Friday, November 29, 2019

Jewish Teens Attacked By Group Of Men In Brooklyn 

A gang of five men attacked two identifiably Jewish teens on the street in Brooklyn.

The boys were not injured in the Nov. 11 attack in the Crown Heights neighborhood. Police reported the incident on Wednesday, according to the New York Post.

The incident is being investigated as a hate crime.

Crown Heights and other Brooklyn neighborhoods have seen a spate of attacks on identifiable Jews in recent weeks.

In this incident, the group approached one boy, 14, who was dressed in traditional Hasidic garb, and smacked him in the head, knocking off his kippah. They then snatched the hat off the head of the other boy, a 15-year-old.



Thursday, November 28, 2019

Russian prosecutors seek arrest warrant against US Chabad rabbi 

Escalating the legal dispute between Russia and the United States over the Schneerson collection of Jewish texts, prosecutors in Moscow sought an arrest warrant for an American rabbi.

The request for an international arrest warrant against Rabbi Shalom Dov-Ber Levine, the director and curator at the Central Chabad-Lubavitch Research Library, was reported on Wednesday by the news site MK. He is wanted for “failing to return cultural property” to Russia.

According to the report, the move is connected to seven manuscripts from the Schneerson library, a historic collection of 12,000 books and 50,000 documents named for Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, who led the Chabad Hasidic movement until his death in 1950.

Russia’s state archive is holding the collection inside the Jewish Museum of Moscow. In 2013, a U.S. judge ordered Russia to pay $50,000 a day in fines for failing to honor a 2010 ruling by the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to hand over to the New York-based movement the entire library.

But Russia insists the library is part of its national heritage. In 2014, a Russian court demanded that the U.S. Library of Congress hand back seven precious Jewish texts to Moscow – and, in a tit-for-tat ruling, said it should pay a massive fine for every day it delays.

The request for an arrest warrant is over those seven books, which Chabad loaned in 1991 to the Library of Congress, MK reported.



Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Advocates committed to Chester land preservation 

Chester's push for preserving its land may have been derailed by the governor, but the town supervisor and others in favor of land preservation said they will try again next year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill on Monday that would have allowed the Town of Chester to collect a 0.75 percent real-estate transfer tax and use those funds to purchase land or the development rights of land within the town. The neighboring Town of Warwick has had a similar purchase-of-development-rights (PDR) law since 2000.

Chester town Supervisor Robert Valentine said he was not surprised by the veto, adding that special-interest groups such as the real-estate lobby are against such legislation.

"We have a preservation plan, but we now have no way of funding it," Valentine said. "But as far as I'm concerned, I'll try every year to get this passed."

In his veto message, Cuomo said he could not approve the PDR legislation because it is mentioned in legislation pending against the town: "There has been well-documented tension in the Town of Chester between local elected officials and a specific population of Hasidic people in the community, which has resulted in ongoing litigation. Given that this legislation is specifically cited in the litigation, it would be inappropriate to sign at this juncture, while the facts are still being gathered. Therefore, I am constrained to veto this bill."

Developers of The Greens at Chester, a 431-home development being built on more than 100 acres off Conklingtown Road, filed a 101-page federal complaint on July 19, accusing Chester town officials, Orange County, and County Executive Steven Neuhaus of blocking its development in what attorneys argue is an attempt to prevent an influx of Hasidic residents.

On Twitter Tuesday, the Williamsburg-based Satmar Headquarters lauded the veto and said the bill "was designed by bigots and haters to discriminate against Orthodox Hasidic families trying to live in the Town of Chester in Orange County, NY. #StopTheHate."

Stephen Keahon, co-founder with Kristi Greco of the local activist group Preserve Chester, said Tuesday that he'd heard last week that a veto was likely. In response, Preserve Chester started a petition, which gathered 500 signatures, and a social-media campaign to convince Cuomo to approve the bill.

Keahon disliked how Cuomo linked his decision to the Greens at Chester litigation.

"I don't see how one goes with the other, because we've been working on this (land preservation) since 2013," Keahon said. "The preservation fund and plan were about protecting our residents now and in the future."

Livy Schwartz, one of the developers of The Greens at Chester, applauded the veto in an email that included hyperlinks to an April 25, 2018 Town Board meeting led by then-Supervisor Alex Jamieson. Jamieson said at the meeting, "I don't want to be the person who loses this town."

"The Greens at Chester favors sensible planning that preserves open space and local traditions," Schwartz said in the email. "Unfortunately, the Chester PDR bill was a highly flawed instrument for achieving those worthy goals. The PDR was promoted by Town officials as an instrument of exclusion. ... The Greens will support other preservation initiatives that are not tainted by exclusionary aims."

Later, by phone, Schwartz added that the legislation was one in a series of tactics aimed at Hasidim.

"If you take the law by itself, it looks like a good law. But take them all together, and it's very clear the intention is to keep the Hasidic out. We can't accept 'go away.' "

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, and Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, R-New Windsor.

The proposal would have required the town to hold a referendum to get voter approval before imposing the tax.

"While the veto is disappointing, it is incumbent upon everyone involved to regroup and find an alternative way forward so that open space and farmland can be protected in Chester," Skoufis said on Tuesday.

"I am greatly disappointed that the Governor has vetoed Chester's preservation legislation," Schmitt said in a statement on Tuesday. "The PDR legislation had overwhelming bipartisan support locally and in the state legislature along with robust support from local, regional and statewide conservation and preservation groups. ... I will not yield or relent in my efforts to continue to advocate for preservation for my district and our entire state in the Assembly."



Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Jewish father reunited with Muslim woman who confronted thug hurling anti-Semitic abuse on Tube 

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A Jewish dad whose family was racially abused by a thug on the London Underground has met and thanked the Muslim woman who stepped in to confront him.

The man, who asked not to be named, said he was grateful to Asma Shuweikh, 36, from Birmingham, and yesterday presented her with a bunch of flowers.

A video of the shocking incident went viral online.

A man, whose name and age has not been released by police, has been arrested and was held in Birmingham on Saturday night on suspicion of committing a racially aggravated public order offence.

The dad said he'd been on the Tube into central London with his wife and kids when the man approached them and asked if they were Jews.

He said the thug then shouted at the family that Jews started the slave trade and were from the "synagogue of Satan".

Recalling the ordeal, the dad said: "I was confused. I was ready for the anti-Semitic comments after the Jewish question, but I was not prepared for the hail of anti-Semitic abuse which followed.

"The only thing I could think about was the safety of my children and the best thing to do at that time was to restrain myself and try to get my children to ignore the situation."

He said his family had been travelling from Hendon Central in north London to Covent Garden on Friday morning when the verbal abuse took place.

Wearing a cap and hoodie, the man was seen threatening a man off-camera after he tried to intervene before a woman in a hijab - Asma - angrily confronted him.

Mum-of-two Ms Shuweikh, from London, said she "wouldn't hesitate to do it again".

"I would have loved more people to come up and say something, because if everyone did, I do not think it would have escalated in the way that it did," she said.

She said when she saw what was happening she knew she "had to confront him".

"Being a mother-of-two, I know what it's like to be in that situation and I would want someone to help if I was in that situation," she said.

She said the couple was travelling with three children, and she wanted to deflect the man's attention away from them.

She said: "He was quite aggressive and was getting in my face."

Yesterday the Jewish dad met Ms Shuweikh and presented her with a bouquet of flowers.

She said: "He came and gave me beautiful flowers and we sat down and had a coffee and we were talking about our experiences and our backgrounds.

"It was very nice. It was lovely. We're going to keep in touch."

The dad said: "We are extremely grateful to Asma.

"This Tube journey has left me with mixed feelings about society.

"On the one hand my wife, my children and I were subject to vile abuse in a full Tube carriage, however I am grateful for those who stood up for me."



Monday, November 25, 2019


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Thousands of rabbis from around the world descended on Crown Heights on Sunday for an annual conference of Orthodox Jewish Hasidic leaders — and a "class picture" of nearly 5,000 rabbis, who gathered in Brooklyn around their shared faith.

"It's important for me to meet my friends, to strengthen my work, and do what God wants us to do," said Rabbi Shalom Ber Sudak of London, England. "We want to encourage people to be close to the Yiddishchite, to be happy with what we are supposed to do."

The rabbis flew in from across the globe for the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries — a yearly event designed to strengthen Jewish awareness and practice around the world, said one religious leader.

"I was invited, and have been coming for 50 years," added Rabbi Joseph Hardman of Israel.  "I represent 6,000 [disciples] that I'm here for. I'm very veshtatum — meaning I'm very satisfied here because they always make us feel welcome."

Prior to the photo, the rabbis — who came from as far as India, Belgium, and Ukraine — prayed in tight quarters inside the Lubavitch synagogue. 

One rabbi said he felt honored to attend the event with so many other religious leaders. 

"We need to take a full review of what we do," said Rabbi Mordachai Chencon of Brussels, Belgium. "We do this to hold together – and together we are strong, that is very important."

Across from the gathering, a number of Orthodox Jewish men protested by hoisting large yellow banners proclaiming the death of the grand rebbe — the spiritual leader in the Hasidic movement — leading to a pitched shoving match.

"They have a right to protest, it's a free country," said Rabbi Chaim Chanukah of Pasadena, California. "This is a week of achievement, five to six days of brotherhood and community. Nobody arguing, just different languages."



Friday, November 22, 2019

Attack against Hasidic man in Brooklyn captured on video, suspect in custody 

Attack against Hasidic man

Another unprovoked assault against a Hasidic man was captured on video Thursday.

The attack occurred in Willamsburg on Thursday at 11:45 p.m. in front of 716 Myrtle Avenue in the Williamsburg of Brooklyn.

Police say 32-year-old Steven Sotomayor of Brooklyn walked up to the 21-year-old victim and slapped him in the face with an open hand.

Former Assemblyman Dov Hikind tweeted about the attack at 1 a.m. and posted the video, saying "So sick of this! We will make sure this guy doesn’t get off easy."

No words were exchanged in the attack, so officials are not treating the incident as a hate crime.

The 32-year-old was arrested and charged with assault and harassment.

The victim refused medical attention.



Thursday, November 21, 2019

Attack on Hasidic man in Monsey was “clearly an attempted murder,” police say 

A 30-year-old Hasidic teacher remains in critical condition after surviving a brutal assault in Monsey Wednesday morning. Ramapo Town Police Chief Brad Weidel said  the attack "was clearly an attempted murder." He did not rule out the attack being a hate crime.

Police confirmed that the man was attacked while walking to his local synagogue, at around 5:49 a.m. Ramapo Town Police had been called to a report of a pedestrian being struck on Howard Drive, when they arrived they found the victim who was rushed to Westchester Medical Center and underwent surgery. He had been slashed and stabbed several times with an unknown weapon.

Investigation confirms that the man was stabbed more than once by at least one individual on the street.  So far police have no description of the suspect or suspects or the vehicle driven during the attack.

Chief Weidel said Wednesday afternoon said there "a lot of possibilities" as to what sparked the incident. Investigators currently believe that nothing was taken from the victim and that the man did not know his attacker. The chief was unwilling to speculate as to whether the incident was a hate crime, but has not ruled out the possibility.

Weidel also said that police have obtained a video recording of the incident, "but (he) wishes it was of better quality." The chief plans to cooperate with state and possibly federal officials to obtain a better analysis of the footage. 

"We've never had anything like this happen," lamented Legislator Philip Soskin, the representative for the district in which the assault occurred.  Soskin and other members of the Hasidic community have expressed fear and outrage in response to the attack. "All of us are infuriated," said the legislator. 

The police chief has assured the community "(he) hears their concerns loud and clear" and has increased patrols in the area.  He urges anyone with relevant information on the incident to come forward. The Anti-Defamation League has offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Governor Cuomo also has ordered the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to assist local authorities with investigating this horrific assault and examine all potential motives, including whether the attack may have been motivated by anti-Semitism.

He said this assault was not an isolated incident. "We cannot allow the cancer of hate to metastasize any further. The escalation of hatred and anti-Semitism must end here and now, and I urge all New Yorkers to denounce hate whenever and wherever they see it."



Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Hasidic man walking to synagogue stabbed multiple times in Rockland County 

A Hasidic man was stabbed multiple times walking to synagogue in Rockland County early Wednesday.

Police responded to a call of a pedestrian struck by a car just before 6 a.m. on Howard Drive in Monsey.

Responding officers quickly determined that the victim had actually been stabbed and slashed with an unknown weapon and was not struck by a vehicle.

Authorities say the man was stabbed in the street by at least one individual, who fled the scene.

"He couldn't describe anyone," community activist Rabbi Yisroel Kahan said. "They came up from behind him. It was simply unprovoked."

The victim, a 30-year-old teacher, was rushed to Westchester Medical Center and was undergoing surgery. He is expected to survive.

Police say nothing was taken, adding to concerns that the incident may be a hate crime. Activists point to a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Rockland County.

"A couple of years ago, you had a swastika here and there," said Yossi Gestetner, of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council. "Then it escalated to verbal attacks against a Hasidic woman and children. And now we're onto the next level."

There are no descriptions of a suspect or suspects or a vehicle if any at this time.

The Anti-Defamation League has announced it is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in this case.

"We are outraged by this terribly violent incident," ADL NY/NJ Regional Director Evan Bernstein said. "This is truly horrifying. A peaceful walk to shul in the early morning hours is how this man started the day and now he in serious condition in a hospital because of this attack. There is absolutely no room in our communities for violence. We must come together and stand shoulder to shoulder, not only to condemn this despicable act, but also work as a community to stem the tide of hatred and violence. We wish for the speedy and full recovery of the victim and hope this reward facilitates the swift apprehension of those responsible for this attack."

Anyone with information is urged to contact police.



All-women Hasidic EMT group denied bid for ambulance in Brooklyn 

An all-women Hasidic EMT group was denied a bid on Tuesday to operate an ambulance in Brooklyn.

The group, Ezras Nashim, sought to serve female clientele within a 2-square-mile area in the predominately Orthodox Borough Park neighborhood.

But on Tuesday night, the Regional Emergency Medical Services Council of New York City (REMSCO) denied the group's application with a 12-7 vote. There were five abstentions and two members were absent.

Ezras Nashim — Hebrew for "helping women" — needed a 14-vote majority in order to get the OK to operate its own ambulance.

Leah Levine, the group's director of outreach and development and daughter of its founder, said she was "deeply shocked" by the outcome.

"How can anyone be opposed to women helping women in times when they're most vulnerable?" she told The Post in an email. "Our women need us, and are pleading with us not to give up. So we will do our best, and keep trying!"

Scott Orlanski, a REMSCO board member who opposed the application, said Ezras Nashim didn't meet certain requirements.

"This has nothing to do with Hatzolah," Orlanski said at the meeting, referring to the Orthodox ambulance corps Hatzolah that operates in Brooklyn. "This has to do with Ezras Nashim and their proving need [to qualify for an ambulance]."

He added, "They may want to be met, there may be a desire to meet them, as has been indicated in the application submitted by Ezras Nashim, but we are not here to debate wishes, wants or desires … religion is not one of those [requirements] and I submit to my fellow members that should we tread into those dangerous, murky waters, we will be in a world of hurt."

REMSCO board member Nancy Benedetto voted yes for the ambulance.

"What we are looking at this evening is that there is a lack of evidence that existing resources will be reallocated to fulfill the maintaining of modesty for observant Jewish women. That is a key piece here," she said ahead of the vote.

Ezras Nashim, which launched in 2012, wants to serve Orthodox women who feel uncomfortable being cared for by male first responders.

"It's the cultural norm of women in the Brooklyn Hasidic community to lead their lives in modesty," Jim Deering, the group's attorney, said during a public hearing last month.

"It is that cultural modesty and the trauma that can result from it not being honored that forms the need for Ezras Nashim's ambulance application."

The public hearing was attended by Hatzolah supporters who believe that having multiple EMS services in the neighborhood would cause "confusion" and "potential catastrophe."



Monday, November 18, 2019

A Man of Faith: Chabad’s rabbi is out to serve others 

On any given day on Elon University's campus, a bearded man wearing a yamaka and circle-framed glasses zooms by students on an electric scooter.

That man is Rabbi Mendy Minkowitz, rabbi at the Chabad affiliate group at Elon. The Chabad center, operated out of the home where Minkowitz lives with his wife and three children, is approximately a mile away from Elon's campus. Minkowitz said he bought the scooter so he could visit his students more often because driving his car and finding parking was a hassle.

"I found that was discouraging me from doing it [seeing students]," Minkowitz said. "I would just be like 'It's fine. I'll do it another time.' And that had an impact because I would go less on campus. I would see less students, and I didn't want that."

Minkowitz and his wife Rivka started Chabad at Elon in December 2015. Born and raised in Italy, Minkowitz moved to the U.S. when he was 14 to study Judaism. He has studied and worked in the field ever since.

Chabad is affiliated with Hasidic Judaism. Minkowitz said there are close to 45,000 Chabad centers around the world, and he estimates that only 250 of those are on college campuses. However, it doesn't matter if Elon students are Hasidic or not when joining Elon's Chabad.

His work, according to Minkowitz, is not just for himself. He works for others.

The Minkowitz's house, for example, serves as both his home and the Elon Chabad Center. The living room attached to the kitchen is filled with toys for his children. Just a step away is the meeting room and dining room lined with folding chairs for Elon students who attend services, meals and classes. The outside of their home is marked with signs and a menorah, letting Chabad members know they are in the right place.

Minkowitz said his mission as rabbi is to spread the message of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the national leader of Chabad, to Elon students. However, he said he and his wife are really "there just to sort of be there for the students."

"We see them grow from freshman year to senior year, and sometimes we don't realize how important it is to be there for one another," Minkowitz said. "Sometimes we find in hindsight, you know, a student who says, 'You know, that time I really need to talk to someone, and I appreciate that you were there,' and I or my wife might not even know how important it was that we were there at that time."

One of those students is Elon sophomore Sami Herbert. Herbert joined Chabad during her first semester at Elon and is now the social chair for the Elon Chabad board.

"They do everything in their power to make us feel like we have a place away from home to feel safe, and to feel welcomed, and to feel like we have a family here at Elon that is Jewish and that we have a community here that's super supportive," Herbert said. 

Herbert's mother is Jewish, but her father is Catholic. Because of this, she said her experience with Judaism is different from others. 

Herbert said she was hesitant to join Chabad, fearing it may be too religious for her. However, she said Minkowitz, known to students as Mendy, accepts students no matter who they are, and he quickly became a resource to her for learning more about herself and her faith. 

"Mendy was just a great leader and role model for me to really continue developing my Jewish identity and to continue my learning process of what it means to be a Jew as a woman, as a millennial," Herbert said. 

Minkowitz and his wife moved to Elon from New York where Minkowitz worked at Chabad's headquarters in Brooklyn. Minkowitz said the headquarters were aware of the growing demand of prospective and current Elon parents for a Chabad center at Elon. In the past, Elon students were going to the nearest Chabad in Chapel Hill for a sense of community. 

"They were turning to Chabad headquarters and saying, 'Hey, my son or daughter is looking at Elon, and there's no Chabad there' or, 'Are you guys looking to send someone?'" Minkowitz said. 

Minkowitz said the couple was already looking to cultivate a space for Jewish students and members of the community. After a few visits, they packed up their belongings and moved to Elon. 

Daniela Nasser, an Elon senior, is one student who benefited from the move. She said the opening of the Chabad center in 2015 reassured her that there was a diverse group of Jewish people on Elon's campus when she was applying for college. 

Nasser said she started her sophomore year looking for something different, so she took one of the classes Minkowitz teaches out of the Chabad center.

"If it weren't for Chabad, I don't think I would have been able to get my religious fix here at Elon," Nasser said. 

Minkowitz said living in North Carolina is different than a city like Brooklyn because there are fewer like-minded Jewish people in the area. However, he said North Carolina is a beautiful place for his three children. 

Specifically, Minkowitz said his five-year-old son, Meir, already has a sense of duty. When students or guests come over, Minkowitz said Meir tries to teach them what he knows about Judaism.

"That's very powerful because my son gets that sense from living here and a place where he's in a situation of leadership, if you will, even though he's five, and he's not a leader in a real capacity," Minkowitz said. "He gets that we are here with a mission to [support] others, and he feels the same way."

Recently, Chabad at Elon was in the news after gunshots were fired outside the center as students and Minkowitz's family broke their fast to celebrate Yom Kippur.

Minkowitz said while he is helping the town of Elon Police make sure it never happens again, his job, now more than ever, is to make sure students feel a sense of physical and emotional safety at Chabad.

Truitt Drive, where the Chabad center is located, was shut down on the night of the incident. Minkowitz said he received several texts from current and past students asking if everything was okay.

"I didn't want to tell the students everything's okay and potentially put them in harm's way by pretending that there's no danger," Minkowitz said. "I also didn't want to alarm students and tell them there's some kind of impending danger on us. So, I had to sort of walk this fine line at the time of neither quelling their fears nor, you know, amplifying them."

Jon Dooley, vice president for student life, is one of the guests whom Meir has taught about Judaism. This was during Chabad's Shabbat dinner after the incident, and Dooley said he appreciated the opportunity to attend this particularly meaningful event. 

"The work that Rabbi Mendy and Rivka are doing with Chabad continues to enrich the Elon student experience and contribute to a thriving, pluralistic Jewish community at the university," Dooley said. 

Herbert, who attends Shabbat dinner every Friday, said one of her favorite anecdotes from these weekly dinners are Minkowitz's "dad jokes."

"Anytime he's making a speech, he'll start off with: 'I promise this will only take two minutes,' but then ends up taking 10 minutes," Herbert said. "And of the 10 minutes, about seven of them are spent trying to make a joke, and sometimes they're funny. Most times they're kind of cringy."

Herbert said she always laughs because she genuinely appreciates him trying to relate to his students.

"Mendy is so involved with our journeys as students, as people, as young adults," Herbert said. "He is always making himself available for us."

Looking back at her time at Elon, Nasser said Chabad has become her home. She said she appreciates Minkowitz's work to get Chabad acknowledged by the university as an on campus group and "loves to hype him up."

"They always reach out to me and make sure I'm doing well," Nasser said. "When I was abroad, they made sure to reach out and see how I was doing and that I had a place to go for the holidays. They have brought me food when I'm sick and know my family too. They are my extended family."



Friday, November 15, 2019

First homes in long-planned Monroe development nearly ready 

Builders are nearing completion of the first set of houses in a 181-home development on Gilbert Street that has been marketed to Hasidic families and is the culmination of plans that first surfaced 20 years ago.

The project, known since its inception as Smith Farm, was renamed Smith Gardens on a promotional website that touted the development as a 19-minute walk from Kiryas Joel and offered prospective buyers a virtual tour of what were described as "luxury" homes.

How many units are nearly done, how much they cost and when they will be available remain unclear. Moshe Friedman and Mordechai Ungar, the two Kiryas Joel real estate agents listed as contacts on the Smith Gardens website, didn't respond to calls and emails from the Times Herald-Record, and by Thursday the website had been taken down. No homes in the development are listed for sale on the multiple listing service that real estate professionals typically use.

The development encompasses 78 acres in both the town and village of Monroe. As of Thursday, neither municipality had issued certificates of occupancy for any homes. Ron Kossar, a Middletown attorney representing the project, said nearly two dozen lots were under construction and a few were close to getting certificates of occupancy.

The project has evolved since the original developers in 1999 proposed 432 apartments and townhouses for the property, which is on the outskirts of Monroe's downtown area and near Route 17M and the ShopRite plaza. After a public outcry and a failed attempt to get the village to annex the town portion of the land, the developers whittled down the scope to 231 total homes — 157 single-family houses and 74 duplexes.

The town and village planning boards wound up approving 127 townhouses and single-family houses and 54 duplex units in 2015. By that time, the project had been taken over by businessman Ziggy Brach, who had acquired $6.7 million in mortgages on the property in 2008 and begun foreclosure the following year, according to public records.

Brach was listed in August as one of three initial directors for a newly created homeowners association for what was still referred to then as Smith Farm.

The new developers, known officially as BMG Monroe I LLC, have waged several skirmishes with local officials since getting approval and stripping the site, starting with heavy stormwater runoff that prompted stop work orders in 2016. That was soon followed by a building moratorium by the Town of Monroe that BMG challenged in federal court, claiming its purpose was to block new housing for Hasidic families.

That case was withdrawn in 2017 after the Town Board granted BMG an exemption from the moratorium so it could proceed with its plans.

The developer recently lost a separate lawsuit against the village over two design disputes, and has indicated it will appeal the decision.



Thursday, November 14, 2019


The city needs to cut back the hours that men are allowed to swim at a public pool in Williamsburg to accommodate ultra-Orthodox Jewish women, who are forbidden from bathing with men for religious reasons, civic gurus claimed at a meeting Tuesday.

Acting on the request of a group of mostly Hasidic women, Community Board 1's full board passed a motion demanding the Parks Department set aside an additional three hours a week for female-only swimmers at the Metropolitan Recreation Center, because the current time slots are so jam-packed that one Williamsburger said she no longer allows her aging mother to use it for fear she'll drown.

"My mom — who is hitting 90-years-old, thank god — she's a Holocaust survivor and she has been in the Metropolitan pool for many many years, keeping her health and keeping her beauty," said Esther Weiss at the civic meeting. "But now, due to the fact that they cut the women's swim, she can no longer come because she's in danger of drowning with other people bumping and shoving her — we do not allow her to come."

The city-owned pool and gym at the corner of Bedford and Metropolitan avenues currently reserves the pool for women for an hour on Monday morning from 10-11 am, two hours on Wednesday from 9-11 am, and two hours for women and girls on Sunday afternoon.

The northern Brooklyn civic panel passed a motion put forward by its Women's Issues committee to add an extra hour on Monday starting at 9 am and a two-hour slot from 9-11 am on Friday, with 22 board members voting in favor, four against, and eight abstaining.

The city has accommodated gender-segregated swimming times for decades to accommodate Williamsburg's large Hasidic community, which forbids women from swimming with men under Jewish law.

The St. John's Recreation Center Pool in Crown Heights — another neighborhood with a large Hasidic community — also has one two-hour slot for women swimming.

The Parks Department briefly eliminated the female-only hours after an anonymous complaint prompted a review by the city's Human Rights Commission in 2016.

The investigation found the policy to be in violation of the city's human rights law, which forbids gender discrimination in public buildings, but bureaucrats allowed for an exemption after Parks honchos proposed cutting back the women's hours and axing the men's-only block at the Crown Heights facility, according to a New York Times report.

New Yorkers can still use all city-owned single-sex facilities that most closely align with their gender identity, according to a 2016 decree by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

One board member and LGBTQ advocate slammed the policy — which has previously also been condemned by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times Editorial Board — because it doesn't account for Brooklynites that don't identify with the gender binary.

"This is not a progressive policy," said Thomas Burrows, a member of the LGBTQ political club the Lambda Independent Democrats. "Gender-segregated public areas such as locker rooms and rest rooms pose a significant hurdle. By definition these spaces exclude people who do not identify with either gender or have experienced trauma in such spaces."

But the head of the Women's Issue committee argued that the gendered swimming time is for women of various backgrounds who feel more comfortable without men in the pool.

"We're a community that has a huge population of Jewish, Muslim, and older people who really feel that they are too modest to be able to swim," said Jan Peterson.

A spokeswoman for the Parks Department said the agency does not plan to extend the current hours. 

"Currently we have no plans to further expand women's only swimming at any of our centers," said Charisse Hill in an emailed statement.



Wednesday, November 13, 2019


Days after a series of attacks against Jews across Brooklyn, the Anti-Defamation League announced that it would double funding for a school program combating hate.

But city officials say more than education is needed to stop the rash of attacks, which have spiked across the city in 2019. That's because the problem is hard to diagnose.

Is it the local effect of a national rise in anti-Semitism? The resurfacing of old resentments? Are Jews being scapegoated for the impact of gentrification? Is the persistent influence of anti-Semitic leaders to blame? Or is it just kids acting out?

"We need a much more aggressive approach," said Devorah Halberstam, whose son was killed in a terrorist attack on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994 and now serves as director of external relations at the Brooklyn Children's Museum.

At a news conference Tuesday in Brooklyn to announce the new ADL initiative, New York City officials were candid about the urgency of the problem.

On Friday night, surveillance video captured a man throwing a brick through the window of a Hasidic girls' school in Crown Heights. On the same night in the Borough Park neighbourhood, at least three identifiably Orthodox men were punched by assailants. Also in Borough Park, multiple Orthodox Jews had eggs thrown at them over the weekend.

On Friday, a 16-year-old boy turned himself in to police and was arrested in connection with at least three attacks on Jews. He was charged with two counts of aggravated harassment.

"The uptick in hate crimes in this borough is a blemish on this entire city and this entire country, and it's a blemish that we're not going to live with," Borough president Eric Adams said at the news conference. "And I'm saying to the men and women of the police department: We cannot ignore the crimes. We have to report them the way they are. We can't sugarcoat it."

Anti-Semitic incidents in the city have increased significantly this year, according to data from the New York Police Department. Through September, there have been 163 reported incidents, up from 108 over the same period last year — an increase of 50 per cent. Anti-Semitic incidents make up a majority of reported hate crimes in New York City.

In September, the Mayor's office announced that it had hired Deborah Lauter, a former ADL executive, to head its new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes.

At the news conference, Brooklyn district attorney Eric Gonzalez said the recent attacks were mostly committed by teenagers who may not understand the gravity of, for example, egging a Hasidic family or drawing a swastika on a building.

"I think ignorance breeds hate, so therefore education is critical to battling bigotry and anti-Semitism, especially among young people," Gonzalez said. "It's a lot harder to select someone, to hate them, if you know them, if you've learned about their culture."

The increased funding for the ADL's anti-bigotry program aims to address that aspect of the problem. The ADL will now spend $250,000 on No Place for Hate in Brooklyn, which will allow the program to be implemented in up to 40 schools across the borough this academic year, up from 22 at present. The expansion will focus on Crown Heights and Borough Park, along with the Williamsburg neighbourhood — they have large Orthodox Jewish populations and have experienced anti-Semitic incidents in recent months.

No Place for Hate was launched in 1999 and has been implemented in 1,600 schools nationwide. It requires participating schools to form a student committee on fighting hate, have students sign a pledge against bullying and discrimination, and run an anti-bias or anti-bullying program.

"To stop hate, we cannot just arrest our way out of the problem, we have got to change hearts and minds," ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said at the news conference. "It is so important to focus on children so we can inoculate the next generation from intolerance, so we can immunize them against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate."

Evan Bernstein, the ADL's New York regional director, says kids in the city are learning to hate from a mix of influences, including parents who might have lived through the 1991 Crown Heights riots, which began after a black boy was killed accidentally by a car escorting Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late head of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, which is headquartered in the neighbourhood. The death touched off three days of rioting in which black youths attacked religious Jews, killing one.

"You have Louis Farrakhan, you have anti-Semitic rhetoric on the internet," Bernstein told JTA. "They're getting this information from somewhere. They're getting this information from their parents, or they're getting it from social media and from other platforms."

But Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, told JTA that he believes the influence of anti-Semitic leaders is a lot weaker now than it was in the 1990s. Leaders of the African-American community in Crown Heights are partners in stopping anti-Semitism, said Cohen, who attributes the rise in attacks to a general anti-police sentiment.

"What's going on right now is that authority is breaking down a little, and people are feeling emboldened to defy authority," said Cohen, who also has run educational programs about the Jewish community in local schools. "Kids that want to act out feel there's nothing holding them back anymore."

Pastor Gil Monrose, who leads a church in Crown Heights and serves as the borough president's director of faith-based and clergy initiatives, pointed to gentrification as a driver of increased attacks on Jews. As rising housing prices draw in newcomers and push out some longtime residents, locals may become frustrated and seek a scapegoat. Monrose also noted that overall crime levels are high in Crown Heights.

"We're living in a community with Jewish individuals, African-Americans, Caribbean individuals, you will find there is an uptick because they don't understand the culture of the other," Monrose told JTA. "It's because all of us live together and seeing, well, they are the other way from us, they live differently, let's try to do something to them. It's going up because everyone is living on top of each other."

Bernstein noted that some landlords in the borough are Orthodox, including some on lists of the worst landlords in New York City, which can breed anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Several officials said that Orthodox Jews are bearing the brunt of a rising climate of anti-Semitism because they appear visibly Jewish and become obvious targets for those who want to hurt Jews.

"People with hate in their heart are specifically targeting this population because they know that here is a person of Jewish faith," Adams said.



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Teen arrested in connection with series of attacks on Jewish men in Brooklyn 

A teenager was arrested in connection with a series of attacks on Jewish men in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The teen, said to be 16 and not named because he is a juvenile, turned himself in to police on Friday and was arrested, PIX11 reported.

It is not known which of at least three incidents he was involved in.

The teen was charged with two counts of aggravated harassment, according to the report.

The incidents on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 were being investigated by the New York Police Department's Hate Crimes unit, which tweeted about the arrest.

Surveillance cameras captured each incident, in which several men are seen jumping out of a car and chasing Hasidic men and boys. In one incident, the passengers punched a Hasidic man after their vehicle pinned him against a parked car. Victims also were punched in two other incidents.

On Saturday night, unidentified youths threw eggs at several Jewish buildings and at some identifiably Jewish people walking near them.



Friday, November 08, 2019

Kiddush Hashem in Cyberspace 

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An article by Crown Heights writer Leibel Baumgarten went viral last week across various social media platforms.

The Forward article, titled We Hasidim Aren't Aliens. And We're Tired Of The Media Acting Like It was a response to radio personality Ira Glass's portrayal of the 'Hasidic Jews' he encountered in Crown Heights.

"If Glass had listened back to how he reported the story, he would understand why he was treated with suspicion by Hasidic passers-by," Baumgarten wrote. "We Hasidim are used to people coming to gawk at us — and we're weary of how almost every story about Hasidic Jews gets framed in the media."

He went on to invite the radio host to spend Shabbos with his family and see what a Crown Heights family is really like.

The article clearly resonated with many frum Jews, who began sharing it far and wide. Within a few days, however, Baumgarten was surprised to see it shared by Glass- toward whom his article was directed- himself.

"This writer at @jdforward is entirely correct and I'm in the wrong here. "Othering" indeed! Good points Leibel Baumgarten. I won't make this mistake again." Glass ended his tweet with a link to the article that called him out.

"I wasn't expecting that many people to see the article, let alone receive such a response from Ira," Baumgarten told Anash.org. "It speaks a lot about his character that he not only responded, but did so in a humble, understanding way… As much as I was asking for Chassidim to be humanized, I think Ira's gracious response humanized those outside the community to us."

Baumgarten responded by thanking him for his comments and reiterating his Shabbos invitation, which Glass graciously accepted.

"We haven't yet locked down a date, but we are in touch," Baumgarten said.




Hanson Richard Larkin has admitted to sending threatening text messages to an anonymous internet acquaintance who wished no further contact from him. He traveled by train to Orlando to see this person, all the while sending anti-Semitic text messages and threatening to do violence against Jewish persons, according to the Associated Press and WNDB.

Larkin, 33, pleaded guilty to knowingly and intentionally transmitting a threatening communication in interstate commerce, which is a felony in Miami-Dade County, on Thursday.

The person who turned Larkin in said they had been in contact since 2017, and had exchanged photos and phone calls, as well as social media messages. Though the person repeatedly urged him not to come to Miami-Dade, Larkin took a train from DeLand, where he was living, to Miami to meet the plaintiff on August 24 of this year. On the 25th, Larkin texted the individual to tell him Larkin was outside of his house.

When the plaintiff refused to meet with him, Larkin turned threatening, sending multiple threats and anti-Semitic texts designed to force the person into meeting with him.



Thursday, November 07, 2019

How Did A Mystery Torah End Up In A Small Town Goodwill With A $500 Price Tag? 

A couple hundred bucks can get you a variety of things on Goodwill's online store: Tory Burch boots; a metal detector; a Burberry duffle; a collection of Furbies.
Oh, and a Torah.

Until Tuesday, you could bid for a scroll — sacred, if tattered — at ShopGoodwill.com. First listed at $200, bidders quickly pushed the price to $456.
You've heard of the Gutenberg Bible? Call this the Goodwill Torah.

Its story is full of mystery and unanswered questions. It involves a donor possibly shrouded in priestly robes; an iconic Southern town known for its colonial reenactment; a Ukrainian village whose Jews were nearly all killed by the Nazis; and an anonymous buyer who thought he could flip the Torah for a profit. Three days of dogged investigation have yielded a detailed accounting of the Torah's last three months, but virtually no solid clues of its age, provenance, or rightful ownership.

"There's gotta be someone out there that is missing this Torah and wants it back," said Mordechai Sidell, the Website manager for a Hasidic synagogue in New Jersey whose connection to this story will be explained in good time.

The Torah came to Goodwill late one evening this August, when a man wearing a cassock donated it to a store in, of all places, Williamsburg, Va., where colonial times are still unfolding. No one at the store even realized what it was, because the nearly four-foot tall Torah was wrapped in a nondescript comforter, bundled with other unremarkable textiles, and left in the back room overnight, said Michael Luckey, the manager of the store.

The next morning, employees discovered the scroll, clothed in a traditional mantle of dark-blue velvet embroidered with the stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments, flanked by two golden lions. Above the tablets is a large crown, and the words keter Torah: the crown of the Torah. Underneath is one word, the name of a town in Ukraine.

The staff knew the item was Jewish, but that was all. They stuck a $500 price tag on it and put it with the other oversized items, next to a music mixing board that may have come from a recording studio.
"It's obviously not something that you see appear at a Goodwill store," Luckey said.

Indeed, a Torah is not something you generally see outside a synagogue or school.

Told this odd story, Jesse Abelman, the curator of Hebraica and Judaica at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., said he has never before heard of a Torah showing up, origins unknown, in a secular setting in the United States.

Torahs are valuable, sacred objects that take a trained scribe about a year's work to produce. If even one of the more than 300,000 Hebrew characters in the scroll is inked to the parchment improperly, it is considered unkosher — unusable. So while a used Torah can sell for $13,000, a new Torah can cost more than $40,000, and some with historical value have been auctioned for up to a quarter of a million dollars.

Though they contain the five books of Moses, such scrolls are not used for regular study, generally only for ritual reading a few times each week. They are kept in special armoires known as an aron kodesh, or holy ark. When ferried from place to place, they are supposed to be carried angled toward the right shoulder, wrapped in a prayer shawl. Tradition dictates that if a Torah is dropped, everyone who sees it hit the floor must fast during daylight hours for 40 days.

And yet the Goodwill Torah has appeared out of nowhere, and been handled not unlike your grandmother's china or last year's overcoat. 



Tuesday, November 05, 2019

NYPD Investigating 4 Attacks Targeting Hasidic Jews In Brooklyn 

The NYPD is investigating four attacks targeting Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn.

The weekend attacks were concentrated in the area of 13th and New Utrecht Avenues.

The victims were chased, taunted, and, in some cases, physically attacked by men who pulled up to them in a car.

The NYPD reports 163 hate crimes in New York City from January through September this year, more than half against Jews.

The anti-hate crimes task force is investigating.

Police are urging people to speak up if they have been victimized, saying too many of these crimes go unreported.



In New York State, Citizens Can Still Vote In Yiddish — But How Many Do? 

On Election Day, New York city provides translation services for widely spoken languages, like Spanish and Mandarin. But Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration has also been working recently to improve ballot box accessibility more widely — even for speakers of tongues that are less well known, like the mame loshen, or mother tongue, of Ashkenazi Jews — Yiddish. And even for off-year elections like those that are happening today, when voters will consider five ballot questions related to the city's charter.

Seven polling places in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park had Yiddish translators last year, the first of the city's new initiative to improve ballot access to people for whom English isn't their first language.

A 2012 government study found 85,000 New Yorkers who primarily speak Yiddish, but it took until 2016 for the city to publish voter registration forms in Yiddish for the first time.

"Anything that will help people understand the ballot, and having people who speak the language available to translate, is a big plus," said David Katz, associate director of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg.

Many American Jews (though certainly not Forward and Forverts readers) think of Yiddish as a dying language. But the city's determination to help Yiddish-speaking voters with voting, by hiring translators to work the check-in desks and assist citizens if necessary, underscores how the language is thriving and vital in many Orthodox Jewish pockets of the city - even if few actually utilize those resources.

Last year, the city began providing Yiddish translation services on election day, along with Russian, Haitian Creole, Italian, Arabic and Polish.

"The language you speak and understand should not be a barrier to civic participation," de Blasio said in a statement at the time. "Voting should be an easy task, and we're upholding that truth by identifying and filling gaps in communities where translation services are needed."

From the 19th century to today, New York politicians have campaigned in Yiddish – de Blasio even sent out a Yiddish-language donation pitch on WhatsApp this year to help his doomed presidential campaign.

Borough Park Jewish Community Council CEO Avi Greenstein said that his community appreciated the intention behind the effort.

There's just one problem, he said: The city and state government have reputations for publishing Yiddish translations that just don't look right – like they came out of Google Translate, using words and phrases that the community don't use.

"When that happens, it creates a major disconnect – nobody will take it seriously," he said.

"In a deeper sense," he added, "it sends a message: 'We don't work with you, with your communities on issues of sensitivity.'"

Greenstein said it wasn't all bad – he said his organization and the city worked well together to get signups for the city's ID card – but a lot of trust was lost when the state Department of Health published a Yiddish pamphlet about the measles vaccine last year that, as one scholar told CNN, was "barely comprehensible."

The New York City Board of Elections and the city's Office of Immigrant Affairs, which books the contractor that provides the in-person translation services, did not respond to requests for comment. That contractor, a company called The Big Word, directed questions to the Office of Immigrant Affairs but did tell the Forward that they vet their polling place interpreters with a staff Yiddish expert.

Despite the city's best efforts, it doesn't seem like many people actually use or even need Yiddish translation services. One person who worked as an on-site translator in 2018 told the Forward he only spoke to a couple of people over his 17 hours of service.

"For the most part, in this community, by and large, people could vote in English and would vote in English," said Greenstein of Borough Park.

Upstate, translators aren't provided, but day-of workers are hired from the community and some of them speak Yiddish.

Kristen Zebrowski Staviski, an election commissioner in Rockland County – home of towns like Monsey and New Square – said that she hadn't encountered issues with Yiddish-speaking citizens not understanding the English-language ballot.

"I've never heard of that, and I have pretty good relationship with the inspectors, so I think they would tell me if there was an issue," she said.

And Louise Vandemark, a board of elections commissioner in Orange County, which includes the all-Orthodox town of Palm Tree, said that in her 11 years on the board, there had always been at least one election-day worker in that town who spoke Yiddish.

"I've never heard of anyone needing assistance" in Yiddish, she said. "But we do it just in case as a courtesy."

Neither those places nor New York City provide ballots in Yiddish, but one town does – Bloomingburg in Sullivan County, which began its practice in 2016 after settling a lawsuit accusing the government of "engaging in an unyielding discriminatory campaign to deprive Hasidic Jewish residents" of the right to vote.

A county spokesman told the Forward that he wasn't sure how many people there actually used Yiddish ballots instead of the English ones.

"Governments have the best intent," Greenstein said – but "they don't always do it the right way." If they did a better job reaching out to the Jewish communities, he said, "then we could have a better idea of how impactful or necessary a translated ballot box is, and how utilized they will be."

Then again, the city government hasn't always been even this hospitable in terms of the services it's provided to Yiddish-speaking would-be voters. In fact, in 1908, city officials were so concerned about the prospect of Jews voting for Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs that they only allowed citizens to register to vote on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The officials did make an exception for one specific weekday – Yom Kippur.



Monday, November 04, 2019

92-Year-Old Greek Heroine Meets Jewish Family She Helped Save During Holocaust 

92-year-old Melpomeni Dina, from the town of Veria in northern Greece, met for the first time on Sunday in Jerusalem the descendants of a Jewish family she helped save during the Holocaust.

One by one, the 40 descendants of the Mordechai family leaned down and warmly hugged the elderly Greek woman to whom they owe their very existence, as she sat in her wheelchair, wiping away the tears which continuously streaked down her face.

Clutching the hands of those she hid, fed and protected as a teenager more than 75 years ago, 92-year-old Dina said she could now "die quietly," according to a report from the Associated Press.

"The risk they took upon themselves to take in an entire family, knowing that it put them and everyone around them in danger…" Sarah Yanai, now 86, who was the oldest of the five siblings Dina and others sheltered, was quoted as saying.

The Mordechai family once lived in Veria, Greece, near Thessaloniki, where nearly the entire Jewish community was annihilated within a space of a few months, in one of the most brutal actions of the Nazis.

When the Nazis began rounding up Jews for deportation in early 1943, the family's non-Jewish friends provided them with fake identity cards and hid them in the attic of the old abandoned Turkish mosque nearby.

They hid there for almost one entire year, while often hearing screams and cries outside the building — the sounds of other Jews being rounded up by the Nazi troops. But eventually, they were forced to leave this safe hiding spot because their health was declining in the cramped, unventilated attic of the mosque.

That was when Dina and her two older sisters took the family of seven into their own single-room home on the outskirts of the city, sharing with them their own meager wartime food rations.

One of the Mordechai children, a 6-year-old boy named Shmuel, became gravely ill at one point and had to be taken to a hospital, despite the risk of exposing his identity. He unfortunately died there at the facility.

Shortly after that, an informant cruelly informed upon the Mordechai family, disclosing their location.

Dina and her orphaned and impoverished sisters provided the Mordechais with clothing before their departure, and then they and their relatives helped them flee, taking them in various directions outside the city.

Yanai, the oldest, headed for the woods; another went to the mountains; and the mother of the family headed out on foot with her youngest two surviving children in search of another hiding spot.

The family miraculously was able to reunite together after liberation and with difficulty even made their way to Israel, where the children thrived and eventually came to raise successful families of their own.



Friday, November 01, 2019

A Chabad couple in New Jersey built an immersive village for kids with autism 

A new 11,000-square-foot shopping center here is home to 15 storefronts, including a bank, pet shop and clothing store. There's a health center with a dentist and doctor's office and a ShopRite supermarket.

A traffic guard monitors the crosswalk, which is bisected by a plant and tree-lined strip. After a day of errands, visitors can treat themselves to a manicure at the local spa or a performance at the theater.

"It's awesome," said Bailey, a 17-year-old student who was having her nails painted sky blue at the nail salon.

Bailey has autism, and the shopping center, known as LifeTown Shoppes, is designed to help children and young adults like her practice doing everyday errands. Upon arrival, visitors withdraw $12 from the bank and then decide how to spend it, whether on snacks, theater tickets or a manicure. They get around on foot or with tricycles, but they have to obey traffic signals or risk getting a ticket. Volunteers staff the shops.

The shopping center is the most innovative part of a larger complex created by Rabbi Zalman and Toba Grossbaum, emissaries of the Chabad Hasidic movement who established the center to expand their work with special needs children beyond the Jewish community.

"We realized that there was a need in our community," said Zalman Grossbaum, the CEO of LifeTown, the 53,000-square-foot facility that includes LifeShoppes.

The Grossbaums have lived in Livingston, an affluent North Jersey suburb of nearly 30,000 residents with a large Jewish population, for 23 years. Like most Chabad emissaries, they initially spent much of their time hosting Shabbat meals and Jewish learning programs in an effort to engage Jews from a range of religious backgrounds.

But the couple quickly found themselves catering to a number of special needs individuals. New Jersey has the highest rate of autism in the country, according to the Center for Disease Control. One out of every 34 8-year-olds is diagnosed with the developmental disorder, which is associated with difficulties with social skills and communication.

In 2000, the couple started a local branch of the Friendship Circle, an international Chabad initiative that runs programs for special needs children. But that effort was aimed solely at Jewish children.

"One of the things we've always felt bad about is turning down other families," Grossbaum said. "We couldn't respond to them because we didn't have the means by which to respond to them, so we always felt that we needed to do something to be inclusive of the entire community."



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