If convicted for his crimes, Shehadeh may serve up to 24 years in prison.



Monday, March 11, 2013

Is this seat taken? For $18,000 you can fly next to the rebbe 


Saturday, March 09, 2013

Man charged with bomb threat against Jewish Community Centre 

A man was arrested and charged on Friday after police responded to a call regarding a bomb threat.

The call came from the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre at 750 Spadina Ave., near Bloor St. W., on Tuesday at 4:15 p.m.

There were no injuries reported.

Harold Lee, 36, was arrested and charged with threatening death and mischief concerning interference with property. He is schedule to appear in Old City Hall on Tuesday, March 12.



Friday, March 08, 2013

The Orthodox Surge 

In Midwood, Brooklyn, there's a luxury kosher grocery store called Pomegranate serving the modern Orthodox and Hasidic communities. It looks like a really nice Whole Foods. There's a wide selection of kosher cheeses from Italy and France, wasabi herring, gluten-free ritual foods and nicely toned wood flooring.

The snack section is impressive. There's a long aisle bursting with little bags of chips and pretzels, suitable for putting into school lunch boxes. That's important because Orthodox Jews spend a lot of time packing school lunches.

Nationwide, only 21 percent of non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 are married. But an astounding 71 percent of Orthodox Jews are married at that age. And they are having four and five kids per couple. In the New York City area, for example, the Orthodox make up 32 percent of Jews over all. But the Orthodox make up 61 percent of Jewish children. Because the Orthodox are so fertile, in a few years, they will be the dominant group in New York Jewry.

Another really impressive thing about the store is not found in one section but is pervasive throughout. That's the specialty products designed around this or that aspect of Jewish law. There are the dairy-free cheese puffs in case you want to have some cheese puffs with a meat dish. There are the precut disposable tablecloths so you don't have to use scissors on the Sabbath. There are the specially designed sponges, which don't retain water, so you don't have to do the work of squeezing out water on Shabbat.

Pomegranate looks like any island of upscale consumerism, but deep down it is based on a countercultural understanding of how life should work.
Those of us in secular America live in a culture that takes the supremacy of individual autonomy as a given. Life is a journey. You choose your own path. You can live in the city or the suburbs, be a Wiccan or a biker.

For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.

The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.

The laws are gradually internalized through a system of lifelong study, argument and practice. The external laws may seem, at first, like an imposition, but then they become welcome and finally seem like a person's natural way of being.

Meir Soloveichik, my tour guide during this trip through Brooklyn, borrows a musical metaphor from the Catholic theologian George Weigel. At first piano practice seems like drudgery, like self-limitation, but mastering the technique gives you the freedom to play well and create new songs. Life is less a journey than it is mastering a discipline or craft.

Much of the delight in life comes from arguing about the law and different interpretations of God's command. Soloveichik laughingly describes his debates over which blessing to say over Crispix cereal, which is part corn, but also part rice. Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth who is on a tour through New York, notes that Jews are constitutional lawyers: "The Torah is an anthology of argument with a shared vocabulary of common restraint."

But there are still obligations that precede choice. For example, a young person in mainstream America can choose to marry or not. In Orthodox society, young adults have an obligation to marry and perpetuate the covenant and it is a source of deep sadness when they cannot.

"Marriage is about love, but it is not first and foremost about love," Soloveichik says. "First and foremost, marriage is about continuity and transmission."

The modern Orthodox are rooted in that deeper sense of collective purpose. They are like the grocery store Pomegranate, superficially a comfortable part of mainstream American culture, but built upon a moral code that is deeply countercultural.

This sort of life involves a fascinating series of judgment calls about what aspects of secularism can safely be included in a covenantal life. For example, Soloveichik's wife, Layaliza, was admitted into Harvard, but she went to a religious college, Yeshiva, instead. Then she went to a secular professional school, Yale Law, and now works as an assistant U.S. attorney.

All of us navigate certain tensions, between community and mobility, autonomy and moral order. Mainstream Americans have gravitated toward one set of solutions. The families stuffing their groceries into their Honda Odyssey minivans in the Pomegranate parking lot represent a challenging counterculture. Mostly, I notice how incredibly self-confident they are. Once dismissed as relics, they now feel that they are the future.



Thursday, March 07, 2013

Suspect In Brooklyn Fatal Hit-And-Run Arrested In Pennsylvania 

Hasidic leaders in Williamsburg have nothing good to say about Julio Acevedo.

Acevedo turned himself into police in at a convenience store in Pennsylvania Wednesday, more than three days after police believe he ran from a fatal wreck.

He faces a charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death.

"He was a coward," said Isaac Abraham, a spokesperson for the family of the victims. "He left the scene which caused the death of Mr. and Mrs. Glauber and their infant baby.

Police believe Acevedo was driving a BMW that was traveling at 60 miles per hour, twice the posted limit, when it slammed into a livery cab.

Nachman Glauber and his wife, Raizy, who was seven months pregnant, were inside the cab. The 21-year-olds both died.

The child, delivered prematurely, died Monday.

"The pain of the family and the community will never go away," said Gary Schlesinger, who offered a reward for Acevedo's capture.

Community leaders hope that the capture of Acevedo will help the Hasidic community begin to heal.

Abraham called on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes to charge the 44-year-old suspect with second-degree murder.

"I, personally, and I'm sure the rest of the city of New York, whoever witnessed and felt along with the family about the loss, hope and pray this was the last shiny day that Julio Acevedo saw as a free man," Abraham said.

There is no word on what additional charges will follow.

Acevedo spent a decade in prison on a manslaughter conviction and was arrested in February on a DWI charge.

A Pennsylvania judge ordered him held without bail overnight Wednesday into Thursday.

An extradition hearing will take place Thursday morning to discuss his return to New York.



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