Thursday, July 31, 2014

New Square teacher wants trial to fight sex charges 


A New Square educator accused of sexually abusing a young boy over five years has rejected the prosecution's offer of state prison time in exchange for a guilty plea.

Moshe Taubenfeld plans to challenge before a jury the felony charge that he sexually abused a New Square boy from age 8 in 2001 until he turned 13 in 2006. Taubenfeld, 55, the father of 20 children, pleaded not guilty July 8 to the charge of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child.

"Our client has indicated he did nothing of that nature," defense attorney Gerard Damiani said Wednesday.

Damiani said Taubenfeld denied the accusations when the young man asked him about the alleged abuse during a telephone conversation monitored by Ramapo police and the Rockland District Attorney's Office.

"Apparently there was an effort to get a statement from him some time ago which proved fruitless," Damiani said. "It resulted in denials."

Jury selection is set for Sept. 15 before Rockland County Judge William Nelson. Damiani said the case might not start that day because of motions and pretrial hearings to suppress prosecution evidence.

Prosecutor Jennifer Parietti, who heads the special victims unit, said Taubenfeld was offered an unspecified state prison sentence in exchange for his plea. The felony carries a minimum of two years in prison to a maximum of 3 1/2 to 7 years.

Ramapo police arrested Taubenfeld in January. Police said he also goes by Mendel Zarkowsky, the name under which he votes. His first wife, Goldie, and a 3-month-old son were among those killed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem on Aug. 19, 2003.

Taubenfeld's accuser, named Laiby, told The Journal News in January that he first sought consolation from Taubenfeld after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He described Taubenfeld as family friend.

Under the law, a sexual abuse case can be prosecuted five years after the accuser turns 18. Laiby said he and his family reported the alleged abuse about six years ago to New Square's Grand Rabbi David Twersky and other community leaders, who discouraged him and others from going to police and threatened retaliation if they did.

Damiani called the young's man's account bizarre and will challenge it if the case goes to trial.

Laiby's alleged problems with the New Square hierarchy were similar to those of other abuse victims, including a young man, Yossi, who reported Taubenfeld's brother Herschel, to Ramapo police in 2011. Herschel Taubenfeld pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of forcible touching after being charged with 30 counts — forcible touching, endangering a child's welfare and sexual assault. He has been classified as a low-risk sex offender.

Yossi's case became the first sexual abuse case prosecuted in the New Square Hasidic Jewish community. Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said the usually cloistered ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is cooperating more on such cases.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kiryas Joel man, 27, accused of having sexual relationship with boy, 15 

Police say 27-year-old Joel Mendlowitz, was arrested on

A resident of Kiryas Joel has been arrested on charges of sexual misconduct and endangering the welfare of a child.

State Police investigators say Joel Mendlowitz, 27, had been involved in a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy, also from Kiryas Joel, since October 2013. The boy's father found evidence of the relationship and reported it to State Police.

Mendlowitz was released pending an Aug. 7 appearance in Town of Monroe Court.



Yeshivas cancel vacation in solidarity with IDF troops 

Several prominent ultra-Orthodox yeshivas canceled summer vacation and called on their students to continue studying Torah in solidarity with IDF soldiers fighting in the Gaza Strip, ultra-Orthodox media reported.

Rabbis heading yeshivas affiliated with a number of Hasidic dynasties, among them the Gur, Belz, and Sanz groups, decided that it was unsuitable for students to go on vacation while the army was engaged in a war in the Palestinian enclave, according to the Kikar Hashabbat website.

The leader of the Belz sect, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, instructed his students to entirely avoid trips throughout the three weeks ordinarily designated for summer vacation and called on them to instead remain in their yeshivas.

“I forbid [vacation] altogether,” the rabbi said.

Last week, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef ordered Sephardi yeshivas to continue operating during summer vacation as well.

“We must continue to learn; it is not right to hold a vacation period during a time of war when there are people on the front,” Yosef said. “That is why I think we must study as usual in yeshiva.”

Summer vacation at ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, known as “Bein Hazmanim,” generally begins after the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av, usually sometime in mid-August, and ends three weeks later, on the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul.



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hasidic investors propose 566-home development on 700-acre site 

A group of Hasidic investors who bought more than 750 acres of land in this village eight years ago now wants to build a subdivision with 566 homes at the site of the Lake Anne property.

This is the first formal proposal by the 12-member Keen Equities LLC, whose largest shareholder shares its address with the electronics business owned by developer Ziggy Brach. The group has long wanted to build on the property, but its plans never materialized because of what owners described as "disputes with the village over scope and density of the development."

Keen Equities filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2013 and promised to return later with a workable development plan.

According to the application submitted to the village Planning Board this month, Keen will create 512 single-family lots, 54 duplex lots, and 20 acres of nonresidential development that will include 100,000 square feet of commercial space and infrastructure such as roads and utilities. The development will be built on Clove Road, off Route 208 in the village.

Mayor Rob Jeroloman could not be reached for comment, but Village Attorney Dennis Lynch said South Blooming Grove welcomes all applications.

"The village is looking at the matter and will certainly apply the law," Lynch said.

Simon Gelb, the principal contact for Keen Equities listed on the application, did not return a call for comment.

The proposed subdivision, which will have a cluster layout, will be built on two parcels totaling 708 acres, 566 of which will be left as permanent open space. About 38 acres of the property is wetlands. Only 140 acres of the property will be disturbed for development.

The applicant also proposes to build a new sewage collection and treatment plant, and believes the current wells in the village will suffice to provide adequate drinking water to new residents.

The development falls in the Washingtonville School District. The anticipated period of construction will be 60 months.

Keen Equities bought the former Lake Anne Country Club for $15 million in 2006 to build "multi-family housing to accommodate the growing needs of the Satmar Community in Kiryas Joel," according to a company statement in court papers. The purchase was financed by a $10 million mortgage from the Greene family, longtime owners of the property.

Five years later, Keen Equities defaulted on payments, and the Greenes filed for foreclosure in January 2011. But before it could be finalized, Keen filed for bankruptcy protection in Brooklyn federal court in Nov. 2013.

A reorganized Keen Equities wrote to South Blooming Grove in July of its intention to apply for a housing development. A formal application along with a full environmental assessment form was presented a day later.



Monday, July 28, 2014

Katz's Deli wins court fight to force Florida copycat to change its name 

The famed Katz’s Deli — home of the notorious “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in “When Harry Met Sally” — has won a court fight with a Florida knockoff.

Katz’s Deli of Deerfield Beach has agreed to change its name after getting slapped with a $1 million lawsuit by the real deal, the Daily News has learned.

The Houston Street stalwart sued the Johnny-come-lately in June, charging the copycat biz was harming its reputation and cashing in on its goodwill with customers.

The Florida Katz’s “sells the same Jewish foods as Katz’s Deli” and its “blatant efforts to appropriate plaintiff’s business’ goodwill, name and mark have resulted in plaintiff being associated with food products and restaurant services over which plaintiff has no control,” the suit says.

A Manhattan federal court judge signed off on a deal settling the food fight last week.

Under the terms of the settlement, Katz’s dropped its demand for money damages while the Florida restaurant agreed to change its moniker and refrain from using “any other name containing the Katz’s trademarks.”

The Deerfield Beach eatery’s owner, Charles Re, told the Daily News he’s changing the name to “Zack’s.”
“We think that should do it,” he said.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Adults Follow in the Footsteps of Their Kids, Experiencing Israel Firsthand 

While some summer programs in Israel are on hold during the Gaza conflict, others are going full-speed-ahead, with staff continuing to craft plans and itineraries for the fall, making sure that future experiences match successful ones of the past.

The new Legacy program by Mayanot, a Chabad-affiliated organization in Jerusalem, for example, is designed to provide adults with an experience similar to those their children experienced on their Israel trips. The eight-day adventure is open to anyone interested in going to Israel, regardless of any previous travels there by the participant or their family members. While it is geared to the parents of young adults who have recently visited Israel for the first time, it’s open to Jewish adults of all ages and backgrounds.

The program includes extensive touring in Israel, to places like Safed in the north and the Dead Sea in the south; interactive discussions and a behind-the-scenes look at Israeli politics; a camel ride in the desert and a Jeep tour in the Golan; Shabbat in Jerusalem; and everyday Israeli experiences, like buying snacks at an open-air market. Kosher food is served at tour-sponsored activities, and there is no travel on Shabbat. The groups include a rabbi from back home.

Rabbi Pinny Andrusier has led other trips to Israel, but said nothing tops his most recent one with Mayanot Legacy. In June, a group of 15 from his South Florida community took part in the program, which is geared specifically for adults and accompanied by a Chabad rabbi. The Florida group joined 20 other individuals from cities such as New York, Boston and Atlanta.

Andrusier, co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Southwest Broward in Cooper City, Fla., and his wife, Gitty, co-director, served as the group’s spiritual leaders.

According to the rabbi, the attendees were all “first-timers” in Israel, with very limited exposure to Jewish history, custom and observance. At first, Andrusier thought they would be wary having a rabbi with them; most of the attendees’ other travels included locales like Italy, Ireland and Costa Rica. So he was impressed by how the group embraced both him and the overall experience—a distinctly Jewish one—“with open arms.”

Cory Browarnik from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said it was “a life-changing trip—insightful, informative, even magical. Through the knowledge of our tour guide and Rabbi Pinny, I felt like I really got to live and breathe Israel, both past and present. I know I will stay forever connected.”



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Judge: Ramapo should put ward system on the ballot 

Siding with local activists, a state Supreme Court judge Friday ordered the town clerk to hold referendums on whether Ramapo should elect its Town Board members by ward and to increase the size of the board from four members to six.

The battle started in 2012 when activists Michael Parietti and Robert Romanowski filed petitions seeking the two referendums with Town Clerk Chris Sampson.

Based on objections filed by some residents, Sampson threw out the petitions, saying they didn't meet state requirements. The activists sued the town, starting a two-year court battle over the legitimacy and timeliness of the petitions. 

The suit later reached the appellate court, which sent the case back to state Supreme Court to be decided.

One issue before Supreme Court Justice Margaret Garvey was whether Parietti and Romanowski met residency requirements to conduct the petition drive. Another involved the number of signatures needed for each petition.

After reviewing the materials presented before her, Garvey confirmed that the 1,367 valid signatures needed to force each referendum were present on both petitions.

Of the 2,025 signatures on the petition to seek a town ward system, Garvey invalidated 327, leaving 1,698 valid signatures on the referendum petition. Of the 1,975 signatures on the petition to seek an increase of the Town Board from four members to six, Garvey invalidated 263 signatures, leaving a total of 1,712 valid signatures.

Parietti and Romanowski, who represented themselves without lawyers, said they felt vindicated.
"I'm very happy," Romanowski said Friday. "The court has confirmed what I knew all along that those petitions were valid."

Ramapo Town Attorney Michael Klein said the Town Board will discuss whether to appeal the decision at its next scheduled meeting or at a special meeting. If the town and objectors decide not to appeal, the town would have to schedule a special election within 75 days of Friday, Klein said.

Though it's uncommon in the Lower Hudson Valley, the ward system is seen by some activists as a way to counter the political influence of the growing Orthodox community. Parietti and Romanowski maintain a six-member ward system would better represent parts of town that could otherwise be easily outvoted.

This is the fourth attempt to organize petitions seeking a town ward system. Prior attempts, supported by the grassroots group Preserve Ramapo, were made in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Each was rejected by the town.

The outcome in Ramapo may have an impact beyond the town's borders. Anthony Futia, a longtime activist and former North Castle town employee, has been closely watching the ward system movement in Ramapo and said that he may take similar steps in North Castle.



Friday, July 25, 2014

Sept. 30 vote set: Bloomingburg looks to dissolve 

This eastern Sullivan County village of some 400 residents took its first official step toward dissolving itself Thursday night when its two trustees and mayor voted to set a village-wide vote on dissolution. The referendum is set for Sept. 30

If successful, the dissolution effectively would place the village under the jurisdiction of the Town of Mamakating (population 12,000). It also would free many of its residents from their fear they would be overwhelmed by a 396-home Hasidic village and its scores of voters.

Mayor Frank Gerardi and Trustees James Johnson and Katherine Roemer were among more than 80 residents — more than 20 percent of the voters — who signed the petition required to force the vote. The move was spearheaded by the Rural Community Coalition, which, like the leaders of Bloomingburg and Mamakating, oppose Shalom Lamm's development. The coalition and those leaders say Bloomingburg is too small to handle all of the problems associated with its growth.

Still, concern that newly registered voters would influence the referendum prompted resident John Kahrs Thursday night to ask who would be overseeing the referendum.

"The Board of Elections," Bloomingburg Attorney Steve Mogel told the crowd of 60 in Village Hall.

It was that same concern that led to successful challenges of more than 100 new voters in the March village elections that gave Gerardi and the trustees their overwhelming victory in a contest characterized by accusations of voter fraud.

In fact, Mogel said he had written a letter to Sullivan County District Attorney Jim Farrell asking him to officially pursue charges of that fraud.

Residents also urged the village to enforce a stop work order at one building owned by Lamm where Gerardi and other residents say work has occurred and people have been seen coming and going. Bloomingburg currently is without a code enforcement officer.

"Legal action is highly likely," Mogel said.

Gerardi, however, did not take questions or public comment about the dissolution Thursday night, saying information would be presented on the process by the village's consultant, the Leberge Group of Albany, at an Aug. 5 meeting.



East Ramapo completes school sale to yeshiva tenants 

East Ramapo officials say they've finalized the sale of Colton Elementary School to their longtime yeshiva tenants, putting the district on track to make $10 million from real estate deals this year if a second sale closes as planned.

The $5.1 million sale of Colton, on Grandview Avenue in New Hempstead, closed after lengthy legal fights. One included a dispute with the tenants-turned-buyers that ended in the district agreeing to give them a $1.5 million credit for rent paid — even after a judge sided with the school board in its opposition to awarding rent credit because the tenants were in arrears on their rent. The sum was deducted from the original $6.6 million purchase price.

The sale was completed after consultation with state education officials, the district announced Thursday. The new owners are Monsey-based Bais Malka Congregation and the Hebrew Academy for Special Children, a Brooklyn-based religious school for children with special needs.

The transaction will generate "more than $5 million to help balance the school district's budget and address educational needs," according to an email statement from the district.

"This long-awaited and extensively reviewed transaction makes sense for the district," Board of Education President Yehuda Weissmandl said in the statement. "It clears the district of a continuing liability for the property and generates sorely needed revenues for public school programs."

The news comes after the board authorized the $4.9 million sale of Hillcrest Elementary School this month; it has yet to close.

Both deals are happening while East Ramapo is in the early stages of working with a special fiscal monitor the state ordered to examine the district's use of state and federal monies. The monitor, Hank Greenberg, hasn't spoken publicly since beginning his work in the district earlier this summer. State education officials didn't immediately return a request for comment.

The district's attempts over the years to lease and sell both shuttered public schools stalled as district critics challenged the transactions before the state education commissioner, claiming the Orthodox Jewish and Hasidic-dominated Board of Education undervalued district property as a favor to the yeshiva community, in which it has a special interest.

Transactions involving the two buildings are the focus of an ongoing state attorney general's investigation. Separately, hundreds of parent plaintiffs have also challenged them as part of their federal lawsuit against the district.

Hinting at the controversy, Weissmandl said the closing on Colton follows "confirmation by legal staff that all regulatory, procedural and other conditions were fully satisfied."

Hillcrest, meanwhile, is being bought by Congregation Avir Yakov of New Square, the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish group that has leased it for several years. The appraiser selected by the school board to handle a previous sale — now canceled — faces felony charges; he is accused of taking a $5,000 bribe from Avir Yakov to falsify the property appraisal and get the yeshiva a lower price.

The initial sale of Colton in May 2011 was halted for a year and a half after a resident claimed that the $6.6 million selling price was less than the property was worth, but state Education Commissioner John King allowed the sale to move forward.

East Ramapo closed Colton in 2009 when public school enrollment was projected to decline — although it's grown significantly since then — and officials expected they could generate revenue by renting to the fast-growing yeshiva community.

The revenue stream turned out to be unreliable, with late payments from the yeshivas followed by the district lowering the rent to accommodate tenants' financial hardship.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

Spring Valley fire: Owner faces code violations 

The owner of a Paikin Drive house severely damaged by fire Tuesday is expected to face violations after investigators found the building lacked working smoke detectors and had at least one illegal bedroom.

Two families totaling 12 people, including children, were displaced when the flames destroyed the kitchen and damaged three bedrooms that had been carved out in the lower level, Spring Valley Fire Inspector Frank Youngman said.

Youngman said the 3 p.m. fire erupted in the lower level of 27 Paikin Drive but the cause remains undetermined. He's being assisted by the Sheriff's Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

One violation will contend the dining area next to the kitchen had been illegally converted into a bedroom, Youngman said. The house also lacked working smoke detectors in the bedrooms and hallways, he said.

Building and fire officials don't suspect the house had been illegally converted into a boarding house. Two families can share a house, and regulations permit two people to share bedrooms, depending on the size of the rooms, Spring Valley Chief Building Inspector Walter Booker said.

"It's a one-family house and appears legal," Booker said. "The dining room being converted into a bedroom is illegal."

The Rockland Health Department said the house may need to be demolished.

The building is located in a neighborhood where larger houses are being constructed to accommodate the growing Hasidic Jewish population.

The owner, Menachem Stern, could not be reached for comment. Tax records give 27 Paikin Drive as his address, but he doesn't live at the house.

Booker said his office is understaffed and can't inspect all the large housing apartments, businesses, and older houses in the 2.5-square-mile community. Booker said the department has three inspectors — one just recently hired — out of six employees, including himself. Youngman works part time.

Booker said he has asked village administrators for more staffing, noting that in 1996 the department had a staff of eight and a smaller population.

Youngman said he's playing catch up inspecting hundreds of businesses, some of which have not been reviewed in years.

The displaced families were provided shelter by the Red Cross and have relatives living in the community. Youngman said he plans to re-interview the tenants about conditions in the house and how much rent they paid.



Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Brooklyn Fundraiser Who Solicited Donations For Fraudulent Charities In The Name Of Israeli Causes Convicted 

Yaakov Weingarten

Prosecutors today announced the felony tax fraud conviction of Yaakov Weingarten and a more than $520,000 civil judgment lodged against him and his wife for activities related to the Brooklyn-based charitable fundraising ring he operated, which solicited donations from thousands of donors for phony not-for-profit organizations. The judgment, signed by Kings County Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Demarest on Wednesday, resolves a civil lawsuit filed by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office last year against Weingarten and his wife, Rivka, who are alleged to have been the biggest beneficiaries of the scheme and are, under the judgment, required to pay $522,315. Approximately $360,000 of those funds will go to two Israeli charitable organizations that carry out genuine programs similar to the causes for which Weingarten’s fraudulent solicitations raised donations from the public.

The judgment also permanently bars Weingarten and his associates, Simon Weiss and David Yifat, from any fundraising activities or other charitable activities in the State of New York.

Weingarten pleaded guilty May 19 in Brooklyn Supreme Court before Judge Matthew A. Sciarrino to Criminal Tax Fraud in the Third Degree, a Class D felony. He paid $90,685 in restitution to the state Department of Taxation and Finance, and on June 23, he was sentenced to five years’ probation. As a condition of his felony probation, Weingarten is forbidden from engaging in any charitable fundraising activities for five years.

In June 2013, the Attorney General’s Charities Bureau filed a civil lawsuit and obtained a temporary restraining order closing Weingarten’s fundraising operation, which Weingarten, together with associates Weiss and Yifat, ran out of a Brooklyn storefront at 1493 Coney Island Avenue. According to the suit, Weingarten, Weiss and Yifat raised donations for 19 sham charities from Jewish donors throughout North America, ostensibly for Israeli charitable causes such as emergency medical services and programs for sick children, terror attack survivors, cancer victims, and the poor. Large amounts of the money raised — an estimated $2 million — was then withdrawn from charity bank accounts. Some of that money was used to pay workers operating Weingarten’s Brooklyn telemarketing boiler room. Other funds were used by Weingarten and his family to pay for personal expenses, such as mortgages, dentist bills, car loans, and home improvements. The complaint also detailed gross mismanagement of charitable assets by Weingarten, including extensive mixing of charitable and personal funds and of funds raised for one charitable cause with those raised for another, which is barred by law. More information on the lawsuit is available here.

Under the order, Weiss, 29, and Yifat, 68, are also permanently barred from charitable fundraising in New York.

As part of his guilty plea, Weingarten, 53, admitted that between approximately June 2007 and June 2012, he solicited charitable donations for multiple entities, many of which did not exist, and obtained donations from thousands of donors. He further admitted that from January 2009 through December 2011, he paid over $270,000 in personal expenses from bank accounts set up in the names of the purported charities, including mortgages on his two homes, various home improvements, and Cablevision and Con Edison bills. Weingarten admitted that with intent to evade New York State taxes, he failed to report this money as income on his 2009, 2010 and 2011 tax returns.

On Wednesday, Justice Carolyn Demarest signed the Attorney General’s civil judgment. It permanently shuts down Weingarten’s operation and requires Weingarten and his wife, also 53, to pay a total of $522,315. Of that, $360,000 will go to the United Jewish Appeal/Federation of New York, to be distributed equally to Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, the preeminent pediatric hospital in Israel, and United Hatzalah of Israel, a leading Israeli volunteer emergency medical services organization. The remaining portion of the judgment payment is for penalties and costs to New York State.

The judgment also requires the dissolution of 11 incorporated entities Mr. Weingarten used to implement his fraudulent fundraising scheme. These entities include four “religious corporations” that on paper purported to be synagogues but in reality were mere shells that helped hide much of his activity behind a cloak of religious freedom. Weingarten also made up names of eight other entities, which were never incorporated, and used those names in his scheme. The 19 Brooklyn entities are permanently barred from operating under the order. They are: Hatzalah Rescue of Israel, Inc.; Shearim, Inc.; Bnei Torah, Inc.; Chesed L’Yisrael V’Chasdei Yosef, Inc.; Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.; Hatzalah Shomron, Inc.; Pulse Foundation, Inc.; Agudath Chesed Bikur Cholim Israel, Inc.; Kupat Reb Meir Baal Haness Bnei Torah Eretz Yisrael, Inc.; Congregation Yad L’Shabbat, Inc.; Shearim Hayad L’Torah Center for Hatzalah L’Shabbat and Chesed L’Yisrael, Inc.; Israel Emergency Center; Magen Israel; Hayad Victim Assistance Fund; Lmaan Hatorah; Our Children; Zaka Israel; Yaldel Simcha Yisrael; and Yad Yisrael.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Delta suspends flights to Israel, cites safety concerns 

US airline Delta said Tuesday it was indefinitely suspending flights between the United States and Israel, citing security concerns.

In a statement, the carrier said it had diverted a flight bound for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport to Paris on Tuesday after "reports of a rocket or associated debris near the airport in Tel Aviv."

The announcement comes as an Israeli assault on Gaza entered its third week, and world powers pushed for a truce between the Jewish state and Hamas militants.

"Delta has suspended service until further notice to and from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and its New York-JFK hub," the airline said in a statement.

"Delta, in coordination with the US Federal Aviation Administration, is doing so to ensure the safety and security of our customers and employees."

The carrier said the diverted flight was a Boeing 747 with 273 passengers and 17 crew on board, adding it was "working to reaccommodate these customers."

Working in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration and others, Delta said it would continue to monitor the situation.



Monday, July 21, 2014

Candlelight vigil held in Bloomingburg 

Top Photo

Demonstrators, saying they are not "haters," staged a candlelight vigil Friday near a collection of businesses developer Shalom Lamm is renovating, which have been hit recently with a rash of broken-window attacks.

About 30 demonstrators massed, just before sunset, for the 90-minute gathering on Main Street, down the street from the businesses where six window attacks have occurred since mid-June.

So far, the vandals have not been caught, and Lamm and his detractors are trading accusations about who is responsible.

Lamm, an Orthodox Jew and the developer behind a controversial 396-home Orthodox development, has suggested he is the victim of anti-Semitism and has called the window attacks a "hate crime."

He declined to comment Friday, despite repeated requests from two Times Herald-Record reporters.

As the demonstrators gathered Friday night, one large window was obviously shattered.

Signs had been placed at Lamm's storefronts reading "Not in America," "Stop the Hate" and "Vill. target Jews."

Village resident Lesleigh Weinstein, who organized Friday's demonstration, said the goal was to show "the rest of the tri-county area that we are not haters and anti-Semites."

"We're not what he (Lamm) is saying we are," said Pat Kahn, a 26-year village resident. "It has nothing to do with religion. The law should be the same for everybody."

Sundown Friday marks the start of the Jewish Sabbath, when observant Jews of all persuasions attend services.

Just across the street from where the demonstrators gathered, a steady stream of Hasidic Jews, many dressed in Sabbath attire, entered an abandoned hardware store where a "stop work" order is posted.

The arrivals said the building was not being used as a synagogue.

At one point, a young Hasidic couple walked through the crowd of demonstrators.

"Want to join us?" the demonstrators asked. The couple continued on their way.



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tragedy strikes the Jewish community of Lugansk 

Rocket kills mother and grandmother, leaving 4-year-old child alone

The civil warfare taking place in the easternmost city of Ukraine, Lugansk, has tragically cost the lives of two dear members of the Jewish community, Svetlana and Anna Sytnikova. The two, mother and grandmother of four-year-old Vadim – a pupil at the FJC’s ‘Or Avner’ Jewish kindergarten in town, were hit by a straying rocket as they were entering a local store.

The FJC wishes to send its sincere condolences to the family and Jewish community and especially to Vadim who will be cared for and raised so that that his mother and grandmother OBM will be proud of him.

Vadim’s only remaining relative is trying to make his way from Belarus to Lugansk, despite the danger, to participate in the funeral and take care of his orphaned nephew.

If you are interested in assisting in bringing up Vadim can do so at => https://fjc.ru/donate/ (Please indicate purpose of contribution)



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Man Faces Charges in Deadly '08 Brooklyn Assault 

A Brooklyn man who fled to Israel after the beating death of another man in 2008 appeared in a city courtroom Friday to face charges.

Yitzchak Shuchat, 31, is facing charges of second and third degree assault as a hate crime.

He is being held on $300,000 bail in connection with the assault on Andrew Charles in Crown Heights.

Shuchat was a member of a Hasidic Community Watch Group known as Shmira at the time.

He fled the country shortly after the beating but in 2011 an Israeli court decided to extradite him.

An appeal meant he was not brought back to New York until this past Thursday night.

He is due back in court on August 18.



Friday, July 18, 2014

Police investigate 2 attempted kidnappings at local Jewish center 

Police continue to investigate two similar attacks on girls at a Jewish Community Center in Southwest Miami-Dade.

According to Miami-Dade Police police, a 9-year-old girl came forward to report that two days prior to an attempted kidnapping at the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community, on July 10, a man also tried to grab her and drag her into a bathroom. Miami-Dade Police are now investigating if the two attempted kidnappings inside the JCC are connected.

On July 10, Police arrested 39-year-old Dean Beck, a special needs member at the JCC for allegedly trying to grab a 6-year-old girl and force her into the men's bathroom. That same day, police said, a 9-year-old came forward saying a similar incident happened to her on July 8.

In the July 8 incident, the 9-year-old said, she was at a vending machine when a man grabbed her from behind in a bear hug and tried to pull her towards the bathrooms. She too was able to scream and run away, but police said, she was not able to get a description of the man.

While police investigate, the Center's director, Ed Rosen, assured all of the members' records will be reviewed. "Look more closely really at the people who we serve and take necessary steps but then stop something like this from happening," Rosen said.

Administrators will be reviewing these records because, after Beck's arrest, they learned he was a registered sex offender.

Police said neither of the young girls were harmed. It also remains unclear if these two incidents are connected. Beck has not been named a suspect in the July 8 incident.

Investigators are asking for the public's help in determining whether there have been any other incidents involving Beck. If you have any information, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS or Broward County Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a reward.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Annexation for development illegal; Hasidic development construction OK 

In a split decision, a judge ruled Wednesday that the annexation of Town of Mamakating land for a 396-home Hasidic development in this tiny village was illegal, but construction of the controversial town houses could continue.

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick basically agreed with the claims of the Rural Community Coalition and the Town of Mamakating that the annexation of the land on Winterton Road violated the state constitution because it occurred without a vote of the residents of that land. But he also ruled that because the annexation took place in 2006, and construction of the homes is well underway, too much time elapsed to stop it.

Schick then seemed to toss the case back to the Town of Mamakating, whose supervisor is an opponent of the development.

"Having expected that a full build out of their project had been appropriately approved, it would now be improper for this court to judicially deny the developer defendants of the right to complete that project," Schick wrote. "Therefore this court does not grant the town's request for a preliminary injunction and it remains for the town to decide what it now does with the territory under its jurisdiction, including refusing to enforce legislation it believes to be invalid."

Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann said it was too early to say what the town would do.

"We need some time to absorb the decision and consult our lawyer," he said.

But a lawyer for the Rural Community Coalition said the decision was "what we expected."

"I'm glad we accomplished the main objective to stay the annexation," said Kurt Johnson of Bloomingburg. "But I wish we could have stopped the project where it is."

The developer of Chestnut Ridge, Shalom Lamm, said he would appeal the part of the decision that said the annexation was illegal. He referred to a June state Appellate Court decision that said the RCC and Mamakating failed to prove they could win their challenge.

"While we're pleased that the court dismissed the majority of the plaintiff's claims, we believe that portion of the decision dealing with annexation is inconstant with the Appellate Court's prior determination," Lamm said. "We're confident that the Appellate Court will correct the ruling on annexation on appeal. This decision will not serve justice but will cost the taxpayers of Mamakating even more in continued litigation."

The ruling dismissed conflict of interest charges against former Bloomingburg Mayor Mark Berentsen for buying land from Lamm and then signing an agreement giving that land access to the sewer system Lamm is building for the development and village — although it again sympathized with the charges.

"It is patently clear that the developer secured his private interests ... and certain municipal employees secured their private interests while the public's interest was left to wilt on the vine, but ... plaintiff's actions do not effectively allege fraud ... " the ruling said.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Satmar Rebbe and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry 

In her book Be-Seter Ha-Madrega (In the Covert of the Cliff), Haredi Holocaust historian Esther Farbstein writes, “Rabbi Yoel (Yoelish) of Satmar was unquestionably chief among leaders [of Haredi Jews in Hungary].” If Farbstein is correct in her claim, Rabbi Yoel’s conduct before, during, and after the Holocaust may explain, albeit only partially, the extraordinary devastation suffered by the Hungarian Orthodox community, which had regarded him as “chief among leaders.”

The first section of this article describes Rabbi Yoel’s life and actions during the Holocaust, both on personal and public levels, as reflected in his writings, the contemporary press, memoirs written by his Hasidim, and archival sources. In many cases, researchers note that Rabbi Yoel’s position regarding the Holocaust was extreme and exceptional compared to views held by other rabbis and spokespeople of the Haredi community. Yet the worldview he cultivated, coupled with his theological explanations of the Holocaust and its mystical meaning, drew a growing number of followers, in whose eyes he was the last remnant of a dying ideology. His anti-Zionist worldview, representing as it did to them the Eastern European “Old Home,” expunged his failures during the Holocaust. As his public stature grew, criticism from within diminished, while criticism from without was disregarded and dismissed as Zionist defamation.

As I argue in greater detail in the following, Rabbi Yoel’s life, activities, and decisions during the Holocaust and his pressing need to explain and justify them thereafter offer a possible explanation for the extremism of his later views. Any fair examination of the historical record shows that Rabbi Yoel’s contribution to assisting Jewish refugees and to the rescue of Transylvanian Haredi Jews was negligible. Prior to the Holocaust, he ignored the dangers threatening the Jews of Transylvania and failed to engage in the preparation of rescue and aid plans. Although he became privy to reports on the extermination of the Jewish communities in Poland, given his position as a member of the Central Bureau and through his connections with the authorities, he refrained from calling on his followers to save or prepare themselves. On the contrary, he warned any would-be immigrants to Palestine or other countries that they were in danger of severely harming their Haredi way of life. Moreover, he refrained from cooperating with the Zionist—and even with the Haredi—leadership in addressing current issues or preparing for the impending threat and even opposed measures of a religious nature, such as prayer and fast days, which he feared would be perceived as a protest against the authorities.

When the danger of war became real and immediate, Rabbi Yoel did his best to equip himself and his closest circle with certificates or visas that would facilitate their escape to Palestine or the United States. At the same time, he thwarted all attempts at cooperation between the heads of the Orthodox communities and the Zionist organizations, which could have helped to rescue them. He failed to set a personal example and rejected his associates’ advice to prepare a hiding place or attempt to cross the border to Romania. Had he done so, some of his Hasidim may have done the same and thus survived.

When put to the test, he chose to save himself clandestinely after his own congregation had already been incarcerated in ghettos and to abandon his followers in the time of their harshest adversity. His conduct stands in stark contrast to that of other rabbis in his vicinity, many of whom rejected pleas to save themselves and accompanied their congregations to the transport trains, the extermination camps, and in some cases even into the gas chambers.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Police say group threw eggs and drinks, yelled anti-Semitic slurs at Hasidic man in Eltingville 

A Hasidic Jewish man told police he was the victim of a bias attack in Eltingville Sunday morning, after a group of men in a car threw eggs and fast food drinks at him and yelled anti-Semitic slurs, according to cops.

Police are investigating the incident – which took place at the corner of Eltingville Boulevard and Barlow Avenue, not far from the Young Israel of Eltingville synagogue -- as a hate crime, an NYPD spokesman said Monday.

The incident happened at about 12:47 a.m., police said. The 20-year-old victim was walking by Eltingville Boulevard and Barlow Avenue when a gray four-door sedan drove past, then made a quick U-turn, the NYPD spokesman said.

The vehicle's passengers started throwing eggs and full drink cups from Wendy's, the NYPD spokesman said, and when the victim tried to walk away, the car drove alongside him, its occupants shouting anti-Semitic slurs.

The man called police at 2:30 a.m., and police searched the area, but couldn't find the vehicle, the NYPD spokesman said. The victim couldn't get the car's license plate.

A law enforcement source said the sedan had four occupants, all white males, but police couldn't provide specific descriptions to the Advance Monday.

Young Israel of Eltingville is located on Ridgewood Avenue, less than a block away from where the incident took place.

Sid Stadler, Young Israel's president and an Orthodox Jew, said he hadn't heard of Sunday's incident, but he and other members of the congregation have also been subjected to anti-Semitic slurs shouted by people driving past.

"They roll down the windows and start yelling, but we take it in stride," he said. "It's part of the fabric of society today, and it's happening more and more."

Stadler said that often, members of the Orthodox Jewish community don't talk about drive-by slurs.

"I encounter it at least once a month," he said, noting that the "drive-bys" often happen with more frequency after troubles in the economy, or current events like the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.

"Staten Island as a whole is pretty good, but you have the tensions, what's going on in the world, and it comes out," he said.

Stadler added, "Four people in a car and one guy on the street is scary... This is an actual attack. The next time, who knows what they'll do."



Monday, July 14, 2014

Bloomingburg developer Lamm disregarding stop-work order, mayor alleges 

Even though this eastern Sullivan County village issued stop-work orders on another building owned by developer Shalom Lamm, work has continued and people have used the former hardware store on the corner of Main Street and Winterton Road, said Mayor Frank Gerardi and several residents.

This violates the July 9 order posted on the window.

“Building may not be occupied until planning board approval and/or any required permits or certificates of occupancy are obtained,” it reads.

“Basically, they did not follow the stop-work order,” said Gerardi at Thursday’s Village Board meeting, when several members of the crowd of about 50 said the order was being violated.

Gerardi later explained that the building hasn’t been inspected. The village sent its first letter in June when window and duct work was being done, Gerardi said. When the work continued, the orange stop-work order notice was posted.

“My biggest fear is that there is only one entrance and exit from upstairs (where people have gathered),” said Gerardi, who was elected in April by opponents of Lamm, who is building a 396-home Hasidic development and owns several buildings on Main Street already occupied by Hasidim. A few of those buildings and others, including part of that development, have also been issued stop-work orders.

Lamm did not want to comment.

But as Gerardi explained, the village hasn’t yet hired a code enforcement officer to enforce the occupancy laws, although it is interviewing candidates. Police have been called, he said, but have not responded.

When a few residents at the meeting protested that the new leadership was “dragging its feet,” village attorney Steve Mogel protested.

“This is a small village with a lot of big problems,” he said. “I don’t see anybody dragging their feet.”



Sunday, July 13, 2014

‘The dude is dead!’: The final moments of a ‘murder’ 

‘The dude is dead!’: The final moments of a ‘murder’

A man accused of killing Brooklyn landlord Menachem Stark spilled his guts to cops about how he and his accomplices snatched him off the street, killed him and then tried to burn his body, court documents revealed Friday.

Kendal Felix, 26, told detectives that his boss, identified only as “Erskine” approached him in December and said “Max” [Stark] owed him money and that if Felix helped him force Stark to pay up that he would give him a cut, said the documents, which were released after the suspect’s arraignment in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

On Jan. 2, the duo allegedly lay in wait as snow fell outside Stark’s Williamsburg office.

“Erskine told [Felix] that when Max comes out that he should distract him . . . When Max came out of his office [Felix] said he got out of the van and called to Max,” cops wrote in the documents, paraphrasing Felix’s confession.

“At that point, Erskine came out from the other side of the van and rushed up to Max. Kendal claimed to be a weakling so he didn’t really get involved with scuffling with Max as Erskine was.”

The two then forced the struggling Stark into a van, the papers said.

“Erskine was directing [Felix] where to drive as he was trying to tie up and tape up Max,” the papers said, adding that the men then picked up Erskine’s brother, identified only as “Kendall,” who said, “What the f–k is this?” when he got into the van.

The men then drove over to the home of another man, named only as “Irvine,” who said, “Is that guy alive?” when he got into the van.

“I said, ‘He’s breathing,’ but when Irvine checked he said, ‘The dude is dead!’ ” Felix said, according to court papers.

Irvine then got out of the van, and Erskine went back to check whether anything was happening near Stark’s office.

“He then called Kendall and told him to, ‘Get the f–k out of here cause the police be all over Max’s block,’ ” the court papers said.

Felix and Kendall then drove to Long Island.

“Kendall saw a Dumpster and said we’ll put him in there, so I pull up and Kendall had to put him in the Dumpster, as I’m not strong to do it,” Felix told the detectives, according to the court papers.

The duo drove to a gas station to fill soda bottles with gasoline and buy a lighter, then drove back to set the body on fire, the papers said.

None of the three other men named in the documents has been charged because prosecutors said they don’t have enough evidence.

Felix blabbed after cops asked him whether his preacher father taught him to tell the truth.

“Detective, you are right about that and I want to speak truthful about what happened,” Felix said, according to the documents.

Felix pleaded not guilty to murder and kidnapping.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Development would lure Hasidic Jewish families 

A developer plans to build homes for as many as 1,000 Hasidic Jewish families who have outgrown their Brooklyn, N.Y., community and want to settle in the Bucks Hill neighborhood.

Residents and neighborhood representatives said they are impressed with the plan, which would develop a nearly 109-acre wooded area along Boyden Street. 



Friday, July 11, 2014

United States Intervenes in Europe’s Circumcision Wars 

The Obama administration’s anti-Semitism monitor has added an issue to his office’s portfolio: defending circumcision in Europe.

Circumcision has become a top focus for Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. He has been using the pulpit his office provides to warn European governments that moves to ban ritual circumcision could lead to the demise of their countries’ Jewish communities.

“Because circumcision is essentially universal among Jews, this can shut down a community, especially a small vulnerable community,” Forman said.

No European country has outright banned the practice, but there is increasing pressure to do so, and some countries have imposed restrictions such as requiring medical supervision.

Forman is the State Department’s third anti-Semitism monitor. While he has maintained his predecessors’ focus on anti-Semitic acts and rhetoric worldwide, he said that protecting circumcision has become urgent because calls for bans are gaining legitimacy, particularly in Northern Europe.

In the past six months, Forman has raised the issue in meetings with ambassadors to Washington from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. He says he plans to raise it with envoys from other Northern European countries, where pressures to ban circumcision are most acute.

He also has asked the relevant desks at the State Department to have U.S. diplomats raise the issue in their meetings in their host countries.

Forman, who is Jewish, contrasted efforts to prohibit circumcision with bans on ritual animal slaughter — in place in some countries for decades — which at least have workarounds, for instance by importing frozen kosher meat.

“Circumcision, if you ban it, you have three choices: You do it underground illegally, you take a little 8-day-old baby across state lines — and if you have contiguous states [with bans], doing that becomes harder and harder — or three, you emigrate,” he said.

A comprehensive 2012 survey of European Jews by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found substantial majorities of Jews classifying a hypothetical ban on circumcision as a “big problem.”

“I will wait for the developments concerning a statutory regulation on the Brit Mila,” the survey quoted a German respondent as saying, using the Hebrew phrase for ritual circumcision. “This will be crucial for my decision on whether or not to leave Germany.”

Leaders of Jewish communities in countries that are contending with public pressure to ban the practice similarly warn that such a move could spur an exodus of Jews.

“I have said that a country which saved the Jews during the Second World War, if they would establish any law against circumcision, they would have done what Hitler wanted to do,” said Rabbi Bent Lexner, chief rabbi to Denmark’s Jewish community of 7,500.

European officials say their countries have instituted protections for circumcision in response to public pressures.

“A ban on circumcision is not in question for the Norwegian government,” Frode Overland Andersen, a spokesman for his country’s Foreign Ministry, said. German and Danish officials have issued similar assurances.

Jewish communal officials appreciate the assurances that circumcision will not be banned. Nonetheless, Jewish communal officials warn that the danger of circumcision bans in Europe has not substantially diminished.

“The trend is really moving against us in one considerable way, and that’s in terms of general European public opinion in Northern and Western Europe, particularly Scandinavia,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international Jewish affairs.

Calls to ban circumcision gained momentum after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution last October that called for a public debate on the “rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity.” It lumped male circumcision with female genital mutilation and corporal punishment.

The assembly, however, lacks power. In April, the council’s leadership advised members that male circumcision was “by no means comparable” to female genital mutilation and recommended against further attempts to target the practice.

Nonetheless, children’s ombudsmen in a number of Northern European countries have called in recent years for restrictions on the practice, as have medical professionals’ groups.

Jewish leaders say that as Northern Europe becomes increasingly secularized, its populace tends to place more value on freedom from religious coercion than on freedom to practice religion.

“These are post-religious and post-ritual countries,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, the Israel-based chief rabbi to Norway’s 800 Jews. “And the vast majority of the population don’t have a clue what ritual is. They see ritual in general as something which belongs to some dark evil — they have medieval conceptions [of rituals] which have nothing to do with modern society.”

In one way, some Scandinavian governments have nodded toward circumcision opponents by including in their laws requirements that circumcision take place under medical supervision. Norway’s parliament passed such a law last month. Norwegian Jewish leaders applauded the measure because it allowed the rite to be carried out under a physician’s supervision.

In Sweden, said Lena Posner-Korosi, president of the country’s 20,000-strong Jewish community, circumcision is permitted until two months, which effectively shuts out the Muslim community, in which boys are often circumcised as toddlers.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe helps drive the anti-circumcision clamor, Jewish communal leaders say. If anything, sensitivities in Northern Europe about the 20th-century record on Jews are what has led governments to protect circumcision.

“One of the important parliamentarians told me it is convenient for us to put the Jews at the front of this issue,” Melchior said. “Because in the public in Norway still, it is much more difficult to go out against the Jews than the Muslims.”

Jewish officials said that anti-Semitism, while a concern in other areas, is not a factor in the debate, although Jewish stereotypes have emerged in its wake. When pro-circumcision activists in Germany cited American studies showing that the practice was practically harmless and had possible medical benefits, opponents suggested that American Jewish doctors had skewed the studies.

The key to preserving circumcision, according to Ervin Kohn, president of Norway’s Jewish community, is lobbying the political class, which is sensitive to international image.

“For most of the Norwegian people it is strange, so they believe all sorts of things and don’t know too much and are easily impressionable,” he said, regarding views on circumcision. “Those who know are the politicians — they made the right decision.”

Jewish communal leaders in the Scandinavian countries said that blunt intervention from abroad could backfire, noting the hackles that were raised when Israel’s government issued dire warnings against banning circumcision after last year’s Council of Europe vote.

However, they welcome Forman’s more subtle overtures, saying that the Obama administration’s signaling of its interest in ensuring a future for European Jewish communities has proven salutary.

“I’m still on a high from presenting President Obama to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah,” said Posner-Korosi, describing a visit to Stockholm last year during which Obama also honored Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who risked his life to save tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. “It conveyed such a strong message, not just about Raoul Wallenberg but about anti-Semitism, about recognizing minorities.”

Looking out for minorities is the point, Forman said.

“Our priority is to make sure these communities don’t go out of existence,” he said. “It would be a tragedy not just for the communities. It would be a tragedy for Europe, for these cultures.”



Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hasidic Williamsburg, as Seen by One Who Left Sect 

On a recent sunny Monday, a bespectacled young woman stood at Broadway and Marcy Avenue, a Brooklyn crossing where hipsters, Hispanics and Hasidim mingle in a way that defines Williamsburg in 2014: a chic coffee shop near a Caribbean restaurant near a group of bearded men wearing black hats.

“We’re going into a really, really different part of New York City,” said the woman, Frieda Vizel, a microphone strapped to her head, “and I want us to be able to put that in a larger context.”

Ms. Vizel, 29, operates a tour business called Visit Hasidim and was about to lead her latest group of curiosity seekers on an educational perambulation through a section of Williamsburg roughly bounded by Broadway, Division Avenue, Heyward Street and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and populated largely by ultrareligious Jews.

While legions of tour guides have long shepherded the inquisitive through the city’s neighborhoods, Ms. Vizel said she offers something special: an insider’s look at a community that is famously difficult to penetrate, mostly because among those seeking to recreate the shtetl of yore, insularity is a core value.

Ms. Vizel is herself a former Hasid, born and raised in Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic village in Orange County, N.Y. At a time when the Hasidim’s reclusive nature increasingly butts up against the modern world, she claims unique insight into not just the community’s past, but also its present tensions. “My goal,” she said, “is to bring the culture down from this exotic place to a human level.”

Fearing criticism from local Hasidim who might view her tours as disrespectful, Ms. Vizel has not publicized her work widely. But after some consideration, she permitted a reporter to join a recent trip. “As we walk through the streets,” she told the roughly two dozen men and women with her, “I want you to try to see it through my eyes.” One of those on hand, 21-year-old Grace Idle, said she was “quite nervous about how the people in the community will see us.”

That community is made up of members of a highly ritualistic sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism who, as Ms. Vizel explained, began settling in Williamsburg in large numbers during and just after World War II as Hasidim fleeing Europe took refuge in the United States.

“These Jews are war-ravaged; families were destroyed,” she said. “When we walk into Williamsburg, we have to look at it through the lens of preservation and rebuilding. That can help us understand a lot of what drives this extreme sense of stopping time and resisting change. Because it’s: ‘Here we are. We have recaptured; let us not lose it again.’ ”

The group stopped at Cubicles Internet cafe on Division Avenue, which offers access to a vetted version of the web. Here, local residents take advantage of technology without being exposed to ideas deemed inappropriate. The conversation turned to education — how secular schoolbooks are censored in Hasidic circles and crayon-wielding auditors redact references to frowned-upon concepts.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“We would always spend a lot of time clawing the crayon markings off,” Ms. Vizel said. Offenders, she added, were obvious from the black wax on their fingernail tips.

Then it was on to Lee Avenue, “sort of the Main Street of Williamsburg,” she said, “where everyone sees everyone, where everyone checks everyone out.”

Ms. Vizel then shifted to describing the Hasidic life cycle. “Achieving a successful life is building a family that will continue to pass on the sacred traditions,” she explained. High achievers are those with big families. Marriages are arranged at age 18 by a shadchen who earns a check for every match made.

“What makes two families match?” Ms. Vizel asked rhetorically. A Hasidic girl stopped to listen. “Usually it is being on the same socioreligious platform in the Hasidic community. A lot of that can be based on a woman’s headgear.”

A woman wearing a wig is fairly liberal, Ms. Vizel said. A woman in a wig and a hat is a bit more religious. A scarf indicates extreme piety. “The term would be ‘a hat family,’ ” Ms. Vizel said. “The shadchen would say, ‘I have a great girl from a hat family.’ ”

Ms. Vizel is from a “scarf family.” Until she was 21, she lived a pious life. She married and gave birth to a son. In 2006, she began a blog under the pseudonym Shpitzle Shtrimpkind. At first, she wrote about marriage and family. “I thought: I’m going to defend the community,” she said.

As she gained a following, however, her online conversations changed her worldviews. “It destroyed my belief that the outside world is this chaotic, dangerous place,” she said. “And I started to think of it as a place of opportunity.”

By 2007, she had stopped blogging and begun “trying to put the genie back in the bottle.” She tried marriage counseling, unsuccessfully. In January 2010, her divorce became final.

Ms. Vizel, who lives in Pomona, N.Y., is pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Last summer, at a professor’s suggestion, she began leading the Williamsburg tours. Groups range from two to 45 people. She charges $500 per group or $50 per individual.

Ms. Vizel — who is not the only former Hasid giving Williamsburg tours; Jacob Gluck has a similar business — said she was aware that New Yorkers sometimes viewed visits like the ones she leads as unwanted incursions. Last year, for example, a company called Real Bronx Tours drew sharp criticism for inaccurately depicting the borough by advertising “a ride through a real New York City ‘GHETTO.’ ” As a result of the uproar, the company announced that it would cease giving tours of the Bronx.

Ms. Vizel said she aims to avoid similar criticism by guiding a fact-based visit. Still, she acknowledged, “I walk a very fine line between being welcome in Williamsburg and not.”

During the recent tour, local reaction was mixed. At Ross Street and Bedford Avenue, one woman pronounced loudly that she disagreed with a point Ms. Vizel was making about wigs.

“Is this needed?” the woman said later, declining to give her name. “I don’t know. Maybe an understanding does foster better relationships. On the other hand, what we’re not looking for is relationships with the outer world.”

Others seemed less bothered by the visitors. Josef Honig, 72, a Hasidic retiree, called the idea “wonderful.” “Ten tours a day would give us some problems,” he said. “One or two would be just enough.”



Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Brooklyn cantor begins serving two-year prison term in controversial sex abuse case 

Baruch Lebowitz, 62, began serving his two-year prison sentence on Wednesday.

A Brooklyn cantor was hauled to prison Wednesday for abusing a teenage boy, capping a controversial and convoluted case a full decade in the making.

An unapologetic Baruch Lebovits, 62, got shackled, waved goodbye to his son and was led away to serve a two-year stint in prison — which translates to only a handful of months after credit for good behavior and time served.

The Hasidic defendant, who copped in May to felony sex abuse against a 16-year-old in 2004, had already spent 13 months in prison after he was found guilty in a 2010 trial and sent to a maximum of 32 years behind bars — before the conviction was overturned on appeal.

In between then and now, a man accused of illegally meddling in the case was indicted and much later cleared, the competing prosecutions became fodder during last year’s district attorney election and numerous accusations of payoffs and witness intimidation have been lobbed.

But one thing never happened.

“He still wouldn’t apologize to me in person,” Lebovits’ victim, now 26, said during brief remarks in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Wearing a blue T-shirt and cargo pants, the man, who received a civil settlement from Lebovits’ family that included an undisclosed amount of cash,was accompanied by a therapy dog.

His father spoke next, quoting King David, Martin Luther King and Maimonides.

“We all have been excommunicated for the past six years from some of the Hasidic communities,” he said of his family, describing the experience of many Jewish sex victims who seek justice in secular courts.

He praised his son for his “bravery and self-sacrifice, for going forward with the case despite the harassment you endured from the community.”

Justice Mark Dwyer acknowledged the case was controversial, but added he won’t delve into Rabbinical issues.

“We’re all Americans and this American court is going to treat everybody the same,” he said.

The judge had previously explained that his promised two-year sentence is in-line with similar punishments for the admitted offenses in the state.

Anti-abuse activists have slammed the outcome as too lenient, charging that Lebovits was a serial molester who had many more victims. The high-powered defense team have argued that allegations of indecency were trumped-up to meet the legal definition of felonies.

When it was his turn to speak, Lebovits just stood up and thanked the judge.
The victim’s dad addressed the abuser just minutes earlier.

“As you’re going away for a while, I would like to ask you to reflect during that time on how you destroyed an innocent life,” he said. “You still never said three simple words to (my son): ‘I am sorry.’”



Daughter lived with mom’s corpse for a year 

In a gruesome scene straight out of “Psycho,” a young Brooklyn woman was found to have been living for at least a year with her mom’s skeletal remains, law-enforcement sources said.

The rotting corpse, believed to be that of Susie Rosenthal, 61, was discovered Monday under a pile of garbage bags in the Borough Park apartment she shared with her daughter, Chava Stirn, 28, according to the sources.

Police had been called to the apartment at 3 p.m. after neighbors reported a foul odor and an unexplained leak, sources said.

When cops approached Stirn, she was acting “erratically” and was taken to Maimonides Medical Center for a psych evaluation.

The corpse was found at 5 p.m., the sources said.

Neighbors told cops Rosenthal had not been seen lately.

Both mother and daughter had histories of psychological issues, sources said.

The Medical Examiner’s Office will perform an autopsy.



Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Teen arrested in Sullivan County road rage incident 

A Rockland County teen is facing charges for a reported road rage incident Sunday in the Town of Thompson.

Sullivan County Sheriff's Deputies say Gedaliya Rauch, 18, of Monsey pointed a gun at another driver near Exit 106 on Route 17. Rauch was taken into custody after turning onto Cimarron Road, a dead end. Deputies say an Airsoft BB gun was recovered from under the front seat.

According to officers the car Rauch was driving had tinted windows and two fake radio antennas mounted on the trunk to make the car look like an unmarked police vehicle.

Rauch was charged with Misdemeanor Menacing and Reckless Endangerment. He was arraigned and sent to Sullivan County Jail in lieu of $2,500 bail.



Alleged New Square sex abuse victim speaks to News 12 

The alleged victim at the center of an explosive sex abuse scandal rocking the Hasidic village of New Square stepped forward to speak to News 12.

Rabbi Moshe Taubenfeld is headed to court Tuesday on accusations he repeatedly molested a young boy.

The alleged victim, who calls himself Laiby, told News 12 he initially turned to Taubenfeld for guidance after the Sept. 11 attacks back when he was 9 years old.

Laiby claims that Taubenfeld, who is a father of 20, ordered him to pull down his pants and then touched him inappropriately. He says the unholy acts became ritualistic, as he eventually started going over to Tabuenfled's home almost daily.   

"He actually gave me $20 every time he touched me," he said.

After five years, Laiby said he got the courage to tell his family about the incidents, but when his mother confronted the head rabbis of New Square, they didn't believe her.

Laiby said he moved out of New Square when he was 16 because he couldn't take it anymore.

One night, after seeing the movie "Zero Dark Thirty," he said that if people could go after Osama bin Laden for justice, he would do the same for Taubenfeld.

He called police to report the abuse, and says threats immediately followed.   

"I feel proud, courageous,” says Laiby. “I know I am doing the right thing."

Taubenfeld is the brother of a convicted sex offender, the first in New Square history to get reported to the police.  Despite a taped confession, Hershel Taubenfeld avoided prison time and Laiby is fearful history will repeat itself.

Taubenfeld is facing 10 years behind bars.



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