Friday, July 31, 2020

Leading ultra-Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky endorses Trump, in rare move 

Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, a leader of American ultra-Orthodoxy, endorsed Donald Trump for the 2020 election in a rare statement to the Orthodox Mishpacha magazine.

"I think people should vote for him," said Kamenetsky about Trump. "He's done a good job. It's hakaras hatov," he said, using a Hebrew phrase for appreciation for a good deed.

He didn't specify exactly what people should be grateful for, but Trump has enjoyed passionate support from many Orthodox Jews, who see him as a staunch supporter of Israel and of conservative religious values. About a quarter of American Jews vote Republican, including more than half of Orthodox Jews, according to surveys.

Kamenetsky is a leader in the "Yeshivish," world, one of two kinds of ultra-Orthodox communities. Yeshivish leaders rarely weigh in on recommending one candidate over another. The other, called "Hasidic," tend to vote in blocks, with their leaders openly endorsing candidates.

Kamenetsky, 95, is the head of the Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia, and a member of an elite council of the Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox world's leading lobbying and advocacy organization.

In the interview, Kamenetsky expressed his concerns that religion is on the decline in the United States. "G-d has become a dirty word in much of America," he said.

"Religion and religious institutions are their enemy — we need rachamei shamayim [heavenly mercy.] If Trump doesn't win in November, it's worrisome."

Kamenetsky said it doesn't matter how the president talks. "That's because he's a gvir, a wealthy man," he said. "Wealthy, powerful people have a way of speaking and acting that is not refined. That's not a reason not to vote for him."

Kamenetsky is also known for stating that he believes vaccinations to be a hoax.

Not all of Kamenetsky's constituents share his attitude toward coarse language, or the president.

In the same issue of Mishpacha, a full-page ad taken by a group of Orthodox rabbis and thinkers seemed to criticize those who support Trump.

"The unhealthy confusion of Torah values with politics brings disrepute to Torah and harm to Torah Jews," wrote the group, which included Rabbi Emanuel Feldman of Atlanta, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg, Jeff Jacoby, Mishpacha columnist Eytan Kobre, Yosef Rapaport, Rabbi Avi Shafran of the Agudath Israel, and Dr. Aviva Weisbrod.

"Good character and benevolent governance are devalued," they wrote. "Many politicians and media figures revel in dividing rather than uniting the citizens of our country. Others legitimize conspiracy theories. None of this is good for America, and certainly not for us Jews."



Thursday, July 30, 2020

Details Revealed In Yeshiva’s Nyack College Purchase 

Village of South Nyack Mayor Bonnie Christian on a Tuesday night Zoom board meeting said Nyack College will be purchased by a Hasidic group but withheld details as to how the campus will be used.

Christian said South Nyack Village attorneys met with attorneys for Congregation Vizhnitz on July 16th to discuss the impending sale.

On July 10th, Village Attorney James Birnbaum confirmed in an email to Vizhnitz counsel Joseph Churgin that the congregation has contracted to purchase the campus to operate as a religious school for 250 college students, 250 high school aged students, plus an unspecified number of faculty, staff and family members to live on campus.

Christian also said a site plan and narrative for the property's use has been requested.

On Tuesday, July 28th, the yeshiva's counsel said in an email, "We are working on the narrative (diligently, I might add) but a death in the attorney's family has delayed delivery of the letter."

Also yesterday, William P. Harrington, outside counsel recently hired by the Village of South Nyack, also wrote to the attorney, saying: "My client wants to do the right thing and public disclosure of information would substantially help that effort."

Churgin, an attorney with Savad Churgin of Nanuet successfully represented Congregation Rabbinical College of Tartikov Inc.  last year alleging discriminatory zoning practices in Pomona to block an Orthodox Jewish congregation from building a dormitory college for rabbinical students and their families.

There has been a great deal of secrecy around the prospective buyer or buyers of Nyack College but sources have told RCBJ that Rockland County for-profit developer Berel Karniol is involved in the purchase and hopes to redevelop the campus for market-rate housing. Sources say Karniol is working with Gabe Alexander, who was presumed to be the original "for-profit" developer who intended to buy the campus but was not identified in Nyack College's application to the Village of South Nyack to amend the existing special permit allowing educational and dormitory use on the campus. The deal, believed to be around $45 million, may involve both entities and it is unclear how the two interests would coalesce.

A buyer who intends to use the campus for educational purposes will likely be able to continue the use even if the special permits have lapsed. However, any development or change of use will require variances, zoning changes, or a new special permit.

Two weeks ago, when the board had already received the letter from the Vizhnitz lawyer and when the Mayor publicly claimed to have no idea who the buyer was, she allowed a New Jersey-based architect to present an alternative and detailed vision for the redevelopment of Nyack College. That vision included a new Village hall, library, senior and youth center, performing arts center, playground, and a plethora of housing options.

While the presentation, which had not appeared on the meeting agenda, seemed to come from left field, ENV New Jersey, a national architectural and interior design firm with offices in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Virginia, and Los Angeles, was retained by Procida Funding & Advisors LLC of Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Nyack College's financial lender, nearly three years ago to evaluate the campus for its infrastructure and the state of its buildings before Procida lent Nyack College $38.5 million.



Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Woodbridge police investigating after swastika found at Jewish Community Center 

 Police are investigating after a swastika was found painted on the sidewalk outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven, Sgt. A.J. Cappiello said Wednesday.

Officials with the center said a swastika was found "spray painted on the sidewalk near the pool entry door on the side of the building" last week. No other graffiti was found, they said.

"The Woodbridge police were called and immediately responded and have opened a case file. The FBI, ADL and Secure Communities Network have all be notified and are closely monitoring the situation. We have received no threats but are taking this time to remind our staff to be attentive," JCC President Jeff Sklarz and JCC Executive Director Scott Cohen said in a statement on the organization's website.

"We are confident in our security protocols and our strong relationships with local law enforcement, who have reiterated their support for our mission, members, and community."

Sklarz and Cohen asked JCC members and visitors to report any suspicious activity around the building.

Judy Alperin, chief executive officer of the Jewish Foundation of Greater New Haven, said the center had not experienced a direct attack like this since her tenure began in 2016, although they received telephonic threats in 2017.

"However, we continue to monitor rising incidents of anti-Semitism in Connecticut, the US and throughout the world," said Alperin.

Cappiello said the department was continuing to investigate the incident Wednesday . No additional information was available, he said.



Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Security guard disarms ax-wielding man inside Ukraine synagogue 

A security guard at a Ukraine synagogue overpowered a man armed with an ax who broke into the compound shouting "where's the synagogue?"

The intruder slightly wounded the guard, who managed to wrestle the weapon away from him. No one else was injured in the incident Tuesday in Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine.

Police are looking for the intruder, who fled after breaking free from the grip of the security guard, according to Christians for Israel, a Netherlands-based organization that funds security costs for the synagogue, including the guard's salary.

The incident happened shortly after morning prayers when Mendel Cohen, the local rabbi, was in the building with two other people. The synagogue was nearly empty because of coronavirus measures.

"Thank G-d, the security guard managed to disarm him," Cohen said in a statement about the incident sent out by Christians for Israel. "I was in the synagogue at the time this was happening. I went inside and exited through the back door."

Cohen thanked Christians for Israel, saying he would probably not be alive if it were not for the security they are providing.

Cohen, an emissary of the Chabad movement, has been providing aid from Mariupol to Jews living in the rebel-held territories held by separatists alongside the border with Russia.

"He is in shock but coming to terms with what happened," Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who facilitated the Christians for Israel sponsorship of the synagogue's security needs, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after Jacobs spoke to Cohen several times Tuesday on the phone.



Monday, July 27, 2020

NYPD looking for 2 Men Robbing Hasidic Men of Their Hats in Brooklyn 

The NYPD is on the hunt for two men who have allegedly been stealing hats from Hasidic men walking in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg.

Authorities say the two men, riding a Citi Bike, will approach a victim before swiping their hat from off their head and fleeing, as reported by Fox 5 and NYPD public notices

The pair struck four times on July 23, stealing hats from two 21-year-old Hasidic men, a 46-year-old Hasidic man and a 48-year-old Hasidic man over the course of roughly two hours.

Police have released surveillance footage of the pair from the fourth incident.



Friday, July 24, 2020

Williamsburg primary upset might indicate slipping power for Hasidic leaders 

The victory of an activist over a long-serving state politician might signal that there's more support, even in a devout Brooklyn district, for secular education in religious schools than suspected.

Community organizer Emily Gallagher, 36, narrowly beat Assemblyman Joe Lentol, 77, by an estimated 400 to 600 votes in the Democratic primary in the 50th Assembly District, which includes Hasidic Williamsburg.

She did so despite the fact that Lentol had been in office since 1973, longer than she has been alive, and had endorsements from Jewish leaders like Rabbi David Niederman, Simcha Eichenstein, Moshe Shmuel Lando and Sholem Pesach Grinberg, some of whom praised him for his commitment to protect their yeshivas from what they saw as outside interference. Lentol is Catholic.

"Emily Gallagher's win against Joe Lentol in Brooklyn is a loss for the Satmar leadership who have totally lost the younger generation," tweeted Rabbi Pini Dunner, a prominent Orthodox rabbi in California with ties to the east coast Hasidic community. "This electoral upset is a quiet revolution that is gathering pace."

Voters reported seeing signs in Yiddish for Lentol defaced with a spray-painted black "x."

Dunner said when reached by WhatsApp that he knows "the younger generation are fed up being directed to vote for those who keep the ancien regime functioning and alive."

With Hasidic leadership making yeshivas a central issue in their endorsements for Lentol, it's possible that dissenters who are supportive of reform at the schools did not tow the party line this primary season, or simply did not vote, either in person or by mail.

Williamsburg is home to one of two of the largest communities of Satmar Hasidim in the world, a dynasty characterized by strict religious observance and insularity with roots in pre-war Hungary.

Gallagher, the founder of the Greenpoint Sexual Assault Task Force, an advocate for bike lanes and an opponent of gentrification, may seem like an unlikely representative for this community. But while she did not address the yeshivas issue in her campaign, Gallagher stressed that she supports affordable housing and pre-school vouchers that would help her Hasidic constituents.

The district includes parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Navy Yard and Clinton Hill.

By many accounts, Lentol's loss was a surprise. Explanations range from low turnout among the Hasidim in Williamsburg, normally a powerful voting bloc, to a changing tide on yeshivas and lesser influence of the neighborhood's religious leaders who were calling for Lentol's victory, to greater turnout among the district's progressives, according to Jewish leaders and advocates for more oversight over secular education at yeshivas.

At the root of the leadership's support of Lentol was a longstanding relationship with the legislator, who supported Orthodox leaders in forcibly opening parks despite the mayor's closure due to the coronavirus, who delivered a letter on the leaders' behalf to Governor Cuomo asking summer camps to open this season, who attended legislative breakfasts for yeshiva advocates and rubbed elbows with lobbyists and other parties interested in preserving the current state of secular education at yeshivas.

Lentol was winning the June 23 election by about 1,800 votes until mail-in ballots began to roll in. After that, Gallagher scrambled to a lead.

While Gallagher's campaign did not run on any issues related to the yeshivas, Satmar leadership positioned her as an enemy of the cause about two weeks before the election.

"The dedicated Joe Lentol who advocates for our rights is at risk of losing to dangerous leftist elements," said a June 19 story in Der Yid, the widely-read Hasidic newspaper in Williamsburg.

"When it comes to the decrees regarding religious education he's our best friend and strongest defender," wrote Niederman in Yiddish in his endorsement for Lentol in Der Yid. "Dear brothers: if we, God forbid, fail to reelect him we shall suffer bitterly. The danger to our religious education and all of our other problems could, God forbid, become much greater."



Thursday, July 23, 2020

Trio attacks Jewish man in possible hate crime in Brooklyn 

A trio of attackers got out of their SUV and punched a Jewish man in Brooklyn in an incident that is being investigated as a possible hate crime, the NYPD said. 

The 51-year-old man was crossing a street in the vicinity of Kings Highway and East 26th Street in Midwood around 3 p.m. on July 11 when he got into an argument with three men riding in a grey SUV, police said. 

The argument escalated, at which point the three men pulled over, got out of the vehicle and started punching the man's head and body, leaving him with cuts and bruises, the NYPD said. 

The three men got back into the vehicle and fled the scene after the attack, police said. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force has been notified about the incident and is investigating, according to police. 



Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Feds tell Airmont: Stop discriminating against Jews or face legal action again 

Call federal prosecutors threatening legal action deja vu for Airmont taxpayers.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan wrote the village Monday that prosecutors plan to file another civil rights action against the Ramapo village on the grounds of discriminating against Orthodox Jews.

Federal prosecutors have been successful with two previous legal actions claiming the Airmont zoning code and enforcement discriminated against Jewish residents since the village formed in 1991. 

Prosecutors told Airmont officials they can avoid a lengthy and expensive legal action if they are willing to negotiate a settlement, according to the letter dated July 20 from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan.

The letter states the assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division has authorized a lawsuit against Airmont for violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, known as RLUIPA.

The letter says the pending legal action is "arising out of the design and implementation of Airmont's zoning code, which substantially burdens, discriminates against, and unreasonably limits the practice of religion by the Village's Orthodox Jewish community."

"We will briefly delay filing the complaint if the Village is willing to negotiate a resolution of this matter through a consent decree that would be filed simultaneously with the complaint," the letter states.

The prosecutors wrote they would file a legal action no later than Sept. 15 and may do so earlier if they don't receive a response within two weeks stating that the village is willing to negotiate a resolution.

The village's attorney, Brian Sokoloff, said Tuesday that Airmont just received the letter and does not "comment on pending or threatening litigation.

"Any discussions with the federal government can't be through the media," said Sokoloff, a partner with the Long Island-based Sokoloff Stern LLP.

Mayor Nathan Bubel and Deputy Mayor Brian Downey and the three other trustees didn't return emails seeking comment.

The Sokoloff Stern firm also represents Airmont in two separate civil rights lawsuits filed in November and December 2018 — one by the Central UTA school and the other by several rabbis and congregations led by Congregation Ridnik.

Sokoloff said the judge in the Ridnik case is considering the village's motion to dismiss the legal action. And he said the judge in the Central UTA case dismissed "a good portion" of that case. He said the village won a legal action in state court.

First Liberty Institute, a nationwide religious rights organization based in Texas, represents the organizations suing the village and praised the federal involvement.

"We are encouraged to know that the Department of Justice is taking these issues seriously and we hope Airmont moves to resolve these matters without having to go through yet another lawsuit from the federal government," said Hiram Sasser, executive general counsel to First Liberty.

Airmont updated its zoning code in 2018 after a nearly two-year process during which the village government thrice extended a building moratorium that some Hasidic Jewish residents found restricted their plans to expand their homes.

Airmont incorporated in 1991 amid accusations of looking to block Orthodox Jews from setting up a synagogue in a residential neighborhood.

The zoning led to Airmont losing legal actions in 1992 and 2005, costing taxpayers legal fees to an Orthodox Jewish coalition and the U.S. Attorney's Office for zoning laws that discriminated against Hasidic and Orthodox Jews looking to establish yeshivas and synagogues.

Federal prosecutors, in their July 20 letter, said Airmont had been the target of an inquiry since the expiration of the latest consent decree from previous legal actions.

"Airmont has once again been engaging in discrimination by, among other things, preventing the operation of home synagogues and a religious school, allegations which are the subject of two currently-pending lawsuits brought by private plaintiffs in the Southern District of New York," the letter states.

 As a result of its inquiry, prosecutors determined that Airmont's zoning practices:

Impose a substantial burden on the Orthodox Jewish community's religious exercise under federal law.

Discriminate against the Orthodox Jewish community on the basis of religion or religious denomination in violation of federal law.
Unreasonably limits religious assemblies, institutions or structures.

Prosecutors said they also determined that the village violated the 1996 federal court judgment that mandated that Airmont's zoning code must recognize the category of "residential place of worship," a category which has been removed from the zoning code. 

The village has a growing Hasidic and Orthodox Jewish population, as people have been buying houses in the southern Ramapo village as the older residents move out.

The last village election in 2019 saw Bubel and two running-mates supported by mostly Orthodox Jewish residents win election, defeating the incumbent mayor and two trustees on the Preserve Airmont ticket who ran a vigorous write-in vote after leaving the ballot during a petition challenge.

Airmont resident Yehuda Zorger, a frequent government critic and defender of Jews facing what he calls discrimination, said the village officials should learn from the past and avoid the federal government from stepping in to the village's business.

"It is unfortunate that Preserve Airmont has taken this village down this course again," Zorger said. "These village officials in different capacities doing the dirty work of using this municipality as a tool to discriminate daily will either change the laws and their behavior or the Justice Department will do it for them."



Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Jewish camp That Opened Tests 100% Negative for COVID-19 

Camp Modin, a Jewish overnight camp in New England that opened even as scores of others closed this year, got some good news last week: All of its campers have tested negative for COVID-19.

"We informed the campers and staff this evening that our collective efforts have delivered the successful results we have all been dreaming about," read an email sent to parents last week by the camp's directors. "Although we can now take a moment to catch (our) breath, we will remain vigilant as we move forward, with the singular goal of mitigating risk."

The camp, which is in Maine, announced in May that it would open, even as camps across the country and the Jewish religious spectrum announced that they would be shutting down this year due to state regulations or the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak. Modin tested its campers and staff several times, in addition to a range of other safety precautions.

On Thursday, the camp plans to hold an "in-person Modin B'nai Mitzvah celebration" in honor of its campers who were unable to celebrate their bar, bat or b'nai mitzvahs with friends this year.



Monday, July 20, 2020

Jewish People Who Have Recovered From COVID Have Donated Half of All the Plasma Used in US Treatments 

Since Hasidic and Jewish Orthodox communities were some of the first to suffer the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, they are now turning their experiences into a nationwide movement that has already saved thousands of lives.

Out of all the COVID-19 treatments that are currently being researched in the US, convalescent plasma therapy has been shown to be particularly promising—especially for severe cases of the virus. The treatment involves drawing blood plasma out of an individual who has recovered from and built up an immunity to COVID-19, testing the blood for the related antibody, and then injecting it into a sick patient so that the antibody can attack the virus for its new host.

When Dr. Michael Joyner first began spearheading the treatment's research at the Mayo Clinic back in mid-April, one of the biggest hurdles for its progress was obtaining blood plasma from people who had already recovered from the novel coronavirus.

Joyner knew that many Jewish communities in New York City had been hard-hit by the virus prior to the city's lockdown because of how its large religious families tend to be more closely-knit—so he hosted a conference call with several of the city's most prominent rabbis and asked asked them for help.

Just 36 hours later, more than 1,000 vials of plasma from Jewish people who had recovered from the virus were delivered to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. The delivery was not just an astonishing feat of organized community speed, it was also a medical success: more than 60% of the donations tested positive for antibodies proven to be effective in fighting COVID-19.

Since that initial donation, Jewish communities across the country have hosted plasma drives to help save at-risk COVID patients.

"There's no way we'd be able to treat so many people without them," Dr. Joyner told NBC News. "They were the straw that serves the drink in a lot of ways."



Friday, July 17, 2020

New York Board of Regents outlines discussion plans for equivalency standards in private schools 

New York education officials say concerns some private religious schools haven't provided enough traditional teaching calls for more discussion and this week announced plans to hold six meetings with private- and public-school leaders in the coming months.

The state Board of Regents released a "Substantial Equivalency Update" report last month, detailing revisions to a century-old New York law mandating that private school academic instruction must be at least equivalent to what public schools teach.

A 2018 amendment to the law shifted ultimate responsibility for determining substantial equivalence to the Education Commissioner, but public response resulted in new proposed regulations.

"Given the wealth of comments and varying views expressed, the Department recommended to the Board of Regents at its February 2020 meeting that we re-engage stakeholders for feedback on the proposed amendments toward the common goal of ensuring all children receive the instruction to which they are entitled," the report states.

MaryEllen Elia, the former state education commissioner, in 2016 began reviewing the law amid concerns some Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox yeshivas were not incorporating enough academics in their curricula.

The Orthodox Jewish community, as well as Catholic and other private school advocates, have protested the state's intervention in what they teach. The issue remains a key concern in New York City, along with Rockland and Orange counties, which have a high number of Hasidic and ultra-Orthodox yeshivas.

Education officials have said further discussion should focus on what substantial equivalency means and how the law functions, including how much English students have to know.



Thursday, July 16, 2020


Jewish communities in the United States should follow the example of their counterparts in Europe and place security measures in place in synagogues, Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said in an interview. Kelly added "we are in a dangerous place in history."

Budget cuts combined with a dissolution of respect for police officers are creating a perfect storm that will see safety decline in New York City and elsewhere, Kelly said to Matthew Bronfman, chair of the International Steering Committee of Limmud FSU during an interview online.

"In the US the Jewish community needs to be more alert about who is entering community premises," Kelly explained, warning that in the current environment, synagogues can not be completely open environments.

Kelly, who currently heads the Anti-Semitism Accountability Project (ASAP), has went to ten European countries and met with both government and faith leaders to better understand how antisemitism is being handled in comparison with their US counterparts.

"Antisemitism there is not new. Neo-Nazis have never gone away, and populism is helping them flex their muscles," Kelly added. He admitted that the threat was different in the two locations – in France, for example, antisemitism is catalyzed by the left's support for the boycott (BDS) campaign and the Muslim community. Compounding the phenomenon is a government dragging its feet in the recognition of religious minority rights. He added how many could walk around wearing openly antisemitic messages without consequence.

Conversely, antisemitism in America is harder to identify saying: "Antisemitic groups hang out on the net – only 20% of which is registered, with the antisemitic activities taking place on the dark web," Kelly said.

Nonetheless, Jewish groups in the US should learn from the European example in putting stronger security measures in place.

Kelly's sentiments echo that of an Israeli 'oracle' who also warned that Jews outside of Israel are in grave danger. The oracle, who goes by the name 'Daniel' warned: "I'm talking to all the Jews that live in the United States. Your life will not go back to what it used to be. Although now it seems as if it's quiet and peaceful, but it's not the case."

Rabbi Nachman Kahane has also sounded the alarm telling Breaking Israel News that: "Jews in America think the current unrest in America is not targeting them but they will get burned up in it.  All the Jews in America need to get up and leave right now."



Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Jewish day camp in Texas closes following COVID-19 outbreak 

A Jewish day camp in suburban Dallas has closed after at least two campers and two counselors tested positive for COVID-19.

The closing of Gan Israel of Plano, Texas, on Tuesday night serves as a cautionary tale as schools look to reopen this fall. The camp, which according to its website serves kids ages two to incoming seventh graders, is run by Chabad, the Hasidic outreach movement.

Gan Israel closed for the summer after receiving the positive test results and has no plans to reopen, the camp confirmed to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The camp joins a growing number of summer camps that have closed after campers or staffers tested positive for COVID-19 and its experience demonstrates the delicacy of reopening child care facilities just six weeks before the beginning of the school year. The camp abided by state regulations and put cautionary measures in place.

The camp opened for a four-week session on June 29. But it could not escape Texas' current spike in COVID-19, which has seen close to 10,000 new cases a day for much of the past week.

"Some people might say, 'Well, there's a pandemic, so how can you even think about opening camp, period?'" said Hannah Lebovits, who sent her two children, ages 3 and 6, to the camp. "Everything they did was legal in opening their camp. Nothing was questionable."

A camper showed symptoms of the coronavirus on the Thursday following the July 4 weekend, and the number of cases grew from there. On Monday, the camp notified parents that that camper's counselor and another counselor had also tested positive. On Tuesday, when the camp learned that a second camper in a younger age group had tested positive, it closed camp entirely.

The camp did not test all campers for COVID-19, but it took the kids' temperatures every morning and monitored them for symptoms. It also required counselors to wear masks and asked older children to as well. Campers were met by counselors at the drop-off point each day and parents and other visitors were not let in the building.

But the camp said on its website that social distancing is not developmentally appropriate for children, and therefore "we expect that your child will be at a distance of less than six feet of another child, neither of whom will be in a mask, at many times this summer." Counselors also took certain age groups to swim at a public pool.

Like all day camps, the camp had no control over how families conducted themselves outside of camp hours.

"This is such a huge concern with child care," Lebovits said. "It's exactly that thing, where you're scared that these other people are going about their lives and the kids are going about their lives and you're hoping that everybody's making good decisions, but who knows?"

Now, Lebovits is worried about what the school year is going to look like, and is concerned about her kids being without social contact, potentially for months more. Her family just moved to the area so she could begin a new job, and she isn't sure how she and her husband will be able to work and get to know their new community if their kids need to remain at home indefinitely.

"It's really scary and it's really frustrating," she said.

"Schools are going to be exactly like that too," she said. "And so, thinking about opening in a month and a half, when literally [the camp] couldn't be open for two weeks … We don't really know what could happen."



Tuesday, July 14, 2020

NY police search for suspects in assault of Orthodox man 

New York City police are searching for suspects after an Orthodox Jewish man was assaulted in Brooklyn over the weekend.

According to a CBS New York report, the incident occurred on Saturday at 2525 Kings Highway, near East 27th Street.

The 51-year-old victim told police he was walking home when three men pulled up next to him in a car and began screaming anti-Semitic insults.

The men then got out of the car and physically attacked him, leaving him with injuries to his face and a broken finger.

Police are currently looking for the perpetrators, who were described as being in their late teens or early 20s.

The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is also involved in the investigation.

A wave of street assaults targeting Jews in Brooklyn last year garnered media attention and was one of the motivations for the "No Hate, No Fear" march against anti-Semitism held in January.



Arrival of Hasidim in Uman for Rosh Hashanah celebration this year celebration 

The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine formed the view that the arrival of the dozens of thousand of Hasidim-pilgrims in Uman for the celebration of Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah in the traditional format this year is impossible as the document published by Uman Mayor Oleksandr Tsebriy reports.

"The result of the interdepartmental meeting at the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine is the common opinion that the arrival of the dozens of thousands of Hasidim-pilgrims in Uman for celebration in the traditional format is impossible," Tsebriy wrote.

According to the document, such a decision was made due to the current epidemical situation in Israel that is in the red zone according to the morbidity rate with coronavirus disease and ban for holding of mass events in Ukraine.

Earlier, Mayor of Uman Oleksandr Tsebriy stood against the arrival of Hasidim in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The government predicts the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic exactly for September. That is why I stand against the visit of our city by the pilgrims this year," Tsebriy stated.



Monday, July 13, 2020

Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jews are acting like they have herd immunity. Could they be right? 

The front page of the June 26 issue of Der Yid, one of the most widely circulated Yiddish newspapers among New York's Hasidic Orthodox communities, made the point loud and clear.

"And so it was after the plague."

Those words, lifted from a verse in the Torah and printed alongside photos of large gatherings of unmasked Hasidic men, had a clear implication: After months of funerals and fear, the modern-day pandemic had passed and the time had come to gather again.

That sentiment appears to be guiding life in Brooklyn's Hasidic communities, where nearly four months after the virus first arrived, synagogues and camps are open, yeshivas resumed classes before closing for summer break and wedding halls are packed again, sometimes in violation of city and state rules designed to slow the spread of disease. 

Continued gatherings of Hasidic Jews drew criticism from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others in the city this spring who said the communities were not doing their part to stop the spread of the virus. But inside the communities, the overwhelming perception is that most people have had the virus and may now be immune. 

"That's the feeling, that they've had it, everybody they know has had it, and the people they know who haven't had it have some kind of immunity that we just don't understand yet," one Williamsburg health administrator said.

If community members' assumptions are correct — and that's a big if, as much is not yet known about whether and how COVID-19 infections provide later immunity — Brooklyn's Orthodox neighborhoods would stand alone. Even in the few places such as Sweden that have explicitly pursued a strategy of trying to reach herd immunity, antibody tests show that most of the population there has not yet been infected.

But a confluence of bad timing, large families in cramped apartments and a highly social way of life that can't be replaced virtually gave residents of Brooklyn's Orthodox neighborhoods little opportunity to try to prevent a major outbreak. Now local health care providers and administrators say surveys and tests suggest that as many as 70% of the community has had COVID-19 and recovered, and that new cases have slowed or stopped entirely in their neighborhoods, despite a near total return to normal behavior, including large gatherings.

As case numbers skyrocket in many parts of the United States, the grim experiment that unfolded in Brooklyn's Hasidic communities offers a compelling case study for those trying to understand this virus — and the costs that come with experiencing its proliferation. 

"I have a sad feeling that we can go out and about because we were lax," said Yosef Rapaport, a 65-year-old media consultant in Borough Park whose brother and a brother-in-law were among the hundreds of community members to die this spring.

After being extremely cautious for months, even Rapaport admits that the lack of new cases has put him somewhat more at ease. But the way the community got there is something he wouldn't repeat if given the chance.

"It's not something that makes me happy," he said. "To benefit from the bad is something that makes me sad. But I can't have complaints that people live in the reality that exists."

"Yes, people are going to die, but they don't have better options."

The window to "flatten the curve," as public health officials exhorted the public to do in the pandemic's early days, in the tight-knit Orthodox communities of Brooklyn may have been over long before government officials began advising New York City residents to begin social distancing and wearing masks. 

That's because a majority of the cases in the Orthodox community, many believe, came in the days leading up to and on the Jewish holiday of Purim on March 9 and 10. While the mayor and governor were still days away from shutting down schools and businesses, parties and prayer services on Purim seeded the epidemic in Crown Heights, Borough Park and other neighborhoods with large Orthodox communities.

"Purim came at a really bad time in the outbreak," Eili Klein, a professor of emergency medicine at the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in April. "The virus was just starting to spread in the community, and congregations of people in close proximity might have allowed the small number of infected people to spread it more widely than they might have otherwise."

A week later there were just over 800 confirmed coronavirus cases across New York City. More than 100 had come from just one Borough Park clinic serving Orthodox Jews.

That was the beginning. Over the coming weeks, the communities were ravaged by the disease. Death notices were posted hourly on Orthodox news sites. Burial societies worked continuously and ran out of the shrouds required to lay the dead to rest. Funeral homes recruited people with SUVs to transport bodies they lacked the capacity to handle.

And then, just as abruptly as it began, the pace slowed. One large burial society in Brooklyn said the volume of dead bodies needing preparation for burial dropped off two weeks after Passover, which ended in mid-April. They had prepared 700 bodies for burial during a period in which they would normally have prepared 100.

Widespread efforts toward social distancing began to wane in some Hasidic neighborhoods, especially Williamsburg and Borough Park. After thousands of people crowded Williamsburg streets in late April for the funeral of a rabbi there who had died of COVID-19, de Blasio called out "the Jewish community" for failing to follow social distancing guidelines. Two days later, another funeral in Borough Park drew a large crowd that city police officers dispersed. Some yeshivas began reopening illegally, with classes held in basements or teachers' homes.

The abandonment of social distancing may have seemed cavalier, but some community members say it was inevitable. 

"They can't socially distance because they can't be locked up, because they chose a way of life in which it's impossible to exist locked up," one Hasidic man in Borough Park said about his community, noting that it's not uncommon for a Hasidic family of 10 or 12 to live in a two- or three-bedroom apartment. "Yes, people are going to die, but they don't have better options."

No spike in cases seemed to follow in those neighborhoods, according to health professionals there, reinforcing the sense for many that the danger had passed.

Meanwhile, a group of local doctors working to track COVID cases in the Hasidic community in Crown Heights, where distancing guidelines appeared to be more widely adhered to for a longer period of time, found that local newly symptomatic cases peaked on March 15. That was just five days after Purim and weeks before the city's new cases peaked, well into widespread distancing.

The doctors began working together in March under the auspices of the Gedaliah Society, a professional development group that functioned in relative obscurity before the pandemic but quickly became an authority in the community's efforts to respond to the pandemic.

Using a Google form disseminated on a blog and through social media, the doctors asked local residents to self-report their symptoms, when the symptoms began and other information that would help the doctors understand how far the virus had spread. 

More than 3,500 people responded quickly to a subsequent survey asking respondents for antibody test results, leading the doctors to estimate that a majority of community members could have antibodies. They estimated that slightly more than 70% of the community's adults between the ages of 25 and 65 had "been sick with COVID-like symptoms." Among adults over age 65, they estimated, 55% had been sick.

Without random testing, it's impossible to know the true penetration of the virus in Crown Heights. But the doctors' estimates would put the community within the range that scientists say is likely to confer herd immunity, meaning enough of the community has recovered from a disease or been inoculated by a vaccine to significantly mitigate or stop the spread of the disease within the community.

That's exactly what the doctors said they were seeing.

"In our little island of Crown Heights, we have had relatively few new cases over the past few weeks," they wrote on May 11.

The situation had improved even more by their update on June 5, when they reported no new cases in the community.

"Presumably, this is due to the large percentage of Crown Heights that has been already affected, conferring a substantial degree of immunity to us as a community," the doctors wrote on June 5.

In late June, they wrote again that they knew of no new local cases.

"The numbers are high."

The Crown Heights survey looked at just one neighborhood, but Borough Park and Williamsburg, two other neighborhoods with large Hasidic populations, appear to have had a similar experience.

Overall, there is evidence that many people across New York City have had COVID-19 already. In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said an antibody study had shown a citywide positive rate of 19.9% and a positive rate of 29% in Brooklyn. A study posted in early June of over 28,000 antibody test results in the New York City area showed that 44% of respondents who walked into clinics for antibody testing were found to have them. (That study has not yet gone through the peer review process.)

But none of those studies offers a picture of the situation in Hasidic communities, which are relatively insular. Even the city's data, broken down by Zip code, is an imperfect measure for communities that are spread over multiple Zip codes that include many non-Jews.

"What's more helpful are what we're getting from the community health centers where the Jewish people are going to be tested for their antibodies," said Blimi Marcus, a nurse practitioner living in Borough Park who has been an outspoken advocate within the Orthodox community for staying home to stop the spread of the virus. "And the numbers are high."

Administrators and providers from four health care clinics with locations in Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods told JTA that they had seen antibody positive rates that were far higher than the citywide data.

"In the first weeks when they first started to offer it, positive rates hovered in the 55-60% range," Yosef Hershkop, regional manager at Kamin Health, said of the tests done at his clinic.

Kamin Health has locations in Crown Heights, Borough Park, Williamsburg and Queens and performed thousands of antibody tests across all four locations. Hershkop said the percentage of antibody tests that came back positive had dropped in recent weeks but was still above 50%.

Gary Schlesinger, the CEO of Parcare, a chain of health care clinics, said his clinics in Williamsburg and Borough Park had seen antibody positive rates of 70-74%.

Nosson Hayum, a nurse practitioner at the Perfect Health Medical Center in Borough Park, said early results showed that teenage boys in the community had the highest rates of positive antibody test results.

A health care administrator at a large Williamsburg clinic that serves mostly Hasidic patients said she had seen antibody positive results of around 40%. But that number rose to 75% if you looked at males aged 18-34.

"It makes sense if you look at the population we're serving," the Williamsburg administrator said, noting that men in Hasidic communities have the most active lives outside the home, attending synagogue and often studying in yeshiva.

An especially high infection rate among young men is just one piece of the community's antibodies picture. Hasidic communities tend to be younger on average, with couples often having as many as eight children or more. According to the city's most recent population data, just over 50% of Borough Park's population is 24 years old or younger and 14% are under 6. Mounting evidence suggests that young children are unlikely to be sources of transmission for the coronavirus, meaning that Orthodox communities essentially have a disproportionately high share of dead ends for the virus, or at least a larger proportion of people who are at lower risk of becoming seriously ill.

Schlesinger, who is not a doctor, doesn't claim to know why the community has seen so few cases despite synagogues and schools reopening. But if you assume that antibodies confer immunity, he said, then the numbers point to herd immunity.

"If you're talking in the 70s and if herd immunity means something, then that's what it is," he said.

But Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an Orthodox rabbi, questioned whether any data from local clinics or groups like the Gedaliah Society in Crown Heights could show that a community had achieved herd immunity.

"Unless they're getting a random sampling of the community, statistically it's worth zero," he said.

Still, several epidemiologists and doctors studying the novel coronavirus acknowledged that it would be possible for Orthodox communities to have especially high rates of positive antibodies and the protection they may provide.

"I think there are likely segments, enclaves, whatever, where a large number of people in the Orthodox community have been infected and recovered and thus a major outbreak among that group is unlikely," said Dr. Michael Joyner, an anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic who is leading a national study on the effects of convalescent plasma in treating COVID patients. Young Orthodox men were among the first participants in the study and have made up a large percentage of plasma donors.



Friday, July 10, 2020

Herd immunity might exist in some NYC neighborhoods 

There is growing evidence that some New York City neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic might have a unique advantage moving forward. "Some communities might have herd immunity," Daniel Frogel, who plays a key role in the city testing program through his role at CityMD, told The New York Times. 

Antibody test results and reports from local health care clinics suggest that somewhere around 70% of the people in places such as Jackson Heights in Queens and Borough Park in Brooklyn have already had the coronavirus. This could mean they have inadvertently achieved a level of communal protection that has eluded countries that deliberately tried to get it – with deadly consequences.

Public health experts say that much more evidence is needed to prove that infections in hard-hit areas of Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx actually exceeded the 70% mark. "Unless they're getting a random sampling of the community, statistically it's worth zero," one epidemiologist told the Jewish Telegraph Agency. 

While scientists are also unsure whether COVID-19 herd immunity is even possible, the ongoing decline in cases in some city neighborhoods hints that asymptomatic people and those who eventually recover from COVID-19 cannot get the disease later on.

Brooklyn's Hasidic neighborhoods are a developing case in point. The coronavirus hit these communities in early March before many social distancing restrictions were put in place. Hundreds of deaths later, there is a widespread perception that herd immunity has been achieved, according to the Jewish Telegraph Agency. "Otherwise, how do you explain zero cases after months of packed shuls, open schools, huge weddings?" one Brooklyn man asked the publication.

Such assumptions could turn out to be true, but some in the Orthodox community say a new normal without social distancing was hardly worth so much death and debilitating illness. "To benefit from the bad is something that makes me sad," one Brooklyn man who lost family members to COVID-19, told JTA. "But I can't have complaints that people live in the reality that exists."



Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Madison Hillel sign defaced 

A sign in front of the Hillel building in Madison was defaced with the words "Free Palestine" on Tuesday. 

"Free Palestine" is a slogan used by some who argue that "Palestine" must be "freed." There have been similar signs and incidents at other campuses around America.  

Many in the Jewish world have criticized calls to "Free Palestine," noting that Jews have lived in Palestine since well before the creation of the state of Israel; the Israeli military vacated the Gaza Strip years ago and it has since been a platform for terror; Judaism, through the Torah, is deeply tied to the land; and efforts to create a two-state solution have been scuttled in the past by Palestinian leadership.  

The vandalism is a bias incident, said Madison Hillel President and Chief Executive Officer Greg Steinberger. 

"We view this as being targeted. It's because of where and what it was," he said. "It's not like they tagged ten buildings in town." 

Police are investigating.  

Steinberger said Madison Hillel is a "place where Jewish students and the campus community can gather and participate in diversity on the issues of our time." 

In a Facebook post, he wrote: "Our campus community is resilient and strong, and we will clean up the graffiti, work with the community on the investigation and move forward leading with our commitment to empowering students to build vibrant community based on values of love, respect, justice and peace. If you are seeking a place to talk and reflect on this or other issues, please be in touch. We are here for you, we care, and we need you too." 

Madison Hillel is one of the largest Hillels in the nation, both by Jewish population and building size.



Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Orthodox Jewish camps won’t open as judge sides with Cuomo 

A last-ditch effort by Orthodox Jews in New York to clear the way for overnight camps this summer fell short on July 6 as a federal judge declined to intervene against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to keep the camps closed.

The judge was responding to a lawsuit brought last month by the Association of Jewish Camp Operators, which represents Orthodox camps. By banning overnight camps while allowing day camps and protests, the suit argued, Cuomo was privileging some activities over others — a potential violation of the Constitution's First Amendment.

The camp organization, represented by the prominent Orthodox lawyer Avi Schick, sought a restraining order that would allow camps to operate while that legal question made its way through the courts.

But Judge Glenn Suddaby of the U.S. District Court in upstate New York said the suit's religious liberty argument was not immediately compelling.

"Overall, Plaintiffs have failed to show that Defendant's executive orders were taken because of, not merely in spite of, their religious practice," he wrote in his decision.

Cuomo has allowed day camps to open with restrictions, while other states have allowed overnight camps. Some Orthodox camps have opened outside of New York, with some even relocating because of the rule.



Monday, July 06, 2020

Uman mayor speaks against this year's Hasidic pilgrimage over COVID-19 concerns 

The mayor of Uman, a Ukrainian town where Hasidic Jews flock every year to visit the tomb of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, has spoken against this year's pilgrimage set to be held in September amid the uncertainty over the coronavirus spread developments.

"Every year about 30,000 pilgrims come to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. But this year, the coronavirus pandemic made adjustments to our life... It's a very difficult situation in the world and in Ukraine. In Uman, the situation is under control... But the arrival of a large number of foreigners from different countries could cause a coronavirus outbreak in our town," Mayor Oleksandr Tserbiy said in a video address he uploaded on Facebook.

He went on to express doubt that all pilgrims who would like to visit the town this year would have appropriate medical certificates with negative COVID-19 test results. Neither is the mayor sure visitors would actually undergo the required 14-day observation upon arrival and comply with all requirements of the adaptive quarantine Ukraine has introduced. Read also Ukraine's Health Minister comments on possibility of nationwide strict quarantine "The government foresees the second wave of coronavirus in September.

In the current situation, I stand against the arrival of pilgrims this year," the mayor emphasized. However, he noted, Uman residents' opinion must be heard, so he suggested that people leave comments under his post and have their say on the matter. Earlier in April, Israeli Ambassador to Ukraine Joël Lion has called on the Hasidim not to go on a pilgrimage to Uman amid the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of members of Hasidim come to Uman every year to visit the tomb of their spiritual leader, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.


Thursday, July 02, 2020

Chabad says 100,000 people attended Zoom commemoration 

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement estimates that 100,000 people on 45,000 devices gathered in an online Zoom event to honor the late Chabad rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Schneerson, who died in 1994, led the movement's transition from a small and insular Hasidic sect to an outward-facing global force. Tens of thousands visit his grave in Queens, New York, every year on the anniversary of his death. Things were different this year in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Our focus is always to strengthen people's connection to the Rebbe," Rabbi Levi Slonim, a Chabad emissary to Binghamton, New York, and a member of the organizing committee, told Chabad.org. "This year, we needed to dig deeper and be more creative in order to accomplish our goal, but thank God, the event was deeply moving and the sheer magnitude of it was breathtaking."

The approximately 100,000 people who tuned in gathered in 26 different Zoom rooms to form one mega event dubbed "Barcheinu Avinu," or "Remembering Our Father." The event, which could be the largest ever on Zoom in the world, featured Torah speakers and singers.



Wednesday, July 01, 2020

COVID-19 Control Measures Violate the First Amendment When They Arbitrarily Favor Secular Conduct 

About a month after Bill de Blasio personally led a police raid on a Hasidic rabbi's funeral in Brooklyn, which he portrayed as an intolerable threat in the era of COVID-19, New York's mayor visited the same borough to address a tightly packed crowd of protesters who had gathered in response to George Floyd's death. Far from ordering them to disperse in the name of public health, the unmasked mayor enthusiastically expressed solidarity with the demonstrators.

The contrast between de Blasio's anger at Jewish mourners and his solicitude toward political protesters figures prominently in last Friday's decision, where a federal judge deemed New York's pandemic-inspired restrictions on religious gatherings unconstitutional. The ruling, which said COVID-19 control measures violate the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom when they draw arbitrary distinctions between religious and secular conduct, is a warning to politicians across the country as they loosen the sweeping restrictions they imposed in the name of flattening the curve.

"Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite," de Blasio tweeted the day of the funeral raid. "When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus."

De Blasio added: "My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period."

But that period turned out to be a comma, followed by an exception for large outdoor gatherings promoting a cause that appealed to the mayor's progressive instincts. As U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe noted when he issued an injunction against New York's limits on religious services, both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo actively encouraged the recent protests against police brutality.

Sharpe agreed with the plaintiffs -- two Roman Catholic priests from upstate New York and three Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn -- that de Blasio and Cuomo had created a de facto distinction between religious and political gatherings. He also noted explicit restrictions on religious activities that did not apply to secular activities posing similar risks of virus transmission.

The rules limited attendance at indoor church and synagogue services to 25% of capacity, while allowing various businesses, including stores, offices, salons and restaurants, to operate at 50% of capacity and imposing no limit on special educational services. The state "specifically authorized outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies of no more than 150 people" while imposing a 25-person limit on outdoor religious gatherings, including masses, funerals and weddings.

The Supreme Court has said neutral, generally applicable laws that happen to restrict religious activities are consistent with the First Amendment. But it also has said laws that impose special burdens on religious activities are subject to strict scrutiny, meaning they are unconstitutional unless they are narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.



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