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.

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.

How Matisyahu became a Hasidic humanist — in his own words


Matisyahu’s personal and religious journey — from non-religious stoner teen to Hasidic reggae rocker to non-Orthodox Jewish symbol — has been tracked closely in the media.

On Friday night, the Jewish reggae star sat down to tell his story in his own words, no holds barred. He spoke with Brooklyn Rabbi Dan Ain and Relix magazine editor Mike Greenhaus at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village for the second installment of their Friday Night Jam series — which features Jewish musicians willing to talk about their art and their spirituality.

The first speaker last month was Ryan Miller, the lead singer of Guster; the next musician lined up is Lenny Kaye, the longtime guitarist of Patti Smith’s band.

After a Shabbat candle blessing and a short meditation session, Matisyahu began drinking red wine and opening up. He answered questions about what many of his fans are most interested in: how he entered the music world as a Hasidic Jew and how he eventually left the Chabad Hasidic community.

Here are five poignant and funny stories from his reprisal of the past decade of his life.

1. His late teenage years were full of drugs and jam bands

When he was 16, Matisyahu (then Matthew Miller) went to a Phish concert in Worcester, Massachusetts, and dropped acid for the first time with some friends.

“It changed my life,” he said.

He quickly became obsessed with the jam band scene and dropped out of high school to follow Phish on a tour across the country. After trying and failing to reenroll in high school, he ended up at a rehab center in Oregon, where he first began playing open mic sets.

“I wasn’t religious but I remember drinking mushroom tea and coming out wrapped in an Israeli flag with sage burning,” he said. “I decided: I love music, I love drugs, but I sort of need to make that next step. And being who I am, I did that in a drastic way and decided okay, I need to become something.”

2. He lived with New York University’s Chabad rabbi

After moving back to New York and attending The New School, Matisyahu started going to the Carlebach Shul on the city’s Upper West Side — which, as he put it, blew his mind. He gradually started wearing tzitzit and growing out his beard. One night he got so drunk that he collapsed in a bar’s stairwell and had an epiphany that he had to change his ways.

“The next day I was in Washington Square Park and [NYU Chabad] Rabbi [Dave] Korn was there,” Matisyahu said. “He poured me a glass of vodka … and the next thing I knew I was married with three kids in Crown Heights.”

What he really did next was move in with Korn’s family and begin studying Torah all day, every day.

“There was a beauty to it, it was like a purification in some sense. And there was also a complete psychosis to it, where I completely lost touch with myself and was trying to be this other thing,” he said.

3. His first hip-hop audience was a group of Hasidic Jews in the Catskills

The entire staff and student body of the yeshiva Matisyahu had enrolled in vacationed in New York’s Catskill Mountains. At a celebration one summer night, at the urging of someone, Matisyahu stood up on a table and rapped in front of the yeshiva’s staff members and their families.

“They kind of flipped out,” he said. “And they were into it.”

He would soon be performing for larger audiences. Back in his Torah-consumed life in the city, he had a teacher — “a maniac from Russia” — who tried to “crush” any dreams he had of being a musician. He let go of his ambitions, but quietly worked on his first album, which came out in 2004.

“I let go of [the dream] and said, Whatever God wants for me. And I think that in that internal moment of letting go, I was afforded the humility for God to come and give it to me. Because when it happened, it just happened almost in a supernatural way … It was just like, OK, this is now what you’re doing. You’re going to be on Jimmy Kimmel’s show, you’re going to be at Bonnaroo … everything happened very quickly,” Matisyahu said.

4. He got his beard shaved at Supercuts

Fast-forward several years and hundreds of thousands of records sold. In the Upper West Side one day in 2011, after a session with his therapist, he decided to walk into a Supercuts salon. The only employee inside was a Hispanic woman. He told her that he hadn’t shaved his beard for 10 years. After the deed was done, the two of them cried together.

“Honestly, I really didn’t think about anybody else when I shaved. I didn’t think about what it would mean for my career or what people would think about it. I just got to the place I wanted to,” he said.

5. Now, he’s most comfortable praying with Hasidim who scream

After shaving his beard, Matisyahu began to attend a Hasidic shul in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, associated with the Karlin sect.

“The place I feel most comfortable davening is by the Hasidim who scream,” he said. “I stepped into a Karlin shul, where they’re literally pissed off and screaming at God and everybody is singing their own melody. And it’s very beautiful.”

These days, Matisyahu is still religious — and he’s looking for a new synagogue to pray at near his home in Monsey, a town in New York’s Rockland County.

“I love Hasidim, I love certain aspects of it. But when you put an idea at the top of the list and everything else falls under that, you lose track of what’s real, of humanity,” he said.

Orthodox Jews, kosher market hit by paintballs in Brooklyn


Police are searching for suspects who targeted a kosher market and some Orthodox Jewish individuals in Brooklyn with a paintball gun.

On June 29, Bondo’s 24 supermarket in the Williamsburg section and 62-year-old Chaim Klein were hit with paintballs. An unnamed man and his two grandchildren walking home from synagogue were targeted as well on the same day, WCBS-TV in New York reported.

Police said the attacks could be linked to three similar incidents that occurred in the same area in March and may be investigated as hate crimes, the New York Daily News reported.

The suspects fired at the supermarket before driving off in a dark car and targeting the other victims. Klein was hit nearby.

“It’s unfortunate – this, in 2015, this is still happening,” said Brooklyn community leader Rabbi Moshe Indig.

Chasidic man beaten in New York


A Chasidic man wearing traditional clothing was beaten in New York in what appears to be a hate crime.

Joel “Joseph” Weinberger, 26, was returning home in the evening on Thanksgiving from his place of employment at a Brooklyn yeshiva in the Williamsburg neighborhood when he reportedly was attacked by three men.

Weinberger reportedly offered the men his wallet, but they beat him severely and ripped apart his religious articles.

The police have not been able to categorize the attack as a hate crime since they have not yet been able to interview Weinberger at length, WCBS-TV in New York reported.
Weinberger reportedly did not get a good look at his attackers.