Tuesday, March 31, 2020

I left the Satmar Hasidic community - ‘Unorthodox’ is a grossly inaccurate depiction of that world 

Scene: It’s Shabbes when Esty, a young Samar Hasidic woman, is about to make her escape from her repressive community to Berlin, where she has decided to start a new life as a secular woman.

So opens the new Netflix miniseries ‘Unorthodox’.

She collects her valuables from her underwear drawer, pulls cash out of her styrofoam wig stand, and ties it all up in a sweater. Just as she’s about to leave the dingy Williamsburg building, the lobby is in commotion and women are milling everywhere. “Esty…you can’t leave,” a neighbor tells her, “The eruv is broken.” The eruv is a wire border encircling a public domain. If there is an eruv, Orthodox Jews are allowed to carry things on Shabbes, like Esty’s shopping bag. But on this day, the eruv is broken, so Esty must turn back. She leaves her phone and everything but an envelope behind. She attempts her exodus again, and this time, she succeeds. The camera pans out to show her running away and leaving the grimy Brooklyn streets of Williamsburg behind.

According to the New York Times review, “the thin eruv wire that surrounds the Satmar Hasidic community where she lives might as well be an Iron Curtain.” The broken eruv is supposed to be a powerful visual of Esty’s break for freedom, of the curtain raised.

The only problem is that the scene is grossly inaccurate.   Williamsburg doesn’t abide by the eruv. The Satmar consensus is that the Rebbe was against building an eruv in the city, and that carrying things on Shabbes is still prohibited, whether there is a thin wire or not. While there is a minority that honors the eruv, it has received great pushback from the community leaders. To this day, those who carry publicly are liable to be harassed with cries of “Shabbes!” by community zealots.

The opening scene of Unorthodox, like the rest of the show, is problematic in various ways: It imbues fancy profundity where there actually is none. It gets a lot of small details wrong. And it does not capture that which is truly profound in the Hasidic experience.

It is easy to point out how the show stumbles on costume, ritual, customs. In the opening scene alone, I was struck by the ugly weekday clothes Esty wears on Shabbes, her unwelcoming and unsightly apartment, her atrocious as is par-for-the-course Hasidic wig (is it too hard to give the pale woman a few side-bangs). As for the women huddled in the lobby, their scarves are too low on their foreheads, their Yiddish accents are bad. These many inaccuracies might seem negligible to the outsider who doesn’t think bangs or no-bangs make any difference — I simply point to these little things because these are clear-cut.

But the small things that are wrong reflect the larger thing that is wrong: That Unorthodox does not accurately capture the soul of the Hasidic community. And this – this inaccuracy in spirit – is much harder to show.   I grew up in the Satmar Hasidic community; I’m now (when we are not holed up with the plague) a tour guide in Williamsburg’s Hasidic community. I don’t recognize the Unorthodox world where people are cold, humorless, and obsessed with following the rules. Of course, bad people exist in the Hasidic community, and I am critical of many of its practices, but that doesn’t mean everyone goes about muted, serious, drawn, fulfilling the rules and mentioning the Holocaust.

I have always known Williamsburg to be a lively world of gossip, drama, peer pressure, materialism, competition, family and busybody neighbors. The people in Unorthodox are not that.

None of the characters feel real. They are incoherent; I can’t conjure their world and step in to it. Esty is quiet, with a kind of hardened resolve, and seems to have difficulty connecting with anyone. Yet she is Miss Popularity in her new society, when she moves to Berlin. She has the chutzpah to go to Berlin but she needs a shiksa to get her passport for her (can’t she fill out the form herself?). She says she is not like other girls, but it is hard to understand what exactly sets her apart: Is she a dreamer, is she feeling suffocated, does she feel alone? How are her social and sexual problems so easily resolved when she leaves?

Her husband, Yanky, shows no sympathy for her vaginismus, a condition of the vaginal muscles that makes sex excruciating. He is obsessed with the need to be fruitful and multiply, as if he believes he can quote rules to make the issue of her pain disappear. From everything I know (I’m a big gossip), if a couple has sexual issues they are handled as a problem that warrants medical intervention and something akin to empathy; maybe pity. But here, Yanky lays it all on her. The sex scenes look like rape. When he finally penetrates her, she writhes in agony, and yet he pants in delight. As she lies there in aguish, he almost smacks his lips with relish. He says, “Wow… that felt so… amazing.” This same obtuse man is also supposedly sensitive and naïve in other moments. Many reviewers described him as a sympathetic character, but I can’t feel the moments of his sensitivity, if he could be so callous to her in the most intimate moment. It’s quite simple: Any man who treats his wife like that is a bad guy. But I guess the public’s standards are different, for Hasidic men?

The women’s relationships with each other are also nothing like the vibrant yenta world of my childhood Williamsburg. Esty’s mother-in-law meddles in her marriage by showing up at her door and confronting her for not having consummated the marriage. It’s implausible to me that a woman’s vaginismus would be cause for her mother-in-law to show up and demand she open her womb to her son. What is the mother-in-law’s motive here even? To bully Esty out of the pain? This is not believable — it just shows the limited imagination of outsiders looking in.

Real-life Hasidic shviggers [mothers-in-law] have devastating and less clunky ways to torture their daughters-in-law: backstabbing, manipulating, gossiping, gas-lighting…yes, I have a few ideas.

It’s okay to show the dark side of Hasidism, but the portrayal still needs to be human. The characters in Unorthodox are othered. They are cartoonishly evil. Their kind moments seem out of character and are unconvincing. They are not like any humans I have met ever, Hasidic or otherwise.

Shtissel provides a good contrast to Unorthodox. Unlike Unorthodox, the human story in Shtissel comes to the fore, and the particulars of the culture are only the setting in which they unfold. Rituals like an eruv are not heavy-handedly emphasized. Shtissel makes the watcher feel drawn inside the world. It comes as no surprise then that so many people enjoy Shtissel, because they can connect to it. Unlike the many stereotyping film portrayals of Hasidim, where the viewer becomes a voyeur to foreign Disney-witches in odd costumes. Audiences want and can handle depictions of Orthodox Jews that are complex and realistic. Showrunners who argue that flat depictions are necessary for the unschooled outsider are just being lazy.

What good does a film like this do except to flatter secular biases against religion? It doesn’t challenge the viewer. It doesn’t make viewers think. It complements the viewer on being among the secular people who are the “good guys” in Berlin, not the bad Hasids in New York.

It just sinks us a bit deeper into our biases. I always get upset by this, because it reminds me too much of the way the world as it was presented to me when I was Hasidic — black and white, good and bad, only with the roles of good guy and bad guy reversed.

But in my own journey to find a world that makes sense to me I learned this: no depiction is accurate if it is dehumanizing.



Monday, March 30, 2020

Hasidic Jewish community north of Montreal quarantined after COVID-19 outbreak 

An Orthodox Jewish community north of Montreal is under lockdown after some of its members tested positive for COVID-19.

Public health authorities on Sunday ordered the 4,000-person Tosh community of Boisbriand, Que., to be placed under 14-day quarantine. The group's leadership has asked police to help enforce the directive.

Tosh leaders agree with authorities that strict measures need to be taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community, even if only a small number of members have so far tested positive, the region's public health director told reporters Monday.

Dr. Eric Goyer said he did not take the decision lightly to place the community under quarantine.

"It's maybe the most difficult decision of my life ... but it's really to protect the members of the community and the members of the (larger) community living around them," Goyer said.

"Restricting individual liberties is not something I like to do, but I want to provide the best protection to the members of the community, particularly the seniors."

So far about 15 Tosh members have tested positive for COVID-19, Goyer said, adding they likely picked up the virus while travelling to New York State two weeks ago to celebrate a religious holiday. The number of positive cases is expected to rise, he said.

Boisbriand's Tosh community, located in the greater Montreal area, is composed of many large families, which often have between six and eight children, Goyer said.

Boisbriand Mayor Marlene Cordato said Monday the order extends to about 100 families that live in town but outside the official quarantined area where most of the Tosh community is located.

"The community is fully co-operating with us, they themselves are following up on the orders that were given yesterday," Goyer said.

Tosh members are manning a checkpoint leading into the community with the help of municipal police to ensure the quarantine is respected.

Francis Lanouette, chief of the Therese-de-Blainville police, said another main road leading into the area where the majority of the community lives is blocked off.

"We sat down with the community, and with them, we established a plan to do what is needed to be done so that people would be abiding by the public health order," Lanouette told reporters Monday.

There's a small grocery store and butcher within the quarantined area and Goyer said contingencies are underway to get anything else to people that need it.

Community leaders have had to translate public health directives into Yiddish as many members don't speak English or French and eschew TV and radio.

"I can tell you they are doing a lot more than other communities in attempting to stop the spread of the virus," Goyer said.



Monday, March 16, 2020

Jewish Online School Welcomes Children Without a School 

The Nigri International Jewish Online School is welcoming children faced without a Jewish education due to the Coronavirus Crisis.

Do you know of a child out of school due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis?

Is your child's school not moving online?

We are here to provide some stability during a time of uncertainty. 

The Nigri International Jewish Online School, a project of the Shluchim Office, offers a variety of programs available to anyone, anywhere.

Day School
– Full scale Limudei Kodesh
– Four day or two day tracks

Hebrew School 
– Chabad Hebrew School on the web
– Weekend or weekday evening

Cheder Chabad
– Chassidishe chinuch
– Daily or weekly

Customized Classes
– New group or private
– Customized curriculum to the child/ren's needs
– Any time zone

For more information and to register, click here.

Not sure which program is for you? Contact Leah:718-713-3080 outreach@jewishonlineschool.com



Friday, March 13, 2020

Orthodox rabbis in Bergen County, NJ, cancel all synagogue services, gatherings 

Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Bergen County, New Jersey, have ordered the cancellation of all communal events, including prayer services and public celebrations, as part of a wide-ranging effort to stem the coronavirus.

The decision by the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County, which represents more than two dozen synagogues, also stipulated that Orthodox schools remain closed and that kosher restaurants under the group's jurisdiction serve only takeout meals. Only the ritual bath, known as the "mikvah," may remain open.

"We must all try our best to STAY HOME with only our immediate family for now and to avoid unnecessary contact with others, and particularly with substantial groups," read the RCBC directive issued Thursday (March 12).

Leaders of the RCBC said they met with representatives of local government, including the Teaneck Department of Health and doctors from three local hospitals.

"The message from the healthcare providers was clear," the letter said. "They need our help to slow the spread of the disease before their resources are overwhelmed."

There were 23 cases of the new coronavirus in New Jersey as of Thursday morning. A 69-year-old man died, 20 people were hospitalized and two remain in self-isolation, according to news accounts.

Bergen County is among the 20 largest Jewish communities in the United States, with over 185 known Jewish organizations. Over the years it has attracted a sizable Orthodox community, especially Hasidic Jews.

The county has close to 1 million residents and, according to a spokesperson for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, an estimated 100,000 Jewish residents.

The directive does not apply to Conservative or Reform Jews, who make up the majority of the county's Jews.

In neighboring New York state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo mandated a one-mile containment zone in New Rochelle after the Young Israel of New Rochelle, an Orthodox synagogue, became the epicenter for infections. On Thursday, Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York City.

It began when Lawrence Garbuz, a lawyer, attended a bat mitzvah and a funeral in February at Young Israel, and was later diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. He is thought to have potentially exposed hundreds of congregants to the virus.

New Rochelle is in New York state's Westchester County.

The virus has already squelched community gatherings for Purim, a joyous Jewish holiday that fell on Monday and Tuesday this week.

Many other Jewish communities are moving to online services.

The Conference of Jewish Republicans has been canceled. It had previously vowed to go forward in Las Vegas with President Donald Trump appearing as the keynote speaker.

At least six people who attended last week's American Israel Public Affairs Committee gathering in Washington, D.C., have tested positive for the coronavirus. The AIPAC conference typically draws an estimated 18,000 people.



Thursday, March 12, 2020

In This Northern English Town, a Pizzeria Can Divide the Jewish Community 

Boys in hoodies dance on roofs, clutching bottles of cheap wine as their tzitzit jiggle. An elderly man wearing a black coat that fans out behind him dances with nobody in particular. Gangs of young men dressed as Redcoats rampage through the streets. The biggest fox you have ever seen crosses a road clutching bags of candy.

Welcome to Gateshead during the Jewish holiday of Purim.

This postindustrial town sitting across the Tyne river from Newcastle is the last of Europe's great yeshiva towns, often referred to as the Oxbridge of Britain's Jewish community. Its 8,000 Jewish residents – almost all ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) – are concentrated in about a dozen streets in the Bensham neighborhood, huddled around Gateshead Talmudical College, aka Gateshead Yeshiva. The college is among the most prestigious in the Orthodox world, and the largest in Europe.

Gateshead Yeshiva and a host of other educational institutions have sustained and nurtured Gateshead's Jewish community for almost a century, providing a constant stream of scholars and families who have invigorated the local Jewish community. During term times, Gateshead's Jewish community swells as it welcomes some 1,500 students – many from London and other local Jewish communities, but also from across Western Europe, Latin America, South Africa, north Africa and Australia.

Gateshead is the outlier in northern England: a dynamic Jewish population that has doubled in size since 2008 as larger and more prosperous communities faded away. The Jewish community in nearby Sunderland, 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the southeast, has all but vanished, for example. At the end of the 1980s, in a sad end for a community that once saw itself as a more open and diverse intellectual peer than its local rival, the Sunderland Talmudical College (aka Sunderland Yeshiva) relocated to Gateshead – pushing that town's reputation as a center of excellence for religious study still higher. Sunderland's last synagogue, Beth Hamedrash, shuttered in 2006, and now just a handful of Jews remain in the city.

On the streets of Bensham, it is clear to see why the town has become a magnet for Haredim. An ample supply of cheap housing, often managed and purchased through communal organizations and housing associations, has encouraged ultra-Orthodox families from Manchester and London, many of whom previously studied here, to relocate to the northeast. "Sold" signs dominate row houses on the edges of the "Jewish streets" here.



Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Families of Pittsburgh synagogue victims to get $3 million from donated funds 

The three congregations housed at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue will distribute more than $5.4 million donated in the aftermath of the deadly October 2018 shooting there.

In a news release Monday, the congregations announced that they planned to distribute just over $3 million to the families of the 11 people killed in the attack by a lone gunman and two seriously injured worshippers. Another $1.2 million will be directed toward the rebuilding of the Tree of Life building.

Most of the remaining funds will go to support memorialization and honoring first responders, as well to the two congregations that rented space in the building, Congregation Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation.

The funds were donated between the attack on Oct. 27, 2018, and the end of April 2019, and are separate from those collected by the Pittsburgh Jewish Federation's Victims of Terror Fund, which were distributed by April 2019.

The distributions were based on the recommendations of an independent committee convened by the federation that delivered its report in February.

"One of the principles that guided the committee's deliberations relative to the funds received by Tree of Life was 'shalom b'bayit' — the need to arrive at recommendations that would foster healing in the congregations, among victims' families and harmony throughout the wider Jewish community," said Barbara Caplan, co-president of New Light Congregation.



Tuesday, March 10, 2020

A Freilichen Purim! 


Monday, March 09, 2020

Ashdod's rabbis warn of increasing missionary activity, call for volunteers to combat them 

On Friday, noticeboards in synagogues and on the streets in all the haredi areas of Ashdod prominently featured a proclamation headed "Vayikhalu Hayehudim" (And the Jews gathered together) regarding the growing menace of missionaries operating in Ashdod, signed by all the rabbis and hasidic leadersof the city. Pictures of missionary activity in Ashdod were also displayed.

The notice stated: "According to Yad L'Achim activists, missionaries operating in Ashdod are working with great determination to entice as many people as they can to join them. Every single week, hundreds of people [residents of Ashdod] arrive at their house of worship in order to receive donations of food and other forms of assistance. In this way, and also via other sly and underhand tactics, they succeed in convincing unwitting people to adopt their faith."

"Therefore, we, the rabbis and hasidic leaders of the city of Ashdod, have resolved to do whatever we can to assist those working for the good of the community ... Among the options being considered are putting more activists on the ground, to stand outside the mission's church and warn people of the nature of those who profess to help them; and establishing a charity fund to ... provide for their material and other needs, in order to put an end to missionary activities and remove this abomination from our midst.

"We hope and pray that we will be able to restore a pure spirit to our city ... and that all those who have been ensnared will return to the faith of Israel."

Highlighting the exceptional nature of the matter, all the rabbis and hasidic leaders of the city signed the proclamation, including Rabbi Refael Abuhatzeira, Rabbi Yekutiel Abuhatzeira, Rabbi Shmuel Toledano; the Admorim of Pittsburgh, Melitz, Shomrei Emunim, Chernobyl, Tolna; the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Ashdod Rabbi Yosef Sheinin; the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Ashdod Rabbi Chaim Shimon Pinto; Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Hakohen Gross of Gur; Rabbi Chaim Pesach Halevi Horovitz of Belz; Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Vizhnitzer of Belz.

In addition, shortly before Shabbat (Sabbath) dozens of haredim headed to the industrial zone just outside the city where the missionaries' church, "Beit Hillel," is located. They brought with them music and loudspeakers and began to dance, singing "And the Jews had light, happiness, joy, and honor" - a verse from the Scroll of Esther, which is read on the upcoming holiday of Purim. The verse celebrates the Jewish people's victory following the downfall of the evil Haman who sought to eradicate the Jewish nation.

A spokesman from the anti-missionary department of Yad L'Achim said that following this heartfelt appeal from the rabbis of the city, they hope that in the near future hundreds of new volunteers will sign up to help. Particularly important is ensuring a near-constant presence of volunteers outside the mission's church, to inform Jews heading there for whatever reason that those "helping" them are in fact missionaries who seek to lure them away from Judaism.



Friday, March 06, 2020

Man arrested after allegedly threatening building manager of JC Kosher Supermarket location 

A Jersey City man has been arrested after he allegedly threatened the property manager of the building where the JC Kosher Supermarket was located and which was the site of the Dec. 10 mass shooting that claimed the lives of four people in what the US Attorney's Office has called a hate crime.

On March 5, members of the Jersey City Police Department working in collaboration with the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, arrested and charged Jersey City resident Taylor Stackhouse, 38, with terroristic threats and related bias crimes for allegedly threatening the property manager of the MLK Drive building earlier this week.

On Tuesday, March 3, at approximately 11:50 a.m., Stackhouse allegedly approached the victim – who was dressed in traditional Hasidic Jewish clothing and was exiting a building on Martin Luther King Drive – and allegedly made multiple threats to the victim.

According to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, at this stage of the investigation, there is no indication that there is any connection between Stackhouse and the Dec. 10 attack.

Stackhouse was arrested Thursday afternoon without incident on Dwight Street and Bergen Avenue in Jersey City.

Stackhouse has been charged with two counts of second-degree Bias Intimidation and one count of fourth-degree Bias Intimidation, as well as two counts of Terroristic Threats and a Petty Disorderly Persons Harassment charge.

Prosecutor Esther Suarez credited the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office and the Jersey City Police Department for the investigation and arrest.

The above charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty



Thursday, March 05, 2020

A Cantor, an Actor and a Zoologist Inspire Yeshivat Frisch Seniors 

Amidst the excitement of Rosh Chodesh Adar festivities, three senior elective classes at Yeshivat Frisch welcomed exciting guest speakers last week. Rabbi Michael Bashist's Hasidut class was honored to welcome the world-renowned chazzan, Cantor Joseph Malovany, who spoke about his personal relationship with three late Hasidic rebbes: the Satmar Rebbe, Lubavitcher Rebbe and Bobover Rebbe. Malovany told several inspiring stories about these interactions—music-related and otherwise—that revealed the sometimes surprising overlap between the Modern Orthodox and Hasidic spheres, despite the differences. "Hasidic rebbes care about people; they care about every neshama," Malovany said. He also sang select niggunim from Bobov and other Hasidic dynasties, marveling at the Bobover Rebbe's ability to compose complex, emotive niggunim despite having no musical training.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Burry Klein's psychology class was excited to welcome Menashe Lustig, a Hasidic actor and star of the film "Menashe," about a Hasidic widower who attempts to regain custody of his child. Lustig spoke about his experiences as a Hasidic actor living in a community that largely ignores the outside world, as well as about how his personal experiences were brought to bear on his role in the film. "When you have trauma, you make something of it," he said. "You make nice jewelry of it."

Finally, Dr. Mindy Furman and Esther Ruskin's AP biology classes participated in the "Skype a Scientist" program, which enables students to video conference with scientists in various fields, and in various locations. The students got to virtually meet Alyssa Kaganer, who is about to finish her PhD in Zoology and Wildlife Conservation at Cornell/Smithsonian. Kaganer studies the impact of infectious diseases on global amphibian populations and is involved in the conservation of endangered species. She spoke to the classes about her research, how she got into this career, and about the nature of science in general. The students asked great questions and they had a wonderful conversation!



Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Yeshiva University closes campus, citing student infected with COVID-19 

The United States' biggest Jewish educational institution, Yeshiva University, closed its main campus on Wednesday, citing confirmation that a student has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious coronavirus. The school expects that it will reopen on Thursday, according to an email alert.

The student is the son of a man who lives in suburban New York and who has been hospitalized with a serious case of COVID-19. The man's was the second case in New York State, after a health care worker who had been in Iran, also the site of an outbreak. The man also has a child at SAR High School, a Jewish school in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Both SAR's high school and its K-8 lower school, with over 1,400 students total, closed Tuesday.

The closing of YU's upper Manhattan campus in Washington Heights, which hosts the men's undergraduate college, the men's business school, several graduate schools and a boys' high school, includes the cancellation of classes and the postponement of scheduled exams. Dormitories and food services are still operating. YU also has a law school and two women's schools in Manhattan, a medical school in the Bronx and a campus in Israel.

YU said in a press release that the student had not been on campus since February 27, though officials say that the student's father first became ill on February 22.

Tuesday, when the hospitalized man's son was showing symptoms but had not been diagnosed, YU said it would be continuing classes and campus life as usual.

The infection of the Westchester man also prompted the closing of a synagogue in New Rochelle, where the family is from. New York health officials have ordered Young Israel of New Rochelle, an Orthodox synagogue, to close temporarily, and are asking hundreds of congregants to self-quarantine.

While the man was not at synagogue over the weekend, according to the synagogue's executive director, health officials are asking anyone who attended previous services, including a bat mitzvah and a funeral last week, to self-quarantine as well, until at least March 8.

The brother of the YU student is a high school student at SAR, a prominent Modern Orthodox private school in the Bronx. The school closed Tuesday, citing concerns over spread of the coronavirus, and announced that evening that the school, which has about 1,400 students in grades K-12, would be closed Wednesday as well.



Tuesday, March 03, 2020

A 4th-generation Vermont Orthodox Jew is starting the state’s first Jewish day school 

Draizy Junik is well acquainted with the challenges of living a Jewish life in Vermont, a state that while home to a well-known Jewish Democratic presidential candidate has a total Jewish population of about 20,000 people.

As a kid, Junik was homeschooled until the age of 13 and then sent off to a Jewish school in Montreal, 100 miles to the north, returning home only for Shabbat. Vermont is home to 14 synagogues and four centers affiliated with the Chabad Hasidic movement, but no Jewish educational institution for kids older than 5.

"My ultimate goal was always to have a Jewish elementary school in Burlington," said Junik, 28, who moved back to her home state with her husband in 2015 after spending time in Israel and New York to help her parents run the Chabad house there.

This fall, Junik will finally see that dream realized when the state's first Jewish day school opens. The Tamim Academy, which will be  launched as part of a new network of Jewish schools, will be housed at the Burlington Chabad center and offer one combined kindergarten and first-grade class in its inaugural year. Junik hopes it will eventually expand to eighth grade.

"I love living here," she said. "I think that first of all, the pace of life here is just really calm and it's a really friendly place to live, very community oriented, family friendly, kid friendly. And it's just also very much also a beautiful place that values nature a lot."

Nature will be a big part of students' days at the school: They will travel once a week to a local farm, where they will help care for animals and learn about farming.

Susan Leff, executive director of Jewish Communities of Vermont, the only statewide Jewish umbrella group, called the opening of the school "very significant."

"I think that the establishment of a Jewish day school is without any doubt a landmark event for the community and certainly for the families who take advantage of it," she said.

Junik, who will serve as the school's executive director, hopes the new school can provide a deeper Jewish experience for kids in Vermont as well as attract more Jewish families to the state. She also has a personal reason for opening the school now — the oldest of her four children is getting ready to start first grade and will be in the initial class.

"It's really incredible that we're able to live here in Burlington, a place that's so far from large Jewish communities, and for my son to be able to have that experience of high-quality Jewish education," she said.

Junik's family history in Vermont dates back generations. Her family first moved to the state after her great-grandfather took a job as a rabbi, mohel and kosher slaughterer in the city of Barre. Her grandfather, whose parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe, was born there in 1920 and would commute to Burlington to attend Hebrew school in the afternoons after completing his secular studies.

"At that time, [Burlington] was a bustling Jewish community," Junik said.

There were synagogues, kosher butchers and a bakery in a neighborhood that became known as "Little Jerusalem." But there was no Jewish school, so Junik's grandfather ended up leaving as a teenager to attend a yeshiva. His family followed shortly after.

Decades later, in 1984, Junik's parents returned to Vermont to start the state's first Chabad center in Burlington. They opened a preschool, which today has some 50 kids and which Junik helped expand last year to include a kindergarten.

Tamim Academy will draw on the Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational styles, two progressive models that emphasize self-directed and experiential learning.

As is common in Montessori schools, Tamim students will do plenty of hands-on and immersive learning like the farm experience, which kids in the the preschool program already do. They also will receive two to three hours of Hebrew-language immersion every day.



Monday, March 02, 2020

Convicted Sex Offender Rabbi Berland Charged With Fraud 

A charismatic rabbi who served prison time for indecent acts and sexual assault was charged Sunday with swindling terminally ill people out of large sums by promising to heal them.

Eliezer Berland, the head of Jerusalem's Shuvu Banim yeshiva and its affiliated community, was arrested last month on allegations that he earned millions of shekels from these deceptions. Prosecutors want him detained until the end of legal proceedings. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday in the Jerusalem District Court.

The indictment states that starting in 2014, Berland and his associates defrauded desperate people who had come to him for help. It describes 16 cases in which Berland portrayed himself as a miracle worker who, in exchange for huge payments, could cure terminal illnesses and revive the dead. He also claimed he could help people to avoid prison and could find missing people.

"Berland did this knowing that he did not have the power to bring about the desired result, and that there was no truth in his claims," the indictment says. He extracted money from desperate people by "exploit[ing] his position as a spiritual and religious authority."

According to the indictment, as part of these deceptions Berland would recommend preparations and pills as "miracle drugs," even though they were no more than over the counter pain medications — and sometimes even Mentos candies.

"These deceptions were presented by the accused for years, in a planned, systematic and regular fashion, as a fraudulent initiative motivated by money," the indictment says.

Berland is also accused of engineering a violent assault, by calling on members of his community to attack a couple on grounds that they violated religious law.

Berland recorded a message in which he called for his adherents to "break their bones," and ordered it broadcast on one of the Shuvu Banim community's media outlets.



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