Cornell Tech campus construction is set to be completed in about 15 years. The campus is on Roosevelt Island. Photo by Iwan Baan

ISLAND OF SCIENCE: Technion Teams Up With Cornell to Bring Startup Nation to America


Roosevelt Island is a curious spit of land in the East River, nestled between Manhattan and Queens. It began as farmland, then housed a penitentiary and lunatic asylum and, later, hospitals.

Once home to the diseased and criminally insane, today it is home to a cutting-edge complex that is a marriage of Cornell University and Israel’s Technion Institute of Technology. Their union is launching new companies in an effort to create New York City’s own Silicon Valley. And, not incidentally, boost Israel’s image.

Based on what is already percolating at Cornell Tech and the related Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, they are on their way.

The Cornell-Technion marriage — and a great deal of philanthropic and city funding — has produced architecturally interesting, environmentally sensitive new buildings, which house academic programs and the nascent businesses.

Cornell Tech is the overall owner of the Roosevelt Island enterprise. Within it is the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, a first-of-its-kind partnership between the two universities that includes a double degree-granting master’s program and a post-doctoral fellowship designed to launch inventive tech businesses.

Cornell Tech and the Jacobs Institute moved into their new home in August, in time to open their doors for the current school year. The programs are housed in two buildings at the south end of the almond shaped, 2-mile-long, 800-feet-wide island. Elsewhere on the island, some 14,000 people now live in apartment buildings that first opened in 1975.

The story of the joint venture begins seven years ago, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a competition to create an applied sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. Fifty educational institutions were invited to compete. Technion was the only one from Israel.

Technion President Peretz Lavie recalls asking Bloomberg why Technion was invited. The mayor told him that “you took Jaffa oranges and turned them into semiconductors and I’d like you to do the same in New York,” Lavie said in an interview with the Journal. At its home campus, Haifa-based Technion has 14,500 students majoring in engineering, science, medicine and architecture.

The ultimate goal of their union? To create New York’s own Silicon Valley.

The project’s ultimate goal is to be an economic engine for the city of New York and feed talent into the growing tech sector. In a Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute video, Bloomberg says he expects Cornell Tech to contribute $23 billion to New York’s economy over the next three decades.

It was a high-stakes, hugely visible competition. The mayor pledged nearly free use of Roosevelt Island and $100 million of the city’s money.

Once it decided to apply to the New York City competition, Technion forged ahead with a sky’s-the-limit approach.

“Designing a university from scratch is the fantasy of every university president,” Lavie said. He told Technion’s deans to “think out of the box. It is a new academic adventure. Let’s think about a new way of education that would be difficult to implement usually because universities are very conservative.”

Twenty seven universities, from Manhattan’s Columbia University to one in Korea expressed interest. Seven submitted complete proposals, with Stanford and Cornell considered the front-runners. After months of secret talks, Cornell and Technion decided to join forces.

“Technion didn’t have a chance” of winning the competition alone, said philanthropist Sanford Weill during a tour of the Cornell Tech campus on Oct. 26. Weill is chairman emeritus of Citigroup and a major donor to New York institutions, including Carnegie Hall and the Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “Not because it wasn’t capable, with its graduates running half the high techs in Israel,” he said in a presentation welcoming about 200 Technion donors who were visiting the campus, “but because the Israeli government wouldn’t invest in the United States.”

Stanford dropped out after Cornell announced it received a $350 million then-anonymous gift toward construction costs. On Dec. 19, The New York Times reported that the Cornell-Technion partnership was the winner, which soon was formally announced.

Google quickly offered them free space to kick off their partnership until Roosevelt Island’s campus was ready. The new enterprise stayed at Google, whose building takes up an entire square block in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, from 2012 until August, when it moved onto Roosevelt Island with about 300 graduate students.

When construction on Cornell Tech concludes in roughly 15 years, plans call for 2 million square feet of educational space on two acres, accommodating 2,000 students and 280 professors.

At the moment, three buildings are finished. Two house classrooms, studios and offices: The Bridge, and the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center. The latter is named for Michael Bloomberg’s daughters and funded with a $100 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Nearby is a boxy, 26-story building called The House, which provides housing for 550 students and faculty. Built to Passive House standards, which require little energy to achieve a comfortable temperature year round, and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certified, it is designed to optimize energy consumption by using passive solar heating and cooling techniques and is essentially airtight.

Enormous arrays of photovoltaic panels top The Bridge and Bloomberg buildings. Under a rolling lawn outside, 80 tanks collect rainwater through the grass. They provide gray water used to water the lawn during dry periods and flush toilets inside the Bloomberg Center.

There are other ways the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is special, as well. As the only overseas university approved to grant degrees on American soil, it is a jewel in Technion’s crown, Lavie said. While it is Technion’s first foray into international branching out, the Israeli university is slated to open its second international campus, in China, next month.

The Jacobs Institute, which occupies about a third of the overall Cornell Tech space, is named after donors Irwin and Joan Jacobs, who gave the project $133 million. Irwin Jacobs is a founder of mobile chipmaker Qualcomm.

The Jacobs Institute has two interdisciplinary parts.

One is a master’s degree program focused on “hubs” in health technology and in connective media. The 70 master’s students earn two degrees: one from Cornell and one from Technion. A third hub, now in the planning stages, will focus on urban cyber-physical systems, said Ron Brachman, Jacobs Institute’s director.

The hubs are designed to be flexible. They “could have a finite lifetime and be phased out when they’re no longer providing something unique you can’t get elsewhere,” Brachman said. “At other universities, programs go on indefinitely.”

Eva Stern-Rodriguez is a first-year master’s student focusing on connective media. In one required course, called Product Studio, students develop projects with potential real-world applications. She is collaborating with students from inside and outside of the Jacobs Institute. The app they are designing would connect skilled immigrants with nonprofit organizations to help them build financial stability.

Many immigrants don’t know how to access that kind of support, Stern-Rodriguez said, and “a lot of NGO [nongovernmental organizations] websites are hard to parse or out of date because they don’t have the money to do updates.” Their app will launch in English and Spanish presenting a curated list of NGOs meant to allow immigrants to find the information they need in one place.

In another class Stern-Rodriguez is taking on new media, students are partnering with media companies to develop new ways of fact-checking.

“You took Jaffa oranges and turned them into semiconductors, and I’d like you to do the same in New York.” — Michael Bloomberg

In the master’s program’s second semester, student teams compete to win one of four $100,000 awards given to projects with the best startup potential, said Jacobs Institute Director Brachman.

Plans for the Cornell Tech campus call for 2 million square feet of educational space on two acres. Photo by Iwan Baan

The last of the Jacobs Institute hubs will focus on “the convergence of the digital world and urban life,” Brachman explained. It relates to “intelligent transportation systems, smart buildings, the social media elements of governance and other types of urban planning, like urban robotics, which could be helping people and populations.”

The other part of the Jacobs Institute is its Runway program.

Runway offers salaried fellowships to post-doctoral students, providing the training, space and seed money they need to launch new tech companies. Each post-doc student has mentors both in their discipline and on the business side. They get instruction on finance and fundraising and the program files patents for them. The value of each fellowship, which lasts between one and three years, starts out at $175,000 for the first year, said Fernando Gomez-Baquero, a nanomaterials engineer recently appointed director of Jacobs’ Runway and Spinouts. In return, the Jacobs Institute gets a small ownership stake in the new business.

The first 21 post-doc fellows launched 17 companies, 14 of which are still in business, Gomez-Baquero said.

One Runway startup is Shade. It developed a small sensor to attach to clothing and measure the ultraviolet rays to which its wearer is exposed. Its first market will be people with autoimmune diseases triggered by sunlight, like lupus, explained its creator, Emanuel Dumont, in a presentation. Since sunlight also ages skin, it also has a potential market in the beauty industry, he said.

Another startup, Biotia, is aimed at battling hospital infections. One in 25 people admitted to the hospital acquires an infection there, according to Biotia, and one in nine people will die from that infection. The risk is even higher for cancer patients and others with compromised immune systems. Their product helps hospitals quickly sequence swabbed pathogens’ DNA to identify what it is and treat it appropriately. Their first major customer, a large hospital in Southeast Asia, has just bought the product, Gomez-Baquero said.

A third new product, already on the market — perhaps Runway’s most successful launch to date — is the Nanit baby monitor (see sidebar).

A product that failed was an app that would take a photo of food and provide nutritional information, Gomez-Baquero said. Its inventors “were very close to doing a partnership with Weight Watchers, but it didn’t work in the end. The market didn’t really want to pay for a service like that. It didn’t seem to be a viable business model,” he said.

The Bloomberg Center is one of three finished buildings on campus. Photo by Matthew Carbone

Runway is fine trying startups that fail, he said.

“We don’t measure ourselves by the ones that are successful. Our mandate as Jacobs and as Runway is to experiment. To really push the boundaries,” he said.

The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute endeavor is also having a more prosaic impact. It has boosted fundraising for the American Technion Society, said Jeffrey Richard, its executive vice president. “[Now] when our staff, lay leaders and supporters are out in public trying to tell the Technion story, there’s much more recognition [of the university],” he said.

That’s showing up in its bottom line. In its last big fundraising campaign, which ended in 2014, the U.S. development organization for Technion raised an average of $84 million a year, he said.

“Now we’re averaging $140 million a year in campaign support. We’re definitely seeing increases,” Richard said.

“It makes things more tangible” to potential donors, said Reyna Susi Dominitz, who heads the Miami branch of ATS, during the Roosevelt Island tour.

“We don’t measure ourselves by the ones that are successful. Our mandate…is to really push the boundaries.” – Fernandez Gomez-Baquero

Daniel Doctoroff is CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet (i.e., Google-related) company focused on designing cities of the future. When Bloomberg was mayor, Doctoroff worked as New York City’s deputy mayor for economic development. He went on to run Bloomberg L.P., the financial information company.

While Doctoroff wasn’t involved in creating Cornell Tech or the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, he is familiar with the project, and bullish about its prospects for contributing to the technology industry and New York City’s economy.

“They’re still in the very early days,” Doctoroff said. “But it’s very encouraging. … It offers incredible promise.”


Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a freelance writer in New York.

Screenshot from YouTube.

Teen Faces Indictment for Vandalizing Jewish Cemetery


A teenager has been indicted for vandalizing a Jewish cemetery in New York.

Eric Carbanoro, 18, is being indicted for allegedly being a part of a group that emblazoned anti-Semitic graffiti on Beth Shalom Cemetery in Warwick, NY, which included the words “Heil Hitler” and multiple swastikas, on Oct. 9, 2016.

The indictment also alleges that Carbanoro deleted incriminating images from phones belonging to other people, including a meme that stated “secretly spray paints Jewish cemetery and gets away with it.”

As a result, Carbanoro is being charged with conspiring to commit a hate crime and tampering with evidence.

District Attorney David Hoovler denounced the vandalism in a statement.

“There is no room for this type of hateful desecration of religious property here in Orange County,” said Hoovler. “These anti-Semitic symbols and messages do not reflect the values of the overwhelming majority of Orange County and Warwick residents.”

Carbonaro has yet to be arrested. It is believed that he conspired with two others to commit the hate crime, both of which have yet to be identified. The investigation is still ongoing.

There have been numerous instances of Jewish cemeteries being vandalized in 2017, including a Jewish cemetery in Boston in July and three in a span of 12 days in March.

A Home Depot truck which struck down multiple people on a bike path, killing several and injuring numerous others, is seen as New York city first responders are at the crime scene in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Eight Dead, 12 Wounded in Manhattan Terror Attack


At least eight people are dead and 12 others are injured in what is considered to be the deadliest terror attack in New York since 9/11.

The terror suspect, who has been identified as 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov, reportedly drove a white Home Depot truck on the opposite side of the bike lane on the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan, striking people in its wake. The truck eventually crashed into a school bus and another car, and the driver fled the vehicle while carrying fake guns before being shot by police.

It is also being reported that the terrorist shouted “Allah Akhbar!”

Here is a picture of the suspect being apprehended:

“This was an act of terror, a particularly cowardly act of terror, aimed at innocent civilians,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press conference.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in the same press conference that the attack appears to be a “lone wolf attack” and that New York is a prime target for those who despise America’s values.

“The truth is New York is an international symbol of freedom and democracy…that also makes us a target,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo praised the first responders on the scene of the terror attack.

“We have the finest security on the globe,” said Cuomo.

President Trump called the terrorist “a very sick and deranged person”:

One of the witnesses, Greg Ahl, told 1010 WINS he “noticed along the bike path a bunch of wrecked bicycles and as I drove it was just more and more completely and totally wrecked bicycles and people mulling around to the side.”

Another witness, Uber driver Chen Yi, told CNBC that he saw “a lot of blood” and “a lot of people on the ground” on the bike path where the terror attack took place.

Mike Tolkin, the youngest candidate in the Democratic primary for New York mayor, at a city cafe on Sept. 5. Photo by Josefin Dolsten

Meet Mike Tolkin, the Jewish millennial running for NYC mayor


Mike Tolkin apologizes for checking his phone as he sits down at a café in this city’s Flatiron district.

The 32-year-old Democratic New York mayoral hopeful was waiting to hear Tuesday whether he would be allowed to participate in the final primary debate the following day, which would boost his exposure amid an otherwise quiet campaign.

Tolkin, a technology entrepreneur and the youngest candidate on the party’s ballot to challenge incumbent Bill de Blasio, had not met the threshold necessary to qualify for matching funds from the city’s Campaign Finance Board, a requirement to participate in the debate. But he pointed out that other candidates in the past, such as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had been allowed to circumvent those rules.

Later that day Tolkin found out that he would not be included — a decision he called “deeply undemocratic and grossly unfair.”

Though polling on the race has been sparse, de Blasio is expected to win the primary and general elections handily.

Still Tolkin, who has founded a handful of startups, remains undeterred.

“It’s been a little bit difficult for us to break through, but I’m a big believer that if you put forth really great, big ideas, you can inspire people, and that’s the best way to mobilize our city,” Tolkin told JTA a week before the Sept. 12 primary.

The candidate, who is Jewish and grew up attending a Conservative synagogue on Long Island, is running on a wide-ranging platform that centers on economic improvement. But it also includes proposals to create a human rights center, legalize marijuana and provide free mental health care.

“The biggest issue, as an overarching theme, is the economy,” said Tolkin, who lives in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood. “We have to fix the economy, we have to make it work for everyone and we have to grow our economy.”

There are four parts to his economic agenda: restructuring government to make it more efficient and transparent; investing in infrastructure, such as street cleaning services and public transportation; grow and diversify the economy by investing in new industries, such as artificial intelligence, biotech and robotics; and improve income distribution.

Tolkin believes his business acumen makes him the ideal choice for running the nation’s largest city. He founded his first startup while studying at the University of Pennsylvania’s prominent Wharton School, where in 2007 he led a team that created a make-your-own chocolate bar company that won an award for the best undergraduate business plan.

A few years after graduation, in 2011, he founded Merchant Exchange, an incentive-based marketing platform for millennials, and in 2013 he founded two IMAX initiatives, including IMAXShift, a high-tech indoor cycling studio in which scenes are projected onto an extra-large screen. In 2015, he founded his latest venture, Rooms.com, a home design website that offers virtual tours of designer rooms.

Tolkin, however, was compelled to do something different earlier this year.

“What can I do as an individual to be more civically engaged, to take action in light of the fact that there are so many massive challenges?” he wondered. “I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.”

He launched his mayoral campaign in January, meeting with New Yorkers from all parts of the city. He left the startup world a few months later to pursue the political effort full-time.

Tolkin said his Jewish background inspires him to give back to the community.

“It provided a really strong moral foundation for me,” he said. “The notion of charity, tzedakah and giving back is something that’s important to me.”

He has been involved with the ROI community, an international network of Jewish leaders, and Eighteen:22, an organization for LGBTQ Jews.

Growing up, Tolkin had encountered homophobia.

“I’ve had my struggles,” he said. “I grew up as a gay boy in a world that didn’t really accept gay people.

“But I’ve been really fortunate, I’ve been really blessed. I haven’t had the same struggles as a lot of other people, so being able to take my good fortune and put myself in the shoes of who is on the other end of the spectrum is something that I don’t necessarily think is uniquely Jewish, but it’s tied to Jewish values of helping the other.”

Tolkin literally put himself in someone else’s shoes during the campaign when he slept on the streets for two nights this spring in order to understand the plight of homeless New Yorkers.

“It was awful and eye opening,” he said.

As part of his platform, Tolkin wants to create a human rights council based in New York, which he calls the League of Love. The council, which he imagines to be “sort of like the U.N.,” would unite diverse human rights groups, such as those dedicated to the rights of women, immigrants, LGBTQ people and minorities.

He also hopes to create business partnerships between the private and public sectors, such as by creating an Uber-style car ordering service owned by the city.

Tolkin has largely self-funded his campaign, contributing nearly $500,000, including $315,000 in loans, $175,000 of which he has “forgiven.” He valued an in-kind donation at $5 million for earnings from trademarked logos he created to sell on T-shirts and mugs, as well as strategy services he is providing to his own campaign. (That earned him some media coverage.)

Though his bid looks like a long shot, Tolkin remains optimistic about the campaign.

“We have a week left from today,” he said, “and I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by the traction we’re able to get in the final week.”

A student and teacher play the violin during a presentation on child victims of the Holocaust at the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School in Manhattan, April 23, 2017. (Ben Sales via JTA)

This New York City Sunday school teaches Jewish kids Yiddish — and socialism


NEW YORK — The Jewish Sunday school teacher, a black accordion strapped to her shoulders, stands before a photo of a 1927 Jewish protest in Warsaw and introduces her students to an important holiday observed by their ancestors.

It isn’t Passover, which has just ended, but another that is approaching in a couple weeks: May Day, the unofficial May 1 holiday celebrating workers’ rights.

“Socialism is the idea that everyone should have what they need,” says the teacher, Hannah Temple, as a projector flashes images of a protest sign and Jewish immigrants marching in a labor demonstration. On the walls, multicolored signs declare “Jewish communities fight for $15” — a minimum wage campaign — “We are all workers” and “Remember the Triangle Fire,” a reference to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire that killed 146 garment workers at a factory and galvanized the labor movement.

Temple teaches the children words to a Yiddish May Day anthem and offers a short primer on early 20th century labor activism.

“We need to sleep some, we need to work some, but we need some time that’s for us,” she says, describing the campaign for an eight-hour workday. She invites the few dozen students and parents in the room to a May Day protest in downtown Manhattan. A few hands go up.

“Maybe?” she asks. “Maybe is great.”

The Yiddish sing-along-cum-socialist teach-in is the morning meeting of the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School, a secular Jewish Sunday school that combines Yiddish language and culture education with progressive social justice organizing. It’s one of eight such schools, called “shules,” in four states serving a total of 300 students aged 5 to 13 — teaching them everything from an Eastern European melody for the Four Questions to how to protest on behalf of underpaid fast-food workers. The curriculum ends with a joint bar/bat mitzvah ceremony for the seventh-graders.

Students at the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School in Manhattan read through a play in Yiddish, April 23, 2017. (Ben Sales via JTA)

Though it’s more than a century old, the Workmen’s Circle, a left-wing Eastern European Jewish culture and social justice group, has seen its fundraising and school enrollment grow in recent years. Part of the boost, leaders say, was due to the diametrically opposed presidential campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Donald Trump.

Sanders, says executive director Ann Toback, awakened American Jews to secular, progressive Jewish culture conveyed with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Trump, she adds, sparked Jews on the left to organize in protest.

Workmen’s Circle made a lapel pin bearing the faces of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump accompanied by the words “mensch” and “putz,” respectively. (Josefin Dolsten via JTA)

Workmen’s Circle isn’t shy about its political leanings. Following the presidential election, it made a lapel pin bearing the faces of Sanders and Trump accompanied by the words “mensch” and “putz,” respectively.

“Before there was Bernie, there was the Workmen’s Circle,” Toback says. “Is there a way we can connect to so many of his followers? The values that he based his campaign on are really the inherent values of the Workmen’s Circle and our movement.”

In the five-month period after the election, the group saw its donations double over the same stretch the previous year. It has opened five of its eight Sunday schools in the past three years. The biggest, in Boston, has more than 100 students. In May, the Manhattan school will be hosting a spring open house for the first time.

“More people are coming to us looking for — ‘I want to engage in social justice activism,’” says Beth Zasloff, director of the Midtown school. “I know that for me, after the election, having a community, having a place to go where I know we can address these issues with our children, felt extremely important.”

The Midtown school, like its counterparts, eschews traditional Jewish Sunday school mainstays like learning Hebrew or studying ritual and prayer. Israel isn’t a focus. Workmen’s Circle has partnered in the past both with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, a left-wing group that focuses on domestic issues, and Habonim Dror, the left-wing Labor Zionist movement.

Instead, kids take three types of classes: arts and crafts, Yiddish language and history, and culture and social justice. Last Sunday, the three students in the Yiddish class were reading a play, in transliteration, about a robot. The teacher would read a line in Yiddish and translate, which a student repeated.

The arts and crafts class was making banners for an immigrant rights protest. In the history and culture class, four students prepared for their bar and bat mitzvahs next year. For the ceremony, they’ll do a research project on their family history and interview an elderly relative. Later that Sunday, this year’s bar mitzvah class made presentations on children who were killed in the Holocaust.

Beth Zasloff, director of the Midtown Workmen’s Circle School (Courtesy of Zasloff via JTA)

One student said knowing Yiddish made her feel like her friends at school who hail each other in the hallways in Bengali. Another said her favorite Workmen’s Circle experience was participating in the Jan. 21 Women’s March in New York City. And for some, the appeal lies in attending a Sunday school that avoids the standard memorization of Hebrew prayers.

“This is secular, and I’m not super religious in terms of my beliefs about God,” says Moxie Strom. “So it’s nice to have something that doesn’t focus so much on ‘God said this and God said that.’”

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring was founded in 1900 in large part to help Jewish immigrants from Europe succeed in America. Along with advocating for better working conditions, it offered members services like health care and loans. It supported socialism at a time when Jews on the Lower East Side of Manhattan helped elected a Socialist Party candidate, Meyer London, to Congress.

No longer socialist but still left wing, the Workmen’s Circle fights for those issues largely on behalf of non-Jewish workers, leading campaigns for immigrant rights or better pay.

And instead of helping Yiddish speakers integrate into America, the organization’s cultural mission has flipped, preserving and promoting an old world culture for American Jews. It runs Yiddish language classes for adults and a summer camp for kids, and hosts culinary and holiday events.

“There’s so much culture they’re missing,” says Kolya Borodulin, the group’s associate director for Yiddish programming, who grew up in Birobidzhan, the Soviet Union’s Jewish Autonomous Region. “Jewish holidays, traditions described by famous Yiddish authors — any contemporary issues you name — are reflected in the Yiddish language. So you can see this parallel universe in Yiddish.”

Even if they go to eight years of Sunday school, Borodulin says, the students are unlikely to come out speaking proficient Yiddish, or even reading a page in the language’s Hebrew script. The school’s aim, rather, is to reinforce a cultural and ideological Jewish identity in its students. The aspiration is that years after they leave, they will be able to connect to their Judaism on holidays, in song and on the picket line.

“What resonates most with them is the social justice and having a sense of what we believe in,” says Debbie Feiner, whose two sons, ages 9 and 12, attend the Midtown school. The older one, she says, understands that “when you see some injustice, you need to take action. He can’t be a passive bystander, and he’ll connect that with his Judaism.”

Commuters removing swastikas from a New York City subway on Feb. 4. Photo by Gregory Locke/Facebook

Manhattan commuters clean Nazi graffiti off subway car with hand sanitizer


Commuters on a Manhattan subway train used hand sanitizer to clean away swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti drawn in permanent marker on the train’s maps, advertisements and windows.

The subway riders discovered the graffiti on Saturday night.

“The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do,” one of the commuters, Gregory Locke, wrote in a post on Facebook. “One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.”

Locke’s post continued: “I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purel. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone.”

“Nazi symbolism. On a public train. In New York City. In 2017,” he wrote.

At least one of the messages said” “Jews belong in the oven,” according to the New York Daily News.

Locke disputed one of his fellow travelers, who said while they were cleaning: “I guess this is Trump’s America.”

He responded in his post: “No sir, it’s not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it.”

Obama airs settlement concerns, Netanyahu praises US friendship in their likely final meeting


President Barack Obama expressed concern about settlement activity and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called America Israel’s best friend as the two leaders sat down for what is likely their final meeting.

The U.S. and Israeli leaders met Wednesday afternoon in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

“We are concerned about settlement activity,” Obama told reporters at the start of the meeting at a Manhattan hotel. “I want to hear from the prime minister about the situation in the West Bank and the latest violence.”

“We need to keep alive the possibility of a stable, secure Israel at peace with its neighbors, and a Palestinian homeland that meets the aspirations of their people,” he also said.

Obama opened his remarks by wishing a recovery to former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who suffered a stroke a week ago.

Netanyahu said that “Israel has no bigger friend than America and America has no bigger friend than Israel” and peace “is a goal that I and the people of Israel will never give up on.”

He thanked Obama for the recently signed 10-year, $38 million military aid agreement, which Netanyahu said “ensures that Israel can defend itself against any threat.”

Netanyahu told Obama that he always will be a welcome guest in Israel, calling him by his first name and inviting him to his private residence in Caesarea, where he said the president could improve his already terrific golf game.

“I will visit Israel often after I am president because it is a beautiful country,” Obama replied, and told Netanyahu to set up a tee time. Obama leaves office in January.

The leaders were scheduled to discuss the recent wave of violence in Israel, the advancement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the continued implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran and other regional security issues, the White House said earlier this week when it announced the meeting.

Obama mentioned Israel just once during his address to the General Assembly on Tuesday, urging the Palestinians to end incitement and Israel to halt settlement building.

Netanyahu will address the General Assembly on Thursday.

New York bombing suspect Rahami captured in New Jersey


An Afghanistan-born American sought in connection with a bombing that wounded more than two dozen people in New York City and could be linked to other bombs found in New York and New Jersey was taken into custody on Monday after a shootout, a New Jersey mayor said.

Ahmad Khan Rahami of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was taken into custody after firing at police officer in Linden, New Jersey, about 20 miles outside New York, Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage said.

Investigators believe more people were involved in the New York and New Jersey bombing plots, two U.S. officials told Reuters.

The New York Police Department had released a photo of Rahami, 28, and said they wanted to question him about a Saturday night explosion that wounded 29 people in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood and for a blast earlier that day in Seaside Park, New Jersey, authorities said.

New York City shaken by ‘intentional’ explosion, 29 injured


An explosion rocked the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan on Saturday night, injuring at least 29 people, authorities said, adding that they are investigating the blast as a criminal act not immediately linked to any terror organization.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city officials said investigators had ruled out a natural gas leak as the origin of the blast but they stopped short of calling it a bombing and declined to specify precisely what they believed may have triggered the explosion.

“Early indications are that this was an intentional act,” de Blasio said. He added that the site of the explosion, outside on a major thoroughfare in one of the most bustling areas of New York City, was being treated as a crime scene.

“There is no evidence at this point of a terror connection,” the mayor said at a news conference about three hours after the blast. He added, “There is no specific and credible threat against New York City at this point in time from any terror organization.”

The mayor said investigators did not believe there was any link to a pipe bomb that exploded earlier on Saturday in the New Jersey beach town of Seaside Park. No injuries were reported in that blast, in a plastic trash can along the route of a charity foot race. Authorities said they believed it to be a deliberate act.

But a U.S. official said that Joint Terrorism Task Force, an interagency group of federal, state and local officials, was called to investigate the Chelsea blast, suggesting authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a terror connection.

A joint task force also took the lead in investigating the New Jersey incident.

A law enforcement source said an initial investigation suggested the Chelsea explosion occurred in a dumpster but the cause was still undetermined. The head of the New York Police Department's special operations division said on Twitter that a “possible secondary device has been located” in the same general area.

CNN reported that law enforcement sources believed an improvised explosive device caused the blast.

President Barack Obama, who was attending a congressional dinner in Washington, “has been apprised of the explosion in New York City, the cause of which remains under investigation,” a White House official said. “The president will be updated as additional information becomes available,” the official added.

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said 29 people were hurt in the blast, and 24 of them had been taken to area hospitals, including one person he described as seriously injured. The rest suffered various cuts, scrapes and other minor injuries from shattered glass and other debris, Nigro said.

The explosion, described by one neighbor as “deafening,” happened outside the Associated Blind Housing facility at 135 W. 23rd Street. The facility provides housing, training and other services for the blind.

‘Sauna rabbi’ providing counseling at NY health center


Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the New York spiritual leader who resigned from his pulpit after coming under fire for having naked sauna chats with boys in his congregation, is working as a counselor at a suburban New York health center.

Rosenblatt is providing spiritual and psychological counseling at Scarsdale Integrative Medicine in Westchester County, according to his page on the health center’s website. The Forward reported Monday on Rosenblatt’s new position.

“Recently retired from more than three decades in the community rabbinate,” Rosenblatt “combines the ancient wisdom of the Jewish tradition with the sophistication of a broad Western liberal arts and social science education,” according to the medical center’s website, which does not mention why he left the rabbinate.

Rosenblatt playing racquetball and visiting the showers and sauna with boys and young men from the Riverdale Jewish Center garnered headlines after an expose in The New York Times in May 2015. The article reported that some congregants and former congregants of the modern Orthodox synagogue discussed the trips to the sauna, during which the rabbi “engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith.”

No one cited in the story accused Rosenblatt of sexual touching, but several expressed their discomfort with the practice and described the behavior as deeply inappropriate for a rabbi and mentor. At various times, Rosenblatt was told by rabbinic bodies or his congregation’s board to limit such activity.

After vowing to remain in his position in the wake of fallout from the article, Rosenblatt announced his resignation as the congregation’s senior rabbi in February.

“Rabbi Rosenblatt has deep experience across a broad spectrum of challenges: coping with serious illness and bereavement, stressful family relationships, parenting challenges, life transitions, loss of a sense of meaning and direction, workplace conflicts,” according to the health center’s biography.

The bio added: “Many rabbis from around the world call him to consult on their thorniest counseling situations.”

Rosenblatt, a Baltimore native, studied in Israel at Yeshivat Har Etzion and was ordained by Yeshiva University’s rabbinical school in 1982.

Smashed car window covers 6-year-old in glass, may be hate crime


A teenage boy hurled a rock into the car of an Orthodox Jewish woman in Brooklyn, shattering the back window and covering her 6-year-old child in glass.

The teen, who was not identified, had shouted an anti-Semitic remark at the woman in the car before throwing the rock and fleeing the scene, the New York Daily News reported.

The New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating.

United Auto Workers rejects NYU graduate student union vote backing Israel boycott


The United Auto Workers union struck down a vote by the graduate student union at New York University to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Last week’s decision came two months after the resolution to support the BDS movement was approved by two-thirds of the 600 union members who  cast ballots in the Graduate Student Organizing Committee vote. The committee, an affiliate of the UAW, represents more than 2,000 graduate teaching and research assistants at the university.

The resolution called on the union and the UAW to divest from Israeli companies, and on NYU to shutter its program at Tel Aviv University, which it alleges violates the NYU non-discrimination policy. Fifty-seven percent of the voting union members also took a personal pledge to boycott Israeli government and academic institutions.

The boycott should remain in place, the resolution said, “until Israel complies with international law and ends the military occupation, dismantles the wall [West Bank security barrier], recognizes the rights of Palestinian citizens to full equality, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees and exiles.”

Members of the graduate student union who opposed the boycott resolution had filed an appeal against the UAW vote, claiming the resolution violated the UAW constitution.

In a letter dated June 21, the UAW’s president’s office wrote that the BDS resolution at NYU, as at other university locals, “is contrary to the position of the International Union.”

On Tuesday, leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations praised the UAW for its rejection of the NYU union’s decision.

“The action taken by the UAW demonstrates it is at the vanguard of promoting justice, and reaffirms the tradition of fairness and staunch opposition to discrimination which are the bedrock of the American labor movement and our society,” Presidents Conference Chairman Stephen Greenberg and Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein said in a letter to the UAW’s president, Dennis Williams.

“We urge other unions, church groups and academic institutions to follow the UAW’s lead and hope they will take the same principled and moral stand against the blatantly discriminatory BDS campaign,” they added.

NYU spokesman John Beckman told Capital News New York at the time of the vote: “NYU has a long-standing position opposing boycotts of Israeli academics and institutions. This vote is at odds with NYU’s policy on this matter, it is at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and it is even at odds with the position of their own parent union, the UAW.”

In January, United Auto Workers International struck down a boycott resolution against Israel passed by the University of California Student Workers Union, UAW Local 2865, which represents more than 13,000 teaching assistants, tutors and other student workers in the UC system.

4 pro-Israel NY food co-op members suspended for disrupting 2015 BDS presentation


A popular Brooklyn cooperative grocery store that has been fighting about Israel boycott efforts for eight years reportedly suspended four pro-Israel members for interrupting a meeting more than a year ago.

According to the Brooklyn Paper, four Park Slope Food Co-op members have been suspended for a year for interrupting an April 2015 presentation by members who were calling for a boycott of SodaStream, the Israeli seltzer-machine company that at the time had a factory in a West Bank settlement.

At the 2015 meeting attended by hundreds of members, the four now-suspended members went to the front of the room and unplugged the projector that was displaying an image of an Israeli soldier and Palestinian that they believed was propagandistic.

The four were subjected to a disciplinary hearing in April and found guilty of uncooperative behavior.

In a heated and much publicized 2012 referendum, the co-op voted against boycotting Israeli products. Earlier this year, its members voted to require a supermajority of 75 percent for future boycott efforts.

NY Hasidic singer Lipa Schmeltzer stars in Israeli Pepsi Max ad


Lipa Schmeltzer, Hasidic pop star and glasses fashionista, can now add another line to his resume: Israeli Pepsi Max endorser.

Lipa, who has broken with his Brooklyn haredi Orthodox community in supporting the State of Israel, recorded a minute-long Pepsi Max commercial blending Israeli culture with his own Yiddish roots that was published online Monday.

He quickly announced the launch of the “grandiose campaign” on Facebook.

In the spot, Lipa enters a classic Israeli eatery filled with haredi men. The cashier, with a knowing smile, offers Lipa trademark Israeli foods like schnitzel, shawarma and a mixed meat dish. Lipa rejects them all, leaving the cashier dumbfounded.

Lipa then sees a Pepsi Max cooler in the back of the restaurant. He procures an ice-cold bottle of the diet soda and drinks. Suddenly, a dance party breaks out. Lipa says, “Pepsi Max: That’s what I’m looking for,” and the commercial cuts to a slogan, “Top Heymish Food,” written in English. Heymish means something like “comfortably familiar” in Yiddish.

The commercial ends with Hebrew text inviting viewers to take a poll about their most heymish restaurant.

This is far from Lipa’s first foray into pop culture. He’s been called the “Hasidic Lady Gaga,” and has deviated from his traditionalist community in founding a synagogue called The Airmont Shul in upstate New York, where he welcomes all comers regardless of religious observance. He is also studying for a degree at Columbia University.

A few weeks ago, he sang with a lesbian Israeli composer.

Lipa’s dress can also at times be unorthodox. He’s known for his vast collection of glasses, and often wears colorful shirts and vests. In the ad, of course, he wears a kippah embroidered with the Pepsi Max logo.

Albany kosher cheese maker charged with defrauding investors


The owner of an Albany, New York kosher cheese business has been charged with fraud.

Lawrence Rosenbaum, 64, of Albany, was arraigned on Monday. He is accused of promising investors in Saratoga Cheese Corporation, his kosher and halal cheese business, high returns and shares of stock in his corporation. He never developed the production lines or facilities for which he solicited the money, the local ABC affiliate reported.

Rosenbaum also is accused of writing checks to himself from the business accounts and using some of the investment funds to pay for an apartment with his mistress in Costa Rica. He also did not file his personal income taxes for several years.

 

He is charged on 27 counts including grand larceny, securities fraud and tax fraud.

Rosenbaum looked for investors for a plant to process the cheese and also to create alternative bio-energies from the manure from his milk-producing cows. The $40 million cheese factory announced in 2008 was slated to be built in the Cayuga County Industrial Development Agency industrial park, which was predicted to be an economic boon to the area. He ran his business from the porch of his Albany home.

In 2009, he spoke to Chabad.org of his plans to headquarter his cheese business in rural Cayuga County, and use it as a base to “found a yeshiva, revolutionize the national kosher and Halal cheese industry, and establish a Jewish community in the New York countryside.” In 2014, Rosenbaum told an interfaith gathering in Morristown, New Jersey that his production of cheeses for the Jewish and Muslim markets was part of an effort he called “Cheese for Peace.”

Rosenbaum pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, Rosenbaum faces up to 15 years in state prison. He is currently being held on $200,000 bail.

Meet the Orthodox ‘American Ninja Warrior’ training to be a rabbi


Like his fellow competitors on “American Ninja Warrior,” 25-year-old Akiva Neuman pushed himself to his physical limits — climbing, jumping and running through an intense obstacle course — in the hopes of making it to the national finals in Las Vegas.

But unlike the dozens of athletes who competed with him at the Philadelphia qualifiers, which will air June 27 on NBC, Neuman prepared by saying the Shema. He also wore tzitzit and a kippah throughout the competition.

Dubbed #ninjarabbi for the occasion, Neuman is an Orthodox Jew and rabbinical student at Yeshiva University. He will finish his smicha while he starts a full-time job at Deloitte in the fall —  yes, in addition to “Ninja” training and studying to be a rabbi, Neuman is also pursuing a master’s degree in taxation at St. John’s University.

 

Tune in to watch the sure-to-be compelling profile of Neuman — after all, the show’s emotional, behind-the scenes stories have been parodied by Drake on “Saturday Night Live” — and to witness his supporters cheering “rabbi, rabbi,” while he shows off his strength, speed and agility.

As of press time, we don’t know whether or not Neumanwho lives in New York, makes it to Vegas. In the meantime, read on for six interesting facts about the “ninja rabbi.”

He found out about the show while at the gym.

Neuman was working out at the gym with a friend when he saw “American Ninja Warrior” for the first time. (The show, which was based on a Japanese competition, is now in its eighth season in the U.S. and has something of a cult following. In fact, The Wall Street Journal recently asked “Is ‘American Ninja Warrior’ the Future of Sports?”)

“It had my name written all over it — it’s competitive and athletic, but it’s not cutthroat, and there’s a certain level of camaraderie required,” Neuman tells JTA. (The coaches, contestants and viewers cheer each other on.)

“I thought, what’s the worst that happens? I get rejected? So what?”

Neuman also figured that being an Orthodox Jew could be his hook. He submitted a video that showed him sitting with an open Talmud surrounded by religious books; it also shows him rock climbing and running.

“I love ‘American Ninja Warrior,’” he says in his video. “But I also do this stuff because if I didn’t I’d be onshpilkes!”

But most of his working out is done at home.

Neuman says he’s always been athletic and competitive; he was the captain of the soccer and hockey teams at his yeshiva high school, where he also played basketball. But considering that he’s studying for his master’s and rabbinical ordination — and he has a young child at home — his workouts usually have to be done early in the morning or at night.

“I’m probably only working out four or five hours a week, but to build muscle it’s all about consistency, even if you’re just doing a little at a time,” he says.

In Neuman’s must-watch submission video, he’s seen at home making impressive use of a pull-up bar and doing pushups while his 6-month-old son, Yaakov Shmuel (aka Koby), reclines on an activity mat.

And he really does that stuff, he tells us.

“Just 10 minutes a day of physical activity can change your attitude, your health, and it gives you more energy,” he says.

He’s also a synagogue youth director — with an athletic streak.

“I have my days, nights and weekends covered,” says Neuman, who in addition to studying works as the youth director at the Young Israel of Holliswood in a suburban Queens neighborhood.

He’s known for getting the kids active.

“We usually start with a game, so the kids can connect, and then we go from there,” moving on to prayer or studying texts, Neuman says.

On Yom Ha’atzmaut he organized an Israeli army-style boot camp for the kids.

“He is always combining physical activity with Torah in ways that motivate and inspire the kids,” says Ronit Farber, a member of the synagogue.

“The first time we met Akiva, we had him and his wife for dinner,” says Rachel Klein, another Young Israel congregant who was one of several community members who traveled to Philadelphia to cheer on Neuman with posters that said “Team Akiva,” as well as “American Ninja Warrior” in Hebrew letters. “After dinner, his wife had to drag him home because he was busy playing soccer with our kids all over our house.”

Neuman is also a star performer in the annual Purim shpiel, adds Klein, “dazzling the audience every year with his dance moves, flips, tricks and splits.”

Akiva Neuman, center, with his wife, Chani, and son, Yaakov Shmuel. Photo by Emuni Z.

He takes the fact that he’s representing Jews seriously.

“I know that the general feeling is that Orthodox Jews aren’t fit — especially not rabbis. And I wanted to show that that’s not always the case,” Neuman says.

But he knows that by wearing religious garb while filming — it was his idea, and the show was fine with it — he instantly becomes a national symbol of observant Jews.

“I bear it with great responsibility, and I’m also really nervous about it,” he says.

That’s part of the reason Neuman said the Shema right before he started the course.

“I wanted one more experience to be closer to God, and was thinking, ‘You have to help me through this, because I’m not just doing it myself,’” he says.

He sees physical fitness as a matter of Jewish principle.

“We’re the people of the book, and that’s our focus. My intellectual growth — both in terms of my Torah learning and secular learning — is the focus for me, too. But we also need to take care of ourselves physically,” Neuman says.

“There’s a commandment that says we have to guard our souls, and the Rambam [Maimonides] elaborates that we’re also commanded to take care of our bodies. We’re scoring points by exercising, and fulfilling what God wants of us.”

Athleticism runs in the family — hopefully.

Neuman and his wife, Chani, grew up near each other in Highland Park, New Jersey. She’s sporty, too.

“When we were dating, we used to go to Dave and Buster’s a lot,” he says. “She always beat me in basketball.

“We keep joking that next year it’ll be the rebbetzin’s turn,” he adds.

And the two are banking on the fact that their athleticism will carry on to the next generation.

“We’re waiting for him to crawl first, but as soon as that happens, we’ll have a soccer ball at his feet,” he says of Koby. “We’re actually hoping he runs before he walks.”

Humans of New York showcases the adorable way a Jewish journalist teaches his sons about charity


Steven I. Weiss has been praised for his work as a reporter and now as the director of original programming and new media at The Jewish Channel, a national cable outlet focused on Jewish news and culture.

But it’s safe to say he has never had this many likes on Facebook.

Weiss and his two young boys appeared on Father’s Day this past Sunday in a post on the wildly popularHumans of New York Facebook page — which provides glimpses into the interesting lives of everyday New Yorkers. Its posts routinely garner hundreds of thousands of likes.

 

In the post, one of Weiss’ sons explains the system his dad has created to teach him about the importance of charity and managing money. He gets one dollar of allowance from his parents each week, and he has to choose a “section” to put it under: spend, save, donate or invest. If he chooses to “invest” the allowance, his parents give him two extra pennies for each dollar at the end of the month (mimicking a small-scale return on investment). But he tends to put his money in the “donate” section.

“I have way over $10 in my ‘invest section.’ I used to have more but I took some money out and put it in my ‘donate section.’ We used to it to buy food for people who don’t have much money in their ‘spend section,’” Weiss’ unnamed son says in the post.

By Tuesday afternoon the post had received almost 800,000 likes. “Way to teach his kids both how to be economic and compassionate at the same time,” wrote one of the more than 21,000 people who left comments.  “A lot of adults today seem to have missed out on that lesson.”

The post contains an important message that resonates far beyond Father’s Day. Read it in full here.

Zev Brenner, host of ‘premier’ Jewish radio show, sentenced for tax evasion


The host of a New York radio show that bills itself as “America’s premier Jewish program” was sentenced to one year of probation and a $2,500 fine for not filing taxes.

Zev Brenner, the founder, president and executive producer of the 30-year-old Talkline Communications Network, as well as host of the program “Talkline with Zev Brenner,” was sentenced Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court, the New York Daily News reported.

Brenner, whose shows has featured interviews with President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pleaded guilty in February to failing to file his 2009 tax return. But prosecutors said he also neglected to file tax returns from 2003 through 2011, according to the Daily News.

 

Brenner has already paid $63,764 to the IRS in restitution.

“I stand here humiliated and cognizant of my failing for which I take full responsibility,” Brenner said in court, according to the News. 

Brenner’s attorney, Gordon Mehler, said the radio personality was “overwhelmed” by handling his tax issues and left it in the hands of an accountant who failed to file the returns.

“You are a responsible adult and you know you’re supposed to file tax returns every year,” Magistrate Judge Marilyn Go told Brenner in court, according to the News.

Brenner’s radio show often airs issues of importance to the Orthodox Jewish community, of which he is a member.

In March, the Journal News reported that Brenner’s show was used by federal investigators in a sting operation that led to the conviction of state Sen. Malcolm Smith and other New York elected officials in a corruption scandal. An FBI informer appeared on the show, which is aired on local stations in the New York area, under aliases in order to gain credibility with the politicians who were the targets of the probe.

According to his biography on the Talkline website, Brenner is a rabbi and lives in Manhattan. For the last three decades, the bio says, he has “devoted his creative energies toward expanding the vistas of the Jewish Community as well as to forging better ties between Jews and other ethnic groups.”

Brenner has been honored by numerous Jewish organizations, including the National Council of Young Israel and the International League for the Repatriation of Russian Jews.

Assault rifles and Nazi paraphernalia found in New York home


A man with a stash of assault rifles, bomb making instructions and Nazi paraphernalia in his home in Long Island, New York, was arrested on weapons charges.

Edward Perkowski, 29, was arrested Thursday at the house in the hamlet of Mount Sinai. His brother, Sean Perkowski, 25, who also lives in the house, was arrested on an unrelated outstanding bench warrant.

Police found multiple rifles and magazines of ammunition, photographs of Adolf Hitler, flags with swastikas and a binder full of instructions on how to construct a bomb, along with marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms.

“Today’s search warrant might have prevented a deadly, violent incident, like the one we recently saw in Orlando,” said Suffolk County police commissioner Timothy Sini.

A friend of the brothers said told CBS New York that they are not neo-Nazis.

“They are not Nazis. They are not neo-Nazis,” the man only identified as Bob said. “His brother sells merchandise, Army surplus stuff.”

Others expressed relief that the brothers were arrested.

“Cops must have been called here at least 15, 20 times,” neighbor Larry Bilello said. “We never had any problem until those people moved in.”

Cuomo signs executive order to fight BDS


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Sunday “>passed a bill, sponsored by Senators Jack Martins, a Republican from Long Island, and Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn, that prohibits the state from doing business with companies that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But the bill never progressed in the Democratic-controlled Assembly. “Passing legislation even when you have good intent can often be a tedious affair,” the governor remarked. “And we want to take immediate action because we want the world to know and we want Israel to know that we are on their side.”

Cuomo called on governors from all states to follow his lead and take immediate action to fight the BDS movement. According to the governor’s office, Cuomo has been named as the Co-Chair of the American Jewish Committee’s Governors against BDS initiative. “This order sends the message that this state will do everything in its power to end this hateful, intolerant campaign. New York and Israel share an unbreakable bond and I pray that the Israeli and Palestinian people will find a way to live side by side and find peace, prosperity and security,” he said.

Following his speech, Cuomo marched in the Celebrate Israel parade on fifth avenue, alongside a truck blaring Israeli music. “I am the first governor in the country to sign an executive order saying we oppose the boycott of Israel. I am proud of it  and I hope other states follow our lead,” Cuomo told reporters before marching. “It is very important that Israel is strong, not just for the sake of Israel but for the sake of all democracies. Israel is an important strategic ally of the U.S. And we have to keep that relationship strong. And even in this difficult time of turmoil, I want Israel to know New York stands with them.”

Asked if he has responded to President Obama’s April letter requesting to lift state sanctions against Iran as part of the Iran nuclear deal, Cuomo said: “I would have to check. I don’t know if we have.”

Last month, Texas Governor Greg Abbott “>letter sent to 49 governors on May 31.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan applauded Cuomo for taking action after “it had become increasingly clear that the Assembly wasn’t ready to join us on this critical issue.”

Eric Goldstein, CEO of the UJA-Federation of NY, said in a statement that the executive order “clearly demonstrates the discriminatory nature of BDS against the State of Israel and and we are proud that the Governor of New York State has taken this historic action to stand with Israel and reject the BDS movement.” The Orthodox Union and the World Jewish Congress also released statements commending Cuomo for the historic action.

Senator Chuck Schumer, speaking to reporters at an unrelated press conference on Sunday, said he would seek to introduce the same idea to fight BDS on a federal level. “I think what the governor has done is an excellent idea,” Schumer told reporters. “I think that the state (of New York) should not do any business with any company that participates in BDS, and I am looking at introducing a federal law to do the same thing. BDS is a movement that is just totally unfair to Israel. They hold Israel to one standard and hold the other countries, including those who are sworn enemies to Israel, to another standard.”

75th anniversary of Baghdad pogrom to be commemorated in 4 cities


The author of a work on the Nazi-era massacre in Baghdad believed to have precipitated the Jewish exodus from Iraq is commemorating its 75th anniversary with candle lightings in four cities.

Edwin Black, who in 2010 published “The Farhud,” about the June 1-2, 1941 massacre of at least 180 Jews in Baghdad, will convene candle lightings on Tuesday in the morning on Capitol Hill and in the afternoon at the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in New York.

On Thursday, there will be a candle lighting in London, which has a large Iraqi Jewish community, and then on June 6 at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

The pogrom, set off by the collapse of a popular pro-Nazi government in Baghdad, is seen as a turning point for Iraqi Jews. A series of subsequent decrees and attacks emptied the country of its ancient Jewish community by the early 1970s, with barely 100 Jews remaining.

In each city, 27 candles will be lit for the 27 centuries that Jewish life thrived in what is now Iraq.

Among the groups sponsoring the events are the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, StandWithUs and the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.

Chicken pox outbreak hits Brooklyn Hasidic neighborhood


The New York Health Department is investigating an outbreak of chicken pox in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Some 75 cases of the varicella virus have been documented in Williamsburg since March, according to reports.

All of the cases involve children age 10 or under, and most have affected 3-year-olds, the Gothamist reported. Some 72 percent of the children affected did not receive a vaccination against the contagious illness, which is given in two phases: at 12 months and 4 years.

The city Health Department is advising all parents to have their children vaccinated against the virus.

The department distributed pamphlets on Sunday in both English and Yiddish about the outbreak in the neighborhood.

Hasidim are seen as averse to vaccines, but a Health Department representative told The Forward in 2014 that 96 percent of students at yeshivas in Brooklyn are vaccinated. The large Hasidic families sometimes delay vaccines, however, according to reports.

In 2013, Williamsburg and another Hasidic community in Brooklyn, Borough Park, faced a serious measlesoutbreak, with 58 cases reported from March to June — 30 in Williamsburg and 28 in Borough Park. Those cases involved adults or children who had no documentation of being vaccinated at the time of exposure because they refused or due to delays.

Section 8 vouchers disproportionately go to Brooklyn’s Chasidic Jews, report charges


Chasidic Jews in Brooklyn benefit disproportionately from Section 8 housing vouchers, even as other impoverished residents have difficulty obtaining the federal housing subsidy, according to a new report.

A joint investigation published Tuesday by WNYC and the New York Daily News found that in several heavily Chasidic sections of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, more than 30 percent of residents use Section 8 vouchers, a benefit for those unable to afford market-rate rents.

The statistic is striking because the neighborhood, which has gentrified dramatically in recent years, is near Manhattan and commands among the city’s highest rents and sale prices. In contrast, according to the report, most of the city’s Section 8 users are in outlying neighborhoods with lower market-rate rents.

According to the report, 120,000 eligible New Yorkers are on a waiting list for Section 8 benefits.

It is unclear from the reporting whether the Hasidic community’s large representation among Section 8 beneficiaries stems from illegal dealings or if it is simply a result of the tight-knit community’s organizing and advocacy skills. The report cited two fraud cases, including in 2012, when the head of the large Satmar school United Talmudical Academy and his brother pleaded guilty to defrauding the Section 8 program of $200,000.

Some sources quoted by the Daily News and WNYC accused members of the Chasidic community of using off-the-books income to supplement their payments to the landlord, thus paying higher rent than what is reported to the government. They also claimed that many Williamsburg buildings owned by Chasidic developers have violated the Fair Housing Act by marketing their rentals exclusively to Chasidic families.

Sense of siege in Kiryas Joel amid FBI raids and scrutiny of yeshivas


Even before FBI investigators descended last week on the Satmar Chasidic village of Kiryas Joel, there was a growing sense in this insular community that it and its unique way of life were under attack.

Two months earlier, the FBI had been in the village investigating alleged fraud of a government program, and community leaders also have been facing a mounting campaign by dissidents to increase state oversight of yeshiva curricula.

“We need to know what kind of danger we’re in,” the Satmar rebbe in Kiryas Joel, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, said in a widely publicized May 4 speech about the threat of closer state supervision of yeshiva curricula. “These are bad times for us Jews, terrible. We need to pray to God that they should not interfere with the upbringing of our children.”

Publication of the video, which generated a firestorm in Orthodox circles, came the same week that a New York State legislator, Ellen Jaffee, introduced a bill that would bring better enforcement of state rules that require non-public schools, including yeshivas, to ensure they are providing education that is “substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools. Yeshivas like those in Kiryas Joel, located about an hour north of Manhattan in New York’s Orange County, long have flouted state standards on secular subjects, foregoing even basic subjects like English and math in upper grades.

For a long time, Teitelbaum said in his speech, there’s been an implicit understanding between state authorities and the leadership of Chasidic communities like Kiryas Joel that the state wouldn’t interfere in communal affairs.

But that implicit agreement may be breaking down as it becomes more difficult for authorities to ignore abuses – sexual, educational or financial – allegedly taking place within these closed communities. The prospect of outside interference threatens one of Kiryas Joel’s raisons d’etre: Chasidic control of the community’s affairs.

“Until now there were also strict laws, but because we live in a kingdom of benevolence [a reference to government authorities] to put it bluntly they simply turned a blind eye to what’s going on by the Jewish children,” Teitelbaum said in his speech, which was delivered in Yiddish and then translated into English for widespread dissemination. “They didn’t want to look, the benevolent kingdom. Now, too, they’d continue doing that, the government would have continued, they’re happy not to look and not to know. But these worthless people are stirring up in various ways and are demanding in court, forcing the government that they should take a stance.”

The newfound scrutiny is being pushed largely by dissidents, in some cases ex-Chasidim, who say they are acting in the best interests of the community – whether to protect children from sexual abusers or to give them the basic educational skills necessary to succeed in life.

“I’ve been to those yeshivas, I know exactly what the effects are,” said Naftuli Moster, executive director of Yaffed, an organization he founded that lobbies lawmakers to force Orthodox yeshivas to offer quality secular studies in addition to Torah studies.

“You’re not gaining anything by depriving people of an education. The very Satmar rabbi that made that speech also encourages people to earn a living, to his credit, but at the same time he’s the one who has jurisdiction over the yeshivas that are depriving Chasidim of the very tools necessary to earn that living,” Moster told JTA. “So what do people end up doing? Oftentimes they resort to criminal activity and other shenanigans to earn that living.”

Two months ago, FBI investigators were in Kiryas Joel, nearby Rockland County and Brooklyn investigating alleged fraud by Chasidic institutions in the federal government’s E-rate program, which funds the purchase of technology equipment and internet service by schools and libraries. Authorities reportedly are looking into whether the yeshivas actually spent the money they obtained from the federal government for technology in the schools.

The Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel has been the subject of two FBI raids in two months, lending to a sense of siege in the insular community. (Uriel Heilman)

The Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel has been the subject of two FBI raids in two months, lending to a sense of siege in the insular community.

Adding to the pressure, on Tuesday, the New York Daily News and WNYC public radio published and broadcast a joint investigative story scrutinizing the outsized number of low-income, Section 8 housing vouchers that have gone to the Chasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn – a Satmar neighborhood with close ties to Kiryas Joel.

The WNYC story attributed the voucher aberration to Chasidic “self-dealing that’s impenetrable to outsiders” and cited lawsuits arguing that the Chasidim obtain housing vouchers through unfair or unlawful means. The story also noted that Chasidim are taking the vouchers with them to places outside the city, like Kiryas Joel.

This perfect storm of scrutiny has community leaders on edge. In his speech, Teitelbaum expressed fury that fellow Jews are the source of much of the pressure.

“Due to our many sins, it’s very painful to talk about it, there stood up several worthless people from our own who have studied in Chasidic yeshivas, and sadly they arrived I don’t want to say where. They decided to wage war against the whole ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of New York,” the rebbe said. “They went and snitched to the governments of New York City and New York State with complaints that the students of the yeshivas, of all yeshivas (elementary and middle school) are not learning enough general studies as required by law.”

Yaffed’s Moser is a Brooklyn native who grew up in Chasidic institutions. The sex abuse video presumably was recorded by an insider at United Talmudical Academy and was posted on Facebook by Boorey Deutsch, an Orthodox activist against sex abuse in the community. The alleged E-rate fraud was the subject of investigative stories in 2013 by the New York Jewish Week and the Forward.

Joseph Waldman, a longtime Kiryas Joel community leader who heads a local welfare organization, said the unprecedented assault on the Chasidic community stems from local non-Jews’ fear of its rapid growth – just as the biblical Egyptians feared the rapid growth of the Israelites in Moses’ time.

“That’s the reason they were trying to make the trouble for the Jews in Egypt: The first thing they were afraid was the Jewish families growing so rapidly,” Waldman told JTA. “Here, they are fearful that they’re going to be overwhelmed either by the growth of the environment or by political clout through the bloc votes.”

“They want to stop the community from growing,” he said. “That’s the reason for all the problems.”

Federal agents raid New York Hasidic town of Kiryas Joel


Federal agents searched the New York Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel for the second time in the past two months, this time targeting a yeshiva and the town’s public safety building.

According to multiple news outlets, investigators from the FBI, Sullivan County District Attorney’s office, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms searched locations throughout the town on Thursday. The Journal News reported that at least seven law enforcement officials were observed carrying items out of a building belonging to the United Talmudical Academy, whose principal was caught kissing male students in two separate video clips that were recently circulated.

According to the Journal News, the Satmar school’s board of directors issued a statement Tuesday defending the principal.

“While this type of restraint may be unacceptable to some viewers, it in no way rises to the level of a criminal assault,” the statement said.

It is not clear whether Thursday’s raids were related to the videos. In March, FBI agents raided schools in the village — as well as in nearby Rockland County — in connection with their use of the federal E-rate technology subsidy program. Also in March, a United Talmudical Academy facility in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn was raided, reportedly on suspicion of defrauding the federal school lunch program.

Kiryas Joel is run by a Satmar faction led by Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum. The United Talmudical Academy in Brooklyn also is Satmar-affiliated.

The office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined the Journal News’ request for comment about Thursday’s raids.

Undercover video of Chasidic principal handling boy prompts sex abuse probe


The story is an all-too-familiar horror tale: An adult in a position of power – in this case a Chasidic school principal – is accused of sexually abusing a child in his care.

But one thing makes this episode very different: The encounter was captured on a hidden camera and posted online this week for all to see.

Difficult to watch, the 11-minute clip offers a rare glimpse of what an incident of this sort actually looks like rather than as it may be refracted through memory days, weeks or years later in court, in the media or in the privacy of a therapy session.

The video, which is now being probed by police, was first widely circulated Saturday night on the messaging service WhatsApp and later posted on Facebook in an abridged form before being removed by administrators. It shows an older, bearded Hasidic man taking his seat in a small office and then pulling a young boy with peyos sidecurls between his legs.

Over the course of several minutes, the bespectacled man wearing a black hat caresses the boy, jerks him back and forth, and appears to kiss him repeatedly and rub against him. At one point the boy tries to escape the man’s clutches but is grabbed back. Both remain fully clothed throughout the encounter. A volume of Deuteronomy, a book of Psalms and other religious tomes lie on the nearby desk.

Filmed from an overhead camera without audio, the video shows neither the man’s nor the boy’s unobstructed faces. The boy, who has a closely shaved head under his black velvet yarmulke, looks to be anywhere from 5 to 9 years old.

Activists say the man is a principal at the main yeshiva in Kiryas Joel, a Satmar village located within the Town of Monroe in New York’s Orange County. The K-12 yeshiva, United Talmudical Academy, has some 6,000 students, according to school resource websites. A message left by JTA with administrators at the school on Tuesday was not returned.

State police are investigating the incident, according to the Journal News, the local paper that first reported the incident.

Christopher Borek, the chief assistant district attorney for Orange County, said his office had received a copy of the video but declined to say whether or not the incident is under investigation.

“I can tell you that in general our office treats all allegations of sexual abuse of children as extremely serious,” Borek told JTA, noting that a designated unit handles such allegations. “We never comment on investigations even to confirm if the investigation is ongoing or not unless or until charges are filed.”

The encounter at the Kiryas Joel yeshiva allegedly took place before last Yom Kippur and was filmed by someone who planted the hidden camera because he believed kids at the yeshiva were being subjected to inappropriate behavior.

Boorey Deutsch, an activist against sexual abuse in the haredi Orthodox community who shared the video on Facebook, said the person who made the video – whom Deutsch declined to identify — decided to go public with it because local authorities in Kiryas Joel who were shown the recording declined to take any action.

After posting a 36-second clip from the video, which got some 27,000 views before being removed by Facebook, Deutsch was inundated with comments by supporters and those who questioned whether the video indeed shows any sexual abuse. Skeptics said it could be an innocent encounter between an administrator showing affection for a student who required either special attention or discipline.

Deutsch vehemently disagrees.

The video below is disturbing.

“Some people said: ‘That’s how he showed love and dedication to the children for many years.’ But you do not show dedication and love to a child by kissing him in the face and pulling him into your body. This is inappropriate,” Deutsch told JTA. “There are still thousands of kids under his hands. He can do it again because nobody is taking action — again. It’s our job to stand up. If nobody else will stand up, I will stand up. I will make it happen.”

Deutsch, who grew up in the Satmar neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is a well-known figure in the Chasidic community. His wife was the person who, beginning at age 12, was sexually abused for three years by Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed Satmar therapist. Weberman was convicted in 2012 on 59 counts of sexual abuse, including oral sex, and sentenced to 103 years in prison. Throughout the trial and after the verdict, Weberman’s supporters decried Deutsch’s wife as a “slut” and made her and Deutsch the targets of vitriolic attacks.

Deutsch said many haredi Orthodox boys who are subjected to encounters like the one portrayed in the video only realize their inappropriateness years later, if at all.

“Some people are still in the box and they don’t want to say it’s sexual,” he said.

Nuchem Rosenberg, an outspoken Chasidic advocate against sexual abuse who operates a hotline for the Chasidic community, says he has fielded 20-30 phone calls in the last few days from women in Kiryas Joel worried about their children attending the yeshiva where the incident allegedly took place.

“When they saw this video, they are totally under shock,” said Weberman, who in 2012 was attacked with bleach by a Chasidic assailant angered by Rosenberg’s activism. “These women said, ‘Is this where we are sending our children to learn and get holy and learn the word of God?’”

Naftuli Moster, an advocate for state intervention in haredi schools to compel them to offer state-mandated, grade-appropriate English and math, also has been caught up in the firestorm over the video. He was interviewed by a local TV station about the video, and was involved beforehand in discussions about how to release it publicly.

Even for those who argue that this is not a case of sexual abuse, it’s impossible to say the school administrator’s behavior is in any way acceptable, Moster told JTA.

“There’s definitely a certain type of abuse taking place. He’s definitely doing something wrong. Maybe decades ago people used to do this in small yeshiva settings and thought it was OK,” Moster said. “But he’s pinning this kid between his legs. He’s holding him by the neck at one point. He seems to be kissing him. The kid is visibly scared.

“Whatever it is, it’s just wrong,” Moster said. “He has to go.”

Buoyed by charedi growth, Jewish school enrollment in NY up by 4.4 percent in one year


Enrollment in New York State’s Jewish day schools and yeshivas increased by 4.4 percent last year.

According to data compiled by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council from statistics provided by the New York State Education Department, more than 143,000 students were enrolled in 405 K-12 Jewish schools in the state during the 2014-15 academic year.

Not surprisingly, enrollment and growth was highest in counties with the largest charedi Orthodox populations. Brooklyn enrolled 80,132 students, up from 78,759 the previous year. Other top-enrolling counties were Rockland (23,618), Orange (10,997), Queens (10,503) and Nassau (7,592), all of which experienced increases over the previous year.

Enrollment declined slightly in Manhattan, however, with 4,360 students enrolled, down from 4,408 the previous year. The greatest increase was in Rockland, where enrollment rose by 7.1 percent. Rockland County’s large haredi Orthodox population has spurred controversy in recent years, particularly in the East Ramapo Central School District, where the Orthodox-majority school board has cut the public school system’s budget dramatically. In addition, haredi schools in both Rockland and Brooklyn have been criticized in recent years for allegedly failing to meet state requirements for secular education.

Going back two years (2012-2013 vs. 2014-2015), the percentage rise in Jewish school enrollment was 7.9 percent statewide.

The growth in Jewish enrollment came despite an overall decline in nonpublic school enrollment in New York state.

According to a news released issued by Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, the 143,156 students in Jewish schools receive, on average, “well below $1,500 in tax-funded services a year; compared to more than $19,500 per each public school student” saving taxpayers “at least $2.57 billion in education funding last year.”

The council claims that the private Jewish community “also directly funds the public school system,” due to property tax revenues from “properties owned by members of the Orthodox Jewish community.”

Orthodox activists and victims asking NY to change sex abuse reporting laws


Advocates for sexual abuse victims in the Orthodox Jewish community will be descending on New York’s state capital on May 3 to lobby the legislature to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses.

A bill to change the statute of limitations has languished for years in a state legislative committee committee, due in large part to opposition from the Catholic Church and Agudath Israel of America.

The bill, known as the Child Victims Act, would “completely eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse offenses in the future,” according to SOL Reform, an advocacy group that is sponsoring a series of panels and news conferences May 3 and 4.

It would also suspend the civil statute of limitations for one year, during which time the accuser could bring a civil lawsuit against a private educational organization no matter how far back the alleged abuse dates.

While the bill passed the New York State Assembly, it has been blocked in the State Senate in the decade since it was introduced.

Agudah, which represents haredi Orthodox schools and synagogues, says the bill would open up institutions to “ancient claims and capricious litigation,” as the group wrote in a 2009 statement it issued with the haredi schools network Torah Umesorah.

“We do not oppose extending or even eliminating the criminal statute of limitations for cases of abuse,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, an Agudah spokesman, told JTA. “Our concern is simply protecting the economic viability of Jewish schools. Yeshivas operate on shoestring budgets.”

Advocates for abuse victims say opponents of the legislation are putting their institution’s finances and reputations ahead of justice for abuse victims.

“They are most interested in keeping the civil lawsuits from happening because that is where all of the secrets and cover-ups come out,” said Marci Hamilton, a professor at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law and an organizer of SOL Reform. It “is about image and power.”

Criminal cases focus narrowly on the perpetrator’s actions rather than institutions that may have protected him, she says.

“Only through a civil case can you document an institution’s negligence and the way it failed children. The problem is that they won’t fix their internal procedures unless there are civil claims, because they don’t have to,” Hamilton said.

Among those advocating for the New York law are Chaim Levin, a Crown Heights resident who in 2013 won a $3.5 million civil judgment against a cousin, Sholom Eichler, following accusations that Eichler, who was then 23, had abused Levin when he was 8. Levin has not been able to collect any part of the judgment since Eichler fled to Israel.

Levin narrowly made it under the current statue of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit. According to Hamilton, studies show that most sex abuse victims do not come forward until they are in their 40s.

Other activists making the trip to Albany on May 3 are Hamilton; Meyer Seewald of the Orthodox-run anti-sexual abuse organization Jewish Community Watch; Manny Waks, CEO of the advocacy group Kol v’Oz, and Sara Kabakov, the author of an article in the Forward earlier this year describing the abuse she said she suffered as a child at the hands of the former rabbi and author Marc Gafni.

Levin says he expects the lobbying group to include 20 to 30 people. Advocates for haredi victims say cultural prohibitions against reporting abuse to police remain strong in their communities, where extended families are often large and influential, and relationships are tightly knit.

The lobbying push in Albany comes amid allegations of abuse leveled against haredi-run schools, including a March article in Newsweek titled “Child Abuse Allegations Plague the Hasidic Community.” The article alleged that a prominent Chabad yeshiva, Oholei Torah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, had ignored or downplayed reports of physical and sexual abuse against students.

Following the Newsweek report, Oholei Torah’s top administrator, Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld, wrote a letter to parents saying, “I can categorically assure you that there is absolutely no abuse taking place in Oholei Torah that we know of – neither sexual abuse, nor physical abuse, nor verbal abuse.”

Seewald’s group, Jewish Community Watch, recently posted a response to Rosenfeld’s letter.

“Those at Oholei Torah have buried their heads in the sand and want all of us to do the same,” Jewish Community Watch wrote. There is “willful disregard on the part of Oholei Torah directors and board members who possess factual knowledge of present and past physical and sexual abuse within the walls of Oholei Torah.”

Administrators at Oholei Torah did not respond to multiple phone messages and emails.

The increasing visibility of Jewish Community Watch, however, suggests that attitudes are changing within the Orthodox world itself.

The Orthodox newspaper Algemeiner Journal last year honored Seewald, 27, as one of the 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life.”

Among other activities, Jewish Community Watch publishes the names of proven abusers and helps connect victims with therapists, currently paying fees for 80 people, Seewald said. The organization holds awareness-raising events in Orthodox communities such as Miami, Baltimore, Montreal and Israel.

“Without question, it’s so different now than even five years ago,” said Seewald, who grew up in Crown Heights and now lives in Miami. As a young boy he was sexually molested by a camp counselor, he said. And as a teen, a schoolmate at Oholei Torah gave him a massage and put his hands down Seewald’s pants, he said.

“People are 100 percent more willing to come forward. Four years ago we were attacked beyond everything to show we weren’t credible. It was 10 percent of people supporting us. Now it’s 80 percent,” said Seewald.

“Leaders of the community have changed. Now they realize there are so many kids at risk, problems with marriage because of sexual abuse, they are supportive. Not yet publicly, unfortunately, but behind the scenes they will support the work we do.”

Jewish Community Watch now has a benefactor, Miami businessman Eli Nash. Nash, 30, told JTA he was sexually abused for three years, starting when he was 8, by a 14-year-old family friend, and physically abused by his teachers in first and fourth grades. When a teacher threw him against a wall it left bruises, said Nash, who also grew up in Crown Heights.

He and his brother have given about $1 million to Jewish Community Watch over the past two years and have pledged ongoing support. The organization now has 11 employees in Miami and Israel, and soon plans to open a Manhattan office.

“It’s not PC to say anymore you don’t care about it. It’s not acceptable to say ‘we’re not doing more, we don’t take it seriously.’ It’s not even acceptable to say anymore ‘you can’t call the cops,’ which was very accepted before. That’s what has changed,” said Nash, who owns a cellphone wholesale business.

“In the abstract everything’s changed,” he said. But “in the particulars, a lot more has to.”

Great Adventure: How an amusement park goes Orthodox for Passover


Pinchas Cohen spent most of Monday wandering around Six Flags Great Adventure under a blazing sun, wearing a knee-length black coat and carrying a big box of shmura matzah under his arm.

An imposing, Russian-born Chabad-Lubavitch Hasid who now lives in Brooklyn, Cohen came to this amusement park in New Jersey with his 11-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, the two youngest of his nine children, to have some fun on the first day of chol hamoed, the intermediate days of Passover.

But when Cohen’s turn came to ride the Runaway Mine Train roller coaster, he faced the dilemma of what to do with the box of matzah, which was labeled “fragile.” A Great Adventure staffer helped him stow it in a nearby bin, along with Cohen’s hat.

“That’s my lunch,” he said with a smile as he offered a large piece of matzah to a stranger.

The Cohens were among the thousands of Orthodox Jews who flocked this week to the popular park about 90 minutes from New York City in what has become an annual Passover tradition.

“I used to come every year when I was a kid,” said Yocheved, a 35-year-old mother of two from Teaneck who was at the park on Monday with her husband, kids and two nieces from Sharon, Massachusetts. “I can’t turn the corner without seeing someone I know.”

Kid-friendly amusements all around metropolitan New York tend to be jammed with Jewish children on Passover, from the Bronx Zoo and botanical garden to the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Connecticut.

But nothing compares to the annual Passover pilgrimage to Six Flags, which some years is open exclusively to visitors from the Orthodox Union’s National Conference of Synagogue Youth, the organizer of the program.

Passover at Great Adventure, a mainstay since 1983, is also the year’s biggest fundraiser of the year for NCSY’s New Jersey chapter, which usually raises more than $100,000 after expenses. NCSY buys tickets in bulk and resells them for 30 percent off regular admission price, markets the program, organizes busing to the park and coordinates with park administrators to accommodate Orthodox needs. The park offers kosher-for-Passover food concessions, and NCSY puts on a concert featuring a popular Orthodox singer. This year the entertainer is Baruch Levine.

Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey, on Passover becomes the site of an annual Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage. (Uriel Heilman)Six Flags Great Adventure, an amusement park in New Jersey, on Passover becomes the site of an annual Orthodox Jewish pilgrimage. 

“Every kind of Jew ends up coming here during Pesach. Depending upon the time of year, we bring public school kids together with Orthodox, non-Orthodox, Sephardi, Ashkenazi, kids with kippot, kids without, poor kids, rich kids, special-needs kids,” said Rabbi Ethan Katz, the director of New Jersey NCSY and coordinator of the Passover program. “It’s a tremendous kiddush Hashem” – sanctification of God’s name – “for so many Jews to be together in one place for such an amazing event.”

On Monday, a beautiful, sunny day with temperatures in the high 70s, more than 4,000 park visitors bought tickets through NCSY, Katz said. That comprised more than one-third of all visitors, according to a park representative, and many more Jewish visitors came on their own.

At the 150-foot tall Ferris wheel, wig-wearing mothers in ankle-length skirts and commandeering double strollers lined up surrounded by broods of children dressed in identical outfits. At the 15-story giant swing, modern Orthodox teens in jeans and T-shirts who had taken off their yarmulkes for the ride seemed in no hurry to put them back on. Near the kosher food concession, a group of men held an impromptu afternoon prayer service.

Yeshiva students from the nearby Orthodox stronghold of Lakewood congregated around the basketball throw, removing suit jackets and ties to take shots and drawing cheers from casually dressed general-admission visitors when they sank their free throws.

At the gondola that ferries visitors around the park, an Asian-American staffer named Josiah did his best to wish Jewish visitors a happy holiday.

“Are you guys Jewish?” he bellowed, offering a mangled version of a Yiddish-Hebrew Passover greeting when they nodded in assent. “Did I say it right?” he called out as the gondola rose into the air.

Staffers practice some deference when it comes to asking visitors to remove hats and yarmulkes on rides — though only an act of God could save one’s head-covering from flying off on rides like Kingda Ka, a roller coaster that goes from zero to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds.

Pam Nuzzo, general sales manager for Six Flags Great Adventure, said that after doing Passover for so many years, staffers are familiar with Orthodox needs.

“Passover is part of the park’s history. It’s one of our bigger special events throughout the year,” she told JTA. “It’s good for the park. It brings a lot of people.”

NCSY also brings groups throughout the year, including on the intermediary days of Sukkot. But Passover, when Jewish schools stay closed and many Orthodox parents take off, is the biggest draw. This year, because Passover coincides with schools’ spring holidays, the park is also open to the general public.

Once when NCSY had exclusive rights to the park, Katz recalled that the administration made the faux pas of including Wonder Woman among the costumed characters entertaining visitors. The “woman walking around in her underwear” disappeared once staffers realized their blunder. NCSY also has organized all-boys days at Great Adventure’s water park, Hurricane Harbor, for those whose religious observance precludes mixed-gender swimming. All the lifeguards that day are male. (An effort to organize an all-girls day so far has been unsuccessful.)

“We work a lot on bridging gaps, especially so the ultra-Orthodox can come here and have a great experience and feel very welcome and at home,” Katz said. “It’s a very positive Jewish environment for everybody.”

Pinchas Cohen, a restaurateur and father of nine from Brooklyn, brought his own box of handmade shmura matzah to the amusement park for Passover, April 25, 2016. (Uriel Heilman)Pinchas Cohen, a restaurateur and father of nine from Brooklyn, brought his own box of handmade shmura matzah to the amusement park for Passover, April 25, 2016. 

Dovid Kessner, a Lakewood father of seven, came to the park on Monday along with his family and those of two of his siblings, with 23 or 24 children among the three couples. A first-timer, Kessner said he decided to come after seeing an ad in his local Jewish weekly.

“I’m not such an amusement park guy,” said Kessner, who obtained a group rate for his crew. “I usually take my kids boating or fishing on the Jersey Shore.”

Great Adventure forbids bringing in outside food or drink, and many Orthodox families picnicked right outside the gates. But Kessner said attendants didn’t give him a problem bringing in provisions.

“I told them I needed to bring in some food for the kids. They didn’t give me a hard time,” he said. “I didn’t try to sneak it in. That’s not what I want to teach my kids.”

At the Passover concession, Reuben’s Glatt Spot, menu items included $7.25 hot dogs (on Passover buns), $16 chicken nuggets, $7 French fries and 2-liter bottles of Coke for $9 apiece.

“The hot dog buns don’t really hold the hot dogs well. It keeps slipping out,” said Sarah Ifrah, who was in town from Toronto to visit her sister in Woodmere, New York. “It’s also a little on the expensive side, but we’re glad they have it. Who comes to an amusement park on Pesach and can buy some food? It’s great.”

Sanders hits Clinton on campaign finance hours before New York votes


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders accused front-runner Hillary Clinton of apparent campaign finance violations on Monday, ratcheting up the rhetoric against his rival one day before New York state's crucial primary elections.

Sanders questioned whether Clinton's campaign violated legal limits on donations by paying her staffers with funds from a joint fundraising effort by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.

Sanders has long maintained that the DNC has favored Clinton over Sanders. The U.S. senator from Vermont is a democratic socialist who has run as an independent in his Senate campaigns.

“While the use of joint fundraising agreements has existed for some time – it is unprecedented for the DNC to allow a joint committee to be exploited to the benefit of one candidate in the midst of a contested nominating contest,” Sanders' campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said.

The Clinton campaign dismissed the charge, with chairman Robby Mook saying Sanders was making baseless accusations.

“It is shameful that Senator Sanders has resorted to irresponsible and misleading attacks just to raise money for himself,” Mook said.

The accusations surfaced as the Democratic and Republican candidates engaged in a final frenzy of campaigning before Tuesday's primaries.

Both the Democratic and Republican primaries are expected to be the state's most decisive in decades in the selection of the parties' candidates for November's general election.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, the national front-runners, were favored to win their respective primaries in the state that both call home. Victories would be a tonic for both candidates following a series of losses.

In recent weeks, Sanders has defeated Clinton in nominating contests. On the Republican side, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Trump's closest challenger, has outmaneuvered the billionaire businessman in the fight for delegates to the Republican National Convention that will pick the party's nominee in July.

By the end of Monday – the last official day of campaigning before the New York primaries – tens of thousands of New Yorkers will have heard the candidates' closing pitches.

At St. John's Riverside Hospital in Yonkers just north of New York City, Clinton spoke to doctors, nurses and others at a hospital cafeteria, asking for their votes and taking a jab at Cruz's dismissal earlier in the campaign of “New York values.”

“I think New York's values are America's values,” she told the crowd.

Cruz defended his “New York values” catchphrase on ABC's “Good Morning America” in Times Square on Monday, saying New Yorkers had “suffered under the left-wing Democratic policies” of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Sanders needs a strong victory in New York, where 291 delegates to the Democratic convention in July are at stake, if he is to overtake Clinton.

With 2,383 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination, Clinton has 1,758 to Sanders' 1,076, according to an Associated Press tally. That total includes unpledged superdelegates who are free to back the candidate of their choice but told the news service whom they support.

For Trump, the question is whether he will make a clean sweep of all 95 Republican delegates at stake by earning the majority of votes in all 27 congressional districts in the state.

Total victory in New York would help Trump avoid the possibility that the nomination could be wrested from him at the party's July 18-21 convention in Cleveland if he arrives without a majority of at least 1,237 delegates. In that scenario, another candidate could win on a second or subsequent ballot.

Trump has 744 delegates to 559 for Cruz and 144 for Ohio Governor John Kasich, according to the Associated Press. The count includes endorsements from several delegates who are free to support the candidate of their choice.

In Wyoming, in the latest state-by-state delegate battle, Cruz was awarded all 14 delegates, according to a party official on Saturday.

“Lyin' Ted Cruz can't win with the voters so he has to sell himself to the bosses-I am millions of VOTES ahead! Hillary would destroy him & K,” Trump tweeted on Monday.

On ABC, Cruz responded by saying that Trump was throwing a fit because he has lost several recent state contests.

“The stakes are too high to hand the election to Hillary Clinton, which is what nominating Donald Trump” would do, he said.

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