Sunday, November 30, 2014

Manny Waks steps down, announces big plans for his future 

The Caulfield man has stepped down as CEO of the Australian advocacy group he founded two years ago, Tzedek, and revealed he is working on a “major global initiative to address the issue of child sexual abuse within the global Jewish community’’.

He will also relocate his family overseas this summer.

“While we have made significant progress, we still have a long way to go. Therefore I will proudly remain a victim advocate and dedicate myself to this cause for as long as I possibly can,’’ he said.

“Just as I felt compelled to speak out publicly in 2011, I feel compelled to continue this critical work.’’

Mr Waks’ campaign has taken a heavy toll on his family and he conceded that had influenced his decision to leave.

“One reason certainly is due to the ongoing ramifications of going public. There’s no question about it. But there are other factors as well,’’ he said.

One of his defining moments came in August when the documentary ‘Code of Silence’ aired on national television.

That lifted the veil on child sexual abuse in Melbourne’s Jewish community and exposed Mr Waks’ own suffering at the hands of an abuser at St Kilda East’s Yeshiva College.

Mr Waks will join Tzedek’s board of advisers and Tzedek is recruiting to fill his role.

He intends to return to Australia when the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse holds a public hearing relating to the Yeshivah Centre, expected next year.



Saturday, November 29, 2014

Brooklyn’s Lubavitch Community: A Culture Captured by the Ultimate Outsider 

One day during Hanukkah 26 years ago, the grand rabbi of the Lubavitch-Chabad Hasidim briefly turned away from the hundreds of men gathered before him in synagogue to cast his eye toward the women’s balcony. Then he extended an arm, offering someone there a roll of nickels. That recipient, in turn, was meant to fulfill the rabbi’s design by giving the coins to charity.

It was rare enough for Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to direct his attention to the women’s section, which was kept separate in accordance with Orthodox practice. Rarer still was the rabbi’s target: a female photographer who was not Lubavitch, not Hasidic, not Jewish, not religious, not even American.

That photographer, Chie Nishio, stood in the lobby gallery of the Brooklyn Public Library one morning last week, regarding the picture she took of Rabbi Schneerson’s long-ago gesture. She is 84 now, a widow, living by preference without a cellphone or email account. Yet an extraordinary collection of her visual art is now receiving its belated recognition.

Of the 43 photographs of the Lubavitch community currently on display in the library’s main branch at Grand Army Plaza, that print of Rabbi Schneerson on Hanukkah most hints at the story behind the images, the story of Chabad Hasidim’s improbable portraitist.

When the photo was taken in 1988, Ms. Nishio had been visiting the Lubavitch movement’s home base in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for only a few months. While Rabbi Schneerson implored his followers to reach out to fellow Jews of any level of observance, his decision to acknowledge Ms. Nishio was a very public sign of approval for an ultimate outsider.

His decision proved to be a wise one. Ms. Nishio went on to photograph the community until the grand rabbi, known to followers as the rebbe, died in 1994. The library’s exhibit, which remains on display until February, provides an intimate and expansive view of the Lubavitchers.

In Ms. Nishio’s photos, a scribe letters a Torah scroll and a baker wields a tray of matzos. A bride-to-be, who will have to cover her hair for reasons of modesty, tries on her first wig. In a ritual called upsherin, a 3-year-old boy receives his first haircut, the sign that he will soon begin his religious education. There are portraits of Chabad women who work as a lawyer, a painter and a magazine editor.

These photographs attest not only to Ms. Nishio’s meticulous skill, which she honed over a half-century, but to the condition of her soul, a capacity for empathy across both literal and metaphorical oceans of difference.

The daughter of a railroad mechanic, Ms. Nishio grew up in a Japan ravaged by World War II. Unable to afford college, she went to work as a self-described “office girl.” Only in the early 1960s, when she was already in her 30s, did she find a two-year trade school for photography. There she fell in love with journalism.

Driven to succeed in what was then a man’s profession, Ms. Nishio covered major events, including the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and China’s Cultural Revolution. Even as she captured breaking news for wire services, she felt most inspired by documentary photography, especially the work of Dorothea Lange, who chronicled the Great Depression.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
“Her pictures were my kind,” Ms. Nishio said. “With other photographers, you feel a distance. With hers, you feel a strong human connection to her subjects.”

After marrying an American author, James Trager, in 1972, Ms. Nishio moved to New York. Though Trager was an ardent atheist, his lineage traced back to an immigrant rabbi, Abraham Trager, who founded an Orthodox synagogue in Columbia, S.C., in the late 1800s. Over the succeeding generations, the extended family bitterly splintered into religious and irreligious factions.

“I said that I have to find out about Orthodox Judaism,” Ms. Nishio recalled. “All I know is secular. I wanted to know how this family split, with no communication between them.”

So she went to one of the most visibly Jewish parts of Manhattan, the Diamond District, and from there was directed to the Satmar Hasidic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Upon arriving, she was rebuffed, and was advised instead to try the Lubavitchers in Crown Heights.

Emerging from the Kingston Avenue subway station in the fall of 1988, she lifted her Nikon F to her eye and heard a Hasidic woman shout, “You can’t take pictures!” She put away the camera, wandered onto a side street, and spotted a father playing with his toddlers. Again, she prepared to shoot. Again, she was told no.

The father, however, took the time to explain. It was one of the holy days of Sukkot, when work is proscribed by religious law. But if Ms. Nishio was willing to return on an ordinary day, the man said, she could photograph his family.

The man, Shimon Goldman, had a profound reason to feel favorably toward someone Japanese. Mr. Goldman’s father had escaped Lithuania — and almost certain death during the Holocaust — thanks to a transit visa issued by a sympathetic Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara. (By some scholarly estimates, Sugihara saved as many as 10,000 Jews from the Nazis.)

On a Crown Heights sidewalk a few days later, Ms. Nishio caught the curious eye of Chana Seligson, a young mother who was a preschool teacher. Ms. Seligson invited the photographer home, and over the succeeding years Ms. Nishio shot the Seligson family in myriad moments — the children dressed in costumes for Purim, and the parents grimly reading newspaper accounts of the 1991 riots in Crown Heights.

“A heart feels a heart,” Ms. Seligson said recently of Ms. Nishio. “You could be part of someone else’s experience without buying into it, without becoming a card-carrying member. She didn’t need to believe it herself. She just had to accept our belief and not pass judgment. She could feel there was something true for us.”

Even so, Ms. Nishio’s photos of Crown Heights nearly fell into obscurity. She essentially stopped working after 2006, as her husband fell ill and she looked after him until his death in 2012. A family friend submitted a portfolio of her Lubavitch photographs to the Brooklyn Public Library in early 2013 for consideration.

“First of all, we valued the high quality of the work,” said Barbara Wing, the library’s exhibitions manager. “And as an outsider, she brought a tremendous sensitivity to the photos. Each one was a treasure.”

For her part, Ms. Nishio insists that the immersion into Crown Heights left her atheist beliefs unchanged. “Even when I was a little girl, my nickname was Digger,” she said. “The question I always had is, ‘Why?’ It drove my parents crazy. That kind of person can’t be religious.”

Yet one cannot view her portraits, and attribute their tenderness and respect entirely to cerebral craft. More than once, when Ms. Nishio would refer to “the coincidence, the accident” of having wound up in Crown Heights, a Lubavitcher subject would point a finger heavenward and say, “No, arranged by God.”



Friday, November 28, 2014

Hasidic Band Zusha's Wordless Praise 

Matisyahu – once the sole representative and ambassador of the Hasidic community to the world of popular culture – is now completely shorn and taking a less overtly religious approach to music. Meanwhile, a new group from Brooklyn may be promptly taking his place.

Singer Shlomo Ari Gaisin, peruccionsist Elisha Mlotek, and guitarist Zachariah Goldshmiedt – collectively, "Zusha" – just released an impressive EP produced by Mason Jar Music, the same musical collective that's been busy collaborating with spiritually-minded minstrel Josh Garrels.

Their story:

"Zusha was formed in the East Village, by three neo-Hasidic dudes with less passion for college and more passion for music. While borrowing lines from ancient liturgy, Zusha's music is a blend of jazz, reggae, folk, ska, gypsy swing, and traditional Jewish soul. The resulting sound is dynamic; at times it feels raw and rustic, at times gentle and poignant. And then sometimes you just can't help but get up and dance. In Hebrew, the name for a wordless melody is 'Nee-goon'. Zusha songs nurture this concept of the 'nee-goon', believing that when songs are unbound by words they can be infinitely personalized and mean different things."

Matisyahu fans will instantly recognize these "wordless melodies" which filled his earlier albums like Shake off the Dust…Arise. As Goldshmiedt explains in the Huffington Post, as a musical form of praise it's infused with a contagious and mystical sense of joy, something so often missing from religious music and religious life itself. "People are seemingly down and missing the joy in Judaism and the joy in life," he notes. "But Hasidic teachings are about being happy, being truthful. We want to reconnect to what it means to be a person, and our music is coming to bring back the raw emotion of what everything is about."

That raw emotion is palpable throughout the EP, from the whimsical "Peace," to the introspective "Question," to my personal favorite, "Yoel's Niggun." Gaisin's wistful chant on this track, complemented by an equally sorrowful brass section, instantly brought to mind Psalm 137 and a feeling of longing amid captivity:

By the rivers of Babylon
There we sat weeping 
When we remembered Zion. 
On the poplars in its midst
We hung up our harps.
For there our captors asked us
For the words of a song;
Our tormentors, for joy:
"Sing for us a song of Zion!"
But how could we sing a song of the Lord
In a foreign land?

Of course, none of this is in the song explicitly – this was just where the song happened to take me as a listener. But that's the magic of the blank canvas Zusha is working with. In a culture in which "the old words of grace are worn smooth as poker chips," and religious language lacks the shape and force it once had through use and abuse, they cultivate this more elemental realization of faith through song, conveying its weight and glory from the inside before actually articulating a thing. 

The entire EP, thankfully, is not wordless – otherwise, the temptation would be to rip the chants from their context and give them any meaning whatsoever. This clearly is not what Zusha is going for – the canvas may be blank, but it's also been claimed. "Yisgadal," for example, takes its lyrics from a Hebrew prayer known as "The Great Kaddish," which "refers to a world-to-come where the deal will be raised to eternal life" and is traditionally sung during a burial:

Yisgadal v'yiskadash sh'mei rabbaw  
B'allmaw dee v'raw chir'usei v'yamlich malchusei
(May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified 
In the world that He created as He willed)

Whether with words or without them, Zusha delivers refreshingly believable and open-ended songs of worship. They sing not to a staid watchmaker or fussy rulemaker, but out into the joyful expanse of the eternal Creator, where the line separating our love of music and God's love for us grows thin.

Where, as Zusha shows us: "Every song is a story. Every tune is a prayer."


Polish town reconsidering plan to turn Jewish cemetery into apartment complex 

A town in central Poland is reconsidering a development plan that would turn a Jewish cemetery into a residential complex with underground parking.

The Jewish community of Warsaw and local activist Robert Augustyniak, who is not Jewish, had protested the plan.

The City Council in Grodzisk Mazowiecki held a public discussion of the plan on Monday. Following the meeting, Mayor Grzegorz Benedykcinski suspended action on the plan pending clarification of the cemetery's boundaries.

The Jewish cemetery in Grodzisk was divided after World War II with a small section maintained as a cemetery and the remaining area acquired by Samopomoc Cooperative. Today, a private company that buys and sells scrap metal manages the site.

A historic cemetery gate with Hebrew inscriptions from the 19th century remains on the site.
Augustyniak offered his objections to the plan during the town hall discussion.

"I showed the map of the area from 1927 and 1934," he told JTA. "It clearly shows that the area of the cemetery was much larger than it is today. It seems that the council did not know about it. I hope that now they will change their plans."

The Jewish community of Warsaw also has raised objections to the development plan. It will ask the city office in charge of historic sites to register the cemetery in its prewar borders as a protected area.

"Taking into account the new facts disclosed during public discussion on Nov. 24, I made the decision to suspend the procedure, pending clarification of all doubts," Benedykcinski told JTA. "Thank you for your attention and I declare that I will make every effort to ensure that the new plan, which is a local law, pays attention to the history of the Jewish people residing in Grodzisk Mazowiecki."

The mayor also asked the Jewish community in Warsaw for help in identifying historical and actual boundaries of the cemetery.

"The Jewish community in Poland is so small that we are not able to monitor all matters relating to cemeteries, synagogues and other places important from the point of view of the prewar communities," Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, told JTA. "That is why we appreciate the initiative of people like Robert Augustyniak, who care about local history and the fact that it was not forgotten. I also thank the mayor of Grodzisk for his quick response and willingness to cooperate in this regard."


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Borough Park clogged with yeshiva buses due to the increasing number of vehicles and schools 

The wheels on these Brooklyn school buses aren’t going round and round.

A new transportation system for yeshivas has increased the number of school buses in Borough Park — and caused massive congestion on neighborhood roads each morning.

To help alleviate the problem, exasperated local officials have been forced to coax the city Sanitation Department to adjust trash pickup times in the neighborhood.

School administrators and lawmakers told the Daily News they are working behind the scenes to convince the de Blasio administration to make the scheduling adjustments.

“The Sanitation Department needs to take garbage trucks off the road from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. to allow school buses to safely deliver children to school,” said City Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park).

The problem stems in part from a deal negotiated by the yeshivas after the union representing city bus drivers staged a five-week strike in 2013.

Afterwards, the Bloomberg administration began allowing private schools to manage their own bus pickups, a change that was billed as a cost-saver for the city.

The union charged the city an estimated $30 per child each day while the yeshivas and other private schools charge about half that rate, officials said.

The arrangement, however, has clogged Borough Park streets with rumbling buses and forced schools to find places for the buses to park during school hours.

It now takes some yeshiva bus drivers up to two hours to complete their route each morning, compared to about an hour last year.

There are roughly 350 buses on the streets of Borough Park, up from about 290 last year, according to estimates by community insiders.

“It’s just crazy,” said one bus driver who asked to remain anonymous.

The problem has been compounded by a population boom in Borough Park.

“We are the fastest-growing neighborhood in New York City,” Greenfield said. “Every year there are new schools opening.”

Maimonides hospital delivered an estimated 9,000 babies in 2013, the most of any hospital in the state. The Jewish community is responsible for about half those births, records show.

The Department of Sanitation says it has worked with community leaders to address their concerns, adjusting pickup routes in parts of Borough Park.

That’s done little to clear the logjam.

“The kids are coming late to school. That’s creating a problem for us,” an administrator of a yeshiva on 18th Ave. said.

A bigger fix may be necessary, but it’s unclear what more can be done.

“We are currently exploring whether additional scheduling changes in the area are operationally feasible,” said DSNY spokeswoman Kathy Dawkins.



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At conference of hasidic emissaries, social media leads the way 

Selfies. Hashtags. Live tweeting. Video streaming.

A recent gathering of worldwide Hasidic emissaries in Brooklyn demonstrated how the Chabad-Lubavitch sect, often at the vanguard of using the Internet for religious outreach, has continued to lead the way with its embrace of social media.

"Six years ago I sat hunched in a corner live tweeting this event alone, from a TREO 650," said Morderchai Lightstone, who manages Chabad-Lubavitch's social media feeds. "Now there is a veritable symphony of tweets. Amazing."

The annual series of events, known as "Kinus," began in 1984 with roughly 65 "Shluchim," or emissaries, of the Chabad movement uniting in Crown Heights. The purpose of their gathering was to discuss and coordinate their efforts while rejoicing over their accomplishment and reveling in spiritual common ground. This year's events included more thousands of Shluchim from some 80 countries across the globe.

Mixed in with more strictly religious themes were activities with a decidedly technological focus. Professional presentations included hi-tech solutions for maximizing Chabad House productivity, fundraising and development. And in a now-ubiquitous photo, a giant "selfie stick" with a wide-angle lens captured more than 2,000 emissaries in a single photograph on Eastern Parkway, while a civilian drone took additional shots while hovering from above.

"The Rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson] taught that technology bridges international divides, communicating and actualizing good in real time," said Eli Rubin, a Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi.

The events culminated in a banquet dinner Sunday evening, with both participants and remote observers praising the increased connectivity of a "live stream" of the proceedings, combined with tweets from attendees.

"It feels like my community can experience the Kinus together with me," said Rabbi Uriel Vigler, director of the Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side, who attended the banquet. "They are watching online and enjoying the experience!"

"I couldn't make it to the Kinus but I am experiencing it through Twitter," said Rabbi Yisroel Bernath in Montreal.

Not all Orthodox Jews so readily embrace the internet. While Modern Orthodox Judaism is perhaps the most accommodating, blending strict religious observance with an openness to the modern world, many Hasidic leaders all but discourage the use of the technology except when necessary for conducting business. An "Asifa," or gathering, of some 40,000 ultra-orthodox Jews took place at Citi Field two years ago to warn against the dangers of the Internet, including its invitations into gambling and pornography, and in creating opportunities for sexual predators.

But others have a more nuanced view.

"I see the internet like the telephone or electricity; it has the potential for great harm or for great good," wrote Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, a senior Rabbi of an Orthodox Synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida.

Rabbi Mordechai Burg, Menahel (Principal) at a post-high school Yeshiva in Jerusalem, agreed.

"Our students are constantly on their phones, and while they are more connected than ever before, they're also more disconnected from themselves and their peers," Rabbi Burg said. "Chabad has used technology in this same time period to their advantage. They understand that the people are on Twitter and Facebook, and in classic fashion they've gone out to meet the people in their territory. There is no question in my mind that we can all take a page out of the Chabad playbook and do our utmost to use technology as a way of reaching our constituents."


East Ramapo sells Hillcrest for use as yeshiva again 

East Ramapo officials have completed the $4.9 million sale of Hillcrest Elementary School to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group for use as a private school.

The closing, on Friday, becomes the latest chapter in the thorny history of school board actions related to the former public school building, situated on nearly 12 acres on Addison Boyce Drive in New City.

It's the second time in about four years the property has been sold to Avir Yakov by the district, where Hasidic and Orthodox Jews who send their children to private schools have dominated the school board since 2005.

The first sale, in 2010, was annulled by the state education commissioner after parents challenged the transaction, calling it a sweetheart deal for the religious community. The school board's appraiser later pleaded guilty to a fraud-related misdemeanor.

The state Attorney General's Office charged the appraiser as part of an ongoing investigation into the contentious sales and leases of Hillcrest and Colton elementary schools to yeshivas. Avi Vardi was accused of taking a $5,000 bribe from Avir Yakov to falsify his appraisal.

School officials haven't been charged with wrongdoing related to the deal. Allegations they were involved with the theft of public school property to benefit the ultra-Orthodox communities are part of an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit filed by hundreds of East Ramapo residents.

The plea bargain for the Hillcrest appraiser came four months ago, about the time the school board approved the sale to the girls yeshiva for the second time.

School officials announced the closing in a statement Friday and said the proceeds would be used to restore the district's reserves and "help support future public school programs." It follows the sale of Colton Elementary to another religious group in July for $5.1 million.

Spokesman Darren Dopp indicated that board members took pains to ensure this sale "was at or above fair market value" and that the four-month gap between approval and closing was due partly to the district "endeavoring to comply with an extra level of anticipated scrutiny to the transaction."

"(The board) wanted to make sure that everyone looking at the transaction could see that it was handled properly," Dopp said.

The state has not been involved with the new sale and isn't involved in decisions on how proceeds are used, Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said Monday.

The district closed Hillcrest over parents' objections in 2010 amid incorrect projections of declining public school enrollment. Parents also have challenged the building lease to Avir Yakov.

Avir Yakov lawyer Fred Berman did not return a request for comment. An Avir Yakov employee declined to comment on the sale or the congregation's plans for the property, which is near the border of the Hasidic village of New Square.

The deal follows new recommendations by a state fiscal monitor that a state watchdog be given veto power over school board decisions to ensure financial solvency and equity for public school students.


Nets to Host Chanukah Jewish Heritage Night at Barclays Center 

As the Nets gear up for the third season in their new home in Brooklyn, CTeen, Chabad's global teen network, is planning its 2nd Annual Jewish Heritage Night which will take place in the Nets' arena, Barclays Center, on the fifth night of Chanukah.

Event organizers are expecting Jewish attendance upwards of 6,000, Brooklyn being a borough that is home to hundreds of thousands of Jews and taking into account the incredible success of last year's event debut.

Highlights of the program include a menorah lighting of the world's only basketball Menorah, a half-time "Rabbis vs. Teens" basketball game, and a national anthem performance by Hasidic Cantor Yanky Lemmer. Teens from CTeen's 36 Tri-state chapters will be awarded privileges including ball delivery, pre-game national anthem buddies, and participation in the half-time game.

16-year-old New Jersey resident Sam Hollander sees the tremendous unity inherent in the event.  "It's always nice to hear that I am a part of the Jewish nation, but it is infinitely better to feel it. I bet the game will be great, but the meaning of the event will be even greater, as I sit surrounded by my Jewish family, taking in the fact that I am part of a whole."

Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos 302, CTeen's umbrella organization, explains why CTeen is so enthusiastic about the Jewish Heritage Night. "By lighting a menorah in the Barclays Center, the timeless message and light of Chanukah will reach tens of thousands of individuals who might otherwise have remained in the dark."

And it's not just about where to light the Menorah, but also a matter of timing. "This year, the Menorah lighting is scheduled to take place between the first and second quarters of the game, when crowd attendance is at its maximum," explains CTeen's director Rabbi Shimon Rivkin. "This takes the publicity of Chanukah to new heights and ensures we make the biggest impact possible."

"It really doesn't matter what the final score is," says 15-year-old Mike Goldberg, from Marlboro, NJ. "The ultimate score is bringing Jewish teens together to have a good time, connect with their heritage, and celebrate this awesome Jewish holiday.  This is what CTeen is all about."


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bloomingburg dissolution vote awaits court decisions 

A decision on whether the Village of Bloomingburg will dissolve into the Town of Mamakating now depends on several legal challenges, which could take weeks - at the very least.

Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick ruled Monday that more than 120 of the uncontested votes from the Sept. 30 referendum will be opened at 10 a.m. Dec. 1. But a decision on the more than 60 contested votes will be made at a later date.

The county Board of Elections last week upheld 62 of the 69 voter registration challenges - which were made by supporters of the dissolution. The voters whose registrations were rejected were apparently supporters of developer Shalom Lamm. The referendum to dissolve was sparked by those opposed to Lamm's 396-home Hasidic development. They say the development would overwhelm this one-stoplight village with a population of 400 people.

Thomas Garry, attorney for opponents of the dissolution, said he plans to challenge the board's rulings on the registrations. A hearing on his challenge could then be scheduled for the future.

Garry criticized the board's decision, saying it had "no basis under the election law."

"This is, by far, the worst I've ever seen a Board of Elections conduct itself," Garry said.

Lori Bertsch-Brustman, assistant Sullivan County attorney who is representing the board, says it did its job correctly. She says it based its decision on voter questionnaires and an investigation by the county Sheriff's Office. "The Board of Elections used the best evidence available in making its determination with regard to challenged voters," Bertsch-Brustman said.

In their decision, Commissioners Ann Prusinski and Rodney Gaebel said many of the returned questionnaires contained little proof of residency, such as paid tax or utility bills, rent payments, tuition receipts or employment verification.

A final ruling on the dissolution also awaits a ruling by the state Appellate Division on another legal issue. Garry filed a notice of appeal challenging the wording of the legal notices and absentee ballots for the Sept. 30 dissolution vote. This came after Schick allowed the referendum vote to proceed when the notices and ballots referred to the consolidation of the village, not its dissolution.

Bertsch-Brutsman said the board followed the direction of the courts when conducting the vote.


Monday, November 24, 2014

4,200 Rabbis From Around Globe Convene in Brooklyn 

About 4,200 rabbis from 80 countries are convening in Brooklyn.

Altogether, about 5,200 religious leaders from as far away as Bangkok and the Congo are attending 31st annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries.

Organizers say the all-day event on Sunday features speakers and "spirited Hasidic dancing."
It concludes with a sit-down dinner.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Yeshiva Graduate Fights for Secular Studies in Hasidic Education 

Naftuli Moster was a senior at the College of Staten Island when he first heard the word “molecule.” Perplexed, he looked around the classroom. Nobody else seemed confused. Yet again, because of gaps in his early education, Mr. Moster was ignorant of a basic concept that everybody else knew.

“I felt embarrassed and ashamed,” he said. “Every single time I didn’t know something, I thought, ‘I’m too crippled to make it through.’ ”

Mr. Moster had grown up one of 17 children in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Borough Park, Brooklyn, where most Hasidic men marry young and, right after finishing yeshiva, or high school, either immediately enter the work force or dedicate themselves to Talmudic studies. But if Mr. Moster’s educational ambitions were unusual among his peers, his limited grasp of English was not.

There are 250 Jewish private schools in New York City, and though some schools, like Ramaz on the Upper East Side, have intensive secular curriculums, many do not. Nearly one-third of all students in Jewish schools are “English language learners,” according to the city’s Department of Education. Yiddish is the Hasidic community’s first language, and both parents and educators report that many boys’ schools do not teach the A B C’s until children are 7 or 8 years old. Boys in elementary and middle school study religious subjects from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. followed by approximately 90 minutes of English and math. At 13, when boys formally enter yeshiva, most stop receiving any English instruction.



Hasidic teacher accused of slapping pupils 

SOME children taught in ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools are suffering educational neglect and being subjected to corporal punishment, according to official documents and testimony from community figures.

Two Hasidic schools that teach ultra-Orthodox Judaism — Talmud Torah Chaim Meirim Wiznitz School and Talmud Torah Yetev Lev school, both in Stamford Hill, north London — have been threatened with closure after inspectors from Ofsted, the schools watchdog, found systematic failings in teaching and measures to protect children’s safety.

One of the schools was found to be disciplining pupils by threatening them with corporal punishment or actually slapping them. Sources also complain that the curriculum in some Hasidic schools is too narrow, with most of the day devoted to religious instruction in Yiddish or Hebrew.



Saturday, November 22, 2014


Chassidic Comic Mendy Pellin

Walking carefully between the line of offensive and funny, Mendy Pellin has begun trying to show the world that an observant culture is “natural fodder for funny.” In a period he titles, “Hasidic Spring”, Pellin has noticed that the youths of the Hasid culture have begun to embrace social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

One of his most famous video productions is “Talk Yiddish to Me,” a parody of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” In the Yiddish version, Mendy Pellin is dressed fully in Hasidic garb and has an enormous gold chain while surrounded by sidekicks. In lieu of the flashy cars often visible in rap videos, Pellin used a minivan. Rather than rapping about “booty,” he raps about “bubbe” (Grandma).

Mendy Pellin is under a particular burden. Religious comics have unique pressures that most comedians don’t have to deal with. It can be difficult to walk the line of being funny, and completely offending an entire culture, especially when they are his own culture. He was raised Hasidic in Brooklyn, studying Hebrew and Yiddish until he was 10, when he finally learned English. His hero Jewish comics are Jerry Seinfield and Jackie Mason.

Mendy Pellin is the co-founder of Jewbellish, his name for using comedy to “embellish” the image of observant Jews. He aims to bring the Old World in to the modern. In 2008, he appeared on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show.”

Mendy Pellin’s partner, Jeff Ruddes, is the founder of J Brand, a fashion company known for its high-end super skinny tight jeans. He believes that Pellin can ultimately break the barriers that keep Hasidism “uncool.” Together, Pellin and Ruddes are figuring out ways of making the garb cooler. One idea they are toying with is a half yarmulke, which requires the wearer buy 2 sides and zip them together. Pellin feels it plays well on Jewish affinity for “half offs.”

However, not everyone laughs about Pellin and his humor. Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the Williamsburg Satmar Hasidic sect, feels that, while he means well, Mendy Pellin is mostly offensive. Niederman says that praying and swaying is a part of his religion, tradition, and he feels as if he is being mocked. However, he does give the comedian credit for trying to bridge the observant and secular worlds. And according to Modi Rosenfield, a New York Comedian, Orthodox Jewish comics are few and far between. He says that there are lots of Jewish comedians, but “only a few religious comedians.” It can be difficult to work in both the Jewish and secular worlds.

Currently, Mendy Pellin is working on developing his Hasidic parodies of music and TV. He is working on a Jewish comedy news program. He says that he “loves taking a stereotype, embellishing it and then breaking it. There is a certain percentage of people who can’t take a joke. Here I am making fun of the stereotype, rather than feeding into it.”



Friday, November 21, 2014

Elections board rejects most challenges in Bloomingburg vote 

This eastern Sullivan County village appeared to inch closer to dissolution Thursday when the Sullivan County Board of Elections tossed out 62 of 69 voter registration challenges.

It was supporters of the dissolution who filed the challenges. 

The voters whose registrations were rejected were apparently aligned with developer Shalom Lamm. His 396-home Hasidic development spurred the move by its opponents to dissolve Bloomingburg into the Town of Mamakating. They feared the development and its residents would overwhelm this one-stoplight village of some 400. Lamm's vote – and those of the family of his business partner, Kenneth Nakdimen - were among the few upheld.

Lack of proof of residency was the primary reason for the rejections, according to the Board of Elections.
"With the exception of a few driver's licenses and/or vehicle registrations with Bloomingburg addresses the returned questionnaires contained virtually NO proof of residency such as paid tax or utility bills, rent payments, tuition receipts or employment verification," said a letter signed by BOE Commissioners Ann Prusiniski and Rodney Gaebel. "On the other hand, EVERY returned questionnaire contained a statement asserting that individual's right to vote from Bloomingburg."

Still, since about 200 votes were apparently cast and sequestered before they were opened, the result of the Sept. 30 dissolution vote won't be known before they're opened and ruled upon by Sullivan County Supreme Court Judge Stephan Schick. He had to make a similar decision in the March vote for Mayor, when Lamm opponents successfully challenged more than 100 votes of the developer's supporters.

A leading proponent of the dissolution, who opposes Lamm's development, welcomed the result.

"Yes, it's good news," said Holly Roche, who heads the Rural Community Coalition.

But a spokesman for Lamm denounced the decision.

"Incredibly, the Sullivan County Board of Elections has denied the existence of a Jewish community in Bloomingburg," said Michael Fragin, a spokesman for the Bloomingburg Jewish Community Council and Lamm.

"Anyone coming to Bloomingburg on any day of the week will see Chasidic Jews going about their daily lives. But, according to the Sullivan Board of Elections, there are fewer than five Chasidic Jews living or attending school in Bloomingburg. That some public officials would deny the rights of certain Americans based on their religious beliefs, dress, and language is an affront to the Constitution and should alarm defenders of Jewish rights and voter's rights everywhere."


Thursday, November 20, 2014

East Ramapo monitor invokes Brown v Board of Ed 

Hank Greenberg's scathing report on the East Ramapo school district gave substance to the long-held belief that the mostly Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox Jewish school board favored private school students in spending decisions and that part of the problem was the board's lack of understanding and respect for the public schools and its advocates.

He then used the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the idea of a separate but equal school system based on race, in a comparison to East Ramapo.

"The greatest Supreme Court decision ... helped dismantle a system of disrespect (and prove) how critical a public school education is to a child's life in America," he said.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Satmar Rebbe Blames Massacre on Jews Visiting Temple Mount 

The Satmar Rebbe eulogized the victims of the massacre in Har Nof Tuesday, pointing the blame not at the Palestinian Arabs who killed them, but at Jews who ascend the Temple Mount (Judaism's holiest site - ed.) as the cause. 

"These days, bad news comes from the holy city of Jerusalem," the Satmar Rebbe stated, as quoted by hareidi website Kikar Hashabbat. "Just today we heard terrifying news from Jerusalem of the loss of precious lives." 

Rebbe called to pray and study the Torah in wake of the massacre, ''and to teach the books of our holy Satmar teachers, to memorize the pure view in times like these."

He then pointed an accusatory finger at Jews ascending the Temple Mount. 

"Regarding the prohibition of ascending the Temple Mount, which all Jews who fear G-d know demands the punishment of karet [a severe punishment; open to interpretation, could mean premature death or spiritual excision - ed.], it has unfortunately become easy for people to take it lightly because of false beliefs," he stated. "Who knows how many victims were killed by observant Jews going up to the Temple Mount, and who knows what it will cost us, G-d have mercy, as a result of them."

Satmar hassidim believe, based on their interpretation of a Talmudic passage, that the State of Israel should have been established only after the coming of the Messiah.

The more stringent of the Satmar hassidic sect do not visit the Western Wall or Rachel's Tomb because Jews were killed in order to gain control of those sites. 

It should also be noted that the hareidi community at large disapproves of ascending the Temple Mount, the allowance of which in Jewish law constitutes a controversial debate among contemporary Torah sources. 

This, however, is not the first time the Satmar Rebbe has made controversial statements after a tragedy.

In July, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum of Satmar blamed the abduction of murdered teens Naftali Frankel (16), Gilad Sha'ar (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19) on the boys' parents for being "settlers" living beyond 1949 Armistice lines and the "evil inclination and the desire for Jews to inhabit the entire State of Israel."

Several senior Satmar officials later condemned the statements. 


Ocean County cops, Orthodox Jews bridge gap over bagels 

Imagine flagging down a police officer on the street and asking him or her to come to your home because you're having a problem. Now let's say that problem was that you needed a light switch flipped or an air conditioner turned on because your faith doesn't allow you to do that during your Sabbath.

For the more than 60,000 Orthodox Jews of Lakewood, these seemingly simple tasks can be violation of the rules of their faith. How police are being taught to address these customs was one of a number of issues addressed Thursday during the Ocean County Prosecutor's third Bagels, Lox & Cops event at Lake Terrace in Lakewood.

"It's very important that we understand various people's cultures and their religion," Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato said. "It's important that we're able to communicate with people. We need to do more of this."

Coronato was among a number of Ocean County police organizations that was attended the event, which included members of the Lakewood and Brick police. The event, along with efforts made by Lakewood police, have helped foster a cooperative relationship between the Orthodox community, which makes up more than half the city's population, and the police.

"They've made the officers much more culturally sensitive to the customs and practices of the Orthodox citizens of Lakewood," Lakewood Police Chief Robert Lawson said. "There could be something involving an arrest situation, or a where we have victims involved, they'll do things differently and they will be very accommodating to the Orthodox population because of those things."

The event addressed how Orthodox community strictly adheres to the rules of the Jewish faith including rules for keeping food kosher, observing the Sabbath along with well-known Jewish holidays such as Passover and Hanukah, as well as addressing the potential handling of a body at a crime scene or during an autopsy. The strict adherence to these rules can turn simple tasks such as driving home into awkward situations for police officers who do not understand the culture.

"If you're stuck driving on the highway [at sundown on Friday], an individual will pull his vehicle to the side of the highway and not go any farther," Lakewood mayor Rabbi Menashe Miller said.

Orthodox Jews cannot drive a car — save for cases of life and death — during the 25 hours of the Sabbath, which begins at sundown every Friday and lasts until one hour after sundown on Saturday. Often, members of the Orthodox community have called police in order to handle seemingly routine tasks such as changing batteries in hearing aids and turning lights on and off because it is akin to starting or extinguishing a fire, which the rules of the Sabbath prohibit.

"He cannot transgress in the violations that we have for the Sabbath," Miller, a chaplain in the Air Force, said. "I'll never forget being in Lakewood Township and being in front of an officer and someone flags him down and asks 'could you come to my house and turn on my light switch? He says 'turn on your light switch? I'm a police officer' and of course we rectified that. It just took a little sensitivity."

In Lakewood, the police department has taken the step of training its officers for special situations such as this. Lawson said that the members of the Orthodox community will help train officers.

"I encourage community policing where if they're riding around during a holiday or during the Sabbath and someone is requesting to give them assistance, I encourage officers to do that," Lawson, the city's top cop since 2003, said. "Whether it be turning on a light switch, an air conditioner, or going to a drug store to get medicine for a young child that's sick.

That's the kind of community services that I encourage the officers to assist with," he said. Lawson joined the department in 1981 and has seen Lakewood change considerably in the last 33 years with the growth of the Orthodox community and has seen the area adapt to the shift.

"As chief, I've tried to change the culture of the police department to be more friendly," Lawson said. "Not only to the Orthodox community, but the various cultures in Lakewood, whether it be Latinos, African-Americans and I've reached out to leaders of those communities and built relationships with them."

Lawson said that while there has been training for the officers, which included members of the NAACP, the city has never had a program on the scale of Bagels, Lox & Cops, at least not yet.

"I've reached out to leaders of those communities and I've established relationships with them," he added, "and I've had them come in and give talks to these officers and sensitize them to the issues of all the ethnicities and races in Lakewood."


How Moshe Twersky's Family Tree Melds Hasidic and Modern Orthodox Worlds 

Rabbi Moshe Twersky, murdered in a bloody Jerusalem terror attack on November 18, bore the last name of one of the most illustrious families in Hasidic Europe. But he also was the "truest disciple" of his grandfather, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, Twersky's brother-in-law told the Forward.

Twersky, the scion of two famed Ashkenazic rabbinic dynasties, was slain in a West Jerusalem synagogue during morning prayers.

Friends mourned Twersky's loss, and the loss of the connection Twersky represented to Soloveitchik, known in Modern Orthodox circles as the Rav. "Moshe was the apple of the Rav's eye," said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union's Kosher Division and a lifelong friend of Twersky's. "I would have to say the most special relationship the Rav had, in terms of this sense of continuity… was with Moshe as he was growing up."

Twersky, 59, was buried in Jerusalem soon after his death. His killers used guns, knives, and an ax in their assault. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, condemned "the killing of worshippers" in West Jerusalem while at the same time demanding "an end to invasions of Al-Aqsa Mosque," a reference to recent efforts by right-wing Israeli Jews to challenge Muslim control over the Temple Mount area holy to Jews and Muslims.

Twersky, said his brother-in-law, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, of the Riverdale Jewish Center in the Bronx, was "the gentlest, most affable, most loving and tolerant person you would ever meet. It's just such a terrible contrast between such sublime gentleness and such horrible brutality."

Twersky had a gold-plated Orthodox pedigree, the product of an unusual union between the Hasidic Twersky dynasty and the Lithuanian Soloveitchik dynasty. His parents' marriage, which united the two lines, was analogous, perhaps, to a theoretical union of a Bush and a Clinton.

"It was a bridge between the Hasidic world and the non-Hasidic world," said Yitz Twersky, a distant cousin and a family historian. "It was a big deal."

Ultra-Orthodox mourners carry the body of Moshe Twersky after he was slain in the Jerusalem synagogue terror attack.
A photo of the wedding between Moshe's parents, Rabbi Isadore Twersky and Dr. Atarah Twersky, shows Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik in a modern-style top hat and Isadore's father, Meshulam Zulia Twersky, in a Hasidic-style fur hat. The distinction might seem marginal to secular eyes, but to the Orthodox it signified vast differences in ideology and tradition.

Despite Twersky's lineage, Genack said that he kept his head about him. "He was very, very humble," Genack said. "Here he is, the scion of this extraordinary family, the most extraordinary family, and he was just very humble." Isadore Twersky, Moshe's father, was a Harvard professor who simultaneously served as the grand rabbi of Talner Hasidic group in Boston. His ancestor, Menachem Nuchem Twersky, was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th-century founder of Hasidic Judaism.

According to Yitz Twersky, Menachem Nuchem's grandsons spread across Ukraine to found their own Hasidic courts, so today the leaders of the Skver, Rachmastrivka, and Talner Hasidic groups, among others, all share the surname Twersky.

Isadore, who succeeded his father as the head of the Talner Hasidic court in Boston, lived a different life than many of his fellow grand rabbis. He graduated Harvard College in 1952, received a PhD in 1956, and became a full professor at Harvard. An expert on Maimonides, he held the Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy chair and served as chairman of Harvard's Near Eastern languages and literatures department.

But away from Cambridge, he was always the Talner rebbe.

"In the classrooms and lecture halls of Harvard, Dr. Twersky was a professor personified," his New York Times obituary read when Isadore Twersky died in 1997. "In his long black kapote at the Congregation Beth David… he was every inch the dynastic Talner rebbe."

Moshe Twersky's mother, Atarah Twersky, also spanned worlds. Her father was Joseph Soloveitchik, the philosophical father of Modern Orthodox Judaism in America and the spiritual lodestone of Yeshiva University. Soloveitchik himself was born to a prominent Orthodox rabbinic dynasty, though one that grew out of a vastly different tradition than the Twersky family.

The Soloveitchik rabbis have their roots in the town of Brest-Litovsk in Belarus, the core of the Lithuanian Yeshivish tradition. In contrast to Hasidic rebbes, the Soloveitchiks and their disciples traditionally espouse an intellectual approach to religiosity and Torah study, and reject the ecstatic and the emotional.

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik's brothers, uncles and cousins were also prominent Lithuanian rabbis. Unlike some of his relatives, Soloveitchik placed secular studies on par with religious studies, an idea that formed the basis for both Modern Orthodoxy and Yeshiva University.

Moshe Twersky followed the paths of his father and grandfather. According to Genack, he studied personally under his grandfather Soloveitchik as a teenager, then attended Harvard, then went to Yeshiva University to continue studying with Soloveitchik.

"Moshe was the oldest" of Soloveitchik's grandsons, Genack said. "And Moshe was also especially gifted."

Moshe Twersky's brother, Rabbi Mayer Twersky, is a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University's rabbinical seminary. His sister, Tzipporah Rosenblatt, is an attorney.

Twersky had lived in Israel for 30 years, according to Jonathan Rosenblatt. He served as a dean at Yeshiva Torat Moshe in Jerusalem. The school's rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, is a cousin on the Soloveitchik side. Twersky left behind a wife, Miriam, five children and dozens of grandchildren.

"He was very careful in his own religious behavior, but kept it so quiet and personal and made everybody around him feel comfortable," Rosenblatt said.

Twersky's siblings and mother traveled to Jerusalem on November 18 to observe shiva. Genack said that he had talked about Twersky with his mother just a day before the killing and had planned to call him.

"Now we're never going to have the chance," he said.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Graduate of Hassidic education sues the system for $1.2M 

A former Hasidic Jewish community member from north-shore Boisbriand is suing Quebec's education ministry, the department of youth protection, the local school board, and two illegal Jewish schools, claiming he received a substandard education.

Yonanan Lowen is suing for $1.2 million dollars, for damages and interest.

Lowen came to Quebec from the U.K. as a 10-year-old in 1988, and attended two schools in Boisbriand, the Yeshiva Beth Yuheda and the Oir Hachaim d'Tash rabbinical college — both are illegal and both remain in operation.

He claims those schools followed a program centered on Jewish education at the expense of the standard Quebec curriculum — and thus, they freely and intentionally violated his right to education according to Quebec law.

Lowen, who left a Hasidic community in Boisbriand in 2010, faults the Quebec education ministry for failing to take charge and shut the schools down, and Quebec's youth protection department and the Seigneurie-des-Mille-Iles school board for failing to step in an ensure he got a proper education.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Calling The Forward a 'Pravda For Pedophiles,' Chasidic Sex Abuse Whistleblower Sues 

Sam Kellner, the chasidic sex abuse whistleblower who was indicted in 2011 for bribery and extortion, but whose case was dismissed in early 2014, has filed a defamation suit against The Jewish Daily Forward.

The suit, which concerns a Nov.14, 2013 article published by the Forward, entitled "Sam Kellner's Tangled Hasidic Tale of Child Sex Abuse, Extortion and Faith," alleges that the article relied on illegally made and doctored recordings in an attempt to commit "low grade character assassination" of Kellner. In doing so, the suit claims, the article turned the "distinguished" publication into "the propaganda wing of a criminal conspiracy" to protect convicted child molester Baruch Lebovits, making it the "Pravda for pedophiles."

The suit, filed by Kellner's attorney Niall Macgiollabhui, of the law firm of Michael G. Dowd, in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday, alleges that the Forward defamed Kellner twice in the article, and then once more over twitter. (Read the full complaint here.)

The first claim is that the article falsely states that Kellner was caught on tape telling "the family of a child molester who had pleaded guilty that he can help get the man off and that, citing the hasidic bloc vote, they should tell the D.A., 'hey, you took a jewish man, you railroaded him into a deal ... and we won't forget it.'"

The paper also claimed that "Kellner also told the family they can buy off prosecutors with meals, new york Yankees tickets and other gifts to have the case thrown out."

The suit identifies a second defamatory passage involving an assertion that another man, Simon Taub,  implicated Kellner in an extortion plot.
The third alleged act of defamation was a Nov. 16 tweet by the Forward that incorrectly characterized Kellner as a "convicted extortionist." The Forward retracted the statement and apologized for it in a note at the bottom of the article.

The lawsuit claims that the recordings were obtained illegally and "doctored by the Lebovits family to change the context in which Sam's words were spoken."

(A recent story about the case in the New Yorker contained an admission by a private investigator employed by the Lebovitses that he bugged Kellner's van.)

Kellner is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well legal fees and  any other "relief" the court deems fair.

Because the lawsuit was filed on Friday evening, The Jewish Week has not yet been able to contact the Forward for a response. Check this article for updates on Monday.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Wedding vows: Ed Day attends New Square nuptials 

When an elected official attends the wedding of a community leader's granddaughter, it's not necessarily an attention-grabber.

But when Rockland County Executive Ed Day was spotted at Tuesday's wedding as a guest of New Square Grand Rabbi David Twersky, Twitter photos of Day clad in a dark suit and black yarmulke began popping up on smartphones across the county.

One photo captures Day locked in conversation with Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, whose political power relies heavily upon ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews for support but who is vilified by those who paint him as too beholden to that community.

Day's appearance as a wedding guest, which came roughly a year after his election campaign touched off anger among ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, points to signs of healing the rift between the community and the Republican county executive.

Day said that since taking office Jan. 1, he's made it a priority to visit each of Rockland's communities "to promote dialogue, create trust and build bridges to a brighter future."

And it's been no different when it comes to New Square or the nearby Hasidic village of Kaser, he said. He's toured both areas and met with representatives of each community, both at his office and in the villages themselves.

Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council and a founding editor of JP Updates, a site for political news, sees Day as being on the right track.

"Mr. Day's visits to and conversations with the Jewish community are very well received in this side of town," Gestetner said. "As the leader of a county divided by important issues, it's indeed the role of the executive to show that everyone be treated equally irrespective where one stands on the issues. Mr. Day is doing an increasingly fine job in this regard."

Nonetheless, some say more effort is needed to truly build a strong bridge, including Ryan Karben, a former assemblyman who frequently discusses politics on his blog, Karben Copy.

"Ed can dance at the rebbe's wedding, but can't dance around the deep philosophical differences between him and many in the Orthodox leadership on housing, religious freedom and education," Karben said.

"It remains to be seen whether Ed and that community want to find common ground," Karben said. "If they both seek compromise, I think we can calm very heated election rhetoric and try to make sure there is room for everyone in Rockland."

Cliff Weathers, former communications director for David Fried, Day's rival in the county executive's race and a senior editor for AlterNet, a progressive news website, said the outreach made sense.

"I don't think that anyone could have reasonably expected Ed Day to personify the divisiveness that we saw in his campaign," Weathers said. "I don't see this as surprising that he would eventually reach out to the Hasidic community. I always expected it."

Day built a coalition of people angered by the political establishment and the influence of the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish voting bloc out of Ramapo, which for years has swayed the outcome of many elections. He spoke out on issues most politicians avoid — overdevelopment, the East Ramapo school district's woes and illegally converted housing.

That drew the bloc vote out for Fried in what some observers said were record numbers, but also might have helped Day carry huge swaths of Rockland outside heavily religious areas and the river villages.

The balance tipped in Day's favor with help from a new third party, Preserve Rockland, which represented a joining of Preserve Ramapo and the Clarkstown Preservation Society, grassroots groups focused on issues such as high taxes, overdevelopment, quality of life and what they see as the unequal treatment of some at the expense of others.

Many in the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic community see the ballot line simply as an offshoot of Preserve Ramapo, a group they label as anti-Semitic.

In his blog on JP Updates, Gestetner wrote a year ago of Day's imposing challenge in the days ahead: "Balancing between the concerns of the Preserve Rockland Bloc and the needs of the Hasidic Bloc despite the fact that they are at the opposite ends on many key issues."

Day said he viewed his visits to communities across Rockland, including New Square and Kaser, as beneficial.

"Is this doing something positive toward unifying our county? I think so," Day said. "My going to any community or to any area does not interfere with my sworn pledge to govern in a manner that is equal to all and doesn't favor anyone."



Saturday, November 15, 2014

After stabbing, Antwerp's Jews ask for more police protection 

Antwerp's Jewish community is asking local law enforcement for increased police presence and protection of the city's nearly 15,000 Jews, following Saturday morning's stabbing attack in the Belgian city's Jewish Quarter.

The victim, a Haredi man, was walking to his local synagogue with a friend when he was attacked by a knife-wielding man and stabbed in the neck.

The man's condition is better than previously thought, and is expected to be released from the hospital Saturday evening.

The motive for the attack, which occurred under a train bridge on Pelican Street, remains unclear, local police said, and the suspect remains at-large. A manhunt is currently underway based on descriptions provided by witnesses to the attack. A police spokesman said that a suspect initially arrested was later released.  

According to the European Jewish Congress, an "attacker ran towards two chasidim who were on their way to the synagogue, stabbed one of them in the throat and got away." A local protection unit operated by the city's Jewish community reportedly went out onto the streets immediately after the attack in order to protect Jewish residents on their way to Shabbat synagogue services.

The alleged attack follows the murder of four people, including two Israelis, Emanuel and Mira Riva, in a shooting attack at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May. The gunman, Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, a French-Algerian man who is believed to have traveled to Syria to fight with Islamist militants, was arrested in France and extradited to Belgium in July.

During the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, dozens of men at an anti-Israel demonstration in Antwerp shouted slogans about slaughtering Jews. Approximately 500 people attended a protest in the capital of Belgium’s Flemish region, where one of the speakers used a loudspeaker to chant a call in Arabic that means “slaughter the Jews.”



Friday, November 14, 2014

Judge shoots down Jewish community’s bid to build housing complex 

A White Plains federal judge on Thursday shot down a bid by Hasidic community leaders for an order allowing them to complete construction on a 396-unit town-house complex and a religious school for girls in a tiny upstate village.

Judge Cathy Seibel sided with Bloomingburg officials, denying a temporary restraining order against a recently enacted local law prohibiting new construction in the village of 420 residents.

Bloomingburg is fighting a $25 million religious-discrimination lawsuit accusing the village of conspiring to block a mass influx of Satmar Hasidic families, mostly from Brooklyn.

Seibel did say that developer Shalom Lamm could move ahead with most of the "Chestnut Ridge" town-house complex because permits for roughly 300 of the 396 units were secured before the building laws changed in June. About 48 are already complete.

The judge also warned both sides to resolve their disputes before going to trial because "each side is looking to dirty the other."

Local officials say this has nothing to do with religion. They say they are fuming because the Chestnut Ridge site was approved as a gated community of 125 luxury homes. However, the original developer, Duane Roe, sold the property to Lamm, who upped the plan to 396 town houses.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

15 Face Federal Fraud Charges in Brooklyn, Orange County: Sources 

More than a dozen people in two large Hasidic communities in New York are facing federal fraud charges early Thursday, NBC 4 New York has learned.

Law enforcement sources say that a dozen people were arrested after early-morning raids in Brooklyn and Kiryas Joel, an Orange County village with a large Orthodox Jewish community. Three other suspects are still at large.

FBI agents also served several search warrants in the two areas.

Sources say the suspects are charged with several crimes including mortgage fraud welfare fraud, sources say. 

The suspects are set to appear in federal court in White Plains later Thursday.

More details of the investigation are expected to be released at a news conference Thursday at the U.S. Attorney's Office in White Plains.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gotta have a long denim skirt 

The long denim skirt, a wardrobe staple for Orthodox Jewish girls and women, is apparently having a fashion moment. If Vogue says the look is in, then it must be so. According to the fashion bible’s denim editor (yes, it has an editor just for the fabric they make jeans out of) Kelly Connor, you can’t go wrong wearing what for many frum females is practically a daily uniform.

“There’s something about a denim maxi that’s vastly more intentional than throwing on your favorite pair of jeans,” Connor says. “But like with jeans, it always feels relevant—no matter what hemlines are the new big ‘thing’ on the runways, the denim maxi will always be your friend.” Of course, you can pick up a run-of-the-mill long denim skirt at any local boutique catering to women wanting to dress with tsnius, or modesty. (If you live in a heavily Orthodox community, then there is probably more than one near you.)

But if you are looking for something that takes the look to a whole other level—in terms of both sartorial style and price range—then you might want to consider a designer version. Junya Watanabe offers a patchwork denim midi skirt for $1,315. Or maybe you’d prefer Saint Laurent’s denim patchwork A-line maxi skirt for a mere $1,090.

So, if long denim skirts are so in right now, then why doesn’t the hottest Hasidic hipster fashion line carry them?

“Denim skirts are not part of our line because we feel like Jewish women already know where to get their jean skirts. There are so many options already, and were focusing on doing something new,” explains Mimi Hecht, co-founder of MIMU MAXI.

“Having said that, we have been getting more and more requests from customers who wear our Skirt Leggings asking us to make them in denim…I guess we’ll have to consider it if it’s in such high demand,” she says.

Mushky Notik, Hecht’s business and creative partner, is amused by how mainstream fashion has made a big deal of something that has been a staple of Orthodox women’s wardrobes for so long. “They’re all talking about it like it’s totally new. It’s almost comical to us Jewish women. But honestly there is no comparison. The mainstream fashion world sees the denim skirt as a ‘cool ugly’ new style; it’s very much not trendy, which of course is what makes it so trendy,” she says. “In the Jewish world it’s always simply been one of the best ways to be modest and match everything and be comfortable.”

Hecht and Notik, whose clothes are admired by women of all faiths who like to dress conservatively, don’t think women should necessarily start spending loads of money for haute couture denim skirts. They recommend women search vintage and Goodwill stores for classic designs if their are willing to venture beyond the local Jewish boutique. No matter the source of their long denim skirt, women wearing them will be right in fashion…at least this fall season.

“Seeing the jean skirt translated into mainstream fashion is oddly reassuring and inspiring,” says



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

Chaptzem! Blog