Monday, October 31, 2016

Catskills Lawsuit Settlement Shows that Anti-Jewish Prejudice Is Alive and Well 

This presidential campaign season has drawn attention to the grim persistence of anti-Semitism in the American political discourse. As bracing as it's been to see what Donald Trump's presidential candidacy has meant for the nation's most vocal Jew-haters, the settlement of a lawsuit pitting developers and Jewish community figures against local government in upstate New York is a timely reminder that there are more instrumental and more insidious forms of anti-Semitism still active in certain corners of American life.

Last week, the Bloombingburg Jewish Education Center and developer Shalom Lamm settled its lawsuit, first filed in 2014, against the village of Bloomingburg and the town of Mamakating (Bloomingburg is an incorporated village in the town of Mamakating). The governments of Bloomingburg and Mamakating will pay $2.9 million in total damages ($1.595 million from Mamakating and $1.305 million from Bloomingburg) connected to the upstate New York communities' alleged efforts to block the settlement of Hasidic Jews in the area. Filings in the case, accessed through PACER, the federal court system's online record of system, read as if they belong to an entirely different time and place. Soberingly enough, their record of official discrimination and communal acrimony unfolded over the past two years, just 75 miles north of New York City.

The governments of both Bloomingburg and Mamakating were eager to keep out Hasidic Jews themselves, using an arsenal of procedural trickery to make Hasidic settlement as difficult as possible. As the plaintiff's initial complaint recounts, the lawsuit was brought in response to "pervasive, government-sponsored religious discrimination," with the defendants, which included local government officials, "acting on behalf of an aggressive and hateful group of their residents."

In 2006, a developer called Sullivan Fams obtained permission from the Village of Bloomingburg to construct nearly 400 housing units in a new neighborhood called Chestnut Ridge. When Hassidic Jews began moving into the Bloomingburg area, and when it became apparent that the Chestnut Ridge development could eventually host a large Hasidic community, the town used every means available to reverse the area's Jewish influx (although officials later unsuccessfully claimed that the developer had misled local government about its actual intentions for the Chestnut Ridge development. In 2013, the village's Planning Board turned down a planned Jewish school's request to build a busway and parking lot. The Board offered no rationale for how or why they'd rejected the request, although the plaintiff's complaint claims that "hundreds of angry residents" had showed up to board meetings to register their opposition to the school's construction. The board's rejection made the building of the school almost impossible, thereby forcing Hasidic families to home-school their children. (Two of the co-plaintiffs on the initial lawsuit are women who would have sent their children to the proposed Jewish school.)

When the New York State Supreme Court vacated the village Planning Board's decision to effectively block the construction of the Jewish school, Bloomingburg simply dissolved its Planning Board, placing the project under the jurisdiction of the Mamakating town government and requiring the developers to jump through a slew of additional procedural hoops. When construction moved forward at Chestnut Ridge in 2014, the village declared a moratorium on all new development in the area, period. When it became clear there was no other way to reverse the various permissions and zoning decisions that enabled Chestnut Ridge's development, the mayor called a September 2014 referendum to dissolve the village itself, leaving open the possibility that the Mamakating government could tie up the project in additional red tape. When that referendum failed, the town and village brought a lawsuit against Chestnut Ridge developer Shalom Lamm and his partners in April of 2015, accusing them of organizing electoral fraud in connection to the vote.

That case's complaint alleges that "The Town and Village are presently under siege in a hostile takeover spearheaded by a racketeering enterprise," with the defendants harboring "the sole goal of controlling these municipalities for the benefit of the racketeering enterprise which they head." The case was dismissed in August of 2015, not long after it was filed. Naturally, this case wasn't Bloomingburg and Mamakating's only lawsuit related to Chesnut Ridge: residents unsuccessfully sued to stop the development in 2013, while last week's settlement also resolves a lawsuit that the town of Mamakating had brought against New York's Department of State.

As the original plaintiff's complaint makes clear, the townsfolk and their leaders did little to hide their anti-Hasidic motives. In 2012, Bloomingburg residents formed a "Rural Community Coalition" to oppose Chestnut Ridge. The complaint cites one of the coalition's founders as explaining that the community was not initially against the development, which had been in the works since 2008, because "at that point in time, it was not known that the developer planned a Hasidic community." The village's elected officials practiced a more covert form of discrimination. Mayor Frank Gerardi, who the plaintiffs' complaint alleges was elected on a platform of preventing additional Hasidic settlement in Bloomingburg, "sought personally to inspect many Jewish-owned properties in search of code violations." He was allegedly adept at concocting roadblocks for Hasidic-related building projects, issuing a "stop-work" order at one point simply because people were observed "entering and exiting" buildings at the Chestnut Ridge worksite. In 2014, the village government enacted a building moratorium in response to "a substantial number" of building code complaints—which, it turned out, had to do with things like the presence of a Torah scroll in a residence, and the use of a private pool as a mikveh. Gerardi didn't try to disguise his reasoning for opposing the project, either: According to the complaint, Gerardi "has declared that he was elected to keep 'those people' out and to condemn Jewish-owned buildings."

This week's settlement puts an end to this long and sordid episode, in which a small town exhausted every possible legal and procedural option in an attempt to block the arrival of outsiders based solely on their religious identity, while making the town's existing Hasidic population feel as unwelcome as possible. But little contrition was offered, at least according to one local news report: "On the whole, this is for the best interest of the taxpayers," Russell Wood, the current mayor of Bloomingburg, said of the settlement. "This is a good deal." Village Trustee Aaron Rabiner agreed that the settlement was a prudent decision, since the villager's insurers were capable of paying out the settlement. "The insurance company is picking up the tab," Rabiner said, according to the Middletown, New York-based Times Record-Herald. "It was a no-brainer for us."

The Bloomingburg case didn't end with a feel good-moment of inter-communal reconciliation. The people of Bloomingburg will have to live with their Hasidic neighbors by virtue of exhausting all apparent legal avenues for preventing them from moving in. If there's any encouragement to be drawn from this case, it comes from the fact that it's possible for groups like the Hasidsof Bloomingburg to eventually receive some form of redress through the court system, even when confronted by an official conspiracy to keep them out of town. But overall, the case records, and even the case's conclusion, are a stark reminder that anti-Jewish attitudes are alive and well in parts of the United States—and that they sometimes have the force of government behind them.


After decades of Holocaust legends, ultra-Orthodox community confronts the dark facts 

I meet Esther Farbstein early one morning in Borough Park's Avenue Plaza Hotel, located on 13th Avenue – a thoroughfare strewn with houses of study, and children with sidelocks and still-sleepy eyes getting on buses.

Farbstein is flying home to Israel in a few hours, and our interview is peppered with phone calls from friends calling to say goodbye, dropping off gifts. During her short stay in ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) Brooklyn, she is treated like an academic superstar. Her lectures in private homes are packed with schoolteachers. Young women flock to her. She is the Haredi woman who "has it all": An elite pedigree, as the great-granddaughter of the Ger Rebbe, Avraham Mordechai Alter, and as a rebbetzin, the wife of Hebron Yeshiva head Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Farbstein; a brood of seven children, 50 grandchildren and over 20 great-grandchildren; and an illustrious career in academia.

She is also considered the Haredi community's leading scholar on the Holocaust, being best known for her monumental two-volume work, "Out of the Depths" – a study of rabbinic responsa that emerged from the Holocaust, shedding light on the struggles of observant Jews at the time.

Open Farbstein's work and you'll find harrowing stories lurking between the lines of earnest questions and rabbis' weary answers: Does one say Kaddish for a family member if his death is uncertain? If one survived a raid, can one say the blessing of thanksgiving ("hagomel"), or is it too premature if the "ax" of the Nazis is still hanging over one's head? Does a home in a ghetto need a mezuzah if it is difficult to obtain? May one eat treyf food in the ghetto? Must an able-bodied man fast on Yom Kippur? Young couples in the Lodz ghetto plan to marry, though rumors say deportations are growing more frequent – should weddings be performed though the future is so unclear? May one give up one's child to hide in a convent, knowing full well she will be baptized and may live the rest of her life as a Catholic?

I first met Farbstein during her visiting lecture at Yeshiva University's Revel School, where she spoke to a crowded hall on the Holocaust in Hungary. Dressed in a striped jacket and short, dark blonde wig, glasses perched on her nose, she described the mass deportations of Hasidic Jews with almost alarming poise. She projects a photo of bearded Hungarian Hasidic rabbis behind her: "We can see that the rabbis arrived in the camp in their rabbinic garb, directly from their beis medrash, from a relatively routine daily life. … Hungarian Jewry had no interim period like Polish Jewry," who came to the camps from ghettos.


Sunday, October 30, 2016

America’s Orchestras Are At War — Could More Jewish Musicians Help? 

In September, when a last-minute negotiation effort failed, the Philadelphia Orchestra went on strike after an audience had already gathered for its seasonal opening-night gala. Hackles were raised. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:

“‘Shame on you!’ shouted a couple of philanthropists as players walked through the Kimmel Center lobby and out onto a Broad Street picket line Friday night.”

Other donors remained at the concert hall to enjoy a scheduled dinner while musicians circled in the evening drizzle, defending their salaries and pensions. Strikes were called recently by orchestras in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, and not long ago in Indianapolis and Minnesota. Empathy lessons for some concertgoers and philanthropists — etymologically speaking, lovers of humankind — might be timely.

On October 4, an administrative letter was sent to striking members of the Pittsburgh Symphony. Addressed to “Dear Employee,” it noted that to keep Heinz Hall open during a strike “may require us to hire replacement workers, either on a temporary or permanent basis, as will be determined by the business necessity that we face.” The apparent intent of this missive, to warn about possibly hiring musical scabs to replace strikers, was later denied by Pittsburgh Symphony administration.

Personally identifying with musicians on a human level may not be essential for appreciating concerts, but surely helps create lifelong emotional bonds with symphonies as social institutions. Part of that bond is identifying with the cultural statements of an orchestra in its programming. Philadelphia music lovers were denied at the last minute a scheduled program of music from Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town,” George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” and other popular items. In Pittsburgh, cancelled concerts for October included performances by the Tel Aviv-born soloist Pinchas Zukerman playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, followed by events featuring the overfamiliar Dvorak “New World” Symphony as well as music by the Beatles and screen composer John Williams. Another concert paired Béla Bartók’s “Concerto for Orchestra” with songs written by the Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk in a seemingly indigestible mix. Is it pandering - or just realistic marketing - to presume that audiences are incapable of caring about anything but symphonic chestnuts, glitzy pops, and orchestrated rock n’ roll plus Hollywoodiana? What can revive audience interest in orchestras playing unfamiliar, as well as core classical, repertory?



Saturday, October 29, 2016

Jewish student ‘assaulted’ in protest at university 

Dozens of police officers were called to University College London after pro-Palestinian supporters disrupted a speech by an Israeli activist.

A Jewish student claimed that she was assaulted after being barricaded in a lecture room. Protesters jumped through the window of the room on Thursday night.

Hen Mazzig, former Israeli Defence Forces commander, was invited to speak at the university in north London by UCL Friends of Israel. He has worked on economic development projects in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Hazzig uploaded a video to Facebook showing protesters hammering on the doors and windows, shouting: “Free Palestine.” No arrests were made.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Ivanka Trump at Florida Synagogue: My Father Called Before Jewish High Holidays and Said ‘You Better Pray Hard for Me’ 

Ivanka Trump — the Jewish daughter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — told a synagogue gathering in the battleground state of Florida on Thursday that her father had asked for her prayers during the Jewish High Holidays this year.

Noting that the holidays feel "in the midst of, let's just say an important time in my life and my family's life," Trump — according to a recording obtained by The Algemeiner — told the crowd at The Shul, located between the Miami suburbs of Bal Harbour and Surfside, "My father didn't even give me a hard time about it once. You know what he would say right before Yom Tov — he would call and say, 'You better pray hard for me.' I'd say, 'Yes dad, we will pray hard.' Then he'd call Jared [Trump's husband Jared Kushner] and say, 'Jared, you gotta pray hard for me.' So he covered all of the bases."

Trump — whose five-year-old daughter recently started kindergarten at a Jewish school in New York City — also talked about the importance of Jewish education.

"It's such a blessing for me to have her come home every night and share with me the Hebrew that she's learned and sing songs for me around the holidays," Trump — who converted to Judaism in 2009 — said. "And it's really a learning opportunity for me once again through her eyes. It's really an amazing thing. It's just been such a great lesson."

While Trump said she did not plan to take on an official government role herself if her father was elected president on Nov. 8, she said she had strong opinions that she would not hesitate to share.

Trump vowed to be an advocate for women and Israel. Regarding her father's support for Israel, Trump said he would be "an unbelievable champion for Israel and for the Jewish people. You will not be disappointed."

Asked whether her father would move the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, Trump answered unequivocally, "100%."

Referring to her conversion, which she called an "amazing and beautiful journey," Trump said her father supported her "from day one."

"There was no question, there was no argument," she said, adding that her father had "tremendous respect" for the Jewish religion.

Speaking at a gala dinner held by The Algemeiner in February 2015 where he received the Liberty Award for his contributions to US-Israel relations, Donald Trump said, "I have a Jewish daughter! This wasn't in the plan, but I'm very glad it happened."

In response to a question on Thursday about what she cherished most about Judaism, Ivanka Trump said, "Especially now being a parent, I deeply appreciate how it feels like everything about Judaism is architected to create connectivity and to create a grounding in what really matters."


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Upstate New York Town Pays $2.9M To Settle Hasidic Discrimination Suit 

An upstate New York village and its host town will pay a Jewish developer $2.9 million to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that they tried to stop new housing for Hasidic Jews.

The Village of Bloomingburg and the Town of Mamakating agreed Friday to the settlement with Shalom Lamm and his Sullivan Farms II company. Under the settlement, the company will receive $1.595 million from Mamakating and $1.305 million from Bloomingburg. The insurance company for the locales will make the payments.

The trial was to begin Nov. 8.

The lawsuit, which was filed in September 2014, accused Bloomingburg and Mamakating of violating federal civil rights and fair housing laws by trying to stop the development of 396 townhouses that cater to Hasidic Jews and marketed to that group. They allegedly also rejected the conversion of a nearby house into a mikvah ritual bath.

Bloomingburg, which has 400 residents, is located in Sullivan County, in the Catskill Mountains area, about 75 miles north of Manhattan. Mamakating has 12,000 residents.

In April 2015, Mamakating and Bloomingburg filed a federal lawsuit against Lamm accusing him of fraud, bribery, racketeering, voter fraud and corruption of public officials. They claimed he bribed a former mayor, used a frontman to help mislead the village about his intentions for Chestnut Ridge and engaged in racketeering by promoting an enterprise that was corrupt on multiple levels. The lawsuit was later dismissed.

In the case that was settled, the plaintiffs alleged that Mamakating and Bloomingburg had engaged in an ongoing campaign of religious discrimination against the Hasidic Jewish community over the past three years.

The settlement "should remind the public that bigotry has no place in America," Lamm's attorney, Steven Engel, said in a statement.

"It is our hope that this ugly time is now behind us, and that all the residents of this beautiful region can live together in peace and mutual understanding," he said.

The settlement comes just months after the Sullivan County Board of Elections settled a lawsuit alleging that Board of Elections employees had attempted to cancel the voter registrations of some 160 Hasidic residents.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Brooklyn Neighbors Sound Alarm Over Hasidic Synagogue’s Ear-Splitting Siren 

The Sabbath is supposed to be a day of quiet relaxation. But according to residents near one Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn, the noise from the schul's Friday afternoon siren is anything but restful.

"It leaves me with a ringing in my ears and headaches that have continued for two days," Aaron Graubart, who lives next door to the Bais Yokov Nchemyeh D'setmer synagogue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, told the news Web site Gothamist. "I work from home and I now have to be out of the apartment on Fridays in order to avoid the sound. The siren is literally forcing me out of my home on Friday afternoons."

For some observant Jews, Friday afternoon sirens are critical — alerting them to the coming of the Sabbath and the need to wrap business and return home. But residents told Gothamist this was not a normal alarm, with the sound recently maxing out at 106 decibels — what one might hear standing right next to an active chainsaw and well over New York City's permitted noise levels.

Talking to the Gothamist, another resident imagined sinister motives could underlie the synagogue's noise-making. "I feel like it is a form of displacement," Robert Prichard, who filed a complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection in August, told the publication. "It feels like we are being driven out of our homes."

Over several weeks, the DEP sent investigators to the scene, and found noise levels above the decibel limit. It has set a court date for November, at which the synagogue could be fined for its siren.

Before that happens, Prichard tried to reach out to the congregation directly, walking into its building and asking for a meeting with its head rabbi — a request that he said still has not been honored. In the meantime, he and other concerned citizens intend to circulate a neighborhood petition against the sound.

According to the Gothamist, residents fret that legal sanctions might not deter Bais Yokov from its ear-splitting Friday ritual.

"I just think they will pay the fine and carry on as normal," Graubart told the publication.

"It just feels like our rights to live our lives unmolested are being taken away," Prichard said. "It is infuriating to know that our health is negotiable."


Possibly anti-Semitic political signs pop up in Rockland 

The signs show Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder along

Political signs possibly implying that Rockland's Hasidic community is reliant on welfare have been found in the county.

On the signs, Rockland Legislator Aron Wieder is pictured along with the words, "David Carlucci for Medicaid. Working together, other people can carry us." The signs have been spotted throughout the county, but no one has so far taken credit.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Police investigating vandalism at Hasidic-owned businesses in Sullivan County 

Town of Fallsburg police are investigating a series of vandalism attacks on seasonal, Jewish-owned businesses in Woodbourne.

The vandalism, in the form of broken storefront windows, occurred over a three-week period from Oct. 1-Oct. 22, Fallsburg Detective Travis Hartman said Monday. The most recent acts of vandalism, at businesses on Route 52, were reported Saturday morning, Hartman said.

Police are currently interviewing a couple of juveniles in connection with the crimes, he said.



Sunday, October 23, 2016

World Palestinians who attended Jewish settlement event arrested by their own police 

Four Palestinian guests who attended a Jewish holiday celebration on Wednesday at an Israeli settlement in the West Bank have been arrested by Palestinian security forces, family members said Friday.

Palestinian authorities released no information on the arrests, including why the four men were detained late Thursday.

Relatives of the Palestinians say they were taken into custody after photographs appeared on social media and news websites about the unusual celebration in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, in which Jews and Muslims gathered together.

Relatives of the detained men said they would likely be held until Sunday and they were being interrogated.

They said it was not the celebration at the house of Efrat’s mayor, Oded Revivi, that got them into trouble with Palestinian authorities. Instead, they believe it was the presence at the gathering of senior Israeli army officers, including a general, alongside top Israeli police officers.

[The event went well until the Palestinians guests headed home]

“The problem is the photos of the soldiers and us,” said Asad Abu Hamad, 40, a relative of the arrested men.

“The mayor tricked them,” Abu Hamad said. “Instead of helping us, he destroyed us.”

The cousin of the arrested men said they went to the gathering in a gesture of friendship, but also to press their cases to end road closures into their villages and home demolitions by Israeli bulldozers.

Pro-Israel voices on social media pointed to the arrests as evidence that Palestinian authorities refuse to allow their Muslim citizens to meet peacefully with Jews.

Revivi, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Israel army reserves, said he was in anguish over the arrests and was pressing for the men’s release.

“I understand they are upset. I understand what the relatives are saying,” Revivi said. “But was this a trap? This was no trap.”

He said his Palestinian guests spoke openly — and directly — with his Jewish guests and with the military and police officers in attendance.



Saturday, October 22, 2016

Developer Lamm gets $2.9M in settlement with Bloomingburg, Mamakating 

The Village of Bloomingburg and Town of Mamakating have agreed to a settlement with developer Shalom Lamm, staving off a trial set to begin next month in the two-year federal lawsuit that accused the municipalities of religious discrimination against building projects.

Lamm’s company, Sullivan Farms II, will be awarded $2.9 million, with $1.305 million paid by the village’s insurance carrier and $1.595 million paid by the town’s insurance carrier. None of the money will be paid out of the municipalities’ coffers, and no party admitted any fault.

Lamm filed the lawsuit in September 2014, accusing the town and village of unlawfully blocking his building projects in order to prevent Hasidic Jews from moving into the area. Lamm’s most infamous project, a 396-unit townhouse project called Chestnut Ridge, has been fought by town residents for years. The town filed a racketeering lawsuit against Lamm and former village officials over Chestnut Ridge, which has since been dismissed.

The village board of trustees and village planning board voted in favor of the settlement at consecutive emergency meetings held Friday afternoon in village hall. Mayor Russell Wood said he has wanted the lawsuits to be over since he came into office in March, so he considered Friday a good day for the village.

“On the whole, this is for the best interest of the taxpayers,” Wood said. “This is a good deal. It’s a shame it had to come to any of this.”

Trustee Aaron Rabiner agreed.

“The insurance company is picking up the tab,” Rabiner said. “It was a no-brainer for us.”

The town is much less complacent about the settlement. Town Supervisor Bill Herrmann attended the village meeting Friday, and gave a brief press conference afterward to announce the town has also agreed to the settlement despite moral objections.

The town’s contract with its insurer had a “no consent” clause, which meant the insurer could accept a settlement with or without the town’s approval, Herrmann said. The town board discussed the settlement proposal during an executive session at its meeting Tuesday night, but did not announce anything to the public. On Friday, Herrmann confirmed that during the executive session the board gave him authority to proceed with settlement negotiations, which he finalized on Friday.

Herrmann said the town “vehemently denies any wrongdoing,” and that Lamm settled in order to cut his own losses.

“This disgraceful, baseless lawsuit sought to intimidate and distract the town board’s attention from delivering government services to the community and providing the leadership they were elected for,” Herrmann said, adding that it was a “public relations stunt.”

Steven Engel, counsel for Lamm, said he hopes the settlement will show that bigotry has no place in America.

“It is our hope that this ugly time is now behind us, and that all the residents of this beautiful region can live together in peace and mutual understanding,” Engel said in a statement.

Town and village residents loudly objected to the idea of Lamm getting any money, as the boards voted on their respective resolutions Friday afternoon. Two FBI agents in suits sat stoically in the back row, serving as a silent reminder that Lamm has been under federal investigation for more than two years.



Friday, October 21, 2016

Police arrest two brothers in 2014 kidnapping, murder of Brooklyn landlord 

Two brothers were arrested Thursday in connection with the kidnapping and murder of a Brooklyn landlord, cops said.

Erskin Felix, 38, and his 28-year-old brother, Kendall Felix, were taken into custody in the killing nearly three years ago of Menachem Stark, according to police.

Stark, the married father of seven, was grabbed outside his Williamsburg office during a botched robbery in the middle of a snowstorm on Jan. 2, 2014. His burned body was later discovered in a dumpster beside a gas station in Great Neck, L.I.

Erskin Felix faces murder and kidnapping charges, while his sibling was charged with hindering prosecution and tampering with physical evidence, cops said.

Both were being held at the NYPD’s 90th Precinct stationhouse early Friday.

The arrests come roughly three weeks after the pair’s cousin, Kendel Felix, 29, was convicted of killing the 39-year-old Stark.

In a videotaped confession, Kendel Felix, a carpenter who once worked for Stark, said Erskin Felix was the mastermind of the scheme.

“I’m scared s---less because this wasn’t supposed to happen,” Felix told Kenneth Taub, chief of the Brooklyn district attorney’s homicide bureau.

According to prosecutors, the Felix cousins dragged Stark into a minivan following an intense tussle on the street.

Stark died of asphyxiation after one of the co-conspirators sat on his chest in the back seat of the van, prosecutors said.

Kendel Felix is slated to be sentenced on Nov. 2 in Brooklyn Supreme Court.



Thursday, October 20, 2016

UNESCO Denies Jewish History 

Abba Eban, the most eloquent of Israeli diplomats, once noted when he was ambassador to the United Nations in the 1960s that “if Algeria introduced a resolution declaring that the earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would pass by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions.”

His quip has become reality, most recently, with the preliminary vote last week by the executive board of UNESCO, the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which denies a Jewish connection to the Old City of Jerusalem. The resolution referred to the Western Wall and Temple Mount only by their Arab names, and condemned the government for its “aggression” in its maintenance of the holy sites. Such false allegations have led to a number of fatal Arab terror attacks on Jews in the last year.

Of course the UN’s anti-Israel bias is longstanding and a given, to the degree that Israeli officials expressed a degree of optimism in that the 24-6 vote was not worse. They pointed out that countries including France, Italy, Spain, Indian, Sweden and Japan were among the 26 nations that abstained from the Palestinian-sponsored resolution rather than voting for it. They were pleased that no European countries supported the move.

But only the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Estonia joined the United States in voting against the resolution, which Washington condemned was “one-sided and unhelpful.”

Israel announced that it will break all ties with UNESCO.  Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “To say that Israel has no connection to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no connection to the Great Wall of China or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids. With this absurd decision, UNESCO has lost the modicum of legitimacy it had left. But I believe that historical truth is stronger and that truth will prevail. And today we are dealing with the truth.”

Even UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova, criticized the vote. “To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said in a statement. “When these divisions carry over into UNESCO, an organization dedicated to dialogue and peace, they prevent us from carrying out our mission.”

Despite Israel’s break with UNESCO, Jerusalem is adamant about remaining a part of the UN, insisting that to leave over principle would only further isolate itself in the eyes of the international community. Still, it is deeply disheartening that at a time when world pressure is on Israel to make peace with the Palestinians, the UN supports efforts allowing the Palestinian Authority to avoid direct negotiations and places the onus fully on Israel.

To deny Israel’s historical connection to the land, ignoring history and reality, is the worst way to promote reconciliation.



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Lipa Schmeltzer kept only one day during holidays 

Lipa Schmeltzer

Every holiday season, thousands of observant, Orthodox Jews from the Diaspora visit Israel. Unlike their Israeli peers, most keep the additional day of “Yom Tov” traditionally observed outside of Israel, even while staying in the Holy Land, as per centuries of Jewish custom.

But one of today’s most popular - but controversial - haredi recording artists no longer keeps the second day of Jewish festivals while in Israel, performing in public while other Diaspora residents refrain from performing actions considered labor by Jewish tradition.

On Monday evening, after the end of the first day of Sukkot – but the beginning of the second day of Yom Tov for Diaspora residents – Schmeltzer performed at a concert in Petah Tikva, stunning audience members who were left pondering how a prominent member of the American haredi community was publicly flouting such a widely accepted tradition.

While criticism from some in the haredi world was quick to follow, Schmeltzer says he is unfazed.

“I don’t deal with it [the criticism]; I only accept criticism from God,” he told BeHadrei Haredim.

According to Schmeltzer, the basis of the long-standing custom of observing two days while visiting Israel no longer applies.

“I’m part of the Jewish people,” he said, “and I think that if I don’t appear after Yom Tov it’s a contradiction, since the whole point of having two days of Yom Tov is because back then they did not know with certainty what day the new month began in Israel; but today we not only know, but we have the ability to travel to Israel and spend the holiday in the holy, pure Land of Israel.”

Rabbinic authorities are familiar with that claim, of course, but have nevertheless not stopped the custom of two days for those who do not make their permanent home in Israel, excepting for some rabbinic decisors who say that if one is in Israel for all three major festivals, one day is enough. There are rabbinic authorities who say that the positive commandments of the holiday should not be kept on the second day when in Israel - referring to such things as reciting blessings for the holiday - but that one must avoid going against negative commandments, such as turning on lights.

Schmeltzer added that in his opinion, “It would be an affront for me to come to Israel and then say that I need to keep two days of Yom Tov because my grandfather didn’t know what the date [of the holiday was] in Israel. It is important for the public to know that I’m doing everything according to Jewish law. And I’ve already been here for a few holidays in Israel.”

For Schmeltzer, a 38-year old New York native raised in the Skver Hasidic sect, the decision not to observe two days of Yom Tov is not the first time he has stirred controversy within the haredi world by challenging religious norms.

His eclectic musical style has in the past drawn criticism from some within the religious world, and led to a ban by some leading haredi rabbinic authorities on “The Big Event” concert scheduled for Madison Square Garden in 2008.

In 2014 Schmeltzer announced his enrollment in Columbia University, defying the traditional aversion within Skver to study in secular institutions of higher education.



Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Hasidic rabbi outside Wrigley Field teaches Cubs fans how to bless their team 

Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky and Cubs fans in Wrigleyville - COURTESY DOVID KOTLARSKY

The 2003 National League Championship Series coincided with the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot. During that week, Rabbi Boruch Hertz, an emissary of the Lubavitch Chabad, built a sukkah across the street from Wrigley Field and encouraged everyone, but especially Jews, to come in and pray with him.

The Lubavitchers are a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect that seeks to spread Jewishness throughout the world through kindness and good deeds, and a sukkah is the central symbol of Sukkot, a small shack meant to represent the temporary shelters where Jews lived during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. The metaphor of wandering in the desert has been applied to Cubs fans as well, and is one of the many links between the Cubs and the Jews. (Others include the Biblical injunction in Leviticus to sacrifice a goat and the team's current president, Theo Epstein, who is also Jewish, though nonpracticing.)

Hertz was outside Wrigley during the infamous Steve Bartman game, though he claims no responsibility for what happened inside the ballpark; he was more pleased by the fans who lined up for a chance to recite a blessing and then shake the lulav (a wand of tree branches) and etrog (a citron). The ritual represents the unity and omnipresence of God, but it's also fun, and the Lubavitchers are all about making Judaism fun. (On college campuses, their Purim celebrations, where partygoers are encouraged to observe the commandment to drink to the point of being unable to distinguish the virtuous Mordecai from the villainous Haman, were legendary, at least until the no-alcohol policy was imposed.)

Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky, Hertz's son-in-law, took up the mantle of the Rebbe of Wrigleyville at the beginning of last season, when he moved to Chicago from Brooklyn. He's a slender young man with a red beard and a hoarse voice. He set up a table across Addison Street from the ballpark and encouraged Jewish Cubs fans to recite blessings with him. Sometimes he wears his long black coat and and round black hat, but he also had a silver jersey printed up that reads "Team Chabad" on the front and "Rabbi Dovid" on the back.

The move did not upset any existing loyalties, he said, since he always preferred playing baseball to watching. (This is also an easy to way to disavow any claim that his divided loyalties were responsible for the Cubs' collapse against the Mets last year.) He has developed a fondness for the Cubs, however, and admires their persistence.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Chag Sameach 


Saturday, October 15, 2016

UN body removes Jewish links to Temple Mount 

This is disturbing, not least because Russia and China backed the Arab world in getting this through:  UNESCO last week  passed a resolution ignoring deep Jewish  ties to Jerusalem's Temple Mount, hailing it only as a Muslim religious site.

The story:

The United Nations’ cultural arm on Thursday passed a resolution ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall in a move derided in Israel as “anti-Semitic” and absurd...

The resolution, adopted at the committee stage, used only Muslim names for the Jerusalem Old City holy sites and was harshly critical of Israel for what it termed “provocative abuses that violate the sanctity and integrity” of the area...

Voting in favor were: Algeria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chad, China, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Morocco, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam.

Voting against were: Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States.

Abstaining were: Albania, Argentina, Cameroon, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, India, Italy, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kenya, Nepal, Paraguay, Saint Vincent and Nevis, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda and Ukraine.

The actual text of the World Heritage Committee's decision does mention "the three monotheistic religions":

Affirming the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions...

But then it refers to the most sacred and contested site - the Dome of the Rock, built over the ruins of the Second Temple - only by its Arab name and only as a Muslim religious site in one long diatribe against Israel:

Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif and its surroundings...

7. Calls on Israel, the occupying Power, to allow for the restoration of the historic status quo that prevailed until September 2000, under which the Jordanian Awqaf (Religious Foundation) Department exercised exclusive authority on Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif...

13. Regrets the damage caused by the Israeli Forces, especially since 23 August 2015, to the historic gates and windows of the al-Qibli Mosque inside Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram AlSharif, and reaffirms, in this regard, the obligation of Israel to respect the integrity, authenticity and cultural heritage of Al-Aqṣa Mosque/Al-Ḥaram Al-Sharif, as reflected in the historic status quo, as a Muslim holy site of worship...

Even the director-general of UNESCO is shocked by the UNESCO decision:

Though she did not explicitly mention the resolution, Irina Bokova made her disapproval of the motion clear, saying that efforts to deny history and Jerusalem’s complex multi-faith character harm UNESCO.

“The heritage of Jerusalem is indivisible, and each of its communities has a right to the explicit recognition of their history and relationship with the city,” Bokova said in a statement...

“To deny, conceal or erase any of the Jewish, Christian or Muslim traditions undermines the integrity of the site, and runs counter to the reasons that justified its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list,” she said.

In fact, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock are built over the ruins of the most famous Jewish temples in history - and almost certainly to take over the sacredness given to that site by the Jews:



Friday, October 14, 2016

In NYC, perfect etrogs command top dollar 

Naftali Berger's quest for perfection ended in victory when the 24-year-old student entered Tsvi Dahan's trailer in the haredi Orthodox Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

"Find something wrong with it — find it!" a glowing Berger exclaimed as he held his treasure: a bumpy, lemon-like fruit he had just purchased for $200.

In open-air markets and on tables unfolded on sidewalks in Jewish communities throughout the world, many Jews preparing for Sukkot, which begins Oct. 16 this year, look for lovely etrogs, the fruit that constitutes the centerpiece of the biblically mandated four species to be blessed during the weeklong holiday.

Many celebrants will take the basic set commonly sold for $30-$40 that also includes a lulav (palm branch), myrtle and willow.
Then there are men like Berger, who think nothing of dropping hundreds of dollars on an especially beautiful etrog, which they believe enhances their fulfillment of the mitzvah.

No sooner does Yom Kippur end than such customers seek out Dahan, 38, a resident of Jaffa who works for a company that owns three hotels in Tel Aviv but has trekked to New York City the past 17 autumns to hawk his high-end etrogs. They are rippled and slightly smooth, hefty and slim, shiny in hue and subdued — in etrog selection, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Above all, though, Dahan's fruits are symmetrical and close to blemish-free — and are pure, ungrafted. They come from the 200 trees on a half-acre plot of land Dahan leases in Dumdir, a village in southern Morocco, his parents' homeland. His late grandfather, Yaakov Assayag, a tailor in Marrakesh, got into the business 70 years ago, and several of Assayag's sons followed suit. Lore holds, Dahan explains, that Morocco's Dumdir has yielded the finest etrogs since the exile following the Second Temple's destruction.

 Dahan visits four times a year to monitor his crop. Before Rosh Hashanah, he selects the 2,000 best etrogs, then sorts for the top 200 most pristine specimens to bring to Brooklyn.

He's not alone catering to the market in Williamsburg, with its primarily Hasidic community. In the weeks before Sukkot, several other storefronts and trailers pop up in the neighborhood, with dealers and growers offering premium etrogs from Israel and Italy, along with Morocco.

In the trailer, Berger slides his eyeglasses down near the tip of his nose, the better to inspect the etrog he's grasping. He takes a cotton swab from a box and dabs at the surface surrounding the pitom, as the stem is known, trying to discern if the pinhead-sized speck he spots is merely a wayward dirt particle or a blemish.

Ten minutes into the inspection, Berger phones his rabbi, detailing his observations in Yiddish. He hangs up, calls again, then returns the etrog to a foam-lined box that he sets aside on a table.

"I'm going to have a cup of coffee and think about it," Berger says.

Ten minutes later, he returns, seizing another etrog and examining it.This one is smaller, but Berger is smitten.

"It's clean — perfectly clean. For me, that's the most important," Berger pronounces of the $200 etrog that he calls "a bargain."

The business is "very hard," Dahan tells a visitor in Hebrew. "[The customers] are very hard — justifiably so because they're spending a lot of money."

Another customer enters. The first etrog proffered fails to impress in price ($275) or looks. The second falls short, too. Dahan hands over a third costing $350.

 "You won't find better," Dahan states. "Don't make a mistake. You'll wait for the last day, won't get what you want and you'll be going crazy."


KJ leaders feel vindicated by ruling 

Kiryas Joel leaders on Thursday claimed vindication in a court ruling that upheld a 164-acre expansion of their village, saying in a short statement that they hope "that the comprehensiveness of this decision might bring an end to the legal challenges."

State Supreme Court Justice Gretchen Walsh issued a 96-page decision two days earlier that rejected all legal claims brought by Orange County, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley in two separate cases to invalidate Kiryas Joel's annexation of land from the Town of Monroe. The leaders of the Satmar Hasidic community were unavailable to comment when the decision became available on Wednesday, because they were observing the Yom Kippur holiday.

Their short statement on Thursday merely noted that Walsh had determined that the annexation process complied with the law and that the village had done "a complete and reasonable review of potential environmental impacts from the alteration of the municipal boundary" — a point that plaintiffs in the two lawsuits had strongly contested.

The ruling will soon give Kiryas Joel control of the 164 acres, unless the plaintiffs appeal and win an injunction to preserve Monroe's jurisdiction while the appeal is pending. No appeal decisions have been made.

Kiryas Joel has a separate case of its own pending in the Appellate Division to annex 507 acres from Monroe through an earlier petition that the Monroe Town Board rejected. That annexation area consists of the 164 acres in the case that Kiryas Joel won, plus 343 additional acres in the surrounding area.

In response to the court ruling, Monroe-Woodbury School District leaders issued a statement saying they will meet with Kiryas Joel School District officials to discuss "the advisability of modifying our mutual boundaries and its impact on our taxpayers," referring to the possibility of enlarging Kiryas Joel School District to take in the annexation area. "The district will continue sharing information with our Monroe-Woodbury families as decisions are made and plans progress," reads the statement from Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez and school board President Jon Huberth.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Are Thousands Of Ritually Slaughtered Chickens Being Turned Into... Biodiesel? 

Most Hasidic Jews I've spoken to in Brooklyn about kapparot, the annual pre-Yom Kippur chicken slaughter ritual, say the same thing about what happens to the meat: it goes to charity. Given the challenges of safely storing and transporting chicken carcasses for human consumption (and the rigorous requirements of the federal Poultry Products Inspection Acts), it seems safe to say that if you don't see some large refrigeration equipment at a kaporos event, the meat is probably not edible, or shouldn't be eaten. Indeed, at this year's large-scale events Monday evening on President Street at Kingston Avenue and on the Eastern Parkway service road, no refrigeration was apparent. Helpers for the ritual slaughterers could be seen tossing the birds, covered in blood and often dusted with feces from their time in stacked crates, into trash bags and cans after their throats were slit.

The following morning, an animal rights activist recorded this video that seems to show workers throwing out chicken bodies from both sites. The activist counted over 23 full trash cans emptied.

What's especially interesting about the video, is that at the Eastern Parkway site a worker with a shirt from a company called Dar Pro explains that the chickens are "going to a rendering company. They make ethanol out of it. They make oil out of it. It's a big process. 10 percent ethanol, that's corn and everything else."

This abbreviated explanation doesn't make total sense: ethanol is an alcohol made from the sugars in grains such as corn, sugar beets, and sugar cane, and a gasoline additive. Flex-fuel vehicles run on fuel that is 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gas. Animal material can't be turned into ethanol, but what it can be used for, along with ethanol, is making biodiesel, which can be used as a cleaning diesel additive or, for specially set up engines, a fuel by itself.

First, though, the discarded animal pieces need to be rendered, a process of grinding them up and cooking them at high temperatures until the fat separates. The nonfat powder created by this is a high-protein substance called meat and bone meal, which is commonly incorporated into pet food and livestock feed, among other things.

It so happens that the services offered by Dar Pro, a subsidiary of the Texas company Darling Ingredients, include "full-service management and recycling of your inedible meat by-products." The company runs a biodiesel refinery in Butler, Kentucky, jointly operates another in Norco, Louisiana with petro-giant Valero, and supplies a third in Montreal.

Rina Deych, a leader of the anti-kaporos group Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos, said that in her two decades or so of advocating to end the slaughter, she has only observed a few operations that seem to be processing the meat for people to eat. The rest of the carcasses, she said, go in the trash. She was skeptical of the explanation that the Eastern Parkway chickens are going to be made into some kind of consumer good.

"If it’s true, then they’re not totally going to waste, but that’s a hell of a way to obtain that kind of product," she said. "You can get [biodiesel] from vegetable matter, if that’s in fact what's being done here."



Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Judge upholds 164-acre expansion of Kiryas Joel 

A state Supreme Court justice has given Kiryas Joel a sweeping victory in two court cases challenging its annexation of 164 acres from the Town of Monroe, rejecting all legal claims that attorneys for Orange County, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley had made to void the Monroe Town Board's approval of that border change a year ago.

In a 96-page decision signed Tuesday, Justice Gretchen Walsh found no grounds to invalidate Kiryas Joel's expansion or the environmental review the village conducted for two overlapping annexation petitions. She left it to the Appellate Division to decide in a separate case if that review was adequate for a 507-acre annexation request that Monroe rejected. Kiryas Joel is seeking approval for the larger annexation through a pending case it brought in the appeals court.

The ruling means Kiryas Joel will take jurisdiction over the 164-acre area formerly outside its borders unless the losing parties appeal the decision and win a temporary injunction, similar to the one that kept the land under Monroe's control while the cases were pending.

Leaders of the Satmar Hasidic village were unavailable to comment on the ruling on Wednesday because it was Yom Kippur, the solemn Jewish Day of Atonement. They and the annexation petitioners had sought the expansion to accommodate housing and municipal services for the fast-growing community.

Emily Convers, chairwoman of the United Monroe citizens group and a director of the affiliated Preserve Hudson Valley, said leaders of the organization will decide "shortly whether or not to appeal this irresponsible decision."

"Justice was not served today," Convers said. "Preserve Hudson Valley will continue to fight to prevent unsustainable actions by environmental violators, and will also promote the invaluable notion that religion and government must remain separate for any healthy society."

Monroe Supervisor Harley Doles, one of four Town Board members who supported the 164-acre annexation in a 4-1 vote, applauded Walsh's ruling, arguing the expansion of Kiryas Joel will help protect the Monroe-Woodbury School District from the cultural divisions that plague East Ramapo School District in Rockland County. Expanding Kiryas Joel School District's borders to take in the annexed land would mean that current and future residents of that area would pay taxes to Kiryas Joel School District and vote in its elections, not Monroe-Woodbury's.

"No one wants another East Ramapo," Doles said in a statement. "This ruling ensures that the school districts will remain free to continue the educational goals which each and every parent holds as the number one reason for moving to Orange County."

Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus said in a statement that he still believes Kiryas Joel's annexation "is not in the overall public interest" - the legal standard for approving such border changes. County spokesman Justin Rodriguez said later that county officials won't decide whether to appeal until they and the municipalities that sued get "a candid assessment from the lawyers about what they think of the chances of an appeal."

Woodbury Mayor Michael Queenan, whose village was one of the municipalities that joined the county in the litigation, said local leaders will likely meet early next week to discuss the ruling and possibility of an appeal. "We don't agree with the decision, so the likelihood is that we would appeal. But we haven't talked yet."

The decision comes as the Orange County Legislature prepares to take up a new petition to form a Town of North Monroe, which would consist of Kiryas Joel and 382 acres that largely falls within the 507-acre annexation. How Walsh's ruling affects that new initiative was not immediately clear.

A group of Monroe property owners petitioned in December 2013 for Kiryas Joel to annex 507 acres, and later filed a separate petition for 164 acres while the original proposal was in limbo. Kiryas Joel oversaw an environmental review that analyzed the potential effects and approved both petitions; the Monroe board assented only to the smaller request.

Opponents argued during the annexation debate and in court papers that Kiryas Joel's review was grossly inadequate, partly because it limited projections of the community's growth to 10 years instead of looking deeper in the future or doing a full build-out analysis. In Tuesday's ruling, Walsh said she "sees nothing arbitrary or capricious with (the) use of a 10-year horizon."



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


Monday, October 10, 2016

Animal Rights Group Presses Fight Against Kapparot as Yom Kippur Approaches 

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, makeshift chicken coops appear on the streets and sidewalks of Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhoods like Borough Park and Williamsburg, dedicated to the ritual sacrifice of chickens for atonement in a centuries old practice known as kapparot, or kaporos.

After campaigning against the practice for years, the Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has redoubled its efforts against the ritual in a quarter page open letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, printed as an ad in the New York Times on Tuesday.

Running in the front section of the Times, the ad denounces a "bloodbath" that claims the lives of 50,000 chickens and occurs in "unregulated, makeshift slaughterhouses in Brooklyn streets and sidewalks in the days prior to Yom Kippur."

Paid for by the Alliance, and its parent organization, the animal rights advocacy group United Poultry Concerns, the letter alleges the practice violates city and statutes on health, safety, and treatment of animals. It also charges that the city abets the ritual by "providing the practitioners with police protection, barricades, and orange cones that are used to bleed out birds whose throats have been cut."

During the ritual, the worshipper swings a chicken over his head while reciting a prayer that asks for the remission of one's sins. The chicken is then supposed to be slaughtered, with its meat donated to families in need.

According to Karen Davis, head of United Poultry Concerns, kapparot is practiced in a messy and cruel manner in the Brooklyn neighborhoods where it occurs. Additionally, she claims, it's not even a necessary measure to atone before Yom Kippur.

"There's no middle ground, but a radical ground on this issue," said Davis, who wants the total abolition of chickens' use as kapparot, rather than measures that purport to make this more humane. "They hold them by the wings, which isn't natural for a chicken. It's the ultimate expression of the callousness of this entire practice."

She added that Jewish law, or halakha, does not require the use of chickens as kapparot, and that this is a matter of custom. Ultimately, she said, "the city needs to stop condoning this and enforce the laws on the books."


Ken Thompson, Brooklyn Prosecutor Who Vowed Shift in Hasidic Sex Abuse Probes, Dies at 50 

Ken Thompson, the first African-American to be elected district attorney of Brooklyn, has died at age 50 of complications from cancer, his office said.

Thompsson trounced longtime incumbent Charles Hynes in a bitter 2013 Democratic primary part on promises to shake up his approach to child sex abuse crimes in the borough's large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

Hynes came under withering attack from both advocates for victims and ultra-Orthodox leaders with a program to focus on getting victims to come forward. He was largely unsuccessful in winning convictions, but did manage to anger many on both sides of the explosive issue.

Thompson won support from Jewish leaders in his vowed to dramatically change course, although he wound up prioritizing other issues.

Thompson also launched a high-profile initiative to review questionable murder convictions, some of them decades old.

It resulted in 21 people having their convictions overturned or dismissed over the past three years, the office said in a statement.

Before he was sworn in as District Attorney in 2014, Thompson served as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York. Among the cases he prosecuted was against former New York City Police Officer Justin Volpe over the 1997 beating and torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.

"A lifelong New Yorker, Ken was known as an effective, aggressive civil rights leader - and a national voice for criminal justice reform," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

Thompson was born in New York City. He is survived by his wife of 17 years, Lu-Shawn Thompson, his two children, Kennedy and Kenny, and his mother, father, brother and sister, his office said on Sunday.


Sunday, October 09, 2016

Rabbi airlifted to Israel after assault in Ukraine 

Chabad Rabbi brutally beaten in Zhitomir

A Chabad rabbi in Ukraine was airlifted to Israel for treatment on Saturday, after he was severely beaten in the western city of Zhitomir on Friday, a spokesperson for the Hasidic group said, adding it is too early to tell whether the assault was a hate crime.

Rabbi Mendel Deitsch, a longtime Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in France and more recently in Israel, was assaulted at the city’s central train station early Friday morning, where he was discovered and transported to a local hospital, according to the statement on the website of the Chabad movement.

The Jewish Community of Zhitomir was alerted to the attack hours after the hospitalization of Deitsch, who is in critical condition, according to the report. The motive for the attack remains unknown, the statement also said.

Anti-Semitic assaults are rare in Ukraine, where fewer than 30 such incidents are reported annually.



Saturday, October 08, 2016

Hasidic Pilgrims Wreak Havoc in Ukraine on Rosh Hashanah 

Jewish pilgrims in the central Ukrainian city of Uman lit fires in at least five apartments in a string of incidents involving rowdiness during Rosh Hashanah.

In one incident, firefighters rushed to a residential apartment rented by pilgrims who started a fire in the balcony to fry kosher meats they had brought with them, the news site Korrespondent reported Monday. The balcony sustained damage before the firefighters extinguished the flames, the report said.

Some 30,000 Jews, mostly from Israel, gathered in Uman ahead of the Jewish New Year as part of of an annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, an 18th-century luminary buried in Uman. Rabbi Nachman when he was alive called on his followers to be with him on Rosh Hashanah.

In another incident, pilgrims are believed to have illegally taken over the announcement system at Boryspil International Airport in Kiev, playing Hasidic music over the airport’s speakers and preventing operators from providing passengers with flight and security information. Earlier this year, a hotel in Uman was criticized for refusing to rent rooms to Jews on Rosh Hashanah.

In recent days, Ynet published two videos showing violent and rowdy behavior aboard two flights from Israel to Kiev — IsrAir and El Al — ahead of Rosh Hashanah. Channel 2 reported that flight attendants are scared to work aboard pilgrim flights for fear of violence and intimidation by passengers.

Uman only has the capacity to absorb 5,000 visitors at once, and overpopulation creates bitterness and friction, according to the municipality. Violence between Hasidim and locals is common in Uman, as is drug use among the pilgrims. In addition, their arrival in Uman attracts prostitutes from across Ukraine.

The Breslover Hasidic sect, whose followers constitute much of the pilgrimage, has a strong presence in Israel’s prisons, where it does outreach work aimed at getting inmates to become more religiously observant. Breslovers also work with poor Israelis.

Most Jews who visit Uman stay in the Pushkina area, where Ukrainian police, along with Israeli officers who are sent especially for the holiday, restrict non-Jews, including locals, from entering during the holiday to prevent violence.

This Rosh Hashanah, at least one pilgrim was robbed in Uman. The attackers made off with his wallet and cellular phone, Jewish.ru reported.

In Uman, many locals resent the Jewish pilgrimage because they say it invites criminality and does not contribute to the local economy, as most pilgrims pay other Jews for various services, including housing in apartments in Pushkina and kosher food.

However, this year’s pilgrimage added a total of $260,000 to the municipal budget of Uman, according to Jewish.ru.



Friday, October 07, 2016

Man shouts ‘I’m Hitler, I’ll kill the Jews’ at Stamford Hill school 

Police are investigating after a man shouted anti-Semitic abuse at Charedi Jews in Stamford Hill on Thursday.

A black male shouted 'shocking and disgusting abuse' at group of strictly-Orthodox Jews at a courtyard of a girls school courtyard on Thursday.

The perpetrator allegedly shouted "Jews, dirty Jews, I'm Hitler, I'll kill the Jews" on Thursday, according to neighbourhood watch group Shomrim.

A Police spokesperson told Jewish: "It was alleged anti-Semitic abuse was directed at a group in Stamford Hill. The suspect had since left the scene. Officers are in the process of contacting the reported victims."

The victims are being supported by the volunteer organisation.


Thursday, October 06, 2016

Revelry, prayer and visions of apocalypse at Uman Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage 

Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews this week flocked to the central Ukrainian city of Uman in a pilgrimage to mark the Jewish New Year.

The pilgrims – who go to Uman annually to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav – come from around the world, but mainly from Orthodox communities in Israel and the United States.

The gathering sees more than 30,000 pilgrims visit Uman, according to the Uman Emergency Clinic, a non-profit that supplies medical services for the gathering.

Uman, which is 191 kilometers south of Kyiv, has a population of roughly 86,000.


Rabbi Nachman died in 1810. A Hasidic Rabbi who is noted for combining notoriously legalistic Jewish exegesis with the Kabbalah, a brand of Jewish mysticism in vogue with Hollywood.

Nachman's teachings founded a sect of Orthodox Judaism called Breslover Hasidism, named for Bratslav, the Vinnytsia Oblast city where the rabbi spent much of his life.

Nachman moved to Uman in his later years. Before his death, he wrote that he would expiate the sins of any Jew who came to his grave on New Years.

In the Jewish religion, New Years occurs 10 days before Yom Kippur, the day on which Jews are supposed to atone for their sins of the past year. The Jews who travel to Uman believe that communion with Nachman's grave will allow them to further cleanse their souls.

"We're all gonna be in a better place because of him," said Zev Bennet, a 38-year-old pilgrim from Israel.

The pilgrimage's epicenter is located on Uman's Pushkin Street, a dusty road that winds down the hill where Nachman is buried. Many of the buildings that line the road have large banners with Hebrew writing on them.

During the Soviet Union, some pilgrims were able to receive visas for the pilgrimage, while others snuck across the Polish border, said Nachman Siegel, a New Yorker who has made the pilgrimage nearly every year since 1989.

"People come from all over," said Shmuel Siegel, Nachman's brother, who also resides in New York City. Siegel then said that on the flight to Kyiv he sat next to another pilgrim who was coming directly from the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

"It's all very spiritual," Siegel added.


Many of the pilgrims believe that Nachman's writings herald the coming of the Jewish messiah.

Though nobody at the gathering appeared to think that traveling to Uman would speed that process up, most pilgrims were quite open about their beliefs. Many of the pilgrims were anti-Zionist, believing that Israel's secular government is an abomination, and that the territory should be controlled by a theocratic Jewish government.

With the coming of the messiah, the pilgrims explained, Israel would cease to be secular, Israel would become a theocracy, and then the world would end.

One Israeli pilgrim named Mo Dori told the Kyiv Post that he became a follower of Nachman after a life of partying that nearly ended with a suicide attempt.

"When the messiah comes, all the bad guys are gonna go away," Dori said. "It's going to happen soon."


Residents of Uman have criticized the pilgrims for public drunkenness, saying that the event is a pretext for Orthodox Jews to get drunk and party near the grave of a man they consider holy.

Though this year's gathering passed in peace, pilgrims have clashed with locals in the past.

2010 saw 10 Hasids deported from Ukraine after getting into a knife-fight with local residents.

Since then, the Ukrainian authorities have taken steps to separate the main pilgrimage center from the rest of the city, with non-Jewish residents needing special authorization to make it past a police cordon that covers the area.
The festival was full of people swigging bottles of Corona or Carlsberg in between prayers. One teenage Hasid appeared to be sneaking a bottle of Glenfiddich whisky under his coat jacket to a ritual purification session, while many started the day with beer.

"It's all about loving each other," said Yitzhak Feldman, an Israeli pilgrim sporting a porkpie hat instead of a yarmulke along with aviator sunglasses. "It's fun – you pray when you want."


Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Man Attempts Attack on Rabbi Shteinman, shlita 

A man who was said to be "mentally ill" tried to attack Rav Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman, shlita, on Sunday night (Oct. 2) after the start of Rosh Hashana, the first of the Jewish high holy days, and the start of the Jewish new year.

The man was arrested by Israel Police.

Rabbi Shteinman, born 1912-1914 in Brest, is the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of the Ponevezh Yeshiva L'Tzi'irim, and is regarded as the generation's leading hareidi-religious posek (Jewish Torah authority) in the non-Hasidic Lithuanian stream of Judaism, since the passing of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, zt'l. He lives in Bnei Brak.


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Judge allows process for proposed South Blooming Grove building moratorium to proceed 

A judge who stopped a hearing on a proposed residential building moratorium in the Village of South Blooming Grove in August will now allow the process to proceed, the village attorney said.

Village Attorney Dennis Lynch said the judge issued an order last week that will restart the village’s effort to enact a three-month residential building moratorium.

“We have a good development,” Lynch said. “The Bankruptcy Court issued an order.” Now, Lynch said, the Village Board will redraft its proposed moratorium law at its next meeting, which is set for Tuesday, and schedule a public hearing.

The village was supposed to have its hearing on the proposed moratorium law Aug. 22. But Judge Nancy Hershey Lord, who sits in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Brooklyn, issued a restraining order. Lord acted on a request from Keen Equities, which wants to build a 566-home Hasidic subdivision, Clove Wood, at the former Lake Anne Country Club site on Clove Road. Keen had feared that the moratorium was an attempt to delay approval of Clove Wood while the village changes its zoning to reduce permitted density or otherwise rezone the Lake Anne site.

Lawyers for the developers and the village were supposed to appear before Lord Sept. 15 in Brooklyn. Lynch said the parties worked things out with a conference call, and the judge reached a “stipulation resolution,” allowing the moratorium process to go forward.

Lynch said the village agreed to exclude a number of projects that are already working their way through the planning process, including Clove Wood and a $6.6 million, 39,000-square-foot Sleep Inn hotel to be built on 11 acres off Route 208.

Keen bought the Lake Anne site for $15 million in 2006 to build “multi-family housing to accommodate the growing needs of the Satmar Community in Kiryas Joel,” according to a company statement in court papers. The purchase was financed by a $10 million mortgage from the Greene family, longtime owners of the property. Five years later, Keen defaulted on payments, and the Greenes sought to foreclose. But before the foreclosure could be finalized, Keen filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2013. It then reorganized and reapplied for approval of the project.



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