Friday, March 31, 2017

Monroe drafts plan for development 

Town officials have released a proposed Comprehensive Plan, a major step forward in a zoning update that prompted them to halt all home construction 11 months ago and triggered lawsuits from developers with approved housing plans.

The 255-page document, written by a planning consultant and posted on the town website on Wednesday, catalogs current conditions in the unincorporated areas outside Monroe's three villages and outlines a vision for guiding growth in them over the next five years, based partly on public input the planner solicited. Woven into it are suggestions that would have to be codified as zoning amendments to have any teeth, once the Comprehensive Plan is finalized.

Councilman Michael McGinn, a Town Board member involved with the zoning review, said Thursday that he expects the board to take the next step when it meets on Monday by scheduling public workshops to discuss the draft plan.

"We're moving forward with it," McGinn said. "We'd certainly like to get it done within the next eight weeks."

Five developers with approved plans for a total of 446 homes have sued Monroe to overturn the moratorium. None had started construction, although at least two — the developers of the 181-home Smith Farm project on Gilbert Street and the 46-home Shea Meadows on Rye Hill Road — had cleared their sites shortly before the board imposed the moratorium in April 2016.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan suggests possible zoning changes in two areas of town, although it's unclear if anything in the plan would lead to changes that affect any of the five pending developments. The plan's most readily apparent recommendation applies to an area north of Route 17 and west of Kiryas Joel, and it offers ways to make the zoning there less restrictive, not more so.

Ronald Kossar, a Middletown lawyer representing the Smith Farm project, said Thursday that his client and the other developers won't really know if the plan impinges on their projects until any zoning amendments are produced. He scoffed at the idea that the process can be completed in two months, and questioned why the board won't let the builders proceed if there are no impending changes that affect them.


Brooklyn Law School honors Rachel Freier as first Hasidic woman judge 

NYS Assemblymember Dov Hikind and Councilmember Chaim Deutch. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Law School

Brooklyn Law School (BLS) has always been a forerunner of diversity, and on Wednesday night it celebrated that when the school honored the country's first-ever Hasidic female elected official — Judge Rachel Freier.

"Our law school has been a gateway to opportunity for generations," said Dean Nicholas Allard. "From our founding more than 116 years ago, our doors have been wide open. We are a law school whose legacy has been shaped by pioneers and trailblazers who have gone on to lead in the profession as well as in government, public service and business."

Judge Freier was introduced not only by Allard, but also by professor Aaron Twerski, state Assemblymember Dov Hikind and Federal Court Judge Claire R. Kelly. After a discussion between Allard and Freier, the dean presented her with a ceremonial gavel.

"I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to thank Brooklyn Law School," Freier said. "I have to thank BLS for giving me my law degree and making this all possible. Yes, my husband and my family were all there to support me, but it was Brooklyn Law School that made this all possible."

Before the discussion began, Allard spoke about some of the other famous "firsts" among the alumni in BLS's history. Among those discussed were Mary Johnson Lowe, the school's first African-American editor in chief of the Brooklyn Law Review in 1952; Dorothy Chin-Brandt, the first Asian-American woman judge in New York; David Dinkins, the first African-American mayor of New York City; Herman Badillo, the first Puerto Rican-born member of Congress; Jeannette Brill, who founded the Brooklyn Women's Bar Association, and many others.

"A colleague of mine recently said that if we are going to honor all of our firsts, then we're going to have non-stop celebrations," Allard joked.

The conversation between Allard and Freier gave a glimpse into how difficult it was for Freier to adjust to law school and how much she relied on her family for support. When Allard asked if she had an "ah-ha moment" that made her decide to go to law school, she explained how it was a decision 22 years in the making.

"I was very content with my high school diploma," Freier said. "I was a legal secretary and I was very happy. I kept getting better and better jobs and I started making more money than some of the men that I know and that was a great feeling. That was until I started working for lawyers that were younger than me. That's when I wondered, 'Am I going to be a secretary my whole life?'

"I had to try because I didn't want to tell my grandkids that I could have been a lawyer, but I didn't try," she continued.

Freier explained that then-dean Carol Ziegler was extremely helpful in helping her adjust to the school during her first year. She said that Twerski was instrumental in helping her to feel at home.

"Professor Twerski was an inspiration for me," she said. "Here I was in a secular environment when I saw that black felt hat in the law school. I thought, 'OK, it's almost like home here,' and professor Twerski isn't just a professor, he's so popular that I couldn't get into his torts class."

Freier spoke about how hard it was to balance her family life, which she refused to compromise, and her religion with law school and as her role as a judge. She explained that she has had to rely on other people, like her fellow criminal court judges who must cover her night court shifts on Friday nights, or her mother for helping her with her household chores. She explained that it was her husband that made everything possible.

"My husband has been my biggest supporter," she said. "It's not me who is the first Hasidic judge. It's my husband who was the first Hasidic husband to support his wife. He financed my campaign and really made it happen. If not for him we would not be sitting here."

Allard said that he was always confused as to why there were not more Hasidic students at the law school and asked people in the audience to share Freier's story to encourage others from the community to follow her lead.

"Go for it!" Freier said when she was asked what she would say to other Hasidic women considering following her path. "Don't let your religion hold you back. There are great people out there and if you go with faith, it will work out."


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Government of Belgium’s Flemish Region announces new limitations on ritual slaughter 

A cabinet minister in Belgium's Flemish Region announced that a majority of lawmakers have decided to impose new limitations on ritual slaughter of animals in 2019.

Ben Weyts, the animal welfare minister of the Flemish Region — one of three autonomous states that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium – on Thursday told the Gazet van Antwerp daily newspaper that "the decision in principle has been taken and everyone should respect it."

He was commenting on criticism by some Jews and Muslims in Belgium over his announcement Wednesday in the Flemish parliament that new limitations on the slaughter of animals without stunning would be introduced on Jan. 1, 2019.

Neither the elected representatives of the Jewish community of the Flemish Region nor of those of Belgium have expressed consent to the plan to impose new limitations, which Weyts described as a "compromise" and "historical agreement."

Contrary to some reports in the media, the Flemish parliament did not vote on a ban, according to the De Morgen daily. Instead, the plan to introduce the new limitations was announced Wednesday as the result of an agreement between the coalition partners of the center-right New Flemish Alliance ruling party.

The precise nature of the new limitations proposed by the Flemish government has not yet been made public and has not been finalized pending talks with representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities, according to the Gazet van Antwerpen. Pinchas Kornfeld, an influential rabbi from Antwerp who acts as spokesperson for the region's communities and is chairman of the European Shechitah Board, would not comment on the details of the proposed limitations, the Joods Actueel Jewish paper reported.

Shechitah is the Hebrew word for the Jewish Orthodox method of slaughtering animals. It requires they be conscious when their throats are slit, a practice that critics say is cruel but which advocates insist is more humane than mechanized methods used in non-kosher abattoirs. Muslims slaughter animals in a similar method – albeit with fewer restrictions — to produce halal meat.

According to Joods Actueel, the minister is seeking the consent of Muslim and Jewish faith communities to a proposal in which small animals would be non-lethally stunned with electricity before they are killed. Larger animals would receive "irreversible stunning" — a term which usually describes a bolt pin to the brain — within seconds of the slashing of their throats in a procedure known as post-cut stunning. Some Orthodox Jewish communities and their faith leaders, including in Austria, have accepted post-cut stunning.

Kornfeld declined to comment on the proposal. "We will study it calmly and then react," he told Joods Actueel.

The European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based lobby group, condemned the announcement about the Flemish government's plan to introduce new limitations on ritual slaughter, which the group said amounted to a ban on the practice.

"Let's stop pretending that banning kosher slaughter has anything to do with animal welfare," said the group's leader, Menachem Margolin. It is "dubious, unsettling and running contrary to [scientific] evidence," added Margolin, who is a rabbi affiliated with the Chabad hasidic movement. His association said the government of Belgium's Walloon Region is planning to announce a similar plan next year.

Antwerp, capital of the Flemish Region, has 18,000 Jews, roughly half of the Jewish population of Belgium. The city's kosher abbatoirs provide meat to many Jewish communities in Europe.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Williamsburg’s Hasidic Pool Wars Heating Up Again Before Summer 

It's spring in Williamsburg and that means one thing: Hasidic groups and New York City are gearing up for another fight over single-sex swimming hours at public pools.

The city originally granted the single-sex swimming hours at two area pools as an accommodation to the area's Hasidic women, whose code of modesty precludes them from swimming with men. But it slashed the women's-only times from four hours to two a week last fall, after the city's Human Rights Commission expressed concerns that the policy might violate gender anti-discrimination protections.

A group of elected officials is demanding a return to the original hours in a letter to city parks commissioner Mitchell Silver.

"We don't want to take anything from anyone. The pool is empty on those days they took away from us," Esther Weiss told DNAInfo this week. "It's anti-Semitic, it's anti-women."

But Donna Lieberman, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, whose organization opposes gender-specific swimming hours, struck a different chord when speaking on the issue last fall.

"People have every right to go swimming in a gender-segregated environment pursuant to their religious beliefs," she said. "But not on the taxpayer dime."


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New York Times Writes Jews out of Crown Heights 

The New York Times has finally achieved what not even the Crown Heights riot could accomplish: eradicating all trace of Jews or Judaism from that Brooklyn neighborhood.

A front-page New York Times news article about Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to open more homeless shelters in the city reports:

According to the lawsuit, the city is "foisting yet another" shelter on Crown Heights, a largely West Indian and African-American community, in order to avoid "the vocal criticism of the affluent and largely white citizenry" in other neighborhoods. The matter is to be heard before Justice Katherine A. Levine on Tuesday.

Though gentrifying, Crown Heights remains one of the city's poorer neighborhoods…

The New York Times itself had accurately reported in its real estate section less than two years ago that the neighborhood "has a populous Lubavitcher Hasidic section."

That same article, from 2015, also reported, "Single-family homes typically sell for around $800,000 to $1.5 million; two-family homes for $1.2 million to $1.7 million; three-family homes for $1.6 million to $2 million." One of the city's "poorer" neighborhoods, indeed.

The New York Jewish Week reported in a 2016 article about Crown Heights that there were approximately "23,800 Jews living there, according to UJA-Federation of New York's 2011 population study."

The Times article today doesn't come right out and call the Jews of Crown Heights interlopers. It doesn't acknowledge their presence at all. But it's not difficult to draw that implication. Maybe it's the lawsuit, not the Times, making the demographic characterization of the neighborhood, but if that is so, the distinction isn't clear from the sentence in the Times. In any case, if it is the lawsuit making that false characterization, there is no reason for the Times to pass it along uncorrected.

It may seem like a small point. But consider the history of the violent antisemitic riot in the neighborhood in 1991 — a riot that, as former New York Times reporter Ari Goldman wrote, the Times itself failed to cover accurately. Is it really too much to ask today's New York Times not to omit the Jewish presence from its description of the neighborhood?

Apparently, and unfortunately, it is.


Monday, March 27, 2017

Israel Police Arrest 22 ultra-Orthodox Jews for Sex Crimes Against Minors and Women 

The police arrested 22 Haredim in Jerusalem and three other Israeli cities on Monday morning, on suspicion of sexually molesting minors and women over the last two years.

In some cases, ultra-Orthodox residents in the four cities – Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak – attacked the police, throwing stones and other items, and tried to block the arrests. In Jerusalem, the windows of two police cars were shattered by rocks.

The investigation by the police's Jerusalem District began after they received information that ultra-Orthodox elements were concealing information on sex crimes in their community.

These Haredim allegedly received their rabbis' blessing to seek and collect information on sexual predators in the community, without involving the police. They did so, even maintaining written records of attacks and the people involved. At the end of the process, the perpetrators were forced to agree to undergo therapy within the ultra-Orthodox world.

During their investigation, the police seized the notebooks in which the records were kept. Tens of alleged attackers were documented, some of whom had committed serial offenses, including against children, the police said.

Based on this information, the police arrested 22 suspects, ages 20 to 60. Each is alleged to have committed several attacks over the last two years.

Following the arrests, the police said that the ultra-Orthodox community had been handling the matter internally, collecting information and conducting some form of internal procedure, culminating in a sort of punishment.

The upshot, the statement said, was that the suspects could continue to live their lives without paying a penalty, and dozens of victims were left without help. The police added they will make sure that those arrested are brought to trial.

The records on the alleged sexual predators were kept by a single person – known in ultra-Orthodox circles as a "fixer." This person operates under the imprimatur of a Jerusalem-based body known as the "purification commission" of the community, which operates in different Haredi communities (including the Hasidic and "Lithuanian" sects).

The fixer himself is not a suspect in the case and is not under arrest. He has been in contact with the police for years and testified in many sexual-offense cases, helping the police to achieve convictions. However, it has only become apparent now that he was maintaining a network that would field and investigate complaints about sexual offenses, using old-world methods accepted in the Haredi world.

Usually, offenders "tried" within Haredi circles are forced to undergo therapy, possibly with a psychologist, or might be "exiled" to another city.

The present affair arrives with the Haredi community in the midst of a changing attitude toward sex crimes. This is expressed chiefly by extensive collaboration with the police – even by the more extreme sects.

Another change is the intensive media coverage such cases receive on ultra-Orthodox news sites – though still not in the printed press – and in online forums.

Eli Schlesinger, a reporter for the Behadrey Haredim website, which is notable for its coverage of matters that were once silenced, noted that the purification commission is very helpful to the police and provided officers with information about alleged sexual offenses in Modi'in Ilit last year.

Cooperation with the police is based on the rabbis having faith in the process, Schlesinger said – a faith that might be damaged by the present investigation.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Egypt’s last Jews aim to keep alive heritage 

Once a flourishing community, only a handful of Egyptian Jews, mostly elderly women, remain in the Arab world’s most populous country, aiming at least to preserve their heritage.

Egypt still has about a dozen synagogues, but like many of the country’s monuments they need restoration. Part of the roof of a synagogue in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria caved in last year.

In downtown Cairo, a bustling street lined with old hotels and shops leads to an imposing stone building modelled after an ancient Egyptian temple: the Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue, built around 1900.

Inside, Magda Haroun carefully unrolls Torah scrolls kept in the synagogue’s ark.

The synagogue is mostly empty these days, but Haroun, 65, remembers when its benches were filled with worshippers, including her late father Shehata Haroun, a celebrated lawyer.

Haroun carries the title of president of Cairo’s Jewish community — six elderly women including herself and her mother — and says her task is to preserve a centuries-old heritage.

“It’s my duty, for future generations,” she says.

Her mother Marcelle Haroun, 91, cries when she discusses her community’s fading past.

“According to the stories, Jews lived in Egypt since the pharaohs. Do you want to make centuries of history vanish?” she says.

There were between 80,000 and 120,000 Jews in Egypt up until the mid-20th century.

They had an impact that far exceeded their numbers in trade and even cinema, with actress and singer Leila Murad dominating the silver screen in the 1940s and 1950s.

Civilization museum
But the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 led to the disintegration of the community, with many leaving Egypt or being forced out under the regime of president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Today, the Jews of Egypt are estimated to number 18, with 12 of them in the coastal city of Alexandria.

Magda Haroun’s dream is for Jewish artefacts to be seen by the public, perhaps in a planned museum of Egyptian civilization.

Officially, the government now makes no distinction between Pharaonic, Islamic, Coptic and Jewish heritage, and the antiquities ministry has come up with the funds to fix the roof of Alexandria’s synagogue.

“The (antiquities) minister promised me that a museum of civilizations will open, representing all the civilizations of Egypt,” said Magda Haroun.

The Egyptian civilization museum partially opened in February with a small exhibition but there are no definite plans as yet for displaying Jewish artefacts in it.

However the minister, Khaled el-Enany, told AFP that in early 2016 he set up a committee to list “all the Jewish monuments and Jewish collections that are in the synagogues.”

But on a public level, many Egyptians still have a mixed view of their Jewish compatriots.

“It remains a complicated question,” says Amir Ramses, who made a 2013 documentary, “The Jews of Egypt,” on the community’s history.

“Mentioning the Jews in Egypt was a taboo,” he said.

Just screening the film in Cairo cinemas was a struggle before he eventually obtained clearance.
When it was shown, the culture ministry requested that it be introduced as a work of the director’s “imagination” rather than a documentary.

Although the tiny community has been spared recent attacks by jihadists targeting Christians, the Sha’ar Hashamayim synagogue was attacked in 2010.

An assailant hurled a suitcase containing a homemade bomb at the synagogue’s entrance, causing no damage.

Some in the community prefer to keep a low profile.

The head of Alexandria’s Jewish community, Youssef Gaon, wanted to be quoted as little as possible when interviewed by AFP.

Gaon simply said he “trusts” the Egyptian government will help restore the country’s Jewish heritage.



Saturday, March 25, 2017

British Chickens Keep Kosher For Passover 

You are what you eat. But if you’re lucky, that chicken you pick up for Passover dinner won’t have any chametz in it. According to the London Board of Shechita, a group that oversees kosher slaughter in Britain, poultry that is sold for consumption during the holiday has been fed a non-grain diet in the weeks leading up to its killing and preparation.

“All poultry sourced for Pesach has to be fed on a non-wheat feed diet,” a spokesman for the LBS told Jewish News in Britain. “This is not a new thing – in fact, it’s been around for thousands of years. All shechita boards have the same instruction in place and that’s what the Kosher for Passover label specifically means.” It was unclear whether that rule applied to American kosher outfits as well.

The birds are on sale on Amazon, and if you’re in the mood to fly to London, some supermarkets in the capital.



Friday, March 24, 2017

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 'Pre-Pesach Starvation' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


NJ Rabbis Launch Campaign To Counter Threats Against Jewish Community 

Hasidic rabbis in South Jersey are hitting the streets across the region in an effort to counter hate threats against the Jewish community, and they're installing signs of peace.

A mezuzah is a sacred handwritten parchment scroll. According to the Torah, the six-inch long holy instrument protects Jewish homes from hate and prolongs ones life.

"It blesses the home and it blesses the family and it protects everything you could pray for," says Miya Eylon, who just moved into a new home with her husband in Cherry Hill. They called on rabbis from the Chabad-Lubavitch Centers of South Jersey to install their mezuzah.

This came just weeks after a bomb threat evacuated the nearby Katz Jewish Community Center, and scores more threats were lodged against Jewish centers across the country.

Rabbi Yitzchok Kahan says Chabad-Lubavitch launched the Cherry Hill Mezuzah Campaign to counter the hate, installing hundreds of the sacred scrolls in doorways of Jewish homes in the area to bring peace.

"We feel challenged and threatened and sometimes we are not in the position to do something at the leadership level but personal every single of us has an ability to take that negative energy and transform it into a positive force," he says.

The mezuzah is installed on the top third of the door post and is usually installed at every doorway inside of a home as well, with the exception of bathrooms. After installation, the rabbis provide a special blessing.

"People want to have more increased security," says Rabbi Menachem Kaminker. "This brings divine protection, and we want to make sure that every Jewish home has a mezuzah at the door post."

The effort has become so popular, a similar campaign will be launched in Philadelphia in coming weeks.

"This is the third shipment of the mezuzahs that we are getting," says Kaminker, "We keep having to restock."

The rabbis say they hope the effort shows the community that love wins over hate.


Thursday, March 23, 2017

Want To Know Where Yiddish Is Going? Ask Directions In Israel 

During a recent trip to Israel, my 31-year old son, Naftali, spent an afternoon taking in the sights of Tel Aviv. Although he's a fluent Hebrew speaker, he was curious whether any of the merchants or passers-by knew Yiddish, too, and decided to check it out.

Entering a shop that sold antique European teapots and china, Naftali noticed that the storekeeper appeared to be in his sixties, so he gave it a shot. "Excuse me, do you speak Yiddish?" he asked. The storekeeper grinned and said he did, adding that he was born in Poland and came to Israel as a young child. "It's been 30 years since someone has spoken to me in Yiddish," he said wistfully.

Ten minutes later, Naftali dropped into a bookstore. Not only did the salesperson reply in Yiddish but even showed him several Yiddish books for sale. Back on the street, Naftali stopped another middle-aged man and asked him, in Yiddish, how to get to Tchernichovsky Street. The man walked him to the corner and gave him directions in grammatically perfect sentences, a rarity these days.

Later, when my son got into a taxi, it happened again. This time, the reaction was different, though. The driver didn't smile enthusiastically, but simply replied in Yiddish with no emotion, as if hearing a 31-year old guy speaking Yiddish occurred on a daily basis.

So why is this a big deal? For years, Israelis have been stereotyped as embarrassed by, or even hostile to the language of the so-called "timid" diaspora Jews, an image buttressed by the late Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's well-known remark at a 1945 Knesset session, that the language "grated" in his ears.

Naftali's informal experiment suggests that the image of Yiddish in Israel has changed considerably. This isn't about the Hasidim in insulated enclaves like Mea Shearim where Yiddish is an everyday tongue, but rather of secular and "mesorati" (traditional) Hebrew-speaking middle-aged Jews of Tel Aviv. My guess is that many of them are children of Holocaust survivors or were themselves born in a displaced persons camp after the war. Others may have made aliyah from Buenos Aires, Montreal or other cities that once had a large Yiddish-speaking population. Like the porcelain salesman who hadn't spoken Yiddish in 30 years, many of them probably haven't had an opportunity to use the language, particularly if their grandparents and other elderly relatives have passed on.

In Jerusalem, Naftali discovered another unexpected group of Yiddish speakers, but of a very different kind. A friend had invited him to a shabbos dinner organized for formerly Hasidic families. During the meal, the parents chatted, joked and smoked cigarettes while their children, minus the payos, played ball and cavorted in Yiddish. One young couple told Naftali that although they were no longer religious, they continued to speak Yiddish to each other and to the kids because it felt more natural for them than speaking Hebrew.

Considering that Naftali had, without much effort, discovered ten Yiddish speakers simply by addressing them in the language, there are likely quite a few other closet Yiddish speakers in the Jewish state. They may not know that there are Israeli organizations which conduct Yiddish classes and cultural events like Leyvik House,Yung Yidish and Beit Sholem Aleichem – all of which provide opportunities to hear or chat in mame-loshn.

Then again, maybe they do know, but cultural programs are simply not their cup of tea. Israeli Yiddish activists who want to engage this population might want to consider organizing a fun-filled Yiddish festival on a main street of Tel Aviv. Imagine a band playing Yiddish songs; food-tasting kiosks with Ashkenazi favorites like knishes and borscht; and young organizers greeting passers-by in Yiddish.

From my own experience speaking to Israelis, most still believe that the only Yiddish speakers today are the Hasidim and the elderly. But as Naftali discovered on a whim, there are apparently a number of Israelis of various ages eager to express themselves in the language of their childhood if given the chance. All they need is someone to walk over and ask them, in Yiddish, how to get to Tchernichovsky Street.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Schools Chancellor denies city is dragging yeshiva probe 

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Tuesday strongly denied claims that the city is dragging out a probe of yeshivas so as not to upset the politically powerful Brooklyn Hasidic community.

As The Post reported, advocates say dozens of the religious schools aren't teaching secular studies, as required by state law — and they charge Mayor de Blasio with turning a blind eye.

"[Politics] has not even entered our minds," Fariña told reporters at City Hall after testifying at a hearing on the new city budget. "This is not politically motivated. I didn't take this job to do a political job. I took this job to do an educational job."

She said the probe has entered its 19th month because the issue is complicated — including witnesses testifying about the education they received as long as 20 years ago.

She wouldn't put a timeline on completing it.

It's not clear why the DOE is interviewing students who are that far removed from graduation.

Fariña also noted that "there are a lot of people very happy with these schools."

At a separate press conference in Brooklyn, Mayor de Blasio also denied giving preferential treatment to the Hasidic community, both on the schools probe and on the city's enforcement of a controversial circumcision ritual during which infants have contracted herpes.

In exchange for the city nixing a parental consent form, the community agreed to identify the mohels involved in all cases of transmission — but has complied in only two of six cases since the deal was struck in 2015.

"There's a full review going on, and it's an objective review, and wherever that leads us, we're going to go forward publicly with it," the mayor said regarding the yeshiva probe.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

City stalls on probe into secular education at Hasidic schools 

City officials are dragging their heels on a politically-sensitive probe of whether Hasidic schools provide their students with a secular education, advocates charge.

The Department of Education launched a probe more than 18 months ago after advocates submitted a list of dozens of Orthodox Jewish schools that provide little or no English, math, social studies or science — most notably for boys in yeshivas.

But advocates say the probe is moving at a snail's pace because Mayor de Blasio fears riling the powerful Hasidic community.

"There's really no explanation to why the mayor would turn a blind eye other than the fear of upsetting this powerful bloc vote led by these powerful [Jewish] lobbyist groups," Naftuli Moster, founder of the group Yaffed, told The Post.

"For the lack of a more PC term, it's really BS what the city is saying. There's no sign of an investigation," he added. "They could do it easily, but they're not really interested in investigating."

City Council Education Committee chair Daniel Dromm (D-Queens), a former public school teacher, said he's planning to question Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina about the probe at a hearing Tuesday.

State regulations require that all non-public schools in New York — which receive tens of millions of dollars annually in taxpayer funds — provide a secular education that's "substantially equivalent" to what's taught in public schools.

"It is important that those kids get an adequate education," Dromm told The Post. "I want to ask why they have not come through with the results of that investigation."

Last year, Schools chancellor Carmen Farina testified at a Council hearing that the DOE had visited "several" yeshivas and that the probe, launched in August 2015, was "moving faster."

"We now have a committee that is working exclusively on this, so I expect like within a month or so I can give you a written report," she said at the May 2016 hearing.

Naftuli said the DOE finally got around to interviewing more than a dozen former yeshiva students and their parents in July 2016, but that the agency has gone silent since.


Monday, March 20, 2017

Mexican Jewish teen forced to cook pork on TV reality show 

A 13-year-old Jewish girl who cooked pork during a primetime reality show on Mexican TV said "my grandfather is going to kill me."

Batia Bresca was clearly uncomfortable cooking non-kosher food during the premiere of the Mexican edition of "MasterChef Junior 2017" last week and invoked Jewish law when a referee asked why she did not eat pork, the Diario Judio news website reported Saturday. But her dish received good reviews and she advanced to the next phase of the show.

"I'm going to have to try it and my grandfather is going to kill me. That's the end for me," Batia said on the show.

The Mexico City teen is one of 18 contenders on the 13-week reality show. Batia has been learning to cook with her grandmother since she was 4. Oriental dishes are her favorite to prepare.

She may be expecting further wrath going forward: Batia will be expected to cook seafood and other foods prohibited by Jewish law.

Batia has traveled to Israel, the United States and across Europe, according to Azteca TV.

Mexico is home to some 50,000 Jews, Latin America's third largest Jewish community after Argentina and Brazil.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

County lawmakers will discuss KJ proposal to create new town 

Orange County lawmakers are set to hold their first discussion in months about a proposal to create a new town by detaching the Village of Kiryas Joel and surrounding land from the Town of Monroe.

That prospect has been on hold since Kiryas Joel residents petitioned to form the Town of North Monroe seven months ago.

On Wednesday, the Legislature's Rules, Enactments and Intergovernmental Relations Committee is scheduled to discuss taking the first steps in an environmental review.

That panel had an initial discussion about the petition in September but has had no further talks since then.

The proposal was set aside because of a court fight over Kiryas Joel's annexation of 164 acres, an expansion that the Monroe Town Board approved in 2015 and that the county, eight municipalities and the nonprofit Preserve Hudson Valley have been challenging in two separate lawsuits.

State Supreme Court Justice Gretchen Walsh dismissed the cases in October, but both sets of plaintiffs have appealed her ruling.

Their attorneys will file court papers on Monday to solidify the appeals.

The 382 acres that would be joined with Kiryas Joel to form North Monroe includes the contested annexation area, which means the net additional land would be 218 acres. The resulting town would be 1,072 acres.

Forming a new town would remove Kiryas Joel and its large voting blocs from Monroe elections, an appealing prospect for residents outside the Hasidic community.

It also would involve ceding more than twice as much land as the annexation those residents fought.

Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia, who hoped to find a compromise on the North Monroe proposal before moving forward with it, held a private discussion about it last Friday with three county legislators representing Kiryas Joel and Monroe and with two leaders of the United Monroe citizens group.

John Allegro, one of the United Monroe leaders in that meeting, said this week that the discussion lasted more than three hours and seemed a "very good, possible first step."

His group contends the current proposal would give Kiryas Joel too much additional land and must be reduced to win its support.

If approved by a two-thirds supermajority of the Legislature, or at least 14 of 21 lawmakers, the proposal to create a new town would be submitted to Monroe voters for approval.

The Legislature would have to endorse the plan by August for the referendum to be placed on the election ballot this November.



Jewish charter flight forced to make emergency landing 

A charter flight for Jews taking part in the annual pilgrimage to an 18th century Hasidic rebbe’s grave in Eastern Europe was forced to make an emergency landing Sunday in Amsterdam.

The Boeing 767, carrying some 200 passengers, was forced down after the cabin suddenly depressurized. Witnesses say passengers were forced to breathe through masks tied to the plane’s emergency oxygen system while the plane diverted from its flight path to land.

Originating in London Stansted Airport, the charter flight was scheduled to fly to Ukraine, where passengers would disembark and continue on their way to the city of Lezajsk, just over the border in Poland.

The flight was one of many special chartered flights by visitors looking to make the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Rabbi Elimelech Weisblum in Lezajsk (Lizhensk). This Sunday marks the 230th anniversary of Rabbi Weisblum’s passing.

After an hour on the ground in Amsterdam, the flight was airborne again.



Saturday, March 18, 2017

Eric Greitens, Missouri’s First Jewish Governor, Is Eyeing The White House 

On the weekend before his January 9 swearing in ceremony, Eric Greitens, soon to become governor of Missouri, called up United Hebrew Congregation, a Reform synagogue in St. Louis. He asked to attend Shabbat service, and was honored with a special role in the ceremony, and a blessing from the clergy.

It’s hardly unusual for any Jewish community to show such respect to one of their own who has reached high office, but Greitens himself is unusual: He’s a Republican from a community known for its stalwart support for Democrats since President Theodore Roosevelt occupied the White House.

He would have known that very few of the congregants voted for him or for Donald Trump in the November election. Even the bat-mitzvah girl’s speech, according to Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg, had a liberal tone. “But regardless of his politics, this was a very special moment of pride to have the first Jewish governor,” Rosenberg said. One member of the community approached Greitens during the typical celebratory light meal after services and told him he never believed he’d live to see a Jewish governor in the state.

And if pundits and Republican strategists are right, Greitens may provide his home state’s Jewish community with even more reasons for pride. He’s on every Republican future leadership watch list and has never been shy about his ultimate goal.

“When we did the ‘What I Want to Be When I Grow Up’ unit, Eric’s answer was ‘President,’” his kindergarten teacher Anne Richardson told St. Louis Magazine. Years later, he’d repeat this aspiration to a college professor.

He’s got the right resume. He’s been a Rhodes scholar, a decorated warrior and a civic leader. Greitens — who’d never run for office before his bid for the governor’s job and boasts about his outsider status — has shown great political nimbleness as he works toward his childhood goal. He spent his time earning accolades outside politics and so carries no baggage from statehouse or city council. And when he decided to pull the trigger and run, he combined in his public profile the right amounts of conservatism, gun-loving patriotism and fiscal responsibility, alienating neither moderates nor extremists.

Indeed, the finesse with which Greitens handles his Jewishness is a prime example of his political skill. It could have been a liability. After all, Jewish faith functioned as a public embarrassment in Missouri as recently as 2015. Tom Schweich, a rival Republican candidate for governor, [committed suicide] http://forward.com/news/215584/missouri-republican-tom-schweich-commits-suicide-a/) in February of that year shortly after claiming one of his rivals has planned a “whisper campaign” about his Jewish heritage. Scweich, who was Christian, had a Jewish grandfather.

Yet Greitens, fully and openly Jewish, won the Republican primary with 35% of the vote, and then beat the Democratic candidate 51% to 45%. And when, early in his governorship, vandals attacked over 200 gravestones at the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in St. Louis, he skillfully acknowledged his background by emphasizing its more universal values.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Learn To Be A Yiddish ‘Jester,’ In Germany 

Badkhonem, traditional Eastern-European Jewish wedding entertainers who are part clown, part master of ceremonies and part musical entertainment, are a rare sight these days outside of the Hasidic world. So where should you study if you'd like to learn to be a Badkhn today? Apparently Germany.

The organization Yiddish Summer Weimar, which runs a wide range of classes for musicians, dancers, artists and actors on Yiddish language and culture, recently announced that the singer Mendy Cahan will lead a three-day course for would be Badkhonem in late July.

As part of the course, which will be taught entirely in Yiddish, Cahan will explain the historical, artistic and sociological roles that Badkhonem have played in Jewish society. Participants will discuss the subversive role that Badkhonem have played in Jewish history and how Jewish tummlers and clowns influenced the development of Jewish humor.

Mendy Cahan grew up in Antwerp's Hasidic community, where he became enamored with traditional Yiddish songs and badkhones. Besides being the founder and director Yung Yidish and his work as a Yiddish teacher and actor Cahan is also a leading expert on badkhones. He's researched the badkhones tradition among elderly Jews in Eastern Europe as well as in Hasidic centers around the world, particularly in Israel and Belgium.

Those who wish to participate in the class must speak fluent Yiddish and be able to sing well. Those who aren't singers are invited to audit the class but not to participate.


Hasidic man gets four years for role in group beating of gay black man in Brooklyn 

It's four years for an eye.

A Brooklyn judge sentenced a Hasidic Jewish man to four years in prison for participating in a vicious beatdown that left a gay black man blind in one eye.

Mayer Herskovic was not the only person who assaulted Taj Patterson on Flushing Ave. in December 2013. But he's the only attacker getting prison time.

"Those who stomped and chased (Patterson) did try to injure him. The defendant was involved, he participated and was found guilty for that," said Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun.

Cop: We used trick to get video of Hasidic men beating victim
Patterson, 25, did not attend the court proceedings in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday — he previously said he wants to move on with his life.

Nonetheless, the lasting effects of the senseless attack will remain with him.

"Mr. Patterson asked himself why all this happened to him and he concluded it's because he was a young black male in a predominately Orthodox neighborhood," Assistant District Attorney Timothy Gough said on behalf of the victim.

According to trial testimony, Patterson was walking to his Fort Greene home when men — some belonging to the Williamsburg Shomrim, a Jewish patrol group — began chasing after him. The attackers mistook him for the suspect in a car vandalism streak, prosecutors previously said.

"This defendant, that group and the community couldn't see him as an individual, but as a criminal," said Gough, who recommended Herskovic receive five years in prison.

Video surveillance showed men chasing Patterson for blocks. One person with a walkie-talkie was identified at trial as Yoelli (Joel) Itzkowitz, but he was not questioned for his role in the attack.

One of Patterson's lawyers has urged the Brooklyn DA's office to indict Itzkowitz, alleging prosecutors have overlooked Itzkowitz because his brother is the politically connected coordinator of the Williamsburg Shomrim.

Four men in addition to Herskovic were charged in the beating. Two of the cases were dismissed and two of the attackers took plea deals sentencing them to 150 hours of community service each.

"Amongst all participants who stomped and beat Mr. Patterson, this defendant wasn't the most culpable," Chun said of Herskovic. "Mr. Patterson was chased for blocks, but not by the defendant before me."

Prosecutors placed Herskovic at the scene thanks to DNA found on one of Patterson's sneakers that was thrown to the roof of a nearby building.

The "deeply scarred" Patterson asked the judge to sentence Herskovic to the maximum of 15 years in prison for the second-degree gang assault and unlawful imprisonment charges.

"When Patterson woke up in the hospital, he didn't know where he was. He was upset, frightened and alone," said Gough.

The victim has had surgery three times, but he'll never regain eyesight in his right eye.

"I wish I can take back what happened to Mr. Patterson all those years ago ... I hope he finds peace for all he has suffered and endured," Herskovic told the judge as he pleaded for a lenient sentence.

"I'm 24, my life is about family, helping people," he added. "I work as a construction worker. I work with all kinds of people, black, white, Hispanic, gay and not gay."

Nevertheless, his lawyer Stuart Slotnick asserted outside of court that "the DNA evidence was completely and totally flawed."

Slotnick has asked an appellate judge to release his client until a decision is made on his appeal. Herskovic has been out on a $150,000 bond since the conviction in September.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stubborn Stains? Try This Hasidic Trick Read 

I was in the waiting room at my doctor's office when I struck up a conversation with two Hasidic women. They were only in their thirties, but between the two of them, they had 17 children. They braced themselves when I said I needed to pick their brains on something.

"How do I get those stubborn yellow stains out from the armpits of my kids white shirts?"

They had an answer: Spray the blue Easy-Off oven cleaner on the inside of the shirt where the stain is, and on the outside as well. Let it sit for an hour, then wash as usual. I tried it today, and the shirts are lily white. Baruch Hashem!


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The "Beware of Jews" sign might be a joke, but it just isn't funny 

An anti-semitic "Beware of Jews" road sign which has been reported to police after appearing on a lamppost in a London neighbourhood popular with orthodox Jews

Veteran comedian Jackie Mason once observed that one of the reasons anti-Semitism continues to flourish is because no one is frightened of the Jews. Or as the New York funny man put it: "nobody ever crossed the street to avoid a group of Jewish accountants". So, I'm a little baffled as to what those responsible for putting up a sign on a lamppost in Stamford Hill, warning about the presence of Jews, were actually warning against.

It could of course, as has now been suggested, been a huge "joke".

After all, this area of north London is known for its Hasidic community and has the largest concentration of Haredi Jews in Europe (estimated to be around 30,000).


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Pie For A Pie In Hasidic Crown Heights 

In the niche world of kosher business there are only so many pieces of the pie  — and everyone wants a slice.

Thanks to the flourishing direction Crown Heights has been going in the past few years, the Brooklyn neighborhood has become the home to many successful Hasidic businesses, and recently added one more to the list. However, not everyone is happy about it.

In early March, kosher gourmet pizza spot, Calabria, opened its doors to customers …  and objection. Across the street from the new eatery sits an established restaurant that also specializes in kosher pizza. Basil Pizza & Wine Bar has been a proud purveyor of kosher pizza on Kingston Avenue for the past seven years, and in an effort to maintain its individuality, its owners are suing the new shop. But the showdown didn’t happen in a typical courtroom.  Basil proprietor, Danny Branover, took the issue to the local Beit Din — a rabbinical court.

Settling matters of business rivalries in the kosher court is not that unusual. (Remember the menorah feud last Chanukah?)

In this case, Branover cited the Jewish law of Hasagat Gevul, which translates to “infringement of boundary.” The issue extends beyond where the new restaurant is situated: Branover also takes issue with the style of pizza Calabria serves. He claimed that it was too similar to their “specialty” pizza, which could jeopardize business. Even though Calabria stated their pies are, “Roman-style,” with a thick, rectangular shape that in no way resemble Basil’s thin-crust pies, Branover pressed on.

And he won the favor of the court. But Calabria is still running its shop across the street. They simply had to change their pizza and now boast about their “New York-style pizza” on their website.

While the Beit Din is not technically a court of law and cannot actually enforce its rulings, it does have potential power when it comes to obtaining a hashgacha, a kosher certification, from the local certification agency (even though there are neighboring certification groups that could provide the certificate). But more importantly, contesting the jurisdiction of the Beit Din could sully a brand’s image in the neighborhood. Then again, people love pizza.

In typical Talmudic fashion, these laws can trigger endless debate. According to the Jewish law of Hasagat Gevul, one interpretation states that competition is a positive thing if it doesn’t impede upon the original store. Others contest that similar business can’t exist in the same area. The philosophical exegeses can ping pong back and forth forever.

But for now, this particular biblical battle has been put to rest. And there’s one thing everyone can agree on: the art of pizza is a religious experience.



Monday, March 13, 2017

Purim (aka Jewish Halloween), as Seen by the Street Style Photographer Mister Mort 

Once a year, the religious Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn turn into what at first sight looks like a joyous, family-affair style Halloween celebration. But it’s not Halloween; it’s Purim, or the Jewish spring holiday that celebrates the ancient story of Queen Esther, who kept her Jewish identity hidden from her husband King Ahasuerus and, later on, thwarted the king’s evil advisor Haman’s plan to destroy the Jewish people. Fast-forward centuries later, and the holiday is observed with the idea of disguising oneself—a hat tip to the valiant Queen Esther—but under much more cheerful circumstances. Think: costumes, candy, and cookies.

Brooklyn-bred photographer Mordechai Rubinstein, best known from his Instagram handle @mistermort and his hashtags such as #beautyintheeveryday, went back to his ultra-Orthodox childhood neighborhood of Crown Heights (home to the Lubavitch sect of Judaism), as well as Williamsburg, Flatbush, and Borough Park, to capture the festive day among different Hasidic communities. “Purim is Jewish upside-down day. Every day is black and white,” he writes, referring to the strict black-and-white uniform look of ultra-Orthodox Jews from the area. “Today, pink and yellow.”

So what to see? There are plenty of over-the-top costumes that typically have a religious flair. Boys wear Knicks uniforms over their black pants and coordinate their skullcaps, or rather yarmulkes. Girls in Yankees jerseys wear an extra shirt underneath to cover their elbows and female astronauts wear shin-grazing skirts—an observance of tznius, or “modesty.” A Lilliputian pilot has tzitzit—the tassels of a small prayer cloak—peeking out from under his pert inflight shirt. One of the most creative takes on Purim is when children dress up like their elders, some appearing as if they may tip over in a too-big fur shtreimel, a hat of the Satmar sect. Other variants on head coverings? Adults and children both get into the fun wearing cheeky colorful hats. (Even a sequined fedora makes a cameo.) Though, one thing everyone can agree on: Planning for next year’s costume starts the moment the holiday has ended. Zei gezunt!



Sunday, March 12, 2017

This Hasidic Purim Costume Hat Doubles As A Snack 

An ultra-Orthodox Purim reveller has what might be our favorite costume this year for its sheer snackability.

It’s a popcorn streimel. The streimel is a wheel-shaped hat typically worn by married ultra-Orthodox men. The hat is usually covered in marten or fox fur, but this guy filled his with popcorn.

Israel Broadcasting Authority journalist Sam Sokol, who shared the image on Twitter, said that its provenance is unknown.



Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Freilichen Purim! 


Friday, March 10, 2017

Residents angry after Bloomingburg Planning Board meeting canceled 

Opponents who had come to Thursday's Planning Board meeting prepared to speak against a temporary community center at the controversial Chestnut Ridge development shouted protests at the board chairman when he abruptly canceled the meeting because he couldn't get a quorum.

One resident accosted the Planning Board chairman, Chaim Friedman, because, the accuser said, electrical workers were on the job site, at 1-3 Cherry Court, yet the public hearing on the site plan hadn't occurred. "You're a lying sack of (expletive)," the man told Friedman.

Friedman, who is Hasidic, told the angry resident the contractors have a demolition permit to work at the Cherry Court buildings, which is legal under village law in advance of site plan approval. "I'm not the code enforcer," Friedman said. "File a complaint."

The two townhouses that are to be converted into a temporary community center are located near the entrance to the development. Construction crews were at work Thursday, using front-end loaders. There was a trash container parked in the driveway of one of the townhouses.

Chestnut Ridge is the subject of a lawsuit, filed a week ago by the Town of Mamakating. The town is seeking to have the court annul the village's approvals of the 396-unit townhouse development and require the developers to file new applications.

Opposition has focused on the fact that the developers proposed a luxury golf course development, but the plans morphed into townhouses, apparently marketed toward a Hasidic clientele, with occupancy as high as 10 people per unit.

On Tuesday, the Village Board certified that the townhouse-community center conversion met SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) requirements, a necessary step before the Planning Board's site plan consideration could occur.

As Thursday's meeting dissolved, Holly Roche, president of the opposition group Rural Community Coalition, asked Freidman why the Planning Board had set up Thursday's hearing before the Village Board certified SEQRA. "It's like setting a date for a wedding before you get engaged." Roche said.

Friedman said the board had had no intention of approving the site plan after Thursday's planned public hearing. He said that would not have been possible because the project is still waiting for approvals from Sullivan County.

The Planning Board, which should have five members, was already down one because member Bob Cassidy resigned two weeks ago. On Thursday, members Moshe Fried and Jim Johnson didn't show. Friedman and only one other member, Moshe Gancz, were there.

Friedman said he couldn't immediately say when the community center conversion issue would come up. Regularly scheduled meetings are generally held on the fourth Thursday of each month.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

DeVos praises Orthodox Jewish group that strongly backs public funding for religious schools 

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has made school "choice" a policy priority, met on Wednesday with leaders of an Orthodox Jewish group that has been instrumental in pushing voucher programs across the country. She praised their "leadership and commitment" in helping communities secure schools that "meet the academic and religious needs of their families" and said she looks forward to working with them.

DeVos met with leaders of Agudath Israel of America, which is based in New York and has active branches in more than 25 states, including Texas, Florida, California, Maryland and New Jersey. Its leaders have successfully lobbied for using public taxpayer dollars to subsidize religious schools in several states.

[Why the Trump/DeVos visit to a Catholic school is so unusual — and what it really means]

In a statement released Wednesday, March 8, 2017, about the meeting at the Education Department with Agudath Israel leaders, DeVos said:

I applaud Agudath Israel for their leadership and commitment to providing their community with access to educational options that meet the academic and religious needs of their families. Agudath is a terrific partner and advocate for their families, and I welcomed today's discussion.

I look forward to continuing to work with Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish community and all who believe that every child, regardless of where they live or their family's income, should have an equal opportunity to a quality education.

DeVos and President Trump have made clear that expanding school choice is an education policy priority.  The administration is believed to be considering a new federal school-choice program, likely a tax credit scholarship program that would offer individuals and corporations incentives to donate money to help families pay for tuition and other educational needs at private and religious schools. There is now is one federally funded voucher program, in Washington D.C., expected to be expanded by the Trump administration.

Trump has said he wants to spend $20 billion to promote school choice, while DeVos has spent decades advocating for charter schools and voucher/tax credit programs. A billionaire from Michigan, DeVos and her family have spent millions of dollars to support religious schools. In 2015, she said in a speech that traditional public education is "a dead end," and her critics say that she wants to privatize public education, a departure from any previous U.S. administration.

Last week, Trump and DeVos made their first official joint trip to a school — a Catholic school in Florida. It was the first official school trip for Trump, and the first time a U.S. president had visited a Catholic school since Ronald Reagan visited St. Agatha Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Detroit on Oct. 10, 1984, years after he was elected.

In New York, Agudath Israel has been instrumental in winning state funds for Jewish schools, and has praised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, for ensuring that millions of dollars in state funds would be spent for security and other services for these schools. On March 5, Cuomo announced a new "New York-Israel Commission" to strengthen economic and cultural ties between New York and Israel, and among the members is Sol Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel.

[How Indiana's school voucher program soared, and what it says about education in the Trump era]

Although Agudath Israel of America does not ordinarily advocate for Cabinet members, it urged its supporters to lobby the Senate to confirm DeVos, with whom it has worked for years on school-choice issues. When she was nominated as education secretary by then-president-elect Trump, the group put a story on its website saying in part:

Shlomo Werdiger, chairman of Agudath Israel's board of trustees, expressed his enthusiastic support for Mrs. DeVos's nomination. "I have had some excellent discussions with Betsy DeVos," Mr. Werdiger said. "She is intelligent, compassionate and effective. President-elect Trump has chosen wisely."

The organization supported the Hasidic Jews who took control of the school board in East Ramapo, N.Y., more than a decade ago and were accused by state officials of financial mismanagement that harmed the public schools in the district but helped the private Jewish schools. In 2015, Agudath Israel lobbied against a bill in the state legislature that sought to appoint an overseer for the school board, and despite support for the bill from Cuomo and the chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, it didn't pass in the state Senate. In 2016, a compromise bill passed that provided more state money for public schools but did not include a state-appointed board monitor.

The Education Department issued a release Wednesday about the meeting between DeVos and Agudath leaders. Here's the complete text:

This morning, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos met with leaders of Agudath Israel of America about her commitment to supporting all educational opportunities, the importance of IDEA and higher education.

Agudath leaders thanked the Secretary for her leadership and expressed their desire to work closely with her to ensure their schools and community members have access to quality educational opportunities that respect their religion.

After the meeting, Secretary DeVos issued the following statement:

"I applaud Agudath Israel for their leadership and commitment to providing their community with access to educational options that meet the academic and religious needs of their families. Agudath is a terrific partner and advocate for their families, and I welcomed today's discussion.

"I look forward to continuing to work with Agudath Israel of America, the Orthodox Jewish community and all who believe that every child, regardless of where they live or their family's income, should have an equal opportunity to a quality education."

Attendees included:

Sol Werdiger, Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President

Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Federal Affairs, Washington Director and Counsel

Rabbi A. D. Motzen, National Director of State Relations

And other members of Agudath Israel of America


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