Friday, April 30, 2021
Hundreds of people answered a call to attend the funeral on Friday of Shraga Gestetner, a Hasidic singer without any immediate relatives in Israel, who was crushed to death in a stampede at Mount Meron the night before.
Rabbi Gestetner, a 35-year-old from Montreal, came to Israel specifically for the Lag B'Omer celebrations, which ended in tragedy when he was among the 45 people killed in what is believed to be Israel's worst peacetime disaster.
He is survived by his wife and five children. In recent years he had been living in Monsey, New York.
After Gestetner was named as one of victims, calls went out on social media for the public to attend his funeral in Jerusalem, with the messages noting he has no immediate family in the country who would be present.
"Let's pay his final respects," Israel Nabul, an event producer who knew Gestetner, wrote on Facebook in one such message.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich also called on anyone who could do so to attend, saying: "We won't leave him alone in his final moments."
Following these entreaties, hundreds arrived at the Shamgar funeral home to escort his body to Jerusalem's Har Hamenuchot cemetery.
At the funeral home, Gestetner's cousin Haim told the Kan public broadcaster that he was at Meron but left minutes before the deadly stampede.
"I suddenly felt a need to leave the mountain," he said, describing his cousin as a "special man" who God chose "to be the victim of the public."
He also called the pain he felt over the death of his cousin and the 44 others as "incomprehensible."
Speaking earlier with Channel 12 news, Nabul said Gestetner mostly performed overseas and called him a "wonderful man who died in tragic circumstances."
The event at Meron appeared to the worst peacetime tragedy in Israel's history, with a death toll higher than the 44 who lost their lives in the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.
The huge gathering, the largest in Israel since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, had already sparked health fears.
Due to the large crowds, police had said they were unable to enforce coronavirus restrictions at the site.
At around midnight Thursday, organizers had estimated that some 100,000 people were at the site.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
The FBI wants to hear from Hasidim, or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews. The Hate Crimes Unit said as much when it issued announcements – in both Yiddish and Hebrew – asking Jews to report antisemitic incidents in an outreach campaign launched in April 2021.
The campaign follows highly visible antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in recent years, including the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead.
Hasidic Jews make up the overwhelming majority of Yiddish speakers in the U.S. They number about 320,000 adults, according to Matt Williams, director of the Orthodox Union for Communal Research. Outreach to this community poses distinctive challenges because Hasidic communities can be insular, often seeking to address issues from education to sexual assault without involving outsiders.
As someone who has written about Jews and the FBI, I am not surprised that the FBI now wants to address antisemitism. But the FBI has a complicated history with Jews. It is a past that suggests the FBI has loved the idea of Judaism as a religion, but not necessarily American Jews themselves.
Cold War embrace
Officially founded in 1935, the FBI was designed to take on domestic crime and surveillance. By the late 1940s, driven by Cold War ideals, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover bolstered an image of the U.S. as religious and moral as opposed to its enemy – an atheistic, immoral Soviet Union. Embracing Judaism as good, lawful and American was strategic.
During his prepared remarks at a 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, Hoover called communism an "evil work" and "a cause that is alien to the religion of Christ and Judaism." He believed that the U.S. had a superior moral foundation – a religious one – and that communism was built on nothing but human iniquity.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021
Leading Hasidic sects in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood have endorsed Andrew Yang in New York City's mayoral race, locking up a major voting bloc for the former Democratic presidential candidate as he tries to build a coalition that could propel him to City Hall.
The endorsement is expected to run as a full-page ad in Yiddish-language weekly newspapers this weekend, signed by a coalition of Orthodox congregations calling itself "Borough Park United" that includes the Bobov, Belz, Satmar, Sanz-Klausenburg, and Pupa sects, who historically have been an influential voting bloc in local elections.
The statement, obtained by the Forward, reads: "After seriously considering the policies and the capabilities of the current candidates, and what's the in the best interest of our community, we are endorsing the popular and energetic candidate, businessman and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang for mayor in the Democratic primary."
Yang, who polls show as the frontrunner in the crowded June primaries, has aggressively courted the city's Orthodox Jews in recent months. He defended the yeshiva education system, took a bold stance labeling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as antisemitic and hired a member of the Hasidic community as his campaign's Jewish outreach director. The candidate recently visited Borough Park for a campaign ad video shoot and met in private with community leaders.
Several other contenders have also invested time and effort courting leaders and campaigning in the Orthodox neighborhoods. They include Eric Adams, Brooklyn's borough president, who has long-time relationships with the community and has generally been second to Yang in recent polls; Ray McGuire, a former Citigroup executive; and Scott Stringer, the city's comptroller, who has also been in the top three in several recent polls.
The Orthodox coalition said Yang "stood out as the strongest candidate with a clear understanding to fight for and protect the religious rights of the Orthodox community, despite the attacks coming his way."
In a recent interview with the Forward, Yang, whose parents immigrated to Westchester County, N.Y., from Taiwan said that he feels some real commonalities with the Jewish community.
"If you grow up as the child of immigrants, and the only person in your ethnic group in a particular area, I think you can't help but feel commonality with people who are marginalized or even victimized," he said. "You don't really forget those experiences. They are kind of imprinted into who you are."
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
More than seven anti-Semitic acts a day, on average, were committed in Canada in 2020, the latest B'nai Brith Canada League for Human Rights Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents says.
"As Canadians spent much of 2020 under pandemic restrictions and lockdown, anti-Semitism did not take the year off," stated Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B'nai Brith Canada. "Though physical attacks decreased last year, online hate continues to skyrocket, particularly during a year that, more than ever, forced many of us to interact virtually rather than in-person.
"B'nai Brith Canada's Eight-Point Plan to Tackle Antisemitism remains as relevant as ever, especially its prescient call for government action to combat online hatred."
"Records for anti-Semitism in this country were set for a fifth consecutive year," says a B'nai Brith Canada statement. "There was an increase of 18.3 percent of recorded anti-Semitic incidents in comparison to 2019. The actual number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2020 was 2,610. This marked the third successive year in which the 2,000 plateau was exceeded."
In Quebec, though, reported anti-Semitic incidents as a whole fell 13.8 percent, from 796 to 686. Incidents were lower in Alberta, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, increased 226 percent in Atlantic Canada, increased 44.3 percent in Ontario and fell 2.9 percent in the Prairies and Nunavut.
Still, "Quebec was also the region with one-third of recorded violent incidents in Canada, largely targeting the visibly observant Jewish community," the report says.
The audit adds that more than 44 percent of the violent incidents across the country were COVID-19-related.
"Violent incidents in 2020 decreased to their lowest levels in years – perhaps aided by repeated lockdowns — but were characterized primarily by discrimination attributable to COVID-19. The majority of these incidents targeted Hasidic individuals in Broisbriand, Que., after misinformation was reported surrounding a local Hasidic community not abiding by legally mandated COVID-19 measures."
Other physical attacks took place outside Quebec.
Monday, April 26, 2021
Police in New York City are working to identify a suspect believed to be responsible for six attacks on four different synagogues between Friday and Sunday, numerous sources reported.
The New York Police Department's (NYPD) Hate Crimes Task Force is searching for the individual believed to have hurled rocks at four Bronx synagogues, according to NBC 4. Young Israel of Riverdale and the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale were each attacked once, and Riverdale Jewish Center and the Riverdale Jewish Synagogue were each attacked twice, totaling six attacks, CNN reported.
NYPD Detective Francis Sammon said two of the attacks happened Friday, three on Saturday and one on Sunday, according to CNN. In each attack, a suspect is believed to have thrown rocks and shattered or heavily damaged windows and doors at the synagogues at nighttime.
On Saturday night, the suspect broke the windows at Riverdale Jewish Synagogue. Ten minutes later, someone smashed the windows at the Conservative Synagogue, according to WPIX. Minutes later, someone smashed the windows at Young Israel of Riverdale before the Riverdale Jewish Center was targeted for the second time.
Friday, April 23, 2021
Hundreds of infants in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods of Brooklyn are sick now with a common respiratory virus that typically does not circulate during the spring, raising fears as to whether the infections in those communities could again become an indicator of what's to come elsewhere in New York City and the country.
At least 15 patients from Dr. Israel Zyskind's pediatrics practice in Borough Park are hospitalized currently with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, a virus that manifests as little more than a common cold in adults but can be dangerous for infants and toddlers.
Typically, Zyskind said, no more than a handful of children from his practice would be hospitalized at any given time because of RSV. And those hospitalizations would come during the winter, not as the weather warms.
The recent explosion of RSV cases in Orthodox Brooklyn is on New York City's radar. According to the city's Health Department, there were 10 documented cases of RSV in Brooklyn during the last week of February. During the week of April 4-10, there were 294.
The cases are appearing in Williamsburg, Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Kensington and Midwood.
"Parents and guardians are encouraged to keep sick children at home and prevent anyone with cold-like symptoms from coming in contact with young children," the Health Department is advising. "If children are having difficulty breathing, wheezing, not eating or drinking, parents should contact their health care provider immediately."
The unusual pattern of RSV in Orthodox neighborhoods of Brooklyn comes slightly more than a year after the area hosted some of the earliest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the city. At the time, the community's communal practices and multigenerational families were seen as creating ripe conditions for the disease's spread, particularly before guidance was given to halt gatherings and stay home.
Those same conditions could make the communities early indicators for patterns of disease that emerge after COVID-19 recedes.
RSV is one of the typically common illnesses that have receded during the pandemic, surprising many doctors. The virus, which causes symptoms like runny nose, cough and fever, and can cause a child to eat less, spreads easily in schools and day care facilities. Most children will have contracted the virus by the age of 2 and, for most of them, the virus is not dangerous. But RSV can lead to more serious illness in babies, whose airways are smaller and who have no immunity to the virus.
According to the CDC, more than 57,000 children below the age of 5 are hospitalized with RSV each year. Between 100 and 500 children die of RSV each year. There is no vaccine.
This winter, a time when RSV normally circulates widely, doctors in Brooklyn said they saw few or no cases. But that has changed in recent weeks.
Earlier, RSV had spread out of season elsewhere. Australia saw a similar outbreak in the fall, when the weather is warm there. Doctors in the country speculated that lockdowns last year kept people from contracting RSV, therefore lowering the level of immunity to the virus in the general population as it emerged from lockdown.
Zyskind thinks there may be something similar happening in Brooklyn.
"Nursing mothers, who would [typically] protect their children through passive immunity, aren't able to give that robust immunity to their children this year because the mothers were not exposed to these viral illnesses last year as they usually are," the doctor said.
"Also, a lot of the toddlers who get mild illness skipped the typical RSV season last year, have no immunity to RSV, and thus pass it to their siblings or neighbors."
Dr. Ben Katz, a professor of pediatrics at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and an expert in infectious diseases, suggested another theory.
"When one virus comes into a community, others usually go away," Katz said, explaining that one virus will crowd out the others.
That theory has also been used to explain why this year's flu season has been nearly nonexistent, bypassing the nightmare scenario some feared if the flu and coronavirus spread simultaneously.
Why the virus is circulating so quickly through Orthodox communities and appearing far less frequently in other communities in New York City is unclear.
The larger families in Orthodox communities may explain the increased spread as more children per household are able to pick up the virus in school and bring it home to younger siblings. The cramped living conditions in some Orthodox neighborhoods also may be a contributor.
While most schools in the United States are either being taught online or meeting in person with precautions like masks and social distancing, many Orthodox schools, particularly in Hasidic neighborhoods, have been far more lax about COVID precautions. That laxity may be creating an environment in which other viruses, not just the coronavirus, can spread more easily.
But the question of why cases are spiking now, when schools in Orthodox communities have been open since the beginning of the school year, remains unanswered.
"We're trying to figure out why we're seeing it here first," Zyskind said, noting that day cares across the country have been open for months. "But I really don't know why it's happening in our community."
Doctors already are anticipating the possibility of a more intense flu season next year due to the fewer number of people who contracted the illness this year.
"We live in a very delicate ecosystem in balanced equilibrium," Zyskind said. "The lockdowns were necessary to stop COVID, but there's going to be a cost on the other end for other viral illnesses that were skipped during the lockdowns."
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
An SUV in Brooklyn, New York, backed into a group of five ultra-Orthodox men crossing the street in Williamsburg on Saturday night. The suspect, Shokhobiddin Bakhritdinov, was arrested by the police for misdemeanor assault and fleeing the scene of the crime.
The incident was caught on a surveillance camera and the video was uploaded to Twitter. In the video, the SUV can be seen stopping just past the intersection, where Bakhritdinov exited his car, looked behind him at the ultra-Orthodox men crossing the street, got back into the car, reversed into the men – twice – and then drove away.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
The New York Times is allowing its reader comments section to turn into an anti-Israel cesspool.
The first three "Reader Picks" comments on a recent Times news article about Iran's nuclear program are all pretty vicious.
"We cannot let Israel run our country," insists the top "reader pick" comment, echoing a classical antisemitic paranoia about undue Jewish influence, and winning a "recommend" vote from 128 other Times readers.
"Israel is a one-way ally — only taking. Blind support of Israel is contrary to US long-term interests," according to the second "reader pick" comment, winning the recommend upvote of 110 other Times readers despite the blatant inaccuracy.
The third reader pick comment asserts, "Seems Israel would like nothing more than to provoke another Middle East war with US troops. While we pay them $3B to this day for weapons." That won 88 "recommend" votes from Times readers, who seem oblivious to the fact that Israel has reportedly been degrading Iran's nuclear program quite effectively without involving any US troops, or to the fact that the military aid supports American defense industry jobs.
Reader comments have been a persistent problem area for the Times.
In 2017, the paper awarded a gold ribbon "NYT Pick" to a reader comment claiming that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "likes to control the US Congress," describing American supporters of Israel as a disloyal "fifth column" and calling the Israeli leader a "parasitic thug." After the Algemeiner reported about it and the advocacy group Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis complained, the Times deleted the comment, saying it had been posted inadvertently.
In 2018, the Times posted reader comments calling Israel "barbaric" and blaming Jews for antisemitism.
Also in 2018, a Times reader comment describing Israel as "bloodthirsty" drew an astonishing 494 "thumbs-up" votes from the paper's readers.
In 2020, a Times article about a Jewish wedding attracted reader comments directed at Orthodox Jews. "One of the most selfish, arrogant, demagogic, chauvinistic, contemptuous, narcissistic, uncaring and un-American groups in existence," was one comment, recommended with an upvote by 33 readers. Another comment accused the Hasidic Jewish community of attempting "to wage biological warfare on the rest of humanity."
Defenders of the Times might observe that the views expressed in the comments section are those of the readers, not the paper's journalists, and that online comments sections in general attract an unruly lot. Those are fair points, but nonetheless the Times is fond of holding other publications and platforms, such as Breitbart.com, and other political groups like the Republicans or Prime Minister Netanyahu's governing coalition, responsible for the views of the most extreme tangentially related person.
One might reasonably wonder what the Times is doing to attract these hundreds of anti-Israel commenters. Why do people with such views choose to lurk at the Times rather than, say, in the comments section of Makor Rishon? How much of the Times subscription revenue comes from readers with these views, and how strong is the temptation at the Times to cater to them with articles that they will click on and share? This is a dynamic that Times star journalist Bari Weiss wrote about in her letter resigning from the paper: "stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences… Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world?"
"We cannot let Israel run our country," the Times commenter contended. The danger is that the Times management will allow the anti-Israel, antisemitic-comment-writing mob of paying readers to run the newspaper — or at least to shape the editorial product in a way that undercuts the newspaper's ostensible claim to journalistic objectivity. At the New York Times, the anti-Israel commenters are the paying customers who pay the editors' and reporters' salaries. As the paper increasingly seeks a global audience, those readers may not even be American anti-Israel commenters—they may be paying Times customers in longstanding bastions of Jew-hatred or anti-Israel sentiment overseas.
Monday, April 19, 2021
U.S. Justice Department prosecutors, in a court filing on Friday, said that a known Nazi sympathizer and army reservist who was arrested in connection to the January 6 Capitol insurrection should not be released while awaiting trial, because he poses a threat to the Jewish community of New Jersey.
CNN reported that Timothy Hale-Cusanelli — who worked at a naval base near Lakewood, New Jersey, which is home to a large Hasidic community — has been charged with seven felonies, including civil disorder, disorderly conduct, and obstructing congressional proceedings.
He has pleaded not guilty and denied to the FBI that he is a Nazi sympathizer. His lawyers claim that he is not a member of any white supremacist organization.
They have also claimed he cannot be a white supremacist because he is of Puerto Rican descent on his father's side.
Federal prosecutors disagree, and have asked that Hale-Cusanelli remain in jail, citing police reports of him harassing and "doxing," or publishing private information about, members of Lakewood's Jewish community.
"Defendant poses a more localized threat to the community," the prosecutors said in their court filing, "particularly the Hasidic community in Lakewood, New Jersey."
Friday, April 16, 2021
A Kiryas Joel school group paid $2.5 million last month for a Catholic school on Route 32 that the New York Archdiocese shuttered last year in a spate of school closures.
The 22,000-square-foot building used to be St. Joseph School and was later renamed Divine Mercy. The merged parish that owned the school and 28-acre property – St. Joseph in New Windsor and St. Thomas of Canterbury in Cornwall-on-Hudson – listed them for sale for $2 million in October and sold it for 25% higher on March 24.
The buyer was Yeshiva Ketana Satmar KJ, which listed a Kiryas Joel condominium as its address in the sale records. That religious group had incorporated itself on Jan. 21, listing three Kiryas Joel men as its officers and saying its purposes included operating an Orthodox Jewish house of worship and buying and selling property, according to the incorporation record.
About a thousand Hasidic Jews from around the world made a pilgrimage to a small northern Hungarian village on Thursday, but their presence has made some locals nervous as Hungary fights a third, destructive wave of the pandemic.
The village of Bodrogkeresztur has recently become a pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews to commemorate a rabbi who they believe performed miracles 100 years ago.
Attendances have grown to more than 20,000 in recent years and the organisers had expected 100,000 people this year until the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Rabbi Moshe Friedlander, who owns a house in the village and organises part of the pilgrimage, said the pilgrims were either vaccinated or had tested negative for COVID-19.
One young pilgrim from Israel said, "we come to pray. This is a big rabbi."
Nevertheless locals said they were nervous.
"We had too many deaths as it is," said Ildiko Cserhalmi, a local shopkeeper. "They (the pilgrims) come in droves ... We avoid them as best we can."
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Eric Adams, one of the leading candidates for mayor of New York City, has increased his outreach efforts to the Jewish community. By Wednesday, Adams had visited Jewish communities in all five boroughs.
Adams's outreach to all aspects of the Jewish community is an integral part of his campaign's strategy to build a formidable coalition that could get him to City Hall. The Jewish vote has historically proven to be a powerful and even decisive factor in mayoral elections. Experts estimate that New York's 1.1 million Jews make up about 20% of the voters in the city's Democratic primaries.
"Eric Adams has long understood the diversity of this city, and has long-standing relationships in every corner of the Jewish community," said Menashe Shapiro, a consultant who works with the Adams campaign.
A review of Adams' campaign activities in recent days showed him meeting with leaders and visiting Jewish institutions in four of the five boroughs. He had earlier visited the Jewish community in Staten Island.
On Monday, the candidate toured Yeshiva Darchei Torah and the Weiss Vocational Center in Far Rockaway, Queens. Adams also met with local community leaders at a parlor meeting in a private residence. On Tuesday, Adams met with the leaders of the Hasidic Bobov sect, the largest Orthodox voting bloc in the Borough Park neighborhood in Brooklyn. He also visited the Manhattan Day School, a modern Orthodox elementary school and met with leaders and rabbis of the Upper West Side and Upper East Side communities later in the day, according to the campaign.
Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Within a matter of days, two violent hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Jews occurred in broad daylight on the streets of New York. A Filipino-American woman on her way to church was attacked, knocked to the ground, and stomped on. The attacker made anti-Asian remarks while pummeling her. Meanwhile, a Hasidic Jewish couple pushing a 1-year-old baby in a stroller was assaulted by a man with a sharp object.
If these were stand-alone incidents, they would be worrisome enough. But they are not. They are indicative of larger trends in America today, and their sources are multiple. Hate and division are on the rise, and two of the principal targets are Asian-Americans and Jewish Americans.
According to a monitoring group, Stop AAPI Hate, there were approximately 3,800 reported hate incidents against Asian Americans during the first year of the pandemic, a significant uptick from the previous year.
Often, these incidents are violent, as evidenced, among others, by the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee, 84, an immigrant from Thailand living in San Francisco and out for his daily walk; the slashing of a Filipino-American rider on a New York subway; the shoving to the ground of a 91-year-old Asian American in Oakland.
In many instances, the attacks, which appear to be random and without any economic motive, are accompanied by blame for the coronavirus and calls to get out of the United States.
Regarding Jews, the FBI's most recent hate crimes statistics reveal that, of all religious-based attacks, those targeting Jews comprise about 60%, even as Jews constitute 2% of the U.S. population.
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
When Salomon Smeer was a child in Holland, his mother gave him away to strangers in order to hide him from German invaders who were intent on arresting and deporting all Jews.
Smeer never saw his mother again. She would die in a concentration camp in Auschwitz. He would spend three years living in secret, passed around a clandestine network of households in the Dutch resistance.
"I was told my name would change. But I knew I was Jewish," said Smeer, now an 83-year-old Windsor resident.
"I never had contact with other children. I was sleeping in tunnels, under the floor, and in attics. I was very lonesome, cold, and hungry."
After the Second World War ended, Smeer was raised in a Jewish orphanage.
It's been almost 76 years since the Nazis were defeated, but Smeer isn't shocked that their symbols continue to show up in Canada — his home since 2002.
"It is nothing unusual," Smeer said. "Those anti-Semitic feelings have been around for thousands of years. Why would we think it would be different today?"
Monday, April 12, 2021
Andrew Yang, one of the leading candidates for mayor of New York City, toured one of the most populated Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn on Friday.
Accompanied by a crew of cameras, Yang visited a local toy store called Toys4U and engaged with voters on 13th Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Borough Park.
"It is wonderful to be in Borough Park today," Yang said in a video message that was later circulated on social media platforms to members of the community, who were busy shopping and cooking for Shabbat.
In recent months, the candidate has invested time courting the city's Orthodox Jews, which historically have been an influential voting bloc in local elections. He defended the yeshiva education system, took a bold stance labeling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement as antisemitic and hired a member of the Hasidic community as his campaign's Jewish outreach director. A recent internal poll released by the Yang campaign showed growing support for his candidacy in the Asian and Jewish communities in Brooklyn.
The Yang campaign said the 30-minute visit, which was not on his public schedule, was part of a campaign ad video shoot that will highlight Yang's appeal to all communities across the city. The candidate was followed by a sizable crowd of young kids and onlookers.
"I picked Borough Park as one of the places to film our ads not just because of how integral the Jewish community is to the fabric of our incredible city, but because of how important it is to getting New York back on track," Yang told the Forward on Monday.
Friday, April 09, 2021
When voters in Brooklyn's City Council District 44 cast ballots in November, they'll likely see three candidates on their ballots: a Democrat, a Republican and a Conservative.
Each political party will be represented by the same lawmaker: Kalman Yeger.
The Democratic incumbent is running unopposed on all three party lines for the June 22 primary for his Council seat — all but certainly sealing his re-election. Meanwhile, with hundreds of candidates running for City Council across the five boroughs, many of the other 51 districts have a half dozen or more hopefuls vying in the Democratic primary alone.
What's more, primary voters citywide will be able to select their top five candidates through ranked choice voting, a new system approved by voters in 2019. Yeger strongly opposed the voting change.
District 44 — covering parts of Bensonhurst, Borough Park and Midwood — is home to a large number of Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews. Since 2017, Yeger, an Orthodox Jew, has represented the Council district, which has a history of electing politicians who support Jewish organizations and concerns.
"Councilman Yeger is a lifelong Democrat, a member of his local Democratic club and serves on the Democratic County Committee," Yeger's campaign told THE CITY in a statement. "The support from the scores of neighborhood residents who signed petitions to place his name on the ballot reflects a desire by his constituents for common-sense and non-partisan solutions, and an affirmation of his record of fiscal responsibility."
While he is a registered Democrat, Yeger is allowed to run as a Democrat, Republican and Conservative, thanks to an obscure state law called the Wilson-Pakula Act of 1947. With Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support, legislators have attempted to repeal the law — to no avail.
Voters in the district turned out heavily for Donald Trump in 2020, with some precincts giving him a margin as high as 75% over Joe Biden.
Thursday, April 08, 2021
In this Tuesday, April 19, 2016 file photo a sticker from around 1900 reading: 'Don't buy from Jews' is displayed at an exhibition of antisemitic and racist stickers at the Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historic Museum) in Berlin, Germany. Before local anti-Jewish laws were enacted, before neighborhood shops and synagogues were destroyed, and before Jews were forced into ghettos, cattle cars, and camps, words were used to stoke the fire of hate. 'ItStartedWithWords' is a digital, Holocaust education campaign posting weekly videos of survivors from across the world reflecting on those moments that led up to the Holocaust.
Wednesday, April 07, 2021
On a weekday afternoon, if you walk down the Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk, a promenade overlooking the Arabian Gulf that encircles this capital city's famous palm-shaped artificial island, you may encounter a man repeating legal texts line by line to himself for hour after hour.
That man is Richard Bernstein, 46, a judge serving on the Michigan Supreme Court. He's been living in Dubai for two months and counting. And the texts he's reciting — memorizing in some instances — are court filings from the week's cases.
Bernstein, who has been visually impaired since birth due to a genetic disorder called retinitis pigmentosa, is blind. So he studies his cases by calling his clerks, having them read the filings to him sentence by sentence, then repeating the documents until he's familiar enough with them to form an opinion.
His walks, which are often as long as 20 miles, can take six hours, with Bernstein traversing the nearly 7-mile boardwalk multiple times. The court convenes on Wednesdays, when it can hear up to 26 cases in one day.
"If I am reviewing a murder case, it will be a three-week transcript which can't work in Braille," Bernstein said in an interview over local delicacies outside the five-star Atlantis Hotel, where he is staying. "I internalize these cases, not word by word, but to know all the key legal issues that are relevant within that case."
He added, "The Palm's crescent is like a runway without obstacles, so I have my phone and cane to navigate while focusing on my work assignment at the same time."
Usually Bernstein, a Democrat who was elected to an eight-year term in 2014, would be doing this work from Lansing, Michigan's capital. But in January he quarantined in Dubai for two weeks on his way to Israel for a visit. During that time Israel closed its borders, and Bernstein was told he could either stay in Dubai or fly home.
He chose to stay in Dubai — and has no immediate plans to leave. With the court meeting virtually due to COVID, he doesn't need to, despite the eight-hour time difference. He's even taken both doses of the COVID vaccine there.
"I had already started becoming close with so many incredible people here and so I decided to stay back," he said. "As a blind person it is very challenging to travel and do things on your own. But the beauty of this country is that you are never alone. So many people have helped me around here that I know this area like the back of my hand."
Walking 20 miles a day is not a challenge for Bernstein, an avid runner who has competed in 22 marathons and the full Ironman triathlon. In 2012, a cyclist crashed into him in New York City's Central Park, leaving him with a broken hip and pelvis, and landing him in the hospital for 10 weeks.
Bernstein walks now because he says it hurts less to be in motion. He appreciates that the UAE officially refers to people with disabilities as "people of determination," a term coined in 2016.
Tuesday, April 06, 2021
When Meena Viswanath signed on more than two years ago to help Duolingo, the world's largest language learning app, create its first Yiddish course, she knew it wouldn't be easy.
But Viswanath, the daughter and granddaughter of famed Yiddish scholars who speaks Yiddish at home with her children, assumed most of the difficulties would be technical. She wasn't prepared for the challenge of blending the academic Yiddish she knows with the everyday dialect spoken by her Hasidic colleagues on the project.
The result of those negotiations will be visible when the course goes live on April 6, tapping into the groundswell of interest in the language spoken by at least 500,000 Jews around the world and studied by others.
"We used mostly the spelling and grammar that's a little bit more formalized among the secular Yiddishists," Viswanath said. "But then when we recorded the audio, we used the pronunciation that is used in the vernacular among students, specifically in Borough Park in Brooklyn and so forth."
Launched in 2012 to help Spanish-speaking immigrants access English education, Duolingo now offers 40 languages on a free app that condenses language learning into what many, its founder included, have compared to a game. Users accumulate points and climb leaderboards of fellow "players" for finishing lessons and practicing every day. Its cast of cartoonish characters, including its mascot owl aptly named Duo, adds to the fun atmosphere.
The company is taking the dopamine boost to a new level for promoting the Yiddish course: Those who start on its launch date can get a free bagel courtesy of Duolingo at a few participating shops across the country, including Katz's Deli in New York and Manny's Cafeteria in Chicago — as long as the users place their orders in Yiddish.
The new course comes amid an explosion of interest in Yiddish instruction during the pandemic. The Workers Circle classes last summer had 305 students from 20 countries and 32 states, a 65 percent jump from the previous year. Meanwhile, YIVO's Uriel Weinreich Summer Program saw attendance increase by 60 percent to 120 people — and then five times as many students enrolled for the winter program compared to the previous year.
Monday, April 05, 2021
The recent purchase of a former Pace University campus in Briarcliff Manor has raised some questions from local residents and officials. First among those questions is what the Monsey-based Yeshiva of Viznitz D'Khal Torath Chaim, Inc. plans to do with the property.
The same congregation bought another campus last fall – the 107-acre Nyack College campus in the Village of South Nyack, along with two other parcels – with plans to use the property for educating hundreds of high school and college-age students. South Nyack subsequently filed suit against the Hasidic Jewish congregation for using buildings with safety violations and for not attaining proper village permits and inspections.
Nyack College operated a tax-exempted Christian college on the property before its 2019 closure. According to lohud.com, the congregation's attorney argued the property has status that allows for educational facilities, while the village's attorney stated the congregation might be required to reapply for a special education permit.
Briarcliff Manor officials have also raised the question of whether the former Pace University property's special permit for educational use needs to be renewed or the property reverts to single-family zoning. However, the Hasidic Jewish congregation has yet to state its intentions for the Briarcliff property. In a March 5 email to residents, Briarcliff Village Manager Philip Zegarelli indicated the Village was not contacted about the change in ownership before its sale and no plans for the property were submitted.
There have also been questions regarding the price the congregation paid for the campus. It bought the property, which includes dormitories, offices, a pair of athletic fields, a garage and a barn, in February from the Research Center on Natural Conservation for $11.75 million. The research center—founded by the CEO of Beijing-based Fang Holdings Ltd.—paid Pace $17.4 million for the campus in 2017, and records from the Town of Ossining assess its value at $17.7 million.
Since the parcel of land is currently on the tax rolls, D'Khal Torath Chaim would seemingly have to apply for tax-exempt status.
Zegarelli also wrote in his email that the property's residential zoning allows single-family homes on one-acre lots, but that Pace had operated as a school under a special use permit. Under village code, such permits expire after 12 months of inactivity, and the Research Center on Natural Conservation did not obtain a special permit after acquiring the property from Pace.
Briarcliff Manor has recently strengthened its methods of evaluating and managing special use permit applications, according to Zegarelli's email. In doing so, the village looks to identify how properties with special use permits impact the local traffic, schools and resources. "We also clarified the termination of special permit uses once the approved use ceases to operate continuously," he noted.
Zegarelli wrote that enhanced public notification procedures would provide more awareness for residents of any such proposals coming before the Village. "The Board of Trustees assures all residents that information on all land use applications will be disseminated efficiently, transparently, and fully, as soon as such information is available," the Briarcliff Village Manager's email stated.
Given some of the comments on the Briarcliff Community Facebook Page, there are residents already concerned that the former Pace campus may face some of the complexities surrounding the Yeshiva's South Nyack purchase. One person wrote, "Not an expert on this issue, but what can the village do proactively to ensure this doesn't get out of hand? Taking a wait and see approach could turn out bad for the community." Another commented, "Considering what is occurring in Nyack, this is extremely concerning."
However, on an earlier story posted on River Journal's website, one reader commented about the Yeshiva purchasing the campus: "Better than having those buildings and land wasted."