Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Freilichen Purim! 


How A Hasidic Woman Changed My Life In A Hospital Waiting Room 

My dad always says that his most valuable possession is his relationships. Human-to-human connections make life worth living. Shared experiences with friends and family bring meaning into our lives, and even a chance encounter with a stranger can be incredibly fulfilling.

This past weekend, my husband Ira, a plastic surgery resident at NYU Hospital, was on call. After spending most of Shabbat alone with my two young daughters, I decided to take a long walk with the double stroller to the hospital. Before he left, Ira mentioned that he would be quickly checking on a few patients, and then we could walk home together.

Winter Shabbats with toddlers cooped up in an apartment are challenging, so I welcomed the adventure. We bundled up and headed out for the 40-block walk. Halfway there, we got caught in a windy snowfall. My girls were crying, and I was kicking myself for thinking this walk was a good idea, but we were already halfway, and I hoped the snow would subside in time for our walk home.

We arrived at the hospital cold, wet and cranky. Ira came down and said he would be "rounding" (doctor-speak for checking) on patients for 5-10 minutes, so I should take the girls to the bikur cholim room for a snack. The bikur cholim room is a room at the hospital filled with kosher food, donated by a Jewish organization which helps families of those who are ill.

My daughters love this room, because it offers every snack imaginable. But this room is also used by men as a makeshift synagogue. I walked in and discovered several Hasidic men in shtreimels, about to start the afternoon prayers. Because religious Jewish men don't pray in the presence of women, I left the room while the men helped my daughters locate the chocolate wafers and potato chips.

I went out into the hallway to wait for the girls, and saw a Hasidic woman standing by herself. Her name was Chaya, and she was waiting for her husband who was praying with the other men. Even though we were the only two people in the hall, I didn't speak to her. Whenever I see Hasidic Jews, I assume they do not want to talk to me, because I am not a part of their world. I thought she would be judgemental of my Jewish observance: It was Shabbat, and I was wearing sweatpants and sneakers.

However, she struck up a conversation with me about the girls. She was very friendly, and I immediately felt like a jerk for falsely stereotyping her.

She came over to sit with the girls and me while I waited for Ira and she waited for her husband. We chatted for a while and made small talk — I avoided asking why she was at the hospital, because I did not want to pry.

But then she mentioned that I seemed very stressed. I opened up to her: I told her about Ira's work schedule, and how I had been alone all of Shabbat, and how the girls were fussing, and that I was about to hit my breaking point.

Chaya was sympathetic: She was also a mom and could completely relate to how I was feeling. She encouraged me to take time for myself as soon as I could. At this point, I felt comfortable enough to ask her why she was at the hospital.

Chaya told me she had just had a baby girl on Tuesday. The baby was born with a heart condition, and the doctors were also concerned she likely had Down syndrome. Chaya was shocked: Down syndrome is rare in children born to young mothers. She is only 27 years old and had three healthy babies prior to this.

Before Shabbat, Chaya left her baby in the NICU to go home to her husband and three sons. But then, on Shabbat, she received an emergency knock on her door from a hospital liaison who told her that her baby was about to undergo emergency intestine surgery. She and her husband left her sons with a family member and rushed to the hospital. I met her only a couple of hours after the surgery.

I was blown away by her strength. She faced the worst nightmare a mother can have — a sick child she was powerless to help. And yet, she seemed so at peace.

I was amazed at her ability to counsel me about my petty complaints when she was suffering such a heavy blow. Chaya explained that this situation was out of her control — she had no choice but to surrender. She said she did not understand how people encountered problems of this magnitude without faith in a higher power. Her stability came from her emunah (or, faith) that Hashem (God) was watching over her baby girl.

Just then, her husband, in his shtreimel and bekishe, emerged from the bikur cholim room with a small bottle of grape juice to make kiddush, since they had missed their Shabbat day meal. As they spoke in Yiddish, I was reminded how little I had in common with this woman on the surface. During our conversation, I had completely forgotten what different worlds we came from. When we were speaking, our differences melted away — we were just two moms talking about our children.

Ira never showed up, because he had a problem with one of his patients. After Shabbat ended, he called an Uber for the girls and me to go home while he stayed to operate. Normally, I would have wallowed in my pity party — I would have been annoyed that we schlepped all the way down to the hospital, while Ira was nowhere to be found. I would have been frustrated that it started pouring rain as we waited outside for the car to take us home (I could not go back inside to wait, because I had no phone and I couldn't reach Ira to ask which car was ours). I would have been furious with the girls misbehaving and fighting. But this time, I wasn't in the mood to wallow or be angry: Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I was overcome with emotion from this chance encounter with my new Hasidic friend.

Our hour together changed my life. She taught me three critical lessons:

1) Snap judgments are not accurate. I falsely stereotyped this woman based solely on her appearance. How many times do we miss out on seeing someone for who he or she really is? It is important to unlearn surface-based assumptions about people.

2) Human-to-human connections are irreplaceable. Normally, when I find myself in situations with strangers, I stare at my phone and avoid engaging. I wonder if people used to talk to each other on the subway, in elevators and in waiting rooms before cell phones. Because it was Shabbat, I had no phone and no chance to avoid conversation with this woman. How many life-changing encounters am I missing out on the rest of the week when I am busy scrolling through social media? We need to put our phones down more often and interact with actual people.

3) Emunah creates strength. I have a tendency to both worry and wallow over things I cannot control. Chaya taught me to surrender and have faith that Hashem only gives me challenges I can handle. The magnitude of her unfortunate situation is so much greater than any of my problems, but her faith-filled approach gives her a positive outlook and the resilience to push through.

I once heard a quote that has stuck with me: "There's a king in every court." So once in a while, let's remember to find the kings in the courts among us – let's lose the headphones and ask the person in the airplane seat beside us how her day is going. Let's look up from the iPhone and cheerfully greet the person in line behind us at Starbucks. Let's smile and make small talk with the man waiting to cross the street. Brief, unexpected visits with strangers can be as fulfilling and enriching as any deep conversation with a trusted friend.

I will never forget my encounter with the new mother at the hospital. I can only hope that I make the next stranger I meet feel as strongly connected with the human soul, as Chaya made me feel on a Shabbat afternoon outside a bikur cholim room.


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Melbourne Jewish school principal will NOT be extradited to Australia to face 74 charges of child sex abuse – because of her mental health 

Malka Leifer (right), a former principal at Melbourne's Adass Israel School, will not be extradited from Jerusalem to face sexual abuse charges because of mental illness, a court ruled on Wednesday

A former principal of a Melbourne Jewish school will not be extradited from Jerusalem to face sexual abuse charges because of mental illness, a court has ruled.

Malka Leifer is wanted in Victoria on 74 counts of child sexual abuse after she allegedly exploited at least 15 pupils during private lessons while she was a teacher and principal at Adass Israel School.

Despite claims from the Israeli police that Leifer is faking mental illness, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Wednesday that she must undergo a further psychiatric evaluation before the court reconsiders her extradition on March 28, according to The Herald Sun.

Leifer, a mother-of-eight who is now aged in her 50s, was first accused back in 2008 but fled Australia in the middle of the night with her family, amid allegations the school helped fund her journey.

A previous extradition attempt between 2014-2016 failed after Leifer was hospitalised in mental institutions and expert opinions determined she was not fit to stand trial.

But undercover private investigators filmed Leifer depositing a cheque at the bank and shopping, prompting Israeli authorities to launch an investigation to see if she was pretending to suffer from mental illness to avoid extradition, leading to her February 12 arrest.

At Tuesday's hearing at the Jerusalem district court, Leifer sat silently, her head bowed and her eyes hid from sight.

An Australian diplomat attended part of the session alongside a few ultra-Orthodox members of Leifer's community.

Prosecutors presented a new psychiatric evaluation determining Leifer could face justice.

'I'm asking the court to accept this evaluation and determine the defendant is fit to stand trial and set a discussion' toward Leifer's extradition, prosecutor Matan Akiva said.

But judge Chana Miriam Lomp accepted the defence's argument that the new evaluation was not acceptable as it lacked the district psychiatrist's signature.

In addition, Leifer's attorney Yehuda Fried said he had not received all the evidence claiming to show his client was faking her mental condition.

Lomp ordered Akiva to hand the defence the evidence used by police to determine their suspicions and said a further hearing would take place in two months.

He ordered her to be detained in a psychiatric institution in the meantime.

Speaking with journalists after the hearing, Fried was confident the debate over whether Leifer could be extradited would take 'years,' saying the new psychiatric evaluation 'has no legal value'.

'We'll demand to receive all the investigation materials. After getting all the materials, we will ask for another evaluation,' he said.

'If the court decides to halt the extradition process -- excellent,' Fried said.

'If not, we'll ask to investigate all the experts since 2014 who presented evaluations, and during those investigations we will determine whether or not she is fit to stand trial or not.'

Leifer's case has drawn attention from Australian media since her re-arrest earlier this month, with Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews saying he has lobbied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu directly on the issue.



Monday, February 26, 2018

Parents arrested after teen daughter found bound in back of car 

An upstate mom and dad were arrested for binding their daughter with duct tape and putting her in the back of a car on the Lower East Side, police said Monday.

Menachem Cohen, 40, and his wife Rachel Cohen, 38, of Monticello, NY, had told cops that their 19-year-old daughter has a mental disorder and needed to be restrained following the 5:30 p.m. Sunday incident, sources said.

Multiple bystanders called 911 to say that the mother was hitting the daughter, cops said. One caller reported that the teen was struggling with the older woman in the backseat of a 2009 Toyota Prius parked on Forsyth Street between Rivington and Stanton streets.

The caller also told dispatch that Menachem Cohen stated he and and his wife were the teen’s parents.

Sources say the victim was duct taped around her wrists, ankles and mouth.

The parents were charged with unlawful imprisonment, reckless endangerment, assault, criminal possession of controlled substance, and menacing. The pair was awaiting arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Emergency responders took the teen, who had bruising and swelling to her body, to Bellevue Hospital for treatment.

The victim was later placed in the hospital psychiatric ward, sources said.

“She has diminished mental capacity,” a source said.

Witness Juliana Cruzado, 18, who lives on Forsyth Street said she was with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend when they saw the incident unfold and then intervened.

“We looked out the window and we saw it,” Cruzado said, adding that the victim was “all taped up, and [the older woman] was on top of her, strangling her.”

“The tape was over her mouth all around her head… Her arms were taped together from her wrist to her elbows,” Cruzado said of the teen.

Cruzado said they called 911 and once the teen got out of the car they helped her take some of the tape off.

“We didn’t take it all the way off, because we wanted the cops to see it,” she said.

Cruzado added that the victim claimed “she was abducted, that she was 19, that she didn’t know them…she sounded like she was drugged.”

The Cohens said “they were her parents and they were treating her,” according to Cruzado.

Police say the teenager lives with her parents in the Sullivan County village.

A neighbor of the Cohen’s in Monticello was stunned by the nature of their arrests.

“I’m very shocked,” said the neighbor, who did not want to give her name.

The neighbor described the couple as “very nice people,” and said they typically drove around a mini-van.

It was not immediately clear why the Cohen family was in the Big Apple nearly 100 miles away from home.



Orthodox schools lobby group hit by trustee resignations 

Rabbi Avrohom Pinter has resigned from Najos

A number of schools have asked the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (Najos) to remove their names from its website, saying it does not represent them.

In a separate development, two Najos trustees have resigned over the past fortnight, philanthropist Benjamin Perl and Rabbi Avrohom Pinter,  principal of the state-aided Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' School in Hackney.

Najos was founded by Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag of Manchester to represent schools whose Jewish ethos lay to the right of the United Synagogue.

Its website lists predominantly Charedi schools but has included a few in the central Orthodox community, such as Sacks Morasha and Naima JPS.

But the JC has learned that Sacks Morasha, Naima JPS and Hasmonean High School have recently made clear to Najos it does not act for them.

Etz Chaim, the central Orthodox primary school in Mill Hill, has also asked for its name to be deleted from the website —  although this possibly refers to another, Charedi school of the same name in Manchester. 

Najos has not responded to requests to comment and its website has been "temporarily suspended" for several days.

Rabbi Pinter, whose Chasidic school lies on the religious right, complained in an email to Najos he had "not been invited to trustee meetings or consulted about the charity's actions".

He had also "lost confidence in the direction taken by Najos leadership and the tactics they are employing, and it is therefore no longer appropriate for me to act as a trustee."

He was suspending his school's Najos membership, he said.

Najos has become more vocal in its advocacy on behalf of Orthodox education as new legislation and Ofsted policy has increasingly presented challenges for Jewish schools.

But it is only one of several Jewish organisations lobbying for schools which include the Board of Deputies, Partnerships for Jewish Schools (Pajes) — the Jewish Leadership Council's educational division — and, to the right of Najos, the Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools.

 An anonymous leaflet circulating on social media last week accused Pajes of trying to "muscle in on representing schools in government".

Pointing out the JLC included non-Orthodox groups, it suggested, Orthodox schools should "question, if not sever any tie they may have" with Pajes.


Sunday, February 25, 2018

Florida shooting survivors travel to Jewish summit in Brooklyn 

Florida shooting survivors travel to Jewish summit in Brooklyn

Three students who survived the Florida school massacre joined about 2,500 other Jewish teens for an annual Chabad youth summit in Brooklyn on Sunday — prompting everyone there to make mitzvah pledges in memory of those killed.

Maverick Reynolds, a 15-year-old freshman from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, said the summit was “really important” for his healing.

“It helps me see that everybody actually cares and wants to help out,’’ the teen said. “It’s nice to see how everyone is like sticking together and being stronger together after the experience.”

Another freshman who survived the school shooting, Christopher Branum, said he was honored to attend the Brooklyn event.

“We will not let this [violence] stand,” the 15-year-old said. “I’m proud to be apart of this” summit.

Lauren Berg, 14, who attends a different Florida high school but was a friend of slain Stoneman Douglas student Gina Montalto, said, “I’m going to light some candles for my friend Gina, and I’m going to make challah [bread] every week.”

The 10th annual Chabad Teen International CTeen meeting was held at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

Rabbi Shaya Denburg, director of CTeen in Coral Springs, Fla., brought a group from the state to the convention for the first time this year.

“Now it’s not about going to New York for a weekend; it’s about going to a place with other kids their age who will support and encourage them, and hopefully, provide strength to move forward,” the rabbi told Chabad.org.

Cruz is accused of opening fire on his former campus earlier this month, killing 17 students and teachers.



Saturday, February 24, 2018

Nissim Baruch Black: the rapper who gave up bling for Jewish redemption 

Nissim Baruch Black said that at the root of Christianity and Islam he found Judaism

Once he rapped about gangs, guns and drugs. But since swapping his gold jewellery for a black hat, the message of Nissim Baruch Black’s music has been one of hope and redemption.

Black, who grew up in a tough neighbourhood in Seattle and was selling drugs by the age of 12, now lives in the most uncompromising ultra-orthodox Jewish area of Jerusalem as a devout family man who reads the Torah, keeps kosher and strictly observes the sabbath.

Surprisingly, he is still a rapper. He is working on an album, Gibbar (meaning strong in Hebrew) and performed in New York’s Times Square on Saturday as part of a world tour that ends in London next year. His stage outfit is identical to his everyday wear: black hat and coat, white shirt and tzitzit (ritual fringes), with peyot (sidecurls) hanging beneath his hat. In his former persona, D-Black, he was flanked by scantily dressed women as he rapped; now, in an hour-long meeting, he did not once make eye contact with me (“Please don’t be offended,” urged his producer).

Black’s road to ultra-orthodox Judaism took him through Islam and Christianity. A pivotal moment was a confrontation with another rapper, when Black realised he was in a “kill or be killed situation”. He shut himself away and prayed for three days; soon after, he started attending a local synagogue.

He grew up in a family of drug takers and dealers. “It was very loving, but the streets were in my house. I’d come home from school and there’d be garbage bags full of drugs on the table, and men with guns. There were some very startling moments.”

At the age of nine, Black – now 31 – starting smoking pot, “and by the time I was 12 I was dealing it. I was the product of my environment.”

His father left the family home when his son was two, and he was raised by his mother and stepfather, plus his maternal grandfather. The latter was a devout Muslim, “but he never stopped his criminal activity. He’d take me to the mosque to pray. Praying was very comforting to me. If anyone had asked me at the time, I would have said I was a Muslim.”

Soon, his grandfather returned to prison and Black turned to drugs. “All the way through junior high school, there wasn’t a day I didn’t smoke. But since everyone else in the house was high, no one noticed.”

The youngster was also rapping and made his first professional recording at 13. The same year, he had a bad experience with marijuana. “I woke up in a park, hallucinating, and I never used drugs again. I’ve been clean since I was 13 years old.”

The following year he converted to Christianity after attending a summer camp. For the first time in Black’s life, “I had healthy relationships, not just dysfunctional ones. It felt like the home I never had.I never got to be a normal kid til I got to this place.”

His music career also progressed. A record company expressed an interest in signing him. “50 Cent was huge in hip hop at the time. He moved the rap world back to gangsta rap. [The record company] asked me to toughen up my message; they wanted an edgier sound, cursing and so on. I wasn’t comfortable with that, it countered my Christian values. But then they faxed over a half-million dollar proposal, so I started to curse pretty quick after that.

“I ended back in those circles where people did a little bit more than just rap about it. There was violence, drugs. These guys were serious about it.”

After his mother died from an overdose, aged 37, Black launched his own independent label. “It started to make a buzz. It spread very fast.” It was at this point that the violent stand-off occurred with a rival. Seeking a more spiritual path, he turned to his local synagogue.

“The more I searched, the more I found I was lacking authenticity. At the root of Christianity and Islam, I found Judaism. I had a fiery, burning passion to join the Jewish people.”

The conversion process took 30 months – “they’re not looking for new customers” – but throughout Black felt a “spiritual pulling towards Israel”. Two years ago, Black, his wife and children made the 6,700-mile journey to start their new lives, and now live in Mea She’arim, a part of Jerusalem reminiscent of 18th-century eastern European Jewish life.

It meant big changes. “I live a very haredi [ultra-orthodox] life.” The family has no television or internet, they keep a kosher house, dress modestly, and observe the strict rules of the sabbath, including no driving, no phones and no turning electricity on or off. During our interview, Black has a new smartphone on the table in front of him, but it has no browser and no apps. He mutters a blessing before sipping his coffee.

Although the family’s religious beliefs and practices are in harmony with their neighbours, in one very visible way they stand out. Nearly all Mea She’arim’s inhabitants are Ashkenazi Jews originating from eastern Europe. The rapper, his wife and four children (with another due any day) are black.

“We’re not exactly the same colour, and I was very nervous about that. But things are changing [in the Haredi community]. My kids have been accepted at school, although they are the only ones of colour. Very occasionally, another kid will shout kushi [the Hebrew N-word] at them.

“But I can’t begin to tell you how surprising and gratifying it is to see these Ashkenazi guys listening to my music. People even ask me to sing at barmitzvahs.”

Black declined to comment on Donald Trump’s presidency, saying he tried to “avoid political questions – and in any case I haven’t watched TV for eight years, so I’m not connected with what’s happening. And I don’t get into dumping on the president, whoever it is”.

Similarly he was reluctant to be drawn on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, saying only that he connected to “these guys” because of his Islamic-influenced upbringing, and that Jerusalem “is a lot safer than the neighbourhood of Seattle I grew up in”.

“It’s very hard for me to subscribe to the idea that Jewish people could be oppressors, though I don’t want to dismiss the experience of people who feel oppressed.”

He regretted the call by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for musicians and other artists to refuse to perform in Israel. “We need to reach out to people. I hate it when politics gets in the way.”

These days, Black’s lyrics reflect his short but packed life story. “I was able to have a life of redemption, I was able to overcome. We all have times when we feel we’re stuck, we’re pulled down by our environment, we get left with feeling ‘we can’t’. But if you don’t give up, ‘you can’. You’re too good to fail. That’s the message I want to reveal.”



Friday, February 23, 2018

Swastikas Carved Into Car Windows In Ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn Neighborhood 

The NYPD is searching for the person or people who carved swastikas into the side of two cars in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

The vandalism was found just before midnight Wednesday on 52nd Street in Borough Park in a predominately Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.

A Lexus and a Ford were both damaged with the hate symbols etched into the front passenger side windows of each car.

The cars were located on a quiet street in an Orthodox neighborhood.

The NYPD is investigating the vandalism as a possible bias crime. No arrests have been made.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

How One Polish Woman Crafts Stunningly Intimate Photographs Of Hasidic Life 

On the coldest day of the year, the Polish photographer Agnieszka Traczewska stands in a snowbound forest an hour's car ride from Krakow. Dressed in thermal pants and a black scarf, Traczewska has lost track of time in her quest to get a shot of her usually reclusive subjects. Traczewska leans in. Crouches. Shoots.

By the end of the day Traczewska, a Krakow-based documentary producer and photographer, has produced several powerful shots of publicity-shy Hasidim, traditional Yiddish-speaking Jews. Given the distance that many Hasidim put between themselves and outsiders, Traczewska's photographs are remarkably intimate portraits of the religious reverence that has marked the group since its founding in the early 18th century. Also remarkable is that Traczewska has forged so fervent a bond with Krakow's Hasidic Jews that even male photographers, who can gain access to the group with much greater ease, do not rival her for artistry or psychological insight.

"Sometimes my 'goy' looks work to my advantage," Traczewska said with candor. "Anyone can see I am not a member of the Hasidic groups that come to Bobov, Lelov, Radomsko and the many other places in Poland where tsaddikim are buried. To do my photography, I will inch my way into their circle, and at worst I will receive a glance of disapproval. If I were a Jewish woman, I couldn't do that. As a 'goy,' I am foreign and I am tolerated."

The self-described "Polish goy with a camera" has become well-known in the Polish towns frequented by Hasidim and other black-hatted Jews known as Haredim. Traczewska recalls an incident four years ago in Radomsko, midway between Częstochowa and Lodz, where some fifty-odd Haredi men were assembled to observe the yahrzeit of Shlomo Chanoch ha-Kohen Rabinowicz.

"I am the only woman standing outside the ohel," Traczewska said, referring to the rabbi's open-air memorial structure. "Somehow I have to get there from the cemetery gate. What should I expect? Open confrontation? Admonishment that I do not belong here?"

The mutual respect that has grown up between Traczewska and Haredim from London to Israel helps explain why the pilgrims in Radomsko began to shout when they saw her.

"I told you she would come! What kind of coffee do you want? Would you like a cookie?"

"They heard about the lady who shleps around taking pictures of grave sites," Traczewska recalls. "They sincerely wanted to be nice."

By now Traczewska has developed an "approach strategy" based on respect for the Haredi separation of the sexes and on knowledge of relevant halachic issues — "something that the male photographers with their pro forma baseball caps don't have to think about," she says. The Hasidim photographed by Traczewska have seen her standing in hip-high snow or swatting at hoverflies. While baffled at first by her determination, they have come to admire it. Many share her belief that a sympathetic portrait of Haredi pilgrimage, prayer and Shabbat observance can show outsiders the beauty and rigor of a Torah-centered lifestyle.

No Pole (or Jew) is an island
Perseverance has been key to Traczewska's close ties with the Haredim she photographs in Poland, Israel and the United States. Yet persistence alone could not grant her entry into a community defined since the Holocaust by a near-total rejection of secular culture and a commitment to Torah-oriented institutions. For a way into this insular world, Traczewska needed a Haredi comrade-in-arms.

A year or two into her travels, she found those comrades in Duvid and Naomi Singer, a Boro Park couple whose path crossed Traczewska's in Bobowa, 75 miles southeast of Krakow. In the mid-1990s, the Singers began restoring Jewish cemeteries in the Galicia region of Poland, establishing relationships with local politicians, educators, hoteliers and ordinary people who, like Traczewska, believed that Jews and Poles share a common history and geography. Through the partnership of like-minded souls, the Singers have helped reconstruct cemeteries, mikvehs and even Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, the grand yeshiva that originated the daf yomi method of daily Gemara study.

"We had been doing our restoration work in Poland for a few years when one day I see this clearly Polish blonde with a camera, and I'm thinking, 'What's going on here?'" Duvid Singer said.

"It was a huge surprise to see someone like Agnieszka sitting on the grass, watching us from behind a gravestone," Naomi Singer said. "It was obvious she was very careful not to be too obtrusive for fear of offending Jews who had come for Rav Halberstam of Bobov's yahrzeit."

The Singers were stunned again when Traczewska showed up later that evening at their hotel in Krakow's once-Jewish Kazimierz district.

"I get a call that a woman is down in the lobby and wants to see us," Naomi Singer said. "I go down and it's the blonde lady from the cemetery. She tells me how important it is to her that she met us. Now that she has seen me, she has to see Duvid too."

Traczewska's determination signaled the beginning of what Naomi calls "this beautiful relationship."

Until Traczewska got involved with Duvid Singer's Heritage and Discovery tour groups, she says she went about her mission blind. "I would go for an hours-long drive, wait the whole day, and come home empty-handed," Traczewska says. "I was at a breaking point. It was a blessing to find somebody who has all this knowledge about the history of Galicia and the tsaddikim — and trusts me enough to share his group secrets."

A photographer with Rembrandt's eye
It can be sublimely powerful when Traczewska has to take her photos, as she often does, from a distance, through windows, doorways and tree branches.

Several of Traczewska's images are noteworthy for the tense but respectful distance between photographer and subject. In one black-and-white shot of Hasidim trudging through forest leaves to an ohel, a young man steals a wary glance at the camera.

In another photo, Traczewska subdues her presence so that her subjects, a cigarette-smoking bucher and a young boy, contemplate the contents of an old barrel and ignore her altogether.

In some of her most gorgeous shots, Traczewska borrows styles and motifs from paintings. Hasidim draped in tallisim suggest Rembrandt. A Hasid and elderly Polish woman lit up by lantern light could be figures on a Vermeer canvas.

Every so often Traczewska gets the personal shot that nobody else can.

First Time, a photograph taken in Mea Shearim, reveals the rarely-seen first private hour between a newly married husband and wife. The husband, barely out of his teens, wears a shtreimel the size of a lampshade and turns a giddy smile to the camera. His wife, clad in lacy white, titters into her palm. Her black-clad mother-in-law, one hand raised toward the groom, laughs and waves at the young couple. Traczewska says the photo, which some alleged was an invasion of privacy, stirred up a "balagan" among some Haredim until a number of rabbis praised Traczewska for humanizing a frequently disparaged community.

"When I started going to Israel, I made certain to meet an entire family, not just the man, as I did with the Kroyses," Traczewska says, referring to the family of the couple photographed in "First Time." "Getting to know the Kroyses' sixteen children, sharing Shabbos with them and learning about Jewish practice helped us build a feeling of trust and love for each other. Our emotion is there in my photograph."

Traczewska's methodology bore fruit in 2014, when National Geographic magazine awarded "First Time" second place in its annual Traveler Photo Contest. The photo beat out some 18,000 other entries.

Other shots by Traczewska feature her longtime friend Duvid Singer tucked into small knots of Hasidim at cemeteries, ohalim and shuls. Traczewska includes him often as a testament to the friendship possible, despite all odds, between two peoples who shared the same piece of earth for a thousand years.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rare letter from Einstein thanks American who helped Jews escape Nazi Germany 

In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote "thank you notes" to a few people for helping Jews to escape Nazi Germany, and while historians only knew about two of those letters, a third surfaced here in Chicago.

Nearly 80 years after it was penned on June 10, 1939, Enid Bronstein is sharing the letter Einstein wrote to her father, David Finck. A finance man in New York, Finck never met Einstein, but attracted the physicists' attention after he sponsored many members of the Jewish community so they could flee Nazi Germany for the U.S.

Enid said her father received the letter before the U.S. entered WWII because the Jewish community was "well-aware" of what was happening in Germany. After her father passed away, Enid said she kept the letter in a safe deposit box for 50 years.

"I wanted to keep the letter to show it to my children and grandchildren so that they would get the message that every contribution, no matter how small is important," she said.

Enid says that while similar letters have sold for thousands at auction, she decided to donate it to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum so future scholars and historians could share the lessons it contains.

Susan Snyder from the museum says as more survivors pass, the race is on to gather as much as possible and collect first person accounts, making the letter significant because it shows Einstein acknowledging the work done by the Jewish community in America.

"It was an important thing for us because the collection just adds exponentially," Snyder said.


Swastikas Discovered at Polish Embassy in Israel 

Swastikas and obscenities were found drawn around the entrance to the Polish Embassy in Israel on Sunday, one day after Poland's prime minister made comments suggesting there were "Jewish perpetrators" of atrocities during World War II.

The graffiti, scrawled in black marker on an outdoor bulletin board and on gates at the embassy, in Tel Aviv, included the words "Polish" and "murderer," along with several obscenities.

The Israeli police said they had opened an investigation into the vandalism and were "searching for the suspects involved."

The graffiti appeared to refer to sharp disagreements between Polish and Israeli officials over a piece of legislation signed into law in Warsaw this month that made it illegal to suggest that Poland bore responsibility for atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Millions of Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust, and many were Polish. Some of the largest concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Belzec, were on Polish soil. Nazis controlled the camps and did not have a collaborationist government in Warsaw during World War II.

Critics of Poland's new law say it goes too far. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said the legislation "adversely affects freedom of speech," and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel compared it to a form of Holocaust denial.

Tensions flared anew on Saturday when Mr. Netanyahu and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland both attended a security conference in Munich.

Mr. Morawiecki appeared to fumble his defense of the new law while responding to a question from an Israeli reporter about what kind of speech it restricted. "Of course it's not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators," he said.

Mr. Netanyahu responded quickly, calling the comment "outrageous" in a statement on Saturday. "There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people," he said.

The next day, Reuters reported that the swastika graffiti had been found at the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Another statement from Israel on Sunday said Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Morawiecki had spoken by phone and agreed to "continue their dialogue," and a statement from the government of Poland said the prime minister's comment was "by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide."

The tensions come at a tumultuous time for both Israel and Poland.

Israel experienced heightened clashes along the Gaza border this weekend, and engaged directly with Iranian forces in Syria last weekend. On Tuesday, the Israeli police recommended that Mr. Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Poland, which is governed by the right-wing Law and Justice Party, has been criticized for increasingly nationalist policies that have threatened press freedom, judiciary independence and European unity. Mr. Morawiecki became prime minister in December and announced a sweeping cabinet reshuffle last month.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Rabbi skips town after charges laid for multiple sex offences: Winnipeg police 

A rabbi well known in Winnipeg's Jewish community has been on the lam since October after being charged with sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching, CBC News has learned.

Police believe that Rabbi Yacov Simmonds, 42, has been hiding out somewhere in the United States after a warrant was issued for his arrest on three counts of sexual assault, three counts of sexual interference and two counts of invitation to sexual touching.

"We believe this individual has fled to the United States. Yacov Simmonds is aware of the warrant and we feel he is actively evading police," Winnipeg police spokesman Const. Jay Murray told CBC News.

"We have spoken to this individual … and for that reason, we know this individual is aware there is a warrant."

Simmonds had been terminated the previous year as the director of development at Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg — the local branch of a larger Orthodox Jewish movement — when police first began their investigation in May of 2017.

It is still an ongoing, active investigation so police could offer few details on the matter. They could not comment on what efforts have been made to locate Simmonds, whether police had made contact with authorities in the United States, or further details on the alleged victims.

Sexual interference involves touching a part of the body of any child under the age of 16.

CBC could not reach Simmonds for comment. None of these allegations have been proven in court.

Alleged incidents date back years
Police say it is possible that by the time they concluded the investigation in October 2017, which was led by the child abuse unit, Simmonds had already fled the country.

"It is very possible that this individual got wind of the investigation, then fled and then the warrant was issued," Murray said.

The charges relate to incidents that occurred before Simmonds began working for the Chabad-Lubavitch organization around 2000, the organization's board of directors said in a prepared statement.

He primarily acted as a fundraiser for the organization and movement.

The allegations were first brought to the organization's attention in January 2016, prior to the police investigation, "after which the centre concluded an agreement to terminate Rabbi Simmonds' employment," the organization wrote in the prepared statement.

"As the matter is now before the courts and out of respect for the families involved, we have no further comment to make at this time."

Termination announced in 2016
Simmonds was terminated and his departure was officially announced in August 2016.

"Rabbi Yacov Simmonds is currently embarking on a career change; by mutual agreement he is no longer part of the rabbinical staff or administration of Chabad-Lubavitch of Winnipeg," the centre announced on its website in August 2016.

"Chabad-Lubavitch expresses sincere gratitude to Rabbi Yacov Simmonds for his years of devoted work and tremendous accomplishments for Chabad and for Winnipeg's Jewish Community. We wish him success in his future endeavors."

Chabad-Lubavitch is a sect of the Hasidic movement, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish movements in the world. The Winnipeg centre opened its doors in 1972. It offers summer and winter camps for youth, operates the Jewish Learning Centre on Mathers Avenue and offers a range of other services.



Monday, February 19, 2018

East Brunswick rabbi accused of prostitution 


An East Brunswick rabbi, who previously served time for inappropriately touching a young boy, is now accused of having sex with a 17-year-old Lancaster, Pennsylvania, girl.

The rabbi and two people from the Bronx, New York, are facing charges related to human trafficking and prostitution, officials said.

Rabbi Aryeh Goodman, 35, is charged with one count of engaging in prostitution with a child and one count of endangering the welfare of a child, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey and East Brunswick Police Chief James Conroy said in a release late Sunday.

Goodman was performing in a religious capacity at a Jewish religious center out of his East Brunswick home and may have affiliation with another center on Lexington Avenue in East Brunswick Township. Goodman and his center are not affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement.

Accompanied by his attorney, Goodman turned himself in to authorities at the East Brunswick Police Department on Feb. 6, the release said.

An investigation indicated that the rabbi allegedly engaged in sexual relations with the 17-year-old girl at an East Brunswick hotel Feb. 1.

This isn't the first time the rabbi has faced criminal charges. In 2013 Goodman, was accused of inappropriately touching a boy at a youth camp in Pennsylvania in 2001 where he worked as a counselor and was charged with 12 counts of indecent assault.

Pennsylvania court records show Goodman was convicted of two counts of indecent assault of a child under age 13 and in October 2015 was sentenced to up to two years in prison by Judge Gregory Chelak. The remaining charges were dismissed.

A Jewish Community Watch report said Goodman also was required to register as a sex offender. As part of his parole, he is restricted from working or visiting places where children are known to congregate.

A MyCentralJersey.com story on the 2013 arrest indicated that Goodman was director of Chabad of East Brunswick, and runs community service, women, children, holiday and faith-based programs out of a Lexington Downs Shopping Center storefront on Lexington Avenue.

In a statement Monday, the Rabbinical College of America said the worldwide Chabad movement is represented in New Jersey by the Rabbinical College of America (Morristown) and its affiliates.

"Rabbi Goodman has never worked under the RCA’s auspices and the RCA has never had oversight on his employment," the statement said. "On Chabad.org, one can find a list of authorized Chabad centers, which include neither Rabbi Goodman’s organization nor the organization at Rutgers which originally hired him."

"The Chabad House of Rutgers has not affiliation with the individual charged nor any knowledge of the incident in question," according to a spokesperson for the Chabad House of Rutgers.

A phone message left for Goodman was not immediately returned.

In addition to charges filed against Goodman, Gabriella Colon, 18, and Richard Ortiz, 23, both of the Bronx, have been charged with 11 criminal counts. Colon and Ortiz are accused of human trafficking, conspiracy to commit human trafficking, promoting prostitution of a child, conspiracy to promote prostitution of a child, endangering the welfare of a child, criminal restraint and a number of child pornography offenses including the manufacturing, distribution and possession of pornography, according to the prosecutor's office.

Colon and Ortiz were arrested at a Fort Lee motel Feb. 16. Both are being held at the Middlesex County Adult Corrections Center in North Brunswick pending a detention hearing, according to Carey.

According to the investigation, Colon and Ortiz allegedly sold the sexual services of the teen girl to about 30 men between Jan. 1 and Feb. 2 at an East Brunswick hotel.

A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office said no one else has been arrested and the name of the hotel is not being released.

The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to contact East Brunswick Detectives Chris Farrace or Dan Unkel at 732-390-6900, or Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office Detective Mark Morris at 732-745-4194.



Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Truth Does Not Matter at UMass Amherst 

If you’re a lazy and dishonest high school student looking for a college where you can cheat on research papers without consequence, UMass Amherst is the place to be.

In particular, you should attend classes in the school’s Department of Communication, where filmmaker Sut Jhally is a professor. In Jhally’s classes, you can hand in papers that falsify what other people have said. But instead of being punished, you’ll probably get a higher grade — and maybe even an internship at Jhally’s non-profit — the Media Education Foundation, which is located in nearby Northampton, Massachusetts.

Moreover, if Jhally or anyone else does complain about you altering quotes in your research, the administrators at the school will probably let it pass — just as they have with Jhally himself. At most colleges, deceptive acts like this will get you in real trouble, but not at UMass Amherst.

In 2016, the Media Education Foundation, where Jhally serves as executive director, released a film titled The Occupation of The American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the US. In this film (which lists Jhally as its executive producer), the filmmaker accuses Israel and its supporters in the United States of “practicing some kind of mass mind control” to promote a pro-Israel narrative in the US media.

To highlight what good coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict looks like, Jhally shows a portion of a segment of 60 Minutes, which was aired in 2012. This segment dealt with Palestinian Christians. In the report, Bob Simon falsely declared that the security barrier Israel built to stop terror attacks “completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the little town where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open-air prison.’”

In fact, the security barrier, which Simon refers to as a “wall,” does not completely surround Bethlehem. This error seriously undermined the credibility of 60 Minutes’ coverage, which Jhally described as an example of “exceptional reporting.”

But Jhally’s documentary obscured Simon’s error by taking words he said elsewhere in the 60 Minutes segment, and deceptively placing them onto the phrase about Bethlehem being an open-air prison. The result is that in Jhally’s movie, Simon is heard to say, “Israel has occupied the West Bank for 45 years, turning the little town where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open air prison.’”

It is a deceptive change that removes any reference to the CBS network’s false assertion that the security fence completely surrounds Bethlehem, thereby protecting Jhally’s characterization of Simon’s reporting as “exceptional.” Such an edit merging two quotes to give the appearance that they are one would not get past any news editor worthy of the name, but there it is in Jhally’s film.

After discovering this deceptive edit late last year, CAMERA filed a complaint with UMass Amherst (where Jhally is presumably expected to model ethical behavior for his students). The school’s Provost, John McCarthy, and Michael F. Malone, the vice chancellor for research at UMass, both gave Jhally a pass. Relying on a recommendation from the school’s research dean, John A. Hird, the two men concluded that while Jhally had in fact altered what Simon said in the 60 Minutes report, this blatant lie did “not at all distort the segment’s overall meaning.”

In another segment of the film, Jhally shows a group of Palestinians carrying a victim of an Israeli rocket attack into a hospital, on a stretcher. Narrating the harrowing scene is a reporter from NBC News, who is quoted as saying: “Israeli helicopter gunships deliberately fired a missile into a crowd of civilians last night, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 70 more.”

But here is what the reporter actually said in an October 21, 2003 segment of NBC Nightly News: “Palestinians charged that Israeli helicopter gunships deliberately fired a missile into a crowd of civilians last night, killing seven Palestinians and wounding 70 more.”

By deleting three crucial words — “Palestinians charged that” — from the NBC story, Jhally took an unproven allegation made by Palestinians — that Israel intentionally fired a rocket into a crowd — and presented it as fact to the viewers of his movie.

Jhally’s significant distortion of the NBC News segment — and the truth — is a violation of basic academic and journalistic ethics.

On January 29, 2018, CAMERA filed another complaint with Mass Amherst. And once again, the administrators at UMass protected Jhally, rejecting the complaint — stating it was of the same substance as our first complaint, and that he did not have the requisite intent to mislead to justify a finding of misconduct.

So there you have it. If you are interested in going to college, but are indifferent to the ethics of journalism and research — which by any reasonable reckoning prohibits changing the journalistic or historical record the way that Jhally did — a communications degree at UMass Amherst is the place for you.

But if you want to be taken seriously as a journalist or communications professional, going to this school might not be such a good idea.

A word to the wise.



Saturday, February 17, 2018

Israel slams Polish PM for WWII 'Jewish perpetrators' remark 

Israeli politicians accused Poland's prime minister of anti-Semitism Saturday for equating the Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to its supposed "Jewish perpetrators," setting off a new chapter in an angry dispute over Poland's new bill criminalizing the mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi-led genocide.

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Yesh Atid party, said Israel should recall its ambassador immediately in response to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's comments, which he called "anti-Semitism of the oldest kind."

"The perpetrators are not the victims. The Jewish state will not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder," said Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said Morawiecki sounded like any other Holocaust denier with the remark he gave in Munich, Germany on Saturday.

"The blood of millions of Jews cries from the earth of Poland over the distortion of history and the escape from blame. Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and Poles took an active part in their murder," Gabbay said. "The government of Israel has to be a voice for the millions of murdered and strongly denounce the Polish prime minister's words."

Morawiecki was responding to a question from an Israeli journalist at the Munich Security Conference. Asking about a new Polish law that criminalizes some statements about the Holocaust, the journalist shared a personal story about his parents being reported to the Nazis by Polish neighbors. He asked if he would now be considered a criminal in Poland for relating the story.

"Of course it's not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators," Morawiecki said in response.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also attended the Munich conference, called his Polish counterpart's comment "outrageous."

"There is a problem here of lack of understanding of history and lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people," Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to speak with Morawiecki soon.

It was just the latest fallout from the Polish Holocaust speech law that has drawn outrage in Israel and elsewhere.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have sharply criticized the legislation that criminalizes blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Israeli critics have accused Poland of seeking to use the law to whitewash the role of some Poles who helped Germans kill Jews during the war. Holocaust scholars estimate that Poles killed about 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

Polish authorities say they just want to protect Poland from being depicted as a collaborator of the Nazis when the country was Adolf Hitler's first victim and suffered through nearly six years of war and occupation.

Israeli Labor Party lawmaker Itzik Shmuly, who is pushing for a counter bill in the Israeli parliament to criminalize the denial of Nazi collaboration, quipped on Twitter that "the next step of Morawiecki's pathetic project to erase the crimes of the Polish people is probably going to be blaming the Jews for their own Holocaust and presenting the Nazis as victims of the circumstances."



Friday, February 16, 2018

The Secret Jewish History Of General Tso’s Chicken 

There are two hidden truths about China's General Tso, whose ill-advised military incursion into Japan put the miso in misogyny and the saké into "for heaven's sake.

The first is that he had a speech impediment. The second is that he was a coward. This latter character flaw was resented by the rank and file, who would regale him with cries of, "General Tso's chicken."

In response, the general ordered his cooks to prepare a dish that would be both cheap and popular.

After 23 experiments, the cooks settled on a honeyed, fried concoction with diced fowl. When they set up camp and soldiers began to shout abuse at the leaders, the response from the mess tent was to bring out, #24, General Tso's chicken.

This would be an odd, if unremarkable episode in world history if it didn't intersect with Jewish history in the person of the general himself. Born Abraham Tsorowitz to a Jewish trading family in Vladivostok, the communal shame at the Jewish roots of China's cowardly general, is reflected in the Yiddish word that greets such problems, "tsores."

The Tsorowitz family were one of the few groups of Russian Jewish emigres to go East rather than West. Some people say that they went to the east coast for the business opportunities but others dispute that motivation. Abraham's father was famous among his Vilna family for once going out to buy a beet and ending up in Moscow.

The family name comes from the town of Hořovice, though family lore would rather it came from "Tsarowitz" through illegitimate descendants of a liaison between the Tsar and a beautiful Jewish courtesan. Photos of the general who was, like his namesake dish, sweet but bland, suggest however, that he counted no beautiful courtesans among his ancestors.

After military disgrace, Tso lived his life in exile in the Kuril Islands, named for Tso's Greek uncle, Cyril Arkipelagos. The rest of the family scattered and suffered tragically. Three cousins were killed in the Holocaust, three were killed in the Israeli war of independence and, perhaps worst of all, three cousins ended up on Long Island.

Tso's military career ended abruptly. In response to the American telegram inquiring as to his success, the Chinese responded in English with a telegram containing the world's least interesting palindrome.

"Tso lost."


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why I went from Catholic schoolgirl to Hasidic Jewish wife 

Inline image

Growing up in a Catholic family in East New York in the '90s, Yehudit Chervony, nee Yomaira Tamayo, didn't even know what a Jew was. Now, she belongs to a strict Hasidic sect in New York.

"I would drive through Williamsburg and I remember thinking, 'What language is that?' I thought they were Amish," says Chervony, 34.

As the daughter of two immigrants from Latin America, she dutifully attended Catholic church every Sunday, although, by age 10, she had stopped considering herself Catholic. Inside the family's two-bedroom railroad-style apartment, only Spanish was spoken.

At her parochial school, she excelled academically. Through an organization for gifted black and Latino students, she scored a full-ride scholarship to Choate Rosemary Hall, a prestigious Connecticut prep school. Ivanka Trump was a classmate, and her scholarship was funded by billionaire businessman Carl Icahn.

She headed to the University of Pennsylvania for college, double-majoring in international relations and Russian, and started experimenting with drugs and sex, including dating women.

"I was a very experimental, over-the-top person — it was out of control," she says.

She also struggled with an eating disorder, until a dose of LSD changed her course.

"This acid trip was the place where I said, 'How did I get to this twisted place? This isn't the body that God created and I want to be close to God.' [It] was a realization that I had to change my life."

She stayed at Penn for grad school, studying nonprofit management, and found that she couldn't deny what was building for years: She wanted to convert to Judaism.

Reading "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism," she realized that she was interested in the strictest form of the religion.

"I was searching for the Judaism that's 3,000 years old, and I thought the [ultra-]Orthodox are the only ones who seem to have rules," she says.

She wanted something very different from her old life, and she found that in a campus group for the Litvish movement, a rigorous form of Orthodox Judaism.

Breaking the news to her family was difficult.

"You're going to speak a different language, wear different clothes and celebrate different things," her dad told her. But ultimately both parents accepted her decision.

Her extended family in South America wasn't so understanding, and she stopped her annual visits there.

Rabbis warned her that she wouldn't be accepted in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — much less find a husband and have kids — but she had faith it would work out.

"God had split the sea. He will figure out the rest," she recalls thinking.

After studying for a year and a half, her fast-track conversion was complete. At age 25, she became an Orthodox Jew.

"I went from the call-me-to-find-a-party girl to the Shabbos girl," she says, referring to the Jewish day of rest that commences on Fridays at sundown. While she doesn't label herself a feminist, Chervony believes Judaism supports women.

"I feel much more empowered as a woman [now]," she says. "Who I am isn't tied to my sexuality, and that's incredibly empowering. I see myself as a much more dignified person as an Orthodox woman."

But, she admits that she sometimes struggles connecting with other Hasidic women.

"There's some huge gaps," she says. "We're educated in different ways, but I find other ways to relate to them."

Finding an ultra-Orthodox husband also wasn't easy.

Unlike her unmarried peers in the community, she says, "I wasn't a virgin and I wasn't 18."

But in 2011 she met fellow Hasid Yisroel Chervony, a Ukrainian immigrant from Odessa who'd grown up as a secular Jew. His arms were covered in tattoos — a transgression against Jewish religious law — and he had a checkered past. But at age 27, after a stint in jail, he'd devoted himself to living an ultra-Orthodox life.

They were engaged after a three-week courtship in which they never touched each other. A month later, the pair wed in front of 300 exuberant well-wishers in a Flatbush wedding hall. Her mom, who was traveling, didn't attend, though her father was there on the sidelines. Chervony's rabbi and the rabbi's wife walked the bride down the aisle instead.

"I was fine with it," she says. "Whoever walks you down, that's how you're starting your life off."

After the wedding, she dutifully shaved her head and began wearing a wig, as is customary for Hasidic women. In 2014, she gave birth to twins: son Moshe and daughter Esther.

Life was good — with her husband studying during the day and working at night while she took care of the kids — until one day in May 2015, when she discovered her lifeless husband slumped on the floor. EMTs declared him dead on the scene.

Though the official cause of death was a heart attack, she believes he relapsed and had succumbed to the heroin addiction that had plagued him years earlier. "They saw a needle in him," she says.

She's now a single mother living in Crown Heights and working for a credit-card processing company. Chervony remains deeply religious and has tried to date other Hasidic men, though she has little time for romance.

Her apartment is just a 15-minute drive from the one she grew up in, but it's also worlds away.

"I'm all these things and it makes up who I am," says Chervony, who's writing a memoir. "Even the parts that are seemingly contradictory."


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