November 18, 2018

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.

Jewish groups blast Sanders over Israel stance

Bernie Sanders didn’t help himself with the Jewish community in New York – a strong constituency in next week’s primary – as he “>interview, Sanders erroneously inflated the number of Palestinian civilians killed during the 2014 Gaza conflict, for which he has since pulled back after a conversation with ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Senator Sanders’ failure to demonstrate a grasp of the Palestinian terrorism that fueled Israel’s actions to protect its citizens in the summer of 2014 is extremely concerning,” American Jewish Congress’ President Jack Rosen said in a statement on Sunday. “Any attempt by a presidential candidate to qualify Israel’s self-defense against indiscriminate attacks without mentioning the nature of the attacks is a worrisome signal.”

Rosen, himself a supporter of Hillary Clinton, but speaking on behalf of the American Jewish Congress, called on Sanders to “adopt a more balanced perspective on the 2014 conflict as well as the current political reality in Gaza.”

The Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, said it was “offended” by Sanders’ recent comments.

“The Orthodox Union rejects Sen. Sanders’ assertion that Israel acted in a “disproportionate” manner in responding to Hamas terrorist actions; frankly, we are offended by Sen. Sanders’ suggestion,” the group said in a statement on Monday. n 2014, Israel was attacked by Hamas, which fired more than 4,500 rockets and mortars from Gaza at Israel. These rockets were intended to murder and maim innocent Israelis. Israel’s response and tactics were anything but disproportionate or indiscriminate.”

Sanders pushed back against his critics, insisting that his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “balanced” while being “absolutely pro-Israeli” and supporting “Israel’s right to exist in peace in security.”

“Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East,” the Democratic presidential hopeful told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Sanders is currently trailing Hillary Clinton in the April 19 New York primary by double digits. According to a recent Fox New poll, Clinton leads Sanders among Jewish voters by 24 points (59-35 percent).

in 2013, the Jewish vote made up 16-19 percent of the electorate in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary.

The Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.

United Nations: ‘Miscommunication’ behind ban of Israel’s Zionism display

A “miscommunication” led the United Nations to ban a display about Zionism from an Israeli exhibition at its headquarters in New York, a spokesman told JTA.

Hours after the exhibition opened Monday morning, an initially banned display panel about Zionism was added. But the U.N. stood firm in banning two other panels that Israel had proposed — one about Arab Israelis and another about Jerusalem. The panels are several-feet tall standing boards with images and texts.

“The panel on Zionism was not disallowed. There was a misunderstanding … and so it was initially communicated to the Mission that the panel could not be displayed. That was immediately revised and it was then clearly communicated to the Mission shortly after the first message that the panel could be displayed,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary general, wrote Monday afternoon in an email follow-up to a telephone conversation with JTA.

For his part, Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., called the allowance of the Zionism panel a “clear win for Israeli diplomacy and a victory for the truth about Israel” in a press release Monday.

“This is a step in the right direction, but the UN must reverse its earlier decision entirely and allow the exhibit to be displayed without censoring the truth about Israel and Jerusalem – the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” he said.

The exhibit, created by Israel’s permanent mission to the U.N. along with Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, initially went up without three of the 13 proposed panels. In protest, organizers displayed a photograph of the Zionism panel with the word ‘Censored’ across it. The original full panel was later placed in the exhibition.

Dujarric said he could not explain the reasoning behind the ban of the other two panels in detail, but said the fact that the U.N. considers eastern Jerusalem occupied territory probably played a role in the decision on the Jerusalem panel. He promised to look into the matter further, but had yet to report back.

“As general rule, the aim is of these exhibits is to allow Member States to showcase cultural and/or social achievements, their history,” he said. “We try to make sure, among other things, that displays are in line with international legality (re panel on Status of Jerusalem). We also try to the best of our ability to keep these spaces free from polemics.”

The Israeli exhibition appears in an area of the U.N. headquarters that is not open to the public, and is mostly trafficked by delegates and staff, Dujarric said. Decisions about such exhibitions are made by the U.N.’s Department of Management in consultation with the Political Affairs Department and others, he said.

“This is not an exact science, as we’re dealing with understandable sensitivities. One must also keep in mind that we’re dealing with 193 member States, who all have to feel that this is their house. We regularly look at this process to see how it can best serve all the member States,” he said. The disapproval of parts of a country’s display “is not unprecedented.”

The Zionism panel speaks of “the liberation movement of the Jewish people, who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.”

The Jerusalem panel describes the Jewish people as “indigenous to Israel” and states that “Jerusalem has been the center and focus of Jewish life and religion for more than three millennia and is holy to Christians and Muslims as well.” The panel on Israeli Arabs calls the group “the largest minority in Israel, making up 20 percent of Israel’s population.” Israel Arabs are “equal citizens under the law in Israel,” the panel says.

UN censors exhibit on Israel set for NY headquarters

The United Nations has censored an exhibition about Israel set to go on display at the organization’s headquarters in New York.

Three of the 13 panels in the exhibition “Israel Matters,” which is set to open Monday, will be deleted, the U.N. decided over the weekend. The censored panels deemed “inappropriate” are on the subjects of Zionism, Jerusalem and Arab-Israelis.

The exhibit was created by Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations with the organization StandWithUs.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, has called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reverse what he called the “scandalous” decision and allow the panels to be displayed.

“By disqualifying an exhibition about Zionism, the U.N. is undermining the very existence of the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,” Danon said in a statement. “We will not allow the U.N. to censor the fact that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital.”

He added: “The U.N. must reverse this outrageous decision and apologize to the Jewish people. Zionism and Jerusalem are the foundation stones and the moral basis upon which the State of Israel was founded.”

The Jerusalem panel describes the Jewish people as “indigenous to Israel” and states that “Jerusalem has been the center and focus of Jewish life and religion for more than three millennia and is holy to Christians and Muslims as well.”

The panel on Arab-Israelis calls them “the largest minority in Israel, making up 20 percent of Israel’s population” and says they are “equal citizens under the law in Israel.”

The Zionism panel calls it “the liberation movement of the Jewish people, who sought to overcome 1,900 years of oppression and regain self-determination in their indigenous homeland.”

Michael Bloomberg will not enter presidential race, denounces Trump

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced on Monday that he has decided against an independent run for president in 2016. 

In a post published on Bloomberg View, Bloomberg cited his fear that he would play the spoiler and hand over the presidency to one of the likely Republican presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

“When I look at the data, it’s clear to me that if I entered the race, I could not win,” Bloomberg said. “I believe I could win a number of diverse states — but not enough to win the 270 Electoral College votes necessary to win the presidency. In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress.”

Bloomberg began flirting about running and making history as a third-party candidate as polls indicated Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders could win their parties nomination. The former New York Mayor saw an opportunity to serve as a compromise candidate for Republican and Democratic voters who would be unsatisfied with their respective parties’ nominees. 

But as Hillary Clinton showed signs of overcoming her Democratic challenger and public opinion turned against Trump, Bloomberg opted out for the good of the country, in his words. “As the race stands now, with Republicans in charge of both Houses, there is a good chance that my candidacy could lead to the election of Donald Trump or Senator Ted Cruz. That is not a risk I can take in good conscience,” he wrote. 

Bloomberg berated Trump for running “the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people’s prejudices and fears.”

New York court allows fraud claim against Trump University to proceed

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump suffered a legal setback on Tuesday when a New York state court allowed a multimillion-dollar fraud claim against Trump University, filed by the state's attorney general, to proceed.

The claim is part of a lawsuit that accuses Trump and the now-defunct for-profit venture of misleading thousands of people, who paid up to $35,000 to learn the billionaire businessman's real estate investment strategies.

Trump University, which Trump chaired, has become a target for his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, particularly Marco Rubio.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's lawsuit, filed in 2013, seeks $40 million in restitution plus penalties and other costs, his office said.

The ruling by a four-judge panel of a mid-level appeals court in Manhattan brings the case closer to a potential trial. It could make it easier for the Trump venture ultimately to be held liable, because the claim does not require proof that there was intent to defraud. 

The judges also extended the statute of limitations for the claim back to 2007 instead of 2010, asTrump's attorneys want. The program stopped taking students in 2010.

“Today's decision is a clear victory in our effort to hold Donald Trump and Trump University accountable for defrauding thousands of students,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

The Trump Organization's general counsel, Alan Garten, said he would seek to appeal the ruling, and called the case “politically motivated.” Schneiderman is a Democrat.

“We think all these claims are without merit and baseless,” Garten said. “Ninety-eight percent of those who participated in the programs filled out written surveys giving the programs the highest grades.”

Class actions are pending in California on similar claims by former Trump University students.

Rubio, who hammered Trump over Trump University at last week's Republican presidential debate, on Tuesday pointed to the New York court's decision at a rally in Minneapolis.

The U.S. senator from Florida said prospective Trump University students increased the borrowing limit on their credit cards in order to pay for the course. 

“Some graduated, some didn't, but in the end the only thing you got was a piece of paper that was worthless and a picture with a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump,” he said.

“That's a fraud case and it is outrageous,” Rubio said. “… What he did to those people is what he is doing to Americans now.” 

At the debate, Trump told Rubio he had won most of the lawsuits involving Trump University.

The appeals court's decision revived a second claim for fraud. A lower-court judge had allowed Schneiderman to proceed only on a type of fraud known as common-law fraud, which would have been more difficult to prove.

The lower-court judge in Manhattan has already determined that Trump and his university are liable for operating illegally in New York state as an unlicensed educational institution.

New York notified Trump in 2005 that he was violating state education law by using the word “University” when it was not actually chartered as one. In 2010, Trump University changed its name toTrump Entrepreneur Initiative and later that year notified the state Department of Education that it had ceased operations.

Meet the guys helping Israeli entrepreneurs make it big in the Big Apple

The hoodie-clad millennials tap furiously at their laptops. They’re perched on colorful couches, or sitting at long, communal tables, munching on Fruit Loops from the built-in dispenser in the open, subway-tiled kitchen.

In other words, AlleyNYC is your typical co-working space. There are plenty of international workers here, yet the space is quintessentially New York with its upscale, industrial look and “work hard, play hard” philosophy, complete with biweekly happy hours.

Its location in Chelsea, on the West Side of Manhattan, makes it a hub for local entrepreneurs, particularly those in the tech scene. That cachet made it the perfect home for ICONYC Labs, a new accelerator program that helps Israeli startups launch their businesses stateside.

Israel has earned a global reputation as “Start-Up Nation” for its lively tech scene — Israel is home to nearly 7,000 high-tech companies, and nearly 80 percent of those are startups, according to a report from the business information firm Dun & Bradstreet. But despite its track record of innovation, Israeli startups often struggle with finding local investors. Additionally, Israeli deals generally require entrepreneurs to cede a greater share of their companies than a typical American deal.

So a main goal of ICONYC Labs is to connect Israeli entrepreneurs with New York investors. Additionally, the program helps Israelis adapt their pitches and products to better appeal to American investors, who typically have a longer decision-making process than their Israeli counterparts.

“In America, it’s about building relationships over time, but that’s not something that’s in Israeli DNA,” says ICONYC co-founder Eyal Bino. “It’s definitely a mindset we are trying to change with our founders, and it’s not always an easy task.”

But this incubator program isn’t just about generating money — through the shared workspace, the program also embeds Israeli startups in the city’s tech scene.

“While they’re here, they’re mingling with the other entrepreneurs in the kitchen,” says co-founder Arie Abecassis. “They want to be here and get to know New York, and one of the goals of this program is to help them exponentially expand their social network in tech.”

Other goals include providing mentorship, assistance with media relations and branding, as well as operations support on logistics like immigration, banking and accounting. In addition to these services, ICONYC Labs provides the startups with $20,000 and office space in AlleyNYC in exchange for a small equity stake in the firms.

ICONYC Labs’ first cohort, which began last April and finished the end of October, consisted of Myndlift, a mobile health solution targeting those who suffer from ADHD; Flux, a smart agricultural product enabling water-efficient growth of food and plants; DandyLoop, a cross-promotional marketplace for independent online stores to gain traffic; Clickspree, an ad-tech firm focused on video engagement and return for brands, and Gaonic, a platform for businesses to monitor Internet of Things data.

While working with ICONYC Labs, the companies’ founders must spend at least a week each month in New York, although many stay longer. During the weeks they are all here, ICONYC hosts networking events and fireside chats with high-profile startup success stories. It also sets pitch meetings with potential investors and advisers.

“At the end of the program, they’ll have the ability to expand their business to New York and raise money here,” Bino said.

Going forward, the incubator will shorten the program to four months and accept companies on a rolling basis. Two startups began in January; three more will enter the program this month.

ICONYC staffers sift through hundreds of applicants to select businesses to accept into the program — there’s no shortage, after all, of companies hoping to be the next Waze and make it big in the U.S. They put potential applicants through a serious vetting process, which includes outside experts assessing their business prospects and an investigation into their reputation in the Israeli startup community. They’re looking for companies that already have a viable product with the potential to scale in the United States, along with a committed team and a willingness to learn.

Bino, 40, and Abecassis, 49, are uniquely positioned to help Israeli companies acclimate to New York’s startup ecosystem. Both were born in Israel — Abecassis moved to the U.S. as a young child, and Bino attended college here and moved here for work a few years later.

When they met in 2014, Bino was working as a business development consultant for international startups in New York, and Abecassis was serving as a board member, adviser and investor for several startups. Bino tapped Abecassis to mentor some Israeli startups, and the two began discussing the specific needs of Israeli entrepreneurs in New York.

The pair saw a gulf between the growth potential of many Israeli startups — the talent and the ideas were strong — and their ability to connect with a wider variety of investors, and turn those connections into meaningful business opportunities.

One challenge facing Israeli entrepreneurs in New York is their products may not yet have an American following.

“We work extremely hard to help our founders prove their concepts in the U.S. markets, so they are worthy of funding from venture capitalists in New York,” Bino said. “The more traction our founders have, the better their story becomes.”

For Omer Rachamim, co-founder and CEO of DandyLoop, moving his business to New York was always the long-term plan because it’s a global hub e-commerce.

“ICONYC came along at just the right moment,” he said. “They helped us do a soft landing in the city, and really leveraged their connections in a way that helped me to be completely emerged in the startup community and the VC community within a few months. It’s like integration into the city on steroids.”

Since completing the program, DandyLoop, which is now incorporated in the U.S. and has an office in the city, has added advisers, investors and clients in New York.

In recent years, New York City has become a hub for Israeli-based startups — nearly 300 Israeli companieshave a presence in the city. While Silicon Valley grabs a lot of the startup spotlight, New York typically makes more sense for Israeli entrepreneurs — the time difference (7 hours versus 10 hours) makes business calls more conducive, and it’s an easy train ride to Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

“They see New York as the market where they can meet clients and investors as well as the big American corporations they want to do business with,” said Guy Franklin, founder of Israel Mapped in New York, which tracks the Israeli startup community.

Plus, in some significant ways, New York City is more culturally similar to Israel than Silicon Valley.

“There’s the food, the holidays,” Bino said. “Israelis may not be able to see themselves renting a house in the suburbs in California, but they could live on the Upper West Side.”

Another mutation of the anti-Semitism virus – or just ignorance?

Now showing in New York schools: Videos transplanting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions sentiments into classes on ancient history! What? Yes, but not for long, thanks to Kenneth Zebrowski, a New York assemblyman who is calling on the state’s legislators to pay attention.

Study.com, a California startup that makes cartoon-type videos to enhance learning in and out of schools, chose to portray Jews of the first century as people who “got what they deserved” while Christians “took control of the empire that oppressed them.” Hmm. By the way, pardon the grammar. Jews of the time were “violent religious extremists” while Christian “martyrs’ murders advanced the cause.” Double hmm. Were the martyrs murdered or murderers? What contemporary cause does this sound like?

It would take a long time to go through what the company alleges to be a stock of more than 10,000 videos. But when its cartoons portray Jewish people in black hats and long coats, with earlocks and white beards, when they proclaim that the Torah is the Ten Commandments, and state that God gave Abraham the land of Canaan, which is “parts of Israel and Palestine,” you start to get the picture. Much of the company’s material on religion, social science and history is simple pablum, but subtle and not-so-subtle messages are being conveyed, as well. 

Not only for Judaism. When the title of a video is “Protestantism and Liberation Theology,” you know that Martin Luther and Archbishop Oscar Romero are choking in their graves. (John Calvin gets a mention with Max Weber — mispronounced — and capitalism.) When we’re told that Jesus preached a religion of personal salvation, we wonder what black hole swallowed up the scholarship of the last 60 years on early Christianity. When the narrator of a religion video pronounces Judaism “Ju-DAY-ism,” you know something has gone deeply awry.

The company’s founders are an Argentine computer scientist who twists English idioms to entertain his colleagues, and a young man with a bachelor’s degree in business administration who heads content development. The two young Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduates, now in Mountain View, allege to have “hundreds” of instructors, but the website seems to provide information on only a couple of dozen. Religion isn’t mentioned as one of its  six academic fields, but it’s a topic for a whole set of videos. As for history, the six instructors for whom they offer bios seem to have studied topics relevant to the Americas and ancient Greek philosophy.

And the New York public school system is subscribing to this company’s videos? Is it trying to surpass the record for bad educational ideas (previously held by a school district that was going to buy iPads for all)? Of course, it’s possible that officials thought they would give the teachers a break while the kids watch a few “harmless” cartoons. It’s like Shakespeare comics, no?

You don’t have to be Jewish to realize that this isn’t a good idea. Real educators know that in some areas of math and science, business and accounting, certain topics can best be learned by breaking them down into simple steps. We all were amazed when Khan Academy paved the way, and helped make that kind of learning more enjoyable and tailored to the pace of the student. (I don’t know what it’s doing now, so that’s not a plug.)

But human cultures, history and religion are a different story, so much more complex, not convertible into simple facts; so much more dangerous when handled poorly. To think of fourth- or fifth-graders viewing these videos and being imprinted with the stereotypes, anachronisms and outright misinformation is horrifying. We’ve been worried about Palestinian textbooks teaching hate. Now it’s coming home, not yet as hate but as ignorance and distorted perspective. Hate, however, has a fertile ground.

Study.com said it didn’t mean to “offend anyone” and will change “at least one” video (two were identified as anti-Semitic by the Jewish Federation of Rockland County). 

Actually, the videos have offended not only Jews but the intelligence of thousands of American teachers. But OK, we can only expect that they will do the usual brush-off, since money is at stake.

However, since more than money is at stake for us, we now have to investigate where else this is happening. Noxious weeds rarely sprout only one seed, nor do viruses make only one person sick. If you have children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren in public schools, give their school a call. Ask what educational “enhancements” it is using to make subjects more fun — for what classes, in what grades. What companies does it contract with? How can you as a concerned citizen see them? Especially if the subjects include history, literature, religion, “civilizations” or social science, you should insist on viewing or using these supplementary materials so you can see what kids are learning in this new tech era. Hopefully, you’ll have some fun and not see danger signs. But for the future of all of us, we need to find out.

A big thanks to the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and Assemblyman Zebrowski for this wake-up call.


Tamar Frankiel is a professor of Comparative Religion and provost at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California.

Thank you for not dying

David Wichs was walking to work in TriBeCa last Friday morning when a 565-foot construction crane toppled onto Worth Street and killed him. He was 38.

I didn’t know him – I saw it in the paper.  Workers had been lowering the crane as a precaution from wind gusts when it crushed him.  From the noise and vibration, people on the block thought a bomb had exploded. He was remembered as warm, decent, “unusually gentle for someone who lived in this city.” Czech immigrant; Westinghouse Science Talent Search Semifinalist; a math degree from Harvard; a career in finance; a bolt out of the blue. “Despair and shock,” the New York Times Emergency responders at the scene of a 565-foot-tall crane that toppled and flipped upside down, stretching along nearly two city blocks in downtown Manhattan on Feb. 5. Photo by Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Drunk drivers, earthquakes, cancer, shooters – and now cranes.  It’s rattling to be reminded how vulnerable we are. We busy our lives to distract ourselves from mortality, to extract meaning from absurdity, to pretend we control a cosmos of chance.  At best, what I get from Worth Street is the gong of mindfulness. Savor the moment. Hug your children. Don’t go back to sleep. At worst: Grow up. It’s all hanging by a thread. 

Now David Wichs’ whole life story is shadowed by how it ended. This is cruelly unjust.  An ominous theme underscores all of it, imposing dread on ordinary moments, robbing them of their quotidian glory.  In the wake of a freak accident, casual snapshots become fraught with foreboding; light words become last words. David plans, but God laughs.

The tyranny of endings defines us all, even if we’re lucky enough not to be unlucky. We experience our lives as stories. As each day unfolds, we update the narrative in our head, recasting Before in light of After. Life delivers randomness, but we’re ingenious at discovering cause and effect in its depths. We are as adept at rewriting as at writing. Our nimble revisionism allows us to believe we’re the authors of our existence – not the journalists reporting it, but the screenwriters creating it.

But no matter how good we are at reverse engineering our path to the present, our appointment with mortality guarantees an ending. As we succumb to the inevitable deterioration, we lose not only our health, but also our power to control our own story.  “The terror of sickness and old age,” Atul Gawande writes in his best seller ““>Rancho La Puerta and the Golden Door, is running martyk@jewishjournal.com.

UN’s Ban to speak at Manhattan synagogue’s Shabbat service

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will speak at a Shabbat service at an Orthodox synagogue in New York.

The service this Saturday at the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan is in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was observed around the world last week. Ban will be accompanied by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon.

The event is sold out, according to a notice on the Park East website.

Ban’s appearance will come nearly two weeks after he said in an address to the U.N. Security Council that Palestinian violence against Israel is a result of “frustration” over “a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process.”

“Security measures alone will not stop the violence,” Ban said in remarks that Israeli officials said appeared to justify Palestinian terror.

“They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians – especially young people. It is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the U.N. leader of “giving terror a tailwind.”

Days after the Security Council address Ban, who also condemned Palestinian terror attacks, doubled down on his remarks in an Op-Ed in The New York Times headlined “Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel.”

Reconsidering Kaddish: Four new approaches to an old ritual

“Yitgadal v’yitkadash…” the words of the Kaddish have echoed through synagogues for centuries, traditionally intoned by a Jewish man in mourning during a prayer service, with nine other men — at various points — interjecting an “amen.” But in this century, in various communities, Kaddish is getting a modern overhaul. Four emerging Kaddish innovations — two in Los Angeles, one in New York City and one in the United Kingdom — preserve the words of the prayer, while attempting to expand access to this ritual and to add layers of modern resonance our shtetl-dwelling forebears never would have imagined.

‘Hello From the Other Side’ (Los Angeles)

While saying daily Kaddish for her father this year, Pico-Robertson resident and educator Nili Isenberg found that Adele’s ubiquitous song “Hello” had stuck in her mind. In addition to the music, she said in an interview, “the actual words of the song resonated, about saying the words every day and trying to reach out to someone through these words.” So the mother of three took a literal note from pop culture, transforming the song into a ” target=”_blank”>LAReformMinyan.com). Instead of tasking one synagogue with running a daily minyan, six Reform synagogues — Congregation Kol Ami, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Temple Isaiah, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Leo Baeck Temple and Wilshire Boulevard Temple — have banded together, each taking responsibility for one day of the week. Each host synagogue may shape the service and schedule in its own way to suit its membership. The only requirement is that Kaddish must be recited. 

While many Reform Jews might not list a daily Kaddish minyan as a priority, Missaghieh believes that’s because they didn’t know it could be an option. “It was always seen as ‘only the traditional Jews do this.’ But with education and exposure and gentle invitations for people to do this in environments that are comfortable for them, it will become a need,” she said.

“It’s one of those ideas that was just waiting to be discovered,” Marcus said. “It takes a bit of commitment, but people realize the seriousness with which Kaddish is treated in the Jewish community. It’s fundamental to our longevity.“

Marcus realized that the six congregations launching the L.A. Reform Minyan Project evokes the six points of the Magen David (the six-pointed Jewish star). “To me, it’s a Venn diagram of intersecting triangles and finding that place in the middle. If there’s ever a time for a metaphor,” he said, “it’s totally the overlap, the rich center of the star that we’re making here. And it’s only possible if we do it together.”

‘Women Mourners: A Guide to Kaddish and Mourning’ (London, United Kingdom)

In the United Kingdom, the Orthodox movement is now encouraging women to engage in the Kaddish ritual if they want to, with a new guide published by United Synagogue (the U.K.’s council of Orthodox rabbis) titled, “Women Mourners: A Guide to Kaddish and Mourning.” The six-page booklet outlines the options for Orthodox Jewish women mourners regarding Kaddish and suggests other recommended acts of memory, effectively forming a Frequently Asked Questions-style guide. “Do I have to be observant in order to recite Kaddish?” is answered with the movingly inclusive, “Kaddish is something that every Jewish person can say in U.S. [United Synagogue] communities, if, sadly. they need to.” 

Other questions highlight imbalances that remain in Orthodox Judaism, and the potential roadblocks for women saying Kaddish. “What if there is no mechitzah [divider between men’s and women’s sections] when I get to shul?” reflects the reality: Most daily minyanim are attended solely by men, so women may need to call in advance to ask that the mechitzah be set up for services at which they are planning to say Kaddish. And “Should both men and women respond to me when I am saying Kaddish?” acknowledges that many men believe it is forbidden to answer a woman’s Kaddish. 

While the guide still expects women to join a minyan of 10 men (a female-inclusive minyan is not an option according to Orthodox Judaism), it does indicate a shift toward expanding access to the ritual of saying Kaddish.

Virtual Kaddish (New York and the world)

For those of any gender, especially those not connected to Orthodoxy or the culture of daily (or any) prayer, the New York-based Lab/Shul founded by Amichai Lau-Lavie has launched a virtual space for Kaddish recitation. This “experiment in virtual ritual reality,” as the Lab/Shul website terms it, is a free conference call. Callers “share their names and reasons for saying Kaddish, read a poem and learn a brief sacred teaching together, and then recite the Kaddish together.” The call often takes about 30 minutes. 

The concept evolved from Lau-Lavie’s Kaddish experience, he said in a phone interview. The rabbinical student, writer, educator and Storahtelling founder has a sizable following of friends and colleagues from his years in the Jewish innovation and education space, many of whom had expressed a wish to support Lau-Lavie as he mourned his father. Lau-Lavie explained that many of these people weren’t comfortable in a synagogue, or were “women where there wasn’t a friendly minyan available.” Their phone conference experiment — to stand with Lau-Lavie virtually as he said Kaddish — drew about 30 people from all over the world.  

Lau-Lavie’s year of mourning is over, but the call is still held on Thursdays at noon, Eastern time. Recent calls have drawn participants from Alaska, Arizona, Florida, New York and Massachusetts, as well as international calls from France and Israel. 

Because Lab/Shul is an experimental space — as the website calls it, an “artist-driven, everybody-friendly experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings” — this service may evolve again to include video, but the Lab/Shul founder has his reservations. “There’s something comforting in just a voice,” he said, calling it “personal and anonymous.”

First kosher-certified pot to go on market next month

A New York company is preparing to market what it says is the world’s first kosher-certified marijuana.

The Orthodox Union has certified Vireo Health of New York’s non-smokable medical marijuana products, Vireo announced in a news release Wednesday. Vireo is one of five medical marijuana providers selected to participate in a New York state medical marijuana program that goes into effect next month; none of the others will be certified kosher.

“Being certified kosher by the OU will not only help us serve the dietary needs of the largest Jewish community in the United States, but also combat unfortunate stigmas associated with medical cannabis,” Vireo CEO Ari Hoffnung said in a statement. “Today’s announcement sends an important message to New Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds that using medical cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering does not in any way represent an embrace of ‘pot’ culture.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the O.U.’s kashrut department, said in a statement that Vireo’s medical cannabis products “were developed to alleviate pain and suffering in accordance with the New York State Compassionate Care Act.”

The statement adds, “Using medical cannabis products recommended by a physician should not be regarded as a ‘chet,’ a sinful act, but rather as a mitzvah, an imperative, a commandment.”

Vireo operates a facility in the upstate town of Perth and will open four retail dispensaries in January, including two in the New York City area.

U.S. denying security clearances due to Israeli ties

As many as 100 American citizens were prevented from joining the U.S. army in the last decade because they had family living in Israel. But the latest case of a 60-year-old dentist from Brooklyn having his clearance application denied because his mother lives in Israel, prompted Avi Schick, a renowned attorney from New York, to address the matter in a letter directed to the head of the U.S. Navy.

According to Schick’s account, Dr. Gershon Pincus, who after 35 years as a private dentist started working as a part-time civilian dentist at an off-base Naval clinic in Saratoga, NY, recently received a notice that he was deemed ineligible to receive security clearance because he has “weekly contact with [his] mother and brother in Israel.”

In September, after two interviews with the Office of Personal Management (OPM), Dr. Pincus’s received a “Statement of Reasons” explaining why he was denied the security clearance. “You have weekly telephone contact with your mother and brother in Israel. You added your mother, sister and brother may have contact with neighbors in Israel. Foreign contacts and interests may be a security concern due to divided loyalties or foreign financial interests, may be manipulated or induced to help a foreign person, group, organization or government in a way that is not in U.S. interests, or is vulnerable to pressure or coercion by foreign interests,” the statement read.

But what is seen as even more unreasonable is the fact that his 89-year-old mother, who moved to Israel late in her life to be with her son and daughter who moved to Israel in 1980, still retains her U.S. citizenship and are not listed as Israeli citizens. DR. Pincus has lived all of his life in the United States; all of his assets and income are in the United States; as are his friends, community, and interests. He visited Israel only three times in the past decade, including one for his father’s funeral.

In a letter to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Schick writes, “The entirety of the concern about Dr. Pincus, and the sole basis for the decision to deem him ineligible for clearance and to disqualify him from the opportunity to serve, is his relatives’ residence in Israel.”

“That is unwarranted by the facts and deeply offensive to American Jews whose loyalty to the U.S. is apparently called into question by our military if they have relatives in Israel,” Schick’s letter, obtained by Jewish Insider, reads.

“We would like to believe this can’t be happening in 2015, but unfortunately, it happens frequently,” Schick told Jewish Insider. “Over the past decade, there have been more than 100 reported clearance denials to employees of government contractors because of ties to Israel. And that doesn’t include any of the cases where military employees were denied clearance or when contractor employees don’t have the means or the stomach to fight the denial.”

In the past seven years, under the Obama administration, there has been a total of 58 cases in which Jewish Americans were denied because of their Israeli ties. As many as 36 applicants lost their appeals. “What that means is that what happened to Dr. Pincus was not an isolated incident, but rather part of a systemic problem,” he said.

In his letter to Mabus, Schick asks why someone who wants to give back to his country after a long, productive professional career is being treated with such intense suspicion.

Adding, “It is useful to go through the mental exercise of replacing Israel with the name of other countries also closely allied with the United States. It is difficult to imagine Dr. Pincus being denied clearance because he has relatives in England, Germany, France, Spain or a host of other countries. Our elected officials often talk about the special relationship between the United States and Israel, but I don’t think they mean for Israel and American Jews to be singled out in a way they have been during the interview and clearance process for Dr. Pincus.”

The Orthodox Union on Thursday expressed its outrage at the “anti-Semitic bias” by the OPM. “The notion that an American Jew, a citizen of the United States, could be accused of having ‘divided loyalties’ and therefore be denied security clearance and lose his job, simply because he has family members who live in Israel, is outrageous and offensive,” Martin Nachimson, president of the Orthodox Union, said in a statement.”The American Jewish community is an active and vital element of all parts of this country’s economy and job force. Discrimination against one individual because of his family’s whereabouts—or against a much larger population of applicants because of familial connections with Israel—suggests an anti-Semitic bias that is poorly disguised as security concerns.”

Kuwait Airways, ordered to stop refusing tickets to Israelis, drops NYC-London flight

Kuwait Airways is eliminating service between New York and London after the US Department of Transportation ordered the carrier to stop refusing to sell tickets to Israelis.

Namrata Kolachalam, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, announced the airline’s decision, USA Today reported Tuesday.

On September 30, the department announced that the airline had acted illegally when it refused to sell a ticket to Eldad Gatt, an Israeli citizen, in 2013. On October 29, the department ordered the airline to “cease and desist from refusing to transport Israeli citizens between the U.S. and any third country where they are allowed to disembark,” USA Today reported, citing a letter from the department’s assistant general counsel for enforcement.

The newspaper reported that Kuwait Airways explained its refusal to sell Gatt a ticket by saying it needed to comply with a Kuwaiti law barring citizens from agreements “with entities or persons residing in Israel, or with Israeli citizenship.”

 

The airline filed a counter suit against the department on November 24, which it has not yet withdrawn. If it prevails, it may resume the New York-London flights.

Outrage over removal of Israeli flag at Haaretz Conference

The removal of the Israeli flag ahead of a Palestinian representative at the Haaretz conference in New York on Sunday is continuing to make waves and has sparked harsh criticism from Israeli politicians.

As first reported by Jewish Insider, an Israeli flag that was placed on the stage for the opening session of the newspaper’s inaugural conference at the Roosevelt in NY was removed from the ballroom moments before chief Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat took the stage.

Many participants criticized the move.

In an official statement released hours after the incident, Haaretz said, “Mr. Erekat’s team requested he not be made to speak next to the Israeli flag, and we honored his wishes.” In an interview with Army Radio Monday morning, Haaretz Publisher Amos Schocken said, “Haaretz doesn’t hold conferences against the backdrop of the Israeli flag. Would the Office of the President agree to have a Palestinian flag next to an Israeli flag? I don’t think so. We did not place a Palestinian flag on the stage during Erekat’s speech. We had no intention of placing any flag on the stage. We placed it on stage at President [Reuven] Rivlin’s request, and removed it at Erekat’s request.”

During his address at the conference, Erekat stated that “Israel has a partner on the basis of a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders and East Jerusalem as its capital.” He also said that the Palestinians have “recognized Israel’s existence and her right to live in peace and security in borders based on the 1967 lines.”

Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin (Likud) called the incident “a disgrace to everyone involved.”

“Erekat is a senior Palestinian Authority official who for years has been involved in the negotiations with Israel. His refusal to address the conference against the backdrop of the Israeli flag is yet another indicator how willing the Palestinians are to achieve peace,” Elkin said, according to Israel Hayom. “This incident proves, yet again, that the problem we have with the Palestinian leadership is not a territorial dispute, but it lies with their inability to recognize a Jewish state within any lines.”

Added Israel’s Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, “This is the vision of peace at the Haaretz conference in the US: to remove Israeli flags from the stage because of the demands of Saeb Erekat? It’s another record in contempt and self-effacement. And with whom specifically does Erekat intend to make ‘peace?’ With Ahmed Tibi?”

Yair Lapid, one of Israel’s leading opposition leaders, said the move “shows a loss of national pride by the far left in Israel.”

At the opening of the Yesh Atid Knesset Faction meeting Monday, Lapid said, “Imagine the outcry if an Israeli speaker at an international conference in New York had asked to remove the Palestinian flag. This kind of behavior leads us to a bi-national state. It is where the far left and far right come together, both are leading us down that path. It is time for a clear distinction in this country between the moderates and the extremes.”

“The Zionist left of Ben Gurion, of Rabin, would never have allowed something like this,” said Lapid. “This kind of behavior eats us up from the inside and we can’t go on like this.”

The Haaretz conference also featured speeches by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the Joint Arab List party leader MK Ayman Odeh, as well as a video message by President Barack Obama.

Odeh was treated like a rock star at the conference. His speech was constantly interrupted by raucous applause and standing ovations, almost equivalent to Netanyahu’s reception at AIPAC’s annual conference. “The conflict cannot be managed. It can only be solved,” Odeh declared. “the occupation is the Palestinian people’s tragedy, but it is also Israel’s prison. We must liberate both peoples from the prison of occupation.”

Last week, Odeh sparked controversy when he ditched a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations after learning that the group shared office space with the Jewish Agency and other pro-Israel organizations.

Rivlin’s appearance at the conference raised criticism back home for agreeing to participate in a conference that included “Breaking the Silence,” a group that accuses the IDF of war crimes. Rivlin addressed the issue at the start of his remarks by saying, “From time to time the obvious should be said. Especially during these days, when we are facing a difficult and dangerous fight against terrorism. The IDF does everything in its power to maintain the highest possible moral standard, even under impossible conditions, and more than any other army in the world. This is true of its commanders, and of its soldiers. For that, we are very proud of them, and owe them all our support and appreciation.”