Wednesday, December 30, 2020
Authorities in eastern France said Tuesday they had found 107 tombs desecrated with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans in a Jewish graveyard near the German border.
The vandalism in the town of Westhoffen, west of the city of Strasbourg, was found hours after a comparable assault on another Jewish burial ground in the close by town of Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn.
French President Emmanuel Macron visited the cemetery, in a village near Strasbourg, telling community leaders: "It's important for me to be here with you today."
France has the biggest Jewish community in Europe, with approximately 550,000 people.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denounced the "egregious demonstrations" on Twitter, adding that everything was being done to guarantee the miscreants are dealt with.
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
In late 2014, I met with Naftuli Moster, a bright and charismatic graduate student at Hunter College who grew up in Brooklyn's Hasidic community. He was interested in studying Hasidic parents' attitudes toward secular (nonreligious) education—an area that I have long researched and written about.
I gave him the best guidance I could: how to write a survey, how to get buy-in from the community, whether to use Yiddish or English, and how to ensure that his sample was as representative as possible.
I eventually realized that his aim was not data collection. A month later, the New York Times reported that Moster was suing New York City and the state to force schools to provide more secular education. Over the last five years, Moster has managed to put in motion multiple lawsuits and countersuits, launch a spirited media campaign, and persuade New York State officials to pass new, unprecedented education guidelines regulating private education. Panicked supporters of the schools (called yeshivas) have responded by holding up the state budget in Albany and coordinating a letter-writing campaign opposing the proposed regulations.
Supporters of Moster's organization, Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), claim that secular education is a matter of basic human rights. Yeshiva education, they claim, dooms students to a life of poverty and despair. Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) opponents—represented formally by Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty (PEARLS)—see these intrusive regulations as an unprecedented assault on their religious way of life.
Considering that 170,000 students are currently enrolled in Jewish private schools in New York—110,000 of them in Hasidic schools—this issue carries major repercussions for both the Jewish community and the city of New York more broadly. The state's actions call into question the very idea of private education in the United States, as parents' educational choices may no longer matter in the face of state mandates. This has particular significance during a time of increased conflict over public education in the wake of Covid-19, as parents are stuck with public schools that won't open and are frequently turning to private alternatives. Moreover, this conflict has unfolded amid a growing strain of anti-Semitism in New York City and its suburbs—making this an existential issue for Haredim, who feel that their way of life is under threat and, with it, perhaps their lives themselves.
Orthodox Judaism in the United States comprises two major strains: Modern Orthodoxy and Haredi (or ultra-) Orthodoxy. Modern Orthodox Jews observe Jewish law but also engage robustly with contemporary culture and society. In contrast, Haredim—meaning "those who tremble before God"—reject secular culture and values. They mediate their participation in secular society through numerous barriers—religious mandates, educational and occupational choices, language, and dress, among others—and thereby maintain a complex balance of engagement and separation. American Haredim make up the largest and most rapidly growing Orthodox denomination; the Orthodox Union Center for Communal Research estimates that roughly 40 percent of Haredi Jews under age 20 in New York speak Yiddish as a first language.
I've spent my academic career trying to understand how education (boys' education, in particular) helps shape American Haredi communities. Both the content and structure of boys' elementary schools make religious study and practice an all-encompassing reality for students. Secular education comes in a distant second, intended only to help students eventually support themselves in jobs, function in daily life, and participate as citizens in society. (Not obligated by religious study to the same extent as boys, girls receive far more secular education; the lawsuits target boys' schools only.)
Every Haredi community decides for itself how much secular education is necessary. Some yeshivas provide secular studies extensive enough to help their students perform well on New York State's Regents exams. These schools usually (but not always) belong to the Yeshivish branch of ultra-Orthodoxy (think of men in fedoras and short jackets).
Hasidim, adherents of an originally populist religious movement that developed in eighteenth-century Eastern Europe (from where they adopted their distinctive frocks and fur hats), are more conservative and cloistered in several ways. They speak Yiddish as a first language; most of their schools offer less secular education; and they are (mostly) more opposed to higher education than Yeshivish Haredim.
Boys' education among both branches of Haredim is intense. By middle school, students often begin the day at 7:30 AM with study and prayer services and end only at 5:30 or 6:00 PM. In high school, boys continue to study until late at night—9:30 PM or even later.
Religious studies typically consist of learning to read and translate biblical and mishnaic Hebrew, chumash (Bible) and Talmud, Jewish law and custom (halakha), ethical instruction, and prayer. By contrast, only core secular subjects are offered (math, language arts, civics/history, and science), and many schools do not extend these subjects past elementary school. In some Hasidic elementary schools, the subject matter is even more constrained, focusing only on math and language arts.
Some ex-Haredim, and especially ex-Hasidim (including Naftuli Moster), have left their communities following significant personal or family trauma, and an increasingly large group have written tell-all books—so many, in fact, that the ex-Hasidic memoir has become a genre. Ex-Hasidim have also been the subjects of numerous books and articles, both scholarly and popular. As unusually accessible accounts of a closed community otherwise hard to penetrate, their writing offers the only information about contemporary Hasidic life for many outsiders. This lack of understanding among the general public has helped YAFFED make its case. The rapid success of this organization (led by ex-Hasidim) is due partly to the fact that most state and city officials have no direct sources of data about these schools.
In 2015, YAFFED sent a letter to the city of New York listing 39 schools that it alleged were failing to provide a "substantially equivalent" education to that of public schools—as required under New York State law. The state does not make clear what "substantially equivalent" means, specifying only a handful of mandatory subjects: topics such as patriotism and citizenship, the U.S. Constitution, and health and safety. YAFFED's letter argues that the secular education offered by religious schools is too minimal to meet these requirements.
The city should have been skeptical about YAFFED's allegations when it turned out that only 28 of the 39 schools actually existed. One address contained in YAFFED's 2015 list was for a butcher shop. Nevertheless, in 2018, the Department of Education appeared to agree with YAFFED and released highly specific and detailed guidelines governing the mandate of substantial equivalency. The guidelines dictated exactly which courses should be taught, for how long, and by whom. For example, the guidelines require "English language arts, two units of study or the equivalent" with a "unit of study" defined as "at least 180 minutes of instruction per week throughout the school year." Later re-released as regulations, not just guidelines, these mandates required yeshivas to stop offering the type of religious education that defines their mission, since the increased hours required for secular education would reshape the school day. To give weight to the new regulations, MaryEllen Elia, then the state education commissioner, warned that parents who send their children to failing schools could be prosecuted under truancy laws—laws that themselves could trigger neglect charges, leading to the removal of children from their parents.
Monday, December 28, 2020
When David first saw the advertisement on his local Long Island community Whatsapp group inviting people like him and his wife, both over 65, to sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine, he was skeptical. The ad linked to a nondescript Google form that asked him to answer a few questions and submit insurance information.
"At this point I got suspicious. Is this an attempt to steal my identity? A scam?" he said in an email sharing his experience with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
After doing some research, however, he found that the provider that created the form, ParCare Community Health Network, was well known and had contracted with New York City's health authority to administer coronavirus tests to the Orthodox Jewish community.
Days after submitting their information, David and his wife headed to ParCare. On Dec. 24, the couple, who are not health care workers, drove to one of the network's facilities and received what they were told was the coronavirus vaccine — as well as a follow-up appointment to receive the second dose in January.
Whether and how David will receive that second dose, required to maximize the efficacy of the Moderna vaccine he received, is now unknown. That's because days after his vaccination, the state announced a criminal investigation into ParCare over allegations that the Brooklyn-based healthcare provider fraudulently obtained the vaccine and distributed it to members of the public, in what appears to be the first inquiry into potential vaccine fraud in the United States.
"Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement Saturday announcing the investigation.
A representative for ParCare said Sunday that the network had "proactively" returned its vaccine supplies to cooperate with the state health department.
"We will be working with the state to ensure that we provide the second dose for our patients," ParCare said in a statement. "We will do everything in our power to make sure that the state understands that our patients are our priority and that everyone receives their second dose accordingly."
State officials did not answer questions Sunday about how they planned to handle the second doses of people vaccinated by ParCare. Moderna's clinical trial found that a single dose was 80 to 90% effective, compared to 94% for the two-dose vaccination.
David — who asked to use an alias because he feared repercussions for speaking about his experience — said he was anxious that he would have to go without a second dose because of the investigation into ParCare. He issued a plea on behalf of other patients who had been given the vaccine's first dose: "Please do not leave them in a lurch and authorize their follow up shot."
It's unclear how many people are in David's position. BoroPark24, a Yiddish news service, reported on Dec. 21 that ParCare had obtained 3,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and would vaccinate 500 people that day.
A representative for the network told JTA that the vaccines had been properly obtained and shared what it said were a packing slip and an email from the state health department showing that 2,300 vaccine doses had been delivered to ParCare in Monroe, New York, the upstate town that includes the Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel.
But it's clear that those vaccinated by ParCare include prominent Orthodox leaders. Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Mordechai Willig, both head teachers at Yeshiva University, were vaccinated at ParCare last week, and the network tweeted a video of their vaccinations. Neither Schachter, 79, nor Willig, 73, is a frontline health care worker or nursing home resident or worker, the two categories currently eligible for vaccines.
On Sunday night, Schachter, who has been an outspoken leader urging compliance with pandemic guidelines, said he had been told that his vaccination was above board.
"If either of us would have been told that this was inappropriate, that it wasn't legitimate, we would not have done that," he said before delivering an online Torah lesson.
ParCare advertised that it would offer vaccines to people over 65 and with preexisting health conditions. But one Manhattan physician said he had reason to believe that people far younger had been vaccinated.
Dr. Mark Horowitz, a family physician with some patients in the Orthodox Jewish community, said he had seen a 36-year-old patient last week who said she had received a COVID-19 vaccine in Brooklyn the previous day, despite not meeting state vaccination standards. Horowitz tweeted about the patient three days before the state announced its investigation into ParCare.
Horowitz said he found ParCare's alleged misconduct "morally repugnant," especially as he said he sees patients with COVID-19 but has yet to receive the vaccine.
"I have little, if any, sympathy for people who jump the line, but I think the greater blame goes to the operators of this facility," he said.
That's who state investigators appear to be scrutinizing. The Centers for Disease Control's vaccination program provider agreement, which New York requires private practices to sign, tells participants to "administer COVID-19 Vaccine in compliance with all applicable state and territorial vaccination laws." Breaching the agreement risks suspension or termination from the program and federal criminal and civil penalties.
Gary Schlesinger, the prominent Hasidic businessman who owns the ParCare network, shared a picture of his own vaccination on Twitter late last week. He deleted his post after the state announced its investigation.
David, the man who was vaccinated at ParCare, said he assumed ParCare was distributing the vaccine early because of COVID-19 rates in Orthodox communities. Both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have called attention to lapses in the communities in compliance with rules designed to curb the spread of the disease.
And the city has collaborated with ParCare as it has worked to manage the pandemic. In October, the NYC Test & Trace Corps, the city's contact tracing unit, announced that it was expanding the provider's COVID-19 testing capabilities and offering additional resources and supplies.
But while Orthodox Brooklyn experienced some of the first major outbreaks of the pandemic in the United States, neighborhoods with the most Orthodox Jews are not on the city's list of areas experiencing the steepest toll throughout the entire pandemic. That list, de Blasio said last week, will determine where vaccines are sent first once vaccinations begin for the general public.
Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere, a large Orthodox synagogue, declined to comment on the ParCare investigation. But he said that he, along with other medical professionals, had no alternative but to follow state distribution schedules.
He also said that he personally has fielded many inquiries into vaccine availability since the first federal approvals earlier this month.
"People are very anxious, very excited, very interested in taking this vaccine," Glatt said. "I think the sole concern at this time is 'how can I get the vaccine.'"
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
Heshy Tischler believes what he did for the Orthodox Jewish community in the fall was the right thing. There is nothing he would change about the way he publicly called out New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for singling out the Jewish community amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
The city council candidate in Brooklyn led a series of maskless protests in Borough Park — a Hasidic neighborhood — just two months ago. Borough Park, Tischler explained, was under attack by New York's politicians. While he says he doesn't believe Cuomo and de Blasio were scapegoating the Orthodox Jewish community, he does feel that they wrongly called out the Jews in a public manner.
Tischler still wants to know why the area's politicians were singling out the Jewish population when minority communities have suffered much greater losses due to the pandemic. In the past, when the Hasidic community did ask for help from the state and city government, Tischler says the politicians were unresponsive. Now, when the community didn't request assistance, the government shut the area down, and Tischler truly believed he needed to be the voice of the community.
But as Tischler did what he firmly stood for, it landed him behind bars. He was charged for inciting a riot in Borough Park as community members burned face masks. During the protests, Tischler called Orthodox journalist Jacob Kornbluh a "moser," (or "snitch" in Yiddish) sparking even more controversy.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
At the beginning of his weekly video Torah lesson, Rabbi Asher Weiss let his viewers know he was about to broach a contentious topic.
"I know that not everybody will like what I say," said Weiss, a leading Orthodox Jewish legal authority in Israel with a large following in the United States, peppering Hebrew terms into his speech. "But if I won't speak my mind I think it would be a sin."
The sensitive subject of his lesson?
The COVID-19 vaccine. After an hourlong class packed with rabbinic sources, Weiss gave his verdict: "When we deal with the question [of whether] to take the vaccine: Yes. Definitely yes
"Every new medicine or medical procedure might have long-term effects, but we always try to strike the right balance between what is needed now and what might, theoretically, happen in the future," he said. "People are dying, people are suffering, and we could alleviate this pain, and diminish the suffering and save many people. This is a safe vaccine as far as we could know."
Weiss' lesson echoes what medical and rabbinic authorities across the Orthodox world are saying as the COVID-19 vaccine begins to become available. Virtually all Orthodox leaders are encouraging their communities to trust the medical consensus and take the vaccine when it becomes available, and in Israel, many are already publicly sharing their own vaccinations.
Yet Orthodox health professionals and communal leaders do worry that a vocal minority of their community won't heed their guidance. They point to skepticism regarding the vaccine in the overall population because of anti-vaccine sentiments — in the past expressed by some leading Orthodox rabbis — as well as nervousness with the speed at which the vaccines were developed and the politicization of the virus.
They also point to the pernicious effects of misinformation in an era when communication and news gathering takes place on messaging networks like WhatsApp. And they fear that mistaken notions that Hasidim in both Brooklyn and the haredi town of Bnei Brak in Israel have achieved herd immunity will make people feel that a vaccine is unnecessary.
"The majority have [said], 'How do I get on the list?'" said Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chief of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Mount Sinai South Nassau on Long Island, and an assistant rabbi at the Young Israel of Woodmere, a large Orthodox synagogue. Glatt gives a weekly COVID video update targeted to a largely Orthodox audience.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Lawmakers include $2.75 billion for private schools in stimulus after prodding by Orthodox Jewish and Catholic groups
Following a coordinated lobbying effort by Orthodox Jewish and Roman Catholic groups, the $900 billion coronavirus stimulus includes $2.75 billion for private schools hit hard by the pandemic.
"As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has been terribly disruptive and costly to America's K-12 schools — the students and families they serve, the teachers and many other staffers who work tirelessly to educate our children," Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union's Washington director, whose group was among the Jewish and Catholic organizations pushing lawmakers for the funds, said Monday in a news release.
"That is why it is essential for this latest federal relief package to include a great amount of support for these schools and, among them, America's Jewish, Catholic and other nonpublic schools."
The nonpublic schools will have to apply for the funding.
The backing for the added funding was bipartisan, led in the Senate by senators known for their efforts to reach across the aisle: Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, and Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives have agreed on the outlines of the stimulus package and are expected to finalize it by Tuesday.
Friday, December 18, 2020
Village residents voted 508 to 292 yesterday to dissolve their village government. Six out of ten (64%) voted Yes in the citizen's initiated referendum to disband the municipality.
The movement to dissolve South Nyack began when Nyack College was sold to a Ramapo-based Hasidic Yeshiva earlier this year. Residents were immediately concerned that the village didn't have the resources or tax revenues to pay for any future legal action–fears sparked by the loss of government control nearby East Ramapo has experienced. The poor communication about the sale from South Nyack's mayor and village board didn't help matters. Nor did the fact that the sale of the property to a tax-exempt religious institution would squander an opportunity to give the village a necessary financial boost.
What Happens Next
Here are the next steps in the municipal dissolution process as stipulated by the NYS Division of Government Services.
The governing bodies of the local government entities to be reorganized must meet Within 30 days of certification of the results
The governing bodies must prepare a reorganization plan and approve it by resolution Within 180 days
The approved reorganization plan must be displayed, posted on websites and published at least once each week for four successive weeks no later than five business days after the plan is approved.
One or more public hearings on the proposed agreement or plan must be held. These hearings may be held jointly or separately and public notice must appear in a newspaper of general circulation within each entity, and on any entity's website within 35 to 90 days after the plan is approved
After the final hearing, the governing body may amend the proposed agreement or plan. No later than five business days after the plan is amended, a summary and copy of the plan must be displayed within each entity and posted
Approval of the final agreement or plan within 60 days from the close of the last public hearing.
Should citizens decide they want to reverse course, the bar is much higher to stop this process. The petition to request a dissolution vote only requires signatures from 10% of registered voters; to stop the process, 25% of the voters must sign on. That's a tall order given that just short of 65% of voters just said OK to pulling the plug on village government. Here are the steps required to stop what was started yesterday:
Petition: Within 45 days after the governing body approves the final plan, the voters may file a petition, with the clerk of the town where the entity is located or where the greater portion of its territory is located, requiring a referendum on the reorganization plan. If the entity is a village the original petition must be filed with the village clerk. This petition must contain the signatures of at least 25 percent of the voters in the entity, or 15,000 signatures, whichever is less.
Petition Approved: Within 10 days final determination regarding the sufficiency of the number of signatures on the petition is made by the clerk
The governing bodies must enact a resolution calling for referendum and set a date for the vote within 30 days of the clerk's determining the validity of the petition
REFERENDUM (re-)VOTE within 60 to 90 days with a Summary of the plan is to be published at least once each week for four successive weeks prior to the referendum.
Thursday, December 17, 2020
The European Union's highest court has upheld Belgium's bans on slaughtering animals without first stunning them, a ruling that confirms the prohibition on the production of kosher and halal meat in parts of Belgium and clears a path for additional bans across Europe.
Israel's ambassador to Belgium called the ruling "a blow to Jewish life in Europe."
Two of Belgium's three states last year banned the slaughter of animals without first stunning them, a key requirement of kosher meat production. The laws were passed over the vociferous objections of Jewish and Muslim community leaders, and several groups — including one representing French-speaking Jews in Belgium — filed a petition arguing that the bans illegally limit religious freedom.
On Thursday, the EU Court of Justice issued its decision: Bans on slaughter of animals for meat without stunning do not violate EU principles on freedom of worship.
The ruling is a major defeat for efforts currently underway to challenge bans against ritual slaughter in several EU countries including Sweden, Finland, Estonia, and Luxembourg, where the EU court is based. It also means that lawmakers in additional countries could impose bans without running afoul of EU rules.
The ruling "gives member states a free pass on banning" ritual slaughter in Europe, Yohan Benizri, president of the Belgian Jewish CCOJB group that joined the petition, said in a statement. Europe, he said, "no longer protects religious minorities."
Israel rarely comments on the debate on ritual slaughter. But Israel's ambassador to Belgium, Emmanuel Nachson, said the ruling is "catastrophic and a blow to Jewish life in Europe."
Supporters of the ban are cheering its potential to limit ritual slaughter across the continent. "As Flemish people we can be very proud of this ruling," which is "historic" and "opens the door to a ban in the whole of Europe," Ben Weyts, the cabinet minister in charge of animal welfare in Belgium's Flemish region, wrote on Twitter.
In Judaism and Islam, animals need to be conscious when their necks are slit for their meat to be considered kosher or halal. That has made ritual slaughter a ripe target in Europe from both liberals who cite animal welfare as their main concern and right-wing nationalists who view the custom as foreign to their countries' cultures. (Ritual circumcision, too, has united opponents on the left and right.)
In Belgian's Flemish region, the first to introduce a ban, the effort was led by members of the center-right New Flemish Alliance ruling party. In the French-speaking Walloon region, the ban was supported by the Socialist ruling party. (The Brussels region has no ban.)
The plaintiffs argued that the bans violate the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights as they effectively deny Belgians the right to consume locally produced meat that conforms with the production methods mandated by their faith.
The court ruled that the ban on slaughter without stunning "respects the essence" of the charter, "since it is limited to one aspect of the specific ritual act of slaughter, and that act of slaughter is not, by contrast, prohibited." But it emphasized that in Belgium only "one aspect" of ritual slaughter has been banned while others may be observed, potentially leaving open the door to adaptations of ritual practices that are in use elsewhere.
The bans in Belgium "allow a fair balance to be struck between the importance attached to animal welfare and the freedom of Jewish and Muslim believers to manifest their religion," the court ruled. It concluded that EU member states have the "discretion" to enact measures such as the Belgian bans.
Some Jewish and Muslim communities, including in Austria, certify as kosher and halal meat produced by a procedure known as post-cut stunning, in which animals are stunned immediately after their necks are cut.
"Judaism will not change Halakhic requirements as per the demands of the EU Court of Justice," said Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, in response to the ruling, using the Hebrew word for Jewish law.
But Margolin said that had Belgium's parliament "engaged properly with Jewish community officials before banning the practice, some satisfactory solutions could have been found, as has been the case in the Netherlands and elsewhere, because the method of slaughter is not crueler or [more] painful to animals than other methods."
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
In a decision watched closely by restitution experts, a court in Amsterdam ruled on Wednesday that the Stedelijk Museum there can retain a Wassily Kandinsky painting that it acquired during World War II and which came from a Jewish collection.
The 1909 work, "Painting with Houses," has been the focus of a restitution battle that has been viewed as a litmus test for Dutch restitutions policy. Critics of the Netherlands' approach say the case represents an attempt by the Dutch to weigh the interests of its museums over justice for the victims of Nazi looting and their heirs.
Earlier this month, a committee established by the Dutch minister of culture, known as the Kohnstamm Committee, found fault with the Restitutions Commission, recommending that it change course and take a more "empathetic" approach to claimants. In response to the report, two members of the Restitutions Commission, including its chairman, resigned.
As a result of the report, lawyers for the Jewish claimants in the Kandinsky case and international restitutions experts anticipated that the Amsterdam court would overturn the previous decision by the Restitutions Commission. Instead, it upheld it. It found that the advice of the commission "cannot be annulled" because the court found no "serious defects" in its reasoning.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
A man is facing charges after police say he threatened Jewish families at a Miami Beach ice cream shop.
Lamont Deshawn Collins, 42, was arrested on charges of assault, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct, and resisting an officer without violence, Miami Beach Police officials said.
According to an arrest report, Collins had approached a man and his family in the area of Lincoln Road and Michigan Avenue Sunday and for no apparent reason started chanting "I am going to ----ing kill you, ----ing Jews."
The man and his family, which included a 12-year-old child started walking away and went into The Frieze Ice Cream Factory to get away from Collins, the report said.
Collins went into the shop, where there were a large number of Jewish families inside, and started yelling that he was "going to kill all the Jews" and telling them "your time has come," the report said.
Collins left before police arrived but later found and arrested. When officers searched his backpack, they found two hunting knives, the report said.
The report said Collins continued making anti-Semitic statements while in custody and at the police station.
Collins, who was listed as having an address in Kentucky, was booked into jail. Attorney information wasn't available.
Police said the case was referred to hate crimes unit at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.
Monday, December 14, 2020
For this year's Hanukkah, Amir is lighting menorah candles and reciting blessings to celebrate the holiday's eight nights, as many Jews are around the world.
But he does so in secret, worried that Chinese officials will come around – as they often do on religious occasions – to enforce a ban against Judaism, pressuring him to renounce his faith. Sometimes, he's even called in for interrogations.
"Every time we celebrate, we are scared," said Amir, not his real name as he asked not to be identified over worries of retaliation. "Whatever we do, we're always very careful to make sure the authorities don't find out."
Since 2015, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has waged a harsh campaign against foreign influence and unapproved religion, part of a push to 'Sinicise' faith – ripping down church crosses and mosque onion domes, and detaining more than a million Muslims in the western Xinjiang region.
Kaifeng is a historic former capital of China. Jews settled here over a thousand years ago but there is now little evidence of their presence – Daily Telegraph
As well as Christians and Muslims, Mr Xi's suppression has hit China's tiny congregation of Jews, whose ancestors settled more than a millennium ago along the Yellow River in Kaifeng, then the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty.
That such a small group can attract the Communist Party's ire shows how far the crackdown has spread. Only about 1,000 people in Kaifeng claim Jewish heritage, and of those, only around 100 or are practising Jews, experts say – barely a splash in China's sea of 1.4 billion. Even at its peak in the 1500s, the community only numbered around 5,000.
"It's government policy – China doesn't want to recognise us as Jews," one man, who dreams of training as a rabbi in Israel, told the Telegraph. "Their goal is to make sure the next generation doesn't have any Jewish identity."
At home, he teaches everything he knows to his child, just as his forebears – most likely merchants from Persia – did for generations.
In that way, Kaifeng's Jewish heritage survived dynasties, wars, natural disasters and the Cultural Revolution, when many destroyed genealogical records to hide their lineage. It has also helped them manage without a rabbi for more than 150 years.
They are fighting to keep their history alive, even though "asserting their desires to be connected with their Jewish heritage falls afoul of the official [Chinese] position on unauthorised religions," said Anson Laytner, a retired rabbi and president of the Sino-Judaic Institute.
Even for the five faiths that the Party does recognise and regulate – Buddhism, Daoism, Islam, Protestantism and Catholicism – pressures abound. Buddhist temples, for instance, are allowed to display portraits of Mr Xi but not of the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Chinese authorities are also concerned about undue foreign influence if the Kaifeng Jewish community is allowed to build links with Jews abroad.
"In terms of numbers, it's so insignificant, but in terms of potential attention, it's much, much bigger," said Noam Urbach, an Israeli academic who has studied the Kaifeng Jews. Their existence can "raise a lot of attention among the international Jewish community."
In Kaifeng, stones engraved as far back as 1489 with the community's beliefs and ancestry have been removed from the spot where they once marked a 12th-century synagogue.
An ancient well, believed to be the synagogue's last ruins, has likewise vanished under a cloak of cement. The authorities have also torn down the city's few Hebrew signs that once marked the Teaching Torah Lane.
In that same lane, a spot where a few dozen Jews – some of whom were government officials – used to meet for services is now plastered in propaganda about China's "management of religious affairs." They include reminders that Judaism is prohibited. A security camera is directed at the entrance.
A handful of schools that taught Hebrew and Judaism – established by foreign Jews visiting Kaifeng – have been forced to shutter. Exhibits in a museum and historic merchant guild hall that documented the history of Jews in the city have also disappeared in favour of large pictures of Mr Xi.
The crackdown is so intense that Kaifeng residents are afraid to dine together in public. "It's a small place," one Jewish man said. "Restaurant managers know that we are the Jews, and they will report us to the authorities."
Friday, December 11, 2020
Supreme Court rules that government employees who infringe religious liberty can be held personally liable
The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that people can obtain monetary damages directly from employees of the federal government when suing over infringement of the First Amendment right to religious liberty.
The ruling responds to a case filed by several Muslim men who said that FBI officers placed them on a no-fly list because they refused to inform on their religious community. Those men can now legally win damages from those specific FBI officers.
Being placed on the no-fly list led the men to lose "precious years with loved ones, plus jobs and educational opportunities," Ramzi Kassem, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, told the justices during oral arguments in October, according to The Washington Post.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the 8-0 opinion. The case was argued before Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court.
The plaintiffs sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed nearly unanimously by both the House and Senate in 1993, which prohibits the government from placing a "substantial burden" on a person's religious practice.
The law allows citizens to seek "appropriate relief" from the government. Politicians who helped pass the law said at the time that it did not mean for individual federal employees to be personally subject to damages, but the court ruled that the law nevertheless allows for that consequence. However, Thomas also wrote that government officials can argue that they have qualified immunity, meaning that they are not liable for damages in civil cases when following the law in their role as federal employees.
Mark Joseph Stern, who covers the court system for Slate, suggested on Twitter that the ruling could lead to federal officials not enforcing nondiscrimination laws for fear of being personally sued in civil court. For example, there have been instances in which people who courts have found to be violating nondiscrimination laws against LGBTQ people have claimed religious liberty as a defense.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
A Brooklyn ultra-Orthodox sect that's openly flouted coronavirus public health measures for months could soon lose its Williamsburg headquarters "once and for all," Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened on Tuesday.
On Monday, the funeral of a 94-year-old rabbinic judge — Yisroel Chaim Menashe Friedman — drew hundreds of largely unmasked observers to the Satmar community's main Williamsburg synagogue at 152 Rodney Street.
Asked about the gathering during his daily briefing Tuesday, de Blasio said he'd initiate a "clear dialogue" with Jewish community leaders — with the possibility of more drastic action if that outreach failed.
"If we see another confirmed situation in which an inappropriate event is happening in that same building, then we're going to have to move to shut down the building once and for all," the mayor warned. "That would be next step if we see non-compliance."
Ahead of this week's indoor funeral, City Hall officials requested the synagogue hold the event outdoors and to ensure all participants were wearing masks, according to a source familiar with the conversation, who was not authorized to speak on the record. The Satmar leadership largely ignored the appeals, the source said.
Several high-ranking NYPD officers monitored the event, passing out masks on the bustling street outside the synagogue, but declining to intervene.
"There was actually just a Supreme Court case, and there's no restrictions," Captain Michael Sambriski told Gothamist, shrugging. "I wish I had more masks," he added.
The recent court ruling does not impact houses of worship outside of emergency COVID colored zones such as Williamsburg, where attendance is still capped at 50 percent of a building's occupancy. The Williamsburg synagogue's maximum occupancy is 1,600 people. While it's unclear if more than 800 people attended the service, a brief look inside the synagogue showed that most attendees appeared to be in violation of a state mandate that religious worshippers must wear masks when less than 6 feet apart.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly blamed the mayor for failing to enforce COVID restrictions in Orthodox neighborhoods.
In October, a wedding for the grandchild of Satmar Grand Rebbe Zalman Teitelbaum was expected to bring tens of thousands of guests to the building — but was ultimately cancelled after a state shutdown order. Teitelbaum also held an indoor, unmasked ceremony at 152 Rodney Street on Sunday night to commemorate his father's escape from the Holocaust, telling congregants "we are not Americans," according to the Jerusalem Post.
Last month, Teitelbaum's brother, the leader of the Satmar community in Kiryas Joel, managed to host a wedding for his grandchild in a separate Williamsburg synagogue, reportedly attended by some 7,000 people.
"I do think there's an ideological factor that's making things a lot harder," the mayor said on Tuesday, referencing the ultra-Orthodox community's overwhelming for President Donald Trump.
While de Blasio has previously threatened Jewish yeshivas with shut downs, he has stopped short of ordering the closure of major synagogues. A source in Brooklyn's Hasidic community, who declined to be named for fear of backlash, called the threat "laughable."
"These tactics were available to him the entire time," the source said. "I don't see any reason to think he's going to do it this time."
Inquiries to the Satmar leadership were not returned.
Wednesday, December 09, 2020
The president's Jewish daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner haven't yet announced where they will be headed when her father's term in Washington is over in January, but a recent purchase suggests the couple may be following President Donald Trump to Florida.
The couple has purchased a property worth more than $30 million on Miami's Indian Creek Island, an area colloquially known as the "Billionaire's Bunker" due to its many wealthy residents, including Sears CEO Edward Lampert and Model Adriana Lima, Page Six reported Monday.
The island is known for its expensive properties and tight security, with 13 full-time security officers for only 41 residences.
The purchase would put them in close proximity to President Donald Trump's future home at his golf club in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, as well as to Jared's younger brother Joshua Kushner, who also recently purchased a home in Miami with his wife, the model Karlie Kloss.
The neighborhood is near at least seven synagogues, including Bal Harbour's the Shul, which held a Mi Shebeirach prayer for Trump ahead of Election Day in November.
Despite the Florida purchase, the couple has also been renovating their home in New Jersey, the Real Deal reported.
It has become increasingly unlikely that the couple will be returning to their former home of Manhattan.
A former friend of Ivanka's anonymously told Vanity Fair that the couple would not be welcome in their old social circles in Manhattan.
"Everyone with self-respect, a career, morals, respect for democracy — or who doesn't want their friends to shame them both in private and public — will steer clear," the friend said.
Tuesday, December 08, 2020
A Brooklyn synagogue that was stopped by the state before it could host a massive wedding in October finally succeeded on Monday in pulling off another potential super-spreader event — a jam-packed funeral.
The Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar went coronavirus rogue for the funeral of 94-year-old former chief Satmar judge Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Menashe Friedman — with up to an estimated 5,000 people cramming the house of worship at 152 Rodney St. in Williamsburg.
Bodies were pressed in on all sides and spilled out onto the sidewalk as just a fraction of the Hasidic crowd was seen wearing masks.
Five NYPD officers were seen standing nearby outside the house of worship — where a crowd of men and boys failed to socially distance, many also maskless or with their masks down around their necks.
"Normally, we would avoid having such a crowd unless it was for something very, very important. This was one of those times,'' said an attendee whose first name is Lipa.
"This man was a giant,'' he said of Friedman. "He was there from the beginning, when the community was rebuilding after the war. A very, very holy man. For someone like him, you couldn't keep people from coming even if you wanted to."
Another man at the service claimed that the community is immune to COVID-19 at this point — because virtually all of its members have already contracted it.
"Ask anybody here if they had COVID. They'll say yes — and they won't be lying,'' the man said. "People from the outside, they don't understand that. We've all had it."
According to the CDC, even if a person has been infected and recovers from the virus, he or she may still be in danger of getting it again.
An organizer did announce in Yiddish just before the service that there were face masks available at the door, but hardly anyone donned masks inside.
Meanwhile, hours before the 12:30 p.m. funeral began, the synagogue held an event Sunday night — where maskless men packed around a dais as Grand Rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum told them, "We are not Americans."
The rabbi was commemorating the annual anniversary of legendary Satmar leader Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum's escape from the Nazis on Dec. 7, 1944, during the Holocaust.
"We need to understand that we are in exile. We live here, but we are not Americans," the younger Teitelbaum said, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Teitelbaum also oversaw the funeral for Friedman.
The synagogue is the same place where Teitelbaum's grandchild was set to be wed in a ceremony with 10,000 attendees in October — before Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office caught wind of the gathering and slapped a state order barring it from occurring.
New York currently allows "no more than 33% of the maximum occupancy for a particular area for [religious] services occurring indoors,'' according to the state's Web site. People who are not members of the same household must remain 6 feet apart.
A certificate of occupancy for the synagogue from the city Department of Buildings says it can hold 1,600 people max.
Monday, December 07, 2020
Dina Wyler, the managing director of the Zurich-based Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GRA), explained in an interview with Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on Monday why Jews are often made the scapegoats in times of crisis («Leute, die sich gegen die Maskenpflicht wehren, vergleichen sich mit Sophie Scholl. Das ist absurd!»).
Wyler pointed out that people who had both swastikas and Jewish stars printed on their clothing took part in an anti-corona demo in Zurich in the fall. The picture was similar in Lachen in the canton of Schwyz at a demonstration a few weeks ago: individuals wore yellow Jewish stars on their masks or T-shirts. And in November, people demonstrated in Basel with signs comparing anti-corona measures with National Socialism.
Using the Holocaust as a metaphor for "oppression" against Covid-19 regulations has received a boost in the past few months in Switzerland, and in some cases, this developed into open anti-Semitism. At an anti-corona demonstration in Zurich, a man said to a journalist: "The Rothschilds are behind the corona measures."
The Central Council of Jews in Germany has also expressed concerns, as has the US Anti-Defamation League. GRA has now launched the Internet portal "Stop anti-Semitism," and Dina Wyler was asked to further describe how the Corona crisis has increased incidents of anti-Semitism.
"In times of crisis, anti-Semitism is booming," Wyler said. "When people are insecure, age-old conspiracy theories come up again. They simplify reality, they divide people into friend and foe. A scapegoat helps deal with the feeling of powerlessness. Unfortunately, this scapegoat is often Jewish."
"During the Black Plague it was said that the Jews poisoned the wells, Jews were murdered, in Switzerland, too," she said. Asked why are the Jews so often the scapegoats, she explained: "It has to do with old stereotypes that are on people's minds. The Jews were always described as not belonging. It was said that they secretly infiltrated society. These ideas are deeply anchored and then emerge in a crisis. Anti-Semitism has never gone away, but it was less socially acceptable. Now, the limit on what can be said has shifted."
Wyler continued: "People who oppose the mask requirement compare themselves to Sophie Scholl (the anti-Nazi political activist of the White Rose non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany). And they do that while they are demonstrating, that is, exercising their right of expression. That is absurd! Sophie Scholl had to secretly protest because she was afraid of being murdered by the state – which eventually happened. Such comparisons do not work. I expect an outcry in society in response to this."
NZZ asked: There have been anti-Semitic attacks abroad in recent months, for example in the German city of Halle. Should Jewish people in Zurich be afraid as well?
"Jewish people perceive anti-Semitism as a major problem in Switzerland – this is shown by a new study by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences," Wyler answered. "There are places they avoid out of concern for their own safety. But we also have to say: Switzerland is not Germany. There is very rarely physical violence against Jewish people. Mostly property damages and insulting statements are being reported to us."
What does the GRA association expect from its new "Stop anti-Semitism" website?
"Enlightenment. People repeat things they have heard somewhere without questioning them. Not everyone who expresses anti-Semitism is necessarily an anti-Semite. But they repeat anti-Semitic ideas. And it starts with the language. Nobody will commit murder unless previously radicalized through language," she said.
When asked to give an example, Wyler related: "I recently spoke to a young woman. She said that in the hip-hop scene of which she was part, the Rothschild family was often addressed in texts. She didn't even notice that these passages were often problematic. Anti-Semitic ideas are spread in the mainstream without people realizing it."
Is it dangerous?
"It has been proven that people who believe in such conspiracy theories legitimize violence faster. Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have become more popular during the Corona crisis – the situation can quickly worsen in the future. We are currently working on an educational project in which we pick high school students and train them for several days on the topics of racism and anti-Semitism. These students can then do some of the awareness-raising work in their schools," Wyler said.
How would she like society to respond?
"When people with a yellow Star of David appeared at anti-Corona rallies in Zurich, Basel, and Lachen in recent weeks, the other demonstrators should have responded. And they should have made it clear to them that it is going too far if you compare state-orchestrated genocide with restaurant closings and wearing masks. I would also have liked a reaction from the politicians who took part in the demonstrations. The politicians are role models. And I also see an obligation on the part of social networks. They should define clear standards. Just like Facebook has now done. A month ago, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Holocaust denial would no longer be accepted. That is a big step forward," she said.
Friday, December 04, 2020
Most will be virtual, some will take place as part of tightly regulated events — but there will be menorah lightings and more Hanukkah festivities this year in Texas, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
"This year, more than ever, the light of Hanukkah is needed to increase the feeling of the triumph and eradication of evil with goodness, illness with health, sadness with joy," said Rabbi Chaim Lazaroff, program director for Chabad in Houston, adding that the events this year have been "carefully chosen to adhere to best safety practices possible."
Through large outdoor menorah lightings and other public celebrations they organize every year for the eight-day Festival of Lights, Jewish communities large and small throughout the state — from Lubbock to El Paso to Corpus Christi — don't shy away from expressing their Jewish pride.
In Houston, the celebrations are among the largest in the state with a City Hall lighting ceremony, menorah car parade and "gelt drop" that involves the chocolate coins being dropped from a helicopter. It's all organized by the city's chapter of the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which is known for its outreach activities, especially its often sometimes outlandish public Hanukkah events.
Thursday, December 03, 2020
Police are searching for a pair of cycling suspects for an alleged string of anti-semitic thefts in northern Brooklyn over the summer — claiming the duo doubled up on a Citi Bike and went on a hat-snatching spree on July 23.
The pedal-pushing crooks began their misbehavior on Bedford Avenue near Clymer Street at 3:30 pm, when they snatched the cap of a 21-year old man in traditional Hasidic garb and biked off.
The pair struck again twice just minutes later further Bedford Avenue between Willoughby and Dekalb Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, when they grabbed the hats off two other victims, aged 21 and 46.
At 5:34 pm, the thieves made one last larceny near Myrtle Avenue, when they swiped the headtop religious attire from a 48-year-old man.
In surveillance footage taken near the fourth incident, the duo can be seen grinning while riding a Citi Bike down the sidewalk and holding two hats.
No arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing, according to police.
Citywide, the NYPD recorded 200 hate crime incidents from the beginning of 2021 until Sept. 29, when the most recent data is available — including 84 incidents with anti-semitic motives, according to police statistics.
The village has discriminated against Hasidic and Orthodox Jews through zoning laws and enforcement since breaking from Ramapo and incorporating in 1991, according to claims in a new federal complaint against the local government.
The 19-page complaint's opening paragraph states: "From its inception as an independent municipality three decades ago, the village of Airmont has been tainted by discriminatory animus against Orthodox Jews."
Airmont has lost two previous federal civil rights actions, saw its zoning code frozen, and paid more than a million dollars in fines.
But federal prosecutors contend in their legal action filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court that despite harsh reprimands and penalties, the village government continues to single out ultra-religious Jews with illegal actions.
Wednesday, December 02, 2020
ANTISEMITISM dipped by 10 per cent during the 2019-20 review period, according to Julie Nathan, the ECAJ's research director on antisemitism, in her annual report. However, the number of reported incidents from October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020 – 188 attacks and 143 threats – remains substantially above the average recorded since 2013, she cautioned.
And Nathan noted that "the decrease in the overall number of incidents should not disguise the marked increase in the number of the most serious categories of incidents". The period saw a doubling of reported incidents of physical assault; a 12 per cent increase in direct verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation; a massive 229 per cent increase in the number of reported direct threats by postal mail; and slight increases in the number of threats via telephone and posters and stickers.
"The increase in the number of more serious incidents is especially concerning in light of the fact that synagogues and other Jewish community facilities were closed for varying periods from March onwards due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there were thus fewer opportunities for antisemites to abuse, harass and intimidate Jews in the vicinity of those facilities as they have done in the past," Nathan said.
She noted that previously these kinds of incidents have often occurred during Shabbat and festivals when many Jews walk to and from synagogue. "The fact that substantial increases occurred in the number of assaults and incidents of direct verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation at a time of significant reduction in the visibility of Jews on the streets may indicate a rise in the underlying level of anti-Jewish sentiment."
There was also a proliferation of antisemitic discourse, mostly online, blaming "the Jews" for the pandemic, a new iteration of a classical form of antisemitism that is based on unfounded conspiracy theories, stated Nathan.
Several incidents of antisemitic bullying of Jewish students in schools which had gone unreported in previous years were publicly exposed during the year. After The AJN reported the bullying of two Jewish boys, aged 5 and 12, in Melbourne public schools during 2019, "other Jewish students came forward with their own experiences of bullying and assault in yet another public school in Melbourne".
"These allegations became the focus of a further official inquiry in Victoria," said Nathan.
"We need not only strong anti-incitement laws, but also systematic education programs in schools and universities and responsible messaging from community and political leaders."
Tuesday, December 01, 2020
A member of the Hasidic Lev Tahor cult has escaped Israel and traveled to Guatemala, his lawyer said Tuesday, six months after he was indicted for abusive behavior against 9- and 10-year-old children.
Rabbi Elazar Rompler, 46, was charged in May at the Jerusalem District Court with assaulting and abusing children mentally and physically in 2009-2011, when he served as the principal of a school belonging to the fringe community in Canada.
A former cult member has said Rompler, who was in charge of kashrut, would starve children by forbidding them from eating almost everything. He also allegedly barred some from taking medicine — even when urgently needed — without his written approval.
In one case, according to the indictment, Rompler had a child stripped, tied up and beaten for several hours over suspicions he stole money from a charity money box.
In another, he is accused of instructing other teachers to hold a child down and beat him repeatedly for allegedly lying about needing eyeglasses.
Rompler left a 17-page letter with his lawyer, Gabriel Tronisoili, who updated the court on the development Tuesday, shortly before a hearing that had been scheduled in the case.
It wasn't immediately clear how Rompler managed to leave Israel.
Lev Tahor, which has about 230 members, has frequently relocated to escape criminal accusations.
In 2014 it moved from Canada to Guatemala following allegations of mistreatment of its children including abuse and child marriages. In 2017, members are believed to have crossed the border to Mexico, although they have since reportedly returned to Guatemala.
Rompler was arrested in December 2019 after arriving in Israel for unspecified reasons.
But despite having an order against him barring him from leaving Israel, Rompler managed to travel to Guatemala, claiming he wouldn't receive a fair trial and that he wanted to see his family.
"He emphasizes that this isn't out of disrespect for the court, but due to his feeling that in light of pressure on him and on everything to do with Lev Tahor, he won't receive a fair trial and will be forced to go through a prolonged legal proceeding while under restrictive conditions and unable to see his wife and kids," Tronisoili wrote in a document handed to the court.
Tronisoili asked the court to delay the hearing. Prosecutors asked for 30 days to look into the matter.
Other Lev Tahor members have been previously indicted in the United States over child abuse, including kidnappings and underage marriages. Arranged marriages between teenagers and older cult members are reported to be common. The group shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. It also rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish nation can only be restored by God, not humankind.