Sunday, June 30, 2013

Shomer Shaboos shul in Boro-Park continues to allow convicted child molester to roam freely 

Shomer Shabbos shul in Boro-Park continues to allow this known convicted child molester Yechiel Baruner to roam freely in the shul to arrange minyanim and molest your children. This is a very dangerous man who has been removed from many shuls in Boro-Park yet he continues to molest children with no intention of stopping. He has himself said that the only way to stop him is to cut his hands off.

Let Rabbi Tirnauer know that you want this filth out of the shul.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Arizona Is Fertile Ground for New York Matzo 

Here, on a Christian farmer’s land five miles from the Mexican border, lies the holiest of fields for some of New York’s most observant Orthodox Jewish communities. Wheat harvested on these 40 acres is destined to become matzo, the unleavened bread eaten by Jews during the eight days of Passover.

It is not an everyday plant-and-pick operation, and the matzo made from this wheat is not everyday matzo.

Yisroel Tzvi Brody, rabbi of the Shaarei Orah synagogue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, stood at the edge of one of the fields on Monday, stooping to rub a grain of wheat between his wrinkled thumb and index finger. Removing his glasses, he brought the grain close to his eyes and turned it from side to side, like a gemologist inspecting a precious stone.

“It is to ascertain that it’s not sprouted,” Rabbi Brody explained. “If it has, it’s not valid.”

For seven weeks, while the wheat grew in scorching heat under impossibly blue skies, two men clothed in the traditional black and white garments of the Hasidim stayed in a trailer overlooking the crop, to be able to attest that the wheat, once matured, had been untouched by rain or other moisture. Workers were prohibited from carrying water bottles in the field. Dust danced in the air as the wind blew, but unpaved roads could not be wet while the wheat was growing. The goal was to prevent any natural fermentation from taking place in the grains before they were milled into flour and the matzo was baked, sometime in the late fall.

Tradition calls for keeping watch over the matzo from the time the wheat is milled. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have carried that practice several steps further, guarding the grains before the wheat is harvested to ensure they are not overripe or wet from rainfall. That can be a challenging task on the rainy East Coast. Nonetheless, one segment of the Satmar sect, the largest Hasidic group in the United States, grows its wheat there, following seasonal weather forecasts to search for areas where rain is least likely to fall right before the wheat matures.

Five years ago, another Satmar group began shifting its wheat-growing operation here, where rain is rare at this time of year. That opened a new front line in the competition for the most rigorous standards in the production of matzo. (In a taste test, though, Vos Iz Neias?, a Jewish blog, chose neither, picking instead matzo made by the Pupa and Zehlem Matzoh Bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which is run by Hasidic Jews of the Puppa sect. It is said that they, too, have used Yuma wheat.)

Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York, whose research focuses on the social ethnography of Jewish Orthodox movements, said the competition between the two Satmar groups — each led by one of two brothers — was about one-upmanship.

“One is always looking to be more authoritative than the other,” Professor Heilman said, “and one of the ways they’re making this happen is over matzo — our matzo is more kosher than yours, we’re more scrupulous and careful over matzo baking than you are.”

Zalman Teitelbaum is the younger of the brothers and a rabbi in one of the Satmar congregations in Williamsburg, where many of the sect’s members live. The bakers who follow him use East Coast wheat.

Aaron Teitelbaum, the older brother, is the chief rabbi of the Satmar community based in the village of Kiryas Joel, N.Y., settled by his uncle, Joel Teitelbaum, the dynasty’s founder and its grand rabbi. Wheat used there comes from Yuma.

On Monday, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum got something close to a rock star reception when he paid a visit to the farm, straight from New York, to bless the wheat harvest. Rabbis and congregants at the farm formed a tight knot around him, taking pictures and jostling for a chance to touch him.

Rabbi Brody, clad in a bekishe, a traditional ankle-length black coat, approached Tim Dunn, the farm’s owner. “How many degrees is now?” he asked.

“It’s about 108 degrees,” Mr. Dunn told him.

Rabbi Brody sighed.

Mr. Dunn remembers a call five years ago from a man who asked if he had any interest growing kosher wheat. He said yes, without any real idea about what working with ultra-Orthodox Jews would require. The first lesson came when his wife reached to shake hands with a visitor and the man, a rabbi, pulled back. (By custom, men and women are to avoid touching, unless they are related.)



Friday, June 28, 2013

Hasid cop recruit Fishel Litzman bashes NYPD's terror claim in firing over refusal to trim beard 

The lawyer for the Hasidic NYPD recruit fired for refusing to trim his beard because of his religion says the department is now using the fear of a terrorist attack as a reason for the dismissal.

Fishel Litzman was terminated last June while still in the Police Academy. He was accused of refusing to adhere to department standards limiting beards to no more than 1 millimeter in length.

In Manhattan Federal Court Thursday, Litzman's lawyer, Nathan Lewin, said the city has come up with an "after-the-fact rationalization" by saying facial hair would prevent him wearing a gas mask with a proper fit.

But Keri Reid McNally, representing the city, said Litzman would put himself and others at risk if he needed to wear the mask in an emergency.
Federal Judge Harold Baer is considering whether to reinstate Litzman, 39, or send the case to trial.



NBC Deceptively Edits Rabbi on Sexual Abuse, Ignoring Lessons From Zimmerman Scandal 

The prosecution in George Zimmerman's trial may claim that Zimmerman was motivated by racism. This narrative reached a pinnacle last December, when NBC edited audio of George Zimmerman's 911 call in a deceptive manner that made him appear racist. Though Zimmerman only mentioned race after being asked by the dispatcher if Trayvon Martin was, "black, white or Hispanic," NBC's edits left the impression that Zimmerman brought up Martin's race unprompted. During the 2012 Republican primary, NBC falsely portrayed Texas Governor Rick Perry's 'Black Cloud' metaphor as a racist reference to President Obama when he was actually referring to the national debt. NBC later admitting to selective editing.

But NBC's malicious editing is not limited to portraying a one-sided view of politics and race but also religion. This past weekend NBC Rock Center aired an interview of Avraham Berkowitz, a bearded Orthodox rabbi who defied their preconceived narrative that Hasidic communities advise sexual abuse victims to turn to rabbis instead of police. Rather than modify their narrative, NBC edited the interview and used the rabbi's words in a context that grossly distorted his views. Though the rabbi advocates reporting sexual abuse to the police, NBC's selective editing left the opposite impression.
Unlike the more insular Hasidic movements represented in the segment, Berkowitz is a member of Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic group that encourages interacting with the broader society, does not generally believe in censorship, and advocates sexual abuse awareness. But NBC apparently did not care about accurately reporting distinctions between Hasidic groups so amid the stories of several youth transcending restrictive upbringings, censorship of textbooks, and combating sexual abuse in the most insular Hasidic enclaves, was the gross misportrayal of Berkowitz, a Chabad rabbi.
NBC edited Berkowitz's interview for the segment, all to fit the false narrative that Berkowitz was advocating handling sexual abuse allegations internally.

Toward the end of the segment, NBC correspondent, Dr. Nancy Snyderman begins with a voice-over narration:
But last year, the Hasidic community could no longer deny its own problems, a young women came forward to tell police her rabbi, Nechamya Weberman, had sexually abused her for years. It was a rare instance of a Hasid going to outside authorities to report a crime.
The frame then cuts to Berkowitz saying:
The community leaders within are dealing with this.
Dr. Snyderman continues with her voice-over narration:
Avraham Berkowitz is a local rabbi in the community and he says people are now acknowledging that sexual abuse is happening and insists that they can handle the problem themselves.
The frame then cuts back to Berkowitz:
Whatever these types of crimes are, they have to be eradicated, and in order to eradicate them. We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems. Because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.
In the false narrated context NBC provides, the clear implication of the parsed quotes is that Berkowitz was advocating that victims report abuse "internally" to rabbis rather than law enforcement officials.
In the unedited full context, obtained from Berkowitz who recorded the full interview with NBC's knowledge, Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC never even asks Berkowits whether he thinks abuse should be reported directly to the police, yet they superimpose his unrelated quotes in a segment addressing the issue of reporting sexual abuse.
As the full interview demonstrates, Berkowitz was referring to educational initiatives on abuse prevention, not the reporting of sexual abuse, and makes clear that rabbis should work hand-in-hand with the authorities.
Here is the full transcript. The bold quotes are the ones NBC decided to use in the segment.
Snyderman: There are, there have been crimes and the Weberman case has shined a very unflattering light on the community.

: So I spoke about violent, public violent crimes of murder and rape very low, very little. When you talk about sexual abuse of children it's something that's being exposed. It's a silent crime and there are deviants in every society and it's not just in our community but as you see in the Catholic Church ……
Snyderman: And are you able to look at your community with a critical eye and say, "This is not okay"?
Berkowitz: So, absolutely. First of all we absolutely have to look at it with a critical view, the question is what do we, do we have to have this conversation in public, how do we resolve, that's a question within the Chasidic world, how do they grapple with these dark, dark problems and how do they solve it. So if it's talking about pushing it under the rug, no way…
In our community, for example, when it comes it's a much more open and public debate. We are one of the largest Chasidic communities in Brooklyn,
the Rabbis work together hand in hand with the authorities
and the children are now taught that if someone is doing something inappropriate to you, you have the ABC's. And I was so pleased with my six year old daughter tells me, "Daddy, the 'D' of the ABC's, do tell. Someone does something inappropriate I'm ganna tell."

: We have images of a young girl who was molested being heckled by adult men as she was going to court and even so disturbing to see a young girl who had suffered being made the villain.
Berkowitz: I'm very disturbed by those images. But again, there, we have to remember one thing. Whatever these types of crimes are have to be eradicated and in order to eradicate them they have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems because sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside the community becomes more insular. So the community needs to face this, the community leaders within are dealing with this, but sometimes what they say to the outside seems as if they're covering up for it.
But I must say again these deviants must be punished and they now know because of the awareness that's happening they now know that they cannot continue to commit these crimes.
They know that they'll be caught and our children are also taught because of like I told you, you say that we are separated… they are now taught what is considered inappropriate …
… And I must say as a parent it's the number one thing that I worry about in our camps, in our schools, what are you teaching your staff, our teachers to make sure that our children are protected. And I'm very pleased that the new programs that the Chasidic schools are teaching within our, with their sensitivities, to teach our children about the differences.
In subsequent email correspondence with Berkowitz, the producer of NBC readily admits that Berkwoitz did not advocate that victims turn to rabbis instead of the police. But NBC edited the interview and added a narrated voice-over to imply that he was referring to handling reporting internally.
Berkowitz's view on reporting sexual abuse is of course consistent with the 2011 Crown Heights Rabbinical Court ruling, which requires that suspected abuse be reported directly to the police.
After publishing an article highlighting the inaccuracy, and after Berkowitz sent multiple emails to the producer of the show, Robert Buchanan, NBC finally agreed to remove the inaccurate segment admitting in an email that because "some are misinterpreting your … [Rabbi Berkowitz] … comment- we are going to take the story off the web."
NBC then issued an editor's note clarifying the rabbi's comments on sexual abuse:
In the story, he said 'the community can handle the problem themselves.' Rabbi Berkowitz says he was referring to the community handling efforts to prevent sexual abuse – not whether to report sexual abuse to police. He says he has always advocated reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies…
Of course this clarification is not enough and conveniently leaves out the misleading voice-over narration. NBC damaged this rabbi's reputation without taking full responsibility for creating a misperception about his views on reporting sexual abuse to the police.
Whether NBC's deceptive editing stems from a political bias, stereotypes about Hasidic Jews, or an attempt to make material more salacious to attract more viewers, NBC should seek to restore its journalistic integrity by conducting an internal review to explain how and why these things happened.



Thursday, June 27, 2013

Friendly Message to Camp Summer Staff 

Once again Chabad is on top of the issues while the others are still stuck in the dark ages.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ultra-Orthodox Shun Mall Built Just for Them 

When a new mall opened in a heavily ultra-Orthodox Jewish Jerusalem neighborhood about two years ago, it was agreed that it would offer a different kind of shopping experience. There would be no posters of models in bathing suits and no mannequins in the store windows. Until recently, the Ramot Mall thrived under these conditions, earning praise for its open design and attracting secular and religious locals alike.

"In the cafe you could see a Haredi man with tzitzit [religious fringed undergarments] sitting with his wife and making a blessing on his cake, while next to him there would be a secular man who doesn't make blessings on anything," said Ze'ev Lendner, the secular chairman of the neighborhood's community administration.

The tranquil atmosphere was shattered around three weeks ago when 14 leading rabbis from the neighborhood issued a letter calling for an immediate and total boycott of the mall. The rabbis said the mall's executives had not upheld their agreements with them. Their primary complaints were what they called the immodest dress of salespeople and the music played over the sound system.

The rabbis ensured letters were distributed at all the Haredi schools in Ramot so that parents and children were aware of the boycott. A storeowner in the mall said parents were also told that if they were seen in the mall, their children would be expelled from school. Ramot - a large neighborhood in northern Jerusalem with a growing Haredi population and a determined secular and national religious one - has been a front in the battle between the ultra-Orthodox and other Israelis for the past two decades.



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fund-Raiser for Thompson Has History of Swindling 

One of the most prolific fund-raisers for the mayoral campaign of William C. Thompson Jr. is an admitted swindler who once cheated a tiny, economically depressed Wisconsin village out of $250,000 and later escaped from a federal prison.

He is also a polarizing figure in the Satmar sect of Hasidic Jews and was an instigator in a bitter, long-running dynastic struggle between two Satmar factions — even once provoking a brawl in a Brooklyn synagogue.

The fund-raiser, Jacob Brach, 55, gathered more than $30,000 in donations for the Thompson campaign this year, mainly from Satmar Hasidim and their business associates. He is the third largest bundler for Mr. Thompson, who has been raising money feverishly and making a strong push for Orthodox Jewish support in Brooklyn as he makes his second run for mayor.

All but one of the 180 contributions Mr. Brach collected were for $175 — the maximum that the city will match under its voluntary campaign financing program.

Mr. Thompson has a personal connection to Mr. Brach: his father, William C. Thompson Sr., a former judge, was a lawyer for Mr. Brach's Satmar faction. The elder Mr. Thompson appeared in court, as part of the faction's legal team, on a day in 2001 when Mr. Brach was questioned about his behavior and his criminal record.

Mr. Brach has not aided Mr. Thompson exclusively. In early 2012 he bundled at least $8,000 in donations for the mayoral campaign of Bill de Blasio, records indicate.

And he is not the only Satmar raising money in the mayor's race, or the busiest. Herman Friedman, a 34-year-old Brooklyn entrepreneur, collected more than $80,000 for the campaign of Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker. Through a spokesman, Mr. Friedman said he advocated for various issues in Brooklyn but declined to provide details or be interviewed.

Mr. Brach, also known as Yossi Brach, came to the attention of law enforcement officials as early as 1988, when he was accused by Union Carbide of Canada and another Canadian company of bilking them out of more than $300,000 by offering them patent rights to a disposable toilet seat cover.

Two years later, Mr. Brach, who then lived in Kiryas Joel in Orange County, posed as the millionaire owner of a knitting mill and got officials in Randolph, Wis. (which had a population of 1,600), to lend him $250,000 to relocate there. Tommy Thompson, the governor at the time, appeared with Mr. Brach at a news conference saying the move would create hundreds of jobs.

Mr. Brach pleaded guilty to wire fraud in 1990 in the Canada and Wisconsin cases. He agreed to reimburse the fraud victims, but a federal judge, Vincent L. Broderick, rejected his request for leniency and sentenced him to 27 months in prison.

"The picture I have is a man who develops schemes to enrich himself at the expense of others, schemes which are elaborate and which are drenched in fraud," the judge said. "You have been engaging in a way of life that involves deceiving and defrauding people on quite a sophisticated level."

A year later, Mr. Brach obtained a one-day medical pass from his minimum-security prison and did not return. Arrested in March 1992, he received an additional 10-month sentence.

In 2002, he was charged in Florida with securities and telecommunications fraud, accused of selling $25,000 in fake stock in an Internet company to a retired police chief who was dying of cancer. Prosecutors dropped the case after Mr. Brach refunded the money.

Mr. Brach did not respond to repeated telephone and e-mail messages on Sunday and Monday. A spokesman for Mr. Thompson's campaign declined to comment.

Within the publicity-averse Satmar community, according to Hasidim and others who know him, Mr. Brach has a reputation as a political operator and provocateur. He is associated with the Aroynem, a branch of the Satmars headed by Aron Teitelbaum, the leader of Kiryas Joel. The Zaloynim are a rival faction, based in Williamsburg and named for Zalmen Teitelbaum, Aron's brother.

During the 2001 New York mayoral race, while Zaloynim leaders were overseas, Mr. Brach led a contingent of Aroynem who endorsed Mark Green, a Democrat who was then the public advocate, without making clear that only one Satmar faction was on board. The stunt achieved little beyond embarrassing Mr. Green.

When the Satmar schism boiled over into the secular courts, Mr. Brach was named a plaintiff in a lawsuit by the Aroynem. His criminal record was discussed during cross-examination, and his antics in and out of the courtroom became a liability for the Aroynem, lawyers said.

The judge urged prosecutors to investigate Mr. Brach for inundating the court with what he called "false, incredible stories" accusing court officials of bribery and other improprieties, records show.

Defying a court order, Mr. Brach repeatedly disrupted worshipers in the main Satmar synagogue and at other events, shouting invectives against the Zaloynim and triggering repeated contempt-of-court citations, according to court papers. He was sentenced to 30 days.

Then in 2004, prosecutors said, Mr. Brach provoked a melee in the synagogue after he sat in a special chair reserved for the grand rabbi. Mr. Brach's leg was broken, according to news accounts.

Mr. Brach has also been associated with Der Blatt, a Yiddish-language newspaper aligned with the Aroynem. As recently as a year ago, he took the Aroynem's side in a radio debate with Hank Sheinkopf, a Zaloynim spokesman. Mr. Sheinkopf is now a political consultant for Mr. Thompson.



Monday, June 24, 2013

A Williamsburg Hasid Did A Reddit AMA, And It Was Surprisingly Chill 

Should you need a good, non-Buzzfeed-related way to kill your lunch hour, this is a pretty good one: Reddit user Jew_Pac, a self-described "Hasidic Jew living in Williamsburg," participated in an AMA this weekend, and more or less hit it out of the park.

At least, if what you were hoping for were straightforward answers from a relatively liberal member of a group most of us don't really interact with all that much ("Honestly, I don't see any reason to leave. I'm pretty comfortable the way I am," etc). And clarifications on the ethics of weed smoking.

In response to one user who asked about the Hasidic stance on weed ("I used to live in London's Stamford Hill and like 80% of the Hasids there loved to burn with us! They said it was a great mitzvah," he noted), Jew_Pac wrote, "They usually despise it because its named drugs. But once they get to learn the difference between weed vs cocaine they usually "get it" [...] Call me naive but shomrim really doesn't give a shit about your pot smoking."

So, case closed on that one. Anyway, the whole thing is pretty entertaining and worth reading, and confirms at least one thing we already knew: the Hasidic community is actually pretty into Citi Bike.



Sunday, June 23, 2013

Shame on Shomer Shabbos for letting convicted child molester Yechiel Brauner roam freely and molest children in shul 

Shame on Shomer Shabbos shul for allowing this known convicted child molester Yechiel Brauner who has hurt hundreds or even thousands of Yiddishe kinder to roam freely in their shul and continue to molest daily.

Shame on the Rav of Shomer Shabbos Rabbi Tirnauer who is refusing to stop this piece of dirt and is turning a deaf ear to the people who have begged him to throw Brauner out of the shul. Under his father Rabbi Y Tirnauer after much pleading Brauner was not allowed into the shul. But now that he is no longer with us Brauner has gotten back his guts to prowl again. Rabbi Tirnauer, follow what Satmar and many other shuls have done and save Yiddishe neshamas and get rid of this garbage from your shul.

This is not a joke! This man is a dangerous molester who will not stop! If you see him let him know that you know what he does and let Rabbi Tirnauer know that the people do not want this filth in their shul.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

For those who leave the Hasidic world, new life starts slowly 

In the heart of New York City, a deeply religious community has created its own secluded island, where Yiddish is the primary language, men wear towering black hats and long robes even on the most sweltering summer day, and mothers lead broods of eight or 10 children.

They are Hasidic Jews - the descendants of a small group of ardent followers whose Eastern European villages were all but decimated during the Holocaust. For the better part of the last century they've been building their own communities in Brooklyn, maintaining the dress, language and traditions of their ancestors.

There’s an estimated 300,000 people living in various Hasidic communities in New York City, and they're poised to become the largest Jewish denomination in the city in the next two decades.

"There's a conviction that their way of life is special, unique, authentic," says Samuel Heilman, professor of Anthropology at Queens College. "It's a belief that what comes from the past is superior to what is in the present."

Much of the secular world is off-limits, including television, non-religious books and most websites.

Instead, religious study is emphasized, as is devotion to God and family. Most Hasids are wedded in arranged marriages while in their teens or early 20s. In a few years, they’re expected to be on their way to building a large family.

Avraham Berkowitz is a rabbi in the Lubavitcher Hasidic community. He says that this focus on family and religion is worth preserving.

“The modesty in the dress, the language in the house, standing up for parents, not interrupting when adults are speaking. That kind of protected lifestyle, that is what we have today,” says Berkowitz.

“You have to be able to pick and choose what to bring in and what to keep out that's negative.”


But that seemingly simple life, while comforting and fulfilling for some, can feel oppressive for others.

“Most of the individuals that are coming to us, what we're seeing is they just want to learn. They want to study physics.  And they want to study how atoms work.  And they want to study math.” says Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, the only organization in New York that helps people leave Hasidic communities.

Sam Katz is a Footsteps member. A yearning for knowledge drew him away from the Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn where he was raised and into Manhattan. He describes sneaking into the Museum of Natural History, where the dinosaur skeletons caught his imagination like nothing in his religious books.

“There was something so connected about standing next to a dinosaur, something so-- universally harmonious-- for lack of a better word,” says Katz. “It was just a feeling of this fantasy world.”

Katz’s secular education stopped when he reached middle school, when he, like other Hasidic boys, began focusing exclusively on religious study. Yet, he’s managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, and is headed to Berlin in the fall on a Fulbright scholarship.

Hindy Sabel, who also left her Hasidic upbringing with the help of Footsteps, says she started questioning the Hasidic way of life as a child. She wanted to ride bikes around the neighborhood, says Sabel, like the boys could. And she wasn’t ready to get married before finishing college.

“I couldn’t be a leader in that community and I wanted to do something with my life,” says Sabel. That’s when she came to Footsteps with an older sister. Today, she’s working full time and studying for an MBA at New York University.

But picking up and leaving behind everything they’ve ever known isn’t easy. The process can take years of catching up.

“Footsteps members are very much like immigrants,” explains Santo. “But they're immigrants to a country that they're citizens in.”


For Judy Braun, 31, getting out was particularly difficult.

Braun grew up strictly Hasidic in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and recalls a happy childhood filled with summer camping trips in the Catskills.

But when she was 12, Braun says she had a terrifying experience that would haunt her the rest of her life – she found her friend trying to hang herself in the bathroom, and learned she’d been sexually abused.

Braun says the adults she told about the attempted suicide turned a deaf ear. She says she saw firsthand how the community refused to acknowledge that one of its own could abuse a child.

“Our rules and our laws will keep us pure, will keep these things from happening. Coming to terms with the fact that they will happen regardless undermines the entire idea of the truth,” says Braun. “If our way of life doesn't prevent our men from turning into beasts, then what's the point of our way of life?”

Feeling trapped by tradition, Braun ultimately got married and had children.  But in her mid-twenties, she started secretly writing about what she saw as a child.

That fictionalized account of her ordeal, "Hush," was published anonymously in 2010. While some supported her efforts, when her real name leaked out as the author, she said threats started coming in.  She received a copy of her book covered in fake blood, her car windows were smashed, and threatening messages were left on her phone.

“When you're an author of a book and you publicly shame the community, there is a full-out campaign against you at every level,” says Braun.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz says people are now acknowledging sexual abuse is happening.

“These type of crimes have to be eradicated,” He says. He insists, though, that the community can handle the problem internally.  “We have to do it within the way the community knows how to solve its problems.  Cause sometimes when you come banging with drums from the outside, the community becomes more insular.”

In the last two years, Braun has come out publicly as the author of "Hush"  and started speaking out against abuse in the community. She recently divorced her husband and moved her children outside the boundaries of her old Hasidic neighborhood.

“It gives you more psychological safety,” says Braun. “Even though it's not that far a drive, but you’re in a different place.”



Friday, June 21, 2013

US Judge Calls Russia an 'Outlaw' in Jewish Library Dispute 

A US federal judge on Thursday accused Russia of being contemptuous of the law for refusing to hand over a disputed collection of Jewish religious texts to a New York-based Orthodox Jewish group despite a US court order to do so, APA reports quoting RIA Novosti.
Judge Royce Lamberth of the US District Court in Washington said Russia was acting like a "scofflaw" and an "outlaw" for dismissing his order to give the Schneerson Library of religious documents to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement based in Brooklyn, New York, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
In January, Lamberth imposed a $50,000-a-day fine on Russia for failing to comply with an earlier order to hand over the religious texts. About 500 digitized documents from the collection were turned over to the newly built Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow last week, a move proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the dispute.
Putin visited the museum last week and said, "From this moment, I consider the question of the Schneerson Library to be closed."
The Jewish group said in a statement last week that the transfer to the museum does not satisfy its religious requirements or remedy "Russia's unilateral seizure, retention, and claimed ownership of these sacred books.
Russia has not recognized the authority of the US court order, and the US government has said that while it supports the Chabad-Lubavitch movement's "assertion of ownership" over the collection, it disagrees with the fines issued by Lamberth.
The Schneerson Library is a collection of books and religious documents assembled by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement over two centuries prior to World War II in Belarus. It is one of the main Jewish religious relics.
Part of the collection amassed by Lubavitcher Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson was nationalized by the Bolsheviks in 1918. Later, about 25,000 pages of manuscripts fell into the hands of the Nazis and were later recovered by the Red Army and handed over to the Russian State Military Archive.
Another part of the collection was taken out of the Soviet Union by Schneerson, who emigrated in the 1930s.
Nathan Lewin, a lawyer for the Chabad, told Thursday's hearing that negotiations have been held between Washington and Moscow over the issue and he asked Lamberth to schedule an Aug. 20 hearing to give time for the two sides to make progress in the talks, the AP reported.
Lamberth granted the request, saying that Russia "is not willing to obey the laws of the United States, or any other country," according to the AP.



Thursday, June 20, 2013

Getting In Face of Ultra-Orthodox on Need for Real World Education 

Gedalya Gottdenger

Gedalya Gottdenger's dream is to get a degree in psychology. But unlike most 21-year-olds, Gottdenger lacks a basic education, even though he has been studying since he was a child.

Gottdenger, who grew up in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn, is a product of ultra-Orthodox Jewish day schools in which, numerous students report, math and English classes are barely taught, despite state laws requiring such instruction.

"In the heder we had English and math classes, but it was always at the end of the day and lasted only an hour each," Gottdenger said in a telephone interview with the Forward. "It was like a joke; the focus was entirely on keeping us in the class for two hours in order to show the government that we were being taught English, but it was nothing to do with actual teaching."r

The situation got even worse during his high school years, when Gottdenger attended a Viznitz yeshiva in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Boro Park.

"In the yeshiva there was nothing whatsoever; they weren't even pretending to teach," Gottdenger recalled. "From age 13 to 18, I did not have any English or math classes. I left there with pretty much zero knowledge in English or math."

(Efforts to reach officials at Ahavas Israel and Imrei Chaim, the Brooklyn schools that Gottdenger attended, for responses to his allegations were unsuccessful despite repeated phone calls.)

On June 5, Gottdenger saw a huge billboard while driving on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that reminded him of the dilemma he faces. The advertisement quoted a phrase from the Talmud (in Hebrew): "One should make sure to teach his son a trade."

The billboard was funded by Yaffed, an advocacy group of individuals raised in ultra-Orthodox communities, that seeks to improve secular studies in New York's ultra-Orthodox day schools. According to Naftuli Moster, founder of Yaffed, the goal of the ad is to create an attitude change.

"We want to go past the community leaders and go directly to the people," Moster, 27, said in a phone interview with the Forward. "To get to those people who do believe in education and enable them to speak up and ask their leaders to make some changes so their children can have a better future."



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Messiah Will Be Tweeted 

On a Sunday evening in early June, thousands of Hasidic men in long coats and black hats braved the heat to attend two outdoor anti-Internet asifas (or gatherings in Yiddish) organized by leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, N.Y. Women were forbidden, but the real temptation for the men was already in their laps, where they covertly thumbed their smartphones.

The Hasidic war against the Internet has been an ongoing campaign—in May 2012, a massive asifa held by the anti-Internet rabbinical group Ichud Hakehillos sold out Citi Field in Queens, N.Y.—but this year's asifa came with a new threat, almost biblical in tone: Those caught using the Internet for nonbusiness purposes, or without content filters, would have their children expelled from the Satmar yeshiva.

The cost of having large families has forced many ultra-Orthodox Jews to do business outside of the community. Often, this means adopting technology that plunges people with 19th-century values into the aggressively uncensored world of Chatroulette and Reddit. While some rabbis are convinced that this is a gateway to pornography addiction (or worse: secular life), many Hasids, from the media-savvy Lubovitch to the ultraconservative Satmar, use the Internet regularly without detracting from their customs. In many cases, it has fostered connectedness among the ultra-Orthodox and boosted their economy. And, most importantly, it may prove to be a remedy for the unchecked sexual abuse that has plagued the community.

The Chabad-Lubovitch sect, headquartered in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, has embraced media for years, with radio broadcasts, public access TV, and now a dynamic Web presence, including Facebook and Twitter. This is part of their interpretation of Ufaratzta, the imperative to spread Hasidism to secular Jews, which, they believe, will hasten the return of the Messiah.

"We've always been at the forefront of communication," says Mordechai Lightstone, a Lubovitch rabbi and social media director for the Lubovitch News Service. Lightstone is also a regular at SXSW, where he draws Jews seeking a Sabbath meal with the hashtag #openshabbat. "There's actually a midrash, a Jewish teaching, that says 'Why was there gold in the temple in Jerusalem? Why is there gold in the world? Gold is a source of greed; idols are made out of gold. In this case, gold was there to glorify God's name and to make a beautiful structure that can be used as a place to encourage people to come together to unite, to pray, and not as a source of greed, fighting, and then war.' The same idea would exist within social media, that it can be used for very negative things and for very positive things."

He adds, "I'm convinced that when the Messiah comes, there's going to be a tweet."

While the Internet can be a doorway to faith, it can also show others out, as Libby Copeland wrote last year in Slate. But the most likely to drop out may be the ones who are already looking for an exit. At 24, Ari Mandel left the Nikolsburg sect, a branch of Satmar, and spent the next five years in the U.S. Army. The Internet, he says, was instrumental to him leaving the fold, but it wasn't the cause.

"I was kind of bored," he says. "I had outgrown the books that were available in the community, and I just wanted more variety." At 20, Mandel began sneaking into the public library. Reading was a gateway to the Internet, where he found other Hasidim who similarly questioned their faith.

To Mandel, now 30 and a full-time student at New York University, banning the Internet is not only ineffective, it's illogical. "The Internet is a tool," he says. "If you're going to ban the Internet, you should ban the Bible, because there are bad books. You should ban all Orthodox magazines because there is Playboy—that's just silly. It just makes no sense."

This recent wave of anti-Internet activity coincides with the release of the Venishmartem Cloud Filter, a software developed in Romania (where the Satmar originated) by the company Livigent "at a cost of six million dollars and specifically designed to cater to the sensitivities and needs of the Jewish community," according to their website.

In Late May, Venishmartem held a "Filterthon" in Midwood, Brooklyn. Orthodox men were invited to bring their electronic devices for free installation of filtering software with features such as "skin color blocking," which scans Web pages for immodest quantities of human skin tones, and "accountability solutions," which send a user's browsing history to a third party.

For $7.99 a month, Venishmartem will control their customers' access to certain content as well as their ability to activate and deactivate the filter itself. This effectively creates a virtual Orthodox enclave by shrinking the World Wide Web down to a tiny neighborhood of frum-friendly sites. "Guard Your Eyes," Venishmartem's Internet addiction treatment and prevention wing, offers images of naked Holocaust dead to turn off users who are tempted to seek sexually arousing pictures, among other "Practical Tips."



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

After Sexual Abuse Case, a Hasidic Accuser Is Shunned, Then Indicted 

Sam Kellner is a man twice shunned and living in a deepening shadow.

Sam Kellner, 50, spoke out about the sexual abuse of his son, 16, and others in the Hasidic community. Now he is charged with trying to extort the abusers.

Five years ago, this gray-bearded and excitable man with a black velvet yarmulke spoke out about the sexual abuse of his 16-year-old son by a prominent Hasidic cantor. As Mr. Kellner helped investigators with the Brooklyn district attorney's office search for other young Orthodox victims of this man, the Orthodox establishment grew ever angrier at him. The rabbi at his Hasidic synagogue in Borough Park, Brooklyn, denounced Mr. Kellner as a traitor and forbade parishioners to talk with him on the street. Yeshivas barred his sons. His businesses dried up — he pawned his silverware to meet his bills. And he still fears that he will never find a marriage match for his son.

"I felt murdered and abandoned," Mr. Kellner said. "I'm ruined."

This, however, was a prologue to a worse situation. In April 2011, after the district attorney's office gained a conviction against that cantor, Baruch Lebovits, the prosecutors turned around and obtained an indictment of Mr. Kellner. They said, based on a secret tape and the grand jury testimony of a prominent Satmar supporter of Mr. Lebovits, that he had tried to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mr. Lebovits.

District Attorney Charles J. Hynes has shown great deference to the politically powerful Hasidic community over the years, and it has rewarded him with large margins on election days. Even his heralded crackdown on Hasidic sexual abuse was a fist wrapped in the softest velvet, as he took the unusual step of refusing to publicize the names of defendants — even the convicted.

Mr. Hynes extended no such courtesy to Mr. Kellner. "We allege that Kellner sent emissaries to Lebovits's family telling them that he controlled the witnesses against Baruch Lebovits," the district attorney said at a 2011 news conference, "and that in return for $400,000, he would ensure that the witnesses would not testify."

This indictment stunned the small, embattled community of Hasidic whistle-blowers. Mr. Kellner, to their view, took enormous risks in a righteous fight. That he could sit in the dock next month is a message not lost on anyone.

"If he's convicted, no one will ever come forward again," said Rabbi Cheskel Gold, a member of a rabbinical court in Monsey, N.Y., that gave Mr. Kellner religious permission to investigate Mr. Lebovits. "No one."

Mr. Kellner posted $25,000 bail. And to pile legal insult atop injury, Mr. Lebovits's lawyers used his indictment and other technicalities to persuade a state appeals court to overturn his conviction. Even today, Alan M. Dershowitz, one of Mr. Lebovits's lawyers, portrays Mr. Kellner and other prominent whistle-blowers as extortionists. "We see Kellner as a leader of a major extortion ring," he said in an interview. "He is not a do-gooder."

I talked with Brooklyn prosecutors about the case against Mr. Kellner. By way of throat-clearing, the prosecutor Nicholas J. Batsidis demanded to know if I'd read the indictment. As it was five pages long and contained little detail, I allowed that I had managed to stumble through.

He pointed to the key evidence, a secretly taped, rambling and excited conversation between Mr. Kellner and Meyer Lebovits, the cantor's son. Mr. Kellner is also accused of paying witnesses to testify against Mr. Lebovits. "When you have an audiotape where Kellner is warning him that he's going to bring other victims, it speaks for itself," Mr. Batsidis said.

That explanation sounds better than the tape itself. The transcript reveals a conversation soaked in ambiguity, and rendered in overwrought language. It depicts Mr. Kellner as a tortured father trying to find justice. The younger Mr. Lebovits at times seems to accept that his father committed some acts of abuse.

Hella Winston of The Jewish Week has profitably plowed the fields of this case, exposing its many weaknesses. Ms. Winston notes that, far from persuading fake witnesses to testify, Mr. Kellner worked closely with a rabbinical court in Monsey, and with a Brooklyn assemblyman, each of whom helped him find alleged victims of Mr. Lebovits.

Two weeks ago, I talked with the three-member rabbinical court — known as a Beit Din — in Monsey. These rabbis rarely grant interviews, but spoke now of their moral obligation. Their community for too long has resisted coming to grips with sexual abuse.

They view Mr. Kellner as a brave pioneer. He did not seek out witnesses at random; rather their court, with the help of local leaders in Williamsburg, gave him the name of a victim.

"Lebovits is known to have a long history" of sexual abuse, Rabbi Chaim Flohr said. But Mr. Lebovits has powerful supporters, and people are fearful, he added.

Mr. Lebovits's lawyers maintain that he is innocent of all charges.

The rabbis frowned at talk of extortion. Mr. Kellner spoke to them of being offered bribes, and of his determination not to let abusers buy him off. "We are not aware of Mr. Kellner ever asking for money," Rabbi Flohr said.

Mr. Kellner takes pain to insist that he is no saint. He wanted only justice for his son. Now, though, he hears from more and more Hasidic families, with their own stories of more abuse, and asking for his help.

If I win my case, he asked, what should I do?

"I'm not clear how this happened," he said, his voice keening. "I got into this to avenge my son. Do I have the strength to go on?"



Monday, June 17, 2013

405 Construction Halts Use of Kosher Eruv in Westwood 

Ongoing construction on the San Diego (405) Freeway in Westwood is not only disrupting traffic, it is causing some observant conservative Jews some aggravation this summer.

The $1 billion-plus widening project is entering a new phase at the 405's Wilshire Boulevard interchange, where new flyover ramps will eventually replace the 60-year-old cloverleaf ramps.

The construction means that a small and unobtrusive wire that runs along light poles on Sepulveda and Wilshire boulevards must be taken down for several weeks, thus breaking the boundaries of a kosher eruv in Westwood, eruv sponsors said.

A eruv is a ritual enclosure as a means to allow Jewish residents or visitors to carry objects outside their home.

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal reports that the broken eruv means conservative Jews cannot carry things, even baby stroller or prayer shawls, outside their homes during Shabbat. Ancient Jewish law prohibits the carrying of any items except inside a private home or courtyard during Friday evenings and Saturdays.

An eruv extends the private space through the use of a wire, forming an enclosure that transforms a public space into a private domain for religious purposes.

Hoard Witkin, head organizer of the Los Angeles Community Eruv, writes on the organization's website that 200 feet of eruv wire have to be removed, making the eruv not kosher.

"We hope to have a workaround for next week, but the next three weeks will be problematic as the contractor rushes to finish new, and demolish old bridges at Wilshire," Witkin wrote.

Three of the eight connecting ramps at the Wilshire interchange have been rebuilt, but work is about to begin in earnest on the remaining five. Some transition routes will be closed this summer as old ramps are demolished to make way for new ones.

When finished, the flyover cloverleaf will eliminate dangerous weaving and merging maneuvers at the interchange, one of the busiest in the state.

It costs the eruv group group more than $100,000 per year to maintain the eruv wires, even without having them pulled down for construction work, Witkin wrote.

"The eruv always runs short of funds in weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah," Witkin wrote. "We will need an additional $10,000 to get through summer and keep the eruv up."

The group can be contacted at laeruv.com, the Jewish Journal reported.



Chief rabbinate candidate attacked at wedding 

Candidate for the chief rabbinate Rabbi David Stav was subject to physical and verbal intimidation Sunday night while attending the wedding of the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy places.

Stav said that during the proceedings, several youths shoved him and attempted to hit him and pour water on him.

As he left the wedding, the youths also called him "an evil man" and "sheigetz," a derogatory Yiddish term for a non-Jewish male.

The incident comes following comments made by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef on Saturday night who called Stav "an evil man" and said that he was dangerous to Judaism and the Torah an unfitting to be chief rabbi.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman called on Monday morning for haredi and religious leaders to publicly condemn the attack on Stav.

"We expect from the religious leadership, regardless of their outlook, to unambiguously condemn, and certainly not to encourage, injury to another religious leader," Liberman said.

"It is a shame that within a political contest, especially for the chief rabbinate, there is someone leading the public to these dark corners. There are 70 faces to the Torah and not one of them is violence and incitement of one rabbi against another."



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Swastika scrawled on Toronto family's door 

An Orthodox Jewish family in Toronto woke up this week to a swastika and the words “watch your children” scrawled on their garage door, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a news release Friday.

The anti-Semitic vandals entered the family’s garage and added more graffiti on furniture inside, including a swastika on a baby’s high chair, according to a report on CTV news.

It was the second time in past weeks the family, which has young children, had been targeted, according to the report. Previously, vandals had left a swastika on their car.

“That an individual or group of individuals feel bold enough to invade someone's home and attack them because they are Jewish is a very dangerous turn of events in this city,” said FSWC President and CEO Avi Benlolo in the statement.

The Toronto  Star was unable to confirm that police are investigating the event, though CTV reports that police are taking the incident seriously and treating it as a hate crime.



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Petition pushes prison for accused Monsey drug dealer 

Shlomo Ettlinger's photo is featured on the online petition about the Monsey man's alleged drug dealing.

Concerned about drug use in the Orthodox Jewish community, more than 130 people have signed a petition urging Rockland prosecutors to take a hard line against a Monsey man charged with selling drugs.

The petition organized on the website change.org calls for prison time for Shlomo Ettlinger as a deterrent. The petition features a photo of Ettlinger and is signed by local residents and a dozen Orthodox rabbis, including those from the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Jewish Union.

Ettlinger, a member of the Nanach Breslov Hasidim, was charged in April with possessing two pounds of marijuana, 370 grams of hashish oil, a .357-calber Smith & Wesson with ammunition and $2,000 cash. The Ramapo police investigation led to the arrest of five people on minor possession charges involving the purchase of marijuana after a party at Ettlinger’s house on Blauvelt Road.

District Attorney Thomas Zugibe, who gets email updates on petition-signers, said the petition will not influence how the case will be prosecuted.

“We take all these cases very seriously, especially when the allegations include drugs and young people,” Zugibe said. “We consider multiple factors when assessing a case, but a petition is not one of them. This case will be considered on the merits.”

Ettlinger, an ordained rabbi, does not have a criminal record.

He has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of second-degree criminal possession of marijuana and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The unlicensed gun, with ammunition in a bag, was found in his home.

Ettlinger could not be reached for comment. He is scheduled to appear in Ramapo Justice Court on July 9.

The larger concern for the petition-signers is drugs in the community.

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz said the Orthodox Jewish community is not immune to drug use and other negative behavior. As founder of Yeshiva Darchei Noam and Center for Jewish Family Life in Monsey, Horowitz works with families and has several secular videos out on raising children and dealing with social issues.



Friday, June 14, 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 'The Sum of All Fears' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Hasidic Women Sweat Over Lack of Female Lifeguard 

Ultra-Orthodox women in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, want to experience the joys of summer like everyone else. But that may not be possible this year, due to a lack of female lifeguards at the local Metropolitan Recreation Center pool.

With all the clothing restrictions Hasidic women face in the sweltering heat, shedding the layers for a dip in the city's public pools is allowed. But the pool area must be male-free, and that includes the lifeguard.

There are female-only swim periods at the public pool, which is within walking distance of Hasidic neighborhoods.

But the past two years the female lifeguard took her summer leave in July and August, and was replaced by a man. That is a full two months in which Hasidic women are barred from the pool, lest they commit a breach of modesty.

At a Williamsburg and Greenpoint Community Board 1 meeting last month, Hasidic women voiced their frustration.

"There are hundreds of women who come to the sessions," Rose Herschkowitz of South Williamsburg told DNA.info. "When there's a male we don't come. It's for modesty…A lot of women cut their membership to the pool because of the lost months of swimming."

Herschkowitz, 57, attends the three times a week female-only sessions. Both she and her 86-year-old mother rely on the pool as a source of physical fitness.

Edward Janoff, the North Brooklyn Parks leader and the director of the Open Space Alliance, told the DNAinfo that the city is trying its best to secure a female lifeguard, but that they "can't guarantee it."

In the meantime, Williamsburg's female swimming aficionados will have to make do with the few days in June in which their usual female lifeguard will be present. If the summer heat arrives, that is.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Some Hasidic Jews in Williamsburg petition for Citi Bike 

Hasidic Jews have a well-deserved reputation for shunning cycling — but one splinter group of the faithful is trying to change that reputation.

A small group of Hasidic Jews has launched Hasidim For Bikes in response to a recent Daily News article that revealed a gaping void of Citi Bike rental kiosks in the religious section of Williamsburg.

The group said in a statement it is "not pleased" with the "black hat black hole," a reference to both the lack of kiosks and the prevailing sartorial custom in the area.

On its Facebook page, the group claims its members are united by a shared passion for bikes and that riding keeps traffic off the road, while providing a healthier lifestyle.

"Bikes fill our lives with adventure and excitement, relaxing our minds and energizing our souls," said the group's website.

Hasidim for Bikes is also gathering support through its Twitter account, @hasidimforbikes, which currently has 95 followers.

The group is calling on Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Williamsburg) to help bring bikes to the area.

"As our rep ... we ask you to demand Citi Bike stations for our neighborhood," the group said.

Members of the group declined interview requests. If the group takes hold, it would be a rare instance of support for cycling in the Hasidic community.
Ultra religious Jews have in fact battled bikes for years.

Williamsburg's Satmars demanded in 2008 that officials nix the Hasidic Quarter portion of the Bedford Ave. cycling lane, complaining that scantily dressed women were pedaling past their kids.

A similar argument was made a decade earlier after the city proposed a bike lane in Borough Park

And when Citi Bike was announced, Hasidic community spokesman Isaac Abraham warned of "civil disobedience" if the kiosks are ever placed too close to where the Satmar Hasidim live.

"We will put baby carriages there," Abraham said. "We will make a baby carriage lane."

Still, Levin is moving forward with his own bid for more Citi Bike kiosks in the non-Hasidic portion of his bike-friendly Greenpoint-Williamsburg council district.

The Citi Bike program launched last month with 6,000 shareable bikes at 330 docks in Manhattan below 59th St. and in neighborhoods around downtown Brooklyn. The second phase of the program, which would comprise 10,000 bikes across a wider swath of the Big Apple, remains unfunded, so it is unclear when Levin and the Hasidic splinter group will get its blue cycles.

The News reported last month that Hasidic Williamsburg was nearly completely devoid of Citi Bike kiosks — an indication of the community's strong political power and preference to be left alone by cyclists, whose biking clothes and lifestyles clash with traditional values.

Hasidic officials defended their efforts to block specific locations for Citi Bike in their neighborhood.

"They put the racks where they are going to be used," said Community Board 1 member Simon Weiser, who hashed out kiosk locations with the Department of Transportation. "Look at the Hasidic community. No one rides a bike here."

Gears may have shifted.

"We believe that by coming together, we can make our Hasidic shtetl (neighborhood) a better place to ride," the Hasidim for Bikes group stated.



Did Satmars Bite Hand That Feeds Them With Anti-Israel Message at Draft Rally? 

If you needed social services from New York's fervently pro-Israel mainstream Jewish community, would you organize a tremendous anti-Israel rally in its backyard?

Despite assurances that it wasn't their intention to do so, that appears to be exactly what the Satmar Hasidic community did on June 9, when they gathered a reported 30,000 men in lower Manhattan to protest Israeli efforts to draft thousands of ultra-Orthodox men into the army.

Satmar Hasidim are known for their anti-Zionist theology, but organizers insisted before the protest that they would focus specifically on the Israeli draft. Yet despite a strictly enforced ban on anti-Israel placards, speakers addressing the crowd in Yiddish voiced anti-Zionist sentiment.

"Today's rally is a declaration of war against the enemies of God and the enemies of religion," said the Monsey, N.Y.-based Rabbi Yaakov Weiss, who was the protest's opening and closing speaker. "We hope the evil Zionists will not be successful in destroying our holy Torah studies."

Speakers used the Yiddish word reshoim, or evil people, to describe Israeli politicians specifically and Zionists generally. And Rabbi Nachman Stauber, who leads a Satmar yeshiva in Queens, made a comparison in his address between Zionists and Amalek, the biblical Jews' greatest enemy.

The rally came days after the release of a UJA-Federation of New York poverty study finding that 45% of Hasidic families in the New York area live in poverty. The mainstream Jewish community in New York has responded to this need in recent years, supplying substantial resources to Satmar through the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, among other agencies.

In the days after the rally, however, responses from the mainstream Jewish community suggested that the protest had strained ties with the Satmar community.

"I would call on the Hasidic community to think carefully — I would not connect our help to them to their policies — but I just very clearly believe that they should think carefully about the ramifications of such a rally here on these shores," said Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, the Modern Orthodox rabbinic association that condemned the rally.

The JCRC, which has particularly close ties to the leadership of Satmar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, defended the group's right to protest, but objected to their language. "Sunday's Foley Square protest against an announced Israeli policy was an expression of free speech," said Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the JCRC, in a statement issued in response to a Forward inquiry. "However, some of the speakers attempted to outrageously demonize the IDF and the government of Israel. We consider such rhetoric offensive and we categorically condemn it."

Neither UJA-Federation of New York nor the Met Council responded to inquiries about the anti-Zionist statements read from the stage at the Satmar rally. And in the days leading up to the June 9 rally, mainstream Jewish communal officials displayed a relative indifference to the Satmar plans.



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Presenting the 'Action Kippah' 

LeBron James, your time is almost up.

For years, Jewish athletes have been held back by several factors — Saturday games to name one. But the playing field to about to level off. Pretty soon, the list of "Famous Jewish Sports Legends" will be longer than a Tolstoy novel.

Ber Cohen, a Pittsburgh area "kid in Yeshiva" has created the Action Kippah, the solution to the 11th plague — the kippah that keeps falling off. Cohen is working on patenting and producing the line — the simple design attaches a kippah to a headband — and has turned to Kickstarter for funding. The project's fundraising date ends Wednesday, with $7,000 left to go as of Tuesday afternoon.

If Cohen's face looks familiar, you may remember him as Agent Emes from the popular kids DVD series. His father, director Leibel Cohen, is helping Ber with his latest endeavor.

But even if Action Kippah doesn't reach its fundraising goal, there are other options for the Jewish athlete. Klipped Kippahs, founded by Jon Kaweblum, a former basketball coach, have built in clips underneath the kippah to prevent them from falling off. Northwestern University basketball player Aaron Liberman notably wears one on the court.

Klipped Kippahs also has style options for the non-athletic Jewish sports fan. Pro Kippahs are emblazoned with logos of baseball teams and are officially licensed by Major League Baseball.

As the market continues to grow for Jewish-centric athletic wear, it shouldn't be long until the NBA begins retiring kippahs in the rafters.



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Poor Heiress Pens Unorthodox Orthodox Memoir 

Rokeby is an estate along the Hudson River that was built nearly 200 years ago by relatives of John Jacob Astor, America's first multimillionaire. About two dozen people currently live in various buildings spread out along the 400-plus acres of rolling hills. But the 43-room stucco mansion at Rokeby) is occupied by a handful of people who are 10th-generation descendants of the original occupants.

Given that these are members of one of America's elite WASP families, you wouldn't expect to find a portrait of the Chofetz Chaim hanging on the wall of a bedroom on the third floor. For the uninitiated, the Chofetz Chaim was a 19th-century Polish rabbi known for his teachings on lashon hora, or evil speech. Many Orthodox Jewish homes have stickers or magnets with a picture of the Chofetz Chaim and the warning, "Don't speak lashon hora on the telephone." But what, pray tell, is The Chofetz Chaim doing at Rokeby? And who brought him there?

Was it the lady of this manor, Polish-born Ania Aldrich, who grew up Catholic? Nope. Aldrich has participated in pageants celebrating the solstice, dabbled in a Brazilian form of voodoo, gone to Native American sweat lodges and taken a shamanic trance workshop at the nearby Omega Institute, a pricey New Age complex.

Could it have been the lord of the manor, 72-year-old Ricky Aldrich? He is multilingual, a free spirit, a practicing Episcopalian and a priest in the Universal Life Church to boot. Described by one old friend as "the greatest trickster who ever lived," Aldrich has a "Rand Paul for President" bumper sticker on his truck and recently traveled to Cuba. Asked for his take on the Lubavitch Hasidim, Aldrich replied: "They're creepy. I don't like them one bit."

It turns out it was Alexandra Mizrahi, Ricky Aldrich's 40-something daughter, who put up the picture of the Chofetz Chaim. She converted to Judaism, and though she knows well the prohibition of speaking ill of others, she has written a blistering memoir about growing up in what is, to put it mildly, an eccentric household. Mizrahi is her married name, but the byline that graces the cover of her recently published memoir, "The Astor Orphan," is Alexandra Aldrich.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Chaya Fried walks 'crooked path' between ultra-Orthodox Judaism and secular life 

For the first 18 years of her life, Chaya Fried kept her thoughts and feelings about religion mostly private, staying in line with her family's ultra-Orthodox traditions and following customs she had come to appreciate.

After a year in Great Britain at an Orthodox Jewish seminary, she returned to the Viznitz community in Monsey, the largest Hasidic group in the area and one known for strict adherence to Talmudic law. At the age when most Hasidic women marry, she was introduced to a man of her parents' choosing, a common practice within the culture, called a shidduch.

The pair met only twice before they wed, in the midst of Fried's self-realization. Ultra-Orthodox tradition demanded that she shave her head as a sign of modesty before the wedding.

Fried rejected tradition -- a move her open-minded mother respected.

"It could have easily been a rebellion," she explained of her gentle and gradual change of heart. "I was always a little different. But the point of everything is that I found a crooked middle way, and I go according to that."

Fried's crooked middle way combines elements of secular American life with elements of the Orthodox Jewish culture. She remains close to her parents, and respectful of them, but has been excluded from their household, to an extent. Lacking family support, she struggles to make ends meet. Among Orthodox Jews, she qualifies as a "tuna beigel" -- someone who wants to be Orthodox Jewish, but have a place in secular society at the same time.


It was Fried's choice to say yes to the marriage; but as the months wore on, her need to live a different kind of life asserted itself. Soon she was consulting with her rabbi and a personal counselor. Six months into the marriage, she was granted the right to divorce -- not easy to come by, in the Hasidic community.

"There was just nothing there, including no fighting," Fried recalled of the marriage.

She moved back into her parents' home, joining six younger brothers and sisters. There, tension grew as she continued to evolve. Her skirts got shorter. She began to wear makeup and perfume. She bought a computer, a step forbidden by her family at the urging of a rabbi. Fried and her parents -- a driver and a stay-at-home mom -- agreed that she should move out, mostly to shield her brothers and sisters from her secular influence.
"A part of my respect is knowing that I'm giving my siblings the ability to grow up like my parents want them to. It's for their benefit, for their own good," Fried said.

As she speaks of her family home, just a few miles from her tiny apartment in Monsey, her eyes glisten and her lips compress.
"Even as an adult, I wish things would be able to be a fairy tale, where everyone can do whatever they want, live with a family however they want, and things should continue on as normal," she said. "But then I think to myself that this is reality and that's not the way it is."

Lacking a college degree -- most Hasidic men and women choose early marriage and family over higher education -- Fried makes about $500 per week as a dental receptionist, at a health center in Monsey. She's on her fourth apartment in the past three years, bouncing from basement to basement, wherever she can find an affordable place to lay her head.

"It's not easy but definitely, definitely worth it," said Fried, now 25. "Worth it for the part that, when you look back, you see how you did it on your own."

She enjoys nights out in the city, sipping Malibu Bay Breezes and dancing to Armin van Buuren, puffing on the occasional Newport menthol, and tries to stay as fashionable as possible on a tight budget, snagging flashy gold flats, electric blue eye shadow and chunky jewelry at discount stores like Marshall's.

Still, she is observant, keeping kosher and praying daily.

She visits her family weekly, sitting down for traditional Shabbos dinner -- but when there, makes sure to "dress and act appropriately."

"I feel at home. I feel very at home when I'm there, as home as it can get," Fried said with a beaming smile. "I wish I could call it home always, but this is life."


The stories of Hasidic "rebels" are familiar enough -- and simple enough -- all about shunning the community, and being shunned. Fried's life is more about a middle ground of compromise and acceptance, where young men and women raised in Hasidic families delicately navigate their way toward a crossroads where they can keep their faith, while enjoying their independence.

"Tuna beigels," as they're called, is an accepted nickname given in jest to those Hasidim who have kept their accents while shifting toward secular society. The term was coined after attempts at a simple deli order: When one would order a tuna bagel, their Yiddish pronunciation of "beigel" would trump all efforts to appear modern.

These "tuna beigels" have set up their own communities just outside the Hasidic areas of Monsey, New Square and Kaser, choosing areas like south Monsey, Pomona and Airmont, where they can be close to their families and their Hasidic roots, but insulated from the pressure to conform.

"It works, since they're able to live among like-minded people, but they're just a few minutes away from where the insular community lives," said Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Monsey. Fink migrated to Venice Beach, Calif., over a decade ago and now heads the Pacific Jewish Center, an all-inclusive synagogue at the ocean's edge.

"It's a good, soft-landing place for them," Fink said. "It's better for them to be in that community than to be on the outs."

Many "tuna beigels" gravitate to Rockland from places like Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel in Orange County -- areas dominated by Satmar Hasidim, one of the strictest of the ultra-Orthodox sects. Fink meets and mixes with them during his annual visits of a few months each year, marveling, he says, at the frequently seamless blending of Hasidic and modern Orthodox personalities.

"In other communities, they'd be kicked out and they'd have to leave," Fink said. "But in Rockland, they can go to these other communities and live their lives there in peace."

Fink says he does what he can to develop connections between the communities.

"The middle party is growing, that's for sure," Fink said. "And we need to do a better job of welcoming it."


Fried's sister, a 22-year-old who still adheres strictly to Viznitz principles -- describing herself as "super ultra," that way -- says Fried's relationship with their family is "amazing," despite the differences that have arisen.

"I think she is a great, great person. She is a force of huge inspiration to me, which is very beautiful," the sister said. "She's kind of found her way, I think, in a very beautiful balance, where she has a beautiful relationship with her family and with her faith -- yet she's still modernized and still did whatever she wanted to do with her life."

Because Fried's sister is recently married and more modest about speaking in public, she asked that Newsday withhold her name.
Just three years apart in age, the sisters say they share a bond based on mutual acceptance.

"Her experiences in life gave her a lot, being that she didn't turn out to be the typical kid," the sister said. "It gave her a lot of life experience and understanding. It gave me a lot, too. It gave me experience in life through her."

Fried isn't worried about where her crooked path will lead her. She dates occasionally, when she "feels like it," but mostly enjoys casual fun with friends. She doesn't rule out marriage and a large brood of children -- the Orthodox Jewish way -- but isn't in a rush. Her family isn't pushing her, she says.

"Everyone should realize it's not really about the actions and the doings and the sect in particular. It's not about if your skirt is long enough," Fried said. "I'm living proof. My family is ultra, I'm not. They dress one way, I don't. And you can still tell that we're family. We can make it work. It's really all about respect and respect. Definitely respect."



Meeting held to promote ‘common ground’ with Hasidic community 

On Parc Ave. in Mile End, there's a library housed in a former Anglican church. Next door to the library are a Greek cleaners and a Japanese sushi restaurant, and there's an Italian children's-wear shop across the street.

In this multicultural setting, a meeting of the Friends of Hutchison and Outremont Hassid took place on Sunday afternoon, the second annual event of this nature.

The purpose of the get-together at the Mile End Library, which drew around 150 people, was for neighbours to meet neighbours and to put an end to the enmity toward the Hasidic community that has been raised in recent years.

The meeting was chaired by two women: one Hassid and one Palestinian.

"Our goal is to live in peace and harmony," said Mindy Pollak. "We want to get people talking and building bridges to defuse the tension."
"We don't have all the solutions and we're not going to solve every problem today, so let's just talk and find some common ground," said Leila Marshy.

The catalyst for this movement was the planned modernization and expansion of a 60-year-old synagogue two years ago. The Gate David building on Hutchison St. had applied for a permit to put in a ground-floor bathroom and cloakroom to accommodate elderly worshippers and to slightly expand their building by 10 feet in back.

"Everything was going well — we had a permit and everything was within the law — until one individual started spreading lies and hatred," said Mayer Feig, who belongs to the synagogue.

According to city bylaws, the area is zoned residential, but the synagogue was grandfathered because it has been there for so long. Citizens who were worried about increased traffic and other concerns began circulating flyers urging residents to sign a referendum to stop the expansion project.

Marshy was sitting on her balcony one day, watching two people distribute flyers up and down her street. "They were going door to door, but not to the Jewish homes, which are immediately identifiable by the mezuzah on the door," she said.

"I saw the red flags of intolerance. This was so ridiculous, I decided to do something."

The Friends of Hutchison was formed as a neighbourhood group that would meet and recognize residents' similarities as well as their differences.
"People look at a community as a block. We Hassid may all dress alike, but underneath we're all individuals," said Pollak.

Last year 200 people showed up for the inaugural meeting. One of them was community stalwart and businessman Jimmy Zoubris, who turned up again on Sunday.

"This is a wonderful thing," he said. "My family has been in this community for 40 years, and we've seen the evolution of the community. A meeting like this is a nice way to get together and to learn to cohabit."

Dina Saikali, who described herself as an Egyptian Christian, but above all else a Canadian, also attended both meetings.

"I came because I believe in neighbours talking to each other and getting to know each other," she said. "People generalize, and it's important to talk to people as individuals and not categorize.

"Neighbours always have problems — I have some young people next door who play loud music. Instead of saying all young people play loud music, I go and talk to them as individuals."

"What kind of neighbourhood do we want to live in? One that's safe, warm, peaceful, tolerant and respectful," Pollak said to loud applause from those gathered on Sunday.



Business advice — and kosher food — are on the menu at first New York biz conference for Hasidim 

CEO roundtables. Social media marketing sessions. Afternoon prayers?

Bring your black yarmulke and your business cards to what is being billed as the city's first-ever, large-scale business conference for ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Organized by 34-year-old Borough Park-based entrepreneur Meny Hoffman, the one-day event, dubbed LTB Business Summit 2013 - LTB stands for Let's Talk Business - is taking place on Tuesday at Dyker Beach Golf Course in Brooklyn.

The idea is to offer resources and networking opportunities to members of the city's ultra-Orthodox community who may not have easy access to professional business education, guidance or tools.

Hasidic families often choose not to send their children to college and limit their dealings with the secular world. That can present roadblocks for entrepreneurs in an increasingly tech-driven economy.

"They need so much more: the basic education, energy and motivation to succeed," said Hoffman, whose company, Ptex Group, provides marketing, branding, web design and other services.

While there are notable success stories in the community, such as iconic photo and video store B&H, many have their roots in traditional sectors such as retailing, real estate and apparel manufacturing.

"I meet so many smart people in our community," said Henry Kauftheil, who owns multiple businesses in the retailing, real estate and the health care fields, including kosher food emporium Gourmet Glatt in Cedarhurst and Borough Park. "They are learning Torah for a good part of their lives. They don't have the experience and the knowledge to build businesses."

Attending entrepreneurship events is not an easy option because of the many rules ultra-Orthodox Jews observe. Only kosher food will be served at this conference and men and women will be seated separately. Mincha - afternoon prayers - is on the schedule.

Speakers, who include best-selling business book author and digital and social media consultant Gary Vaynerchuk and management training expert Bob Prosen, were told not to say anything off color. "There are certain things you don't talk about," Hoffman said.

Other pros involved include Kevin Harrington, one of the sharks from ABC's "Shark Tank." He'll be on a panel of prospective investors ready to put up $100,000 in seed money for entrepreneurs competing in a "Shark Tank"-like event, Hoffman said.

The cost to attend the conference is $279, with discounts available for some. Sponsors of LTB include the Daily News as well as prominent Hasidic-owned businesses. The title sponsor is Brooklyn-based Fidelity Payment Services, an electronic payment provider that employs 300 with offices in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.

"Our community has a very high rate of entrepreneurs," said Fidelity's founder, Ben Weiser, a Satmar Hasid. "Ironically, we also have less support for them than any other community."

Hoffman never went to college. After he go married, he spent most of the day studying Jewish texts and did bookkeeping on the side before starting Ptex with a business partner.

Over the years, the company evolved from a printer into a full-service marketing company.

"If you bring value and you have personality, it doesn't matter what your background is," Hoffman said.



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