Friday, March 30, 2018

Chag Kosher V'Sameach 

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and Kosher Pesach.


Jewish State Senator Holds Budget Hostage Over Exemption For Yeshivas 

As Albany scrambles to pass a New York State budget before the holiday, one State Senator is using his unusual influence to demand that religious yeshivas be exempt from state education standards.

The Daily News reported Friday that the demand by Senator Simcha Felder, who is key to the Republican’s control of the chamber, could derail the entire budget.

Felder, who is Orthodox, is demanding that yeshivas not be subject to the state-mandated standards for secular education to which all public and non-public schools are held. The activist group Yaffed has agitated for enforcement of the standards at Hasidic boys yeshivas in Brooklyn, some which it alleges fail to provide sufficient secular education to their students. At Yaffed’s urging, New York City’s Department of Education has pursued an investigation of the yeshivas.

Felder’s power play has drawn condemnation from across the state. In Newsday, the editorial board called his demand “outrageous.” “It’s enough to blow everything up,” one unnamed source told the Daily News.



Thursday, March 29, 2018

Ham pizza 'force-fed' to Jewish pupil at Bristol school 

It happened at Clifton College, Bristol, the school confirmed, while the student was eating with his "close-knit group of friends".

The Bristol Post reported a pupil was given a short suspension afterwards.

The college said the victim felt it was not an anti-Semitic act but that it considered it to be "completely unacceptable".

The incident last December fell "far short of the high standards we expect from our pupils", a school statement said.

"Anti-Semitism in any guise is abhorrent, pernicious and is absolutely not tolerated at Clifton College, which enjoys a deep and longstanding connection with the Jewish community.

"We are proud that there have been Jewish students at Clifton College since 1879. They are an integral and valued part of the Clifton College community."

Stephen Silverman, a trustee and director of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said this would have been an "incredibly traumatic and abusive and offensive" act for an observant Jewish person who closely followed the dietary laws.

But, he added, only the victim himself was in a position to judge if it was anti-Semitically motivated.

"One can only speculate as to why the children concerned thought it was funny to do this and whether they would have done it to anybody else," he said.

"One would hope if the school had decided there had been anti-Semitic intent, they would have imposed a far harsher penalty.

"I suspect it was mitigated by the position of the victim."

The school said a "thorough investigation" had taken place and "proportionate and appropriate sanctions" put in place.

"We take every opportunity to educate our pupils about the importance of kindness, tolerance and the potentially devastating effects of prejudice," it added.

Clifton College's website describes it as a top independent boarding school, with 1,250 pupils, including 720 in the Upper School.

Termly fees range from £561 for the nursery, to £13,135 for some sixth-form boarders.



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Breaking: Car driven into shop front on Golders Green Road 

Police and ambulance services are responding to an incident on Golders Green Road, involving a car that was driven into a pharmacy opposite Kosher Kingdom in Golders Green.

Early reports suggested that the incident was not terror related and may have been the result of a driver losing control of their vehicle. CST has confirmed that this is the case.

An air ambulance was sent to the scene, landing at nearby Princes Park, and there are reports of injuries. The area was already very busy due to the number of people Pesach shopping.

A security guard at Kosher Kingdom, which is directly opposite the pharmacy, told the JC: "The pavements were very busy because people are doing their Pesach shopping.

"A car lost control and drove onto the pavement and into the shop. I don't think it was on purpose."

CST security guards, who were helping the police clear the area, added: "We do not believe it was terror related it looks like it is just an accident."

A bus driver who did not want to be named said: "I think the car belonged to an older lady who couldn't park her car. Another elderly man tried to park it for her and lost control.

"Her daughter was very worried it was her mum in the car. I was trying to reassure her."

The driver was taken away in an ambulance.

A spokeswoman from the London Fire Brigade said: "Two fire engines and a fire rescue unit have been called to a road traffic collision in Golders Green Road.

"One car has collided with a shop front.

"The Brigade was called at 1154. Fire crews from Hendon, Finchley and Paddington fire stations are at the scene."

MPS Barnet tweeted: "Police in #Barnet are on scene and dealing with a road traffic collision at Golders Green Road."



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Bomb Squad called out to Jewish center in Isla Vista after suspicious container found 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Bomb Squad was called out to the Hillel Jewish Student Center on March 23 after a suspicious metal container was discovered sitting on the ground in front of an electrical closet.

Personnel with the Sheriff's Office, UC Santa Barbara police, and California Highway Patrol, evacuated buildings in the immediate area of the Jewish Student Center, which is located in the 700 block of Embarcadero del Mar.

Nearby streets were closed off to cars and pedestrians while authorities investigated the contents of the container.

The incident began at about 2 p.m. when Santa Barbara County Fire inspectors were conducting routine fire inspections in Isla Vista. The team of inspectors called the Sheriff's Office, and although no specific threat was ever issued against the Jewish Student Center, deputies called the bomb squad in an abundance of caution.

The Sheriff's Bomb Squad eventually determined the metal container did not contain any hazardous materials and deemed it safe.

All evacuations and roads in the area re-opened at about 4:30 p.m. It's unknown how long that metal container had been sitting in front of the electrical closet.



Monday, March 26, 2018

France’s Jewish leaders raise the alarm over brutal murder of Holocaust survivor 

The brutal murder of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor has outraged France's Jewish community as leaders warned the country on Monday against the ongoing "nightmare" of murderous anti-Semitism.

Mireille Knoll, 85, was stabbed multiple times and set on fire in her Paris apartment on Friday, in what Jewish advocacy groups are calling anti-Semitic hate crime.

The murder took place Friday, the same day as the terrorist attack in the southeastern city of Trèbes, in which four people, including one French police officer, were killed in a hostage standoff at a local supermarket.

For now, French authorities have taken two suspects into custody, according to a judicial official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the case and would only tell The Washington Post that one of the suspects was born in 1989.

A murder investigation was formally opened, but authorities have not commented on the motives of either suspect at this stage.

Speaking on French radio Monday morning, Francis Kalifat, the head of France's largest Jewish advocacy organization, the Representative Council of French Jewish Organizations, or C.R.I.F., bristled at the suggestion that investigators use caution before considering the murder an anti-Semitic attack.

"Prudence? Obviously," he said. "But prudence doesn't mean we should exclude the possibility that this could have been an anti-Semitic act."

In France, authorities have often formally hesitated to ascribe a clear motivation of "anti-Semitism" to any number of similar attacks on Jews in recent years. This has often been a point of contention between Jewish leaders and the French government, even as French President Emmanuel Macron has recently sought to improve relations.

The Knoll case bears striking similarities to the murder of Sarah Halimi, a 66-year-old Orthodox Jewish physician and kindergarten teacher whom authorities suspect was murdered by her Muslim neighbor, Kobili Traoré, in April 2017.

"This was the same Paris arrondissement, several streets apart," said Noémie Halioua, a French journalist with Actualité Juive and the author of a new book on the Halimi case. "And both victims were elderly women who lived alone and who had both previously complained of threats."

Like Knoll, Halimi also lived alone in an apartment in the 11th arrondissement (or district) on the eastern side of Paris, an area traditionally home to immigrant populations but that in recent years has seen tremendous amounts of gentrification.

"There is also the barbarity of the crimes, and the fact that in both cases the victims were fragile women," Halioua said.

After the attack in her modest flat, a public-housing project, Halimi's body was thrown out the window into the courtyard below. Knoll, meanwhile, was reportedly stabbed 11 times and then left to burn, according to accounts given by Jewish leaders, citing her family members.

The Halimi murder became a national scandal when French authorities initially declined to investigate it as an anti-Semitic attack, despite revelations that her family had testified that the suspect had confronted her with verbal slurs on a regular basis.

The same was true in the 2006 murder of Ilan Halimi, a 23-year-old Jewish cellphone salesman who had no relation to Sarah Halimi and who was murdered by the so-called "Gang of Barbarians," a band of immigrant criminals from the Paris suburbs.

In that case, the gang had targeted Halimi because he was Jewish — and had even demanded massive ransom sums from his middle-class family, whom the gang members assumed would be wealthy because they were Jewish. For months, French authorities refused to consider that case anti-Semitic.

In the Sarah Halimi case, Public outrage reached such a level that Macron intervened in July 2017 and it has now been investigated as an anti-Semitic act.

Earlier this month, in a speech at the C.R.I.F. annual dinner, Macron brought up the case again.

"I took a stand by calling on justice to shed light on the anti-Semitic dimension of Sarah Halimi's murder," he said, "and I am glad that this dimension could finally be recognized. That is what an investigation must be used to do, to establish the circumstances of a crime and to qualify it precisely."

But in a time when Holocaust survivors are disappearing, the brutal murder of Knoll proved a dark addition to a general narrative that has already provoked considerable concern among many European leaders, especially as instances of historical revisionism take root across the continent.

As a child, Knoll apparently survived the infamous "Vel d'Hiv" roundup of Parisian Jews in July 1942, according to Meyer Habib, a right-leaning French parliamentary deputy and confidante of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Habib issued a statement on the case Sunday, drawing on a conversation with Knoll's relatives.

Two years into Nazi occupation, French police forces carried out mass arrests of approximately 13,000 Jews living in the capital, who were then deposited in the now-demolished "Velodrome d'Hiver" stadium near the Eiffel Tower. Most of those arrested were subsequently deported to Auschwitz.



Sunday, March 25, 2018

This year-round matzah factory suffers losses on Pesach 

For most matzah bakeries, Pesach (Passover) is their lifeline and only claim to financial viability.

After the weeklong holiday, during which Jews are commanded to consume matzah to commemorate their ancestors’ hurried flight out of Egypt, demand for the famously tasteless cracker drops sharply.

A centuries-old and proud Jewish community here has made matzah a household product that is sold in supermarkets and consumed year-round by millions of non-Jews who swear by it as their breakfast bread of choice.

That's one reason why Pieter Heijs, a co-owner of Hollandia Matzes in this eastern city, is probably the only matzah maker in the world who braces for losses, not earnings, during Passover.

Almost all the profits of his matzah bakery -- the only one in Holland -- comes from sales to non-Jews of a product that lacks the “kosher for Passover” certification. However, for four weeks ahead of Passover, Hollandia also produces kosher-for-Passover matzah, which “costs more to make than what we get for it,” Heijs said.

The factory, which produces about 40 million matzah crackers annually, also makes small amounts of shmurah matzah -- a specialty variant that is even costlier because of its stringent adherence to the kosher rules. To prevent even the hint of leavening, the wheat and flour never come into contact with moisture from the time of the harvesting until the dough is kneaded and the sheets are baked.

Still, Heijs remains committed to making matzah that is kosher for Passover.

“It’s a matter of tradition, and it means a great deal to me,” said Heijs, who is not Jewish. “Even if it comes at the expense of our profit margins, we will continue to produce Passover kosher matzah for as long as we can.”

The losses, however, are dwarfed by the boom in Hollandia's sales during Easter, which often coincides with Passover. On the Christian holiday, millions of Dutch buy and eat matzah as part of a nationwide tradition that testifies to centuries of Jewish influence on the general population.

A liberal nation that was home to one of Europe’s most illustrious Jewish communities before its near-annihilation by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, the Netherlands has other examples of interfaith borrowings (take the oliebol, a deep-fried winter snack in Holland that many trace back to the Hanukkah doughnut called sufganiyah).

Such carryovers were perhaps possible in the Netherlands partly because many Protestant Christians here emphasize the Hebrew Bible over the New Testament. But Heijs said “it’s because Dutch Jews were so integrated into the fabric of society.”

The matzah became a year-round household food in recent decades as supermarkets replaced smaller grocery stores, according to Jonah Freud. He published a book in 2012 about the Dutch Jewish cuisine based on her research for the Jewish Historical Museum of Amsterdam.

“I think it may be connected to how matzah is perceived as healthy,” Freud said.

Heijs concurs.

“Many of our clients want matzah because it’s such a pure product,” he said. “No additives, no conservatives, highly nutritious. What more can you ask of a health food?”

In an overture to the health-food crowd, one of the first moves by Heijs and his business partner, Udo Karsemeijer, who also is not Jewish, after they bought Hollandia in 2004 was to add an organic matzah product to the lineup. It includes matzahs in two sizes, a whole wheat variety and one with spice herbs.

Hollandia now exports products to Scandinavia, Germany and even France, where several matzah bakeries compete for a market with 500,000 Jews.

Heijs and Karsemeijer bought the Hollandia factory from a Jewish family named Woudstra. The founding family built the factory in Enschede because it had a large Jewish community, and because of the arrival to the eastern Netherlands of thousands of Jews who fled the Nazis in nearby Germany.

When the Nazis invaded in 1940, the Woudstras went into hiding and the Nazis closed down Hollandia.

Before the invasion, the Netherlands had several matzah bakeries, according to the Dutch Bakers’ Museum. Among the best known and oldest was the De Haan bakery in the picturesque fishing village of Marken, north of Amsterdam. It operated only ahead of Passover, and after the baking of the last matzah each year, De Haan employees would march to music through the village dressed in white sheets and ceremoniously extinguish the ovens.

One of the production line machines inside Hollandia, a state-of-the-art factory with 18 employees who work year-round inside a three-story building, dates back to 1924. Inside the room where it now operates, the local Jewish community briefly ran a Jewish school for the children who were expelled from the general education system under the Nazis.

The factory reopened after World War II, during which the Germans killed 75 percent of the prewar Dutch Jewish population of 100,000. The community never replenished its numbers.

By then, however, matzahs had developed a non-Jewish following.

The eye-catching and instantly recognizable packaging of Hollandia matzah boxes -- an orange-colored octagonal cardboard box with a nifty camera-aperture opening – was a marketing coup cooked up by the Woudstras, Heijs said.

The matzah became even better known to the Dutch immediately after the war because the Hollandia factory received generous subsidies under the Marshall Plan for financial aid to rebuild war-torn Europe, according to Heijs.

He said the funding was meant also as a gesture acknowledging Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

“But it was also a practical decision: Matzah requires no eggs, no salt, no sugar – all commodities that were in very short supply immediately after the war,” Heijs said. Whatever the reason, he added, the reality was that Hollandia was “one of the first bakeries that were restored” after the war, thus entrenching its status as a household brand.

Heijs, 55, remembers enjoying Hollandia matzah as a boy ahead of and also directly after Easter.

“I understand that matzah is not considered a delicacy exactly among Jews, who substitute bread for matzah for [eight days] each year,” he said. “But for us, who had it in addition to everything else, it was a treat that went very well with chocolate and butter.”

Karina Ahles-Frijters, who lives in Hilversum, near Amsterdam, wrote in 2016 on her parenting blog Trotsemoeders that her three children like to experiment with matzah toppings (her eldest prefers whole wheat matzah with butter and sugar-coated anise seeds, she wrote). One day a year, the Hollandia factory is open to anyone interested in making their own matzahs.

But not everyone is a fan of the matzah.

“Frankly I couldn’t tell you why so many Dutchmen like matzah -- I don’t think it’s tasty at all,” said Roger van Oordt, the director of the Netherlands-based Christians for Israel group, which organizes matzah-baking activities in solidarity with Israel and the Jews. “If I have to think about eating nothing but matzah for two weeks, it makes being Christian look easy.”

Although he is not Jewish, Heijs regards matzah as much more than a commodity.

“After 14 years of making matzahs, of course I developed friendships and bonds with many Jewish people,” said Heijs, who on Passover eve this year will attend his first seder dinner with his wife at the invitation of a Dutch Jewish community in northern Holland. “But matzah is part of the Dutch story regardless.”



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Jewish-Colombian TV News Anchor Asked to Resign for Not Crossing Herself on Air 

Jewish-Colombian news anchor Cathy Bekerman says she was forced to resign from Channel 1 after refusing to make a sign of the cross while on live TV.

No context was given for this bizarre request made by Yamid Amat, newscast director of the TV network:
“He told me to cross myself, I did not do it and he asked me to resign at that moment, to which I did not agree,” Bekerman told Colombia media.

The case came to light after radio journalist Azury Chamah, who is Jewish, tweeted about it. According to Graciela Torres, another well-known Colombian journalist, Bekerman showed up in the newsroom two days after the March 14 incident escorted by her father and a lawyer.

“It’s a dark situation for Yamid Amat and his newscast because they could be sued for religious intolerance in a country where there is freedom of worship,” [journalist Graciela] Torres said.

Fortunately, Amat issued an apology on Channel 1’s website:
“One of my instructions, to accentuate a piece of news that was not about religious beliefs, provoked a rejection from my colleague Cathy Bekerman. Because I feel that I affected her religious convictions without that being my purpose, I offer her a public apology,” he wrote. “May the Jewish community and other religious organizations always receive a respectful treatment from me.”

“Accentuate a piece of news not about religious beliefs.” What a ridiculous explanation. At no point in this not-pology word salad did Amat recognize the worst of his actions: forcing out Bekerman for refusing to perform a religious action for a religion she doesn’t belong to.

It’s good to know Bekerman got her job back, but hopefully she considers another employer who does more than pay lip service to freedom of religion.



Friday, March 23, 2018

Some Jews Do Love To Shoot — Just Not On Shabbat 

On Saturday, the March for Our Lives, a gun protest march organized in part by teenage survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, will take place in cities across the country. Plenty of Jews will be in attendance — some of Parkland's strongest voices since the shooting have been Jewish survivors and parents of those who were killed.

But there are Jews who think the gun laws on the books are just fine — and they say their numbers are growing.

This latest push for gun law reform comes at a moment when some Jews say they now feel they need to be more adept at defending themselves than they have been in many decades. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States. Jewish gun owners see their firearms not only through the lens of individual freedom, but also as a necessity to prevent themselves from being the victims of hate crimes — or of a second Holocaust.

"Given the history of persecution of the Jews, and the Holocaust, it's hard for me to understand how Jewish communities do not take the steps to defend themselves," said Tzviel Blankchtein, who owns the Masada Tactical gun store and training center in Pikesville, Maryland.

While there are no reliable statistics about Jewish gun ownership, Jews likely own guns at a lower rate than the general U.S. population. According to the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans own a gun. Gun ownership rates among Republicans are more than double that of Democrats, however, and Jews are more than three times as likely to be Democratic and not Republican.

Yet Masada Tactical is located in a heavily Jewish suburb of Maryland, and Blankchtein says that most of his clients are Jewish. At first, he said, his Jewish clients were coming in only to purchase decorative weapons or to sign up for basic self-defense classes. But the spike in gun reform activism has them spooked.

"In the past couple weeks they've been coming back and saying, 'Let me get an AR and a Glock,'" Blankchtein said, referring to the AR-15 assault rifle and to Glock handguns.

The name of the store refers to the ancient mountain fortress that a small group of Jews used to fend off the Roman army for two years in the first-century C.E.

Indeed, there are gun-loving Jews all over the country, from various cultural and religious backgrounds, who cherish their right to bear arms. They run clubs like Bullets & Bagels, in Los Angeles, or advocacy groups like Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, which has several thousand members.

There's Mel "Dragonman" Bernstein, a prolific gun dealer in Colorado whose military history museum, Dragonland, draws thousands of visitors each year. Bernstein describes himself as the "most armed man in America," and makes no bones about what he sells: "people-hunting guns."

In Wisconsin, there's Henry Sapoznik, a Yiddish-speaking gun enthusiast. One of his prized possessions is a Belgian handgun that is manufactured for Israeli police and has a small Jewish star stamped behind the trigger.

Jonathan Burstyn, an Orthodox Jew in Chicago, guards his synagogue on Saturdays and offers gun safety and training classes on Sundays. Burstyn draws a parallel between the National Rifle Association's defense of the Second Amendment and Orthodox Judaism's strict interpretations of Jewish law.

"Just like Orthodox Jews, we don't reform the Torah," Burstyn said. "Wayne LaPierre [head of the NRA] is expressing faith in the Constitution."

The spike in anti-Semitism in the past several years — including threats against Jewish community centers — has also spurred some synagogue leaders to take their defense into their own hands.

Blankchtein says he has trained rabbis and synagogue lay leaders from all denominations in the Pikesville area in handgun safety. The synagogues are not broadcasting the shift toward gun safety, but Blankchtein says nearly all of them are taking steps to prepare for a hypothetical attack.

"I don't know where this thought process that Jewish people are against guns came from," he said. "Because we're not seeing it here."

In New Jersey, the Golani Rifle and Pistol Club holds firing range practices and self-defense classes. The group is about 20 years old and was founded by a group of Jewish friends who wanted to formalize their weekend target practice sessions. Golani takes its name from the Israeli military brigade that patrols the Golan Heights; it offers only kosher food at its events, and the members don't shoot on Shabbat.

Phil, a founding member of the group who asked to only identified by his first name, said that the group has members of all backgrounds, from Reform to Hasidic, including plenty of non-Jews.

As far as gun reform activism is concerned, Phil said he supports at least one of the group's views: a ban on bump stocks, the assault rifle accessory that makes semiautomatic weapons shoot like automatics. He said it doesn't add any "value to the shooting experience." Other than that, he thinks that proponents of stricter gun control are after a blanket ban on guns.

"When they say 'gun control,' to me that's just a prelude to banning everything," he said. "It's just a start."

In speaking to the Forward, he frequently invoked the Holocaust, saying that his own parents are survivors and that it frames his thinking about guns. He is worried about what he sees as a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, and believes that Jews shouldn't let their guard down.

"Do I think there will be a Holocaust here? No," he said. "But I do think that things will perpetually get worse for Jews."

Richard Feldman, a Jewish pro-gun lobbyist, also often cites the Holocaust when arguing against what he considers excessive gun control. But the connection between gun control and the Holocaust — one frequently made by the NRA — has been refuted by historians and decried by major Jewish institutions. Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote in 2015 that it is "mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms" could have stopped the massive Nazi army from shooting tens of thousands of Jews and deporting millions to death camps. Don Young, a Republican congressman, came under fire from ADL and other groups recently for asking, "How many Jews were put into the ovens because they were unarmed?"

Feldman claims to be the first Jewish lobbyist to work for the NRA. Despite persistent claims of anti-Semitism made against the NRA, he says he received a warm welcome when he started in 1984.

"They said, 'Boy, this is great, now the Jewish people are stepping up,'" he remembered.

Feldman said he believes that the rate of Jewish gun ownership is skyrocketing in the United States, and that he has been hearing from gun shop owners across the country who are seeing more and more Jews buying guns. He thinks there are more Jewish gun owners than most Jews would expect, because most Jews live in communities where guns are not popular.

"Jewish gun owners tend to be very quiet if they live in an anti-gun community," he said. "They wouldn't talk about it, because it's politically incorrect."

Miriam Greenfield, a Modern Orthodox gun owner from Great Neck, New York, said she agrees that gun ownership among Jews is on the rise. She believes that as anti-Semitism grows in the United States and in Europe, it's becoming more socially acceptable to be a gun owner. In hushed conversations in the women's sections of synagogues around New York City, she's learned that many more Orthodox women own guns than she thought.

She's also convinced plenty of women of the peace of mind that comes from having a gun in the home.

"When everything between Trump and Hillary was heating up, one of the women thought they were going to start killing Jews again," Greenfield recalled. "So I said, 'Why don't you make sure you're safe?"

Greenfield converted to Orthodox Judaism to marry her husband. When she did, her father — a career Marine who signed up his daughter for NRA membership at birth — sent her nine family heirloom weapons to serve as a "small arsenal."

"We had a very serious conversation about it," she said. "He said, 'I'm really glad that you're happy, but I don't want my daughter to become a martyr because she decided to become Jewish.'"



Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rockland Jewish Women: What does modesty mean? 

The store is filled with beautiful clothing, full of vibrant colors and rich fabrics.

But you won't find pants, miniskirts or tank tops in Blew Boutique in Monsey, which caters to Rockland's Orthodox Jewish population.

"Even though we're modest, it doesn't mean we have to be ugly and not put together," said shop owner Shaindy Klein. "It's a sense of pride. It's an inner confidence. It's how we represent ourselves."

Modesty is an important part of being an Orthodox Jewish woman.

"Tznius," or "Tzniut" for Sephardic and Israeli Jews, is the word used to describe the traditional modest manner of dress and appearance. That means outfits which cover the knees, elbows, collarbone and midriff. Married women also cover their hair.

Like many aspects of Orthodox Judaism, there is a spectrum of observance within modesty, and women dress how they are most comfortable, sometimes in pants or short sleeves and other times in neutral colors and loose clothing.

Head covering for married women varies among Orthodox Jews.

"This is the way the wigs come, every length, every color," said Ayelet Berman, who owns the L'Image salon in Monsey. "Everybody has a preference for what they want. It also depends on where they come from. Depends on tradition, of which part of the world they come from."

Some women don't cover their hair and others won't wear a wig ("sheitel") at all, only a scarf ("tichel" or "snood") because wigs look too much like hair.

The concept of modesty is not to "take the Jewish women and make sure that they don't look good and shouldn't be attractive," said a Hasidic woman living in Ramapo. "It's not true. It's not about that."

The woman did not want her name used, saying it doesn't fit in with her practice of modesty.

She said a strict interpretation of "halacha," or Jewish law, is behind the stringent dress habits of Hasidic women. They usually wear short wigs with a hat, scarf or band, so that it does not look too much like natural hair. 

Tznius does not only refer to one's appearance.

"It's the way you see yourself and present yourself," said Rorie Weisberg.

An Orthodox Jew, Weisberg is a Kosher health coach who teaches women to appreciate, love and honor their bodies. She focuses on modesty and women's relationships with food and their bodies.

Weisberg said the two words that come to mind when she thinks of modesty are dignity and self-respect.

For Klein, the clothing shop owner, modesty means pride and confidence. She emphasized that one can be modest and still be classy, even regal.

The women participating in this project say modesty is an integral part of their lives and how they portray themselves to the outside world. All are heavily involved in doing "chesed" (kind acts) and giving back to their community, but they don't brag about it because, they say, that would be immodest.

"You're not supposed to be 'in your face,'" said Rivkie Feiner, one of the Orthodox Jewish women involved in this project. "It's supposed to be not calling too much attention to yourself. This is who we are."



Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hasidic buses in Outremont: ‘Our kids have to go to school’ 

The neighbourhood straddling Outremont and Mile End is home to several thousand members of Montreal's Hasidic community. In Mile End, hipsters live cheek-by-jowl with these ultra-Orthodox Jews who, in Outremont, make up one-quarter of the population. They have large families to fulfil the Biblical command to be fruitful and multiply, they speak Yiddish among themselves, and they dress in distinctive ways that have changed little since Hasidic Judaism began in 18th-century Ukraine. 

Few Hasidic women drive — and, even if they did, carpooling or driving your kids to school is impractical in families in which six and eight children are the norm. And it makes no sense from an environmental viewpoint, as several people from the community observed in interviews in which they drew on the Société de Transport de Montréal slogan about one bus replacing 50 cars.

In Outremont, a small group of non-Jews has complained for years about being inconvenienced by the Jewish school bus transportation system, as well as by some of the community's practices around observances of the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. At a council meeting this month, one resident distributed yellow rectangles and said they signified her frustration with the presence of the buses: The action was roundly denounced for evoking comparisons with the yellow star the Nazis forced Jews to wear.

"We as a community, thank God, have large families and our kids have to go to school," said Menachem Feig, a Mile End father of eight who until recently lived in Outremont. "We have done things to minimize the effects on traffic. There are a lot of group stops of 15 or 20 to make for fewer stops, there are corner stops, and the older children walk to school and back. But if you have a one-year-old at home, you cannot wait at a street corner with your five-year-old or have the child walk to the group stop alone. But there is only so much you can do.

"This has to do with their intolerance to our community. They try to make it look like they are not targeting us because we are Jewish — but they are."

Hasidic men commonly wear long black jackets and long black or white socks, black hats on weekdays and, if they're married, fur headdresses on the Sabbath; women dress modestly, with long skirts and long sleeves; married women cover their heads with wigs and sometimes hats as well. It's one way to preserve their identity — and their apartness.

"They intentionally differentiate themselves," said Steven Lapidus, a lecturer in the department of religion at Concordia University who has considerable knowledge about the Hasidic community.

In Mile End, there have been no complaints and the presence of the school buses transporting Hasidic children is not a problem for citizens, said Richard Ryan, Projet Montréal councillor for the Plateau Mont-Royal borough's Mile End district.

"I, too, am inconvenienced by the school buses when I am stuck behind them," said Farkas, a mother of seven and grandmother of 18 who does drive. She teaches high school students with special needs at the Beth Rivkah Academy, a religious girls' school in Côte-des-Neiges. "But I am also inconvenienced when I'm stuck behind parents dropping off their kids at the non-Jewish schools in the neighbourhood. It's chaotic, with all the cars double-parking."

A school bus can accommodate 70 kids, Farkas explained. "But sometimes it makes more sense to have three buses of 45 kids than two of 70, so that each bus is on the road for 20 minutes, not 45 minutes. Even though it means the expense of extra buses and the monitors for each, having more buses makes the route shorter for each and minimizes the total time each bus is on the road."

Other efforts to reduce traffic congestion cited by Farkas include: staggered pickup and drop-off times to minimize congestion; monitors preparing children about to disembark so the stop is as short as possible; older children gathering at corner stops. "For the younger kids in the winter, we do door stops but, in the summer, when weather is nicer, we have just two or three stops on the block," she said. "We try to make it as convenient as possible — and there is always room for improvement."

Boys and girls in Hassidic communities attend separate schools and do not travel together on school buses. The buses are on the road 12 months a year, with about 3,000 Hasidic schoolchildren in several schools in Outremont and Mile End. And daycares and preschools operate year-round. Schoolchildren attend day-camp programs in summer and, for older boys, study programs are essentially school in the summer.

Outremont is "a very mixed neighbourhood and, for the most part, neighbours get along," said Mindy Pollak, a councillor for the borough of Outremont first elected in 2013. 

"At council, when you only hear the small group and its bashing, you think they are representative. Over the past four years, I have tried to motivate the people who don't usually speak up to speak up and to let us know their concerns — so that we are not left with the impression that this small group is representative."

One Projet Montréal campaign proposal in Outremont was to work on dialogue and positive initiatives, she said. A planned round table with Hasidim and others "will be a wonderful vehicle for things to happen," Pollak said.



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Police agent disguised as Bratslav Hasid incriminates drug dealers 

Dozens of suspected drug dealers were arrested Monday at the conclusion of a year-long undercover operation in which a police agent pretended to be an ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jew in order to get close to a Tel Aviv trafficking ring.

The agent operated for 12 months, disguised as a Bratslav follower and clothes vendor, near the central station in south Tel Aviv, winning the trust of local drug dealers, some of whom are members of known crime gangs, police said in a statement.

As part of the operation, he purchased several kilograms of various drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, hashish and marijuana on dozens of occasions. He also bought “dangerous substances” originally prescribed for medical purposes that had ended up in the local drug market.

Police officers and detectives simultaneously raided the homes of 30 suspects early Monday, finding NIS 1.5 million ($430,000) in cash in one apartment. Dozens of mobile phones suspected as stolen were also discovered.

The detainees are suspected of various offenses including trading, distributing, growing and importing drugs in south Tel Aviv.

They were due to arrive at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Tuesday for a remand hearing.




Philipe Tomlinson, the mayor of the Montreal borough of Outremont, said he will create a committee, composed half of Hasidic residents, tasked with coming up with solutions to the conflict between the Orthodox Jewish community and some other residents.

Tomlinson, a member of Projet Montréal who became mayor after last November’s municipal elections, is trying to ease tensions after a small number of residents wore yellow patches to protest the proliferation of school buses used by the Hasidic community.

He believes dialogue is the answer.

“Whether or not their intention was to be hurtful, it was offensive and unacceptable to wear the yellow squares in our political dialogue, or anywhere else,” Tomlinson said in video posted on Facebook, titled, Let’s work on what unites us and we will diminish what divides us.

He stressed that those who showed up at a March 5 borough council meeting wearing the yellow pieces of fabric pinned to their clothing represent “a small group that has decided once again to contest the Hasidic way of life in Outremont.… This time their actions have gone too far.”

The “good neighbours” committee he proposes will include a round table where each side can gain an understanding of the other group’s needs and concerns, particularly relating to municipal regulations.

The recommendations the committee makes will be “based on expert opinion and consensus,” he said. “We will put an end to these tensions in the next months or years.”

Tomlinson said the “high intensity and friction” that has characterized complaints against the Hasidim have gone on for too long and that he regrets the international media attention the yellow-patch incident attracted.

“We are much bigger and better than that. We live in one of the best areas, best neighbourhoods in the world. We are in a very privileged situation,” he said.



Judge puts temporary restraining order on Rabsky’s Broadway Triangle site 

A judge has issued a temporary restraining order on Williamsburg’s controversial Broadway Triangle site in a move that both sides of the struggle said was a win.

Groups opposing the development claimed victory because they said the order shows the builder can’t move forward with his project, while the developer — Rabsky Group — claimed victory because the order does not prevent them from doing pre-construction work, according to Politico.

The Broadway Triangle development, located at Pfizer’s pharmaceutical facilities, would consist of eight buildings and 1,146 units, and it has been a contentious project for years. Groups such as the Broadway Triangle Community Coalition and Churches United for Fair Housing have contended that the development will mainly just benefit the Hasidic community to the detriment of other minorities.

Although the city reached an agreement with housing groups in December, Churches United recently filed a new federal complaint against the developers and the city, arguing that Rabsky has a history of either building luxury homes or apartments exclusively for Hasidic families.

In May, both sides will return to court to present their cases about the main argument of the lawsuit, which hinges on whether construction of the Broadway Triangle project requires an assessment of how it would impact local racial segregation.



Monday, March 19, 2018

Jewish schools sent bomb ‘hoax’ threats 

Jewish schools were among the victims of a bomb hoax on Monday as police and Jewish security representatives sought to reassure anxious parents.

The Community Security Trust (CST) urged Jewish schools to "continue as normal" after the threats from an unknown source, believed to be based in north America, were sent to schools around the country, demanding money.

In a message to Jewish institutions, the CST told the schools' security personnel to "continuously sweep" their locations and report anything suspicious, but warned against evacuating or 'invacuating' the premises.

"A number of Jewish schools have received email bomb threats from an unknown source demanding money this morning," a spokesman said. "We want to ensure every location is aware and that they step up their security."

Police said "a large number" of schools had been sent the bomb hoax cash demands, and several schools did take emergency measures, including Kantor King Solomon School (KKS) in Ilford.

"There was a national threat made to lots of schools this morning and KKS went into invacutation to ensure the safety of our site," tweeted the Jewish school. "This was in conjunction with CST and the Metropolitan Police. We have established that there is no further threat and School is now running as normal."

Other faith schools were also targeted, with a Catholic girls' school in the Midlands evacuated, and police said the threats were sent across the UK, with several schools as far north as Northumbria reporting the hoax.



Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jewish schools say computers in the classroom bring down costs 

In a third-grade classroom at Westchester Torah Academy, 23 students sit in a bright, overheated classroom on a cold, rainy day engaged in a variety of activities.

Along one wall, a bunch of 8-year-olds wearing headphones practice math problems on laptop computers. Nearby, a small group sitting at a table works quietly on a teacher-led project related to an upcoming holiday. At another “center,” a few girls read a fiction book together and answer questions about the story to write a book review.

After 20 minutes, a tone sounds and each group gets up and rotates to a different center. A teacher flits between them, helping students and answering questions. Later, when the school day is over, the teacher will have a chance to monitor each student’s progress by logging into the adaptive computer programs they use for math, reading and other subjects and checking their performance.

Welcome to the “blended learning” classroom.

“All programs are interactive and adaptive to the needs of the child, so that the child is presented with materials that are appropriately challenging,” said Nellie Harris, WTA’s early childhood director.

Housed in a leafy New York suburb, the academy opened just five years ago as one of several new Jewish day schools embracing a new model of instruction that uses computer technology to customize student lessons and blends that with small-group teacher instruction.

Champions of the approach tout blended learning’s effectiveness for pinpointing each student’s strengths and weaknesses through computer diagnostics, and delivering them tailor-made lessons based on their skill level. Boosters also hail cost efficiencies that they say enable schools to keep down tuition because the data obviates the need to take children out of class to expensive “resource rooms” for enrichment or remediation.

At Westchester Torah Academy, an Orthodox school of 148 students from preschool to fifth grade, tuition is below $11,000 – about 50 percent less than at nearby Jewish day schools.

“Day schools could be at the forefront of the revolution of using technology as a tool for personalized instruction,” said Paul Bernstein, CEO of Prizmah, which promotes educational excellence and financial vitality among Jewish day schools. “As the conversation shifts from the technology itself to how it can help every child advance, we see growing potential and exciting experiments across our schools and in the wider educational realm.”

Along with WTA, three other Jewish day schools nationwide are using an all-blended model: Yeshivat He’Atid in New Jersey, the Harkham-GAON Academy in Los Angeles and Bader Hillel High School in Milwaukee.

But scores of traditional Jewish day schools are also using some degree of blended learning programs, including the Denver Academy of Torah; the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach on Long Island; the Moriah School in Englewood, New Jersey; the Fuchs Mizrachi School in Beachwood, Ohio; and Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine, California.

Jeff Siegel, who teaches third and fourth grade at WTA, said he worried at first that online learning might mean too much screen time. But experience has allayed those concerns. Siegel’s students spend about an hour each day in front of the computer in three 20-minute increments – far less than the screen time of the average American kid at home. Having worked for three decades in public schools, Siegel said the blended approach allows him to devote his attention to personalized teaching because the computer work takes care of the diagnostics.

“It’s less testing, more teaching,” he said.

Ellen Poe, who taught at public schools in Florida before joining WTA and now teaches kindergarten, said, “I like to get the children in a small group. They need so much one on one, and I’m able to do that.”

In grades K-4, WTA uses an online math and reading program called iReady, game-based instructional software called ST Math, and a web-based program for Hebrew and Jewish heritage called iTaLAM. When WTA’s Israeli-born principal, Deganit Ronen, who also teaches fifth grade, assigns lessons on the weekly Torah portion, the computerized lesson reflects the Hebrew reading comprehension of each child in the questions it has them tackle. The same goes for math.

“You get a report which tells you which level and what should be the next step,” Ronen said. “The magic of teaching this way is the data helps you design your next day and week.”

Older children at WTA use blended learning for problem-based learning in which they present to the class projects that demonstrate essential skills and knowledge. On one recent day, fifth graders doing an American history lesson were going over speeches they had written from a Native American perspective on how they felt about the colonists. They were using the Summit Learning Platform for English and Social Studies and Ulpan-Or for Hebrew and Judaics.

Leslie Siskin, a New York University sociologist who has studied blended learning at Jewish day schools for the Avi Chai Foundation — it provides financial support to the day schools experimenting with the approach — said Jewish schools have adapted well to the new method because they lack the big bureaucracies and district structures that impede change at traditional public schools. Even established day schools integrating blended learning more cautiously into their curriculums are moving faster than public and independent private schools, she noted.

The 650-student Moriah School in New Jersey is one traditional Jewish day school where blended learning is in heavy use.

When it was introduced five years ago, some teachers found the approach “a significant transition that was challenging and difficult,” and the school lost faculty because of it, head of school Rabbi Daniel Alter recalled. Those who stayed, however, “are very supportive,” he said, “because in many ways this method speaks directly to the innate desire of every teacher that every student is engaged and thriving.”

The bottom line, Alter said, is that blended learning helps students both with learning and self-esteem.

Michal Paley, mother of four students from pre-K to fifth grade at WTA, said she has seen the implementation of blended learning at the school evolve over the years as teachers come with different backgrounds and approaches.

“My kids love it,” Paley said. “The children are in a warm and loving environment where technology and teachers complement each other. It gives teachers an ability to do more for each child.

“The school is proactively evaluating the tools they are using. There is constant evaluation, supervision and review. I feel like we are getting an excellent, high-end education at a good price.”



Saturday, March 17, 2018

In frozen Siberia, a small Jewish community is unthawed 

Interior entrance to the Cantonist synagogue in Tomsk, Siberia. (Yaakov Schwartz/Times of Israel)

As fish was eaten and toasts raised by the Jewish leadership of Tomsk, the quiet central Siberian city’s Jewish community chairman Baruch Ramatsky suddenly produced a small, ancient Torah scroll.

From the looks on the faces of Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar, and Tomsk’s local rabbi, Levi Kaminetsky, this was not part of the planned celebrations heralding the return of a historical synagogue once appropriated by the Communist authorities.

Called the Cantonist Synagogue, the returned building is a rickety wooden structure — one of just a few of its kind still standing — that was built over 110 years ago by a group of veteran conscripts, or Cantonists, who were forced to serve over 25 years in the tsar’s army as child conscripts.

A small but dedicated number of Jewish Cantonists resisted systemic pressure to convert while enlisted. But ironically, they were shunned as “uncouth” by their community upon their return home decades later and were often segregated into a separate section in the back of the synagogue. In response, the Cantonists of Tomsk formed a congregation of their own.

Torah-wielding Ramatsky’s grandfather was the last caretaker of that synagogue before it was taken over by the Soviets in 1930.

“We’ve been safeguarding this Torah in my family for 90 years,” Ramatsky said. “And now it is time for it to come out of hiding.”

Together with the belated return of the Cantonist synagogue, the revelation of the existence of the scroll was an apt metaphor for the greater Russian-Jewish community, which even decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain is still cautiously emerging from its shell. And, like the Cantonists themselves, it was a unique symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.

On that subzero afternoon, members of Tomsk’s small but stalwart community danced with the Torah in front of the Cantonist synagogue after a ceremony in which the city’s mayor, Ivan Klyayn, symbolically handed over the building’s keys to Lazar.

From yesterday to tomorrow

While the Jews of Tomsk celebrated in front of the ancient wooden synagogue, just 25 kilometers (15 miles) southward some 160 young adults excitedly converged at the launch of an annual three-day long weekend aimed at fostering a sense of Jewish community and identity among a cohort in their late teens and early 20s.

The venue was a sprawling campus in the middle of the Siberian forest that impossibly gave off a sense of lushness, even from beneath a heavy blanket of snow and ice. The numerous dormitories that comfortably housed hundreds formed a circle around a main building. There, in addition to the administrative offices, was found a kosher cafeteria and an auditorium that was soon to double as a dance studio.

Part of the Russian Jewish community’s greater Yachad youth initiative which includes the Eurostars program, this group for young adults, called ZOOM, holds weekly activities across Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Like many parallel North American youth groups, it is divided into regions, where participants take turns gathering in different host cities. Tomsk falls into the sparsely populated Siberia region – geographically the largest by far.



Friday, March 16, 2018

Viznitz Grand Rebbe Mordechai Hager of Monsey dead at 95 

Rabbi Mordechai Hager, the grand rabbi and spiritual leader of the Viznitz Hasidim in Kaser-Monsey, has died at Mount Sinai Hospital. He was 95 years old.

Hager was the fifth rebbe, or leader, of the Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty, which is named after a town in modern-day Ukraine where the sect began. He was born in 1922 and was believed to be the world's oldest Hasidic leader. 

Hager's father, Rebbe Chaim Meir Hager, led the Vizhnitz sect in the period after the Holocaust, dying in 1972. Leadership of the sect was then split between two sons. Rabbi Mordechai Hager became Rebbe in New York and Rabbi Yehoshua Hager became Rebbe in Bnei Brak, an Israeli city and Hasidic center. Yehoshua Hager died five years ago, at 95.  

In a Hasidic world dedicated to study of Torah, Rebbe Mordechai Hager was known for his many daily hours of study. 

A tweet send before 8 a.m. showed men digging the rebbe's grave. According to Google Translate, the text of the tweet reads: "Digging the grave of the Vizhnitz Rebbe of Monsey in a tent in the house of life in Monsey."

His wife, Simi Mirel Hager, died in 2005 at the age of 76. She was also sister of Grand Rebbe David Twersky of New Square. 

Hager's eldest son, Rabbi Pinchus Shulem Hager, died in 2015 at the age of 67. Known for performing Hasidic Jewish weddings, his funeral in Brooklyn was attended by thousands of mourners. He was buried in the Viznitz Cemetery in Monsey.

Rebbe Mordechai Hager's funeral is planned for today. Thousands are expected, with standstill traffic anticipated in the community.

The Ramapo Police Department said on its Facebook page that extensive traffic congestion is expected in Monsey for the next hours because of the funeral. Police are urging drivers to avoid the area.

Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said the department has implemented its extensive operational plan, as thousands are expected to attend the funeral and procession to the cemetery.

Weidel said to anticipate traffic congestion and road closures today. Spring Valley police said they are helping Ramapo police with traffic control and road closures.



Leader of Visnitz Hasidim in critical condition 

There has been a deterioration in the last few hours in the condition of Rabbi Mordechai Hager, the leader of the Viznitz Hasidic community of Monsey, New York.

He has been hospitalized in recent months at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where his condition is listed as critical.

The Rebbe, known as the Elder of the Admorim because of his advanced age of 94, underwent a complicated medical procedure a few weeks ago to ease his health. However, there has recently been a serious deterioration in his medical condition.

The Viznitz Monsey Center is located in Monsey, New York. There are approximately 2,500 families belonging to the Viznitz community around the world, of which about 400 families live in Israel.

The leaders of the community asked the public pray for the full and speedy recovery of Rabbi Mordechai ben Margali.



Thursday, March 15, 2018

‘Revolutionary’ Israeli eye-drops could replace glasses 

Israeli scientists and clinicians appear to have come up with "revolutionary" eye-drops that can correct short- or long-sightedness and eliminate the need for glasses.

The so-called 'nano-drops' have been developed by a team at Sha'are Zedek Medical Center and Bar-Ilan University's Institute of Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials. 

They have been shown to improve both short-sightedness (myopia) and long-sightedness (hyperopia) in tests on pigs, with plans to begin clinical testing on humans later this year.

If the drops are found to improve human vision then the nano-drops solution could eliminate the need for glasses and "revolutionise ophthalmological and optometry treatment".

Prospective patients would use a smartphone app to scan their eyes, measure their refraction, create a laser pattern then apply a "laser corneal stamping" of an optical pattern onto the corneal surface of their eyes.



Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Brexit could mean cheaper kosher meat, report says 

Kosher meat prices in Britain could fall as a result of Brexit, a report compiled by leading communal organisations has claimed.

The most wide-ranging analysis so far conducted on the potential outcomes for British Jews following this country's departure from the European Union also warns of a threat to Jewish organisations if immigration from the continent is curbed, with specific concerns about the number of available security guards and social care staff.

There is a further warning that Brexit could leave Britain needing to re-draw its proscription lists and reassess financial sanctions on terrorist groups such as Hamas.

The document – called Brexit and the Jewish Community – has been compiled by the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council and is due to be published on Monday.

An event organised by the two groups in Parliament that evening will feature Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP, and Lord Adonis, the Labour peer and former education minister.

A copy of the report seen by the JC outlines the potential for Brexit to have a "dramatic" impact on British Jews.

Focusing on key areas including security, trade with Israel and the provision of kosher meat, it concludes with a plea to the government to "listen to the Jewish community to help ensure as successful a post-Brexit era as possible for all UK citizens".

One key passage in the 14-page paper claims: "The tightening of immigration from Europe may affect the costs for Jewish communal services that hire European employees, including security for Jewish buildings, culturally-sensitive social care and kosher food.

"It may make travel to and work in the UK more difficult for Israelis that currently hold European passports. Meanwhile, a post-Brexit liberalisation of the meat trade could also reduce kosher meat prices."

The report contains no specific details of how new trade deals with European nations, or other countries, would affect the cost of kosher meat.

On religious slaughter, EU regulations call for animals to be mechanically stunned before slaughter but provide a loophole for member states to make exceptions for shechita and the Muslim dhabihah process.

The Board and JLC call on the government to stand by the exemption when Britain leaves Europe and to ensure the continuation of religious freedoms in slaughter.

The potential fallout for security issues is clearer. The current British list of financially-sanctioned terror groups does not tally with the EU's own list, meaning that after leaving Europe, the Treasury would need to take targeted action against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Hamas's political wing, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.

"The Jewish community would want to see these terror groups continue to be targeted by financial sanctions after Brexit – anything else endangers its security," the report states.

"This can be ensured by the Treasury as part of an agreement with the EU to always include terrorist organisations on the EU list on the UK list."

Efforts have already been made to ensure continuing improvement in British trade with Israel. It is currently at record levels and was worth £6.9 billion last year.

A joint working group set up in March 2017 is discussing trade relations, but the report calls specifically for Britain to commit to liberalisation, free movement of capital, continued science and technology co-operation and reduced tariffs on agricultural goods.

The paper acknowledges: "Members of the community, as all citizens do, face the prospect of being dramatically affected by Brexit. Most of those changes will affect them as citizens of this country, rather than as Jews."


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Israeli police wrestle ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting army draft 

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked a main artery near Tel Aviv on Monday, Israeli police said, in the latest protest against compulsory military service.

A police statement said that "around 50" protesters cut off the north-south highway 4 in the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.

An AFP journalist saw border police officers physically dragging away sit-down demonstrators.

Video footage aired on Israeli television channels showed appeared to be thousands more gathered nearby, chanting in support, with a police water cannon standing by.

They reported that the main highway was cleared after two hours.

There has been a string of demonstrations in recent months, spurred by arrests of young ultra-Orthodox men accused of dodging military service.

The issue triggered a potentially terminal crisis in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition, with ultra-Orthodox political parties threatening to break up the government unless a bill to exempt their youngsters from the draft was passed.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his fiercely secular Yisrael Beitenu party want to see the ultra-Orthodox serve in the military like other Israelis and have vowed to fight the bill in parliament.

Israeli law requires men to serve two years and eight months in the military on reaching the age of 18, while women must serve for two.

There was a lull in the political infighting on Monday after a government committee approved sending the bill for a preliminary parliamentary reading, with a final vote not expected for months.

Lieberman told Yisrael Beitenu MPs that he would continue to oppose it but would remain in the government for now, although he could resign later.

Ultra-Orthodox men are excused from military service if they are engaged in religious study, but must still report to the army to receive their exemption.

Some seminary students have refused even to do that.

There were protests in Jerusalem last week, after the arrest of a young ultra-Orthodox man who failed to show up to request an exemption after receiving a call-up notice.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Israel to Tax Electronic Cigarettes as Regular Cigarettes 

Israeli lawmakers have voted to imposes the same taxes on electronic cigarettes as on regular cigarettes.

The Knesset Finance Committee made the decision on Sunday to impose a cigarette tax on the electronic cigarettes produced by Philip Morris Company.

The move came after a year-long struggle by the Israeli "Avir Naki" ("Smoke Free Israel" organization and Likud MK Yehuda Glick.

Together they petitioned the Supreme Court to force Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to impose the same taxes on electronic cigarettes as are levied on regular ones, until there is concrete proof that they are less harmful to the population.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Jewish cemetery in Bátovce being renewed 

The Jewish cemetery in Bátovce has been in an abandoned condition for years: dilapidated walls, rumpled gravestones, prayer room in pieces, and weeds and bushes everywhere, My Levice wrote.

Many young inhabitants of Bátovce do not even know that there is Jewish cemetery in the village and that a Jewish community used to live there, My Levice reported,

Partial reconstruction was successful in the past with help of the Jewish Religious Community, however, the cemetery has become overgrown again without any maintenance, My Levice wrote.

The village started to clean the cemetery in the beginning of February. At first, access to the cemetery had to be made, My Levice reported.

“We are cleaning the cemetery step by step, at least, what remains. We’ve returned one hundred years later, as we can see from some of the gravestones that have been preserved,” said mayor of the village Peter Burčo, as quoted by My Levice. “We are only at the beginning of our path to renew the cemetery,” he added.

Forgotten history

Some of the gravestones have been reconstructed in the past, as the descendants of some of those buried are apparently still alive, My Levice wrote.

“While renewing the cemetery we would appreciate any support and help from the Jewish Religious Community and descendants of the buried,” said the mayor for My Levice.

There is only one mention of Jews in the monography about Bátovce from 1970; in 1919 there were 33 mentions. They had a cemetery and praying room, too, My Levice reported.

While the history of the Roma community there is well documented, there is practically nothing written about the history of Jews who significantly influenced life in the village. The history of Jews in Bátovce ended in 1942, when most of them were transported to death camps. Those who survived did not return, My Levice wrote.

A new monography of Bátovce will begin to be written this year. The Jewish community will get space in it because of its significance, My Levice reported.



Saturday, March 10, 2018

US Jewish group condemns Putin's suggestion that Jews might be to blame for election meddling 

A U.S. Jewish advocacy group denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s suggestion that Jews were responsible for the meddling in the 2016 presidential election and called for Putin to “clarify his comments.”

“President Putin suggesting that Russian Federation minorities, be they Ukrainian, Tatar, or Jewish, were behind U.S. election is eerily reminiscent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He should clarify his comments at the earliest opportunity,” the American Jewish Committee tweeted Saturday.

Putin has come under fire for remarks about Russian meddling he made during an interview with NBC News.

“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” Putin said of those behind the efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship, or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

In addition to the American Jewish Committee, members of Israel's parliament have condemned Putin’s comments.

“We r quite familiar with the oldies ‘Maybe Jews run the world, maybe Jews use blood for their rituals, maybe Jews had slaughtered Jews in Poland’. Now comes the latest hit ‘maybe Jews meddled in US elections’. Our government has to condemn strongly this statement #putin #jews,” Ksenia Svetlova, a Zionist Union lawmaker tweeted.

Members of the U.S. intelligence community concluded in a January 2017 report Russia meddled in the 2016 election.

Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller, who leading the investigation into Russia’s interference, indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies for meddling in the presidential election.



Friday, March 09, 2018

Jewish school removed 'homosexual' mentions from GCSE textbook 

Page in textbook with redacted words Textbook with redacted photo

A state-funded Orthodox Jewish girls' school in north London has admitted censoring sections of GCSE textbooks to remove mentions of homosexuals and examples of women socialising with men, saying it did so to protect girls from sexualisation.

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls' school in Stamford Hill, which serves the strictly Orthodox Haredi community, covered text and images including Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers.

Words and photos were redacted in a book called Understanding the Modern World, one of the exam board AQA's GCSE history resources.

The school removed references to homosexuals from a section on the Nazi belief in the superiority of the Aryan race. Elsewhere, a number of images of women were censored to hide their chests, shoulders and arms, and legs above the knee.

In a section on the position of women in modern American society, references to women smoking, drinking and driving with men were redacted, as was the sentence: "They kissed in public."

The textbooks were passed on to Humanists UK by concerned members of the community.

Jay Harman, the charity's education campaigns manager, described the redactions as "shocking", saying they show an approach to education and a school ethos that is "very worrying".

A spokesman for Yesodey Hatorah said it was "old news" and it was well known that the school redacted textbooks. "This policy has nothing to do homophobia or misogyny, but is to protect our girls from sexualisation in line with our parents' wishes and religious beliefs," he said.

Ofsted has promised to take a tougher line on faith schools and illegal schools over concerns that children are not receiving a balanced and modern education.

Harman said: "In the past, Ofsted has said schools that take this approach, if they are ignoring different sexual orientations and the beliefs of groups … [then they] are not meeting their obligation under the Equality Act … You cannot teach kids to be tolerant to people who are different if you are ignorant of those people."

Similar complaints were made against Yesodey Hatorah in 2013, when the exam board OCR found 52 papers in two GCSE science exams had questions on evolution obscured, meaning they could not be answered.

An OCR spokesman said: "Ensuring the integrity of the exam system is of paramount importance to OCR and we will always take all the steps necessary to protect it."

At the time, the exam board held discussions with the school to ensure the episode was not repeated. It also raised concerns with the Department for Education and Ofsted, as well as the Joint Council for Qualifications.

An Ofsted spokesperson said all schools had a duty to actively promote fundamental British values, including "mutual respect and tolerance of those who hold values different from their own".

"We will not hesitate to act where we have concerns that schools are failing to uphold these values," they said. "Inspectors have recently visited the school and will publish their findings in due course."


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