Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Hasidic Student Almost Misses His Wedding Over British Immigration Snafu 

British immigration officers detained for three days a haredi Orthodox citizen of Israel and the United States who arrived in the United Kingdom to marry a citizen of that country.

Yosef Goldenberg of Los Angeles, who is studying in Israel, arrived Thursday at London's Heathrow Airport carrying his American passport en route to his wedding Monday in Newcastle even though his request for a special marriage visa had been denied, Arutz 7 reported Tuesday. Goldenberg was hoping to enter as a tourist but was barred from doing so because he had already applied unsuccessfully for the marriage visa.

He was finally allowed to enter the United Kingdom following intervention by Israel's interior minister, Aryeh Deri, who had heard about Goldenberg's case and asked British authorities to give him a concession so he would make it to his own wedding to Yael Naomi Maimren of Gateshead, near Newcastle.

"I personally guarantee that within 10 days of the wedding, the bride and groom will leave England and move to Israel," Deri wrote to British officials, according to Arutz 7.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Is The Media’s Obsession With Hasidic Jews Anti-Semitic? 

Our news feeds and Shabbos tables are abuzz with talk of ‘One of Us’, the latest Netflix film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (the creators of Jesus Camp), about the lives of those who leave the Hasidic community and are ostracized.

I confess: I will not be watching this documentary. This isn’t out of despair for the social issues faced in parts of our Jewish community, but rather, because I am tired and frustrated with the blatant prejudice shown in the media’s obsessively negative coverage of religious Jews, where they are purging all our communities for the sake of viewers and clicks. How many Vice, BBC and Netflix ‘specials’ — on the backwardness of Jewish groups — must we bear, before we plainly see that we are looking at another iteration of bigotry?

Let me be clear: It is completely abhorrent that any human should suffer extradition from their community for being different, whether it be difference in lifestyle, sexual orientation or perspective. No man, woman or child should ever be subject to abuse at the hands of their family members or leaders, as ‘One of Us’ portrays, while feeling that they have no one to turn to. It is vital that we come to terms with the abuse which people suffer in our community and that we tear down the systems which keep abusers in places of power. This complex issue requires us to create an environment where people can feel comfortable in speaking out against those who damage our society.

Yet films like these will never empower suffering members of the Orthodox Jewish community to speak truth to power – it will only inflame leadership more, and thus intimidate community members from voicing their fears.

These narratives do not seek to create positive change, but rather to exploit sensational stories, to put ‘weird’ Jews under a microscope for the world to see. Positive change can only occur between the individuals involved and the steps our communities take to improve our situation, from within. No number of cameras being thrust into our faces will stop victims from being taken advantage of or abusers exploiting them; it will only deepen our prejudices and ignorance we have of each other’s communities.

Each time I watch another one of these documentaries, it only adds to my feelings of shame over my identity as a Jew. And as an Orthodox Jew, I am frustrated by the one-sided perception of my larger community. My father is a baal teshuva, who came to Chabad Hasidism; I have personally only witnessed a community of deep kindness, charity and empathy, a kind of understanding that no secular society I’ve ever seen achieve. Surely intolerance, molestation and hatred exist in the darker segments of our society – but how tragic it is that we are allowing the media to define us by the latter alone.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has pointed out repeatedly that each iteration of anti-Semitism in our history has unified us, that each time an accusation has been made against the Jewish people, we united against each threat and supported one other. However, he points out that today is the first time in history where the rhetoric against the Jews has started to divide us internally, where we now accept the narratives against our own people; whether it be accusations made against Jews living in Israel or the demonization of our religious communities. We are becoming divided.

If Netflix’s ‘One of Us’ is anything like any of the other documentaries I have seen on the Jews, it’s not an honest portrayal of a Jewish religious society as a whole, but a sucker punch made against a religious group who they know will not fight back and will never have their story told with dignity. I can’t remember the last time I saw or heard a balanced documentary made about Jews or Israel by any non-Israeli media outlet. I dare you to type in ‘Jew’ or ‘Judaism’ into YouTube and see what disturbing videos come up first.

If you want to see some more balanced and more honest portrayals of the totality of the Hasidic Jewish experience, consider instead seeing Rama Burstein’s ‘To Fill The Void’, or Joshua Weinstein’s ‘Menashe’. They’ll tell you stories of challenges faced by Hasidic Jews, the rhythm of their daily lives, the beauty and problems of living in this community.

As Orthodox Jews, it is time we say “enough” to allowing the media to only show the worst in each other’s communities, only further deepening the rifts between our communities. It’s time for us to show another side of the story.



Sunday, October 29, 2017

KJ’s formation of new town up to Monroe voters 

After four years of conflict, packed meeting rooms and reams and reams of legal papers, the controversy over Kiryas Joel’s quest to expand its borders could end on Nov. 7. That’s when Monroe residents will head to the polls to vote on the creation of a whole new town for Kiryas Joel with more land and a tropical-sounding name.

If approved by a majority of Monroe voters, including those in Kiryas Joel, Monroe would be divided to create the Town of Palm Tree, the first new town in New York in 35 years. The Satmar Hasidic community of about 23,000 would pull itself out of the town in which it was formed in the 1970s and become an autonomous municipality with no involvement in Monroe. A smaller Monroe would be left with two villages - Monroe and Harriman - and its unincorporated areas.

The referendum is the culmination of a saga that began at the end of 2013 with the filing of a petition by Monroe property owners for Kiryas Joel to annex 507 acres. The ensuing years brought a clash with neighboring communities over Kiryas Joel’s growth, a second petition to annex 164 acres instead, and finally - after court cases and a couple side conflicts in Albany - a third petition for the Orange County Legislature to allow a referendum on creating a new town.

The fate of that petition was uncertain until Kiryas Joel officials and leaders of the United Monroe citizens group negotiated a deal earlier this year, one that would settle their annexation court fight, reduce the size of the proposed town and set other conditions. With that agreement in place and both sides pledging to support the new town, the Palm Tree proposal sailed through the Legislature in an 18-3 vote on Sept. 7.

The town name is an English translation of Teitelbaum, the last name of the Eastern European rabbi and Holocaust survivor who founded the Satmar Hasidim.

The combined support of Kiryas Joel’s main political faction and United Monroe makes it likely that voters will approve Palm Tree’s creation. Here are some key factors in the decision:

Borders and voters

The new town would consist of Kiryas Joel and 56 acres outside its existing borders, which already take in 164 acres that the village annexed in 2015 with the Monroe Town Board’s approval. Palm Tree would take up 940 acres (1.5 square miles) and would be fully independent of the Town of Monroe, including its elections.

That means Kiryas Joel’s roughly 10,000 voters - about 45 percent of Monroe’s electorate - would no longer dominate Monroe Town Board elections every two years, a point of friction that reached a pitch in the 2013 election. United Monroe leaders have argued strongly for political separation as good for both communities.

Monroe fiscal impact

An accounting firm working for the Monroe Town Board estimated that losing Kiryas Joel’s property taxes and other revenue would result in a net revenue loss of about $1.9 million a year. What the board will do to soften the impact on its budget, which was $9.3 million this year, has not been determined.

The accountants, RBT CPAs of Newburgh, have calculated that if the board were to make no effort to mitigate the loss, strictly raising property taxes to cover the shortfall would cost the owner of a $280,000 home roughly another $145 to $210 a year in town taxes. Even if voters approve the creation of Palm Tree on Nov. 7, there would be no impact on Monroe’s 2018 budget, because the new town wouldn’t take effect right away.

School boundaries

The Monroe-Woodbury and Kiryas Joel school boards have agreed to shift district boundaries so that the 164 acres Kiryas Joel annexed and the 56 additional acres in Palm Tree would be inside Kiryas Joel School District. Monroe-Woodbury residents were eager to avoid having a growing bloc of Hasidic voters in their district to influence future board elections and budget votes. For current and future residents of those 220 acres, it means much lower school taxes.

Monroe-Woodbury’s consultants have calculated the property shift will cost the district $343,860 in net revenue, or 0.2 percent of this year’s $171.2 million budget. That amount weighs the property taxes the district would lose against what it now spends on busing and special education for children now living in those areas.

Effective date

Under current state law, the new town would come into existence on Jan. 1, 2020, more than two years away. Kiryas Joel officials hope to expedite that effective date with special legislation, and Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, is working on a bill that would both enable Palm Tree to take effect earlier and provide Monroe-Woodbury School District extra state aid to offset its revenue loss.

Palm Tree would hold its first Town Board election before the town comes into existence, but there are unlikely to be two overlapping boards - Palm Tree’s and Kiryas Joel’s - for long. Kiryas Joel leaders plan to make the town and village coterminous by annexing the 56 additional acres in Palm Tree, enabling there to be a single government for both.

Past and future annexations

Under a deal negotiated by Kiryas Joel officials and leaders of the United Monroe citizens group, United Monroe will withdraw its lawsuit challenging the 164-acre annexation if voters approve the town creation. As part of that same agreement, Kiryas Joel officials would drop their own court case to try to claim an even larger area - the 507-acre annexation request that the Monroe Town Board rejected in 2015.

That would leave still pending - but moot - a separate lawsuit that eight towns and villages and Orange County brought to challenge the 164-acre annexation. Both that case and the one United Monroe brought through its nonprofit arm, Preserve Hudson Valley, are pending in the Appellate Division, following the state Supreme Court’s dismissal of the lawsuits last year. The municipal case would be moot if Palm Tree is approved because the new town’s territory includes the annexation area.

The agreement with United Monroe stipulates that neither Kiryas Joel nor Palm Tree would entertain any annexation requests from property owners in the towns of Monroe and Blooming Grove for at least 10 years after Palm Tree comes into existence. Woodbury, which also abuts Kiryas Joel, was not covered by that provision.



Saturday, October 28, 2017

'Shabbat Project' unites Jews from all over the world 

A kosher Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner at a backpacker’s lodge in Dalat, Vietnam, a 9,000 women-strong challah-baking event in Buenos Aires, and a glow-in-the-dark challah event in Costa Rica are just a few of the remarkable events taking place this year as part of the 5th annual Shabbat Project on October 27-28.

The Shabbat Project is a global grassroots movement that brings Jews from across the world together to keep a single Shabbat (Sabbath), transcending religious denomination, political persuasion and other divides such as age, language and lifestyle.

The initiative was introduced in South Africa in 2013, before going global the following year. Now in its fifth year, the Shabbat Project is firmly established as an anticipated annual highlight of the international Jewish calendar.

“Over the past few years, it has been nothing short of thrilling and deeply inspiring to witness Jews come together across every conceivable divide – language, culture, ethnicity, geography, observance,” says South African Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, the founder and director of the Shabbat Project. “This is real Jewish unity – built from the ground up.”

The Shabbat Project is the conduit of all the gatherings, acting as a portal and resource for every event and interested participant, and providing comprehensive Shabbat materials and support. Crucially, while many of the events are coordinated and managed through formal communal organizations, the initiative is essentially a social movement driven by volunteers on the ground.

“Jews across the spectrum are receptive to the Shabbat Project precisely because it isn’t associated with any particular movement or body,” says Goldstein.

Lome (Togo) and Maputo (Mozambique) are hosting events this year for the first time, as are Larnaca (Cyprus), Asuncion (Paraguay) and Venezuela. They are joined by nearly 160 cities in Israel, over 500 cities in the US, and a combined one million Jews in 1,152 cities in 95 countries around the world.

Sydney will be one of the first cities to usher in Shabbat at an open-air musical event overlooking the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. In Brazil, Recife’s famous Kahal Zur Israel synagogue – erected in 1636, the oldest synagogue in the Americas – is creaking opening its doors to host a series of events, Cape Town and Johannesburg are hosting a “dark tisch” – a Friday night celebration held in total darkness. And in the UK, an estimated 100,000 Brits are taking part in hundreds of events across the country.

Meanwhile, a dedicated fund has been set up to help participating communities who are battling uncommon challenges, such as a synagogue in southern Texas devastated by Hurricane Harvey and a community in Uganda who are weathering a nation-wide famine.

“There is a real thirst worldwide for true Jewish unity and for a genuine connection to Judaism. And people really resonate with the way Shabbat carves out a sacred space of tranquility and togetherness amidst the frenzy of modern life,” Goldstein added.

Many of today’s leading behavioral scientists, neurologists, psychologists and social commentators point to a “crisis of attention” in the digital age – a world that has become a constant feed of information and entertainment, a procession of beeps and pings and pop-ups doing battle for our attention. “A world in which we are so besieged by distractions,” says Goldstein, “we’ve forgotten how to live.”

“Shabbat enables us to momentarily set aside the distractions, demands and pressures of daily life – offering us the time and space to renew our inner selves, and to revisit and reinvigorate our most important relationships.

“Shabbat can hold us together in a society where everything seems to be pulling us apart.”



Friday, October 27, 2017

Yeger, Hikind Debate Was In Back Of The Room 

As I readied to watch the televised NY1 debate between City Council candidates Kalman Yeger and Yoni Hikind on the big screen in the front room of the Boro Park JCC on 14th Avenue, Mark Meyer Appel, an Orthodox Jewish reformer, whispered in my ear to look in the back of the room.

I turned around and saw some 20 Hasidic Orthodox boys ranging in age from about 12-18.

"This debate should be about them," Mark whispered. "These kids probably don't care so much about the debate as having an opportunity to watch TV and learn about the outside world."

A few minutes later, the NY1 moderator Errol Louis introduced the two candidates running for the open seat representing Boro Park, Bensonhurst and Midwood on the big screen. As expected, the political gladiators went at each other over experience, campaign fundraising and who's running a dirtier campaign.

Then Louis asked the candidates about Yaffed, a Hasidic and Orthodox organization that seeks reforms at a number of Brooklyn Yeshivas.  Specifically, Lewis wanted the candidates to respond to the organizations' report  that found a number of yeshivas do not meet state education standards in teaching secular education in English, science and math, and yet receive taxpayer dollars.

Yeger, a smart fellow and attorney, answered the question like a prosecutor. He discredited Yaffed as a fly-by-night, two- or three-person operation that issued a report without a shred of evidence, either real or anecdotal. He then proceeded with his own anecdotal defense of all yeshivas, saying he and his siblings all received great educations going to Hasidic Yeshivas, and went on to lead successful lives straddling the religious and secular world.

Hikind framed his answer, saying he loves the Boro Park community – secular, Hasidic, Orthodox Jewish and non-Jew alike – but as a religious Jew, he has a special affinity for what may or may not be a problem with some yeshivas.

He went on to say when a person or insular community feels attacked their natural response is to get defensive and little gets done when that happens. The solution, he said, was to get all the parties together in a safe environment where reasonable people can agree to disagree and things can get resolved.

The debate was too short to pick a clear winner or loser, but afterward when the boys in back made a beeline for the pastries, Mark again pulled me aside.

"It's a shame these boys have no safe place to go where they have televisions and computers and games, and where they can discuss and learn about the world at large without being castigated," he said, adding another young [Hasidic] kid, the son of a friend, had recently committed suicide."

As I rode my bike home through the streets of Boro Park I thought about what Mark said. And I thought about Malky Klein, the young religious woman who recently died from a heroin overdose.

I've also mulled over the growth of organizations like Yaffed and Footsteps, and the labeling of some kids as OTD (Off the Derech – Yiddish for path) – all of which stems, in part from the failure of some educators in the Hasidic world to balance the importance of teaching Talmudic ways while addressing the modern world and larger community in which we live.

I won't even pretend to know where all this will lead. But I do know one thing. Burying your head in the sand will not make this escalating problem go away. It will only exasperate it.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Satmar Rebbe's great-grandson becomes IDF officer 

Chaim Meisels, then and now

The great-grandson of world's largest hassidic sect's leader graduated IDF Officer School on Wednesday and will become a platoon commander in the Golani Brigade.

Chaim Meisels, the great-grandson of one of two Satmar Rebbes who lay claim to the hasidic dynasty, was drafted into the IDF in 2014 after moving to Israel from the United States. On Wednesday, he graduated the IDF's Officer School and became a platoon commander in the Golani Brigade.

In a Facebook post that has since gone viral in Israel, Meisels wrote about the long journey that took him from the insular Satmar community of his youth to the IDF.

"I grew up as an ultra-Orthodox child in Brooklyn, United States," he began. "I had the feeling that something was missing, but I didn't know what. My first visit to Israel was at the age of 11. I discovered the State of Israel, a Jewish state. I did not yet know how it would affect, but I felt I had come home."

"When we returned to Brooklyn a few days later, I felt like another person," Meisels continued. "Suddenly there was something I connect to, the State of Israel. Because I am the grandson of the Satmar Rebbe, and the community in which I grew up does not support the State, I had no one to talk about it with."

"I came to Israel again at the age of 15, this time to study in a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. The only language I spoke at the time was Yiddish, and I could not communicate with the outside world as I wanted. When I returned to the United States a year later, I bought a phone with Internet (we were not allowed in a yeshiva), decided to learn English, learn about Israel and a little about the world."

Meisels added that "at the age of 17, I realized that I wanted to leave the haredi world, but most of the people I knew who had left did not succeed. The social gap and the language made it difficult for them to cope with a different kind of life. I decided to turn to the Rebbe, to tell him that for years I was no longer Shabbat-observant."

"His answer was that I got where I was because I was not married yet, that once I had a wife of my own, I would not want to leave anymore because the girl would no longer be happy. He explained that when I was married I could do more and help outside the yeshiva, I would be a freer person."

"Two weeks later, I am meeting with the girl's parents, who asked me questions in Talmud. I passed the test. A meeting with the girl, our parents in the next room. I agreed to marry her after speaking to her for 50 minutes.We got engaged that night," Meisels recalled.

"A few months later the wedding came. Right after the wedding, I realized that I was not really with her. I would think about the State of Israel while she would think about what the Rebbe said," Meisel continued.

"Six weeks later, I arrive home and my wife tells me that she is pregnant. I was happy, I was very excited, until slowly I began to think about what I had done. How I was going to raise an ultra-Orthodox child in a world I disagree with?"

"I knew it was too late, that in another second a girl would come to the world, that in another second I would be a father."

"I could not stay any longer," Meisels continued. "I thought about it a lot, I tried to talk to outsiders, both friends who left and those who remained. In the end, I left. I parted from my wife and the community and most of my family left me."

"I found a good job. I started life from scratch and like a little child I learned how to get dressed ( in clothes that are not black and white), and how to talk to people."

"A few months before 2014's Operation Protective Edge, almost a year after I left the community where I grew up, I decided that I wanted to enlist in the IDF. I registered to immigrate to Israel, but after two meetings they told me that because I was 19, divorced plus one, I was not suitable for the army," wrote Meisels.

"Everyone told me that I would not succeed in the army. They said that I had no chance," Meisels added.

I bought a plane ticket and arrived alone in Israel. At first, a friend connected me to the 'Chayal El Chayal lone soldier support organization, and to the Michael Levine Lone Soldier Center, who helped me out tremendously."

"In August 2014, I joined a Hebrew course at the IDF's Alon base. After 3 months of basic training and the Hebrew course, I reached the Golani Brigade. I was drafted into the Egoz (special forces) unit. I did not tell anyone my story."

"At the beginning of the course, I was not among the top two members of my unit and they did not let me go to squad commanders course. After consulting with Rabbi Hosea Friedman, who is the Rebbe of Pashkan and the IDF's commander of the reserves, I chose to leave Egoz and transfer to the Golani Brigade so I can become a commander."

"I went to commanders school and after being on extensive sick leave, I became a squad commander in Golani's 13th Battalion. I was deployed for a few months and went to IDF Officer School, where I learned for eight months how to be a professional officer."

"Rivka, my daughter, is already four years old," Meisels revealed. "Her family does not agree that we will be in touch because I am not ultra-Orthodox. I hope that one day when she grows up, I will be able to renew the relationship with her and explain to her why I had to leave her and immigrate to Israel. To explain to her that I chose a different way from what she knows."

"I love my family, who simply do not understand or accept how I view the world. I chose the way in Judaism that is different from them - a Judaism in which to establish and defend the Jewish State is just as important as learning Torah," Meisels continued.

"Today I finish IDF Officer School. Next week, I will be the platoon commander, and I will invest everything I have in my soldiers.

"The reason I tell you this is because you will learn that if there is a will there is a way. No matter what you say or who tells you - if you really want to be successful and willing to invest, you will eventually succeed," concluded Meisels.

"We have the best army in the world, and it does not matter where you come from and what you've done until now if you give your 100 percent, you'll find the way."


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Brooklyn councilman accuses critics of Broadway Triangle development of anti-Semitism 

Opponents of a controversial, racially charged Brooklyn development plan are pushing the chair of the City Council's powerful land use committee to recuse himself – prompting accusations of anti-Semitism from the pol and developer.

Some neighborhood groups have been fiercely fighting the plan to build more than 1,100 apartments on a Williamsburg site formerly occupied by drug giant Pfizer – charging it will favor Hasidic Jewish residents over blacks and Latinos in the area.

The groups, known as the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition, wrote to land use chair David Greenfield demanding that he recuse himself from considering the project because he's set to leave office and take over the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

But Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) says the Met Council has nothing to do with the plan, and opponents are just targeting him because he's Jewish.

"Your behavior thus far is both professionally irresponsible and reckless, and has compromised your participation as an elected representative in this legislative process. The conflicts of interest raised by your involvement in the present Council action are numerous and unwaivable," coalition chair Juan Ramos wrote to Greenfield.

The dispute stems from a years-old neighborhood feud over politics, real estate and race in the sliver of Brooklyn known as the Broadway Triangle.

The city passed a plan to rezone the area, pushed by then-Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez, but it has been blocked since a 2009 court ruling in a still-pending lawsuit charging it was discriminatory against Latinos and blacks.

The same complaints have faced the latest plan by developer Rabsky Group to build 1,146 apartments, as well as retail space, on the Pfizer site within the triangle area.

Opponents say the apartments, 25% of which would be considered affordable housing, are more likely to go to Hasidic Jews because its large apartments will favor their big families, as well as the way it will be marketed.

"The letter is part of a clear and calculated campaign of intimidation and continued misinformation by the opponents of this private application," Greenfield said, saying group leaders have a history of "anti-Semitic remarks" that "calls into question the true motivation of this group."

Councilman Steve Levin, who represents the district, supports the project. But Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents an adjacent district and is allied with the opposing groups, has jumped into the fight against it, which has included shutting down public hearings on the proposal.

"It's telling that this group did not ask Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a member of both the subcommittee and committee, to recuse himself and instead focused on the obviously Jewish council member. This kind of race-baiting politics is disgusting and shameful and has no place in New York City's land use decisions," Greenfield said, adding he had cleared the issue with the city Conflicts of Interest Board.

But Marty Needelman, head of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, which is part of the Broadway Triangle coalition, said the Met Council job poses a conflict because the group's then-leader helped broker a deal for Lopez to support the Broadway Triangle proposal. The group also has close ties to United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, which has pushed developments in the area, he said.

The letter complains Greenfield answered legitimate concerns about potential discrimination, which opponents say will exacerbate a long history of racial segregation in the neighborhood, with "ridicule, racebaiting and derision."

Needelman, like Greenfield, is an Orthodox Jew, and said the allegation of anti-Semitism is absurd.

"It's all politics," he said.

Rabsky's project is set for a series of committee votes in the Council this week and is likely to pass with Levin's support.

Rabsky spokesman Tom Corsillo said there's "no rational case to make against a project that will create hundreds of affordable apartments in a neighborhood that desperately needs them."

"Opponents instead have waged an increasingly shameful campaign of anti-Semitic personal attacks, suggesting a Jewish developer can only be trusted to build affordable housing for Jewish people even though affordable units are awarded through a city-run lottery," he said.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Sunshine Opponents Charge Greenstein Portraying Them as Anti-Semitic 

Escalating tensions between opponents of the Sunshine Children's Home and Rehabilitation Center's proposed expansion and New Castle Supervisor Robert Greenstein have erupted with allegations that the supervisor is trying to portray them as anti-Semitic.

Emotions have been running high after members of the Greater Teatown Defense Alliance, a group of residents from four towns that formed last summer to fight inappropriate development in the vicinity of Teatown Lake Reservation, ramped up their criticism of Greenstein for recently using an image of a defaced sign in one of his campaign's e-mail blasts.

The photo was of one of the Walmart in the Woods signs with a circle and a red slash that had surfaced in the area about two years ago in opposition to the Sunshine Home expansion. However, the sign that appeared in the image had been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti. The owner of the Sunshine Home, Ari Friedman, is a Hasidic Jew.

"To dredge up a two-year-old incident that we condemned immediately and to imply that the people who oppose the extremely large expansion of the Sunshine Home are in any way related to that behavior, it's just probably one of the worst kinds of political bullying, or attempted political bullying, that I have seen in local government," said Karen Wells, one of the GTDA founders.

Greenstein said he has never equated project opponents with being anti-Semitic, maintaining that they have a right to object to any project. However, when the Walmart in the Woods signs first appeared, he said he was offended that they would compare a children's hospital to the retail giant, prompting him to take the photo.

"Whether it's comparing the size or not, comparing a hospital with sick children, where five or six of them die per year there, I don't think it's an accurate comparison to a Walmart," Greenstein said. "I'm sorry, we are better than that."

The graffiti was the likely act of a single person that doesn't reflect the community, Greenstein added. He said he called Friedman to apologize on behalf of the community when the incident occurred.

The Sunshine Home, located on Spring Valley Road near the Ossining border, received unanimous approval for four permits last week from the Planning Board. It must still return to the ZBA for amended approval.

It is proposed to expand from 19,000 square feet to about 147,000 square and more than double the number of beds from 54 to as many as 122.

Last year, Sunshine received two variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Neighbors were harshly critical of the ZBA, which voted to issue a negative declaration, meaning there are no adverse environmental impacts, thereby bypassing the more extensive and time-consuming review.

Coupled with two Article 78 proceedings that have been launched as a result, a political campaign reaching its latter stages and incessant comments posted on social media, tensions have reached a fever pitch.

Neighbors, though, argue that it is Greenstein that has been responsible for igniting the firestorm. Laura Whitlinger, a GTDA member and a resident who lives near the Sunshine Home, said at the group's meeting last Wednesday at Teatown that surrogates for Greenstein have posted social media comments accusing the opponents of being anti-Semitic.

Opponents have also accused Greenstein of trying to pull strings to help the Sunshine Home receive its approvals despite the application having been before the Planning Board and ZBA, not the Town Board.

"This is an environmental issue. Period," Whitlinger said. "Just so you know, he is slandering us to get this done. We put out a press release to address this because it's horrible."

Greenstein said this issue along with the campaign has spawned an increasing level of vitriol in town, along with large doses of misinformation.

Although a registered Democrat, Greenstein is running on the Republican line for the third consecutive election. He said some New Castle Democrats have been enraged at him and running mates Lisa Katz and Adam Brodsky for breaking the party's 25-year grip on town politics.

"It's a very divisive time with some major policy changes coming out of Washington and people are angry," Greenstein said.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Writer-Director Heidi Ewing Says Hasidic Jews Killed In Holocaust Partly Because Refused to Blend In 

Heidi Ewing is a director, producer, and writer of documentary films, including One of Us, which chronicles the lives of three ex-Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn.

Recently interviewed about this film on the Charlie Rose Show with guest host Jeff Glor, Ewing has made the outrageous claim that their refusal to blend in was partly responsible for their murder in the Holocaust.

I am speechless. Jews of all stripes, whether proudly Jewish or hiding it, were slaughtered in the Holocaust. The suggestion the ones who were proud were partly at fault for their fate is hideous.



Saturday, October 21, 2017

An abandoned pre-WWII Hasidic synagogue gets a second life as a kosher jazz club 

Exterior of the kosher jazz bar and independent theater in Oradea. (Yaakov Schwartz/Times of Israel)

On a neglected stretch of road not far from the compound housing the bulk of Oradea’s Jewish infrastructure lies a dull brick building. Above the entrance is a small sign in stereotypical “Jewish” typeface. “Kosher,” it reads meekly, and below that, “Wine. Coffee. Jazz.”

With its graffiti-covered facade, the place hardly resembles a jazz club — but neither does it look like an old Vizhnitz synagogue. And though it’s still labeled as such on Google Maps, the building hasn’t been prayed in for over 80 years.

The city of Oradea, with a Jewish population hovering somewhere around 400, might not have the numbers to necessitate a kosher jazz bar, or to keep one afloat, but Jews don’t seem to be its niche audience: The handful of grungy-looking hipsters lounging in the courtyard are likely not familiar with the ancient dietary laws.

On a sunny day in early autumn, they recline easily beneath umbrellas on oversized chairs that look more like mattresses as ambient trance music drifts from the bar inside. A young couple talks quietly while the barman lounges nearby smoking a cigarette.

The bar’s owner, Andris Sella, says that the property which he now rents from the Jewish community has a troubling history, and has changed hands more times than the city itself. A mean feat: Oradea was in turns ruled by Turks, the Austro-Hungarian empire, and the Soviets, among others, before becoming part of modern-day Romania.

“This was originally a synagogue built by the Vizhnitz Hasidic sect in 1933,” he says, “though they only used it for three years before fleeing due to the rising anti-Semitism prior to World War II.”

Sella says that when Oradea was taken over by the Nazis, the fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross militia used the building to torture the city’s Jews in an attempt to root out any hidden valuables. Shortly thereafter, it was converted into a hospital for the remainder of the war.

“When I got it, the building was a furniture factory,” Sella says. “It had been a manufacturing place since the late ‘40s.”

Sella says that it wasn’t initially his intention to have a jazz club here, but things just sort of fell into place.

“I’ve been importing wines from Israel since 2007,” says the 40-year-old Jewish Oradean. “At first, I just used the large empty space where the synagogue used to be as a warehouse to store the wines.”

“Where the bar is now, we used to just sell coffee, but then we wanted a place where people could sample the wines,” he says, “so they started gathering in there for tastings.”

Sella says that he used to own a popular club in the city’s center, which he sold in 2013. After the front of the synagogue started being used for wine sampling, it was soon converted into a full-time watering hole.

“I guess I just had it in my DNA to have a bar,” he says. “And from there it went from wine to jazz — I like jazz music, and wine and jazz always go together, so that part was natural.”

Equally natural was Sella’s decision to enter the Israeli wine market — the distributor of Israeli and kosher wines throughout Eastern Europe moved to Israel in 1997 at age 19, and holds Israeli citizenship.

He had to return to Romania three years later when his mother suffered a terminal illness, but he says he still visits Israel two or three times a year, and has family in Safed.

“I wanted to move there because I’m a Jew,” Sella says.

“I had visited Israel when I was a kid with my parents, and I was familiar with it. And growing up, my family was active in the Jewish community, we’d celebrate the holidays — I was even in the choir as a kid, even though I have no voice. So you know, I love Israel and I’m connected to it. I’m drawn to our ‘aretz,’” he says, using the Hebrew word for land.

After introducing the live music, Sella decided to open up his business to other creatives as well. He began storing his wines elsewhere and turned the larger space into a place for artists to display their work.

“I wanted the place to be dedicated to culture. So first we started with photo expos, and after that painters slowly started to come to display their works, and then we had piano nights and violin nights. And then the young actors wanted a place to work besides the State Theater,” he says.

Sella let the artists, and later on, the theater performers, use the venue for free — a gesture that was more than symbolic.

“I had to pay the rent, and of course the other bills: heating in the winter, electricity, water. It was expensive, but I think it was worth it,” he says.

The move paid off in the end. The space eventually came to be used exclusively for acting, and is now a nationally-known venue and draws thespians from all over the country.

“The independent theater helped put the place on the map,” says Sella. “I don’t think the jazz bar would have made it on its own.”

These days the artists pay a small percentage of their nightly take to help cover overhead. Still, Sella says that whatever costs aren’t covered he pays out of pocket — though he doesn’t seem regretful. He’s quick to kvell about the current project taking place, the theme of the young actors and directors revolving this year around the difficult relationship between Romania and neighboring Hungary, as well as life under Communism in the not-so-distant past.

Sella would like to tell more Romanian Jewish stories, and is planning a Jewish theater festival this upcoming Passover if he can get funding.

He says that the city has an incredibly rich Jewish history, and that before the Holocaust over one-third of the city’s 90,000 residents were Jewish.

“We built this city,” he says.

He also describes the difficulty with which the Jewish community recovered their stolen property, many decades after the war.

“It was very hard work to get it back, and they gave it very late, so many people had died by then, or moved elsewhere, and never got their property back,” he says.

With national attention on the studio and the work coming out of it, Sella has a grand vision for the venue’s future, and would like to see the space developed into a full cultural center hosting multidisciplinary expositions that would include music, sculpture, painting, and more.

“I want to attract European funds to do something like that — it’s a challenge, and will take a lot of money to renovate the place, but the Jewish community is on my side,” he says.



Friday, October 20, 2017

Netflix’s ‘One Of Us’ Delivers A Harrowing Look Inside The Hasidic Community 

Living in a diverse city like New York, you're made aware every single day of just how many communities exist. Even beyond race, orientation, gender expression, you see people united by the kinds of clothes they wear or their mode of transit. But even if crowded together on a packed subway car, there's one community that feels isolated. They exist just out of phase with the rest of reality, as if your hand would pass through them if you reached out. That separation is by design, giving this community a feeling of protection and strength. What the new Netflix documentary One of Us reveals, though, is that bridging the gap between worlds is nearly impossible–and sometimes dangerous–for those looking to break out.

Cut off from modern culture and cloaked in tradition, the Hasidic community seem like a small enclave on the surface–that is, until about halfway through One of Us when you see thousands and thousands of members of the faith gathered at a baseball stadium. It's then that you realize that all of that, an entire world, exists just out of sight of your day to day. This realization makes the world feel uncertain, unknowable. If all this can go on under my radar, what else is happening out there?

The disorientation that those outside the faith feel in that one moment is similar to the disorientation felt by the documentary's three subjects: Luzer, a man that traded in his faith for Hollywood (literally); Ari, a college-aged survivor of abuse within the community that's eager to escape via Google; and Etty, a mother of seven fighting for freedom and also One of Us' tragic heart. Their stories follow them as they traverse worlds, jumping from the dangers they know to the dangers of a mysterious new reality.

Leaving the Hasidic community is not an option given to its members at any point. That doesn't mean the Hasidic community has a perfect retention rate; when young Ari confronts a  community elder about religious hypocrisy, the elder shrugs it off, telling the kid that he's far from the first person to have a crisis of faith. What's clear are the consequences: you leave, then you leave. You're done. No contact with anyone in the community, your family or friends, and–in One of Us' most painful sequence of events–the entire Hasidic community will unite to wreck your life. Those are the stakes, and the film–which comes from the same team that delivered the intense study of evangelical Christianity Jesus Camp–makes them feel insurmountable.

Aspiring actor Luzer lost contact with his family immediately after telling them that he had given up on religion. He relocated to the west coast and followed the same life path that plenty of others have trod: aspiring actor by day, Uber driver also by day. Unlike others, he doesn't have a familial safety net and lives in an RV to keep costs down. At times, the otherwise upbeat, Bee Gees singin' guy  comes across as (rightfully) angry about his past. He's the one that makes the observation that life in the Hasidic community sets everyone who wishes to leave up for failure. This indoctrination starts with heavily censored textbooks with illustrations of cartoon women masked in black marker and continues throughout the formative years, resulting in adults that know how to live in the Hasidic community and nowhere else. Luzer explains what he's up against: "Everybody who leaves [the community], they end up in jail or rehab."

Through Ari, a similarly curious man about a decade younger than Luzer, we see the hunt for knowledge in action. "I couldn't Goole how to Google because I didn't know how to Google in the first place," he says, relaying with a wry smile just how difficult it is to learn what the community wants to keep hidden. Initially, Ari's journey seems like it's going to be the least fraught as he's a young, energetic guy whose quest for knowledge isn't combative. He cuts off his sidecurls but still wears a yarmulke as he searches for the way he wants to express his faith. But Ari's casual questioning leads to intense interrogation from everyone around him and, as the past traumas of our lead subjects come into focus, his story turns into a tense push and pull with no easy way out.

There are developments I'm withholding to preserve the narrative impact of One of Us, although I can't say that the doc really has spoilers. If you've seen other films about tightly controlled religious communities, ones about the Catholic church or even Scientology, then you're already familiar with what's at play in One of Us. The worst happens to those that speak out against the dangerous people in power, and then the worst keeps happening until the credits roll. As necessary as Luzer and Ari's stories are, One of Us feels, ultimately, all about Etty, a Hasidic woman married off to a domestic abuser at the age of 19 who spends her 20s in a nonstop cycle of battery and childbirth. Since it is against Hasidic code to take legal action against another member of the community, she quickly finds out that no one is on her side as she fights quite literally to save her life and the lives of her seven children. We see Etty become stronger and more defiant throughout the film as she finds a community with Footsteps, an organization founded to help ex-Orthodox adjust to outside life. But the more she fights, the stronger the community gets. Stalking, manipulation, intimidation, harassment, a hit and run–there are no lengths the community won't go to to expel Etty and separate her from her seven firmly entrenched children.

One of Us is not an easy watch, but there's no way that it could be. For all the stability Hasidism offers those who believes, this documentary and so many articles reveal that it's not kind to those that wish to step away from it. People that try to speak their truth to those in power are squashed, and this keeps happening–in many religions–time and time again. One of Us makes this conflict feel draining and damaging, albeit at a fraction of the intensity felt by its subjects. One of Us gives us a peek inside a mostly isolated world, and through it we learn that it has all the same problems.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Borough Park rabbi arrested at gunpoint cleared of charges 

Rabbi Berl Fink at his arrest

A Vermont judge cleared Rabbi Berl Fink of all charges Wednesday relating to his controversial arrest by Vermont State Troopers in August that resulted in Fink being arrested at gunpoint.

Fink had led Vermont State Trooper Justin Thompson on a four-mile police chase in August when he failed to pull over for driving 20 miles over the speed limit. Fink said that he did not realize he was being pulled over and could not find a place to do so.

When Fink finally stopped, Thompson ordered him at gunpoint to leave the car with his hands up and handcuffed Fink along with his wife and brother. Thompson told Rabbi Fink that "if you don't do exactly what I say, you're going to get tased" and yelled at another officer to "check them for weapons".

Fink was later charged with refusing a police order.

Fink's wife Sarah later told the New York Post that the ordeal was "traumatizing" and contended that police had caused them to be fearful of travel. "I tell you, there was brutality. He was pointing guns. I can't tell you how traumatizing it was," said Sarah Fink. "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?"

"We're talking about normal people. What in the world are you doing to them? It's out of hand. This shouldn't have happened in any state in the United States of America," said Fink's son Yehuda.

Dashcam footage of the incident quickly went viral, outraging members of New York's close-knit haredi community. Many contended that the incident involved anti-Semitism and were incensed when the Vermont State Police Internal Affairs Unit cleared Thompson of misconduct, ruling that "Thompson acted in accordance with his training and Vermont State Police policy and procedure".

"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," said Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind. "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."

Jim Kenyon, a columnist for Vermont's Valley News, also blasted the behavior of the police. "After watching the video of a Vermont State Police trooper's traffic stop of a Brooklyn rabbi and his family on Interstate 91 in Thetford, I don't know whether to be angry or frightened," he wrote.

"The 40-minute encounter, captured on a cruiser's dashboard video camera, shows what can go wrong when police bring a military mentality to their daily jobs."


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Tempers Flare at Public Hearing on Bklyn Pfizer Site; Allegations of Anti-Semitism 

The fight over the controversial Pfizer site redevelopment plan last week took an odd turn concerning whether City Councilmember David Greenfield, who is chair of the Council's powerful Land Use Committee, should recuse himself from the matter as he readies to leave the city council in order to assume a leadership role in a large nonprofit (the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty) that has past ties to the project.

A non-profit organization that bills itself as one that provides succor for indigent and financially challenged Jews and their families, the Met Council, as it is commonly referred to, is still attempting to emerge from a public relations imbroglio that it found itself mired in. In 2014, its long time executive director, William Rapfogel was arrested and sentenced to prison for stealing millions of dollars from the organization's coffers.

Since that juncture, the social service organization that has spent more than $110 million a year, mostly from government funds, on home health care and other services for older people and the poor and has descended into a tailspin that seems almost irreparable.
The brouhaha at the public hearing on the Pfizer site included verbal threats and allegations of anti-Semitism which in turn then overshadowed the merits of the plan as hundreds of advocates, opponents and elected officials who had descended upon City Hall for the City Council's subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises.

The current plan is set in a two-block area situated between Harrison and Union Avenues, from Walton Street to Gerry Street known as the Broadway Triangle area.

As developers of the project, the Rabsky Group are proposing eight mixed-use buildings for the site including 1,146 mixed-income residential units of which 287 will be permanently affordable units, 65,000 square feet of neighborhood retail, a half-acre of public open space, and 405 parking spaces.

The Broadway Triangle has been a contentious issue for local officials and community advocates, who have been fighting over the property for almost a decade. Back in 2009, community members successfully sued the city claiming the Broadway Triangle Rezoning favored the Hasidic community over blacks and Latinos.

During the hearing, which Queens City Councilman Richard Donovan Jr. (D) led, Marty Needleman, Executive Director of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A and one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs in a 2009 lawsuit to stop the project, hinted at a possible "money connection" between the United Jewish Organization (UJO) of Williamsburg and the Rabsky Group.

Needleman specifically accused the Williamsburg-based developer of favoring the Hasidic Jewish community over the black and Latino community due to strong Hasidic community connections, specifically regarding the UJO and its Executive Director Rabbi David Niederman.

"Rabsky with some of the connections especially with the Hasidic community, is a money connection, not necessarily because he likes Jews, or he's Jewish or Hasidic. It's because they [Rabsky] know that the UJO is a very powerful political force in this area [Williamsburg]," said Needleman.

One of the partners of the Rabsky Group, Simon Dushinsky, was born and raised in Israel and currently lives in the Vizhnitz Hasidic community in Williamsburg. According to the Real Deal New York, Dushinsky, formed Rabsky Group in the early 1990s to develop condos for the Hasidic community.

In questioning Needleman, Councilman Greenfield (D) who represents constituencies in Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst, was quick to walk him back on the allegations, questioning the truth of the accusations on the official record.
Needleman was forced to concede that the allegations were "idle speculation but based on much experience over 45 years."
Rabbi Niederman also refuted the allegations, calling them "outrageous lies" and completely denying any knowledge of such a connection.

"It is honestly disappointing, when we are trying to have a hearing on the merits and facts, for you to say something that seems factual, but later under questioning, is based on speculation, is a pretty serious accusation, and is an unfair claim to make," said Greenfield, who is stepping down from the council in January to head the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council).
According to Needleman and separate sources, the UJO and the Met Council had a stake in the original Broadway Triangle rezoning proposal that included an affordable housing plan specifically proposed by the UJO back in 2009.

Additionally, according to the UJO website, "The UJO has had a long-standing and successful collaboration with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Many of the valuable services that the UJO provides would not be possible without the dedication and cooperation of Met Council."

Needleman said his comments and allegations about the relationship between the UJO and the Rabsky Group has nothing to do with being anti-Semitic, and that there are good and bad people in all communities. This has to deal with the politics, money and things that go on in this particular area, he said.

Needleman added that it's troubling Greenfield was more focused on the UJO allegations than on the impact that the rezoning may have on Hispanics and blacks, and their ability to stay in the neighborhood.

In questioning Greenfield's office on whether he should recuse himself on the issue because of a possible conflict of interest due to his upcoming job with the Met Council, Greenfield's office issued a "no comment," and made a point of telling the reporter that it is blatant anti-Semitism to even follow this line of questioning.

Additionally Greenfield, though refusing comment, made veiled threats regarding his connection to the UJO and his upcoming tenure at the Met Council to the publisher of KCP, promising an intense smear campaign in the future.

In August of this year, the Jewish Voice published a searing investigative piece about the corruption ridden past of the Met Council. When it was reported that Councilman Greenfield had made the decision to take on a leadership role at the troubled organization, the Jewish Voice reached out to him.

When asked for comment on his new position at the Met Council and what steps he plans to take to extricate the organization from the public relations quagmire it finds itself in, Councilman Greenfield declined to issue statements to the media. He did, however. tell the Jewish Voice that he would be more than glad to provide responses to the questions that the publication posed to him after he assumes his position at the Met Council.

Using his powerful position on the Land Use Committee, it was reported last month by the Jewish Voice that Greenfield has secured $9M in city council funding for Jewish groups. This past summer, Greenfield advocated for a $2.75 million aid package for New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage. . According to the Museum, these funds will initiate new high-impact exhibitions on anti-Semitism, revitalize public space, and introduce new technology for the benefit of 50,000 schoolchildren, their teachers, and other visitors.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is just one of the many Jewish organizations whose funding Greenfield advocated for in this year's budget. Greenfield supported the efforts of Council Member Laurie Cumbo to secure funds for the Jewish Children's Museum in Crown Heights which will see $2 million to provide supplemental educational opportunities focused on Jewish history. Jewish social-service providers like the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services will receive new office space, equipment and new vehicles including for transportation to and from Boro Park's Mishkon.

City Councilman Stephen Levin (D-Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Williamsburg, Boerum Hill) whose district includes the proposed redevelopment site, opened the proceedings with remarks addressing the ethnic tensions surrounding the plan.

"Over the past 20 years, all of these communities have been feeling the squeeze. At some point we have to get past the fights of a previous generation. We have to move past training our fire on one another. We have to be constructive because if we aren't constructive, the situation is going to get worse. We can continue to build as much affordable housing as were able to build, and the situation for a lot of people is going to continue to get worse. But it's going to get that much worse if we do nothing," said Levin.
But City Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D-Bushwick, Williamsburg), whose district is across the street from the proposed development, countered the claim by citing the previous 2009 lawsuit brought against the city. That lawsuit eventually halted construction in the Broadway Triangle in 2012.

"Everything that has been said now has been said in the past. Without the ability to sue, without the court system, we would not get justice. It is a judge that has said that the rezoning will perpetuate segregation in the Broadway Triangle. That is not an opinion, that is a fact. This whole notion that one community is pitted against another is real, it is not something we can sweep under the rug or hold hands and sing Kumbaya," said Reynoso.

The Rabsky originally paid $12,8 million for the property back in 2012 when it first acquired the property from Pfizer.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Morgan Stanley Adviser Fired Over Hasidic Clientele, Suit Says 

A Morgan Stanley financial adviser says in a federal lawsuit he was was told to stop doing business with Hasidic Jewish clients and then harassed and fired when he refused to do so.

Michael Pellegrino says he built a growing "book of business" during his more than four years with the financial industry firm, according to the lawsuit filed Oct. 12 in federal court in Manhattan. His consistent success was recognized by the bank in the form of regular and special bonuses and awards, such as being named "Mortgage Champion" of the year in 2014 and 2015, he says.

But when the firm's executive director of compliance recognized that Pellegrino's book included Hasidic clients, he was called into a meeting and interrogated over his professional relationship with the Jewish community, he says. Evan Boucher, the executive director, told him that he needed to "stop chasing and doing business with those Unicorns," according to Pellegrino's complaint ( Pelligrino v. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC , S.D.N.Y., No. 1:17-cv-07865, complaint filed 10/12/17 ).

The compliance department later refused to open new accounts brought to Morgan Stanley by Pellegrino because they were Hasidic Jews, offering only bogus excuses for declining the business, the complaint says. When Pellegrino tried to push past those false reasons, Morgan Stanley "stonewalled" his requests for a better explanation, he says.

He also was ordered to shut down an options trading portfolio that some of his Hasidic clients participated in, on the alleged grounds that it was "unsustainable," Pellegrino says. But a co-worker who operated a similar portfolio and who collaborated with Pellegrino on investment strategies for their separate investment vehicles wasn't made to shut down his portfolio, according to the complaint.

Reputation Hurt, Suit Says
Pellegrino was later falsely accused of working with clients who weren't permitted to do business with Morgan Stanley and immediately suspended, he alleges. The firm followed that up by reporting him, without justification, to federal financial regulatory authorities, Pellegrino says.

The religious discrimination and retaliation continued even after he was terminated, as Morgan Stanley froze his accounts, wrecking his credit and damaging his reputation, he alleges.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District court for the Southern District of New York. It includes claims against Morgan Stanley and Boucher under federal and New York state and city anti-bias laws.

Morgan Stanley didn't respond Oct. 12 to Bloomberg Law's request for comment.

Derek Smith Law Group PLLC represents Pellegrino. No attorney had filed an appearance yet for Morgan Stanley or Boucher.


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