Monday, March 31, 2014

Hasidic Park No Longer Allowed To Be Sex-Segregated 


An allegedly gender-segregated park run by a Hasidic enclave in Orange County will now be subject to strict NYCLU and ACLU oversight, thanks to a lawsuit that was settled this week.

Last year, both the NYCLU and ACLU sued Satmar-run village Kiryas Joel, an enclave in Monroe, NY, claiming that the village had been requiring men and women to use separate equipment and paths in a 283-acre public park built in April. The park was reportedly built using "special financing" obtained by the village's mayor, and the constitutional watchdog groups had unsuccessfully requested financial documents through the Freedom of Information Act in hopes of tracking the park's funds, before filing a suit. "Public parks cannot segregate based on sex any more than they can on race or national origin,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement in December. “New Yorkers have every right to know if this is happening here and if tax dollars are supporting something so blatantly unlawful."

Though the village's legal representation, Donald Nichol, maintained last week that Kiryas Joel "does not have any policy of directing, endorsing, or enforcing illegal segregation on the basis of sex in public places or programs," the village has agreed to a settlement [pdf] allowing the ACLU and NYCLU to visit the park twice each summer for the next three summers, to ensure no segregation is enforced. In addition, the groups reported that signage in the park indicating that certain areas were men-only and women-only has been removed.

When the lawsuit was first filed in December, Council Member David Greenfield, who represents Brooklyn neighborhoods Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, criticized the NYCLU and ACLU for "picking on these Hasidic Jews," arguing that they should be permitted to police their park without "fear of government intrusion."

The village has been the subject of recent news reports, after announcing a proposal to annex 507 acres of land currently owned by Monroe. Many Monroe residents oppose this plan, arguing that the heavily government-subsidized village is "sucking the county bone dry," according to Westchester News 12.



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Czech Minister: 'Not That Much Happened' During Nazi Occupation 

Czech Justice Minister Helena Valkova is facing harsh criticism for saying nothing much happened during the Nazi occupation of her country.

Valkova, whose father is an ethnic German and who grew up in a bilingual home, made the statement in an interview which was published on the news website echo24.cz

Asked about her views on the expulsion of Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II, Valkova, a politician of the center-right ANO 2011 party, said: “The worst. I understand that it was a reaction to what happened before, but in the protectorate not that much happened,” she said in reference to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia which Nazi occupation forces set up after their invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Between 1941 and 1945, 46,000 Jews were deported from Prague mostly to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and from there to Auschwitz. Only 5,000 survived.

Valkova claimed the statement was taken out of context, and that she only meant to compare the relative calm within the protectorate to war-torn Poland and Russia.

Miroslava Nemcova, a lawmaker for the conservative opposition ODS party, was one of several Czech politicians and intellectuals who criticized Valkova for her statement.

“Go to the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague and read the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War,” Nemcova said in parliament Tuesday, according to the news site blesk.cz.

ODS deputy chairman Martin Kupka said the minister’s statement “denies or at least overlooks the suffering of thousands of Jews who were transferred from the Czech soil and subsequently murdered, this denies the obliteration of entire Czech villages, this denies the suffering of thousands of brave people who were killed.”



Saturday, March 29, 2014

NY fire chief 'horrified' at his own anti-Semitic remarks about town supervisor 

A Westchester County fire chief has hand delivered a letter of apology to a Jewish town supervisor for anti-Semitic remarks he made.

 Fairview Fire Chief Anthony LoGiudice visited Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner Friday, The Journal News reported Saturday.
The newspaper reported earlier this week a retired firefighter claimed LoGiudice often used an anti-Semitic slur when referring to Feiner. On Thursday, the board of the fire district confirmed LoGiudice used inappropriate language.

In his letter, LoGiudice said he was upset after reading in The Journal News the words he'd uttered and said using a slur to express anger is never appropriate.

"First, I apologize for offending you and others with my careless and hurtful words," LoGiudice wrote. "I said what I said without thought and without thinking of the pain that it would bring to this community. When I read my words in The Journal News, and realized that young people, friends, colleagues and neighbors of the Jewish faith were reading those words, I was horrified."

Feiner told the newspaper the apology was a good first step but hoped the fire chief would also visit a Manhattan holocaust museum.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Lakewood man charged with trying to steal synagogue donation box 

Elliot Shurkin

Elliot Shurkin, an 18-year-old man from Engleberg Terrace, remained Thursday in the Ocean County Jail, charged with breaking into Congregation Kol Aryeh and trying unsuccessfully to steal the wall-mounted donation box, known as pushka, according to the complaint signed March 19 by police.

Shurkin was charged at 9:30 a.m. March 18 at Lakewood Police Headquarters with the burglary two days prior at the Hope Chapel Road synagogue, criminal mischief and theft by unlawful taking, according to the complaint by Patrolman Eric Cicerello.

Shurkin’s charges stem from taking cash from the box, then “tearing moulding from the wall that was holding a pushka (donation box) to the wall,” Cicerello wrote in his report, adding Shurkin was unsuccessful at taking the box.

Shurkin was being held in jail in lieu of $7,500 bail with no 10 percent option to pay. Court officials said that Shurkin has no scheduled upcoming court appearances since his first appearance on March 19.



Australia Chabad Sex Abuse Suspect Aron Kestecher Kills Self 

Aron “Ezzy” Kestecher, a former Chabad-Lubavitch youth leader in Melbourne who was accused of child sex crimes, died in a suspected suicide.

Kestecher, 28, was found dead in his apartment Thursday. He was accused of multiple allegations of child sex abuse against minors and was due to face court in June, police confirmed Friday.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, said he visited the family on Thursday.

“I provided a measure of support and comfort to his family members and his close friends, as well as the first responders to this most tragic of events,” he said. “The deceased was a very special young man, but he was also deeply troubled.”

The Lubavitch websites Crownheights.info and shmais.com both posted death notices expressing their “profound sadness, deep pain and shock.”

David Werdiger, a grandson of one of the founders of Chabad in Melbourne, published a post about the “terrible tragedy” on Facebook, taking aim at those he claimed may have encouraged his death.

“Those who helped publicize said alleged sins, who facilitated or conducted trial by media, who acted in a heavy-handed way without thinking about the many possible consequences (or who ignored the obvious consequences following their actions) need to consider to what extent their ‘actions’ contributed to this terrible outcome,” he wrote.

Four charges of indecent acts by Kestecher against minors were withdrawn in 2012, but additional alleged victims came forward last year with one claim of sexual penetration against a child under 16 and of indecent acts with a child, resulting in the beginning of legal proceedings.

Kestecher taught at Yeshivah College, which has been at the center of the child sex abuse scandal inside Melbourne’s Jewish community. Two of its former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – were jailed last year for multiple sex crimes against more than a dozen children.



Knockout Attack "Victim" Admits He May Have Just Tripped; Threatens to Sue Anyway 

On Tuesday reports of another sudden, unprovoked attack surfaced in Brooklyn. This time the victim was a 65-year-old Hasidic grandfather from London, visiting New York for a wedding. The man was leaving the reception at Borough Park's Palace Ballroom around 2 a.m. on Tuesday morning when, he would later tell police, he was attacked from behind and sent flying to the ground, face first.

He suffered a bloody lip and chipped tooth, according to the Post. Almost immediately Brooklyn City Council Member David Greenfield voiced his concern that this could be another in a series of "knockout" attacks that have plagued Brooklyn's Jewish communities in recent months.

"He was attacked from behind by two individuals -- brutally attacked," Greenfield told CBS on Tuesday. "They did not take anything from him, and he was in such bad condition that he had to be hospitalized."

Greenfield went on: "I think that this should concern all of us. Right? I mean, this is a tourist--someone who came to visit the United States to celebrate his family at a wedding and I think that the potential of sending a message internationally that we have these kinds of attacks taking place in New York City should certainly concern all of us."

As Greenfield predicted, news of the attack did reverberate internationally: on Wednesday, the story was picked up by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The story repeats Greenfield's quote, given to CBS, that the tourist was "brutally attacked" by two assailants, and notes that in November the NYPD investigated a "wave of suspected 'knockout' attacks against Jews in Brooklyn." (The story doesn't mention that after its investigation the NYPD concluded there was not a "knockout" trend.)

The story grew more complicated late Wednesday, when Jewish Political News and Updates, the website that initially reported the attack, reported that the NYPD was now saying the tourist had recanted. "The victim may just have fallen and banged his face in the concrete pavement."

An NYPD spokesman confirmed that the man changed his story when confronted by footage of the incident. "Video surveillance of the incident showed that he tripped," Detective Brian Sessa told to the Voice. "He recanted after he was shown the video surveillance."



Thursday, March 27, 2014

Yeshiva in Chester cited for a litany of health, building violations 

A property operating as a boys' yeshiva has been cited by Orange County and Town of Chester officials for a variety of violations, ranging from food-safety and sewage issues to operating without the proper certificate of occupancy or building permits.

The yeshiva, called Ohel Torah, at 158 Greycourt Road, sits adjacent to the former Camp La Guardia property as well as homes, fields and wetlands. A sign posted on the front door indicates the county Health Department ordered the yeshiva closed March 12. That order followed an investigation of neighbors' weeks-old complaints of a foul smell, Chester Supervisor Alex Jamieson said Wednesday.

Health Department officials cited the school for spilling raw sewage and serving food without the needed permits, Chester Building Inspector Joseph Mlcoch said. The Health Department has been investigating the yeshiva since last year, he said.

“Orange County routinely investigates public health violations in order to safeguard the well-being of all county residents. Any repeat non-compliant entity would be subject to additional county fines or other actions,” Deputy Commissioner of Health Christopher Ericson said via email Wednesday. “A Department of Health inspector visited the school on Wednesday morning to follow up on our March 12 code-violation issuance. The Department of Health will continue to monitor compliance pending further proceedings.”

The town issued its own stop-work order against Ohel Torah on March 10 because the yeshiva lacked a certificate of occupancy and building permit to operate the school, Mlcoch said.

Despite these notices, dozens of young Hasidic men could be seen inside the building Wednesday, their black coats neatly hanging side-by-side in an alcove. School officials were unavailable to comment.

Mlcoch said the yeshiva sits in an office park zone, which permits “schools of special instruction.” But, he said, the school needs site plan approval, which it has not received.

“All they had to do was go before the board,” Jamieson said. “We don't ask for a lot. But there are rules, and people have to follow the rules.”

Ohel Torah, purchased in 1996 by Abraham Strauber, originally was said to employ 20 people who worked at restoring Jewish holy books, Mlcoch said. The site was formerly a plumbing warehouse. In roughly 2009 or '10, he said, it began operating as a yeshiva, attended by “significantly more” people than the original 20.

The property has a history of running afoul of regulations. As far back as 2005, Strauber was cited for putting in a septic system without a permit, town documents show. The case languished for years and was eventually dismissed after the town attorney failed to prosecute.

The current case, on the Town Court calendar for April 14, will almost certainly be postponed because it falls during the Passover holiday, Mlcoch said.



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hasidic Jew attacked in Brooklyn in apparent 'knockout' attack 

A British Hasidic tourist assaulted in Brooklyn on Tuesday may have been a victim of a "knockout" attack, CBS News in New York reported. According to the report, the 65-year-old man was attacked in Borough Park after leaving a wedding, hit in the head and tossed to the ground.

"Knockout" attacks, as their name suggests, are assaults where perpetrators attempt to knock a victim to the ground with one blow, usually for no apparent reason. Last November, the New York Police Department investigated a wave of suspected "knockout" attacks against Jews in Brooklyn, consisting of at least eight incidents. In January, a Brooklyn resident was indicted for suspected "knockout" assaults of five Jewish women.

35-year-old Barry Baldwin was charged with "viciously punching" the women for no apparent reason. Though according to CBS the attack on Tuesday was not labeled as a "knockout" attack by the police, New York City Councilman David Greenfield (D-44th) said it “appears” to be one. “He was attacked from behind by two individuals, brutally attacked,” Greenfield was quoted as saying, adding that he wanted to know if the man was attacked because he was Hasidic.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Holocaust survivor speaks to area students 

A Holocaust survivor spent her morning addressing area high school students, sharing her story of survival and battles with racism, and the public can hear her message Tuesday evening.

Eva Olsson was born in Szatsmar, Hungary, in 1924, into a Hasidic Jewish family and said she faced a lifelong battle with bigotry, racism and discrimination as a result of her religion, including being put into concentration and labor camps by the Nazis in World War II. More than 800 students from Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties listened to Olsson speak at Penn Highlands Community College's Richland campus Tuesday about the trials and tribulations she faced in her younger years. Olsson shared her holocaust survival story and her time at Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazi death camps.

Olsson said her faith in God is what got her through to survive. Following her time in captivity, she didn’t speak about her experiences for almost 50 years, but eventually realized someone had to be a voice to remember those who were murdered and those who have been discriminated against for their religion.

"Someone has to speak for the 1.5 million children whose voices were silenced by hate, [a] hate that silenced their voices," Olsson said. The 90-year-old Olsson now lives with her family in Canada and has traveled to hundreds of locations to share her stories to millions. Olsson's presentation is open to the public Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at PHCC's Richland Campus Auditorium at 101 Community College Way.



Monday, March 24, 2014

Funeral set for missing Pomona man found dead in park 


A funeral service will be held Monday afternoon for Peretz Sontag, the missing Pomona father of seven whose body was found Sunday by a hiker in Harriman State Park.

Sontag had been missing since March 14. Sontag's body was found after family members insisted on another sweep, officials said.

Monday's service will be at 2:30 p.m.. at the Hellman Memorial Chapel 15 State St. in Spring Valley, said Rockland County Legislator Aron Wieder, who is serving as a liaison for the Sontags and had been active in the recent search efforts.

After the service, the body will be buried in Israel, where he had lived before moving back to Rockland County.

Sontag's body was located in his black 2012 Kia Optima after it apparently traveled over a ravine, Wieder said. He was told the area had been combed before by volunteers around the time Sontag disappeared, but the car was difficult to spot and a nearby road was closed to the public, he said.

"What can I tell you? It's just a tragedy," Sontag's uncle, Shimon, said shortly after receiving the news. "They're all distraught. It's a mess. You've got seven children. The whole family is heartbroken."

He added that authorities were not treating his nephew's death as a homicide.

Sontag's body was found near Lake Welch Road after at least 50 volunteers had gathered and hikers were also told to be on the lookout, Wieder said.

"They thought that if he's here in the park, he would not be alive anymore. They wanted closure," said Wieder, who was with two family members when they were told Sontag's body had been found. "We came back full circle to look one more time. This particular area was difficult to get to and a hiker was the one who found him."

He added that authorities don't expect foul play in the death of Sontag, 50, who was described by those who knew him as a kind-hearted person among the area's Orthodox Jewish community and a man devoted to charitable causes.

Ramapo police informed Sontag's wife, Tammy, that her husband's body had been found, Detective Lt. Mark Emma said. He confirmed that Sontag was located in his car off a roadway in the park. Authorities had last week pinged his cellphone and received a signal from a cell tower in the Stony Point area, which includes Harriman State Park.

New York State park police were said to be investigating the death. Spokesmen for the agency did not respond to requests for comment.

Ramapo police have said Sontag was depressed and had made reference to harming himself before disappearing. A friend and neighbor of Sontag's, Chesky Ostreicher, said before the discovery that Sontag ran off because of depression brought on by a failing business. Financial issues had forced the family to move back to Pomona from Israel, Ostreicher said.

"I don't even want to think about why he did this," Shimon Sontag said of his nephew.



Bnei Brak rabbi calls for gefilte fish boycott 

An unusual halachic ruling published Wednesday calls for a consumer boycott on carp fish and the traditional gefilte fish dish, in a bid to prevent fish merchants from charging exaggerated prices ahead of the Passover Seder.

In about three weeks, the Jewish people will gather around the table for the Seder meals. Many homes, particularly Ashkenazi ones, will enjoy a dish of ground carp with a piece of carrot on top – also known as gefilte fish. Yet quite a few stores have the habit of raising the price of that particular fish right before the holiday.

A halachic ruling issued by Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Stern of Bnei Brak seeks to prevent that from happening. The rabbi is calling for a gefilte fish boycott, stating that "all halachic rulers believe that the unfair exaggerated raising of prices must be stopped."

The ruling, which was published in ultra-Orthodox newspaper Hamodia, explains that after receiving information on fish prices, the rabbi suggested "a regulation of the generation's great sages to forbid the purchase of fish for a limited period of time, until all those involved understand that they must back down on the unjustified price hike and reduce the prices to a reasonable and appropriate level."

The rabbi further describes how one of the rebbes of the Chabad Hasidic movement announced a fish boycott hundreds of years ago, which lasted about two months.

According to Yehuda Ashlag, who owns a Bnei Brak delicatessen called "Leibale," gefilte fish sales soar every year ahead of Passover. "It's really part of the holiday tradition," he says. "Some people cannot do without gefilte on Passover, and the sellers use it to their advantage. I personally don't raise the price," he says.

Aviad Nurieli, a fishpond worker in northern Israel, says that "it's all a matter of supply and demand, and these are the market rules."



Sunday, March 23, 2014

Assailants break Jewish teacher’s nose in Paris, draw swastika on chest 

A Jewish teacher from Paris told police that three men had assaulted and cursed him in Arabic before drawing a swastika on his chest.

The attack occurred on Thursday night, according to a report by the Drancy-based Bureau for National Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a watchdog group known as BNVCA.

“They pressed him to the wall and hit his face, around the eyes and on his chest,” the report said. The blows broke his nose and deformed it, according to the report.

“One of the perpetrators opened the victim’s shirt and with a black marker drew a swastika on the man’s bare chest,” BNVCA president Sammy Ghozlan wrote in the BNVCA report.

The victim, who was wearing a kippah at the time of the attack, was identified as K. Richard. He was treated for a broken nose and lacerations on his face on Thursday night.

He told police that the three men whoa attacked him appeared to be of North African descent and were in their twenties. They cornered him as he was exiting a kosher restaurant on Manin Street in Paris’ 19th arrondissement, near the Gare du Nord train station.

The shouted “death to the Jews” and called him “dirty Jew” in French and also shouted insults in Arabic which Richard did not understand, the BNVCA report said.

Richard’s cries for help drew the attention of a passerby. The perpetrators fled as he approached, the report read.

BNVCA has recorded a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in France in recent weeks.

The SPCJ security unit of French Jewish communities recorded 423 anti-Semitic incidents in 2013 — a 31-percent drop from the 614 incidents recorded in 2012.

But the number of incidents reported last year is still eight percent higher than in 2011, Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said earlier this month during an interview for BMFTV.

“So we are talking about a decrease, but on the contrary, there is growth. Behind the figures there is a difficult climate,” he said.



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Village of Woodbury laws overlooked Hasidic residents, judge rules - Update 

  Woodbury Ruling

A state judge has voided the Comprehensive Plan and two zoning laws the Village of Woodbury adopted in 2011, siding with arguments by the Village of Kiryas Joel and affiliated plaintiffs that Woodbury had unfairly overlooked the high-density housing needs of Hasidic residents.

In a ruling dated Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice Francis Nicolai declared that the omission constituted "exclusionary zoning," even though the Comprehensive Plan and zoning laws had no "language or provision expressly prohibiting members of the Hasidic Jewish Community from residing in the Village."

"It is clear that if such was not enacted for an improper purpose, the Village CP (Comprehensive Plan) and the Zoning Amendments were enacted without giving proper regard to local and regional housing needs of the Hasidic Jewish community and will have an exclusionary effect," Nicolai wrote.

Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan said Thursday afternoon that his village will appeal the decision. Dennis Lynch, an attorney for Woodbury, cast it as a mixed ruling, noting in a written statement that the judge upheld two other Woodbury laws the plaintiffs had challenged, one regulating religious structures and the other protecting ridge lines.

"The Court found that the Village's Zoning Code was exclusionary in that it did not meet 'regional needs,'" Lynch said. "The Village believes that its Code does meet regional needs and looks forward for the Appellate Court to find in the Village's favor on this remaining issue."

Kiryas Joel and its officials brought the case in 2011, joined by three Woodbury residents and five entities controlled by Vaad Hakiryah, the development arm of Kiryas Joel's main religious congregation. Vaad Hakiryah, which owned 175 acres of undeveloped land in Woodbury, claimed it has been prevented from building multifamily housing, synagogues and other typical features of a Hasidic community.

Kiryas Joel's lawyers had argued that zoning for large residential lots prevents Hasidic Jews from "living and freely practicing their religion in Woodbury" and thereby "places an unreasonable burden on Kiryas Joel's housing stock, infrastructure, community services and community character."



Friday, March 21, 2014

Judge declares Village of Woodbury’s zoning “exclusionary” 

A State Supreme Court justice has ruled the Village of Woodbury’s comprehensive plan the zoning amendments constitute “unconstitutional exclusionary zoning.”

The Village of Kiryas Joel had filed an Article 78 challenge to that zoning claiming it prohibited members of the Hasidic Jewish community from living in the Village of Woodbury. The lawsuit by KJ officials contended that because members of the community are required by the tenants of their religion to reside in high-density, multi-family walkable developments, the village’s (Woodbury’s) failure to zone land located near its border with Kiryas Joel to permit such developments as of right is exclusionary.

Justice Francis Nicolai wrote in his decision, dated March 19, 2014, that Kiryas Joel officials “have demonstrated that the village comprehensive plan and/or zoning amendments [have] the effect of exclusionary zoning.”

The judge wrote that the documents did not contain any language or provision expressly prohibiting members of the Hasidic Jewish community from living in the village, “it is clear that if such was not enacted for an improper purpose, the village [comprehensive plan] and the zoning amendments were enacted without giving proper regard to local and regional housing needs of the Hasidic Jewish community and will have an exclusionary effect.”

Woodbury officials are expected to appeal the decision.



EXCLUSIVE: Case will be dropped against man with odd name of Lemon Juice, accused of tweeting photo of sex-abuse victim 

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

A criminal case against a man with the odd name of Lemon Juice will be dismissed Friday, the Daily News has learned. The Brooklyn man was accused of tweeting out a photo of a sex-abuse victim during a high-profile trial.

Juice was charged with contempt in November 2012 after a photo of the teen witness was snapped in violation of a judge's orders while she took the stand against her tormentor Nechemya Weberman.
“I’m happy it’s finally over,” Lemon Juice, 32, said Thursday.

The case against him was sour from the start.

Unlike his two co-defendants, Joseph Fried and Yona Weissman, Juice is a friend of the victim and her husband and came to court to support them — a fact prosecutors learned early on, court papers show. And the Twitter account that bore his name and photo continued posting while he was in custody.

“I’ve never used Twitter,” said Juice, who legally changed his name in 2009 to the nickname he got on account of his blond beard.

More twists emerged as the case progressed. In the fall, prosecutors learned the tweet didn't come from Juice’s phone and they later connected the Twitter account to Moses Klein, a personal driver of the Hasidic Satmar sect’s grand rabbi, documents reveal.

A resolution was further delayed to allow new district Attorney Kenneth Thompson to familiarize himself with the facts before tossing a closely watched case, sources said.

“After a 16-month legal battle, I am pleased that DA Thompson and his associates decided to dismiss all charges against an innocent individual,” said Juice’s lawyer, Leopold Gross.

He indicated they will pursue a lawsuit against Klein for malicious prosecution and conspiracy.

The case against Fried and Weissman will move forward, sources said, and their attorneys will be in court Friday to argue against that.

The district attorney’s office did not comment on the dismissal or on possible charges against Klein.

Boorey Deutsch, the husband of Weberman’s victim, called on Thompson to prosecute Klein “who caused an innocent man to be charged with a crime that Klein masterminded.”

Weberman was convicted and is now serving a 50-year prison sentence.

Juice, for his part, did not sound bitter about his legal ordeal.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” he mused. “I don’t have to know every reason, and it really doesn't matter.”



Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kiryas Joel man charged with molesting 9-year-old boy 

A 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday on charges that he molested a 9-year-old boy, said state police.

Police said Joel Gluck, 27, of Kiryas Joel, lured the boy away to a remote area on Monday and touched his intimate parts. The boy told his parents, and they reported it to Kiryas Joel Public Safety, who worked with state police.

Gluck was charged with two misdemeanors and released to appear in Town of Monroe Court at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 24.



Bloomingburg Planning Board meeting lacks quorum 

The strange, ever-shifting saga of Shalom Lamm's 396-home Hasidic development and the proposed private girls' school that would serve it took yet another bizarre turn Wednesday night. More than 125 opponents of the Bloomingburg projects packed the Mamakating Town Hall for a Village of Bloomingburg Planning Board meeting to reconsider the school that the board unexpectedly — and perhaps prematurely — voted down in December, prompting a lawsuit from Lamm.

But Planning Board Chairman Russ Wood canceled the meeting when only two of the four board members showed up — not enough for a quorum. The two members who didn't come to the meeting, Andy Finnema and Ann Haenelt, both voted against the project, along with Joe Roe, who did come to the meeting, which was held in Mamakating to accommodate the large crowd. Finnema and Haenelt did not return calls for comment after the meeting, but some in the crowd said they knew they weren't coming.

The crowd, which included Lamm's partner Kenneth Nakdimen, left quietly. But some members said the cancellation was typical of the village that last week was raided by the FBI as part of its ongoing investigation into corruption, including voter fraud. Coincidentally, the Village Board apparently canceled yet another board meeting late Wednesday when a handwritten sign appeared on Village Hall saying that Thursday night's meeting would not be held.

The board has had only one regularly scheduled meeting since August, despite the ongoing controversy over Lamm's projects and claims it's violating the state open meetings law.

"I think this (the canceled planning meeting) shows the village is in such a dysfunctional state," said Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann.

"I'm just wondering what's going to happen next," said development opponent Lesleigh Weinstein. "Trust no one."

The meeting was supposed to be held in response to Lamm's suit against the Planning Board, in which he essentially claimed that the school vote was based on emotion, not village law, which allows the school. In an example of just how heated the development fight has become, Lamm blamed "bigotry" in his statement about the suit:

"With no legal rationale or explanation, the Village Planning Board bowed to pressure from some residents motivated by blatant and ugly religious bigotry. The vote went far beyond the scope of the Board's review authority, which should have been a simple pro-forma affair, and left us no choice but to seek relief from the courts "»"

But in a recent conference about Lamm's lawsuit, Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick essentially recommended that the girls' school go back before the board to complete the review process because the vote occurred before a public hearing was held — as is required by law.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Borough Park is booming 

Life in Borough Park is booming. Community leaders say the neighborhood is one of the fastest-growing in all of New York City.

Democratic City Councilman David Greenfield has served Borough Park for four years and said he has witnessed the neighborhood’s population – and building landscape – trending upwards.

“Borough Park is very safe and family friendly – but also very dense. People have been knocking down homes to build bigger ones,” he said. “There has been a lot of appeal lately. More and more people keep coming in.”

Census data and community board statistics showed the population in the western Brooklyn neighborhood shot up steadily over the past 20 years from roughly 160,000 residents living there in 1990 to more than 191,000 today.

Greenfield said Community Board 12 also recorded some of the highest growth in both resident participation and population over the past decade. A big part of the appeal, he said, rested in the community acting as the de facto capitol of Hasidic Judaism in the entire United States.

“The folks who are moving here are doing so because of the abundant access to various resources,” he said. “They come here and stay because it is close to all of the amenities they like.”



Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bloomingburg Votes Today Amid Hasidic Development Feud 

The upstate New York village of Bloomingburg heads to the polls today for a contentious election that could determine the future of the one-stoplight village.

Amid a bitter brawl over a planned 396-home Hasidic development, the election has become a battleground for both the Orthodox developer set on seeing through his large-scale development and fired-up residents who argue that the development would dwarf the local village.

Current Mayor Mark Berentsen, the target of a lawsuit by anti-development activists over an alleged conflict of interest for signing off to the development plans, is going up against Frank Gerardi, an opponent of Lamm’s development who has garnered considerable grassroots support.

Gerardi, a member of the Rural Heritage Party, has vowed to put a wrench in Lamm’s plans. “Uncontrolled growth has to cease,” Gerardi told the Times-Herald Record, adding that the 90 units that have already been built should remain. Another member of Gerardi’s party was recently elected town supervisor in Mamakating, the town that Bloomingburg sits within.

Lamm had challenged the nominating petition for Gerardi, but local courts dismissed his challenge. Opponents of the development believe that Lamm has been trying to influence the outcome of the election to ensure that Berentsen stays in power.

140 new residents living in properties owned by Lamm around the village have registered to vote, yet many long-time residents allege that the newly registered voters have not actually been living in the village for the required 30 days or are not actually live there at all.

“For the amount of people that are registered, very few new faces are in town,” said Bloomingburg resident Teek Persaud, a member of an anti-development group called the Rural Community Coalition.

Last week, FBI agents raided the small village as part of an “ongoing investigation,” presumably into the allegations of voter fraud. Lamm has blasted the accusations of voter fraud as “false and offensive” and told the Forward that many new residents are living in the village.

A state court in Monticello has ruled that any challenged votes will be sequestered until a judge determines their validity, according to CBS New York. If the votes are tossed, it could mark a major win for the development’s opponents.

“If they’re thrown out, I have a very good chance,” Gerardi told the Times-Herald Record.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Lev Tahor Members Who Fled Canada To Appear In Guatemalan Court 

Some members of a Jewish sect who fled Canada this month are scheduled to appear in a Guatemala court today.

Uriel Goldman, a spokesman for the Lev Tahor group, says two families _ made up of three adults and six children in all _ have been ordered to appear in family court in the town of Solola.

At least two Lev Tahor families left Canada for Guatemala last week in the face of child custody hearings.

About 200 members of the sect _ 114 of them children _ settled in Chatham, Ont., last year after suddenly leaving from Ste-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.

Child-welfare authorities in Quebec spent a year investigating issues related to hygiene, health and allegations that the children weren't being educated according to the provincial curriculum.

The group has denied all allegations of mistreatment and Goldman says the two families in Guatemala have done nothing wrong.

"For these two families, there are no concerns about anything with the parents and the kids," he said in an interview from Chatham, Ont.

Goldman says the families appeared before a judge on Friday who said they could remain free over the weekend.

It was not immediately clear whether Guatelmalan authorities were acting at the Canadian government's request or investigating the families independently.

A spokesman for Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs says consular officials in Guatemala are in communication with local authorities on the issue.

A Quebec court ordered late last year that 14 Lev Tahor children be placed in foster care.



Sunday, March 16, 2014

The difference between Beren Wein and the Wine Barrel - L'Kovod Purim 

Are they actually two different people? Or does Berel Wein actually own the Wine Barrel?


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Freilichen Purim! 


Friday, March 14, 2014

A Quiet Village in the Catskills Braces for an Influx of Hasidim 

Clifford M. Teich came to this rustic village in the foothills of the Catskills 30 years ago to be a country doctor, an internist who would treat his fellow villagers’ aches and pains, and get to know them as neighbors. He occasionally accepts payment in the form of homegrown onions and tomatoes.

“I wanted to wake up in a small, quiet, quaint village,” said Dr. Teich, 61, who grew up in Westchester County. “People came up here with the intent to live in a place that is rural, not congested, and where everybody knows everybody’s name.”

Now, Dr. Teich and many neighbors are worried that Bloomingburg, which has 400 residents, is about to become a very different place, more like the jostling streets of Brooklyn, more bustling as it becomes populated by Hasidic newcomers. He wants to keep the village what he calls heterogeneous.

“It’s no longer my village,” he said. “It’s a Hasidic village.”

A developer, Shalom Lamm, has been granted the right by village boards to build 396 townhouses that seem likely to be bought up by Hasidim. Mr. Lamm argues that Dr. Teich and others who are resisting the development have no right to decide who gets to live in the village.

“They want to determine the religious and racial profile of every person who moves into land I own,” he said. “Because we live in America, if you determine you don’t like the neighbors, you have a right to move, but if they adhere to the law, you have no right to block them.”

“Substitute ‘black’ for ‘Hasid,’ ” he said, and his opponents would be “horrified” to question his right to sell his townhouses to whomever he wishes.

The controversy took a twist on Thursday when agents with a Federal Bureau of Investigation public corruption squad descended on the village and raided more than 20 properties owned by Mr. Lamm in what opponents of the townhouses said was an investigation into their claims of voter fraud. Mr. Lamm, the opponents have charged, has moved 140 Hasidim into vacant apartments since January in an effort to assure a sympathetic majority on the three-person village board that is up for election on Tuesday. In the last election, just 24 people voted. Mr. Lamm, meanwhile, has gone to court to challenge the petitions of candidates opposed to his development.

Kelly J. Langmesser, a spokesman for the F.B.I., confirmed that the office was “conducting multiple searches in the Bloomingburg area in relation to an ongoing investigation.” In a statement, Joel Cohen, a lawyer for Black Creek Holdings, Mr. Lamm’s company, said “we feel confident when the dust settles they will find no wrongdoing.”

While 93 of the three-bedroom, 2,800-square-foot townhouses are already under construction in a muddy field here, Mr. Lamm, 54, a modern Orthodox Jew who is a son of Norman Lamm, a former president and chancellor of Yeshiva University, insists the development has not yet been marketed and will, come spring, be open to anyone of any faith to buy at between $369,000 and $389,000.

Nevertheless, Hasidim in Brooklyn’s Satmar community have published ads in Yiddish newspapers heralding a new Hasidic community in Bloomingburg with the name Kiryas Yetev Lev, an echo of an incorporated village farther south, Kiryas Joel near Monroe, of 21,350 Hasidim. (Yetev is a Hebrew acronym for Joel Teitelbaum, the grand rabbi who established the Satmar movement in the United States after the ravages of World War II and for whom Kiryas Joel was named.) Given that Hasidic families often have six to eight children or more, the development could more than quadruple Bloomingburg’s population.

Satmar leaders say that Hasidim, who are having difficulty finding vacant affordable apartments in Williamsburg and other Brooklyn neighborhoods, have been craving a satellite community. Mr. Lamm’s complex seems to fit their needs.

In anticipation of the new residents, Mr. Lamm has purchased more than a dozen properties along the one-stoplight village’s streets; his opponents say he has bought up 25 percent of the village. The properties include a financially struggling Methodist church, several retail shops, and small tumbledown apartment houses, which he is upgrading. The shops now feature signs promising a new kosher cafe, a Judaica store and a pediatric clinic. The church and a large warehouse building are slated to become Hasidic schools. One building near the townhouse development is being adapted as a mikveh, a ritual bath used by women after menstrual periods and by men before Sabbath and study.

“If there was overwhelming anecdotal evidence that Buddhists want to move here, I would turn this into a Buddhist temple,” he said of the church. “If the evidence is that Hasidim are interested, why not provide the infrastructure?”

Mr. Lamm said some of his opponents had acted in ways he described as anti-Semitic or, for those opponents who are Jewish, anti-Orthodox. One couple who live next to the development put up a 20-foot wooden cross as a Christmas ornamentation, but it is still there more than 10 weeks later. Mr. Lamm said a dozen protesters had turned up outside Friday night services and hollered profanities at Mr. Lamm, his family and Hasidic worshipers.

Lesleigh Weinstein, who is an opponent of the development and is Jewish, said she “had no problem with that cross” because it was a Christmas symbol. Hyperbolic comments, she said, are “expressions of anger,” no more a generalized stereotype of a group than Mr. Lamm’s accusations of anti-Semitism. His accusations, she said, only stoke anti-Semitism.

The charge of anti-Semitism has a particular resonance in the area because Bloomingburg is in the Pine Bush school district, where three Jewish families in 2012 sued the district for tolerating anti-Semitic slurs, jokes about the Holocaust, and swastikas. Holly Roche, a Jewish woman who leads the largest opposition group, Rural Community Coalition, denies that she or other opponents are anti-Hasidic.

“This isn’t about who might be moving in; it’s about size and scope,” she said.

One newly arrived Hasid, Chaim Rosenbaum, a 34-year-old father of six, said in an email that he moved to Bloomingburg in January with a “sense of optimism about starting a new community” and “like any other American, I registered to vote.”

“That act is apparently offensive to some residents of the area, many of whom were jumping for joy seeing the F.B.I. interrogating Chasidic Jews this morning,” he said.

Opponents like Dr. Teich, who is also Jewish, and Ms. Roche have accused Mr. Lamm of “bait-and-switch” tactics. They say he arranged for a local developer to appear before the village board in 2006 as a “frontman” and promise a gated community of 125 luxury homes with a golf course. (The project first needed approval of the village board in 2006 because it required annexation of acreage outside the village.) Then, opponents say, Mr. Lamm revised the plan to 396 townhouses with no golf course before getting final planning board approval in 2010. As a sweetener, Mr. Lamm built the village a $5 million wastewater treatment plant.

Denying deception, Mr. Lamm said he challenged opponents to produce a single piece of paper that promises no more than 125 homes. Opponents have not been able to do so. Nevertheless, Dr. Teich, who as deputy mayor supported annexation, said he was verbally told of 125 units several times by the local developer.

“This whole thing has been done through smoked glass,” Dr. Teich said.



Thursday, March 13, 2014

Special campaign for women not to speak on cell phones on the street and in stores 


Lev Tahor children, parents seek refugee status in Guatemala 

The six Lev Tahor children and their parents still missing from Canada have made their way to the Guatemalan lakefront town of Panajachel, according to a local rabbi.

The group has also contacted an immigration lawyer and is trying to extend their stay in the country, the Star has learned.

The move is the latest development in an international effort to find the children from families in the controversial ultraorthodox Jewish sect and place them in foster care.

Child protection authorities in Ontario and Quebec are worried about the children after an investigation alleged physical abuse, underage marriage, forced medication and a substandard education regime.

In November, the sect fled their Quebec homes for Chatham, Ont., in advance of an order calling for the removal of 14 children and placement in foster care for 30 days.

An Ontario judge upheld that decision, ordering the removal of 13 children. One was 17 and not a child under Ontario law.

Last week Ontario Superior Court Justice Lynne Templeton issued an order to apprehend the children after it appeared 12 had been taken by adults in the sect to Trinidad and Tobago.

The group was detained on the island for a period on Saturday before three adults returned to Canada, along with six children who were intercepted by Children’s Services at the airport. Two others — a 17-year-old mother and her infant daughter were apprehended when they flew to Calgary.

The remaining six children and two parents made it to Guatemala.

Rabbi Shalom Pelman, leader of the local Chabad Lubovitch, a Jewish outreach organization in Guatemala City, said the group contacted an Israeli lawyer but said the lawyer was not likely to take the case.

Pelman said they told the lawyer they were staying by the lake.

Locals in Panajachel told a Star reporter they remember seeing a man dressed in the Hasidic style, common to Lev Tahor, approximately a week ago.

An official in the ministry of foreign affairs in Guatemala, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group had applied for refugee status.

The ministry of immigration in Guatemala said it had no knowledge of the application but if one had been filed, they would not be able to discuss it because of confidentiality rules.



Pine Bush board to explore zoning district over concerns of bloc vote 

Could a bloc vote of new Hasidic voters in Bloomingburg take over the Pine Bush Board of Education?

Because many residents of this district that encompasses Bloomingburg fear that could happen, the Pine Bush school board has asked Superintendent Joan Carbone to explore how board members could be elected to represent particular zones in the district, not the district as a whole — a move that apparently would mean changing state law.

This way, each zone would elect a representative, and no zone would have more power than another.

"It's about the Village of Bloomingburg, but it's also about limiting the power of one segment of the population over the power of another segment," said Kahrs, one of many residents who spoke out for the move at Tuesday's packed Pine Bush school board meeting.

He points to the East Ramapo Central School District in Rockland County, a public district with a school board of ultra-Orthodox members.

"We can take that as a learning tool and be proactive," said board member Roseanne Sullivan, who is also an Orange County legislator. She said board members will collect opinions on the possible move from the public.

But Kahrs also said such a move would make particular sense in Pine Bush, which draws students from seven towns over three counties — although the effort might be complicated by a lawsuit claiming the district tolerated anti-Semitism — allegations that Pine Bush is vigorously fighting.

"When you have a unique district like Pine Bush, where everyone in those towns pays different taxes, why can't each municipality have a different representative?" Kahrs asks.

The problem is, state law doesn't allow a district to do that, said Carbone. "It's impossible to do it without changing the law."

Carbone and board Vice President Judith Pulver also stress that regardless of district geography, the board represents the entire community.

"And we look out for the best interests of all of our students," said Pulver.

Still, Kahrs plans on targeting state legislators with a letter-writing and lobbying campaign — even though he admits the chances of success are "slim."

"We need to protect the public education system," he said.



FBI Raids Controversial Orthodox Developer’s Properties in Upstate N.Y. 

FBI agents have descended on properties owned by Orthodox developer Shalom Lamm in the upstate New York village of Bloomingburg, according to eyewitness accounts and a report in the Time Herald-Record, a local newspaper.

Between 50 and 60 FBI agents have swarmed the town, with 20 FBI vehicles parked outside the Bloomingbug headquarters of Lamm’s development firm, according to Teek Persaud, a local business owner and an opponent of Lamm’s development project.

A spokesperson for the FBI in New York confirmed that the FBI had conducted “multiple searches” in Bloomingburg as part of an ongoing investigation. The spokesperson would not comment on the nature of the investigation.

A spokesman for Black Creek, Lamm’s firm, acknowledged the FBI investigation. “The FBI is reviewing allegations — and they are only allegations,” said Joel Cohen, attorney for Black Creek. “We feel confident that when the dust settles they will find no wrongdoing.”

Lamm is building a controversial 396-unit development in the village of Bloomingburg that has faced significant local opposition. He has also bought up a large portion of the buildings on and around the village’s small main street. Members of the ultra-Orthodox Satmar Hasidic group plan to move to the Lamm’s development once construction is complete.

Lamm has recently faced allegations of voter fraud in the run-up to local village elections in Bloomingburg, as over 100 new voters have registered to vote in the village — many of them from addresses owned by Lamm. Just 24 people voted in the last Bloomingburg village election.

The Time Herald-Record reported that FBI agents arrived in Bloomingburg on March 13 and have visited at least three Lamm-owned properties, including a house at 137 Main Street. Opponents of the development project say that the house has been listed as a home address by 20 newly registered voters, according to the Herald Record.



Slain Hasid Menachem Stark named winner of $18,000 raffle 

The late Menachem Stark, a Satmar real estate investor and philanthropist who was brutally murdered in January, became the winner of an $18,000 raffle on Wednesday, a report said.

According to the Jewish Political Updates website, Stark made a $100 donation during a Hanukkah campaign last December, granting him 100 entries in a Jewish raffle. On Wednesday, his name was drawn for the prize in Brooklyn. His family was notified of the result.

The raffle was organized by the Keren Chasanim of Bobov (a Hasidic sect), a fund that helps couples pay off their wedding expenses.

Meanwhile, financial records revealed Thursday that Stark withdrew $3.6 million from his own business to pay off personal debts a day before he was abducted and murdered. According to the report in Jewish Voice NY, Stark was in severe debt, and had used cashier's checks to pull massive amounts of money during the month before his murder.

Stark, a controversial figure in Borough Park, known for both his charity work in the community and his failure to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines levied by the city for rental properties in severe disrepair, was kidnapped on January 2 and his body was found burned in Long Island the next day.

No arrests haven been made in the case thus far.



Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pine Bush School Board wants to split district into zones 

Could a bloc vote of new Hasidic voters in Bloomingburg take over the Pine Bush Board of Education?

Because many residents of this district that encompasses Bloomingburg fear that could happen, the Pine Bush Board of Education has asked Superintendent Joan Carbone to explore how board members could be elected to represent particular zones in the district, not the district as a whole – a move that apparently would mean changing state law.

This way, each zone would elect a representative, and no zone would have more power than another.

The idea is the brainchild of John Kahrs, leader of the Concerned Citizens’ Group of Pine Bush, which led the fight against a proposed private girls school in Bloomingburg that would be fed by developer Shalom Lamm’s 396 home Hasidic development.

“It’s about the Village of Bloomingburg, but it’s also about limiting the power of one segment of the population over the power of another segment,” says Kahrs, one of many residents who spoke out for the move at Tuesday’s night’s packed Pine Bush Board of Education meeting.

He points to the East Ramapo Central School District in Rockland County, a public district with a Board of Education comprised of ultra-Orthodox members.

“We can take that as a learning tool and be proactive,” says board member Roseanne Sullivan, also an Orange County Legislator who notes that board members will collect opinions on the possible move from the public.

But Kahrs also says such a move would make particular sense in Pine Bush, which draws students from seven towns over three counties.

“When you have a unique district like Pine Bush…where everyone in those towns pays different taxes, why can’t each municipality have a different representative? Kahrs asks.”

Problem is, state law doesn’t allow a district to do that, says Carbone.

“It’s impossible to do it without changing the law,” she says.

Still, Kahrs plans on targeting state legislators with a letter writing and lobbying campaign – even though he admits the chances of success are “slim.”

“We need to protect the public education system,” he says.



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Monroe residents protest Kiryas Joel deal 

Dozens of Monroe residents turned out to oppose

Monday night's town board meeting in Monroe had residents voicing their concerns over a proposal to annex 507 acres of land to the village of Kiryas Joel.

The annexation would double the size of the Hasidic community, but Monroe residents at the meeting say the ramifications would be devastating. Residents say they're concerned the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District would lose funding for programs if land is annexed. Retirees at the hearing say they're on a limited income and are worried taxes would go up.

Also concerning residents are newly released figures that show Kiryas Joel has the third-highest number of people on social services in Orange County.

A decision has yet to be made on who will be the lead agency in the project. The lead agency will review the environmental impact of the proposed annexation. Monroe, Kiryas Joel and the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District have all made requests.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Hasidic images displayed at Eastman House 

Pavel Wolberg attended a Hasidic wedding in Israel 15 years ago, and found his calling as a photographer in documenting rituals and religious traditions.

“A World Apart: Photographs of Hasidic Communities in Israel,” an exhibit of his works glimpsing some of the most meaningful moments of the private religious group, is on display at George Eastman House through May 25.

Wolberg, born in Leningrad, Russia, moved to Israel with his mother and grandmother when he was 9 years old.

After serving in the Israeli army, he chose photography as a career, working for a European press agency.

Before leaving Russia, he remembers visiting the Hermitage as a child to see art there, and he enjoyed painting when he was young. Pavel felt that photography was close to painting, so he chose the field to express his view of the world.

Weddings, funerals and religious holidays such as Purim and Tashlich caught his attention. Purim, a joyous holiday that celebrates the deliverance of Jews from a plot to eliminate them from Persia in the fourth century, is the one day when strict codes of behavior are suspended and participants dress up and masquerade in celebration.

Pavel captured the festivities of Purim — which is next weekend — in a series of images, including one of orthodox men dressed in colorful hats.

Pavel photographs a happy ritual in Pidyon Haben, Vitznitz Hasidim, Bnei Brak, 2011, a Jewish mitzvah in which a first-born son is placed on a table to represent his “redemption” from priesthood. The ceremony is preceeded by a feast organized by the father and must take place at least 30 days after the child’s birth. Pavel has presented the elaborate event as if it were a formal painting full of lush detail and deep, rich hues.

In his best works, he combines his photojournalism instincts to “get the story” quickly with painterly concerns that echo the classicism of the Renaissance. The result is vibrant, modern works that take the viewer into the action of the moment and offer much more than a news photo could convey.

His wedding images are perhaps the most intimate and beautiful of portrayals — studies into the hearts and minds of the participants. In a series of shots, Pavel shows not only how elaborate and full of tradition the rite of marriage is in Hasidic communities, but also how the individual and the tradition is viewed by the group. Wedding III, Taldot Aharan Hasidim, Brei Brak, 2012 is one example.

Each image, more compelling than the next, offers a glimpse into the private lives of members of this tight-knit religious community.



Sunday, March 09, 2014

Increased Hostility Against Jews And Roma In Hungary 

Ahead of next month's parliamentary election in Hungary, a report published in February found the Roma minority in that Central European country face an unprecedented amount of violence and discrimination. While prejudice against Roma, pejoratively known as Gypsies, is widespread throughout Europe, the report says Hungary is more anti-immigrant and hostile toward minorities than elsewhere.

"In the last five years in Hungary, the establishment of vigilante groups and hate crimes against Roma and other minority groups has characterized a climate of increasing social and economic exclusion," according to the report, from the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

A 2011 survey finds many Hungarians share anti-Roma sentiments with 60 percent believing that criminality was in "gypsy" blood. The same poll found 40 percent believed it was OK to have bars and clubs where Roma were not allowed in.

These widespread attitudes help explain the popularity and political strength of the Jobbik party. It's the country's third largest, holding 43 seats of 386 in the Hungarian Parliament. It defines itself as a "principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party," but critics say it's a radical organization that targets minorities.

Its website, "The Movement For A Better Hungary," has a page dedicated to defending itself from accusations that it is extremist, anti-Roma and anti-Semitic. It charges that the foreign press wrongly concludes hard economic times have triggered Hungarians and other Central Europeans to victimize minority populations:

"Quite simple really. Central Europeans + Economic Downturn = (or rather, must and can only equal) Hateful Extremists and persecution of minorities.

"People don't behave like this anywhere else mind you, only around here. Take a few pennies out of a Hungarian's pocket, and he turns almost immediately into a slavering ultra-nationalist who on the way back from clubbing a local Gypsy, will pause only to hurl yet another brick through the windows of his nearest synagogue."

The party's sarcastic response is meant to dismiss the accusations as ludicrous. But statements and actions of party members over the last few years go against those Web protestations. In November 2012, one of Jobbik's Parliament members, Márton Gyöngyösi reportedly asked Parliament to create a list of Jews who allegedly posed national security threats.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center blasted Gyöngyösi's statement and called it "sadly reminiscent of the genocidal Nazi regime which murdered hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews with the help of numerous local collaborators."

Gyöngyösi said he was misunderstood and was referring to dual citizens of Israel and Hungary.

When asked in an interview by the Jewish Chronicle Online if Hungary should apologize for the Holocaust, Gyöngyösi replied "Me, should I say sorry for this when 70 years later, I am still reminded on the hour, every hour about it? Let's get over it, for Christ's sake. I find this question outrageous."

The World Jewish Congress held its Plenary Assembly in Budapest last year to highlight anti-semitism in Hungary. When WJC President Ronald S. Lauder opened the gathering he said, "We are seeing, once again, growing ignorance, growing intolerance, growing hatred. Once again we see the outrage of anti-Semitism. ... In the press and on television, anti-Semitism and incitement against the Roma minority are becoming commonplace, even accepted."

Lauder added the persecution of Jews and Roma have happened in tandem in the past, "Let us never forget the Roma were also victims of the Nazi Holocaust."

The Harvard report says the anti-minority climate is having a deleterious effect on the Roma and that hate speech by politicians and public figures has contributed to physical and violent assaults against this marginalized population. The European Roma Rights Centre documented cases of seven Romani adults and two Romani children who died in attacks from 2008 to 2012.

Another concerning issue in the report is the rise of paramilitary and extremist groups, which target not only Roma, but Jews and the LGBT community. And many of these groups conduct weapon trainings for their members. One of the report authors says the frequency and regularity of these instructions is unique to this central European country.

"There are some news in Romania about few trainings organized by some extremist organization, but nothing at the level of Hungary," said Margareta Matache, who has worked on Roma and minority issues in Europe for 15 years. She added, "What is interesting here is that each of these organizations, they organize these sort of training, not only once, they have regular trainings for their members on how to use weapons."

Anti-minority rhetoric runs rampant in these groups and the Jobbik party has ties to them. The party's current leader, Gabor Vona, founded the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group in 2007. Matache says, "One of their more explicit objective was to stop the Gypsy crime" and "that Gypsy crime is a serious form of crime which poses a danger to everyone." The Hungarian Guard was eventually banned, but Vona has worked to re-establish the group.

Last November, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest weighed in when it condemned an event organized by the Jobbik party. The embassy described Jobbik as a "Hungarian political party identified with ethnic hatred and anti-Semitism" and called it out after members unveiled a bust of Miklos Horthy, a Nazi ally and the leader of Hungary during World War II.

"Although the significant number of counter-demonstrators showed there is strong opposition to the organizers' views, and members of the Hungarian government have expressed disapproval, an event such as this requires swift, decisive, unequivocal condemnation by Hungary's highest ranking leaders," the statement read.

Earlier this year, the Hungarian ambassador to the United Nations apologized for Hungary's role in the Jewish and Roma Holocaust during World War II. This was the first time the country apologized for its involvement.

"We owe an apology to the victims because the Hungarian state was guilty for the Holocaust. Firstly because it failed to protect its citizens from destruction and secondly because it helped and provided financial resources to the mass murder," said ambassador Csaba Kőrösi.

In the last year and a half, Matache says she and her colleagues have observed a decrease in rallies and violence against Roma, which she considers a good sign. But that trend has been coupled with legislative changes that worry her. The report says that changes to the constitution limiting minority rights and free speech should be cause for concern, even as violent attacks decrease: "In other countries such as Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, similar trends have been recorded: outright violence has been supplanted by anti-minority policies and legislation."

Colleen Bell, the United States ambassador-designate to Hungary, expressed worry during her confirmation hearings in the Senate about recent changes to the constitution and fears that democracy was eroding.

"Many argue that sweeping legislative and constitutional changes have hurt the international investment climate, undermined property rights, weakened the judiciary, and centralized power in the hands of the executive," Bell said in her statement. "The United States has also expressed concern about the rise of extremism which unfortunately is a trend not unique to Hungary. However, the rise in Hungary of extremist parties is of particular concern."

Matache hopes the European Union will step in to help curb the violence and discrimination in this member country.

"They really have to take some measures because there is a legal framework available and there is a need for some measure to stop the violence," she says,"But also, to make sure that the Roma, Jews and LGBT, all minorities in Hungary, they feel safe because there is a level of insecurity that those people cannot really manage it from both the local level in their villages, but also in big cities."

And she says the European Union should figure out how to deal with member countries that violate the EU's human rights laws. She hopes reports like this one will also catch the attention of the U.S. and lead the international community to place pressure on countries like Hungary to move toward a more accepting society. But she says cultural education is also key to improving the situation.

"Hungary is one of the countries, along with Romania, Bulgaria and countries in central and Eastern Europe where children of both minority and majority population do not actually have the chance to learn about prejudice," she says, "The children belonging to majority population could actually learn more about minorities, by being involved in classes and reading more on cultural diversity and having educated children on cultural diversity, I think that the level of prejudice might decrease."



Saturday, March 08, 2014

Ramapo's nonprofit funding distribution questioned 

A group of candidates who unsuccessfully ran against town incumbents in the fall claims that Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence's administration is giving a disproportionate share of funding to nonprofits that serve the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities.

According to Preserve Ramapo, and confirmed by documents obtained by The Journal News through Freedom of Information Law, nearly 80 percent of the town's funding for nonprofits for 2014, or $309,000, have been allocated to organizations based in the hamlet of Monsey or the villages of New Square and Kaser, communities that are heavily populated by ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.

In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Orthodox organizations received about 60 percent of the town's total nonprofit funding. But the pattern became more apparent this year as Ramapo cut back allocations for other organizations to cope with its financial crunch. Funding for several non-Orthodox organizations were drastically reduced, if they got money at all, while distributions for Orthodox organizations were mostly left intact.

Michael Parietti, Betty Carmand, Weldon McWilliams IV and Hiram Rivera, who ran for town seats on the Preserve Rockland line in November, along with Steven White of Spring Valley, are questioning the fairness of the funding distribution. St. Lawrence, however, says the Town Board decided case-by-case basis to use taxpayers' money effective to benefit the entire town. The Town Board unanimously approved the allocation of funds at its Dec. 11 meeting.

The organization that received the most funding is the Rockland Opportunity Development Association in Kaser. Its stated mission is to "promote, foster and improve the health, welfare and economic status of the needy, elderly and those living below the poverty level," according to the organization's Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

A total of $105,000 — $55,000 for seniors and $50,000 for youth — has been allocated for the Kaser organization for 2014. The amount is more than 25 percent of the town's total nonprofit funding of $392,500 for this year.

Israel Neiman, who is listed as president of the organization on tax documents, didn't return messages left at his office and home. The tax document lists a post office box as the nonprofit's address. One of the addresses associated with the organization found on the Internet, 15 Elyon Road, Monsey, is the home for a Viznitz school.

The second biggest allocation for 2014 has been awarded to New Square Emergency Services, a volunteer first-responder organization. The organization got $40,000 for 2014, up by $10,000 from its 2013 allocation, $30,000.

Sije Dirnfeld, who was identified as the head of the organization by his staff and a family member, declined to speak with a reporter who asked how the funding would help operate the organization.

"I'm not authorized to talk to the press," he said.

While Orthodox organizations received generous amounts of funds, other nonprofits are being left out. For example, Head Start of Rockland, which received $20,000 annually from Ramapo in recent years, will receive no funds this year. Ramapo Haitian Task Force, Haitian Caucus-Safe Spring Valley and the Hi-Tor Animal Care Center received $10,000 each last year but will get nothing this year.

Ann Jerema, volunteer program director for Christ Church of Ramapo in Suffern, said the church has been in charge of the pantry and soup kitchen program that was originally launched in 1980 by Ramapo Ecumenical, a group of local churches. The volunteer program had received $2,000 a year from Ramapo in the past years, but the funding was eliminated for 2014.

"It takes a lot of overhead, particularly when you are serving lunches every day," Jerema said. "The lack of the $2,000 is certainly going to make a difference in our budget."

The church's soup kitchen served 17,000 hot meals last year, and its pantry helps 48 households a month on average, Jerema said.

"We serve people from Hillburn, Suffern and all the way to Monsey," Jerema said. "We even have people who live in other areas of Ramapo who take the buss in because they appreciate what we do and how we treat our clients."

The Preserve Rockland candidates argue that St. Lawrence is rewarding the communities who helped them re-elected with its bloc vote.

"This disproportionate allocation of money is an extension of ongoing pattern of discrimination by the St. Lawrence administration and the town of Ramapo against the secular (community)," said Parietti, who ran for town supervisor against St. Lawrence.

Rivera, who ran against Town Justice Rhoda Schoenberger, called the allocations "favoritism."

"There's definitely favoritism existing in the current administration," Rivera said. "If it's not favoritism, they should be able to justify why funding is just so lopsided."

St. Lawrence disputed the allegations and said the Town Board made the decision to benefit the entire town.

"We looked to see where we can cut back. We did that a case-by-case basis. Some were things that people didn't ask for as much money, and some were areas that we thought we could save some money. So that's what we did," St. Lawrence said. "We are helping organizations across the town that provide services for the town in a cost effective way for our citizens."

He added that because certain nonprofits petitioned for more money after the board's decision, he decided to restore funds for Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center and the NAACP.

Martin Luther King Multi-Purpose Center had received $30,000 in 2013. Its 2014 funding was initially cut back to $5,000, but after the center's officials sought more help, the town increased the amount to $22,000, St. Lawrence said. The $3,500 annual funding for NAACP was initially eliminated for 2014, but it was later restored, he said.

Even with those changes, about 75 percent of the town's 2014 nonprofit funding goes to organizations that serve ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic communities.



Friday, March 07, 2014

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 'Hilchos Purim' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


‘They will be sent back to Canada’ 

THE NINE members of the “orthodox Hasidic Jewish group” Lev Tahor who were denied travel to Guatemala when they entered Trinidad and Tobago on Monday will be sent back to Canada, a release from the Office of the Attorney General has stated.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith yesterday defended the actions of this country’s Immigration officials in dealing with the nine Lev Tahor members.

On Monday around 5 a.m., the Lev Tahor members arrived in Trinidad on board a WestJet flight in transit to Guatemala through Trinidad and Tobago from Toronto, Canada, .

Speaking to the Express on the situation on Wednesday, director of the National Operation Centre, Commander Garvin Heerah , said when  group members were interviewed by Immigration officials, “inconsistencies in their responses” were discovered.

“As a consequence and in adherence to international immigration protocols the group was rejected and advised of their inability to travel on to Guatemala,” he said.

The action of the Immigration officials was, however, condemned by attorney Farai Hove Masaisai who represented the group.

On Wednesday, Masaisai wrote to Griffith, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the Chief Immigration Officer, the United Nations and Amnesty International on the situation.

Masaisai said when he contacted Immigration officials to determine the whereabouts of the Lev Tahor nine he was told no one was there.

“In an effort to ascertain the truth I then took the decision to personally visit the Piarco International Airport and it was with my own eyes the conditions in which the above mentioned individuals were kept in was witnessed,” Masaisai stated in his letter.

He said he saw “weary children and adults who had not eaten or been allowed to bathe”.

“They were sitting in the cold airport and in a strange country with no one there to render any form of assistance,” he stated.

“I was told of incidents where they were threatened by Immigration officers and they were fearful for their safety here in Trinidad. The manner in which they were treated personally brought me to a fundamental low and made me heavily embarrassed and ashamed to call myself a Trinidadian,” Masaisai stated.

The matter was yesterday heard at the Port of Spain High Court before Justice Vashiest Kokaram where an application for habeas corpus was filed and which was dismissed by the judge.

The application was filed on Wednesday and heard on an “emergency basis” yesterday.

“At present, all members of the group are under the care and custody of WestJet authorities pending their return to Canada,” the release for the Attorney General’s office stated yesterday.

Ramlogan defended the decision of the Chief Immigration Officer and his charges in this matter.

“The Central Authority Unit has been liaising with its counterpart in Canada and has been advised that the children are subject of a Child Protection Order in the province of Quebec in Canada,” the release stated.
“This order awarded custody of the children to the Department of Child Protection in Quebec. That decision was appealed and the Court of Appeal of Ontario (yesterday) dismissed the appeal thereby confirming the custody order,” the release stated.

“It would therefore appear that the adults fled to Trinidad whilst their appeal was pending,” the release stated.

Griffith has also added his voice to the commendation of the Immigration officials in the matter.

“What I can assure you is that the Immigration Department was very professional in the performance of their duties. They discovered inconsistencies and it is confirmed that all that was required were offered to the individuals,” Griffith said at yesterday’s post-Cabinet media conference.



Extortion and bribery case vs. Brooklyn Hasid will be dropped 

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

A controversial extortion and bribery case involving sex abuse in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community will be dropped by prosecutors Friday, the Daily News has learned.

But that may not be the last word in a convoluted case that turned into political football during last year’s contentious district attorney race.

All 10 counts against Samuel Kellner, 52, charged with trying to blackmail the son of accused molester Baruch Lebovits out of $400,000 and also bribing a witness, are expected to be dismissed “after a careful review of the evidence” by new DA Kenneth Thompson.

“We've reached this conclusion because we do not believe that we can prove these charges at trial,” Thompson said.

Holes in the account by the witness who was allegedly bribed were uncovered last summer and there were inconsistencies in the version given by Lebovits’s son, who was re-interviewed last week, a source said.
“This is long overdue,” said Kellner’s lawyer Niall MacGiollabhui, who had called the nearly three-year-old prosecution a corruption scandal and demanded that principals in the former DA's office be investigated.
Such an investigation is not planned, a source said, noting that most of those who made the decision to indict Kellner have left the office.

“That would be a serious problem,” said MacGiollabhui, who argued that his client was charged to save a convicted pedophile.

Lebovits was convicted in 2010 of abusing a boy, who Kellner referred to prosecutors, and was sentenced to up to 32 years in prison. But the conviction was overturned in 2012, and he’s currently awaiting a retrial.
Charges against Kellner were brought in 2011 after another man was arrested — and eventually pleaded guilty — for trying to extort Lebovits.

Lawyers for Lebovits will be in court Friday to demand that the judge won’t accept the dismissal and recuse Thompson, claiming the DA promised he’ll get rid of the Kellner case during the campaign.

“Any suggestion that they can’t get a conviction is strange, and what makes it stranger is that they have tape recordings (of the alleged extortion),” said one of the lawyers, Nathan Dershowitz.
“They have all the evidence they need.”

The Lebovits family is also considering filing a lawsuit against Kellner, which will allegedly paint him as a serial extortionist and point to evidence prosecutors ignored, sources said.



Yankel scores Yankee victory on Brit’s stiff upper lip 

They are trained to uphold the strictest protocol, which includes standing motionless and expressionless at attention outside Buckingham Palace in London.

But that training was no match for Yankel — a young American Jewish tourist who made a Royal Guard soldier crack up, and then captured it on film.

The video documenting Yankel’s feat surfaced recently online, and though attempts to reach Yankel and ascertain his identity and the date of filming have not immediately succeeded, the film pretty much speaks for itself. Yankel, who appears, judging by his black kippah, black suit, tzitzit and white shirt, to be Orthodox, begins his offensive on British decorum by standing next to the soldier and telling his friends’ camera: “We were together in school, me and him. He went his own way.”

The soldier remains frozen as Yankel elaborates on their 30-year-long friendship, which he says has endured despite some basic differences of character. “I remember in school, he used to sit by himself and read books. I was just this guy fooling around and having fun,” Yankel says. The soldier begins to crack 60 seconds into Yankel’s routine, when Yankel recalls how the soldier’s mother would pick him up from school until he was 20.

When the soldier finally shows teeth, Yankel loses himself in euphoria, complete with spontaneous screaming. Then he gives a Hasidic victory dance with his three friends, also in Orthodox garb, as they walk away.

The reaction on YouTube has not been entirely positive.

Aryeh Kalman, an apparent Member of the Tribe from London, was not immediately amused. “As an Englishman, my first reaction was utter embarrassment for such a chilul hashem [sacrilege] as these soldiers put their lives on the line for our country,” he wrote in the video’s comment section. “Just like Americans respect their soldiers so too do [we] English [respect] our soldiers.”

That said, Kalman wasn’t entirely unappreciative, acknowledging that “it was hilarious ultimately.”
“Really good,” he added. “Now do that to a U.S. Marine.”



Thursday, March 06, 2014

Brooklyn rabbi, teacher Samuel Waldman arrested in child pornography case 

The 52-year-old Kensington resident told News 12 that

A Brooklyn rabbi and teacher at a girls seminary has been arrested for alleged distribution of child pornography.

According to prosecutors, 52-year-old Samuel Waldman, of Kensington, is accused of distributing the illegal material over the Internet by enabling others to download videos that show minors engaged in sexual acts.
News 12 was first to speak with Waldman following the arrest. He said the accusations are false and hurtful.

Authorities say they established a connection to Waldman's computer back in November, and were able to download several videos that he allegedly made available through file sharing software, which include clips of children as young as 4 years old.

Officials also say that Waldman admitted to having the pornographic files, and told them that he typically keeps them on his computer for a couple of days before deleting them.

Waldman faces up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if convicted. He was released from custody on $100,000 bond.



Kiev yeshiva students receive draft notices 

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man prays at the 770 building in Kfar Chabad, Israel (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90/File)

Nuumerous ultra-Orthodox men in Kiev reportedly received draft notices for conscription into the Ukrainian army and are considering leaving the country should they be called to enlist, the daily Maariv reported

Yeshiva students at the Kiev Chabad yeshiva, located in the Brodsky Synagogue, and the Orach Chaim yeshiva — affiliated with the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic sect — received in the past few days letters ordering them to report to the induction center.

Hillel Cohen, a student at Orach Chaim, said no students have yet been drafted, but that “if there’s a war they’ll be forced to go.” Cohen described the atmosphere in the yeshiva among the potential inductees as “tense” and “uncertain.”

Meir Pavlovsky, a 29-year-old student, said only those who had served in the military in the past would be drafted. Pavlovsky, along with multiple others, had enlisted for two years before becoming observant.

“There’s no way you can be religious in the Ukrainian army,” he said. The army does not offer kosher food, the cleaning day at the base is on Shabbat, and recruits must be closely shaven at all times, he explained.

Should the students be called up to serve, they will immediately move to Israel, Pavlovsky maintained. “It’s the only option. The important thing is that the Jews manage to leave before the gates close.”

Cohen, on the other hand, said some of the students were considering running to Russia to avoid enlistment.

“The situation in Ukraine is very delicate because of the situation against Russia,” said Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman, a chief rabbi of Ukraine. “A few yeshiva students received draft notices.” The rabbi refused to comment on whether the students would report should they be called up.

The Jewish Agency said on February 22 it would provide emergency assistance to Jews in Ukraine, in light of the political unrest wracking the country.

Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky said his organization would help secure Jewish institutions in the Eastern European country and launch a fundraiser to help increase security.

“Recent events have shown that we must strengthen these institutions’ security measures. We have a moral responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s Jews,” said Sharansky.

According to the Joint Distribution Committee, Ukraine is home to an estimated 350,000-500,000 Jews.



This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Chaptzem! Blog