Friday, November 30, 2018

Two Orthodox Jewish boys attacked in Brooklyn in separate incidents 

Two Orthodox Jewish boys were attacked in Brooklyn in one day.

A passerby repeatedly punched a 9-year-old in the face on Sunday evening in the Williamsburg neighborhood, police told the New York Post. The boy was walking with his mother when the attack occurred in the heavily Hasidic area.

Half an hour later, a 12-year-old boy was attacked by four or five males about a block away from the previous incident. The men pushed him to the ground and punched him, authorities told the Post.

In both incidents the attackers fled, and neither of the boys required medical attention. Both incidents are being investigated by the New York Police Department's Hate Crimes Task Force.

Earlier this month, the NYPD circulated a surveillance video of a group of preteens and teens that it says has carried out a series of anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn, including throwing a metal pipe through the window of a synagogue, pushing a 10-year-old Hasidic girl, and knocking the hat off a 14-year-old Hasidic boy.

Last month, two Orthodox Jewish men were beaten in Brooklyn in two days.



Thursday, November 29, 2018

Jewish journalist handcuffs self to Twitter HQ 

Wearing a yellow star and carrying a bullhorn, conservative citizen journalist Laura Loomer handcuffed herself to the front door of Twitter’s New York headquarters on Thursday to protest not only her being permanently banned from Twitter, but also alleged widespread censorship and banning of conservatives on the social-media platform.

Loomer contends Twitter employs a “double standard,” allowing the likes of openly anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan while banning her.

“Twitter is upholding sharia when they ban me for tweeting facts about sharia law,” Loomer said in a Periscope livestream that began at about 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

“I’m here today to stand in solidarity with the millions of conservatives around the world who have been silenced,” she added, referring to figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos, Roger Stone and Alex Jones.

Earlier this month, Twitter permanently banned Loomer for “hate speech” against Minnesotan Democratic Representative-elect Ilhan Omar.

“I want my Twitter,” she told NYPD negotiators. “Twitter and Facebook have silenced me.”

Loomer said she would not remove the handcuffs until Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reinstates her account.

Although a Twitter spokesman stated, “We have notified the relevant authorities who are responding” to Loomer’s protest, and that “law enforcement is taking the lead,” Twitter later announced it would not press charges against Loomer and that she could stay chained to their door as long as she wanted.

Loomer and her aides had started the protest by affixing giant side-by-side replicas of tweets — one by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, explicitly comparing Jews to “termites,” with the caption “not banned.” The other poster was a screenshot of the tweet that got Loomer banned for life from Twitter, in which she characterized Muslim Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar of being “pro-Sharia” and “anti-Jewish,” along with the caption, “banned.”

Loomer, one hand handcuffed to Twitter’s door, yelled into her megaphone: “Twitter is essentially upholding Sharia when they decide to ban me for posting facts about Islam. I’m willing to go to jail to fight for my country, to fight for the rights of the millions of conservatives around the world that are being censored and controlled by people in this building.”



Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Chabad launches fundraising effort to save Towson outreach building in land use case, citing 'discrimination' 

A student Jewish outreach organization in Towson has launched an online fundraising effort accompanied by a video, alleging a legal ruling ordering its building to be torn down is "discriminatory" – something the plaintiffs in the case deny.

Hasidic Jewish organization, Friends of Lubavitch, which runs the Jewish outreach program, Chabad, serving Towson-area college students, built the building addition in 2014 and has been locked in a legal battle with the community over zoning and land covenants ever since.

After a 2017 Circuit Court ruling to tear the structure down and a series of appeal decisions affirming that ruling, Chabad is taking the case public with a crowdfunding page on the website Charidy. A Change.org petition also has more than 7,000 signatures as of Nov. 27.

House or religious center? Debate over Chabad of Towson facility spans more than 4 years
"Eighty years after Kristallnacht, [a night in November 1938 during which German Nazis torched synagogues and vandalized Jewish homes, killing 100] a Rabbi's home and a home for thousands of Jewish students is slated for destruction," the organization said in a document attached to the fundraising page. "For a clearly discriminatory ruling like this to be administered in the 21st century is chilling."

Robin Zoll, next-door neighbor to Chabad and the lead plaintiff in the case, vehemently denied the allegation that the case had anything to do with discrimination, saying it is strictly a "land use issue."

"I've lived in this community for more than 50 years, and I have a very good reputation, and I am not an anti-Semite or an anti-anything," Zoll said. "It's an absolute besmirchment of everything that I am."

Comparing the case to Kristallnacht, she said, especially upset her.

Paul Hartman, a plaintiff in the case as part of the neighborhood umbrella group Towson Communities Alliance, also denied that the case has anything to do with religion.

"Something I told folks when we first started meeting: 'Imagine, whatever faith you are, imagine if it were your faith involved in this. What would your opinion be?'" Hartman said. "As far as I'm concerned, I would have the same opinion."

The case, Hartman said, is about the use of the land in Aigburth Manor, a quiet residential neighborhood adjacent Towson University. Chabad purchased a small house on the street in 2008 according to property records, and Rabbi Menachem Rivkin and his wife Sheiny Rivkin moved in.

Aigburth residents named as liaisons for Chabad of Towson project
Then in 2014, the Rivkins and Chabad received a permit to build a residential addition and built the current structure, a 6,614-square-foot building attached to the original 2,200-square-foot home.

Two separate legal issues with the property have snaked their way through the judicial system since the structure was built.

Firstly, a land covenant in the 1950 deed requires the building to be set back 115 feet from the road — the addition is less than 60 feet back. Circuit Court of Baltimore County, Judge Susan Souder ruled in April 2017 in favor of Zoll, saying the building violated the covenant. Judge Kathleen Cox, who took over the case after Souder retired, has upheld the order and worked with receiver Deborah Dopkin in enforcing it.

Secondly, the land is zoned for residential use. Neighbors alleged — and the Baltimore County Board of Appeals agreed — that Chabad built the addition under pretense of using it as a residence while actually planning to use it as a community center.

Aigburth Road project raises question: Is it a house or religious building?
The fundraising page calls the building a "religious hospitality center" and property records show the land is listed as a tax-exempt religious institution. But the Rivkins have maintained in court that the primary purpose for the addition was as a residence, to provide more space for their growing family of eight.

In a decision in the covenant case on Nov. 2, Cox ordered Chabad to deposit funds for razing the building into Dopkin's trust account within 45 days of receiving the final demolition cost estimate.

Also on Nov. 2, Cox denied a proposal to move the addition backward to comply with setback rules, saying that would "authorize the continuation of a commercial use that has been found to be non-compliant with restrictions on the property."

Chabad's fundraising page has a goal of raising $250,000. As of Nov. 27, it had raised more than $128,000 from 960 donors.

According to the fundraising page, the funds are being used to chart and implement the "best path forward," working with attorney Nathan Lewin, whose law firm website lists experience in arguing "religious liberty litigation" before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Paths forward, the page continues, include paying for a settlement with neighbors, paying to move the house if the court allows it, or paying the cost of destroying the building and rebuilding.

"In all scenarios, these funds will ensure there is a home away from home for the Jewish students of Towson University and Goucher College," the website says.

County Councilman David Marks, representing Towson, said he is trying to work with both the neighborhood and Chabad to come up with a solution, which could include relocating the center.

Raze Towson Chabad building – or move it backward? A judge will decide
"Some of the rhetoric has been misleading and unhelpful, and I hope it can be toned down all parties work together toward a positive outcome," Marks said.

Religious institutions and zoning issues
Chabad is the latest religious institution to tangle with the county over zoning issues. Four other institutions are involved in federal lawsuits alleging county officials discriminated against them in denying their requests to build worship facilities.

Hunt Valley Baptist Church sued after the county's Board of Appeals ruled in 2016 against a request to build a 1,000-seat sanctuary, classrooms and gym on a 17-acre farm on Shawan Road. The church needed a special exception in order to build a church on a property with conservation zoning.

Baltimore County faces federal lawsuits alleging religious discrimination in zoning cases
ARIEL Russian Community Synagogue, which primarily serves Russian-speaking Jews, bought property in Pikesville to use as a synagogue and home for a rabbi, but the Board of Appeals ruled against the plan earlier this year.

At Jesus Christ is the Answer Ministries, pastor Lucy Ware sued after being denied variances to use a home in Milford Mill as a church. The case went to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, where the church lost. The church filed a different plan, but was turned down again by the county. A federal judge dismissed Jesus Christ is the Answer's religious discrimination lawsuit, which now is on appeal.

And at Hunt Valley Presbyterian Church, officials sought to expand its facility on Beaver Dam Road by constructing a 67,1115-square foot building. The church's plan was approved, but the county Board of Appeals instituted restrictions, such as a requirement to notify neighbors of large events and to space out Sunday worship services. In its lawsuit, the church argues those restrictions "substantially burden" the church's ability to have free exercise of religion.

The county is considering hiring private attorneys to help defend the lawsuits. The county issued a request for proposals from law firms, due Nov. 2. An award of a contract usually takes 60 days after that.



Rockland politicians feed distrust toward Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish community 

We live in a fractured society, where deep divisions and distrust in our politics have dominated the news and social media. 

In the Hudson Valley, that division and distrust often targets the Hasidic and Orthodox community, due to their population growth in Rockland County and the demographic change that follows. Politicians feed this division for their own political purposes. Three examples come to mind, on the village, town and state level. 

Pomona's pork rinds
In the Village of Pomona, a former village employee alleges Mayor Brett Yagel "advised her to purchase pork rinds and display them on the counter as snacks for the public as deterrence against the growing Orthodox Jewish population." (For the record, pork rinds don't "scare" observant Jews, though they don't snack on them, in keeping with kosher dietary restrictions.)

The fired employee alleges "an ongoing hidden agenda" against Pomona's Orthodox Jewish residents, including selective enforcement of laws and disparate treatment. Rockland County's Human Rights Commission and the State Division of Human Rights have found probable cause to support the allegations. The mayor denies the allegations.

This is occurring in the context of last year's federal court ruling that Pomona officials enacted some zoning laws for "an improper, discriminatory purpose" to deter the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov from developing a campus and family housing along the Routes 306-202 corridor.

'Normal Jews' in Clarkstown
In the Town of Clarkstown, Councilman Peter Bradley was elected on a platform that proudly announced he would keep Clarkstown from becoming Ramapo. 

Councilman Bradley has devoted much of his attention to the Hasidic community. Clarkstown does not have a large Hasidic population, but does have a growing Orthodox population.

Bradley's most recent diatribe, just days after the Pittsburgh Synagogue massacre, was against the Hasidic population for not attending a Jewish Federation memorial program that he claimed was attended by "normal Jews." He has since apologized and retracted that characterization and employed the term "mainstream Jews," as if that is a more acceptable way for a politician to malign a segment of the Rockland Jewish community. 

Young people hold eleven memorial candles in honor of those killed in the fatal shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday during a vigil at JCC Rockland in West Nyack Oct. 29, 2018. Seth Harrison/The Journal News
My wife and I attended the Federation event and were moved by the unity, expression of outrage, pledges of increased vigilance and a commitment to fight against hate, wherever it arises. Unfortunately, Councilman Bradley did not get the message.

'Kiryas Joel' as code
The third politician is newly elected State Sen. James Skoufis, who represents Stony Point and much of southern Orange County in Albany. Anyone with cable TV or a mailbox saw the theme of the Skoufis campaign accusing his opponent of being "a puppet for KJ." Apparently, the Skoufis campaign believed, as do many other politicians, that the surest way to get elected in some parts of the region is to campaign against the Hasidic population. 

Sadly, much of the funding for this malicious ad campaign came from the NY State Democratic Committee, though in reality, the Republicans and Reform Party were guilty of this as well. Instead of supporting candidates that run on a  platform of helping all constituents, now we are encouraged to only support candidates that single out a community for disfavor.

Represent all
I am not naïve. I have a college degree in political science and have witnessed politics up close in Rockland and Orange counties for over 30 years. I recognize that political campaigns are a full-contact sport and that negative ads are generally effective in mobilizing the base and swaying independent voters.

What I don't accept is the premise that Hasidic and Orthodox residents of the region should not be represented by politicians, that their needs should not be addressed and they should, in effect, be redlined out of the election district. 

Hateful rhetoric has a way of escalating into potential violence. The FBI reports that anti-Jewish hate crime is up 17 percent from the prior year with over 976 reported cases. This does not include the thousands of hate incidents that are not reported or not characterized as criminal in nature.

All politicians take an oath to uphold the Constitution, which includes the 1st Amendment guarantee of the free exercise of religion. Hasidic and Orthodox residents deserve no less representation and no less safety than other constituents, regardless of their faith or political viewpoint.

Our leaders, at all levels of government, must stand up to the hate and encourage respectful dialogue. We can debate public policy but bigotry is never up for debate.



Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hasidic child assaulted in Brooklyn 

An 11-year-old boy from Williamsburg's Hasidic community was assaulted Sunday night in what may be the latest anti-Semitic incident in Brooklyn, following a string of physical attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions in the area.

The incident occurred at 6:09 p.m. Sunday evening at the corner of Throop Avenue and Walton Street in the Broadway Triangle neighborhood of Williamsburg.

A gang of 10 young men can be seen passing by the scene of the crime shortly before the attack. One of the 10 men then walks back to the corner, spots the 11-year-old boy, runs over to his victim, and knocks him to the ground.

The assailant and the other members of the gang then flee the scene.

Video of the attack was taken by a security camera across the street.

The local Jewish watch group, the Williamsburg Shomrim, was notified shortly thereafter, and a medical team from Williamsburg Hatzolah was dispatched to treat the child, who suffered minor injuries.

The New York Police Department opened an investigation into the attack.

While authorities have yet to declare the incident a hate-crime, City Councilman Kalman Yeager warned that attacks on Jews appeared to be the "new normal" in New York.

"Are we at the point where this is the new normal," Yeager tweeted. "Running up and attacking Jews?"

Last month, two Orthodox Jewish men were attacked in separate incidents in Brooklyn.

Earlier this month, a number of Jewish schools and synagogues were vandalized with graffiti or hit by arsonists in a string of anti-Semitic incidents.



Monday, November 26, 2018


A former Romanian Jewish minister accused the country’s president Klaus Iohannis on Wednesday of stoking antisemitism, for stopping the Romanian government’s relocation of its embassy to Jerusalem and rejecting a ministerial post for ex-minister Ilan Laufer.

Laufer, who served as a minister in a previous social democratic government, said “These antisemitic attacks on my behalf are all the more painful as 52 people from my family died during the Holocaust, in Romania,” according to an article in the London-based Jewish Chronicle. He blamed Iohannis, an ethnic German, of colluding with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to block the relocation of Romania's embassy to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Post reported exclusively last week that a Western source said Merkel called Iohannis to urge him to pull the plug on Romania’s slated plan to move its embassy to Israel’s capital.

The English-language website of the German public news organization Deutsche Welle wrote on Tuesday in connection with Laufer: “For critics of the president, it is clear what that intervention was: About one week ago, Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had called President Iohannis last April and urged him to prevent the relocation of Romania’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as had been announced by Dragnea and the government. The report sparked heated political debate in Romania, and neither the president’s office nor Germany’s government have so far officially denied its accuracy. Laufer has lambasted his rejection as an act of antisemitism, and has announced he will file a complaint with the country’s anti-discrimination agency. He said this was not the first time Iohannis had ‘sabotaged Jews.’”

Laufer emigrated with his family from Israel to Romania when he was 14-years-old. He holds dual Israeli-Romanian citizenship.

Iohannis blocked Laufer from assuming responsibility for the regional development position in the current government.

Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, Petru Clej said Laufer “also attacked Mr. Iohannis for his links to the German Democratic Forum of Romania, which Mr. Laufer said was a successor to the German Nazi Party in Romania, vowing to file a complaint against the President with Romania’s National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD).”

Clej further reported that Laufer “would also ask the American Jewish Committee to withdraw the Light unto the Nations medal awarded to the Romanian President in June 2017.”

Iohannis flatly rejected  the allegations of antisemitism, stating they are “ridiculous and baseless.”

According to the Jewish Chronicle, the office of President Iohannis said “References to antisemitism and Nazism represent a dangerous action which can generate antisemitic and discriminatory manifestations and can incite hatred.” Iohannis has not laid out the reasons for preventing Laufer from serving in the government. The Deutsche Welle reported, “One Romanian journalist reputed to have close ties to the government said Laufer’s rejection could only be explained by international intervention in the president’s affairs.”



Sunday, November 25, 2018

US Hispanics descended from Sephardic Jews seek Spanish citizenship 

Rob Martínez is a proud New Mexican, proud of his culture and proud of a genealogy that mingles indigenous ancestry and descent from the Spanish soldiers and settlers who arrived in the area in the late 15th century.

Martínez is also profoundly disturbed by Donald Trump’s tirades against Latin American immigrants and the social tensions they have stirred up.

“When President Trump speaks so badly of Mexican and of Hispanic people, it obviously makes me really sick,” says Martínez, who is New Mexico’s deputy state historian.

“Round here, they say he’s only talking about criminals and illegal immigrants. But I say, ‘No. He’s talking about all of us. He’s got something against Mexico … and against all Latin American people.’”

Martínez is one of a growing number of US Hispanic people looking towards their family’s European past as a possible means of safeguarding their future.

He recently began the process of trying to obtain Spanish citizenship under a law that offers it to the descendants of the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from the country in 1492, forced to convert to Catholicism or burned at the stake.

 “I’m very proud of my past and my culture,” says Martínez. “And that’s why I want to see whether I can become a Spanish citizen. I have Catholic, Jewish and Moorish roots there.”

A poll last month found that 49% of US Latinos believe their situation has worsened over the past year – up from 32% in the weeks following Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016.

Applications received by the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, which has been certifying applicants’ Sephardic heritage, suggest Martínez is not alone in seeking an insurance policy in the form of Spanish citizenship.

The “bam!” moment, according to Sara Koplik, the federation’s director of community outreach, came two years ago. And its timing was more than a coincidence.

Although the Spanish citizenship law had come into force the previous October, the gesture of redress was, initially at least, scarcely taken up in New Mexico, whose original Spanish settlers included a large number of conversos – forced converts – who had fled the inquisitions in both Spain and Mexico. The first two or three dozen requests came from Hispanic Catholic families with extensive genealogies, or people with professional connections to Spain.

Application numbers remained low throughout summer and early autumn 2016, but all that changed with Trump’s triumph.

“With the election in November 2016 it was ‘bam!’ and our numbers started to go up significantly,” says Koplik. “Before the election, we issued maybe 20 or 30 certificates. But we have now issued 1,500 – from multiple countries.”

Koplik, a historian, is careful to point out that her team has received applications from more than 50 countries. Most however, come from just three: the US, Mexico and Venezuela.

“It’s a big jump and of course some of it had nothing to do with the United States – it has to do with Venezuela and violence in Mexico – but for Americans, they see this as an insurance policy just in case, against hatred,” she says.

“We know Jewish history, and unfortunately Latinos who have Jewish heritage also have that history of putting things in hiding, being secretive, protecting yourself to survive. In both of these cultures, there’s this instinct to just have a plan B, just something a little extra just in case. And this fits very well into those ideas of, ‘Oh well, if things don’t go well in the US … If racism increases, OK, then there might be another way forward.’”

Not all the US applicants, however, are motivated by fear.

For Ricardo Villarreal, a business professor who grew up in Texas, it is a matter of making sense of the Jewish customs that suffused his mother’s ostensibly Catholic upbringing, and honouring his ancestors.

“The opportunity came up and I just thought, ‘Holy smoke!’ You have to do it for the extent to which my family left Spain and how I’m still descended from them,” he says. “I almost think you have to do it for them.”

 Spain is calling us; I really believe there is a connection with our ancestors and they want us to go back
The citizenship offer stirred something similarly atavistic in Georgina Garza and her siblings, who are descended from conversos, and whose family has lived around the Rio Grande valley for 500 years.

“Spain is calling us; I really believe there is a connection with our ancestors and they want us to go back,” says Georgina, a dyslexia therapist, bilingual teacher and rehabilitation therapist.

Her brother Juan says: “We’re not like the Sephardic Jews who were expelled and went to north Africa or the Middle East or Europe, because they could carry on practising their religion. It was different for us. But this new law is helping us connect with our past and we’re discovering – or rediscovering – things that have been lost for 500 years.”

Rob Martínez, who has studied and worked in Spain, also feels a deep affinity with the country.

“I’d be delighted to have that identity because we still have a very strong Hispanic culture even if our Spanish isn’t quite as refined as the Spanish in Mexico or Spain,” he says. “We’ve been Americans for almost two centuries, but we’re still speaking Spanish.”

But for Martínez, whose father was a celebrated New Mexican mariachi, composer of ballads and civil rights campaigner, the social realities of Trump’s America remain a powerful spur.

“I want to stay here and fight against this cabrón. But if things go bad, I’ll be able to go to Spain.”



Saturday, November 24, 2018

Argentine Soccer Fans Chant 'Killing Jews to Make Soap' at Match Against Team With Jewish Roots 

Home-team soccer fans in Argentina chanted about “killing the Jews to make soap” during a match with a team historically associated with the Jewish community and rioted when the visitors won.

Atlanta, a professional Argentine team founded more than a century ago in a Jewish neighborhood, played All Boys at their stadium in Buenos Aires on Thursday.

All Boys fans chanted the anti-Semitic slogan as they waved Palestinian flags and T-shirts bearing Iranian symbols.

Atlanta won the match, 3-2, triggering violence by the All Boys fans. Some spectators entered the locker area for cover until police arranged for them to exit the stadium safely.

All Boys fans also assaulted police, destroying property at the stadium.

“The Argentine Football Association must sanction the club for this anti-Semitic offense,” Shimon Samuels, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for International Relations, wrote in a statement Friday.

Atlanta has several Jewish players, as well as members of its administrative staff. Police are investigating the incident.


Friday, November 23, 2018

War Breaks Out in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Community Over Measles Outbreak 

The current measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the New York area is leading to threats, recriminations and lawsuits, and is also highlighting the lack of consensus among senior rabbis on the vaccination issue.

However, it is also leading to new approaches from medical experts trying to reach those who, in the face of nearly 130 suspected cases of the highly contagious disease, remain determined not to vaccinate their children.

There are now 113 confirmed cases of measles in ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) communities around New York City and Lakewood, New Jersey, with another 16 suspected and under investigation by public health authorities. Two measles-infected babies have been hospitalized in intensive care units. And while it is mostly infants who have been infected, some teenagers and a handful of adults have also fallen ill.

In this June 25, 2014 photo, members of the Mennonite community in Richland County arrive for the Measles, Mumps, & Rubella (MMR) clinic in Shiloh, Ohio. Health officials said Ohio’s current outbreak of measles consists of more than 360 cases and is the biggest in the U.S. since 1994. The outbreak started after Amish travelers to the Philippines contracted measles this year and returned home to rural Knox County Ohio. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)
Isolated communities could be at greater risk: in 2014 a measles outbreak hit Ohio after Amish travelers to the Philippines contracted measles and returned home to rural Knox County OhioAP
Why has the anti-vaxxer perspective taken hold in pockets of the Haredi community? The answer, say longtime observers, has to do with long-held suspicions of government agencies, including health departments, prizing cultural isolation, reliance on their own communities for things like emergency services, and placing their trust in God to protect them.

U.S. public health authorities say the current outbreak started when Haredi families visited Israel last Sukkot and brought the illness back to their communities. An 18-month-old infant in Jerusalem’s Haredi Mea She’arim neighborhood has died and nearly 1,500 potential cases have been reported. Non-vaccination rates are high in Israeli areas with large Hasidic populations, including the city of Safed and the town of Kfar Chabad.

Haredi immunization rates have dipped in recent years as a result of anti-immunization views taking root in the community. Now, as the number of infected Haredim grows, some within the religious Jewish community are initiating new efforts to reach Haredi anti-vaxxers.

Growing backlash

Tensions within the community are running high.

A Crown Heights couple, Sholom and Esther Laine, is suing Yeshiva Oholei Torah – a Lubavitch boys’ school – for not allowing their unvaccinated son to start kindergarten. In the suit, Esther Laine says the school is infringing on her constitutionally protected religious right to claim exemption from the requirement of most schools, including Oholei Torah, that all students be immunized. Several attempts to contact the Laines were unsuccessful.

“The battle is getting very fierce,” says a Haredi mother, speaking to Haaretz from her home in Lakewood. “People are getting threats if they question vaccinations,” says the mother of three, who asked that her name not be published for fear of being pressured or intimidated by neighbors.

The ultra-Orthodox towns Monsey and New Square are part of Rockland County, about an hour north of New York City. There are currently 75 confirmed cases of measles and six more suspected.

In New York City, there are now 24 confirmed measles cases – all in the Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park – says Dr. Jane Zucker at the Department of Health. “This outbreak would not have occurred had the children been vaccinated,” she says.

Although measles was officially declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, this is not the first outbreak of the disease in the ultra-Orthodox community. In 2013, there was a significant uptick in measles in Williamsburg and Borough Park, with 58 cases reported. There was also another minor outbreak in New York City earlier this year, which resulted in a miscarriage, pneumonia and hospitalizations, according to The New York Daily News.

Now there is a growing backlash: Those known to be non-vaccinators are being ostracized by fellow Haredim, say members of the community. “People frown upon neighbors who aren’t vaccinating; there is animus toward them,” says Alexander Rapaport, a Hasidic Jew who lives in Borough Park and is founder and director of Masbia, a kosher soup kitchen and food pantry. “You hear there’s someone in that building that doesn’t vaccinate, and now the whole building is having tsuris with them,” he says, using the Yiddish word for trouble.

Ultra-vaxxers and anti-vaxxers

Unvaccinated measles carriers convey a significant risk to others who aren’t immunized – either because they are too young or have compromised immune systems. One person sick with measles can spread it to as many as 18 others, public health authorities warn. Children typically get two doses of the MMR vaccine: one between 12 and 15 months; and another between 4 and 6 years. A child who has gotten both shots is believed to be 97 percent protected from the disease, say health experts. Now, health department authorities are urging vaccinations for children as young as 6 months, and to hasten the second dose so as many people as possible are fully protected.

Rabbis beyond the New York area are now taking steps to prevent the measles from reaching their communities. Last week, the heads of the two main Orthodox rabbinical courts in Chicago issued a letter stating that “nobody has a right to endanger others by not vaccinating their children.” An unvaccinated person exposing other people to measles during an outbreak puts the non-immunized person in the category of someone who actively poses a threat to life, they wrote, using the term rodef (lethal pursuer) – which is a serious violation of Torah law.

The rabbis urged all schools, playgroups and shuls to ban any unvaccinated child, writing, “This is nothing less than a matter of pikuach nefesh,” referring to the religious law in which preservation of human life overrides virtually all other religious considerations.

Furthermore, prominent Israeli Haredi rabbis recently issued a strongly worded decree that those who refuse to vaccinate “are causing bloodshed,” according to the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Kikar Hashabbat. Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, head of Jerusalem’s stringent Edah HaChareidis rabbinical court, issued an order that every father “must ensure that his son and daughter are immunized immediately.”

However, other influential Haredi rabbis view the issue differently.

Well-known Jewish legal expert Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky and his wife, Temi, are often cited for their anti-immunization stance, which was expressed in a 2014 Baltimore Jewish Times article: “Vaccines are a hoax. It is just big business,” Rabbi Kamenetsky was quoted as saying.

The rabbi’s status means his views carry weight beyond his own immediate circle. He is also a member of Agudath Israel of America’s Council of Torah Sages, which, along with the Haredi advocacy organization in general, “will not be taking a position on vaccinations or the measles outbreak,” says spokeswoman Leah Zagelbaum.

Another member of the Council of Torah Sages, Lakewood’s Rabbi Malkiel Kotler, endorses the Lakewood Vaccine Coalition, which was created last March with the aim of advocating on behalf of those who do not want to immunize their children. The coalition’s website, in the meantime, has disappeared and its phone number is out of service. An email elicited no response.

An anonymous group called PEACH (Parents Teaching and Advocating for our Children’s Health) has circulated an anti-immunization booklet throughout the religious community in the New York area and beyond. In it, an anonymous author claims that “hundreds of thousands of children’s lives have been ruined within hours of vaccines.” The idea that measles is a serious illness is “a fabrication,” it adds.

There is no identifying information about PEACH in the booklet and, with no online presence or listed phone numbers, the group is untraceable.

Changing things from the bottom up

This anonymous spreading of misinformation is frustrating to those who want to see Haredi children fully protected from communicable diseases.

Blima Marcus is an oncology nurse and president of the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association. The OJNA is now trying to reach out to religious parents in a personal, informal way and has established an email address for those who want information.

In just the first few days, “we’ve been contacted by a few people seeking reassurance or clarification on specific vaccines,” Marcus tells Haaretz. The OJNA is planning to hold living-room gatherings soon. These will involve “no physicians, no agendas, no judgment: just frum [religious] nurses coming to listen, talk, answer questions and educate,” she says, adding, “We have 30 nurses from around the states who already volunteered their time to do this in their communities.”

Dr. Zackary Sholem Berger, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, has written in Yiddish publications about medical issues in the Orthodox community. He just held a session at a Borough Park health clinic with the goal of hearing the concerns of Haredi doctors, nurses and other medical professionals.

“To see any sector of my community not vaccinate is horrifying,” says Berger. However, “If you wag your finger at anti-vaccine people, it doesn’t work.” Persuading them “has to come from the bottom up,” adds Berger, who has a doctorate in epidemiology.

Anti-vaccine views have seemingly become entrenched in some parts of Haredi communities because of aspects of ultra-Orthodox culture.

There is a general distrust of government authorities that is likely rooted in the Jewish legal prohibition against one Jew turning another into the police, say knowledgeable observers. Hasidic communities were established in Eastern Europe at a time when government authorities themselves persecuted Jews – or at the very least, turned a blind eye to those who did. Historical memory in general is prized in Haredi communities and passed down from one generation to the next, almost like cherished silver Shabbat candlesticks.

Dangerous influence

There is also an insularity in Haredi communities – particularly among women, who frequently lack access to the internet – that is viewed as a negative and dangerous influence. As a result, WhatsApp and similar phone-based chat groups are popular among Haredi women, says the OJNA’s Marcus.

Participants in one WhatsApp group Marcus belongs to said they don’t trust studies because they are funded by pharmaceutical companies, she says. Furthermore, they don’t trust the Food and Drug Administration, which must approve all medications, because they believe “the FDA is in the pocket of pharmaceutical companies,” Marcus adds.

Haredi communities are also accustomed to relying on themselves rather than the outside world for many things, notes Borough Park’s Rapaport. “They have an off-the-grid mentality, so they don’t call 911” in case of emergency, but call the Orthodox volunteer ambulance corps Hatzalah instead. And instead of calling the police, they contact the volunteer patrol Shomrim – which arrives faster anyway, he says. “It’s a mind-set which allows something like anti-vaccination to spread,” says Rapaport.

What’s more, he adds, there is a fondness for “old world wisdom” – like when people say: My bubbie [grandmother] and aunt had measles, and they lived to be 90.

But Marcus cautions that a lot of people talk about the past “as if it was a healthier or safer time – but 100 years ago many people didn’t live past 8 years old.” In the ultra-Orthodox world, “there’s a lot of misinformation as to how things were different in the past,” she says.

Marcus also notes that alternative medicine is popular among the Haredi community. “There are large pockets of homeopathy followers in Hasidic Williamsburg, in Monroe and in Lakewood,” she says.

One popular Borough Park chiropractor is distributing pamphlets in his office about the dangers of vaccines. People travel from upstate Rockland County to see him, says Marcus. The chiropractor did not return several messages left for him at his home and office, but the woman answering his office phone acknowledged that they do distribute anti-immunization information.

Finally, for some Haredi Jews, not immunizing their children is a reflection of their ultimate trust in God. “If we believe we are protected by the One above, we really have nothing to worry about,” the Lakewood mother tells Haaretz. “We try to keep restrengthening our absolute belief that nothing in the world can harm us unless it is the will of G-d.”



Thursday, November 22, 2018

Black Supremacists Terrorize New York Jews 

Last November, Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ) released Understanding Antisemitism. The bizarre tract had as much in common with the reality of anti-Semitism as Marxism does with economics.

JFREJ, a radical leftist group, claimed that “white Christians” in Europe had “invented anti-Semitism”. That would have come as news to Pharaoh, Haman and Mohammed: in JFREJ’s parlance, “people of color” who had innovated and spread anti-Semitic ideas, while seeking to exterminate the Jews.

“Antisemitism was something European Christians created and brought to the Middle East within the last 150 years,” JFREJ insisted. There was no such thing as Muslim anti-Semitism, the leftist group, which collaborates with Linda Sarsour, a Farrakhan supporter who had urged dehumanizing Jews, insisted.

Black and Muslim anti-Semitism are occasionally justified as a response to white Jewish oppression. But mostly their existence is denied. Racial anti-Semitism, JFREJ insisted, only existed as white supremacy.

JFREJ’s tract whitewashing black and Muslim anti-Semitism was partly funded by Jenny Levison.

This November, Levison’s black leftist foster son, James Polite, was arrested for setting 7 fires in Hasidic Jewish schools and synagogues in Brooklyn. He also scribbled, “Kill All Jews” inside a lefty congregation.

Polite’s anti-Semitic vandalism broke up an appearance by Ilana Glazer, an obnoxiously unfunny leftist comedian, to rally turnout before the election. Polite scrawling, “Jew Better Be Ready” and “Insert Oven Here” got far more attention than the actual fires he set in more conservative religious institutions.

It was the fire he set in a Yeshiva school coat closet early in the morning that finally got him caught.

Glazer went on Democracy Now, notorious for defending the anti-Semitic Hamas terrorists who murder Jews, to whine that, “we lived through a safe, you know, physically benign version of a white supremacist act.”

Except the surveillance footage had made it clear that the vandal was a black man. But there was no room for acknowledging the reality of black anti-Semitism on the Left.

Last year, Juan Thompson, a former writer for the anti-Semitic and pro-terrorist site, The Intercept, was arrested for sending bomb threats to a number of Jewish targets, including the ADL. Like Polite, there were efforts to paint Juan as suffering from mental illness. JFREJ went even further, declaring, “We reject attempts to explain away anti-Semitism by laying the blame on Black men.”

Its guide to distorting anti-Semitism had insisted that, “singling out Black people and other People of Color as especially anti-Jewish is racist.”

If “white Christians” invented anti-Semitism, white American Christians appear to be terrible at it. The ADL’s own surveys show black anti-Semitism as being 2 to 3 times higher than average. A statistical analysis in the Washington Post suggested that the majority of Americans who hold deeply entrenched anti-Semitic views are minorities.

Higher rates of anti-Semitic attitudes are bound to lead to higher rates of anti-Semitic hate crimes within the black community. And in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh mass shooting, all the anti-Semitic incidents in New York City appeared to be perpetrated by black men.

Two days before James Polite disproved the myths about black anti-Semitism that his foster mother had helped spread, swastikas were spray painted on houses in Brooklyn Heights. Surveillance footage showed that two black men were responsible. The two, Jarrick Wiltshire and Daul Moultrie, turned themselves in.

Closing out the week, six black teens hurled a pipe through the window of the Volkan synagogue in Brooklyn during Sabbath prayers. Prior to that they had allegedly accosted a girl in the area.

In 1 week: 9 attacks on Jewish institutions, 7 fires, 1 broken window and 9 black male perpetrators.

And little interest by the national media which was too busy claiming that the essence of anti-Semitism was saying anything negative about a career collaborator with anti-Semites, George Soros.

These anti-Semitic attacks probably had nothing to do with Pittsburgh. They are instead typical of the everyday, ordinary anti-Semitism that Jews living in urban neighborhoods regularly experience.

This October, a Jewish man in Brooklyn was beaten so severely with a stick that it broke. In April, in that same neighborhood, a Jewish man suffered a cracked rib in an anti-Semitic assault by a black man screaming, “I hate Jews.” Both incidents were only notable because they were caught on camera.

Yeshiva Beth Hillel of Williamsburg, where Polite set his final fire, had previously come under attack from lefty activists with Yaffed whose smears of Jewish schools are unquestioningly recirculated by the media, (without ever reporting on who is behind the group) than it has reporting on the school arson.

The Volkan synagogue, which was attacked on the Sabbath, and Yeshiva Beth Hillel, are less than a mile apart. And yet these two attacks on Jewish institutions so close together in time and space were never assembled into a pattern by the mainstream media. Because it didn’t like what the pattern would show.

A week later, the mainstream media which broadcast Polite’s magic marker scrawls to the world, hasn’t even bothered to report the names of all the Jewish institutions where the black leftist started his fires.

A recent New York Times piece noted, “there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks.” It also addressed the bias and disinterest in these crimes, much of which target the city’s working class religious Jewish population in urban areas.

“When a ḥasidic man or woman is attacked by anyone in New York City, mainstream progressive advocacy groups do not typically send out emails calling for concern and fellowship and candlelight vigils in Union Square, as they often do when individuals are harmed in New York because of their race or ethnicity or how they identify in terms of sex or sexual orientation,” it noted.

But it awkwardly elided the issue of who is behind the violence. The attackers have “varied backgrounds” and their identity “presents complexities” for liberals.

There’s only so much ideological heresy that can be tolerated in the pages of the New York Times.

The media assumes that swastikas and Holocaust imagery are the work of white supremacists. But, as James Polite, Jarrick Wiltshire and Daul Moultrie remind us, that isn’t at all the case.

Black nationalists often believe that there is much to admire about Hitler and the Nazis. They identify with Nazi racial supremacism and the calls for the mass murder of the Jews.

Louis Farrakhan had said, “The Jews don’t like Farrakhan, so they call me Hitler. Well, that’s a good name. Hitler was a very great man.”

The Nation of Islam had an extensive history of collaborating with the KKK and the American Nazi Party.

Stokely Carmichael had dubbed “the greatest white man”. And he had declared, “The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist we must take a lesson from Hitler”.

“What the Negro needs is a Hitler,” Marcus Garvey had said admiringly.

“I got the extermination blues, jewboys / I got the Hitler syndrome figured,” Amiri Baraka, the black nationalist poet, had hatefully scribbled.

This black nationalist rhetoric easily translates into swastikas and Hitler sloganeering by street thugs.

During the pogrom in Crown Heights, black marchers shouted, “Heil Hitler”. At the funeral at which Al Sharpton delivered an anti-Semitic eulogy, a banner read, “Hitler did not do the job.”

Last year, three black men scrawled a swastika on the door of the Sutton Place Synagogue in Manhattan. No media accounts mentioned the race of the suspects. While synagogue clergy later announced that two arrests were made, the media never bothered following up with a story on their identities.

Also last year there was outrage when an Arizona family’s menorah was twisted into a swastika. The police arrested Clive Jamar Wilson, a black man whose father, like James Polite, had attended Brandeis.

Conflating anti-Semitism with white supremacism, as the Left does, is misleading. And even when it comes to neo-Nazi signage and slogans, the perpetrators are just as likely to be black Nazis.

The Left claims that it wants to fight Nazis. But it quickly changes its mind when the Nazis are black.

Insisting on fighting Nazis only when they’re white isn’t opposition to either Nazism or anti-Semitism. It’s an endorsement of both as long as they are being practiced by the racial supremacists of the Left.



Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Yeshivas Get Curriculum Reviews as Orthodox Power Wanes in New York 

New regulations issued by New York State's education department on Tuesday will require education authorities to review the curricula of every Hasidic yeshiva in the state, along with those of all other private schools.

The regulations come years into a growing controversy over whether New York's Hasidic yeshivas are providing education that is substantially equivalent to that offered in public schools, as is required by state law. An investigation by the New York City Department of Education into the issue has made little progress over the past three years, according to an interim report published over the summer.

The new guidelines say that the state will shut down schools that don't meet the equivalency requirements if they fail to address the issue.

Under the new guidelines, the state education department and local school boards will have until 2021 to determine whether all the private schools in the state, including Hasidic yeshivas, meet the equivalency standard. The guidelines are complex. As of Tuesday afternoon, neither the yeshiva reform group YAFFED nor the pro-yeshiva group PEARLS had issued a response.

"Every child has a fundamental right to receive a quality education," the chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Betty Rosa, said in a statement. "The process should be a collaborative effort that is a mutually beneficial learning process for leaders of both public and nonpublic schools resulting in appropriate educational opportunities for the children they serve."

The new regulations come as power in Albany swings away from the Orthodox Jewish community. The November elections stripped the extraordinary power of State Sen. Simcha Felder, who represents heavily Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and who controlled a key vote in the fractured Senate chamber. Voters delivered the Senate to the Democrats in November, a double blow to the Orthodox, who had close ties to Senate Republicans, and to Felder.

The guidelines, however, are based on a controversial law passed as part of last summer's budget deal. The law, which Felder demanded in order to sign on to the budget, limited state oversight over Hasidic yeshivas, but left significant leeway to the education department to determine substantial equivalency requirements.

The new law says that the state education commissioner, rather than local school districts, will determine equivalency for schools that meet certain criteria that were drawn only to include Hasidic yeshivas. Due, in part, to that law, the new documentation from the state education department is complex. Coming just before a holiday weekend, it's likely to take days before its implications are clear.

The documentation includes guidelines relating to teacher competency, instructional rigor, and other areas.

According to the education department, the reviews of the state's non-public schools under the guidelines will begin this school year and continue through 2021. Subsequently, each school will be reviewed once every five years.



Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Yeshiva Probe In Jeopardy, Says City Investigator Fired By Mayor 

In a fiery public letter on Monday, the former chief of New York City’s Department of Investigation warned that the mayor’s decision to fire him last week could be an effort to quash an ongoing investigation into mayoral interference in the city’s yeshiva probe.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday fired Department of Investigation chief Mark Peters, who serves as a sort of internal watchdog over city agencies. It was the first time in memory that a mayor had fired his DOI chief. Peters, in a letter distributed on Monday morning, said that his firing would have a “chilling effect” on the department, and could impede ongoing investigations.

“The context of the Mayor’s interactions over the past several years with DOI, combined with certain ongoing investigations about which the Mayor and his senior staff are very much aware, must cast doubt upon the Mayor’s true motives,” Peters wrote. “Moreover, concerns recently raised by City Hall staff about certain ongoing investigations suggest a desire to prevent DOI’s independence going forward.”

Later in his letter, Peters specifically cited an ongoing investigation into mayoral interference in the city’s probe of secular education at Hasidic yeshivas in Brooklyn. The city’s Department of Education has been widely criticized for the conduct of its yeshiva probe, which has dragged on for years and uncovered little. The New York Times revealed in October that the DOI was looking into mayoral interference in the yeshiva probe.

“Finally, there is the impact the Mayor’s decision to remove me may have on several ongoing investigations that could implicate the Mayor and/or senior appointees in certain agencies,” Peters wrote. “This includes previously reported investigations into Mayoral interference in yeshiva matters.”

In his letter, Peters offered to testify in more detail about ongoing investigations in a closed City Council hearing.



Monday, November 19, 2018


An allegedly crazed cab driver was indicted on Thursday after body-slamming Hasidic Jewish pedestrians in Borough Park and attempting to run one of them over. Farrukh Afzal is accused of driving his cab on 13th Avenue and 44th Street in Borough Park on Oct. 14 and swerving the vehicle towards a Hasidic Jewish man as if to hit him, causing the man to run away to avoid being struck. Afzal, 38, then drove his car another block and jumped out when he spotted a 62-year-old Hasidic Jewish man. He chased him into the intersection, where he continued to beat and body-slam him.


Sunday, November 18, 2018


A swastika and an upside-down cross were painted on a decorative post in front of a Jewish center in Miami Beach, Florida.

A security guard at the West Avenue Jewish Center discovered the vandalism early Wednesday morning, the local ABC affiliate News 10 reported.

An upside-down cross is sometimes a symbol of satanism or the occult.

The center houses a Jewish day school for boys, a rabbinical college and an Orthodox synagogue — Congregation Beth Medrash Levi Yitzchok Lubavitch. The official name of the building, which is several stories tall, is the Haim and Gila Wiener Florida Lubavitch Headquarters.

Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez told the Miami Herald that detectives are reviewing surveillance video with the staff to gather more information.



Saturday, November 17, 2018

New York state councilman sorry for suggesting Orthodox Jews aren’t ‘normal’ 

A councilman in upstate New York apologized for a text that juxtaposed Orthodox Jews with “normal” ones.

Peter Bradley, a member of the Clarkstown Town Council in Rockland County, apologized on November 12 and again the following day at a council meeting for the statements he made on November 2, less than a week after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in which 11 worshipers were killed.

On Facebook, Bradley criticized New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for visiting with Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community leaders.

“Normal Jews and non-Jews alike were grieving at the JCC while they were meeting ‘the guy with the checkbook,’” wrote Bradley, who has been accused of using negative rhetoric about Jewish residents.

Before Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, demonstrators gathered outside Town Hall to protest his remark, the Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported.

“I do admit, the dialogue, the structure, the tone, has to be transitioned,” Bradley said during the meeting. He also said he has planned meetings with activists “just to get a grip on the complicated things… in Rockland.”

During a November 8 interview on Channel 12 News, Bradley said that when he spoke of “normal” Jews, he meant “mainstream” or Reform Jews outside Ramapo, which also has a growing Orthodox community.



Friday, November 16, 2018

A Town Divided 

A documentary that premiered in New York City this week at the DOC NYC film festival, captures the conflict and drama surrounding Kiryas Joel, a village occupying a square mile within the town of Monroe in upstate New York that became one of the fastest-growing Hasidic communities in the US. When the secular residents of the larger township learn of Kiryas Joel's desire to annex adjacent land to address its population growth it sets off a turf war.

At the heart of the division portrayed in "City of Joel," directed by Jesse Sweet, are two communities with polarized worldviews trying to protect their way of life. On the one side is KJ (or Kiryas Joel), a community of 22,000 Satmar Hasidim founded in the 1970s after the community was priced out of Brooklyn by rising real estate prices. Their Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum, sought to establish a rural settlement in which the congregants could be secluded from the outside world. Still rebuilding from the ashes, many families left Williamsburg for Monroe, seeking a place to grow for a community, many of whose ancestors perished in the Holocaust.

On the other side are local activists who form a coalition called United Monroe. The activists want to protect natural resources, such as wildlife, trees, and water as well as their hold on political power, which has been significantly weakened by the Hasidim's ability to act as a unified voting bloc. Strong personalities from both sides are featured in the documentary, each side making valid arguments in interviews.

A leading member of United Monroe says in the film that there's no separation between church and state in KJ, while a Hasid activist counters that the founders had intended that provision to protect religion, not to protect the government.  

John Allegro, a Monroe resident who sells homemade hot sauce, says he moved there for land, privacy, and quiet. "Imagine another 40,000 people; it would be problematic," he says in the film.

While the secular locals are Democrats and the KJ Hasidim Republicans, the source of their difference doesn't map onto a standard partisan division. The Hasidim feel the opposition for an annexation for more land (507 additional acres) to accommodate growing families is driven by hatred and anti-Semitism. The locals say it has nothing to do with animus towards Jews, that by opposing large multi-family units they're just protecting their quality of life.

The film makes it clear that for the Satmars, religion is not just a private affair. A large sign greeting visitors in KJ lay out their traditions and customs, asking for others to respect their values, such as dressing modestly, using appropriate language and maintaining gender separation in all public areas. Therefore, one wonders if it was another group seeking to expand in the area that was less visible, less religious, less particular in their ways, whether the opposition would be so vehement. This is a particularly sore point for this community of survivors.  

The battle centers around a city board vote on whether to allow the petitioned annexation. The stakes and emotions run high as members of United Monroe try to gather votes and strengthen their position. All the while, the Hasidim maintain they have a constitutional right to practice their religion and grow as a community outside of the stifling city, where the other half of their congregants remains.

Harley Doles, an Evangelical Christian and elected supervisor for the town, is a staunch supporter for the KJ residents, trying to protect their faith-based democratic rights. "Monroe is where the clash of civilizations is taking place more here than anywhere else in America," Doles says in the film. "Here was an opportunity for me to do good." United Monroe supporters accuse Doles of being a plant recruited by the Satmars.

In one scene, Max Hauer, a Satmar and former KJ resident, meets with hot sauce-seller Allegro and argues that while the Hasidim make up fifty percent of Monroe's population they would live in less than two square miles, even after annexation, in a town that consists of 22 square miles.  

"Do you really believe they want to throw you out of your home and take over the entire town?" Hauer asks Allegro, who responds with concerns about pollution and excess traffic.  

"I don't think the strong opposition of annexation stems from anti-Semitism," Hauer says. "But what I do believe is that the tensions that are caused by all these events translate into overt, explicit anti-Semitism." As evidence of that, he reads off anti-Semitic comments made on the Internet by upstate NY residents about the Jewish community in Monroe.

Nevertheless, "America has been the best thing that has ever happened to Orthodox Jews," Hauer says in the film.



Thursday, November 15, 2018

Matthew Broderick is a bumbling biology professor helping a Hasidic widower in To Dust 

Inline image

What happens when a Hasidic cantor and a biology professor walk into a graveyard?

It's not a punchline, but rather the premise of Matthew Broderick's latest film, To Dust. The trailer, shared exclusively with EW above, follows Shmuel (Géza Röhrig), the cantor in question, as he struggles with the recent loss of his wife, and becomes obsessed with how her body will decay.

Plagued by nightmares, and convinced his wife's soul won't know peace until her body decomposes to dust, Shmuel enlists the help of bumbling community college biology professor Albert (Broderick) to teach him the science of how a body decays and assuage his fears — or, as writer/director Shawn Snyder put it in a statement, "A borderline blasphemous, tragicomic conversation between science and religion, and an exploration of the idiosyncrasies of grief."

The odd couple embarks on a series of outlandish experiments to approximate the timeline of his wife's body's decay, including, at one point, burying a pig, and Röhrig and Broderick's chemistry seems effortless in this first trailer.

The film, produced by Emily Mortimer, Alessandro Nivola, and Ron Perlman, premiered at Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year, and comes to theaters Feb. 8, 



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Despite Hamas Rocket Fire, Chabad’s Mitzvah Tanks Are Rocking 

The atmosphere was deceptively quiet in the small moshav of Netiv HaAsara, only four hundred meters north of the Gaza Strip, on Tuesday afternoon when Mendy Hartman, a 45-year old Hasid from Bnei Brak, approached an armored IDF jeep and handed the soldier sitting in the driver's seat a honey cake with a wrapper bearing the image of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In response, the soldier, a young man wearing a knitted kippa, loudly proclaimed "Yechi Adoneinu," a Chabad slogan acknowledging the Rebbe's supposed status as the Messiah. "I have Chabad relatives," he said with a sheepish grin. The rest of his squad was out behind a nearby house, checking the site where a Hamas rocket had hit several minutes earlier.

Shortly thereafter, the rest of the soldiers came marching up to the jeep, ignoring Hartman's attempts at engagement. As they drove off, one of the residents came out of his house and implored the Hasid to leave, yelling that several rounds had fallen within spitting distance of his house and that it was incredibly dangerous to remain outside. Hartman, a gregarious man, seemed reluctant to leave and only shifted himself when his colleagues began screaming at him to get in their "Mitzvah Tank," a converted recreational vehicle turned into a portable-synagogue-slash-outreach-center. As we drove away, I got a notification on my phone. More rockets were hitting in or near Netiv HaAsara.

Four years earlier, I had been down on the Gaza border covering Operation Protective Edge for the Jerusalem Post when I had my first encounter with Chabad's battlefield outreach. Traveling with another two Post journalists, I had made my way to a small army encampment on the Israeli side of the border when a group of Hasidim came over and began distributing ices to the soldiers sitting in a nearby armored personnel carrier. One took out a pair of tefillin and began wrapping them on a reservist's arm, saying the blessings slowly so he could repeat them out loud. Walking back to our car, we caught a glimpse of a Mitzvah Tank parked among the reservists' vehicles, its broad sides bearing religious messages encouraging the observance of various Jewish religious laws. Now, with the outbreak of a new war seeming imminent, I called up Rabbi Dovid Nachshon, the head of Chabad's Mitzvah Tank program in Israel, to arrange to "embed" with his men as they again made their way down to the front.

As we drove down to the south from Bnei Brak, Hartman, who works in religious outreach, explained that he was working toward perfecting the world and bringing the Messiah so that there would be no more war. In the meantime, he said, one has to focus on working on behalf of Jews twenty four-seven.

"It's about getting rid of your ego and instead thinking of the other guy," he said. "That's why I, a father of seven, am going into an area under fire. During Operation Protective Edge, I was here and heard the sirens and was in the middle of the rockets. [Our Hasidim] ran into the tank and not into shelters because the [merit] of the Mitzvah Tank protects us."

Elkana Giladi, the driver, agreed with his colleague. At 29-years old, Giladi had himself been serving in the IDF during the last major flare-up in 2014 and had managed to wrangle a day off from his commander to accompany the Mitzvah Tanks, still in uniform, on their mission. In 2014, all seven of Chabad's Mitzvah Tanks in Israel went down south. "It's not so scary," he said of visiting soldiers under fire. "You get used to it."

As we rumbled over the highway down south, Hartman proudly showed off the presents he had brought for the soldiers: small kits containing a Hebrew Psalm book, a paper charity box and a microfilmed version of the Chitat, a Chabad book combining a Bible, a Psalms and the Tanya, a classic Hasidic work. Each came in a package bearing an image of an IDF tank next to its Hasidic counterpart and stating boldly that it was for "protection and success."

"The soldiers who received us were so happy," he said, recalling previous wartime trips. "They felt alone. This is encouragement for the spirit and the mind. I'm endangering myself like you."

The solders, he continued, could spend extended period under fire before entering Gaza and seeing a happy face bearing gifts of energy drinks and religious items would be a huge boost.

"A smile and blessing and a good word gives him to strength" to go on, he said.

While the Mitzvah Tanks were able to go right into military encampments during the last conflict, this time they were unable to get in, and the Hasidim were left with driving between the ad hoc checkpoints set up by the IDF throughout the Gaza envelope region, handing out treats and putting tefillin on the soldiers pulling guard duty.

"It really makes us happy," Evyatar Tzabari, a soldier at one of the checkpoints, told The Forward. "It's welcome. It really gets boring."

This sentiment's seemed widespread among the soldiers we visited, although it was often rather subdued. At one checkpoint, the soldiers crowded up and chatted with Hartman but expressed little excitement when he began singing and attempted to engage them in a Hasidic dance.

At another checkpoint, an ultra-Orthodox soldier with long sidelocks came running up to the Mitzvah Tank, complaining that he had not had time to pray that morning and thanking the Hasidim for coming. Scrambling into the RV, he quickly put on tefillin. As he rushed out to return to his post, Hartman called after him, offering him a candy.

Why not, the ultra-Orthodox soldier replied. "You need something sweet in life."

At another checkpoint, one of the soldiers expressed exhaustion, describing how he had no cover and would have to huddle on the surface of the highway in the face of incoming rocket fire. "God is watching over us," he said.

WAs one soldier was putting on tefillin, we heard a boom coming from the direction of Gaza. Glancing up, we noticed an Israeli helicopter hovering several hundred feet overhead. "It just shot at Gaza," someone commented.

By the late afternoon, a ceasefire had been agreed upon. Hamas began organizing celebratory demonstrations across the Gaza Strip, while the political infighting over Prime Minister Netanyahu's handling of the conflict began in earnest. But for Hartman and Giladi, the day was over. As we began driving north, they started debating whether to get pizza or shwarma.



Calls grow for resignation of Clarkstown councilman accused of anti-Semitism 

Clarkstown Councilman Peter Bradley is facing more backlash for making what some consider to be anti-Semitic comments.

A meeting was held at Town Hall, with more than a dozen residents protesting before the meeting.

The residents says they are upset with comments Bradley made on Facebook and are calling for his resignation.

Bradley's post bashed Gov. Andrew Cuomo for visiting with members of the Hasidic Jewish community following the synagogue mass shooting in Pittsburgh. It read in part "normal Jews and non-Jews alike were grieving at the JCC while they were meeting 'the guy with the checkbook.'"

Bradley apologized on News 12 for making the comment, saying he is deeply apologetic and regretful.  Residents say it's not his first anti-Semitic comment he's made and they want him to resign.

Bradley told News 12 earlier in the day that he would be making another apology at Tuesday night's meeting. He also expressed interest in holding public events to have coffee with residents.

He also promised to tone down his comments.



Trudeau silent about attack on Jewish teens 

The right to remain silent was likely never intended to apply to the prime minister after an alleged anti-Semitic hate attack in the heart of a Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto.

This silence from the very top is difficult to not notice.

Some are expressing concern about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's lack of condemnation, or even comment, on the horrific alleged hate attack on four Hasidic teenage boys who were hit with fists, boots and racial slurs, which included being told "Hitler is coming back."

The Nov. 11 attack, near Fairholme Ave. and Bathurst St.,  has upset some who have strongly spoken out against such an inhumanity against four young men — two of which are Americans visiting Canada from the United States to attend the special Yeshiva school to study Hebrew and the Torah.

Federal Conservative and Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer tweeted Tuesday: "Troubling to hear of the attack on Jewish teens in Toronto. Anti-Semitism will never be tolerated and I hope the culprits of this hate crime will be swiftly brought to justice."

This followed tweets Monday from Premier Doug Ford who added: "There is no place in Ontario for anti-Semitism and our government will not tolerate hatred of any kind." Mayor John Tory tweeted: "No one should ever be attacked for their religion. Please help @TorontoPolice solve this hate crime/robbery investigation that occurred Sunday night."

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders also spoke out against the alleged hate crime. HIs officers have charged one youth with robbery and assault.  Toronto Police spokesman Katrina Arrogante said it "is still categorized as a hate crime/robbery" as they search for nine more.

Video surveillance is being reviewed. Police have not issued descriptions but two of the alleged victims describe the suspects as being of Asian descent.

So what has Trudeau said or tweeted about this alleged hate crime?


But the prime minister, who has been quick to comment on racial attacks in the past, has since Sunday been tweeting about other things, including his current meetings with leaders in Singapore and having some fun commenting on some new Canadian children, originally from Eritrea, delightfully getting their first taste of snow to which Trudeau joked in a tweet: "Now convince them that shovelling is fun and you're all set."

It's a terrific response to a special Canadian moment. But on this darker Canadian incident, his lack any rebuke of such horrific actions toward four kids wearing kippahs and fedoras is difficult to miss.

Jewish Defence League Canadian Chapter National Director Meir Weinstein said it "sends" a terrible message.

"I am very disappointed that the PM has remained silent regarding the recent violent, anti-Semitic attack against Jewish teens in Toronto," said Weinstein. "The lack of response seems to be a double standard. I remember the reaction of the PM regarding the young Islamic girl who falsely claimed that her Hijab was cut in a racist attack."

I reached out to the PMO Tuesday to comment on a variety of things, including the current attacks on Israel and the local beating of the four Jewish teens, and did get a message back from the media office in Ottawa.

"On the hate crime probe in Toronto in the Jewish teens on way to school? (Public Safety Minister Ralph) Goodale's office would be best place to answer this," said polite spokesperson Matt Pascuzzo.

Seems on this one, the prime minister is going to remain silent.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Victory or Not, Losing the Hasidim Made the Jerusalem Mayoral Race Tough for Moshe Leon 

The mayoral race in Jerusalem, to be settled in Tuesday's runoff, will be closer than appeared immediately after the first round two weeks ago. Despite multiple attempts, Moshe Leon, a former director general of the Prime Minister's Office under Benjamin Netanyahu, failed to snag the endorsement of Hasidic party Agudat Yisrael.

On Monday evening, the party's Council of Torah Sages decided not to support either Leon or his secular rival Ofer Berkovitch, in effect freeing some 30,000 voters to make up their own minds.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources in the capital's Hasidic community said at least some of these voters would opt for Berkovitch, who could only benefit from the anxiety, if not alarm, felt by many of the city's non-ultra-Orthodox voters at the prospect of a Leon victory.

Hundreds of volunteers took to non-ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to get out the vote — a task made harder by the fact that the runoff, unlike the nationwide local elections two weeks earlier, was not a paid holiday and the polls opened later. Results were expected by early Wednesday morning.

Leon's campaign also stepped up its efforts. This included a rare political rally at the Western Wall, led by rabbis Chaim Kanievsky and Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leaders of the Degel Hatorah faction of the United Torah Judaism party and Shas, respectively. Throughout the day, rabbis and Leon flooded ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, social media with exhortations to vote.

The 2018 Jerusalem election will presumably be remembered as a sea change in ultra-Orthodox politics. The split between Hasidic and non-Hasidic ("Lithuanian") Haredim, along with the independence that many voters have shown, have created a new situation. This was evident Monday afternoon at the Haredi headquarters of Berkovitch's Hitorerut ticket.

There were around a dozen people at the Jaffa Road headquarters, including the former Shas activist Avi Ifrach, two "Lithuanian" Haredim, one Belz Hasid and one Hasid from the Shlomei Emunim faction. Standing to the side was a young married "Lithuanian" yeshiva student, who was clearly there as a spy from Leon's campaign.

That didn't alter the conversation. All the activists were young ultra-Orthodox men, all were determined to help Berkovitch, the secular candidate, and all, except for Ifrach, requested anonymity. Some of them scoffed at being called "new Haredim" — Haredi men who work for a living instead of studying Torah. But all of them feared being "outed" as Berkovitch campaigners.

"I felt we were pushing other groups out of Jerusalem, and that's not the Jerusalem where my grandmother was raised," Ifrach said, with another Hasid adding: "People decided it was time to decide for themselves."

According to a third Hasid, "There are people who want to learn English, who want core studies" — the language, science and math that are shortchanged or absent from Haredi schools. "But they can't because the 'operators' decided it's forbidden. With Berkovitch we can get all that."

According to a fourth Hasid, "The question in the election is whether the mayor serves the residents or the political operators in the Haredi community."

Two very angry Haredi women suddenly interrupted. "Shame, blasphemers, the Gur Hasidim are one thing, they'll get Schneller," one said, referring to a large building lot in the city's Haredi neighborhoods. "But you're Sephardi, what are you doing here?" The question was addressed to Ifrach.

"I'm a Shasnik," Ifrach said, to which the woman responded, "Give me your name, I want to speak with [Shas Chairman Arye] Dery. If Rabbi Ovadia were alive, he would spit on you," she shouted, referring to the party's late spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The activists' efforts to engage the women in dialogue failed. "I don't want to talk to wicked people," one woman said. After a few more exchanges, the women left, but not before one said: "I don't think Leon is serious, but I do whatever my rabbi tells me."

Ifrach said after they left: "We don't go against the Torah. If someone comes whose rabbi told him to vote for Leon, we don't persuade him; I tell him do what your rabbi says."

The Belz Hasid said he estimated that around half his yeshiva classmates would vote, and that 90 percent would pick Berkovitch.

On Monday night, Leon seemed to admit that he had lost the Hasidic vote. "I have a deep understanding of the position you are in," he said in a recording sent to the phones of Haredi voters. "But only someone like me, who has sacrificed a lot, can call you with love and with a call of affection. Help me be elected mayor."

Speaking to Haaretz, Leon said: "Nothing is perfect, but most of the cards have fallen the way I wanted them to. From my perspective, what's important is the wide support I received from the religious-Zionist movement and from Likud. I'm working hard but I'm very relaxed."



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