Friday, June 30, 2017

Monroe considering zoning changes 

The Monroe Town Board is considering a set of potential zoning changes that would relax restrictions on housing density in an area next to the Village of Kiryas Joel and tighten them in more rural sections of town.

The proposed changes are the result of a revision of the town's Comprehensive Plan that began early in 2016, accompanied by a moratorium on all housing construction. The board released a proposed update of the Comprehensive Plan in March, and plans to hold public hearings in July on zoning changes that their consultant has since recommended with her analysis of their potential impact.

According to that analysis, known as a draft generic environmental impact statement, the net outcome of the proposed zoning changes in the areas outside Monroe's three villages would be about 300 fewer potential homes when the town is fully developed. Planner Bonnie Franson calculated her proposal would allow 1,666 housing units to be built on residential properties that are now undeveloped, compared to 1,969 under the existing zoning.

The biggest change Franson has proposed is reducing allowable housing density on 1,070 acres of Monroe by increasing the minimum lot size in those locations to three acres, the town's most restrictive zoning. Largely as a result of that shift, the total area zoned for one-acre or half-acre lots would drop by nearly 1,270 acres.

The opposite change would take place north of Route 17 and west of densely populated Kiryas Joel, where housing demand is more intense. Under the proposal now before the board, 217 acres that are now zoned for one-acre and three-acre lots - much of it already developed with single-family houses - would allow quarter-acre lots if sewer service is extended into that area. The minimum lot size would be one acre if no sewers are installed.

An area slightly farther from Kiryas Joel and bordering County Route 44 would be zoned for one-acre lots instead of three acres.

The relaxed zoning in those places is a recognition of the growing Hasidic community's quest for more housing and walkable neighborhoods. But they still would look very different than neighboring Kiryas Joel, which consists mostly of condominiums built at densities for 20 or more units per acre in recent years. By contrast, Monroe would allow only single-family houses and densities no greater than four homes per acre.

Monroe Councilman Tony Cardone said Thursday that he expects the Town Board to vote on the new Comprehensive Plan and proposed zoning changes in August. The moratorium remains in effect until then. The moratorium, extended several times since the board initially ordered a three-month halt more than a year ago, expires on Aug. 4 but may be extended for a short period to allow time for the board to vote, he said.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Rebbe’s wedding dance with daughter causes a stir 

Hasidic rebbe made headlines in the ultra-Orthodox media when he danced, by holding hands with his daughter and son-in-law at their wedding in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

In what he claimed was an old custom which he wanted to reintroduce, the head of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidic group, Boruch Meir Yaakov Shochet, held hands with his daughter, her new husband and the groom's father, and the four of them danced for several minutes in a circle.

Hasidic Jews are known for being extra stringent about contact between men and women, even close family members. Usually at a Hasidic wedding the father or other male relatives dance with the bride by holding one end of a long cloth and she holds the other end.

His innovation was widely commented on in the ultra-Orthodox press, with at least two papers headlining the move.

Thousands of Hasidim attended the wedding, including rabbis and leaders of other Hasidic sects. The Behadrei Haredim ultra-Orthodox news site reported that 8,500 meals were ordered and 130 buses were hired for the guests.

The website explained that there was once a Karlin-Stolin custom for the father to dance with his daughter alone, and afterward for the groom to dance alone with his bride. This time the rabbi danced with his daughter and then called his son-in-law and his father to join them.

However, not all were supportive of the rabbi.

On the Kikar Hashabbat news site many people wrote shocked and angry comments, expressing their outrage at the public display of mixed dancing. One pointed out that although the rabbi said it was an ancient custom, the Hebrew letters of the word "custom" (minhag) when written backwards spell "hell" (gehinom).

Another commentator repeated a line attributed to the 19th-century rabbi Moshe Sofer who said that innovation is forbidden according to Torah law.

Another wrote that the rebbe had gone astray because he had been corrupted by the Zionists.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

14 arrested in New Jersey welfare fraud investigation 

Nearly 15 people have been arrested in raids over two days in a New Jersey community in connection with an ongoing investigation that has so far exposed about $2 million in alleged public-assistance fraud in the town. 

Six people were arrested Tuesday night in Lakewood, N.J., a community of about 101,000, nearly 38 miles southeast of Trenton, the state capital. The arrests follow the federal and state raids of four homes and arrests of eight people Monday on charges of stealing $1.3 million in public assistance over the last few years.

Lakewood is the fastest-growing town in New Jersey and surpassed 100,000 residents earlier this year, according to the Census Bureau. In the town, 32% of people live in poverty, Census figures show. Lakewood's rapid population growth is fueled by a flourishing Orthodox Jewish community.

Each of the six people arrested Tuesday is facing a charge of second-degree theft by deception, a state crime, according to a prepared statement from the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

The six people are accused of defrauding the government of just more than $670,000, according to the prosecutor's office.

Arrested Tuesday were: Yitzchok and Sora Kanarek; Chaim and Liatt Ehrman; and William and Faigy Friedman.

The Kanareks wrongfully collected $339,002.56 in Medicaid, nutrition assistance, Social Security and federal housing funds, according to the prosecutor's office. The Ehrmans brought in $185,692.22 in improper Medicaid, nutrition assistance, utilities assistance and Sandy relief funds and the Friedmans bilked $149,842.28 in Medicaid, food, energy and housing funds, according to the prosecutor's office.

Yitzchok Kanarek is the former rabbi of Oros Yisroel, a school for special-needs students that closed in 2015 because of federal and state tax liens of more than $295,000, according to public records.

The six people arrested Tuesday are accused of under-reporting their incomes over a period of several years to collect public-assistance benefits they weren't entitled to receive.

Authorities "allege that the defendants misrepresented their income, declaring amounts that were low enough to receive the program's benefits, when in fact their income was too high to qualify," according to a joint statement from Ocean County (N.J.) Prosecutor Joe Coronato and New Jersey Comptroller Phillip James Degnan. The families "received income from numerous sources that they failed to disclose on required program applications."

On Monday, a prominent rabbi, Zalmen Sorotzkin, who runs the synagogue Congregation Lutzk and businesses linked to the synagogue, was arrested. The others arrested Monday included, Sorotzkin's wife, Tzipporah; his brother and sister-in-law Mordechai and Rachel Sorotzkin; Mordechai and Jocheved Breskin; and Shimon and Yocheved Nussbaum. Mordechai and Rachel Sorotzkin and the Nussbaums face federal charges in U.S. District Court.

"Financial assistance programs are designed to alleviate family hardships for those truly in need," Coronato said in a statement Monday. "My office gave clear guidance and notice to the Lakewood community in 2015 of what is considered financial abuse of these programs.

"Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions."

Duvi Honig, the CEO of the Lakewood-based Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce, said that thousands of Jewish families in the town need the public assistance to get by and that some people are tempted to take more than they need.

"The pressure of the community overhead — especially the (cost of) private schooling — is unsustainable," he said about the Jewish community. "People are forced to find ways to bend the system."

The Breskins are charged with second-degree theft by deception for allegedly collecting $585,662 in public assistance benefits they weren't entitled to, the prosecutor said in the statement.

Zalmen and Tzipporah Sorotzkin face the same charges for allegedly collecting $338,642 in Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 housing subsidies and Supplemental Security Income, according to the prosecutor's office.

Edward Bertucio, attorney for Zalmen and Tzipporah Sorotzkin said his clients were "innocent" but declined to comment specifically on the case.

The Nussbaums allegedly under-reported their incomes and failed to disclose money they received from a number of companies in order to collect Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance and food stamps between 2011 and 2014, according to a federal complaint signed by FBI Special Agent Michael Farina.

In that time, the Nussbaums allegedly collected $178,762 in public assistance they weren't entitled to get. 

The complaint against Mordechai and Rachel Sorotzkin accuses them of also under-reporting their incomes to collect Medicaid. Rachel Sorotzkin allegedly failed to report $1.5 million she received from a limited liability company when signing up for public assistance.

In the complaint, Farina wrote that Mordechai and Rachel Sorotzkin received more than $96,000 in Medicaid funds they shouldn't have claimed.

The Nussbaums and Mordechai and Rachel Sorotzkin face separate counts of conspiring to steal government funds, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office. The conspiracy counts each carry a maximum potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain from the offense.

Fred Zemel, the attorney for Rachel Sorotzkin, said "everything's going to work out" and all the defendants "will be vindicated."

The investigation into the alleged public-assistance fraud began around three years ago and now comprises a variety of federal and state law enforcement agencies. The FBI, the Social Security Administration, the New Jersey Treasury Department, the state comptroller's Medicaid Fraud Division and the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office all have been investigating.


Bus Used for Jewish Pride Music Video Torched in Possible Hate Crime: NYPD 

 This multi-colored school bus was torched at the corner of Troy Avenue and Maple Street in Crown Heights. NYPD are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Police are investigating the arson of a multi-colored school bus used in a popular music video about Jewish pride as a hate crime, department officials said Tuesday.

The bus was torched just after midnight early Monday morning at the corner of Maple Street and Troy Avenue, according to the NYPD and the bus owner, artist Lev Scheiber.

Police said the NYPD's Hate Crime Task Force is investigating the arson, which sources said was lit by a suspect seen near the bus at the time the fire started.

Scheiber had used the bus as low-cost studio space to paint portraits, and to drive between Williamsburg and Crown Heights to work, he said. But the bus — highly recognizable with its bright paint job — had a second life depicting a "mitzvah tank" in a popular music video by Hasidic singer Benny Friedman in his song "I'm a Jew and I'm Proud."

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon in front of the hollowed out bus on Troy Avenue, Friedman sang the song and said the idea for his video was to "be loud and don't be ashamed of who you are."

Radio host Nachum Segal described the bus as "iconic and so important to our community" because "one of the most important songs about Jewish pride — that video, that song — was filmed with this bus as the centerpiece."

Since the fire, Scheiber said many in the Hasidic community have responded with "overwhelming sadness" about the fire on the bus.

"It's bigger than me," he said.A GoFundMe online fundraiser to "recover the bus" has collected more than $2,300 as of Tuesday afternoon, with a goal of $10,000.

The incident comes a year after five boys ages 11 to 14 were arrested in the neighborhood for torching a school bus from a local Jewish yeshiva, which was also investigated as a hate crime.

There is no evidence at this time the two incidents are related, police said.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Driver charged after plowing into mom, 3 kids in Monsey 

A man is facing assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving charges after striking a mother and her three children with his car in Rockland County Monday.

Police say 62-year-old Albert Gomez hit the family while they were walking along the shoulder of Route 59 in Monsey, where there are no sidewalks.

It happened just before 3 p.m.

The pedestrians were only identified as a 38-year-old mother, her 13-year-old daughter, a 9-year-old daughter and a 3-month-old son in a stroller.

All of the injured were treated at the scene by Hatzolah Ambulance. The three females were transported to Westchester Medical Center, while the infant was rushed to Nyack Hospital before being transferred to Westchester Medical Center in critical condition.

In the wake of the crash, the state Department of Transportation announced immediate action to warn drivers along the Route 59 corridor to be aware of pedestrians, including installing additional warning signs and working with local police on enforcement and awareness. Officials added that long-term safety improvements -- including building additional sidewalks; upgrading pedestrian signals, crosswalks, and signing; and making access improvements -- are scheduled to begin in the coming months as part of the Lower Hudson Transit Link project.

Gomez is being held on $150,000 bail.

The accident is still under investigation, and additional charges may be pending.


Vizhnitz Girls’ School Fails Three Inspections for Refusing to Teach LGBT Issues 

The Vizhnitz girls' school in north London, catering to 212 students, has failed three inspections conducted by the UK's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), on the grounds it did not meet requirements set out in the Equalities Act. Ofsted reported that students were "shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation," The Telegraph reported on Sunday.

Vizhnitz is a Hasidic dynasty founded by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Vyzhnytsia, a town in present-day Ukraine (which back then was in Austrian Bukovina). As a matter of course, Vizhnitz devotes little or no time to learning about sexual orientation, other than those well known verses in Leviticus that frown on guys behaving like girls.

According to The Telegraph, Inspectors visiting the Vizhnitz Girls School last month said the Orthodox school does not give its students "a full understanding of fundamental British values." It turns out that the students were not being taught about LGBT issues such as "sexual orientation," which puts the school in breach of the equality laws.

"This restricts pupils' spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and does not promote equality of opportunity in ways that take account of differing lifestyles," the Ofsted inspectors reported, pointing out that the students are being "shielded from learning about certain differences between people, such as sexual orientation." As a result, "pupils have a limited understanding of the different lifestyles and partnerships that individuals may choose in present-day society."

At the same time, the inspectors also noted that "the school's culture is, however, clearly focused on teaching pupils to respect everybody, regardless of beliefs and lifestyle."

Ofsted argues that while UK schools are not expected to "promote" ideas about sexual orientation, they are expected to "encourage pupils' respect for other people, paying particular regard to the protected characteristics set out in the 2010 Equalities Act."

The Equality Act 2010 requires equal treatment in access to employment as well as private and public services, regardless of the protected characteristics of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

In other words, in its citing of the Vizhnitz girls' school, Ofsted chose to overlook the protection of their religion or belief under the Equality Act 2010, in favor of the sexual orientation clause. Someone should tell the Queen.

Or, as Gill Robins of the Christians in Education group put it: "All equalities are equal but some equalities are more equal than others. Ofsted has revealed its true agenda. It doesn't matter how good your school is in all other respects – simply refusing to teach very young children about gender reassignment will lead to your closure."

Yes, we didn't mention that part: should you see this as yet another quirky Brits story, you may wish to consider that UK private schools which fail to meet Ofsted's requirements for "spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils" face closure.


Hasidic rabbinical teacher found dead in Ulster County camp 

A prominent yeshiva teacher from Monsey was found dead in his bed at the Kasho Camp in the Town of Wawarsing on Monday morning, police said. His death is not considered suspicious in nature.

The Ulster County Sheriff's Office is investing the death of the man, who sources within the Hasidic community identified Pinchas Weinberger, 38, whose father, Hillel Weinberger, is a rabbi in Mt. Kisco.

The cause of death is not yet known. The investigation is in its early stages, police said.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Details Released In Arrests Of Lakewood Rabbi, 7 Others, In Public Aid Fraud Case 

Details Released In Arrests Of Lakewood Rabbi, 7 Others, In Public Aid Fraud Case

Federal and local authorities are releasing more details on the arrests of four couples, including a prominent rabbi, in Lakewood Monday morning on charges of failing to report "sizable incomes" so they could allegedly fraudulently collect more than $1.3 million in public assistance benefits.

Rachel Sorotzkin, 32; Mordechai Sorotzkin, 35; Yocheved Nussbaum, 40, and Shimon Nussbaum, 42, are each charged with one count of conspiring to steal government funds, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said.

Meanwhile, Mordechai Breskin, 37, and Jocheved Breskin, 35, and Zalmen Sorotzkin, 39, and Tzipporah Sorotzkin, 35, were taken to Superior Court in Ocean County to face charges of defrauding state programs, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato and State Comptroller Philip James Degnan said.

The arrests are the first in what are expected to be multiple ongoing arrests in Lakewood, the Ocean County prosecutor's office said. Additional charges, including tax charges, are possible as well, the prosecutor's office said.

Zalmen Sorotkin and his wife and the Breskins were charged in state court because the fraud involved primarily state programs, the prosecutor's office said, while Mordechai Sorotzkin and his wife and the Nussbaums were charged in federal court because the programs they are accused of defrauding are federal ones, prosecutors said.

Mordechai and Jocheved Breskin of Blue Jay Way are charged with second-degree theft by deception, the prosecutor's office said. They are accused of fraudulently collecting at least $585,662 in benefits from Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 rental assistance and Supplemental Social Security Insurance benefits from January 2009 through December 2014, Coronato's office said.

Zalmen and Tzipporah Sorotzkin of Olive Court also are charged with second-degree theft by deception, accused of fraudulently collecting at least $338,642 in Medicaid, SNAP, HUD and SSI benefits between January 2009 and April 2014, Coronato's office said.

Zalmen Sorotzkin is a rabbi who runs the Bais Medrash Lutzk synagogue on New Egypt Road in Lakewood, according to the Asbury Park Press.

The rabbi, his wife and the Breskins were ordered released by a Superior Court Judge Steven Nameth after the preliminary hearing, according to NJ.com. Rachel and Mordechai Sorotzkin and the Nussbaums were making their appearances Monday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert in Trenton federal court, Fitzpatrick's office said.

“Financial assistance programs are designed to alleviate family hardships for those truly in need," Coronato said. "My office gave clear guidance and notice to the Lakewood community in 2015 of what is considered financial abuse of these programs. Those who choose to ignore those warnings by seeking to illegally profit on the backs of taxpayers will pay the punitive price of their actions.”

The FBI complaints against Rachel and Mordechai Sorotzkin accuse them of applying for and receiving Medicaid health insurance benefits for themselves and their children but failing to report significant financial windfalls that affected their income, "including a lump sum payment of $1 million from Rachel Sorotzkin’s business in April of 2013," federal prosecutors said. They first were approved for Medicaid benefits in August 2011, and continued to use them despite earning in excess of $1 million in 2012 and in 2013, defrauding the government of approximately $96,000 in taxpayer-funded medical care, authorities said.

In a separate scheme, federal authorities allege, Yocheved and Shimon Nussbaum applied for and received public benefits for themselves and their children from 2011 through 2014, despite their significant income. The Nussbaums created a variety of companies that were nominally run by relatives but were actually controlled by the Nussbaums, authorities said, and they opened various bank accounts in the names of these companies and used funds from these accounts to cover personal expenses.

The Nussbaums' companies included a clothing business in Yocheved Nussbaum's name that generated income used in part for a $100,000 purchase of a piece of property for a real estate business also in their names; a day care business, and a nonprofit autism association.

The autism association's business accounts were used to pay $10,000 in attorney's fees for the Nussbaums in a civil litigation matter, the federal complaint said.

Authorities allege that in applying for Medicaid, Section 8 housing, and SNAP food benefits, the Nussbaums grossly underreported their true income by failing to include the income from these business accounts. Despite annual income of up to as high as approximately $1.8 million in 2013, the Nussbaums continued to receive taxpayer-funded health, housing and food benefits through August 2014, ultimately defrauding the government of approximately $178,000, authorities allege.

The conspiracy counts each carry a maximum potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense, authorities said.

The investigations initiated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Red Bank office and the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller's Medicaid Fraud Division were expanded to include the U.S. Social Security Administration, the New Jersey Department of the Treasury's Office of Criminal Investigation, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office's Economic Crimes Unit.

Fitzpatrick in his news release credited special agents with the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark; the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato; the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller, under the direction of State Comptroller Philip James Degnan; the New Jersey Department of the Treasury – Office of Criminal Investigation; under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Charles Giblin; Social Security Administration – Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge John Grasso; and criminal investigators of the U.S. Attorney’s Office with the investigation leading to today’s arrests.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly S. Lorber of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Trenton.



Sunday, June 25, 2017


Bollywood flash mobs are not a feature of your average Birthright group, but the annual Indian group that traveled to Israel this month made sure to share part of their culture with the locals, as well as soaking up Israeli culture and having meaningful first-time experiences of the Holy Land.

Several members of this year’s group will be heading home this week having stayed on after the 10-day heritage trip ended two weeks ago, to spend time with relatives who live in Israel.

The group’s 19 participants hail from various areas of India and were led by Leora Joseph, from Mumbai, who has worked for many years in the Indian-Jewish community and has watched most of the participants grow up. “It was like leading my kids to Israel,” Joseph told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

While the group visited the usual touristic hot-spots which feature on every Birthright schedule, they had a few additions of particular interest to their community.

During a preparatory meeting ahead of the trip in Mumbai, Joseph had revealed to the group that she is related to the famous Indian-Israeli Singer Liora Itzhak, who fuses Bollywood and Israeli culture in her music.

The group, which included many singers and dancers, was keen to meet the celebrity.

Joseph made a phone call to her cousin, who obligingly came to meet the participants during their visit to Israel, where she spoke with them, danced and sang a Hebrew-Hindi duet with one of the participants.

The group also put on performances of their own. They arranged a Bollywood-inspired flash mob in Jerusalem’s bustling Ben-Yehuda Street as well as appearing on Channel 10’s morning show and performed a dance on air.

India is home to an estimated 5,000 Jews, while 4,000 Indian Jews reside in Israel. Members of the latter, living in Ramle, hosted the group for lunch during their visit.

Sisters Margalit, 22, and Sigalit Samuel, 23, of Ahmedabad, Gujarat, stayed on for over a week in Israel to visit their relatives across the country, from Haifa in the North to Ashdod in the South.

They were particularly moved by their visit to Yad Vashem.

“Every Jewish person should visit there at least once,” Margalit remarked, describing her visit to the museum as “very emotional.”

Joseph told the Post that the participants had complained that they didn’t have enough time at Yad Vashem and had wanted to learn more. “I found that interesting because it’s a difficult subject to deal with and they were absorbing so much,” she said. “There is no history of antisemitism in India and we don’t know much about the Holocaust,” she explained, saying that Holocaust education is limited there.

“We learn about it at school as part of WWII history but they (the students) don’t know the extent to which people suffered,” she added, though she noted than in recent years a Holocaust program has been launched, particularly in the Jewish community.

The highlight of the trip for the majority of the group was visiting the Western Wall, finding the experience of Kabbalat Shabbat there extremely spiritual.

“I got goosebumps,” Hebron Bamnolkar, 22, from Mumbai, told the Post.

Bamnolkar said his experiences of Israel exceeded his expectations.

He will remain in the country until the Maccabiah Games, in which he is competing in cricket.

Afterward he will return home to complete his studies, but he hopes to the return to Israel for good with his mother.

Joseph said the group became very tight-knit over the 10 days and felt like an intimate family.

“I told them that it will be life changing and an experience of a lifetime – and that’s what it has been for them,” she said.



Saturday, June 24, 2017

Christian-Born Teaneck Pizza Shop Owner Feels Connected To Kosher Community 

A Jewish star hangs around Hanna Mendez' neck as she tends to business in her Teaneck store.

But Mendez, who recently took over Cedar Lane's Pizzalicious — and added frozen yogurt section Berrylicious to it — is not Jewish: She was born and raised a Christian in Mexico.

Working at the kosher shop and several others like it, though, has become a way for Mendez to live in a community she's long wanted to be a part of.

"People will never understand when you're not Jewish but you feel that you are," said Mendez of White Plains, N.Y. "It's something that pulls so hard."

Mendez was 15 years old when she knew. She moved to the U.S., specifically seeking a Jewish community where she could learn more about Judaism.

She chose Borough Park, Brooklyn, which has the largest Hasidic population in the borough.

Mendez began integrating herself into the culture through learning Torah and abiding by many of the laws.

It wasn't until she attended a friend's wedding that Mendez dove a little bit deeper and began attending synagogue weekly and on high holidays. She dresses modestly in skirts and long-sleeved shirts to be tzniut .

The man she ended up marrying is not Jewish, but Mendez says he respects her desire to convert because it is for God.

Together they have a son, 6, who Mendez says tells his teachers and classmates that he is Jewish — he knows the Hebrew alphabet.

Some rabbis tell Mendez she could never be a "real Jew," she said, because her mother is not Jewish.

"I don't listen to what they say," she said. "I know what I feel. God is happy and accepts anyone who wants to be a part of it."

But Mendez knows what she wants, and her customers at Teaneck's Pizzalicious — along with the others she helped open in Long Island, Queens and White Plains, are just happy for her service.

A couple from New City, N.Y., a grandfather visiting his family and a grandmother hosting her grandchildren — all Orthodox Jews — approached Mendez before leaving to tell her how grateful they are that she took over.

It means more to Mendez than they could ever know.

"It's more than service — it's family," Mendez said. "I feel very connected to them. I'm very happy."



Friday, June 23, 2017

Texas kayak company loses contract for slurring Jews, Mexicans 

The city of Fort Worth, Texas, ended ties with a kayak rental company that posted Facebook messages ridiculing white women, Jews and Mexico.

Fort Worth Kayak Adventures, which rents kayaks at the Fort Worth Nature Center, wrote the offensive Facebook post while trying to explain why it recently had to double its rates, NBC 5 reported.

One Facebook post read: “To all you broke-ass hateful know-it-all white women and Facebook trolls that think they are going to J** us down …” After readers complained, the owners deleted the most offensive parts but added this: “The price is set in stone so stop wasting your time. This is NOT Mexico.”

The owners apologized in a June 16 interview with NBC 5.

“We’re truly, truly sorry for everything that was said,” said Lori Tenery, who runs the business with her husband, who she said is Jewish, and daughter. “We hope that you will find it in your hearts to forgive us and give us a chance again and make it right.”

Her daughter, 17, also apologized.

“I can understand completely why people are upset and I make a public apology to that,” the daughter said. “The whole Mexico thing was referring to prices, not people.”

On Wednesday, a post on Fort Worth’s Facebook page said the city “is in the process of terminating our agreement” with the kayak rental company. The city said the company uses the city-owned nature center in exchange for sharing its profits.



Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hospital worker accused of online posts trashing Hasidic women 

A Nyack Hospital employee is accused of posting offensive comments about Hasidic women on Facebook.

Deborah Rosario allegedly accused Hasidic women of not working and hiding behind their religion. She also allegedly said that they shop at Lord & Taylor while her tax dollars pay for their children.

Reaction from the Hasidic community was swift, with one community activist meeting Thursday morning with hospital officials.

"The leadership of the hospital told me they have zero tolerance against prejudice.  Workers have a code of conduct and how they cannot express themselves in a disparaging manner,” says Yossi Gestetner, of OJPAC Hudson Valley.

The hospital issued a statement that reads in part, “We are appalled by the Facebook post, which in no way reflects our ideals and care delivered each day."

Nyack Hospital says the incident is under investigation, but declined to release any information about Rosario or the future of her employment.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

New Book Explores and Preserves Hasidic Musical Heritage 

You don’t have to be a scholar of Jewish music to enjoy Velvel Pasternak’s new book, Behind the Music: Stories, Anecdotes, Articles & Reflections. You just have to be someone who wants to learn about the adventures of the author — a man who has done more than anyone else in our time to discover, record and transmit the treasures of Hasidic music.

In the book, Velvel, as everyone calls him, tells wonderful stories about his experiences — stories that will make you laugh, but also help you understand what lies behind some of the songs that you think you already know.

How did Velvel get into the work of transcribing and recording Hasidic music? One day, one of the children of the Bobover Rebbe came home from school singing a niggun (tune). When his father asked him where the niggun came from, the child had no idea it was his grandfather’s melody. That was the day when the Bobover Rebbe realized that his family’s musical heritage needed to be recorded, or it would disappear. The job fell to Velvel.

Some of Velvel’s stories are hilarious. Once, while recording a Hasidic song, a religious leader told him not to conduct the singers, since the Hasidim would sing with their eyes closed anyway; they were more concerned with expressing the melody’s spiritual meaning than with paying attention to Velvel’s conducting. The leader also told Velvel that the musicians he had hired to accompany the Hasidim would not be necessary, since the Hasidim would pay no attention to them. Velvel realized he was arguing with an irresistible force, and let the Hasidim sing without trying to conduct them. Then he dubbed in the musicians’ playing after the Hasidim left. The recording came out fine.

Velvel’s first album was a bestseller — much to his surprise, and to the Hasidim’s surprise. He went on to publish many more albums, rescuing treasures of Hasidic music that might otherwise have disappeared.

My favorite story from the book relates to the Hasidim’s request that Velvel’s recordings be “autentic” (how the Hasidim pronounced authentic). Velvel had no idea what “autentic” meant. He gathered a crew of 15 professional cantors to be the choir. The first song he chose was “Siman Tov U’Mazel Tov,” which is sung at many Jewish weddings. He dutifully transliterated it, using the Bobover dialect to please the rebbe, who had come along that night to make sure that the recording would be “autentic.” But when the choir got to the words “yihai looney” — meaning “it will be to us” in English and more commonly pronounced by its Hebrew dialect, “yehei lanu” — they broke up in laughter and could not continue. They told the Bobover Rebbe that they could not sing “looney” without laughing.

The rebbe listened politely and said, “Let me tell you a story.” He recounted how the cultural ambassador of the Ivory Coast once went to his counterpart, the cultural ambassador of Israel, and suggested a cultural exchange. The two nations could send each other their singers and dancers, but with one condition: The Ivory Coast’s dancers would dance naked “from here to here,” said the African nation’s envoy, drawing a line from his shoulders to his waist. The Israeli ambassador was shocked, and refused.

The Israeli ambassador offered a compromise: “You can wear whatever you want in your own country. But when you land at the airport here, I will be there and I will give you shmattes (rags) that you can put on, and that you can wear while you are in my country.” The Ivory Coast ambassador replied that if the dancers were to wear the shmattes, they might be able to dance well, but they would not be authentic.

Then the rebbe told the choir regarding their unwillingness to sing “yihay looney” in the Bobover pronunciation: “If you change the pronunciation of our song, it may sound nice to you, but believe me, it would not be authentic to us. And if the people of the Ivory Coast understand what is authentic, then you should too.” That ended the discussion. The cantors sang “yihay looney,” after all.

The book is full of such stories. It contains fascinating material on some of the songs whose origins you think you know, but don’t. For example, do you know why the French national anthem is sung at the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on Lag B’Omer? Do you know where Naomi Shemer got the idea for “Jerusalem of Gold?” Or where Naftali Herz Imber got the music for “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem?

Behind the Music is enriched with some wonderful photographs, and tells readers where to find performances of every song that the author discusses. Even if you think you already know Jewish music, this book is worthwhile for the insights that it provides into the worlds of Hasidim, classic Jewish cantorial music and Yiddish theater. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll get to know Velvel, the man who recorded a heritage and saved it for a new generation.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

‘You Don’t Know How To Draw A Swastika?’ Misshapen Symbols Of Hate Found In Nanuet 

nanuet swastikas 'You Don't Know How To Draw A Swastika?' Misshapen Symbols Of Hate Found In Nanuet

A hate crime investigation was underway in Rockland County where swastikas were spray painted in front of a home.

A crudely scrawled blue swastika defaced a 'for sale' sign outside of a house on Second Avenue in Nanuet. More Nazi symbols were found on the sidewalk along with the word 'hate.'

"I walked out and I couldn't see it through the trees. I said, 'is that a swastika," Shelby Destine told CBS2's Brian Conybeare. "I got so pissed I yelled, 'Don't touch anything. I'm calling the police."

Shelby Destine and her family discovered the hateful messages on Saturday morning.

"It makes me feel not safe, because what's to keep them from coming around the fence and doing something worse?" she said.

The new owner of the multi-family rental home happens to be Jewish according to longtime tenant Jean Baptist Hibert who said they are a welcome change no matter what their religion.

"I'm really happy. I got a nice deal with them. They got a nice office and it's really nice," he said.

Whoever did it apparently targeted the building across the street, but it's fairly obvious they don't know much about painting swastikas. There was also a misshapen blue symbol in the middle of the street.

"Obviously hate breeds among people who are under-educated, and to be so stupid you don't know how to draw a swastika?" Yossi Gestetner said.

Yossi Gestetner runs the orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.

He said this is happening all too often. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League reports anti-Semitic vandalism incidents jumped 50 percent in 2016 across New York state.

"My message to the haters or the losers do these things is that the orthodox and Hasidic community will not be deterred. We will continue to grow and continue to be good neighbors regardless of what type of hateful acts you may want to throw in our direction," Gestetner said.

That community continues to grow rapidly in Nanuet.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day condemned the hateful vandalism and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Kiryat Joel Residents Aren’t Interested In Coming To GN 

Great Neck resident David Zielenziger's letter to the editor on June 14 states: "If the mayor of Great Neck and his running mates are reelected, the village will ultimately become the Long Island equivalent of Kiryat Joel … where the majority of its residents are Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jews."

During World War II the German Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, advocated what was called "the big lie." The "big lie" was coined by Adolf Hitler in his book Mein Kampf in 1925. In Hitler's book, he blamed the Jews for Germany 's defeat in World War I. Goebbels followed the principle that if one tells a lie, it should be a big lie. And even if the lie is ridiculous, keep repeating it. Eventually, the lie will stick with a certain percentage of people. What Mr. David Zielenziger writes in his letter to the Great Neck Record reminds me of this "big lie." His letter plays to a potential fear of Great Neck residents.

I don't know if Mr. Zielenziger has ever visited Kiryat Joel. I have. It's really a very interesting place that I suggest readers visit. And after visiting, it's a short hop to the Woodbury Common shopping center. Frankly speaking, residents of Kiryat Joel are not interested in coming to Great Neck. The thought is ludicrous—so silly that I think even Goebbels wouldn't make the assertion Mr. Zielenziger does. Nor are any Jewish Great Neck residents interested in making our community anything like Kiryat Joel.

But that's not the real problem with his letter, because Great Neck residents of all religious faiths and politics know our community will not become the closed religious society as is Kiryat Joel. To think that is to think elephants can be taught to fly.

The danger of David Zielenziger's letter is that it's blatantly anti-Semitic message represents classic bigotry. Mr. Zielenziger's racist comment reminded me of the time when George Wallace ran for president in 1968 and I went to Madison Square Garden to hear his bigoted, acid rhetoric. Bigotry has a distinct foul smell like sulfur dioxide. That's how I look at Mr. Zielenziger's remarks in his letter. What George Wallace spewed during his heyday of racism and what Mr. Zielenziger writes echo each other.

I hope Great Neck residents will come to the conclusion that when they vote they will vote not against people who observe the Sabbath, eat kosher food and pray to God regularly; but, rather, they will vote for the candidate they feel is best for the Great Neck community. It may very well be that the best candidate is the candidate David Zielenziger wants to win but, if that candidate wins, it should not be for the reasons Mr. Zielenziger cites.

And lastly, may I remind my fellow co-religionists, whatever their level of observance: When one Jew is attacked for being a Jew, all Jews are being attacked. Learn from history.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Kiryas Joel, United Monroe agree on new town 

Leaders of the Village of Kiryas Joel and the United Monroe citizens group have reached an agreement that could end more than three years of conflict over the Hasidic community’s quest to expand and result in the creation of the first new town in New York in 35 years.

After more than two months of negotiations that intensified in the last couple weeks, the two sides have finalized the terms of a future court settlement that would conclude their battle over Kiryas Joel’s annexation of land and declare their mutual support for the formation of a town that would separate Kiryas Joel from the Town of Monroe. The new town would include additional land outside Kiryas Joel’s current borders, but less than originally proposed in a petition submitted to the Orange County Legislature last year.

A revised map of the proposed town and possibly the court settlement itself will be distributed to county lawmakers for a committee meeting on Wednesday.

For now, the two sides aren’t disclosing the contents of their agreement, which they negotiated in private with some county representatives and in discussions with attorneys. United Monroe leaders Emily Convers and Mike Egan said Friday that the additional land that would be joined with Kiryas Joel in the new town is “considerably less” than the 382 acres in the pending petition, but wouldn’t reveal the amount or discuss any other aspects of the multi-faceted settlement.

Egan, who led negotiations for United Monroe, said the separation of Kiryas Joel and Monroe would be healthy for both sides, enabling each to control its own destiny, and would allow the two communities to “reboot” their relationship.

“I think it’s a testament to everybody’s faith that we hung in through months of negotiations, and a lot of difficulty,” he said.

Convers said she appreciated Kiryas Joel’s willingness to stick with the discussions, and argued the resulting deal is fair and reasonable for both sides.

“I’m very eager and excited for the public to learn the details of this agreement,” she said.

Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin, in an emailed statement, called it “an historic new day” in the relationship between the two communities, praising what he hoped would be “a recipe for living side by side in peace and mutual respect and understanding.”

“We are grateful to all involved parties for the time and effort it took to reach this historic compromise,” Szegedin said. “Now comes the hard part of implementation, and most importantly listening to what the voters have to say; the final word will be theirs.”

The town formation would be subject to approval of both the county Legislature and Monroe voters. If approved by at least 14 of 21 county lawmakers, the proposal would be placed on the Nov. 7 election ballot in Monroe. The proposed town was called North Monroe in the petition but is likely to be given a different name.

The deal could end a pitched battle that began at the end of 2013, when a group of Monroe property owners petitioned for Kiryas Joel to annex 507 acres. The petition provoked fierce opposition, and spawned an alternative request for the village to annex 164 acres after the first petition stalled for a year.

The Monroe Town Board wound up approving the 164-acre petition and rejecting the 507-acre one in 2015. That prompted two court challenges, one by Preserve Hudson Valley - United Monroe’s nonprofit arm - and the other by a coalition of local governments that included Orange County and eight towns and villages. A judge dismissed the cases last year, and both sets of plaintiffs have appealed her ruling.



Saturday, June 17, 2017

Visiting Jewish Students Have Valuable Belongings Stolen From Van In Chicago 

Young Jewish students visiting Chicago did not feel Chicago’s warmth Tuesday night after one of their vans was broken into and some of their luggage taken.

The 32 Orthodox Jewish boys were celebrating their 8th grade graduation from Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, a Southfield, Michigan day school.

While the group was on a Chicago water taxi and seeing downtown sites on Tuesday evening, one of their vans was broken into and the luggage of 10 boys was stolen.

According to Chicago Rabbi Yitzchok Ehrman, a friend of the organizers of the trip, inside the taken luggage were tefillins, used during morning prayer.

Rabbi Ehrman describes tefillins as “a set of small leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah.”

He says each is worth $2,000-$3,000 each.

“It was the most valuable thing financially and emotional,” Rabbi Ehrman said. “There were boys that literally started tearing about this tefillin.”

Rabbi Ehrman said he and a chaperone drove through alleys all night hoping whoever stole the luggage had discarded the religious items. They found nothing. The rabbi was able borrow 10 of them for the boys until the tefillins are replaced.

Rabbi Ehrman is still holding out hope they’ll be found.

The rabbi said the the group had parked at ABM Parking Services at 541 W. Lake Street.

He said he hopes there was security video from the nearby train station in order to track down whoever stole the luggage.



Friday, June 16, 2017

Community Board Approves Controversial South Williamsburg Redevelopment 

The contentious battle for the Broadway Triangle looks to be ending soon, as members of Community Board 1 issued a recommendation of approval for the proposed redevelopment of 200 Harrison Avenue on Tuesday.

The plan, located on a two-block section site known as the Broadway Triangle, will include 1,146 mixed-income residential units, 65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, a half-acre of public open space, and 405 parking spaces. 

The privately owned, 4.2-acre site, which was once owned by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, is situated between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street.

The approval comes just days after Harrison Realty aka the Rabsky Group, who are developing the project, announced they will pay the prevailing wage to building service workers, build 287 permanent affordable housing units, and hire local workers for both the construction and operation of the development.

"The Community Board's vote to advance this project is an important step in helping meet the overwhelming need for mixed-income housing in this community by creating nearly 300 new affordable apartments on a long-vacant site. We appreciate the tremendous support this vision has received from residents of community district 1 and look forward to continuing the public review process," said Tom Corsillo, spokesperson for Harrison Realty.

The project has been a contentious issue for local officials and community advocates, who have been fighting over the vacant plot, citing discrimination issues. Community members sued the city for an earlier 2009 rezoning plan they claim favored the Hasidic community over Blacks and Latinos. The case has yet to be resolved in the State Supreme Court.

City Council Member Antonio Reynoso (D-Williamsburg, Bushwick) has vowed to block the project citing affordable housing and community input in the project, though the lot sits just a couple of blocks outside of his district.

"It is important to stress that we all want affordable housing. I still feel strongly that when a site is rezoned from manufacturing to residential, the developer should be required to exceed the minimum MIH (mandatory inclusionary housing) requirements because of the value increase to the site created through the rezoning," said Reynoso.

Reynoso went on to state at the CB 1 meeting, "For anyone who would criticize our attempt to stop a project that includes affordable housing, I would say that we don't have to accept a bad plan just because affordable units are included. We can do better, we can do more, we can fight to make our voices heard and ensure that the community is part of the planning process. I encourage you again to say "no" to this proposal."

City Council member Stephen Levin (D-Northern Brooklyn, Williamsburg) will have the final vote on the rezoning plan when it heads to the City Council for an official vote as part of the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP). That's because the project is on the Levin side of Reynosa's bordering district, and also between the heavily Hispanic and Hasidic neighborhoods – thus making the type of affordable housing such an issue.

Levin did not return multiple calls and emails from KCP for comment at post time.

DNAInfo did quote Levin as saying following the CB 1 vote, "We get too bogged down in that zero-sum mentality that everybody loses. There has not been any affordable housing built south of Broadway [in Community Board 1] in probably over a decade."

The Satmar Hasidic sect that populates that area of Brooklyn is extremely large and growing both throughout South Williamsburg and into Bedford-Stuyvesant. It also is well-connected to the de Blasio Administration.

Construction for the development is projected to begin by January 2018, with an expected opening in 2019.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kiryas Joel Satmar Boycott Brooklyn Anti-Israel Rally 

Nearly 20,000 members of the Satmar Hasidic group packed an anti-Zionist rally at the Brooklyn Nets' home arena last night — even though half of the sect boycotted the event.

The rally against Israel's efforts to draft ultra-Orthodox Jews was organized by followers of Grand Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the Satmar leader in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Followers of his brother, Grand Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum, boycotted, according to a report in Haaretz. Aron Teitelbaum is based in the upstate New York village of Kiryas Joel, though he has followers in Brooklyn, as well.

Still, the Hasidim filled the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn to hear a message of opposition to the Jewish state, which the group's rabbis believe should only be established after the return of the messiah.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Ex-Journalist Pleads Guilty to Making Bomb Threats Against Jewish Centers 

A former journalist from St. Louis accused of threatening Jewish organizations, including some in the tri-state area, as a way to harass his ex-girlfriend pleaded guilty Tuesday to cyberstalking.

"For this, I deeply apologize," said Juan Thompson, 32, who also pleaded guilty to a charge of conveying false information and hoaxes.

Federal prosecutors said Thompson sometimes used his girlfriend's name while making threats against Jewish community centers, schools or other facilities. They said one message claimed he had placed two bombs in a Jewish school and was "eager for Jewish Newtown," a reference to the 2012 school massacre in Connecticut.

The government collected evidence from about two dozen laptops, tablets and cellphones seized from his home.

Sentencing was set for Sept. 15. Thompson agreed not to appeal any sentence at or below 46 months — nearly four years — in prison.

Thompson was fired from the online publication The Intercept last year after being accused of fabricating story details.

Since Jan. 9, there have been more than 150 bomb threats against Jewish community centers and day schools in 37 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, according to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that battles anti-Semitism.

The threats led to evacuations and sent a chill through local Jewish communities. Acts of vandalism on Jewish targets, including cemeteries, have added to those concerns.

In April, Israel indicted an 18-year-old American-Israeli and called him the primary suspect in a wave of over 2,000 threats against U.S. Jewish centers, airports, malls, police stations and other institutions.



Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Prominent Haredi PR Man Arrested on Suspicion of Raping Employees 

The owner of a public relations firm active in the ultra-Orthodox community has been arrested on suspicion of rape and other sexual offenses against his female employees.

His firm recently went bankrupt, and since then the 30-year-old Jerusalem resident has been the administrator of a religious school for girls in grades one through eight.

His alleged crimes were committed over the course of about six years, and so far six women have filed complaints against him, police said. On Monday a court ordered him held without bail for five days.

The court imposed a gag order on the suspect's name at his lawyer's request. Police have asked the court to lift the gag order, arguing that publishing his name would encourage other victims to come forward, but so far the court has refused.

Police launched an undercover investigation of the man two weeks ago after receiving a complaint from the organization Lo Tishtok, which said he had sexually assaulted various women employed in his office over the years. As the investigation progressed, additional women filed complaints, and police are now trying to persuade others to do so as well.

The complainants accused their former boss of rape, sodomy and sexual assault. They also said he threatened, pressured and manipulated them into complying with some of his sexual demands.

The man's firm, which he owned with several partners, employed many women, and police said he had a consistent modus operandi: First he would give his victim a great deal of personal attention and promote her. Then he would start humiliating and harassing her and touching her body. Eventually, he would send his male employees out of the office to leave him alone with the victim, at which point he would take her into a private room and rape and sodomize her.

He also threatened the women – most of whom were married and some of whom were even pregnant at the time – that if they rejected his advances, he would destroy their reputations by telling their families and their rabbis about his sexual encounters with them.

In recent years, several serious cases of sexual assault in the ultra-Orthodox community have made headlines because discussion of this issue, which the community once hushed up almost completely, is no longer taboo. This is mainly thanks to the work of advocacy organizations like Lo Tishtok and ultra-Orthodox internet sites, which have raised awareness of the issue and publicized specific cases.

Racheli Roshgold, one of Lo Tishtok's founders, said the organization began receiving complaints about the current suspect around a month ago. After concluding that they were credible, the organization approached Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, "who has been very active on the issue of sexual assault in the religious and ultra-Orthodox community. One of the victims told the rabbi what had happened, and with his encouragement and recommendation, we managed to get the victim to file a police complaint."

Another victim consulted the rabbinical leader of the Hasidic sect to which she belongs, and he, too, "gave his blessing" for her to file a police complaint, Roshgold added.

This is a notable change from the not so distant past, when ultra-Orthodox rabbis discouraged sex crime victims from going to the police, preferring to handle such issues privately. But even though the community has made great strides in its willingness to cooperate with law enforcement agencies against sex crimes, no leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi has yet been willing to speak out publicly against sexual assault.

Roshgold said she expects other victims to file police complaints in the coming days.

The suspect's lawyer, Ariel Atari, termed the case "a criminal attempt to extort a well-known and admired businessman by several former employees."

"These employees banded together to extort money from him," Atari continued. "We intend to do everything possible to reveal the truth, and after the truth is revealed, my client intends to file a libel suit against all the women who submitted false testimony against him."


Monday, June 12, 2017

20,000 Hasidic Jews Protest In Brooklyn Against Israeli Draft 

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 anti-Zionist haredi Orthodox Jews protested in New York against the conscription of haredi yeshiva students and the arrest of draft dodgers.

Most of the participants in the rally Sunday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn were from the Satmar Hasidic sect, whose Central Rabbinical Congress of the U.S.A. and Canada organized the rally. The Satmars had hoped that other Hasidic sects would come out in support of the rally, but they didn't due to infighting, Ynet reported.

The rally was held under the banner of "Let My People Go," a larger campaign against the conscription and the "persecution of the Torah in the Holy Land."

A video showing haredi Orthodox protesters in Israel during rallies against the draft being handled roughly by police was screened.

The rally, for men and boys only, was held almost entirely in Yiddish. The Hasidic sect believes a state of Israel should not exist until the Messiah comes.

"To achieve their goal of make us into Zionists, they are oppressing us, expecting us to break down, give up and join them," said Rabbi Aron Jacobowitz, a spokesman for the rally, said.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Former Hasidic Jew speaks out over custody battle with ultra-Orthodox community 

When ‘Sarah’ left the ultra-Orthodox Jewish faith, she became embroiled in a custody battle over her 11-year-old daughter. Her family still in the community refused her access to the girl for several months, she says.
“It’s the most heartbreaking thing to not be able to contact your own child and see if she’s okay, to see if she’s happy, just nothing – zero contact,” she told RT.

“For someone to rip that away from you is the most callous, vile, despicable thing that anyone can do. And when it’s actually your own family who have done that … that’s unforgivable, and I won’t forgive them – never.”

‘Sarah,’ whose real name cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, was part of the 20,000-member Hasidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill, north London. The Haredi, strictly ultra-Orthodox Jews, are one of the most impermeable and tight-knit communities in Britain. They practice a 19th century interpretation of the Jewish faith, which includes arranged marriages, wearing old-style European dress and speaking Yiddish.

After suffering violence at the hands of her now ex-husband, who she married by arrangement, and years of questioning her beliefs, Sarah left the Haredi community. She is now ‘Off The Derech’ (OTD) – the term used for those who have broken away.

Following a dispute over whether the 11-year-old would attend a Jewish school, Sarah and her relatives agreed the girl would be educated secularly and go to a summer day camp, on the condition Sarah could see her daughter on weekends.

But her relatives did not keep their side of the deal, Sarah says.

“When [my daughter] went to the summer camp… that was the last conversation I had with her for several months. I had no way of contacting her, they totally alienated me from her.”

Sarah’s family then filed for custody. In court, they made a number of untrue allegations about her, she says.

“I was accused of being a serious alcoholic, I was accused of being a drug addict. I was accused of serious mistreatment, neglect and abuse of my own daughter... For me to be accused of not feeding and not treating my daughter – well, that was just heartbreaking.”

Sarah now has custody of her daughter, who visits relatives on Jewish holidays. She believes she has been lucky, as many other OTD parents have been all denied access to their children.

“The number of people who have lost their kids is heartbreaking to a ridiculous extent. Utterly heartbreaking. I’ve unfortunately seen people who have been driven to suicide over this.

"There are hundreds, if not thousands of parents currently now around the world who have no access to their children – haven’t had for many years sometimes – purely because they’ve left the faith. Not because they are a bad father or mother.”

Last year, the Stamford Hill community was fundraising £1 million (US$1.3 million) to finance legal battles in British family courts against parents who want to take their “pure and holy” children into the “evil culture” of secular society.

In a letter distributed throughout the Hasidic community, Ephraim Padwa, head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, wrote: “To our great pain, and our misfortune, our community finds itself in a terrible situation – 17 of our pure and holy children where one of the parents, God rescue them, have gone out into an evil culture, and want to drag their children after them.

“This is a decree of apostasy and this situation has motivated our rabbis who are in Israel… to come here in a personal capacity to increase prayer and to gather money for legal fees, and to achieve this, a convention has been organized of prayer and also to collect money.”

Sarah says the fund is used to pay for Britain’s “top barristers” to fight legal battles against those who leave the faith. She suspects that money was used to pay for the legal claim against her.

“That money is solely to fight parents who have left the faith and to take their children off them,” Sarah says. “That’s regardless of whether or not that person is a good parent.”

Campaigners say the tactical funding of legal fees unfairly skews child custody battles in favor of those who remain in the faith, not the best interests of the child. Many OTD parents have limited financial resources and are unable to get adequate legal representation.

Sometimes the religious parent is pressured into filing for full custody and even lying in court, so that the OTD parent is seen as being “unfit,”campaigners say.

The Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, reportedly behind the fund, did not reply to RT’s requests for comment.

Earlier this year, a transgender parent who left the Charedi community in north Manchester was denied direct contact with her five children on the basis they would be shunned by the ultra-Orthodox sect.

The woman, who brought the case seeking to have contact with the children, has been permitted to send them four letters a year.



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