Saturday, June 30, 2018

This Israeli airline says it will no longer accommodate Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women 

After facing backlash from a prominent Israeli tech company, Israel's national airline El Al announced on Monday that it will no longer move female passengers to accommodate Orthodox Jewish men who refuse to sit next to women.

On June 22, Khen Rotem wrote in a Facebook post that the El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv was delayed because four Orthodox men refused to sit next to women.

According to Rotem, one of the Orthodox men boarded the plane with his eyes tightly closed, and did not open his eyes throughout the entire flight so he would not look at any women. Rotem also said that the men refused to talk to or look at the female flight attendants.

Rotem wrote on Facebook that the Orthodox men refused to sit next to female passengers. According to Rotem, the El Al flight crew attempted to negotiate with the Orthodox men at first. However, "the team surrendered" and cleared a row of seats for the four Orthodox men and moved the women to other seats in coach class.

Rotem claimed that the flight to Tel Aviv took off "an hour and a quarter late" because the flight crew had to handle this situation.



Friday, June 29, 2018

Signed to major label, Belz Hasid singer Shulem Lemmer lives ‘The Perfect Dream’ 

It might sound unusual for a major record contract to be forged in a Boro Park kosher restaurant — but when the rising star is a Belz Hasid, there is no more fitting a forum. And that's how the deal was inked when 28-year-old Brooklyn born and raised tenor Shulem Lemmer was signed to the prestigious Universal Music Group, it was announced this week.

Later this year Decca Gold, an imprint of Universal Music Group's Verve Label Group, will release Lemmer's first album, "The Perfect Dream." Two haunting tracks are already available, "Bring Him Home" from the hit Broadway musical "Les Miserables," and the traditional Jewish anthem, "Jerusalem of Gold." With a soaring symphony accompanying his versatile vocals, the songs' divergent provenance perfectly showcases his eclectic taste.

In conversation with The Times of Israel on Thursday, Lemmer said that even more gratifying than having a dream realized, is his sheer delight over the thought of reaching people beyond his Boro Park community.

"It's really exciting. I have a platform to reach different people from different backgrounds. Music is a door opener; it's a dialogue, it's a conversation. We have much more in common than we have things that divide us," Lemmer said in a telephone interview.

Lemmer's mainstream discovery was a case of karmic kismet.

Graham Parker, president of Universal Music U.S. Classical and Decca Gold, stumbled on videos of Lemmer performing. He was immediately mesmerized.

"I just looked at it with amazement. Basically I couldn't believe it… When I heard it I could tell he knew what he was doing. He had a glint in his eye and he was in command. Vocally he is incredibly strong," Parker told The Times of Israel.

Parker knows talent. He'd worked as a part-time cantor in his synagogue, trained as a flautist and pianist. And before joining Universal Music Group in 2016 he was general manager of the classical music station WQXR and The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space and a Senior Vice President of New York Public Radio.

As he said, "I know a good voice when I hear it."

Parker tracked Lemmer down via his website. The two met in Boro Park in a kosher restaurant and quickly concluded there was the possibility to do something unique.

"The first time I met him [Lemmer] I asked him if he could sing in English. I mean of course he could sing in English, but if he was interested in singing in English. He said, 'Despite how I look, yes I am,'" Parker said.

Lemmer looks like a typical Belz Hasid. Traditionally, the community speaks in Yiddish and men wear large fur hats called streimels on Shabbat and on special occasions. Women are modest and largely kept out of the limelight. In one London community, there was even a short-lived proposal that women should give up driving.

The insular ultra-Orthodox denomination is a lesson of resilience. Founded in 1817, the Galicia-based sect was all but wiped out in the Holocaust. Today, Belz has one of the largest Hasidic communities, with a home base in Jerusalem and satellite centers in England, Belgium, Canada, New Jersey and New York. The current leader is Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, who took the helm in 1966.

Although those living outside the religious world are just getting to know Lemmer's voice, he's been singing for as long as he can remember.

"I grew up with music. My mother was always playing contemporary Jewish music in the house. My father played cantorial music. So it was a good mix for young ears," he said.

Lemmer also had has ample opportunities to perform — at family weddings and as a featured child soloist in his community. While living in Israel for six-and-a-half years he had the chance to record with an adult chorus and upon his return to the US, he joined the prestigious Shira Choir where he quickly became a soloist.

Eventually, despite his parochial upbringing, he started listening to secular opera, particularly Luciano Pavarotti. He quickly moved to Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Andrea Bocelli and easy listening baritone Josh Groban.

"There is a perception that Hasidic people won't listen to that music, and many typically won't. I started listening to it much later and I truly enjoy so many different genres of music," he said.

Careful to warm his voice every day, Lemmer said he has never had professional voice lessons. Instead he studies his favorite vocalists. The thought of someday collaborating with one of them "is still a dream. I have a big list of people I'd love to sing with."

Jon Cohen, the international award-winning producer and arranger renowned for his contributions to the Classical Crossover genre will produce the album. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will accompany the singer.

"Shulem's palate of sounds is absolutely extraordinary and he is the first artist that I have worked with that can authentically and seamlessly move from a classical vocal style to a soul singer. It's a dream to get a talent like him in front of a microphone," Cohen said in a statement.

Lemmer's first social media outing will be on July 24 when the 92nd Street Y in New York City hosts him in a Facebook Live event. After that Universal's Parker said he wants to introduce Lemmer to a wider audience.

For Lemmer, taking his music to the next level has been both humbling and inspiring.

"It's been about communicating and sending a positive message. I can stick to who I am and my values. I am staying true to myself and who I am – I am first a proud Jew. I am also a singer," Lemmer said.



Thursday, June 28, 2018

Volunteers rescue Jewish headstones used to pave street in western Ukraine 

Volunteers have rescued dozens of Jewish headstones used to pave a street in the western Ukrainian city Lviv.

"The whole street is made from matzevot," Sasha Nazar, director of the Lviv Volunteer Center of the Hesed Arieh All-Ukrainian Jewish Charitable Foundation, told Jewish Heritage Europe, using the Hebrew word for gravestones.

He said he was notified about the discovery last week, after city workers began road work on the street, vul. Barvinok in central Lviv. The Lviv Volunteer Center organized volunteers to work at the site this week to rescue the headstones.

Nazar estimated that there could be up to 100 headstones under the stretch of road, and maybe more. Photos show them lying flat and closely packed, some face down and some face up. They had been covered over by the road surface. Many of the stones appeared to be intact. Volunteers said most seem to date from the first part of the 20th century.

"This is the biggest discovery of matzevot in Lviv [used as paving] I can remember," Nazar said.

He said the stones will be transported to the Yanovskoye Jewish cemetery, where more than a dozen gravestones rescued from the street in 2010 and 2017 were taken.

Jewish cemeteries were demolished and used as quarries to pave roads and for other construction projects, both during World War II under the Nazis and during the post-war Soviet period, in Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, and elsewhere.

"This stretch of vul. Barvinok appears to be completely paved with Jewish headstones," Marla Raucher Osborn, an American who lives in Lviv, told JTA.

Osborn and her husband Jay are among the volunteers working to remove the stones. They together head Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, a Jewish heritage project in her ancestral town. She noted that during World War II "there were Gestapo residences on this street and Jewish labor was requisitioned to pave the roads with headstones stolen from the Jewish cemeteries."

On Thursday, dozens of volunteers braved rainy conditions to join the fourth day of the rescue effort.



Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Meet The Hasidic Jew Who Is Key To China-U.S. Trade 

Reb Moyshe (Mitchell) Silk is not only the first Hasidic Jew to hold a US Administration senior slot, but is key to ongoing trade negotiations between the US and China, a new profile in Mishpacha reports.

Silk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, is an expert in Chinese law and finance. Before assuming his current role, he served as a senior partner at international law firm Allen & Overy, spending a decade in their Hong Kong office.

In October, Silk was sworn in on his ancient Tikkun Korim; it originally belonged to Rebbe Mordechai of Nadvorna, and came from the ancestral town of Silk's grandfather, Mishpacha reported.

In his work overseeing the Treasury's Office of Investment, Energy, and Infrastructure, Silk is responsible for creating and implementing international investment policy for America. Additionally, he designs international programs for the export of U.S. infrastructure and energy.

Under President Trump, the United States has sought to to address the U.S. trade deficit with China, broaden market access for American firms in China, and protect intellectual property.

"Addressing these issues will ensure a fair and reciprocal trade relationship, benefit the global economy, create more jobs for US workers, provide greater access to US investors to capitalize on opportunities in the China market, and protect US innovation and creativity," Silk told Mishpacha.



Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish school blacked out bare wrists and Picasso pictures in textbooks, Ofsted inspectors find 

An Orthodox Jewish school censored bare wrists and ankles in its textbooks, Ofsted inspectors found as they downgraded it to “inadequate”.

Teachers at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School in Hackney, east London also redacted passages from texts including Sherlock Holmes and a historical book titled Elizabethan England.

The state school, which has been put into special measures following a damning Ofsted report, blacked out paintings by Picasso and pictures where men and women appeared together.

Inspectors said that the redactions were “detrimental to pupils’ learning” and meant they were disadvantaged compared to their peers at other schools.

 The school’s safeguarding record was also criticised, as helpline numbers – meant for students seeking independent confidential advice - had been redacted from books.  Sex and relationship education was also not provided by the school, and most of the personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons were taught through a religious curriculum, inspectors said. 

Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls School, which educates girls from the ultra-Orthodox Charedi community in Stamford Hill, does not prepare pupils adequately for life in modern Britain, Ofsted found. 

Staff had "systematically gone through every book to blank out any bare skin on ankles, wrists or necks", inspectors said.

After inspecting the school in March, Ofsted found that: “Governors and the principal have enforced a policy of redacting texts, which limits pupils’ knowledge and understanding.

“For example, the majority of pictures in books on major artists such as Picasso had been blanked out. Photographs portraying men and women on the same page, for instance in a crowd, had been redacted.

“Paragraphs in English comprehension passages had been redacted. Whole chapters in some texts had been stuck together.

"For instance, in a text on Elizabethan England, leaders had redacted sections relating to the queen’s supremacy and the Puritan challenge."

Theo Bibelman, the chair of governors at the school, has accused Ofsted of “downplaying” the school’s academic achievements showing a “clear disrespect” for the Orthodox Jewish community.

 “This report says more about Ofsted than it does about our school. Just a few months ago the Hackney Learning Trust, judged the school to be outstanding and praised us for many of the aspects now deemed by Ofsted to be below standard,” he said.

“We were appalled at the way the Ofsted Inspectors treated our staff and students and we have made that clear to the relevant Government authorities.”

Mr Bibelman also claimed that Ofsted is pursuing a “secularist agenda” and is using “unfettered powers to force faith schools to comply with their agenda or fail”.

“It seems that unless we agree with secularist agenda of Ofsted London then we cannot comply with their inspection criteria,” he said.

“We are always striving to improve our school, and we continue to do so, but the nature of this inspection and the resulting report has led to us feeling part of a secularist plot.”



Monday, June 25, 2018

This Orthodox rabbi just took a job at an LGBT synagogue 

In many ways, Mike Moskowitz is a typical haredi Orthodox rabbi.

He wears a black suit and black hat. He sports a thick, curly beard beneath a closely shaved head. He peppers his speech with liturgical Hebrew and Yiddish words. He quotes from Jewish legal texts.

Moskowitz sometimes closes his eyes when he talks, swaying back and forth and rubbing his fingers together as if he’s engaged in deep Talmud study. He spent years upon years studying at traditional haredi yeshivas. Today he lives in Lakewood, a New Jersey shore town of some 100,000 residents well known for its largely haredi population.

On a recent weekday afternoon, Moskowitz is sitting in a Jewish study room at this city’s Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in front of shelves filled with tractates of the Talmud. But the rest of the setting is decidedly, um, unorthodox. The bathrooms around the corner are gender-neutral. A memorial plaque in the sanctuary pays tribute to those who have died in the AIDS epidemic. The prayer book, published specifically for this synagogue, includes a special prayer for the weekend of New York’s Pride Parade. Four rainbow flags hang in the lobby.

Most haredi rabbis probably would not take a job at a synagogue that serves New York’s LGBT community. Standard Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law strictly prohibit not only same-sex relations but gender fluidity and cross-dressing. But Moskowitz says his new job as CBST’s scholar-in-residence for trans and queer Jewish studies is a perfect fit.

Moskowitz, 38, says serving queer Jews is a fulfillment of his duty as an Orthodox rabbi, not a contradiction. To him, this job is simply the best way to help those in dire need.

“The religious community has a unique responsibility to provide sanctuary, a literal sanctuary for people who are searching,” he says. “How can we broaden the tent to allow people to feel communally engaged in and taking responsibility for their unique relationship with God?”

Moskowitz knows what it’s like to be an outsider. He grew up in a secular Jewish family in Virginia and encountered religious observance through USY, the Conservative Jewish youth group. He went on to study for four years each at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem and Beis Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, two prestigious haredi institutions, and work as a student advisor and leader of a Torah study program, or kollel, back home in Richmond.

Despite Orthodoxy’s clear boundaries around gender and sexual orientation, Moskowitz says compassion for people, no matter who they are, was built into his traditionalist education. His rabbis advocated “people being themselves in relationship with God.” That idea led him, in Richmond, to reach out to intermarried couples, despite Orthodoxy’s prohibition of interfaith marriage.

Moskowitz started counseling transgender Jews three years ago when he worked with Columbia University students on behalf of Aish Hatorah, an Orthodox outreach organization. He also met queer Jews while serving concurrently as rabbi of the Old Broadway Synagogue, which draws a diverse crowd as one of the only synagogues in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood. Around the same time, a close family member began a gender transition, giving Moskowitz close personal exposure to the transgender experience.

In December 2016, Moskowitz presented a sermon to the synagogue advocating acceptance of trans Jews — using an obscure 16th-century Torah commentary to make his point. At about the same time, he wrote a letter urging a Jewish day school not to expel a transgender student. Shortly after he was let go from both jobs — neither gave his LGBT advocacy as the official reason.

“It’s the holiest among us that are often the most vulnerable because their light is the brightest,”’ he said in the sermon, referring to the symbolism of the menorah’s candlelight. “To such an extent that some aren’t even aware that darkness exists. Are we going to protect that light?”

Moskowitz believes that Orthodox communities have much work to do in accepting LGBT members. While they claim to be warm, accepting places in theory, he says, they often fail to make space for Jews who are the most vulnerable or on society’s margins.

“There are absolutely ways that religion can be a system for oppression like all others,” he says. “When it comes to the theoretical, they’re quick to say ‘of course we should be inclusive.’ When it comes to the practical, there’s a huge gap between the ideal and the way in which it actually manifests.”

Moskowitz also says that normative Orthodoxy gets Jewish law wrong when it comes to transgender identity. He says, for example, that the biblical ban on cross-dressing is actually a prohibition on misrepresenting one’s gender identity — no matter what it is — through clothing.

And he says the Orthodox community places undue emphasis on gender and sexual prohibitions because of social norms. Instead, he says, the Jewish religious community should worry less about biblical injunctions and more about how to embrace transgender Jews so they don’t succumb to the transgender community’s high suicide rate.

“Transgender as an awareness is just a presence of understanding,” he says. “There’s no prohibition to acknowledge the reality of something when it comes to one’s identity. If a person says about themselves ‘this is who I am,’ it’s not a space of choice.”

After leaving Columbia, Moskowitz served as senior educator for Uri L’Tzedek, an Orthodox social justice group. He also began blogging for Keshet, a Jewish LGBT organization, and even shaved his beard for a time so he could fit in better with a more liberal crowd.

He became connected to Congregation Beit Simchat Torah when he met its senior rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum: Both were arrested in January at the U.S. Capitol for protesting on behalf of immigrants. Hired by the synagogue on May 1, Moskowitz serves a dual function: He connects the Jewish LGBT experience to the traditional Jewish texts he has spent decades studying, and counsels Orthodox LGBT Jews and their families.

On the day he spoke to JTA, he also had phone conversations with three parents of transgender youth.

“He’s already working overtime,” Kleinbaum said. “The demand is like a floodgate has opened. People are reaching out to him for pastoral help. Their kids are trans, they are trans, they haven’t had an [observant] rabbi to talk to who hasn’t said to them something besides ‘you’re going to …’”

Moskowitz still faces tension between his professional and personal lives. Living in Lakewood, he receives hate mail due to his work, and has been ostracized from synagogues and other institutions there.

But the rabbi appears to take it in stride. There is still a synagogue where he and his family are welcome. And the animosity he experiences, he says, is just a sliver of what transgender people have to deal with every day.

“Do the right thing, you end up in the right space, but it’s not geshmak,” he says of his Lakewood experience, usually a Yiddish word that means “delicious.” “But again, this is what trans folks feel going to the grocery store.”



Sunday, June 24, 2018

Milo Yiannopoulos tried to troll a Jewish journalist with Nazi symbols but it backfired on him 

Yiannopoulos bragged on Instagram and Facebook that he’d sent $14.88 to journalist Talia Lavin, who’d just resigned from the New Yorker magazine. The number 1488 is a combination of digits popularly used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis — 14 to represent the infamous “14 Words” (a mantra about securing “a future for white children”) and 88 to represent “Heil Hitler.”

Yiannopoulos, a former Breitbart editor who helped promote the racist alt-right in its infancy, has often played his bigoted actions off as ironic jokes. But all too often he ends up showing sympathy for old-school racist ideas and other types of prejudice. Case in point: directing Nazi symbolism at a Jewish woman.

Lavin had become something of a popular target on the right. Earlier in the week, the New Yorker fact checker erroneously speculated on Twitter that an employee for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement had been photographed sporting a tattoo of a Nazi Iron Cross on his elbow. The tattoo, his agency later explained, was a "Titan 2" symbol of the Marines platoon with which he served in Afghanistan.

Lavin deleted her tweet and apologized to the employee. But her error became fodder for an array of conservative and far-right figures. The error was splashed across conservative media and Lavin was targeted by antisemitic trolls. An epithet-filled post about her on the racist Daily Stormer website eventually made it to the first page of Google search results for her name.

Talia Lavin tweet about PayPal
On Thursday, June 21, Lavin announced that she’d resigned from the New Yorker over the matter. She also posted a link on Twitter to her PayPal account because, as she put it, “sending money to a fat unemployed Jew is an excellent way to piss off nazis.”

Yiannopoulos took the bait, sending her $14.88 a short time later.

But Lavin quickly turned the antisemitic prank around on Yiannopoulos. She said on Twitter that she forwarded the cash — plus a penny of her own — to Make the Road New York, an organization that helps immigrant and working class communities.

Yiannopoulos’s gesture also prompted at least a couple of people on Twitter to send Lavin small amounts of money that were symbolic of other things that might be hard for the alt-right to stomach: $19.45 for the 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany and $19.64 for the 1964 Civil Rights Act.



Saturday, June 23, 2018

If FL Town Bends Rules for Orthodox Jews, Satanist Will React with “Giant Dongs” 

Under Jewish law, on the Sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night), you’re not supposed to carry any of your possessions between private domains and public domains. You can’t carry things from inside your house to outside of it.

But what if you want to take your baby to synagogue? Or you need to move your car out of the driveway, but it requires taking your keys outside? You can’t do it. Jewish law forbids it.

But Orthodox Jews figured out a loophole. All they have to do is turn a “public” domain into a “private” one and problem solved! They accomplish this by creating what’s known as an eruv (AY-roov).

An eruv is essentially a gated community built using poles and string. You put up the poles all around a city, connect them with a string, and you’ve created a brand new giant private domain. Orthodox Jews can roam and carry items freely within that space, even on the Sabbath!

(We can have a separate debate over whether or not God sees through that little trick…)

Here’s the problem, though: In some communities, Orthodox Jews have been building eruvs on public property. In some cases, they’ve tied the string directly on government-owned utility poles. It’s a religious accommodation that church/state separation advocates say is illegal.

In Hallandale, Florida, rabbis are trying to create an eruv by a beach. According to the Sun-Sentinel, “They want to install nine poles at two beachfront parks so they can encircle the condos where congregants live.”

It’s not all frivolous. One rabbi said his four-year-old daughter is in a wheelchair and eruvs are needed to move her around on the Sabbath. But if it’s so damn important, then just do it. I have a hard time generating sympathy for people who refuse to help themselves because of arbitrary religious restrictions.

In any case, the problem for Orthodox Jews is that local ordinances prevent anyone from installing poles in city-owned parks. And the city has no desire to bend that rule for anybody.

“I’m not telling them they can’t build an eruv,” [City Attorney Jennifer] Merino said. “The commission would have to waive that rule on the books. Once that rule is waived for one party, it makes it more difficult for us to decline other requests.”

Mayor Keith London said waiving the rules for the eruv would set the city up for other religious requests that might not be so tame.

“If we open up public property for one, we open up public property for all,” he said during a recent meeting. “I’m not comfortable with opening it for all.”

That alone is good reasoning. But the city officials have another reason to avoid giving Orthodox Jews an exemption from the law: Chaz Stevens is waiting in the wings.

Stevens is a local Satanic activist who has erected Festivus poles and Distress-ivus poles (that look like Donald Trump). He’s placed an image of an upside-down butt-plugged Jesus outside a local city hall. He hired someone to wear a costume of a giant phallus with Trump’s head before a presidential debate.

He’s a provocateur. And the potential eruv means he’s coming up with his own alternatives:

Stevens said he plans to “come to town with a platoon of giant dongs” should the eruv win approval, one for each of the nine poles.

(Has any reporter ever come to work with the expectation that she would write that sentence before going home?)

Stevens, who also runs an emotional animal support site, says it’s all in the spirit of the First Amendment.

If the eruv is approved, we could soon see a platoon of dongs in addition to lawsuits from groups that work on church/state separation cases.

All the more reason to just let the rules stay as they are. Let the Orthodox Jews deal with the problem they created for themselves.



Friday, June 22, 2018

Chester group sponsors ward session 

Founders of a citizens group pushing wards as a way to head off potential bloc-vote power of a Hasidic Jewish development under construction said Thursday they're planning for a mid-October referendum.

The group, Preserve Chester, sponsored a session Thursday night on ward conversion with local government expert Gerald Benjamin of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz. After the event, Kristi Greco, one of the Preserve Chester co-founders, said they had already collected 102 of the 187 signatures required to mount the election.

"We're going to have that election," said Steve Keahon, the other co-founder. "Dr. Benjamin's talk tonight was a good foundation."

Like the vast majority of towns in New York state, Chester's four council members and the supervisor are elected at large. The planned 431-home Greens at Chester development is expected to bring in about 3,000 Hasidic Jewish residents. Preserve Chester is looking to diffuse that potential bloc-vote power by splitting the town into wards.

The development is under construction on a site north of West Avenue and west of the Whispering Hills subdivision. The first houses are expected to go up in the spring.

Benjamin handed out a study that said Greens at Chester would add about 1,000 voters to Chester's existing voter rolls of about 11,300, with town and village combined. That's an increase of about 12 percent, Benjamin's figures said.

In his talk, Benjamin said Hasidic Jewish voters tend to vote at high rates, vote in a bloc, directed by religious community leadership, and are highly focused on local issues, like water and sewer service.

Benjamin, who is Jewish and said he's experienced anti-Semitism, said it shouldn't be considered bigotry to have experience-based concerns about the possible consequences of Hasidic influence over a community's politics.

Benjamin listed towns in New York: Ramapo, Blooming Grove and Mamakating, with growing Hasidic Jewish populations, which have adopted ward systems. Banjamin's consultants helped Blooming Grove develop its ward system. Blooming Grove had its first elections by wards in November.

"I think wards is the only solution," said Bruce Green, a 34-year town resident who lives in the Whispering Hills development right next to where Greens at Chester is going up. "They (Hasidic communities) don't play the game fair."

But Chester Supervisor Alex Jamieson said Preseve Chester is moving too quickly. "There needs to be more education," Jamieson said after Benjamin's talk. Blooming Grove went from four council members to six. "I'm not thrilled with going to six," Jamieson said. "That would be too many for this town."

In Blooming Grove, the supervisor is still elected at large.



Thursday, June 21, 2018

Madison Realty Capital Provides $55M for Bed-Stuy Mixed-Use Development 

Madison Realty Capital has provided a $55 million first mortgage construction loan to facilitate the completion of a planned interconnected three-building mixed-use condominium project at 948 Myrtle Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, the firm announced yesterday.

The loan refinances and replaces existing debt on the development and will go toward the completion of the 214,487-square-foot project as well as fund any additional costs, according to a press release from MRC. A spokesman for the company declined to provide the name of the borrower, although a source with knowledge of the deal confirmed to Commercial Observer it was landlord Isaac Schwartz, the owner of Pacific Management.

"This opportunity came to MRC because of our existing relationship with the borrower and their confidence in our ability to rapidly and successfully execute our lending transactions," Josh Zegen, the co-founder and managing principal of MRC, said in a prepared statement. "We're pleased to once again deliver financing to this quality sponsor and eager to see the completion of this development, which will bring much needed new residential and retail offerings to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood."

The Real Deal was the first to report on the deal.

In December 2017, MRC provided a $15 million, floating-rate bridge loan to Cornell Realty Management to help finance the early stages of the development, which will include retail frontage along Vernon, Throop and Myrtle Avenues, as CO first reported. At the time of the bridge financing, Zegen told CO that MRC's typical gap loan earns an interest rate between 8 and 11 percent and range from one to three years.

Cornell purchased the three vacant lots on which the project stands in December 2014 for $16.5 million, funding the purchase with a $13 million loan from Hudson Capital Realty, according to New York City Department of Finance records. The development sits on three adjacent sites encompassing a 30,000-square-foot lot—at 936 Myrtle Avenue, 948 Myrtle Avenue and at 258-264 Throop Avenue.

Two of the three buildings will be nine stories tall and comprise 77 condo units across 118,746 square feet and will house a 20,300-square-foot ground-floor retail condo. The third building will rise five stories and comprise 24 affordable rental units, including five studio apartments, seven one-bedroom units and 12 two-bedroom units, according to MRC.

New York City Department of Buildings permits issued in October 2017 and property records detail a six-story project that will include rental and condo units, ground-floor retail as well as a 59-space subterranean parking garage—which will be located below the two interconnected sites that will host the nine-story portion of the development, according to information from MRC.

The developer has completed all demolition, excavation and foundation work and plans to officially finish construction within the next two years, according to information from MRC.

Schwartz is also pursuing approval for additional floor area ratio through NYC Housing Preservation and Development's Inclusionary Housing program and the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health program, which financially incentivizes the use of grocery tenants.

In December 2017, Zegen told CO that the condos will be aimed squarely at serving Bed-Stuy's Hasidic community.

"Given that their average family is very large, there is a need for more housing for the community," Zegen said at the time. "It's not subject to…the condo market's" regular ups and downs.

Zegen acknowledged then that rising prices coupled with the growth of the Hasidic community have pushed Hasids to expand their residential footprint beyond their traditional South Williamsburg stomping grounds.

The market "is pushing the community further and further," Zegen said. "For them, they want to be around their own community." Special considerations in developing condo for Hasidic communities include apartments with more bedrooms and multiple kitchens for religious meals, Zegen said last year.

Cornell Realty could not immediately be reached for comment. MRC declined to comment beyond the press release. An official at Pacific Management said Schwartz was not immediately available for comment.



Head-on crash near CRMC claims life of camp counselor 

Inline image

A two-car crash on Harris-Bushville Road near Catskill Regional Medical Center claimed the life of one man.

State Police confirmed the death in the accident that occurred around 2 p.m. 

According to several Hasidic social media sites, the victim was Reuben Chaim Biller, 42, of Brooklyn, who was the head counselor at Camp Pupa in Swan Lake.

The condition of the other driver was not immediately available.

The road was closed due to investigation into the evening hours.

Assisting at the scene of the crash were State Police, Swan Lake and Liberty fire departments, Mobile Medic and Hatzolah Ambulance.



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Rockland residents engage in heated debate over non-public school educational standards 

Tuesday night's meeting of the Rockland County Legislature began on a dramatic note when the first resident to speak during scheduled public participation was forcibly removed from the building by police officers.  The man was quickly escorted out of the council chambers after spewing a series of derogatory remarks at Legislator Laurie Santulli, who recently proposed a memorializing resolution that would encourage the New York State Legislature to pass a bill that would require non-public schools to meet certain educational standards.

"I think it affects all of the state, New York City, Rockland, I think it is a big problem everywhere and all schools should be kept to the same level of rigor as public schools are, as home-schooled children are; why are private schools ignored. Why are children going to those schools being neglected."

Santulli said the measure would allow the state to have a little bit more power to go into private schools and check to see if they are providing secular education for their students."

Her proposed resolution failed in committee last week. 

During a heated public forum many members of the Hasidic community expressed strong disapproval of the resolution.  Some advocates of the yeshiva schools provided personal testimony in favor of their schools stating that they and their families had become successful members of the community thanks to their private education.   Other supporters decried the crime and violence that occurs in public schools and argued that it is a parent's right to have their child educated in a private seminary.  One passionate defender of the yeshivas said that the state is "shoving down their throats something they don't want," referring to the New York Government as a "nanny state" and claiming that the proposed bill would strip away religious freedoms from the community. 

Supporters of the resolution maintained that the bill was by no means an attack on any specific community and that upholding education standards is of paramount importance. 

Jackie Drexler, a local music teacher, told the legislature that she once worked with an orthodox child "who did not know a word of English" while other citizens echoed concerns that some private schools, including yeshivas, might not be meeting state education standards.

Santulli said that those who believe the bill to be an attack on the community are "reading it the wrong way and interrupting it wrong, that it's about parent choice; it's not.  It has nothing to do with what schools there going to." She and other proponents of the bill argue that is a necessary measure which will help ensure that all of New York's children receive a quality education. 

Legislator Aron Wieder denounced the resolution claiming the measure "has nothing to do with education" and is instead "a continuous, sinister campaign to besmirch and delegitimize Hasidic Jews in Rockland County."



Monroe man pleads guilty to voter fraud in Bloomingburg 

A consultant to and co-defendant of real estate developers Shalom Lamm and Kenneth Nakdimen has pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to corrupt the electoral process, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Volvy "Zev" Smilowitz, 29, of Monroe, took the plea on Monday in U.S. District Court in White Plains, and sentencing was set for Oct. 24.

Prosecutors say the three men sought to build and sell real estate in Bloomingburg, with the hope of making "hundreds of millions of dollars." By late 2013 the Chestnut Ridge condo project, geared toward Hasidic Jewish buyers, was still under construction and mostly uninhabitable, and local opposition was growing. Prosecutors say the trio chose to co-opt the March 2014 village election instead of trying to advance their project by legitimate means.

The men developed and implemented a plan to register voters who did not actually live in the little village, with the goal of electing village board members favorably disposed toward Lamm and Nakdimen's development plans. The men conspired to falsely register voters, some of whom had never even visited Bloomingburg, and to stage apartments to create the appearance that people lived there. They backdated leases and even put furniture, toothbrushes and other furnishings in apartments.

Smilowitz and Lamm also offered "payments, subsidies and other items of value" to bribe non-residents to register to unlawfully vote in Bloomingburg prosecutors said.

"In the biggest federal voter fraud case in the modern era, Volvy Smilowitz admitted to taking part in a cynical scheme to rig an election in Bloomingburg," said Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a news release. "Those who conspire to corrupt the electoral process must and will be held accountable."

Lamm and Nakdimen pleaded guilty last year. Nakdimen was sentenced to six months in prison and Lamm to 10 months. Each of them was also sentenced to one year of supervised release, 400 hours of community service and a $20,000 fine.



Tuesday, June 19, 2018

'I Want to Kill All You Jews': Woman Arrested for Anti-Semitic Incident in UK 

A 47-year-old woman chased a group of children who had just exited a Synagogue in Stamford Hill, north London with a ten-inch knife, shouting “I want to kill all you Jews,” The Independent reported on Monday.

She reportedly intimidated over a dozen children aged between eight and 13 on June 17, in an incident which has shocked London’s Jewish community.

The woman was later tackled by volunteers from the Shomrim Orthodox Jewish neighborhood watch group, before police officers arrived and detained her on suspicion of a “racially aggravated public order” offense.

The area is home to Europe’s largest Hasidic Jewish community. Shomrim’s president, Rabbi Herschel Gluck said more needs to be done to tackle anti-Semitism in the UK.

“This is another worrying incident of knife crime in London coupled with hate/anti-Semitic crime. Much more needs to be done to tackle and stop this terrible scourge which is tragically running rampant in our city.”

'Anti-Semitism Isn't Prevalent in Labour Party', But Present in UK Society - Activist
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) confirmed the incident and said units were swiftly dispatched to the area after a woman was reported to be wielding a knife and behaving “erratically.” A Met spokesperson also stressed that the incident is not terror-related.

“At this time, the female remains in custody at an east London police station. She is expected to undergo a mental health assessment in due course. This incident is not terror-related,” an MPS spokesperson said.



Monday, June 18, 2018

New Memoir Shares Stories of Hasidic Boy and his Family 

Written by Chaim Linder and published by his son, the new book, "ANGELS ALWAYS COME ON TIME" (published by Lulu) is the memoir of a Hasidic boy coming-of-age in Jerusalem during the 1900s.

The early decades of the 20th century were a time of empire and war, when the old order was giving way to the new. The narrator Chaim, chronicles the lives and deaths of his parents, siblings, various relatives and friends. Their stories, personal, and unique, are part of the "grand sweep of history." They show the "unconquerable" spirit of men and women who, facing war, famine and destruction, strive to find haven, and a place for themselves in the world.

"The book, in action and theme, is both universal and timeless," Mark says. "A reading of today's news and events will remind the reader, in many ways, of the world of "Angels Always Come On Time."

About the Authors 
Chaim Linder was born in Jerusalem in 1907, one of seven children in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family. In 1929 after World War I and the Arab riots, he left Jerusalem for America. There, expecting to find gold at his feet, he encountered the harsh realities of the Great Depression. He taught himself English, became a tri-lingual linotypist. In New York, he met an émigré from Jerusalem. They married and moved to Brooklyn, where they raised a family of four sons. Chaim retired in 1972 and began working on his memoir.

Now, 20 years after his death, one of his sons, Mark Linder, a professional novelist, edited the manuscript, determined to bring the story of Chaim and his ancestors to life in "ANGELS ALWAYS COME ON TIME."



Sunday, June 17, 2018

Elite Hasidic Girls School Scrambles To Keep Lid On Sex Misconduct Scandal 

A copy of the letter sent to parents from Bais Sura’s principal, Rabbi Nuchem Klein. Rabbi Nuchem Klein, at the May meeting with Dov Hikind.

The principal of a prominent all-girls’ yeshiva in Brooklyn promised change after the school was rattled by an allegation of sexual misconduct by students against a long-time employee in May.

But in a letter sent to parents and in a phone interview with the Forward, the school’s longtime principal denied that any misconduct actually took place there or at its sister summer camp. He says the school will implement a new “protocol” to address future complaints that one expert says is too vague.

“There was never a problem at the school or at the camp,” said Rabbi Nuchem Klein, head of the Bais Sura school in Boro Park.

Klein claims that he only fired the employee, who is not Jewish, to satisfy angry parents and community members looking for a scapegoat.

“Since everybody went to blow it out of proportions, then I took it upon myself to take out this guy,” Klein said. “[There] was no evidence, was no witness, was nothing behind it.”

Klein refused to explain why the employee was fired if there was no evidence he did anything wrong, a stance that Dov Hikind, an Orthodox state lawmaker, called “sad.” The employee could not be reached for comment.

Bais Sura and its affiliated summer camp, Chayei Sura, are widely known in Hasidic Brooklyn. The school, with over 900 students K-12, has a reputation for good academics and prizing modesty. In April, the school was roiled by a recording on social media messaging platform WhatsApp that accused the employee of a history of misconduct — and Klein of covering up the alleged abuse.

Dov Hikind, a state assemblyman representing Boro Park, took up the parents cause and demanded Klein take action. The principal, who has been at the helm for decades, fired the employee later that day.

Shortly afterwards, Hikind says, several prominent Hasidic community members reached out to him to broker a meeting with Klein. In mid-May the two met at the home of Shiya Ostreicher, a prominent ultra-Orthodox political activist with strong ties to Albany.

The meeting led to Klein sending a letter to parents ostensibly addressing the issue, promising to implement a “protocol” to protect students. That includes having an “independent expert” with whom students’ could talk about any perceived abuse, and having teachers and staff go through “training.”

Hikind told the Forward on Thursday that more than a dozen Bais Sura parents had come to him in May, saying that they had brought accusations of sexual misconduct against the employee to Klein, who ignored them.

“This was not about a person, or two people,” Hikind said. “Something was wrong.”

Hikind said that in the meeting, Klein refused to admit he ignored the complaints, or that the complaints had merit.

Despite the principal’s efforts to play down the alleged misconduct, Hikind insisted that Klein’s willingness to meet with Hikind, and subsequently to send the letter announcing the “protocol,” was an “unprecedented” move in the cloistered world of ultra-Orthodox education. Hikind announced the meeting with Klein and the letter in a post on his official Facebook page Thursday.

“No one has ever done things like this publicly in the Haredi world,” Hikind said. “It is clearly an admission that something could have been done better.”

But in speaking to the Forward, Klein said that he was not admitting anything. He said that he only fired the employee to quell the backlash from parents.

The letter sent to Bais Sura parents is only three paragraphs long, and does not specify what kind of “independent expert” the school would employ, or what kind of training its staff would undergo. It also does not specify that the letter was prompted by concerns about sexual misconduct at Bais Sura. It states instead that community members met in response to parents’ concerns “in regard to the safety of their children entrusted to schools.”

Klein told the Forward that the school might pick the “independent expert” from among its current or former staff. He also said that he was going to wait until September, when the school year begins, to make any decisions about the planned “protocol.”

The vagueness of these pledges worried Asher Lovy, the director of community organizing at Za’akah, a group that promotes awareness of sexual abuse in the Hasidic community.

Lovy said that the “expert” Bais Sura hires needs to be a mandatory reporter — someone who is legally obligated to notify law enforcement about any allegation of sexual misconduct. He added that any training the staff undergoes should emphasize bringing such complaints directly to law enforcement, not only reporting them to Klein, and should include input from licensed mental health professionals.

“Unless they foster a culture within the school where students feel comfortable coming forward, then it’s really just a smokescreen to shield them from further accusations of abuse,” Lovy said of Klein’s letter.

The letter underwent several drafts over a few days before it was released, according to Shuly Halpert, an ultra-Orthodox education advocate who works in real estate and was present at the meeting. Halpert said that Hikind’s office first presented a version, which was countered with a version from Klein, leading to further revisions.

Halpert, who helps ultra-Orthodox children with special needs find placements in yeshivas, said that even though the resulting letter was vague, it was still a victory for the Hasidic yeshiva world. Prominent schools often have a lot of power and, at least in Bais Sura’s case, backing from prominent Hasidic leaders. Halpert added that the school is worth saving.

“There’s immense pressure from the parents to go into schools and turns desks upside down,” he said. “And I feel for the parents. But everything is a negotiation.”

Hikind said that despite Klein’s comments claiming nothing happened, he said he will still try to monitor Bais Sura’s planned “protocol.”

“No other school felt compelled to do this,” said Hikind. “Why is he doing it if nothing is wrong, if nothing happened? It’s really just sad.”



Saturday, June 16, 2018

When Leaving Your Religion Means Losing Your Children 

Chavie Weisberger was raised in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey, N.Y., and was forced to marry a man she barely knew when she was 19. The couple had three children, but when she began to question her faith and sexuality, she and her husband divorced – and she almost lost her children.

The case is highlighting how New York courts handle divorce and custody issues for the state's large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. While Weisberger's case was reversed on appeal last August – she has now regained full custody of her children – it brings to light the issues that arise when secular courts decide child custody in the religious community.

People who leave the Hasidic community are often shunned by their family and friends, but they also are often forced to fight for their children, says Lani Santo, executive director of Footsteps, a social services organization that provides social and financial services for those transitioning to a secular lifestyle.

"Time and time again, the argument of best interest of the child, as interpreted as maintain the status quo in their life, is what's being upheld above all else," she tells Here & Now's Robin Young. "I think, in a lot of the cases that we're seeing, judges are favoring issues of freedom of religion, and they're not necessarily looking at the First Amendment issue of freedom from religion."

In Weisberger's case, her ex-husband, Naftali Weisberger, sued for full custody in a secular Brooklyn court after family and friends revealed that Weisberg was allowing her daughters to wear pants and called her children by English nicknames, instead of their Hebrew names. Weisberger's ex-husband filed suit even though he had rarely seen his children in the more than three years since his divorce, he testified.

The judge ruled in her ex-husband's favor, upholding a religious court document Weisberger signed at the time of her divorce. In signing the document, Weisberg had agreed to raise her children according to Hasidic customs.

The agreement Weisberger signed in the beth din — the Jewish court – was legally binding when her husband sued for full custody because New York law views that document as a legal contract. The judge, Eric I. Prus, ruled that Weisberger had violated that contract by slowly removing her children from Hasidic life.

"We see this happening in almost every case of individuals who are choosing to leave, especially in Hasidic communities," Santo says. "There's almost always a contested divorce. And I think part of what's important to understand is that people are signing things that are not explained to them."

When civil courts decide custody disputes, the goal is usually to find a resolution that upends the child's life the least. In the case of ultra-Orthodox Jews, removing the child from religious life would have the most significant impact, the judge ruled. Judges who are elected in particularly strong ultra-Orthodox strongholds, such as Brooklyn, tend to give more weight to beth din agreements than others, New York family lawyers told The New York Times.

A divorce agreement signed in the beth din is considered a binding arbitration agreement in the eyes of the law, even though it was signed in religious court, says Kim Susser, a family law attorney with more than 25 years of experience in New York State.

She says women often lack legal representation in religious court because they don't think they need it or face barriers to access. Most Hasidic women have only a high-school education, lack a strong grasp of the English language and have very limited knowledge of life outside of the community. Susser says they are often willing to give up their legal rights just to obtain a religious divorce, or "get," as it's called in Jewish religious law.

The New York appellate court that heard Weisberger's appeal concluded that Justice Prus assigned too much importance to religion in his ruling, and he should have weighed other factors such as that Weisberger was the children's primary caretaker and that the kids were easily adjusting to the changes.

"While I do agree ... that we try to minimize stress and trauma from children's lives and keep things as stable as possible, in an ideal world, people wouldn't be married off at a really young age to someone they don't know before they have a chance to explore who they are," Weisberger says. "And so ideally, we wouldn't be in this position where children are now being raised by parents who have opposing values and lifestyles."

The court also said that the judge violated Weisberger's constitutional rights because she would have had to pretend to practice a religion in order to keep her children.

"It was very clear that the original decision flied in the face of the Constitution," Susser says. "Telling her that she has to dress in a certain way or behave a certain way is not constitutional. Analyzing religion to the extent that it happens in these cases is not constitutional," as courts are limited from doing so by the First Amendment.

Etty Ausch, another former ultra-Orthodox woman whose story is told in the Netflix documentary, One of Us, also lost custody of her children after Justice Prus ordered them to be cared for by relatives. In her custody hearing, she faced a series of religiously pointed questions including one about fuzzy socks she bought for her children: Were they related to Christmas because they were dotted with snowmen?

Ausch told The New York Times that she is still in the middle of her legal battle, but has taken a break because of the emotional toll.

"Ideally the courts should support navigating a way to support children to be living with both of their parents in their lives in as meaningful a way as possible," Weisberger says. "And children are smart, and they're resilient, and they're really capable of understanding these nuances of who their parents are."



Friday, June 15, 2018

Council of Torah Sages orders MKs to quit if draft law passes 

The Council of Torah Sages of Agudat Yisrael, the Hasidic faction in United Torah Judaism, ordered its representatives in the Knesset on Thursday to quit the coalition if the new draft law is passed, unless it is done in coordination with them and with their approval.
Members of the faction include Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman and Meir Porush and MKs Yisrael Eichler and Menachem Eliezer Moses.
However, the Lithuanian members of UTJ—MKs Moshe Gafni, Uri Maklev and Ya'akov Asher—as well as members of the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party Shas, are not bound by the decision.

The existing Israeli Defense Service Law expires in September after the High Court of Justice deemed it unconstitutional, and so the Knesset must pass an alternative law before then.

If a new law is not passed to regulate the exemptions of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, tens of thousands of them are expected to receive IDF draft orders.
A senior UTJ official said the party "will demand Prime Minister Netanyahu to have the state ask for a postponement from the High Court."

Agudat Yisrael's Council of Torah Sages, led by Litzman's rabbi the Rebbe of Ger Yaakov Aryeh Alter, ordered its MKs to work to change the existing bill proposal as well as ensure Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman maintains the authority to exempt yeshiva students from the IDF draft.

The main points of contention in the proposed legislation are the planned cuts to the yeshivot's budgets and the use of economic incentives to pressure the Torah study institutions to encourage enlistment.

The Agudat Yisrael rabbis are worried that if enlistment quotas are set too high, they won't be able to meet them, and so yeshiva students would be forced to enlist or otherwise be incentivized to join the army by the offered economic benefits.

The rabbis want to change the law to ensure that in any case, a yeshiva student would not be forced to leave the Torah study institution and put on uniforms.

Agudat Yisrael is hoping the Councils of Torah Sages of Degel HaTorah, the second faction that makes up UTJ, as well as that of Shas, adopt the Hasidic rebbes' decision as well.

The Lithuanian and Sephardic rabbis will likely have no choice but to fall into line, as otherwise they run the risk of being seen as "compromisers" by their voters on a topic of utmost importance to the ultra-Orthodox public.

The leaders of the Haredi parties are regularly faced with accusations by hardliners of being "moderates" (a derogatory word in the ultra-Orthodox society), who allow legislation that could fatally harm the world of Torah to pass.

Shas and UTJ therefore try to tread lightly—on the one hand be involved in formulating the legislation rather than allow their rivals to have the final word, while on the other hand trying not to play into the hands of the hardliners.

The Defense Ministry and IDF's joint committee for drafting members of the ultra-Orthodox community has recommended establishing new enlistment tracks designed to promote Haredi integration in the job market.

The committee also recommended expanding the sanctions imposed on defectors and draft dodgers.

In addition, the committee recommended imposing significant financial sanctions for failing to meet the enlistment goals and supported promoting benefits and rewards to all IDF soldiers.

One of the committee's comprehensive recommendations is to revoke the law amendment (of rewarding Haredi soldiers) if 85 percent of the enlistment goals are not met within three consecutive years.

Moreover, benefits and rewards will be given to all those who serve in the army in order to diminish the inequality in the Israeli society, and national service will also increase tracks suitable for Haredi needs while promoting their integration in the employment world.

The new recommendations revoke criminal sanctions, thereby enabling most of the Haredim to remain in their yeshivot. The new annual goals determined by the committee are similar to those existing so far and are not binding—such as the enlistment quota that has to be met.

The committee's recommendations were unanimous and were approved by the defense minister and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

The recommendations constitute the foundation on which the memorandum of the bill is currently being released to the public, prior to its presentation to the government and the Knesset.

The bill is supposed to be voted into a law by the end of the Knesset's summer session.



Thursday, June 14, 2018

U.S. Attorney's Office sues Woodcliff Lake over Orthodox religious land use dispute 

The U.S. Attorney's office has filed a civil lawsuit against Woodcliff Lake claiming the borough improperly denied over the course of nine years an Orthodox Jewish congregation's effort to expand with a larger house of worship.

Valley Chabad is a group affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, and part of its approach to worship is to host prayer, religious and social events along with bar and bat mitzvahs at a single location, according to the lawsuit. Valley Chabad operated in a 3,194 square foot building on a 1.27-acre site in Woodcliff Lake since 1998. The group held events at off-site rental spaces, moving its Torah for certain events. It dd not have a "mikvah," which is a ritual bath.

The site doesn't meet their needs, the lawsuit claims.

Valley Chabad began searching for new space in 2005. The lawsuit described three attempts the group to relocate.

Valley Chabad canceled a 2006 contract on a property after a borough council member expressed interest in the borough acquiring it by eminent domain.

The second deal went south when the borough expressed interest in changing zoning to allow the development of townhomes on land Valley Chabad had entered into a contract in 2011 to purchase. The seller of that property canceled the deal with Valley Chabad – the lawsuit claims it was because that seller could get more money from the developers of townhomes. The property now features townhomes.

Valley Chabad entered into a third contract in 2013 to purchase a property that the borough then targeted for use as open space, according to the lawsuit. The borough expressed interest in acquiring the property by eminent domain, Valley Chabad's contract was canceled and the borough bought the property in February.

In 2014, Valley Chabad applied to the borough zoning board to remove its existing building and replace it with a 17,728 square foot house of worship, which included a mikvah and space for community events, the lawsuit shows. The board held 18 hearings and Valley Chabad revised its application four times.

The board suggested six alternative properties: one wasn't in Woodcliff Lake, another wasn't large enough, one was on a wetland where building wasn't permitted, one wasn't suitable for people to walk to religious services and others weren't on the market, the lawsuit said.

The zoning board denied Valley Chabad's application, causing the group to lose money, the lawsuit said.

“Federal law protects all religious communities from discrimination and unlawful barriers when they seek to build a place of worship,” U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a release. “According to the complaint, the Borough of Woodcliff Lake imposed a substantial burden on Valley Chabad’s religious freedom by repeatedly meddling in its attempts to purchase property in the area and citing subjective and misleading reasons to justify denying its zoning application.”

An attorney for Woodcliff Lake disputed the claims in the lawsuit.

"There is no evidence to support the claim that borough officials did anything to interfere in the attempts by Valley Chabad to purchase other properties," Ronald Dario wrote in an email. "In fact, the borough has attempted to assist Valley Chabad by identifying other larger plots that can easily accommodate their needs.  For reasons unknown to the borough, Valley Chabad has walked away from other projects and failed to entertain the idea of building on approved locations within the borough, which were in conformity with the borough's land use regulations."



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Committee votes down resolution to enforce standards at private schools 

Rockland lawmakers narrowly voted down Tuesday a resolution that would have pushed for a mechanism to enforce state educational standards at private schools.

Legislators held a multi services committee meeting to discuss the resolution, which addresses concerns within the community that some Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish schools are not teaching substantially equivalent lessons compared to public schools. The concern is focused on yeshivas mainly in the East Ramapo Central School District area.

There is an existing state law that mandates private schools adhere to state educational standards. The failed resolution would have urged state leaders to pass bills in both the Assembly and the Senate to create a mechanism to allow the state to enforce educational standards at non-public schools.

Some within the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish community are concerned that state oversight could lead to government intrusion on religious freedom and forced assimilation.

"This is not to infringe on anybody's religious right, because again we do have private schools here such as Green Meadow Rockland Country School," says Legislator Laurie Santulli, who sponsored the bill. "The same idea is to see that they are receiving a rigorous education. Religion is not a factor in this."

The committee needed at least four votes in favor of the resolution for it to advance to the full legislature. Despite calls for the committee to push the resolution through, it failed by one vote.



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Airmont moves closer to zoning code update, lifting building moratorium 

Village officials are nearly ready to pull the trigger on approving an updated zoning code and lifting a thrice-extended building moratorium that some Hasidic Jewish residents find restrictive to their plans to expand their homes.

The final step in the process that began in October 2016 starts Tuesday night with a public hearing on the proposed zoning code changes before a subcommittee of the Comprehensive Master Plan Review Committee.

"We are in the home stretch," Mayor Philip Gigante said in an announcement to residents. "The comprehensive plan is complete and ready for adoption. The only thing left is amending and adoption of the zoning laws."

The updated zoning code being offered seems to offer more restrictions on the use of residential homes as houses of worship concerning the size of the dwellings, parking and other issues concerning gatherings in homes.

The mayor estimates the updated zoning code and lifting of the moratorium will be completed possibly on August 20 after the proposed changes are reviewed and the public can comment.

The Board of Trustees extended the moratorium for another three months into September for the third time on June 4.

A copy of the proposed zoning changes is available on the Airmont village website. Residents can send comments on the proposed update until noon June 13. The zoning committee will consider the comments for changes or inclusion into the proposals on June 14.

The next phase comes June 18 with a Board of Trustees public hearing to adopt the new comprehensive plan.  

Village officials will then review the zoning proposal and send it to the Rockland County Planning Board for comments. Gigante said the village expects the non-binding county agency to act within 30 days, with the village committee discussing any county recommendations during the week of July 23.

"We will then schedule the public hearing to adopt the zoning changes," Gigante said. "We may schedule a special meeting earlier to adopt, but our goal is to have the hearing on August 20 to adopt the changes and lift the moratorium."

The end of the moratorium can't come too soon for many of Airmont's residents, including Hasidic Jewish homeowners.

The village's previous zoning code had been approved in 2011, after a second round of federal litigation against the village concerning allegations of discrimination against Orthodox Jewish residents by denying dormitory housing. The village formed in 1991 and faced two initial lawsuits by Orthodox Jewish congregations and federal prosecutors.

The moratorium includes a hotly contested requirement that families who want home-improvement projects greater than 500 square feet obtain a permit.  

Members of the village's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community criticized the restriction and the moratorium as targeting them by preventing them from making kitchen, living and other improvements to their homes, which are needed to accommodate their larger families and religious practices. 

Some religious community members claim the village official and inspectors target them with strict zoning enforcement and laws on street parking, parades, house gatherings for religious purposes, and construction.

Yehuda Zorger called the village enforcement one-sided against Hasidic Jewish residents. He and others have strongly opposed the moratorium and village enforcement at board meetings. 

"They promised this moratorium would not be extended more than once," he said. 

Zorger said Gigante promised to consider extending the 500-square-foot limit on construction without a permit to 1,000 square feet to accommodate residents.

"The mayor never put the proposal up for a vote," he said. 

Orthodox and Hasidic Jews have bought properties in Airmont for several years, as well as Chestnut Ridge to avoid the high density housing in Monsey and New York City, including Brooklyn.

Even before the updated version, Rabbi Moishe Berger is claiming the village is violating his rights by requiring village permission to use his house for prayer sessions. 

His synagogue on Rustic Drive faces violations for operating without permits, including a certificate of occupancy. 

The Texas-based First Liberty Institute is representing the rabbi and has accused the village of discrimination, opening the door for another federal lawsuit.

"We are currently investigating a number of potentially illegal practices of the village," First Liberty general counsel Hiram Sasser said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, it appears that Airmont may have returned to its old ways of discrimination against the Orthodox Jewish community after the expiration of the consent decree entered against it as a result of the most recent Department of Justice litigation," Sasser said. 

Gigante and the village attorney declined to response. Officials usually don't respond to legal threats but Gigante has said the village treats all residents the same.



Monday, June 11, 2018

Hasidic-sect chief rips followers for admiring Israel 

The head of the Satmar Hassidic sect has accused his followers of increasingly admiring Israel for its military and political accomplishments, imploring them to maintain the Hasidic group's hardline anti-Zionism.

Addressing thousands of Satmar members at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum lamented what he called a "tremendous and terrible spiritual decline" among his followers.

"According to the rumors I heard, [people] are excitedly talking about the news of [the Israelis'] accomplishments, how smart they are, how they succeed politically and militarily, and about their heads of government," Teitelbaum told the crowd in an address in Yiddish on Sunday, according to a Hebrew translation from the Kann public broadcaster.



Sunday, June 10, 2018

Jewish N.Y.C. Politician Sparks Controversy With Gender-segregated Beach Days Plan 

A Jewish councilman’s plan to hold the first ever gender-segregated beach days in Brooklyn has drawn praise from religious groups and criticism from secular New Yorkers.

Last week, New York City Councilman Chaim M. Deutsch announced two free beach days on his Facebook page – June 29 for men and boys, and July 27 for women and girls – at a city beach on the Coney Island peninsula.

“For many New Yorkers, including religious Jews and Muslims who observe modesty laws, there isn’t an opportunity to utilize our City’s beautiful beaches,” he wrote. “I’m excited to offer the chance for EVERYONE to enjoy!”

Deutsch represents several southern Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Muslim and Orthodox Jewish populations, including Midwood, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Sheepshead Bay. He also chairs New York City Council’s Jewish caucus.

The events are scheduled to take place at a beach that belongs to Kingsborough Community College, which is part of the public City University of New York (CUNY) system. Local media reported that Deutsch is raising private funds to cover the $400 cost of renting the beach on the two dates.

He told the New York Post last Wednesday that because the beach would otherwise be closed on those days, he is hopeful to avoid a conflict with the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state at tax-funded institutions.

“I have a lot of Orthodox Jewish and Muslim constituents in my district who have never been able to go to the beach before,” the Brooklyn Democrat was quoted as saying.

“They’ve never been able to smell the beach, to walk in the sand. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beach,” he added.

Many constituents and Jewish groups reacted positively to Deutsch’s announcement. The United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn called them “commonsense accommodations” on its Twitter account, adding that “every community deserve[s] recreational opportunities.”

Other stakeholders condemned the plan, though. “What chutzpah,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told the Post. “People don’t have the right to impose gender discrimination on a city beach simply because it’s mandated by their religion.”

In a Facebook exchange on Deutsch’s original post, one woman commented that she saw something similar in Tel Aviv and thought it was a good idea.

“This is not Tel Aviv or even close to it,” another man responded. “And if you want something like that perhaps go there?”



Saturday, June 09, 2018

Suspect in killing of Jewish teen Susanna Feldman brought back to Germany 

A former Iraqi asylum seeker arrived by plane back in Germany on Saturday after admitting raping and murdering a German Jewish teenage girl, German and Iraqi officials said.

“I am delighted the suspect sought by justice is back in Germany,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer in a statement, adding he hoped Ali Bashar, 20, would now “rapidly” face trial.

Bashar is alleged to have strangled 14-year-old Susanna Maria Feldman after raping her in the German city of Wiesbaden.

He was detained in northern Iraq on Friday following an outcry in Germany after police hunting the fugitive admitted he had fled with his family.

Despite the absence of a formal extradition treaty between Iraq and Germany, he was put on a Lufthansa flight to Germany from the Kurdish regional capital Erbil, German media reports said.

An autopsy showed Feldman was the victim of a sexual and violent attack, Reuters said, quoting police saying there was no evidence her religion had been a factor.

He was expected to face a remand hearing after landing in Frankfurt, the reports said.

The case has put renewed pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government over the decision to open Germany’s borders at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015, resulting in the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers.

Demonstrators held a minute’s silence in cities across Germany on Saturday, notably in the teenager’s hometown of Mainz.

On Friday, a senior official in the autonomous Kurdistan region had told AFP that authorities were working to transfer Bashar quickly back to Germany to face trial.

“During interrogation following his arrest, the young man originally from Kurdistan confessed to killing the German girl,” said Tariq Ahmad, police chief for the Dohuk province of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“He said that the two of them were friends but that they had a dispute, and that he killed her when the girl threatened to call the police,” Ahmad said.

Bashar arrived in Germany in 2015 along with his parents and five siblings.

He should have been deported after his request for asylum was rejected in December 2016, but he obtained a temporary residence permit pending his appeal.

During this time, he got into trouble with the police on several occasions, including for fights, alleged robbery and possession of an illegal switchblade.

He was also among the suspects for the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl living in the same refugee shelter.

Seehofer said Bashar’s return was but “small consolation” for the victim’s parents who he said were in his thoughts.

Roses cover the photo of the 14-year-old Susanna Maria Feldman killed in Wiesbaden, Germany, Friday, June 8, 2018. A young Iraqi man suspected in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old schoolgirl in western Germany has been arrested in his homeland. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)
“For the state of our society it is important these crimes be cleared up and that the suspects be brought to justice,” he added.



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