Thursday, November 30, 2017

Israeli Hospital That Refused IVF to Unmarried Woman to Continue Receiving State Funding 

The state is entitled to fund a hospital to the tune of millions of shekels even if it refuses to give IVF treatments to unmarried women, the Justice Ministry said recently.

The ministry's opinion was written in response to a class-action suit against Laniado Hospital in Netanya. The plaintiff sought fertility treatment at the hospital but was turned down because she isn't married.

Though Laniado serves members of all the health maintenance organizations, it's a private hospital owned by the Sanz Hasidic sect. But following years of financial trouble, it signed a recovery deal this past summer under which it will receive 360 million shekels ($103 million) from the government over the next five years, thus making it a state-funded body.

A year before the deal was signed, the plaintiff's attorney Niv-Yagoda asked the ministry to condition any state funding on Laniado ending its refusal to provide fertility treatments to unmarried women. She argued that this refusal constitutes illegal discrimination, a claim the Central District Court in Lod appeared to endorse when it recently approved the suit against Laniado as a class action.

When the ministry responded to Niv-Yagoda's request more than a year later, it took the opposite position. It said the danger of the hospital going bankrupt far outweighs the issue of discrimination, and that as long as the Health Ministry, "as a matter of policy, hasn't seen fit to enforce the obligation of equality toward patients," it can't condition the recovery plan on this "extraneous goal." Or in other words, it won't force the Health Ministry to stop turning a blind eye to discrimination.

"The bankruptcy of a public hospital would be a serious shock to the health system," added the Justice Ministry's letter, written by attorney Eran Assis. "Maintaining the system's stability is the dominant consideration," and considerations "relating to the hospital's conduct in particular cases" are secondary. Thus the fact "that forbidden discrimination is occurring" is "not sufficient" to mandate an end to funding.

In her response to Assis, Niv-Yagoda charged that his ministry "is in practice legitimizing a declared policy of discriminating against patients." Moreover, she wrote, he is ignoring the fact that Health Ministry regulations specifically require it to "ensure that the institution is acting legally and obeying all laws" when transferring funds.

Laniado, which is seeking to appeal the district court's decision in the Supreme Court, argued in its brief that it is obligated to obey Jewish law, and requiring it do to otherwise would be "a severe blow to the hospital's freedom of religion." Should the plaintiff win her case, it added, it would have to shut down its IVF department rather than violate its religious beliefs.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Emails show de Blasio helped influential donor 

An influential rabbi received red-carpet treatment from City Hall after hosting a fund-raiser for Mayor de Blasio in 2013 — and later boasted about steering thousands of votes to him from the Brooklyn Hasidic community, emails show.

Like power-broker wannabe Jona Rechnitz, Moishe Indig had firsthand access to the mayor's personal e-mail address — and he also got sit-downs with more than a half-dozen deputy mayors and commissioners.

A trove of documents released by the city in response to a public-records request show that from 2014 to 2016, Avi Fink, then the mayor's deputy director of intergovernmental operations, leaned on top officials to open their doors to Indig.

"Very important that he has a line of communication open in the Commissioner's office," Fink told Assistant Buildings Commissioner Patrick Wehle in December 2014.

Fink used similar language to get Indig a meeting with City Planning officials in April 2015, emphasizing that "this one is important."

In a September 2014 note, Fink said he had de Blasio's approval for a meeting between Indig and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

"I have a Hasidic community leader who asked the mayor to meet with the commissioner and he said yes. Would like to get it on the books for some time in late September/early October," Fink wrote to assistant DOT Commissioner Jeff Lynch.

Indig also had meetings set up with Deputy Mayors Richard Buery and Alicia Glen and former Deputy Mayor Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, as well as Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks, then-Housing Preservation Commissioner
Vicki Been and then-Economic Development Corp. chief Maria Torres-Springer.

Indig told The Post everything he did was proper.

"As a community leader, I interact regularly with city, state [and] federal officials to advocate on behalf of the community," he said.

Critics have blistered de Blasio for giving donors special access to city government during his first term — most notably i Rechnitz, who claimed in court testimony that his donations bought a direct line to City Hall.

Hizzoner has consistently denied that, claiming he doesn't interfere with the government on behalf of supporters.

But e-mail exchanges in June and July 2015 show Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement staffer Diane Leonard helped Indig get a stop-work order lifted at 125 Lefferts Place in Brooklyn, a $2.7 million town house owned by developer Cheskel Schwimmer.

Leonard explained what to do and the work order was lifted a month after the exchanges began.

City Hall spokesman Eric Phillips insisted Indig didn't get special treatment.

"It's City Hall's job to be responsive to New Yorkers navigating our city's bureaucracy," Phillips said.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Jewish wrestler calls out colleague for dressing as Hasid 

A Jewish professional wrestler has called out a non-Jewish colleague who dresses as a Hasidic Jew for his matches, saying it is "the equivalent of black face."

David Starr, whose given name is Max Barsky, in a post on Facebook complained about Mathias Glass, who calls himself "The Most Jewish Man Alive."

Glass dresses in an oversized fur hat called a shtreiml and a black suit with the fringes of his tzitzit hanging out. He has  sidecurls, or payos, and often breaks into Hasidic dancing.

"I want everyone to know that Mathias Glass is not Jewish," Starr wrote Thursday on Facebook. "The stereotype driven character he portrays is offensive and distasteful. It is the equivalent of black face. Imagine me painting my face black and acting as a black character that was completely stereotypically driven. How would you react? How would the public react?"

Starr, 26, said he has messaged Glass previously about his gimmick, and knows other Jews in wrestling who have urged him to stop.

"Prior to finding out that he wasn't Jewish, I thought the schtick was entertaining," Starr also wrote. "I don't necessarily like stereotype driven gimmicks in general, but this was clearly a self deprecating (at least I thought it self deprecating) comedic style. I am not a no fun sensitive snowflake type. I can make fun of myself and my people, but someone from outside the community has no right."

Reaction to Starr's post was mixed, with some agreeing that it is offensive and others calling on the wrestler to lighten up. Others pointed out that wrestling has always been about exaggerated and offensive stereotypes.

On Friday, Starr posted: "I guess black face in wrestling would be ok. Good to know. Sad state of affairs we are in. My faith in humanity has been pretty much torn to bits."

He later posted a photo of himself flashing his middle finger with the message "hashtagUnapologetic."

Glass on Friday said in a tweet: "Wrestling is real and I'm Jewish. Oy."

He also retweeted many messages of support from both fans and competitors.

"I find myself pulling back on some of the stereotypical stuff … but to the chagrin of many many Jewish fans, friends, and fellow wrestlers. I'm constantly evolving, constantly learning, and always willing to listen to constructive criticism," he tweeted Sunday.

On Monday, Starr tweeted that he stood by his statements.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Why kosher butchers in Western Europe are preparing to close shop 

When Jerry Levy's family opened one of the first gourmet kosher meat shops in France, they had some of the country's best-laid business plans.

Hailing from a long line of Jewish butchers in their native Algeria, they had the expertise and diligence in 1977 to cater to the changing needs of their growing community, where tens of thousands of Jewish immigrants from North Africa like them were developing both the appetite for quality — and the means to pay for it.

Four decades on, the family's gambit certainly has paid off: Levy's meat shop and deli in this city's 17th district is a communal institution. With a kiss on the cheek, Levy and his teenage son, Maurice, welcome dozens of regulars daily to Boucherie Jerry Levy who swear by the signature foie gras, artisanal charcuterie and assortment of North African salads.

But like other producers of kosher meat in Western Europe, the Levys are no longer certain of the viability of their business. In recent years they have been suffering both from declining revenues due to emigration from France by Jews fearful of jihadist violence and anti-Muslim measures targeting the ritual slaughter of animals.

"I want Maurice to learn a trade because with the meat industry, who knows what tomorrow will bring," Levy told JTA about his 17-year-old son. "All kosher delis, they will be a thing of the past within one generation either because they're made illegal, suffocated by anti-kosher regulations or defeated by supermarkets."

Not all kosher meat producers in France, a country with 500,000 Jews, share Levy's pessimism. But several of his counterparts in the Netherlands and Belgium do following a fresh wave of restrictive regulations and legislation in those countries, where a total of 90,000 Jews live.

In Holland, the viability of the country's only kosher slaughterhouse, Slagerij Marcus, and its meat shop are under threat from a new deal signed in July by the government with the Jewish community, according to Slagerij Marcus' lawyer, Herman Loonstein. The measure limits the production of kosher meat to local consumption, a stipulation that Loonstein says amounts to an export ban that may render the business nonprofitable.

Community representatives say they reached an oral agreement with the government that will head off the export restrictions, but a government spokesman declined to confirm the claim.  The spokesman told JTA only that "special circumstances may be taken into account" when it comes to export.

Either way, "The leash keeps getting tighter and tighter, and there are questions on what kind of future there is for the industry," said Luuk Koole, the longtime manager of Slagerij Marcus.

Iris Jonah is among the hundreds of Dutch Jews who depend on the meat shop and deli; she says it's her only dependable source for fresh kosher meat. Kosher ground beef is on offer at several Dutch supermarkets, but only at Marcus' can she find steaks, veal and corned beef for her family of six.

"If they close shop, I don't know what I'll do, we'll be in a big problem," Jonah told JTA last month. "It's already tough to lead an observant Jewish lifestyle here as it is without this added complication."

Jews in the Netherlands could still import kosher meat from France even if Marcus closes. But the quality won't be the same, according to Nissim Guedj, the France-born store manager at Slagerij Marcus' meat shop.

"There's no comparing the far superior quality you get here," he said of Dutch meat.

A closure could also mean the end for one of Dutch Jewry's fabled delicacies, a fatty kind of corned beef known as pekelvlees that is produced commercially only at Slagerij Marcus and sold at the iconic Sal Meijer Jewish sandwich shop in Amsterdam.

In Belgium, meanwhile, legislation was passed this year in two of the federal kingdom's three regions — including Antwerp's Flemish region, with its predominantly haredi Orthodox Jewish community of 18,000 – that starting in 2019 bans all slaughter performed without first stunning the animal.

Jewish and Muslim religious laws require animals be conscious at the time of their slaughter, a custom that animal welfare activists call cruel and anti-Muslim activists say is barbaric.

Rabbi Pinchas Kornfeld, a communal leader from Antwerp, told JTA on Monday that his congregation is considering an appeal of the legislation in court. Unlike the Dutch community, Antwerp's predominantly haredi community is so strict that French kashrut certification may not suffice for its leaders, placing the community and its congregants in a potential bind when the bans go into effect.

The current wave of legislation in Belgium and the Netherlands follows an earlier drive to ban ritual slaughter. In the latter, opposition led by the far-right Party for Freedom and animal welfare activists spurred a ban on kosher and halal practices in 2010, but it was overturned by the Dutch Senate in 2012.

In 2013, the Polish parliament also banned the practices, though the prohibition has since been partially overturned.

Slaughter without stunning is now illegal in five European Union member states – Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Lithuania and Slovenia — as well as three other non-EU countries in Western Europe: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland. EU members Austria and Estonia enforce strict supervision of the custom that some Jews there say make it nearly impossible.

Attempts to promote such legislation in France, however, have failed.

Back in Paris, Levy says his immediate concern is with the departure of Jews and not the introduction of laws against their food.

Since 2014, at least 25,000 French Jews have immigrated to Israel alone — a 260 percent increase from the 9,537 who left France for the Jewish state in the previous five years. Levy's father also left, as did other family members.

And although their departure has made only a small dent in France's Jewish community overall, their absence has had a disproportional effect on Levy's business, he said.

"Those who left are exactly my clientele," Levy said at his meat shop.

Across the street from his meat shop's blue facade, two French soldiers toting machine guns stood guard as part of their deployment around Jewish shops and neighborhoods in Paris following the 2015 slaying of four Jews at a kosher supermarket by an Islamist.

As Levy sees it, the French Jews who are leaving are observant individuals with the means to forego the French state's generous welfare, and who fear for their security following multiple anti-Semitic attacks since 2012 on Jewish schools, supermarkets and other institutions serving mainly affiliated community members.

"The assimilated Jew who eats pork and whose son attends a public school, they're not likely to leave," Levy said. "Neither is the poor Jew in social housing. But neither is likely to come to my meat shop anyway."

French immigration to Israel, which in 2015 peaked at approximately 8,000 newcomers, has subsided, with less than half that number immigrating in the first 10 months of this year. But Levy said that growing initiatives in France targeting kosher meat and the Muslim variant, halal, are compounding his losses and threatening the viability of his businesses.

The problem, he says, are campaigns headed by the National Front party, which opposes what its leader, Marine Le Pen, describes as "Islamist globalization." Le Pen won 34 percent of the national vote in the first round of the 2016 presidential elections. She ultimately lost to Emmanuel Macron, but it was her best-ever showing.

In recent years, opposition to halal and kosher meat has grown significantly amid awareness-raising efforts by National Front and animal welfare activists who believe that the Jewish and Muslim custom of slaughtering animals without stunning are cruel.

Since 2011, hundreds of butchers in France have adopted a label declaring that their meat only comes from animals that were stunned. Reaching approximately 10 percent of all French meat shops, it was a stunning success of a campaign launched that year by the Vigilance Halal association founded by an anti-halal veterinarian and promoted by National Front.

This has lowered the demand for meat left over from animals that were used for ritual slaughter, Levy said, explaining that kosher rules allow Jews t0 use only 15-20 percent of the cow.

Once a shochet, or certified slaughterer, has taken the kosher bits, the slaughterhouse where he performed the work buys the leftover meat from him. But with demand falling for that product, "slaughterhouses don't view us as the ideal customers anymore," Levy said.

"They are paying less than 10 years ago," he said.

Meanwhile, politicians in France are pressing for the obligatory labeling of meat that does come from animals that were slaughtered without stunning.

In 2013, an advisory committee of the French Senate on the meat industry for the first time made a nonbinding recommendation for such labeling, prompting passionate condemnations by Jewish and Muslim faith leaders.

But even without obligatory labeling, the awareness-raising campaign means that "a non-Jew today wants to buy neither the meat of the cruel Jews nor the terrorist Muslims," Levy said sarcastically. As pressure mounts, "it will become more and more difficult in the kosher and halal industries."

Albert Elbaz, a kosher meat shop owner from Aix-en-Provence, near the southern city of Marseille, calls this vision "alarmist." Jews, he said, "will always eat kosher, and, thank God, we have enough Jews in France."

But Jews make up less than 1 percent of France's population of nearly 67 million, meaning that "in reality, the only thing protecting kosher slaughter is the electoral power of the far-larger Muslim population" of 5.7 million, said Levy.

Yet even that protection may be temporary due to the growing acceptance among French Muslims of post-cut stunning — a method in which animals are stunned as their throats are cut.

Post-cut stunning is shunned by most Orthodox certifiers of kosher meat, with the exception of a handful in Austria and the United States. But its acceptability is growing among Muslims, whose rules on ritual slaughter are not as strict as those of Orthodox Judaism.

"The Jewish community seems united in opposing pre-slaughter stunning, while the Muslim community is divided on the question whether stunning should be allowed before halal slaughter," noted a team of researchers who in 2013 published a report on post-cut stunning.

Technical advances and the Muslim communities' relative openness mean room for adapting halal slaughter "without compromising its deep and essential meaning," they added.

That's bad news for Levy and others in the kosher meat industry, he said.

"The minute the Muslims accept post-cut stunning," Levy said, "the kosher meat industry is done for."


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Bloomingburg developer Lamm’s legal team seeks leniency in his sentencing next week 

Shalom Lamm’s lawyers say the developer is an honorable man led astray into election fraud by “a perfect storm” of bad legal advice plus an atmosphere of anti-Semitic animus toward his townhouse project in Bloomingburg.

“In making such an argument, Lamm ignores that, in Bloomingburg, he made the weather,” federal prosecutors wrote in a pre-sentencing memorandum filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Lamm, 58, will be sentenced on Dec. 7 for election fraud.

He pleaded guilty to recruiting and paying people from the Hasidic community to register to vote in Bloomingburg without actually living there.

Prosecutors say he spearheaded the filing of those fraudulent registrations with the Board of Elections and the staging of vacant apartments to create the appearance of habitation.

“He and his co-conspirators attempted to rig an election. They did so because a fair election, reflecting the will of the majority of voters in Bloomingburg, would have resulted in democratic victory for candidates whom they opposed. Consequently, Lamm and his co-conspirators would have been less likely to make money selling real estate,” prosecutors wrote. “Lamm and his co-conspirators made a choice: to steal the election by lying and stealing.”

Assistant U.S. attorneys Benjamin Allee and Kathryn Martin have asked Judge Vincent Briccetti to sentence Lamm to between 12-18 months in prison, the range set by the federal sentencing guidelines, plus a year of supervised release, community service and the maximum fine under the guidelines of $30,000.

Lamm’s co-defendant, Kenneth Nakdimen, was sentenced in September to six months of imprisonment and a year of supervised release. Lamm, prosecutors say, led the scheme.

Lamm’s lawyers, Larry Krantz, Wendy Gertman Powell and Marjorie Berman of Krantz & Berman LLP and and Gordon Mehler of Mehler Law PLLC, argued that home confinement with a significant community-service component would be an appropriate and adequate sentence for him.

“It is fair to say that the offense of conviction would never have taken place here but for the coalescence of two critical factors: ugly anti-Hasidic animus and irresponsible professional advice. While not excusing or justifying the offense, these factors do make the case unique, and result in a significant mitigation of Mr. Lamm’s level of culpability,” Krantz and Mehler wrote. “He has been demonized. Of course, he will be forever marked as a convicted felon...This is a brutal and gaping wound for Mr. Lamm.”

Martin and Allee wrote in their memorandum that Lamm’s strategy included a “nuclear option” of broadly smearing opponents as anti-Semitic.

“The government does not dispute that certain members of the community who opposed the development expressed anti-Semitism and anti-Hasidism. The instances of hateful, bigoted statements and conduct by people opposed to Lamm’s real estate project are despicable,” prosecutors wrote, but Lamm knew that involved “a minority” of opponents. Abhorrent conduct by others does not excuse Lamm’s behavior, prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors quoted letters to the court from Bloomingburg residents expressing the damage they’ve suffered because of Lamm’s actions, from his fraud and deception to his charges of anti-Semitism.

The letter-writers talk about losing faith in the electoral system, about being called “self-hating Jews,” about losing their sense of security, about being threatened and verbally abused.

Lamms’ lawyers argued that prosecutors have overstated and oversimplified Lamm’s conduct and relied upon highly contested claims.

They argued that Lamm’s original Chestnut Ridge plan, begun in earnest in 2006, was indeed for 400-plus homes around a nine-hole golf course.

But because of environmental concerns over wetlands on the property, and the economic downturn of 2007-2008, that plan became unworkable.

It was then that Lamm turned to the plan for 396 units on 198 acres, with no golf course, the lawyers wrote. While conceived as a “phase one,” any plans beyond that were and remain “theoretical only.”

Local approvals came through a “multi-year, highly public process,” involving local, state and federal agencies and the developers’ agreement to build a $5 million wastewater treatment facility for the village, Lamm’s lawyers argued.

To date, developers have completed 106 units at Chestnut Ridge, of which about 50 have sold, the defense lawyers wrote.

They denied that Lamm operated in secrecy, saying developers provided the village with draft floor plans for units that included two stoves and two sinks.

The developers had no obligation to disclose some Chestnut Ridge buyers might be Hasidic, “any more than they would have been required to disclose that Christians, Muslims, African Americans or any other resident might move there,” the lawyers wrote.

When news of possible Hasidic buyers emerged in 2012, the reaction was “immediate and strong,” and clearly anti-Hasidic, the lawyers contend, citing public meeting comments.

In 2013-2014, the lawyers wrote, the vitriol intensified. They cited social media posts calling Hasidim “dirty,” “parasites,” “like cockroaches,” and a post saying “the residents of Bloomingburg will, unfortunately, yearn for a Final Solution. How horrible...the only solution is a preemptive tactical nuke.”

Prosecutors countered by quoting a January 2013 confidential summary that Lamm circulated, describing how he had worked for seven years “in complete secrecy” for a “transformative development” to eventually accommodate thousands of Hasidic families in and around Bloomingburg. Phase I, Chestnut Ridge, would provide enough residents to control village government, giving them the power to approve further development.

By 2014, prosecutors wrote, Lamm was so desperate to get enough votes that he paid a Rockland County rabbi about $30,000 per month to recruit rabbinical college students to register to vote in and move to Bloomingburg.

Lamm’s scheme led to 150 new voter registrations, most of them fraudulent, prosecutors said.

The defense’s 67-page sentencing memorandum argues that the good Lamm has done in his life overshadows the seriousness of his offense.

He has been married for 34 years, is father to five, and has a lifetime of good works to his credit, the lawyers wrote.

Lamm, his lawyers said, has for 40 years been a part of his community’s Hevra Kadisha, a group of people who prepare the dead for burial. Years ago, while in Lviv, Ukraine for his oldest son’s bar mitzvah, he met a young boy with a rare, potentially lethal congenital heart defect, and undertook complicated arrangements to get the boy life-saving surgery.

He has for decades helped young people come to the U.S. from Ukraine for college and provided financial support and advice, references and mentorship that helped them succeed. Many of them wrote letters of support. Lamm co-founded the Upper West Side Chapter of Hatzolah Medical Rescue Squad.

The prosecutor said the government does not dispute Lamm’s good deeds and charitable work, but that does not counterbalance leading a criminal conspiracy aimed at the electoral process.

“Lamm has shown himself capable of great kindness, and it is apparent to the Government that in many respects he is a very good and decent man,” prosecutors wrote. “Lamm did not extend his decency and respect to the people of Bloomingburg...Lamm’s conduct, and his treatment of the people of Bloomingburg who are the victims of his crime, is completely reprehensible.”



Saturday, November 25, 2017

KJ man, 2 others to be sentenced in alleged kidnapping, murder plot 

A 26-year-old Kiryas Joel man and two other defendants are due to be sentenced in federal court on Thursday for their parts in an alleged plot to kidnap and kill a fellow Hasid who had refused for 10 years to give his estranged wife the permission she needed under Jewish law to divorce him.

Shimen Liebowitz pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit extortion and faces a sentence of 33-41 months in prison, minus the more than 14 months he has spent in the Brooklyn Metropolitan Detention Center since his arrest in September 2016. His lawyers urged Judge Sidney Stein to show leniency in court papers filed last month, portraying Liebowitz as a young, impressionable man who was swept into a shady scheme by older, more worldly men, and who is now racked with remorse.

“Mr. Liebowitz is ashamed that he did not have the moral clarity to dissociate himself from people who were discussing murder, mistakenly thinking that he could logically convince them not to kill (Joseph) Masri,” attorneys Susan Necheles and Gedalia Stern wrote.

Prosecutors say the suspects enlisted a private investigator and initially plotted with him to abduct and coerce the husband into granting a Jewish divorce consent, known as a get, but then talked about killing the husband instead to dissolve the broken marriage. No such plans were carried out. The investigator recorded their conversations and gave the recordings to the FBI after the group hired him, and the three defendants were arrested just two months after they began hatching their plans.

Both of Liebowitz’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on the same day. Aharon Goldberg, an Israeli rabbi whom prosecutors blame the most for the scheme, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit kidnapping and murder-for-hire and faces up to five years in prison. Binyamin Gottlieb, a Monsey man who introduced Goldberg and Liebowitz to the private investigator, has pleaded guilty to concealing a felony and could be sentenced to eight to 14 months behind bars.

In court papers, defense attorneys portrayed the investigator, Avraham Lehrer, as a “small-time fraudster” who disliked the Satmar Hasidic sect and goaded the defendants into plans they would not have concocted on their own. But in their own statement to the judge last month, prosecutors scoffed at the idea that both Liebowitz and Goldberg had suffered “simultaneous episodes of inexplicable aberrant behavior” - or that Lehrer had used pressure to “overbear their wills.”

That the two men saw what they were plotting as an act of altruism is “deeply troubling,” and “underscores the necessity of a substantial sentence to deter them and others who may share their views,” assistant U.S. attorneys Paul Monteleoni and Scott Hartman wrote.

According to his lawyers’ account, Liebowitz was raised in a Satmar Hasidic community in Melbourne, Australia, and came to Kiryas Joel at age 16 to attend the Satmar rabbinical college there. He is now a married father of one, and was earning a modest income by selling pet supplies on Amazon while acting as an intermediary in bitter divorce and custody cases in the Satmar community. That sideline is apparently how he would up involved in the Masris’ lives.

The wife in that case lived in Kiryas Joel, and the husband lived in Brooklyn. State Supreme Court records indicate they divorced in March, about six months after the arrests.



Friday, November 24, 2017

Ultra-Orthodox minister resigns over Shabbat train coalition crisis 

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Friday informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is stepping down after the government signed a deal for ongoing infrastructure work on rail lines to continue this Shabbat.

The government is now trying to reach a deal whereby Litzman, who leads the Hasidic faction within the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism, will step down as health minister, but his six-strong party will remain in Netanyahu’s coalition.

Welfare Minister Haim Katz, whose ministry is the country’s chief labor regulator, announced on Friday morning that he had authorized the work to be carried out on the Jewish day of rest because failure to do so could endanger lives.

“After thorough examination, I authorized only essential work to ensure the safety of rail traffic and if it were not carried out it could endanger lives,” Katz announced. “This decision reflects full consideration for the feelings of the religious public, on the one hand, and maintaining the routine of the train passengers on Sunday.”

“For the past year, every weekend I have weighed the needs of the railways against the sanctity of Shabbat and it has passed quietly,” Katz told Israel Radio, adding that he didn’t know why this Shabbat had suddenly become an issue that required Litzman to quit.

Shortly after Katz’s comments, Litzman told Netanyahu he was quitting and would formally submit his letter of resignation on Sunday. He had spoken to his religious leader Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, the head of the Ger Hasidic movement, who ruled that it was not permissible to do the work on Shabbat, Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) reported.

In the ultra-Orthodox newspaper “Hamodia” which is owned by Litzman, he wrote, “We, as senior partners in the coalition, also have matters which are important to us… For the sake of the obligation to preserve the Jewish values of the state, we are in the government, influencing it.”

The statement suggests the party plans to continue to influence the government — that is, it will not quit the ruling coalition even after Litzman resigns.

According to reports, the infrastructure work scheduled for the coming weekend is complex and requires the participation of over 100 Jewish workers, a particularly thorny issue for ultra-Orthodox parties.

In the past, similar crises were solved through one-time compromises that saw the use of non-Jewish workers only, but that is reportedly not possible for the upcoming project due to the nature of the work, which involves upgrading the train signalling system and requires specific employees with certain technical skills who cannot be readily replaced.

According to Army Radio, the work also will draw on the skills of German engineers who had arrived in Israel to work on the signaling system over the weekend.

Coalition member MK Merav Ben-Ari of Kulanu praised Litzman’s term as health minister.

“Litzman was an excellent health minister. It is very disappointing that he will no longer be part of the government,” she tweeted. “I understand his decision but it is still disappointing. As well as being professional he is an honest, decent and good man.”

Members of the opposition, however, welcomed Litzman’s resignation.

“Litzman was the first to detect that the election is underway… every additional day this government remains in power is against the public interest of most Israelis,” said Zionist Union’s MK Yoel Hasson.

Meretz party head Zehava Galon welcomed the decision to carry out the work on Shabbat. “We have to remember that UTJ is holding the stick from both ends. It is still sitting in the coalition,” she said.

Hiddush CEO Uri Regev said in a statement that one should recite a blessing for being rid of Litzman. “It is regrettable that Litzman responded to the pressure of his master, the Rebbe of Gur, but Netanyahu refuses to respond to the wishes of the public that voted for him and wants a government without the ultra-Orthodox parties,” he said.

On Thursday, Litzman had told Army Radio that carrying out infrastructure work on the Jewish day of rest was not essential, and blamed Israel Railways for creating the crisis.

“The railway people are fooling us — the railway decided to make Shabbat the national renovations day. I can assure you, all the work can also be done not on Shabbat,” he said.

“I hope the situation will be resolved,” Litzman told the radio station on Thursday. “I don’t want desecration of Shabbat and I don’t want [new] elections.”

In recent years, Israel Railways has undertaken a number of major projects, including a new high-speed Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line and major upgrades to existing lines.

Company officials say construction and maintenance work over the weekend helps avoid significant delays to the busy weekday schedule.

Work on the rail infrastructure on Shabbat has sparked a series of rows between Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox parties in his coalition, despite the prime minister agreeing to ban all weekend construction projects on train lines in a deal struck with the parties prior to the 2015 election.

Last year, ultra-Orthodox politicians threatened to topple the coalition if Shabbat work continued on the rail lines, causing an uproar among commuters suffering from massive traffic delays and cancellations after Netanyahu succumbed to the pressure and ordered the work stopped.

In June, ministers ceded to sustained pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, canceling weekend work on train lines in southern Israel.

At the time, Netanyahu, Katz and the heads of the ultra-Orthodox parties agreed to call off the scheduled work in favor of maintaining the “status quo” of not working on Shabbat.



Thursday, November 23, 2017

New York Hasidim Challenge Constitution in Bid to Forge the First ultra-Orthodox Town in America 

Residents lining up to vote on Election Day in Kiryas Joel, November 2, 2010.

Palm Tree may sound like a good moniker for a topical vacation resort, but it’s actually the name of the first new town being established in New York State in 35 years. The community is earmarked only for Satmar Hasidim — a move critics say will be closely scrutinized for possible breaching of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state.

And that legal scrutiny might happen even though both sides of the issue, the Satmar Hasidim and other area residents, are delighted with the Hasidim’s secession — the latter because they want to keep their town semirural and are tired of voters turning down tax increases that would fund public schools and other local services, like a library.

After decades of legal fights between the Town of Monroe and other parties against Kiryas Joel, the Satmar village that is part of Monroe, both sides claimed victory after a November 7 referendum in which Monroe residents voted overwhelmingly to create the new town.

Palm Tree is a translation of Teitelbaum, the family name of the Satmar rebbes — Teitelbaum means date palm tree in Yiddish. The new town will replace Kiryas Joel, which is about 50 miles northwest of New York City. One branch of the warring Teitelbaum rebbes is based in Kiryas Joel, and the other branch of the anti-Zionist sect is centered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Since before its establishment in 1977 bitter legal battles raged between the Satmar Hasidim and other residents over zoning. The Satmar prefer high-density development, the better to accommodate rapid growth, while others are eager to maintain the area’s semirural character.

To make room for its burgeoning population, Kiryas Joel has for years attempted to annex surrounding Monroe acreage. This was the crux of the fight that led to the split.
But while locals on both sides of the issue seem pleased, not everyone agrees.

“Leaders of both sides decided to just separate and build a ghetto,” said Louis Grumet, who in the mid-1990s sued Kiryas Joel over a public-school district created to provide taxpayer-funded special education to the Satmar community. The case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Grumet, who is Jewish and at the time headed the Association of New York State School Districts, won.

Pleading the First Amendment

But victory was short-lived as the New York State Legislature created new laws again and again until it was able to create the special school district without breaching the Constitution’s prohibition on government establishment of religion.

“They think as long as there’s a wall between them that they won’t have to deal with each other,” said Grumet of the split between Monroe and Palm Tree, which recently has also been marked by legal battles over access to water.

“I believe this whole thing is unconstitutional,” Grumet said. His 2016 book, “The Curious Case of Kiryas Joel,” is about the lawsuit. Of the new town he said, “it’s a theocracy.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which in 2013 sued Kiryas Joel over a sex-segregated public park, will keep a close watch on Palm Tree, said Executive Director Donna Lieberman. Her organization this week sued the nearby East Ramapo Central School District for infringing the voting rights of black and Latino residents in school board elections.

“Creating a town as a religious enclave is incompatible with the principles of separation of church and state,” Lieberman told Haaretz. “Like many others we are looking at this and trying to get the facts and think about whether this will ultimately pass muster.”

Palm Tree officials could spur lawsuits “if they prohibit of sale or rental of property to people who are not of the faith, if they refuse to hire government staff who are not of the faith, if they create public schools that are teaching religion,” Lieberman said. “Those are things we’ll be looking at.”
Palm Tree’s legality will rest on what its leaders choose to enforce, agreed Marc Stern, general counsel to the American Jewish Committee and an expert on church-state issues.
“These people will be under a microscope,” he said.

“It might be illegal for them to not allow someone to buy a home there, but that’s different than saying they can’t have a town,” Stern said. Establishing a town for their needs isn’t illegal per se. “It depends what they do with it.”

Kiryas Joel’s leaders are celebrating the vote to split. “Today is a truly historic day that will usher in a new era of peace and stability for all the residents of Monroe,” Gedalye Szegedin, village administrator of Kiryas Joel, told The New York Times.

Szegedin and Kiryas Joel Mayor Abraham Wieder did not return multiple phone messages left by Haaretz. Nor did Don Nichol, the attorney who has represented the village in many of its court cases. Officials at Agudath Israel of America, which often represents Haredi communities in legal matters, said they did not know enough about the Kiryas Joel-Palm Tree issue to comment.

As part of the settlement with Preserve Hudson Valley and Monroe United, civic groups that sued against the Hasidic village’s attempts to expand, Palm Tree gets 56 additional acres added to existing Kiryas Joel. “That means over 12,000 acres of Monroe stay in Monroe and KJ takes 56,” said Emily Convers, a leader of both opponent groups, in a pre-referendum video.

The Hasidic village earlier annexed 164 acres of Monroe but sought to take over 500 more. Village leaders then reduced it to about 300 acres, finally settling for 56.

The threat to Monroe was dire if it did not vote to split from Kiryas Joel, Convers warned in her video.

“If KJ does not separate now, in the next election KJ will have the numbers to win all future Town of Monroe elections,” she said. “That means KJ will have control over 13,000 Monroe acres forever, which will be rezoned and it would lead to the demise of the school district.”
A question of property tax

Convers was obliquely referring to nearby East Ramapo Central School District. In 2005 Orthodox Jews, who send their children to yeshiva rather than public school, won a majority of seats on that school board, which is near Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox enclaves of New Square and Monsey.
Since then, according to community activists and a New York State-appointed special monitor, the school board has dramatically cut public-school district budgets, eviscerating educational resources for the students who attend public schools in order to lower taxes for local property owners.

Similar issues have arisen with increasing frequency in Monroe because of Kiryas Joel, said some people familiar with the community.

Frieda Vizel, one of 15 siblings, was born and raised in Kiryas Joel and got married at 18. As soon as she was old enough to vote “we were told to vote against an increase in the library tax. At the time I didn’t understand what it meant because we didn’t use the library,” she said, though she eventually realized that the community was instructed to vote against a property-tax increase that would have funded the local public library.

Vizel, who is now 32, left Kiryas Joel and the Satmar community when she was 25. For those running the village, the vote to split means “more autonomy. That always benefits the leadership, which wants to be able to make decisions without running into problems with the Town of Monroe,” said Vizel, who now leads tours of Hasidic Williamsburg.

The Satmar community grows quickly. With Hasidim marrying young and prioritizing large families, it nearly doubled in size between 1995 and 2010. Kiryas Joel takes up just 10 percent of Monroe’s geographic area, but with more than 20,000 residents it has more than half the town’s 39,912 people, according to the 2010 census.

Vizel, meanwhile, says that every time she visits Kiryas Joel to see her parents, 14 siblings or dozens of nieces and nephews — almost all have stayed in the village — she can’t believe how fast it has expanded.

“Every time I return I feel like it’s grown twice the size and it takes twice as long to get around,” she said. “The town was not built with an eye to becoming a city. The traffic is a nightmare.”



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Berkeley Professor Apologizes for Sharing Pictures Depicting Orthodox Jews as Murderous 

A University of California-Berkeley professor and leading force in the Palestinian activism movement apologized Tuesday for sharing pictures on social media that depicted Orthodox Jews as murderous and suggested a moral equivalency between North Korea and Israel, but stood by his work focused on "opposition to Zionism."

Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the Berkeley department of ethnic studies, has said he recognized the "offensive" nature of a post he retweeted, which included a doctored image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un wearing a kippah, or Jewish skullcap, standing below the caption, "I just converted all of North Korea to Judaism."

"Now my nukes are legal & I can annex South Korea & you need to start paying me $34 billion a year in welfare," the caption continues, directed at President Donald Trump, suggesting that if North Korea were only Jewish, it might expect to share a similar relationship with the United States as Israel.

The image also bears the phrases "God chose me" and "101 Judaism we teach it" written over images of nuclear weapons.

In the second image Bazian retweeted, the hashtag "#Ashke-Nazi" was applied to the image of a man in mock-Hasidic garb, including a traditional black hat and side curls. The caption reads, "Mom, Look! I is chosen! I can now kill, rape, smuggle organs & steal the land of Palestinians YAY."

Bazian said that he retweeted the post while traveling to teach a course in Spain and France, "and did not read the message or image carefully on my phone."

"I did not realize or read the full text until it start appearing on my Twitter feed again from a number of pro-Israel groups that target Palestinians," he said. "As a matter of policy, I don't respond to any of it as I focus on my work and have few people that manage my social media and Facebook."

Bazian said he "was focused on the North Korean debate rather than anything else [in the post]."

"The image in the tweet and the framing relative to Judaism and conversion was wrong and offensive and not something that reflects my position, be it in the past or the present," he said.

Bazian added that he has worked against "anti-Semitism in partnership with progressive Jewish groups that express solidarity with Palestine's rights to self-determination."

The tweet originally came from a user named "Ron Hughes," who used the images to explain blocking the account of a Parisian kosher restaurant, Le Kazbar.

"Zionist @RKazbar BLOCKED supports apartheid, occupation, ethnic cleansing, genocide, theft Palestinian land+resources+body-organs #BDS," reads the tweet, dated July 31, 2017.

On Monday, a student club named Tikvah: The Zionist Voice at UC Berkeley publicized the retweet, and called for Berkeley to "hold him accountable for his Anti-Semitic behavior."

"It is unacceptable for a lecturer at a highly acclaimed and diverse university to be allowed to spew propaganda and discriminatory content, whether it is in the classroom or online," the group wrote on Facebook.

Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the university "unequivocally supports the University of California Regents' 'Principles Against Intolerance,' which are clear in their general condemnation of bias, hatred, prejudice and discrimination. We also adhere to and strongly support their specific statement that, 'Anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination have no place in the University.'"

"While we do not believe that all criticism of Israel's governmental policies is inherently anti-Semitic, the social media posts in question clearly crossed the line, and we are pleased they have been deleted," said Mogulof. "We deeply regret the impact these posts have had on members of our campus community and the public at large. UC Berkeley is and will remain committed to fostering and sustaining a campus community, and a world, where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected."

Bazian is founder and chairman of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), an organization at the center of congressional testimony last year from Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Its network and leadership has "significant overlap" with those with alleged ties to Hamas, said Schanzer, including individuals previously involved in organizations dissolved their leaders were convicted of funneling money to the terror group.

Schanzer said the AMP is "arguably the most important sponsor and organizer for Students for Justice in Palestine," another organization founded by Bazian.

The national campus organization is the key mover of anti-Israel activities at universities, including the introduction and passage of divestment resolutions through student governments.

The presence of a chapter of SJP on a campus has been linked by multiple studies to increased levels of anti-Semitism at that university.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Uganda is 100th outpost for Chabad-Lubavitch 

Uganda has become the 100th country to have a Chabad-Lubavitch outpost.

Rabbi Moishe and Yocheved Raskin established the Chabad of Uganda in the capital city of Kampala in October, it was announced Sunday at the annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in New York. The couple moved from Israel with their young son, Menachem Mendel.

Chabad has been in contact with the Jewish community of Uganda since at least 1999, including sending the organization's Roving Rabbis there in summers and for Jewish holidays.

At the weekend conference, which Chabad calls the largest Jewish gathering in North America, some 5,600 Chabad emissaries and communal leaders gathered from around the world.

On Sunday morning, the emissaries, or shluchim, gathered for a group photo in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood that is home to the movement's worldwide headquarters. The dinner that night, where the new Chabad outposts and emissaries are announced, had to be moved from New York to a larger venue in BAyonne, New Jersey.

Other countries where Chabad established a permanent presence this year include Montenegro, Nassau in the Bahamas and the Caribbean island of Curacao. These countries followed the recent opening of Chabad Houses in Laos and the Pacific island of New Caledonia.

The Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement takes it as a mission to serve Jewish communities around the world, including remote towns, college campuses and major metropolitan areas.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Who Is Really ‘Insular’ — Hasidim? Or New York Times Editors? 

The New York Times likes using the word "insular" to describe Hasidic Jews. It likes it so much that it uses the term twice in a single news article about a Brooklyn judge:

Ruchie Freier, as friends call her, a 52-year-old Hasidic Jewish grandmother who has blazed a trail in her insular religious community with so much determination that the male authorities have simply had to make room….

Mr. Freier, who is now a mortgage broker, decided to go to college so he could earn money for the family. That was already a groundbreaking decision among the insular ultra-Orthodox, where even for a man to enroll in a secular university was rare.

What is this word, "insular," that the Times uses to describe Hasidic Jews? My authoritative Webster's Second unabridged dictionary offers some definitions:

1. of, or having the form of, an island.

2. living or situated on an island

3. like an island; detached; insulated.

4. of, like, or characteristic of islanders

5. of narrow views; illiberal; prejudiced; as, his ideas of government are insular.

If the Times means merely to describe Judge Freier or the Hasidic Jews as island-dwellers — well, the description applies to all New York City residents other than those who live in the Bronx. Brooklyn and Queens, after all, are part of Long Island, while Staten Island and Manhattan are also islands. But somehow I think the definition the Times is getting at is more the fifth one: "of narrow views…prejudiced."

There it seems to me like a case of the Times projecting onto Hasidim a description that more accurately might be applied to the newspaper's own reporters and editors. Rather than being "detached," plenty of Hasidic Jews are out there interacting with the outside world. Lubavitcher Hasidim are serving as Chabad emissaries on college campuses and in far-flung locations such as India, Thailand, and China.

Karliner Hasidim are working as graphic designers, architects, computer programmers, and engineers. Satmar Hasidim run B&H Photo, which is a major electronics retailer and an excellent place to buy a camera.

Lumping all these people together as narrowminded or prejudiced is itself an example of narrow-minded prejudice. If the Times newsroom had any Hasidic Jews as reporters or editors, or if the newspaper's reporters and editors had more Hasidic Jewish friends, maybe the newspaper would be less inclined to hurl pejorative adjectives at them.

Maybe, in other words, it's the secular journalists, not the religious Jews, who are really the insular ones.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Woman Who Rescued Jewish Books From The Vilna Ghetto 

Some 75 years ago, a group of Jews under German occupation in Vilna was assigned to assist Nazi authorities in curating books and other cultural items destined for shipment to Germany. There, the selection of Judaica materials was to be conserved as a collection of artifacts from an extinct people.

Some items were indeed shipped away as ordered. Some, the authorities destroyed and diverted to be used for scrap.

But others were smuggled and hidden by the same Jewish scholars, teachers and writers who had been designated to sift through and catalog them. The heroism of this “Paper Brigade” has recently received new attention, thanks largely to two developments: the discovery of another trove of materials that the squad managed to squirrel away, and the publication of historian David E. Fishman’s fascinating new study, “The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race To Save Jewish Treasures From the Nazis” (ForeEdge).

Certain Paper Brigadiers whom Fishman identifies at his book’s outset as “dramatis personae” already loom large in awareness, particularly in Yiddishist circles. They include the famed poet Abraham Sutzkever and fellow bard Shmerke Kaczerginski. But women played important roles in this history, too, and much to his credit, Fishman features one of them in considerable detail: Rachela Pupko-Krinsky Melezin.

Born Rachela Pupko in Vilna in 1910, Krinsky knew five languages, earned a master’s degree in history, and taught the subject to high-schoolers. She married twice, the first time to Joseph Krinsky, with whom she had a daughter, Sarah, in 1939. Krinsky was killed shortly after the Germans invaded Vilna; before entering the ghetto, his wife placed their daughter, not yet 2, in the care of the family’s non-Jewish nanny.

During their time in the ghetto, Kaczerginski wrote a poem, “The Lonely Child,” inspired by the family’s sad story; the poem became a song that is at the heart of a film project in development by Alix Wall, Sarah’s daughter and Rachela Krinsky’s only grandchild.

It was while she was living in the ghetto that Krinsky was offered the assignment to join the team of curators. “The suggestion did not immediately appeal to me,” she later wrote in a brief memoir, “as I felt it would be appalling to stand by and watch the Germans destroy what had been built up with so much love and care.” But join she did, and like the rest of the Paper Brigade, she then assumed immense risks in taking advantage of access to Jewish treasures to attempt to save them.

Despite the dangers, she later described the time working with her colleagues — in the former building of the YIVO Institue for Jewish Research, located outside the ghetto — as providing her “only memories of the occupation that arouse neither fear nor horror.” Much of that, it seems, was due to the bonds among the group and the moments they found between assignments to read and write poetry. At times, too, her daughter’s nanny would pass by the YIVO building, allowing Krinsky to glimpse the child in her carriage.

After the ghetto’s liquidation in 1943, Krinsky was deported first to the Kaiserwald camp near Riga and then to Stutthof near Danzig. She survived those camps and a winter death march before being liberated by the Soviets in March 1945. She then made her way to Lodz, which, Fishman reminds us, was “the main gathering place for surviving Polish Jews.” There, Krinsky “re-established contact with her nanny” and discovered that Sarah was alive and well. Mother and daughter were reunited and immigrated to the United States, where Krinsky and her second husband, Abraham Melezin (another survivor), raised Sarah together.

Such is one broad outline of Rachela’s wartime biography, but of course there is much more to her story.

At a New York event hosted by YIVO last month, Wall said that even she had discovered new information about her grandmother in Fishman’s book: In correspondence with Sutzkever cited in “The Book Smugglers,” her grandmother confessed to a depth of postwar depression that she apparently never revealed to her.

Still, Wall knew her grandmother well and considered their relationship to be “incredibly close.” (Her grandmother died in 2002, when Wall was in her early 30s.) At the same gathering, Wall believed it was safe to say that “all of this attention would make [her grandmother] profoundly uncomfortable. She hated being called a hero; as almost any survivor could tell you, there was no rhyme or reason to who survived and who did not.” And as grateful as she is to see her grandmother’s name “entered into the historical record” alongside those of her better-known male colleagues, Wall added that her grandmother would likely have been discomfited by the book’s focus on some details of her personal life. On this topic, Wall did not elaborate, but readers may speculate that her grandmother may not have appreciated being identified by her romantic relationships to an extent rarely seen in presentations of the male “dramatis personae”; Rachela Pupko-Krinsky Melezin may also have chafed against the author’s imaginings, late in the book, of her inner monologue at a 1996 YIVO event in New York.

In any case, readers will have the opportunity to learn more about Wall’s grandmother from her when “The Lonely Child” documentary is completed. For now, the profoundly moving trailer reminds us that as extraordinary as Rachela Pupko-Krinsky Melezin’s story may be, certain disquieting elements that undergird it resonate troublingly all these decades later.

Wall said in an email that she and Marc Smolowitz, the film’s director and co-producer, made the trailer in early 2017, during the month following the inauguration of the 45th U.S. president. She added, “My greatest hope is that he will be out of office” before the film is released. “We do have every intention, though, of drawing a link between the Holocaust and the current refugee crisis, as we don’t see that going away.”

If only happy endings weren’t so eternally elusive.



Saturday, November 18, 2017

France charges Brussels Jewish Museum killer with Syria hostage-taking 

Mehdi Nemmouche, 32, was transferred to Paris from a Belgian jail and interviewed by a magistrate at 10.00am on Wednesday morning.

After a 10-minute grilling he was charged with kidnapping, sequestration, participation in a terrorist enterprise and involvement in a terror plot.

"On my advice, Mehdi Nemmouche declared he had nothing to say," his lawyer, Francis Vuillemin, said afterwards, adding that he would be questioned again.

But he should return to Belgium soon, the authorities there having only agreed a temporary stay in France.

He is due to face trial there for the 2014 killing of four people, one of them French, at the Jewish Museum in the Belgian capital.

Nemmouche, who was radicalised in prison and went to fight with IS in Syria, was arrested at Marseille bus station a few days after the attack and handed over to the Belgian authorities.

Identified by ex-hostages

Shortly after his arrest, the journalists - Didier François, Pierre Torrès, Edouard Elias and Nicolas Hénin - were questioned by French intelligence and identified him as one of their jailers.

Later they told the media that he had been known as "Abu Omar the bruiser".

"When he wasn't singing he was torturing," Hénin said. "He was one of a small group of French nationals who terrorised the roughly 50 Syrian prisoners in the cells next to ours."

Confirming that he was "extremely violent with the Syrian prisoners", François said he suffered from a "sort of anti-Semitic obsession" that made him want to "imitate or outdo" Toulouse attacker Mohamed Merah.

The former hostages also identified Najim Laachraoui, one of the March 2016 Brussels suicide-bombers, and Salim Benghalem, an alleged member of a Paris network that sent volunteer jihadists to Iraq and had contact with Charlie Hebdo attackers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, as being among their jailers.

Nemmouche has been in solitary confinement since his extradition to Belgium but was transferred to a prison near the French border where he could receive medical care after his lawyers claimed he was losing his eyesight and his hearing.



Friday, November 17, 2017

Jewish family’s adopted son accused of scrawling Hitler slur on Chabad preschool 

A Florida teenager who was adopted by a Jewish family is accused of trashing a Jewish preschool and scrawling a statement mentioning Hitler.

Michael Dami, 19, is accused of breaking in the Naples Preschool of the Arts, part of the Chabad Jewish Center, on Oct. 18, causing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage and writing with a red lipstick on a wall inside: “! YOU JEWS NEVER! LEARN!! HEIL HITLER!” CNBC-2 reported Friday. Police said he was caught on surveillance video.

“Once inside, it appears that he used a fire extinguisher to start smashing televisions and bookshelves and other equipment,” according to Lt. Seth Finman of the Naples Police Department.

Dami struggles with drugs and mental health, his adopted father said.

On Wednesday, detectives arresting Dami on a separate warrant found several credit cards and checks that were stolen from the preschool, according to CNBC. In court the following day, Dami was not allowed to post bond for two of his charges, which are both first-degree felonies.

Police said the State Attorney’s Office could increase Dami’s charges because the incident could potentially be treated as a hate crime.



Thursday, November 16, 2017

Anti-Semitic graffiti left at Jewish school; Naples man charged 

An arrest has been made after a Collier County preschool office was tagged with a hate message.

19-year-old Michael Dami of Naples has been accused of trashing a preschool at a Jewish community center and covering the walls with anti-Semitic graffiti.

It happened at the Preschool of the Arts at the Chabad Jewish Community Center on Mandarin Road back on October 18th.

According to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, surveillance video from the school shows a man, later identified as Dami, entering an administrative office around midnight and leaving over an hour later with items in his hand.

When school officials arrived in the morning, they found the office destroyed, with windows busted, TV monitors destroyed, papers strewn around, and several items missing. The suspect had also used lipstick to write on a window “You Jews never learn! Heil Hitler!”

Some of the stolen items were found in Dami’s possession during an unrelated arrest on November 13th.

Dami is now charged with burglary, grand theft, and criminal mischief.



Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The ugly attack on N.Y. yeshivas 

For the past several years, the yeshiva system in New York has been subjected to relentless attacks from a small group of critics. Our schools, teachers and students have been caricatured as ill-informed, ill-prepared and ignorant, and the Hasidic way of life has been dismissed as backward.

It is time to set the record straight, and to let the public know that the ugly picture of our schools and our community that has been painted is a fake.

There are more than 425 Jewish schools in New York State, with more than 165,000 students. Of those schools, 275, with more than 110,000 students, are in New York City.

To give you a sense of what this means, there are more students educated in New York City yeshivas than in all the public schools of Boston and San Francisco combined.

This system is not monolithic. What is true across the board is that each child educated in a yeshiva is there because his or her parent made the choice to enroll them there. That is a right parents have had for almost a century, ever since the United States Supreme Court recognized the "liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of children."

We take our obligations to our students seriously. Simply stated, the allegation that our schools don't provide any instruction in English and don't offer secular education — one that has been repeated often since an advocacy group started promoting it — is false.

Of course, every institution can improve, and our schools are no different. That is why over the past few years, dozens of yeshivas have banded together to fund a non-Hasidic team of educators to work with the major textbook publishers to devise a culturally sensitive, Common Core-compliant set of textbooks, teacher guides and lesson plans.

The result is a set of standards-aligned English Language Arts and math textbooks that are in wide use. Hundreds of our principals and teachers have attended professional development classes and teacher training tied to that curriculum and those textbooks.

Those critical of yeshivas are also often strikingly unaware of what goes on during the Jewish studies portion of the school day. While the subject matter is centered around Jewish texts and traditions, the intellectual challenges and academic value are universal.

Students obtain critical thinking, analytical, comprehension and literacy skills that are no different from those of successful students everywhere. Our teachers employ a Socratic method of instruction, in which students are required to analyze passages and defend their interpretations. You would be hard-pressed to find sixth-grade classrooms elsewhere that so resemble law school.

We are proud of our graduates. Some become entrepreneurs, teachers and shopkeepers; others become electricians and plumbers. Many tend to the religious life and needs of our growing community. None are afraid of hard work.

Our critics are not satisfied, but that is because what concerns them is not our literacy but our way of life. You need not take my word for this. All you need to do is read theirs.

The recently released report critical of Hasidic education by an organization called Yaffed complained that "textbooks used for secular studies courses were often made by and for the Jewish community and were insular in their world-view." Of course, until just recently, these very same critics were denying that we provided secular education or even textbooks to our students. The report went on to criticize the Orthodox Jewish practices of girls not becoming rabbis and having large families.

At bottom, what our critics want was what they told city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a public meeting on June 27, 2016: for Hasidic children "to see the world in a different perspective."

For many parents, perhaps most, the American Dream is for their sons and daughters to become doctors, lawyers and professors and to blend into the great, homogeneous melting pot that is America. Hasidim choose a different path, one with fewer temporal ambitions but with the goal of sustaining a way of life that seems outdated in its simplicity to many, but is as enriching and fulfilling to its adherents as a tenured professorship or a law firm partnership.

That is our American Dream. Being true to our faith and our conscience is the ultimate American value. That is our shining accomplishment, and we will not stand by while our critics attempt to tarnish it.


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