Monday, April 30, 2018

Chazan found guilty of sexual offences against teenage girl 

A chazan has been found guilty of sexual offences against a teenage girl.

Jason Blair, 47, from Mill Hill, was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault against a girl aged 13 and 14 at the time, at St Albans Crown Court on Friday. The offences took place in 2015 and 2016. He will be sentenced later this month.

Blair, of Halegrove Gardens, allegedly attacked the girl in Cheshunt, when he had been performing in an amateur dramatics production of 'Sleeping Beauty.'

In court Blair denied the charges, saying: "Not only did it never happen, just even thinking about it is horrendous. I never did it – it never happened."

Blair is known as a glass-blower and events manager, occasionally doing bar and bat mitzvahs and other family simchas. He also acted as a bar mitzvah tutor.



Sunday, April 29, 2018

Jewish cemeteries vandalized; managers asking city for action 

The people who have been managing two historic Seattle cemeteries say they both are getting hit again and again by vandals.  Among gravesites going back to the Civil War, they have found needles littering the ground, headstones defaced, even prostitutes turning tricks.

Some people in the Jewish community says it's at least partly the City of Seattle's fault. The concern stems from the homeless who have set up camp near the cemeteries.

Neighbors worried Licton Springs tiny house encampment brings more crime
The sites of both cemeteries lend themselves to that happening. On one side of 115th St. N. is a Jewish cemetery with recent burials, Bikur Cholim. There's space here for campers to park -- the man who spoke to KIRO 7 about the issue, Ari Hoffman, says they do park.

Across the street, at the historic Sephardic Jewish Cemetery, with tombstones from the 19th century, campers also can park in front of the cemetery and this past week a tent was set up nearby. The people in the encampments are being accused of causing problems in both cemeteries.

Ari Hoffman is a second Vice President of Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath Synagogue in Seattle and also serves on the cemetery committee, and says the impact of seeing vandalism in the cemeteries is bad enough, “it tears my heart apart that some of the pictures I've sent you today it's the names I know, it’s the people I see in synagogue every week.”

Hoffman did share photos with KIRO 7 as proof that the cemeteries have been disrespected, needles near tombstones, feces discarded near them or simply left on top of grave plots. He also said empty bottles and discarded drug paraphernalia led him to believe some people were partying near the plots, “people are doing drugs off the tombstones.”

He also said groundskeepers have kept track of the issues, and Hoffman says he’s seen people walking dogs on the graves and also believes prostitutes having sex in the woods behind them, “that's not showing respect for the dead.”

Hoffman says the homeless have moved in and caused concerns for years, with little response from the city so he and others with his synagogue may sue. “People are afraid to go, we've seen complaints from the Synagogue the emails have come to the synagogue, 'Have you dealt with this, have you addressed this?”

Seattle's Homelessness Emergency Response told KIRO 7 it's aware of the issues, and inspected the area Friday, saying it  will continue outreach to the people in need and figure out what's next; but didn't say whether they should be moved. In a statement, Will Lemke, communications director for the group said:

"The City is aware of the concerns near the Jewish cemeteries in North Seattle. The Navigation Team, which is the City's homelessness response team that connects vulnerable people to shelter and services, inspected the site earlier today and is assessing site conditions."

There are more than 400 unsanctioned encampments throughout Seattle and the team only prioritizes encampments for removal the pose the most significant public health and safety impacts to both people living within the encampment and the surrounding community.

Following a site inspection, the Navigation Team will conduct repeated outreach, offering services and shelter to vulnerable people they encounter and will monitor conditions within and around an encampment to determine next steps.

Some people who had parked their campers in the area left their campers when they saw our cameras and weren't pleased to see us. One woman in a camper did speak to KIRO 7 from behind her camper door and said, “graves are sacred you know, and loved ones remains are there.” While she didn’t want to show her face she did speak out against desecrating the graves, “we would never contribute to anything like that.”

Hoffman suspects the city's policy of laying off the homeless is why they're not being moved, so he's calling for action. “There's a concept in Judaism ... if there's nobody willing to do it you have to step up and do it, I don't want to be that guy but now I think I have to be that guy.”

Hoffman is getting some response; he says he'll meet Seattle council member Debora Juarez here on Tuesday.



Saturday, April 28, 2018

Deal enables Jewish Community Center growth, survival of Orthodox congregation, leaders say 

Louisville's entire Jewish community will benefit if Metro Council signs off on part of an agreement reached this week related to an Orthodox congregation's property and its contentious landmark designation, key participants in the deal told Courier Journal.

The deal would allow the Anshei Sfard congregation — Kentucky's only Orthodox synagogue — to sell its property and relocate to a more appropriately sized space, while also enabling the Jewish Community of Louisville to create an expanded, state-of-the-art community center.

"If (Anshei Sfard is) forced to maintain that out-of-date building, with all the structural problems it has, they're going to go out of business. They have to right-size," said attorney Donald Cox, who represents the congregation. This deal, he said, will "provide the wherewithal to continue having an Orthodox synagogue in Kentucky."

The plan hinges on a joint effort to get the Louisville Metro Council to overturn the landmark designation a city agency last month bestowed on the property at 3700 Dutchmans Lane. The Jewish Community of Louisville will buy the property only if the restrictions are removed.

The groups are confident they can present a strong, persuasive message to Metro Council, given that the "entire Jewish community" is in agreement.

"This is something that could critically help or critically damage our Jewish community and our faith in Louisville — particularly our Orthodox community," said Becky Ruby Swansburg, of the Jewish Community of Louisville's executive committee. "... I think most council members want to see flourishing diversity of religion and religious practices in our community."

Anshei Sfard, which dates back about 125 years, has been in its current location for more than 50 years. Its leaders say selling the property is critical to its survival. They  strongly opposed the landmark status, partly in fear it would scare away buyers, but the city landmark commission approved the designation in a 5-4 vote.

The new agreement offers a vital solution, Cox said. The synagogue's board voted to accept the Jewish Community of Louisville's proposal, at a lesser price than offers from other entities.

Not only does it allow the Orthodox congregation to move, it allows the Jewish Community of Louisville to honor the heritage of the property and people while also creating a more modern, inclusive space, organization leaders said.

"It's kind of remembering everything from my parents' and grandparents' past, but being able to direct that to what my kids and their kids are going to need in the future," Swansburg said. "That's why we really like keeping the property ... as part of this campus and in this family — because it has felt like a family."

The project, called JTomorrow!, includes a new Jewish Community Center and a potential campus redesign. The current Jewish Community Center facility borders the Anshei Sfard property, so the purchase would allow expansion to fit the group's growing needs and the needs of its 6,500 members.

The community center isn't large enough to meet demand, said Sara Wagner, president and CEO of the Jewish Community of Louisville. The preschool program, for example, is capped at 94 kids and has a wait list of 20 to 30 children.



Friday, April 27, 2018

Sources: Suspect in attack of Jewish man being questioned by police 

A man accused of attacking an Orthodox Jewish man in Crown Heights is being questioned by police, sources say.

Sources tell News 12 a man is being questioned in connection to the April 21 incident.

Menachem Moskowitz says his attacker shouted anti-Semitic slurs Saturday while walking home from synagogue on Rutland Road and Schenectady Avenue.

Surveillance video shows the suspect attacking Moskowitz who says he only told the man "hello."

The NYPD's Hate Crimes Task Force has been investigating the incident.



Thursday, April 26, 2018

N.Y. Rabbi Settles Case With Vermont 

A rabbi from New York who complained of mistreatment by Vermont State Police during a traffic stop on Interstate 91 in August has resolved his court case.

Berl Fink, 57, agreed to pay a $100 traffic violation in exchange for the dismissal of a misdemeanor charge that alleged he attempted to elude a Vermont State Police trooper for more than 4 miles before eventually pulling over in Fairlee.

Fink, of Brooklyn, N.Y., has paid the ticket, his attorney Robert Appel said on Wednesday.

Orange County State's Attorney William Porter said he anticipates the criminal charge will be dismissed "soon."

"It seems appropriate," Appel said of the resolution. "It was a very unfortunate incident. Both Rabbi Fink and his entire family felt traumatized by the events, and they will be seeking other relief."

He declined to elaborate on what that "relief" might entail.

Porter also said the outcome was "fair." Vermont State Police were in agreement with the resolution, he said.

The parties reached the agreement ahead of a Wednesday hearing in Orange Superior Court, which was intended to bring the judge up to date on where the case stood. That hearing wasn't necessary because of the pending resolution.

The traffic ticket Fink paid was for a motor vehicle violation pertaining to "operation on approach of law enforcement and emergency vehicles," according to state statute.

The rabbi's case began to unfold shortly after midnight on Aug. 8, when Vermont State Police Trooper Justin Thompson initiated a traffic stop on Interstate 91 in Thetford, claiming Fink was traveling 83 mph in a 65 mph zone.

The traffic stop was captured on video, and Fink and his attorney raised questions about how Thompson handled the situation.

Fink told the trooper he didn't realize at first that he was being pulled over. Once he understood, Fink told the officer, he looked for a safe place to stop, according to the video footage, as well as an affidavit written by Thompson.

Thompson claimed Fink swerved at times and drove for more than 4 miles before pulling over.

Fink, his wife and their two sons were in the car at the time of the stop. Thompson ordered Fink out of the car at gunpoint and handcuffed him before other officers arrived on scene, the video footage from Thompson's cruiser camera shows.

Fink's wife and children also were handcuffed. The family ultimately was released, and Fink was cited into Orange Superior Court in Chelsea.

State police and the state Department of Public Safety reviewed the footage and concluded that Thompson acted properly.

In addition, the review says, "There is no evidence from the investigation to suggest his actions were based on any type of bias or profiling."

Fink, a Hasidic Jew, was wearing a yarmulke.

Appel, the former defender general who also was director of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, and New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, spoke extensively about their thoughts on the case after Fink's arraignment last October.

Appel at the time called Thompson's actions "overly aggressive" and "problematic."

Fink, through his attorney, has denied wrongdoing since the day of the incident, and he rejected an earlier offer for court diversion. He would have had to admit some wrongdoing, Appel said at the time.

The prosecution and defense filed several motions throughout the six-month court process.

Appel filed a motion to dismiss the charge "in the interest of justice" in February, something the judge denied.

Appel argued at the time that there is "no useful purpose" of convicting Fink, that a conviction won't create a deterrence for others and that proceeding forward with it will only bring continued embarrassment to Fink and his family and the state of Vermont.

Judge Michael Harris ruled that the case should be left to a jury.

"If there are reasonable circumstances here why four minutes (or miles) was reasonable, the Legislature has assigned that task to jurors in considering the charge," he wrote in his ruling.

Fink entered a no contest plea to the ticket, and he received five points on his license.



Chester looking into moving to ward system of government 

The town of Chester is looking into moving to a ward system of government.

The town board met Wednesday night to discuss a proposal which would geographically divide the town into different wards, with different members representing each area.

Supporters say it would make sure representation was more balanced. They stressed the idea of wards having the same number of people within its boundaries, especially given the development of "the Greens of Chester" a subdivision of "Whispering Hills."

This is a predominately Hasidic community, which could be home to thousands upon completion.

"Well, it'll make sure that every part of town is fairly represented, instead of any one part of the community, any special interest groups perhaps flooding an election and trying to take over an entire town board of five people," said Assemblyman James Skoufis.

Both Blooming Grove and Mamakating voted to change to a ward system, with both communities seeing an influx in the Hasidic community.

A public vote on this issue can't happen until 2019, due to town law.



Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Longtime New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind says he won't run for re-election 

Longtime New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind announced Wednesday that he will not be running for re-election.

The announcement was part of a short video that looked back on Hikind's 36 years in office representing Brooklyn's 48th Assembly District, which includes Borough Park, home to one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities outside Israel.

The 67-year-old Hikind grew up in Williamsburg and was first elected to the Assembly in 1983.

"I've had an opportunity to speak out against antisemitism and racism wherever it happens," he said. "When you grow up in a home where your mother went to Auschwitz, Auschwitz, and when my grandmother and other members of the family went straight to gas chambers, that's real for me."

And that may be what will define his tenure in public service, standing up for his community in every corner of the world where hate has reared its ugly face.

"I think the thing that I'm probably proudest of is about seven eight years ago, publicly dealing with the issue of sexual abuse," he said. "It is an issue that no one touched. People, you know, pretended that it didn't exist and that it wasn't a problem."

But Hikind, one of New York's most influential Jewish lawmakers, was also no stranger to controversy, holding many conservative positions including being against gay marriage.

"Politically, I'm a Democrat," he said. "But I support Republicans when the Republicans, I believe, will be better for our community and better for everyone."

Earlier this year, it was revealed he siphoned millions in public money to a group employing his son, but Hikind there is no connection to him stepping aside.

When asked what's next for him, he says he can't go into it yet, but it's all related to Israel. He says he's not going anywhere, and he certainly doesn't sound like a man done with politics.

While he is not seeking elected office again at this time, his office says Hikind has no intention of retiring or giving up the fight.

"I am excited about my future, there is still so much to be done," he said. "But before I can start the next chapter of my life, I intend to finish my term in the Assembly...I want to thank my constituents, my many friends and neighbors, for these extraordinary 36 years of having the honor to serve them. I thank my parents for instilling genuine Jewish values in me, and my family, my wife Shani and my children, for making it possible to do what I do. But most of all I thank God for giving me the strength to allow me to make a difference. That's what it's all about, and that's what I intend to continue doing, hopefully for many decades to come."



Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Hasidic man on the prejudice he encounters every day in New York City 

Friday night, for the second week in a row, there was an attack on an Orthodox Jew in Crown Heights. He was accused of being a "fake Jew" who was behind the assailant's eviction.

It's not surprising. As a member of that community who has ventured to places around New York that we don't often occupy, I am often forced to answer for my people with biased allegations. I'm a guest in their environment, a minority visitor, and people seem to believe they have the license to approach me with abhorrent claims. To them, I can always return to Williamsburg or wherever they think I come from.

Once, I was standing in a West Village bar and a friend's husband cornered me, handing me a beer he bought me.

"Let me ask you this. A year ago, a Hasidic man in a van side-swiped me and drove off. What do you think about that?"

I nodded and mumbled assurances, asked to defend a stranger who looks like me. My accuser was a non-Jew, and this was his turf. I was silenced, disempowered; I feared arguing with him.

To me, the most obvious visual parts of my identity are of least import; to him, they seemed to be all that mattered.

These were ostensibly liberal New Yorkers who were — at least in theory — sensitive to vulnerable populations, citizens who have it far worse than me. They see my straggly beard and messy white shirt as an invitation to approach with complaints about my people, as I'm viewed as someone without agency, free will, or any sense of individualism.

In a Bushwick bar, as I waited to order, a man leaned over and asked "Are you Hasidic? Can you develop my film?" It was a reference to B&H Photo and Video, the superstore run by Orthodox Jews.

After attending a comedy show, I approached a performer to compliment him on the job well done. Three minutes into the conversation, the inevitable happened. He, a non-Jew, complained to me about a run-in he had with a Chabad emissary, a young man who wanted Jews of all stripes to do good deeds.

The teenager stopped him on the street committed a capital sin — asking him if he was Jewish. With great relish, the comedian recounted how upset he was at the accusation and recounted how he grabbed the teen's black hat off his head, swore, and flung it in the street into oncoming traffic "like a Frisbee." I smiled and shared in his victory, because I had no other response.

Again, I was detained by someone's prejudice. He laughed after telling the story, the biggest joke of the evening. I joined him with laughter as a method of self-preservation. But I could not have been more distant from another human being than I was in that moment.

This was a well-respected New York comedian. We have over 50 mutual friends on Facebook. He knew better.

Another time, I attended an event at a bookstore in Carroll Gardens for the release of a publisher's first guide book to Brooklyn. There was a discussion followed by a Q&A. The panel featured the editor-in-chief of the publishing house, a bestselling author and a Times columnist.

I was in nervous fanboy mode. These were some of my favorite writers.

When the floor opened for question so that we could learn about the best dating places or Brooklyn's biggest secrets, an older man raised his hand. He wore a flannel shirt and khakis with a knapsack on his back. He didn't ask any questions so much as offer comments.

"There are parts of Brooklyn that no one has ever been to. No one has ever heard of. That's because these Orthodox Jews buy up houses and build them up and raise their families in them and don't tell anyone about these neighborhoods. They keep 'em secret from everyone else and keep it all to themselves."

The three panelists, usually articulate, fell silent. Their voices have been heard by millions on NPR. And yet, nothing. Some of them even murmured agreement. The man railed on. No one said, "now now" or "come on" or "ah, it's not so simple."

And as I looked around the audience, no one raised their eyebrows or folded their arms in protest.

At another bar, recently, I had a similar run in with a tale of a hit-and-run. A middle-aged couple asked me to defend a Hasidic driver's rudeness after a fender bender on a late Friday afternoon close to sundown. I apologized and downed half a Guinness in disgust, dropping a huge tip for my beer to counter the stereotype that we're bad tippers.



Monday, April 23, 2018

Tax authority seizes record haul of drugs at Ben Gurion airport 

Drug busters broke their own record Sunday when they seized 38 international postal shipments of drugs at Ben Gurion Airport in less than a day.

The shipments included cannabis seeds, cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), methamphetamine, LSD, mescaline and other substances.

The customs authority said most of the shipments were sent from Holland, with the rest coming from Spain.

The customs authority is responsible for preventing the smuggling of drugs into Israel, which it does with the help of a special sniffer dog unit.

In March, dozens of suspected drug dealers were arrested 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 bus station in south Tel Aviv, winning the trust of local drug dealers, some of whom are members of known crime gangs, police said.



Sunday, April 22, 2018

California Man Charged With Hate Crimes Over ‘Kill Lists’ Of Prominent Jews 

A southern California man has been charged with hate crimes after prosecutors say he had “kill lists” of prominent members of the Jewish community in his home.

Nicholas Wesley Rose, 26, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to making criminal threats and violating civil rights, with hate crime enhancements.

A family member had called the police on Monday and reported that Rose wanted to kill others, specifically mentioning Jews, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.

Police arrested him on Tuesday after allegedly finding .22-caliber ammunition, “kill lists” of prominent local Jews (including well-known members of the entertainment industry), a set of steps in a list called “killing my first Jew,” and references to local houses of worship, including a synagogue.

“From his writings it’s hard tell exactly what direction he’s going in or who he was angry with,” prosecutor Jeff Moore told the Orange County Register. “He was apparently displeased with some churches that he thought were sympathetic to the Jewish cause.”

Rose faces up to 6 1/2 years in prison. His next court appearance is Friday.



Saturday, April 21, 2018

Hasidic Sect Sees Rapist Rabbi as God; Believers Allow Him to Do “Anything” 

We’ve met Rabbi Eliezer Berland, the tzadik (“holy man”) of the Shuvu Banim Hasidic sect, in these pages before. In 2015, after years of globetrotting while he was evading Israeli prosecutors, Berland was finally forced to return to his home country. There, he stood trial on three sex-crime charges, including sexual assault. A court in Israel sentenced him to 18 months’ imprisonment, but the rabbi served less than three in an actual jail cell on account of his poor health. After being under house arrest for another nine months, he was paroled.

Whatever his erstwhile medical issues, Berland, 80, is firmly back in the saddle these days:

“He can pray and study while standing for many straight hours without getting tired,” says one of those close to him. “Have we ever seen such things?”

That’s one of the tamer quotes in a new Haaretz article about Berland and his acolytes. To hear his delirious devotees tell it, Eliezer Berland is God made flesh. A glass of water he drank from cured a desperately sick patient when she put it to her lips. The rabbi can make his followers impervious to bullets. One time, Berland entered a hole in a frozen Ukraine river and didn’t come out. When his devotees began to fear he had drowned, recounts a sect member, “we turned around and saw him come out of the ground.”

Other religious people no doubt appreciate their clergy too, but the veneration for Berland is in a class by itself because he believes he is God — and thousands of believers think he’s right.

“God can be incarnated in a human being, in the form of the tzadik,” one of his followers explained to Haaretz. This is a mantra for his most dedicated followers who see the rabbi as God incarnated, and state he is allowed to do anything.

Whenever he makes his appearance among the faithful, the scene is barely distinguishable from a Justin Bieber autograph session.

The excitement hit its peak. One of the followers ran to him and managed to touch the rabbi’s tallit [prayer shawl]. The rest of the men pushed and shoved, climbed on chairs and even trampled those standing in the way between them and Berland. The few who succeeded returned to their seats beaming with excitement and with glazed eyes. …

When he leaves home, dozens of his supporters rush after him in their cars. When he leaves for events, they chase after him too. During Sabbath services he often throws slips of paper, newsletters, and spices at his followers — and the crowds fight and shove to have the honor of catching them, or just touching things that the rabbi has touched. The children present at such events hang on the railings, packed in tightly, even climbing over the heads of those praying to receive a white kippa from the tzadik.

Haaretz says that Berland lost some followers while the court case against him played out, but that only leaves the hardcore beliebers believers who simply will not hear the slightest criticism of their idol.

“The rabbi didn’t do any of the things they say about him,” one of the women … told Haaretz, after she received permission from her husband to speak. “The rabbi is a supremely righteous man, whatever he does is all for the good of the heavens.”

That’s despite the fact that Berland confessed to rape. Clarifies one of his students,

“If people tell me that cats and elephants are dancing now outside, of course I will think they are crazy. This is exactly what I think when all sorts of people tell stories about the rabbi. It simply cannot be. Not possible.”

Not even damning audio recordings that Haaretz obtained can change their minds, though the god-man is revealed at his most murderous. At one point,

He can be heard raising his voice, and even screaming, at one of his followers concerning appointments in the community’s institutions. “I didn’t appoint them. They’re fired. I’ll shoot them. Bring me a pistol, I’ll shoot them. I’ll murder you too. If you didn’t understand that I’ll shoot you. I’ll serve a life sentence.”

In another recording, Berland says about one of his opponents: “I’m going to sentence him to death now. I’m saying now that it is permitted to murder him.”

Totally holy.

Up to a thousand Israeli families are believed to be under his sway, and a few hundred of them are considered part of his “inner circle.” What craziness will they perform when he dies? What will they do if he tells them to obliterate the sect’s enemies? How will they respond if he begins spouting doomsday gibberish, Jim Jones-style?

Meanwhile, how will this serial sex offender behave around girls and women who are taught to believe that their holy man, their God, is allowed to do literally “anything”?

A great deal of concern is warranted.



Friday, April 20, 2018

Toms River broke anti-bias laws by barring Jewish center, judge rules 

Toms River will not appeal a federal judge's finding that it broke state and federal laws against religious discrimination when it required a zoning variance for a Jewish center run by a rabbi at his home on Church Road, the township's lawyer said Thursday.

Deputy Township Anthony Merlino said the township would not appeal the Feb. 5 ruling, which stemmed from a 2016 lawsuit by Rabbi Moshe Gourarie and the Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River Inc. Gourarie filed the suit after the Toms River Board of Adjustment rejected his appeal of a decision by local zoning officials denying him permission to use his home as a religious gathering place.  

Gourarie's lawyer, Roman Storzer, said his client was pleased with the ruling and would abide by parking and other conditions imposed by the judge on the Chabad center. Storzer confirmed that he and his client had received the $122,500 in damages and legal fees that U.S. District Court Judge Freda Wolfson had ordered the township to pay. 

"Rabbi Gourari is very happy with the ruling and the outcome," Storzer said. "This is his home, and the Constitution allows people to freely worship at their home."    

The township's decision to accept Wolfon's ruling puts to rest -- legally, at least -- a dispute that exposed what the mayor of Toms River acknowledged to be strains of anti-Semitism among some residents who felt threatened by the growing Orthodox Jewish community in that corner of Ocean County.

"The circumstances brought out the worst in people," said Mayor Thomas Kellaher, who had prosecuted bias crimes as a former Ocean County prosecutor and condemned anti-Semitic social media posts surrounding the dispute. "Anti-Semitic attitudes never solve anything."

The two-story, 50,040-square-foot building would replace an existing mosque owned by the Muslim Society of Jersey Shore.

For the most part, Kellaher said, Toms River is a tolerant community that includes a Hindu temple not far from the Chabad center.

Even so, a local mosque's pending application to build an Islamic school has faced community opposition.

It's not only residents who have expressed religious bias, according to the Chabad suit. Township officials changed the zoning in the area of Church Road around the Chabad center in 2009 to ban houses of worship and, the suit charged, since then the township had tried to block expansion the Orthodox community from neighboring Lakewood.

"These recent actions to shut down the Chabad took place during a rising tide of anti-Semitism among the Toms River government and population, fearful that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community located in adjacent Lakewood Township will extend into Toms River," the suit asserted.

In forcing the rabbi to seek a variance, Wolfson found that Toms River Board of Adjustment violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, and other federal and state laws.

In a concession to concerns about traffic and parking along Church Road, Wolfson stipulated that the center "will inform any guests that there is no parking to be allowed on Church Road."

Storzer said that wold not be a problem, since the property totaled eight acres with plenty of room for parking, and because many of the visitors would be walking.



Thursday, April 19, 2018

Self-confessed Nazi jailed after calling for genocide of Jewish people 

A self-confessed Nazi who called for the genocide of Jewish people has been jailed for three years for stirring up racial hatred.

The 22-year-old man from West Lancashire, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found guilty of two counts of stirring up racial hatred following a trial in January.

Preston Crown Court heard he committed the offences during a demonstration by a group named the North West Infidels on Blackpool Promenade in March 2016, and at a gathering of far-right extremists, the Yorkshire Forum for Nationalists, held the month before.

During a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, he nodded his head in the dock as Judge Robert Altham questioned whether he still held the same views as he had when he gave the two speeches.

Sentencing, Judge Altham said: "The intent is very clear, he is trying to encourage a movement towards genocide.

"These are not idle comments said in the heat of the moment but intended to mobilise others."

He added: "The defendant is resolute in his original views and withdraws nothing."

Judge Altham described an apology submitted in mitigation as "meaningless" at best, or "dishonest" at worst.

He said: "He seeks to raise street armies, perpetrate violence against Jewish people and ultimately bring about genocide."

He sentenced him to 18 months in prison for each offence, to be served consecutively.

The court heard the defendant had described Jewish people as parasites and called for them to be "eradicated" at the Yorkshire event, where he spoke to delegates from other far-right organisations.

At the Blackpool demonstration, held on the town's promenade, where passersby included families and children, he claimed Britain "took the wrong side" in the Second World War.

The court heard others at the demonstration clapped when the defendant said: "You can call me a Nazi, you can call me a fascist, that's what I am."

He ended the speech by saying: "We need to start focusing on the real enemy, the real enemy is the Jew."

A member of the crowd replied: "Yeah, kill the f*****."

Judge Altham said material discovered by police at his home, which included a poster that claimed "the Jewish master race" sought to turn 99% of the population into slaves, was "as shocking and inflammatory as it is misguided".

Wayne Jackson, defending, said: "He is a young man. He knows he is going to prison and it's going to be a number of years he goes to prison for."

He accepted the defendant "wouldn't wish to be described as naive".

He said: "It may well be he has been impressionable in the past but he does what he does and he wouldn't ask me or instruct me to make excuses."



Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Kippah-wearing Jewish teen attacked in Berlin 

A young Jewish teen was attacked by a Muslim man in Berlin on Tuesday. The attacker whipped him with a belt while shouting "Yahudi" (Arabic for Jew). Local police are investigating the attack, which was recorded by the victim.

A young Muslim attacked a Jewish teen who was wearing a kippah in Berlin on Tuesday. In footage uploaded to Facebook by the victim, the Muslim attacker is seen whipping the teen with a belt while shouting "Yahudi" (Arabic for Jew).

A passerby eventually stopped the attack by coming between the attacker and the Jewish victim. The local police department has launched an investigation into the attack.

The victim, Adam Armush, told Kan News' correspondent in Europe that a group of three men were cursing at him and his friend from across the street. He said that they initially did not pay any attention to them but eventually his friend asked them to stop. "That's when they got angry," he explained. "One of them ran at me. I immediately knew that it was important to film because I didn't feel that it was possible to contain him until the police arrive."

The Jewish community in Berlin denounced the attack and said that it proves that the streets of the city are not safe for Jewish people.


Jewish Cemetery Near Paris Vandalized, Headstones Damaged 

A Jewish cemetery near Paris was desecrated by a person who vandalized eight headstones, a watchdog on anti-Semitism said.

The incident earlier this week resulted in light damage to the headstones at the cemetery in Seine Saint Denis, north of the French capital, according to a statement issued Wednesday by Sammy Ghozlan, president of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA.

A young woman of African descent who often used to wander around the cemetery grounds is suspected of being connected to the vandalism, Ghozlan added. The statement did not detail the damage or say whether the woman or girl in question is suspected of targeting the cemetery for anti-Semitic motives.

But, Ghozlan added, "the cowardly hatred that is proliferating today is driving those who hate Jews to attack not only the living, but also the dead."

BNVCA has lodged a criminal complaint with police over the incident, Ghozlan added.

Last year, individuals whose identity has remained unknown destroyed 40 of the 50 headstones at an 18th-century Jewish cemetery in eastern France.

On that occasion, a passer-by noticed the vandalism at the disused cemetery in the village of Waldwisse and referred it to authorities.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Town official: New Chester development aimed at Hasidic residents 

Greens at Chester, the 431-home development that's being built on a 110-acre site west of the Whispering Hills subdivision, will be a predominately Hasidic community, and it could eventually be home to about 3,000 people, according to the Chester supervisor.

Supervisor Alex Jamieson said he has met with the developers, a Brooklyn group called Greens at Chester LLC, several times since site clearing began Jan. 30.

"They've been very nice, very upfront with me," Jamieson said.

"They understand that they're going to be building in accordance with the codes of our town."

The project includes 237 single-family houses and 194 semi-attached homes, with a total bedroom count of about 1,290.

Plans on file with the town call for the development to be built in three phases.

Five onsite wells will provide the water, and sewer lines will be connected to the Harriman sewage treatment plant.

It will have entrances on West Avenue and Conklingtown Road.

Jamieson said the town has written to the state Department of Transportation asking it to lower the speed limit to 40 mph from 55 mph on the portion of West Avenue that runs from Brookside Avenue west to Glenmere Road.

Grading is underway. Jamieson said the developers will focus on infrastructure this summer, including roads, curbs, sewage lines and storm drains.

He said he doesn't expect houses to start going up until September at the earliest.

Greens at Chester will include a community center, which may be used as a synagogue.

The development has been on hold since the 1980s.

Once tree-clearing started, many town residents started expressing concerns about increased traffic in the busy area along West Avenue, which runs between the Chester Mall and Conklingtown Road.

Jamieson said that most families will probably have just one car.

Jamieson said a group of town residents has approached him, asking the town to explore the possibility of switching to a ward system for electing council members.

The issue will be on the agenda for the next Town Board meeting at 7 p.m. April 25.

The neighboring Town of Blooming Grove switched to a ward system in a November 2016 referendum.

The Town of Mamakating in Sullivan County approved a ward system in a November 2015 referendum.

Each town has seen an influx of Hasidic home buyers in recent years.




A separatist Quebec legislator backtracked after criticizing a fellow parliamentarian for wearing a kippah in the legislative chamber on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

During a raucous session, Opposition leader Jean-François Lisée of the Parti-Québécois criticized David Birnbaum, the only Jewish legislator of the governing Liberal Party, for wearing the skullcap.

Lisée said doing so may have violated a rule forbidding partisan symbols in Parliament. He was responding to Quebec premier Phillippe Couillard, who had criticized Lisée for wearing his own party's lapel pin in the legislative hall.

Lisée said allowing the kippah while banning his pin constituted a "hierarchy between some convictions and others."

An angry Birnbaum defended his actions. "I can wear that kippah anywhere," he said.

"To suggest that a Jewish [parliamentarian] should be forced to hide his religious identity – on Yom Hashoah, no less – is grotesque and unacceptable," B'nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn said.

On Thursday, Lisée posted a statement on Facebook conceding that Birnbaum did indeed have the right to wear the kippah, but said religious rights should not supersede others.



Monday, April 16, 2018

Jewish Man Attacked In Crown Heights, Police Investigating 

The 71st Precinct in Brooklyn is investigating an attack early Saturday morning on a chasidic Jew in the Crown Heights neighborhood.

The Police Department public information unit said the 71st Precinct had received a complaint about the attack, but has not yet determined that attack was an anti-Semitic hate crime.

The police are treating the attack as a "possible" bias incident until the investigation is complete, said David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.

According to a spokesman for the Crown Heights Shomrim neighborhood patrol association, a witness to the attack said the victim, a 42-year-old man from out of town who was in Crown Heights for Shabbat, was attacked by a group of three men and two women at 3:30 a.m. a block from the international headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement on Eastern Parkway. Another chasidic Jew who was walking with the man was not attacked, the Shomrim representative said. "They were clearly Jewish."

The "unprompted" nature of the attack committed by African-Americans, in which no weapons were used and no anti-Semitic statements were reported, made the nature of the crime a likely hate crime, the Shomrim spokesman said. The assailants reportedly asked the victim, "Do you want to fight?" then began punching and kicking him.

"There's no other motive," said Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. "We're hoping this was a one-off thing."

"The police are taking this very seriously. They have added patrols to assure the community," Pollock said.

The victim, treated for lacerations by Hatzalah, then at a local hospital, filed a report with the New York Police Department on Saturday night after Shabbat ended.

Friday's attack came a week after the fatal shooting in Crown Heights by police of an African-American man who wielded a welding tool that appeared to be a gun, heightening tensions in the neighborhood.


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Ethiopian Jewish Bible Quiz contestant won't be forced to leave 

An Ethiopian Jewish teenager who travelled to Israel to take part in the annual Independence Day Bible quiz will be permitted to remain in the country even after the event is completed, despite having been initially required to put up a deposit to ensure he leaves the country.

Eighteen-year-old Sintayehu Shaparou, the sole representative of the Jewish community in Ethiopia to participate in this year’s Bible quiz, had been required to give immigration and border control officials thousands of shekels as a deposit to ensure that he would leave the country as required following this week’s quiz.

A member of the Falashmura community or “Beta Israel”, Shaparou and roughly 8,000 other members of the community in Ethiopia are descended from Jews who had converted to Christianity, often under duress.

While his father and siblings immigrated to Israel 17 years ago, Shaparou remained in Ethiopia, waiting for approval from Israel’s Interior Ministry to immigrate.

As a non-citizen, Shaparou was required to leave the country after his entry visa for the Bible quiz expired.

On Sunday, however, Hadashot reported that Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) had offered Shaparou residency status, permitting him to remain in the country even after the Bible quiz.

Last week, Naama Priner, who volunteered to teach children in Ethiopia and arranged for Shaparou to participate in the quiz, spoke with Arutz Sheva about the young man’s predicament.

"This is an 18-year-old boy living with his mother in Addis Ababa, and his father and seven other siblings are living here in Israel - a family which was torn apart. They live as a Jewish community in every way [in Ethiopia], so why can [Sintayehu] not stay in Israel?"

"Last summer I volunteered to teach Hebrew and Judaism in Ethiopia, and I noticed that the Bible is very important to them. Sintayehu teaches Bible in the afternoon and leads a study group for girls which deals with women in the Bible. We managed to arrange for him to come to Israel for tests ahead of the quiz and I am happy about that."



Saturday, April 14, 2018

Jewish camp head resigns after harassment charge by Bay Area Jewish professional 

A top official in the Jewish camping world has resigned over charges of sexual harassment made by a Bay Area woman in a recent essay published by J.

As reported today by the New York Jewish Week, Leonard Robinson “resigned under pressure” on April 12 as executive director of NJY Camps, the New Jersey-based umbrella group for five residential Jewish camps in the surrounding area. He had served in that position since 1993, after working at four JCCs around the country.

The essay published in J. on March 22, “My sexual harasser is still a leader in the Jewish community,” was a detailed account by San Francisco philanthropic adviser Debbie Findling about how 30 years ago, when she had just graduated college, her supervisor at a JCC in Southern California sexually harassed her, making inappropriate overtures that included an invitation to have sex with him and his wife. Findling reported the behavior to her superiors and was moved to a different JCC, with assurances that her harasser “felt remorse” and was seeking therapy. Instead, she watched for years as he moved from one JCC to another across the country, rising in the Jewish nonprofit world.

Her father, who was an attorney, urged her to bring a lawsuit, but she declined: “I was afraid of being labeled ‘one of those women’ — an agitator — and concerned that if I went public I wouldn’t get another job in the Jewish community.”

Findling declined to name the man in her essay, although she recently revealed it to the Jewish Week, which also published her essay last month. She has also now named the JCC where they both worked — the West Valley JCC in Woodland Hills, which has since closed.

In announcing Robinson’s resignation today to the NJY Camps board, president Peter Horowitz noted that the allegations involved harassment that took place long before Robinson’s arrival at his present post, but because they are “deeply disturbing and antithetical to the community we have created,” he was being immediately replaced with an investigation to follow, the Jewish Week reported.

Today, Findling told J., “I hope that publishing my essay will give other women the courage to speak up. But more importantly, I hope it will create change in the Jewish community so the burden won’t be upon the victim of sexual harassment to speak up — there won’t be any more harassment, so there will be no need to speak up.”

According to its website, NJY Camps is the largest Jewish camp complex in the world, serving more than 7,400 participants, including 5,500 young people. It is part of the JCC movement and is an affiliate of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.



Friday, April 13, 2018

Some Rabbis Banned His Beer 

The Sunday before Passover, New York's biggest beer mogul, Simon Bergson, found an ultra-Orthodox rabbi waiting for him in the lobby of his apartment building.

The rabbi brought some strange news: He needed Bergson to sell all of his beer. Symbolically. Just for a week. Then he could buy it back.

Bergson had never heard of such a thing. The rabbi explained that if he didn't make the sale, observant Jews would be prohibited from drinking any beer he had owned during the Passover holiday.

Bergson went along with it, agreeing to make the symbolic sale at his office the next day. But instead fixing the problem, the arrangement set off a controversy among New York's ultra-Orthodox Kosher authorities that ended this week with some rabbis advising New York Jews to drink only Budweiser this month, as the Forward first reported Wednesday.

For the ultra-Orthodox rabbis endorsing the temporary ban on Bergson's product, the problem is that Bergson is Jewish, but not Jewish enough. Though Jewish by birth and affiliation, Bergson sold beer during Passover, which is forbidden under traditionally Jewish law, and has led some rabbis to say that Jews shouldn't drink beer sold by his firm, Manhattan Beer Distributors, this month or next.

Yet a brief phone call with Bergson on Thursday morning revealed a deep irony in an already unusual case. Though not Jewish enough for the ultra-Orthodox rabbis, Bergson revealed himself to be about as Jewish as it gets.

His life story is so stereotypical it sounds clichéd. He could have stepped out of a Sholem Aleichem novel, or maybe one by Philip Roth: His parents met in Auschwitz. He was born in a displaced persons camp in Austria. He came to Brooklyn as a boy and made good.

"I started with gornisht," he told the Forward, using the Yiddish word for "nothing."

Bergson's first language is Yiddish, and he sprinkles Yiddish phrases liberally in conversation, which he carries on in the Brooklyn Jewish accent of Jackie Mason.

His parents were both from the Polish city of Ciechanow, but met in a Auschwitz when Nazi guards sent his father into the women's camp to make a repair. After surviving the same death march to Mauthausen, another concentration camp, they returned home to Ciechanow together after liberation and were married. They left together soon after. Bergson was born in a displaced persons camp in Austria as the family waited for permission to move to America.

His father got into the "shmatte business," Bergson says, and became a clothing manufacturer. When he decided to get his own start in the beer trade, his father scraped up some capital by asking his Jewish friends for "gemilus chesed" loans, a traditional practice of offering free loans within Jewish communities. Bergson paid the loans back after a year, offering gifts of clothes from his father's company as interest.

Bergson has been an aggressive player in the New York beer market, turning a storefront on the Lower East Side into the city's dominant beer empire. For the past decade, he's been the largest beer wholesaler in the city, with more than $1 billion in annual sales.

It's unclear why it took until 2018 for the Kosher authorities to catch on to him.

As the Forward reported yesterday, the unexplained sudden realization that Bergson is Jewish sent Kosher authorities into high alert in the weeks before Passover. In order for food that is owned by a Jewish person before Passover to remain permissible for Jewish consumption after Passover, its owner must sign an agreement called a Mechirat Chametz, a Jewish legal loophole that symbolically transfers the ownership of the food to a non-Jew during the holiday.

Representatives of OK Kosher, a certification agency with ties to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect, took it upon themselves in the days before Passover to get Bergson to sign the agreement.

Bergson said that one of their rabbis waited in the lobby of his apartment building for hours on Sunday before Passover. They spoke to each other in Yiddish, and Bergson invited him to the office the next day to sign the agreement.

After the deal was done, Bergson, no naïf in the ways of Jewish communal professionals, got ready for the inevitable ask. "I said to [the rabbi], 'Okay, tell me, tukhes afn tish, how much is this going to cost me?'" Bergson said, using a common Yiddish phrase that directly translates as "ass on the table," and means, "let's be real."

The rabbi was offended. "He said, 'No, you're insulting me, it's not about the money,'" Bergson said. "And it wasn't about the money." Bergson said that no cash changed hands.

After Passover, Bergson assumed the matter was over. But in recent days, some ultra-Orthodox rabbis, following different interpretations of Jewish law than those cited by OK Kosher, have said that the Mechirat Chametz agreement Bergson signed was invalid because he ran his business as usual during Passover and kept on selling beer.

While the OK Kosher rabbis maintain that his beer is now fine for consumption, others say that any beer he owned during Passover is permanently unfit for Jewish consumption.

As the Forward reported, two Kosher certification agencies, the Central Rabbinical Congress and Star-K, have recommended against buying nearly all beer in New York until late May, at which point they assume his stock will have turned over. Both say that beers manufactured by Anheuser-Busch are still permissible, as the company distributes its own beers in the city.

"People will stick to Budweiser," a rabbinic administrator with the CRC told the Forward.

Bergson acknowledged that he is not a strictly Orthodox Jew. "I'm not Shomer Shabbes," Bergson allowed, using a Yiddish phrase to say that he does not follow a strict religious interpretation of the laws of the Sabbath. "But that doesn't mean I'm not observant. I go for the High Holidays to synagogue. We light candles."

He said that his grandparents were Orthodox, and his grandfather was a religious cantor, but his father lost his faith after he was liberated from the concentration camps. "He said, 'Look, I'm reborn now,'" Bergson recalled. "My parents chose to consider Liberation Day as their non-biological birthday. And he just chose not to be observant."

He said that he carries a photo of his father in his Auschwitz uniform in his waller.

While Bergson seemed befuddled by the whole affair, he offered one Talmudic quibble of his own. Budweiser, he says, may not be so much more permissible this month than his own beers. He told the Forward that a founding partner of an investment firm that owns a very large share of Anhueser-Busch's corporate parent is also Jewish.

Whether that's enough Jewish ownership to raise a problem is likely a question best left to the rabbis. The Forward could not independently confirm that the billionaire investor Bergson identified is Jewish. The billionaire's investment firm did not respond to a request for comment.

"I'm not from the Hasidic sect, I guess," Bergson said. "I started this business in 1978. For 39 years no one bothered me."


Satmar Rebbe: They think we're like the Taliban 

In a rare interview given in English, Rabbi Aharon Teitelbaum, one of the two rabbis claiming leadership of the Satmar Hassidic movement, spoke to the Ami Magazine about attempts by government agencies to interfere in the curriculum of haredi educational institutions in New York State.

The controversy erupted when certain Orthodox groups petitioned the state to have haredi educational institutions teach core secular subjects such as English and science. Democratic legislators favored greater oversight of religious private schools, while Republican legislators were against state interference in the private institutions.

"They do not know what Judaism is," Rabbi Teitlebaum said of the activists who attempted to pass legislation dictating what the hasidic schools should teach. "They think we're like the Taliban, so we have to show them that the haredi public are normal, responsible people."

Rabbi Teiltelbaum praised New York State Senator Simcha Felder, a Democrat who caucused with the Republicans and pushed new legislation which states that yeshivas should offer an education that is "substantially equivalent" to the education offered by New York State public schools when factoring in all subjects, including Torah study. The bill was passed on the first night of Passover.

"I said [to Simcha], 'I know that you're a Yid [and you want to prepare for Yom Tov], but the future of klal Yisrael is dependent upon you. Everything can be done through a shaliach, but not this. Another person wouldn't be able to do this.' It was pushed all the way until the night of Yom Tov, and he had to go home before it was finalized," the Rebbe said.

"The vote took place at night—on the night of Pesach. They had to change the law against their will—both in the New York State Senate and in the Assembly, and the governor, bimchilas kevodo, also had to agree to it [and he signed it into law]. According to the new law it's enough to learn only four subjects. The governor was able to say that at least they're going to learn those four subjects. There's no question that he smuggled in some words that we didn't want once Pesach began, but we can say that for the most part we changed the law and it is effective immediately—not in a year from now.

"All of the mevinim know the gevaldike thing that took place over here for all of the talmidim of every single Talmud Torah. In the past, every child violated the law, and if it would have ended up in court there wouldn't have been an answer as to why the law wasn't adhered to. Now, baruch Hashem, this has all changed. Hodu LaShem ki tov ki l'olam chasdo (Give thanks to G-d, for his kindness is everlasting). We have to thank and praise the heilige Bashefer for what took place this Yom Tov of Pesach."



Thursday, April 12, 2018

Some Orthodox Rabbis Order Jews To ‘Stick To Budweiser’ — Or Skip Beer 

Better put down that pint of Guinness, and don't even think about cracking a Corona. This month, some Orthodox rabbis are telling New York Jews they should stick to Budweiser — or not drink beer at all.

The unusual edict was made after the rabbis who keep watch on New York's kosher food supply realized in the weeks before Passover that the owner of the city's dominant beer wholesaling firm is Jewish.

"He's 100% Yid," said a rabbinic administrator at the Central Rabbinical Congress, a Kosher certification agency affiliated with the Satmar Hasidic sect.

That posed a problem for the rabbis, because while the New York beer magnate, Simon Bergson, is Jewish, he is not traditionally observant. Under certain complexities of Jewish law, that has led some Orthodox rabbis to rule that all the beer he owned during the week of Passover is not suitable for consumption by Jews.

Such is Bergson's dominance of the New York City beer market that those rabbis are now advising Jews not to buy most brands of beer in New York until late May, by which point they assume Bergson's stock will have turned over.

Budweiser, which is distributed in New York by its manufacturer and not Bergson's firm, is among the few beers these rabbis say is permitted.

"I believe there's quite a few thousand families that will obey … our rules," the Satmar rabbinic administrator told the Forward.

Bergson and his company, Manhattan Beer Distributors, could not be reached for comment. They confirmed on Twitter that they had worked with one rabbi to try to resolve the issue.

The ban is a big deal in Orthodox Brooklyn. The Satmar rabbinic administrator said that the phone at his office is ringing off the hook. While Hasidic Jews generally don't drink much beer, they are traditionally required to serve large quantities at the Shalom Zachar, an all-male party thrown on the Friday after a baby boy is born.

For new fathers scrambling to organize their parties, the ban is proving to be a massive headache, especially for those who aren't fans of the King of Beers.

While Manhattan Beer Distributors sells much of the beer available for purchase in New York City, beverage giant Anheuser-Busch distributes its own products, meaning those who observe the ban can still drink Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Bud Light, among others.

The beer ban is based on a contested interpretation of a relatively obscure aspect of the laws of Passover, which ended last Saturday night.

During the holiday, Jews are not allowed to own leavened foods that have risen for longer than 18 minutes, a category that, for technical reasons, includes beer. In order to keep Jews from having to throw away stocks of stored food, ancient rabbis invented a legal loophole, called Mechirat Chametz, by which Jews can symbolically sell prohibited foods and then buy back at the end of the holiday.

Leavened foods owned by non-Jews during Passover are fine for Jews to eat after the holiday, hence the exception for Bud.

Food businesses owned by observant Jews regularly take advantage of the loophole, and are allowed to continue selling the banned food they owned before Passover after the holiday is over. Rabbinic authorities, however, differ on whether a Mechirat Chametz contract signed by a non-observant Jew is legitimate, especially if the Jew continues to sell banned food during the Passover holiday. Some say that leavened food owned during Passover by a Jew who doesn't follow the laws of Passover is permanently forbidden, even if the Jew signed a Mechirat Chametz contract.

Bergson's firm has been in the beer distribution business in New York since 1978, and has dominated the industry for decades. A child of Holocaust survivors, Bergson was born in a displaced persons camp in Austria after the Second World War, according to a profile in Crain's New York Business. He trained his dogs to respond to commands in Yiddish.

For reasons that remain unclear, the various Kosher certification agencies realized only this year that Bergson is Jewish. In the days before Passover, some Kosher authorities scrambled to fix the Bergson problem. OK Kosher, a certification agency with ties to Chabad-Lubavitch, another Hasidic sect, visited with Bergson at his office and had him sign a Mechirat Chametz agreement. OK Kosher issued a letter on Monday saying that the agreement has been properly executed, and there was no problem with Bergson's beer.

"The OK is surprised to see alerts posted to the contrary by those who have not contacted us and must not be aware of the details," the agency said in the letter.

OK cited the deceased Lower East Side rabbinic figure Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, perhaps the most important 20th century rabbinic thinker in American Orthodoxy, as among the rabbis whose writings supported their position.

Yet the OK's belief that beer Bergson's firm owned during Passover remains acceptable for Jewish consumption appears to be in the minority among ultra-Orthodox Kosher certifications agencies.

"The owner of Manhattan Beer Distributors is a Yid, and he is not Shomer Shabbes, not Shomer Mitzvos, not Shomer Torah," said the Satmar rabbinic administrator, using Hebrew and Yiddish phrases to say that, while Bergson is Jewish, he is not a traditionally observant Jew. The CRC put out an alert, which is now posted in synagogues throughout Orthodox Brooklyn, warning that only the short list of beers not distributed by Bergson's firm are permitted until the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which takes place this year on May 19.

Another agency, Star-K, released an alert on Tuesday warning that the restaurants and caterers they certify in the New York area should not buy certain beer brands until late May or early June, due to the distributor being Jewish. They, too, put out a list of safe beers, including Budweiser, Becks, and Bud Light.

The Orthodox Union's Kosher certification agency, part of the Modern Orthodox synagogue umbrella group, has not taken a position on the beer issue. Rabbi Menachem Genack, OU Kosher's CEO, praised OK for trying to fix the problem, but said that OU policy is not to follow the teachings of Rabbi Feinstein, who OK cited, but rather Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the central figure of Modern Orthodox Judaism, who argued that Mechirat Chametz contracts with non-observant Jews are not legitimate.

"I would give credit to the OK in this case," Genack said. "It wasn't their company or anything, they were just trying to help."

Genack said that if his agency received an inquiry from a Kosher food consumer about the issue, they likely wouldn't offer an opinion.

For the CRC, however, the position is clear. The Satmar rabbinic administrator said that many families would follow his organization's directive. "People will stick to Budweiser," he said.



Ambitious project to build ‘landmark’ synagogue in Clapton Common given green light 

The scheme will see the current synagogue, formerly The Swan pub, demolished and replaced with a modernist three-storey structure.

Architects at John Stebbing are behind the ambitious plans, but the grill-effect on one side of the building has caused complaints from neighbours about the light leaking from the building.

Consequently, it has taken years of alterations to get approval for the project.

Councillors on the planning committee signed off the scheme on Wednesday night, though they did impose a number of conditions including the need for more detailed information on the lighting.

As well as neighbours, the Clapton Conservation Area Advisory Committe (CAAC) had raised concerns about lighting.

They said: "It is clear that the applicant is specifically intent on devising a landmark building whose prominence is to be highlighted through both design and lighting but this gives little regard to the appropriateness in this sensitive setting."

The Bobov-45 community originally come from Bobowa, in present day Poland. Bobof-45 are an offshoot of the Bobof Hasidic community, the 45 referring to 45th Street in Brooklyn, New York, where their main synagogue is situated.

They took over the building in 2009 after the closure of The Swan.

The building has been around since about 1826 as a pub, and the building before that was said to be a coaching inn dating from the 18th century.

Architecturally, a report describes the new plans as "a simple, limestone clad building with a decorative, gold metal curtain feature wall to the principal southern elevation that creates a strong visual termination in views north along Clapton Terrace".

It adds: "The feature wall comprises a bronze coloured anodised aluminium clad inner screen, which is punctuated by a series of tall arched windows in dark grey anodised aluminium."

Hackney planning officers had recommended the report for approval before councillors agreed.

They wrote in their report: "The proposed building is of an appropriate scale and massing and the juxtaposition of old and new is seen as positive in this context."



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

It’s the end of an era for America’s first all-kosher supermarket 

America's first all-kosher supermarket is set to change hands, marking the end of an era for Hungarian Kosher Foods, a Chicago-area landmark for 45 years.

Holocaust survivor Sandor Kirsche trademarked the slogan "All kosher, only kosher," and since 1973 it has applied to the forward-looking kosher supermarket he founded, Hungarian Kosher Foods, under the supervision of the Chicago Rabbinical Council. Located first on Devon Avenue in this city and since 1986 in a 25,000-square-foot supermarket space in Skokie, Illinois, "Hungarian" revolutionized the way kosher cooks shopped.

"My father was always progressive," said Ira Kirsche, Sandor's son and Hungarian's current owner. "We always talked about new things."

In 1973, the idea of an all-kosher supermarket was virtually unheard of. Two markets — Supersol in Israel and Seven Mile Market in Baltimore — offered an array of kosher items, but the idea of certifying an entire store kosher was new.

"It was a different world then," said Lynn Kirsche Shapiro, Ira's sister. Certified kosher foods were difficult to find, and many people didn't bother, relying instead on reading package ingredients to see if they contained forbidden ingredients.

"Kosher consumers would go to a bakery, then a kosher meat market, then a kosher grocery store," Lynn said. "Our concept was to bring it all together under one roof."

On April 20, Orian Azulay, the owner of the kosher supermarket Sara's Tent in Aventura, Florida, is set to buy Hungarian. It will be his first purchase since buying Sara's Tent 10 years ago.

For Sandor Kirsche and his wife, Margit, keeping kosher was crucial, and kosher food was also a way of connecting with their families who perished in the Holocaust. Sandor and Margit grew up in Hasidic homes, Sandor in Czechoslovakia and Margit in Hungary. The rich fragrance of traditional foods like chicken soup and kreplach, paprikash with dumplings and homemade plum pie would fill the air on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Each year, Sandor's neighbors would gather at his home to bake the community's matzah. They gathered for the last time in 1944, this time in secret: On the final day of Passover, the entire community was interned in a ghetto outside Uzhgorod, in what was then Czechoslovakia.

A month later, on the first night of the Shavuot holiday, Sandor was deported to Auschwitz along with his parents, grandmother, sisters, his little brother Chaim, aunts, uncles and cousins. Only Sandor survived; a tall man, at liberation he weighed a mere 70 pounds.

Margit's family also was decimated in the Holocaust. Deported the day after Passover 1944, Margit survived both Auschwitz and the German labor camp Torgau. After the war, food became a way for Margit to explain the enormity of the tragedy that befell her family. One of her signature dishes is kippilach, or walnut crescent cookies — the pastries became a way to talk about Margit's 12-year-old uncle Yitzchak Isaac, who was with her on the train to Auschwitz in 1944. He was so hungry, she recalled, that she gave him the few kippilach her grandmother had given her to eat.

Yitzchak Isaac was murdered on arrival. The story of the last cookies he ate ensures new generations don't forget him.

"I knew I wasn't going to die," said Margit, who somehow managed to evade execution by working as a slave laborer first in Auschwitz, and then in Buchenwald and Torgau.

"These were my bedtime stories," said Lynn Kirsche Shapiro of this and other family tales.

Sandor and Margit met in Germany after the war, married in 1947 and immigrated to the United States in 1948. They brought up their two children in the Humboldt Park neighborhood here. Although there were no relatives nearby, Margit and Sandor  filled their apartment with the smells of cooking and stories about relatives who were no longer with them.

In their early years in America, Margit sewed clothes and Sandor worked various jobs until 1973, when they had scraped together enough money to buy a kosher meat market on Devon Avenue. They gradually turned it into a full-service meat market, bakery, deli and grocery.

From the beginning, Sandor and Margit made sure the store felt like home.

"My mother was the kitchen," Lynn said, as many of the supermarket's deli items hark back to treasured family recipes.

Even today, at 95, Margit, who lost her eyesight 20 years ago, still helps out with cooking. In March, she helped prepare for Hungarian's last Passover at the Kirsche's family store by helping make 120 pounds of charoset, the sweet holiday treat.

When Hungarian moved to Skokie, it finally was able to become what Sandor and Margit always dreamed of: a full-size supermarket with a bakery, meat, dairy and pareve (neither milk nor meat) deli items, and one of the country's leading wine sections — all certified kosher. As kosher tastes changed, so has Hungarian, adding a health food section, imported items and even two dedicated sushi chefs over the years.

The store served as a meeting place and community resource. The Kirsches often donated food anonymously, including providing the weekly kiddush for a synagogue serving refugees from the Soviet Union for many years. One day Hungarian's staff was startled when two customers called out to each other: They had been prisoners at the same Nazi concentration camp and had not seen each other in decades until the meeting in Hungarian.

The Kirsche family worked together, sometimes logging 24-hour work days. Lynn Kirsche Shapiro became a college math professor, but still worked at Hungarian during busy holiday periods.

Yet after 45 years, Hungarian found itself at a crossroads.

"I don't have the next generation," Ira said. His father died in 2007, and Ira's wife, Judy, died six years later to the day.

"I'm here alone," he said, noting that his staff is wonderfully supportive, but that Hungarian could not continue in its present form to a third generation.

Competition has intensified, too. In 2010, the Jewel supermarket chain opened a large kosher section, complete with a kosher bakery and deli, in a nearby location, and the regional supermarket chain Mariano's added its own dedicated kosher section in Skokie in 2015.

Azulay has pledged to maintain the business as a mainstay of the Chicago-area kosher community. The new owner plans to make some changes, offering expanded bakery, deli and produce sections, and offering kosher cooking classes in the store. Israeli chef Michael Atias, whom Azulay described as "one of the best chefs in the world" and who previously worked at the kosher Soho Bar and Grill in Aventura, Florida, will oversee Hungarian's new kitchen.

"We'll try to bring some excitement" to Chicago, Azulay said, noting that Sara's Tent already enjoys a good reputation with kosher-keeping Chicagoans who visit the Miami area. "A good name is more important than all the profit in the world."

He plans to renovate the store gradually, without closing for remodeling.

"We hope the community will give us a little time and patience," Azulay said, "and we'll be happy to give back to the community as fast as we can."

 "I hope they do," said Ira Kirsche, as he prepared to finalize the sale and say goodbye to the business he and his family have built over the past 45 years.



Monday, April 09, 2018

Simcha Felder Challenger Says Primary Race Will Test Orthodox Power In Brooklyn 

The community activist mounting a challenge to State Senator Simcha Felder, a controversial legislator who is the one man standing between the Democrats and total control of Albany, said in an interview that the upcoming primary contest will test the power of Orthodox voters in Brooklyn.

"The majority of the district is not Orthodox Jewish," Blake Morris told City & State. "They are a major component, but they are not the majority."

Morris, an attorney, faces an uphill fight against Felder, who is seen as having a secure hold on the seat.

But machinations in Albany could draw outsized attention to the race, and many loyal Democrats strongly dislike Felder for siding with Republicans in the state Senate.

And moves by Felder to force through exemptions for Hasidic yeshivas from state oversight has renewed criticism of him outside of his district.

In his interview, Morris argued that Orthodox support for Felder does not guarantee his victory. The district, which includes Boro Park, Flatbush, and Midwood, encompasses the heart of Orthodox Brooklyn.

"Basically, Felder is a Republican in Democratic clothing," Morris said. "And one of the reasons he doesn't want to change party affiliations is he knows what's going to happen to him as a Republican in the 17th Senate district."


Judge won't delay teardown order for Towson Chabad, but building still stands 

One month after a court-imposed deadline to tear down a building addition at 14 Aigburth Road, the Chabad of Towson and Goucher is continuing the legal battle to keep it standing.

Hasidic Jewish organization Friends of Lubavitch, the owner of the building, was ordered last April to tear down a recent addition because it violates setback covenants. The deadline was March 1 this year.

Friends of Lubavitch appealed the order. Then the day before the deadline, they asked the court to extend it until after that appeals process is complete, which will take until at least September. Circuit Court Judge Susan Souder denied the request.

Now, Friends of Lubavitch is appealing that denial to Maryland's appellate court, in a filing dated April 2.

Kimberly Manuelides, a lawyer for Friends of Lubavitch, said that she was "disappointed" in the judge's decision, arguing that if the building is demolished before the appeal process is complete, the appeal will be rendered meaningless.

"You run the potential of completely denying one party their full day in court, which they're entitled to," she said.

In the request for the stay, Manuelides wrote that having the structure demolished would cause "unnecessary waste and expense." Attached in court documents was a demolition quote from the company Renovation Contractors LLC for $98,575.

Robin Zoll, who lives next door to Chabad and is the lead plaintiff in the case, said the recent moves show that Friends of Lubavitch has no intention of complying with the order to tear it down.

"Somehow the burden ends up being on us to make them follow the court order," Zoll said. "And that's wrong."

In a response to the request for a stay, Zoll's legal team argued that it should not be granted because Friends of Lubavitch offered no excuse for missing the March 1 deadline.

In an interview, Manuelides said that she had intended to file the request before Feb. 28, but that as she was getting ready to file it she fractured her elbow and was out of the office.

To force Friends of Lubavitch's hand, Zoll's lawyer Michael McCann filed a motion Thursday asking the court to appoint a receiver to execute the judgment. In other words, he said, if the judge approves the motion she will appoint someone who is not involved in the case to take control of the property and have the structure torn down.

"We are now in a position where if we do nothing, they'll do nothing, and it'll be there for the rest of our lives," Zoll said.

Friends of Lubavitch has 15 days to respond before a judge rules on the motion.

Even though Friends of Lubavitch is appealing the denial, a process McCann said could take months, that would not stop a receiver from carrying out the judgment, he said.

"The ball is in their court to get a stay," McCann said. "Until and unless they do, the order moves forward."

The judge found last year that the 6,614-square-foot structure, an addition to the front of a pre-existing residential building, violated a covenant in the 1950 deed requiring it to be at least 115 feet from the road. According to the lawsuit, it is less than 60 feet from the road.

Manuelides called the judge's decision to order the structure be demolished "unjust," saying a remedy like awarding damages would have been more appropriate.

Zoll said that the issue of monetary damages was mentioned at trial, and that she considers the idea "perfectly absurd."

"The damage is the building," Zoll said. "As long as that stays there, I continue to be damaged … The only way to remedy this is to tear it down."

House or community center?
Aside from the issue of the setback, Zoll said, the structure is subject to a question of zoning: Is it a residence or a community center?

According to court records, the building permit Friends of Lubavitch obtained was for a residential addition. Rabbi Menachem Rivkin and his wife Sheiny, who lead Chabad of Towson and Goucher, and their children live in the original house, which is connected to the addition by a breezeway.

But a September ruling by the Baltimore County Board of Appeals found that Friends of Lubavitch had "exceeded the use compatible with that of a residential property." The house is listed as the headquarters of Chabad of Towson and Goucher, part of an organization that does outreach to Jewish students on college campuses. According to the the board's opinion documents, it is outfitted with an industrial kitchen, a cloak room and a dining room that seats more than 120.

According to the documents and to Zoll, Chabad hosts frequent large gatherings of students and is listed on tax documents as a "Jewish Student Center," instead of as a residence. A sign outside the building labels it as "Chabad."

Chabad posts frequent public events on its Facebook page — most recently, a Passover Seder Facebook event listing from March 31 says it had more than 198 guests.

The Board of Appeals found that Friends of Lubavitch had "acted in bad faith," had been acting as a community center "even before the new building," that the "primary purpose" of the addition was to enhance Chabad's community center presence, and that "the claim that this was simply an addition to a residence was not credible."

According to the Baltimore County building code, the county can revoke a building permit if there is a "false statement or misrepresentation of fact in the application or on the plans on which the permit or approval was based."

But Arnold Jablon, county director of permits, approvals and inspections, said the county has no plans to revoke the permit, saying in an email sent through spokeswoman Ellen Kobler that it was "legally applied for and secured," and was not acquired under false pretenses.

"If I say I will use my home as a residence but use one room for a home office, is that a false statement?" Jablon wrote. "What if the property owner at the time he applied for a bldg. permit believed his intentions were permitted as residential uses?"

Asked for a response to the allegations that the building is being used in violation of its zoning, Manuelides declined to comment, saying she does not represent Friends of Lubavitch in that matter.


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