Saturday, December 31, 2016

Girl, 9, faces being shunned by ultra-Orthodox Jewish group for eating at McDonald's, her father claims 

A nine-year-old girl faces being ostracised by an ultra-orthodox Jewish community after her mother allowed her to eat McDonald's fast food and go to a mixed-sex gymnastics class, a court has heard.

The father of the girl, neither of whom can be named, said that he feared his daughter would be shunned by relatives and friends.

Litigation had started after the girl's mother left her husband and moved away from the ultra-orthodox sect in London, after she became disillusioned and frustrated by the restrictions placed on her.

Sitting in the Family Court, Judge Laura Harris ruled that the girl should stay with her father but spend time with her mother.

He however he then complained about the lifestyle the girl led when with her mother, and objected to her being allowed to eat McDonald's food and attend a mixed-sex gymnastics class.

The man also complained that his estranged wife had driven with the girl on the Sabbath, and had "dressed inappropriately" when picking the youngster up from her ultra-orthodox Jewish school.

Detail of the case has emerged in a ruling by Judge Harris, who did not identify the family involved, following the latest round of litigation at a family court hearing in London.

She said the woman had promised not to allow her daughter to eat meat in future, but objected to her daughter being made to leave a mixed-sex gymnastics class.

Judge Harris said the woman should not be forced to remove the girl from the class, in legal action brought after the man had hired a private investigator to follow his estranged wife.

The judge noted that the man had "repeatedly emphasised" his fear that the girl would be ostracised from her community, and said she was "very mindful" of that risk.

In November a ruling by another family court judge revealed that a Jewish man who left an ultra-orthodox community after splitting from his wife was accused of letting their two young children ride their bikes on the Sabbath and watch television.

The man's estranged wife told Judge Judith Rowe of her concerns about what the children were allowed to do when they visited their father.

She said she was afraid of them being "exposed to an alien way of life" and of religious rules being broken.

Judge Rowe had made decisions relating to when the children, who lived with their mother, should spend time with their father.



Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 ‘Worst Year’ for Ultra-Orthodox Suicides, Overdoses, Activist Says 

Boorey Deutsch can't keep track of the number of people he knew who died by suicide or overdose this year.

Four were close friends. One of them hung himself; one drove the wrong way on the highway and two overdosed. Others he knew in passing.

"I knew many of them, unfortunately," Deutsch said, in the matter-of-fact manner of someone grown used to tragedy. "It's not easy at all."

Activists are warning of a crisis on the edges of the ultra-Orthodox community. Amid a nationwide opioid epidemic and a surge in suicide rates, some insiders say that young people on the fringes of Orthodox life are being hit particularly hard. They aren't fully enmeshed in a religious community; nor have they left it altogether to build lives in the secular world. Deutsch, an anti-abuse activist, said that it was the worst year for these sorts of deaths in his community in recent memory.

The evidence for the phenomenon is anecdotal, experts say, but Zvi Gluck, who runs the Orthodox social service group Amudim, has claimed that 65 members of the Orthodox community in the New York area died of overdose in the past Jewish calendar year, and "dozens more" died of "unnatural causes."

It's unclear how Gluck arrived at those figures. He did not respond to a request for comment. But while Gluck's research lacks transparency, it's the only attempt thus far to quantify a phenomenon that Deutsch and others describe.

"The saddest part is that you couldn't read it on their face," Deutsch said. "Because of the community being so closed up, and them being scared, afraid of talking about it, or even showing it."

The rash of overdoses and suicides comes the year after the 2015 death of Faigy Mayer, a formerly Hasidic woman who jumped to her death from a Manhattan rooftop bar. The suicide received heavy coverage in the tabloid press.

Mayer was a member of Footsteps, the not-for-profit that helps people transition out of Orthodox communities. Footsteps' executive director Lani Santo said that Mayer's death spurred a major reaction in her community.

"In the aftermath of a horrific suicide last summer, people really self-organized, and said we will not have this happen again, not to ours," Santo said.

Footsteps members set up peer mental health support group, among other initiatives. In 2016, Santo said, there were no suicides in the community of formerly Orthodox Jews around Footsteps.

Instead, she and others said that the crisis that Gluck and others seem to be identifying is taking place in the margins between the organized ultra-Orthodox community and the organized ex-Orthodox community.

"There have been more suicides on the fringes," Santo said. "People who are still in, not fully out. Trying to navigate that in-between world."

These people still live in the world of religious Jews, but have begun to drift away, said the writer Shulem Deen, a former member of the Skver Hasidic group, author of the memoir "All Who Go Do Not Return" and a member of the board of directors of Foosteps.

"They don't find anything within the community, so they leave the community," Deutsch said. "Then they shut down, because who is going to listen to me, who is going to believe in me."

In September, Faigy Grunwald, granddaughter of the grand rabbi of the Puppa Hasidic sect, died of a reported overdose. In July, a 22-year-old construction worker named Yakov Krausz committed suicide, days after a Brooklyn woman named Rebecca Wasserstrum jumped from the George Washington Bridge.

"These people don't think there is anybody out there who will listen to them," Deutsch said. "The family is going to say, 'You're shaming the family.'"

Meanwhile, in Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, the emergence of Hasidic dealers has exacerbated the opioid problem by making it easier for members of the Hasidic community there to access drugs.

"At one time it was harder," said Yaacov Behrman, who runs Operation Survival, a project of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education, a Lubavitch-run group in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. "You would have to go out of the neighborhood, out of your comfort zone."

Deutsch says that the Hasidic community is unwilling to admit that mental health issues like depression and addiction are problems within their closed social circles, just as they are in the outside world. "Just like they worry about someone dying from cancer, this is worse than cancer," he said. "Why is this different?"

But some inside the Orthodox community are working to change the community's approach. Berhrman said that his organization trains the friends and family of addicts in the administration of Naloxone, a drug that can stop a narcotic overdose in its tracks.

"There's no question that we've experienced several overdoses over the last few years," he said. "For the first time, community educators and leaders are aware of the problem, and are working together to come up with creative ideas for prevention and how to deal with addition."

Gluck's Amudim, meanwhile, is well-connected in Orthodox circles. Gluck addressed the national convention of Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthdox umbrella group, in November. And his group has run drug abuse and overdose abuse sessions in Orthodox communities in Long Island and elsewhere.

Deutsch appreciates Amudim's efforts. Still, he's angry. "Knowing that there are people out there that could help, and the community not making it official, not making it available to people," he said. "It hurts more than the actual suicide situation."


KJ School Board approves boundary change 

The Kiryas Joel Board of Education has passed a resolution to alter the boundaries of the Kiryas Joel School District in order to remain coterminous with the borders of the Village of Kiryas Joel. 

This follows a request from the Village of Kiryas Joel to permit the residents of the 164-acre annexation to become part of the Kiryas Joel School District.

This property is now within the Monroe-Woodbury School District.

"The Kiryas Joel School District did extensive research to determine the fiscal and educational impacts of the boundary alteration," Kiryas Joel School Superintendent Joel Petlin said in a press release issued this week. "Our School Board believes that this will be in the best educational interest of the children and would support community relationships."

Under Section 1507 of the Education Law, school district boundaries can be altered with the consent of the two school districts.

Tax collection deadline
The impact of the alteration was analyzed by an advisory committee created by the Kiryas Joel School Board. The committee members represented all parties to this issue, including John McCarey, director of Orange County Office of Real Property Tax Services; Gerald McQuade, Monroe Town Councilman; Abraham Wieder, Kiryas Joel mayor; Gedalye Szegedin, Kiryas Joel administrator; Jon Huberth, Monroe-Woodbury School Board president; Patrick Cahill and Eric Hassler, Monroe-Woodbury assistant superintendents; Harry Polatsek, Kiryas Joel School Board president and Shaye Wercberger, Kiryas Joel School District treasurer.

Officials from the two school districts met on Nov. 15 where KJ school officials provided M-W's Boundary Line Alteration Committee information on special education, transportation, affected parcels and loss of property tax revenue.

The issue is now being reviewed by the Monroe-Woodbury School Board to determine if the district wishes to consent to a boundary alteration before the March 1, 2017, deadline set by Orange County, in order to be established for tax collection for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

What is not immediately known is what impact two lawsuits appealing the annexation of land by Preserve Hudson Valley and a coalition of municipalities will have.

"I was pleased to work with an excellent group of professionals on this issue and I am grateful to my colleagues at the Monroe-Woodbury School District who contributed to our work, continuing a tradition of cooperation that began in 1989," Petlin said.

The spector of East Ramapo
The decision by the Kiryas Joel School Board affirms what Kiryas Joel officials have said since the annexation issues first arose three years ago this month. 

Annexation is necessary, village officials say, because Kiryas Joel's population - now estimated at more than 25,000 people - could double within a decade. 

Should the school boundaries remain the same, residents in the 164 acres would remain in the Monroe-Woodbury School District, paying taxes, using various educational services and voting on school budgets and candidates for school board. 

The fear has been that with a population explosion in the area, the Hasidic community could have more say in school district matters, similar to what has happened in the East Ramapo School District in Rockland County. A state monitor now oversees that district after so many of its programs were cut, making it difficult for students to graduate.

Meanwhile, Monroe Town Supervisor Harley E. Doles III urged the Monroe-Woodbury School Board to act.

"The Monroe-Woodbury School Board has an obligation to say yes or no to the redrawing of the boundaries and not wait for the politics to reach the conclusion they seek," Doles said. "This is the only step that both school boards can take to avoid a school district far worse, far more destructive than East Ramapo."

'We're not there yet'
Meanwhile, Monroe-Woodbury School Superintendent Elsie Rodriguez said she expects the firm hired to weigh the pros and cons of ceding 164 acres to the Kiryas Joel School District to report its finding next month.

The Kiryas Joel School District announced this week that it would alter the boundaries of the district in order to remain coterminous with the borders of the Village of Kiryas Joel. 

"What the Kiryas Joel School officials have done is what they have always said they would do," Rodriguez said in an interview. "We're not there just yet."

In October 2015, the Monroe-Woodbury School Board engaged Questar III BOCES, State Aid and Financial Planning to assess the short- and long-term financial impacts of the annexation of land to the Village of Kiryas Joel. 

Questar will be using data from the school district to weigh the impact of the loss of tax revenues versus the elimination of services that are now delivered to the children living there.

The district's business office has been working with Questar to model state aid changes for M-W, which will be affected by the addition of students from the land proposed for annexation. The model will incorporate two scenarios, one that considers 164 acres and one that considers 507 acres.

What happens if ...
The superintendent said there are 70 Hasidic children and 16 non-Hasidic children living in the 164-acre annexation area now within the Monroe-Woodbury school boundaries. 

But both districts have discussed what should happen to the non-Hasidic students should the borders change and have informally agreed they could attend Monroe-Woodbury as tuitioned students.

Rodriguez said she expects Questar to deliver its findings by mid to late January to the school board.

Any border change also would need the approval of the district superintendent and state education commissioner.

"East Ramapo is an example of what can go wrong," Rodriguez said. "This is not a decision just for today, but 20 years from now. In the end, we will do what we have to do to keep Monroe-Woodbury Monroe-Woodbury."


Washington Square Park Receives Replacement Menorah 

A replacement menorah has been shipped to Washington Square Park after the original one (which was made of metal and stood at 6 feet tall, weighing over 100 pounds) was stolen over the weekend. Police were notified at around noon on Christmas Day.

The menorah belonged to Rabbi Peretz Mochkin, who supervises Chabad (a Hasidic Jewish organization) of the North Beach of San Francisco. It was located at Filbert and Stockton streets and reportedly stolen shortly before a scheduled candle lighting to mark the first two nights of Hanukkah. The news of the theft spread nationwide.

Upon hearing about the incident from a business partner, Sharon, Massachusetts resident Mitch Bogart (who holds a degree in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) shipped a wooden, fold up menorah (which he had built himself and reportedly kept in his garage) to Rabbi Peretz, his wife, Miryum Mochkin, and their five children. It is allegedly worth $700, excluding shipping charges.

NBC Bay Area shared that Bogart had crafted 15 menorahs this year. He had three left, two of which he gave to his sons (both of whom are rabbis), and the last of which was sent to San Francisco.

The Mochkins received the new model at around 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Rabbi Peretz has described Bogart's donation as "unbelievable." He and his children began putting the model together and are planning on decorating it. Rabbi Peretz and Miryum have expressed their gratefulness to reporters.

The family will reportedly display the fold up menorah and hold a candle lighting in Washington Square Park on New Year's Eve, which will mark the eighth night of Hanukkah.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Police honoured as part of Hanukkah celebrations 

At a special ceremony at Devonshire Mall on Wednesday, executive director of the Jewish Centre Rabbi Sholom Galperin paid tribute to the officers and invited police Chief Al Frederick to light a candle on the menorah. 

"The message of Hanukkah is to be able to increase light, to be able to show people that there is light in the world and there is good," Galperin said.

"What I know from speaking with police officers is there is always the light that they need to show their people, to help someone in need, to help someone in a crisis and they are sometimes the only light for that individual.

"What better way to be able to honour them and that's why we chose them," he added. 

For the past eight years, the Chabad Jewish Centre has been giving back to the community by supporting a different local charity. They've held toy drives, food drives and raised funds for organizations such as Street Help and Kids Kicking Cancer.

This year, they decided to honour the Windsor police and raise funds for Camp Brombal. The camp, run by Windsor police, gives local youth the chance to attend a summer camp. 

"We are a part of this community so we feel it's important to give back," Galperin said.

Frederick said it was an honour to be recognized by the Chabad Jewish Centre and to participate in the Hanukkah celebrations. He added he was very touched when Galperin approached him about raising funds for Camp Brombal.

"It brings a lot of pride to us as an organization to hear that we are being honoured by the Jewish community," he said. "The rabbi has reached out to us the last couple of years, he's made it a point to come and befriend us. He's tremendously enthusiastic and can't help but inspire and lead people."

Hanukkah — the Festival of Lights — expresses the universal message that ultimately good will prevail over evil, freedom over oppression and light over darkness. 

Along with the celebration there was also holiday food, crafts for the kids and a game of Dreidel, which is Jewish variant on the teetotum — a spinning top.

In its Hanukkah outreach campaign, the Chabad Jewish Centre of Windsor, joins thousands of Chabad centres across the globe in staging similar public displays of the menorah and its symbolic lights. Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement and one of the best known for its outreach. 


NYPD officers will be allowed to wear turbans and grow beards for the first time in bid to accommodate Sikh recruits 

The Sikh Officers Association welcomed the move as 'a proud moment for [the] Sikh community'

The New York Police Department is now allowing officers to wear beards and grow turbans in a bid to accommodate Sikh recruits.

Sikh officers will be allowed to wear turbans in place of the traditional police cap and grow beards up to a half-inch long, which are required for religious reasons.

Police Commissioner James O'Neill announced the new rules that affect all religious members on Wednesday following a graduation ceremony for new police recruits. 

Officers must first get approval and the turbans must be navy blue and have the NYPD insignia attached.

Male observant Sikhs often cover their heads with turbans — which are considered sacred — and refrain from shaving their beards.

Before, Sikh officers had to fit their turbans under their department issued cap. Beards were forbidden because they interfered with wearing gas masks.

Those who had a medical or religious exemption could wear facial hair only up to one millimeter in length.

O'Neil said there are about 160 Sikhs serving in the police department.

'We're making this change to make sure that we allow everybody in New York City that wants to apply and have the opportunity to work in the greatest police department in the nation, to make sure we give them that opportunity,' he added.

The move will also apply to Muslim recruits. Muslim women in the NYPD have been allowed to wear a hijab for several years.

At the Police Academy graduation ceremony, of the  557 recruits 33 were Muslim and two Sikh.

The Sikh Officers Association welcomed the move as 'a proud moment for [the] Sikh community'.

The new policy comes just months after a Muslim officer brought a legal case saying restrictions on beard length were unconstitutional. 

Masood Syed, a legal clerk in the NYPD who had worn a beard for years for religious reasons was told by his supervisors to shorten it. 

When he refused he was suspended, but NYPD reinstated Syed in June and the department agreed to review its policies.

Syed's case follows a similar challenge brought by a Hasidic Jewish probationary officer in 2013, who won a case against the department over the same policy. 


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

FBI questions Brooklyn landlord Moishe Indig in investigation into de Blasio’s fundraising 

Landlord Moishe Indig and other leaders of Williamsburg's Hasidic community are being questioned by federal investigators in their widening probe into Mayor Bill de Blasio's campaign fundraising.

Indig, who co-hosted a 2013 fundraiser for de Blasio with another political operative, Yitzchok "Isaac" Sofer, was reportedly questioned by the FBI, who also seized one of Indig's cell phones, sources told the New York Post.

The FBI was also looking to speak with Rabbi David Niederman. They previously interviewed Sofer, who was arrested last week for allegedly lying about his income to obtain $30,000 worth of food stamps — a move some speculated was intended to pressure him to cooperate with the campaign finance investigations.

Indig — who landed on de Blasio's "Worst Landlords" list when the mayor was the city's public advocate — is not a registered lobbyist, but sources said he lobbies on behalf of the community anyway. "Developers go to Indig with issues with their properties, hoping to get permits expedited or rezonings approved by the city," a source told the Post.

In 2013, Indig and Sofer convinced a faction of the Hasidic community — the Satmar's Aroni faction — to support de Blasio over Christine Quinn.

State and federal investigators are probing de Blasio's fundraising practices, and the city's Campaign Finance Board recently fined the campaign $47,778  for improperly spending public matching funds on plane tickets for his son, a makeup artist for his family and a second party to celebrate the mayor's election in 2013. 


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Maccabeats performance gives Denver-area Jewish community a novel way to ring in Hanukkah 

Movie theaters, Chinese food and now a cappella.

Hundreds gathered on Sunday afternoon at George Washington High School to watch a performance by the viral Jewish singing group The Maccabeats, kicking off Hanukkah in the Denver area and providing the city’s Jewish community a fun, alternative option to their unwritten Christmas Day traditions.

“Everything is closed on Christmas,” said Dana Stein, a long-time fan of the group who was at their concert while visiting family from New York. “It’s the jackpot.”

The Maccabeats are a yarmulke-clad a cappella ensemble named after the Maccabees, the ancient Jewish warriors who fought the Greek army and who are central to the story of Hanukkah. The group was founded at Yeshiva University in New York City several years back and have since taken their act on the road — internationally — and onto the internet, where their YouTube videos have won viral status.

Rabbi Raphael Leban, managing director of The Jewish Experience in Denver, said the idea behind Sunday’s concert was to give Colorado Jews a new way to gather and appreciate Hanukkah. There are many events centered around Christmas, he said, but a dearth of novel ways to enjoy what’s known as the Festival of Lights.

“We really wanted to give the Jewish community something fun and exciting,” he said. “The community in Denver has about 50,000 Jews in it. There ‘s a tremendous lack of involvement. The Jews need something to connect them to Judaism.”

The Maccabeats repertoire did just that, mixing traditional Hebrew songs with modern pop hits, such as Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”

“Hanukkah is one of the most under-understood holidays,” said Rabbi Ahron Wasserman, who heads up The Jewish Experience. “We really miss the whole point.”



Monday, December 26, 2016

New Zealand Jews Push To Keep Israel Embassy Open After UN Vote 

After New Zealand was one of four countries to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning Israel, the country’s Jewish community has called on the governments of New Zealand and Israel to work together to keep the Israeli Embassy in Wellington open.

The plea follows the recall to Israel of its ambassador in New Zealand, in the wake of the passing Friday of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s continued settlement building.

New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses said the Israeli Embassy is important to the Jewish community.

“The Israeli Embassy plays a vital role in Jewish life in New Zealand. It supports and promotes Jewish festivals and cultural activities, and facilitates business links between the two nations. The Embassy also has a key role in engaging with other religious groups throughout New Zealand,” she said.

She also said that the embassy is playing a pivotal role in next year’s commemorations of 100 years of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps campaign in what is now Israel. “It would be disappointing if the cooperation between the two countries on this historic event was lost,” she said.

“New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully has said Ambassador Itzhak Gerberg has been recalled for consultation. The New Zealand Jewish community hopes no further action is taken and both governments will focus on keeping the Israeli Embassy open,” she concluded.



Sunday, December 25, 2016

'Hasidic Jewish landlord trying to rid Brooklyn apartment building of Latino tenants,' lawsuit alleges 

Longtime Latino residents of South Williamsburg claim their Hasidic landlord is trying to harass them out of their apartment building — and out of their once diverse neighborhood.

Cindy Sanchez, Sara Oyola and Kathleen Santiago are now the only Latino residents in their Lee Avenue building, on their block, “and beyond,” they claim.

The rent-stabilized residents are suing landlord Naftali Steinmetz in Brooklyn federal court, saying their apartments are dangerously rundown.

Steinmetz has made their lives “unpleasant and untenable — the ultimate goal being to rid the building of all non-Hasidic Jewish tenants,” they charge.

Lee Avenue was once a melting pot, but over the years the neighborhood has become the heart of Hasidic Williamsburg.

Sanchez, Oyola and Santiago say they are shunned by their newer neighbors.

Steinmetz bought their building in 2006. Ever since, its Latino tenants have endured “years of neglect, fights in Brooklyn Housing Court for repairs, and incessant harassment to take buyout offers,” the suit says.

The three plaintiffs say they endured two winters without heat and their floors are warped and “visibly dangerous.”

Steinmetz didn’t return messages.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

Prominent De Blasio Fundraiser And Satmar Hasidic Lobbyist Arrested For Food Stamp Fraud 

Federal agents have arrested a prominent Satmar Hasidic lobbyist and fundraiser for Mayor Bill de Blasio on charges that he defrauded the food stamp program. Prosecutors accuse Isaac Sofer, head of governmental relations for the Central United Talmudical Academy, a Satmar Hasidic institution and one of the largest yeshivas in Brooklyn, of lying about his income and assets to collect $30,500 in food stamps benefits from 2012 to 2016.

Sofer's Williamsburg-based yeshiva organization held a fundraiser for de Blasio in 2013 following the mayoral primary, and shortly after the Aroni Satmar sect—followers of one of two feuding sons of Satmar leader Grand Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum—endorsed de Blasio.

Sofer has allegedly been collecting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits since 2010, with the provable fraud allegedly beginning in 2012, when he filled out a life insurance policy application listing his income as $100,000 a year and his assets as $600,000. He allegedly got the $1 million life insurance policy, but on subsequent food stamp applications listed his income at $0 to $25,000, declared no assets, and denied having a life insurance policy.

The Daily News reports that Sofer may have been questioned about his 2015 lobbying to mayoral Jewish liaison Avi Fink about development issues. Fink was reportedly questioned this year by the city comptroller about his meeting with a de Blasio donor who wanted, and got, a deed restriction lifted on the Rivington House nursing home, which the developer immediately turned around and sold to become luxury condos.

In a statement to reporters, Michael Tobman, consultant to the Aroni Satmar, said that Sofer's alleged fraud has no bearing on the community, and probably isn't a crime.

"It's apparent this is a personal matter having nothing to do with the community, or its institutions," he said. "I am sure, when all the facts come to light, this arrest will be revealed as a federal overreach, and more appropriate for a civil proceeding."

Central United Talmudical Academy was raided by the FBI in March, and the Forward reported that it is the subject of a separate federal investigation into possible fraud involving the National School Lunch Program. Last year, the Daily News published video that purportedly shows a teacher at one of the school's 15 buildings giving 5-year-olds the answers to an English assessment exam. The school is among those that have come under fire from parents of yeshiva students for failing to provide required secular education. The city has consistently refused to do anything to ensure that the schools do provide it (an Education Department investigation announced last year has not produced any public results, and the agency has wavered on whether it would consist of questionnaires for school administrators or pre-scheduled visits, which parents say would be inadequate to spot the problems).



Friday, December 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 'Election Upset' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


FBI reportedly arrests Brooklyn Satmar activist 

The FBI reportedly has arrested a Brooklyn Satmar community activist.

The FBI told the Forward that it had arrested Isaac Sofer, who manages government relations at a Williamsburg yeshiva connected to one of the hasidic movement's two grand rabbis, Aron Teitelbaum. The charges in Sofer's arrest were unclear.

In March, the FBI raided the Williamsburg yeshiva where Sofer works, the Central United Talmudic Academy. A person working in Williamsburg's haredi Orthodox schools told the Forward that leaders at the yeshiva said the raids concerned funds from a federal meal assistance program for children from low-income households.


First Hasidic woman judge sworn in with Yiddish song 

's not every day that you hear "God Bless America" sung in Yiddish, especially in a United States' court. But then again, December 22, 2016, was unlike any other day. It was the first time in history that a Hasidic woman was sworn into elected public office in the US, as a Civil Court judge in New York State.

On Thursday, Rachel "Ruchie" Freier took the oath of office as she became a Civil Court judge in Kings County's 5th judicial district. Freier was elected last September and her purview encompasses Borough Park and other sections of Brooklyn including Bensonhurst and Coney Island. Her official term begins in January and extends through 2027.

While some may be have been surprised to see a Hasidic woman ascend the bench, those familiar with the 51-year-old Freier's record of trailblazing achievements were not. The mother of six (and grandmother) earned a law degree from Brooklyn Law School while raising her family. She practiced law in Brooklyn and Monroe, New York and also served on the community board in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Freier also founded two organizations that have made an impact on her local Hasidic community. The first is B'Derech, a secular academic program that helps ultra-Orthodox men educated previously only in yeshivas gain a high school equivalency diplomacy so they can go on to higher learning or seek gainful employment.

The second in Ezras Nashim, an emergency medical technician program exclusively for women that meets the needs of religious women in the community. Freier herself reportedly still remains on call for Ezras Nashim.

On hand for Freier's swearing in was maverick Hasidic performer Lipa Schmeltzer, Pepsi's frontman in Israel. Schmeltzer honored the new judge and the occasion by singing "God Bless America" in Yiddish, the vernacular of large numbers of Brooklyn's Hasidim. Dressed in bright white, Schmeltzer stood out among his fellow Hasidim and the judges, all dressed in black.

True to his tradition of mixing different musical genres, Schmeltzer infused his Yiddish rendition of the patriotic song composed by Irving Berlin with unmistakeable gospel flourishes.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

First Hasidic Woman Elected To Public Office To Be Sworn In As Brooklyn Judge 

The fist Hasidic woman elected into public office in the United States will be sworn in as a judge in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Rachel Freier, a Brooklyn native, grandmother and mother of six, broke barriers after grabbing nearly 41 percent of votes in the 5th District election, beating two other competitors in the Borough Park election in November.

Freier grew up in Borough Park and attended Brooklyn Law School. She's also still on call for Ezras Nashim, the EMT company she helped found two years ago, specifically for Hasidic women.

Freier also volunteers for a program for at risk youth.

Freier says she hopes more Hasidic women realize they can achieve their goals without compromising their religious standards.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Another man charged in killing of Menachem Stark 

Prosecutors in Brooklyn said Wednesday that a fourth man had been charged in connection with the abduction and murder of 38-year-old real estate investor whose partially burned body was found in a trash bin in Great Neck in January 2014.

Charged with conspiracy in the abduction of Menachem Stark was Irvine Henry, 35, of Crown Heights, said Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Also indicted on charges for their roles in the conspiracy were Erskin Felix, 38, and his brother Kendall Felix, 28, also of Crown Heights. All three were also charged with tampering with physical evidence as well as first-degree hindering prosecution, Gonzalez said in a news release.

A state court jury in September convicted Kendel Felix, a cousin of Erskin, of first-degree kidnapping and second-degree murder, crimes for which he is awaiting sentence, officials said.

Wednesday’s indictment also accused Kendall Felix of second-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping, Gonzalez said in a statement.

The charges stem from the Jan. 2, 2014 abduction of Stark during an evening snowstorm as he left his office, located at 331 Rutledge St. in Williamsburg. Stark resisted but ultimately was thrown into the back of a waiting vehicle where he suffocated while being restrained, officials said. Stark’s partially burned body was found 17 hours later in a trash bin at a service station at 120 Cuttermill Rd., Great Neck.

Investigators said Erskin Felix had done construction work for Stark and enlisted his cousin Kendel in plot to kidnap the real estate investor and extort money from him. The plan went horribly wrong when Stark, a Hasidic man with seven children, was asphyxiated when one of the kidnappers sat on his chest, officials said.



Tuesday, December 20, 2016

KJ planner seek lead agency status for proposed 1,500 housing units 

The Village of Kiryas Joel's Planning Board is seeking lead agency status for the state environmental review of Veyoel Moshe Gardens, a 70-acre parcel where the developer has proposed building 1,500 housing units.

The developer, MYM Management, is seeking site plan approval.

The property, now home to deer, squirrels, songbirds, raccoons, foxes, rabbits and groundhogs, is located at the intersection of Nininger Road (County Highway 64) and Bakerstown Road (County Route 105) in the Village of Kiryas Joel.

'Housing shortage'
"The project will meet the needs of a growing housing shortage within the community," Planning Board Chairman Gershon Neuman wrote in the board's correspondence with potential involved agencies. "Included will be accessory uses including places of worship. The project will be served by Village of Kiryas Joel municipal water and sewer facilities. Access to the site will be by means of multiple access points on County Route 705 and County Highway 64. The project will be funded by private funds."

The involved agencies include the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Orange County, the Town of Monroe and the Village of Woodbury.

There are more than 25,000 people living in the Village of Kiryas Joel. In the last two years, the village has sought to expand its boundaries through annexation and more recently by seeking to break way from the Town of Monroe to create a new municipality — the Town of North Monroe — north of the Quickway. 

Annexation issues are in court; the call for a new town is in the hands of the Orange County Legislature. 

Regardless of the outcome of the annexation cases, Kiryas Joel officials have indicated the community's population would double within 10 years.

Housing developments in the unincorporated sections of the Town of Monroe are on hold as the town updates its comprehensive master plan.

Meanwhile, Hasidic families with connections to Kiryas Joel have been buying homes in nearby Woodbury and Blooming Grove.

Here are further highlights from the Planning Board's correspondence:

Veyoel Moshe Gardens will be located within the Kiryas Joel School District.

Protection will be provided the State Police, whose barracks are just across the street from the development, as well as Kiryas Joel fire and ambulance companies.

About 60 of the property's 70 acres will be developed in three phases, with the first phase to be completed in 2017 and will include 500 four-family houses. 

"Market demand will determine the timing of later phases," the report said.

The report states that the development will not create a demand for water. The report indicated 660,000 gallons per day would be needed and that will come from the Kiryas Joel municipal water system.

Meanwhile, the planning report indicated that 660,000 gallons of liquid waste would be generated daily and that that would be handled at Orange County Sewer District #1 at Harriman.

The report also indicated that sewer district does not need to be expanded. 

The report acknowledges that traffic will increase considerably and that may demand modifications to existing roads and the creation of new ones. 

There also will be the need for parking — up to as many as 1,500 spaces.

Access to public transportation already exists. Pedestrian and bicycle accommodations also will be made.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Battle over Arad synagogue continues 

The long-running struggle for control of a synagogue in the southern city of Arad spilled over into national politics this week, as haredi leaders condemned Arad Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo, accusing him of unfairly targeting the Gur Hasidic community and blaming him for recent confrontations in and around the synagogue in question.

"This is an ugly case of incitement, and it has unfortunately become a trend in several cities whose mayors think they can abuse Torah-true residents and harass them in every way possible, including preventing them from using appropriate buildings for prayers and educational institutions and harming their political representation," wrote the haredi daily Yated Ne'eman.

"Worst of all, these mayors attempt to de-legitimize the very fact these haredim live in their cities. These mayors have become world-class inciters, and we can only pray God will save us from their hands."

Since 2010, members of the national-religious and Chabad communities in Arad have faced-off against local Gur hasidim, who they claim usurped control over the house of prayer.

Protests and angry confrontations in and around the disputed synagogue have ratcheted up tensions in the divided community, with each side accusing the other of harassment and intimidation.

Veteran residents of the southern town who have accused the growing Gur community in Arad of a hostile takeover say the synagogue building has long been shared by both the Chabad and national-religious communities – a status quo they argue was violated by newcomers from the Gur sect.

Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo, who took office in 2015, has backed the claims of Chabad and national-religious residents, drawing the ire of leaders of the Gur community, including Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism).

Now, haredi leaders outside of Gur have endorsed the Hasidic sect in its struggle, claiming the dispute stems from broad anti-haredi bias.

"The haredi community has harshly criticized the trend of Israeli mayors ignoring their local haredi communities, and we strongly oppose this," rabbinic leaders of the non-Hasidic Degel HaTorah faction told Yated Ne'eman. "The case in Arad is an extreme example of the problem, which harms the synagogue's holiness and is therefore of concern to the entire haredi community."

Despite their endorsement, however, haredi leaders have called upon their followers not to take part in public demonstrations.

"There's a difference between fighting a mayor and holding public demonstrations. Our rabbis have instructed us not to participate in demonstrations," Degel HaTorah leaders told Yated Ne'eman.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Trumps Receive Secret Security Briefing by Israeli Intelligence; Friedman Next Ambassador 

A Palestinian walks past a souvenir shop displaying T-shirts bearing images of US President Barack Obama wearing a kaffiyeh and president-elect Donald Trump dressed as a Hasidic Jew in Jerusalem's Old City November 10, 2016. (Photo: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

US President-elect Donald Trump’s security team received secret briefings by Israel’s top intelligence officer in clandestine meetings in New York according to Israeli media. Yossi Cohen, who heads Israel’s famed Mossad international intelligence agency, reportedly briefed Team Trump on topics that included terror threats, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war and the Iranian nuclear deal, as part of a delegation arranged by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and led by National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel.

The Israelis also pressed the Trump team for cover at the United Nations regarding a Palestinian-initiated Security Council resolution outgoing President Obama is expected to support during his remaining time in office that will declare Israeli communities built on post-1967 land to be illegal. Last week, Trump announced the nomination of New York attorney David Friedman as the next United States Ambassador to Israel, raising a maelstrom of criticism on the political left.

During the campaign, Friedman raised eyebrows with his candid rejection of American policy standards regarding the Middle East including a promise to bestow recognition of full Israeli sovereignty over the entire city of Jerusalem and move the US Embassy there.

On Friday, Palestinian chief negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization Sa’eb Erekat told reporters that moving the embassy would mean “the destruction of the peace process as a whole.”

Other presidents-elect have promised to move the embassy but instead signed a national-security-based waiver every six months to override implementation of the 1995 law requiring the embassy to be moved. Some observers believe the first indication that Trump, too, will not deliver on his promise to move the embassy came with spokesman Jason Miller’s admonition that it was “premature to present a timetable for such a move.”



Saturday, December 17, 2016

7-foot menorah going up at White Oaks Mall 

A seven-foot-tall aluminum menorah will be on display for the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah on the lower level of White Oaks Mall in the Dick's Sporting Goods wing.

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder will be among dignitaries participating in the official lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 29, marking the sixth night of Hanukkah, which begins Dec. 25. (Jewish holidays begin at sundown the evening before specified dates.)

The Chabad Jewish Center of Springfield is behind the menorah, a new concept for Springfield, said Rabbi Mendy Turen, who founded the local branch of the organization when he moved to the city from Chicago this summer.

Chabad, an acronym for the Hebrew words denoting "wisdom, understanding and knowledge," has put up large public menorahs for the past 40-plus years, beginning with a public lighting near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia in 1974, according to Chabad's website. That was at the urging of the influential Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Hasidic group's leader, or "Rebbe," who died in 1994.

A smaller menorah, placed by the Chicago-based Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, said Turen, has been on display for years at the Capital Rotunda. Public displays of religion, like menorahs and nativity sets, have withstood legal challenges since a 1989 Supreme Court decision.

While Hanukkah is associated with celebrations in Jewish households, "part of the idea of the holiday is to publicize it," said Turen, one of the reasons Chabad has taken menorahs to public spaces. Much like the menorah in homes is lit in the doorway or front window, Turen wanted the large menorah in "a central place," with a lot of foot traffic.

Hanukkah commemorates the second century BCE victory of ragtag Jewish resistance forces against the armies of the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus. Reclaiming the profaned temple, the Maccabees had only a cruse of olive oil to light the candelabra before more oil could be procured eight days later, but the small supply miraculously kept burning, giving rise to the eight-day festival.

"It's a time to thank God for the miracles he has done and continues to do," said Turen, who runs the Chabad center out of his home with his wife, Sara. "It's a joyous holiday. It does have a prayer part, but we're asking God to continue to do miracles for us and the entire world."

"Light" is a central theme to Hanukkah, he added, literally and metaphorically.

"If you have a dark room and bring in a candle, it pushes away the darkness," said Turen. "We know the world is filled with negativity. We can push away the darkness in the world with the goodness that we do."

Hanukkah is a "rabbinic" holiday -- other holy days, like Passover and Yom Kippur have roots in the Torah, or Jewish written law and the source of the Ten Commandments -- but that doesn't diminish its significance, said Turen.

"People have had to sacrifice a lot to celebrate Hanukkah, to light the menorah," he said.

Some non-Jews, allowed Turen, know what menorahs or dreidels -- four-side spinning tops -- are or know that Hanukkah comes around in the winter time. The official lighting will come with some other Hanukkah delicacies, promised Turen, including sufganiyot, deep-fried doughnuts filled with jelly or custard and topped with powdered sugar, and latkes, shallow-fried pancakes of grated potatoes.

And that seven-foot tall menorah in the mall?

"It's a teachable moment for many people," acknowledged Turen. "Even Jewish people not involved in their community, it can remind them about the holiday. And it can bring awareness to non-Jews."



Friday, December 16, 2016

Expert: Small villages politically vulnerable 

Small villages are as vulnerable as they are attractive, New York state political and government expert Gerald Benjamin said Thursday.

Villages are attractive because they come with the legal authority to do things like control land use and annex property, said Benjamin, who heads the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz.

Villages are supposed to have a population of at least 500, but at least 70 or 80 villages in the state have fewer than that. Bloomingburg, according to the indictment from U.S. Attorney Preet Brahara, held 420 residents in 2014.

Such small populations make villages like Bloomingburg vulnerable politically through elections, Benjamin said, "and this is not the only example of alleged voter fraud. It's bad."

The voting power and patterns of Hasidic communities has become an issue in other Hudson Valley communities such as Kiryas Joel and Monroe in Orange County and Ramapo and the East Ramapo school district in nearby Rockland County.

The number of lawsuits around these communities "has gone wild," Benjamin said. "When you are relying on litigation to make decisions, it is not healthy."

He is not hostile to Hasidics, Benjamin said, "but I am hostile to breaking the rules."


Thursday, December 15, 2016

FBI picks up Shalom Lamm on voter fraud charges 

Inline image

Chestnut Ridge developers Shalom Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen were arrested on voting fraud charges Thursday morning.

An indictment unsealed Thursday charges Lamm, Nakdimen and businessman Volvy "Zev" Smilowitz with conspiracy to corrupt the electoral process for their efforts to bring in and pay people who did not live in the Village of Bloomingburg to vote in the 2014 election for mayor and trustee.

Lamm and Nakdimen established a presence in Bloomingburg when they began plans to build a 396-unit townhouse development called Chestnut Ridge, on land that was annexed from the Town of Mamakating into the Village of Bloomingburg. It became apparent in 2012 that the homes were designed to accommodate Hasidic families, which caused an uproar in the village of only a few hundred residents.

Vehement opposition to Chestnut Ridge grew, and a series of lawsuits and planning board decisions slowed construction of the project.

"When met with resistance, rather than seek to advance their real estate development project through legitimate means, the defendants instead decided to corrupt the electoral process in Bloomingburg by falsely registering voters and paying bribes for voters who would help elect public officials favorable to their project," the indictment said.

Lamm, Nakdimen and Smilowitz bribed non-local residents with money, subsidies and other items of value to vote in the 2014 village election, the indictment said. Lamm paid one person $500 per voter recruited, totaling more than $30,000 per month.


A Look Inside Bloomingburg’s Half-Built Satmar Yeshiva 

A battle for the upstate New York village of Bloomingburg is ending, and the Satmar Hasidim won.

While reporting on the progress of the Orthodox development in Bloomingburg, the Forward was given a tour of a new Satmar school for boys being built in an old warehouse in town. Signs in the school called it Mosdos Satmar of Bloomingburg. Below are some images of the school in progress. Work is expected to be completed on the 18,000 square foot facility in a matter of months.

A functioning yeshiva will be a major milestone for Bloomingburg. Religious schools are central to the lifestyle and identity of Orthodox communities, and the opening of a Satmar yeshiva in Bloomingburg will be a signal event in the development of the Hasidic community there. The Satmar rebbe, Zalman Teitelbaum, has paid at least one visit to the worksite.


How the Hasids Won the Battle of Bloomingburg — and Everyone Else Lost 

Chestnut Ridge under snow in 2014, left, and with construction completed in 2016.

When Mrs. F. and her husband decided to move away from Kiryas Joel, the upstate New York shtetl where they grew up, they went to their rebbe to ask for advice.

The couple couldn't move just anywhere. Both are members of the Satmar Hasidic group, and like all ultra-Orthodox Jews, they had special requirements: a place to pray, a place to take ritual baths, a place for their children to go to school. What's more, as followers of the grand rabbi of Satmar, they wanted to be somewhere a rebbe would be in control.

"I was looking to go to a place where there is authority," said Mrs. F., now 30. "There has to be someone that sets the rules."

The couple had their eye on a place a half-hour outside Kiryas Joel, in a tiny village called Bloomingburg. It was a cozy little house on its own lot near Main Street, with a wood burning stove and a shed in the yard. Back home, Mrs. F. says, something like that would set them back over $750,000. The house in Bloomingburg was on sale for a quarter of the price.

The place sounded nice, Zalman Teitelbaum, the Satmar rebbe, told Mrs. F.'s husband. But Teitelbaum said that could not be the rebbe of Bloomingburg. Not yet. Maybe someday soon.

It wasn't exactly a yes, and it wasn't exactly a no, so Mrs. F. and her husband decided to let fate decide. They put in an application with the bank that was selling the house, and they waited. When the deal went through, they bought on faith. "It was a sign from heaven that this is what we should do," Mrs. F. said.

Two years later, it looks like heaven may have been right.

Since 2012, Bloomingburg has been a battleground, the latest front in a multi-pronged conflict playing out across New York and New Jersey, as ultra-Orthodox communities seek room to grow. Upstate in Kiryas Joel, in the suburbs around New Square and Monsey, in Lakewood and Lawrence, and even in the heart of Brooklyn, Orthodox groups have clashed with their neighbors over expansion plans and control of local government.

To the Orthodox and their allies, resistance to new Jewish neighbors can look like anti-Semitism. To the non-Orthodox, the arrival of a Hasidic community, with its schools and its institutions and its rabbinic authority, can feel like an invasion.

In Bloomingburg, local governments and an Orthodox developer have faced off in court, and in raucous village meetings, amid a volley of accusations of voter fraud and hate crimes.

For years it looked as though Bloomingburg could go either way. Court challenges and political fights were heated, and it seemed like a real possibility that the new Hasidic village 80 miles north of New York City might fail. Without the Satmar rebbe's blessing, Bloomingburg was in limbo, a place where some Orthodox Jews might make a home, maybe, but not a full-fledged Hasidic village — what Yiddish-speakers like Mrs. F. would call a shtetl.

But now it seems like the battle for Bloomingburg is ending. New Hasidic families are moving in all the time. Construction on a ritual bath is ongoing. And down Main Street, just next door to the firehouse, a huge Satmar school for boys is nearly ready to open its doors.

Opponents, bereft, are trying to understand how they lost control of their village. Bloomingburg will be a Satmar settlement. The fight, it seems, is over.

Shalom Lamm Has a Plan

Bloomingburg is a bare intersection at the foot of the Catskills; a few vacant storefronts where cow country used to meet the Borscht Belt. These days, the cows are mostly gone, and the hack comedians are, too. What's left is a diner, a closed hardware store, a Chinese restaurant and a developer named Shalom Lamm, who has bought up nearly everything in sight.

For the locals who came to Bloomingburg for the rural quietude, for the dairy farms and the diners, the arrival of Lamm was the start of a slow-motion catastrophe.

Lamm came with a plan, according to secret documents revealed in court earlier this year: to build 5,000 units of housing in the area over a decade and a half. It would mean a giant change to the character for the area. The entire town of Mamakating, which encompasses Bloomingburg, had just 12,000 residents in 2010.

Lamm's intentions were kept quiet, and residents say they thought for years that he was building a golf course. When a dense set of single-family homes began going up on one of Lamm's lots in 2012, there was shock in Bloomingburg, followed by fury.

In fact, Lamm, the son of the prominent Modern Orthodox rabbi Norman Lamm, had been in touch for years with Satmar activists, who were interested in the developer's plans. The village was to be a bold new venture for the Satmar, a second upstate shtetl for the fast-growing, ultra-religious group. After the sect split in 2006, one of the two dueling Satmar grand rabbis, Aron Teitelbaum, settled in Kiryas Joel. His brother, Zalman Teitelbaum, took the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. While followers of both brothers live in both places, housing pressures in Williamsburg have spurred Zalman Teitelbaum's followers to seek a shtetl of their own.

By 2014, however, when Mrs. F. and her husband were looking to buy, the development had stalled out. Opposition in the town government and the courts had frozen construction. While some Hasidim had moved to Bloomingburg, progress had halted on the school, the ritual bath and Lamm's big development. On the streets of Williamsburg, where the rebbe lives, there were rumors that the Bloomingburg shtetl might fail.

"There was a time when there was uncertainty how it was going to pan out," acknowledged Samuel Stern, a Satmar activist in Zalman Teitelbaum's camp in Williamsburg. The rebbe will "not send people to a desert if it's not going to work out in the end," Stern said, meaning a village without the necessary basics for a Hasidic life. "He feels responsibility for these families."

Satmar settlements have failed in the past. A little more than a decade ago, Satmar leaders encouraged their Hasidim to move to Bayswater, a remote neighborhood in Queens. When zoning changes in Williamsburg opened up new housing there, the Bayswater project was dropped and Satmar who had already moved found themselves stranded, with no school for their children and no community. It was a disaster, and the Satmar leadership didn't want to repeat their mistake.

So when Mrs. F.'s husband asked Zalman Teitelbaum what to do about their move to Bloomingburg in 2014, the rebbe was noncommittal. "He was like, there were certain things that needed to be done to take it under his responsibility," Mrs. F. said. "He said, 'I'm in the middle of working it out.'"

(Mrs. F., like many Hasidim, was uncomfortable with having her name appear in the press. She agreed to be referred to by an initial.)

That was how things stood when Mrs. F. and her husband moved to town, and how things remained through their early months there. Mrs. F. says that the Hasidim she met when she moved to Bloomingburg were a hodgepodge of followers of different sects.

That didn't last.

In late 2015, a judge dismissed a federal lawsuit that the town had brought against Lamm. And early in 2016, candidates friendly to Lamm's development won the majority on the village board, lifting restrictions on building that their predecessors had put in place.

Unwelcome: Orthodox developer Shalom Lamm owns properties in the upstate New York village of Bloomingburg.

It's unclear exactly which changes helped convince Teitelbaum that he could officially take Bloomingburg under his oversight. Whatever the cause, Teitelbaum signaled the move in early 2016, making a weeklong visit to the village around Passover, just after his annual return from his winter home in Florida. To the Satmar, it meant that Zalman Teitelbaum had given Bloomingburg his official blessing. Bloomingburg was no longer just some village where some Hasidic families were making a go of it. It was now a Satmar village, with the Satmar rebbe's seal of approval. Almost immediately, things began to change.

Non-Satmar Hasidim have left town, according to Mrs. F. Construction in Lamm's development, called Chestnut Ridge, has resumed after years of holdups. The rebbe makes regular visits to check on progress.

"Everything is improving," Mrs. F. said. "It feels like it's actually going to develop into something."


That progress that's cheering Mrs. F. is the worst possible news for Danny and Leslie Wise.

The couple bought their converted farmhouse in Bloomingburg in 1999. It's a beautiful old building, with wood beams and plenty of space for their two cats. They moved up from Manhattan, but Danny Wise continued to commute to his job down in the city. He loved going back and forth. At night he would come home to the smell of the cows at the farm down the road. "To see the cows and then see the skyscrapers was the most amazing thing," he said.

That farm is now the site of Lamm's Chestnut Ridge development.

"The diary farm was what drew us," he said. "Now it's the bane of our existence."

The Wises, who are Jewish, have been vocal opponents of Lamm's development. Now that the battle is very nearly lost, they are in despair. The couple believes that their home is worth far less than what they paid for it nearly 20 years ago, and they blame Lamm's development. They say they are stuck.

"I feel bad that Williamsburg isn't big enough anymore, but what about me?" Leslie Wise said. "What about every member of this community who has sunk their entire life's worth into a house and home for their families?"

Their complaints about the changes wrought by the development are deeply felt, and wide-ranging. They say that the road into town is crowded with Hasidic people walking on the shoulder, and has become a hazard. They also say that neighbors are angry and suspicious of each other.

Most of all, though, they're angry about how it all happened. They feel like their town has been taken over by underhanded means. They feel like the state and federal officials they turned to for help have turned their backs. They see corruption everywhere, and they are furious at the people who let it happen.

"I don't trust anybody anymore," Leslie Wise said. "This has just been one lie after another."


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