Thursday, January 31, 2019

Three Men Charged With Hate Crimes After Alleged Anti-Semitic Attacks In Crown Heights 

Two Hasidic men were attacked within minutes of each other in Crown Heights on Wednesday, putting the Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community on alert amid a reported increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the city.

According to police, the attacks occurred on President Street near Albany Avenue just after 1 a.m. In the first incident, a 51-year-old Hasidic man says that he was approached by three men, who punched, kicked and attempted to rob him. The man suffered a swollen lip and cuts to his face, and was hospitalized at NYU Langone, police said.

Fifteen minutes later, a 22-year-old victim, who identified himself to the Post as Mendel, says he was walking home "when suddenly, from behind me out of nowhere, I just got punched in the face really, really hard." Police said the assailants attempted to remove the victim's property as well, though Mendel later denied that. "It was just an attack of hate and anti-Semitism," he told the tabloid. "I guess 'cause I look identifiably Jewish."

On Thursday, the NYPD said that they arrested and charged three men with hate crimes for their roles in the assaults—18-year-old Navar Walters, 20-year-old Teshon Bannister, and 20-year-old Joshua Peters. Bannister and Walters also received criminal mischief charges.

Reported hate crimes against Jewish people more than doubled in New York City last year, and there have been reports of 15 anti-Semitic incidents in the first three weeks of this year.

"The increased reports of swastikas and other criminal mischief here in the five boroughs absolutely concerns us," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said during a police briefing last year, adding that the "current atmosphere" is at least partially to blame.



Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Orthodox Jewish teen found dead in Manchester was not murdered 

Police in Manchester, England say the death of an Orthodox Jewish teenager is no longer being investigated as a murder case, after she was found dead in an abandoned building.

Sixteen-year-old Sarah Goldman was reported missing at 9:25 a.m. Monday morning. At a quarter to 10 that same morning, her body was found in abandoned Manchester building. Police say Goldman had been hanged to death.

Goldman, a student at Yavneh Girls in King David High School in Crumpsall, was described as "lovely, bright, intelligent, and well-mannered".

Local authorities arrested a 41-year-old man they said was suspected in Goldman's murder.

While police initially investigated Goldman's death as a murder, on Tuesday Manchester police said there was no signs of foul play, and that the case was no longer treated as a murder investigation.

The 41-year-old man arrested in the case has been freed without charges, police said.

"A 41-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of murder, however he has now been released and there will be no further action taken," Greater Manchester Police said in a statement.



Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Holocaust scholars worry that memory is a victim of Israel’s warming ties with Eastern Europe 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to establish close ties with the European Union’s Central European members has met with pushback from a perhaps unlikely source: Holocaust historians and activists protective of Israel’s role in preserving the memories of the Nazis’ victims.

Netanyahu has justified his outreach to leaders in countries like Poland and Hungary as a way to  counterbalance the E.U.’s more Palestinian-friendly western states.

But his critics say he may be sacrificing efforts to counter Holocaust revisionism, especially by leaders who are trying to downplay their countries’ complicity with the Germans in World War II.

“In recent years, some European governments try to present, and even force, a historical picture which is very different than the one well known based on documentation and on historical research,” Havi Dreifuss, a historian of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe at Tel Aviv University, told JTA.

“We see those phenomena mainly, but not only, regarding the assistance of locals to Nazi Germany murderous acts. It is most disturbing when there is no correction or comment from the Israeli side especially when these distorted narratives are part of an attempt to shape the public sphere and the public discourse,” said Dreifuss. “When Israel does not clearly correct these historical distortions it is very concerning, because it is not only history that shapes the past but also the public debate.”

On Monday, with the announcement that the Visegrád Group’s next summit will be held in Jerusalem, Netanyahu felt Israel had much to celebrate.

An alliance of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, the Visegrád Group represents the nationalist and conservative wing of the European Union. Gaining their support in the international arena should count as an uncontested diplomatic coup.

However, some in Israel see Netanyahu’s political triumph as deeply problematic.

In a scathing condemnation, Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, tweeted that the summit will feature a “prime minister who passed a law that humiliates the memory of Holocaust victims and a prime minister who publishes anti-Semitic content.”

Lapid was apparently referring to Prime Minsiter Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, who signed legislation last year making it a crime to hold Poland responsible for Nazi crimes. Hungary’s Viktor Orban, meanwhile, was accused of using anti-Semitic dog whistles in a campaign against Jewish philanthropist and pro-democracy activist George Soros.

“It is the loss of all national pride and causes us damage in the international arena,” Lapid continued. “The prime minister must overcome his passion for election photography and cancel it.”

The increasingly close relations between Jerusalem and countries such as Hungary and Poland have liberals here worried because both countries’ governments have taken steps to undermine independent institutions and the press. Both European countries are seen as rolling back the process of democratization begun after the fall of communism.

But the specter of World War II casts a distinct shadow in the Jewish state. According to a study released last week by researchers from Yale University and Grinnell College, Holocaust revisionism has been on the rise in Europe. Some of the worst offenders were found in Poland and Hungary.

“Holocaust remembrance is under clear threat in Poland,” according to the report.

Netanyahu has taken notice. Responding to the public outcry in Israel and around the world over Poland’s “Holocaust law,” Netanyahu condemned the legislation, stating that Israel had “no tolerance for distorting the truth, historical revisionism, or Holocaust denial.”

However, as relations between Warsaw and Jerusalem hit a new low, Netanyahu became conciliator, releasing a joint statement with Morawiecki claiming that “that structures of the Polish Underground State supervised by the Polish Government-in-Exile created a mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people.”

The pronouncement was widely panned by historians. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority, issued an unprecedented statement criticizing Netanyahu’s “grave errors and deceptions.”

Netanyahu has also come under fire for praising Orban for “preserving the memory of the past” despite the Hungarian prime minister’s public praise for wartime leader and Nazi ally Miklós Horthy, as well as the anti-Soros campaign.



Monday, January 28, 2019

Miami Police Sergeant Fired After Throwing Sacred Jewish Text 

A veteran Miami police officer, suspended two months ago when a cellphone video surfaced of him tossing out Jewish holy scripture and calling it "trash," lost his job Thursday.

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina fired 13-year veteran Roberto Destephan, a former leader at the city's police union, after investigating the incident and over concerns that the officer's credibility would be stained when testifying in future cases.

"There's a lot of elements. It isn't just what he said, but what are the consequences of that. Do we lose the public's trust? Can we expect him to go out and do the right thing as a police officer? What happens in court if he makes an arrest? Does his character now come into question?" Colina said. "So these are things that if we have a victim, and he made a good arrest, is that victim going to find justice if he's the primary officer testifying?"

In December, before an election ushered in new leaders at the Fraternal Order of Police, the union approved legal representation for Destephan. The new president, Thomas Reyes, reserved judgment on the officer. But Eugene Gibbons, a union attorney who is representing Destephan, said his client was simply doing as he was told, clearing out old items from the union office.

"The city is over-reacting and taking much too harsh a position," Gibbons said. "I have no doubt an independent arbiter will see it the same way. I know it could be construed as offensive, but what he was doing is what he was told to do."

Destephan had been on paid leave since a cellphone video of him tossing a wooden box with the Star of David on it and a copy of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, into the back of a truck outside the Fraternal Order of Police office in Miami began attracting attention on social media sites. During the incident, the former vice president of the union unleashed a series of profanities while looking into the camera.

In comments Colina called anti-Semitic, Destephan was recorded saying, "We don't need this s--- either, man. This crap? F--- this. Takin' out the trash, dog."

Destephan and some members of the Fraternal Order of Police defended his actions, saying they were merely clearing out old moldy items from the office and that the cellphone video had been heavily edited and was being used to blackmail him during an upcoming union election.

Colina said the department looked into those claims and found no evidence to support them.

"After the investigation, we concluded there was no other circumstances behind what was being said other than what's being said," Colina said.

The Miami New Times reported earlier this month that Colina was moving to fire Destephan.

City Manager Emilio Gonzalez signed Destephan's termination letter Thursday morning as the Miami City Commission met at City Hall. His termination letter said Destephan was fired, for among other things, conduct unbecoming an officer. He has 15 days to appeal his case.



Sunday, January 27, 2019


Longtime Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a Jewish American who is reportedly mulling an independent run for the presidency, is one of several potential Jewish contenders in the 2020 race.

Others so far include Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Schultz has spoken out frequently on how his Judaism has affected his life path and his worldview. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Schultz says his Jewish upbringing and heritage enhanced his understanding of the American dream.

“I grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn,” Schultz wrote in 2002. “I was part of a generation of families that dreamed about the American dream. My dad had a series of blue-collar jobs.”

At the end of the prologue of his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, published in 1997, he explains the Jewish tradition of yahrzeit – a practice he follows for his deceased father each year – and its symbolic significance for the work he does in life. “I just don’t want that light to go out,” he said.

Growing up in Brooklyn with Jewish, Italian and black kids, he wrote also taught him the values of pluralism and diversity – core liberal tenets that have shaped his politics. “Nobody ever had to lecture us about diversity,” he wrote. “We lived it.”

He also notes in his book that the unlikely expansion of Starbucks ultimately rested on a triumvirate of Seattle philanthropists who were active in the Jewish community – developers behind some of the “sturdiest businesses” in town. Their ultimate angel investment put the company over the top.

According to Inside Philanthropy, Schultz and his wife have donated sporadically to small, local Jewish organizations. And Schultz was offered an award by Aish Hatorah, a Jewish Orthodox pro-Israel group, in 1998. But Schultz’s level of observance and the extent of his activity in the community are not immediately clear.

Nevertheless, his collective writings and policy-related actions at Starbucks suggest an active Jewish life.

At one point in 2002, Schultz wrote about a transformative experience he had in the 1990s on a work trip to Israel with Starbucks colleagues, with Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who once headed the Mir Yeshiva.

“Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?” The rabbi asked to a befuddled crowd.

Teaching them a lesson on the “human spirit,” Schultz writes, Finkel explained to them the dehumanizing experience Jews went through corralled into cattle cars, sent to death camps, given a single blanket for every five people, and having to make the choice, in their last living days, to stay warm in their blanket or to share it with others.

“Take your blanket,” the rabbi explained. “Take it back to America and push it to five other people.”

Schultz led Starbucks through much of its growth into the iconic American company it is today. The coffee chain briefly entered the Israeli market, but closed all of its stores there in 2003 citing “operational challenges.”

An early boycott effort targeting Israel in 2014 attacked Starbucks with conspiratorial rumors that the company was directly funding the Israeli government and the IDF – rumors that grew so loud and widespread that the company was forced to address both its general investments in Israel as well as Schultz’s personal donations to Israeli causes.



Saturday, January 26, 2019


The 1944 report, titled '"Statistics, Media and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada"',  was prepared by Heinz Kloss, who handled a variety of north American projects for the Third Reich, and was meant to be used to install a genocide of Jewish people in Canada and the United States should the Germans be able to defeat and conquer these two countries.

Nazi ideology dictated that humanity should be divided by racial classes with some, most notably the Germans themselves, ruling others and some, such as the Slavic people, reduced to poverty and ignorance. Jewish people however were thought of as being outside humanity and were to be eliminated.

At the time of the Wannsee Conference in 1942 the destruction of the Jewish people, regardless of where they were on Earth, was an established principle in Nazi ideology, exact figures on the numbers of Jewish people living in places like Ireland were presented in preparation of future operations. 

The book was bought by the Library and Archives of Canada last year and was restored and digitized. It is thought to have arrived to North America by soldiers who returned home after WWII, other Hitler-owned books are found at the Library of Congress and Brown University Library.

Kloss, who died in 1987, was a linguist and coined the terms Abstandsprache and Ausbauspeache, these terms deal with the development of languages concerning the issue of what makes a language a language and what makes it a dialect.



Friday, January 25, 2019

Your Ward News duo guilty of promoting hate against women and Jews 

Two men behind a free Toronto area newspaper that promoted legalizing rape and denied the Holocaust occurred were found guilty on Thursday of promoting hatred against women and Jews.

In delivering his verdict against James Sears and LeRoy St. Germaine, Ontario court Judge Richard Blouin called evidence of their guilt overwhelming.

Sears, 55, the editor-in-chief and St. Germaine, 77, the publisher, had argued Your Ward News was meant to be satire but Blouin found nothing funny about their views. If what they were doing didn't amount to wilful hate promotion, the judge said, nothing would.

"YWN repeatedly and consistently dehumanized Jews and women," Blouin said in his ruling. "Both men were fully aware of the unrelenting promotion of hate."

The men, who will have a sentencing hearing April 26, face a maximum six months in custody and/or $5,000 in fines for each of two counts of wilfully inciting hatred against an identifiable group.

The prosecution indicated it would likely be seeking a jail term but had yet to decide whether it would do so and whether it might ask that any jail terms run consecutively.

Observers said they could not recall another instance of a conviction for promoting hatred against women. Prosecutor Jamie Klukach said outside court that obtaining the guilty verdict was difficult, because the level of intent the Crown had to prove was "extremely high."

Sears, who has two convictions for sexual assault from 1991 and who lost his medical licence in 1992 for sexual misconduct with three women, called the hate law "arbitrary" and the prosecution "politically motivated." Comparing himself to a persecuted Jesus, Sears said he would be appealing, and would keep publishing.

"Two-thousand years ago, a man very similar to me was hauled up on hate-speech charges by the Pharisees and he was crucified subsequently," Sears said outside court. "The same thing is happening today and I'm prepared to be crucified."

An unrepentant St. Germaine was more subdued when asked for his reaction to the possibility he could end up in jail.

"I got nothing to say to you," he said. "Whatever happens, happens. I'm not in control of the situation, the judge is. No regrets at all."

At trial, the prosecution argued Your Ward News, with a circulation of about 300,000 mostly in and around the Toronto area as well as an online presence, was filled with "vile and degrading" articles and imagery.

Prosecutor Robin Flumerfelt told the trial the publication — 22 issues from the start of 2015 to the summer of 2018 were scrutinized — demonized feminists as "dangerous people" and called women "tri-orficed chattels." The paper branded most feminists as "satanists exhilarated by abortion," claimed women are inferior, and that feminism encourages rape.

The paper also repeatedly claimed existence of a worldwide, blood-thirsty Jewish conspiracy. The imagery depicted Jews as devils with serpent tongues and reptilian hands, argued Jews were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the Holocaust was a Jewish myth to strengthen their control of the world.

"These are examples of the communications that the defendants made available to hundreds of thousands of homes without being asked," Flumerfelt told court.

Sears' lawyer Dean Embry had tried to argue that the courts should not criminalize anti-feminist sentiment. The publication, Embry said, only took aim at some women and some Jews, and while it may have been offensive and gone too far at times, it didn't advocate hatred or violence against those groups.

Blouin, however, shot that contention out of the water.

"To advocate rape and proclaim women to be less than human has no basis in reason," Blouin said. "That hate propaganda could contribute to violence is starkly relevant today."

Jewish groups applauded the guilty finding.

Noah Shack, with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the ruling sent a clear message that hatemongers would be held accountable.

"Your Ward News has been peddling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, misogyny, homophobia, and racism," Shack said in a statement. "We can preserve free speech while protecting Canadians from those who demonize and slander entire communities."

The federal government has barred Canada Post from distributing the publication.



Thursday, January 24, 2019

Jewish family kicked off flight after passengers complain about body odor 

A family is fuming after being kicked off an American Airlines flight in Miami after passengers complained about their body odor.

Yossi Adler along with his wife Jennie and baby were wrapping up their vacation in Miami and heading back home to Detroit Wednesday night, at least that's what they planned. 

"All of a sudden they took us off, closed the gate, and they said sorry sir some people complained you had body odor and we are not letting you back on," Yossi said.

The Adler family briefly boarded their American Airlines flight before they say they were asked to get off because passengers were complaining about their body odor. 

The Adlers say they were told their luggage would be taken off the plane , but that did not happen. Leaving them with only the clothes on their back. 

American Airlines sent us a statement Wednesday night saying quote: "Mr Adler and his wife were removed from the flight when several passengers complained about their body odor. They have been booked into a hotel for the night and given meal vouchers. They have been rebooked on a flight Thursday." 

Yossi, Jennie  and their 19 month old toddler arrived to MIA early Thursday morning in hopes they will be able to take off on their flight. 

Jennie said, "We stopped several people in the airport and it's embarrassing but we asked them do you think we smell because we just got kicked off a plane for smelling, PEOPLE TOLD US WE DIDN'T SMELL."

"I'm very frustrated I want them to own up to what really happened, tell me the truth, what was it?" Yossi said.

The family said later they did take off back to Detroit. They said they hope they can find their luggage when they get there.


'Hot-trending' shirt: 'At least I'm not Jewish' 

A shirt being sold in the "hot trending" section of an online retailer has been yanked because of controversy over the message it bears: "At least I'm not Jewish."

Zazzle.com removed the shirt which was being marketed by a third-party vendor who used the moniker "The Slesk Bazaar," who has since been banned by Zazzle.

That vendor also created a shirt that read, "At least I'm not Christian."

The sale of the anti-Semitic T-shirt was blasted on social media by the likes of Ashlee Marie Preston, who said: "Yoooo… Zazzle… y'all are bugging out. You're just casually going to insult Jewish people and rock anti-semitism like it's the hottest look??"

"We do not tolerate or accept hate on our site. As an open marketplace, we are faced with the opportunity to allow people to express their creativity and sentiments, coupled with the challenge of expression that upsets and offends. When a product is brought to our attention that violates our terms of service, such as the shirt you referenced, we take swift action to have the product removed."

at-least-im-not-christian-t-shirt-dhgatecom"Behind the scenes we use automated filters and algorithms to try to block offensive designs. We know that the tech is not foolproof and that we cannot anticipate the range of sentiments that might be uploaded to our site, so we also manually remove products as they come to our attention."

"In the spirit of MLK Day today, we have a lot more to do as individuals and as a company; and that beyond us, there is much we must do as a nation and as one world to shine light on the darkness."

Another design of the "At least I'm not Christian" shirt is being marketed by a seller.



Wednesday, January 23, 2019

What The New York Times Got Wrong About Me As A Hasidic Woman 

A few months ago I was featured in a photo essay in the New York Times. Now, I had my hesitations, because I was afraid of my words being misinterpreted or manipulated to say something I don't mean. I breathed a sigh of relief when I actually saw the article, because overall the tone was positive.

But it still left much to be desired. It's true they didn't misconstrue any of my words. But what they did do was carefully create a narrow box to fit me into and edit the piece to ensure that I would fit into it. Something along the lines of "Hasidic woman, works in a school and writes kids' books." If that's all true — what could be wrong?

Here's what they got wrong.

First came the title, "A Glimpse Inside the Hidden World of Hasidic Women."

Huh? Seriously? As my friend — and professional cellist — Laura Melnicoff commented on my Facebook post when she saw the title: "Are we rare delicate birds that only a few people get to view?" Do we live hidden under a rock, and only a spy with an attache case and full disguise can be given the "rare" opportunity to meet us?

I am far from hidden. I teach, write and speak publicly regularly. I've flown across the country and spoken to audiences of men and women on all topics of Jewish life. My nursing baby is a frequent flyer — he has already joined me on trips to Florida, California, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Just last summer, I spoke at the Jewish Learning Institute retreat in Rhode Island to a packed audience of Jews, of all religious backgrounds. I have opened my home to secular teens interested in Judaism, as well as groups of adults coming to my neighborhood for the first time. Chabad women worldwide host meals for campus students, congregants, and sometimes total strangers. We are in constant interaction with the wider world. And yet, I'm "hidden"?

And then I saw the picture they chose. The photographer spent hours in my home, photographing my precious children and my artwork. I gave my full permission to publish a number of photos that I felt encapsulated my passion for my family and my love of art.

Yet the editor chose a photo that did not even have my face in it. To be honest, I was mortified. I felt ashamed. I get it, the photo they chose had layers, it was artsy, sure. But the implication? That Chabad women do not show their faces. You do not hear their voices. There goes that narrow box again.

There's more. In that very same photo, there are a number of paintings on the wall — yet no mention of the fact that those paintings were my own. Instead, the caption merely states: "Sara Blau in her house in Crown Heights."

Maybe there wasn't enough room to mention that I direct a camp of 400 campers. Or that my job as "special projects manager" includes running weekends and conventions for 800 high students from around the world, or running a production of song, dance, and drama, for hundreds of high school students.

They found room for a short description of me, but the choice of words seemed to deliberately paint a flat, dreary, figure.

Here is the message that didn't come across: My Hasidic lifestyle is colorful! Chabad women are multidimensional! They are powerhouses.

This weekend, approximately 2,500 Chabad women will gather at a conference in New York. They are far from hidden: They are co-directors of preschools and Chabad houses. They run programs and mentor hundreds of people. I have a sister in Florida and a sister in Arizona and sisters in law in Montreal, Toronto, and California, and even an aunt in Hong Kong … all teaching classes and engaged in meaningful outreach work, while at the same time raising families.

Chabad women are far from the shtetl-like portrayal of the New York Times. Chabad women are leaders. Modest in dress, conservative in approach? Yes. But Chabad women are raised with the knowledge that they are the foundation of the home. We women don't live under a rock — we are the rock.

Simply give me the platform - and you'll hear my voice. I guarantee you that I won't come with my face covered.


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Four Reasons Why Michael Cohen’s Pick Is The Most Jewish Prison 

At the Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York, one does not have to give up practicing Judaism for committing a crime. So like many offenders before him, Michael Cohen, President Trump's former lawyer, asked to be placed there after he was sentenced to three years in prison on fraud charges last month.

As The New York Times noted, Cohen could have chosen a prison camp with resort-like amenities, but instead he opted for Otisville, a "shabby, low-slung building … with an antiquated weight room, an uneven tennis court and no swimming pool."

Most of Otisville's inmates are Jewish — what's the draw?

"For a Jewish person, there is no place like Otisville," Earl Seth David, a former inmate, told the Times.

There is a full-time Hasidic chaplain. At Otisville, a minimum-security camp 75 miles northwest of New York City, dozens of Jewish inmates make up a congregation that meets three times a day for services, the Times reported. There are religious classes and weekly Shabbat services, which feature its own Torah scrolls. Inmates can also buy kippahs for $6.

Zizit meet uniform code. Orthodox inmates can wear zizit under their green prison uniforms, the Times reported.

Work shifts are scheduled around services and Shabbat. And, before holidays, observant men can be riven to a nearby town for mikvah baths, a ritual immersion. During Sukkot, they can eat meals in a wooden sukkah.

There are kosher vending machines. Plus there are three kosher meals a day, which come in pre-packaged trays that include items like matzo, gefilte fish, rugelach and seltzer. Shabbat is special: Inmates make the weekly meal in the kosher kitchen and eat it together on tables draped with bedsheets to look like tablecloths.



Orthodox rabbi appointed to serve Illinois State Legislature 

In a district twice-rocked by the Springfield sexual harassment scandal, Democrats are responding by sending a rabbi to the statehouse.

Rabbi Yehiel Kalish is married with six children. An Orthodox Jew who's no stranger to politics.

Kalish, 43, isn't only the first rabbi ever to serve in Springfield…

"I may be the first rabbi in any state legislature. And that's very exciting," said Kalish (D-Skokie.)

His road to get there was hardly traditional. Kalish replaces veteran lawmaker Lou Lang, who resigned after re-election to become a lobbyist. But Lang was already politically damaged by a sexual harassment allegation, even though the Inspector General later dismissed it.

What's more, the district's former state senator, Ira Silverstein, lost in a landslide after Denise Rotheimer accused him of sexual harassment. The Inspector General later ruled Silverstein acted in an unseemly manner. So for Lang's seat, Democrats turned to someone seen as above reproach.

"I take the responsibility very seriously," Kalish said.

Who handed Kalish that responsibility? Two of those who'd been accused. Lou Lang, the Niles Township Committeeman and Ira Silverstein, 50th Ward Committeman, along with 40th Ward Committeeman, Ald. Pat O'Connor.

Kalish is no stranger to politics. As a lobbyist, he dealt with Democrats and Republicans. That experience, he said, will benefit his constituents.

"I think the experience of being an advocate will help me advocate on behalf of the 16th district, this time as a representative," Kalish said.

Meantime, Illinois State Representative Ram Villivalam, the man who rode the sexual harassment issue to defeat Silverstein said he was looking forward to working with Rabbi Kalish on several fronts, including the very real issue of sexual harassment.



Monday, January 21, 2019

Amazon Is Dooming New Yiddish Publications. Can It Be Stopped? 

In 2005, Internet giant Amazon swallowed up yet another smaller fish, the self-publishing company CreateSpace, which made it possible to market titles in dozens of languages. Last year, in a decision that you would be forgiven for missing, Amazon announced that CreateSpace was merging with another division: Kindle Direct Publishing, now known as KDP. One Amazon province cannibalizes another. Nothing new there.

But it turns out that this move might endanger the important and unique realm of new Yiddish prose — a forum particularly important to Hasidim since a book released by CreateSpace can be publicized affordably, and sold on Amazon without the author giving his real name. (In the Hasidic community, anonymity is useful and even necessary online). Hasidic blogger Katle Kanye, one of the Forward 50 and often mentioned in the Yiddish Forward, chose CreateSpace to publish his sharp critique of what he says is the failed Chasidic education system.

Another Hasidic forum for self-expression in Yiddish is the online journal Der Veker, or The Alarm, a publication aimed at Hasidim who want to read about sensitive topics. In other Hasidic publications these topics might be censored or not discussed at all. (Full disclosure: I read each issue of Der Veker eagerly and am an occasional contributor.)

Moving CreateSpace to KDP has made it impossible to self-publish titles on Amazon in a number of languages that used to be available, including Yiddish and Hebrew. Without CreateSpace, it becomes prohibitive for small periodicals written in minority languages, like Der Veker, to keep publishing. So Der Veker took to social media. In a call for help published in the chat rooms of the liberal-leaning Haside forum Kave Shtiebel, members of which actually publish Der Veker, the editors informed readers that it would be difficult, perhaps even impossible, to replicate CreateSpace’s convenience and affordability elsewhere. Readers were enjoined to email Amazon, asking them to reinstate Yiddish among the choices for new titles on KDP.

Why did the language selection change when CreateSpace merged with KDP? It’s not clear. Even years ago, when there were several separate divisions of Amazon devoted to self-publishing, each had its list of permissible languages which were technically possible. One should also note that other languages written right-to-left, like Arabic, are still publishing options on KDP. Why Arabic and not Yiddish, Hebrew, or other languages? It seems plausible that larger languages are economically and culturally valued by Amazon, while minority languages are left in the dust.

Reached by the Forverts, an Amazon spokesperson responded: “We are aware that because certain CreateSpace languages are not yet available on KDP, some authors and readers will be unable to publish and read new titles in those languages (all previous titles remain available). We are actively reviewing author and reader feedback to evaluate which features and services we offer in the future, including expanding KDP’s supported languages.”

So it seems that Der Veker’s strategy was the right one. That journal is among the most important cultural institutions now existing in Yiddish, and gives the opportunity for self-expression to Hasidim who might otherwise be shut out of establishment publications. For those who want to support Jewish culture, Chasidic expression, diversity, and Yiddish literature, we join in their call. Let Amazon know that Yiddish – and Hebrew – ought to be reinstated onto the list of languages, in which one can publish new titles on KDP.



Sunday, January 20, 2019

Two attacks on Jews roils Brooklyn neighborhood 

A Jewish woman walking in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn was punched by a black male, who then ran off. It was the second such attack on the same street in less than 48 hours.

The woman was walking on Friday afternoon on Kingston Avenue, a main thoroughfare in the neighborhood, when she was approached by the black male dressed all in black who punched her in the arm with force before fleeing, the COLive news website reported. The attack was witnessed by other women who encouraged the victim to file a report with police.

The Anti-Defamation League on Friday offered a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of attacker.

“This is the second alleged unprovoked assault of a member of the Jewish community in Crown Heights in the past week alone. We remain deeply concerned about these alleged acts of violence and the escalating climate of tension and fear that has followed,” said Evan R. Bernstein, Regional Director of ADL New York / New Jersey.

On Wednesday, a black male approached an identifiably Jewish man in his 20s and punched him in the chest in an unprovoked attack. The assailant kept on walking after the attack, which was caught on video by a surveillance camera from a nearby store.

The NYPD Hate Crimes unit is investigating the attack.

The NYPD reportedly has assigned extra patrol cars and police foot patrols in the neighborhood, particularly on Kingston Avenue.



Saturday, January 19, 2019

Lawsuit accuses Chestnut Ridge of discrimination vs. Orthodox and Hasidic Jews 

Even as local officials consider a hotly contested zoning law that would permit houses of worship in houses in residential neighborhoods, a coalition of ultra-Orthodox Jews filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Ramapo village.

The legal action – filed hours before Tuesday's fourth public hearing on the proposed law – states the village’s five-acre minimum for a house of worship was “onerous” for religious freedom.

The lawsuit against Chestnut Ridge – similar in context to two legal actions launched recently against neighboring Airmont – was filed by the Orthodox Jewish Coalition of Chestnut Ridge. The other plaintiffs include Congregation Birchas Yitzchok, Congregation Dexter Park, Congregation Torah U’tfilla, Abraham Willner and Tzvi

They argue Chestnut Ridge has created “onerous zoning requirements” that essentially blocks houses of worship and leaves approval up to the discretion of the Board of Trustees, and village land-use boards.

The lawsuit contends the village zoning violates the civil rights of Orthodox Jews under the First and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Freedom of Worship provision of the New York Constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, known as RLUIPA.

“Specifically, the village's land use regulations applicable to places of worship effectively prevent the members of the Orthodox Jewish community living in the Village of Chestnut Ridge … from operating and attending synagogues in order to engage in religious exercise within the village,” the lawsuit states.

The congregations state they are unable to find land for a synagogue that meets the regulations. The lawsuits says only 45 of the village’s 2,450 residential parcels are five acres or more.

Tuesday's public hearing concerned a proposed law that would set three scenarios for houses of worship in the village, including home worship of up to 49 people.

Mayor Rosario “Sam” Presti, an attorney and former Planning Board member, said the village had not been officially served with the legal action.

“I'm disappointed the OJC et al felt they needed to file an action against the Village,” Presti said Thursday. “My hope is that the House of Worship Law we are considering addresses the allegations against the village as proof the village neither discriminates, nor is discriminatory, towards the ultra-Orthodox religious community.”

During the hearings, Presti argued the village was open to an RLUIPA lawsuit based on the five-acre minimum lot size. Courts have ruled municipalities cannot create regulations that choke efforts at religious practice and leniency toward religious groups was required.

The coalition and other plaintiffs are represented by Storzer & Associates, experts in RLUIPA and the Nanuet firm of Paul Savad and Joseph Churgin. Those lawyers successful won a federal RLUIPA case for the Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov  against Pomona.

Airmont has been slapped with two civil rights lawsuits by a group of religious Jews and a yeshiva in November and December.

Unlike Chestnut Ridge, Airmont has a history of discrimination against Orthodox Jews dating to its 1990 incorporation. Airmont lost federal lawsuits, including action taken by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.

'Born in sin'
Chestnut Ridge officials have hosted four public hearings on the proposed house of worship law – more than 18 months in the making.

The village planners have proposed a three-tiered system:

Residential houses of worship where a religious leader would live and could hold services for up to 49 people based on the local zoning code. The house would have to meet fire codes and get planning approvals.

Neighborhood houses of worship without living areas that would require more parking and buffers, planning board and any zoning board variances. The allowable attendance would depend on the size of the house, but could top 100 people.

Community worship houses on 5 acres, needing a special permit, planning and zoning approvals.
The most recent hearing came Tuesday night at the Chestnut Ridge Middle School.

Critics who spoke at the hearings claim the Orthodox Jewish Coalition drafted a law for  officials and village planners worked on the proposal before officials went public.

“This law was born in sin,” said attorney Steven Mogel, who represents the grassroots group CUPON of Chestnut Ridge. “It was crafted at non-public meetings where only one religious group – the Orthodox Jewish Coalition – attended with the village’s engineering firm."

Mogel said the OJC provided a draft law in August 2017. He said CUPON obtained vouchers from the village showing planners were paid for work on the law dating months before the public unveiling on Feb. 22, 2018.

Mogel and residents speaking at the hearings argued the village has never violated RLUIPA or discriminated. They argued the village should develop a comprehensive zoning plan – like Airmont and other communities – that sets criteria for development.

They also noted the village found the houses of worship would not have environmental impacts on traffic, water, neighborhood character, and other issues.

“The board made up its mind to pass this law before the general public knew,” Mogel said. “If this was not a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, I don’t know what is. This was a stunning violation of the public trust.”

Churgin, representing the Orthodox Jewish Coalition, told the board members that they were not going to overturn RLUIPA, noting it was passed unanimously by Congress and signed by President Clinton. Churgin didn’t mention the lawsuit.

Speakers voiced concerns about congestion and a rise in their taxes as their quality of life takes a bearing. They noted the village’s lacks enforcement and allowed a synagogue to masquerade as a garage on Spring Hill Terrace.

Richard Paley, a 20-year resident on Lancaster Lane, said the law if passed would “live in infamy.”

He said the issue isn’t about the practice of religion.

“Most of the residents oppose the law,” he said, adding that it looked like a conspiracy to change zoning law to benefit one particular group.

CUPON leader Hilda Kogut, a retired FBI agent who grew up in the village, said she hoped the board would consider the group's "white paper" about RLUIPA and its planners' analysis of the proposed law. She said the village needs strong code enforcement.

"i believe this law is wrong." she said. "The village of Chestnut Ridge deserves a comprehensive plan. I ask you take your time and do the right thing for the village."

Presti denied he and the trustees have been unduly influenced and not final decisions have been made. He has said the five-acre minimum can’t stand.

“There needs to be other options,” Presti told residents. He said congregations seeking approvals for a synagogues could take years.

“For people to say we operate in the shadows and accommodate particular groups is unfair,” the mayor said. “Nothing has been passed and nothing is set in stone. We have to follow the law the way the courts follow the law. You may not agree but to malign the trustees is not right.”



Friday, January 18, 2019

YAFFED'S yeshiva oversight suit dismissed; federal court cites lack of 'standing' 

A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Rockland County-based education advocacy group challenging the constitutionality of a newly amended state law that advocates say relaxed academic standards for Hasidic Jewish schools.

In a 35-page decision issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Eastern District Judge Leo Glasser tossed the Young Advocates for Fair Education's lawsuit, saying the group had no standing to file it. A person or group has to be directly connected to and harmed by a situation to have legal "standing" to participate in a court case.

YAFFED sued the state in July 2018, claiming the change violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by giving special treatment to yeshivas and also guaranteeing that one of the metropolitan area's fastest growing student populations will continue to receive "a sub-standard secular education."

The measure, known as the Felder Amendment — named for state Sen. Simcha Felder — passed as part of the state budget in April 2018.

Some believed that the vaguely worded amendment would allow certain Hasidic yeshivas to be exempt from meeting state guidelines requiring they provide an education that is "substantially equivalent" to that of a public school.

As it turned out, when the state Education Department recently released new guidelines for enforcing the "substantial equivalency" law, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the amendment did not affect state oversight of yeshivas. In fact, she said, it gave her final say over whether yeshivas comply with the law.

Glasser pointed to the recently modified state guidelines, saying he believes that "the new requirements would, if anything, subject schools covered by the Felder Amendment to a higher standard than non-covered schools."

In dismissing YAFFED's suit, Glasser wrote that YAFFED claimed it held standing "because it has spent significant efforts opposing the amendment, both in this court and through other avenues…and they've shifted valuable resources away from its traditional advocacy and education efforts."

"However, if the court were to accept this argument, it would be difficult to conceive of a case in which an organization or individual would not have standing to challenge a statute that they find politically or socially disagreeable," the judge wrote.

"What YAFFED essentially seeks is an advisory opinion as to the constitutionality of the Felder Amendment based on the possibility that the NYSED [New York State Education Department] might in the future apply it in a manner that disadvantages students at Hasidic yeshivas."

Naftuli Moster, YAFFED's founder, executive director and New City resident, said the group hasn't yet determined whether to appeal the decision.

"We are considering our next steps and will choose a strategy that allows us to continue pressing forward in reforming the unjust system," Moster said, vowing to continue "the fight on behalf of ultra-Orthodox children."

"The road to justice is a bumpy one, but justice ultimately wins," said Moster.

Moster, a yeshiva graduate, has said his own education was devoid of secular studies, an experience that he said is pretty standard for Hasidic boys. In 2012, he founded YAFFED to push for secular education at ultra-Orthodox schools.

YAFFED contends that without a proper academic education, students will find it more challenging to pursue higher education and careers, putting them at greater risk for reliance upon public assistance.

Yeshiva leaders have expressed concern that state mandated standards will intrude on religious traditions.

In November, the state issued its revised guidelines for public school districts to determine whether private schools within their boundaries are complying with state law when it comes to teaching subjects such as math, science and English. Schools districts are required to start conducting substantial equivalency reviews during the 2018-2019 school year of religious and independent schools.

Private schools that don't comply with state requests to improve academic instruction as part of a new review process could face sanctions that would, in the worst cases, effectively shut a school.



Thursday, January 17, 2019

Jewish Man Randomly Punched On Brooklyn Sidewalk 

Police are searching for the suspect who randomly punched a Jewish man this week in Brooklyn.

The 21-year-old victim was walking with a friend around 8 a.m. on Kingston Avenue near Union Street in Crown Heights.

Surveillance video shows the suspect walk up to him and punch him in the chest.

Investigators said this appears to be an unprovoked attack. It has not been deemed a hate crime.



Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jewish judge named to Florida Supreme Court at day school where he attended kindergarten 

A Jewish judge in Miami was named to the Florida Supreme Court at the Jewish day school where he attended kindergarten, finishing the ceremony by reciting a Jewish prayer.

The appointment of Robert Luck, 39, was announced Monday at the Scheck Hillel Community School in North Miami Beach. Luck's children attend the school.

Florida's new governor, Ron DeSantis, was on hand for the announcement, which featured a large Israeli flag displayed behind the lectern, The Associated Press reported.

Luck, who now serves on the 3rd District Court of Appeal, is the first Jewish justice appointed to Florida's highest court in 20 years, according to the Miami Herald.

Luck, known as a conservative, is a former Miami federal prosecutor and Circuit Court judge.

He recited a blessing from the Amidah prayer, Politico reported: "You grace humans with wisdom and teach humanity perception. Bestow upon us Your knowledge, insight and understanding. Blessed are you the grantor of wisdom."

The Zionist Organization of America praised the appointment, saying Luck "strongly respects the rule of law and will not be an 'activist' judge who ignores what the framers and legislators intended."



Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Surprising Popularity of Kosher Food in Prison 

According to the 2013 numbers, Jews are seven percent of the state prison population of New York; the fourth largest religious denomination after Protestant, Catholic and Muslim (in that order). If the numbers were accurate it would mean that nearly twice as many Jews were locked up that year as members of the Nation of Islam. But the truth is that many inmates lie and claim to be Jewish once they enter the prison system. And why do they do it? Not as a hedge against the impending arrival of the Moshiach. They do it for the kosher food.

At a minimum, New York State offers every Jew a standardized pre-packaged meal certified to be Glatt Kosher. In one facility, however, they get something even better. Greenhaven CF, a maximum security prison holding 2500 people, of whom most are lifers, has the only hot kosher program in the state. The prison has a dedicated kitchen which observes all the intricacies of Kashrut by separating meat and milk meals, pulling apart cabbage instead of cutting it (lest a treif bug hide between the leaves) and even blow-torching the ovens for Pesach. I got lucky and ate there for four years; others make a transfer to Greenhaven the object of their bid, since seeing its end may not be a possibility.

The hot kosher program has an Orthodox facility rabbi to oversee things, but our mashgiach during my tenure was Ronnie, an Israeli sex offender. The rules are observed meticulously. Hasidim like the 300 pound Phil Drelich, halfway through his 50-to-life and a fixture of the program, worked behind the counter. Russian gangsters, Lubavitchers, Israeli ecstasy smugglers, Bobovers, grown-up Hebrew school bullies, crooked brokers, me, and a killer veterinarian ate their cooking

In most other times and places, lying about Judaism went the other way. Conversos in Spain pretended to convert to Catholicism while keeping Jewish practices alive. In the Soviet Union, having JEW stamped in one's passport was a well-known and life-long limiting factor. Thanks to my grandfather's efforts, my own father was a Russian according to his USSR passport and his brother a Ukrainian. In the U.S. of the last century, the Ivy League schools limited the number of clever Jews they accepted, which is why New York's humble City College produced a number of Nobel Prize winners competitive with its vastly more expensive and exclusive alternatives. But in prison, the kosher food was good enough to reverse the course of history.

Inside, we had hot dogs no worse than Nathan's, a weekly chicken quarter, various Sephardic rices and a fantastic lump of gefilte fish every Saturday morning to go with our grape juice kiddish. It was also worth something. When the Jewish biker Brian got a job behind the counter, he quickly made a good gesehft out of it. Watching him smuggle bags of fifty hot dogs out to the yard and pull them out of his pants for anyone with a stamp to spend was comical.

Sometimes, access to the means of production caused conflict as well. It was an ugly day when Hasidic Yakov had his beard pulled and was head butted by a shady stockbroker over cheese dispersal during dairy week. However, he was no stranger to violence; Yakov had murdered his wife in front of their dozen children, who testified against him in court through a Yiddish translator.

With only seventy slots available and many more applicants, how did the rabbi decide whom to let in without leaving the facility vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit? In Orthodox Judaism, one is Jewish if he has a Jewish mother or has gone through a conversion process. It is impossible to halachically convert as a prisoner. However, the state allows one to be registered in any faith that the convict declares. Change of religion is possible once a year, though not for inmates in solitary confinement. This means that the Jewish congregations of the 70 prisons in New York State are mostly composed of men that the rabbis cannot halachically consider Jewish with the exception of the single Reform rabbi working for the DOC. She is also a woman and got the job through a lawsuit; Orthodox rabbis had always been hired because they can minister to the both Reform and more observant Jews. However, they were all men as a woman cannot become a rabbi in Orthodox Judaism, so a Reform lady rabbi had a winning argument in court. I clerked for her; she was a wonderful woman.

The rabbis pencil in the words 'self-declared' on the corner of the document which follows each prisoner from compound to hoosegow. In Yiddish. I was saved from the damning words by a phone call made to my parents, but the men who knew me well did not count me for a minyan because my Judaism is inherited paternally. Nevertheless, I ate from the hot kosher kitchen while the majority of 'Jews' received the CAD, or 'cold alternative diet'. Unlike the two month rotation of the regular diet, which repeated certain meals but gave 60 days intervals for most, the CAD was monotony in plastic wrap. The meals were on a seven-day rotation, but all breakfasts were identical and the variety for dinner was between sealed slices of bologna, salami or turkey cold cuts. They came with a daily styrofoam cup of instant soup. Vacuum packed cheese was lunch three times a week; packets of peanut butter and jelly, boiled eggs and sealed cups of tuna salad made up the rest.

Becoming Jewish to get on the hot kosher diet is understandable. Doing so for the CAD, which the overwhelming majority received, is harder to justify. Some of the sincerely religious Muslims preferred it. The regular state diet is preemptively Halal because of the numbers of Muslims, but this designation wasn't trusted by sincere believers more inclined to have faith in the Kosher food than the main chow line.

However, for most the lure of Kosher was in the packaging. Because it had to be indisputably correct and even Glatt, almost all the components came sealed in sturdy plastic. There was no chance of the cheese being sliced by a fleishig knife. The eggs came in buckets of something like formaldehyde, ensuring they were boiled in appropriate pots. During Pesach, chometz was definitively avoided by vacuum sealing everything and handing out individual boxes of matzah. Milk and juice came sealed, tuna salad and fruit in syrup arrived in hermetic cups. The kosher meals were boring and tasted bad, but they were tamper-proof, which provided a measure of confidence not only in their religious authority but also that they had not been tampered with by other inmates.

The packaging of the food doesn't just benefit paranoiacs and those with enemies working in the kitchen. Items that came in individual plastic wraps were ready-made as commodities for the prison barter system. This was particularly common in the hermetic society of prisoners serving time in SHU, or Special Housing Units. There are thousands of men doing years in solitary, so a culture of its own exists. Capitalism flourishes; stamps are the currency and anything that can fit through the half inch slot under the door is for sale. Converting to Judaism and then selling off the cold cuts and peanut butter was such a common survival strategy that the rules were changed ten years ago. While prisoners in general population can change their religion once a year, those in SHU cannot do so at all, at least until they are released from the box. Nevertheless, during each of my four short trips to the prison inside of the prison, there was always kosher food available for sale. I witnessed an extreme example in a dedicated SHU facility on the Canadian border.

In the upstate SHU, a pair of white supremacists converted to Judaism competed for buyers against a pair of Nation of Islam brothers who were also getting kosher. Solitary comes in pairs in New York; my bunky bought from the skinheads and I shopped with the black supremacists for better deals. Both sets of salesmen felt some need to explain that they actually hated Jews and had converted for kosher food in order to exploit them. I was geographically closer to the Nazis and had an easier time talking to them, which required yelling through a vent. They were both from small places upstate; I asked why they hated Jews so much. "Because they are so fucking stupid!" was the reply. I felt no need to explain myself to people who had likely never met a Jew, and spent my 90 days in the box without losing a pound of weight. They spent my stamps on marijuana; the munchies must have been cruel to them

The tenfold exaggeration of the number of incarcerated Jews in the state books only matters in a few cases. The Orthodox need for a minyan, twelve Jews or eleven and one Torah, gets muddled. yom tovs are influenced; every Purim, Pesach, Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, Jewish organizations donate supplies for observing the holidays and send treats. Aleph, out of Florida, sent amazing Passover boxes with gefilte fish and dreidels every year. But they need to know how many Jews will realistically need shmurah matzah and charoset. The facility rabbis cannot tell them; they are legally not permitted to differentiate between Jews and 'self-declared' jews. As a result, the charitable organizations ask the incarcerated.

I corresponded with a certain Rabbi Spritzer for ten years. Inevitably, he asked me for the real number of Jews in the congregation, to know how many gift boxes to send. Not only do I oppose any engineering of a free market, I never snitched on anyone. But in this case, I interfered in the supply and demand of kosher food for sale in prison… and I disclosed the number of men I knew to be born of a Jewish mother, with a few extra thrown in to give guys the benefit of the doubt. For all the abuse that the kosher programs are put through upstate, I wanted to do the right thing. Making kosher food available to Jews who had not done the right thing was a kindness I wasn't sure we deserved. It was the least I could do.



Monday, January 14, 2019

Tour guide gets rare approval to lead groups in Yiddish 

Inline image

For the first time in many years, the Tourism Ministry has authorized a tour guide to conduct official tours in Yiddish.

Yechiel Charaz, 42, from the ultra-Orthodox city-settlement of Beitar Illit in the West Bank, is deputy CEO for a tourism company that works mainly with members of the Haredi community. As a licensed tour guide, he has for years been requesting permission to host guided tours in his mother tongue, Yiddish, which is the first language for many Hasidic Jews.

But for at the past six years, as ultra-Orthodox tourism to Israel grew by about 40 percent, the Tourism Ministry struggled to find a certified body that could test Charaz's proficiency in the language, the Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported Monday.

That problem was recently solved when a Tourism Ministry employee who studied Yiddish in university tested Charaz personally and decided his level was good enough to award him the coveted approval.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin personally met Charaz on Sunday to hand him his official Yiddish license.

"This is part of a process aimed at advancing Haredi tourism and making the Tourism Ministry relevant for a huge community that until now was sidelined and is now getting the attention it deserves," Levin said. "Ultra-Orthodox tourism brought huge income to Israel in the past year."

Charaz said he works with groups of ultra-Orthodox tourists from abroad, including spiritual leaders and even members of the anti-Zionist Satmar sect.

"I tell them I am the biggest Zionist and make them love Israel," he said proudly during the ceremony. "I tell them this is the only place for Jews because it is ours."

Charaz, who said he has never traveled outside Israel, expressed hope that others would follow in his footsteps and seek to lead tours in Yiddish.



Sunday, January 13, 2019

Is it OK to blame ultra-orthodox Jews? 

Question: what prominent Jewish media outlet, with a proud history, could use a new headline writer?

Answer: The Forward.

Here is why.

A recent article in the Forward describes an outbreak of measles in the Hasidic community.

Why is this happening? Because many of them refuse to vaccinate their children. This, despite rather stringent appeals from Orthodox leaders and educators. Some yeshivot will not accept children who have not been vaccinated.

This is yet another manifestation of anti-vaccination propaganda that has been floating around that community, and other communities, for quite some time. (For decades, my family took a kind of pseudo-pride in imagining that Jonas Salk was somehow related to us).

I vociferously disagree with the anti-vaccination people. I am fervently in favor of vaccination of children.

So, what is it about this article that troubles me?

Only the headline.

“The Ultra-Orthodox Keep Causing Measles Outbreaks. Why Aren’t They Vaccinating?”

See anything wrong here?

First, those measles outbreaks seem to be confined to their own community — not that this make it any better.

But, the ill-informed and/or the Jew hater is likely to read that headline, and come away with the impression that the Jews are responsible for starting a plague.

Sound familiar? It should. In 1348 to 1351, Jew haters accused the Jews of causing the Black Death in Europe, by poisoning the wells. That accusation was a classic example of anti-semitism, and it lead to the massacres of entire Jewish communities.

Second, and even worse: the use of one, small word in that headline.


The Ultra-Orthodox.

Not: some ultra-Orthodox.


I respect the Forward, and have done so for several decades. My father once found a copy of the Forward in our bathroom, and he exited, waving it at me: “Why are you reading a Communist newspaper?” My father knew the history of the Forward very well — that it had started as a socialist, Yiddish newspaper. The Forward has published many of my articles.

But, something is very wrong here.

It’s that little word “the.” It is the implication that the ultra-Orthodox, as a body, are spreading measles.

This is simply wrong.

First, it is not true.

Second, it is profoundly bigoted — and frankly, I cannot understand how the Forward could publish such a, well, libel.

I will not publish here what some of the parallels would be. Just think about other groups on the margins of society. Come up with a social problem. Blame that group for the social problem.

See what it feels like.

There is a word for this.

The word is bigotry. And it should be the last thing that we would expect from a Jewish newspaper. Or, any newspaper.

Finally, let me say this as a non-Orthodox Jew.

I am tired of the sharp divisions in the Jewish community. In many cases, those divisions have emerged because of our tendency to be like many other Americans — to generalize and to demonize those with whom we disagree.

It’s all about “the.”

The Reform Jews. The leftists. The Orthodox. The ultra-Orthodox. The Israelis. The settlers.

In each case, those “the” statements mask whopping over generalizations — and yes, even bigotry.

The Forward should have known better.

An apology is quite in order.



Saturday, January 12, 2019

Ukrainian shtetls make a comeback 

Many famous Jewish writers have devoted themselves to bringing back to life the colorful shtetl, the Eastern European towns that were home to local Jews for hundreds of years. Today, following booming tourism in the footsteps of Hasidic sages, some have decided to revive the shtetl and bring Jews back to living in these towns, 77 years after the Holocaust decimated them and their long-time communities.

The Baal Shem Tov's grave site

In his famous book the Death of the Shtetl, Yehuda Bauer, one of the greatest Holocaust researchers of our time, describes seven famous shtetls that represent a mere fraction of the 3,000 and more towns—all of which have disappeared entirely. Others described daily life in the shtetl: Sholem Aleichem’s Boyberik in Tevye der Milkhiker resonated with us for more than a century, as well as famous works by Shmuel Yosef Agnon (from the town of Buchach), Isaac Bashevis Singer (from Bilgoray) and Elie Wiesel (from Siget)—all Nobel Prize winners who brought the Jewish town to life.

These writers gave us the colorful and vibrant picture of Jewish life, but also described the dismal poverty, religious zeal, community politics and relationships with the non-Jewish population: rural types, clergy, statesmen and rich regional lords.

Today, an attempt to recreate the old lifestyle, even if somewhat artificially, can no longer go unnoticed in the west of Ukraine. The old and the new mix in these renovated towns, abandoned during the war, when their 2.2 million Jewish residents perished.

Between Kiev and Lvov 
It takes a little under three hours to travel between Kiev and Mezhbizh, not a great distance in this vast country. But the city (that numbers 4 million residents) and the town (that numbers 2,000) boast totally different lifestyles. It’s hard to find a link between the luxurious houses of Khreshchatyk Avenue in Kiev and the busy Baal Shem Tov Mezhbizh Street, with its sign written in Hebrew and Ukrainian.

The path between the two, that only comes to life by the passing buses full of Jewish tourists, runs through the gray town of Žitomir, a focal point for the Jewish Enlightenment period. It’s worth visiting just to catch a glimpse of where Hayim Nahman Bialik, Israel’s national poet, lived as a young man.

We visit the famous print house that operated in Žitomir, and continue to Bardichev, once called the Jerusalem of Volhynia, that lies 40 kilometers away and was known as the city of Rebbe Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. His grave stands out in a cemetery whose tombstones are shaped like boots, and attracts thousands every year.

The streets of Berditchev are empty, its shops closed and its residents gray and grim-faced. We continue on the narrow path that leads to Mezhbizh, the city of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic thought, whose birthday in the Hebrew month of Elul (usually August-September) draws great crowds.

The Baal Shem Tov lived in this forsaken town for more than 20 years, where he started his work. But what did he see in Mezhbizh? Today’s town is a gloomy relic of the past’s glory.

Some 250-300 years ago it wasn’t a small and poor town, but rather one of the greatest cities in Ukraine. It numbered 5,000-10,000 people—five times the number of its residents today. Mezhbizh was a regional center, from which the spiritual and social movement that revolutionized Judaism—Hasidic practice—spread and made its mark on the Jewish people.

The Pantheon, a Hasidic cemetery, was built near the Baal Shem Tov’s grave. It still draws tens of thousands of Hasidics pilgrims every year, as it did decades ago, when this place was still a Jewish town.

In the past, Jewish residents made up a third of the town, huddled around the Rebbe's Synagogue and other Torah institutions that served the thousands of Jews who came to to express their devotion to him and to later Hasidic Rebbes.

This magnificent kingdom was all destroyed during the Holocaust. No Jews were left in Mezhbizh.

The shtetl comes to life 
Today, most of the Jewish incoming tourism to Ukraine comes from Israel. Hasidic tourists comprise the majority—and at times use the visit as an excuse to go abroad, since the Halacha (Jewish law) forbids traveling for entertainment. The more tourists there are, the more tourism infrastructure that highlights Jewish interests is needed.

Besides tourists that come to prostrate themselves on the graves of the sages (in Uman, Mezhbizh and Berditchev ), there is a growing number of tourists who go on seminars in the footsteps of Hebrew literature, the fathers of Zionism and Hasidic history. So many pillars of Jewish and Zionist history in such a desolate region.

The developments in the infrastructure of Jewish sites is evident. Uman stands out, followed other Rebbe’s graves in Mezhbizh, Sadigura by Chernivtsi, and Belz, located in north western Ukraine, among other sages’ grave sites renovated in recent years.

The map of the sages' graves in Ukraine has grown to include more sites than anywhere in Israel. The massive stream of tourists has even led to the surprising initiative—to renew the Mezhbizh shtetl and renovate old Jewish homes abandoned decades ago.

An Israeli street in Mezhbizh 
Walking through the streets of the old shtetl, you wonder, who would want to live here? Will this tiny Ukrainian town ever again be home to a Jewish population? And how will the local population receive the old-new residents?

The 500m stretch between the Baal Shem Tov’s grave site and his Torah institutions is surrounded by old mud and straw homes, fenced off in order to prevent people from entering. More than 10houses are on their way to being renovated, and becoming homes for Jewish families who want to return to the town. What will their children do, roaming in the old shtetl streets? No one seems to have considered that.

Hasidic people who have already left Israel and made Mezhbizh their home are quick to tell about the new Jewish town that’s being built. There is already a large Jewish hotel, a Kosher restaurant, a yeshiva and Torah institution, all located in proximity.

In two to three years, promise the entrepreneurs, the shtetl will have a Jewish-Israeli street with two or three renovated synagogues. The town, forsaken like thousands of others 77 years ago, is about to be resurrected.



Friday, January 11, 2019

The Ultra-Orthodox Keep Causing Measles Outbreaks. Why Aren’t They Vaccinating? 

The worst measles outbreak in recent New York history is hitting the Hasidic Jewish community due to low vaccination rates.

With 55 cases in Brooklyn and 116 in two upstate counties since late September, it is the second time in five years that the community has seen a measles crisis. The previous record outbreak, in 2013, was entirely within Brooklyn's Orthodox enclaves.

Experts say the outbreak has been caused by a mix of ignorance on how and when to get vaccines — common in insular communities — and pockets of stubborn resistance to accepted medical views on vaccination.

"This is not a Hasidic problem, this is an anti-vaccination problem," said Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, a Hasidic rabbi and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital on Long Island, and who identifies as ultra-Orthodox.

Measles is a virus that can travel on bits of moisture in the air, making it extremely contagious. But the reason outbreaks of measles are rare in the United States is because the vaccine that prevents it — the MMR, or measles-mumps-rubella, vaccine — is very effective.

"If you have a room full of people, and someone has measles, 90% of people will get measles if they are not vaccinated," said Dr. Jennifer Lighter, a pediatric epidemiologist with the New York University Langone hospital system.

The New York outbreak began after Orthodox Jews who were visiting Israel became infected with measles. Israel is experiencing a massive outbreak of the disease, with over 2,000 cases reported as of late November of last year.

In the U.S., outbreak has been almost exclusively contained to the Hasidic community. Hasidic Jews are often characterized by their insularity and rigid social structures. Different segments of the population follow the specific interpretations of Jewish law of their rebbes, or rabbinic leaders. The 2013 Pew survey of American Jews found that around 6% of the American Jewish population identifies as ultra-Orthodox - around 250,000 people total. Most live in New York state.

In New York City, the measles outbreak has been confined to Williamsburg and Borough Park, according to a spokesperson for the city's health department. (Two cases have been listed in neighborhoods adjoining Borough Park.)

In upstate New York, the outbreak has spread through insular communities in Rockland and Orange counties, where vaccination rates in some schools and day care centers is at 60%, according to New York state health commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. The state's overall vaccination rate is 92.5%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the victims in this outbreak are children under 13, Zucker says, who are most likely to be infected because of their age and because they spend much of their day in close quarters with their peers in yeshivas.

"This is the worst case I have seen in New York state," Zucker said. "This is exactly what would happen if you have an area where a lot of kids are in the same place, and there's a low immunization."

In Brooklyn, the New York City Department of Health has instituted a mandatory exclusion at yeshivas of unvaccinated students. Roughly 1,800 school-age children in the Williamsburg and Borough Park communities are unvaccinated due to having claimed a medical or religious exemption to vaccines, according to the health department spokesperson.

Major Orthodox leaders in Brooklyn have encouraged Jews to get vaccinated, with some local yeshivas saying they will no longer accept unvaccinated students. The Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, the largest yeshiva in the world, told its rabbis and over 8,000 students to "immediately get a vaccine" in November.

"The Jewish law is pretty clear," said Glatt. "The vast majority of poskim [Jewish legal scholars] strongly advocate for vaccination."

"There is, in my opinion, no such thing as a Jewish religious exemption [for vaccinations]," he added.

Lighter, the NYU physician, said that most of her patients are under-vaccinated, meaning they are behind the recommended schedule for receiving vaccinations. Many have foregone vaccination at different times because they erroneously thought it was unhealthy to receive multiple vaccinations at once, or be immunized while they had a cold.

"I don't really at NYU see a lot of [Hasidic] patients that are adamant about not getting vaccines, I mostly see the ones that are delayed," she said.

But some ultra-Orthodox believe that there is a connection between vaccines and autism, despite the fact that the CDC says there is none. Major Orthodox rabbis have called vaccines "hoaxes" and cast doubt on their efficacy, including three who sit on the rabinnical board that guides Agudath Israel of America, the leading Haredi umbrella group.

Vaccine skepticism has spread from those leaders to their followers.

"I've been practicing medicine and doing research on this topic for years now and I am saying scientifically the truth is known but being covered up," Yosef, a physician's assistant in Crown Heights who was raised in the Chabad movement, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, wrote in an email.

Yosef, 35, said that although he and two of his five children are vaccinated, he believes vaccines cause more harm than good.

"Side effects include death, autoimmune diseases, autism and many things in between," he wrote. "I don't think, I know. CDC knows. $4 billion paid to parents by our government since 1986 knows."

The U.S. government has in fact paid $4 billion over thirty years as part of its National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Out of billions of the vaccinations administered in that time period, 20,215 petitions for compensation have been filed, and 6,358 were granted.

Agudath Israel spokesman Avi Shafran said that Hasidic Jews have their reasons for resisting vaccination, pointing to changes in medical opinion like on how frequently to get screen for certain cancers.

"There are many other such 'medical reversals' that might reasonably give people pause before trusting medical authorities," he wrote in an email. "I am not saying that anti-vaxxers are correct, only answering your question." He added that it was the organization's policy not to make health recommendations.

In response to the outbreak, the health departments of New York State and New York City have undertaken awareness campaigns for vaccines. Zucker said that the state's efforts have led to 13,000 children in Rockland and Orange counties being vaccinated since October.

But Glatt says that there is widespread mistrust of the health department in the Hasidic community. He said that some view the department's response as "anti-Semitic."

"There is tremendous misplaced anger against the Department of Health, for various reasons," he said. "Some people think that this is the Department of Health ganging up on us."

In an email, Yosef, the physician's assistant, backed that up.

"I don't see NY department of health as a separate entity; government or healthcare is a group with a general agenda and preach the same religion with no questions asked," he wrote.

Community leaders, while quick to condemn anti-vaxxers, are just as quick to stress that theirs is not the only group with this problem. In recent years, Somali-American and Amish communities have seen serious measles outbreaks.

"There are unfortunately many different communities across the United States and the world, Jewish, non-Jewish, Hasidic, non-Hasidic, who unfortunately don't vaccinate," Glatt said.

Zucker said that the state's health department will continue vaccinating kids in Rockland and Orange counties until they see a period of no new cases. He added that while at first there was pushback in those communities to the vaccinations, many families have come to accept the immunization campaign.

"People recognize the need for this," he said.



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