Saturday, September 30, 2017

Whole Foods selling cake for Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday that requires fasting 

A shopper at a Whole Foods in Rockville, Md. spotted something unusual in the bakery section — a sheet cake decorated to celebrate Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is a time for repentance, and is observed by fasting for over 24 hours, beginning Friday at 6:35 p.m. through Saturday at 7:32 p.m. So the idea of a Yom Kippur cake seems a bit odd.

The cake features an assortment of Jewish symbols, none of which are actually related to Yom Kippur, including pomegranates, apples and honey (which are linked to Rosh Hashanah), a bee, menorah, fish, and the Star of David.

“I’m sure the baker had good intentions,” wrote Jen Simon from The Forward, an American Jewish publication. “They were probably trying to help their customers celebrate what they knew was an important holiday. But, if I may, a suggestion for the next time to the baker or any other well-intentioned person bent on inclusion – don’t.”

A spokesperson for Whole Foods told HuffPost the “cake was intended as dessert for the breaking of the fast dinner and a customer purchased it yesterday afternoon for that purpose.” But they didn’t explain the reasoning behind the unrelated imagery decorating the cake.

But despite Whole Foods’ intentions, Simon isn’t amused. “Stop trying to make Yom Kippur cakes happen, Whole Foods. Cakes aren’t meant to be educational; they’re meant to be delicious. And while I bet this one is, I don’t think we’ll be eating it on Yom Kippur,” she wrote.



Friday, September 29, 2017

A G'mar Chasima Toiva 


These Orthodox Lawyers Are Proud To Be ‘Barbie Dolls’ 

Remember Mindy Meyer — the young Orthodox Jewish lawyer who ran for New York State Senate with a hot-pink-themed campaign, inspired by Legally Blonde?

Well she’s back.

Alongside her partner Sara Shulevitz, Meyer, 26, stars in a Barcroft TV ten-minute reality special. The real-life lawyers have opened a criminal defense firm, the Meyer-Kessner and Shulevitz Law Group in Miami, assisted by a yarmulke-wearing private investigator named Simon Hamer.

Decked out in magenta-pink lipstick, long sheitels and coordinated outfits, the two young women call themselves “double trouble”. Their modus operandi is certainly unorthodox, but they see it as a new type of feminism. “Women had to fight so hard to have rights, and they had to go to the other extreme, no makeup, dress down, try to be like men. And now that we have persevered,” said Shulevitz. “It’s time to bring back the femininity and to bring back the pink.”



Thursday, September 28, 2017

Chabad Naples holds ‘shofar factory’ before Yom Kippur 

When Chabad of Naples brought in a visiting rabbi to conduct a "shofar factory" at their campus in the Moorings, he had some serious information to impart.

The shofar, the ram's horn turned into a musical instrument to be blown for Jewish ceremonies including Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years.

But Rabbi Aron Rabin knew his audience. He was speaking to four dozen children, plus a few mothers and fathers, and he had to hold their attention. So he laid on the shtick with the abandon of a Borscht Belt comic, which would be a viable career option if the rabbinical thing doesn't work out.

The shofar forms an integral part of the temple services on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which just took place starting at sundown on Sept. 20. It also traditionally closes Judaism's most sacred festival, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

As Rabin offered his high-energy presentation, he laid out for the Jewish youngsters why the shofar can only be made in certain ways from kosher animals, and some of its significance in Jewish religious tradition.

One requirement for a shofar is it must come from an animal with cloven hooves, said Rabin, and held up the hooves of a zebra and a cow to illustrate the difference, although cow's hooves are not typically used as shofars. Deer or similar antlers don't qualify, he demonstrated, as they are not hollow.

After explaining the history, the program proceeded to the heart of the matter: Giving each participant the chance to make a shofar of his or her own. Rabin handed out horns, derived from Texas goats, miniature hacksaws, and gloves to the children, who went to work sawing the "tooth" or tip of the horn at a pre-determined point.

They worked in pairs, with one holding and the other sawing. For those who couldn't get through with the handsaw, the rabbi had a bandsaw set up — which made short work of the horns — and created an aroma of charred bone.

After each shofar was cut, Rabin drilled out the small end, sanded the mouthpiece end smooth with a belt sander, and that was it. The shofar is a very simple musical instrument, with one basic overtones, and variation produced only by blowing technique.

As the workshop wore down, the sound of shofars being blown for the first time filled the room at Chabad, and the parking lot outside, as the children tried out their creations. Each has its unique pitch, so when multiple shofars blow, the effect is a discordant wail, reminiscent of a pack of wolves howling, or a South African soccer game.

Rabbi Fishel Zaklos, head of Chabad Naples, said every Jewish household needs a shofar. During certain months, it is blown each weeknight, he said, as well as in the synagogue. Letting the youngsters make their own shofars connects them with the ancient tradition.

"Look at the faces of the children. We're bringing the holiday alive — it's experiential," he said.

According to According to Ettie Zaklos, Chabad's program director and Fishel's wife, "the blast of the Shofar is intended as a wake-up call, telling us to refine ourselves and improve, in preparation of the upcoming year."

Rabbi Zaklos said Chabad Naples hosts a series of workshops through the year, including an olive press, a Torah workshop, a Havdalah candle workshop, and a sofer workshop exploring the work of Jewish scribes.

Chabad Naples is at 1789 Mandarin Road in Naples. They can be reached at 239-262-4474 or online at chabadnaples.com.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Hasidic Jews cheer as they cover up a screen showing in-flight movie 

Hasidic Jews were filmed cheering as they censored an in-flight movie starring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant.

The footage was reportedly shot on a private chartered jet and it shows commotion in what appears to be the first class section of the plane.

After what looks like a blanket is hoisted up over the screen in the executive area, the passengers in economy class followed suit, covering the screens towards the back of the cabin.

When the big screen at the front of the plane is hidden behind the material, the passengers applaud.
The camera then pans around the plane to show how individual blankets have been hung over the screens that are attached to the ceiling of the plane. 

The passengers were watching Music and Lyrics, which is the only film in which the actors have starred alongside each other.

The 2007 movie received mixed reviews and ranked number four on its opening weekend in the box office behind Ghost Rider, Bridge to Terabithia and Norbit.

It is not clear where footage was shot or where the plane was flying to or from.



Convicted sex offender rabbi sued for NIS 4 million in civil case 

Rabbi Eliezer Berland (c) at the Jerusalem District Court in Jerusalem on August 1, 2016.(Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Three women filed a civil suit Wednesday against a convicted sex offender rabbi and fifteen others who they claim enabled him.

The women are suing Eliezer Berland, 80, for NIS 4 million ($1.1 million) and also demanding that he be barred from leaving the country until the case is concluded, Channel 2 reported.

The suit was filed in Jerusalem District Court by the two women, who Berland admitted to and was found guilty of assaulting, along with another woman who was not involved in the criminal case against the rabbi.

Berland, who is the leader of the Shuvu Bonim Bratslav Hasidic group, was sentenced to 18 months in jail in November 2016 after being convicted on two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault.

He was released earlier this year after serving five months behind bars, in part due to suffering from cancer. He was given permission to move to a hotel next to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center on Mount Scopus, where he was placed under house arrest. His sentence is due to end next week.

“There are not enough words to denounce the defendant,” the petition read. “There is no real way to atone for what he did, and no amount of money in the world can will fully and completely compensate for the indescribable suffering that he caused the plaintiffs (and others).”

The suit was filed against the rabbi and his wife as well as rabbis and others associated with Shuvu Bonim, the ultra-Orthodox news site Behadrei Haredim reported.

According to the court document, seen by the news site, these people knew of the crimes but covered for him. “Not only did they give the defendant a framework and platform to advance himself, but they explicitly justified and vindicated his actions,” the petition said. “They even went so far as to praise his actions as ‘lofty’ and ‘elevated’ and as ‘rectifying supernal worlds.'”

Channel 1 tweeted what it said was a recording of Berland’s wife in which she describes her husband as a “sadist” and said that others warned her to keep away from him.

Last week the rabbi was authorized to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Each year tens of thousands of Jews converge on the Ukrainian city, which is the final resting place of the Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, an 18th-century luminary who founded the Bratslav Hasidic sect.

While there it was reported that his followers were involved in clashes with other Bratslav Hasidim.

Hasidic pilgrims praying near the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in Uman, Ukraine, September 14, 2015. (Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Long considered a cult-like leader to thousands of his followers from the breakaway sect Shuvu Bonim, Berland fled Israel in 2013 amid allegations that he molested two female followers, one of them a minor.

According to the criminal indictment, Berland would often receive people in his homes in Jerusalem and in Beitar Illit and held private meetings intended for spiritual guidance, counseling or benedictions. The rabbi would sometimes take advantage of the meetings and of his position in the community to engage in sexual acts with women, including minors, according to the charges against him.

The trial ended with a plea deal in which the rabbi admitted to the charges and was sentenced to jail and to pay NIS 75,000 in compensation. Berland reportedly told the judge that according to biblical law “such acts are punishable by burning and stoning. Today times have changed and there is a lot of leniency, but it does not detract from the severity of my actions.”

He was on the run from authorities until 2016, eluding several Israeli attempts to extradite him. He moved between Zimbabwe, Switzerland, the Netherlands and South Africa, accompanied by a group of devout followers numbering around 40 families.

Following a plea bargain the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court convicted and sentenced him in November 2016, though some seven months that he spent in jails in South Africa and the US were counted as time served.



Chart-Topper ‘Despacito’ Goes Yiddish Read 

No matter where you travelled this summer, you were bound to hear Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi’s reggaeton hit “Despacito.” The Spanish-language chart-topper has become one of the most popular songs in history; its music video has been watched 3 billion times on YouTube, and the song was a Billboard #1 hit in 47 countries.

As the Yiddish saying goes: “Azoy vi es kristlt zikh, azoy yidlt zikh” (“whatever the Christians do, the Jews are sure to follow”). “Despacito” has already been translated into Hebrew, both in a literal translation that preserves the original’s racy lyrics and in a religious version, which set Hebrew prayers to the catchy rhythm of the reggaeton hit.

Now Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jews can enjoy their own version of “Despacito.” Performed by Kalmy Schwartz and produced by several giants of the contemporary Hasidic music industry, the new Yiddish version sings the praises of the yearly Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman, where tens of thousands of Jews gather to pray at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (Bratslav).

Musically, the song’s new Yiddish incarnation is wonderful. The lyrics match the rhythm so well that someone who hasn’t heard Daddy Yankee and Luis Fonsi’s original could be excused for thinking the Puerto Rican singers stole it from Kalmy Schwartz.

Unlike Mordechai Ben David’s 1980s hit “Yidn”, which cribbed its tune from the German pop song “Genghis Kahn,” everyone knows the source of this Yiddish paean to Rabbi Nachman. YouTubers commenting on the video were divided as to whether the Yiddish version of “Despacito” is a chillul Hashem (a desecration of God’s name) or a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name).

Some commentators wrote that the song is inherently obscene due to its association with the Spanish original’s racy lyrics, adding that the timing of the song’s release just before Rosh Hashanah was inappropriate. Those in the kiddush Hashem camp argue that the song gives religious Jews an opportunity to think about Rabbi Nachman while listening to a popular tune they’d eventually hear anyway.

Whichever camp you may fall into, one thing is certain. Like its Spanish predecessor, the new Yiddish version of “Despacito” is sure to be a mega-hit, albeit only in the small but vibrant world of Hasidic pop.



Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Kiryas Joel man faces prison in alleged murder-for-hire plot 

A Kiryas Joel man faces at least 21 months in prison for his role in an alleged plot to commission the kidnapping and murder of another Hasidic man who had refused to grant his wife a divorce.

Shimen Liebowitz, a 26-year-old, married father of one, pleaded guilty in July to a single count of conspiracy to commit extortion and is due to be sentenced by Judge Sidney Stein in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Nov. 30.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have agreed to ask the judge to stay within the sentencing guidelines of 33 to 41 months. That comes to a minimum of 21 months once the time he already has served is subtracted.

Liebowitz has been held without bail since his arrest a year ago.

He asked the court this month to release him on bail from the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center before his sentencing so he could celebrate the Jewish holidays at home, but his request was denied.

Liebowitz and two other men were charged in September 2016 with plotting and paying a private investigator $55,000 to coerce a Satmar Hasidic man into giving his estranged wife a religious divorce consent, known in Jewish tradition as a get.

Based on conversations the investigator recorded and gave to the FBI, authorities say the plot escalated from kidnapping and torturing the man in Pennsylvania or overseas to killing him.

Only his get or death would enable the wife to remarry.

The other two alleged conspirators in what authorities dubbed a murder-for-hire plot were Aharon Goldberg, an Israeli rabbi who is now 56; and Binyamin Gottlieb, a 34-year-old Monsey man.

Gottlieb was boarding a flight to Ukraine at John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens when authorities nabbed him last year, five days after they arrested Liebowitz and Goldberg.

In court papers opposing Liebowitz’s bail request this month, assistant U.S. attorneys for the Southern District of New York acknowledged that Liebowitz opposed the idea of killing the intended victim, but noted that he had consented to the use of force if necessary.

In the criminal complaint last year, Liebowitz was said to have met with the FBI informant at Woodbury Common Premium Outlets to plan the abduction just days before his arrest.

Gottlieb, who’s accused of recruiting the investigator who promptly exposed the plot, pleaded guilty this month to concealing his knowledge of a felony. No sentencing date has been set.

The charges against Goldberg are still pending.



Monday, September 25, 2017

Kiryas Joel Administrator Earns $216K To Run Village Of 23,000 

The administrator of the New York village of Kiryas Joel, home to members of the Satmar Hasidic group, reportedly earns $216,000 a year — more than all but three other government employees in a three-county area in suburban New York.

The village, with a population of 23,000, has ten employees who earn over $100,000 per year, which the Times Herald-Record, a local newspaper, reports is “far more than any other municipality in the region.”

The village administrator’s assistant earns $152,000 per year.

The administrator, Gedalye Szegedin, told the Herald-Record that village staff works 10 to 12 hours per day, six days per week, and that village taxes have not gone up in 11 years.

Kiryas Joel is the home of Satmar Grand Rabbi Aron Teitelbaum and thousands of his followers.



Sunday, September 24, 2017

Israeli volunteers recover body of Jewish earthquake victim in Mexico 

Israeli members of the ZAKA search and rescue unit operating in Mexico on Saturday recovered the body of Haim Ashkenazi from the rubble of the office building in which he was working during the time of the earthquake earlier in the week.

Ashkenazi is the father-in-law of the chief rabbi of Mexico, Rabbi Shlomo Tawil.

ZAKA stated that its volunteers in Mexico have been working continuously together with the Mexican Jewish rescue and recovery organization CADENA since Tuesday, including throughout Rosh Hashana and Shabbat.

Some 300 people were killed by the tremor – the second to hit Mexico in just two weeks. Earlier this month, a powerful quake claimed the lives of at least 90 people when it struck the country’s southern coast.

ZAKA (the Hebrew acronym for Disaster Victim Identification), an Israeli volunteer-based organization with about 1,500 members that was established in 1995, is a non-governmental lifesaving, rescue and recovery unit.

ZAKA has an international division which cooperates with law enforcement, military, and emergency services across the globe. They participated in rescue missions after the tsunami in Thailand, the Columbia shuttle crash, Hurricane Katrina, and many other such disasters. ZAKA specializes in disaster victim identification.

The IDF delegation of 70 search and rescue specialists, including 25 engineers who evaluated the damage and provided assessments and assistance in the disaster zone to some 40 buildings, have been working around the clock in an attempt to locate survivors among the rubble and collapsed buildings.

Mexico was hit with a third earthquake with a 6.2 magnitude on Saturday, halting search efforts for a few hours until engineers could determine whether it was safe to continue the rescue activities.



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Two Jews missing in Mexico 

man stands in ruins of house following Mexico earthquake

ZAKA volunteers, headed by ZAKA Mexico leader Marcus Cain, are working to find and rescue missing people in Mexico.

Among the missing are two local Jews, who are suspected to be among those trapped under the rubble.

On Wednesday, the ZAKA volunteers received instructions from Mexican Chief Rabbi Shlomo Tawil on how to proceed during the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) holiday.

"Since Wednesday night, ZAKA...has been working in places where buildings collapsed and local Jews are unaccounted for," Cain said. "Finding missing Jews is a mission of utmost importance. We will not cease searching until we succeed in finding them."

On Saturday, an earthquake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale hit Mexico City. No damage or injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the number of dead from Mexico's previous earthquake reached 300. At least 157 of those killed were in Mexico City.

20 children and two adults were found dead in a neighborhood school. Another 30 children and 12 adults are still missing. 115 people were rescued from the rubble.

The earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale.

An IDF delegation of approximately 70 men and women departed for Mexico on Wednesday to aid in the relief efforts following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake which hit the country.



Wednesday, September 20, 2017

K'Sivah V'Chasima Toivah 

Wishing all of K'lal Yisroel a happy and healthy year.


Chabad leaders: Report child abuse to secular authorities 

Rabbinic leaders of the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic group have signed a proclamation calling for the immediate reporting of child sexual abuse and other kinds of abuse to secular authorities.

"We recognize in light of past experiences that our communities could have responded in more responsible and sensitive ways to help victims and to hold perpetrators accountable," reads the document released Monday.

The proclamation outlines policies that all Lubavitch institutions, including schools and synagogues, should adopt immediately. These include educating staff in identifying, responding to, and reporting sexual abuse, and teaching "body safety" to students.

The document also states that members of communities must be made aware when a sex offender moves in to a community.

In addition to child sexual abuse and other forms of child abuse, the document includes domestic abuse, elder abuse, and abuse of the disabled.

"The reporting of reasonable suspicions of all forms of child and adult abuse and neglect directly and immediately to the civil authorities is a requirement of Jewish law. There is no need to seek rabbinic approval prior to reporting," according to the document.

In 2016, 300 Orthodox rabbis signed a proclamation urging those suspecting child sex abuse to notify secular authorities and calling on Jewish institutions to take preventative measures to prevent abuse. The signatories included members of the Orthodox Union, Rabbinical Council of America, and Yeshiva University.

Members of Orthodox communities have traditionally hesitated to involve outside authorities because of injunctions against "mesirah," or turning over a Jew to non-Jewish authorities. As well, these communities are wary of publicly airing allegations against fellow Jews, especially communal leaders.

"Regardless of the standing of the abuser, accusers and their family members must be treated in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner so that they feel safe and can therefore speak frankly and fully," said the Chabad statement.

"This is necessary for them to receive suitable therapeutic support, and in order to facilitate proper investigation and pursuit of justice. Shunning or encouraging social ostracism of victims, their families, or reporters is strictly forbidden."

Among those signing the document are Rabbis Yehoram Ulman and Moshe Gutnick, senior dayanim, or judges, of the Sydney Beth Din, or rabbinical court, in Australia; Rabbi Yosef Feigelstock, senior dayan of the Beth Din, Argentina; Rabbi Baruch Hertz of Congregation Bnei Ruven and the Chabad community of Illinois; Rabbi Yisroel Rosenfeld, dean of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh; Rabbi Yosef Shusterman, senior Dayan and director at Chabad of Beverly Hills, California; and Rabbi Mordechai Gutnick of the Melbourne Beth Din, Australia.

The document concludes: "Ultimately, it is the halakhic (pertaining to Jewish law) and moral obligation of the entire Jewish community, individually and collectively, to do all in our power to safeguard both children and adults by preventing abuse and responding appropriately once instances of abuse have occurred."

Dovid Nyer, a licensed clinical social worker and activist from New York, has coordinated the project.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Blackmail Case With Prostitutes, a Video and Sex Abuse Charges 

Like many private investigators, Vincent Parco has, for nearly 30 years, made his living in the darker corners of New York.

In 1991, he admitted on the witness stand to having sold a pistol and a silencer to a woman who used them in a love-triangle murder that came to be known in the city's tabloid media as the "Fatal Attraction" case. Decades later, he found himself embroiled in the salacious prosecution of Anna Gristina, the so-called Soccer Mom Madam, whose little black book inspired terror among the rich and famous, both before, and after, she pleaded guilty to running a brothel on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

On Tuesday, however, Mr. Parco, 67, made the leap from a simple sleuth and connoisseur of crime to a criminal defendant. In a proceeding that rivaled (and perhaps outdid) his prior exploits in the underworld, he was charged with attempting to derail a sexual abuse case in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn by secretly recording a witness having sex with prostitutes he had hired then threatening to expose the man unless he stopped cooperating with prosecutors.

The story began in March 2016 when Samuel Israel, who lives in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, was indicted on charges of sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl. According to the Brooklyn district attorney's office, Mr. Israel, 45, was offered a deal under which he could have pleaded guilty and served five years in prison.

Instead, prosecutors said, four months later, Mr. Israel hired Mr. Parco, the proprietor of the Vincent Parco P.I. Investigative Group (at ISpyforYou.com), and engaged in a blackmail scheme to "surreptitiously record embarrassing video images of a family member of the victim." After being paid $17,000, prosecutors said, Mr. Parco enlisted an associate, Tanya Freudenthaler, who lured the family member to a hotel room in the Sunset Park neighborhood, where she and Mr. Parco had placed both recording equipment and a prostitute.

According to the district attorney's office, the initial sting operation was set for Dec. 17, 2016, but the video recorder malfunctioned. So two days later, prosecutors said, Mr. Parco and Ms. Freudenthaler tried again, adding a second woman to the mix and successfully capturing the family member, whose name was not released, having sex on video.

Then, on Jan. 17, two weeks after Mr. Israel had rejected his plea agreement for a second time, the family member was approached by a person whom prosecutors described as "a stranger wearing a scarf." The stranger showed the family member a cellphone video of his encounter with the women and told him, prosecutors said, "Be smart. Stop making trouble."

The family member reported this episode to the district attorney's office, but even that did not apparently stop the effort to derail the sex abuse case. Just two months ago, prosecutors said, another stranger approached another relative of the victim and showed that person the video of the hotel assignation. Finally, a third person reached out to the family member on the video, offering to destroy the video and obtain a statement from Mr. Israel admitting to his crimes so long as the family member did not "report any of this to the authorities," prosecutors said.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Eric Gonzalez, the acting district attorney of Brooklyn, called the extortion scheme "disturbing" and commended the victim and her family "for their courage in resisting" it.

The investigation came to end, Mr. Gonzalez said, in late June when prosecutors executed a search warrant at Mr. Parco's office in Manhattan, where, they said, they found copies of the video. Mr. Parco was charged on Tuesday in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn with unlawful surveillance, promoting prostitution and witness tampering. After pleading not guilty at his arraignment, he was released without bail.

"Once the facts are fleshed out," his lawyer, Peter Gleason, said, "it will show a very different picture of what happened."

Mr. Israel and Ms. Freudenthaler, 41, face the same charges. Both also pleaded not guilty at the arraignment. Mr. Israel remained in custody on $150,000 bail and Ms. Freudenthaler was released. The defendants are all due back in court on Oct. 20.


Hasidic Crown Heights Hit With ‘Filthy Jews’ Vandalism 


The Hasidic section of Crown Heights saw two acts of anti-Semitic vandalism over the weekend, according to social media reports.

"To the 'Jews,' how many was raped, killed and sacrificed to have this street all yours?" someone had scrawled on a park bench. And on a dollar bill given as change at a kosher coffee shop, someone had written in block print: "Filthy Jews use your yamika [sic] to pick up dog sh*t."

Crown Heights is the spiritual center of Lubavitcher Hasidism and the official headquarters of Chabad. The neighborhood has seen other incidents of anti-Semitic grafitti in recent months, including a swastika spraypainted on the sidewalk. And a week ago, a noose was found hanging from a tree on Eastern Parkway.


Rabbi Berland stopped at airport on way to Uman 

Rabbi Berland

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the founder of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and once a leading figure in the Breslov hasidic community, was detained at Ben Gurion Airport Tuesday afternoon after one of the complainants against him filed a request to prevent him from leaving the country.

On Monday, a parole board ruled that Rabbi Berland would be permitted to leave the country to visit the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine over the Rosh Hashanah holiday. Thousands of Breslov hasidim and others visit Uman for the High Holidays every year.

As a condition for his trip abroad, the parole board has ordered Berland to post a 740,000 shekel ($210,000) bond to ensure that he returns after the holiday, Behadrei Haredim has reported.

Berland, 80, fled Israel in 2013 after he was accused of sexually molesting two female followers.

Over the next three years, Rabbi Berland evaded extradition, travelling across Europe and Africa with a coterie of followers.

After his capture and extradition in 2016, however, Berland agreed to a plea bargain arrangement with Israeli prosecutors, pleading guilty to two counts of indecent acts and one case of assault.

Last November, Rabbi Berland was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but was released to a hospice five months into his sentence, where he could receive regular treatment for serious health problems he has suffered in recent years.

A few months ago, Rabbi Berland expressed remorse for his actions. In an interview with Channel 10 television channel Amnon Levy, Rabbi Berland said, "I take responsibility for what happened, I am willing to accept any punishment in the world, including burning me and stoning me because that is Torah law. The punishment that was meted to me was perhaps too light, and I am willing to accept a greater punishment."

In every hearing that took place, I told the judge that I wanted to be brought to trial. I want to take the opportunity to ask forgiveness from the complainants," he said.


Monday, September 18, 2017


Investigation launched into police misconduct at violent haredi protest

One day after police violently dispersed an anti-conscription protest by ultra-Orthodox demonstrators in Jerusalem, hospitalizing at least three men, Israel's police commissioner and Internal Security minister condemned the officers' conduct amid an investigation into excessive force.

The Mea Shearim protest outside an IDF enlistment center attended by hundreds of haredim on Sunday quickly deteriorated into a violent melee when riot police responded to rock throwing and illegally-blocked streets with water cannons and horse-mounted officers.

The protest was organized by the fundamentalist, anti-Zionist group Eda Haredit after 40 ultra-Orthodox men, including the grandson of a prominent rabbi from the Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Hasidic sect, were arrested for refusing to serve.

Many demonstrators also came to protest this month's decision by the High Court of Justice to strike down the law exempting ultra-Orthodox Jews from compulsory military service while they are studying at yeshiva. 

Although ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni issued a statement that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman agreed to release the grandson for Rosh Hashanah, the protesters refused to disperse until all the haredi conscripts were released from custody.

Video footage of the clash shows police body-slamming, punching and kicking several men, some of whom were already detained. Three protesters were treated for moderate injuries and nine arrests were made. At least one officer was treated for a light injury.

After the plethora of footage surfaced in the media, the Justice Ministry and Police Internal Investigations Department said they will launch probes to determine culpability among the officers seen beating the demonstrators.

During a Monday Rosh Hashanah toast at National Police Headquarters in Jerusalem, Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich condemned what they deemed excessive force by police as "unacceptable."

"A police officer is permitted to use force when carrying out his duties, however there is no excuse for losing one's mind as it seems was the case for some of the officers at Sunday's protest in Jerusalem," said Erdan.

"And when there are cases that appear to be excessive force, there is a duty to review them thoroughly to make a correction… These cases require an in-depth examination, and perhaps some soul searching," he continued.

Israeli police breaking up an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, September 17, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)Israeli police breaking up an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem, September 17, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)

While noting that several of the protesters threw rocks and other objects at officers, Erdan said violence against otherwise non-violent participants cannot be tolerated.

"It doesn't justify beating a demonstrator who has already been detained and is lying on the ground," he said.

Despite conceding that dispersing crowds forcefully "never looks good," Alsheich said the officers responsible for the unnecessary violence will be held accountable after a formal review of the matter.

"I felt bad when I saw the videos [of the violence]," he said. "We must not allow such situations to get out of control and for violence to be used unnecessarily."

However, haredi Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whose constituency includes the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism Party, was unequivocal in his denunciation of the police violence.

"This was excessive force that endangers life and that is clearly unacceptable," he said in a statement.

"The disturbing documentation of police violence proves that beating ultra-Orthodox demonstrators has become a way of letting off steam for no reason by violent and dangerous police officers. The police must stop this behavior immediately to ensure public peace."

Police said that while the officers utilized multiple riot dispersal methods only after protesters became "exceptionally violent" by blocking roads, throwing rocks, and refusing to disperse, any disproportionate force will be reviewed by the Police Internal Investigations Department.

"Police were forced to use crowd-control measures and arrest nine rioters in an attempt to prevent the continuation of this violent, illegal demonstration and the blockage of roads," police said in a statement.

Nonetheless, the statement noted that evidence of excessive force "was ostensibly employed for purposes other than enforcement."


Sunday, September 17, 2017

Jewish Community Dying In Home Of Satmar Hasidic Dynasty 

The small congregation in this northern city consists of only 110 members. Yet the Satu Mare Jewish community owns an impressive 129 cemeteries and four synagogues.

Among the heritage sites in its care is the Decebal Street Synagogue, an ornate behemoth of a building erected in 1892. It was designed in the Moorish style to accommodate 1,000 worshippers under its spired roof, and its gable boasts a 6-foot marble replica of the tablets of stone upon which the Ten Commandments were inscribed.

Before the Holocaust, prayers were led here by none other than Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the late founder of the Satmar movement of Hasidic Judaism. The Satmars, who derive their name from this Romanian city, are today one of the largest Hasidic dynasties in the world.

But to the Jewish community in Satu Mare today, this wealth is “also a burden,” according to Paul Decsei, a businessman who is responsible for administering the dozens of communal real-estate assets. Now teetering on the brink of disappearing, his once great community doesn’t even use the stunningly beautiful synagogue it owns because it can afford neither to heat it nor provide the badly needed renovations.

Unused, overgrown with weeds and falling into disrepair, the great cultural assets of Romanian Jewry are a testament to the near annihilation of the country’s Jewish community, which numbered 800,000 prior to World War II. At the same time, what remains is evidence of the tenacity of the 7,000 Jews who still live in the country and have fought to to preserve, with meager means, what their ancestors left behind.

Nicolae Decsei, Paul’s father and the president of the Jewish community, was able to raise enough funds to renovate the Decebal Street Synagogue’s sunken floor in order to keep the structure from collapsing. But the interior walls are badly corroded from the effects of a 1970 flood that was never properly drained from the foundations, he said.

The building does not contain a Torah scroll and thus is not considered a kosher house of worship. But it is still considered structurally sound enough for the occasional concert. Still, Paul Decsei said, its future is uncertain without an extensive restoration.

Some Romanian Jewish communities rent out or sell the properties that were returned to them after the Holocaust. Buildings that once housed synagogues, yeshivas and Jewish schools throughout Romania — and across Eastern and Central Europe, in general — now accommodate businesses such as restaurants, dance clubs, garages and barbershops.

Satu Mare has that option as well, of course. But the return would be relatively meager — land outside Bucharest comes cheap — and result in a loss of a major cultural asset, Decsei said.

The community relies on a sole source of funding: the Bucharest-based Federation of the Jewish Communities in Romania. The central board allocates the income it receives from its properties, as well as the government, to Jewish communities across the country. And although the cost of building maintenance is a factor in the allocation process, congregations with larger memberships — such as Bucharest, Brasov and Timosuara —  tend to be better funded than smaller ones.

As it stands, Satu Mare cannot afford to hire a rabbi.

“In truth, this building is a drain on our resources, as are the hundreds of graves we need to preserve and fence,” Decsei said. “But on the other hand, we can’t walk away from any of it. It’s our heritage and we have a responsibility toward it.”

The Satu Mare community today is a Neolog congregation — a Central European stream of Judaism that is a mix between Orthodox and Conservative. When congregants pray, they do so in the annex of a newer, smaller synagogue adjacent to the Decebal Street Synagogue. That synagogue, built in 1921, also is showing signs of neglect in a country where the average monthly salary is less than $500. The congregation rarely has a minyan, the quorum of 10 Jewish men necessary for some Orthodox prayers.

Separating the massive Moorish synagogue from the smaller yet still ornate shul is a monument memorializing the 300,000 Holocaust victims who once lived in Transylvania, the historic region of which Satu Mare is a part.

Once intellectual and prosperous, the Jewish community in a region made famous by the legend of Count Dracula was essentially wiped out in early 1944. Now its character is evident only in the architectural sophistication of its buildings. The smaller shul in Satu Mare has a board with the names of the weekly Torah portions appearing on a rotating wheel that the rabbi would turn each week. But it has remained untouched since the deportations of April 1944 — since then, the wheel has remained at Kedoshim, Hebrew for “martyrs.”

The predicament facing the Satu Mare community is not unique in Central Europe, where the Nazis wiped out communities whose few surviving members emigrated en masse after the Holocaust. But it is particularly striking in Transylvania, whose Jews had experienced a golden age just before the genocide, according to Robert Frolich, the rabbi of the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest, in neighboring Hungary.

Nowhere is the massive scope of Jewish life in Transylvania more evident than in the Jewish cemetery of Sighet, the hometown of the author Elie Wiesel that is situated 65 miles east of Satu Mare near the Ukrainian border. Covering an area larger than five football fields, the cemetery has thousands of large headstones and several mausoleums. It is one of Central Europe’s largest Jewish cemeteries not destroyed by Nazis or communists.

Today, the Jewish community of Sighet, where 14,000 Jews lived before the Holocaust, comprises only 55 Jews, none under 60, according to the president of that community, David Lieberman. Lieberman, a 69-year-old forestry specialist, moved back to Romania after retiring in Israel. He had immigrated there in the 1960s.

“The truth is that it’s very painful,” Lieberman said when asked about how it feels to lead a community that is “a shadow of its former self,” as he put it.

“I’m trying to keep this community alive, playing the part of a rabbi, but the truth is it is fading into oblivion,” he said. “And that’s particularly painful to me because I know how wealthy, magnificent, intellectual and spectacular this community used to be.”

Still, in recent years, Sighet, a city of 35,000, is seeing an increase in Jewish presence thanks to tourists from Israel and beyond who want to see the birthplace of Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died last year at 87.

Since the 2002 opening of a museum in his childhood home commemorating the deportation of 14,000 Sighet Jews, including Wiesel, hundreds of Jewish tourists began visiting there each year. Today, more than half of all tourists to the town are Jewish, according to radio journalist Johnny Popescu. Popescu, who is not Jewish, published last year the English-language translation of what Lieberman and others said was the first major historical study of Sighet’s Jewish community.

“Wiesel put us on the map internationally,” Popescu said.

Last week, the Limmud FSU group, which organizes Jewish learning conferences for Russian-speaking Jews, organized a memorial march for Wiesel through Sighet.

But can interest in Wiesel boost Jewish life in Sighet — or greater Transylvania — in any significant way?

Unfortunately, Lieberman doesn’t think so.

“It’s just another monument, you see,” he said. “It doesn’t change the reality of a community that is about to disappear before our very eyes.”



Saturday, September 16, 2017

In the Ukrainian city of Uman, businesses and mobsters follow the Jewish pilgrims 

By selling coffee to Jewish tourists, 18-year-old Yuri Breskov can earn in a week more than his teachers from high school make annually in this provincial city.

His revenues peak at $3,000 on the week of Rosh Hashanah, when some 30,000 Israelis and other Jews visit the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman. an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.

The annual pilgrimage has been taking place for decades. But what began as a trickle of observant Jews has grown in recent years and diversified to include many secular pilgrims. It’s a change that is creating new and lucrative opportunities for dozens of entrepreneurs like Breskov. But locals say it has also increased the presence of organized criminals feeding off their success.

“The mafia runs this place,” Breskov told JTA last week in a matter-of-fact tone. “The only reason that I can sell on Pushkin Street is that I have connections.”

Some 500 Jews live year-round in this city 130 miles south of Kiev. Most live and work in the area around Pushkin Street, the main artery leading to the gravesite.

Since 2012, that area went from being a collection of ramshackle houses with a single, overpriced kosher pancake stand and a Judaica shop to a vibrant neighborhood with a newly built high-rise apartment building. Some 20 kosher restaurants have opened — among them branches of Israeli franchises such as Maafeh Neeman, a cafe chain — as well as 25 hotels, many operating within apartment buildings in a practice that passes as legal in Uman.

Signs in Hebrew, including electronic ones, dominate the streets, touting everything from electricians to lawyers, medical specialists to Jacuzzi bath operators to real estate agents. On Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, one of the signs reads “Shabbat Shalom.”

The transformation reflects the explosion of Jewish pilgrims to Uman. Whereas in the past the visitors were mostly Hasidic men, they now include “everyone you can imagine, from female teenagers to post-army guys,” said Shimon Buskila, a former leader of the Jewish community here. They are also coming by the thousands outside of the High Holidays period.

“It was sudden, it was unexpected and it has been a very profound change,” he said. “From a phenomenon connected to the Breslov stream, the pilgrimage has grown to become an all-Israeli phenomenon, an international one even.”

Even so, Buskila said, Rosh Hashanah in Uman remains a “deeply spiritual event.”

On the first evening of the holiday men, many of them wearing a festive all-white version of the knee-length kapote robe favored by Hasidim, greet each other with hugs on the street, sometimes walking with their arms wrapped around a friend’s shoulder to join a mass of people who pray in relative silence around the gravesite. Children scamper about everywhere, even on rooftops.

Nachman, who lived in the late 18th century in Podolia and Ukraine, was a charismatic mystic whose sayings and parables were transmitted by devoted disciples. Unlike most other Hasidim, his followers never accepted a successor to the man they consider their “true tzaddik,” or holy man.

But the reverent crowd of followers of the Breslov stream – a movement that emphasizes pious joie de vivre and in Israel does outreach in prisons – has been joined increasingly in recent years by visitors who can be seen smoking and drinking on the street on Shabbat, barbecuing on the porches of rented apartments and hotel rooms, frequenting hookers and getting into brawls.

This behavior has led several hotels in Ukraine to stop renting rooms to Jews. And it also requires the Israel Police to dispatch 20 officers each year to Uman to better maintain the peace.

The commercial growth is due in large part to the secular visitors, who will buy products and services shunned by observant Hasidim. As a rule, the Hasidim refrain even from drinking water from glasses that have not undergone the koshering process.

Some of the new businesses are owned by Israelis who settled in Uman, like Shlomo Aboutbul, who opened a restaurant here in 2015. Others are owned by Ukrainians or are joint Israeli-Ukrainian ventures. The settling of Israeli businesspeople has led to the doubling of the local Jewish population, which numbered 200 just three years ago.

The community’s growth is a mixed blessing, according to Buskila.

“We now have a wide selection of kosher products, kosher meat, we have a Jewish kindergarten for our daughter, we have an emergency clinic,” he said. “But there are negative aspects and some parents feel the change compromises our efforts to bring up our children in a moral environment.”

The popularization of the Uman pilgrimage is taking its toll on relations with the non-Jewish population, Buskila added. In December, in the most notorious example yet of strain, unidentified vandals desecrated a synagogue with a pig’s head and anti-Semitic graffiti.

“I find it difficult to believe that this incident isn’t connected to misbehavior, abuse and violence by a certain fringe within the pilgrim community,” Buskila said. “Unfortunately, their actions can eclipse a record of coexistence which is mostly very positive.”

Displays of anti-pilgrim hostility have been occurring for years in Uman, sometimes in demonstrations featuring anti-Semitic rhetoric. But the desecration was an escalation that provoked a retaliation: In January, Ukrainian prosecutors charged an Israeli who vandalized a crucifix with a hate crime, allegedly as payback for the anti-Semitic attack.

Many locals, including Luba Dankov, a retired teacher who rents out her apartment on Pushkin Street, are grateful for the pilgrimage.

“I don’t know about mafia, but thanks to the pilgrims I can live a halfway decent life because I get no state pension,” she said. “There are good and bad people in each group.”

But the interest apparently taken by the mafia in the Uman pilgrimage is nonetheless a friction point. Eduard Leonov, a member of the nationalist Svoboda Party, launched a campaign in 2011 for a “Hasid-free Uman.” He complained that because of the pilgrims, “Uman is suddenly a crime capital.”

“Mafia” here refers to Ukrainian mobsters with regional franchises who employ a mix of intimidation, violence and bribes to advance their goals, according to the U.S. State Department.

While organized crime is a major force everywhere here — the State Department’s 2016 report on Ukraine spoke of how its “endemic corruption” has turned the former Soviet republic “into a transit country” for international money laundering — it seems to be particularly present in Uman, where locals report that gangsters are able to operate with impunity.

Mafia connections are a necessity for many of the dozens of businesses that have sprung up in Uman over the past five years, according to Buskila. Breskov, the coffee seller, says he has to give its enforcers a 20 percent cut from his earnings.

Israeli and Ukrainian businessmen alike all have “to get along with the mafia,” said Aboutbul, the restaurant owner. And Buskila added that many business owners pay “protection” fees to the mafia instead of paying taxes, “which are very easy to avoid here – you just have to throw the auditors a bone.”

Another business that reportedly enjoys connections to organized crime is Saga, a strip club and restaurant that for the duration of Rosh Hashanah functions as a brothel under the auspices of organized crime bosses, according to Vika Tsegurna, a local tour guide. Three taxi drivers confirmed this to JTA. The restaurant’s owners declined to be interviewed, as did a spokesman for the mayor’s office.

Prostitution has long shadowed the Uman pilgrimage. Five years ago, taxi drivers would take interested parties to a group of deserted buildings outside Uman, where dozens of prostitutes who came to the city especially for the pilgrimage would ply their trade.

Transportation services offer another glimpse into mafia involvement. Pushkin Street once was serviced by dozens of independent taxi drivers, but they are now banned from the Jewish area. Their place has been taken by employees of large taxi firms who have “come to an arrangement” with organized crime bosses, according to Anatoly, a cabbie who used to work near the Jewish area before he was “forced to leave by thugs,” as he put it.

Buskila and Aboutbul insist that organized crime in Uman is essentially “white collar” in its treatment of Israelis, involving the threat of damage to property at worst but zero violence against actual people. To Buskila, the criminals “occupied a vacuum left by authorities” following a period of chaos during the revolution in Ukraine in 2014.

The revolution — in part a response to allegations of corruption and subservience to Russia by the previous regime — unleashed a wave of nationalist sentiment. It also resulted in major damage to the local economy and a free fall in the value of the local currency, the hryvnia, against the dollar. This last development made Ukraine especially attractive to Western businessmen and tourists, Buskila said.

Still, violent incidents involving the pilgrims do occur, including the brief hijacking last year of a bus with female tourists from Israel by criminals as part of their dispute with the bus company’s operators. And in 2011, thugs abducted a haredi Orthodox man they said had stolen from a local hotel and confiscated his passport. His passport was returned for ransom, according to the news site Behadrei Haredim.

For all the challenges it brings, the growth in Jewish presence in Uman is something Buskila and other community members generally welcome.

“It feels good to be part of something that started out small and has grown into something pretty big,” he said.



Friday, September 15, 2017

NYPD Warns Of White Nationalist Violence In Pre-Holiday Security Briefing With Jewish Leaders 


Leaders from the NYPD and Jewish community gathered at One Police Plaza on Wednesday for the annual High Holy Days security briefing, during which law enforcement officials spoke of the dramatic increase in hate crimes across the city, and made explicit warnings about the potential for white supremacist violence.

According to NY1, "for the first time in a public forum, the NYPD spoke about what it called white nationalist violence," and their attempts to keep an eye on various hate groups. Police said that 273 hate crimes had been reported so far this year, most of them anti-Semitic. (Last year, there were 328 reported hate crimes through November 13th, up from 250 reported hate crimes for the same time period in 2015.)

They also pointed to James Harris Jackson, a white man who allegedly took a bus from Maryland to Manhattan in March to fatally stab Timothy Caughman, as someone who may have been influenced by growing strains of white nationalism across the country.

"There are similarities: They were both radicalized online, they both frequented sites that discussed black-on-white violence and advocated for white supremacy over different minority groups, and they both allegedly penned manifestos," said Meaghan Gruppo, a counterterrorism analyst with the NYPD.

The pre-Rosh Hashana briefings have been held every year since 9/11, and typically involve police officials asking members of the Jewish community to be the NYPD's "eyes and ears" during the High Holy Days season. Several high-ranking members of the shomrim, the controversial Hasidic neighborhood patrol group, were in attendance, along with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and NYPD Champlain's Unit.

The NYPD also plans to deploy additional resources to Jewish neighborhoods and other potential terrorism targets. Their "Hercules" patrols, or heavily armed counterterrorism units, will make unannounced visits at synagogues across the city.

"It is our mission to make sure nobody in New York City lives their lives in fear," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said.


Thursday, September 14, 2017


By overwhelming majority, the Orange County Legislature last week agreed to allow the Town of Monroe to put a referendum on its November 7 ballot to create an all-Satmar Hasidic town.

Speaker after speaker filled the County's Emergency Services Building on Thursday, September 7, pleading with Legislators to say "aye" to the referendum to separate the village of Kiryas Joel and allow it to be absorbed into a new town called Palm Tree. Most who spoke said it will prevent the Monroe-Woodbury School District "from becoming another East Ramapo" and will preserve the suburban lifestyle for the rest of Monroe residents enjoy.

The KJ School District, which serves only disabled children in the Satmar village and will serve East Ramapo's disabled children as well, agreed to realign its boundaries with the M/W School District at a cost, which has yet to be determined. Monroe residents pointed to East Ramapo district and the Town of Ramapo as owners of fates they wish to avoid.

There were many unanswered questions the Legislature bypassed, including where the water to serve the population of Kiryas Joel and/or its new town will come from. Its pipeline from New York City's Catskill aqueduct to the village of Kiryas Joel was shut down and still being debated in the Appellate Division. The current plan is to draw water from nearby Cornwall, a community that's primarily dependent on well water.

Matt Turnbull (D-Hamptonburgh), one of the three of 21 Legislators who voted no, said the agreement between United Monroe, a local political party, and three Orange County legislators behind closed doors was insufficient. With no SEQR review and no comprehensive plan filed with the Orange County Planning Department, the public is in the dark when it comes to what the proposed new town's intentions will be.

"We found a solution and want the fighting to stop. Trust us," United Monroe Chair Emily Convers told the Legislature,

With more than 10,000 registered voters in the village of Kiryas Joel who will also be voting in that same November referendum, there's little doubt it will pass. Although the village of Kiryas Joel was declared unconstitutional by The US Supreme Court, former Governor Mario Cuomo and his successors have re-written laws to bypass the SCOTUS decision.

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, who represents areas within Orange County including Monroe along with parts of the Town of Ramapo in Rockland County, said, "I have long advocated that separation of the residents of Kiryas Joel into a new town was a solution that should be explored and I am glad that the leaders on both sides of the issue sat down and have come to an amicable agreement. The creation of the Town of Palm Tree for the people of Kiryas Joel will allow self government for both the people of Monroe and the people of Kiryas Joel, and will mitigate the differences and disagreements between them. Following a yes vote tonight the destiny of both Monroe and KJ will be in the hands of the voters, and I wholeheartedly endorse such a result."


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Boro Park Rabbi ‘Traumatized’ By Vermont State Trooper Holding Him at Gunpoint 

A Vermont state trooper held a rabbi from Borough Park at gunpoint and treated like a common "criminal," according to a report in the New York Post. The rabbi's upset wife is demanding the trooper be removed from duty for this heinous act. 

Rabbi Berl Fink's wife, Sarah, told The Post, that their horror story started on August 7 near Fairlee, Vermont, along I-91 North.

The Post reports, "Berl, who was driving, was ordered out of their 2004 Toyota Camry at gunpoint by Trooper Justin Thompson around 11:30 p.m., as their two teen kids looked on, she said. Thompson then allegedly pushed Berl to the ground, handcuffed him and frisked him for weapons, while the rest of the kin — including the couple's 16-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son — were also told to get out of the vehicle and handcuffed. Sarah claimed four other cops 'tackled' her son to the ground, 'repeatedly' frisked them and searched their car."

Sarah told the paper, "I tell you, there was brutality. He was pointing guns. I can't tell you how traumatizing it was." 

The day following the incident, the family was informed by officers that they were pulled over for speeding, and trooper arrested Berl because he thought he was drunk because he was weaving between lanes. However, a Breathalyzer test to determine Berl's blood alcohol level was never administered. 

According to the family, the first time they drove past the trooper, who was on the side of the rode with his lights on, they were only moving somewhere between 55 and 60 mph through the 65-mph speed zone. After they went passed the trooper, he pulled out and began tailing the family's Toyota. 

Sarah told The Post, "We were frustrated. We were helpless. There was nothing to do. When someone starts up with you, you call the police. But what if it is the police?"

The trooper eventually issued Berl a summons for eluding an officer of the law, as he had to respond to a more urgent call. 

The family is now threatening to sue the Vermont State Police for violating their civil rights.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott was called on by Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind to investigate the family's allegations over this "appalling" incident. 

Hikind said, "My constituents' dress made it clear that they were Hasidic Jews, a sight that may be uncommon in Vermont but one that is hardly a crime. While it would be difficult to mistake the Fink family as people who might pose a danger to police officers, they were subjected to having guns pointed at them, being handcuffed, terrorized and humiliated. This entire incident has left the Fink family traumatized and fearful of travel."

On August 8, a press release was issued saying that police attempted to pull over Berl for "a motor vehicle violation." The release continued, "When signaled to stop with flashing emergency lights and sounding siren, [Berl] Fink failed to do so." 

The Vermont State Police's spokesman said that it would investigate the incident further.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Hasidic Leader Alone Among Pols From Pre-9/11 Front Page To Keep Clout 

Local primary races in New York City are pretty ho-hum this year. With no real challenger for Mayor Bill de Blasio, primary day will pass more-or-less unnoticed tomorrow.

Sixteen years ago yesterday was a different story. After eight tumultuous years, Rudy Giuliani was term limited out, clearing the way for what the New York Times, in a front page story on September 10, 2001, called "the busiest primary campaign around here that anyone can remember."

To illustrate the story, the Times ran above-the-fold photos of the four leading Democratic hopefuls.

Of everyone pictured the four images, which ran the day before the terror attacks that would define an era, there's only person still active in local politics: Satmar community leader Rabbi David Niederman.

Niederman, then as now, is head of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, a powerful local nonprofit. He also serves as a key liaison between political leaders and the Satmar community in Brooklyn.

Others pictured in the photos are dead, disgraced, or have moved on from politics. Mark Green won the primary, but lost the general election to Michael Bloomberg. Peter Vallone Sr., pictured with a guy in a Dodgers hat, never ran for office again. Alan Hevesi pled guilty to corruption charges in 2011.

Only Fernando Ferrer remains active in public life. He has been on the board of the Metropolitan Transit Authority since 2011.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Bomb Threat Didn’t Stop Jewish Couple From Getting Married 

Gaby and Dan Rosehill wouldn’t let anything get in the way of their wedding day. Even if that thing was a bomb threat that forced all 218 guests to evacuate the hotel where the wedding was taking place.

“I was just about to be named husband and wife when the alarm went off. We had to evacuate,” Gaby Rosehill told The Jewish Chronicle about the incident on Sunday in Brighton, England.

“I had to ask the rabbi ‘Is this divine intervention? Does God not want me to get married?’” she recounted. “But he told me it was ‘just a test’ and we would get through it.”

As the bridal party gathered in a nearby hotel, the couple’s wedding planners managed to put together an on-spot wedding, chuppah and all. That turned out to be a good decision, since it took five hours for the police to clear the original venue.

The couple got married in the new location, though the bomb threat changed the order of events a bit, including police questioning the couple about anyone who may have been angry at them — in the yichud room where couples retreat for a little privacy. But the pair managed to keep up their spirits.

“Dan managed to laugh off the situation the whole way through,” Rosehill told The Chronicle.

After police deemed the incident a hoax, the couple and guests were able to return to the original venue — just in time for dessert.

“It just goes to show all you really need is love,” Rosehill said of her special day.



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