Tuesday, February 28, 2017

De Blasio admits he pulls strings at city agencies for friends 

Mayor de Blasio admitted Monday that he has a long history of doing favors for community members who need help with city business — but claims it's OK because he "never pressures" his department heads.

During his first interview since being grilled Friday by federal prosecutors reviewing his campaign fund-raising, de Blasio tried to paint a rosy picture of the more than four-hour meeting by telling NY1 it went "fine."

However, he declined to discuss specifics about the session. Hizzoner also would neither confirm nor deny various media reports over the weekend that he helped Brooklyn Rabbi Moishe Indig, who raised money for him, in getting the Buildings Department in 2014 to lift a partial vacate order at a Hasidic school.

"I am not going to go into the tick-tock of it all," said de Blasio.

However, De Blasio did not deny picking up the phone in the past to try to remove bureaucratic red tape on behalf of certain individuals — dating back to his years holding public office before he became mayor.

"I will tell you, when I was a City Council member, public advocate and again as mayor, I believe it is perfectly appropriate to put an issue on the agency's plate, and the agency has to make the decision they see as right," de Blasio said.

Department heads might not directly answer to council members and the public advocate — but they answer to the mayor.

When asked by a Post reporter whether de Blasio's remarks were contradictory because the mayor calls the shots at City Hall, his spokesman Eric Phillips fired back, "You're being absurd if you think he should make every agency decision in a 350,000-person bureaucracy."

The mayor also denied recent allegations by John Ciafone, the husband of production company Broadway Stages owner Gina Argento, that his wife was pressured into delivering big-buck donations to de Blasio's 2013 mayoral campaign and now-shuttered nonprofit Campaign for One New York.

"I would never pressure anyone," the mayor said.

De Blasio was questioned for about 4½ hours Friday during a long­-anticipated sit­-down with prosecutors from Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara's office.

De Blasio defended taking off much of Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for the meeting, claiming the city still operated fine because he can "walk and chew gum" at the same time.

He said he believes"that all the topics" prosecutors raised "were covered" and that the session went well.

"I was happy to go in and recount the facts," he said. "It was fine."


Monday, February 27, 2017

'Hundreds' of US Jewish graves attacked in Philadelphia 

Scott Shandler (L) and Jon Lattanzio re-set a tombstone

Money is being raised to repair the graves and to identify and prosecute the apparently anti-Semitic attackers.

The vandalism comes less than a week after a Jewish cemetery near St Louis, Missouri, was vandalised.

And on Friday, religious slurs and swastikas were spray-painted in several neighbourhoods of Buffalo, New York.

On Monday morning, at least six Jewish Community Centers on the US East Coast - including in the Philadelphia suburbs - received telephone bomb threats, leading to building evacuations.

A man visiting his father's grave at Philadelphia's Mount Carmel Cemetery on Sunday called police after finding that approximately 100 headstones had been knocked over.

"I'm hoping it was maybe just some drunk kids," Aaron Mallin told WPVI-TV.

He added that it was "very disheartening" to find the damaged graves, and that he hopes that the vandalism was not motivated by anti-Semitism.

"But the fact that there's so many, it leads one to think it could have been targeted," Mr Mallin said about cemetery, which dates back to the mid-1800s.
Many of the headstones had been toppled over, and some had cracked in half.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that three adjacent Christian cemeteries were left undamaged.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney denounced the attackers, saying, "my heart breaks for the families who found their loved ones' headstones toppled... Hate is not permissible in Philadelphia."

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon posted a statement on Twitter saying, "#Philadelphia Jewish cemetery desecration is shocking and a source of worry. Full confidence #US authorities catch and punish culprits."

So far over $11,000 has been raised online to be donated to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, in order to repair the desecrated graves.

A reward of $10,000 is also being offered by the Anti-Defamation League for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.
The local chapter of Fraternal Order of the Police, a law enforcement labour union, is offering another $3,000.

On Saturday morning residents of a Buffalo suburb awoke to find bridges, cars, and a school playground defaced with anti-Semitic words and symbols.
Local residents are trying to raise $5,000 online in order to spare the school from having to pay the cost of removing the graffiti.

"South Davis Elementary [school] shouldn't have to take money out of classrooms because of these thoughtless and hurtful actions," one concerned resident wrote in an online fundraising drive.

President Donald Trump has been criticised by some inter-faith and tolerance charity groups for not responding with enough force to these and other hate attacks, which watchdog groups feel are happening with increased frequency.

The FBI is currently investigating over 50 hoax bomb threats phoned into Jewish Community Centres in at least 26 states since the beginning of January.

"Mr. President, it's time for you to deliver a prime-time nationally televised speech, live from the Oval Office, on how you intend to combat not only #Antisemitism but also Islamophobia and other rising forms of hate," the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect wrote on Twitter after the Philadelphia vandalism.

After several days of silence, Mr Trump denounced the vandalism of the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St Louis, where about 150 graves were desecrated last week.

Vice-president Mike Pence also visited the St Louis graveyard, where he denounced the "vile act of vandalism" and said "there's no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence or anti-Semitism".


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Pence pledges support for Israel at Jewish group speech 

Vice President Mike Pence on Friday reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to Israel in a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic acts in the U.S.

"If the world knows nothing else, the world will know this: America stands with Israel,” Pence told the RJC at the group’s annual leadership meeting in Las Vegas, the Associated Press reported.

He also said the administration is “assessing” a potential decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that, under President Trump, relations between Israel and the U.S. have already improved.

Pence similarly touted U.S. support for Israel during an address at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland earlier this week, promising that the Trump administration would stand by the country.
“Israel’s fight is our fight. Her cause is our cause. Her values are our values,” Pence said. “And under President Trump, America will stand with Israel.”

The continued affirmations that the administration will work to bolster the U.S. relationship with Israel is welcome news for some supporters of the Jewish state, who believe that relations between the two countries eroded under former President Obama.

Trump has dealt with questions about rising anti-Semitic acts in the U.S. by some of his supporters. The president condemned such attacks on Tuesday as “horrible.”

Pence visited a Jewish cemetery in Missouri this week that had been vandalized, similarly denouncing anti-Semitism. The vice president discussed that visit at the RJC meeting on Friday.

He also showered praise on GOP mega-donor and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is a major backer of the RJC and, along with his wife Miriam, donated millions to a super-PAC supporting Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Rest assured we're going to keep our end of the bargain, too," the AP quoted Pence as saying.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Jewish men attacked with hacksaw by men ‘shouting anti-Semitic abuse’ in Paris 

Two Jewish men have been attacked with a hacksaw in Paris after allegedly being called “dirty Jews” in a volley of anti-Semitic abuse.

The brothers, aged 17 and 29, said they were wearing kippahs as they drove through the suburb of Bondy and noticed the alleged attackers staring at them from a following van.

The elder brother told police he lowered his window to ask what the driver was doing after he started swerving in front of their car, LCI Radio reported.

“I do what I want to on the road,” he allegedly replied. “You dirty Jews! Bastards! You’re all going to die!”

The brothers said they feared a crash and were forced to stop outside a shisha bar, where the van driver pulled a weapon described as a hacksaw out from the back of the vehicle.

They said they attempted to flee but were chased and beaten. The elder brother was reportedly punched to the ground before his attacker moved the saw to his throat.

The teenager said he struck the assailant before struggling for the saw, leaving him with wounds that needing hospital treatment.

France’s National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism (BNVCA) denounced the attack on Tuesday evening and has offered legal representation to the victims.

“The BNVCA asks the police to do everything possible to identify the anti-Jewish aggressors, a father and son described as of North African origin,” a spokesperson said.

The manager of the bar where the incident took place told French media he saw an attacker with a saw and “intervened before something more serious happened” but did notice any religious symbols.

“I saw neither Jew nor Muslim nor Christian nor atheist at the scene,” he added.

No arrests have been made in relation to the attack. It came amid fears over anti-Semitic violence in France, where a gunman loyal to Isis killed four people at a kosher supermarket in January 2015.

Extremist gunman Mohammed Merah also targeted a Jewish school in a shooting spree that left seven people dead in 2012, while the Brussels Jewish Museum was attacked by an Isis supporter in neighbouring Brussels in 2014.

France, which has the third-largest Jewish population in the world, has seen a decrease in reported anti-Semitic attacks over the past two years according to interior ministry figures.

Bondy lies near the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, which has been hit by waves of protests and rioting following a police officer’s alleged rape of a black man.



Friday, February 24, 2017

Feds will question de Blasio about campaign fundraising 

Mayor de Blasio will be questioned by federal prosecutors Friday morning as part of the wide-ranging investigation into his campaign fundraising, sources told The Post.

The long-anticipated sit-down with prosecutors from Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara's office will take place at the Midtown offices of the mayor's lawyer, Barry H. Berke of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, sources said.

The feds have been probing whether de Blasio and his aids traded favors in exchange for donations to his 2013 campaign or to his shuttered nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York.

Recently, investigators have been zeroing in on de Blasio's relationship with rabbi and political fundraiser Moishe Indig, a leader in Williamsburg's Hasidic community who hosted a fundraising event for the mayor in Oct. 2013, The New York Times reported.

The feds seized one of his cell phones in late December, and have been probing whether de Blasio may have given favors to Indig — who landed on de Blasio's "Worst Landlords" list when he was still public advocate — for his support.

Investigators have also been probing his relationship with restaurant owner Harendra Singh, who is facing bribery and tax-evasion charges and has been cooperating with the feds.

Meanwhile, grand juries have been hearing evidence related to separate state and federal inquiries into the de Blasio administrations fundraising practices.

De Blasio's spokesman Eric Phillips declined to comment on the mayor's meeting with the feds.


KJ outgrowth expands 

A new 20-page real estate brochure distributed widely within the Village of Kiryas Joel and other Hasidic enclaves in New York offers a primer on buying property and obtaining mortgages.

The publication, Der Bayis, also details single-family retails in the Village of South Blooming Grove and homes for purchase in Woodbury.

The brochure, mostly in Yiddish but with half a dozen pages in English, is the latest evidence of what Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin has called "the KJ outgrowth." That describes as the growing need for housing for Kiryas Joel families, who are looking to nearby communities in Blooming Grove, Monroe and Woodbury instead of waiting for housing being built in Kiryas Joel itself and that is planned in the 164-acre annexation area.

The Photo News had the brouchure translated by a person with no connection to Kiryas Joel. This was the same translator who the newspaper hired last year for publications that also address growth within the community.

The KJ outgrowth
Monroe Town Supervisor Harley E. Doles estimates that the town's population is 50,000, including 30,000 Hasidic residents. Kiryas Joel officials have said it's population will double within a generation. 

There are building moratoriums in Monroe and in neighboring communities. In Monroe, there are five developments on hold. 

Just this week, the Times Herald-Record reported that Kiryas Joel will begin rezoning the 164-acres annexed from the Town of Monroe. The decision allowing the village to do that is still being appealed by a consortium of neighboring communities as well as the non-profit Preserve Hudson Valley. 

Into this mix is a petition from more than 500 residents living in the section of Monroe north of Route 17 who have asked Orange County to allow it to secede from the Town of Monroe and create a new entity - the Town of North Monroe.

"North Monroe should be designed as a global settlement of all land and bloc-vote disputes in this area of the county," Szegedin said in an email exchange with The Photo News earlier this month. "All bloc-voting communities should be melted into one Town of North Monroe, and be forever eliminated from having any political impact on Monroe or Woodbury and MWSD." 


New Square: Swastikas, 'get out' spray-painted on fence 


Nazi swastikas and the words "get out" were spray-painted in black along a vinyl fence on the border of this Hasidic Jewish village, in the latest anti-Semitic incident in Rockland County.

Residents found the graffiti Tuesday night on Polnoya Road. It was painted on a white, 6-foot high fence separating the village from the Friedwald House rehabilitation facility on New Hempstead Road in New City, Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said Thursday.

Police detectives were called to the scene at 8:10 p.m. and are continuing to investigate the incident.

"At this time, it cannot be determined how long the graffiti has been on the fence but it appears to be have recent," Weidel said.

Mayor Israel Spitzer called the spray-painting bigoted and an attack against the community, which was formed in 1961 after Skver grand rabbi Yaakov Yosef Twersky sent a group of followers from Williamsburg in Brooklyn to a 130-acre dairy farm bought in 1954 along Route 45.

Twersky led his followers to the United States from Ukraine after the Holocaust and World War II.

"On behalf of the residents of the Village of New Square and in the strongest terms possible, I condemn this hateful act of anti-Semitism against our community," Spitzer said.

Spitzer said he is confident that Ramapo police and Rockland Sheriff's Office "will do all they can to try to identify the individual or individuals behind this crime."

Rockland County Executive Ed Day condemned the graffiti as "another act of hate in our community."

"These actions do not reflect or represent the sentiments of the vast majority of people who live in Rockland and value the diversity of our county," said Day, adding that the county's Department of Human Rights was reaching out to New Square leaders.

Earlier this month, The Journal News/lohud reported that swastikas and other hate graffiti had been spray-painted on a dozen trees in a wooded area off Heritage Drive in New City. That case had been first reported to Clarkstown police in July; they have not made an arrest and the graffiti remained on the trees for months after its discovery.

The property owner painted over the swastikas shortly after The Journal News/lohud report was published.

Another incident occurred just after the tree spray-painting when people detonated three powerful M-98 fireworks on Aug. 9 outside the homes of two rabbis with the Chabad Lubavitch of Rockland. Clarkstown police said they had identified young suspects but they lacked enough evidence to charge them.

The swastikas spray-painted in New Square comes at a time when tensions are high in Ramapo over housing, social and other issues.

It also comes at the same time as a rash of bomb scares toward Jewish community centers and a reported increase in anti-Semitic incidents around the nation.

Anyone with information regarding the New Square case can call the Ramapo Police Department at 845-357-2400.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Teacher fired, investigated over abuse allegation at Yeshiva 

The president of an Orthodox Jewish school in Squirrel Hill said Wednesday that an elementary teacher was fired in September after a witness reported observing him having inappropriate sexual contact with a child.

Shlomo Jacobs, president of the Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, said Nisson Friedman had been a teacher at the school since 2014 before his firing.

Mr. Friedman, 26, of Squirrel Hill, taught boys in the first and second grades. He is married, but his wife has initiated divorce and custody proceedings. according to documents filed in the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. The couple has a young child.

According to his wife's filing, Mr. Friedman "is currently under investigation in Pittsburgh, PA for at least one incident of child sexual abuse with a minor other than (the couple's own) child. These allegations … relate to the Pittsburgh school at which (Mr. Friedman) was employed at the time. He was fired shortly thereafter."

The court approved her petition to receive sole custody of the child on an interim emergency basis due to the investigation.

The Pittsburgh Police sex assault squad is investigating Mr. Friedman but no criminal charges have been filed. Police spokeswoman Sonya Toler confirmed the investigation. Pittsburgh police have been in touch with the Allegheny County District Attorney's office regarding the investigation, said spokesman Mike Manko. Neither would comment further.

Defense attorney Stanton Levenson confirmed he is representing Mr. Friedman in a criminal investigation but said he was unable to comment further.

Mr. Jacobs said the incident that sparked Mr. Friedman's firing occurred on a Saturday in September during Sabbath services. He said Mr. Friedman was helping to tend children during a youth service being held in the library of the Yeshiva boys school while Sabbath services for adults were held separately in the first-floor synagogue at the school.

Mr. Jacobs said someone witnessed Mr. Friedman in an inappropriate sexual contact with the boy.

"It happened on a Saturday and Mr. Friedman was let go on the next day," Mr. Jacobs said. Also, he said, a child abuse report was made to the state. "We followed all mandatory reporting guidelines," he said, adding that this was the first time in the school's history there had been suspected abuse.

The Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh include the boys school and administrative offices at Hobart and Wightman streets and the girls school and preschool campus at Forbes and Denniston avenues.

The Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh operate a daycare through 12th grade. Mr. Jacobs said the facilities care for and educate some 460 children and graduate annually between 40 and 50 seniors.

Mr. Jacobs said since the initial incident, "several" other allegations have been brought forward during the police investigation. A school community meeting was held Jan. 31 with city police Detective Bryan Sellers. The school has asked parents who want a "forensic examination" of their child to contact the detective at 412-323-7141.

Mr. Jacobs did not spell out the number of allegations made against Mr. Friedman but said police told the school there have been "several."

The school is affiliated with Chabad Lubavitch of Western Pennsylvania.

The Chabad Lubavitch movement is an internationally active portion of the strictly observant Hasidic movement, which itself is part of the wider stream of Orthodox Judaism. Chabad Lubavitch adherents are known for their distinctive attire, including long, dark coats worn by men and long, modest skirts worn by women, and for urging other Jews to be more observant of Jewish laws and practices.

A call to Mr. Friedman's phone number in Pittsburgh was not answered. Family members who reside in Minnesota did not return messages. Mr. Levenson declined to make his client available for comment. According to the divorce proceedings, Mr. Friedman has been living with family in Brooklyn while his wife and child stay with relatives in California.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hasidic Matzoh Factory With No Sprinkler System Damaged In Brooklyn Blaze 

A Brooklyn matzoh factory owned by a Satmar Hasidic congregation burned on Tuesday after the owners failed to install a sprinkler system, workers and the New York Fire Department said.

The fire broke out in the wee hours of morning, in a wood-burning stove that was being used for the first time. Operated by the Yetev Lev D'Satmar Congregation, the building has $40,000 in building code violations, according to those records. Five thousand dollars of those charges are due to the lack of a sprinkler system.

Matzoh production is starting to perk up as this April's Passover holiday fast approaches.


Kiryas Joel's annexed tracts awaiting development 

A preliminary ruling by an appeals court last week turned a corner in the legal fight over Kiryas Joel's annexation of 164 acres, enabling the village to rezone those properties and field applications to develop that land at what will almost certainly be greater density than the Town of Monroe would have allowed.

Generally known in shorthand only by its total land size, the 164-acre area filling in crevices in Kiryas Joel's jagged border includes a lake and a swank new housing development that reduce the amount of land available for construction. All told, after subtracting those properties, roads and other pieces unfit for development, village officials estimate that roughly 95 acres in the annexed territory could be developed - or enough for about 2,000 housing units under current village zoning.

Among the biggest tracts awaiting development is a recently cleared area near the corner of Forest and Mountain Roads, a nearly 25-acre opening with housing all around it. For about a dozen years, electronics mogul and developer Ziggy Brach has nurtured plans for a housing complex called Forest Edge at that site - a project with 55 lots under Monroe's zoning. But with that land now part of Kiryas Joel and subject to new zoning rules, it soon could be eligible for denser development.

Across the village is another big piece of open land in the annexation area: the Monroe section of a farm field that straddles two towns. The landholding arm of the Hasidic community's main congregation bought ACE Farm - a 140-acre expanse in Monroe and Woodbury - for almost $12 million in 2004, and has left it untouched as a bucolic neighbor since then. Now, a 20-acre corner of the farmland off Acres and Bakertown Roads is part of Kiryas Joel and subject to whatever new zoning is put in place.

Village officials said last week that they expect rezoning to take a few months, and it's unlikely any major development will take place in the annexation area until that process is over. In the meantime, two court cases challenging Kiryas Joel's annexation in 2015 remain pending in the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court. Both sets of plaintiffs - the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley and a government coalition consisting of Orange County and several towns and villages - have appealed Supreme Court Justice Gretchen Walsh's dismissal of their lawsuits in October.

An Appellate Division panel last week rejected the plaintiffs' requests for preliminary injunctions that would have stopped Kiryas Joel from rezoning the annexation area or permitting denser development than Monroe allows while the appeals are pending. That cleared the way for the village to take control of the future development.

Across Mountain Road from Brach's Forest Edge property are more than 10 acres of annexed land that can't be developed at higher density, because upscale homes have just been built there under Monroe's zoning. Builders there are finishing construction on Vintage Vista, a complex with 28 housing lots that at least in some cases have been turned into duplexes with two separate homes. Homes in Vintage Vista are as large as one with 6,900 square feet of living space and nine bedrooms, according to county records.

Also off the table for development is Coronet Lake, which takes up much of a 35-acre parcel off Acres and Bakertown roads. Kiryas Joel's consultants have estimated that about seven acres are fit for construction.


Blooming Grove to vote on extending building moratorium 

With minimal opposition surfacing at Tuesday's public hearing on extending the town's building moratorium, the Blooming Grove Town Board was poised to approve a three- to six-month extension.

A vote is expected Tuesday on a local law extending the moratorium on the development of "any and all real property" in the town. That vote is expected at 7:30 p.m. as part of the regular Town Board meeting.

The three-month moratorium that will expire soon was enacted in November so the town could freeze construction while it updates its master plan. Supervisor Robert Fromaget said that master plan work is not complete, so the town will tack on the extension.

At Tuesday's hearing, Kathy and John Stegenga, who have been working with a Bronx-based solar company since November 2015 to install a $2 million solar array at their farm, pleaded for an exemption to the moratorium.

"We have been trying to work with the town from the beginning," said Kathy Stegenga, as she pushed her case for a hardship waiver. "This project would have the least impact on our neighbors." Fromaget said he's getting a legal opinion on the Stegengas' request.

The Stegengas said their plans call for a 2-megawatt installation, to be constructed by OnForce Solar, on 20 acres of their 100-acre farm. The farm is located off Woodcock Mountain Road, south of the Village of Washingtonville.

On Feb. 6, the South Blooming Grove Village Board approved a six-month residential building moratorium. That local law specifically excludes two major projects in the village: the proposed 566-home Clovewood Hasidic development near the intersection of Route 208 and Clove Road, and a 39,000-square-foot Sleep Inn, to be located off Route 208. Clovewood is going through the state Environmental Quality Review Act process. Work has started at the Sleep Inn site.

On Tuesday, the Washingtonville Village Board held a discussion about a building moratorium in Washingtonville.


How Secular Jerusalem Neighborhood Plots To ‘Choke Off’ Orthodox Newcomers 

The ultra-Orthodox need to be "choke[d]" so they don't take over traditionally secular Jerusalem neighborhoods, said the head of a Jerusalem neighborhood group.

Yehiel Levi, the head of the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood administration said Kiryat Hayovel, a neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem, will not include ultra-Orthodox kindergartens in public building projects as a way to put a lid on the increasingly religious presence there,reported Haaretz.

Screening movies on Friday nights could also send a message to the Hasidic newcomers that they are unwelcome.

"When you choke them they leave. The idea is to make it difficult and when you make it difficult then they're not enthusiastic about coming to live [there]."

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat demanded Levi's resignation from the neighborhood administration, which is partly run by the municipality. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also condemned the remarks as bigotry.

The holy city has become a battleground in recent years between a fast-growing ultra-Orthodox population that hopes to enforce religious edicts of modest dress and Sabbath observance and secular Jews who seek a more permissive environment in their neighborhoods.


3,000 Hasidic Women Leaders From Around the Globe Convene in New York 

It felt like a family reunion. Thousands of women were hugging, waving to friends and snapping pictures in every part of the newly renovated Pier 12 Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at the Sunday-night gala banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchos).
The annual dinner event, which featured speakers, live music and inspirational stories from women serving Jewish communities around the world, wrapped up a long weekend of learning, socializing, praying and recharging in Brooklyn, N.Y., for emissaries, lay leaders and guests.

Chani Shemtov, co-director of Chabad at the University of Illinois at for the past nine years with her husband, Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov, served as the evening's MC. "Standing here, taking in this awe-inspiring crowd, the thought that comes to mind is that the entire world is represented right here," said the child of emissaries from Johannesburg, South Africa. "And you, you are the women who hold up our world. There's a spot in the world to which you dedicate your heart and soul. Your waking moments—and many of your should-be sleeping ones—are filled with thoughts of how to infuse your corner of the world and your community with the light and warmth of Yiddishkeit."

Each time a speaker came to the podium to talk about their victories and struggles, heads around the room nodded in agreement. Woman after woman took the stage to address the challenges of being far from people with shared experiences, and also speak about the tools they use to stay connected and bring new ideas to the communities they are building and supporting in 91 countries around the globe.

Growth and outreach were the words emphasized by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. While he praised the shluchosfor their tremendous work, he noted that "there are so many more people to reach. You can't leave out even one person."

He urged the women to "go back with the strength and purpose," encouraging them to take their newfound energy to "reach each and every Jew."

Kotlarsky recognized not only the spiritual work of the emissaries in an evening dedicated to "Permeating the World With Sanctity," but the nitty-gritty as well. On one hand, he said, "shlichus is about spreading holiness and making the world a dwelling place for G d. But at the same time, it comes down to the mundane—the day-to-day life, the cooking and the cleaning and the preparing and making programs, worrying about the bank, worrying about challah-baking, raising children . . . everything that goes into your lives."

The conference brings it all together. "This Kinus," he stated, "is about living up to what the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] wants from us."

Later in the program, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, noted that the entire event honors the 29th yahrtzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson. He told story after story of the Rebbetzin's kindness, generosity and regal bearing.

As longtime secretary to the Rebbe, he often served as driver to the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin. "There are many, many times I went riding with the Rebbetzin in different places for different lengths of time for different purposes," he related, "and each time, it was very special. I recall her wit, her wisdom; conversations were very, very enlightening, very brilliant. It was just a pleasure to spend time with her."

And while "she is what sustained her husband," he affirmed—looking directly into the room and getting emotional as he said the words—"she adored you. She loved you."

A Different Kind of Connection

Dalia Coleman got involved with Chabad of the coastal city of Milford, Conn., five years ago on a friend's recommendation. On Sunday night, she sat at a table with Chanie Wilhelm, who co-directs Chabad of Milford with her husband, Rabbi Schneur Wilhelm, as they dined alongside members of Wilhelm's family. (Wilhelm and three of her sisters, who serve as emissaries in Scotland, Vietnam and the Netherlands Antilles, read the International Roll Call this year.)

Coleman said she was impressed to see multiple generations of families involved in the same pursuit, noting that "this is so important to them."

In today's turbulent times, she continued, it's meaningful to see such positivity, with a focus on Yiddishkeit. She sees it play out locally at the Wilhelms, where everybody is welcome. And on Shabbat, they put daily matters aside to share in the beauty the tradition offers. "It's a sanctuary on Friday night and Saturday from all the mundane things," said Coleman, "it's a different kind of connection to the world."

Wilhelm noted that the Kinus is an event people look forward to the rest of the year. "It serves to boost Jewish unity," she said, "and feelings of unity among all the shluchos."

For Sara Rosenfeld, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, Rabbi Yisrael Rosenfeld, and who heads the curriculum at Beth Rivkah Primary School, the conference is a place to become inspired and rejuvenated. Growing up in Houston in an emissary family, she has now lived and worked in Australia some 28 years. "The world is smaller," she said, citing technology that makes it easier for emissaries to stay connected, "but it's not the same as sitting down with sisters from around the world." 


Developers of Big Bed-Stuy Complex Drop Religious Housing for Luxury Condos 

Brooklyn's neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant is about to receive its most expensive complex. According to The Real Deal's sources, the developers of the seven-building Cascade condominium complex have dropped its plans for religious housing and will instead install luxury apartments. 

A group of investors from the Hasidic Satmar community in Williamsburg are the developers, who are planning to put the majority of the 301 apartments in the building constructed on the property that formerly held the Cascade Linen factory on the market with list prices between $1 million and $2 million, according to TRD's sources. The offering plan had not yet been approved by the New York State Attorney General's office, however sources say that approval is expected to come by late-April. 

TRD reports, "For nearly a year, the developers have been seeking construction financing, initially $144 million. Over that time, the first phase of construction – three of the structures – has been underway. Sources said the development group has been self-funding the project in the interim and is finalizing a deal to secure about $100 million in financing from an unidentified lender to complete the project.

Isaac Deutsch is leading the development in partnership with Abraham Brach and Nachman Leibowitz. They bought the site from Mike Kohn's Alliance Capital Group for $70 million in 2015, property records show. Kohn had paid only $27 million for the nine factory buildings on the site in 2013, but then filed plans for a residential complex. Deutsch and partners have largely followed through with those plans, with the intention of marketing the apartments to families and other members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Those condos are commonly sold at a discount, below market-rate."

The prospective residents for the complex have been very diverse, according to a source close to the developers. The source said, "Anybody who wants to buy there can." 

Two 10-story building, one nine-story building, one eight-story building and three six-story building will make up the whole complex that will be a total of approximately 340,000-square-feet. A city incentive allowed the residential component to be expanded by the developer through the inclusion of a 20,000-square-foot supermarket. The site, which between 1898 and 2010 was the location of a linen factory, contains the addresses 553-569 Marcy Avenue, 833-869 Myrtle Avenue and 90-134 Stockton Street.

The average asking price is $750 per square foot, according to TRD's sources.

Dave Maundrell of Citi Habitats, who is no longer involved in the project but had previously consulted on its design under Kohn, said, "Based on my knowledge of this property and experience in this section of Brooklyn, the neighborhood does not demand pricing north of $1 million for a development of this size."

The architect of record for the project is Samuel Wieder. Within the next six to eight months, the first three buildings are expected to be finished. The remainder is scheduled for completion by late 2018.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

100 Headstones damaged at historic Jewish cemetery; FBI investigating JCC threats 

The FBI and the Justice Department have been investigating a series of bomb threats, at least seven so far this year, directed at Jewish community centers and now the vandalism of over 100 headstones at a historic Jewish cemetery that was first reported early Monday morning.

Investigators with the University City (Missouri) Police Department are working to determine who knocked over or damaged several headstones, according to KTVI- TV.

The Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery opened in 1893, according to its website. 

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens posted a statement on Facebook late Monday night calling the vandalism "despicable'' and "a cowardly act."'


Monday, February 20, 2017

How much does the campaign against haredi soldiers cost? 

A series of pamphlets distributed in haredi population centers around New York was publicized in haredi news outlets on Monday, revealing the origin and scope of funding for the “hardak” shaming campaign against haredi soldiers in the IDF.

Supported by fringe elements within the haredi community, a small number of anti-Zionist radicals have targeted haredi soldiers, harassing them in public and vandalizing their homes.

The “hardak” campaign also works to incite the larger haredi community against soldiers, accusing them of collaborating with an alleged effort by the government to destroy the religious community.

According to the fundraising pamphlets, the cost of the bi-weekly handbook distributed to haredi households comes to $800 for each publication. A second handbook, geared towards the Mizrahi and Sephardi communities, is released once a month at a cost of $3,000 for each publication.

Lining the streets in haredi neighborhoods with posters – a commonly used form of advertising in the haredi community – costs $2,000 for every posting operation.

The fundraising pamphlet, produced by the Edah Haharedit extreme haredi organization, was distributed primarily in Satmar communities in the US, and is unrelated to efforts by the Yerushalmi Faction, a non-Hasidic group also opposed to the draft law.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Pence visits Dachau concentration camp amid fears of rising anti-Semitism in US 

US Vice President Mike Pence visited the Dachau concentration camp memorial site on Sunday, just days after his boss took flack for a bizarre response to a Jewish reporter's question about anti-Semitism in the United States.

Pence was in Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference, as part of a campaign to assuage allies worried about US President Donald Trump's attitude towards defense cooperation.

"Moving and emotional tour of Dachau today," he wrote on Twitter. "We can never forget atrocities against Jews and others in the Holocaust."

The vice president visited the memorial alongside his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte. They placed a wreath in the center of the camp and attended an on-site church service in honor of the 40,000 people who were killed and 200,000 imprisoned at the camp near Munich. They also met with survivor Abba Naor, who described the horrors of life in the camp to the Pence family.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

New Chabad house opens in Pacific archipelago of New Caedonia 

Chabad, the Hasidic movement that operates Jewish centers in more than 90 countries, has set up shop in the Pacific island archipelago of New Caledonia, which has 250,000 residents and 250 Jews.

The movement’s emissaries to the island, which is a French territory, are Rabbi Menachem and Bassie Sabbach.

The rabbi is a fluent French speaker; his parents were raised in France. He was raised in Melbourne, Australia, which is located 1,600 miles southwest of his new posting.

Sabbach is from Manchester, England, according to a report last month on Chabad’s website about the opening of a Chabad house there.

The couple, who have two sons younger than 4, will work with the local community, which on Rosh Hashanah has a festive dinner comprising 70 guests, and with Jewish tourists who come to Caledonia for its renowned beaches and natural beauty. The Le Monde newspaper in December described the archipelago as being a “pristine natural paradise.”

New Caledonia, which in 2014 received approximately 100,000 tourists, is the 91st country where Chabad maintains a center, according to the movement. The center there opened last month.

Separately, Chabad on Thursday published a book that the movement said is the culmination of 15 years of research on the life of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the third rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty who died 22 years ago in New York at 92.

Titled “Early Years: The Formative Years of the Rebbe,” the 550-page book written by Boruch Oberlander and Elkanah Shmotkin is based on primary sources and original documents, including some that for decades had been forgotten in state and other archives in the former Soviet Union, Chabad wrote in a statement about the book.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Williamsburg Day Laborers Command Top Dollar on 'Day Without Immigrants' 

Dozens of immigrant women usually gather each morning at Marcy and Division avenues waiting for cleaning jobs in Orthodox Jewish homes, but on Thursday, the day of a nationwide immigrant strike, the corner was nearly empty.

The few women who did come to "La Parada" — the stop — in South Williamsburg, one of the few neighborhoods in the city that sided with Donald Trump in the election, said they could command $15 or $20 an hour instead of the $10 they're usually paid, and refused to work for anything less.

"Here there are usually 50, 60 people," said Ana Mendez, 52, from Peru in Spanish. But on Thursday afternoon, she was one of only a handful of women standing on the corner.

"Nobody's come," she said.

Mendez had come to La Parada at 9 a.m. and was there until about 3 p.m. asking for $15 and hour. She'd turned down a half a dozen jobs where people wanted to pay her less, she said.

Zoila Guannan, 50, said she'd gotten frantic calls from women she usually works for.

"They're desperate, they're calling here, they're calling there...They're calling me, but I'm telling them no," she said. "Today is special. We want $20 dollars an hour."

She hoped the strike would, "make them feel it," she said.

"This was not a normal day for them and for many others," she said, in Spanish.

Workers at La Parada, who've been pushing for better work conditions with the Workers Justice Project since 2010, say their cleaning jobs, despite years of fighting for better work conditions, are still grueling.

They're forced to work on their knees, they usually don't get mops or vacuums, just a broom and a small piece of cloth. They're exposed to strong cleaning chemicals and aren't given gloves, they said, and some come down with odd skin conditions on their hands.

"It's very exploitative, they give you a cloth, on your knees," Guannan said. "Who's going to do that, an American?"

Lupe Perez, 50, from Mexico, said she'd been getting jobs at La Parada for the last eight years. 

"The whole time on our knees. Sometimes they don't even give us water," Perez said in Spanish.

Beyond refusing to work, Perez said she and others weren't shopping or buying anything during the day to show the other kinds of economic impact immigrants have in New York City.

"We don't have papers but we're spending money in this country," she said.

Passing by the unusually quiet corner on Thursday afternoon, 21-year-old Shevy Kown, 21, an Orthodox woman pushing a baby carriage, said an exterminator had called to cancel on her because his workers hadn't shown up.

She comes to La Parada once a week for help, but her day hadn't been greatly impacted by the strike, she said. Still the strike might help her neighbors realize how much they rely on immigrant labor, she said. 

"They have a big impact on our lives cause they help us all day," she said, adding she'd noticed quiet construction sites and fewer food deliveries that day.

"People get to realize we really need their help for all kinds of services."


Thursday, February 16, 2017


Realty Teams Letter_Page_1 Realty Teams Letter_Page_2

Naomi Streicher of Realty Teams Pomona has bombarded the Stony Point market the past few weeks with her trademark aggressive campaign encouraging homeowners to sell their properties.

Among her strategies is sending letters to local homeowners listing all properties recently sold in the town. Streicher plays the role of matchmaker of sorts, linking potential buyers with potential sellers.

While Streicher has defended her marketing methods and says Realty Teams "does things right," critics have accused her team of using high pressure tactics similar to "blockbusting." The term blockbusting refers to efforts to cause a flight of homeowners from an area, often leading to a drop in property value. A new group scoops up the cheaper real estate and establishes dominance in the area.

The term has come into use in Rockland County due to the success Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish communities have had in buying up and dominating entire neighborhoods. A prelude to such demographic changes typically include aggressive real estate practices, such as random persons knocking on doors and offering cash to homeowners. 

While such cash offers and strategic targeting of communities have long been commonplace in Rockland, in 2016 Chestnut Ridge residents reported the offers were so persistent and the proprietors so aggressive that it had become more than a nuisance. Residents felt their quality of life deeply impacted by the tactics.

As a result laws were passed in some Rockland localities limiting the methods real estate propietors may use. No knock laws were passed and overall awareness raised.

As Streicher has made her presence felt in Stony Point the past few weeks, some residents have taken to social media to warn fellow town residents of possible blockbusting efforts commencing in Rockland's smallest and northernmost town.

Streicher maintains her work is innocent, merely connecting buyers and sellers. Her critics say she is one of the most notorious blockbusters around.

She has maintained in the past that those who do not want to be contacted by her can simply reach out and let her know.


Transgender Woman’s Daughter Shunned By Hasidic Classmates 

The daughter of a transgender woman in Manchester, England, is being shunned by her classmates at a haredi Orthodox school after being ordered to by their teachers.

The classmates were told not to communicate with the girl "in any way," the regional newspaper the Jewish Telegraph reported. The students wrote her a letter telling her that if they see her they will have to ignore her but "that they would always love her and that they would pray for her," according to the report.

A British high court judge ruled late last month that the transgender woman, who is the father of the girl and four other young children, may not have direct contact with the children.

"I have reached the unwelcome conclusion that the likelihood of the children and their mother being marginalized or excluded by the ultra-Orthodox community is so real, and the consequences so great, that this one factor, despite its many disadvantages, must prevail over the many advantages of contact," Justice Peter Jackson of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales wrote in his decision.

The transgender woman is allowed to indirectly contact the children four times a year on Jewish festivals and their birthdays.

In the yearlong case, the identity of the family remained anonymous, the London-based Independent newspaper reported.

The children's mother had said in court that if the children had direct contact with the transgender woman, the parent body of their schools would not allow other children to play with them, and she was backed by the testimony of several community rabbis. The children could also be denied places at good yeshivas and schools, be prevented from marrying into some families, and the entire family could be shunned by the community, the court was told.

The judge also wrote that his decision was not "a failure to uphold transgender rights … but the upholding of the rights of the children to have the least harmful outcome in a situation not of their making."

Jackson has written to the U.K.'s top education official, warning that social banishment of trans people's children in strict Jewish schools may be illegal, The Independent reported.

"There is, to say the least, evidence that the practices within the [ultra-Orthodox Jewish] community, and in particular its schools, amount to unlawful discrimination against and victimization of the father and the children because of the father's transgender status," he wrote.

Religious bigotry is illegal in the U.K. All schools must promote tolerance, inclusion and respect for people who are LGBTQ, and cannot refuse admission to children on the basis of whether they or a family member is LGBTQ, the LGBQ Nation, news website reported.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Hasidic Family Wreaks Havoc On Flight From Israel To Britain 

It was a nightmare at 20,000 feet Monday, as an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish extended family traveling to a wedding in Britain disrupted a flight. The Hasidic men refused to sit next to women, stood up in the aisles while the plane was in the air and disturbed passengers during the five-hour flight.

"They were blocking the aisle, making it really difficult for other passengers to get past and take their seat," said one passenger, recounting the experience to The Times of Israel. "They were constantly ringing the bell for the steward. I've never heard it go off so many times. It was dinging constantly and to the point it was really intrusive if you are trying to read or something."'

And that wasn't all, as one of the unruly passengers tried to plug in his phone charger to an unauthorized outlet in the stewards' galley, leading the plane's exit light to flash.

The crew, which passengers overheard fuming, called the police when the flight landed in the United Kingdom's Luton Airport. Cops made sure the passengers got off the plane without incident.


What It Was Like To Grow Up Biracial and Orthodox in a Hasidic Enclave 

They were older than me, by at least five years, and I was afraid. Though my Satmar Hasidic neighbors were my friends, their cousins usually approached me with disdain whenever I'd go over for a playdate. On one occasion, they bullied me and lifted my shirt up. He asked "where are your tzitzis?" feeling uncomfortable I stammered, they said "you call yourself a yid!? Gai ahein you goy!" I tripped as I begged my feet to carry me towards the door, but then it got worse, they poured cold water on me, and repeated the abusive slurs. I walked home crying to never tell a soul until over a decade later. –How?!

I learned, from a very young age, how complicated modern Jews and Judaism are. I grew up in a mixed-race Chabad-Lubavitch family in Monsey, New York, where I was exposed to all walks of Orthodox Jewish life. My mother, a convert into the Orthodox community, my father a "Ba'al Teshuva" someone who sees themselves as a returnee to higher levels of spiritual consciousness and Jewish practice, made a point to educate us on our rich Jewish and African history, and always encouraged us to be Dorshei Chochmah, those who see the deep wisdom, Chochmah, the diverse wisdom, found in our world.

To this day, I wonder how could society have produced teenagers who saw it as their right to put me down for how I looked or dressed? Was this race related, though I pass for white? Was this due to the homogeneous reality of my ZIP code? Maybe it is because my family background challenged the assumptions of what a Jew looks like…I don't have answers.

What I do know is that they were not what Rabbi Sid Schwarz would call "seekers of wisdom (dorshei chochmah), seekers of social justice (dorshei tzedek), seekers of community (dorshei kehillah), and seekers of lives of sacred purpose (dorshei kedushah)." On a good day, I see my neighbor's cousin's as those who were a product of a society that did not see me in my Jewishness, and because of their upbringing, it would be hard for them to see my Jewishness and my family history as a form of wisdom worth exploring.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Rabbi’s expulsion rattles Russian Jews fearful of Kremlin crackdown 


Three years ago, Rabbi Ari Edelkopf and his wife, Chana, worked around the clock for weeks to show off their community and city to the many foreigners in town for the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The Chabad emissaries from the United States came to the city on Russia’s Black Sea coast in 2002. By the time the Olympics opened, they could offer three synagogues, five information centers and 24/7 kosher catering to thousands of people in the city, which has only 3,000 Jews.

The Edelkopfs were celebrated in the local media for these considerable efforts, which the Kremlin marketed as proof that Russia welcomes minorities — including by inviting a Russian chief rabbi to speak at the opening.

This month, the couple is in the news again but for a different reason: They and their seven children have been ordered to leave Russia after authorities flagged Ari Edelkopf as a threat to national security — a precedent in post-communist Russia that community leaders call false and worrisome, but are unable to prevent.

Occurring amid a broader crackdown on foreign and human rights groups under President Vladimir Putin, the de facto deportation order against the Edelkopfs is to many Russian Jews a sign that despite the Kremlin’s generally favorable attitude to their community, they are not immune to the effects of living in an increasingly authoritarian state. And it is doubly alarming in a country where many Jews have bitter memories of how the communists repressed religious and community life.

The Edelkopfs’ deportation order drew an unusually harsh reaction from the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, a Chabad-affiliated group that has maintained friendly and mutually beneficial ties with Putin.

The order, which included no explanation or concrete accusation, “raises serious concerns for the future of the Jewish communities in the country,” Rabbi Boruch Gorin, a federation spokesman, told the L’chaim Jewish weekly last week. Gorin is a senior aide to Beral Lazar, the chief rabbi who spoke at the Sochi opening ceremony.

Gorin also called the order “an attempt to establish control” on religious communities in Russia, including the Jewish one, which he said is serviced by some 70 Chabad rabbis, half of whom are foreign.

Many Sochi Jews consider Edelkopf, a Los Angeles native, a popular and beloved spiritual leader with an impeccable record and a close relationship with Lazar. They reacted with dismay and outrage to the deportation order.

“This is absurd,” Rosa Khalilov wrote in one of the hundreds of Facebook messages posted to Edelkopf’s profile, in which he offered updates from his failed legal fight to stay in Russia. “Deportation without proof and thus without proper defense for the accused. I am utterly disappointed.”

Typical of such discussions, comments by Russian speakers abroad tended to be more outspoken than the ones authored domestically.

“Somewhere along the way our country changed without our noticing,” wrote Petr Shersher, a 69-year-old Jewish man from Khabarovsk who lives in the United States. “We’re suddenly not among friends and compatriots but in another brutal and indifferent atmosphere.”

Since the fall of communism in 1991, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia — essentially Chabad’s Russia branch, and by far the country’s largest Jewish group — only on a very rare occasion had publicly questioned the viability of Jewish life in the country or the authorities’ tolerance of religious freedoms.

The strong reactions to the Edelkopf edict seem to be less connected to the actual expulsion – at least seven rabbis have been sent packing over the past decade over visa and residence issues — than to the assertion that Edelkopf endangers Russia, a claim the rabbi denies.

“This serious allegation is a negative precedent that we had never seen directed at a rabbi before in Russia, and it is a very, very big problem for us,” Gorin told JTA. “What are they saying? Is he a spy? We can remember very well the times when Jews were last accused of endangering state security,” he added in reference to anti-Semitic persecution under communism.

Behind the expulsion of Edelkopf and the other rabbis, Gorin added, is an attempt by the state to limit the number of foreign clerics living in Russia – an effort that has led to expulsions not only of rabbis but also of imams and Protestant priests.

“It’s not targeting the Jews,” he said.

Alexander Boroda, the president of Gorin’s federation, told Interfax that he was “dismayed” by the expulsion and suggested it was the work of an overzealous official eager “to check off the box” after being ordered to curb immigration.

Boroda also told Interfax that the deportation was not anti-Semitic. He recalled how Putin’s government has facilitated a Jewish revival in Russia — including by returning dozens of buildings; educating to tolerance; adding Jewish holidays to the national calendar, and offering subsidies to Jewish groups. Lazar, who was born in Italy, often contrasts the scarcity of anti-Semitic violence in Russia with its prevalence in France and Great Britain.

The government has also tolerated criticism by the Chabad-led community. Under Lazar and Boroda, the Federation has largely ignored xenophobia against non-Jews but consistently condemned any expression of anti-Semitism — including from within Putin’s party and government.

The federation even spoke out against Russia’s vote in favor of a UNESCO resolution last year that ignores Judaism’s attachment to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Still, the Edelkopf deportation is part of a string of recent incidents in which Jews have suffered the effects of growing authoritarianism in Russia – a country where opposition figures are routinely prosecuted and convicted. Since 2012 the country has slipped in international rankings of free speech and human rights; Freedom House’s “Freedom on the Internet” index slipped recently from “partly free” to “not free.”

Under legislation from 2012, a Jewish charitable group from Ryazan near Moscow was flagged in 2015 by the justice ministry as a “foreign agent” over its funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and its reproduction in a newsletter of political op-eds that appeared in the L’chaim Jewish weekly.

Last year, a court in Sverdlovsk convicted a teacher, Semen Tykman, of inciting hatred among pupils at his Chabad school against Germans and propagating the idea of Jewish superiority. Authorities raided his school and another one in 2015, confiscating textbooks, which some Russian Jews suggested was to create a semblance of equivalence with Russia’s crackdown on radical Islam.

Before that affair, a Russian court in 2013 convicted Ilya Farber, a Jewish village teacher, of corruption in a trial that some Jewish groups dismissed as flawed, in part because the prosecution displayed some anti-Semitic undertones in arguing it.

While the incidents differ in their local contexts in the multiethnic behemoth that is Russia, seen together they demonstrate that the Jewish minority not only thrived under Putin but is feeling the “collateral damage as the government drastically tightens its grip on all areas of life,” according to Roman Bronfman, a former Israeli lawmaker from Ukraine and a staunch critic of Putin.

Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, recently named the anti-democratic measures of Putin’s government — along with the halving of the Russian ruble against the dollar amid sanctions and dropping oil prices — as a major catalyst for an increase in immigration to Israel by Russian Jews.

Last year, Russia was Israel’s largest provider of immigrants with some 7,000 newcomers to the Jewish state, or olim – a 10-year high that saw Russia’s Jewish population of roughly 250,000 people lose  2 1/2 percent of its members to Israel.

But to Lazar, Russia’s Chabad-affiliated chief rabbi, the numbers tell a different story, he told JTA last week at the Limmud FSU Jewish learning conference in London.

“I don’t know if Jews are leaving because of these steps,” he said, referring to limitations on freedom of speech and other liberties in Russia. “But I think it’s a testament to the revival of the community, which has instilled Jewish identity to provide many olim, whereas 15 years ago this phenomenon just didn’t exist.”



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