Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The Cuomo/de Blasio Tag Team of Failure 

In a bit of good news from the federal judiciary, U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe rebuked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for their blatant favoritism of mass protests over religious liberty.

Sharpe issued a preliminary injunction blocking the state from enforcing Cuomo's harsh statewide coronavirus restrictions on religious services in response to a suit brought by two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jewish congregants. The suit brought against Cuomo, de Blasio, and New York Attorney General Letitia James argues that the defendants actively went after houses of worship to enforce strict social-distancing and maximum-capacity rules while purposely and openly supporting mass protests that led to looting and violence in New York City and in other locations around the state.

In one particular instance cited in the lawsuit, de Blasio attended and spoke at a June 4 protest (without a mask, by the way), then days later had the police kick a group of Hasidic Jewish children out of a park for not obeying the 10-person limit on "nonessential gatherings."

"Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio could have just as easily discouraged protests. … They could have also been silent," Sharpe wrote in the injunction. "But by acting as they did, Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio sent a clear message that mass protests are deserving of preferential treatment."

Leftist disdain for religion is well documented, but the way in which Cuomo and de Blasio acted is completely unconstitutional. They cannot uphold one part of the First Amendment while violating another part because it suits them. Christopher Ferrara of the Thomas More Society, who represented the plaintiffs, noted, "This decision is an important step toward inhibiting the suddenly emerging trend of exercising absolute monarchy on [the] pretext of public health. What this kind of regime really meant in practice is freedom for me, but not for thee."

Don't expect this to hobble Andrew Cuomo as he takes a completely unjustified post-lockdown victory lap. The governor told a group of sycophantic fans reporters last week that he is energized and excited by how his state emerged from the pandemic. New York suffered 31,000 virus deaths, far more than any other state, in some cases by large orders of magnitude. While Cuomo doesn't have anything to brag about, crow he still does.

Cuomo didn't stop with his self-lovefest, though. He also slung political mud at Republican-led Texas and Florida for their recent spike in COVID-19 cases, claiming this is what happens when states open up too early. Both of these states and others began opening up weeks ago, and healthcare professionals have yet to identify the source of the spike in new cases. Nor is the spike happening universally across all states that opened up early. Surely, nothing matches the 900 fatalities per day that New York experienced at its virus peak.

No matter. Cuomo has announced that people traveling to New York from Florida, Texas, Utah, and other states with statistically important virus spikes must quarantine in the state for 14 days. This is all but unenforceable. Virtually no one who comes to New York for a visit stays for two weeks. Even visitors from Europe only stay an average of nine days.

And how will health officials identify these people? Cuomo suggests random traffic stops of people with license plates from these states. You know, similar to the policy that Rhode Island was going to use against New York in March to prevent the spread of cases in its state. Of course, at the time, Cuomo decried this as discrimination.

Cuomo is really just trying to take the heat off of one of his own failed policies that directly led to the death of thousands of people in New York State — ordering that virus patients be moved into nursing homes, where the most vulnerable people live.

A New York Times study released Saturday concluded that nearly half of all virus-related deaths in the U.S. can be directly tied to nursing homes. Data collected for the study revealed that 282,000 people at 12,000 facilities nationwide were infected. And while nursing homes made up only 11% of all COVID-19 cases, they accounted for 43% of all COVID-related deaths.

Naturally, Cuomo blames Donald Trump, nursing-home staffs, and anyone else that crosses his sites, maybe even the Easter Bunny. But rest assured, as a loud, proud leftist, he sees himself as above reproach.



Monday, June 29, 2020

What’s Bill de Blasio’s problem with Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews? 

New York City was the center of the most severe coronavirus outbreak in the United States, with equally severe lockdown policies to match it. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio drew international attention for what seemed to be exceptionally strict enforcement of social distancing measures upon Orthodox Jewish communities.

As the Mayor walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Black Lives Matter protesters and turned a blind eye to unfettered looting, his police officers patrolled Brooklyn, threatening Hasidic communities with arrest for attending evening prayers.

De Blasio's uneven enforcement of lockdown policies earned him a rebuke from Eric Dreiband, the US Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. Dreiband's letter noted that even as de Blasio was actively endorsing Black Lives Matter protesters' First Amendment rights to peaceful protest, he was actively opposing Orthodox Jews' First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

'During the period in which all gatherings were banned, you reportedly sent police officers to break up numerous gatherings of the Jewish community in New York, including reported outdoor gatherings for funerals,' read Dreiband's letter. 'In light of your support for and participation in recent protests in New York City, the message to the public from New York City's government appears to favor certain secular gatherings and disfavor religious gatherings.'

Eventually, Orthodox communities started to push back against de Blasio. A group of Jewish children displayed a sign reading 'Justice for George Floyd' at their carnival in the hopes that it would deter police interference. Videos of Jewish leaders taking a pair of bolt cutters to a lock that the city had placed on a neighborhood playground earned millions of views on social media.



Thursday, June 25, 2020

Nyack College In Contract To Sell To Yeshiva For Up To 300 Students 

The Nyack College campus will become an all-boys Hasidic Yeshiva if the negotiated contract with an upstate entity is brought to fruition. Nyack College will sell the campus for approximately $45 million to an upstate Yeshiva, which is partnering with a developer for roughly half of the sale price, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Sources say the buyer plans to house between 200 to 300 students on campus at first, and to eventually develop the site into a family-based yeshiva.

"The Village has no legal authority to determine who the college sells to," said Village Attorney Jim Birnbaum. "It's a private entity. If the purchaser has a land-use application, then it will have to abide by the laws."

It is unclear as to whether the prospective buyer is aiming to buy the entire 107-acre campus but unlikely given the presumed selling price. In 2018, David C. Jennings, executive vice president and treasurer for Nyack College, said the sales price for all of what Nyack College owns — which includes the 37-acre site of the Alliance Theological Seminary on Route 9w in Upper Nyack, and a 22-acre parcel in Orangetown with a private residence where the college president lives — was priced near $100 million. This estimate was based on two appraisals, including one from the listed agent CBRE.

The heart of the college, which has more than 40 buildings, has operated for more than half century with protection for a pre-existing, nonconforming use. If they operate under the exact terms of Nyack College's existing special permit, the yeshiva would not need to seek special permits or permissions from the Village Board. That may change, depending upon its expansion plans.

However, according to the village code, the buyer of the land has a one-year window from the day Nyack College shut down its operation to preserve the right to continue its nonconforming use and operate an educational campus. Once the year mark passes, the land reverts back to R-18, or residential zoning. Nyack College originally slated a shutdown for the end of 2018 but reopened some of the campus temporarily in 2019. It is unclear as to whether the nonconforming use has been adequately preserved.

The zoning code also says the new owner must re-apply for a non-conforming use permit within 90 days of the closing.

Meanwhile, national housing companies like Toll Brothers have been looking at the vacant 22-acre parcel for housing development.

Sources have told RCBJ that the yeshiva plans to expand its function from an all-boys yeshiva to a family facility.

Village and area residents on Tuesday during a Zoom board meeting asked who the buyer is. Mayor Bonnie Christian said repeatedly she has no knowledge of the buyer.

A few residents asked if the village board if they were still considering eminent domain, which gives the government the right to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.

"There is no present intent," said Birnbaum. "Not until we learn more."

This is the second time in less than two months that villagers have flocked to a Zoom meeting, concerned about sale of the college.

The Village of South Nyack's board of trustees voted last month to reject Nyack College's application for an amendment to the college's current special permit for its use of campus buildings for educational purposes and residential dormitories. The college was asking to amend its special permit from the Village of South Nyack to allow residential use in about half of the existing buildings for densities beyond the current zoning and outside of education use. The application requests a special permit for 22 of the 42 buildings. That represents 157,274 square feet, or only 33 percent, of the total square footage (467,666 square feet).

The application did not specify what it would ultimately do with the rest of the buildings.

The denial was done without prejudice, meaning the college or any purchaser can come back and seek either a new special permit rather than an amended one, or request to have parcels rezoned.

The basis for the denial was procedural, rather than substantive. In fact, the denial was based solely on the fact that the village code, as it exists, has no provision for any amendment to a special permit.

Nyack College had represented that the prospective buyer would potentially sell off single-family houses on the campus and re-purpose dormitories and existing buildings into multi-family housing on nearly 50 acres where some 38 college buildings are located.

Nyack College did not return emails seeking comment.



Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Avraham ‘Bobby’ Katz, 73, Helped Establish Hasidic Community In New Jersey 

When Rabbi Meyer Yosef Rottenberg, the leader of the Kosover Hasidic sect, sought to help young families priced out of Brooklyn in Linden, New Jersey, several years ago, he turned to Rabbi Avraham "Bobby" Katz for help.

Katz had cycled through a number of jobs in his life already, from postman to stockbroker to fundraiser. Within two years, he added community builder to his resume. By 2020, close to 100 Hasidic families were living in the New Jersey suburb.

"It's all Bobby's work," said his brother, David Katz. "He helped each and every person looking to buy a house. He helped with figuring out how to get a mortgage and with speaking to lawyers. Any help the young couples needed, this 70-year-old man spent late nights to give them."

Born in 1947 in Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic, Katz immigrated to Israel as a young child, living in Jaffa until 1954, when his parents boarded a ship bound for the United States to visit his aunt. Instead of returning to the newly established Jewish state, they stayed in Brooklyn.

In 1972, Katz opened a luncheonette in Borough Park and soon became known in the neighborhood for his generosity.

"Anybody who needed food was able to come in and get food," his brother recalled. "He was a big giver and had a heart of gold. He worked hard, but anybody who needed food or coffee or a bowl of soup would get it from Bobby."

After a subsequent stint as a fundraiser for one of the first Orthodox schools for special needs children, Katz went on to establish Caulktite, a building materials company that employed many people from the local Orthodox community. He was also a dedicated student of the Torah and could spend up to seven hours straight with a volume of Talmud, his brother said.

"Bobby was the greatest brother, but he was like a father as well, because my father was 67 when I was born," David Katz said. "So he was my brother, but also my father figure, because I lost my father at 19. My kids didn't lose an uncle, they lost a grandfather."

Katz died of COVID-19 on March 22. He was 73.



Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Hasidic sleepaway camps in Catskills ask court to let them open this summer 

The operators of sleepaway camps in the Catskills attended by thousands of Hasidic children, from Orange and Rockland counties, Brooklyn and elsewhere, are fighting in court to open those camps this week despite the objections of state health officials.

A Jewish camp organization that sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his closure decision in federal court in Albany last week filed a motion on Monday for the judge hearing the case to issue temporary orders to let their camps open as planned on Thursday while the lawsuit is pending.

The state's refusal to let overnight camps open because of coronavirus fears has vexed Orthodox families from New York and New Jersey that send their children to camps in the Catskills every summer for religion-infused recreation. The Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel alone has thousands of kids that attend camps in Sullivan and Ulster counties.

Machne Bais Ruchel, is a large summer camp for girls that is run by the United Talmudical Academy in Kiryas Joel. IT is located in South Fallsburg, N.Y. June 22, 2020.

Camp operators had sent Sullivan County officials a letter in early May, urging them to support the opening of camps and stressing the protective measures they planned to take and their ability to "enforce a full and total lockdown" if anyone caught COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. They also noted the camps' economic value to the county.

"Camps, traditionally, pump many millions of dollars into the local economy," the letter read. "We love Sullivan County and see ourselves as partners in an economically viable and safe environment."

At least one Satmar summer camp has found temporary quarters in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania to continue operating this year. Machne Rav Tov Satmar, which is in the Ulster County hamlet of Kerhonkson and caters to girls in grades 9-11, has rented bungalows in Wayne County, Pa., for its programs this summer, the Brooklyn website BoroPark24 reported last week.

New York has allowed day camps to open on June 29 but ruled out overnight camping this summer. In a statement on June 12, Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said that the group settings and sleeping quarters at sleepaway camps made it too difficult to maintain social distancing and control the spread of the virus.

"In such a setting, even a single positive case in a camper or staff member could create an untenable quarantine situation and overwhelm camp health personnel that may not be able to handle a serious infectious outbreak of this nature," Zucker said.

The federal lawsuit filed on Thursday by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators and four parents argues that the prohibition violates religious rights and is inconsistent with the state letting other non-essential activities proceed. It zeroes in particularly on the large public demonstrations against racism that have taken place for weeks in New York with Cuomo's support. 

Machne Bais Ruchel, is a large summer camp for girls that is run by the United Talmudical Academy in Kiryas Joel. IT is located in South Fallsburg, N.Y. June 22, 2020.

The suit emphasizes the religious immersion and separation from the secular world afforded by the summer camps.

"Jewish overnight camps foster a sense of cultural identity and instill traditional religious values in Jewish children," the case read. "In Jewish overnight camps, they jointly recite prayers three times a day. Part of every day is devoted to religious study. They recite blessings over the food they eat throughout the day."

Though coronavirus infections are relatively low among children, Cuomo has pointed to the risk that those who do catch the virus can develop a potentially deadly illness known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome, which resembles Kawasaki disease and causes organs to become inflamed.

"Nobody knows what the virus does longer term and this Kawasaki-like syndrome is the first glimpse that we're seeing that could affect children," Cuomo said in a radio interview last week.

Among the larger Satmar camps in the Catskills are Camp Rav Tov D'Satmar, a boys camp near Monticello that had roughly 3,000 campers from ages 9 to 13 as of 2014, according to an article that year in the New York Times. Also cited in that story was Machne Bais Rochel in South Fallsburg, which was attended by about 2,200 girls.

More than 40,000 kids in all attend camps represented by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, according to the federal lawsuit. The case outlines numerous steps the camps plan to take to protect campers and staff from the coronavirus, including banning anyone with a high-risk medical history or any staffer over 50 who doesn't test positive for antibodies indicating they already had and overcame COVID-19.

"These health protocols will ensure that the overnight camps are as safe, if not safer, than the State-approved child care and day camp programs," the complaint read. "These protocols include mandatory and recommended practices relating to protective equipment, recreational and food activities, hygiene, cleaning, and disinfection, communication, and screening."



Monday, June 22, 2020

Rep. Yvette Clarke faces fresh Democratic primary fight in ‘hungry for change’ Brooklyn district 

Rep. Yvette Clarke faced the battle of her political life in a Democratic primary in 2018 — and she's got an even trickier rematch on her hands with community organizer Adem Bunkeddeko.

The seven-term Brooklyn congresswoman insists she's a steady leader for New York's Ninth District, which has been at the center of both the coronavirus pandemic and the protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

"I have been on the progressive front lines of every single issue impacting our diverse district," Clarke said.

Bunkeddeko came within a surprising 2,000 votes of unseating Clarke two years ago. He's back for another shot in Tuesday's primary, claiming that Clarke is "out of touch and out of step."

"People are hungry for change," said Bunkeddeko. "They are fed up with the status quo. They want bolder and more transformative leadership."

The face-off is not a simple rerun of their 2018 battle. Clarke won by 53%-47% in the district that stretches through central Brooklyn, from progressive Prospect Heights and Crown Heights through Flatbush and into Midwood.

Councilmember Chaim Deutch, who represents a chunk of the less-liberal southern part of the district, is running this time. So is Isiah James, a self-styled progressive insurgent whose slogan is: "It's Time for Brooklyn To Join the Revolution."

Deutsch could peel off a slice of support from Clarke, who boasted of strong support from Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish voters in past races. But James could cost Bunkeddeko some liberal votes in the leafy brownstone neighborhoods around Prospect Park.

A last-minute controversy rocked the contest last week when Bunkeddeko charged that Clarke's campaign deliberately darkened his face in a flyer. Clarke rejected the claim as "preposterous."

Neighborhoods in the district have suffered some of the highest death rates in the entire nation from COVID-19. And it has been a hot spot for the mass rallies against racism and police brutality that have shaken the city and country.

All the candidates concede that the pandemic and the protests are wild cards in the race. But it's not clear who will benefit.

The pandemic has scrapped most traditional campaigning and most voters are expected to cast absentee ballots, raising questions about relative turnout in the candidates' strongholds.

Deutsch has echoed President Trump's complaints about the looting that accompanied some of the protests and shutdown of businesses to limit the spread of coronavirus. That may play well in Midwood but any perceived sympathy with Trump is political poison in the rest of the dark-blue district.

Bunkeddeko, 32, the son of Ugandan immigrants who has worked for community nonprofits, says the pandemic and racism crises underline the need for a louder voice from Brooklyn.

"For over a decade, Ms. Clarke was asleep at the wheel and her inaction has led to less affordable housing, less justice and less opportunity for the people of the district," he said.

Clarke, 55, is the scion of a legendary political family and succeeded her mother, Una Clarke, a councilmember.

She points out that she is the only black woman in the New York congressional delegation, a powerful selling point for the seat once held by trailblazing Rep. Shirley Chisholm.

"I will continue to be a vocal leader in Washington, D.C.," she said.



How Ultra-Orthodox Weddings Have Changed During COVID-19, According To 2 Brides 

On a Wednesday morning in mid-March, Mimmy Schaeffer bumped into her friend Ilana Ybgi outside a nail salon in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The pair, both members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Judaism, met as coworkers in the fall. Schaeffer, 22, was desperately looking for a place to get her nails done, as the city was quickly shutting down for COVID-19. The last time they'd spoken, Ybgi, 35, had been planning a late-March wedding in London. Schaeffer had been planning her own Crown Heights ceremony to be held around the same time. But due to a last-minute change of plans, Schaeffer's nuptials were now the next day, March 19, hence the mani emergency. Unbeknownst to her, so were Ybgi's.

"I would have loved to be there from a distance if it wasn't [the date of] my own wedding," Schaeffer told her.

The coronavirus has hit New York's ultra-Orthodox communities particularly hard, in part due to the many tight-knit and intergenerational households. Despite taking preventative measures, Chabad.org cites roughly 40 COVID-19 related deaths in Crown Heights, where a majority of its 20,000 Jewish residents identify with Chabad-Lubavitch, according to spokesman Rabbi Motti Seligson. On March 17, the Chabad headquarters and flagship synagogue closed for the first time in history.

Many weddings, however, have continued — albeit with precautions in place. Schaeffer had dated her now-husband, Mendy, for less than two months before planning their 500-person wedding for late March in Crown Heights. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo banned gatherings of more than 500 people on March 12, the couple decided to reschedule. (On May 22, the governor updated his guidelines to allow gatherings of up to 10 people, who must observe social distancing.) Mendy's parents live in Canada, so when rumors started swirling about closing the Canadian border, they knew time was of the essence. They chose a new, earlier date, March 19; a different venue in Morristown, New Jersey; and planned the event in 48 hours.

The gathering was small — just their nuclear families, with whom they'd each been quarantining, a few cousins, and Schaeffer's best friend, who doubled as her makeup artist. A few people were uneasy about the event, but everyone wore masks and gloves and sanitized their hands often. Rather than hiring a caterer, they opted for Chinese takeout served in individual containers. After the ceremony, there was contact-free dancing, where guests held napkins instead of hands. Speakers and a playlist replaced a live band, to limit their numbers. In Hasidic weddings, men and women remain separated for dancing, but because there were so few people, the couple chose to dance together with their families, which wouldn't have happened if all had gone according to the original plan. "It was just about us connecting with one another," Schaeffer says. "I wouldn't have had it any other way."

Neither, it seems, would many other couples. Yehudis Cohen works as an assistant principal at Machon L'Yahadus, a post-secondary school for Jewish women in Crown Heights. Five of her students have gotten married recently, and she estimates there have been at least 24 nuptials since mid-March. According to Rabbi Yonah Blum, associate director of the Institute of Jewish Spirituality and Society, celebrating a wedding would never override saving lives. "Since gathering at a wedding is dangerous now, postponing the wedding is mandated," Blum says. "Unless, as many have recently figured out how to do, a creative alternative to the traditional crowd-gathering is used."

Ybgi and her now-husband, Srulick, got engaged in late February. They were planning to get married in a London cricket field on March 30, in a quaint affair with 120 guests. But on March 11, President Donald Trump announced he'd begin banning travelers from Europe to the U.S. As a precaution, the couple cancelled their overseas event and set a new date, March 19, for a hometown ceremony. They had one week to plan a new wedding.

"Things started shutting down minute by minute, but we were holding on tightly to the fact that we wanted to have a wedding," Ybgi says. She called a Crown Heights wedding planner, who booked a small venue for the first part of the ceremony and planned for an outdoor chuppah, the canopy under which Jewish weddings occur, to be arranged in front of the Chabad World Headquarters.

They thought it'd be too risky for their parents to attend, and as traditional Jewish nuptials require a quorum of ten Jewish men, they improvised. They gathered ten volunteers from the street, who agreed to stand six feet apart for the outdoor ceremony. For the second half of the event, the small wedding party — a couple friends, their rabbi, yeshiva students, and a photographer — walked the few blocks from the reception hall to the chuppah. "A few of the people stood half a block away, which was bittersweet," she says. Passersby cheered, and the event was livestreamed to thousands of people via Instagram and Facebook. "I felt the world was in need of healing," Ybgi says. "The joy of getting married was against the backdrop of a lot of fear. It allowed such a deep reflection."

It's now been over three months since the weddings, and neither woman regrets her decision. Fortunately, no one got sick. "I've had some of the most precious moments of my entire life in the last three months," says Ybgi, who's been explaining the Black Lives Matter protests to her three stepdaughters, ages 9, 6, and 4. "I wouldn't have wanted to wait."

Schaeffer agrees. "Marriage is a journey," she says. "I never want to feel too settled."



Friday, June 19, 2020

Polish state TV incited hatred against Jews, media ethics panel says 

A prominent media ethics watchdog in Poland has accused a state broadcaster of inciting anti-Semitic sentiment.

The claim by the Polish Council of Media Ethics in a statement Thursday follows a TVP report earlier in the week warning that a leading presidential candidate would offer compensation for property lost to Jews during or after the Holocaust.

"Experts are certain. The stream of money that is flowing from the state budget into the pockets of Polish families will dry up if Trzaskowski, after a potential victory in the presidential election, seeks to satisfy Jewish claims," TVP reported Monday.

The report was referring to Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who is considered the leading candidate among nine hopefuls running against the incumbent, Andrzej Duda of the right-wing Law and Justice party.

Trzaskowski has not publicly declared intentions to offer restitution.

In its statement the council — a nongovernmental organization established by the Association of Polish Journalists — wrote that "inciting anti-Semitism, racism and hatred against minorities is not in the interest of the country."

Sebastian Rejak, acting director of the American Jewish Committee Central Europe Office, had complained about the report to the ethics council, calling it "the age-old anti-Semitic prejudice in which Jews are associated with money and international conspiracies that can harm Poland."

Poland has returned millions in compensation for property that was owned by Jewish communities, but it is the only major country in the former Soviet bloc that has taken no action to return private property, according to the World Jewish Restitution Organization.

Resistance to efforts by the United States, Israel and Jewish groups to have Poland offer such compensation has become a major theme for the political right in Poland. Some estimate that the claims could run to the billions of dollars.

TVP has not responded to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's request for comment.



Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mayor who defended protesters sued for religious discrimination 

New York City's mayor, already accused of being an anti-Semite, is being sued for violating religious rights while allowing tens of thousands to protest and riot in the streets.  

The Big Apple was devastated by COVID-19, leading to lockdowns that remain in place, but those restrictions seemed to vanish when protesters and rioters hit the streets after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"The idea that there should be any limitation for gatherings at this point, anywhere in the state of New York, should basically be dismissed out of hand," says Christopher Ferrara, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, which is representing two Catholic priests and three Orthodox Jews in a lawsuit filed this week.

The lawsuit names Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state's attorney general, Letitia James.

CNN, among other news outlets, wrote a glowing story about the "Black Trans Lives Matter" rally in New York City, held June 15, where thousands filled Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.  

The 30-paragraph story failed to mention the city's "Phase 1" lockdown, however.

The next day, June 16, city workers were filmed welding the gates of a public park in Brooklyn and then later returned with chains to secure the gates.

The park, known as Middleton Playground, is frequented by the area's Hasidic Jews but was shut down May 31 after the public failed to follow "social distancing" rules.

"That's not public health. That's just a grudge match," Ferrara tells OneNewsNow. "When you're in that situation, there is only one word to describe it: tyranny."

Mayor de Blasio, in fact, had already defended the mass protests weeks earlier while the city government was enforcing its lockdown rules on houses of worship.

Because the country is "grappling" with a race crisis "seated in 400 years of American racism," de Blasio told reporters on June 2, "I'm sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services."

The city's Jewish leaders who witnessed that comparison had already watched their city government shut down a Hasidic rabbi's funeral in late April.

The mayor called the gathering "absolutely unacceptable" in a Twitter post.

After the park gates were secured with chains Tuesday, Jewish leaders showed up with bolt cutters later that evening and cut the chains. A grinder was used to open locked gates at Midwood, another public park in Brooklyn. 

"We're not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands," de Blasio said of the chain-cutting defiance.



Wednesday, June 17, 2020

De Blasio, Cuomo are making children bear the worst of the lockdowns 

Videos circulating on social media recently show New York City Parks employees welding shut a playground in the heart of Hasidic Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We have seen footage of the New York Police Department and NYC Parks Police in Boro Park shepherding Hasidic children out of a park and locking it shut behind them.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands are allowed to protest in Brooklyn, while a maskless Mayor Bill de Blasio poses for photo-ops, ignoring the social-distancing guidelines his administration ruthlessly enforces against Jewish children and families.

The hypocrisy is stunning — and appalling.

Is it too much to ask for consistent leadership in the Big Apple? Is it too much to ask that our mayor enforce policies equally, across the board? Is it too much to ask that the mayor practice what he preaches or even set an example, instead of scurrying after the most popular position of the week, gung-ho about lockdowns two weeks ago — and gung-ho about mass protests today?

And why are our children becoming the victims of this whiplash-inducing virtue-signaling?

If it were only the mayor taking dumb stances, perhaps we could chalk it up to de Blasio being de Blasio. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn't exactly the beacon of leadership that he projected at the outset of this crisis. On Friday, he took the confounding step of banning sleepaway camps in New York state this summer.

Sleepaway camps: an enclosed campus where kids could be easily monitored and contained. Where city kids could go to get fresh air, run around and see their friends. (After all, they can't go to the playground!)

So when New York City begins Phase Two at the end of June, a parent will be able to go to his office job, get a haircut at his local barbershop, then visit a clothing store to pick up a new pair of pants. But a child, who has been cooped up alone at home since March — can he go to camp or even the playground down the block? Heaven forfend!

And before you tell me that day camps are permitted to be open, yes, that's true. But many have shut their doors owing to financial insecurity. And because of limiting guidelines, the ones that are remaining open can't possibly sustain the thousands of children who are suddenly left with no plans for the summer.

When we enter Phase Three in July, as kids are still sitting at home twiddling their thumbs, adults will be permitted to dine inside restaurants, visit a spa and work out at the gym. And at the end of July, as kids become permanently fused to the sofa, their parents can take in Broadway shows or perhaps even attend concerts.

By the way, how are parents supposed to be able to rejoin the workforce and get our city back up and running if they've got children at home all day with nowhere to go?

And can someone point out to me the date when we anointed Cuomo emperor of New York State, and de Blasio king of New York City? Last time I checked, we lived in a democracy. The state of emergency has passed — the curve is flattened. Why are we still permitting elected leaders to unilaterally make decisions, with no input from legislators and stakeholders?

They serve us, the people. We aren't subject to their whims, and our children don't deserve to be pawns in this strange tug of war.

Our kids have suffered tremendously from this COVID-19 shutdown. They've missed out on so much, and they've lost out on experiences that can never be regained.

And you know what, as parents, we were willing to keep our kids at home to protect them, and to protect the people whom they would otherwise come in contact with. It was hard, but we did because it was the right thing to do. That was three months ago.

New York City's kids have been through enough. Let us not be so heartless as to take away their summer, too.



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Orthodox Jewish community members use bolt cutters to open Brooklyn playground 

Members of the Orthodox Jewish community used bolt cutters to "liberate" a Brooklyn playground the city welded shut because of COVID-19 concerns Monday.

The city welded a gate shut at the Middleton Playground in Williamsburg after the locks to the park were cut at least 25 times, Parks Department officials said. Hours later, workers removed the welding and replaced it with a chain, which Orthodox Jewish leaders cut Monday night.

A video posted on Twitter just before 6 p.m. showed three Orthodox men, one wearing a mask, cut the chain locking the playground while a group of children with uncovered faces watched and cheered.

"Playgrounds across the City are closed for the safety of our children, and we will engage with this community to find a solution," a city Parks Department spokeswoman said Monday night.

Gov. Cuomo ordered playgrounds closed April 1. On Thursday, Cuomo said it would be up to local municipalities to decide when to reopen them.

"Each locality will determine when public pools and playgrounds will open in their region. They must use health data & metrics as a guide to inform each decision," Cuomo Tweeted.

Dozens of children frolicked in the playground at 8 p.m. Monday, while adults and children roamed the streets nearby, most of them not wearing masks.

Moshi Blum, 32, said the neighborhood's residents were enraged that their children couldn't use the playground while thousands of George Floyd protesters could packed together on city streets.

"Most of us have large families," he said. "We see thousands gather, why should this be a problem?"

"We believe COVID-19 is over," Blum said.

Another resident, Joel Finestein, 28, called the playground "essential."

"I don't see any crime," he said. "I see social distancing."

The playground was one of 10 locked up at the end of March because people consistently ignored official warnings to socially distance to stop the spread of coronavirus.



Monday, June 15, 2020

NYC Weldsgate closed to Williamsburg playground amid coronavirus 

A gate at the closed Williamsburg playground was closed Monday after people repeatedly rushed to get inside during the coronavirus shutdown.

The move by city workers Monday at Middleton Playground provoked parents, saying the playground had to be opened and not closed.

"How long can we keep our children in jail?" A mother of six was asked, mainly in the Hasidic area of ​​Brooklyn, who declined to be named. "I don't feel like I'm living in a free country."

Workers at the playground, which borders Lee Avenue and Lynch and Middleton streets, declined to comment. But one heard the parents say: "We don't know when it will open, but hopefully within a week or two. At the moment, it is closed. "

The Parks Department later said the welding was a short-term fix after the locks were repeatedly busted, and the playground will return to use the locks on Monday afternoon.

"In this playground, a temporary measure was used to close the playground after it was breached," spokeswoman Anessa Hodgson said in a statement. "It will be unveiled today and replaced with a lock."

The city's playgrounds have been closed since April 1, when Andrew Cuomo took this option from the hands of Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the pandemic was raging from New York. At the time, the governor's office said they had taken steps to prevent the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 100,000 people in the US over the past few months.

Three months after the coronavirus shutdown, and when the weather warmed up, the mother of six said she had no way to entertain her children.

"We already did everything. We baked, we did puzzles, we read, we cook," she says. "It's a very beautiful atmosphere. Why can't they be outside?"

One area person who has questioned the hypocrisy of adults packing city parks, often without masks or social-distance, is when the children are locked out.

"Other parks are filled with adults, and the park is closed for children," he said. "Adults can see a park, but you can't allow children to play? It doesn't make sense. "

Community activist Gary Schlesinger called a different kind of double-standard, saying the city had done nothing to discourage the recent mass protests seeking justice for George Floyd, who was killed by a black Minneapolis policeman on May 25 while kneeling in the neck.

"You have ten thousand people marching without social distance and it feels like the story of two cities," he says. "Parents of children living in this community are very angry about this because you have been talking about large families restricted to small apartments for weeks and weeks. The mayor's office should be aware of this, but it's the complete opposite for him."

The children of the community took to the streets last week demanding the opening of the Cuomo sleeping summer camp, but the bid was burned by the governor.

"We have been dealing with families who have been imprisoned in their homes for three months, and they can't go and breathe clean air?" Said David Neiderman, president of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn. "Kids can't have what they need. It's fresh air."



Friday, June 12, 2020

Ultra-Orthodox children hold ‘Kid lives matter’ protest over summer camp closures 

Hundreds of Haredi children in Brooklyn gathered in the early evening on Thursday to ask New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and to open sleepaway camps and parks.

Videos and photos showed a crowd of children, mostly boys with sidecurls and kippot, walking and biking along Bedford Avenue, Taylor Street and Lee Avenue in the Williamsburg neighborhood. Some hold signs that say "Our education masters," presumably meant to say "Our education matters." Other signs say "No camps, no justice" and "Camps are essential."

A WhatsApp message sent to the Forward asked demonstrators to bring along signs that say "Kid Lives Matter."

Jewish organizations, mostly Orthodox, have been pressuring de Blasio and Cuomo to open sleepaway camps. Those camps, many of which serve the state's substantial Jewish population, have been ordered to remain shut due to the present risk of coronavirus.

Simcha Eichenstein, an Orthodox Jewish state assemblyman representing Borough Park, is one of the individuals leading the charge to open sleepaway camps. A group of more than 50 camp directors have written letters to officials asking them to open as well.

Orthodox families often have six or more children, and with distance learning in effect for the last few months, Jewish families (like all families) are looking for a break. Multiple Hasidic yeshivas remained open despite the state and local laws that closed schools due to the coronavirus outbreak.

De Blasio has repeatedly defended his decisions to close city parks in the name of social distancing while simultaneously giving anti-racism protesters more leeway.

Another protest is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, according to social media posts.



Hasidic man stabbed in London in suspected hate crime 

A hasidic Jewish man has been stabbed in a suspected hate crime in London's Stoke Newington, suffering head wounds. The man was later identified by the Jewish Chronicle as Rabbi Alter Yaakov Schlesinger, an orthodox rabbi from Stamford Hill's Satmar community.
The attacker was tackled by builders working nearby, and pinned to the floor while police were called.

A friend of the victim, who arrived at the scene shortly after has told MailOnline that he saw blade wounds to the man's skull. According to the friend, the victim had been standing outside a bank when the attack happened.

Schlesinger, who is in his 50s, is identifiably Jewish, and was wearing orthodox clothing. He is thought to be in a stable condition as he was talking at the scene when dozens of emergency vehicles arrived, including the Jewish ambulance service Hatzalah.

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: "We were called today (12 June) at 10.56am to reports of a stabbing in Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington," according to The Mirror.

They continued: "We dispatched an ambulance crew and an incident response officer. We also dispatched London's Air Ambulance. We assessed a man at the scene and took him to a major trauma center."



Thursday, June 11, 2020

Hasidic Jewish Children Reportedly Kicked Out of Park Amid Massive NYC Protests, Riots During Pandemic 

While droves of protesters continue to march through the streets of New York City — and around the world — businesses remain shuttered, churches closed, and Hasidic Jewish children apparently banned from playing in a neighborhood park.

The incident unfolded Monday afternoon, when New York Police Department officers booted a bunch of kids and their parents from a park in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

But the rules don't apply to everyone.

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), the same politician who targeted and reprimanded Jewish people for holding a funeral amid the coronavirus lockdowns, participated in a Black Lives Matter protest that drew tens of thousands of people to the city's streets.

De Blasio was not wearing a mask, nor did he reprimand the countless Black Lives Matter demonstrators packed in like sardines following the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, a white man.

As for the violence, the NYC mayor acted as if the rioting was a natural disaster — a hurricane or tropical storm New Yorkers just had to hunker down to get through. "We're going to have a tough few days," he said. "We're going to beat it back."

Some estimates are predicting the property damage in New York City will cost tens of millions of dollars to repair.

Not that long ago, de Blasio scolded Jewish people for gathering peacefully, calling the mourners coming together "absolutely unacceptable."

Alas, de Blasio has made it very clear he has no issue ignoring the social distancing rules for one group while using the guidelines to restrict the freedoms of others.

"When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism," he said last week, "I'm sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services."

So the protests and riots aren't "absolutely unacceptable," according to de Blasio. But grieving the loss of a loved one, opening up your business, attending a church service, or even playing in a neighborhood park is.



Wednesday, June 10, 2020

How Covid-19 Brought Me and My Hasidic Neighbors Together 

I live on a Montreal block in Mile End, once the neighborhood of Mordecai Richler, which is now 50-per-cent Hasidic Jews – an ultra-Orthodox sect that prays three times a day, and wears black hats imitating 18th-century Polish aristocracy.

While I live among them as a secular Jew, and have friendly relations with some neighbors, the Hasidim separate themselves from me and my social world. For many in the neighborhood, including me, social distance with our counterparts is nothing new.

But COVID-19 quarantine protocols, while physically distancing me from secular society, have brought me socially closer to my Hasidic neighbors. Morning and night, their voices sing out in prayer: ancient Middle Eastern melodies float through the pandemic-emptied street, bringing archaic echoes of spiritual yearning to the urban streetscape. Fathers, sons, grandfathers and grandsons – it's only ever men – cluster together on front stoops, lean out from balconies, and dot the sidewalk. Melancholic songs ring up and down the street in passionate call and response, and passersby stare in wonder. After weeks of this outdoor synagogue, I see that the Hasidim have something to teach us seculars about what it means for a community to reconnect in a COVID-19 world.

My first response wasn't so romantic. Hearing noises coming from my balcony, I stepped outside and was surprised to see four Hasidic brothers praying on the adjacent balcony. I went downstairs to see that my neighbor's front stoop was the center of the service, and immediately worried that this religious ritual might increase my family's risk of infection.

Years ago, my neighbor put up a green plastic fence to separate our front stoops. I felt rejected. Since COVID-19, the same neighbor brings out a Torah scroll on a portable table, and I find the front of my house at the heart of their religious services. Because Orthodox Jews must pray communally in a "minyan" of at least 10 men, the Hasidim were in a bind when the government shuttered all religious buildings and forbade religious services. Rabbis, in accordance with government directives, forbade having minyans in person. Improvising, as Jews have often done living under regimes that forbid Jewish practice, my Orthodox neighbors took to the streets so that, while remaining two meters apart, they could continue to pray together. Instead of hiding in caves and basements – as Jews sometimes had to do in centuries past – the new coronavirus has driven them outdoors.

One morning my curiosity overcame my fear and I walked out to the sidewalk when I heard them chanting. As much as I enjoy secular life, I found myself missing a sense of spiritual connection. It was cold, with a smattering of April snow on the ground. In addition to COVID-19, we have to survive what Montreal calls "spring" together.

My neighbor had started praying with his son, and he watched for others to emerge from their front doors. White tallit – prayer shawls embroidered with silver and blue – covered their heads. They wore tefillin: black leather boxes containing parchment inscribed with Hebrew verses, which are wrapped with leather straps onto the forehead and arm. My neighbor walked up and down the sidewalk looking to connect with other Hasidim as they came out across the street and down the block. Silent, so as not to interrupt the order of prayers, they made hand gestures to each other like third base coaches, holding up fingers to indicate how many were praying. My neighbor signaled to a man a few houses away who peeked into his neighbor's window: two fingers. When they identified a minyan of 10 they said Kaddish. The prayer is recited by mourners for 11 months after a close relative dies. In Judaism, one doesn't mourn alone – but surrounded by community.

The first Montrealer to die of COVID-19 was a 67-year-old Hasid who went to a synagogue two blocks away from me. Online news articles about the community became a hotspot of anti-Semitic ranting. The Hasidim felt immediately targeted. "The level of hatred, the level of focus, of scapegoating, has gone beyond anything we have seen before," said one Hasid. When a janitor was seen cleaning a synagogue, a neighbor called the police and eight cop cars showed up. There are reports of verbal attacks on the street, and Hasidim being told to stick with "Jewish stores."

A few unfortunately timed weddings, big families and travel back and forth may explain why my co-religionists were initially hit harder than other communities. And as friends and I joked, after Justin Trudeau warned against "speaking moistly," energetic schmoozing might have been a factor in the Jewish transmission rate (JR0).

Some argue that they have been socially irresponsible, but the Hasidim are not libertarian yahoos: It is their communal commitments that have made them – and potentially my front yard – more vulnerable to the coronavirus. We worshippers of the secular indulge in unnecessary COVID-19 risks, too. Some go for runs in busy parks. Others order delivery from Pizza Pizza. My COVID-19 vices are social: ringing a friend's doorbell to sing happy birthday to their child, midnight scotch drinking with friends (at two meters) and visiting my girlfriend across town (at nowhere near two meters). The risks we take are based on what we value most.

The Hasidim pray together. And my neighbors, facing the green fence, sing loudly right onto my stoop, potentially increasing my viral exposure. The coronavirus highlights how permeable the borders are between our bodies, and how much our private choices affect everyone around us.

After stepping onto the sidewalk that morning, I strolled up and down the block, seeing a Hasid every three or four houses. The silver embroidery on their tallit flashed brightly in the sun, imparting a splendor one does not see indoors. One man shouted his prayer from out of his open window on the second floor. I didn't understand the words, and the singing wasn't classically "beautiful" like the choirs in more mainstream synagogues and churches. But his voice rang out with a pained yearning that resonates in this time of uncertainty. At various points congregants yelled, so that all can hear, "Amen," pronounced "Oh-MAIN," meaning "so be it!"



Tuesday, June 09, 2020

New York is allowing day camps to open. Some Jewish camps are still staying closed 

When Jewish camp directors explained their reasons for canceling camp this summer, state and local prohibitions were typically at the top of the list. 

We can't even think about opening camp, they would say, because the government won't let us. 

Now that's changing.

States across the country have told day camps, overnight camps or both that they may open with certain restrictions in place. And last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that day camps can open on June 29. His state — the epicenter of the pandemic and also with the largest Jewish population in the country — is still deciding whether to allow overnight camps.

Several Jewish camps have responded to Cuomo's announcement — with a shrug, if that.

Manhattan's Marlene Myerson JCC, which runs camps in New York City and upstate, announced it was canceling its summer program the same day that Cuomo made his announcement. 

Genna Singer, the JCC's director of camps, said the timing was coincidental. She said the camps had held off on closing but needed to inform parents of a final decision as summer neared.

"We were trying to wait as long as possible with the possibility of opening, and waiting to see how much information we had," Singer told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency said. "Families needed clarity about their plans. … As we approached into June, there was a need for a definitive answer."

Camps are still wary of the potential for COVID-19, or a related disease affecting children, to run rampant among their campers. They aren't sure what camp will look like under social distancing protocols, how much it will cost camps to implement those measures while serving a potentially reduced number of campers, and whether it will be possible for little kids to follow the new rules.

On Tuesday, with fewer than three weeks to go until June 29, the state published guidelines for day camps that seek to open. Staff must wear masks if they are fewer than 6 feet from other staff or campers. Campers will be in pods of up to 10 each, with no mixing among the pods. The camp must serve individual meals to campers.

There are also restrictions on external visitors to camp, bus transit and other mainstays of the camp experience.

"It's highly unlikely, even if there were guidelines, that it would constitute what we think constitutes a camp, and engagement, and how children should be playing together and socializing together," Amy Skopp Cooper, the executive director of Ramah Nyack, a Conservative Jewish day camp in New York, said last week ahead of the guidelines' publication. "The inherent risks of children returning to their homes would still make running a camp highly unlikely."

Some area camps are opening. Moshava Ba'ir New Jersey, which neighbors New York, will be opening July 7, one day after day camps are allowed to open in that state. The Kaplen JCC in northern New Jersey announced Tuesday that it also would open its day camp.

In an email to parents, Moshava Ba'ir said state "guidelines will impact many aspects of our camp and may limit the number of campers that we can accept," but that the directors expect "a healthy, meaningful and enjoyable experience for your children this summer."

Other camps across New York state are also planning to open. Agudath Israel of America, a haredi Orthodox organization, said in a statement that it had lobbied Cuomo to allow camps to run. 

"The Governor's announcement was indeed welcome as camps will provide much needed structure to children who have been home from school for nearly 3 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement said. "Agudath Israel is grateful to the Governor for making camp a reality for thousands of children throughout the state."

But for the Manhattan JCC, Cuomo's announcement is not enough, and the idea of a socially distanced camp for kids as young as 3 seems difficult to imagine. The camp will not be running and will be offering virtual programming to its kids. 

"The Cuomo piece was something we were waiting to see what would happen, but practically it wasn't the decision maker," Singer said. "If you're talking to kids over the ages of 7 or 8, you can explain rules to them and they can follow them. I worry about the younger ones being able to follow the directions, and I worry about that not being what camp is."

Sprout Westchester Day Camp, a Jewish camp north of New York City run by the Zionist youth movement Young Judaea, was planning to open on July 27 with half-day sessions before Cuomo's announcement. Its executive director, Helene Drobenare, says the camp won't be moving up the date even though it is allowed. The camp needs the extra time to make sure its permits are in order and feel confident that the health risks don't outweigh the benefits of opening. 

In addition, Young Judaea's camp in Brooklyn will not run in person at all, as it relies too much on indoor space and the use of city parks. Instead it will run virtual sessions for its kids.

"Westchester was where it all began, and that's where we felt the community was the hardest hit," said Drobenare, referring to the February coronavirus outbreak in the suburban county's Jewish community. "And it was really the most viable option for us, on our own outdoor site with green grass and open air."

At this point, Singer said, state guidelines are not the key factor. She said it's simply too late for many camps to prepare to open after months of thinking they would not. 

"In all of this, time was not on camp's side," she said. "We were faced with really hard decisions in a very short period of time, and I don't know that any guidelines would have changed that for us. … I don't know that it would have changed our decision."



Monday, June 08, 2020

Undercover cop dressed as religious Jew blows his cover with cellphone on Shabbat 

Police officers went undercover as Hasidic Jews to monitor protests against racism and police brutality in a majority-Jewish New Jersey town, Mishpacha reported.

The rally in Lakewood, N.J. on Saturday was one of hundreds around the country over the weekend protesting the killing of an African-American man, George Floyd, while being forcibly detained by police. A video captured by Mishpacha showed at least three men in Lakewood dressed in the black outfits typical of Orthodox men. Two of the men were wearing hats and one was wearing a kippah; one of the apparent officers had peyot, long sidelocks.

Unfortunately for the officers, one of them appeared to be holding a cell phone - which would be forbidden to Orthodox Jews on Shabbat.



Friday, June 05, 2020

As Rioters Destroy New York, Cops Kick Jewish Families Out of a Playground 

Jewish community leaders are condemning New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for a "blatant double standard." He singled out the Jewish community in enforcing coronavirus restrictions, yet defended protesters who violated social distancing rules in order to protest the heinous police killing of George Floyd. In fact, videos showed police officers dispersing Jewish mothers and their children at a playground while a larger group of protesters gathered in violation of lockdown rules.

"The double standard is blatant and shocking," Chaskel Bennett, co-founder of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, told Haaretz. "For months, we have seen our community come under unrelenting scrutiny by 'gotcha' media coverage of Hasidic Jews not social distancing or wearing masks, while the overwhelming majority of religious Jews in New York City were doing all the right things."

"After watching the thousands of protesters given free rein to exercise their constitutional right to protest, it begs the question: Isn't religious freedom protected by the very same Constitution?" Bennett asked. "Is there one rule of law or selective enforcement? It seems the mayor thinks differently."

Indeed, de Blasio struggled to defend applying the coronavirus restrictions to protesters and rioters, even while he still applies restrictions on the businesses getting torched and the churches getting burned.

"When you see a nation — an entire nation — grappling with an extraordinary crisis that's deep-seated in 400 years of American racism. Sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to religious services," de Blasio argued at a press conference on Tuesday.



Thursday, June 04, 2020

Chabad centers collaborating during coronavirus crisis 

Despite – or perhaps because of – the social distancing mandated during the pandemic, the Chabad centers of Pittsburgh have found new ways to collaborate and bring unique programming to the Greater Pittsburgh Jewish community.

The new virtual events are attracting large numbers of people together from across the region, a scenario that was more difficult to muster when hearing a speaker required crossing a bridge or going through a tunnel.

"We're trying to do programs that aren't just another class," explained Chabad of Squirrel Hill Rabbi Yisroel Altein. "We're trying things that are out of the ordinary and that we may not have done on our own but that we can join together and offer as a dynamic program for all the different Chabad centers together."

That type of dynamic programming was on full display Tuesday, May 19 when Chabad of Squirrel Hill, along with partners Chabad of Monroeville, Chabad of the South Hills, Chabad Young Professionals, Chabad of CMU and Chabad House on Campus welcomed Rivkah Slonim for her presentation "What Hollywood Gets Right and Wrong About the Show Unorthodox."

The Zoom event was viewed on over 250 computers and devices. Since more than one person could watch the presentation on each device, that means that the actual number of attendees could have been closer to 300-350. In fact, so many people tuned into the event, Altein had to subscribe to a higher Zoom plan minutes before the program was scheduled to start to accommodate all of the viewers.

Building on the success of this initial program, Altein's wife and Chabad of Squirrel Hill co-director, Chani Altein, created the program "Shabbat in an Hour" with cook and author Reyna Simnegar on June 4.

"I was toying with the idea of doing a cooking demo about Persian cooking with Reyna Simnegar," Chani Altein said. "On the heels of the 'Unorthodox' program, I reached out to the other Chabad women and they were all in."

The rebbetzin sees two advantages in creating these types of virtual programs with the other Chabad centers: cost and egalitarianism.

"It's a great way to bring costly programs without paying as much, that pulls from all of our different communities," she explained prior to the event. "At first, I thought the cooking demo was going to be women only, because when I have cooking classes, they are women's classes, but some of the other Chabad Houses said they preferred to open it to women and men. So, it turns out, this one will probably be mostly women with a sprinkling of men."

Time and convenience contributed to the success of the first event about "Unorthodox," said Chabad of Monroeville Rabbi Mendy Schapiro, and that is why it makes sense to continue this type of collaborative programming in the short term.

"When it comes to these types of events, it has to be really interesting for people to put it on their calendar and say, 'I want to leave my house, take a few hours and go out.' Even if they are only once a week or once a month. What this does is allow us to bring the joy of Judaism through programming to all of our communities."

Schapiro is quick to point out that it does not make sense to share all of the programs the various Chabad centers offer.

"There's a balance," he said. "On the one hand, every community has their rabbi and rebbetzin that they're friendly with, there's a personal connection that brings them to events. When it comes to daily classes and events, it makes sense to keep it local. Then there are larger programs that we can present without the barrier of travel, online, and take advantage of the opportunity."

In fact, there is one annual program the Chabad centers typically have collaborated on for years, noted Yisroel Altein: the commemoration of the yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Mendel Schneerson. Because of the pandemic, that program, too, will now be offered online by all of the local Chabad centers.

"We're showing a documentary called 'The Rabbi Goes West,' with a colleague in Montana," Yisroel Altein said. "Following that, we are going to do a Zoom question and answer with him."

Altein realizes that after three months of social distancing and sheltering at home, there is a chance people are beginning to get "Zoomed out." He also knows that despite entering the green phase and the lessening of restrictions, "as we move into the real world, it's going to take time for us to figure out what that means. People are still expecting social distancing and are still struggling with what that looks like."

Because of that uncertainty, the rabbi ventured "we probably have some more time online."

With the success of attracting a virtual audience for events presented in partnership with the other Chabad centers, Yisroel Altein is interested in seeing if the same results can be attained in the physical world.

"I'd love to see how these types of events would turn out in the real world and find unique programming we can share," he said.

Even a rabbi realizes, though, that in Pittsburgh, there are certain limitations that may be too hard to defeat.

"Would you cross a river?" he asked with a laugh.



Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Jewish Group Offers Los Angeles Residents Immediate Interest-Free ‘Looting Loss Loans’ 

The Los Angeles-based Jewish Free Loan Association announced on Monday that it was offering interest-free loans of up to $18,000 to local residents who have suffered property damage from riots that have accompanied the nationwide unrest following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis last week.

"Looting loss loans available immediately," read the subject line of an email sent to subscribers, JTA reported. The email explained that the loans, available to all residents of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties, could pay for "debris cleanup, graffiti removal, construction needs, inventory replacement and more."

A number of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses in the LA area have been looted or vandalized in recent days — mostly in the city's Fairfax district, which is home to a large Jewish community.

Those interested in loans are required to fill out a pre-loan application at jfla.org. Two guarantors are required.



Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Woman arrested in vandalism of Texas synagogue 

Inline image

A woman has been arrested in connection with the vandalism of a Texas synagogue and two other houses of worship. Temple Emanuel, a Reform synagogue in McAllen, a church and a Hindu temple were spray-painted Tuesday morning with a swastika and the words "WITCH," "HADES," "RAPEST," "NEW YORK KILLER" and other random phrases and words, The Monitor reported. Erica Yme Garza, 38, of McAllen was arrested Tuesday afternoon, May 25, and is in custody of the McAllen Police Department with charges pending.



Monday, June 01, 2020

Dem lawmakers enforcing strict lockdown rules are allowing criminals to loot and burn cities 

What a difference a week makes.

State and city Democrat leaders seem to have forgotten that they were just threatening residents with fines and jail time over violations of coronavirus orders. But Democrats running major cities now seem to be all in with protesters as they allow mass demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Protests and rioting erupted in major cities across the nation over the death of Floyd, the unarmed black man who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest. Video of the incident triggered demonstrations as people with and without face masks took to the streets in packed crowds.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who allowed a police station to be torched amid the violent carnage in the city last week, was giving out free face masks to stem the spread of the virus, urging protesters in a press release to "exercise caution to stay safe while participating in demonstrations" and to practice "physical distancing as much as possible."

But just days before, Frey had warned that Gov. Tim Walz's plan to allow churches to reopen at 25 percent capacity with no more than 250 people was a "recipe in Minneapolis for a public health disaster."



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