Sunday, March 31, 2019

Comic rumored to be Jewish heads to runoff for Ukraine presidency 

Comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky topped the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, exit polls showed, leading incumbent Petro Poroshenko into a run-off.

Zelensky’s political experience had been limited to playing the president in a TV show, but his long-shot bid won over voters frustrated with endemic corruption and a stalling economy.

“This is just a first step towards a great victory,” the high-spirited 41-year-old told supporters at his campaign headquarters minutes after the exit polls were released. “We’re not relaxing.”

At a voting station earlier in the day he had promised a Ukraine “without corruption, without bribes.”

The entertainer was projected to garner 30.4 percent of the vote, handily beating Poroshenko on 17.8%, according to combined figures from three pollsters.

Poroshenko said the projected results were a “harsh lesson” for him personally and for authorities as a whole.

He said he felt “no euphoria” in reaching the second round and said the results should provide an impetus to “work on our mistakes.”

Ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was herself a favorite to win when she launched her campaign at the start of the year, was knocked out with 14.2%, the figures showed.

But Tymoshenko, who rose to international prominence as a charismatic face of the 2004 Orange Revolution, claimed the exit polls were “dishonest.”

Taking her third tilt at the presidency, the 58-year-old insisted she had come in second place and told supporters to wait for final results.

If Zelensky wins the second round in April, as opinion polls suggest, the actor will take the reins of one of the poorest countries in Europe — a nation of 45 million people fighting Russian-backed separatists in its industrial east.

He has yet to spell out what he would do in power and one of his campaign slogans was: “No promises. No apologies.”

Despite concerns about his vague platform, supporters insist only a brand new face can clean up Ukraine’s murky politics. He is believed to be Jewish, though Jewish community officials in the country are divided on the question and he has declined to comment on his religious identity during the campaign.

Some, including Poroshenko, have accused Zelensky of acting as a front for the interests of the owner of the channel that broadcasts the entertainer’s shows, prominent Ukrainian-Jewish businessman Igor Kolomoysky, who also holds Israeli and Cypriot citizenship. Zelensky denies any political links.

Zelensky has eschewed rallies and interviews in favor of playing gigs with his comedy troupe up to the final days of campaigning.

His political comedy “Servant of the People” returned for its third series this week.

Deadly conflict
Poroshenko — a chocolate magnate who was one of the country’s richest men when he took office — came to power in 2014 after a revolution forced his pro-Russian predecessor out of office.

The popular uprising was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The 53-year-old leader said he would shut down the fighting, tackle graft and align the country with the West.

But five years on, the conflict has claimed some 13,000 lives and counting, while many feel Poroshenko has failed to live up to the promise of the revolution.

Tymoshenko, rose to international prominence as a face of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The campaign saw allegations of corruption and fraud from all sides.

A record 39 candidates were on the ballot paper — which was more than 80 cm long — but none apart from the front-runners reached double figures, according to the exit polls.

The interior ministry said an hour before the close of polls that it had received more than 1,700 reports of voter irregularities.

Turnout by mid-afternoon was at 45%, up five percent on the same time during the previous presidential election, according to the central election commission.

If the results of the exit polls are confirmed, Zelensky and Poroshenko will face off for the presidency on April 21.



Saturday, March 30, 2019

Never mind, it’s just another Jewish holy site being attacked 

When the editors at America’s major news media outlets saw the first few words of one particular breaking story last week, their first instinct must have been to reach for the nearest phone, so they could immediately assign their top reporters and film crews to cover the important news: Innocent worshippers are under attack by nationalist extremists!

It sounded like New Zealand all over again—until they read further, and discovered that the attackers were Palestinian nationalist extremists and the targets were innocent Israeli Jewish worshippers. Then editors everywhere suddenly lost interest.

The constant violence perpetrated against Jews at the biblical Tomb of Joseph, in Nablus (Shechem) has been one of the most under-reported stories in the Middle East for many years. The reason is simple: it makes the Palestinian Arab cause look bad.

Nablus has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995. The Tomb of Joseph has been under the PA’s control since 2000. That was the year the PA police watched calmly and approvingly as Palestinian mobs torched the tomb, tore apart prayer books, unfurled Torah scrolls so they could gleefully stomp on them, and murdered Rabbi Hillel Lieberman.

The PA is bound by the Oslo accords to permit Jews to freely access their holy sites. But like everything else in those accords, the PA couldn’t care less what its obligations are. So the only way Jews can pray at the tomb of one of the biblical patriarchs is if they are escorted by a large contingent of Israeli soldiers, in the middle of the night.

The Arab residents of Nablus can’t stand the idea of Jews quietly praying in a tiny building in an inconspicuous corner of the city. So they keep trying to murder the Jews.

On March 20, just four days after the mass slaughter in New Zealand, Palestinian terrorists attempted to murder Jews at the Tomb of Joseph by throwing bombs at them. Fortunately, the Israeli guards shot and killed two of the attackers.

It was just the latest in a series of similar attempted massacres at the site—but you wouldn’t know it from reading your daily newspaper or watching the evening news.

On January 3, an Arab mob attacked Jews who were on their way to pray at the tomb. Two of the terrorists were injured by Israeli soldiers guarding the area. On January 21, another mob of Palestinian Arabs attempted to stone Jews to death at the tomb. This time, two of the Israeli guards were injured and had to be hospitalized. There was a similar assault at the Tomb of Joseph on February 20.

How was this news reported in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas? The Ma’an news agency headlined its report: “Two Palestinians Killed as Israelis Settlers Raid Joseph’s Tomb.” Ma’an reported that the January 21 incident was the result of “Israeli settlers storming Joseph’s Tomb.”

Okay, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at such absurdly blatant bias from the Palestinian Arab news media. But the reporting by mainstream American news media wasn’t much better. The headline in the Washington Post focused on the dead attackers, not the innocent worshippers whom they targeted: “Israeli Army: 2 Palestinians Killed in Clashes With Troops.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press suggested that Israeli troops were to blame for the March 20 incident, because the soldiers had been chasing a terrorist named Omar Abu Leila (who had just murdered two Israelis): “The two-day manhunt for Abu Leila had raised tensions in Israel and the West Bank following a period of calm,” according to the AP. Incredible!

For those of us who have written frequently about the egregious double standard that the news media use when reporting on Israel, the attack on the Tomb of Joseph was just another day at the office. We expect this kind of unfairness. Anything different would be surprising.

But it’s important to keep in mind the ultimate reason behind such bias. A significant portion of American newspaper editors and reporters are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. They want to see the creation of a Palestinian state in Israel’s back yard. They see Israel as the bad guy and the Palestinian Authority as the good guy. It’s not a conspiracy; it’s a mindset.

And therefore they will do everything they can to avoid drawing too much attention to the truth about the Palestinian Arab war against the Jews.



Friday, March 29, 2019

Man behind push for new Hasidic village allegedly beaten, pulled out gun in defense 

A man behind a controversial push for a new Hasidic village was allegedly beaten Thursday morning, and police say he pulled a gun to defend himself.

Officials say that Herman Wagschal was punched and kicked to the ground in front of Monroe Town Hall by two Hasidic men who tried to stop him from filing a petition.

"They pushed me down to the ground - face down, trying to get those papers out of my hand. They punched me, they kicked me," said Wagschal by phone.

The Palm Tree man is behind a controversial push to create a new Hasidic village with nearly 200 acres of Monroe land called "Seven Springs."

He says he was trying to file a petition related to the proposal when he was attacked.

Town Supervisor Tony Cardone says he saw what happened.

"I saw them tussling and, as I was going towards them, our assessor and our contractor said, 'He's got a gun, he's got a gun,'" says Cardone.

Cardone says Wagschal had a gun, which he allegedly tried to defend himself with as he chased down one of his attackers.

State police say Wagschal - a licensed gun holder - was seen brandishing the firearm. Wagschal says he was unable to get it out of his holster.

"I was holding on to it but I didn't pull it," he says.

Wagschal was not charged with any wrongdoing, but one of the men allegedly attacking him was. The other got away with the petition.

Signs that ban firearms in Town Hall have been put up in response to the incident.



Thursday, March 28, 2019

American Jewish students win against anti-Semitism at university in landmark settlement 

A landmark settlement has been reached between San Francisco State University (SFSU), a part of the California State University (CSU), and the legal think tank Lawfare Project, and the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP, regarding a lawsuit brought by two Jewish students who allege that SFSU and the Board of Trustees of CSU discriminated against them.

As part of the deal, SFSU agreed to issue a statement affirming that “it understands that, for many Jews, Zionism is an important part of their identity;” will hire and provide adequate office space for a coordinator of Jewish student life within the school’s Division of Equity & Community Inclusion; hire an outside firm to review the university’s protocols and enforcement of CSU’s anti-discrimination policies and student code of conduct; allow an outside investigation of additional complaints for two years; and, allocate $200,000 to “support educational outreach efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel or Zionist viewpoints) and inclusion and equity on the basis of religious identity (including but not limited to Jewish religious identity).”

“California State University’s public recognition that Zionism is an integral part of Jewish identity represents a major victory for Jewish students at SFSU and across the country,” said Lawfare Project executive director Brooke Goldstein. “Today, we have ensured that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination. We are confident that this will change the campus climate for the better.

“The Lawfare Project was proud to play a role in securing justice for Jewish and Zionist students at SFSU,” she continued. “We commend the student plaintiffs who showed the courage to stand up and advocate for their civil rights.”

“We are incredibly happy with this result,” said Ross M. Kramer of Winston & Strawn LLP. “Our clients’ goal was to bring about meaningful, lasting change at San Francisco State University and throughout the California State University system, and to make sure that the rights of all Jewish students are safeguarded now and into the future. That’s what this settlement achieves.”



Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Decision On KSU Jewish Center Delayed At Cobb BOC Zoning Hearing 

Concerns over the effects of a proposed driveway off Frey Lake Road caused the Cobb County Board of Commissioners to delay the decision on the request for a special land use permit (SLUP-13 2018) for a Kennesaw Jewish Center at KSU. The property is currently zoned R-20 (single-family residential). The BOC zoning hearing was held last Tuesday.

Kevin Moore, the attorney for the applicant, said, “The purpose of this is for a Jewish student center associated with KSU at this location. This proposed student center would be not unlike many other faith-based student centers that you know are associated with various campuses including Kennesaw State University, and which includes the Catholic Student Center which is just down the street.”

Moore displayed a map that showed that KSU owned the property adjacent to the center along Campus Loop Road, and that the preferred entrance would cut across a small parcel of KSU property in order to connect with the road, which is a private road also owned by KSU.

“However,” he said, “the day before your December Board of Commissioners meeting we received a letter from KSU. We had submitted and met with them about allowing this access at this location (Campus Loop Road) and immediately before your December meeting we received notification from KSU that they were not going to agree to that. They did not give us a good explanation at the time, but simply said they were not going to agree, which was why it was held (by the BOC) at that point in time and has been held again in February.”

He said, “We have not been able to reach that sit-down with them. If we could just sit down with them their objections could be easily addressed and satisfied, keeping in mind that only KSU can allow that access. It’s a public institution, a public entity, it’s not an access that the county can condemn even in this situation.”

Two officers from the Pinetree Civic Association, representing neighbors adjacent to the proposed center, were supportive of the project provided the entrance could be built on Campus Loop Road rather than Frey Lake Road.

Mike Lavender, the organization’s president, said, “We felt that it would be a great project considering the fact that they would be accessing the property from Campus Loop Road. Moving the access to Frey Lake Road we feel would create an additional safety hazard.”

“We had a traffic study done. There’s somewhere between five and six thousand cars go through that section every week, and we just feel that it would not be safe,” he said.

BOC chairman Mike Boyce said his understanding is that the civic association supports the project, except for the plan that places the driveway on Frey Lake Road.

Lavender said, “Yeah. If it’s on Campus Loop Road we didn’t have any issues with the project at all.”

Phil Anzalone, the vice president of the civic association said, “Pinetree Civic represents about 600 homes in the Pinetree Country Club/Wetherbyrne Woods area. It’s directly west of KSU. As Mike has said, we are fully supportive of this facility. By moving the driveway onto Frey Lake Road (we’d be) creating a major, dangerous intersection. To give you an idea of what the main problem here is, Campus Loop Road has an excessive amount of traffic. It was originally a Cobb County road, it’s two-lane. KSU over the years has basically built facilities along the road.”

He showed a slide with a map of a multilevel parking deck and a pair of surface parking lots. He said the majority of the traffic headed to that location from the northwest comes down Frey Lake Road.

“So we have a residential road that supports traffic way beyond its original designation,” he said.

He showed the original site plan, which he said shielded the surrounding residential neighborhood. Then he showed a photo of a hill looking onto the property from Frey Lake Road

“As you can see, there’s a significant height of topography there, that blocks the view,” he said,

He then showed another photo looking down Frey Lake Road into Campus Loop Road, with the hill to the left which narrowed the visibility onto Campus Loop Road.

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents the district where the property is located, said she had received an email from the VP of External Affairs at KSU, and later spoke with him about possible revisions to the plans.  She said Moore, representing the applicant, had agreed to submit revised drawings.

“Without KSU granting us an easement for this property we may have to access on Frey Lake, but for safety reasons, and congestion and traffic and impact on Pinetree and Wetherbyrne Woods, and other neighbors, we all prefer Campus Loop. So we’re dependent on KSU giving us an easement,” she said.

“The good news is that we are going to have a meeting, and we are going to have some new drawings to submit.

Birrell called Ashley White, an engineer from the Cobb County DOT to the podium to talk about the traffic and safety implications of the site plans.

White said, “Our preference would also be for the entrance to be on Campus Loop … The issue with the entrance on Frey Lake is sight distance, as you guys saw from the pictures.”

Birrell said her understanding is that KSU’s objection is that they have future plans for the property.  She said her preference is that the driveway be at the remnant property on the very corner of Frey Lake and Campus Loop, which would create less impact on KSU property.

Birrell made a motion to hold the decision until the next BOC zoning hearing with the intention of meeting with KSU to obtain an easement.  The motion passed 5-0.

Kennesaw State University did not respond to requests for comment as of the deadline for this article.



Tuesday, March 26, 2019

President Trump’s Purim Gift 

President Trump’s stunning and, for many Israelis, long overdue and welcome announcement that “it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” predictably rattled critics of the president, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Jewish state. In its front-page article, with five journalists credited for coverage, The New York Times proclaimed that Trump’s statement “puts him at odds with international law” (although no such law was cited).

As usual, the Times twisted news fit to print into criticism of Israel. Martin Indyk, former American ambassador to Israel (who was inclined to blame the Jewish state for the absence of peace), criticized Trump’s decision as “a truly gratuitous move.” Former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross, another critic of the presidential announcement, identified the Golan as “Arab land.” The only favorable Times comment, ironically, came (in the concluding paragraph) from Yair Lapid, co-leader of the party seeking to defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu in the forthcoming Israeli election. He identified the Trump announcement as “a dream come true.” Netanyahu, needless to say, was ecstatic.

Historian that I am, I wondered about the Golan in history, long before the Six-Day War. Did Israel conquer “Syrian” territory in 1967 — or did it return, as in Judea and Samaria (Jordan’s “West Bank”) to part of its ancient homeland? According to Deuteronomy 41-43, Bashan (the biblical Golan) is identified as one of three cities designated by Moses as places of refuge for “manslayers” who had accidentally killed another man. The Book of Joshua 21:27 recognizes Golan as a Levitical city and a city of refuge.

After Jews returned to their promised land from Babylonian exile, they renewed Golan settlements, where Judah Maccabee fought valiantly to defend them. Under King Alexander Yannai, the Hasmonean ruler of Judea, Jews rebuilt the Golan cities of Banias and Susita. In the 2nd century war against Rome, Gamla residents, led by Bar Kokhba, fought fiercely against their Roman conquerors.

Further testimony to the ancient Jewish presence in the Golan followed the Six Day War, when Jewish coins were discovered, inscribed: “For the Redemption of Jerusalem.” Israeli archaeologists have found the remains of nearly three dozen ancient synagogues on the Golan, more than sufficient evidence of a Jewish presence there during key periods of Jewish history.

That history notwithstanding, Israeli political leaders during the 1990s were prepared to relinquish the Golan Heights in return for a peace treaty with Syria. To Israel’s considerable benefit, President Hafez Assad refused. His rejection has been embraced by his son and successor Bashar, beholden to Iran and Hezbollah to sustain his precarious rule.

The delight of Israelis with President Trump’s announcement was evident. Haim Rokach, head of the Golan Regional Council, noted that for five decades Golan residents “have been fighting against the intentions of various Israeli governments to withdraw from the territory.” With more ancient synagogues discovered there than anywhere else in Israel, he is convinced that President Trump’s announcement “has put an end to the questions and doubts over whether the Golan is Israeli territory.” Rokach cites an ancient coin found in the Gamla synagogue anticipating the redemption of Jerusalem as evidence of the unbreakable link between the Golan and the ancient — and modern — capital of Israel.

Nearly forty years ago, Prime Minister Menachem Begin canceled Israeli military rule over the Golan Heights, replacing it with Israeli law. It was a prescient decision, now enhanced by President Trump. And the day of his announcement — appropriately — was Purim. As Israeli journalist Boaz Bismuth wrote: on the very day when, according to the Book of Esther, “The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor,” President Trump bestowed the “wonderful gift” of recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

First Jerusalem; then the Golan. Can Judea and Samaria be far behind?



Monday, March 25, 2019

St. Louis Jewish cemetery vandal gets 3 years’ probation 

A man from suburban St. Louis was sentenced to three years probation for toppling more than 100 headstones at a local Jewish cemetery.

Alzado Harris, 35, was charged a year ago for the vandalism caused at the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in suburban St. Louis in February 2017, which totaled more than $30,000 in damage.

After his arrest last year, Harris admitted to the crime, saying he was drunk, on drugs and angry at a friend and took it out on the cemetery. He was not charged with a bias or hate crime.

“There is no evidence to indicate the incident was racially, ethnically or religiously motivated,” University City police said in a statement at the time of his arrest.

Harris on Thursday pleaded guilty to felony institutional vandalism, the St. Louis Dispatch reported. In addition to the three years’ probation, he was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution, maintain full-time work, take an anger management course, and not contact the victim, the newspaper reported citing court records.

The attack came as Jewish community centers and other Jewish institutions around the country were receiving dozens of bomb threats.

In the wake of the attack, Eric Greitens, who is Jewish and was Missouri’s governor at the time, volunteered with members of his staff to help clean and repair the damage to the cemetery, and Vice President Mike Pence visited the cemetery, picking up a rake to help with cleanup efforts.

Two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for repairs, which ultimately raised over $162,000 and also paid to repair and restore two other vandalized US Jewish cemeteries and a vandalized synagogue.

The local Jewish Federation also raised some $250,000 to provide security upgrades for Chesed Shel Emeth and all Jewish cemeteries in and around the city.

The cemetery was repaired and rededicated in August 2017. The repairs included upgraded security, including cameras, lighting and higher fencing.



Sunday, March 24, 2019

Apparent blackface photo for Purim stirs outrage in Rockland County 

A photo that appears to show two Jewish boys in Monsey dressed up as African-Americans for Purim is sparking outrage in Rockland County.

News 12 sources say the photo was taken on Thursday as thousands of Jewish children in the Hudson Valley celebrated the biblical holiday.

Rockland NAACP President Wilbur Aldrige says he is concerned with the derogatory nature of the depiction of black people.

"Many African-Americans don't dress like this. Where you really see that kind of thing, with the pants down below, is in prisons," he told News 12.

It's not the first time both Purim and Halloween costumes in Rockland have sparked controversy. A few years ago, a black-faced doll depicting the Purim figure King Haman, with a noose around its neck, surfaced in Spring Valley.

In Clarkstown, a Halloween photo was taken of a couple dressed up in Hasidic-style apparel.

Gary Siepser, of the Jewish Federation of Rockland, commented on the controversy, saying in a statement: "As this alleged incident shows, there is much work to be done. Whether it is dressing in Hassidic garb at Halloween or blackface at Purim, adults should know better and have a responsibility to supervise and teach their children."

A representative for the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council also commented on the photo, saying it's not clear how the children's choice of Purim costume is "worthy of focus."

Aldridge says he hopes the photo will prompt sensitivity training between the two cultural groups.



Saturday, March 23, 2019

Hasidic lawyer sues Skoufis, claims Facebook comments were blocked 

A Hasidic lawyer from Monroe sued state Sen. James Skoufis this week, alleging that Skoufis violated his First Amendment rights by blocking his comments on Facebook after the lawyer challenged Skoufis over anti-Hasidic remarks that readers had posted.

Eli Wagschal filed the case on Monday in federal court in Manhattan, represented by another attorney from his Bronx firm. Wagschal is the son of Herman Wagschal, a Monroe resident who helped organize a pending petition to create a 1.7-square-mile village next to Kiryas Joel — the subject of the Faceback post by Skoufis in August that attracted a volley of reader comments.

Skoufis, then a Democratic assemblyman campaigning for the Senate, had criticized the Village of Seven Springs petition as “a revenge-fueled attempt to inflict harm on the people of Monroe and Orange County” and vowed to fight it. The younger Wagschal said in his suit that he responded online to the ensuing anti-Hasidic comments by voicing his disgust and telling Skoufis his failure to condemn them was “equivalent to an endorsement.”

“They are buying up land all over Orange County,” read one of a litany of comments quoted in the case. “Soon it will be theirs not ours.”

Wagschal said he was later blocked and his comments removed. He’s demanding the court restore his ability to comment on Skoufis’ Facebook page and award him an unspecified amount in damages for a “deprivation of fundamental rights.”

Skoufis said he couldn’t comment on the case.



Friday, March 22, 2019

Cuomo says man arrested for ‘gas chamber’ threat against Jewish woman 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined a press conference in upstate Kingston on Friday to announce the arrest of a man accused of locking a female co-worker in a refrigerated cooler and yelling, “You’re in the gas chamber, you f–king Jew.”

“It’s hard for me even to believe this is happening,” Cuomo said of the incident on March 11 at the Mother Earth’s Storehouse.

William Sullivan, 21, of Saugerties, NY, was arrested for the hate crime. He has no previous criminal record.

Sullivan allegedly turned off the lights in a small refrigerated cooler with the co-worker inside before uttering the hateful comments.

The victim is reported to be unharmed and is “handling it as well as expected.”

The store where she worked has come under attack for not firing Sullivan immediately after the victim’s mother filed a complaint.

But after Sullivan was given a second chance, he allegedly harassed the victim again and was finally axed.

The store later issued an apology.

Cuomo said the incident was not an isolated case against Jews.

“We have been seeing a growing number of anti-Semitic activity,” he said.

He said in New York alone, between 2016 and 2017, there was a 90 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks.

He also highlighted a January 2019 incident in which three Hasidic Jewish men were viciously attacked in Brooklyn.

Sullivan was charged with aggravated harassment in the second degree.

He is scheduled to appear in court next week.



Thursday, March 21, 2019

A Freilichen Purim! 


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Crown Heights-based Hasidic singer releases song against anti-Semitism 

A Crown Heights-based artist has created a song that he hopes will heal after a series of anti-Semitic attacks.

For 11 years, Yoni Zigelboum, or Yoni Z, has created music which he calls "Jewish pop."

"I want to spread positivity and light, a little bit of light dispels lots of darkness," says Yoni Z.

His song "Hallelukah" is his first time touching on the serious topic of anti-Semitic attacks. The music video includes a diverse group of characters enjoying a silent rave.

"It's meant to be universal and hearing [about] attacks on any house of prayer is devastating and hearing [about] attacks period, so we wanted to bring a lot of color and light into the video," says Yoni Z.

The shooting at a Pittsburgh Synagogue in October was a defining moment for the 27-year-old. 

"I felt like just when something is so driven by hate, then the only way to shatter that is with love," says Yoni Z.

A lesson he says he learned growing up in Crown Heights.

"I've learned from a very young age the importance of acceptance and appreciation for every single person I meet," he says.

While the song lyrics are in Hebrew and of a spiritual nature, he hopes that people of all backgrounds can enjoy it and embrace it

"Every day we bump into life and to situations that seem so, and we think we're so different from one another but we're not and I think a point that really defines that unifying place in music and through spirituality is God," says Yoni Z.



Tuesday, March 19, 2019

City taps groups that sued it to develop Broadway Triangle site 

A decade after community groups sued the city over racial discrimination at a Brooklyn affordable housing development, some of those same groups are part of the team that will develop the site.

The city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development has selected local partnership Unified Neighborhood Partners and for-profit developer Mega Contracting Group to develop 380 apartments at three sites totaling 69,000 square feet, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The city settled a lawsuit in 2017 that claimed a previous plan for the site favored the Hasidic community.

"These are sites that have been long plagued with controversy and lawsuits, but through this process, we have been able to develop a path forward," former HPD commissioner Maria Torres-Springer said on Friday, which was her last day as commissioner.

Construction on the first site is set to begin in 2020, and all three sites are expected to be complete by 2025.

Unified Neighborhood Partners includes local community groups Southside United HDFC-Los Sures, St. Nicks Alliance, RiseBoro Community Partnership and the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

Juan Ramos, executive director of Los Sures, also led one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city, Broadway Triangle Community Coalition. United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg was one of the groups that had been awarded a development bid under the previous plan.

Astoria-based Mega Contracting Group, the nonprofit partner at the development, was ranked as the city's top general contractor for mid-sized multifamily projects by The Real Deal last year.

The city's plan for the sites also includes a nonprofit coffee shop and bakery, a community space, and a workforce-development center.

Elsewhere in the Broadway Triangle, at the intersection of Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, Rabsky Group is working on a 1,146-unit, eight-building development in partnership with Spencer Equity. A discrimination suit against the developer was dismissed in July.



Monday, March 18, 2019

Litzman, Leifer and the rabbis against justice 

In November 2018, I sat with Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer, the three sisters from Australia who have been working for years to bring their alleged sexual abuser, Malka Leifer, to justice. They were in Israel to try and pressure a justice system that they knew was being manipulated, even if they didn’t know by whom.

We sat there discussing possible culprits. Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was at the head of the list, along with a number of other rabbinic leaders in the Haredi world. As it turns out, we were right. It became clear this past month that numerous rabbis have been working to prevent Leifer’s extradition.

Who Is Malka Leifer?

Leifer is a former girls schools principal who stands officially accused on more than 74 counts of molestation of girls from Australia in Australia, and unofficially of many more girls in Israel and Australia.

She headed the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel girls’ school in Melbourne from 2003 to 2008, with some saying she moved to Australia to begin with because of accusations of abuse in Israel.

When allegations began to emerge in Australia that she had sexually abused between eight and 15 of her students, a plan hatched by the school’s administration had Leifer on a plane back to Israel.

Australia officially filed an extradition request in 2012, yet Leifer was first taken into custody in Israel in 2014, and later released to house arrest.  She evaded justice here in Israel with delays and claims of ill health. Most recently, in June 2016, testimony from a state-appointed psychiatrist claimed that Leifer was unfit to stand trial. This led to a Jerusalem District Court halting extradition efforts, citing a law that permits stopping proceedings when a defendant is deemed unfit to stand trial.

Many doubted the mental health declaration and indeed, a private investigation run by Jewish Community Watch, a US-based group, tracked Leifer and showed conclusively that she was indeed mentally fit. As a result, she was re-arrested last February.

Who Is Helping Malka Leifer?

The following figures of the Haredi world are supporting the alleged abuser, some behind the scenes, some in the open.

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism: After a months-long undercover operation, the police questioned Litzman on suspicion of pressuring a court psychiatrist to falsify his psychiatric report that prevented Leifer’s extradition on medical grounds. Police supposedly have recordings of Litzman and officials speaking to Health Ministry employees and pressing them to act on Leifer’s behalf.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shafran of Bnei Brak: Shafran came to court to support Leifer and gave his blessing to have Leifer put under house arrest at the home of girls’ school principals.

Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman of Migdal Ohr: testified on her behalf and offered to house Leifer until he came under tremendous fire from supporters of his network of programs for orphans.

Rabbi Yosef Direnfeld of the Belz community in Ashdod:  Direnfeld put out a heartfelt plea call for donations to “save” Leifer. “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.”

Why Are Rabbis Helping Malka Leifer?

Support for Leifer is being deemed “Pidyon Shvuim” — a serious commandment of redeeming captives that effectively created a moral imperative to save young Jews enslaved by the Romans, held by the Spanish Inquisition, in the Russian Gulag or even modern-day Iran, but would be hard to apply to this case of an accused pedophile being extradited to a democratic country to face her accusers in a fair trial.

And those of us with knowledge of Jewish history might be tempted to sympathize — IF these Hasidic leaders showed any attempt at safeguarding children from Leifer by ensuring that she be prevented from access to them.

Note: It is important that Leifer’s protectors are Hasidic. Because Hasidic communities are predominantly insular, they often have their own rules. Each sect is run according to the word of its Rebbe. What he says, goes.  If the Rebbe says to exclude children from school, they are excluded. If he says shun this woman for asking for a divorce, she is shunned, and if he says raise money for a woman who is righteous and being persecuted unfairly, the Hasidim raise money. This can also work to the benefit of the community, rallying around those in need, but only if the rebbe chooses.

Had the Rebbes decided to shun Leifer and protect their community- they could have done so. It is within their power. But, instead, they chose to protect Leifer, and in so doing dismissed the sisters and their claims of child sexual abuse.

The Response to the Sisters

In January, when the sisters were in Israel, they were at the Knesset to drum up support for extradition with lawmakers. MK Yehuda Glick was their guide through the hallways, and when their paths crossed with that of MK Litzman, Glick introduced them. It seemed providential, since Litzman had repeatedly refused the sisters’ requests to meet with them. Until he exclaimed: “I want nothing to do with this! I’ve heard the other side of the story. I will not support the extradition!” The women maintain that he did tell them he would “not interfere with the extradition either.” which, according to police and their recordings, was a boldfaced lie.

And last week, here again for another hearing on Leifer’s health and possible extradition, they met with Rabbi Shafran. In a heartbreaking Facebook post, Dassi Erlich described their meeting. They asked the rabbi why he supported Leifer. Shafran replied:

“It’s my duty as a rabbi to support a fellow Jew”.

When asked why Leifer’s Jewishness deserved his sympathy over their own, he refused to answer them. Instead, he explained the importance of supporting the underdog — in this case, he estimated, the alleged abuser. The girls were left deeply pained by this meeting.

I am not a Hasid, and do not live in the Hasidic world. Yet, I and others in the broader community are left asking how rabbis, supposed caretakers of our physical and spiritual well being, trade the freedom of one alleged abuser for the well being and safety of her victims, and the many more children to whom she has access.

The safety of the community’s own children has been disregarded in the rabbis’ push for Leifer’s protection. Indeed, according to parents in Immanuel, the town that offered her shelter and its trust largely based on the support of these rabbis, she has done it again.

Public Benefit or Public Harm?

Litzman, in his only public statement since the accusations against him, claimed to be working for the public’s benefit and according to the law.  What public and whose law??

This battle to protect an alleged abuser proclaims to all abusers that they can find a safe haven among the Hasidim in Israel. It is an painful declaration to all victims, letting them know they will not be believed nor protected.

What Can the Concerned Public do?

It is clear to me that the right thing to do is extradite Leifer to Australia so that her alleged victims can seek justice in a fair trial, and to caution every abuser and anyone thinking of abusing children that the Jewish community will not allow our children to be harmed — not even if it means facing a non-Jewish court.

Our children must mean this much.

On Wednesday, March 13th, a general protesting public congregated outside the district court house on Salah Ah Din Street in Jerusalem. The demand was that Leifer be extradited, and our protest is that the abuse of children and the protection of their abusers will not be tolerated.



Sunday, March 17, 2019

Trump to Jewish Democrats: GOP will welcome you 

President Donald Trump on Friday claimed Democratic politicians treat Jewish people with “total disrespect,” saying his Republican Party would welcome them with “open arms.”

He used a morning tweet to claim the so-called “ ‘Jexodus’ movement” of offended Democrats out of the party after a freshman congresswoman’s recent controversial remarks is fueled by “Total disrespect!” shown to them by Democratic politicians.

The president offered frustrated Jewish Democrats a new political home.

Mr. Trump last Friday told reporters that recent controversial remarks about the influence of Jewish donors on politicians by freshman Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar show “the Democrats have become an anti-Israel party” and an “anti-Jewish party.”

During a fundraiser last week at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Axios reported the president was even more blunt, saying flatly he believes “Democrats hate Jewish people.”

During her first press briefing in 42 days, press secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday was asked about the president’s weekend comment several times. At no point did she tell reporters that her boss does not really believe that.

At one point, NBC News correspondent Hallie Jackson gave Ms. Sanders an opportunity to reply yes or no. She chose not to, instead saying reporters should ask Democrats if they do indeed harbor hatred of Jewish people and Israel.

But the chief White House spokeswoman’s response did reiterate Mr. Trump’s stance.

His religious-based tweet broke yet another norm. That’s because it came as New Zealand was dealing with a gun slaughter at two mosques that left at least 49 dead. Minutes before his tweet offering Jewish people a place in the GOP, Mr. Trump did fire off a tweet offering his condolences and support in the wake of the mass shooting.

Mr. Trump has come under harsh criticism from Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans for siding — at least partially — with white supremacist groups at times like the days after the deadly Charlottesville, Va., race-based violence.



Saturday, March 16, 2019

Exhibition Uncovering Bangor’s Jewish History Will Be Released Later This Month 

Titled A Jewish History of Bangor, the exhibition and map celebrate the presence of Jews in Bangor from medieval times to the Second World War (and beyond).

The launch will take place at the ‘Bangor Arts Initiative’ Gallery in the Deiniol Shopping Centre, Bangor High Street, from 2-4pm on Sunday 17th March. All are welcome and it’s free.

There will be short introductions by project supervisor, Professor Nathan Abrams of the School of Music and Media at Bangor University, and Gareth Roberts of The Menter Fachwen Walk and Discover Project who assisted with the creation of the map.

Local residents are encouraged to come and share their memories of Bangor’s Jewish community, including the well-known stores, Wartski’s and Pollecoff’s.

“The City of Bangor and surrounding areas have had a rich Jewish history,” said Professor Abrams. “But unfortunately, as the community has declined and dissolved, and our high street has been transformed, not many people know of this history.”

Abrams added, “It’s right there in front of our eyes but hidden in plain sight. And this map, app and exhibition not only records this history but also helps you to find it.”

“We hope that people will come and tell us their stories before they are forgotten.”

The Jewish community moved to Bangor in larger numbers in the late nineteenth century. They were escaping persecution in Eastern Europe but also wished to better themselves in Britain.

Bangor provided exciting new economic opportunities. As the community grew, there was a synagogue and even a kosher butcher.

Some of them, like Isidore Wartski, had a transformative effect on the city, helping to build new housing projects and dropping the tolls on the Menai Bridge.

“The exhibition, map and app were funded by the Bangor University Economic and Social Research Council Impact Acceleration Account to which we are very grateful. It has helped to transform my long-standing interest and research into the Jewish history of Bangor into these tangible items.”

“Ideally, we would like to roll this out to the other towns in North Wales which had Jewish communities, namely Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Rhyl but are in need of some more funding. Please do come forward if interested.”



Friday, March 15, 2019

5 Williamsburg Yeshivas Allowing In Unvaccinated Students, NY Health Dept Says 

The New York City Health Department announced Wednesday that five Williamsburg yeshivas were allowing unvaccinated children to come to classes, violating a directive from the department that all city yeshivas ban unvaccinated students.

The directive, issued last year, was meant to combat the ongoing measles outbreak in New York State, which has occurred exclusively in the Orthodox Jewish communities of New York City and communities in the Hudson Valley. In the city, the neighborhoods affected are Williamsburg and Boro Park, which both have heavily Orthodox populations. The outbreak is a result of low vaccination rates in the deeply Orthodox community.

The health department said that three of the yeshivas had allowed children with measles to attend classes while contagious. They said that if the schools do not comply with the directive they may face fines. One other yeshiva was found in January to have allowed a child with measles to attend, leading to 14 additional cases of measles.

Roughly 1,800 children in Williamsburg and Boro Park had received medical or religious exemptions to vaccines and had been initially sent home after the health department’s directive, a spokesperson for the health department told the Forward in January.

A Hasidic woman who spoke to the Forward in January about Orthodox Jews who oppose vaccination said that her children’s schools in Williamsburg and the heavily Orthodox city of Lakewood, New Jersey, “never made a problem with” the kids’ religious exemption to vaccines. She says that her now five-year-old daughter’s school in Lakewood had allowed the girl to return after a five week exclusion, despite the fact that the girl is still not up to date on her vaccines.

In its press release, the city department said that the current measles outbreak has infected 158 people in the Orthodox community in New York, including 137 people under the age of 18.



Thursday, March 14, 2019

With Deadline Approaching, Camp Rav Tov Returns 

At the Rochester town board meeting on Thursday, March 7, Town Supervisor Mike Baden said Rabbi David Rosenberg, director of Camp Machne Rav Tov at 338 Cherrytown Road, Kerhonkson, had forwarded the town a NYS DEC approval, dated March 5, for wastewater plans and specifications that the camp had submitted to the DEC.

The plans concern the construction of a 49,000-gallons-a-day wastewater system at the camp. The DEC approval gives the camp five years to build the system. The camp's engineers and contractors were not named at the meeting.

Rabbi Rosenberg also informed the town that surveyors and engineers had been hired to widen Cherrytown Road near the camp and to add a bus pull-off. The exact location was not given.

Last August, the Ulster County Board of Health, after attempting to close the camp and being overruled by a King's County Court, stated that no further camp permits would be issued until the camp's septic system had been replaced, with a deadline given of April 30, 2019.

Board member Bea Haugen-Depuy enquired as to whether the camp would be open this year. The supervisor said the rabbi had told him that the wastewater project would commence soon and would be completed and approved by the Ulster County Department of Health in time for the camp to be open this season.

Last year the Ulster County Department of Health ordered the camp closed when camp sewer spillage polluted the camp and leaked onto neighboring properties and a trailer park downhill from the camp. The order was overruled by a Kings County Supreme Court in Brooklyn where the Hasidic Satmar owners of the camp are located. The camp then closed at its regular season's end date, a few days later.

The Shawangunk Journal attempted to contact Rabbi Rosenberg and the Ulster County Board of Health to ask whether Camp Rav Tov had applied for a 2019 season permit and the date such an application should be made by. As of publication time the Journal had not received a response from Rabbi Rosenberg or the Board of Health.

Other Matters
The board appointed Zorian Pinsky to complete Larry Dewitt's Planning Board term expiring December, 2021 and Anne Marie Maloney as an alternative member with a term expiring December 2020.

The board created a new non-union employment position, Zoning Coordinator, in the Rochester Building Department. The position will be filled by Rebecca Paddock Strange at a pay rate of $19.64 per hour.

The board accepted the recommendation of the Highway Superintendent Antonino Spano, and appointed Thomas L. Crotty as a Highways Department Seasonal Laborer at a rate of $24.47 an hour. A Seasonal Laborer does not receive benefits or overtime rates.

The Highway Superintendent was authorized to cancel a bid for a Dodge 2500 Utility/Service truck when the vendor was unable to deliver the vehicle. New bids were called for a Dodge 2500 Tradesman, Ford F-25 or Chevrolet 2500 cab 4.4 truck to be delivered before July 1. Bids are to be received by the town clerk by March 25.

Supervisor Baden said the town's new electronic email newsletter would soon be delivered. (On Monday it was.) The newsletter will contain information from all town departments and it would be delivered to subscribers via email in the first week of each month. Subscription is available at: townofrochester.ny.gov/subscribe-to-news/.

The supervisor said the equipment shed at the transfer station is beyond repair and must be replaced by the end of the summer. He suggested a metal framed building with a domed top and said it would soon be presented to the board for discussion.



Wednesday, March 13, 2019


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When news hit of the measles outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, I was shocked and appalled. And I felt a little bit to blame.

In 2013, as a junior in college, I was working as a teacher and an extra, going to set between classes, capitalizing on my Semitic facial features and access to Hasidic wardrobe items. One day, I responded to an ad looking for actors to play Hasidic men. There was even a Facebook group called Shomer Shabbos Artists, for people who observed the Sabbath and looked the part.

I gratefully accepted the role, happy that filming was on a rare day off from school: Sunday. A day later, I read an angry post by the group moderator about how it was bad for Hasidim to play roles that make Jews look bad. We shouldn’t contribute to anti-Semitism, he argued. Despite our small roles as extras, and the fact that filming would commence regardless of our protests, the acting veteran stood firm in his refusal to take part in this injustice.

I agreed in theory. But money is money. Pragmatism, nihilism and $400 in cash won over my apprehension.

We did the interior shots in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, an inauthentic choice. In the scene, I played a Hasid whose family didn’t vaccinate themselves. Coming home from a London trip, I carried the disease and brought it over to the States. I was patient zero. The directors instructed me to slump, to display my illness. They wanted me to look sick, scratching my neck and acting depressed. I didn’t need to be sick to look like that. All I needed was to fly coach.

Acting notes that I was born to play. It was my starring role as Typhoid Mordechai. Or, as the production crew called me, Hasid No. 2.

For the exterior scenes, we drove 13 miles south to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Here, Hasidim actually live, and the lively streets full of them were accurate and honest. Art imitated life, and my ethical qualms subsided.

Among some people — anti-Semites, but also quite a few Semites — there is the belief that Jews in public are either good for the Jews or bad for the Jews. Eliot Spitzer? Bad for Jews. Eric Cantor? Good for Jews. Bernie Madoff, very bad; Joe Lieberman … sort of good, and so on. The binary is amplified in the ultra-Orthodox community, who are often wary of media portrayals.

Where was I, a Hasidic extra, on that spectrum?

The artificiality of Hollywood is well known. It suspends reality and creates a new one. We don’t see the lighting, the grips, the tape or microphones. People — extras — play a role in the scenery, although we are now called by the more polite-if-less concise term of “background actors.” We weren’t there to be seen, but rather to be noted, realized on an almost unconscious level.

I was expendable, save for my facial hair, long coat and black fedora — props that got me “bumped,” earning me an extra $36. What is more New York City than Hasidim? You have the bodegas, the noisy trains, the Hasidim. It all adds up to a rich New York cinematic experience.

Here in Williamsburg, where they actually live — which was better than Washington Heights, where they don’t live — I reasoned that it was closer to the real thing, so it was a little better.

The other day, I received a message from an old acquaintance on Facebook: “Is that you I see on a NOVA piece on vaccines?”

It was. I watched in horror as the story played out. In the thinly veiled fictional documentary, I was a stand-in for a community that, for various reasons, didn’t vaccinate their kids and caused a measles outbreak in a city that had eradicated it 10 years earlier. As a symbol, I was retrograde, insular and ignorant. Quite simply … I was bad for the Jews.

Then there was a real measles outbreak in Hasidic Brooklyn. Art imitated life. I, or at least the borderline anti-Semitic film crew, was right. The Jewish community was to blame for the Middle Ages-era medical disaster. The community members were in fact not vaccinating their kids. Recently, with Orthodox and ex-Orthodox friends, I looked over the Hasidic-friendly brochures about the importance of vaccinations, handed out by the New York Department of Health.

Nice avatars, animations of smiling children, easy-to-understand science language and colorful infographics. And, of course, no pictures of women. Plus, it had the perfect cover — it was in Yiddish.

Was I to blame? I didn’t relish being right. Some Jews believe in the evil eye, that our actions have supernatural consequences. By faking that I didn’t vaccinate, did I, in fact, cause the outbreak? That would be crazy. Of course, it wasn’t my fault. Yet I still feel blameworthy. And obviously, parents should not engage in the dangerously negligent activity; they should take advantage of modern medicine and vaccinate their children.

Now my indignation and horror at being used as a prop for an ignorant cinematic story is replaced with sadness and anger toward bad parents and the community that fosters those dangerous behaviors. Since the brochure was released, vaccinations have been administered for free by New York City. Children are getting vaccinated. A grand rabbi, with ailing health, recently announced that he wouldn’t shake hands with people who don’t use Purell.

I’m hopeful that small measures like tailor-made public health initiatives will successfully nudge the large population into the right place. It’s not like they deny climate change or believe that vaccinations cause autism. Faced with facts and science, Hasidic parents will do the right thing and inoculate their kids.

If not, I have 400 more dollars to earn.



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Private-schools group sues state over curriculum review 

An association of private schools has sued the state Education Department to block its effort to scrutinize what New York's nonpublic schools are teaching, an enforcement move that Kiryas Joel and other Hasidic communities strongly oppose.

The lawsuit, filed last week in state Supreme Court in Albany, argues the state had no legal authority to order public school districts to review the curriculums of the private schools operating within their borders to ensure they are providing a "substantially equivalent" education in core academic subjects like social studies and math, as required by state law.

The plantiffs' attorneys blast the initiative in court papers as both illegal and poorly planned, describing it as "an unconstitutional effort to control the curriculum of independent schools through reviews conducted by unauthorized local school boards that provided no clear standards of what constitutes 'substantially equivalent' education."

The case was brought by the New York State Association of Independent Schools and 11 of the 192 schools it represents.

Four schools in Orange and Ulster counties belong to that association: Storm King School in Cornwall-on-Hudson; High Meadow School in Stone Ridge; Tuxedo Park School; and Woodstock Day School.

Not involved in the litigation are the yeshiva systems for Kiryas Joel and other Orthodox communities, whose residents and leaders have protested the state's enforcement push as a threat to their schools' intense focus on religious instruction.

More than 55,000 people had signed an online petition in opposition within a month after the state announced its the curriculum oversight in November.

"We trust our Rabbis, our principals, and our leaders to create the school schedule and curriculum that works best for our children," read the petition, directed to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit have asked the court for a temporary restraining order to stop the Education Department from continuing its training sessions for administrators or doing anything else related to the curriculum reviews while the lawsuit is pending.

The case, brought by the Manhattan law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman, claims the state-ordered reviews will affect about 800 nonpublic schools with 250,000 total students.

The attorneys argue that public school systems lack the funding, training and experience to carry out those reviews, and are likely to make "inconsistent, arbitrary and inequitable determinations."

An Education Department spokeswoman declined to respond to the plaintiffs' claims on Monday, saying the department doesn't comment on pending litigation.



Monday, March 11, 2019

Rockland health dept. sued over order barring unvaccinated students 

The parents of 100 students at the Green Meadow Waldorf School have filed a lawsuit against the Rockland health department and its commissioner challenging an order barring the children from school because they haven't been vaccinated against measles.

The lawsuit states that Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert's order, imposed during the county's continuing measles outbreak, violates the families' religious objections to vaccinations and is unnecessary because the cases have been largely confined to insular Hasidic Jewish communities.

The federal lawsuit filed by some 20 parents states that throughout the measles outbreak that started last fall, no cases have been reported among any of the Chestnut Ridge school's excluded children, their families or in the Fellowship Community that surrounds it.

"The medical benefits of the vaccination are debatable," state the court papers seeking a judge's order to allow the children to go back to school and compensatory damages for the violation of the families' constitutional rights.

Rockland is experiencing the longest outbreak in the state since measles was officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, with a total of 145 cases reported since last October. Three more suspected cases are under investigation.

The outbreak, which has mostly affected the Orthodox Jewish community in Spring Valley, Monsey and New Square, led Ruppert on Dec. 5 to impose an order that schools in the 10952 and 10977 ZIP codes with vaccination rates under 95 percent must keep unvaccinated children from attending.

The exclusion — which includes Chestnut Ridge — ends when there are no new cases in that area for 21 days, but because of the continuing increase in the number of measles infections, the exclusion time can be increased to 42 days.

Green Meadow's court papers, however, state that the immunization rate of 95 percent is "wholly incompatible with the number of families attending GMWS with bona fide religious exemptions to immunization, and, its implementation effectively excluded large numbers of children from continuing their education." 

Green Meadow's students are "97 percent immune from the disease by all accounts," according to the court papers filed by attorney Michael Sussman.

Rockland County Attorney Thomas Humbach said Monday that Ruppert "has every legal right, under New York State's Public Health Law and the County's Sanitary Code, to take every necessary step to stop the outbreak of measles in this County." He noted the steps were taken in consultation with state health department epidemiological experts.

Humbach said the U.S. Supreme Court and Constitution hold that "the right to
practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death."

Waldorf schools are non-sectarian and non-denominational.

Green Meadow, which educates about 300 children in nursery school through grade 12, adheres to Rudolf Steiner's teachings of anthroposophy, which is "the belief that humanity has the wisdom to transform itself and the world, through one's own spiritual development," according to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.

Humbach said the families' reasons for religious exemptions to vaccinations "run the gamut from references to organized Christian doctrine to a generalized spirituality. As the case progresses, we expect several of the exemptions to be challenged, as not evincing a sincere religious belief against vaccination."

Green Meadow's lawsuit states that the exclusion order, which has caused "irreparable harm," "is nothing more than an overbroad attempt to force parents with strongly held religious beliefs to vaccinate their children," the lawsuit states.

It continues: "The children have been consigned to a difficult and anxiety filled existence not knowing when they will be able to return to school."



Sunday, March 10, 2019

Western Wall: Jewish women clash over prayer rights 

Dozens of members of the Women of the Wall group, who are seeking equal prayer rights, had to be escorted away by police.

Protesters, many of them women, responded to calls from ultra-Orthodox rabbis to disrupt the group's 30th anniversary service, media reports say.

A number of people were reportedly injured in the incident.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City - a relic of the Biblical Temple compound - currently has separate sections where men and women are allowed to pray.

The Jerusalem Post says 150 members of the group were met by more than 10,000 ultra-Orthodox women early on Friday morning, with insults exchanged between the two sides.

Some of the protesting girls told Haaretz newspaper they had been bussed in by their religious schools in an attempt to block the group from accessing the Western Wall.

"During the prayers, friction arose between the worshippers, including the Women of the Wall, including curses and various comments," police said in a statement.



Saturday, March 09, 2019

7 Jewish things to look for when Mueller wraps up his investigation 

It looks like Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating alleged improprieties associated with Donald Trump’s presidency and election campaign, is wrapping up his report.

Or maybe not. Mueller has over his near-two year run led a leak-free operation, and no one is saying on the record that the report is completed. Two weeks ago, according to the multiple media reports citing unnamed Justice Department officials, the word was that it would come out last week, and last week the word is that it will come out this week. And the Trump administration sources who are fueling the reports might have a vested interest in wanting Mueller to cut things short, now.

Not only that, but what we see of the report may be limited: Attorney General William Barr, under current department regulations, is required only to summarize the report for Congress, and he has suggested that he will not include in the report information that could be damaging to unindicted individuals. Topping that list is President Donald Trump, as department guidelines say that a sitting president may not be indicted.

Democrats have since Jan. 3 controlled the House of Representatives, and say they are ready to challenge rules that would restrict anything short of the full report being made public.

Nonetheless, as tight-lipped as Mueller has been, it’s possible to glean the thrust of his investigation from his multiple court filings, indictments and convictions. The Associated Press pulled together a narrative that suggests the outline of the report, and it isn’t good news for Trump. The AP outline depicts a campaign that was at least receptive to Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, and with some top-level officials (although as far as we know, not Trump himself), who were prone to lying about Russian interference.

There are major players on both sides — those implicated in the Mueller investigation, those who want to bring it all to light, and those who might be collaterally damaged — who are Jewish. Here are some Jewish players to watch for and possible outcomes once the report gets released.



Friday, March 08, 2019

Vandals Paint Swastikas In UES Gym Locker Room 

An Upper East Side gym known for its swimming and children's programs was the target of hateful vandalism this week, according to an email sent to gym members by staff.

Vandals painted swastikas on the walls and fixtures of family locker rooms in Asphalt Green's AquaCenter on Wednesday, the gym's executive director Maggy Siegel wrote in an email. The gym is located on York Avenue and East 91st Street.

"Discrimination is not tolerated at Asphalt Green. We are inclusive of people from all races, religions, and backgrounds. I am disheartened that such a hateful act occurred within our community," Siegel's email reads.

The NYPD's hate crimes unit is investigating the vandalism, a department spokesman said. No suspects have been identified or arrested, police said.

New York City's Jewish population has been disproportionately targeted as hate crimes occur more frequently in the city. Jews were the targets of more than half the 352 hate crimes reported in 2018 as of late December.

The city has seen a sustained rise in hate crimes over the last three years since around the time of President Donald Trump's election. Crimes targeting Jewish, black, Asian and white people all increased last year, though anti-Muslim incidents fell sharply.

A rash of anti-Semitic incidents emerged in the months after the late October massacre of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. A Prospect Heights synagogue was vandalized just days after the shooting, and two Hasidic people were attacked in Williamsburg one week in late November.



Thursday, March 07, 2019

Belgian carnival in hot water again for anti-Semitic and racist floats 

Inline image

A carnival parade in the city of Aalst, in Belgium's Flemish region, has come under criticism for offensive costumes and displays – and not for the first time. The parade on Sunday, March 3, featured people dressed in Ku Klux Klan costumes, people in blackface, and one float with huge models of stereotypically Jewish figures. 

It was this last float that fuelled the most outrage. Videos and pictures of it circulated on social media and YouTube. The float is fronted by two giant models in pink suits, wearing sidelocks and shtreimels – a fur hat traditionally worn by Hasidic Jews – and with large, hooked noses. One of them has a rat on his shoulder. Both are standing on piles of gold coins and are surrounded by bags of money.

The Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organisations in Belgium (CCOJB) and the Forum of Jewish Organisations (FJO) said in a statement, "At best, this shows a reprehensible lack of judgment, especially given the context of rising anti-Semitism in our country and in the world, at worst this is a reproduction of the worst anti-Semitic caricatures of the Nazi era".

A spokesperson from the European Commission called it "unthinkable" that anti-Semitic imagery was featured in the parade 70 years after the Holocaust.

However, the town's mayor, Christoph D'Haese, published an op-ed in Dutch media HLN defending the parade. He railed against any "censorship" of the festival, and said that those who participated in the parade should not be "lumped in with anti-Semites".

Local media reported that the leader of the far-right party Forza Ninove, Guy D'haeseleer, posed next to participants dressed up as Ku Klux Klansmen, drawing further condemnation from anti-discrimination associations.

The annual parade in Aalst is no stranger to controversy: in 2013 it was roundly condemned for a float with people dressed as Nazi SS officers. UNESCO recognised the Aalst carnival as an example of intangible cultural heritage in 2010, but waded into the furore three years later to condemn the costumes. Those who took part justified the float by saying it was meant to be a jab at the Flemish rightwing nationalist party the New Flemish Alliance.



Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Moishe’s East Village kosher bakery has closed after 42 years 

Moishe's, the beloved kosher bakery on 2nd Avenue, instantly recognizable by what the New York Times called its "stopped-in-time storefront," has served its last hamantaschen. Owner Moishe Perl told local photographers James and Karla Murray that yesterday was the bakery's last day, and that the entire building has been sold. In business since 1977, everything was baked on the premises daily. Moishe's challah bread, rye bread, hamantaschen, rugelach, babka and sugar kichel were legendary.

Hamantaschen was the signature item at the all-kosher establishment–no dairy except for the cheese danish and strudel, along with traditional poppy seed, as well as prune, apricot, raspberry, and chocolate for Purim. Perl guarded the secret cookie dough recipe. Also famous: Potatonik–a crunchy cross between kugel and potato bread. On Thursdays they emerged the oven and quickly disappeared.

Moishe Perlmutter was born to parents who met in a Nazi concentration camp. After surviving and coming to America after WWII, Moishe's father began working at a bakery on Suffolk Street in 1947. Moishe followed in his footsteps and bought a small bakery on Houston and Orchard Streets.

In 1972 he received an offer to buy a bakery at 115 Second Avenue since the owner of the 80-year-old establishment had died. Rents were affordable and the neighborhood was mostly Polish, Ukrainian, and Jewish, so he opened Moishes. Moishe retained his other location until at least the late '80s, but it was the East Village location that became famous

The business kept Orthodox traditions: Closed Saturday and shuttered at sundown on Friday. It was strictly cash only; even the bread slicer remained from when Moishe bought the place, though it "rattles like a gas-powered lawn mower" as he told the Times. Moishe is also a psychologist with a rabbinical degree in counseling. In his spare time he does family counseling for the Hasidic community free of charge.


Tuesday, March 05, 2019

The Renegade Street Photographer Of Boro Park 

On 16th Avenue and 48th, in the heart of Boro Park, Avi Kaye — not his real name — is sitting in his car, camera ready.

"He's going to come out soon," he mutters. We're parked outside the Beis Midrash Emunas Yisroel synagogue, waiting for one subject — a regular at this shul, who will walk in any minute now for mincha, the afternoon service.

Two Hasidic young women are standing outside, talking. One of them notices Kaye's camera and raises an eyebrow. Busted. He drives away.

Avi Kaye knows 16th Avenue well. He spent his childhood on the pavements of Boro Park, one of the local cheyder boys with sidelocks— and now, he's back, but with his ubiquitous camera, devoted to documenting this community.

I first meet Kaye at Boro Park's Cafe Paris, a popular lunch spot, frequented that afternoon by Hasidic housewives. He shows up in a velvet yarmulke and a v-neck sweater, cleanly-shaven and around the age of forty — and asks me to please refer to him as "Avi Kaye," and not by his real name.

"In order to achieve my goal of documenting Hasidic life, it's best for me to keep my identity private," Kaye tells me over coffee. "If my identity was revealed, it would go viral among the Hasidim, and that would affect my ability to do what I do."

Kaye is an Orthodox street photographer. His family immigrated from Israel when he was an infant, and struggled integrating into Brooklyn's iron-gated Orthodox schools, so Kaye was sent to study in the one school that would take him, Boro Park's Belz Hasidic cheyder, where he says he was often beaten up by the other students.

"It was the 80's, I was an outsider, the only non-Hasidic boy in school," he says. "The struggle of being different was extremely tough."

But Kaye had one outlet — photography. At family and local shul events, there was little Avi with his camera, taking pictures of everyone.

At nineteen, Kaye went to study in the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem. It was just when the first intifada erupted, and it was then that he started looking at photography differently — he would rush over right after a bombing to photograph the scene, then sell the photographs to Israeli media outlets. After a stint in Lakewood's Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva — Kaye returned to his childhood home, to the streets of Brooklyn.

"I was inspired by Roman Vishniac," Kaye says, referring to the Jewish photographer most famous for documenting pre-Holocaust European Jewry. "No one documented Hasidim the way he did. That captured me. I read how he had a hidden camera that he would use, that's something that really got to me."

And so began Kaye's guerrilla photography career around Williamsburg and Boro Park, and eventually, Jerusalem, as well as the occasional trip to upstate New York's Orthodox shtetls — New Square, Kiryas Joel, and Monsey.

Obsessed with documenting daily Hasidic life, Kaye started posting his photographs online, as a hobby, on an Instagram account called "Hasidim in USA", which quickly grew to over 20,000 followers. A young boy going home from cheyder, an old zeyde leaving the grocery store, two Bais Yaakov girls giggling on a street corner. There's no room for politics, no room for debates over Orthodoxy, extremism, education — there's only room for humanity. There are also, interestingly, no rebbes. "I don't focus on the rebbes," Kaye says. "I want to portray daily candid life. Simple moments. The intimate photos are very hard to get. But that's what I try to do. Just people walking in the street doesn't do it for me."

At first, the pushback on his work was harsh, as community members would spot themselves, or friends or family, on Kaye's Instagram — despite the fact that the Internet and social media, are officially banned by authorities. "All these people sent me DM's, how dare I, who gives me the right, that it's disgusting what I do," Kaye says. "That I'm violating people's privacy. People ask me to remove photos. Hasidim don't want people coming near them, showcasing everything, even though it can be in a positive light. When I went to [the Hasidic village of] New Square, they told me that if I come again, they will have me arrested."

But as more and more Hasidim are becoming fluent in social media, the feedback has grown more positive, Kaye says. "Now, cameras are everywhere, it's the 21st century. They're adjusting to it. Still, my wife is worried, because there are radicals out there…" his voice drifts off.

As we walk along Boro Park, Kaye's eyes grow squinted, focusing in on the details around us, on the sweeping scene of figures rushing around 16th Avenue. He isn't focusing on the conversation any more — now he's in his mode, anthropologist meets portrait-maker. "I find the combination of the shtetl and twenty-first century lifestyle very captivating," he tells me. "And I'm uniquely positioned to do this. When a Gentile or a secular Jew walks around here photographing — right away the red alarm bells go off: 'What's he doing? Investigating something?' But I speak Yiddish, I know the fine line of overstepping limits — and I also know what some Joe-Shmoe in Texas would be interested in seeing, in a photograph."

Driving around with him one afternoon, I felt the rushing adrenaline of his work — Kaye employs both "hip photography" (discreetly shooting from the hip, holding the camera low) as well as long-lens shoots from his car, often carrying his camera in a tallis bag. On a bustling 16th, he passes by two young married women in a heated conversation, and with astounding alacrity, he checks his rear-view mirror, backs up the car, whips out his camera and takes a series of shots. The women keep talking, one flashes a smile at her friend, and he captures it and exclaims from happiness: "Yes!" Then his time is up — one of them has noticed him. "Shkoyech," he says to them — and drives on.

"You see this window?" He points to a pink pastel building. "I got a shot here that I waited a year for. My brother spotted an old woman sitting by the window once, and told me I ought to capture this. So I kept coming back here, knowing that if an old woman sits at the window, it is probably a habit. And sure enough, I got it."

"The older women are much easier to photograph," Kaye says. "'It's a bubby,' people say. But with the young women, in their 20s and 30's, they're much more complicated, people get upset about that. So maybe only ten-percent of my pictures are of women."

Suddenly, with Kaye, I find myself seeing the neighborhood differently. I've visited Boro Park countless times — both as a journalist and as an Orthodox Jew — after all, it's the capital of frum shopping, of modest dresses, religious books and bargain groceries. But now, the streets here seem to have shifted. Every piece of sidewalk is now a stage, every passerby a cast-member in the drama that is religious life.

Perhaps the only way to truly portray an insular community is to be at once an insider and an outsider — to be both embedded in the culture, but just distant enough to be able to capture the full scene in a frame.

"I'm in a strange position," he says with a laugh, gesturing with his hands in the movement of weighing scales. "But I tell the people who object: One day, you'll look back and appreciate what I did."



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