Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ukraine May Open Airport for Hasidic Pilgrimage 

Ukraine is planning to open a decommissioned airport near Uman for Jewish pilgrims.

The airport of Cherkasy Oblast, the central Ukrainian district where Uman is located, may be reopened as soon as next year, spokesperson Nicholas Sukhovoj told the Israeli Russian-language newspaper Vesti.

The move would help alleviate traffic from the Odessa-Kiev highway that pilgrims currently use to travel to Uman, the burial place of Rebbe Nachman, the founder of the Breslov hasidic movement.

“The airport is in good condition and only needs lights on the runway,” Sukhovoj said.

Some 25,000 pilgrims, many of them from the Breslov movement, converge in Uman each year ahead of the Jewish new year to pray near the Rebbe Nachman’s grave.

The option of running extra trains to Uman is also being discussed, as many visitors reportedly face difficulties in reaching their destination.

Uman Mayor Peter Payevsky told the news site on Thursday that he expected more than 800 buses to arrive in Uman in the coming days, with 7,000 people due to arrive next Tuesday alone.



Friday, August 30, 2013

Beard-Friendly 'Bardas' Gas Masks Demanded By Israeli Orthodox Jews 

Fearful that Syria might retaliate against Israel if the U.S. launches a military strike, Orthodox Jews and others are demanding the Israeli government distribute gas masks that will fit over their beards.

In recent days, as Orthodox Jews and other bearded men have gone to distribution centers to retrieve their protective hood-like gas masks, they learned the government has only a limited supply, earmarked solely for the elderly and people with breathing problems.

Demand for protective hoods – as well as standard-issue gas masks — has soared since the U.S. administration confirmed that Syrian civilians were killed last week by chemical weapons.

Last year, the Israeli government decided to provide all citizens with masks in the event of a non-conventional chemical attack, but there is a severe shortage of hoods and to a lesser extent, conventional masks, according to Nachman Shai, a member of Parliament.

The Orthodox Shas party is demanding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu order the mass production of the Bardas, a hooded device that was available to bearded men during the Gulf War, when Iraq attacked Israel with conventional weapons.

Unlike traditional gas masks, which cannot form a seal over a beard, the hoods cover the entire head.

Many Orthodox men do not shave their beards based on rabbinic interpretations of a biblical passage.

Meir Green, an Orthodox Jew, said he was unable to procure a Bardas to fit over his beard.

"If, heaven forbid, the masks are needed, there won't be time to shave, even if a razor were available," Green said.



New York's Orthodox Voting Bloc Divided on Mayor Race 

New York City's Orthodox bloc vote is cracked.

With just weeks to go before the city's mayoral primary, Orthodox political activists in Brooklyn haven't settled on a Democratic contender. Instead, they've picked all of them.

In Hasidic Williamsburg, the larger of the two Satmar Hasidic factions likes Bill Thompson. In Flatbush, the Syrians have endorsed Christine Quinn. Bill de Blasio has backers in Boro Park.

Though the Orthodox vote has never been monolithic, the fracturing in this election seems particularly acute. It comes after years of hype over the growing demographic and political heft of the city's Orthodox, who are expected to cast 7% of the votes in the September 10 Democratic primary.

For some Orthodox insiders, the scattershot endorsements are a sign of Orthodox Jewry's growing influence on city politics.

"It's the first time I see that every candidate, no matter what background, is interested in [our] issues," said Isaac Sofer, a leader of the smaller of the two Satmar factions in Williamsburg. "Everyone is competing for our vote."

Sofer's Satmar faction, the followers of Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, has yet to make an endorsement.

Orthodox political strategy in New York City is all about political handicapping. Driven by an acute need for government services, Orthodox power brokers like to bet on the favorite.

"The greatest single predictor of the Orthodox vote is the identity of the perceived winner," said David Pollock, an official with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and a close observer of Orthodox politics.

For many Orthodox factions, however, that strategy was deemed unfeasible in this year's Democratic mayoral primary when the initial favorite, City Council Speaker Quinn, publicly married her longtime female companion last year. Though Quinn has the endorsements of three of the city's daily newspapers and has put up strong poll numbers for months, her only major Orthodox endorsement so far has been from the Syrian-backed Sephardic Community Federation, the most ruthlessly pragmatic of the Orthodox advocacy groups.

One Orthodox political activist from Brooklyn, who asked not to be named in order to protect relationships, said that Quinn has been too open about her sexuality, and particularly about her marriage to Kim Catullo. The activist said that Quinn had crossed a line when she referred to Catullo as her wife at a mayoral event in Flatbush early in the summer.

"That was politically incorrect for this community," the activist said. "It was just like rubbing it in your face."

Endorsements of Quinn by Orthodox communal leaders as a matter of political expediency may have risked alienating the Orthodox rank and file. "If community leadership says 'Chris Quinn,' it strains the space between that preference and the actual voters," said Michael Tobman, a New York City-based political consultant.

Quinn does have some Hasidic supporters, most notably Ezra Friedlander, a political consultant. She also appears to have support in the Modern Orthodox community, which has a limited presence in Brooklyn. A luncheon for Quinn hosted by the Modern Orthodox umbrella group the Orthodox Union drew twice as many people as a similar event for Thompson, and four times as many as a similar event for Anthony Weiner, according to Jeff Leb, the O.U.'s New York State director of political affairs.

Yet Quinn's lack of viability in most parts of Orthodox Brooklyn has left ultra-Orthodox community leaders to pick their own front-runner. Thompson has been a visible recipient of those endorsements.

In Williamsburg, Rabbi David Niederman of Satmar made it sound as though all of Orthodox Brooklyn was in the Thompson camp as he offered endorsements from his Hasidic faction and from a handful of smaller sects at an August 27 rally.

"What you have received is a bloc vote," Niederman told Thompson from the podium as he rattled off the names of the Brooklyn Orthodox neighborhoods whose support he claimed to be delivering. "We are all here to ensure that our next mayor is the honorable Billy Thompson."

Yet Niederman's assurances would have come as a surprise in other corners of Orthodox Brooklyn, particularly among the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox who make up the constituency of Agudath Israel of America.

Though Agudath Israel, known as the Agudah, does not make political endorsements, senior lay figures attached to the organization do make their positions known. In the Democratic mayoral primary, those positions are all over the map.

"I see people in the community talking about Thompson and de Blasio," said Shmuel Lefkowitz, a vice president of the Agudah.

Abe Biderman, a member of the Agudah's board, publicly backs Thompson; Leon Goldenberg, another Agudah board member, backs de Blasio.

Asked why the Agudah can't settle on a single candidate, the Orthodox political activist who was disturbed by Quinn's lesbian marriage asked, "What happens if he loses?"

Whether or not Orthodox Brooklyn is strategically covering its bases, the effect of the scattered, long-withheld endorsements has been to force the candidates to pay attention. The fracturing of the Orthodox vote comes amid a campaign in which Orthodox issues have played an unusually prominent role.

Many candidates backed city aid to private religious schools, a perennial Orthodox priority, and criticized Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to regulate a controversial circumcision ritual called metzitzah b'peh. De Blasio, in a well-timed move in mid-July, issued a statement in his day job as the city's public advocate criticizing a Saudi-owned airline for refusing to book Israeli passengers on flights at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. Weiner and Quinn both said in late June and early July that they believed the West Bank to be disputed territory, not occupied territory.

"All the candidates are addressing [our] issues," said Sofer, whose Satmar faction is expected to make its own endorsement before the end of August. "It's a phenomenal achievement, in my mind"

For Niederman, Sofer's Satmar factional counterpart, the fractured vote is simply a political fact.

"We would love that we all go dressed alike, speak alike," Niederman said. "It doesn't work that way."

Orthodox leaders said that they had had trouble settling on an endorsement. Niederman, speaking after announcing that his Satmar faction had endorsed Thompson, said that his group had been choosing among Thompson, de Blasio and Quinn up until the previous day. Dov Hikind, the New York State assemblyman representing Boro Park, praised both de Blasio and Thompson in mid-August, days before coming out for Thompson.

Sofer said that he had been in talks with representatives of Quinn, de Blasio and Thompson, and that his Satmar faction was bouncing back and forth. "In the morning, people [are] pushing this one; in the afternoon, people [are] pushing [that one]," Sofer said.



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hasidic Power Broker Promises Bill Thompson 11,000 Votes 

He claimed he was the 11,000-vote man.

A power broker in the Hasidic Jewish community boasted today that his endorsement would deliver more than 10,000 votes to his chosen candidate, former comptroller Bill Thompson, who is now locked in a tight mayoral race with just two weeks to go until primary day.

"People trust the leadership in the community and people understand they have been here for years," said Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, at a press conference this afternoon touting his support. "This community, thank God, has not only survived but really progressed over here so people believe [the leadership] made the right decision."

Rabbi Niederman, a longtime leader of the dominant Satmar Hasidic sect in Williamsburg's close-knit Jewish community, was one of the more coveted endorsers of the mayor's race because political observers believe he can actually deliver a good portion of the votes he promises. According to insiders, Mr. Thompson, with his own long-standing Brooklyn ties and support from the county's Democratic establishment, lobbied Rabbi Niederman extensively, beating out rival Bill de Blasio.

At the event, Rabbi Niederman praised Mr. Thompson's experience as a former comptroller and Board of Education president, and spoke about the burgeoning community's desire for more affordable housing and less interference from the government into their religious rituals. The rabbi further boasted that Mr. Thompson, unlike his opponents, would be able to deliver on his campaign promise because, he said, he understood how to cultivate his political ties to benefit the Hasidic community.

"It's wonderful to say we are going to improve education, it is wonderful to say we will improve open space," he said. "But you need one thing, which is money. And for that you need experience."

For his part, Mr. Thompson spoke mostly in generalities, but he did promise–to Rabbi Niederman's delight–that he would revisit the controversial issue of regulating the ritual circumcision practice known as metzitzah b'peh if elected mayor. The ritual involves a rabbi using his mouth to draw blood from a circumcision wound and has been criticized by Health Department officials for spreading disease. Mr. Thompson hinted that he might drop the parental consent forms required by the current mayor's administration.

"I'd be happy to sit down and revisit this issue again. It is the right thing to do," Mr. Thompson told the group. "This is government that has infringed on religious beliefs that have stood for thousand of years. We can balance safety as well as religious beliefs, that's what we've always done."

But the round of hand-clapping and back-slapping that followed the remarks was broken up when a Hasidic protester barged into the event, shouting in Yiddish that Rabbi Niederman didn't represent the community, which is bitterly divided between the Aroynim and Zaloynim sects following a 2006 succession feud.

Supporters of Rabbi Niederman dragged the man away from the crowd, shoving him as he tried to make his way back towards the podium and, at one point, ripping off his hat. Fellow Satmars then ringed the man, who was identified by some at the event as a local gadfly not belonging to either sect

Michael Tobman, a consultant who works with the smaller Aroynim Satmar faction, was skeptical of the 11,000-vote claim but seemed otherwise pleased that their endorsement drew so much interest.

"With much love, respect, and affection for Rabbi Niederman," Mr. Tobman told Politicker in an email, "I have no comment beyond expressing satisfaction and pleasure that the Satmar community in its entirety is being so aggressively courted."



Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Satmar Rally To Endorse Mayoral Candidate Bill Thompson Veers Off-Script 

Hustled Away: Zimmerman was protesting Satmar Hasidic community leader David Niederman when he was hustled into a Judaica shop by Satmar activists.

Hasidic activists accosted a man who disrupted a rally by Satmar Hasidim endorsing New York City Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, briefly detaining him inside a nearby Judaica store.

The careful stagecraft of the event went awry as one Hasidic speaker concluded praising Thompson and Satmar Hasidic community leader David Niederman took the podium. A man later identified as Zimmerman shouted criticisms of Niederman, the rally's organizer. Onlookers quickly grabbed the man and shuffled him forcefully away from the gathering at the corner of Rodney Street and Lee Avenue in Williamsburg, the Satmar's Brooklyn base, and into a store around the corner.

"This is wonderful," Niederman said of the disruption, shortly before Zimmerman was hustled away. "Democracy is all about freedom."

Niederman is a leading figure in the larger of the two Satmar factions in Williamsburg, though Zimmerman's criticism did not appear to be related to the dispute between the Satmar sects.

The men grabbed Zimmerman and shoved him into Bais Hasefer, a gifts and Judaica store on Lee Avenue around the corner from the rally. A large group of Hasidic men and reporters gathered around the storefront. Shouting could be heard inside the store, though it did not appear that Zimmerman was being harmed.

After a few moments, a man not dressed in traditional Satmar garb exited Bais Hasefer to demand that reporters stop photographing the incident.

"I'll break your camera," the man said to this reporter. He then flashed an identity card with what looked like a police seal in the corner. He declined to produce the card for further inspection, and later declined to identify himself.

When asked by this reporter if he was threatening him, the man said: "Yes."

The man who had been hustled away was seen leaving Bais Hasefer on his own after roughly five minutes.

Bystanders asserted that the man, who later identified himself with the single name Zimmerman, was mentally ill. He appeared to be well known among the Williamsburg Satmars.

Before he was accosted, Zimmerman shouted that Niederman does "not represent traditional Jews."

Approached after the rally, Zimmerman was exceptionally reserved. "We are traditional Jews and we are against the immorality," he told the Forward.



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fear of taxes, or of Hasidim? 

The school district says a proposed private school for girls would mean higher taxes for thousands.

The school's developer, Shalom Lamm, says the school — to serve his proposed 396-townhouse development in Bloomingburg — would actually be a boon to the taxpayers of the Pine Bush School District.

And some fear that the school is more proof that Lamm is building a huge Hasidic community in this village of a few hundred people, even though not
Strip away the rumors and these are the facts: Lamm, who also owns Wurtsboro Airport, wants to build a 16-room private school for girls in an 18,000-square-foot building in downtown Bloomingburg. An analysis of the fiscal impact prepared for Lamm says the school would be "for the new Chestnut Ridge community."

The zoning permits a school, says Bloomingburg Planning Board Chairman Russ Wood. The Planning Board will hold its first meeting about the project on Thursday.

As for what sort of school?

"It is as yet undefined," Lamm said.

"Whether it's Hasidic, Christian, or whatever, it is what it is," Wood said. "They're Americans. They have a right to live there."

Lamm is well aware that some fear the school means Chestnut Ridge would be a Hasidic townhouse development. So he asks this rhetorical question: "Would we even be having this discussion if the application said 'The St. Ignatius Loyola School'?"

Yes, we would, says Pine Bush schools Superintendent Joan Carbone. In a letter to Wood, Carbone expresses the district's "concern" that the school "will substantially impact the taxpayers of our school district."

Carbone notes that because state law requires local public school districts to provide such services as "transportation, special education, health and welfare, textbooks and technology" to students in private schools, "the local taxpayers would incur another burden."

But Lamm's fiscal analysis says the school — and the Chestnut Ridge development — would actually benefit the district. At a "very low-end market value" of $225,000 per townhome, it says, Lamm's development would mean annual school taxes of $2.2 million. After expenses, the entire project would "easily yield a net contribution of well above $600,000 annually" to the district, the analysis said.

Meanwhile, some opponents of the Chestnut Ridge development say the school is more proof that a Hasidic community is coming to this village.
"If a girls' school is built, a boys' is sure to follow," says Nikki Latreille, who lives in the Pine Bush School District.

Latreille fears the Pine Bush district could one day be run by people "without the best interest of all the children."

"And it's not a matter of anti-Semitism," Latreille said. She noted that her son's bar mitzvah was conducted by the Chabad Lubavitch group of Goshen.



Monday, August 26, 2013

Tensions Build In Advance of Hasidic Pilgrimage 

Flying from Kiev to London last week, I sat next to an ultra-Orthodox American man traveling back to the U.S. after visiting Uman, Ukraine with his wife and infant son. Uman, a town located halfway between Kiev and Odessa, is where 18th century tzadik Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is buried, and has become the site of an annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage made by tens of thousands of Hasidim, and my seatmate was worried about the upcoming gathering.

That’s because earlier this summer, a large crucifix was erected near the grave, marking the 1,025th anniversary of the mass conversion to Christianity in the medieval Kingdom of Kievan Rus, sparking an immediate outcry from Hasidic visitors. The cross, installed by the Commmitee for Public Organizations of Uman, was defaced last week with graffiti promising, in Hebrew, “To exact vengeance on the gentiles,” demanding they “stop desecrating the name of God.”

“They put it up two months before our pilgrimage for a reason and the cross should be moved,” my seatmate told me. “When 40,000 of our guys come in next month, there will be 40 or 400 or maybe even 4,000 among them who are willing to do something to the cross and it will only take one to ignite the fire. This is bad for everyone and it will only end with someone getting hurt.”

The annual pilgrimage to Nachman’s gravesite is the Burning Man festival of Hasidic Jewry. The pilgrimage includes no less dancing or mystical frolicking than its pagan equivalent, and here too the ascetic pilgrims live in tents, prepare their own food, and perform rituals incomprehensible to local residents. Not surprisingly, large-scale antagonisms with the local population have built up over the years.

What began as a slow trickle of clandestine visitors to the site during the waning years of the Soviet Union in the 1980s has morphed, over the last decade, into an annual inundation of Hasidic visitors. There are now far more pilgrims then the town can accommodate, which has caused tension with the locals. A massive hospitality industry has sprung up to cater to the tens of thousands of visitors with kosher restaurants and Jewish-owned hotels taking over large swaths of the Pushkinskaya neighborhood. The overcrowding wasn’t helped by Israel and Ukraine reciprocally dropping their visa requirements last year.

In previous years, members of the Hasidic community have given violent chase to a pair of local thieves. Disputes about Ukrainians from outside the town being hired to work in the kosher kitchens have exacerbated local sentiment that the pilgrims are not ‘real tourists,’ as they do not frequent the town’s own restaurants. In 2009, attempts by police to shutter unlicensed food stalls, set up for the visitors, that violated local health codes were met with riots. The next year a business dispute between an Israeli and a Ukrainian man led to the fatal stabbing of the Israeli. Accusations of Ukrainian anti-Semitism are countered by the locals’ criticism of the Hasidim’s rowdy and disruptive behavior.

Ukraine’s widely respected chief rabbi, Yaakov Dov Bleich, has referred to the installation of the cross as a provocation, though not before going to great lengths to demonstrate the “Jewish respect for the Ukrainians’ right to set up symbols of Christian worship on their territory.” His subsequent pleas to the city authorities to reach a resolution foundered on political expediency and intransigence.

The secretary general of Uman’s city council has pointed out that the cross was installed without any of the relevant permits, and further, that it was unclear why the organizers had chosen to place it directly next to the small pond where the pilgrims pray and perform their rituals. The city’s deputy mayor’s attempt at brokering a compromise by moving the cross and building a few extra Christian monuments around the city were soundly rebuffed by the activists, who threatened retaliation against the gravesite if anything were to happen to the cross.

The restoration of the right of religious pilgrimage after the collapse of the Soviet Union is just one of many historical triumphs of freedom over totalitarianism. But if the escalating situation isn’t defused by competent authorities in the next few weeks, it might very well lead to another Ukrainian tradition: pogroms.



Sunday, August 25, 2013

One Direction’s Harry Styles Sighted at Manhattan Kosher Restaurant Sporting Blue Knitted Kippa 

Harry Styles, star of uber-popular British boy band One Direction stopped by one of Manhattan’s most popular kosher hot-spots, Le Marais, Thursday night, much to the delight of his young female Jewish fans and others who gathered outside the 46th street establishment hoping to catch a glimpse of the star, fans on Twitter reported.

Styles sported a blue knitted kippa embroidered with his name, which was given to him as a birthday gift by his friend, director Ben Winston.

Despite possessing a Hebrew tattoo spelling his sister Gemma’s name and tweeting from time to time about Jewish holidays, Styles is not Jewish. Responding to inquiries on the matter, Des Styles, the star’s father wrote earlier this month on Twitter, “Still lots of queries asking if he is Jewish? No idea where any rumors came from in but, categorically, he is Jewish. Not at all”

Staff at Le Marais did not immediately respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment on the visit.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Toronto: Swastikas in Jewish Neighborhood 

An anti-semitic incident was reported Thursday in a neighborhood with many Jewish residents in Vaughan, a city in the York region, north of Toronto, Canada. According to Shalom Toronto, the swastikas were painted on parked cars off of Beverly Glen road.

Two similar incidents were reported recently in the Tornto region. Swastikas were painted recently at the Country Club in Richmond Hill. Previously, swastikas and derogtory statements were painted on the home of a Jewish family in the vicinity of Betterhurst street. Suspects in the latter incident were arrested by the Toronto police.

The Jewish lobby in Canada published a harsh reaction to the event, which it called “despicable” and anti-Semitic. It expressed its confidence that the York police would do everything possible to catch the perpetrators and file charges.

B'nai Brith, which conducts an ongoing survey of anti-Semitic incidents in Canada, also published a harsh statement of denunciation, and mentioned that a similar hate crime took place in the same region nine years ago, but the perpetrators were never found.

Frank Diamant, Director of B'nai Brith, noted that recently there has been a rise in the number of hate crimes against Jews in greater Toronto. He asked residents to report to the police about any scrap of information that could lead to the perpetrators.

Peter Shurman, the Member of the Provincial Parliament of Ontario representing Thornhill, voiced concern over the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the region and urged police to take action to catch the offenders.



Friday, August 23, 2013

Richard Nixon Says Jews Should Be 'Americans First' on Last Tapes 

President Richard Nixon is heard in the last set of his White House tapes making anti-Semitic statements in discussions with visitors to the Oval Office and by telephone.

The 340 hours of tapes, which cover from April 9, 1973 to July 12, 1973, were released Wednesday by the Nixon Presidential Library. They are the last set of tapes that will be released by the library.

In a phone discussion in mid-April with Henry Kissinger, a Jew who at the time was the national security adviser, Nixon expresses concerns that Jews would torpedo an upcoming U.S.-Soviet summit. If that happened, Nixon said, “Let me say, Henry, it’s gonna be the worst thing that happened to Jews in American history.” He added, “If they torpedo this summit — and it might go down for other reasons — I’m gonna put the blame on them, and I’m going to do it publicly at 9 o’clock at night before 80 million people.”

He continued: “They put the Jewish interest above America’s interest, and it’s about goddamn time that the Jew in America realizes he’s an American first and a Jew second.”

In a tape from May 1 that is labeled by the library as “Garment’s Jewish background,” referring to Nixon aide and lawyer Leonard Garment, Nixon is heard shouting “Goddamn his Jewish soul” after saying he wants to fire Garment for an inappropriate comment.

When asked about appointees, Nixon tells presidential counselor Anne Armstrong there should be “No Jews. We are adamant when I say no Jews. … But Mexicans are important. Italians, Eastern Europeans. That sort of thing.” Nixon accused the Jews of holding American foreign policy “hostage to Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union,” and added that “the American people are not going to let them destroy our foreign policy — never!” Future presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush are heard in conversations recorded on the tapes offering Nixon support during the Watergate affair.

Nixon on previous tapes was heard making anti-Semitic remarks about Jewish politicians and others.



Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rabbi Calls Ukraine Cross 'Provocation' to Breslov Hasidic Pilgrims 

The recent placing of a crucifix near the Uman grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was an act of "clear provocation," Rabbi Yaakov Bleich, chief rabbi of Ukraine, said.

"Ukraine is not a Jewish country and Ukrainian Jews respect Christian symbols like crosses," Bleich told the Jewish Ukrainian news site Еvreiskiy.kiev.ua. "However, the cross raised in Uman, in the immediate vicinity of the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, is a clear provocation."

Earlier this month, Hebrew graffiti was discovered on the crucifix, which was erected in recent weeks on the banks of a lake near the grave of the 18th-century founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

The Hebrew message read: "To exact vengeance on the gentiles." A further inscription on the crucifix's leg reads: "Stop desecrating the name of God."
Referring to an estimated 30,000 Jewish pilgrims expected to arrive in Uman for Rosh Hashanah, Bleich said: "They will not be able to pray there this year."

He told JTA the cross would prevent the pilgrims from performing tashlich, a prayer often accompanied with the ritual of symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water.

Bleich also stated that the installation of the cross has not been endorsed by the leadership of Christian denominations nor by the local authorities, which, in his opinion, should intervene.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Man pleads guilty to offering $500K bribe to silence Weberman sex abuse victim 

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi

A Brooklyn Hasid admitted Wednesday to offering $500,000 to buy the silence of victim in a sensational sex abuse case - but the cash-flush offender may still skirt jail time.

Abraham Rubin, 49, acknowledged offering the hefty sum to the husband of a teenage girl who testified against Satmar counselor Nechemya Weberman, pleading guilty in Brooklyn Supreme Court to a felony of bribing a witness.

The couple declined the bribe and the 18-year-old took the stand for four days last winter, sealing Weberman's conviction on 59 counts in a high-profile trial that highlighted abuse in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and intimidation of those who report it. Weberman is currently serving a 50-year prison sentence.

While prosecutors offered Rubin a deal of six months in jail plus five-year probation, Justice Danny Chun agreed to the defense's request and will consider giving a lesser or no jail time at the Oct. 29 sentencing.

"The People expressed their objection," the judge said. "The defendant may very well get the sentence the People have been offering all along."
Rubin approached Boorey Deutsch on June 2010, offering the money to make him and his then-girlfriend leave the country.

"Rubin didn't care about Weberman's victims," Deutsch told the Daily News Wednesday. "All he cared about was that this monster Weberman be out of jail."

While the victim's husband said the man who offered him hush money should be locked up, he was fine with him avoiding the pokey.
"I'm sure he will never ever try to bribe anyone ever again," said Deutsch. "And that's a lesson to the entire community that we won't stand down to anyone trying to intimidate or bribe a victim of abuse."

Asked for a comment after the plea, Rubin cryptically told a reporter: "I don't consider you my friend."

The confessed briber then left the courthouse counting a wad of cash.



Hasidic Jews Turn Up Pressure on City to Accommodate Their Traditions 

Needing to abide by their tribe's traditions of modesty, Hasidic women want the city to post a female lifeguard during a women-only swim session at a municipal pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and have lobbied a local councilman to take up their cause.

On another front, Hasidic matzo bakeries, citing ancient Jewish law, have insisted on using water from groundwater wells rather than from reservoirs in preparing the dough used for matzos and have found themselves tangling with health officials worried about the water's purity.

And on a public bus service that plies a route between the Hasidic neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn, men sit up front and women in the back, hewing to the practice of avoiding casual mingling of the sexes, even after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg condemned the arrangement.

While these episodes may not have reverberated beyond New York's Hasidic enclaves, taken together they underscore a religious ascendancy confronting the city's secular authorities in ways not seen in decades.

The remarkable rise in the population and the influence of Hasidim and other ultra-Orthodox Jews has provoked repeated conflicts over revered practices, forcing the city into a balancing act between not treading over constitutional lines by appearing to favor a particular religious group and providing an accommodation no more injurious than suspending parking rules for religious holidays.

A politically astute new generation of ultra-Orthodox leaders has become savvy at navigating the halls of government, while the grand rabbis of Hasidic sects wield electoral power like few religious leaders can, turning followers into cohesive voting blocs. "No one can deliver votes like a rebbe can," said Samuel Heilman, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York, who has written extensively about ultra-Orthodox Jews.

That power was evident most recently in last September's primary for Democratic district leader in the area covering Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Two factions of Satmar Hasidim turned out at the polls in astonishing numbers for such a relatively obscure post, yielding a turnout of 11,000 votes, among the city's largest. Many members of both factions admitted they did not know whom they were voting for but had been instructed to do so by their rabbis or yeshiva officials. The dominant Satmar faction made the difference in vaulting a candidate to the leadership.

As a result, the image New Yorkers and the city's power brokers have of Hasidim has changed. "They are no longer an obscure group — they're not just quaint," Professor Heilman said.

A telling example of how dutifully officials respond to Hasidic interests came at a Brooklyn synagogue forum in this year's mayoral campaign in which each candidate staked out a position on metzitzah b'peh, a circumcision ritual obscure to most Jews, let alone non-Jews.

Hasidim insist that they are adopting a more confrontational approach only because they are defending their faith's precepts. Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, said issues like the use of well water in matzos are "core Jewish religious beliefs and will not change, but where there's ways to work with the government, we will do that."

On the other side, city officials say their main obligation is to enforce the laws even if it might seem antagonistic to ultra-Orthodox traditions. "We don't have a formal policy, but we can't commit to providing a female lifeguard because it would run against the establishment clause of providing a service on the basis of a religious belief," Liam Kavanagh, first deputy commissioner for parks and recreation, said of the Hasidic request.

Meanwhile, the conflicts and predicaments seem to be multiplying. The city's Commission on Human Rights issued complaints last year against a half-dozen Hasidic merchants on Williamsburg's Lee Avenue for posting signs stating, "No shorts, no barefoot, no sleeveless, no low-cut neckline allowed in this store." The signs, the city said, discriminated against women and non-Orthodox men in places patronized by the public. Hasidic advocates said the signs were no different than dress codes at places like the Four Seasons Restaurant. The dispute is still being litigated in a city administrative court.

Most prominently, the city has battled with ultra-Orthodox Jewish representatives over the health risks in metzitzah b'peh, a technique for orally suctioning a circumcision wound. Instead of banning the practice outright, health officials instead required parents to sign a consent form so they could be alerted to the risks. But ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders were still infuriated. The matter even became an issue in the mayoral campaign, with Christine C. Quinn defending the city's policy and her Democratic opponents, including Anthony D. Weiner and John C. Liu, arguing that the Hasidic practice has stood the test of millenniums.

Hasidim have also been pressing public libraries in their neighborhoods to open on Sunday, just as the post office and banks now do, since they cannot patronize them on the Sabbath. But Brooklyn library officials refuse, pointing out that union contracts require expensive Sunday overtime.

If city officials feel they need to respond in full-throated fashion to Hasidic appeals, that is partly because the increasing sway of the city's Hasidim has been nothing short of remarkable. The sparse remnants of Hasidic sects in Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union were almost decimated by Hitler's slaughter of the European Jews and arrived in New York after World War II in tiny numbers, barely enough to fill a sect's single small yeshiva or room-size synagogue. But an average birthrate of six, seven and eight children per family helped the sects replenish.

The latest population survey by the UJA-Federation of New York counted roughly 330,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews, or 30 percent of the city's 1.1 million Jews, a figure that melds Hasidim with others who are as scrupulously observant but do not revere a particular grand rabbi. Today Hasidim dominate neighborhoods like south Williamsburg and Borough Park, and support scores of schools, synagogues and kosher stores. Rising numbers have also brought increasing tensions with government authorities.

Two years ago, when the city transferred a female lifeguard at Williamsburg's Metropolitan Pool to a beach and replaced her with a man, Hasidic women stopped going and felt cheated.

"It's the only exercise I get," said Rose Herschkowitz, a Satmar Hasid who swam with her 85-year-old mother.

They turned to their local councilman, Stephen Levin, explaining that wearing bathing suits under the eyes of a male lifeguard would violate the tradition of modestly clothing themselves before men who are not their husbands. Mr. Levin agreed that it was "a reasonable accommodation." But parks officials did not see it that way, arguing that explicitly assigning lifeguards by gender could violate the First Amendment's establishment of religion clause, not to mention union seniority rules.

Hasidim were somewhat more successful in the tussle over matzo bakeries. After inspectors told a Satmar bakery that it could not use well water without a permit since reservoir water was "available," the Hasidim marshaled their lawyers. The lawyers, with Talmudic hairsplitting, argued that the reservoir water was not technically "available" to the Hasidim because it had been treated with chemicals like chlorine and so violated religious requirements for matzo baking. The conflict was resolved when the bakery installed carbon filters that allowed the well water to meet state chemical and bacteriological standards. A half-dozen other bakeries still have not met city requirements.

Sometimes a city ruling seems beside the point. A city-franchised company that operates the B110 bus that ferries people between Williamsburg and Borough Park no longer enforces the Hasidic custom that men and women sit apart in social situations. But since virtually all the riders traveling that route are Hasidic, the men and women choose to do so on their own and do not complain about segregation.

Eric Rassbach, the deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative civil rights group, accuses the city of using "the power of government to suppress Orthodox religious practices."

''Why all the targeting?" Mr. Rassbach wrote in a blog post. His blunt answer: "Because of differing birth and adherence rates, the future of Judaism in New York City increasingly appears to be Orthodox."

Professor Heilman said that many Hasidim specifically blame Mr. Bloomberg's liberal Jewish background for his intransigence on matters like the circumcision technique. Mr. Bloomberg is Jewish but not Orthodox. The recent clashes with Hasidic tradition, Professor Heilman added, also feed into a tribal memory of centuries of oppression in Europe.

Alexander Rapaport, a Hasid who runs Masbia, a nondenominational group of soup kitchens, urges officials to think about these matters as less about establishing a preference for religion than "accommodating a less conventional lifestyle" of people who pay taxes and are entitled to city services. 

Jewish Web sites have featured his list of ten 'rights' where officials — and mayoral candidates — can demonstrate sensitivity to Hasidic mores. He included Sunday library hours and permits for well water, but not the circumcision ritual or bus seating.

"I don't approve of any behavior that imposes your way of life on others," Mr. Rapaport said, adding that the assignment of a female lifeguard does not do so.

"You're accommodating a person's having a good time at a pool," he said. "It doesn't mean you're accommodating that person's religion."



The renegade rabbi who brought Hasidic tunes to mainstream Jews 

I had no idea that half the tunes I have heard in synagogue were written by Reb Shlomo Carlebach.

As I sat clapping and humming along at the Broadway show, "Soul Doctor," which opened Thursday in New York City, I marveled at how far the renegade rabbi posthumously influenced Judaism.

"Soul Doctor," a two-plus hour musical which intersperses some of the rabbi's thousands of melodies with an original score, tells the story of how Carlebach - a descendent of an old rabbinical dynasty intent on Torah study - came to reject his strict Litvak heritage and bring the Hasidic love of song to mainstream religious Judaism.

The "based on a true" story travels back to his youth in Vienna, where the Nazis quickly took power (Carlebach was really from Berlin, only spent a few years in Vienna). There the young, yellow star-wearing boy encounters the eccentric and exuberant Moishele, who tells the young Shlomo that his mission is to heal the world through song: "He sang his song / to the lost and the lonely / lifting up his broken-hearted brothers one by one."
Then Moishele is shot in the street by a Nazi who didn't want a Jew singing.

The family moves to America, where although young Shlomo wants to feed hungry souls, his father sets him up in his new Yeshiva because, "the future of our people is now left in our hands."

The brilliant student grows up to be a learned man. It is only when he meets the not-yet-discovered African-American Jazz singer Nina Simone that he remembers his mission to save the world through song, a mission he fulfills in the Hasidic world under another great rabbi, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. (At the time, the black hats were divided between the austere, learned Litvaks, against the soulful, singing Hassidim.)
The musical follows Carlebach's relationship with Simone, as they each come into their own - she becoming the "High Priestess of Soul," he getting a record contract to produce his unique melodies.

But "the singing rabbi" is scandalous. Rejected by his family, he heads to Frisco to heal all the broken souls, building a following, which he takes to Jerusalem. Finally, he heads back to Vienna, to continue the Jewish song in a place it was silenced: Am Yisrael Chai! he sings, ending the show on one of the Reb's most famous tunes.

In a way, "Soul Doctor" is the perfect medley of The Great White Way's and Jewish triumphalism - the Jew rises from the ashes (as does the African-American descendent of slaves) to show the enemy that we can survive. But it tackles a bit too much: the Holocaust, the complex relationship between Hasidim and mitnagdim (Ashkenazi Jews who opposed Hasidic Judaism), between religion and secular society, between a man who can do great things but also be personally flawed: he can connect to many, but has trouble connecting to one. It tackles much, but does not reveal a lot about a man. The musical shows how the rabbi goes from a strictly chaste upbringing to believe in the power of touch, but does not touch upon the accusations of sexually inappropriate conduct against him.

The show, which was originally conceived as a one-woman-show by Neshama Carlebach, the older of the rabbi's two daughters, is not exactly true, although it touches on the major notes of his life, which ended at 69 in 1994. Often considered the father of the "ba'al teshuva movement," Carlebach was a great scholar who studied in some of the biggest yeshivas with great rabbis, and indeed was ostracized for much of his life for turning to song to revive the soul of the Jewish people.

What the musical does get right is the Jewish stuff: the Hebrew and the Yiddish is accurate - for once, in mainstream media - and the rabbi, here, with his hippy-dippy talk "holy sister," "we're all brothers," made me feel I was actually in the room with him and his Hair-like singing entourage.
It gets it so right, though, that at times I felt like I was in shul: A musical, sing-a-long, spiritual, raucous shul, to be certain, but a synagogue just the same. And that might be a problem for this insider-baseball show, which might appeal to fans of the rabbi, of Jewish music, and Jewish history, but not many more. Perhaps the presence of Simone - and the drawing of the parallels between the Jewish and Black experience of suffering - will draw in another crowd. In the show, even Carlebach's father marches with the Reverend Martin Luther King. It's sad to note that these days the black and Jewish experience has diverged so greatly.

But what is most jarring is to watch such a brilliant and loving person struggle against the inflexible Judaism - a struggle that is still alive today, as much of religious Judaism is still too rigid to allow for creativity, renewal, and often, for unbridled love and joy.

The irony of the musical - of his life, really - is that ultimately, the Reb's songs were adapted by the very sects that would reject him: at any ultra-Orthodox wedding or simcha there's bound to be a jaunty or soulful Carlebach tune played. But most of the people there are probably ignorant of the song's origins, or the values of the man who hoped to change the world.



Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Brooklyn street named for murdered Jamaican convert 

A New York City street was renamed for a Jamaican convert to Judaism who was shot while protecting his girlfriend during a robbery.

Avenue J and Nostrand Avenue in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn is now "Yoseph Robinson Avenue" to honor the memory of the 34-year-old former hip-hop musician who worked as a clerk at a kosher liquor store.

Robinson was a bridge between the Orthodox Jewish and Caribbean communities of Midwood and East Flatbush, the New York Daily News reported Sunday.

He was shot twice in the chest in August 2010 during an attempted robbery in which the gunman demanded his girlfriend's jewelry.



Monday, August 19, 2013

New boss at Met Council 

City Finance Commissioner David Frankel has been tapped to lead the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, replacing former CEO William Rapfogel, who was fired in the wake of a probe on financial irregularities.

The agency is being looked at by the Department of Investigation, and the city has suspended millions of dollars in funding to the Met Council, which gets a lion’s share of its $33 million budget from the feds, state and city.

Rapfogel, whose wife is chief of staff to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, had been its CEO since 1992. He has apologized for wrongdoing, without providing specifics.



Eliot Spitzer Courts Orthodox Jews in Boro-Park 

Wearing a yarmulke and a wide grin, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer stopped by Brooklyn's Boro Park neighborhood Friday, visiting two businesses and even purchasing prayer books for the Jewish New Year.

Mr. Spitzer met with local leaders for several hours, attempting to peel away coveted Orthodox Jewish votes from his opponent, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, who, like Mr. Spitzer, is Jewish. Though raised in a secular household, Mr. Spitzer made every effort to convey to Jewish voters and the press that he was still in touch with his roots.

"It is in my blood literally, figuratively. My heritage is in the Jewish community," Mr. Spitzer said on 13th Avenue, Boro Park's main thoroughfare. "I am not as observant as folks in Boro Park but being Jewish is eminently part of my value structure and what I believe in and why I am in public service."

Arriving late to his campaign stop where a tight-lipped volunteer was passing out leaflets, Mr. Spitzer went with a small cluster of reporters to a Judaica "superstore" on 50th Street, which sells various religious artifacts like yarmulkes and prayer books. Guiding Mr. Spitzer was Rabbi Shlomo Braun, who, according to an April report in The Jewish Voice, allegedly misappropriated funds for an Israeli charity. But he told Politicker the story was untrue. Mr. Spitzer insisted the rabbi was a "great man."

As for the main question of the day, Rabbi Braun believed that the city's socially conservative Orthodox Jewish community would indeed forgive Mr. Spitzer for the prostitution scandal that forced him to resign five years ago.

"When push comes to shove, Boro Park communities are enough sophisticated to understand if [you] have qualifications like Eliot Spitzer, compared to the other candidate, [Mr. Spitzer] should be supported," he said. "I happen to know Scott Stringer way before he became an assemblyman … I just feel Eliot Spitzer is considerably more qualified."

Many Boro Park residents greeted Mr. Spitzer warmly, though some passersby brushed off a volunteer handing out campaign literature, vowing to never vote for the disgraced pol. One person rushed up to Mr. Spitzer to hand him a scratch off lottery ticket. Mr. Spitzer, a bit perplexed, jokingly offered it to a New York Post reporter, explaining that if it were a winning ticket, the paper could use the potential windfall since "it's running a deficit."
The reporter didn't offer a response.

At Amnon's Kosher Pizza, Mr. Spitzer glad-handed a little more, meeting the pizzeria's owners and a supporter, Abe Rubinstein, who, like many, did not know whom the ex-governor was running against. Two children sitting down to eat pizza with their mother and father wanted to know why men and women with cameras and notebooks were flocking to Mr. Spitzer.

"That man is famous," the mother told her children.



Sunday, August 18, 2013

Second Act for the Temple of the Stars 

It was known as the Temple of the Stars: a soaring sanctuary capped by a 100-foot-wide Byzantine dome, built by Hollywood moguls on the eve of the Depression and splashed with the kind of pizazz one might expect at a movie palace rather than a synagogue.

But over the last 80 years, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple has become a monument to neglect, its handsome murals cracked, the gold-painted dome blackened by soot, the sanctuary dark and grim. A foot-long chunk of plaster crashed to the ground one night.

The congregation, too, has faded; while still vibrant and active, it has grown older, showing no signs of growth. This once proud symbol of religious life in Los Angeles seemed on the brink of becoming a victim of the steady ethnic churn of the city, as its neighborhood grew increasingly Korean and Hispanic and Jews moved to the west side.

But faced with the threat of extinction that has forced synagogues in other parts of the country to close or merge, Wilshire has responded with force: a $150 million program to restore the synagogue to its former grandeur and, in fact, make it even grander — extending the campus to fill a whole block and building a school and a social services center for the community. In the process, the synagogue is looking to reclaim its prominence in the civic order here.

It is by any measure a costly gamble — Jewish leaders said the $150 million is among the highest amounts ever spent on a synagogue renovation. And the renovation is in some ways jarring, coming at a moment when cuts in education and social services have rocked this state and taking place in a community that has at times been criticized for being short on philanthropy.

But the leaders of this synagogue, racing to open their new temple before the High Holy Days in September, said they had no other choice.

“I’m not going to sell this place,” Steven Z. Leder, the senior rabbi, said as he led his almost daily show-off ritual of taking visitors to admire results slowly being revealed with the dismantling of scaffolding. “I’m not going to be the rabbi that turns this place into a church.”

Risky or not, the renovation of such an admired building is heartening to Jewish leaders who have watched as other synagogues have faltered.

“I’m thrilled with what’s going on at Wilshire,” said Ron Wolfson, a professor at the American Jewish University here. “That’s a spectacular building. They could have very easily moved west, they could have abandoned that building and sold it for who knows how many millions of dollars to some church. They didn’t. I have to respect that.”

To a considerable extent, the decision to invest on the future of this synagogue is an insight into the demographic rhythms of Los Angeles. For a long time, many of this city’s Jews concentrated on the west side, in places like Westwood, Beverlywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. But these days, many younger Jews are settling on the east side, in hip and handsome — and less expensive — neighborhoods like Los Feliz and Silver Lake.

Rabbi Leder, in recounting the demographic studies and debate that went into the decision, noted that two subway stops, part of this city’s rapidly growing transit system, are within walking distance of the synagogue, raising the prospect that people would take a train to services.

Yet there are considerable obstacles. Jews might be moving back to the east side, but the Wilshire Boulevard Temple is in the heart of Koreatown, a good 15-minute drive from, say, Los Feliz. The sidewalks surrounding the temple are filled with Latinos and Koreans, a contrast with the many neighborhoods across Los Angeles where the streets on Friday night are filled with Jewish families headed for services.

Many synagogues across the nation are also struggling with declining attendance and membership. On a recent Saturday morning at Hollywood Temple Beth El, the very few people in attendance broke out in an anguished discussion about whether they would need to hire a choir for the approaching holidays because there were not enough congregants.

From the minute one walks into the grand sanctuary of the Wilshire Temple, there are reminders that this is no ordinary synagogue, with ample evidence of its Hollywood past: Irving G. Thalberg, the film producer, and all three Warner brothers were among its major benefactors.

The walls are covered with murals depicting stages of Jewish history through 1929. They were painted by Hugo Ballin, who for much of his career was a Hollywood art director, and were commissioned by the Warner brothers.

“The murals were a radical artistic statement because the second of the Ten Commandments forbids graven images, so Jews shunned iconography and figurative art,” Rabbi Leder said. “These guys just decided to make a different statement.”

The opening words of the Shema, the prayer at the heart of Jewish daily worship, are painted in a circle at the top of the dome.

Unlike most synagogues, there is no central aisle leading to the bimah, or altar.

“It’s very much Hollywood,” said Brenda Levin, the architect who oversaw the renovation. “One of the first things you notice when you come in here is there is no center aisle. And why is there no center aisle? Why would you get rid of center seats? They are the best seats in the house.”

Ms. Levin, who has overseen many of the top historical restorations that have taken place in this city, took a few steps across the floor as workers hammered in the background.

“Every aspect of this room is theatrical,” she said. “The paint on this wall is not a single color; it’s four different colors. They are put together in way that creates the appearance of a different kind of texture.”

Rabbi Leder said he began assessing the synagogue’s future shortly after he was named senior rabbi in 2003. “We had zero kindergarten kids registered for Sunday school here,” he said. “We were dying at the roots.

“I started asking myself, what is it that Wilshire Synagogue has that no other synagogue has?” he said. “We have The Room. And no one had a room like that.”

The congregation, which has 2,400 families, has raised $121 million so far for the project, Rabbi Leder said.

“It resonated with people because the need was real,” he said. “The place was in terrible disrepair. And the room was aspirational.”

Bruce A. Phillips, a professor of Jewish communal service at Hebrew Union College, said that while the synagogue was taking a bit of a chance in this effort, “there’s also the possibility that by putting that kind of money back into the synagogue and refurbishing it and so forth, that it sends a message that this is a vital area, this is a feasible area and that it’s a Jewish area.”

“It’s taking a risk,” he said. “But I applaud them for taking a risk.”



Saturday, August 17, 2013

Cross Defaced in Ukraine Hasidic Pilgrimage City 

A cross near the gravesite of a Jewish sage in Uman, Ukraine, was defaced with a Hebrew inscription — a move that could stoke sectarian tensions in the Hasidic pilgrimage site.

Hebrew graffiti was discovered Aug. 12 on a cross opposite the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the 18th century founder of the Breslov hasidic movement, the Ukrainian news site allday.in.ua reported
“To exact vengeance on the gentiles,” reads the message, which was scrawled across the torso of a figure of Jesus Christ. A further inscription on Jesus’ leg reads, “Stop desecrating the name of God.”

Uman is a major pilgrimage site for followers of Rabbi Nachman, whose gravesite is the focal point of an annual Rosh Hashanah celebration. Last year, the festivities drew an estimated 40,000 Jews.

The cross was installed the summer, timed to coincide with the 1,025th anniversary of the mass conversion of medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus, the precursor of contemporary Russia and Ukraine.

Tensions between pilgrims and local citizens have risen in recent years as the numbers of pilgrims have increased.

Last year’s Rosh Hashanah celebration was marred by violent riots, the Jerusalem Post reported.

In the wake of the graffiti incident, Jewish leaders in Uman have called for the cross’s relocation.

“We respect other religions, and don’t wish to damage symbols of other religions. But, unfortunately, not all of our coreligionists understand this. They could break or destroy the cross. That would lead to a genuine war between hasidim and Christians. We cannot allow that, so we request that the cross be moved to a different location,” said Shimon Busquila, a representative of the Rabbi Nachman International Fund, who was quoted by the Russian news site Korrespondent.ru.

Uman’s deputy mayor, Vladimir Vibliy, requested that local activists move the cross, according to Ukrainian newspaper Vzglyad. But local residents strongly objected.

One local who asked not to be identified told Vzglyad, “If they touch the cross, we will retaliate on the grave of their tzaddik.”

Sergei Yaremchuk, a member of the local committee of Svoboda, Ukraine’s right-wing, nationalist political party, described the incident as “a provocation to incite ethnic hatred.”



Friday, August 16, 2013

Charges against principal dropped; boy wouldn't sign assault case vs. rabbi 

Charges against a religious-school leader accused of assaulting a student were dismissed Thursday after the boy and his parents declined to sign a complaint.

Meilech Spitzer, 60, a rabbi and longtime principal of United Talmudical Academy, had been accused of slapping a 10-year-old student hard enough to leave bruises and to leave his eye, ear and face swollen. Spitzer was charged in February with misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault and endangering the welfare of a child.

But Justice Alan Simon dismissed the charges because prosecutors and police could not get a signed misdemeanor complaint from the child. He also dismissed an order of protection that Spitzer not have any physical contact with the child. Authorities had 90 days from Spitzer's arraignment April 18 under the state speedy-trial law to move the case forward. The deadline elapsed July 17.

Spitzer, a longtime educator who lives in Brooklyn but has family in Spring Valley, was rushed out a side door shortly after the 20-minute court session ended. He and the school have previously declined comment.

The complaints charging Spitzer were signed by Spring Valley Detective Kevin Freeman, who didn't witness the incident and therefore his accusations are hearsay, Spitzer's lawyer, Robert Conklin, wrote in court papers seeking dismissal of the case. For the case to continue, prosecutors "must file a supporting deposition signed by an individual who experienced the incident first-hand," Conklin said.

Gary Lee Heavner, an executive assistant district attorney, told Simon that prosecutors tried to persuade the boy and his family to sign a misdemeanor complaint.

"The people did try to prosecute this case," Heavner told the judge. "We were not able to convince the family."

The incident had been reported on some blogs that cater to the ultra-Orthodox community. One blog posted purported photos of the boy's face.

The UTA is the educational arm of the Satmar Hasidim and runs several schools in Brooklyn and suburban counties like Rockland and Orange.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

No autopsy on crash victim's body due to haredi pressure 

An autopsy will not be performed on the body of the victim of Thursday morning's car accident at Kanot Junction due to pressure from the Hasidic sect his family belongs to.

The 40-year-old man was killed when his car collided with a truck. Three of his children were injured in the accident. Following pressure from the Kretshnif Hasidic sect, police agreed not to request an autopsy and his body was released from the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot so it could be buried as soon as possible.

According to the investigation into the accident, the man, who was driving the car, attended the wedding of the Admor from Dzikov in Bnei Brak until the early hours of Thursday morning. After the wedding he drove his wife and two elder daughters to the airport ahead of their flight to Switzerland. He then drove to Ashdod to pick up his younger children from a wedding of a relative.

On the way back, for reasons that remain unclear, the family's vehicle collided with a truck. The man was killed, his 14-year-old daughter sustained severe injuries and two other children – aged four and seven – suffered moderate to serious wounds. Another three-year-old girl was lightly hurt in the accident.

Rehovot City Council member Pinchas Hoiminer, who represents the Kretshnif Hasidic community, convinced police not to request a post-mortem examination of the victim's body.

According to the investigation, the truck stopped at a red light and was struck from behind by the car. "I stopped at the traffic light and a car hit me from behind," the truck driver said.



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Hasidic boxer Dmitriy Salita considers retirement and a life in Israel 

Hasidic Jewish Boxer

Dmitriy Salita has been spending a lot less time in the ring these days, and more of it visiting Jewish communities throughout the world as part of a fundraising drive on behalf of the Jewish schools operated by the Chabad-Lubavich organization.

Salita, who made no attempt throughout his 16 year long career in the ring starting as an amateur at the age of 15 to disguise his Jewishness, always wearing shorts boldly emblazoned with a Star of David, observing kashrut and refusing to box on Shabbat.

Having a particularly impressive amateur record of 59 wins and five defeats, when he was just 16, Salita was called up to represent New York in the Junior Olympics going on to win a bronze medal. It was then that the young Ukrainian, who had arrived in the United States with his parents at the  age of five, recalled that this was the first time he really felt like an American.

Four years later in 2001 when aged just 19, Dmitry Salita reached the peak of his amateur career, winning the Golden Gloves championship in the 139 pound weight bracket held at the Madison Square Gardens in New York City. Salita's impressive performance in the finals on earned him the Sugar Ray Robinson Award as the outstanding boxer in the tournament.

His performances there caught the attention of many of the boxing professions leading promoters , and it was Las Vegas-based Bob Arum who finally convinced the young Salita to join is Top Rank stable of fighters a professional forms following in the footsteps of such boxing greats as George Foreman and Larry Holmes.

Under Arum's tutelage Salita's professional career began to flourish was the first highlight being capturing the North American Boxing Association light welterweight champion's crown after defeating Shawn Gallegos in the championship bout in 2005.

With a highly impressive unbeaten run of 27 fights Salita scored some very impressive victories as a professional, with two of the highlights being a unanimous 10-round decision over Grover Wiley at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York on March 2007, followed more than two years later with a dominant 10-round over Raul "El Toro" Munoz in Las Vegas to clock up his thirtieth victory as a professional.

Thanks to his impressive record, in a weight class where fights were few and far between, Salita was very much in line to get a shot at the WBA light welterweight crown, held by Amir Khan of the UK. The fight that took on December 5, 2009 in Newcastle in the North East of England had the potential of being racially charged, with Khan a practicing Muslim. However the bout turned out to be a real anticlimax for Salita, who was knocked out by Kahn after just one minute and 15 seconds of the first round to end the young Ukrainians hopes of becoming a world champion.

Since then Salita has only fought five other times, and is currently sitting with a professional record of 35 wins, one draw and his solitary defeat to Kahn.

When his team of living in Israel becomes reality, Salita appears to have his plans well laid out for his future in the country, intending to further develop what he describes as his "DS fitness program," consisting of training, self-defense, and inspirational messages. Dmitry hopes to be able to teach the program in Israel, hopefully in collaboration with both the Jerusalem Boxing Club as well Maccabi Tel Aviv in order to train young Israeli in the joys of boxing.

Salita is one of several active Jewish boxers of Russian origin, with others including heavyweight Roman Greenberg and junior middleweight Yuri Foreman.



Pols sweating over bust of speaker’s pal 

New York politicians could be scrambling if a pal of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spills the beans about a kickback scandal that allegedly involves delivering campaign contributions to city and state officials.

William Rapfogel, the former head of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, is "fully cooperating with the criminal investigation" conducted by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, said his lawyer, Paul Shechtman.

Rapfogel was bounced from his job as the council's longtime CEO last week after being accused of inflating insurance bills charged to the agency so he could keep the overcharges, or direct campaign contributions to favored pols. His wife, Judy, is Silver's chief-of-staff.

Investigators are looking at Rapfogel's relationship with Joseph Ross, a Hasidic leader and CEO of Long Island-based Century Coverage, which underwrites the council's insurance.

Ross and his employees have pumped more than $120,000 into various campaign coffers since the 1990s. Ross personally gave $6,500 to Silver's PAC and campaign and $2,000 to accused sexual harasser Ex-Assemblyman Vito Lopez.Silver and Vallone said they don't know Ross.



2 Kaser paintball hate crime suspects released 

Two people facing hate-crime assault charges in a paintball shooting were released from custody Tuesday morning, while shooting suspect remained behind bars on $50,000 bail.

All three suspects — accused in an incident in which Josef Margaretten was shot with two paintball pellets a week ago in the village of Kaser — appeared for a felony hearing in Ramapo Town Court. Assistant District Attorney Jason Rosenwasser told Town Justice Alan Simon that the prosecutor's office was seeking more time to investigate the incident.

Simon released shooting suspect Shashi Ramsaroop's pregnant fiancée, Lindsey Peaks, 20, and Demetrius Latrell Torain, who had been held on $25,000 bail.

Ramsaroop, 23, remained heldbecause his lawyer filed a speedy trial motion and waived his right to a preliminary hearing.

Ramsaroop, Peaks and Torain are charged with second-degree assault, two counts of second-degree aggravated harassment, fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, and third-degree criminal tampering. Police said one of them cursed Jews while Margaretten, who is Hasidic, was shot from a car.

Margaretten, 35, of Spring Valley told The Journal News that he first thought he had been shot with bullets. He suffered burn marks to his abdomen.
Peaks and Torain declined to comment when leaving the courtroom Tuesday. Peaks, who told the judge last week she was pregnant, left in tears and was comforted by friends and family. She had been living with Ramsaroop in North Carolina for the past eight months.

Ramsaroop, a truck driver, formerly lived in Nanuet.

He was arrested there in July 2012 for firing a rifle at deer from the roof of his house. He pleaded guilty in January to prohibitive use of a weapon and paid a $455 fine, according to Clarkstown Town Court records.

His lawyer, Ellen Woods, said Tuesday that she had just gotten the case and couldn't comment on the specifics.

"The D.A. is taking this very seriously," she said after talking with a woman who came to support Ramsaroop in court. "The case has just started."

The trio were arrested by Ramapo police shortly after the shooting had been reported on Rita Avenue in Kaser. Members of the Charverim, a Hasidic community organization that conducts safety patrols, stopped the car containing the three suspects until police arrived.

District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said the waiving of the preliminary hearing is not unique and he expected a grand jury to hear the case against Ramsaroop, Peaks and Torain by September.

"Waivers are routinely signed for a variety of reasons, including the strength of the evidence," he said.



Tuesday, August 13, 2013

'I thought that's it, my life's over,' paintball attack victim tells The Journal News 

For a few frantic seconds, Josef Margaretten thought he was going to die when he collapsed Wednesday from a drive-by shooting, covered in a dark liquid he thought was blood.
The 35-year-old Hasidic resident of Spring Valley had visions of his wife and five children, and wondered when he might take his last breath.
"I thought that's it, my life's over," he told The Journal News on Monday. "I thought this was the last minute of my life."
Pausing slightly, he added, "I didn't know anything about a paintball gun."
The three young people who fled in the car were later arrested for what turned out to be a paintball attack.
They were charged with several felonies, including assault as a hate crime. Margaretten said he heard one of them shout, "(expletive) Jews!"
"I'm very angry about it," he said. "I didn't do anything to anyone."
But he said his only concern Wednesday night was for survival after the car pulled up and someone pointed a gun at him. At the time, Margaretten was standing outside a friend's house on Rita Avenue, chatting with his buddy Shlomo Pinkasovits about a meeting that just took place.
"I saw the car pull up next to us, like two feet away, and the gun sticking out the window," he recalled. "Then I heard the shots. 'Pop! Pop!' It sounded like a real gun. Five shots. As they were popping, someone was screaming something about Jews. I didn't concentrate on that because I was busy with the shots."
The final shot to his abdomen knocked him to the ground, Margaretten said.
While lying on the pavement, he felt pain and a burning sensation.
"My hand was so dark, I thought it was blood," he said. "I was screaming for my friend, 'Help me, I'm shot!' "
Then someone shined a flashlight on him.
"I then realized it was only paint, not blood," he said.
Margaretten, who was treated in the hospital, still has burn marks. He continues to be upset over the incident, especially that it may have been prompted by anti-Semitism.
"If it's anti-Semitism, it's a problem," he said. "I have neighbors who are not Jewish, and I have no problems with anybody, black or white. If someone needs help, I will help anyone."
"If I need something, they come help us," he said. "We like to live with our neighbors in peace."
As for the criminal case, Margaretten said, "I leave it for the judge to decide."
The shooting suspect, Shashi Ramsaroop, 23; his pregnant fiancee Lindsey Peaks, 20; and friend Demetrius Latrell Torain, 19, are due in Ramapo Town Court at 11 a.m. Tuesday for a preliminary felony hearing on the charges.
If they are indicted by a grand jury, the case will be moved to Rockland County Court in New City.
The circumstances of the ride that led to the attack are unclear.
The trio, all of whom have local ties, had been held in Rockland County jail after the arrests but were no longer in custody as of Monday evening, an official said.


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