Friday, September 30, 2016

The Hushed Road to Recovery: Former Hasidic Woman Recounts Trauma 

In ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, the terms "sexual abuse" and "sexual assault" are forbidden.

However, the topic was deeply discussed during Judy Brown's visit to SUNY New Paltz on Sept. 14. Unfortunately, in the deeply religious world in which she grew up, child molestation runs rampant.

Brown is a woman who left her Hasidic community in Brooklyn after writing "Hush," a fiction novel based on true experiences of sexual abuse and suicide written from the perspective of a child.  The writer was burdened with stories of suffering from those whom she referred to as "the children of the underworld." Among them was a young girl expelled from school for reporting molestation.

She began releasing these stories onto the page as a form of therapy after her peers confided in her about horrific sexual abuse they had endured. But Brown said writing the novel "quickly became a nightmare."

In 2010, she published "Hush" under a pseudonym, Eishes Chayil, out of guilt for carrying these harsh truths with her. Brown received major backlash from the community when she revealed her identity in a Huffington Post article in 2011.

"Writing wasn't a gift; it was a betrayal. It violated the rules of what you are not allowed to know," she said of the Hasidic community.

Being ignorant of the repercussions of leaving, wanting a better life for her children and feeling shunned by her community, Brown felt she had no choice but to leave.

"I don't encourage women to [leave like I did]. Some don't survive it," she said.

Brown spoke in front of a packed Lecture Center Room 104 as part of the Resnick Lecture series, "Jews and Modern Memoir." She was the second speaker in the series, following a man, Shulem Deen, who also spoke about leaving the Hasidic world.

"It is a coincidence that the first three speakers are people who have left the world of ultra-orthodox Judaism," series director and emeritus professor, Gerald Sorin said.

Sorin chose Brown to speak at New Paltz because he was very impressed by her novel, and found it important for others to engage with her on it.

"[The series is about] people learning about other people's lives and culture, and people who have made very consequent changes in their lives," he said. "It's important to hear that."

Brown is a survivor. She wrote a heart-wrenching novel, faced threats from the community that raised her, won custody of her children and now continues to speak about it at lectures such as this one. But as far as she is concerned, her experiences have not made her stronger.

"I don't buy into that," she said. "I appreciate the person I am but I am broken."

She explained that it is very difficult for women to leave the Hasidic world. They live under a "dome" for 20 years, get married and often have two or three children by the time they are in their early 20s. Leaving alone is one thing, but leaving with your three children is another.

Brown left when she was 30 years old and spent three years "battling for her life." Although her children are better off now, she is traumatized by a past of living in poverty, having tensions with her family, fighting a custody battle for her children and ultimately, for her life.

"In the Hasidic community, children are seen as community property," she said. "It took me several years, and you're always still a little tangled in it."

An in-depth Q&A followed Brown's solemn, forthright speech about how "Hush" came to be. The conversation focused on the cultural implications that allow such horrific and widespread sexual abuse to continue in this religious community.

Brown's message was that change must come from within and is doubtful, going by the utter lack of changes in the community to this day.

Many attendees wanted to know what the secular world  has done to help. Brown pointed to an organization called Footsteps that, according to their website, "provides a range of services, including social and emotional support, educational and vocational guidance, workshops and social activities, and access to resources" for those entering the secular world from ultra-Orthodox communities.

"I was barely scratching through [leaving and being in poverty] but I was lucky in little ways," Brown said. "On the other side, I'm happy I did it. My children are different kinds of people so it paid off, but I don't think I'll get over it. You recover for the rest of your days."


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Checkin’ in with … New York’s first female Hasidic civil court judge 

Lawyer and Borough Park community activist Rachel "Ruchie" Freier is about to become the first female Hasidic Jewish judge in state history, after voters on Sept. 13 elected her to the bench of the Fifth Judicial district civil court, which includes Kensington, Windsor Terrace, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge. The mother of six and Brooklyn Law School graduate is the founder of two charities as well as the all-female Hasidic emergency medical technician response group Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for "helping women." Reporter Colin Mixson spoke to her about her historic appointment and some of the challenges she faced along the way.

Colin Mixson: You've got a big first under your belt. How does that feel?

Rachel Freier: I feel like I'm really speaking for many women like myself, who have done good things and worked hard, and that there are many religious women like me out there, but they just haven't come to the public eye. So I feel like I have a mission and I'm an ambassador for so many other orthodox and Hasidic Jewish women.

CM: Why are you the first Hasidic Jewish woman to achieve this position?

RF: The part that sometimes works against women is we have a high priority of raising a family. So when you're raising a family, and that comes first, you can have a second interest, but when it's law or medicine it's very difficult. I think for a woman to go to law school, whether you're Jewish or not, any woman who wants to go to law school and raise a family is going to have the same challenges.

CM: Has becoming a professional success and then achieving this position as a judge put you at odds with anyone in the Hasidic community?

RF: It's just the opposite. There's an overflow of support. Wherever I go, people are telling me, 'Now my daughter thinks differently about the future, and, 'My wife thinks differently about the future.' There's an overwhelming amount of support from every aspect of the community. There were people telling me 'I never voted in a primary before, this was the first time.' People are so proud of being a part of making history.

CM: Between your family, legal practice, charity work, and now this appointment, is something going to give when you take your seat on the bench in January?

RF: There are lots of rules, and I'm becoming familiar with what I can and can't do once I take the bench.

CM: So you'll have to stop practicing law outside the court?

RF: That's correct.

CM: And are you still very active with the charities you've created, or are you more hands-off at this point?

RF: Yes I am. I work with other volunteers, but [my charities] are important to me. It was actually my pro-bono work that propelled me into public service. It made me realize that I have such a passion for fairness and justice and that public service is really where I belong.

CM: On average, how many hours of sleep do you get a night?

RF: [Laughs] About five.

CM: When was the last time you were able to sleep in?

RF: I'm Hasidic, which means I'm observant and we observe the Sabbath, which is a day of rest, and, trust me, I rest that day. No cellphones, no beepers, no computers — it's complete family and rest and prayer. I recharge my battery that day.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Brooklyn 'Millionares' Busted for Stealing $1.3 M in Benefits, Feds Say 

Three Brooklyn couples, including a landlord with properties all over the borough, were arrested Tuesday on charges of defrauding the government of $1.3 million worth of benefits.

Shlomo Kubitshuk, 38, and his wife Rachel, 39, Naftali, 40, and Hinda Englander, 41, and Leib, 39, and Devorah Teitelbaum, 36, were accused of lying about their income to the federal government as far back as 2001 in order to collect thousands of dollars worth of food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers and Medicaid.

"For over a decade, this ring of six defendants allegedly lied to city and federal officials about their financial status in order to obtain benefits that were meant for the needy," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

The six were slapped with a multiple counts of conspiracy to steal government funds and theft of government funds, which carry a five and ten year maximum sentence respectively, court documents show.

In two separate complaints unsealed Tuesday, prosecutors said the six benefited from $457,000 in Section 8 vouchers to pay for NYCHA apartments, $130,000 in food stamps and $733,000 in Medicaid payouts.

"At a time when affordable housing is scarce and there is a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers, it is reprehensible that some New Yorkers went without so that these defendants could have still more," said Department of Investigations Commissioner Mark Peters.

Shlomo Kubitshuk owns multiple properties across Brooklyn, according to prosecutors, including 56 Grattan, 98 Grattan St. and 177 Montrose in East Williamsburg, 327 Melrose St., 318 Melrose St. and 1436 Greene St. in Bushwick and 1144 Bergen St. in Prospect Heights.

The state had records of Kubitshuk taking in $560,000 in rental income in 2013, and in multiple applications for mortgages he said his assets were worth more than $2 million, prosecutors said.

His wife said she took in $300,000 in annual income through another LLC company on a 2013 credit card application, according to the complaint.

Despite that, the pair claimed only $13,409 a year in combined income for around a decade in order to qualify for federal subsidies, federal prosecutors charge.

Naftali Eglander, owner of a U.K. real estate company City Gate Estates Limited worth more than £600,000, and his wife Hinda disclosed only $15,858 in combined annual income between ​2001 and 2013, prosecutors said.

Finally Leib Teitlebaum, president of the online jewelry company www.glitzs.com, professed to earn about $1.2 million a year in a 2006 credit application, according to the state, yet disclosed far less.

"These defendants were millionaires stealing from the poor," said Peters. "The defendants fraudulently concealed their wealth to obtain benefits."

The six were arrested in Williamsburg on Tuesday morning, prosecutors said.

Information about their attorneys was not available immediately.

The Hasidic community of South Williamsburg has the one of the highest concentrations of Section 8 housing in the city, though there have been multiple cases of abuse of the subsidy, the Daily News reported.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Man Convicted in Kidnapping and Murder of Brooklyn Landlord 

A 29-year-old man was convicted of kidnapping and murder on Monday for his role in the killing of a Brooklyn landlord during a botched robbery two years ago.

After a trial of more than two weeks in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, the man, Kendel Felix, was found guilty by a jury of taking part in the murder of Menachem Stark, a 39-year-old landlord and real-estate developer from a Hasidic section of the Williamsburg neighborhood.

On a snowy day in January 2014, Mr. Stark's charred remains were found in a trash bin at a gas station in Great Neck, on Long Island. His death, initially a mystery, prompted intense speculation that he might have been killed because of the bankruptcy of his business or that the murder was related to $2 million that had suddenly vanished from his account.

But according to testimony at the trial and to his own confession to the police and prosecutors, Mr. Felix, a carpenter who did construction work for Mr. Stark, participated in a plot to abduct the developer and extort money from him. In the confession, a videotape of which was played at the trial, Mr. Felix said the scheme had been concocted by one of his cousins, Erskine Felix, and was carried out with the help of other relatives.

In his statement, Mr. Felix admitted helping kidnap Mr. Stark from the street outside his office at 331 Rutledge Street in Williamsburg and forcing him into a waiting van. When Mr. Stark resisted, one of Mr. Felix's accomplices sat on his chest, causing his death. The kidnappers then disposed of the body in the trash bin on Long Island, doused it with gasoline and set it on fire.

Though Mr. Felix is the only person charged and prosecuted in the case so far, the Brooklyn district attorney's office has said the investigation is continuing.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Fringe Jewish Hasidic Sect Moves in Guatemala After Raid 

A haredi Orthodox sect that has been living on the outskirts of Guatemala City for the last two years has relocated to a village in eastern Guatemala after saying they were harassed by local authorities.

Earlier this month, authorities in Guatemala City raided the fringe sect's compound, separating children from their parents, amid allegations of physical and mental abuse. The crackdown came at the request of Israel's Justice Ministry, the Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat reported at the time of the raid. Many members of the sect are Israeli.  The French news agency AFP reported Monday that the Israeli ministry requested the raid to locate an Israeli girl who had been barred from leaving the country.

The Guatemalan government has suspected Lev Tahor of performing child marriages and abusing members, including children.

The group told AFP that it is moving to Oratorio, 30 miles east of Guatemala City. They plan to live in tents on land that the sect purchased to build housing.

In June, a court in Guatemala indicted the ex-mayor of a small Mayan farming village for "participating in the expulsion of a religious community" after some 230 members of Lev Tahor were forced out in late 2014. The expulsion followed religious disputes with the residents, who are Roman Catholic.

By August 2014, most Lev Tahor members had settled in Guatemala, leaving behind their previous place of residence in Canada after local authorities there alleged mistreatment of children. Others left for Israel and the United States.

Lev Tahor vigorously denied all the allegations by the Canadian authorities and said they are victims of a religious smear.

The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It was founded by an Israeli, Shlomo Helbrans, in the 1980s and rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish Promised Land can only be established by God, not men.

Guatemala is home to some 1,200 Jews in a population of 15 million.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Author slams state for 'vampire' legislation that created KJ School District 

In a compelling talk about his new book on Sunday, author Louis Grumet offered some surprising challenges to commonly held beliefs about the Kiryas Joel School District, created with the stroke of a pen 27 years ago by the New York state Legislature.

Grumet delivered his talk, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County, before a rapt audience of about 60 people at Monroe Temple Beth-El - just a mile from the epicenter of his 10-year legal fight against a school district formed strictly to serve handicapped children from the Satmar Hasidic community.

In his book, “The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel: The Rise of a Village Theocracy and the Battle to Defend the Separation of Church and State,” co-written with journalist John Caher, Grumet details the constitutional tenet he fought for all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The executive director of the New York State School Boards Association at the time and a former special assistant to then-Gov. Mario Cuomo, Grumet described the political maneuvering that created the district in “vampire” legislation, at 5 a.m. on the last day of session in 1989.

“Luigi,” Grumet recalls Cuomo saying to him before signing the bill, “These people don’t ask for much. Besides, who would sue?”

“‘I will, Governor,’” Grumet told his boss and friend.

Throughout repeated court losses in 11 separate legal challenges, lawmakers under Cuomo and the subsequent administration of Gov. George Pataki simply re-legislated the district back into existence.

Through it all, Grumet insists, he was not fighting against the Satmars, but the state’s unconstitutional laws.

In fact, he criticized the Monroe-Woodbury School District for its insensitive treatment of Hasidic children with disabilities, who were taken on field trips to McDonald’s, where the food isn't kosher, and made to perform in school Christmas plays.

“They had a real problem, in which the Monroe-Woodbury School District – an otherwise very good school district – did a terrible job,” Grumet said.

With just 13 disabled students, “(The Hasidim) weren’t asking for a district; they were asking for special services,” which could have been accomplished with a satellite school in the village. “… But once they got (the legislation), they realized what they were sitting on,” Grumet speculated.

“By getting ownership, they got to make all the decisions. Monroe-Woodbury was cut out of the decisions.

“It could have been very easily solved,” he said. Instead, the state created “a regional kosher BOCES” that catered to about 60 students, largely from East Ramapo in Rockland County, in its first year.

The Kiryas Joel School District now has 250 students from three counties and a $38 million budget.

Grumet dispelled the oft-repeated idea that Kiryas Joel achieves its political ends by having the largest bloc vote. Though the village represents only 6-7 percent of the total population of Orange County, he said, “The difference is, (the Satmar) are better citizens, because they all vote.

“The real villain here is not the Hasids,” Grumet said. “The real villain here is the State of New York.”



Saturday, September 24, 2016

Garrison Man Arrested for Allegedly Making Threats 

Frank Zebzda in custody (News 12)

A man living in Garrison and apparently struggling with mental illness was arrested on Sept. 23 at Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic village in Orange County, after police say he showed up wearing body armor and made terroristic threats.

Frank Zebzda, 30, was arraigned at Monroe Town Court and held at the Orange County Jail on $150,000 bond. He faces six charges, including making a terroristic threat, a felony, possession of marijuana and resisting arrest when officers removed the armor.

Asked by a reporter from News 12 why he was wearing armor, he responded “Because you’re allowed to because of the Second Amendment.” He told the judge he was mentally ill, on disability and living with his mother in Garrison, and that he was at Kiryas Joel because he is a medical proxy for a resident there with cancer. It was the resident’s family who called the police, he said.

According to News 12, Zebzda told the judge he wanted to represent himself, because he knows the Constitution very well, but at another point said, “I don’t know how I got here.” He will return to court on Sept. 26.

On Zebzda’s Facebook page he says he attended Lakeland and Ossining high schools. He posted in May about his struggles with mental illness.

“From the constant hell of anxiety, to the darkness of depression, from people not understanding to not listening, mental illness is a black cloud the covers many of us that though we angrily lash out, have no way to cope or express how to feel better in that moment,” he wrote. “No matter how much we beat the disease, the cloud is always there and people seem to notice…. We all know someone who struggles with a mental illness, know that the disease does not define them but is a part of them.”

He also posted in June about a GoFundMe campaign he had begun to finance The 13th Agenda, a “freedom-fighting organization that we are trying to build from the ground up.” The page, which has been removed, said Zebzda was from Yorktown Heights.



Borough Park residents on alert after boy, 9, lured into van by ‘pervert’ 

Parents in an Orthodox Jewish community in Borough Park are on edge after a 9-year-old boy was lured into a minivan.

The pervert masturbated in front of the child before handing him $100.

It happened on Wednesday, Sept. 14 near 49th Street and 18th Avenue in the tight-knit Hasidic neighborhood, where residents are known to not want to talk to police.

"The great thing in this case is the family didn't shove it under the rug which happens very often, because people don't want to be put through the court system," said Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Hikind represents District 48, which includes Borough Park.

This incident happened just four blocks from the horrific 2011 case of Leiby Kletzky. The 8-year-old Hasidic boy was lost coming come from summer camp, the first day his parents allowed him to walk home alone. His story made national headlines and showed the outpouring of grief by the Hasidic community.

Levi Aron, a hardware store employee, was convicted of killing and dismembering Kletzky. Aron was sentenced to 40 years to life in prison.

Like Aron, the suspect in this case is believed to be a member of the Orthodox community.

"I remember the case of Leiby Kletzky. If this is true this is a devastating experience for the community," said Sarah Cohen, who has lived here for over 20 years. "You want to feel safe and could walk the streets safely and securely and we do have to be more alert and aware."

"You should know this is very rare," Cohen said. "It is an abomination if that's the case. It's in our neighborhood, we really do trust all the Hasidic people here, this is a rarity."

This innocent child was collecting donations for charity when he came upon the pervert. With the upcoming Jewish High Holidays, the little boy was collecting money for his Yeshiva school.

"Before the holidays, kids would go out with little boxes and go around collecting charity that would go to a particular cause. It's something in all the Jewish schools. He was doing a beautiful thing, collecting money for poor people."

The boy was learning about charity when he encountered evil. The parents reported the incident to the NYPD earlier this week, after their son told them what happened. Assemblyman Hikind applauds the actions of this boy's parents.

"In this case, you have parents prepared to act and not sit silently and not pretend it didn't happen. When you walk away and don't report an incident against a child, that perp is going to commit this act against another child," said Hikind.

The suspect is described as an Orthodox Jewish man in his late 30s or early 40s.

"The police are involved very seriously where we are hopeful this case will be trailed relatively fast," said Hikind.

If you have any information about this case, call the NYPD at 1-800-TIPS.



Hasidic Man Mayer Herskovic found guilty in brutal Brooklyn gang beating of gay black man 

Mayer Herskovic faces up to 15 years in the savage attack that left victim Taj Patterson partially blind.

A Hasidic man was convicted of gang assault on Friday for taking part in a vicious attack on a gay black man in Brooklyn.

Mayer Herskovic, 23, faces up to 15 years behind bars for the brutal Dec. 1, 2013, assault in Williamsburg that left Taj Patterson blind in one eye.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun convicted Herskovic of three charges after the nonjury trial — gang assault in the second degree, unlawful imprisonment and menacing.

He found Herskovic not guilty of the top charge, gang assault in the first degree, which carries a maximum of 25 years.

Witnesses said at least 20 Orthodox men tied to a Jewish security patrol attacked Patterson as he was walking home to Fort Greene from a friend’s birthday party.

The men kicked, punched and dragged Patterson, and threw one of his shoes on a nearby roof.

The shoe wound up doing Herskovic in — his DNA was found on the heel of Patterson’s Nike Air Jordan sneaker.

Patterson, 25, underwent three surgeries after the attack and is now permanently blind in his right eye.

He told the Daily News shortly after the attack that he was an “easy target” for the gang, some of whom were members of a volunteer safety patrol group.

“I’m walking down some block by myself and then the next thing I know, I’m surrounded by a group of Hasidic Jewish men and they’re attacking me,” Patterson said.

He said the men told him to “stay down” and used an anti-gay slur.

Patterson, who was attending the City College of Technology, said he wasn’t sure why he was attacked.

“I was alone. I was an easy target. I’m black. I’m gay, a whole slew of reasons,” he said.

Herskovic was the last of five men charged in the gang assault case. Pinchas Braver and Abraham Winkler pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment and were sentenced to perform 150 hours community service in a culturally diverse community. Charges against Aaron Hollender and Joseph Fried were dismissed.

The News has reported that cops at the 90th Precinct station house prematurely closed the case despite having four witnesses to the assault — delaying the investigation for 48 crucial hours and leading to problems prosecuting the case.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said the judge’s verdict is “a testament to our determination to fully prosecute this case based on the evidence, which clearly connected this defendant to the crime. I hope that this outcome will bring a measure of comfort to Mr. Patterson and his family.”



Friday, September 23, 2016

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

Make sure to pick up your free copy of the Country Yossi Family Magazine and read the brand new original article 'The Boro Park Construction Zone' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi warns Jewish women not to wear red or 'sinful' skirts 

Jewish women living in north London have received a letter from an ultra-orthodox Jewish rabbi telling them it is a "sin" to wear skirts which show their knees or wear the colour red. The letter, written by Gateshead-based Rabbi Eliyahu Falk in Yiddish, Hebrew and English, was sent to 5,000 homes in and around the Stamford Hill area of London.

The letter warns women to adhere to four key points of dress and to choose "calm colours" not reds or yellows. It also states that Jewish women should cover their knees and wear fabric loose enough to cover the outline of a their hips.

The edict was also published in The Heimishe Newsheet, a local newsletter and tells females that "hot colours solicit attention".

The letter reads: "The length of a skirt must extend until at least 4" (10 cm) below the end of the knee. This is required because only with this additional length is one assured that the knees will remain covered even when running, sitting down, climbing stairs etc.

"The width of the blouse or other top garment should be so that the shape of [the] upper body is not apparent. The width of the skirt must be such that the hips and thighs are hidden and camouflaged by skirt.

Dina Brawer, of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, told The Independent: "Modesty is indeed a very important Jewish value which applies equally to both women and men. It is about a mindset that values dignity and discretion.

"Tasteful clothing is only one manifestation of this value. Obsessing over women's hemlines paradoxically undermines this value and smacks of male control."

But Rabbi Abraham Pinter defended Rabbi Falk when speaking to the Jewish Chronicle. He said: "I don't know what the big fuss is about. Women who dress in that way are looking for guidance, and he is just stating what the halachah (Jewish law) is.



Simon Dushinsky's Rabsky Group has unveiled new plans for its megadevelopment on the old Pfizer factory site at 249 and 334 Wallabout St in Williamsburg. Currently zoned for industrial use, Rabsky wants the area (known as the Broadway Triangle) rezoned for residential development. Originally proposing 800 units, Rabsky now plans to develop 1,145 rental apartments in eight buildings over two blocks. 

The buildings will have a maximum height of 14 stories and 140 feet. The new plans also feature 26k SF of public space, 405 parking spaces and 64k SF of retail, Brownstoner reports.  Rabsky said the development will include affordable units under the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing law, although the percentage of affordable units depends on the City Council. Both the triangle and Rabsky have attracted controversies in the past. 

Critics who want market-rate and affordable housing units on the site have argued many proposed rezonings discriminate against black and Hispanic communities and favor Hasidic Jews, pointing to the priority given to a Hasidic community board's district for the planned affordable units, selecting developers without a bidding process, and the preference towards shorter buildings with larger apartments to favor Hasidic families. (Hasidic Jews can't ride the elevator on Sabbath or need the elevator to stop on every floor so they don't have to press the buttons, making tall buildings impractical.) 

These criticisms, in turn, have been accused of being anti-Semitic and in 2012, a judge stopped development on the sites, claiming the city violated the Fair Housing Act. Community groups continued to clash over the site before Rabsky bought the parcel in 2012 for $12.8M. 

But the developer has been accused of reneging on promises to deliver affordable housing in exchange for a rezoning on Rheingold, another megaproject. Rabsky denies these claims. A public hearing took place last night for feedback on the plan's environmental impact statement, which addresses concerns over land use, shadows created by the new buildings, noise, construction impacts and hazardous materials.  

Pfizer operated at the Williamsburg site from 1849 to 2007, and the manufacturing giant's 575k SF plant at 630 Flushing Ave was converted by Acumen Capital Partners into light industrial space that houses a fashion accelerator, small food businesses, furniture makers and Brooklyn Grange. 


Rabbi and assistant outed by hitman hired to murder man refusing to give wife religious divorce 

Earlier this month an Israeli rabbi and an acolyte in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York were charged in a kidnapping and murder plot of a member of their sect for refusing to divorce his wife. The made-for-TV drama is just the latest case of a shadowy underground in the Orthodox community that works to use violence to end religious marriages.

Prosecutors in the office of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, filed criminal complaints against 25-year-old Shimen Leibowitz and 55-year-old Rabbi Aharon Goldberg for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder for hire.

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A third man, Binyamin Gottlieb allegedly introduced the men to a private investigator to do the deed and is accused of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, Forward reported. The private investigator, however, went to the FBI and worked with investigators by taping meetings with the men, court papers said.

The suspects paid the private investigator around $60,000 to carry out the plan. According to the New York Post, Goldberg and Liebowtiz were arrested in Central Valley on 6 September as they plotted the grisly plan.

In a complaint filed at a Manhattan federal court, Leibowitz is quoted saying that their victim is a taxi driver who occasionally visits Montreal and could "miss a night, or even two or three" before his family raised an alarm. The Post reported that earlier plans included tricking him to travel to Pennsylvania or kidnapping him in the Ukraine and forcing him to sign a religious divorce known as a "get".

It was later decided that he should be killed. "In the back of my mind, it looks like, his parents will be happy when it happens," court documents say Leibowitz said on whether the intended victim's family would be concerned if he disappeared. The investigator replied: "If he's f***ing dead? Okay."

Gottlieb, who has been involved in resolving communal marriage issues in the Hasidic community, is an apparent expert in religious divorce issues, Forward reported. Meanwhile, Liebowitz is an immigrant from Australia and a member of the Satmar Hasidic community.

Prosecutors have filed criminal complaints against the men but the three have not been indicted. Therefore they have not entered pleas. They have been ordered to be held without bail.

In 2013, a similar case involving an Orthodox rabbi who led a kidnapping ring dominated tabloids in New York. Rabbi Mendel Epstein, a 70-year-old who was dubbed The Prodfather, charged expensive fees and used cattle prods to violently force husbands to grant their wives a get. Epstein is serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison in New Jersey.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Woman tells young Jewish boy to 'go back to Lakewood,' police say 

Police are searching for a woman who allegedly pushed a young Orthodox Jewish male and told him to "go back to Lakewood."

The incident happened on Sept. 5 around 10 p.m. in front of the Wal-Mart in Howell Township. Howell shares a border with Lakewood, which is home to a large Orthodox Jewish population.

The victim, only identified as an Orthodox Jewish juvenile male, told police that he was standing in front of the department store when a woman turned to him and, without provocation, told him to "go back to Lakewood you (expletive) Hasidic Jews," Detective Sgt. Christian Antunez said in news release.

The woman, who was with a man, pushed the young man and proceeded to enter the Wal-Mart, Antunez said.

Minutes later, police said, she left the store before officers arrived. She left in a four-door Kia Optima.

Antunez asked anyone with information regarding the suspect to call Howell police Detective Cpl. Nancy Carroll at 732-938-4575 ext. 2894, or email her at ncarroll@howellpolice.org. 


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Hasidic Women Fight Cutback in Single-Sex Swimming Hours in Brooklyn Pool 

A group of Hasidic women is protesting against the Parks Department once again cutting back on women-only swimming hours at a public pool in Brooklyn.

In a new rule first reported by DNAinfo, single-sex swimming for women will be limited to four hours over two days a week starting October 1.

“It’s going to be so crowded, I’ll just have to stop,” Scheindel Kraus, 74, told dnainfo. “I’ll be devastated.” She has been using the pool since the 1950s.

The swimmers have started a petition calling on the Parks Department to reinstate the hours.

“The insult to the women who still want to hang on to the right morals, is very disparaging!,” they wrote. Adding that “the news was met with great disappointment and outrage!”

So far about 300 people have signed the petition that has been sent to city officials. They argue that access to the pool is important for their health, and that there won’t be enough opportunities to swim with the reduced hours.

The Parks Department said that the cutback in hours would “minimize disruption to other patrons (and) ensure maximum access for those who may desire these accommodations” in a statement sent to the Forward. “Sunday and Wednesday were chosen to ensure maximum access for those who may desire these accommodations.”

After a heated public debate over the practice of women-only swimming hours, the Parks Department agreed to continue the controversial practice but reduced the from seven days a week to four. Starting Oct. 1, the hours will be cut from eight hours over four days to four hours over two days.

The single-sex swim hours are unique to a pool in Williamsburg in the heart of Hasidic Brooklyn. They are used predominantly by Hasidic women, who are barred by tradition from swimming with men. Following the July ruling, other New York pools can also start female-only hours if there is demand.

The fight between religious law that govern Hasidic Jewish life and the city’s non-discrimination laws first started in June, when the New York City Commission on Human Rights raised concerns that the decade-long tradition of setting aside a gender-segregated swimming hour at a Williamsburg-pool could break city law.

Despite multiple complaints from civil libertarians and the New York Times editorial board, the Commission allowed the Parks Department a limited exemptions from the city gender discrimination rules to continue the women-only swimming hour at the Metropolitan Recreation Center.

“I’m just a very happy guy today, because they did the right thing,” New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who pushed hard to allow the women-only hours to continue, told the Forward in July.

The director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, Rabbi David Niederman, told the Forward that the pool is especially important for Orthodox women, who don’t get excercise going to work like their husbands do. “Women are more homebound… Especially women who have a lot of children, that type of exercise [swimming] is very healthy for them, Niederman told the Forward in July. “Depriving that…it hurts.”



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

NYC election board makes voting registration forms available in Yiddish 

The New York City Board of Elections has made voting registration forms available in Yiddish.

The forms were available starting Monday, according to a statement by state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Brooklyn Democrat.

Hikind, who is Jewish, said he requested in December that the Board of Elections provide the forms in Yiddish.

"There are thousands of Yiddish speakers in my district and New York State," Hikind said in the statement. "Everyone deserves the right to have their voice heard and be able to vote. Now Yiddish-speaking constituents can now register with ease."

The Board of Elections is required to provide the document, which city residents must fill out in order to vote, in English, Bengali, Mandarin, Korean and Spanish, according to its website. It also provides forms in 11 additional languages, now including Yiddish.

In July, the city made voter registration forms available in five new languages in order to expand access to voting.


Monday, September 19, 2016

FDA Suspends Food Facility Registration of SM Fish Corp. - Producer of Ossie's and Ossie's Gourmet 

No food from the facility may be sold or distributed, Ossie's and Ossie's Gourmet ready-to-eat seafood products recalled

Fast Facts

FDA is using authorities granted under the 2011 FDA Food Safety Modernization Act to suspend the food facility registration of SM Fish Corp. of Far Rockaway, NY, because food, including ready-to-eat (RTE) food, from this facility may be contaminated with L. monocytogenes (Listeria).
Consumers with any un-expired RTE food products manufactured by SM Fish should not eat these products, which were sold at the company's seven retail outlets located in New York and New Jersey, and instead throw these products away. This is an expansion from the July 29, 2016 recall to include all un-expired RTE foods from SM Fish.

Consumers should be aware that symptoms of listeriosis can appear from a few days up to a few weeks after consumption of contaminated food.
FDA's decision to suspend the registration of SM Fish was prompted by a second 2016 inspection showing widespread and persistent Listeria contamination throughout its food facility.

No food from SM Fish's facility may be sold or distributed while the food facility registration is suspended.
What is the problem and what is being done about it?

FDA issued a Suspension of Food Facility Registration Order to SM Fish Corp. of Far Rockaway, NY, after the agency's newly-established Strategic Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation (SCORE) decision-making body of key senior leaders requested additional sampling of the SM Fish facility and results showed widespread and persistent Listeria contamination. SCORE was created in April 2016 to ensure the agency engages in an integrated approach to identifying timely and efficient measures in order to help mitigate public health risks. Today, this decision-making body evaluates the complexities and considers a wide range of options for use of compliance and enforcement authorities as early in the process as possible.

SCORE requested a re-inspection of the SM Fish facility after a June 14, 2016 to July 6, 2016 inspection resulted in 29 of 105 environmental samples testing positive for Listeria. Some of these samples were adjacent to food contact surfaces. As a result of the inspection, FDA recommended that SM Fish recall certain ready-to-eat food products, which the company did on July 29. The company also briefly ceased operations at FDA's request to revise its cleaning and sanitation procedures. The agency had inspected the firm in 2015 and found Listeria in 15 out of the 105 locations swabbed throughout the facility. FDA investigators issued a 483 inspection report outlining safety concerns and discussed with SM Fish actions it should take to reduce the prevalence of Listeria in its facility.

FDA re-inspected and re-sampled the SM Fish facility from August 15, 2016 to September 9, 2016 and learned that the firm's cleaning and sanitation procedures were unsuccessful in solving its environmental Listeria contamination. Testing results showed that Listeria was detected in 12 out of the 116 locations swabbed throughout the facility, including on a direct food contact surface. Other locations found to harbor the bacteria were non-food contact surfaces that are in sufficient proximity to the food and food contact surfaces to create an increased risk of contaminating the food, particularly considering inspection observations. Whole genome sequencing matched some of the Listeria findings genetically to samples collected during the June/July 2016 inspection, as well as to samples collected during the 2015 inspection, indicating that at least three strains of Listeria have been consistently present in this facility during a two-year period.

Following the re-inspection and additional Listeria findings, FDA used authority granted under the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act to suspend the food facility registration of SM Fish on September 14, 2016. SM Fish may not sell or distribute any food from SM Fish's facility while its registration is suspended. The agency also recommended that SM Fish expand its July 29 recall to include all RTE foods within expiry, and the company issued the recall on September 15, 2016.

FDA will vacate the Suspension of Food Facility Registration Order and reinstate SM Fish's food facility registration only when the agency determines that food from its facility no longer has a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences or death to humans.

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare but serious illness usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Anyone who has experienced fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, or developed fever and chills while pregnant after having eaten any recalled SM Fish products should seek medical care. Consumers should understand that symptoms can appear from a few days up to a few weeks after consumption of the contaminated food.
Who is at risk?

Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as cancer). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.
Consumer Advice

FDA advises consumers with any ready-to-eat fish products manufactured by SM Fish at this facility to not eat these products and instead throw them away. These products were sold at the firm's retail outlets located in New York and New Jersey. This is an expansion from the July 29, 2016 recall.
Consumers who handled recalled product should follow these simple steps:

Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; then dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.
If you are unsure of your risk, ask your healthcare provider.


Photo finish! Brooklyn images face off against outer boroughs 

Kings County is shooting for a win!

Images of Brooklyn will go shot-for-shot against snaps of the rest of the city in the "Battle of the Boroughs" photo competition on Sept. 21, which launches the annual Photoville exhibit in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The picturesque streets of the Borough of Kings will give it an edge in the flashy competition, said the head of Brooklyn's team of photographers.

"I'd like to think that Brooklyn is going to win," said Elizabeth Renstrom, a Bushwick resident who curated Kings County's collection, which includes images from six photographers. "There's a blend of photos that ooze the neighborhoods, and also more surprising pictures where you might not be able to place which section of Brooklyn they're in."

There is no trophy for the face-off — which is a competition in name only — but Renstrom's pic picks are sure to blow the other boroughs away. The photos represent the diversity found in the County of Kings, said Renstrom. A collection of snaps from Aviva Klein showcases Hasidic women living in Sheepshead Bay, while Daniel Arnold's photos — which were processed by a 50-year-old photo store — focus on Greenpoint. And Meryl Meiser's old-school shots of Bushwick during the disco era really show how the area has developed, said Renstrom.

"The area is really popular to live in now and it's cool to see how the landscape has changed from then to now," she said.

Renstrom thinks that Staten Island may provide the stiffest competition, because its bucolic suburban landscape offers some eye-pleasing visuals. And she is most curious to see shots from the Bronx, an exotic land rarely seen in this borough.

A representative from each borough will project their photos onto a giant screen in Photoville's beer garden on Sept. 21, while a disc jockey spins New York-centric tunes.

The competition will kick off the five-day Photoville festival, which will host 60 snapshot exhibits inside of 55 shipping containers beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. The pop-up fest will also feature nightly film and photo projections, outdoor installations, and workshops. Its organizer said that the old fashioned competition will provide a light-hearted way to exhibit some top notch photography — and that the borough that houses the show will come out on top.

"It's a fun, playful way to expose more photography," said Sam Barzilay, a Manhattan resident who used to live in Flatbush. "I'm obviously rooting for Brooklyn."


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Federal appeals court upholds Barry Freundel’s 6.5 year prison sentence 

A federal appeals court upheld the prison sentence of Rabbi Barry Freundel, a once-prominent modern Orthodox rabbi in Washington who  secretly videotaped women in his synagogue’s mikvah.

Freundel, 64, who began serving his sentence in May 2015, had been sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism, a charge that carries up to a year in jail.

The sentencing judge had ordered Freundel to serve 45 days on each count, and ran the sentences one after the other. Freundel’s attorney had argued in the appeal that the sentences should have run concurrently, meaning Freundel would have served 45 days.

A three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld Freundel’s  sentence in a unanimous 20-page ruling.

Before his arrest in 2014, Freundel was the longtime rabbi of Kesher Israel in the Georgetown section of Washington and an active member of the Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox rabbinic group.

Freundel is believed to have violated the privacy of at least 150 women he filmed while they undressed and showered at the mikvah, or ritual bath, including members of his Orthodox synagogue, candidates for conversion to Judaism and students at Towson University in Maryland, where Freundel taught classes on religion and ethics. The rabbi also secretly filmed a domestic violence abuse victim in a safe house he had set up for her.

Last September, shortly before the High Holidays, he issued a letter of apology.

“My preference would be to apologize individually to each person I have hurt,” Freundel wrote in his letter, which was first published in the Washington Jewish Week. “However, I recognize that reaching out to convey my regret could cause further harm to some and that such contact would be unwelcome. Therefore, I thought that the only solution would be to apologize publicly.”



Saturday, September 17, 2016

Survey: Jewish Voters Give Hillary Lowest Support of All Democratic Nominees Since 1980 

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) has issued a survey of American Jewish opinion, conducted by the research company SSRS based on telephone interviews from August 8 to 28, with a national sample of 1,002 Jews over age 18 and a margin of error of +-3.57%, showing the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton enjoys the support of 61% of the voters who identify themselves as Jewish. And although her opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump, only gets 19% of the Jewish vote, Hillary’s figure is the lowest scored by a Democrat among Jewish voters since Jimmy Carter only took 45% of the Jewish vote against Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The highest Jewish vote in the 20th century went to FDR in 1940 and 1944, 90% each time; LBJ also took 90%, in 1964; JFK received 82% of the Jewish vote in 1960; Humphrey 81% in 1968; Bill Clinton 80% in 1992; Gore 79% in 2000; and Obama 78% in 2008 and 69% in 2012.

Even George McGovern, with 65%, did better with the Jewish voters than Hillary has been doing. Trump, by the way, is doing about as well as GW Bush did in 2000. Bush later took 24% of the Jewish vote against Kerry in 2004, McCain 22% in 2008, and Romney 30% in 2012. (Source: Jewish Virtual Library)

Only 51% of the American Jews surveyed identify as Democrats. 26% are Independent and only 18% Republican. The Green Party attracts 2% of the Jewish vote, the Libertarians, despite their admiration for the strong ideas of one Russian Jewish lady, only attract 1% of US Jews to their ranks.

US Jews are still more left- than right-leaning: 51% are Liberal or lean Liberal, 24% Conservative or lean Conservative. 23% say they are moderates.

How about that famous Jewish optimism about the future of America? Not a whole lot of it is left, apparently. When asked if their children would be better or worse off than their parents when they grow up, 39% said the kids better get ready for a worse future; 29% believe in a better future; 27% don’t see a big change coming in either direction.

A whopping 57% of the American Jews questioned identified anti-Semitism on US campuses a problem, 23% of them think it’s a very serious problem at that. Only 6% don’t see it as a problem at all.

Here’s a kind of nice surprise, although in an underhanded sort of way: only 15% of the Jews asked are married to a non-Jew. But wait, don’t celebrate yet: only 35% are married to a Jew, either from birth or a convert, and a full 49% are not married. In other words, close to half of the American Jewish community is probably not involved in promulgating the Jewish community.

52% of the Jewish respondents have never been to Israel (that percent goes up when you exclude the Orthodox – of which 85% have visited Israel), 21% have only been once. So that when they were asked what they think of the fact that Orthodox Judaism is the only denomination recognized by Israel as an official form of Judaism, and 48% said it “Weakens Israel’s ties with American Jews,” it’s likely most of them have not forged their opinions based on personal experience.

And when they were asked what they consider the most important change necessary in Israeli Judaism, and 41% answered, “Securing legal recognition of equality for all streams of Judaism,” that answer, too, was provided based mostly on op-eds and Facebook posts. Likewise when 74% insisted “legal recognition should also be extended to non-Orthodox weddings, divorces, and conversions,” this opinion was mostly theoretical.



Friday, September 16, 2016

Bloomingburg juggles lawsuits over Chestnut Ridge road width 

Bloomingburg Mayor Russell Wood is running out of shelf space for all the lawsuits involving the village and the infamous Chestnut Ridge townhouse development.

The two most recent lawsuits came last month. One is an Article 78 complaint filed by developer Shalom Lamm in protest of the Town of Mamakating planning board's July decision to rescind the site plan and subdivision approvals given to Chestnut Ridge in 2009. The other is an appeal Mamakating filed against the department of state to be granted standing in its quest to invalidate the certificates of occupancy issued by the village in 2015.

The two suits join a long list of lawsuits over the high density 396-unit development that created a firestorm when it became clear, several years after it was approved, that the homes were being designed for Hasidic Jewish families.

"To me, it's insane," Wood said. "We're so small for all these legal battles."

The August lawsuits are a continuation of a year-long fight over the width of the roads in Chestnut Ridge.

When former village building inspector Joe Smith issued COs for 45 units in August and September 2015, Mamakating, which had jurisdiction over village planning and zoning at the time but not code enforcement, promptly litigated it. Smith used the wrong portion of state code, Mamakating argued, and the roads were in fact too narrow to meet state fire code requirements. Chestnut Ridge Road is a split boulevard with a median between two 10-foot lanes, and the other roads are all 18 feet wide. Current state fire code requires all buildings to be accessible by a 20-foot fire apparatus access road.

Mamakating lost its initial court appeal to invalidate the COs, but in April the state informed Bloomingburg that the roads are, in fact, not in compliance with state fire code. That determination played a large role in Mamakating's decision to rescind approvals, which Lamm is fighting in his Article 78 complaint.

State fire codes are written to protect the public, Mamakating town supervisor Bill Herrmann said, and the town is continuing its legal fight because it cares about residents' health and safety.

"Somebody has to watch out for them," Herrmann said.

The whole muddle is going to be moot, according to Wood, because Lamm has agreed to widen the existing roads to 20 feet. That should be done in the next few weeks, Wood said, and COs for Lamm's new construction will not be issued unless the roads are 20 feet wide. Bloomingburg has also recently taken planning and zoning jurisdiction back from the town, and Wood said he does not anticipate the village board will enforce the town's rescission of approvals.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Parents want Ramapo Central bus changes halted 

Private school parents say they are continuing to grapple with the fallout from transportation cuts that went into effect last week in the Ramapo Central school district, but are hoping for some temporary relief until the state education commissioner rules on an appeal they filed to challenge the new busing plan.

Faced with an increase over the last several years in the number of students seeking buses to non-public schools, the district decided in the spring to pare down the mandated service to save money.

While there are a handful of Christian and other private schools in New Jersey and Rockland County to which students are bused, the majority of non-public schools attended by local children are yeshivas in Spring Valley, Monsey and Suffern, according to information provided by the district.

Instead of continuing to offer staggered morning and afternoon bus routes, the district now accommodates one arrival and one dismissal for each non-public school, which is how transportation is scheduled for the 4,800 children who attend one of the district's seven public schools. The district also stopped providing busing on days when public schools are closed.

"We do not feel it's been a very smooth transition," said Andrea Jaffe, one of the nearly 100 parents involved in the appeal. "We want to come up with other creative ways to approach the problem, but we've been given no opportunities to compromise or come up with alternate measures."

Believing that the district didn't fully vet all options before making a move that affects hundreds of children, the parents of the non-public school children appealed to the state Education Department, as well as requested a stay on the change.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the state Education Department said both matters were under review. Ramapo Central Deputy Superintendent Stephen Walker acknowledged the appeal but declined to comment further on it.

Over the last week, the reduction in services has prompted parents to drive their children or organize carpools, which has put more cars on already congested roads, said Jaffe, the mother of a Bais Yaakov student.

Lindsay Jordan, another parent challenging Ramapo Central, said the district needs to come up with a more efficient plan, one that takes into account how the non-public schools operate instead of a "one size fits all" approach.

At yeshivas, the length of the school day varies upon grade level, which means some children are being bused much earlier than they need to be or must wait around in the afternoon for the bus home, Jordan said. And, although some of the yeshivas have separate locations for boys and girls, the district restricted drop-off and pick-up for each private school to one spot regardless of whether it has multiple sites, she said.

Walker has said the adjustments "are fully consistent" with what is required under state law — transportation for all students within a 15-mile radius. The deputy superintendent added that the procedures align with the education commissioner's regulations, as well as guidance the district received during discussions with the state Education Department.

Trimming busing was touted by the district as a cost-effective way to manage the multimillion-dollar transportation budget, but Walker did not provide an estimate of how much it stood to save because officials are still getting a handle on the number of students and routes.

Without being provided data that can illustrate potential savings, parents are questioning the district's motives, with some saying they believe it is an attempt to force the Jewish community out of an area that's seen marked growth in the Orthodox and Hasidic population over the last several years.

"I don't think it's to save money. ... I think they don't want more non-public school students moving into the district and I think this is a way to make it harder for us to live here," said Jordan, whose family moved to a mostly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood nine years ago. "There are concerns about overdevelopment in East Ramapo, and I think people are trying to prevent that from occurring here."

The town of Ramapo, which is partially covered by the Ramapo Central school district, has experienced one of the most dramatic population increases in the lower Hudson Valley, from 108,905 in 2000 to 128,335 in 2013, according to a study by Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress. Much of the growth in Rockland County was fueled by ethnic or religious groups, particularly the Hasidic or Orthodox Jewish communities, the study said.

Walker said the procedures "are applied equally to public, non-public and private/non-sectarian schools."

"The services that we provide to the schools that are ostensibly represented by the petitioners are no different than the services we provide to Catholic schools, other Christian schools and the one Muslim school that we have in the school district," Walker said.

For the 2016-17 school year, the district forecast 772 students requiring transportation to 105 non-public schools. Just three years ago, the district bused 490 non-public school students to 83 schools, based upon information provided in a budget session earlier this year.

As of now, the district continues to project an 8 percent increase in annual transportation costs — from $7.6 million to $8.2 million, which is about six percent of the $134.5 million budget for the current school year.


Brooklyn's Rachel Freier Will Be State's First Female Chasidic Civil Court Judge 

Brooklyn's Rachel Freier Will Be State's First Female Chasidic Civil Court Judge

Rachel "Ruchie" Freier of Brooklyn was elected a Civil Court judge in New York state, reportedly a first for a Hasidic woman in the state.

Freier won Tuesday's vote in Kings County's 5th judicial district, which encompasses the Brooklyn communities of Kensington, Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace, among others, according to Patch.

Patch cited "multiple outlets that cover the Orthodox Jewish community" in noting the historic nature of Freier's victory.

Unofficial election results published online by New York's Board of Elections showed Freier receiving 40.7 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, with Jill Epstein and Morton Avigdor receiving 34.3 and 24.3 percent, respectively.

Early Wednesday, Freier thanked her supporters, writing on Twitter, "Tonight's victory is your victory."

Freier, a mother of six, practices commercial and residential estate law, according to her campaign site. After graduating from high school, she worked as a legal secretary and paralegal to support her husband's Talmudic studies. She is a graduate of Touro College and Brooklyn Law School, and founded the all-female EMT agency Ezras Nashim.

A Hasidic man, Aron Wieder, won the New York State Assembly Democratic primary on Tuesday in the 98th District and will face the Republican incumbent, Karl Brabenec, in the general election in November. Wieder, of Spring Valley, defeated Brabenec on the Independence line.

The district includes towns with large Hasidic populations in Rockland County, including Monsey, as well as parts of Orange County.


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Guatema Raids Hasidic Group Suspected of Child Abuse 

Authorities in Guatemala raided the compound of a haredi Orthodox sect living there, separating children from their parents, after allegations of physical and mental abuse surfaced.

Israel’s Justice Ministry said Tuesday that the Central American country had obeyed its request to crack down on the Lev Tahor group, according to Orthodox news website Kikar Hashabbat.

The Guatemalan government suspected the sect of performing child marriages and abusing members, including children.

The Justice Ministry said it was in touch with Guatemalan authorities to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens, including minors, who are members of the group, according to Kikar Hashabbat. The report did not specify how many people are currently members of the group or in what city the compound in question was located.

In June, a court in Guatemala indicted the ex-mayor of a small town for “participating in the expulsion of a religious community,” after some 230 members of Lev Tahor were forced out of the village in 2014. The expulsion followed religious disputes with its Mayan residents, who are Roman Catholic.

The mayor of San Juan La Laguna, Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez, was charged with abuse of authority and discrimination and sentenced to house arrest, the local newspaper Prensa Libre reported. He had lost his political immunity on Jan. 14 after he was not re-elected.

By August 2014, most Lev Tahor members had settled in Guatemala, leaving behind their previous place of residence in Canada, after local authorities there alleged mistreatment of children. Others left for Israel and the United States.

Lev Tahor vigorously denied all the allegations by the Canadian authorities and said they are victims of a religious smear.

The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It was founded by an Israeli, Shlomo Helbrans, in the 1980s and rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish Promised Land can only be established by God, not men.

Guatemala is home to some 1,200 Jews in a population of 15 million.



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