Monday, December 31, 2018

Bernard Rosenfeld, Kaser village's only mayor in its history, dies at the age of 71 

Bernard Rosenfeld, the village's mayor since its founding in 1990, died this morning at the age of 71.

Rosenfeld's funeral is scheduled for after 11:30 a.m. at the Hasidic Jewish community's main synagogue on Phyllis Terrace, off Route 306 in the Ramapo village.

Rosenfeld will be buried immediately after the service in the Viznitz Cemetery on Brick Church Road. He died of cancer and had been taken to a hospital in Cleveland for treatment.

His friends and colleagues recalled Rosenfeld for his community work, dedication to his religious beliefs and Kaser's residents. Members of the Viznitz Hasidic Jewish sect comprise the village.

"He was a person who dedicated his life for the community — both the village and congregation," said Shlomo Koenig, a former village deputy mayor who works for the Rockland Sheriff's Office as an deputy and Internet crimes expert.

"He spent his whole life trying to help other people," Koenig said. "He will be missed a lot."

Ramapo police sent officers to the community to ensure there are no traffic issues. The police said they had no plans to closed Route 306 to traffic, as was the case when thousands attended the grand rabbi funeral and burial in March.

New Square Mayor Israel Spitzer called Rosenfeld a mentor.

"We're all very broken with this loss," Spitzer said. "He was a very very genuine, honest, good person. His whole life was community work, giving of himself to others."

Spitzer became mayor after Mats Friesel died at age 95 in August 2015 after a long illness. Friesel had been the Hasidic Skver Jewish community's only mayor starting in 1961.

"I learned a lot from him," Spitzer said of Rosenfeld. "I always enjoyed being in his company and discussing issues together and listening to his advice and direction."

Rosenfeld ran Viznitz's government and politics, helping to decide the political candidates who would receive the community's bloc vote.

Ramapo Supervisor Michael Specht called Rosenfeld a pioneer and leader.

"He was an educator who served as principal and then administrator of Viznitz Institutions." Specht said in a statement.

"Mayor Rosenfeld was a true pioneer who moved to the Town of Ramapo in 1965. He never wavered in his commitment to public service. My sincerest condolences to his family and the entire Kaser/Viznitz community."

His successor will be decided during the March elections.

Rosenfeld is survived by his wife, adult children, three sisters and grandchildren.



Orthodox Panic Over Yeshiva Rules As New York Democrats Grab Reins 

In the final weeks of 2018, New York's Orthodox Jewish community went into full-blown panic mode.

One Orthodox newspaper in Brooklyn, the Flatbush Jewish Journal, ran the screaming front-page headline "ATTACK ON OUR YESHIVAS!" in red, inch-high letters.

"The Jewish people will not bow down or surrender to the wicked, not even before the commissioner of education," warned Aron Tietelbaum, the grand rabbi of the Satmar Hasidic group, in a speech weeks earlier. "We will launch a major war against the commissioner of education in any way [necessary]," Teitelbaum said, according to a translation published by an Orthodox news site.

The threats and warnings came as state authorities announced long-awaited guidelines that will regulate the curricula of Orthodox yeshivas. They also come as New York State's ultra-Orthodox community faces a sharp loss of influence in Albany once the new legislature is sworn in.

Now, Orthodox leaders are using the state guidelines to rally their community, even as they recognize they must try to mend fences in the capital.

Last spring, State Sen. Simcha Felder, a close ally of ultra-Orthodox leaders, pulled off a remarkable coup, holding up the entire state budget in order to force through a law tailored to Orthodox yeshivas, which protected them from certain unwanted state regulations.

Felder's extraordinary power rested on the fact that the state Senate was otherwise evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. By siding with the GOP, he gave control of that chamber to the Republicans, a critical difference in a state where Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the vast majority of the assembly are Democrats.

But in November, Senate Democrats swept away Republicans in the Senate, whose leaders had been close with Agudath Israel of America, an organization that represents a number of ultra-Orthodox communities. Even though Felder held onto his Boro Park-based seat, the #BlueWave effectively stripped him of his outsized influence. Albany insiders say that Agudath Israel has few relationships with the Democrats who are set to take over the Senate in January.

Some Orthodox leaders say their community feels targeted. To the Orthodox community, "it just seems to be an attack," said Leon Goldenberg, a Jewish community activist who sits on the board of Agudath Israel, characterizing the feeling in the Orthodox community. "We work with the Democrats and we think we can work with the Democrats. But there is somewhat of a feeling [in the community] that there is payback."

The new guidelines, which came after advocacy by the yeshiva reform group YAFFED made education in Hasidic yeshivas a major issue in state and local politics, will require education authorities to review the curricula of every private school in New York.

Many who reviewed the initial guidelines concluded that they would require seven hours of secular subjects per day in grades seven and eight, a schedule that would leave little time for religious studies. Later, the state education department clarified that the guidelines actually require half that much time, but in the meantime, Orthodox leaders saw a winning issue and seized it.

An online petition that received nearly 60,000 signatures in protest of the regulations read, "We do not need these new State Education Department rules! We do not want these new State Education Department rules! We will not accept these new State Education Department rules!"

An article in Hamodia, a daily newspaper serving Orthodox readers largely in Brooklyn, reported that leading rabbis had asked for special prayers against the decree.

The Flatbush Jewish Journal wrote in an unsigned column on Dec. 6 that "people with little understanding of our lifestyle and religion will be dictating how we teach our children."

The fear that the state intended to interfere directly in the curricula of yeshivas spread across the Orthodox community. Calls for improved secular education have generally focused on yeshivas serving Hasidic boys, some of which are reported to put very little emphasis on secular education. Not all ultra-Orthodox people are Hasidic; non-Hasidic Orthodox schools generally provide substantial secular educations, so advocates for improved secular education in yeshivas have focused on Hasidic schools.

By early December, even Orthodox leaders outside of the Hasidic community were warning that the seven-hour requirement could threaten their schools.

"The news is that the goyim see us all in the same light," said Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, who leads a historic non-Hasidic Brooklyn yeshiva, in a video circulated by Agudath Israel. "We're all ultra-Orthodox fanatics, we all deprive our children of a proper education. Never mind the fact that most of our yeshivas score far higher in the state tests than the…public schools… No one's going to listen unless we organize as a community."

One Albany insider closer to the Jewish community said that the seven-hour issue was an easy one for Orthodox leaders.

"You're guaranteed to have a win," the insider said, arguing that it was clear that the state education department would clarify their guidelines, as they eventually did, on Dec. 21. "It's a guaranteed victory, so why not rile everybody up."

Agudath Israel and its allies made this effort to unite Orthodox Jews against state authorities as the organization enters a period of significant political uncertainty. The organization had made close alliances with Republicans in the State Senate, who lost their long-standing majority. Felder had used his status as a sort of swing vote to wield significant political power in Albany. The November elections ended that gambit.

"Basically [Agudath Israel] misplayed the whole situation," said another Albany insider. "They need an excuse for why they [messed] up the politics."

Agudath Israel's executive director, Rabbi Dovid Zweibel, was not available for comment. Rabbi Yeruchim Silber, Agudath Israel's director of New York government relations, declined to comment. Goldbenberg, the Agudath Israel board member, said that he and his colleagues do work with Democrats.

Still, the political shifts in Albany leave Agudath Israel with limited options.

"They're going to try to build power and try to build relationships," said the Albany insider close to the Jewish community. "They never really had an eye towards the future, and they just read the situation poorly."

Other Orthodox groups have been more measured in their response to the guidelines. The Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, which largely represents Modern Orthodox communities, sent a letter statement to schools in its network on December 19, in part saying that the state education department had clarified its guidance, and that the schools would not be required to provide seven hours of daily instruction.

"We have been, and remain, extremely concerned by State regulation of Yeshiva and day school curriculum," the OU said in its letter.

Naftuli Moster, who leads YAFFED, told the Forward that the roughly three-and-a-half hours of study now required per day were doable.

"Most Modern Orthodox yeshivas provide that," Moster said. "Most Hasidic girls schools even provide that… It really brings us down to a small segment that doesn't meet the standard, and this is something they need to remedy."

Yet Goldenberg, the Agudath board member, said that the Orthodox community's concerns were far from allayed. He raised additional issues, including questions about whether Jewish studies courses could count towards some secular requirements.

"When you're learning Talmud, it sharpens the mind," he said.



Sunday, December 30, 2018

Children kidnapped by Hasidic cult found safe in Mexico, leaders charged 

Yante Teller (left) and Chaim Teller. (New York State Police)

Two children kidnapped in New York by members of an extremist Jewish sect were found safe in Mexico after a several week search, and three leaders of the cult have been deported to the US, authorities said Friday.

The three plus a fourth man arrested earlier have been charged with abducting the victims — 14-year-old Yante Teller and her 12-year-old brother Chaim Teller — on December 8 from their home in upstate New York and taking them out of the country.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants engaged in a terrifying kidnapping of two children in the middle of the night, taking the children across the border to Mexico,” US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. “Thankfully, the kidnappers were no match for the perseverance of the FBI, the New York State Police and Mexican authorities, and the children were recovered this morning after a nearly three-week search,” Berman said.

Berman said the kidnapping victims were found Friday morning in the Mexican town of Tenango del Aire and plans are underway to reunite them with their mother.

Defendant Aron Rosner was arrested in New York City on Dec. 23, and Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner and Jacob Rosner were arrested Thursday after they were deported from Mexico to New York. Their attorney did not return an email seeking comment.

Authorities say the men are leaders of Lev Tahor, an extremist Jewish sect based in Guatemala.

Helbrans has been the leader of the cult since his father Shlomo Helbrans, who founded it, drowned in Mexico in 2017. The children belonged to his sister, who had fled with them and her other children from Guatemala earlier this year.

The FBI said in the court filings that the children’s mother had been a “voluntary member” of Lev Tahor but left the group after its leadership became increasingly extreme.

Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, relocated to Guatemala from Canada in 2014 following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages.

It moved in 2016 from the outskirts of Guatemala City to Oratorio, a village 30 miles east of Guatemala City, after religious disputes with its neighbors, and reportedly crossed the border from Guatemala to Mexico in June 2017. It may have returned later to Guatemala.

Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common. The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.

FBI Agent Jonathan Lane referred in the criminal complaint against the defendants to reports of Lev Tahor subjecting children to “physical, sexual and emotional abuse.”

Shlomo Helbrans was convicted of kidnapping a 13-year-old in New York in 1994 and was later deported to Israel.



Saturday, December 29, 2018

3 alleged leaders of New York-linked Jewish sect arrested on charges of kidnapping 2 children 

New York authorities said on Friday that three more alleged leaders of an extremist Jewish sect have been arrested on charges of kidnapping two children who were found safe in Mexico.

The three men brought the total arrested number to four, with Aron Rosner being arrested in New York on Dec. 23. Nachman Helbrans, Mayer Rosner and Jacob Rosner were arrested on Thursday following their deportation from Mexico to New York, the New York Daily News reported.

All four are being accused of abducting 14-year-old Yante Teller and her 12-year-old brother Chaim Teller, of Woodridge, N.Y., earlier this month and taking them out of the U.S.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants engaged in a terrifying kidnapping of two children in the middle of the night, taking the children across the border to Mexico,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.

"As alleged in the complaint, the defendants engaged in a terrifying kidnapping of two children in the middle of the night, taking the children across the border to Mexico."

“Thankfully, the kidnappers were no match for the perseverance of the FBI, the New York State Police and Mexican authorities, and the children were recovered this morning after a nearly three-week search,” Berman said.

The men are believed to be the leaders of Lev Tahor, described by the authorities as an “extremist Jewish sect based in Guatemala” that in the past reportedly subjected children to physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The authorities say that the mother of the children had been a “voluntary” member of the sect, which was founded by her father in 1994 – but decided to leave the group after the change of the leadership that made the sect more extreme.

Before her departure from the sect, she spoke out against the extremism within Lev Tahor and said that that children aren’t safe there.

Her father, Shlomo Helbrans, was previously convicted of kidnapping a 13-year-old in New York, according to the Daily News. He was later deported to Israel and died in 2017 in Mexico.

One of the defendants, Nachman Helbrans, is the new leader of the sect and the brother of the mother whose kids were abducted.

Authorities said the kids were located on Friday in the Mexican town of Tenango del Aire and there are plans to bring them back to the United States and reunite them with their mother.



Friday, December 28, 2018

Homes in Lamm’s Chestnut Ridge development not selling 

More than six years after construction began on the controversial Chestnut Ridge development, more than half of the first 113 townhouses to be built sit empty, no homes have been sold in the last 14 months, and the developer left prison in November with an uncertain future for his project.

Shalom Lamm was sentenced in federal court a year ago and served 10 months for fraudulently registering voters who didn't live in Bloomingburg in order to gain a Hasidic voting majority in the tiny Sullivan County village to elect candidates for mayor and trustees in 2014. He was released on Nov. 15, according to federal prison records.

Lamm didn't respond to phone messages left at his Long Island home and the Wurtsboro Airport, which he owns, to discuss his plans for Chestnut Ridge.

His company, Sullivan Farms II, completed more than a quarter of the 396 approved townhouses by 2017, but has sold only 51, according to Sullivan County property records and a lawsuit filed this year to challenge the homes' tax assessments. Three other units are being used as a synagogue.

The remaining 59 townhouses are unoccupied, including whole rows of homes that are enclosed behind a chain-link fence with locked gates.

Sullivan County records show that Sullivan Farms II transferred ownership of all of those empty homes, plus the 283 undeveloped building lots, to an entity called SFII Properties LLC on Nov. 26, shortly after Lamm was released from prison. Lamm has been connected with SFII Properties in the past, according to court records, but the entity is now based in Lakewood, N.J., and Yitzhok Gross signed the deed transfer on its behalf.

One side in the split Satmar Hasidic movement initially viewed Chestnut Ridge with excitement as the potential start of a Catskills counterpart to Kiryas Joel, the long-established village 25 miles to the south that is controlled by the other Satmar branch. But after a series of court fights over the project and Lamm's arrest, interest clearly petered out. Most home sales took place in 2016; the last was in October 2017.

Bloomingburg issued no certificates of occupancy at the development this year, and has no pending applications for building permits there.

The mayor, Russell Wood Jr., didn't respond to a message left for him at Village Hall to discuss the project.

Nine contractors who supplied materials or worked on Chestnut Ridge's townhouses filed liens on the homes in February, alleging that Sullivan Farms II owed them a combined $438,423 for tiles, hardwood floors, electrical wiring and other services and supplies.

Chestnut Ridge townhouses are listed for sale at either $325,000 or $345,000, which are high prices for attached homes in Sullivan County. All units are 2,500 square feet and have three bedrooms.



Thursday, December 27, 2018

NYC Bans Unvaccinated Kids From Brooklyn Jewish Schools 

This isn't the first time the question of banning unvaccinated students from school has arisen, but the story coming out of Brooklyn this Christmas season has a bit of a twist. School officials in several communities informed parents this week that students attending Orthodox Jewish yeshivas in Williamsburg, Mapleton, Broadway Triangle, Kensington, Sunset Park, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Midwood and Marine Park would not be allowed to attend class until they receive the proper number of measles vaccinations. This rule would apply even if the student had a religious exemption. An outbreak of the disease in these schools prompted the decision.

Health officials said in a letter Thursday that children in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn cannot return to their schools until they have gotten the appropriate measles vaccinations.

Amid a measles outbreak, New York City health officials are banning unvaccinated children from attending schools in some Brooklyn zip codes.

As of Wednesday, there had been 39 cases of confirmed measles in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn since October, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said. The child with the first confirmed case of the virus was unvaccinated and had contracted measles while on a trip to Israel. Additional unvaccinated children in the area also traveled to Israel and contracted measles while abroad. Israel is currently facing an outbreak of the disease.

A number of students who recently traveled to Israel came down with measles, leading to a quickly spreading outbreak. Israel has been experiencing a widespread measles outbreak this winter.

We're a bit lacking in laws covering how these policies are implemented. The National Institute of Health has guidelines for excluding students from classes when they have infectious diseases such as chickenpox and measles, but enforcement is generally handled at the local level.

It appears the resistance to childhood vaccinations is a particular problem in the Orthodox Jewish community and has been for some time now. The NIH issued a report specific to this community back in 2008 in which they came up with some recommendations, but no definitive policy was established. The primary driver was found to be the relative "isolation" of the Orthodox Jewish community and subsequent susceptibility to rumors about dangers associated with vaccines.

This whole "anti-vax" debate is one that I've largely stayed out of in the past, primarily because I find it so frustrating. Claims about dangers of autism, etc. from vaccines simply haven't held up under close scrutiny. The CDC's finding and recommendations regarding vaccinations present a compelling argument that any negative side-effects from vaccination are mild and very short-term. The odds of a disastrous side-effect are so remote as to be negligible, while the benefits of what's known as "herd immunity" vastly outweigh those concerns.

So can the schools ban these unvaccinated children until the measles outbreak subsides? Both from a legal perspective and sound medical research, the answer appears to be yes. There's still a fair chance that somebody will fight this based on a claim of religious freedom, but it's hard to muster much sympathy for them in that event.



Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Jewish Woman, 74, Confronts Anti-Semitic Protesters On Paris Train 

A 74-year-old Jewish woman whose father was killed in Auschwitz confronted three men who made a Nazi-inspired salute on a Paris train.

The men were participating in France's "Yellow Jacket" tax protest, and wearing its signature vests, when they made the quenelle salute promoted by the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala on Saturday evening, the French news outlet 20 Minutes reported.

In response, the woman — identified only as Agnes — said: "It's an anti-Semitic gesture, I'm Jewish, my father was deported to Auschwitz where he died. I ask you to stop. But these people laughed and continued," she said.

One of the protesters told her that Auschwitz never existed. Nobody on the train stood up in her defense.

France's National Bureau for Vigilance Against Antisemitism, or BNVCA, said recently that the protests launched last month were giving rise to anti-Semitic rhetoric. The movement has expanded into an anti-government drive featuring violent riots that have shut down the French capital several times. Some protesters have been filmed carrying signs and chanting slogans describing French President Emmanuel Macron as a "whore of the Jews" and their "puppet."

On Saturday, Yahoo News tweeted a video of protesters singing Dieudonne's song "La quenelle" in the Montmartre district of Paris.



Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Rapper sorry for ‘Jewish money’ lyrics that snagged LeBron 

An Atlanta rapper apologized Monday over lyrics mentioning “Jewish money,” after NBA superstar LeBron James came under fire for posting a video of himself singing the words from his song.

“The Jewish people I know are very wise with there [sic] money so that’s why I said we been gettin’ Jewish money I never thought anyone would take offense I’m sorry if I offended everybody never my intention I love all people,” 21 Savage wrote on Twitter.

The tweet by 21 Savage, whose real name is Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, came after James apologized for sharing the video of himself singing the rapper’s song “Asmr” and removed the post from his Instagram account.

“Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone. That’s not why I chose to share that lyric. I always [post lyrics]. That’s what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music, and that was the byproduct of it. So, I actually thought it was a compliment, and obviously it wasn’t through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies. It definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody,” James told ESPN Sunday after his Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies.

The full lyrics from the song are: “We been gettin’ that Jewish money, everything is Kosher (On God) Bought myself a ‘Ventador and bought my bitch a Roadster (Straight up) Drive my Lambo to the store, I’ma wave with my doors.”



Monday, December 24, 2018

NBA superstar James apologizes for controversial 'Jewish money' post 

American basketball star LeBron James has apologized for posting controversial song lyrics with the phrase "getting that Jewish money" on Instagram, where he boasts over 45 million followers.

"We been getting that Jewish Money, Everything is kosher," the Los Angeles Lakers forward posted in an Instagram story over the weekend, reciting lyrics from rapper 21 Savages' song "asmr" while wearing a Lakers sweatshirt.

Darren Rovell, a sports business analyst who formerly worked for ESPN, called attention to the post's problematic use of stereotypes painting Jewish people as wealthy and tightfisted.

"Surprised LeBron, who makes very few mistakes, put this out. Does quoting lyrics from a song absolve the person quoting from the responsibility behind the words?" Rovell tweeted. "I'd argue no, especially with a following of 45 million."

Speaking to ESPN following the Lakers' Sunday loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, James said "it definitely was not the intent, obviously, to hurt anybody."

"Apologies, for sure, if I offended anyone," the 33-year-old basketball great said. "That's not why I chose to share that lyric," adding that he regularly posts song lyrics.

"That's what I do. I ride in my car, I listen to great music, and that was the by-product of it," he continued. "So I actually thought it was a compliment, and obviously it wasn't through the lens of a lot of people. My apologies."

The NBA does not plan to fine James over the post, ESPN said.

James -- who regularly speaks out on politics and sociocultural issues -- also made waves over the weekend for comparing the US professional basketball and football leagues.

"In the NFL they got a bunch of old white men owning teams and they got that slave mentality," James said during Friday's episode of his HBO show "The Shop."

He then lauded the NBA's commissioner Adam Silver for letting players express themselves.

"It doesn't even matter if Adam agrees with what we are saying, he at least wants to hear us out," James said.

"As long as we are doing it in a very educational, nonviolent way, then he's absolutely okay with it."

The NFL in recent years has grappled with protests from players kneeling during the playing of the US national anthem, as part of movement calling attention to issues of racial injustice and social inequality.



Sunday, December 23, 2018

Last known Jewish fighter dies at age 94 

Simcha Rotem is the last known remaining Jewish fighter from the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis, . Photo / AP

Simcha Rotem, an Israeli Holocaust survivor who was among the last known Jewish fighters from the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis, has died.

He was 94.

Rotem, who went by the underground nickname "Kazik," took part in the single greatest act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

Though guaranteed to fail, the Warsaw ghetto uprising symbolized a refusal to succumb to Nazi atrocities and inspired other resistance campaigns by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Rotem, who passed away Saturday after a long illness, helped save the last survivors of the uprising by smuggling them out of the burning ghetto through sewage tunnels.

The Jewish fighters fought for nearly a month, fortifying themselves in bunkers and managing to kill 16 Nazis and wound nearly 100."This is a loss of a special character since Kazik was a real fighter, in the true sense of the word," said Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

"The challenge for all of us now is to continue giving meaning to remembrance without exemplary figures like Kazik."Rotem was born in 1924 in Warsaw, at a time when its vibrant Jewish community made up a third of the city's population. After World War II broke out, he was wounded in a German bombing campaign that destroyed his family home. His brother and five other close relatives were killed.

Shortly after, the city's Jews were herded into the infamous ghetto.The ghetto initially held some 380,000 Jews who were cramped into tight living spaces, and at its peak housed about a half million. Life in the ghetto included random raids, confiscations and abductions by Nazi soldiers. Disease and starvation were rampant, and bodies often appeared on the streets.

The resistance movement began to grow after the deportation of July 22, 1942, when 265,000 men, women and children were rounded up and later killed at the Treblinka death camp. As word of the Nazi genocide spread, those who remained behind no longer believed German promises that they would be sent to forced labor camps.

A small group of rebels began to spread calls for resistance, carrying out isolated acts of sabotage and attacks. Some Jews began defying German orders to report for deportation.The Nazis entered the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of the Passover holiday. Three days later, the Nazis set the ghetto ablaze, turning it into a fiery death trap, but the Jewish fighters kept up their struggle for nearly a month before they were brutally vanquished.

The teenage Rotem served as a liaison between the bunkers and took part in the fighting, before arranging for the escape of the few who did not join revolt leader Mordechai Anielewicz in the command bunker on 18 Mila Street for the final stand.

The Nazis and their collaborators ultimately killed 6 million Jews before the Allies' victory in World War II brought an end to the Holocaust.After the war, Rotem immigrated to pre-state Israel and fought in its war of independence. He was later an active speaker and member of the Yad Vashem committee responsible for selecting the Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

In 2013, on the revolt's 70th anniversary, he was honored by Poland for his role in the war."Kazik fought the Nazis, saved Jews, immigrated to Israel after the Holocaust, and told the story of his heroism to thousands of Israelis," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "His story and the story of the uprising will forever be with our people."Rotem is survived by his two children and five grandchildren.

With his passing, there is only a single known remaining Warsaw ghetto uprising survivor left in Israel — 89-year-old Aliza Vitis-Shomron. Her main task had been distributing leaflets in the ghetto before she was ordered to escape and tell the world of the Jews' heroic battle.



Saturday, December 22, 2018

Why Hasidic Jews Avoid The Torah On Chratzmich Eve 

It is a common practice among Hasidic Jews to abstain from studying the Torah on Christmas Eve. This tradition is remarkable, since for one thing, religious Jews do not usually have customs associated with Christian holidays. For another, studying of Torah is considered one of the most important things Jews must do, and they otherwise only abstain on solemn days, such as Tisha B’Av. Why would they eschew this sacred duty on “Nittel Nacht”, the night before Christmas?

The Yiddish name for Christmas is Nittel. It derives from the medieval Latin name of the holiday, Ntlis Dis Domin, “the Lord’s birthday”, which also gave French and Italian their names for the holiday, Noël and Natale respectively.

While we find references to Nittel in rabbinic literature throughout the Middle Ages, the first mention of abstaining from Torah study on Christmas Eve appears only in the second half of the 17th century.

According to Prof. Marc Shapiro of the University of Scranton, who conducted the most thorough study of the subject to date, the first known reference to the practice in rabbinic writings is a single line in Rabbi Yair Bacharach’s book Kitzur Halakhot. What Bacharach, one of the most important rabbis in 17 century Germany, actually wrote about the practice was lost, but the reference to it in his index has survived: “And the practice of canceling Torah study on Christmas.”

Although that earliest reference to the practice in Jewish texts dates to the 1600s, it could well have existed earlier. It is possible and indeed likely that Jews would have refrained from mentioning the practice in writing for fear that Christians would read about the custom and punish them for it.

On the other hand, as Shapiro notes in his article “Torah Study on Christmas Eve,” apostates (Jews who converted to Christianity) in the 16th and 17th centuries are not known to have mentioned the practice in their anti-Jewish polemics, which in and of itself indicates that they did not know about it. The requisite conclusion is that either the practice did not exist yet, or perhaps was not widespread yet.

According to medieval Jewish belief, for his crime of apostasy – teaching laws to the Jews that were not in the Torah – Jesus is confined to a pool of sewage in Hell for eternity. A common theme in the anti-Jewish writings by medieval apostates in Germany is that on Christmas Eve specifically, Jesus “has to wander in all pits of excrement or latrines throughout the world,” as one such apostate Johann Pfefferkorn wrote in 1511.

As for the practice of abstaining from Torah study in relation to Christianity, the earliest mention isn’t even about Christmas. Shapiro cites the writings of the apostate Johann Adrian from 1609, who wrote that Jews do not study Torah on Ascension Day, not Christmas. That is because, Adrian wrote, Jews believe that Jesus spends the night crawling through sewage, and that if he hears the Torah being studied in a house, he gets a respite from this dreadful punishment. Thus, by abstaining from Torah study, they deprive him of that respite.

Adrian also mentions that parents tell their children “See that the hanged one does not pull you in,” meaning into the toilet.

We can infer that had Adrian known about the practice of abstaining from Torah study on Christmas Eve and its reason, he would have happily mentioned it.

The same applies to another apostate, Julius Conrad Otto, who published an anti-Jewish polemic in 1613 in which he claims that Jews curse Jesus on Christmas Eve, but he says nothing about abstaining from Torah study.

The specific prohibition on studying Torah on Christmas eve first appears in writing, according to Shapiro’s research, in 1614, in the writings of the apostate Samuel Friedrich Brenz. His stated grounds are the same as given by Adrian for abstaining from Torah study on Ascension Day: doing so gives Jesus a respite from crawling through excrement. Brenz also claims that Jews consume a lot of garlic on this day, no doubt out of the belief that this will ward off the feared Jesus. The belief that garlic wards off demons is attested in Jewish writings.

Two years later, in 1616, another apostate named Dietrich Schwab repeated the charge that Jews believed that Jesus roamed the world’s toilets on Christmas Eve, mentioning that they “instill in their children and other members of their house great fear and horror… they do not desire to go into the latrine on this night unless they are in the most extreme need and are forced to do so.” Schwab also mentions the custom of abstaining of Torah study on this day in order to give Jesus “no rest or respite” from his “terrible anguish.”

Based on these references, it appears that the tradition of not studying Torah on Christmas Eve appeared, or at least became widespread, in the early 17th century, and that it was based on the notion that by doing so they made Jesus’ divine punishment - crawling through excrement - worse.

The tradition caught on in subsequent generations, markedly in Eastern Europe, which had a large population of Jews.

By the 19th century, or perhaps earlier, the original reasoning behind the practice was forgotten. But still Jews continued to behave in the way learned from their rabbis.

Writings in this period make up different explanations for the practice, but by far the most common is that Jews were habitually attacked by Christians on Christmas Eve. To prevent this, they stayed home and didn’t study Torah. This is evidently a later rationalization.

So today some Jews continue the tradition of abstaining from Torah study on Christmas Eve just as their rabbis did over the generations, not knowing that the reason for this was an old, dark superstition that was held by German Jews in the 17th century, one in which no one today believes.



Friday, December 21, 2018

State education mandate angers yeshivas 

The state’s effort to ensure that religious schools are teaching core academic subjects has set off a fierce backlash in Kiryas Joel and other Orthodox communities in New York, outraging parents who see the mandate as a threat to Torah-focused education and their culture.

As of Thursday, more than 55,000 people had signed an online petition from yeshiva parents to declare their opposition to the new enforcement push announced last month by the Education Department. The petition tells Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia: “We trust our Rabbis, our principals, and our leaders to create the school schedule and curriculum that works best for our children.”

The state has ordered that all nonpublic schools in New York undergo reviews to verify they are providing a “substantially equivalent” education to that of public schools, a longstanding requirement in state law. Schools that are found not to be spending enough classroom time on English, math and other secular subjects are expected to correct those deficiencies, and risk losing state funding for textbooks and busing if they don’t.

Yeshiva parents are objecting to what they see as government interference and a violation of religious rights. They also have zeroed in on what they say are excessive demands in the state guidelines, which appear to require seven hours per day of secular instruction for grades 5-8.

Rabbi Yoel Loeb, who has eight children attending Hasidic schools in the Kiryas Joel area and has lobbied Elia to preserve that teaching tradition, gathered with other opponents on Thursday outside the Education Department in Albany, where the department held its first training session with school administrators to implement the new policy.

He said earlier in an interview that the Hasidic community can’t compromise with state officials on its intensive religious study, which he said was the secret to its cohesion and durability.

“This is the only way the Jewish religion will survive for the next generations,” he said.

Loeb also pointed to the low levels of crime and drug abuse in Orthodox communities as evidence of the effectiveness of their schools.

Satmar Grand Rebbe Aaron Teitelbaum, leader of the Satmar Hasidic branch that makes up a majority in Kiryas Joel, vowed defiance of the Education Department in a speech in Yiddish to throngs of followers in Brooklyn last month. “We accuse the state education commissioner of harassing all God-fearing Jews, the Jews who want to educate their sons and daughters in the ways of Torah that we have received, generation after generation, from our rabbis,” Teitelbaum said, according to an English translation.

Kiryas Joel School Superintendent Joel Petlin, who runs the village’s public school for special-needs students and will be in charge of reviewing Kiryas Joel’s yeshivas, gave a prepared statement in response to the petition drive: “I recognize the backlash from the religious school community, and I’m hopeful that the Education Department and Legislature will devise a method by which education programs can be measured, and improvements can be made in private schools, while protecting the rights of parents to educate children in the religious schools of their choice.”

The New York State Catholic Conference welcomed the state’s scrutiny of Catholic schools, saying their test scores and graduation and college-placement rates often exceed those of public schools. But it wants the Education Department to conduct the reviews, not the school districts in which they are located.

Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, said in a statement: “We are eager to demonstrate our success to parents and New York State, but it is unacceptable for local public school boards, which are competitors, to have authority over the operations of our schools.”



Thursday, December 20, 2018

Mother of six escapes Jewish 'cult' in Guatemala fleeing to Brooklyn after being told her 13-year-old daughter would be forced to marry one of the leader's sons 

A woman who escaped from an ultra-orthodox Jewish cult in Guatemala has arrived in Brooklyn and blown the whistle on some of its most alleged 'barbaric and abusive' customs.  

Sara Helbrans, 32, didn't start making waves until earlier this year, when she was told her 13-year-old daughter would be forced to marry the son of a community leader.

Sara left the sect know as Lev Tahor or 'Pure Heart' in Hebrew along with her six children, setting off a chain of deeply disturbing events.

It has led to the start of numerous custody battles and the arrest of five former community leaders, including her brother. 

Sara alleges the group from which she escaped, is a cult — and she and her six kids are in desperate need of protection.

'I am very imminently afraid from the cult and what the children's father and other cult members may do now that we are no longer under their power and manipulation,' according to filings she submitted to a Brooklyn court.   

Before Sara fled, Helbrans had been a part of the cult her entire life. 

Her father, Shlomo Helbrans, founded the group in Jerusalem in 1987. He drowned in a river on a trip to Mexico in 2017 according to the New York Post. 

The cult is believed to have continually abused and tortured its members.

It is accused of kidnapping, having connections to anti-Zionist Islamic groups, torturing children, and severely restrict the lives and wellbeing of its followers.

Schlomo's son, Sara's brother, Nachman Helbrans, took over the leadership role along with a group of associates and by all account has made the cult even stricter.

Despite being siblings with the new leader, when she complained about plans for her 13-year-old daughter being married-off, her complaints were not well received. 

Court papers allege Sara was ostracized by her community, separated from her husband and children and ordered to perform the menial of tasks. 

'They tortured her. She was forced to clean toilets. She wasn't allowed to talk to anyone,' said a source to the Post. 

Sara was finally told to leave the sect and renounce custody of her kids, according to court filings.

After refusing, she then tried to gather all of her kids together in order to escape.

The children had been separated and were living with different families. 

Sara only managed to find three of the kids, taking her 10, 8-and 5-year-old children with her - before 'running for her life'.

Her three other children were initially left behind -  13-year-old Yante and two of her brothers, 12-year-old Chaim and six-year-old Duvid.

The children were later located and found to be living in Mexico with their father who was detained by the authorities. 

All six children then made it to Brooklyn with their mother, however Sara is still in turmoil after the two eldest kids were later 'kidnapped' by the cult.

'I am very worried, afraid and concerned that the father and his fellow members of the cult will try to kidnap the children and compel the children to return to the cult, where they are in danger of malnourishment, corporal punishment and forced to marry persons much older than them,' she wrote in her November 14 filing in Brooklyn Family Court.

Sara is now seeking custody of her children and an order of protection against her husband.

Just as she had filed the order to obtain custody of her own children, one of Lev Tahor's leaders, Shmiel Weingarten, arrived in Brooklyn from Guatemala to file a petition on behalf of the 13-year-old girl, Yante.

The order from the teen requests that she lives with her father or return to Guatemala.

The order also contained allegations of abuse against Sara. 

'She would beat the children much more because of anger, and the house became a nightmare, until my father had no other choice but to send the children to other families from time to time,' says the petition filed in Yante's name.

The father, meanwhile, denies all claims of abuse and mistreatment of children in Lev Tahor and considers the children kidnapped from their dad.

One of Sara's supporters has dismissed the allegations saying the group often makes counterclaims against escapees.



Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Paris woman’s nose broken in alleged antisemitic assault 

A French-Jewish woman told police that two teenagers hurling antisemitic insults robbed and hit her on a main street of Paris suburb.

The woman, aged 20, said in her complaint to police that the incident happened Monday in the heavily Jewish suburb of Sarcelles north of Paris, the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Antisemitism, or BNVCA, wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Prying her cellphone out of her hands, the two assailants, whom she said were black, hit her face while saying: "Are you afraid, you Jewess?" she told police. A passerby intervened, allowing the woman to flee to her home with a broken nose and bloody face, the report said. She was on her way home from work, she also said. The two alleged assailants fled the scene. BNVCA called on police to investigate and apprehend the suspects.

France has seen an increase of 69 percent in the number of antisemitic incidents in the first 10 months of 2018 over the corresponding period last year, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said last month.

In addition to antisemitic assaults motivated purely by hate, French Jews have reported an increase in the number of incidents also featuring robbery. Some of the victims were selected because they are Jewish, while others began as random criminal acts before escalating into violent assaults after the perpetrators discovered the Jewish identity of their victims.



Tuesday, December 18, 2018

We Must Confront Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community 

I have always been a proud and active member of the Jewish community. I strongly believe in uniting Jews in the Diaspora with the people of Israel. I've constantly worked to support pro-Israel charities and projects that seek to unite Jews across the world in order to face the challenges to our future.

Now it is time to take on another aspect of this challenge: saving Jewish children from the horrors of child sexual abuse.

Unfortunately, the global Jewish community has failed victims of abuse. Innocent children have been hurt by teachers, family members, community leaders, and others — and all of this has happened as our community has stood by, often in silence. That is why I have recently joined the board of Jewish Community Watch (JCW), a leading organization combating child sexual abuse in the Jewish community.

The connection between the Jews in the Diaspora and Israel is something we should always recognize — but at times, this link gives sexual abusers an easy way out. Too often, an abuser flees to Israel either before they can be arrested or after serving a prison term. Sometimes, a suspect runs from Israel to the United States and other countries, as well. These criminals try to quietly rejoin a community by hiding their past, while they continue targeting children.

JCW's team — and others with a similar mission — seek to make it more difficult for abusers to flee from justice. We try to ensure that Jewish communities around the world are properly informed of the threat posed by child predators. With improved cooperation between US and international authorities — and the Israeli police and judicial system — abusers will no longer have the option to run away from justice, regardless of where they flee.

There are also many opportunities for learning and collaboration. Though there is still much work to be done, Israel has developed some innovative approaches to combating child abuse through legislation and social policy. Through JCW and other organizations, Israel can build bridges with the US, based on successful tactics and techniques — and also share some of its own.

We learn in the Talmud that saving a Jewish life is like saving the world. The world has been shattered for many of these children, and many of them carry the burden for the rest of their lives. We seek to ensure that the next generation doesn't have to grow up as victims any longer. Our awareness initiatives prevent abuse, and save children from dangerous people around them. Through counseling and support services, we also help victims become survivors, drawing strength from each other to face the world and deal with their pain.

Sadly, sexual abuse happens in every community. Today, we are more aware of it — and with this awareness, it is incumbent upon us to support the survivors and stop the abusers from hurting more children. These are the future members of our community, they are the future of the Jewish people, and it is our responsibility to invest in a happy, healthy, future for them and all of us.

Tila Falic Levi is a Jewish community activist and leader and a mother of five.



Monday, December 17, 2018

Satmar and other Hasidic sects raise $2 million to lobby for federal prison reform 

A Hasidic crusade for federal prison reform could open the door for a group of unintended beneficiaries — 2,600 prisoners serving lengthy sentences for selling crack cocaine.

Although Jewish people represent less than 1% of the 183,000 federal prisoner population, Hasidic leaders in New York are pushing for changes that would nix some mandatory sentencing recommendations and give judges more discretion.

The "First Step Act," a criminal justice measure with bipartisan support, would allow convicted drug peddlers to petition judges for their immediate release, though the Hasidic effort is more likely aimed at helping prisoners like Mordechai Samet, who in 2003, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for running what prosecutors called a "full-service fraud factory."

Prosecutors said Samet stole at least $5.5 million through multiple scams, including bogus business loans and fake lotteries.

But local Hasidic prison reform backers insist the latest lobbying effort has nothing to do with the Samet case, noting he would not be eligible for release under the legislation.

"The Hasidic community has long been active in issues surrounding sentences and prison reform as a consequence of deeply held foundational beliefs in everybody deserving a second chance," said Michael Tobman a political consultant active with Hasidic communities.

Satmar and other Hasidic sects have already raised $2 million to fund their lobbying efforts.

The legislation has the support of President Trump and passed the House of Representatives in May.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has blocked the bill, is expected to finally allow it to come for a vote in the next few days.

"This is the final showdown," a website pressing members of the Orthodox community to donate to the cause says. "This is where the journey begins or ends. This is when you can change the future of hundreds of inmates in our community."

Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, a member of the Skverer Hasidic sect, is leading the lobbying push.

"Hopefully we will see soon…fathers and mothers and their children are being united again," Margaretten says in a YouTube video urging people to donate to the cause.

He was inspired to push for change after seeing the suffering experienced by the family of a close friend.

In 2011, with the help of community funds, Margaretten hired Washington lobbyist Greg Mitchel and former Utah U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman.

Last December, Trump commuted the 27 year prison sentence of an influential kosher slaughterhouse operator. Sholom Rubashkin, a member of the Lubavitch Hasidic sect, turned into a cause celebre after his sentence in 2009.



Sunday, December 16, 2018

Shame on Facebook for Silencing “The Jewish Voice” 

With over 2.2 billion account holders, Facebook has evolved into one of the premiere tools of global communication, especially in the fields of marketing, culture, science, religion and politics. The burgeoning imbroglio concerning users stressing out over the disturbing knowledge that their personal data may have been compromised and disseminated by Cambridge Analytica is most horrifying.

What is even more hideous is the fact that Facebook has embarked on a political campaign to target certain users for their views. Case in point: Liberal and leftist groups and/or individuals or those who toe the line that CEO Mark Zuckerberg happens to subscribe to are given the opportunity to gain an infinite amount of “likes” and followers and never is their content censored. On the other hand, anyone who does not march lock step with the Facebook doctrine is dealt with in a punitive manner that comes in the form of losing followers, “likes” and essentially remaining stagnant.

This rings true for the Jewish Voice. We have witnessed a concerted effort on the part of Facebook to monitor and censor our posts and to limit the amount of followers and readers that we have.

The larger implications of Facebook’s problems however carries way more long term egregious ramifications.  The fact that it is now clear that Facebook has morphed in to a political tool that cryptically enforces the unyielding mantra of liberalism while making it a priority to feverishly target, punish, silence and block political conservatives (i.e. Trump supporters and others of that ilk) or any person or group that does comport with their circumscribed philosophies, has really placed the First amendment on life support.

Those shady behind the scenes “deep state” folks who are orchestrating an algorithm fiasco in the cyber world of Facebook, and who are presumably directed to do so by Zuckerberg or his immediate acolytes are creating a free speech uprising of sorts. These Facebook main characters should know that by taking an active role in repressing the ability to express oneself, then a backlash of mammoth proportions is soon to follow.

In light of this, we ask that Congress step up to the proverbial plate and do so with alacrity in initiating legislative measures to curtail the insidious Orwellian monster that Facebook has come to represent.  While the Trump administration consistently trumpets the fact that a litany of federal regulations have been repealed, the time is long overdue for enforceable rules to be immediately implemented in order to effectively harness the increasing danger to our civil, political and cultural freedoms that this social media behemoth now personifies.

Crafting regulations to protect the iconic values that our nation was predicated on is not only advisable in light of direct encroachments on our freedoms but they are absolutely imperative in preserving our reputation for fair, free open and honest debate in America and throughout the world. Facebook MUST be taken to task !!



Saturday, December 15, 2018

New Jewish Marine was never prouder than standing before Jerusalem’s US embassy 

Private First Class Zachary Zeff was awestruck when he first laid eyes on the new United States embassy in Jerusalem this past summer.

Zeff wasn’t officially a Marine then — he was, in fact, several weeks shy of reporting to Parris Island, South Carolina, for boot camp. It was simply his last summer as a civilian, a summer that included a Birthright trip followed by a visit with his older sister in Tel Aviv.

But it was in Jerusalem on the new embassy grounds where Zeff’s pride in being American and Jewish came together.

“It was awesome. All embassies are guarded by Marines, and so it was just so cool to see them. It was exciting and I felt so proud,” Zeff said.

Now officially a Marine after completing boot camp in November, Zeff is on a 10-day leave at home in Florida before reporting to the fort for advanced infantry training. Zeff spoke with The Times of Israel about being the only Jewish recruit in his company of 600 and how much he misses Israel.

Zeff grew up in Davie, Florida, just west of Fort Lauderdale. As a triplet, along with his two brothers Nathan and Stephen, Zeff went to Jewish day school for a couple of years. After their bar mitzvah, the brothers left Hebrew school and Zeff’s Judaism was more relegated to large family gatherings for the holidays, he said.

Unlike his brothers, he knew from a young age he would enlist in the military — though it took a few years to commit. After high school he attended college for two years while Nathan pursued firefighting and Stephen began working in network engineering.

Finally, Zeff said, he decided it was “now or never.”

 “I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t do it now. I chose the Marines. When I was younger maybe [I liked them] because of their uniforms, but later it was the professionalism I saw in them and the idea that they were the toughest,” Zeff said via telephone from his home in South Florida.

At 23, Zeff is slightly older than the average recruit. Inevitably his fellow recruits nicknamed him “Dad” and “Papa.” Zeff doesn’t mind, and said his age helped him through some of the more grueling aspects of boot camp.

“Marine boot camp has the reputation for being the hardest. Obviously, there’s no easy part of boot camp, but I think having that mature mindset helped me know where I was and why I was there. Whenever anybody was crying and whining, I just embraced it,” Zeff said.

Zeff’s attitude has paid off. He completed training on November 30 as an honor graduate. Honor graduate awards go to recruits who demonstrate fitness, strong leadership skills and are an overall example of what it is to be a Marine. Or, as Zeff put it, “You make sure the platoon gets it done in a timely manner.”

Zeff’s parents, stepparents, brothers — Zeff is a triplet — and girlfriend all attended his graduation. His sister Rebecca Zeff couldn’t make it, but watched live stream videos from Israel.

Zeff isn’t the first in his family to serve. His grandfather, Paul T. Zeff, was an Army combat medic during World War II, and his uncle served in the Air Force.

His grandfather died when Zeff was 10, before Zeff had a chance to really speak with him about his wartime experience. However, he kept his grandfather’s “Prayer book for Jews in the US Armed Forces” on his shelf next to his other Marine books and knickknacks.

“It was pretty special to see. A siddur [prayer book] that had been to Normandy and back was sitting in Zach’s room as he prepared to go to boot camp himself,” said Rebecca Zeff in a telephone call from her home in Tel Aviv.

 “We normally keep our grandfather’s WWII memorabilia all together — a photo album, his glasses, his bronze star. So even if my grandpa was a distant memory for Zach, I think he admires him and is connected to him more than he realizes,” she said.

Rebecca said she made her younger brother promise he’d attend services on Sundays, the only day available for worship, during boot camp. He kept his word. Each week, when recruits called out which service they’d attend, it never failed to surprise a fellow recruit to learn Zeff was Jewish.

“Surprisingly there were some who had never met a Jewish person before. Most of them were curious about it, and had a lot of questions,” he said.

Jewish Americans have served in the US armed forces dating back to before the Colonial Era. Jews comprise about 2.2 percent of US population, and about one-third of one percent of the US military. Of the Jews who serve, about 1% serve in the Marine Corps.

According to a 2017 survey done by the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council, there are currently 10,000 Jews in active duty forces and 5,000 in the guard and reserves. Some 50% of those serving are officers — a staggering statistic, said Anna Selman, program director and public relations coordinator for the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. Over 80,000 Jews are estimated to have served in the US Armed Forces since 9/11.

Because there are few Jews in the armed forces, Rebecca encouraged Zeff to go on Birthright and then visit her in Tel Aviv.

“I thought it would be good for him to come, clear his mind before he went to training. There aren’t that many Jews in the military and I wanted him to know he’s Jewish before he went in and not lose himself in it [training],” Rebecca said.

Of all the places they visited, it was Jerusalem that left the deepest impression.

“When we saw the Old City and then the embassy his eyes lit up. He was so proud to be both [Jewish and American] there. There were hearts and glitter in his eyes,” she said.



Friday, December 14, 2018

NYU Jewish center closes temporarily over threatening social media posts 

A Jewish center at New York University closed temporarily after concern over threatening social media posts.

The Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU was closed for most of the day on Wednesday.

"We became aware of several public online postings by an NYU student which were anti-Semitic in nature and potentially threatening," Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, executive director of the center, wrote in an email to students on Tuesday night.

The building did not open on Wednesday morning while officials consulted with security experts. It reopened late on Wednesday afternoon and remained open until 1 a.m. for students to talk to staff and a counselor from the university's wellness center.

A Facebook page called SJP Uncovered posted screenshots of a post from a student it believed to be responsible for the posts, though the student responsible has not been named by the university or the center.

The NYU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine said that the student that has been named on social media is not affiliated with the organization, "nevertheless, we completely oppose and condemn his statements," SJP said in a statement.

The incident comes a less than a week after   New York University's student government passed a resolution calling on the school to divest from companies with Israel ties.



Thursday, December 13, 2018

In plea deal to avoid prison, former settlement mayor admits to buying votes 

The former mayor of the ultra-Orthodox settlement Emmanuel in the northern West Bank admitted, as part of a plea bargain, to bribing local members of the Chabad Hasidic movement and illegally influencing the outcome of the 2013 municipal elections.

Ezra Gershi will serve six months of community service, pay a NIS 15,000 ($4,000) fine and will be convicted with moral turpitude, a designation that will prevent him from seeking public office in the future, according to the deal signed Tuesday. He will also be given a six-month suspended prison sentence.

Under the plea bargain, Gershi will admit that he violated local council law in the 2013 municipal elections, which he went on to win.

Gershi allegedly promised to employ Chabad members in paid positions in the local council, to fund the movement and provide benefits to top officials. He handed over a NIS 300,000 ($82,000) guarantee he would fulfill those commitments.

The former mayor was accused of allowing Chabad leaders in the town to convert a brand-new, publicly funded gymnasium into a private yeshiva in exchange for hundreds of votes from Chabad-affiliated residents.

According to the indictment, the mayor failed to disclose that agreement as legally required.

The State Prosecutor's Office handed down its indictment in August against Gershi, as well as an unnamed senior Chabad official who reached the secret deal with the then-mayor.

Despite the fact that the charges had already been filed against him, Gershi — who had served as mayor since 2008 — attempted to run for a third term in the municipal elections in October. He was said to have had a good chance of winning, but unexpectedly dropped out days before the vote, throwing his weight behind freshman politician Eliyahu Gafni, who agreed to make Gershi his deputy after securing a landslide victory.

Residents of the settlement, where roughly 3,000 people live, have suspected Gershi of abusing his position. There has been a video circulating over the past year in Emmanuel of what appears to be the mayor turning off the street lamps via a switch inside his house before going to bed ostensibly so that he can get a better night's rest.

In a statement responding to the plea agreement, the State Prosecutor's Office said it was willing to reach a compromise with the former mayor despite the serious charges against him, due to Gershi's willingness to cooperate throughout the investigation.

As part of the agreement, the former Emmanuel mayor also agreed to not take on the agreed-upon post of deputy mayor.

"It is a proportionate punishment that reflects the severity of Gershi's actions on one hand, and his taking of responsibility, the regret he expressed and his saving of the judicial system's time, on the other," the statement said.

Gershi's attorney, Sharon Nahari, asserted that his client's intentions were pure and that he was acting on behalf of the residents of Emmanuel.

"We are happy that the State Prosecutor's Office has accepted our arguments and is ready to close the case with only community service and a fine," Nahari said.



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Rockland holds 12th free measles clinic as cases rise over 90 

Rockland County held its 12th measles vaccination clinic in Rockland County Tuesday in an effort to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease.

Rockland health officials say a total of 91 cases have been reported in the county since the outbreak started back in September.

The clinic was held at Palisades Center Mall. The Best Buy in the Palisades Mall is one of the locations where the county has warned some may have been exposed to the disease on Nov. 24.

The outbreak of the disease was traced back to an international traveler who carried the disease from Israel to Rockland. It quickly spread within the Hasidic Jewish community, which typically has large gatherings.

Rockland officials say the cases are in clusters in New Square, Spring Valley and Monsey.

The county says a total of 11,100 MMR vaccines have been given by the Department of Health and local doctors.



Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Airmont slapped with another federal discrimination lawsuit 

Another federal lawsuit filed by a group of Hasidic Jews accuses village officials of systemic discrimination by using their zoning and inspection powers to prevent the residents from practicing their religion.

The lawsuit claims the village is hostile toward Hasidic Jews and tries to prevent residents from praying and holding services in their homes by delaying approvals for residential houses of worship, and by issuing building and zoning violations with daily fines of up to $1,000 and threats of jail.

"The actions of Airmont officials frustrate, discourage, and outright deny the rights of its citizens to freely exercise their faith," said attorney Stephen Dillard, representing the rabbis and residents. "These actions are unlawful and egregious and cannot be allowed to continue."

The lawsuit filed by Dillard's law firm and the Texas-based First Liberty Institute on behalf of the residents and several rabbis marks the second this month against the village.

The discrimination lawsuit is the fourth describing discrimination against Hasidic and Orthodox Jews since the village formed in 1991. The village lost the first two over its zoning practices at a heavy financial cost to taxpayers.

Earlier this month, the Satmar Hasidic Jewish Central UTA school's lawsuit alleged Airmont officials are illegally using zoning laws and building-inspection powers to clamp down on the religious community and deny the congregation the right to operate a school on Cherry Lane.

The school's legal action also claims the Suffern Central school district has denied students with disabilities transportation and educational services.

Village denies discrimination
Mayor Phillip Gigante didn't return a request for comment on the latest lawsuit.

Gigante, Village Attorney Sean Mack and Building Department officials have denied any discrimination, arguing the village enforces its zoning and fire and safety codes equally.

Mack said Tuesday he needed to review the First Liberty lawsuit before commenting.

Residents and rabbis contend in Monday's lawsuit that they are forced to ask village officials for permission to use their homes for worship and are "put through a substantially burdensome process" that "forces residents to spend tens of thousands of dollars and several years to complete a never-ending approval process."

The lawsuit states "Rabbi David Ribiat has paid more than $40,000 in related fees during 2 1/2 years of trying to get approvals that has included multiple delays with no resolution."

Earlier this year, Rabbi Moishe Berger faced the prospect of a year in jail for simply welcoming his neighbors into his home for prayer, the lawsuit says. Berger had opened a shul without village approvals.

Dillard, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, and the First Liberty Institute are representing Ribiat, as well as Congregation of Ridnik, Congregation Meor Yosef, Congregation Khal Boston, Rabbi Abraham Horowitzand Chaim Cahan.

The lawsuit names, among others, Gigante, Board of Trustees members, the village attorney, members of the planning and zoning boards, and Building Department inspectors and code-enforcement officers.

The lawsuit wants Airmont's policies and actions declared in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person's Act, known as RLUIPA, the federal Fair Housing Act, the First , Fifth and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the New York State Constitution.

In a lawsuit with 11 causes of actions, the residents also are seeking punitive damages and attorneys' fees from village taxpayers.

"Airmont's actions are undeniably a burden on the religious exercise of our clients," said Keisha Russell, associate counsel for First Liberty. "The First Amendment and federal law protect the right of Americans to pray together in their homes free from unreasonable and intrusive government interference like we've seen in Airmont."

Russell also is involved in the Central UTA lawsuit.

Discrimination against Orthodox Jews and civil rights lawsuits have trailed Airmont since residents formed the village in 1991, when local congregations took the nascent village to federal court. The U.S. Attorney General's Office later sued the village over discriminatory zoning.

The village lost the first two cases for using its zoning to block residential houses of worship and then schools with dormitories in the mid-1990s. The fights cost taxpayers several million dollars in legal fees and penalties.

First Liberty and its clients are banking on proving that thevillage's history in these two latest cases continue a practice started 30 years ago.

"Over that time it has taken various forms and has been passed down to a new generation of those in power, but the common denominator has been an unwritten government policy to frustrate, fatigue, discourage, delay, deter and deny the rights of citizens to the free exercise of religion and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment," the lawsuit says.

Hiram Sasser, general counsel of First Liberty, said the time has come to end the discrimination.

"Thirty years of religious bigotry are enough," he said. "The Orthodox Jewish community of Airmont just wants to be left alone to peacefully worship and coexist but Airmont officials are openly hostile."



Monday, December 10, 2018

Camp Monroe site sold to NJ congregation 

The picturesque land off Trout Brook Road where generations of children attended Camp Monroe each summer has changed hands for the second time in three years, sold in October to a Lakewood, N.J., entity that appears intent on continuing to use the property as a camp.

Property-sale records filed Friday with the Orange County Clerk's Office show that Congregation Heichal Torah Veavodah bought 100 acres from BTSS Holdings LLC for $3.6 million on Oct. 12.

The congregation was incorporated as a nonprofit in New Jersey last year, and again in New York on the day before it bought Camp Monroe.

The incorporation filing in New York says the congregation provides camp activities at little or no cost to the families whose children attend.

A Long Island couple bought Camp Monroe in 2015 from longtime owner Stanley Felsinger and kept the co-ed camp going for three summers.

This year, the couple - David and Dana Block - rented out the property to a Hasidic group from Lakewood that ran a three-week boys' camp in July and August.

It's unclear if that was the same group that has since bought the land.

Felsinger, who moved to Lakewood after selling the camp but had continued to own 45 adjacent acres in Monroe and Chester, sold his remaining land for $570,000 to a Monroe developer in August, two months before the Blocks sold the camp, according to county records.

The developer, John Sorrentino, already has applied to subdivide two of those three parcels for housing.

The Town of Chester Planning Board is scheduled to take up his request to build three homes on 4.8 acres for the first time on Wednesday.

The Town of Monroe Planning Board reviewed Sorrentino's application to build eight houses on 13 acres a few weeks earlier.

Sorrentino hasn't introduced plans yet for a third parcel that takes up 27 acres in Chester.

Other developers had pitched housing proposals for Camp Monroe and surrounding land at least twice since 2004, but none of those plans advanced beyond the introductory stage.

The camp site's development potential today is limited by Chester's zoning, which requires each housing lot be at least three acres, as well as by a lack of central water and sewer service and the fact that the property includes a lake.



Sunday, December 09, 2018

NY Jewish councilwoman receives hate letter mentioning Pittsburgh shooting 

A Jewish councilwoman from New York City said she received an anti-Semitic letter that made reference to the October massacre of 11 Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Karen Koslowitz, who represents a district in a borough of Queens, told The New York Post Thursday she was offended by the letter and felt personally targeted as a Jew, “especially now with everything that’s going on.”

The letter, which the Post said was replete with grammatical errors, was dated November 12 and sent to a Manhattan address where the City Council has hearings.

“You had been defending all stinky, filthy, dirty jewish population in New York City as well as the stinks mof’s living in Israel, russia, former soviet union countries, in western European and Latin American countries,” the letter read, according to the newspaper.

The letter, which was signed by a Joe Camillieri from the Forest Hills neighborhood Koslowitz represents, contained a handwritten note at the bottom referring to the October 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a suspect with a history of anti-Semitic social media posts.

“What do you think about those stinky Jews killed, 11 and 4 hurt in that synagogue,” the note says. “What these motherf—–r rats are doing in other states of the USA???

The letter also lamented that terrorist groups al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have “been unable to finish the work that was started in concentration camps in Poland and finished with these race of crooks, in israel, russia and most important here in the U.S.”

The councilwoman, who said her grandfather was murdered in 1923 in Poland because he was a Jew, said the sender of the letter appeared to attend meetings she holds with constituents.

“He knows what I talk about. I’ve been a supporter of the Bukharian Jewish community…He’s talking about meetings that I go to… It’s scary,” she told the newspaper.

Koslowitz said she informed the New York Police Department of the letter but was told it was not a hate crime.

“I’m Jewish. To me, it’s offending Jewish people,” she said. “I really feel the laws have to be changed for what they consider a hate crime.”

A NYPD spokesperson said though the letter is “vile, disgusting and reprehensible,” it did not amount to a crime.

“We will continue to monitor it,” the spokesperson said.



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