Thursday, February 28, 2019

$2M grant for Palm Tree results in call for greater fund transparency 

A mysterious multimillion-dollar state grant for a small town in Orange County has led to a Senate bill aimed at making sure the lawmaker requesting money for the community is known.

It's been a year and still no one knows who gave $2 million in state money to the former village of Kiryas Joel.

Newly elected state Sen. James Skoufis spoke via video messenger to News 12 Wednesday from Albany. 

He says the 2018 Senate grant, for road and sidewalk repairs in the Hasidic community now known as Palm Tree, was the only grant last year that didn't have a lawmaker's name attached to it.

"No one would take credit for it. It was pretty astonishing...an enormous sum of money for the village of Kiryas Joel...everyone was just running for the hills," he says. 

At the time, Kiryas Joel officials said the money would be used to widen roads, install catch basins, curbs, sidewalks and streetlights, but they wouldn't say which senator secured the funds. 

Skoufis' predecessor in the 39th District, Bill Larkin, denied any involvement, although the district represents Kiryas Joel. 

Skoufis is now introducing a bill that would require transparency to any funds given and a lawmaker's name attached.

Palm Tree officials have yet to answer News 12's questions about the location and status of the improvements funded by that state grant.

It's unclear whether or not the money was used properly. Skoufis' bill meantime is expected to be introduced by next week.



Outremont resident files court motion against Bernard St. synagogue 

Outremont residents quarrelled at a tense meeting about a new synagogue on Bernard Street Wednesday night, hours after a resident filed a motion with the Superior Court to cancel the project.  

Max Lieberman, a member of the Hasidic community, explained that the synagogue would be small and uncrowded.

"It will have a lot less impact, a lot less traffic. I would call it a dépanneur kind of synagogue," he said. "This is something that would serve a local resident who wants to go do their prayer service."   

Frederic Fournier, who owns an ice cream shop on Bernard, said he's worried the synagogue will be bad for local businesses.

"We are worried about the parking," Fournier said. "It will be harder to find parking around our stores. And the noise."

Approval intended to avert legal battle
The borough moved to allow a new synagogue in a mixed commercial-residential building on Bernard earlier this year, despite a 2016 referendum that upheld a ban on new houses of worship on that street.

Borough Mayor Philipe Tomlinson has said that the ban happened too late to stop the plans for the building at 1260 Bernard Street, which is owned by a prominent member of Outremont's Hasidic community.

The borough still doesn't intend to allow new places of worship to be built on the street, Tomlinson said, but city lawyers advised Outremont that it would face a long and costly battle to try to fight the synagogue project.

There now appears to be a legal battle on a different front. Outremont resident Karim Ben Rhouma filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court Wednesday for the borough's decision to be cancelled.

"We will try to prove that the agreement was not based on the general interest or the risk of winning or losing in court," he said. "It was more based on a promise [Tomlinson] made to the Hasidic community about opening a synagogue."

Ben Rhouma, a real estate agent, claims to have the support of hundreds of residents. He said Tomlinson has not respected the referendum results.

"We're a bunch of citizens very unhappy about the situation," Ben Rhouma said. "The court filing is not against anybody. It's just a way to have our democratic rights respected."

Some who attended the meeting last night wanted to find out more. Mathieu Desaulniers-Robichaud has lived in Outremont his entire life, and said he wants to keep an open mind.

"There is a tension, but it's pretty much like anything in life: it's based on ignorance," he said. 

"They're scared. And when you're scared, you talk about stuff, and you don't know what you're talking about sometimes."



Wednesday, February 27, 2019

While Hoaxes make Headlines, Actual Attacks on Jews Keep Coming 

In the West, we're not merely living at present through savage culture wars. We're not merely experiencing a terrifying eruption of anti-Semitism in supposedly civilized countries. We are being subjected to a manipulation of reality that could have been scripted by Franz Kafka.

The gay, black actor Jussie Smollett claimed that he was set upon in Chicago, after buying a sandwich in the middle of a pulverizingly cold night last month, by attackers who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, shouted "this is MAGA country," poured an unknown chemical over him and placed a noose around his neck.

This bizarre account was then said to have been a hoax, with Smollett reportedly having paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him. He denied this; but now he has been charged with filing a false police report and disorderly conduct.

A lot of people now find themselves under an uncomfortable spotlight.

From the start, it was clear that Smollett's story was far-fetched and inconsistent. Yet it was instantly leapt upon as unchallengeably true.

Democrat presidential hopeful Cory Booker tweeted that it was "an attempted modern-day lynching." The Washington Post's "identity politics" reporter Eugene Scott wrote that Smollett's "experience" was "far too common for black gay men, particularly those who speak out against racism and sexism."

Others said it showed the ugly truth of U.S. President Trump's America. Actress Ellen Page urged people to "connect the dots," accusing Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of hating gay people and wanting to cause them suffering.

Anyone who questioned Smollett's story was denounced as a hate-monger.

The truth of this episode has yet to be resolved. Yet more broadly, there has been a huge number of hoaxes and fraudulent claims about hate crimes that have been seized upon as true despite clear evidence to the contrary.

Last September, Christine Blasey Ford could recall few of the circumstances surrounding the sexual assault she said to have endured as a teenager at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, who was being nominated as a justice of the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee found not enough evidence for her claim.

Yet despite this, her story was not only widely believed, but anyone who questioned it was accused of endorsing male violence against women.

Last month, as a result of selectively edited video footage, boys from Covington Catholic High School demonstrating against abortion and wearing MAGA caps were accused of racially abusing an elderly Native American. The boys were subjected to hate campaigns; the school even had to close for a day following the incident. When the full video was revealed, however, the boys were found to have been themselves the victims of abuse and intimidation by another group on the scene.

And let's not overlook the unprecedented attempt to prove that Trump had colluded with Russia to "steal" the presidential election he subsequently won.

Not only has no such evidence at all been discovered. Evidence has steadily emerged that elements of the FBI and Justice Department and other officials used the Hillary Clinton campaign's opposition "research" to mount an unlawful spying operation on team Trump in order to abort his presidency.

The former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who was fired last year after being said by the Inspector General to have "lacked candor, including under oath, on multiple occasions," has now claimed in a book and associated interviews that he plotted with others in the FBI to remove the president by any means necessary.

These astounding claims have been largely pooh-poohed or ignored. For as with many left-wing causes, factual evidence is dismissed as irrelevant.

This is because whichever issue underpins the left's uproar of the day constitutes a "fact" that is as incontrovertible as a papal bull under the medieval Inquisition.

So Blasey Ford had to be believed because of the incontrovertible "fact" that Kavanaugh was anti-abortion and therefore had to be stopped at all costs from being appointed to the Supreme Court.

The Covington boys had to be abusers because of the incontrovertible "fact" that Trump supporters in MAGA caps go out looking for minorities to beat up.

Even now, McCabe is still claiming with no evidence whatever that it's possible that Trump is a Russian asset.

Asked about the claims that the Smollett story was a hoax, Booker doubled down. "Bigoted and biased attacks" were seriously on the rise, he said, and most terrorist attacks since 9/11 had been "right-wing," a majority of them "white supremacist attacks." So he avoided the issue of truth and swerved back instead to his overriding agenda: bashing the right.

Meanwhile, real attacks on Jews are being ignored. On the night that Smollett claimed he was attacked, a Jewish man in New York was beaten up by three thugs.

The NYPD reports that more than twice as many hate crimes—most of them against Jews—occurred last month as in January last year. Last October, The New York Times reported there had been four times as many crimes against Jews as against black people, while anti-Jewish hate crimes outnumbered those against transgender people by a factor of 20.

This receives virtually no attention. That's because anti-Semitism is a bigotry that's prevalent on the left and among the groups it favors. So it gets in the way of the narrative that reframes reality to accord with left-wing shibboleths.

Such falsifications are justified on the grounds that they illustrate a "broader truth." But they are in fact lies.

And the really mind-bending thing is that these are deployed to demonstrate the user's moral superiority. For many on the left create right-wing monsters merely to prove their own virtue and make themselves unchallengeable.

That's why Washington Post editorial board assistant Nana Efua Mumford said she was broken-hearted to discover the Smollett story was almost certainly a hoax.

"The incident," she mourned, "would be touted as proof that there is a leftist conspiracy to cast Trump supporters as violent, murderous racists. It would be the very embodiment of 'fake news.' And that reason, more than any other, is why I need this story to be true … "

And it's why American Jews who vote Democrat are muted or silent about the virulent anti-Semitism of people like Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan or Democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

Having told themselves falsely that Trump is a mortal threat to Jews, black people or Muslims, they cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that the most dangerous enemies of the Jewish people are on their own side—and that it's Trump who is their target, not the other way round.

Hoaxes are a kind of false flag operation to cast as villains the victims of such attacks. They are a hallmark of Soviet communism's strategy of psychological warfare in creating a looking-glass world where nothing is what it seems.

Israel is a prime victim of this hoax politics. The whole Palestinian narrative—cooked up originally by Yasser Arafat in cahoots with the former Soviet Union—is a false flag operation, a hoax that falsely blames its Israeli victim of appalling crimes of which it is innocent but of which the Palestinian perpetrator is itself guilty.

Hoax politics is an example of cultural totalitarianism that fries the brain and creates a climate of political, intellectual and moral chaos.

It's why so many of us feel that the world has spun off its axis of reason altogether. And it's why the whole anti-Israel and anti-Jew pathology that has erupted in the West is part of a broader and devastating cultural nervous breakdown.



Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Malka Leifer accused of sexual harassment in Israel before moving to Australia 

Two new allegation of sexual misconduct that took place in an Israeli school decades ago have surfaced against former principal Malka Leifer, who is facing extradition back to Australia over multiple charges of sex abuse at a Jewish girls school there.

The accusations, which occurred in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak some 20 years ago, could indicate that ultra-Orthodox leaders, some of whom have allegedly continued to protect Leifer, sent her to Australia rather than report her to authorities, which activists claim is a common practice in the insular community.

The accusations are the first to be leveled against Leifer from before her time in Australia. She cannot face prosecution over them because the statute of limitations has expired

Up to this point, the allegations against Leifer have centered largely around her time in Melbourne where she served as principal of the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox girls' school from 2000 to 2008. She is facing 74 counts of sexual misconduct charges there.

In July, a man living in the northern West Bank settlement Emmanuel, where Leifer lived after fleeing to Israel as allegations came to light, accused the woman of having tried to molest his daughter.

Leifer, currently jailed at the Neve Tirza women's prison in Ramle as she faces extradition, taught at an all-girls high school belonging to the Gur Hasidic sect in the central, ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak in the late 1990s.

A former student at that seminary told the Kan public broadcaster Monday that Leifer would "cling" to her.

"She would take me for private conversation, one on one… down in the bomb-shelter. We would sit there and should would stroke my leg," the woman, who declined to disclose her identity said.

"She was crazy about me. She just kept stroking…back and forth on my skirt."

The alleged victim said Leifer once invited her to her home, but that she could not remember what had happened there.

"I remember running home…I tried to forget those years," she said.

The Times of Israel confirmed Monday that there is a second former student in Bnei Brak who accuses Leifer of having made inappropriate sexual advances at her nearly two decades ago.

An official from Jewish Community Watch, an NGO that combats child sex abuse, said that the woman is not yet prepared to go public with the allegations.

A former education official in Bnei Brak said she believed that rather than reporting her, community leaders sent Leifer to Australia after they learned of her transgressions.

The Orthodox community has come under scrutiny in the past for other cases in which teachers and others accused of inappropriate behavior were apparently moved to other communities rather than being reported to authorities and prosecuted.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox UTJ party, is being investigated over suspicions that he helped Liefer avoid extradition hearings with falsified medical affidavits.

Liefer had managed to postpone seeing a judge for years before 2018 by claiming she was unwell, sparking outrage among her former victims.

Responding to the latest allegations against their former principal, three of her alleged victims from Adass Israel said in a statement that they were "encouraged and heartened by the bravery of those finding their voices."

"Each new voice that rises above the fear of remaining silent is so valuable and important in helping to change the world into a better place. The more courage that we can bring out into the world, the more safer and just the world will become," said sisters Dassi Erlich, Ellie Sapper and Nicole Meyer.

In its own statement, JCW said that it's "inspired that in a community that has historically been so extremely insular, a dialogue about sexual abuse and assault is finally taking place."

Leifer's attorney Yehuda Fried said that "the court in Israel only discusses the question of the competence of Ms. Leifer to stand trial and does not deal with the question of the truthfulness of these complaints."

"We are certain that no background noise will prevent the court from reaching the truth with the best professional tools available to it, and we reject any attempt by parties interested in influencing the court through false publications."

Leifer, an Israeli citizen, was secreted out of Australia to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, in a plan orchestrated by officials at the Adass Israel school where she taught.

After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially submitted an extradition request to Israel in 2012.

Two years later, Leifer was arrested in Israel, but released to house arrest shortly thereafter.

Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.

She was rearrested last February following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained under custody since.

The operation was launched after JCW hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the ultra-Orthodox Emmanuel settlement, where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

New suspicions against Litzman
Earlier this month, the case — which has been closely followed by Australians, but has earned scant coverage in Hebrew media — saw what could be a major breakthrough.

After a months-long undercover operation, investigators from the police's anti-corruption unit summoned Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for questioning on suspicions that he had pressured Jerusalem District Psychiatrist Jacob Charnes to submit a falsified psychiatric report that would have prevented Leifer's extradition on medical grounds.

Leifer once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the Gur Hasidic sect, of which Litzman is a member.

On Monday, Channel 13 reported that police are investigating Litzman and his chief of staff Haim Justman on suspicions that they pressured another district psychiatrist named Moshe Briger to place an imprisoned sex offender on a fast track program for early release.

According to the report — which a legal official confirmed to The Times of Israel — Briger told police that after he initially refused Litzman's request, the deputy minister asked him to provide details on the other sex offenders that were slated to be placed on the fast-track program before the sex offender, who is a member of Litzman's Gur Hasidic sect.

Litzman's office flatly denied the report, as it has the other allegations made against the deputy minister. "Litzman does not exert pressure on anyone and is careful not to interfere with the professionals."

Last week, a Jerusalem District Court judge rejected an appeal from Leifer's defense attorneys for their client be released to house arrest for the remainder of extradition proceedings against her.

Fried told The Times of Israel at the time that he planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. However, such a move would not delay the extradition hearings against Leifer, which are slated for March 6, 13, and 24.



Monday, February 25, 2019

NYC Health Dept. Issues Advisory for Orthodox Jews Traveling to Israel 

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has issued an advisory for Orthodox Jews planning to travel to Israel.

The Department is urging travelers to vaccinate their children – and themselves – against the measles virus before boarding the plane.

There were 90 confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn, NY between October 2018 and February 19, 2019, according to the release from the department. It is believed the outbreak was caused by an unvaccinated child who contracted the disease during a trip to Israel.

A high number of cases of the virus has been attributed to the low vaccination rates in strictly Orthodox communities.

Most of the affected neighborhoods in New York City have been those with large Orthodox Jewish populations, particularly the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Borough Park and Williamsburg, in which 40 cases were reported.

In Israel, two fatalities were reported as a result of the measles virus, including the 2018 death of an 18-month-old toddler in Jerusalem.



Sunday, February 24, 2019

Jewish leader: Netanyahu election move concerns US Jews 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alliance with an ultranationalist political party has raised significant concerns among U.S. Jews, a top leader in the Jewish American community said Sunday.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the alliance is "very disturbing" to many American Jews. He said there are also concerns that it will provide new ammunition for Israel's critics.

Netanyahu last week welcomed a merger that folded the "Jewish Power" party into the larger "Jewish Home" for April elections. As part of their deal, Netanyahu gave the merged party a seat on his Likud Party's list of candidates and guaranteed them two Cabinet positions if he wins.

"Jewish Power" members see themselves as the ideological heirs of the banned Kach movement, which was outlawed by Israel and the U.S. because of its racist views.

The deal has been widely criticized in Israel, and even strong supporters of Israel in the U.S. have spoken out against it. The American Jewish Committee, a major pro-Israel advocacy group, and the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC both called Jewish Power "reprehensible."

"For those who follow this, there's a lot of concern," Hoenlein said in an interview.

"What we have to deal with is how it is perceived and understood in the United States," Hoenlein said. "And we have to be very careful because it feeds certain tendencies that are very concerning to us."

Hoenlein, who is visiting Israel, said he has not discussed the matter with Netanyahu and did not want to judge him. "He obviously has some political calculation that drove him to it, but politics can't dictate everything. You have to take into consideration all of the ramifications and all of the concerns," Hoenlein said.

Hoenlein said, however, that the "ultimate decision" will be made by the Israeli public, which he said rejects extremism.

Netanyahu on Saturday lashed out at his domestic critics on Saturday, claiming they have sought alliances with extremist Arab parties and accusing them of hypocrisy.



Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jewish Hospital deal could prime University of Louisville for growth 

Buying Jewish Hospital and other local KentuckyOne Health facilities could prime the University of Louisville for significant growth, experts say, although it could also bring some challenges.

Colleges across the country, such as Georgia's Emory University, have been growing their clinical operations through mergers, acquisitions and partnerships, said Dr. Janis Orlowski, the Association of American Medical Colleges' chief health care officer.

"Absolutely, I'm seeing it everywhere," she said.

After major changes in leadership, U of L is mulling similar moves. This week, it launched a request for proposals from potential partners interested in forming a joint venture to acquire and manage Jewish Hospital, the Frazier Rehab Institute, Our Lady of Peace psychiatric hospital and other KentuckyOne Health assets in the Louisville area.

Orlowski, who visited U of L last year, said the university's leaders have big plans and a good mission but appear to need more capital to expand their clinical and research efforts.

One early challenge U of L could face is finding a business or other organization to partner with that has a compatible vision of how to run Jewish Hospital and the other health care operations that potentially could become part of the proposed joint venture, such as U of L Hospital and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

Universities' clinical, educational and research missions are closely entwined, Orlowski said, and it's important for schools to choose partners that share their values.

"It's like selecting a spouse," she explained.

“I think they see an opportunity to grow the University of Louisville into a top-tier academic medical center. I think they're being very thoughtful about it.”

Janis Orlowski
University President Neeli Bendapudi said the goal is to find a partner that can finance the acquisition of Jewish and other KentuckyOne facilities and has the expertise necessary to help U of L manage those operations.

Bendapudi said this could be an opportunity to raise the profile of U of L's medical center, improve the university's research efforts and add more clinical sites, residencies and fellows for its health-related programs.



Friday, February 22, 2019

Chestnut Ridge adopts hotly debated zoning law for houses of worship 

During a contentious and emotional meeting, the Board of Trustees adopted a three-tier zoning law that allows houses of worships in residential neighborhoods.

The law adopted Thursday night reflects the increased Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish population since the south Spring Valley community formed as a village in 1986.

The law's development took nearly two years from drafting the proposals and holding a handful of public hearings , a few of which drew up to 700 people.

The three-tiered system includes:

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 would require more parking and buffers, planning board and zoning board variances. The allowable attendance would depend on the size of the house, but could top 100 people.

Community worship houses on five acres, needing special permit, planning and zoning approvals.

The law includes restrictions on all types of land use, including houses of worship such as minimum land size, fire and safety provisions, parking and traffic requirements.

Mayor Rosario "Sam" Presti said the zoning law met the needs of the village and constitutional freedom of religion requirements. He released a statement on behalf of the five-member board explaining their view of the need for the zoning regulations.

"As new residents moved into the village, with different worship requirements, these additional needs triggered a review of the law because the village has a legal obligation to accommodate all religious uses and to not unreasonably limit them in terms of their location or based upon a particular religious denomination," Presti stated. 

"As the practice of one's religion is a constitutional right, the village recognized that its laws needed to continue to reflect the preservation of that right and to assure legal compliance in that regard," he said.

Presti said he hoped an Orthodox Jewish group — which played a role in developing the new zoning — would drop its recent civil rights lawsuit against the village. The lawsuit has not been served on the village and has been viewed as a warning if the village didn't pass the zoning law.

Opponents of the law — including members of the grassroots group CUPON — have voiced concerns about congestion and a rise in their taxes as their quality of life takes a beating. They noted the village's lacks enforcement and allowed a synagogue to masquerade as a garage on Spring Hill Terrace.

Critics who spoke at the public hearings claim village officials and planners worked on the proposal with members of the Orthodox Jewish Coalition before officials went public.

The village recently was hit with a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging the long-standing zoning for houses of worship with its minimum of five acres as onerous for religious freedom. Opponents — mostly non-Orthodox Jews — wanted the required five acres retained.

The lawsuit cites violations of the Constitution's First Amendment, the Freedom of Worship provision of the New York Constitution and U.S. Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, known as RLUIPA.

Since the village offered the draft law in August 2017, the Board of Trustees has agreed to opponents' demands for development of a comprehensive zoning plan for the entire village.

The zoning has become election issue as two trustees who voted for the measure go before the voters on March 19. Anthony Shaut and Planning Board member Jeffrey Wasserman - who opposed the zoning law and supported a comprehensive plan - are challenging Trustees Grant Valentine and Paul Van Alstyne.



Scammers steal $437k from Hungarian Jews’ synagogue renovation project 

Scammers stole from Hungary's largest Jewish group the equivalent of $437,000, which the government had given for the renovation of a synagogue in Budapest.

The fraud took place last month in several phone calls and emails to employees of the Mazsihisz Jewish federation by unidentified individuals, according to an internal Mazsihisz report from Jan. 24 that was obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The suspects convinced two employees to switch the bank account numbers of a contractor working for Mazsihisz on the renovation of the Rumbach Street Synagogue. Mazsihisz wired 122 million Hungarian forints to the wrong account.

The money was quickly withdrawn in cash and vanished, the report said. Police, which notified Mazsihisz of the theft, are investigating it.

The two employees, who work as office administrators at Mazsihisz, were fired, the report said.

"It is the basic premise of the present investigation that Mazsihisz became the victim of an externally induced fraud, the employees of the organization are not perpetrators or co-perpetrators," the internal probe said. But Mazsihisz employees did commit "errors," the document also stated.

But, it added, "the Police investigation may change what we know fundamentally."

In November, the Figyelo magazine, which is generally supportive of the policies of Hungary's rightwing government, published an article about allegedly faulty accountability at Mazsihisz, also regarding the Rumbach synagogue project. The article featured an illustrative photo of Mazsihisz President Andras Heisler amid money bills. He called it an anti-Semitic image.

A Mazsihisz spokesman told JTA that he could not immediately say how the incident would affect renovations.



Thursday, February 21, 2019

Michael Diederich opens DA run targeting Hasidic Jewish education 

Michael Diederich opened his second attempt at becoming Rockland district attorney by targeting the lack of secular education in Hasidic Jewish schools as a potential misdemeanor crime.

Diederich, 64, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and JAG prosecutor, joins four other Democrats seeking the party's line in the June primary. He is divorced with three children, having lived since age 4 in Stony Point, where his family owned a swim club.

While discussing traditional issues such as violent crime, justice and corruption, Diederich set himself apart by arguing the lack of secular education in Hasidic schools is potentially child endangerment and a role for the county's top prosecutor.

"I am the only candidate addressing the most important criminal justice issue facing Rockland County — the criminally deficient non-education of Hasidic children in this county, and panoply of problems that result," Diederich said.

Diederich said he "will wield the sword of the prosecutor to protect Hasidic women and children against a Hasidic leadership that seeks authoritarian control over its members. 

"I will protect individuals, and fight organizational abusers," he said, citing how some dissenters are ostracized and denied schooling. "The Hasidic leadership is an abusive organization when it comes to keeping its members inadequately educated and isolated from the larger American society. "

His views were slammed by an advocacy group for Orthodox and Hasidic Jews.

Yossi Gestetner, a founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, known as OJPAC, said he found Diederich's analysis of the community "shocking that an attorney for DA of Rockland unleashing a two-page tirade against Hasidim, saying at the outset that the most significant problem facing the county is the insularity and exponential growth of the Hasidic community."

Gestetner called Diederich's generalizing of a community potential grounds for disciplinary action.

"DAs prosecute crime; not communities," he said. "As such, this candidate's approach would be illegal. Finally, his attack on the quality of education among Hasidim is misleading."

Secular education in private schools has become a contentious issue.

Since at least 1947, the state has required that academic instruction in private schools be "substantially equivalent" to what public schools teach. Section 3204 of state Education Law has also required that public school districts be responsible for making sure that private schools within their boundaries teach what they're supposed to teach.

The law, by and large, has been ignored until recently when the state education commissioner clarified new guidelines and plans to enforce them.

Educators and officials within the Orthodox Jewish community have expressed concern that excessive state involvement with yeshiva instruction would intrude on their religious freedom.

A group on the other side of the issue, Young Advocates for Fair Education or YAFFED, led by Naftuli Moster of Rockland, has lobbied the state to enforce secular education standards.

The issue involves politics, as the Hasidic community's advocates have political clout with state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In Rockland,thousands of Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish voters — while not always totally aligned — are a potent force in the county, as well as Ramapo, and can tip a primary election to one candidate 

Diederich said he's not violating ethical standards for attorneys but looking to uphold the law. He said the lack of secular education results in students burdening taxpayers by being unprepared to earn a living and potentially living off government social services programs.



Wednesday, February 20, 2019

French TV cuts Facebook Live video from desecrated Jewish cemetery due to anti-Semitic troll swarm 

On Wednesday, the TV network France 3 was forced to cut off a live Facebook broadcast from a desecrated Jewish cemetery in eastern France when trolls swarmed the feed and filled it with anti-Semitic hate comments.

You could say there's a problem with anti-Semitism in France.

The night before on Tuesday evening, roughly 20,000 people and lawmakers from across the political spectrum gathered to denounce anti-Jewish hate at the Place de la Republique in central Paris. Other protests were held throughout France.

From Reuters:

France 3 said it went live from the cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim on Tuesday as President Emmanuel Macron was visiting to pay his respects after more than 90 graves were vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic abuse.

But as it broadcast footage online to its more than 1.3 million Facebook followers, the feed was inundated with anti-Semitic commentary and abuse.

“We are talking about explicit death threats, comments that were openly anti-Semitic and racist, including “Heil Hitler”, “dirty Jew” or “dirty Jews”, comments that were addressed at Emmanuel Macron and representatives of the Jewish community,” the channel said in a statement explaining its decision.

“Within minutes, the number of vile and illegal comments had gone well beyond our capacity to moderate them,” it explained, adding that it would have taken 10 or 20 staff to handle the onslaught. “We refuse to traffic in hatred.”

The cemetery attack is only the latest hate crime in France in recent weeks.

Macron spoke to members of the local community at the cemetery, and promised a tough response.

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished,” he said. “We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them.”



Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Vandals desecrate 90 Jewish graves in east France ahead of marches 

Vandals have daubed swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on around 90 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France, local officials said, shortly before planned marches nationwide against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the cemetery on Tuesday in the village of Quatzenheim, near the city of Strasbourg, following the overnight desecration, walking through a gate daubed with a swastika as he entered the graveyard.

"It's important for me to be here with you today," a solemn looking Macron told local leaders and members of the Jewish community after paying respects at one of the desecrated graves.

Many French political leaders, though not Macron himself, are due to join Tuesday evening's march in Paris against anti-Semitism, which remains a scourge in France.

Figures released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic attacks in 2018, a 74 percent increase from 2017.

Among incidents in recent days, 'yellow vest' protesters were filmed hurling abuse at Alain Finkielkraut, a well-known Jewish writer and son of a Holocaust survivor, on Saturday.

France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe - around 550,000 - a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common.

A rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Islamist gunman, and in 2015 four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris were among 17 people killed in the city by Islamist militants.

This month, artwork on two Paris post boxes showing the image of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and former magistrate, was defaced with swastikas, while a bagel shop was sprayed with the word "Juden", German for Jews, in yellow letters.

"These acts are disgusting," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament last week.

"We need to educate and remind people about our history, to talk about the horrors that hide behind those criminal acts. We also need to punish (more) and we know that we can't be hesitant on that."

Macron will host a dinner on Wednesday with the head of Crif, the umbrella body that represents the Jewish community in France.



Monday, February 18, 2019

Ashdod rabbi appeals to residents for aid with Leifer legal defense 

Malka Leifer (YouTube screenshot)

An ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Ashdod sent out an appeal to residents over the weekend, asking them to provide donations for the legal defense of alleged sexual predator Malka Leifer, who is currently in an Israeli prison, facing extradition.

The letter written by Yosef Direnfeld on Thursday was distributed in synagogues throughout the southern city, but carefully avoided identifying Leifer by name in addition to the accusations against the 51-year-old, who currently faces 74 charges of sex abuse in Australia, where she allegedly molested some 20 students while serving as principal of an ultra-Orthodox girls school in Melbourne.

“A personal and emotional request of all the generous people,” the letter begins. “An important woman, the daughter of the great and the righteous… has been imprisoned for a long time under harsh and cruel conditions… for the purpose of extraditing her to a gentile state.”

“In order to save her, we need specialized lawyers whose costs amount to large sums,” Direnfeld writes.

In a recording of a phone call obtained by the Kan public broadcaster, a resident of the town is heard asking the rabbi for additional details regarding the request. However, Direnfeld says he cannot speak about the matter over the phone and requests that the man meet with him personally.

The Times of Israel reached out to Direnfeld for an explanation, but he declined to comment.

The nature of the connection between the Ashdod rabbi — a Belz Hasid — and Leifer — a member of the Chust Hasidic sect — was unclear, but the fact that her case is reaching communities across the country suggests that the efforts to aid the suspected sexual predator are extensive.

One of Leifer’s accusers, Dassi Erlich, published the letter on Twitter, expressing her particular disgust with its opening phrase, “redeeming a captive” — an attempt by Direnfeld to define the suspect as someone whom Jews are obliged by Jewish law to rescue.

“I was taught about the Jewish law of ‘redeeming a captive’ during school years, never imagined it would be used to raise funds for my abuser,” Erlich wrote.

Leifer, an Israeli citizen, was secreted out of Australia to Israel in 2008, days before allegations of sexual abuse against her surfaced, in a plan orchestrated by officials at the Adass Israel school where she taught.

After authorities in Melbourne filed charges against her, Australia officially submitted an extradition request to Israel in 2012. Two years later, Leifer was arrested in Israel, but released to house arrest shortly thereafter. Judges deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and eventually removed all restrictions against her, concluding that she was too ill to even leave her bed.

She was rearrested last February following a police undercover operation that cast doubts on her claims regarding her mental state, and has remained under custody since. The operation was launched after the Jewish Community Watch NGO hired private investigators who placed hidden cameras in the ultra-Orthodox Emmanuel settlement, where Leifer had been living, which showed the alleged sex abuser roaming around the town without any apparent difficulty.

On Thursday, the case — which has been closely followed by Australians, but has earned scant coverage in Hebrew media — saw what could be a major breakthrough.

After a months-long undercover operation, investigators from the police’s anti-corruption unit summoned Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman for questioning on suspicions that he had sought to obtain a falsified psychiatric report that would have prevented Leifer’s extradition on medical grounds.

Leifer once taught at a school in Israel affiliated with the Gur Hasidic sect, of which Litzman is a member.

On Monday, a Jerusalem District Court judge rejected an appeal from Leifer’s defense attorneys for their client be released to house arrest for the remainder of extradition proceedings against her.

Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabbai, attorneys on behalf of the suspect, asserted that her detention over the past year has caused her mental state to deteriorate to the point where it is “life-threatening.”

Gabbai put forth a proposal that Leifer be released to house arrest in the home of one of two female Hasidic high school principals in Bnei Brak who would keep an eye on her. A prominent ultra-Orthodox figure in the central city, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shafran, had given his blessing to the idea. The three were present at the courtroom on Monday.

Judge Ram Vinograd said he could not release her on medical grounds unless he received an updated psychiatric opinion regarding her condition. He recommended placing Leifer in a psychiatric institution where she could be evaluated prior to a follow-up hearing two weeks later, at which he would make his decision.

Both sides rejected the proposal, saying the process had dragged on long enough and that several district psychiatric reports had already been submitted on the matter — the most recent of which deemed Leifer mentally fit to remain behind bars and continue facing extradition hearings.

Fried told The Times of Israel that he planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. However, such a move would not delay the extradition hearings against Leifer, which are slated for March 6, 13, and 24.



Sunday, February 17, 2019

Farrakhan: ‘The Wicked Jews Want to Use Me to Break Up the Women’s Movement’ 

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan on Sunday spoke in defense of Women’s March national leaders who have taken flak for associating with him, and launched fresh attacks on Jews.

“The wicked Jews want to use me to break up the women’s movement,” Farrakhan said at his movement’s Saviours’ Day conference in Chicago, praising by name the national co-leaders of the Women’s March, Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour and Carmen Perez.

In a lengthy speech, Farrakhan also accused Jews of putting Jewish suffering – specifically the Nazis’ systematic extermination of six million Jews, the Holocaust – ahead of that of others because they believe “only their life is sacred.”

Farrakhan’s statements about Jews have long been provocative, but over the past year Mallory, Sarsour and Perez have been widely condemned for associating with him, threatening to fracture the movement.

Mallory was on the stage during last year’s Saviours' Day speech, when Farrakhan drew attention to her presence. In that same speech, he declared that “the powerful Jews are my enemy.”

Later in the year, Women’s March founder Teresa Shook called on the co-chairs to step down and make way for others “who can restore faith in the Movement.”

On Sunday, Farrakhan asked the audience to applaud “my poor little sister, Tamika” – who did not attend this year – and implied that critics had used him as a pretext to attack the Women’s March leaders who were shaking up America.

“Tamika, Linda Sarsour, Carmen Perez, our sister with the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter – the women shook the world the day after President Trump was elected,” he said. (The first march was held a day after Trump’s inauguration.)

“The women organized, and all over the world women rose up and men in government got shook. Because when women rise, change is going to come,” he said. “So when they saw that Tamika had helped bring that about, they came after her.”

“The wicked Jews want to use me to break up the women’s movement,” Farrakhan said. “It ain’t about Farrakhan; it’s about women all over the world, have the power to change the world.”

In other remarks certain to stoke new controversy, Farrakhan said that Jews “think so much of themselves” that they get offended when blacks want to use the term “holocaust” to refer to the transatlantic slave trade, lynching, rapes and other abuses.

“How many of you have heard Jewish people tell you you can’t use ‘holocaust’ when you talk about black suffering? Do you know why? Because to them the suffering of six million Jews is worth seven billion human beings on our planet.”

“So when you say ‘holocaust,’ that to them is blasphemy,” he said. “That’s how cheap they think a Palestinian life, the life of the gentiles. Only their life is sacred.”

Elsewhere in his address, Farrakhan sought to link the Talmud to ills ranging from slavery to predatory lending, and from pedophilia and pornography.



Saturday, February 16, 2019

Revealed: Jeremy Corbyn's secret link to the tormentor of pregnant Jewish MP Luciana Berger 

The anti-Semitism storm engulfing Jeremy Corbyn deepened last night after the Labour leader was linked to the official at the centre of allegations about the racist bullying of a pregnant Jewish MP.

Luciana Berger – who has been dubbed a ‘dirty little Zionist rat’ by pro-Corbyn activists – is thought to be so disgusted by Labour anti-Semitism she is on the brink of leaving to form a breakaway party.

Now The Mail on Sunday can reveal previously undisclosed links between Mr Corbyn and Alex Scott-Samuel, who has led the drive to force out Ms Berger.

Dr Scott-Samuel even met the Labour leader to discuss what he considered the ‘victimisation’ of anti-Zionist Corbynistas like himself.

This newspaper today also publishes more devastating extracts from Tom Bower’s bombshell biography of Corbyn, detailing the full extent of the anti-Semitism scandal on his watch.

Revelations that will further rock the Labour leadership include:

Bower’s account of how Mr Corbyn’s anti-Zionism has its roots in his first job as a union official, where he came to believe in the ‘malign collective power of Jews’;

Bower’s exposé of the mood of ‘flippant disdain’ among Mr Corbyn’s staff before a summit with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who protested that the Labour leader associated with people who were ‘blatantly racist’;

How Mr Corbyn’s own constituency chairwoman dismissed the anti-Semitism scandal as ‘baseless smears’ which have been ‘orchestrated’ by Israeli ‘fifth columnists’;

An admission by Labour MP John Mann that ‘Jew-haters are among us and the lack of action is undoubtedly emboldening them’.

Meanwhile, the Government has provocatively tabled a Commons debate for Wednesday on ‘anti-Semitism in modern society’ designed to embarrass the Opposition front bench.

Earlier this month Ms Berger, who is due to give birth in under a fortnight, fought off a constituency motion of no confidence following an outcry by moderate MPs.

It had been approved by Dr Scott-Samuel, chairman of her Liverpool Wavertree constituency party, on the grounds that her campaign against anti-Semitism amounted to ‘disloyalty’ to Mr Corbyn.

She has since endured vitriolic ‘trolling’ on local party websites, being called an ‘Israeli attack dog’, a ‘dirty little Zionist rat’ and worse.

Dr Scott-Samuel met Mr Corbyn in 2016 over what he claimed was the ‘victimisation’ of anti-Zionists’ in the party, saying as much on Twitter.

He was also given a centre-stage position as Mr Corbyn took to the stage at last year’s Labour Party Conference in Liverpool – during which Ms Berger needed an armed guard to protect her against militant Corbynistas.

Mr Corbyn was photographed warmly greeting Dr Scott-Samuel as he stepped on to the podium.

A friend of Ms Berger’s said: ‘Luciana could justifiably fear that the entire party apparatus from London to Liverpool is sinisterly acting in concert to prevent her stamping out this cancer. It would be bad enough at any time, let alone when she is about to give birth’.

Ms Berger issued a statement this weekend which appeared to put Mr Corbyn on a final warning to sort out the anti-Semitism problem – or face a split in his party.

She said: ‘I have been deeply disturbed by the lack of response from the leadership to the anti-Semitism that stains our Party. I and my colleagues have been calling on the leadership for months to put in place proper measures to tackle this issue.

‘The sad, frustrating, deeply disappointing fact is that I do not believe the leadership is properly dealing with anti-Semitism. I believe we have a serious problem. I will not be a bystander to anti-Semitism.

'I will continue, unapologetically and with the support of the vast majority, to call out anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head’.

This week’s extracts from Mr Bower’s book, Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot For Power, trace Mr Corbyn’s anti-Zionist beliefs to his first job as a researcher for the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers.

The author says that Mr Corbyn’s campaigns on behalf of low-paid workers against ‘exploitative Jewish employers’ convinced him of ‘the malign collective power of Jews’.

Mr Bower adds: ‘The truth is that Corbyn’s antagonism towards Zionism is one of the most consistent – and toxic – lines of his career. To him, Jews aren’t victims of racism and oppression but rather racist oppressors themselves.

‘For years, he’d noisily voice his outrage at the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza... never drawing a distinction between the terms Jew and Zionist which were interchangeable to many on the Left.’

The author also describes the mood of ‘flippant disdain’ in Mr Corbyn’s office before a crisis summit with the Board of Deputies of British Jews over anti-Semitism, and the complaint from Jonathan Arkush, its president, that Mr Corbyn associated with people who were ‘blatantly racist’.

The Mail on Sunday has also established that Corbyn’s own constituency chair has been spreading material condemning ‘the Israel lobby’ for its ‘undue influence on British politics’.

Alison McGarry claims that the ‘baseless smears’ of the anti-Semitism scandal have been ‘orchestrated’ by the Israel’s UK Embassy, and has called for ambassador Mark Regev to be removed, claiming he is a ‘hardcore Zionist’.

Ms McGarry has also campaigned against the expulsion of Labour member Jackie Walker, who is awaiting a judgment for saying that Jews were the ‘chief financiers of the slave trade’.

Ms McGarry has shared a number of petitions on the issue, including one last year which said that the ‘baseless smears and slurs against Jeremy Corbyn have been relentlessly orchestrated by the Israeli Embassy and the Labour Friends of Israel’ and described Israel supporters as a ‘dangerous fifth column’.

The Commons debate on anti-Semitism has been timed by the Government to coincide with a resurgence of anger among Labour MPs over the party’s failure to crack down on the problem.

Basetlaw MP John Mann, a leading campaigner against anti-Semitism, told this newspaper: ‘We expect Labour members to be above reproach when it comes to racist discrimination and abuse. [But] it’s fairly clear that Jew-haters are among us and the lack of action is undoubtedly emboldening them.

‘The sooner we make our members clear that anti-Semitism is not and will never be tolerated, the sooner we can start becoming the antidote to anti-Semitism on the Left, rather than the culture from which it can grow.’

Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: ‘Labour’s leadership is now increasingly seen to hold views at odds with British values’.

Ms Berger refused to comment last night on Mr Corbyn’s meetings with Dr Scott-Samuel, who has made regular appearances on the Richie Allen Show, an online current affairs show aired on conspiracy theorist David Icke’s website.

There he has aired his controversial views – including blaming the 9/11 terror attacks on the UK, America and Israel and saying the wealthy Jewish Rothschild family were ‘behind a lot of the neo-liberal influence’ in the UK.

Dr Scott-Samuel has defended his decision to approve a no-confidence motion against Ms Berger on the grounds that he is ‘himself Jewish’ adding that any suggestion the local party executive is ‘party to bullying and anti-Semitism is a slanderous accusation’.

Last night he said: ‘I’m hurt and offended by the allegations in the media that I am anti-Semitic or a conspiracy theorist.’

Labour said: ‘We take all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it in all its forms. All complaints about anti-Semitism are fully investigated and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken’.



Friday, February 15, 2019


Anti-Semitic harassment and attacks are on the rise in Europe as more Jews report feeling under threat in some of the continent's largest nations.

According to The Guardian, the number of anti-Semitic attacks rose by 74 percent in France and 60 percent in Germany in 2018, despite condemnation of such behavior by national leaders.

The data support recent polls in which European Jews reported feeling more at risk and targeted, both online and in day-to-day life. A study published in December found that nine out of 10 Jews living in the European Union believe anti-Semitism has gotten worse over the past five years.

French government figures released this week revealed 541 recorded incidents of anti-Semitism in 2018, up from 311 in 2017. Meanwhile, across the border in the EU's largest economy, Germany, government officials said anti-Semitic offenses reached a 10-year high of 1,646—up 60 percent on the year before. Of these, 62 were physical attacks leaving 43 people requiring medical treatment. There were 37 such attacks in 2017.

The uptick in attacks supports the conclusions of an EU Agency for Fundamental Rights study released in December, which found that the continent's Jewish communities were more concerned about anti-Semitism than they had been in years.

The poll collected opinion from 16,000 Jewish people across 12 nations, discovering a fear that anti-Semitism was being normalized and spreading. Around 30 percent of respondents had suffered anti-Semitic harassment, and 90 percent believed anti-Semitism in Europe was getting worse.

More than one-third had considered leaving their country of residence out of fear of anti-Semitism, while around the same number had avoided Jewish sites or events due to safety concerns. Eight out of 10 respondents said they would not even report minor anti-Semitic incidents as they didn't think it would change anything.

But non-Jewish communities appear to be taking anti-Semitism less seriously than in the past, and many are entirely unaware that Jewish compatriots feel increasingly under threat. A Eurobarometer poll produced by the EU Commission in January found that only 36 percent of non-Jewish respondents across all 28 EU nations felt anti-Semitism was on the rise.

The study also found that non-Jewish citizens of countries with the largest Jewish communities were most concerned about anti-Semitism, with Sweden and France as particular standouts.  

Another survey conducted by CNN indicated that a significant number of non-Jews still exhibited anti-Semitic prejudices and bought into historic conspiracy theories.

For example, more than 20 percent of 7,000 Europeans surveyed in Austria, France, Germany, the U.K., Hungary, Poland and Sweden still believed Jewish people had too much influence over finance and politics. Almost a quarter said Jews were too involved in conflicts and wars across the world.

Thirty two percent believed Jewish people had exploited the Holocaust—in which around 6 million Jews were murdered by the Axis powers in World War II—to "advance their position." Another 34 percent said they knew little or nothing about the Holocaust.

A combination of factors has likely caused the uptick in anti-Jewish prejudice. These include the worsening conflict in the Middle East that has led to increased anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiment—particularly among European Muslims—while the rise of right-wing populist parties across the continent has seemingly encouraged those with extreme views to be more openly intolerant, The Guardian reported.



Thursday, February 14, 2019

Orthodox Couple Creates Dating App for Jewish Singles Using A.I. 

Dating apps can be a huge pain in the tuchus for those truly searching for love. But, worry no more my beloved singles, Forj, a new Jewish dating app, is here and ready to help you find your bashert. Orthodox millennial couple Yossi and Shira Teichman created Forj as the Jewish dating app for serious daters. As the first dating app fully powered by A.I., Forj is described by the Teichmans as the technological equivalent of the world's best-personalized matchmaking service — without the expenses, awkwardness or inconveniences associated with hiring a human matchmaker.

"Forj's popularity has grown 100 percent monthly, with a 95 percent match success rate and users are reporting a 95 percent that the A.I. truly understands them for who they are," the Teichmans noted.  

Forj has launched a plethora of new features including user verification – picture, age, gender, etc. all via just a selfie – powered by A.I. and a click-to-highlight anything and everything about their profile feature.

I interviewed the CEO of Forj, Yossi Teichman to learn more about the exciting ride through creating the dating app.  

JJ: How did the idea of Forj come about?

By the time I met my wife and Forj co-founder Shira in 2014, we'd both been burned by dead-end dating in New York. Singles mixers, apps and matchmakers alike, were failing us–and, like thousands of others, we were starting to experience dating burn-out. The scene was getting old fast, and we knew it was time to innovate. The dating coaching company we founded, "Breakthrough Dating," garnered widespread attention for its innovative focus on helping Jewish singles get to know each other authentically. It yielded astounding results, with a 90% success rate. With a refreshing new twist on modern love that de-emphasizes superficial presentation and restores true connection, Breakthrough Dating proved the need for a serious dating app. I left my career in finance two summers ago to attend coding school, at which time Forj was born. Today, as a married couple, Shira and I help others forge their own paths of lasting love. Five years ago, I never imagined that our search for love would plant the seeds for the world's first dating app powered by Artificial Intelligence.

JJ: Explain the experience and tactical process that led you toward developing Forj?

Shira and I both had PhD's in dating. As discussed in the previous question, we had experience dating, for a very long time. We had gone to all the matchmakers, the so-called dating coaches, singles events, mixers, weekends, dating apps, workshops, you name it. But, aside from meeting hundreds of new faces, nothing was actually working.

Moreover, we saw that many of these "experts" or matchmakers, gave advice freely or techniques to use to date better. Nothing was research-based or had any concrete basis. Almost always it was, dress like this, look like this, not like this. Basically how to market yourself more effectively. (Similar to what almost all dating apps promote).

I realized that based on what I was seeing from myself and my friends, that it's not just a numbers game. It's not just about making introductions, there's something more.

We decided to actually do research as to what tools are available to be able to move forward in dating. We met with a couple of top experts in the field, and conducted research, which they reviewed, critiqued, honed, and that is how we were able to create "Breakthrough Dating." A program that was designed to give singles the tools they need to get "unstuck." We created a small event and out of 40 people that applied the program, four ended up getting engaged. Since then we had 41 marriages.

To understand the difference between our approach and everything else out there requires a shift in mindset about what the purpose of a singles event is. It's not about throwing people together in a room or actually trying to match people up based on similar Hashkafa or Jewish like observance level, age or all other "matching qualities." All of these criteria are completely arbitrary and have very little to do with the success of a long-term relationship. It's not about working people into an event because they are all "modern orthodox" or they're all "traditional" and between the ages of 20 and 25 or 30 and 35.

What we discovered, is when you actually shift the dynamics in a room, people start to connect naturally. The three main components which we derived from our research that are critical to dating success was: vision, empowerment and connection.

As Shira's client base grew, her clients kept telling her they were tired of dating apps, since all you get is just a picture. Dating apps have been around for a while, but within the last two to three years there has been increased disappointment with people feeling like they are meeting millions of people but nothing is happening.

That is where we thought of Forj. Let's synthesize our research which we know works into an app so that Jews no matter what background, age, degree earned, etc. can actually meet someone who is truly compatible in a safe space, and get the support they need to move on to the next step.

And that is how Forj was born!

JJ: Explain how the themes of vision, empowerment and connection that you mentioned above help with reaching dating success?

Vision: We look at the long-run. If you were to look 20 years down the line, and envision how your life would be, what do you see? This is exactly what we have incorporated in the app to give to you. It is the core of the sign-up process and A.I. to give you the amazing life you deserve with the most amazing someone for you.

Empowerment: Our app has no judgment. We have designed it in such a way that each user can truly represent in their profile who they are in the most authentic, and true-to-self way without having to try and market themselves. That is the core of our collage, favorites, and auto-generated profiles.

Connection: Because we represent the true you in the profile, you are able to really connect to the other users in a very meaningful way. To help the users further, we have the ice-breakers and soon A.I. dating coach, to really take you to the next level!

JJ:  What is the meaning behind the name Forj?

It's a play on "forge" with the "j" for "Jewish." This is actually how it's pronounced. We are all about forging healthy happy productive relationships. This is one of our key goals in the app.

JJ: What makes Forj different from other dating apps?

People are really, in certain circles, tired of chasing matchmakers or waiting for a middleman to call for a suggestion. They complain that once they do get suggestions, if they get any, that the suggestions are not compatible. Which is why they understandably feel really burnt out from years of dead end set ups, which ends in a lot of dead end dating.

None of the websites or the few Jewish dating apps out there suggest anyone that's relevant to you or have any real way of discovering who would be relevant or compatible. The ones who are looking for a real relationship complain that they find that these apps are very frustrating and very draining. Current apps present you with endless pictures and endless swipes, but not serious prospects.

On top of that the app weeds out people that are just looking for hook-ups. If you're just looking for a hook-up app, this is not the app for you. The questionnaire is very extensive. Our app really gets to know the user, something which is uncomfortable if you just want a hook-up. Other apps would say that they're kind of geared towards everyone, whether you're looking for a hook-up or you're dying to get married. This is, of course, problematic if you want a serious relationship. There is no way to find out.

A.I.: The only app that constantly learns about you after every match on a deeper level. The click-to-highlight feature really enables the A.I. to learn from every aspect of your matches in terms of what you really want and need. Some of the other apps learn about your look preferences (but even then most prefer not to, since they want you to constantly swipe and stay in the app).

JJ: What's your main goal with Forj?

Forj's goal is that our users are happily engaged in healthy, happy, loving and long-lasting relationships. It's not just randomly getting married or hooking up with someone. We really want our users to find that someone who is extremely compatible with them, and that they will be happy together for decades to come.

We want to provide the tools to make that happen!

JJ: Explain what a day in the life looks like for you as the CEO of Forj?

Where do I begin !! As a startup there is no "typical" day. In general, we try to introduce at least one new enhancement each week and major feature once a month. So I will spend time going through those features. Our main designer is in Israel, so I'll discuss with her what she believes should be the next big changes in design. Our outreach coordinator is in Chicago, and we'll go over any new partnerships with influencers, media, or Jewish organizations. And lastly, our head of content is in New York, so if there is any new improvements, new questions, or other nuances to the content we'll go over it with her. As we are looking to partner with a tier-1 influencer and bring them to join the team, I will have conversations with several to see if they are a fit.

JJ: What's the biggest lesson you've learned while creating Forj?

People want to be seen for who they are, and are tired of continuously marketing themselves and trying to guess how others perceive them. They don't want to be treated like objects. They want to be appreciated for their own values, beliefs, outlooks, and perspectives.

JJ:  Anything exciting coming up for Forj that you'd like to give the inside scoop on?

The main feature that is in the pipeline at this time is the A.I. Dating Coach which will not only guide users through the dating process, but will also recommend for dating spots based on who they are.



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Why Do Hasidic Men Button Their Shirts The Wrong Way? 

On any given weekday, walk into just about any Hasidic synagogue, and you'll see a rabbi bending over a lectern, dressed in a well-pressed sports jacket for shacharit (morning) prayers. His jacket has been scrupulously tested for shatnez and deemed kosher to wear, but something still seems off — his black buttons are twisted so that the right side overlaps the left. The result? It comes across as sloppy. But in fact, the way he has fastened his jacket is purposefully Hasidic — not haphazard.

Just like women, most Hasidic men button their jackets, shirts, and rekels (long frock coat) with the right side over the left, but it's not to emulate female clothing styles or to hop on the unisex fashion bandwagon.

Those who can afford bespoke tailoring with buttons on the left side do so, but it can get pricey pretty quickly for a man to move the buttons on all his store-bought clothing. For weekday dressing, most men make do with what they have, implementing special tricks for buttoning, while others splash out on cheap and cheerful factory-made options in the Hasidic-owned shops and stalls that dot many observant neighborhoods.

Although there isn't any one agreed-upon reasoning behind the custom of fastening right over left, there are several explanations that are regularly cited by those who choose to follow the tradition. The first (big surprise — it's Judaism!) is rooted in text. The Torah repeatedly cites a partiality for the right side of the body, or actions that are initiated on the right — one of these being dressing the right side of the body first, from socks and shoes to the sleeve of a shirt.

In addition, popular Kabbalistic teachings offer related justification for the custom, with the right side of the body being associated with chesed (kindness) and the left side corresponding to gevurah (judgement), and the placing of right over left when fastening garments to suggest a upright character that prioritizes goodness over might. Leave it to the Jews to find a way to make the act of buttoning — a seemingly mindless ritual — into a spiritually demanding deed.



Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Ilhan Omar’s ‘Yeah, But’ Apology for Antisemitism 

Criticism and condemnation rained down on US Rep. Ilhan Omar Monday after she tweeted "It's all about the Benjamins baby" to explain why she and fellow Democrat Rashida Tlaib draw attention for their "criticisms of Israel."

Who is the source of this slang reference to cash? "AIPAC!" Omar added, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

It's the latest in a series of statements by Omar that have tarnished her status as the first Somali immigrant and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. During a 2012 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Omar complained that Israel "hypnotized the world" and prayed that "Allah [would] awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel."

Given Omar's own words, then, Israel and its supporters have the eerie power to cloud people's minds. And when that doesn't work, they've got all that Jewish money to buy people off.

All of these offending statements remain on her Twitter feed.

Plenty of people have tried to defend Omar. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a statement Monday acknowledging that antisemitism is real, but Omar hasn't engaged in it. The real bad actors, to CAIR, are Israel's supporters: "CAIR applauds Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their courage in speaking the truth about Israel's racial, religious and ethnic segregation. Agenda-driven groups — like AIPAC — have for decades enabled that segregation and the resulting denial of human rights for Christian and Muslim Palestinians."

Thankfully, the House Democratic leadership properly rejected that thinking and any semantic debate in a statement issued Monday afternoon. Omar's comments are antisemitic, the statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders said in its headline.

"Legitimate criticism of Israel's policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share," the statement said. "But Congresswoman Omar's use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments."

And she did later Monday afternoon with a "yeah, but" clause: "Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes," she wrote. "My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize."

But then she equivocated, saying she has a problem with "lobbyists in our politics," including AIPAC.

Her message was strikingly similar to an apology she made last month regarding her claim that Israel is hypnotizing the world. She had no idea that claiming a mystical power to control the earth "was offensive." She was "not criticizing the people … their way of life," she said on The Daily Show.

After the initial storm from Sunday's "Benjamins" and "AIPAC!" tweets, Omar retweeted several people standing up for her. One, Huffington Post writer Ashley Feinberg, wrote that "accurately describing how the Israel lobby works is not anti-semitism." Less than 24 hours later, Omar apologized, acknowledging the reality of antisemitism. What does she really believe?

She seems to admit she has a lot to learn about basic elements of religious bigotry. It raises the question whether the influential Foreign Affairs Committee is the best place for her to sit while pursuing that education.

Still, it's a mistake to dismiss Omar's statements as poorly worded "criticisms" of Israel by a political novice. She was savvy enough to advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during her primary campaign last summer. She also said she opposed the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to isolate Israel economically and socially during her primary campaign. BDS wasn't helpful in reaching that two-state solution, she said.

Once safely elected, however, she reversed course, with her office saying she "believes in and supports the BDS movement."

In December, we thanked Zahra Billoo, one of CAIR's most strident voices, for her candor. Billoo will come right and say she doesn't believe Israel has a right to exist. So when she says, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," there's no room for doubt that she wants to rid the world of its only Jewish state.

In some ways, Omar is bringing that same level of candor to Washington. It is abhorrent and hateful, but it helps pull the veneer off so many voices that claim they merely oppose Israeli policies or criticize its government. The basic ideology is the same — Israel stands alone as the problem. Israel alone must be ostracized and condemned. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iranian clerics who devote millions of dollars to destroying the Jewish state instead of investing in ways to improve life for Palestinians merit no mention.

Remember that the next time Ilhan Omar apologizes for something else she needs to learn.



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