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Thursday, November 30, 2006

A Dying Shul: Last Gasp or Comeback?

Something interesting in this week's Jewish Star:
Far Rockaway's famed "White Shul," Congregation Kneseth Israel, is conducting a "serious negotiation" with Touro College to establish a local campus of The Lander College for Women on the shul's property, Touro founder and president Dr. Bernard Lander has confirmed. He called the potential dual use of the property "a historic achievement in an historic synagogue."
Sources tell me that there were rumors swirling for weeks that the shul had been sold in its entirety to Touro, until a letter was sent out to White Shul members denying that rumor, but informing members that the shul is in negotiations to consider selling a part of the shul. The letter apparently also took pains to note that any plan would be required to go before an election held for all shul members before it would be approved.

Anyone who knew anything about the Far Rockaway neighborhood some decades ago knew that the White Shul was THE place to be if you were spending Shabbos in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway area. The place was always packed to the gills on Shabbos after davening, with young folk populating the lobby and spilling onto the driveway.

Well, sadly, that isn't really the case any more. Though there are shuls within a few blocks of the White Shul that are thriving and teeming with people on any given Shabbos, the White Shul seems to have become less and less popular of a place to daven as years go on. It seems to have found it's niche as a so-called "minyan factory", catering to community members looking to find a minyan around the clock, whether they are shul members or not. But on Shabbos, the shul is operating at much less than its capacity, and though the Orthodox community has grown exponentially in the area, the White Shul is far emptier these days than it was in its heyday.

Sources who attend the shul tell me that the current membership is extremely unhappy with the shul's status a "minyan factory", and are extremely resentful of what some view as the rightward shift in the neighborhood demographic that has sent the community's young married set to other shuls in droves. Shuls that have tables and chairs, not pews, like the White Shul. The White Shul's longtime regulars feel that it is unfair for community members to utilize the shul's resources when they need to grab a convenient minyan, or when they need a shul to affiliate with when their kids need a little league team (apparently, the shteebles and more "yeshivish" shuls do not participate in little league), but feel no such sense of responsibility when it comes to choosing a shul to daven in on Shabbos, or when it comes to paying membership dues. They feel that a community has a responsibility to fill an existing, venerable old shul, before they start new ones many times over.

I have mixed feelings about the circumstances that brought the White Shul to this juncture. I think that community members should be allowed to daven wherever they wish, and choose a shul based on where they feel they and their family members would be most comfortable. I also feel that their right to do so trumps their responsibility (if there even exists such a responsibility) to maintain a dying community shul. There is no basis to force people to daven in a shul simply because it's half-empty, and because it used to be a community institution. Still and all, it's sad to see the changing tastes of a community's residents cause a shul that was once a center for yiddishkeit to lie more and more fallow.

In any event, the locals' dying interest in davening in the White Shul, a huge building on a large property that probably costs a pretty penny to maintain, has apparently left the shul in need of a desperate infusion of cash. And I guess Dr. Lander of Touro College is just the sugar daddy it needs.

But what is the White Shul looking to achieve with this deal? Are they hoping the cash will be just the shot in the arm they need to rebound? Or are they looking to subsidize the cost of a smaller congregation as part of a college campus? Anyone have any ideas?

Kosher Classes at Gourmet Glatt?

Cute. Gourmet Glatt tries to position itself as the kashrut leader in the community with an ad (left) for "a unique opportunity - a presentation of NIKUR - Halacha L'Maaseh". Gotta love it. Some supermarkets do cooking demonstrations, Gourmet Glatt shows its customers how to do their own home deveining and defatting.

Note the ad on the bottom of the page for Gourmet Glatt's "cash and carry" specials touting "Empire chicken legs by the sealed case - $1.39 lb"

By the sealed and hologrammed case, I'm sure.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Nazi T-Shirts STILL on WalMart's Shelves

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Few Posts Worth Reading

Trep posts an unbelievably moving post about his family's dedication. His parents, while not keeping a kosher home themselves, keep an entire set of dairy and meat utensils so as to be able to accommodate their family members who do keep kosher. The story Trep recounts shows his family to be truly remarkable. It's a must-read.

Gil posts a report from the Agudah convention. I will hopefully post more dispatches as I get them.

On The Main Line has a great post about whether the Agudah's anti-blog stance is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater (or the "good blogs" out with the "bad blogs"), or whether their extreme stance is the only way to fully prevent encountering inappropriate material in the blogosphere.

Jewish Blogmeister points us to the story of Israeli soccer fans who made the mistake of cheering for an Israeli team. What did they get for their efforts? Getting chased by hundreds of fans from the opposing French team, who were reportedly screaming anti-Semitic and racist epithets. Sick stuff.

It's alive!! (i.e.: RenReb graces us with a post.)

Unpleasant Work Environment

Interesting story in today's NY Post:
A Jewish art teacher claims her principal's Christian prayer groups and the staff's anti-Semitic slurs turned her job at a Brooklyn public school into a living hell - and now she's fighting back with a lawsuit.

... Eder said the problems began about six months into her new job. She said she was approached by one of the teachers and asked whether she wanted to join the "prayer circle" of six faculty members who huddled every morning with Principal Sheila Richards. She declined.

Then, during a staff meeting at the beginning of her second year, the principal invited the teachers out into the hallway to join in a group prayer.

"She asked Jesus Christ for guidance in the upcoming school year," Eder said. "I was the only one that didn't participate. I do fundamentally believe in the separation of church and state so you can have religious freedom."

The other teachers, however, were shocked that Eder bowed out of the prayer, she said.

Another prayer session detailed by Eder occurred in 2003, when, she said, English department staff asked students to bow their heads as they waited to start their Regents exams.

The Department of Education refused to comment on the allegations, but a 1964 Supreme Court decision prohibits faculty-led prayer in school.

Eder said her alienation from her Christian peers reached a peak during a staff-development seminar in 2004, when faculty members were instructed to divide into groups and discuss why Gandhi, King and Hitler were considered "revolutionary figures."

"Somebody said, 'Let the students draw their own conclusions about the Holocaust,' " she said. "I didn't realize the Holocaust was a revolution that made a positive change. I couldn't make them understand."

Eder also claimed that a picture card of Rebbe Moshiach, the Jewish prophet, was placed on her seat in the teacher's lounge to identify it as hers.
Irrelevant side point: Flatly calling the late Lubavitcher Rebbe the "Rebbe Moshiach" and the "Jewish Prophet" is an amusing editorial decision by the Post. I guess the paper has weighed in on whether they are Meshichists or not (or consulted with the wrong experts).

That aside, it sounds like an unpleasant work environment for this woman. Frankly, I'm shocked that this type of behavior would even be attempted in a public school - especially when laws governing faculty-led prayer so clearly prohibit it.

More Entertaining Than The Ethicist

Randy Cohen, of the NYT's weekly "The Ethicist" column, chooses to print a very strange question this week:
I stopped patronizing a mail-order company when it began including editorial content about Jesus in its catalog, finding that inappropriate. I now plan to visit a camera store owned and staffed by Orthodox Jews. Although I am an observant Jew, I do not regularly wear a yarmulke, but I’m considering doing so in the hope of preferential treatment, maybe even a discount. Hypocritical? Ethical? --R.K., New York
Where, oh where, do I begin? First of all, what the heck does the first part of the question have to do with the actual question? Does the fact that the man chooses to stop receiving a mail-order catalog that mentions Jesus bear any relevance whatsoever to the fact that he is considering impersonating an Orthodox Jew in order to get a discount? Which brings me to my second question - who in the world even believes that an Orthodox-owned store would provide a deeper discount to an Orthodox customer? I have personally never had that experience.

And I won't even bother reprinting the Ethicists's answer. The Times has already wasted too much column space on this inane question.

This does, however, all remind me of the episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry tries to impersonate an Orthodox Jew in order to move his friend up to a higher spot on the kidney transplant recipient list. Hilarious hijinks ensue, along with equally hilarious bloopers about Orthodoxy (an unmarried Orthodox woman wears a snood, the same woman jumps down from a stranded ski lift to prevent yichud because she's with Larry David and "shkias hachama" is coming). It was a lot more entertaining than the Ethicist column.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

School District 15 Board Meeting Report

I've been so busy defending myself from a few hostile but prolific commenters that I have been neglecting my real blogging bread-and-butter - the goings-on in School District 15.

This past Tuesday night, a school board meeting was held. On the agenda was a discussion over whether the district whould reinstate free Pre-K busing as well as free after-school building use for all district residents. Presently, there is Pre-K busing provided for public school students only, and there is a fee structure in place for use of district buildings after-hours.

So this is the recap of the meeting, as per reports from an unnamed operative:
It was quite a showdown
CNN filmed the whole thing (I think there must be a documentary in the works)
The board members fought over everything and the crowd couldn't have been much nastier or wilder.
They checked IDs at the door on the recommendation of the police dept, and kopilow and greenbaum argued that it was intended to chill free speech.
They voted to present 2 referenda to voters on jan 16th (after bickering over them for half the meeting)
- free facilities usage for youth groups and others
- free pre-k busing for everyone

Sounds like a mess. And the prospect of a CNN documentary exposing this whole inter-community squabble-fest is not an exciting one. As far as the referenda, the voters will speak on January 16th as to whether pre-K busing and free building use will be instituted.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Inconsistencies

Thanksgiving is always such a funny hodge-podge of a holiday for us. OrthoDad and I are off from work, the boys' Yeshivas out here all have a half day Thursday and school as usual on Friday, while the local girls' schools have half a day tomorrow and no school on Friday. Being as there's no bus service, one of us (usually the OrthoHusband) has the early part of the day monopolized by having to get them all to school and back. None of the kids learn a whit about Thanksgiving except for my youngest who is still in pre-school (remember the handprint turkeys? They still make them). When I asked one of the middles whether Thanksgiving was mentioned in class, the answer I got was "We don't learn about those things in school". (Though apparently it was mentioned last year while said middle kid was still in pre-school - at least some version thereof.) Yet we end the day by marking the holiday with a big, traditional, family Thanksgiving dinner - turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and all.

And yes, I fully recognize the fact that my kids are getting mixed signals as to the significance of the holiday. Such is life as right-wing Orthodox Americans, I guess.

Bloggerling Alert

Another blogger baby to announce:

Mazel Tov to the (former?) Godol Hador on the birth of a baby, XGH Junior!

GG Updates

Interesting update on the Gourmet Glatt situation from the Jewish Star in two write-ups.

The first, a front-page article, discusses the impact the decreased patronage of GG has had on businesses in close proximity to the store. Apparently, many of the stores around the supermarket have always benefited from the increased foot traffic of people on their way to and from GG, and some are noticing a considerable decline in business since GG lost the supervision of the Vaad.
Business at Gourmet Glatt is still reduced to a relative trickle since virtually every community rabbi advised his mispalelim to take their trade elsewhere, for the sake of preserving the Vaad as the sole kashruth provider in the Five Towns. And as
Gourmet Glatt goes, it seems, so goes the neighborhood. Mom-and-pop stores, in particular, depend on foot traffic, something in short supply around Spruce Street these days.
I guess this is a sad example of how every action has a ripple effect.

Another item, an editorial, points out an interesting development:
The Star has confirmed that Gourmet Glatt’s delivery business is way up, as compared to before the Vaad removed it’s hashgacha.
It's entirely unsurprising to me that members of the community are willing to betray their Rabbis' directives regarding not shopping at GG in private, but are not willing to shop there publicly. There will always be some who are willing to relax their standards when they feel people aren't looking. Remember, this neighborhood is the home to women who wear sheitels at home and bikinis on vacation. It's just fascinating to actually see that line of thinking in action.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Yes - We Have RESORT!

Walking on the main shopping drag of the community I call home, I was struck by an incongruous sight. On what dawned as arguably the coldest morning of the season so far, the most popular children's boutique in the area had a window display featuring baby-size mannequins sporting the latest in pint-sized tankinis, cover-ups, and various other warm-weather fashion. A sign outside proudly proclaimed:
We have RESORT!
The store was mobbed.

I found this depressing on just so many levels.

1. I have no plans to travel anywhere warm. Anytime soon. Anytime at all, for that matter. It's bad enough to see my friends pack up for warmer climes in January - but it's November. Can't I catch a break? It's depressing enough to see all the resort merchandise when winter is in full swing, but it's far more depressing to envision the sandy beaches I won't be visiting - before winter has even officially begun.

2. (And you knew this one was coming) How obscenely materialistic of a neighborhood do I live in that its denizens are flocking to a store to be among the first to purchase infant-sized bikinis??? In freaking 40-degree weather?? It's not the close to 100 bucks a pop that some were spending on swim attire that is all of a few square inches. Hey, it's their money. It's the fact that people truly seem to revolve their lives around the release of the resort-wear that their children will be modeling - to the point that they can think bathing suits after the first chill of the season. It just gets to me.

Monday, November 20, 2006

More Charedi Bashing

I'm too tired of this garbage to really give a post justice:
Three students were lightly injured when a stun grenade was thrown at the Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak Sunday evening.

...The incident is believed to be the latest flare-up between warring rabbis and their followers in an ongoing power struggle for control of Ponevezh, a training ground for the intellectual elite of the Lithuanian yeshiva world.
What I'm even sicker of is the comments that will inevitably roll in after this post, telling me that I am a Charedi-basher. In addition to the comments that will pour in telling me that I have to understand that the press loves to report this stuff because the media is totally biased against Charedim (just like I am, I guess).

Well, guess what? I do think the press is poised to report every single misdeed that Charedim commit. That's because Charedim, as a community, profess to be holding themselves to a higher standard of morality. If they would only understand that their constant railing and complaining about the declining standards of morality and observance in the world around them puts every single member of their community under a microscope, with every misdeed scrutinized. They are a community who simply do not afford themselves the luxury of behaving as badly as some of their members have been.

Walmart Still Selling Nazi T-Shirts

Details here.

They've really gotta get those darn things off the shelves already.

The End of the Hot Chanies?

Does this herald the end of the Hot Chanies? Only time will tell...

But in all seriousness, I can understand the reason behind this gathering:
The heavyweights of the haredi Lithuanian yeshiva world gathered Saturday night in Jerusalem to warn an audience of thousands of male, married yeshiva students that haredi women's dresses are too short, their wigs are too long, and their sweaters, shirts and blouses are too tight.
One could say that the problem here, especially when it comes to the extremely form-fitting clothing under discussion, is an issue with the spirit, rather than the letter, of Jewish Law. I mean, when I learned the laws of Tzniut, nothing was outright mentioned about clothing not being too tight. I'm sure a lot of the reason for that was the fact that the painted-on clothing look was far from in fashion when I was a teenager. But another reason is that prohibiting certain styles of clothing just isn't as easily definable in terms of limits as the covering of knees or elbows. That being said, tight-fitting and/or attention grabbing dress has as much to do with modesty as the actual coverage of various body parts. I once had a teacher in high school who put it this way: "clothing should be attractive - but not attracting".

(hat tip: mdmom)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Gedolim Card Auction

Frankly, I'm surprised it took this long for the Gedolim cards to wind up on ebay.

Hevesi's Hypocrisy

This is why I think Alan Hevesi is no longer fit for the job of State Comptroller:
State Controller Alan Hevesi, facing possible removal from office for using a state worker to chauffeur his wife, released his first audit yesterday since his reelection - and immediately chided others for wasting tax dollars.

In what critics called a case of the pot calling the kettle black, Hevesi slapped the state Health Department and county governments for making $3.6 million in Medicaid payments over 34 months - for dead people.

Although Hevesi concluded that the state's Medicaid controls were "generally working," he said in a statement that local governments "need to do a better job of using the available tools to identify ineligible individuals and discontinue Medicaid benefits ... in a timely manner."

The statement drew gasps of disbelief from Hevesi's critics, especially the "timely manner" part.

Hevesi recently repaid the state nearly $180,000 for his use of a state-paid employee to chauffeur his ailing wife over a three-year period - but only after the arrangement was revealed by his Republican foe, Chris Callaghan, who lost the election anyway.
How in the world to take his audits and findings seriously when he himself was so egregiously guilty of much of the same type of fraud his whole office exists to uncover? I know I find it hard to take his sanctimony towards other agencies seriously when he himself spent years hiding the fact that his own books were far from in order.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

What I find it dificult to believe that he was re-elected with such a large margin.

I understand the sympathy he must have aroused when he explained his fraud away by mentioning his very ill wife. People have problems. Financial, health, emotional. Voters might have be willing to forgive someone who so clearly had problems of his own. I won't judge Hevesi for losing his moral compass in the face of such personal travails either.

But re-electing him? To a job that is all about uncovering the type of actions he himself committed? Incomprehensible.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Empire Announces New Chicken Labeling Policy

In response to recent allegations of deliberate mislabeling of their chickens, Empire Kosher Poultry has revamped its packaging and labeling policies. From the Jewish Star:
Empire will no longer sell chicken by the case, packed in ice. It will replace the fresh bulk “Ice Pack” product line with a factory-sealed line “where products will be bagged in branded retail-portion bags and sealed onsite at Empire,” according to Empire CEO Greg Rosenbaum. A security hologram will be added as well.

Rosenbaum said, “It’s very simple. If a package is not branded and does not include
the security hologram on the outside, it’s not guaranteed to be genuine Empire Kosher poultry on the inside.”

If a butcher elects to remove the factory seals, the poultry is not to be relabeled with the Empire name.
Sounds like the new policy will prevent any margin for "clerical errors" in the labeling of retail chicken. On the other hand, I know many people who greatly enjoy the convenience of being able to buy the Empire brand (or at least what they assume is the Empire brand), repackaged by the retailer to their preference. I wonder whether the Empire-sealed and hologrammed packages will be packaged in the manner consumers are presently used to finding in the refrigerated cases (i.e., all thighs, all breasts without wings, drumsticks, chicken in 1/8ths or 1/4ths, or any of the other seemingly myriad permutations that can be found in a given local kosher supermarkets). If not, consumers who preferred Empire in the past will have to consider either giving up the convenience of their beloved specialty packaging - or their beloved Empire.

SD 15 Death Threat Update

Finally some hard news about the alleged death threats received by some District 15 board members. The Jewish Star has the scoop:
The stakes have risen again in the ongoing feud in the Lawrence school district between Dr. Asher Mansdorf, the president of the school board, and three other school board members, with the anonymous mailing of death threats to Mansdorf’s home and office.

The letters, which were said to include threats against Mansdorf’s children and grandchildren, are the latest escalation of animosity over last summer’s election of an Orthodox majority to the District 15 school board.

Mansdorf confirmed that he and three other board members received threats last Wednesday, Nov. 8. Acting on the advice of Nassau County Police Department’s 4th Squad detectives, he declined to comment further. The identities of the three other recipients of the threats have not been released.

...The letters threatened harm to the board members and their families if any more schools are closed in District 15.
His children and grandchildren?? Over the possible closing of schools?? Scary. It's clear that the rancor in this district has escalated.

NYJW on GG - Take 3

The NYJW has a new story on the GG affair, and there is some actual news in the article. The article speaks of the prospect of a deal between the Vaad and the store owners:
The Vaad Hakashrus of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway has told Gourmet Glatt Emporium that it would resume supervision of the Cedarhurst, L.I., kosher supermarket if the owners brought in a partner it could approve.

“The only way the Vaad will physically supervise the premises wherein Gourmet Glatt is located is if it will have a partner it will trust, [thereby] ensuring kashrut to the Five Towns community,” said Franklyn Snitow, the Vaad’s lawyer.

...The Vaad pulled its kosher supervisors from the store Oct. 27, saying the owners had violated their contract by hiring another kosher supervisor without the Vaad’s approval.

Mark Bolender, a partner in the store, said at the time that the owners acted after the Vaad threatened to pull their supervisors on Feb. 1 unless they sold their store. He attributed the threat to a “personality” conflict.

But Snitow suggested otherwise when asked about an article last week that quoted a family representative as complaining about the “Vaad’s growing stringencies” that Bolender considered unnecessary.

“Statements made last week by and on behalf of Gourmet Glatt concerning their unwillingness to adhere to the rules of the Vaad provide ample justification for the Vaad’s decision that it could no longer ensure the integrity of the kashrut process at Gourmet Glatt,” Snitow said. Bolender declined comment.
The Vaad's lawyer seems to have read the statement by the store's spokesman in last week's Jewish Press the same way I did. And I will reiterate, if the Vaad feels (as it clearly seems they do) that they are unable to work together with the present owner of the store to assure proper Kashrut supervision, I am willing to take the word of such a large group of learned men at face value.

In addition, for those who are still echoing Mr. Bolender's statement that this mess all stems from a "personality conflict" between the Vaad and himself, I'm not sure that there is any contradiction here between what the Vaad is saying and what Mr Bolender is saying. Mr. Bolender (or his spokesman) asserts that there was a personality conflict, and that the store ownership was resentful of the Vaad's growing stringencies. If that is the case, how in the world is that not relevant to the Vaad being able to provide proper supervision? If a store owner is admittedly resentful of the Vaad's efforts to provide what they feel is a necessary standard of supervision, how is that not a concern of Kashrut?

All of that being the case, I would like to see this matter resolved - as I'm sure do most members of the community. I hope that this discussion of a deal is a harbinger to the actual settling of the issue to the satisfaction of all involved parties. There's no denying that Gourmet Glatt is a lovely store, and the loss of supervision and subsequent drop in local patronage is a pity both for the store's owners as well as the store's customers.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Kiryas Joel and Al Qaeda: Strange Bedfellows?

I posted here and here about the Hassidic upstate village of Kiryas Joel, and how their voting as a block helped influence last week's election. Well, it looks like a local business owner felt like buying into the oft-repeated GOP canard that the Democrats support/encourage terrorism. This local lumber yard owner's opinion on the subject of GOP Representative Sue Kelly losing to her opponent John Hall, a Democrat, is very clear from the sign he put out front of his store:
Isn't that sweet?

Via Ben Smith, of course.

SD 15 Death Threat Shocker

The local school board politics in my neighborhood have been tense for quite some time, but I think the animosity has just been ratcheted up to the next level. I have information from an extremely reliable source that several board members, mostly Orthodox, have received written threats via mail, informing them that if said board members vote to close additional school buildings, they will come to bodily harm. Apparently, members were told to fear for their lives.

It is impossible to know how seriously to treat this threat, though I'm told that the local police are involved, and are investigating the situation.

Whether the threat is a serious one from a deranged community member, or just a hoax perpetuated by a disgruntled community member, it is clear that the rhetoric has gotten way out of hand. When teachers picket outside an Orthodox board member's place of business, holding signs that imply he is not looking out for the welfare of all of the district's children, tensions rise. When a teacher who is an ostensible role model categorizes the words of a star student accusing teachers of tolerating anti-Semitism as lies, tensions rise. When people who are supposed to be behaving responsibly lose all sense of reason, tensions rise. When they rise to the level of hate mail laden with threats of death, then we know how far out of hand things have gotten.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Book Review

Ariella posts a great review of the book The Woman Who Defied Kings: The Life and Times of Dona Gracia Nasi. I posted a short write-up on Dona Gracia Nasi as part of my Heroine of the Day series (full list of links in sidebar) a while back.

WalMart Seriously Lagging on Nazi T-shirt Removal

WalMart still selling Nazi T-shirts on the floor, four days after they promised to pull the offending item.

Now I'm annoyed.

(Previous post)

Good Old Days Grumblings

Krum puts up a post that makes me nostalgic for the good old (and good-natured old) blogging of time past.

Chillul Hashem Redux

This is nice:
Two homemade pipe bombs were found during the night outside the home of the dean of the Ponovitz Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Liebowitz, who lives in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim neighborhood.

Police bomb demolition technicians were summoned. They neutralized the devices without incident.

According to a ynet report quoting sources close to the rabbi, the act represents an increase in hostility regarding the yeshiva’s internal power struggle.
So there are Charedim in the news who stone, Charedim in the news who set dangerous fires, Charedim in the news who wildly riot, and now Charedim in the news who set pipe bombs. Lovely. Truly a Chillul Hashem. Yet again.

Can someone in the Charedi leadership please do something to stop this spiral of dangerous behavior, before a group of people that are supposed to be role models in terms of their observance instead become completely denigrated and dismissed as a community of raving lunatics?


New Baby Blogger on the Block

Mazel tov to Sephardilady on the birth of a baby girl!

Kiryas Joel Block

Last week, I posted about NY GOP Representative Sue Kelly, and her election day tactics. Apparently, in a last-ditch election day robocall, she was claiming that her opponent was pandering to the Chassidic neighborhood of Kiryas Joel (long a recognized voting block) by promising them a water pipeline, and that, in the words of the ad, "Sue Kelly said no".

So it was interesting to read Ben Smith's column in today's NYDN. He analyzes what caused Kelly's unexpected loss, by only 2%, to her opponent, John Hall. Apparently, her voting record caught the attention of a politically active gay constituent, Adam Rose, when she voted for an amendment that would ban gay marriage, and he took on the task of helping her get voted out of office.

When Rose gave Kelly a chance to explain herself for voting down the gay marriage amendment, this was what she told him:
She told him she had backed the amendment in part because of the scruples of her Orthodox Jewish constituents in the enclave of Kiryas Joel.
Fascinating. So in the end, though Kelly claims to have voted against gay marriage to pander to her Chassidic constituency, according to Ben's article, that may have lost her the election. Which is particularly interesting considering that last Tuesday, the Kiryas Joel community voted against Sue Kelly in almost a complete bloc, and the pipeline is mentioned as another potential deciding factor.

Whichever way you slice it, the Chassidic community of Kiryas Joel has clearly figured prominently into their local politics, and their votes are hotly contested and competed for. It's unbelievable to see a voting block wield its power so skillfully in order to get the village what it needs.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Local Cronyism, Patronage Alive and Well

This story might get you as riled up as it has gotten me. It's about the Atlantic Beach Bridge.

The bridge, a six-lane drawbridge, connects the Five Towns and Far Rockaway with Atlantic Beach, a small strip of land with a stretch of beautiful Atlantic Ocean beaches. This bridge also has a storied local history of patronage and cronyism. The bridge authority is presently seeking a controversial fare hike. Some preemptive responses to the question of why this issue is one that would be at all interesting to anyone reading this blog:

This issue actually affects many Orthodox members of the Five Towns on a daily basis. For the many local residents who have enrolled their children in HALB, the bridge is a regular crossing point to get their children to school. In addition, for many local residents (including this one), Atlantic Beach is a popular destination for sumer days when many of us join the local beach clubs that line the ocean side of the strip, and thus cross the bridge often numerous times on a given day. Additonally, I don't think I need to explain to anyone how the culture of cronyism, patronage, and no-bid contracts affects taxpaying citizens. Simply: we are being ripped off.

So this is the story:

The Atlantic Bridge is run by the Atlantic Beach Bridge Authority. The Authority's only job is to maintain this bridge. This bridge is the only toll bridge on Long Island. Following are the findings of an audit performed on the Authority by then NY Comptroller H. Carl McCall in 1999:
  • The report, which covered the 1997 calendar year, found that the authority failed to seek competitive bids for engineering work and other service, improperly reimbursed commissioners for travel expenses, and made excessively high payouts to managers who had retired.
  • In 1997, 71 percent of the authority's budget was spent on personnel, while only 12 percent was spent on bridge maintenance.
  • The precarious financial state of the authority necessitated another toll hike to meet its legal obligations to pay construction bonds. Losses at the authority deepened from $32,995 in 1994 to $472,380 in 1996.
  • Motorists who paid cash wound up paying a disproportionately greater share of total toll revenues than did non-cash commuters crossing the Atlantic Beach Bridge. The 32 percent of motorists who paid the $1.25 cash toll contributed to 62 percent of the authority's revenue. In contrast, commuters (mostly local residents) who paid the $75 unlimited annual fee made up 68 percent of crossings, but only 38 percent of total revenue.
So basically, the bridge was found to be using the tolls collected mostly to pay personnel, who were mostly in patronage jobs, and for paying out too much money for no-bid contracts. In other words:
Since the founding of the Nassau County Bridge Authority, the commission charged with construction and toll collection on the Atlantic Beach Bridge, there has been a long history of patronage. Peter ("Uncle Pete") DeSibio, the former chairman and Inwood executive leader who died in 1993, was known to hand out jobs to his friends, relatives and political cronies. Even when the construction bonds were paid off in 1975 (when the authority was to have been dissolved), the authority lived on due to DeSibio's influence. Today, most of the $3.5 million annual budget for the Nassau County Bridge Authority is spent on its 92 full-time and part-time staff, much of it on toll collection.
Which means that I have been paying tolls to support this guy's friends and family. As if that isn't bad enough? The Authority now wants to raise tolls. Even worse? Though there has been much opposition expressed to the fare hike, the community meeting to discuss the topic has been scheduled on November 14 at 1 PM - smack in the middle of a workday for the vast majority of those who would be affected by the proposed hike - commuters. I find it extremely transparent that the Authority is choosing a time that as few of those who are in the position to be up in arms about the fare hike, and thus may protest at the meeting and derail the proposal, will actually be able to be present. Frankly, I think they have some nerve to add this insult of a blatant attempt at squelching dissent to the injury of taking our money.

Some local political figures question the existence of the Authority altogether:
Nassau County Legislator Jeff Toback (D-Oceanside) said he believes the bridge tolls should be eliminated and the span taken over by the county, which also runs the Long Beach and Bayville bridges. Toback explained that the main reason for charging tolls is to cover the cost of elevating the bridge to allow cargo ships access to an oil tank terminal in Oceanside. This provides economic benefit to the entire county, Toback said, and thus the cost should be shared by all residents rather than just those in the Five Towns and Long Beach. He estimated that for the county to take over the bridge, it would need to invest $4 million of its $2.8 billion budget, which could be accomplished without raising taxes.

"There is no reason people in the Five Towns, Atlantic Beach or Long Beach should have to pay to drive on a road in Nassau County," said Toback. "It's an expense that should be spread out over a general population."

Toback said that making the bridge toll-free would also benefit Lawrence Public Schools, which transport students living in Atlantic Beach to district schools, as well as yeshiva students traveling from the Five Towns to the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach Elementary School. He said he would urge the bridge authority to hold a second public hearing on the future of the tolls somewhere in the Five Towns during evening hours, when more residents can attend.
I think as many local citizens as possible should show up at this week's meeting, in addition to lobbying for an evening meeting. The public hearing may have been scheduled at a time that would ensure as few as possible irate bridge users be present, but that shouldn't stop those of us affected by this blatant abuse of our hard-earned money from vocally protesting.

Another facet of this that I think should be mentioned is the fact that most of this corruption is a product of the well-known local Republican patronage machine which has long been widely rumored to control the Bridge Authority jobs. The local Democratic political opposition to this outrage is a start, and they should continue to press the mantle of reform, much as they have done with the corruption that has plagued our local sanitation district. I would also love to see our newly-elected reform-minded governor, Elliot Spitzer, tackle the issue of these mini-feifdoms which essentially function to cost local taxpayers more money.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Agudah Advertising

From the Agudah Convention advertising insert in this week's Hamodia:

...Have bloggers declared open season on Torah Authority?

I look forward to hearing reports from my operatives on the answers the Agudah provides to this "compelling question".

WalMart Sells Nazi T-Shirt

WalMart is discovered to be selling T-shirts with Nazi insignia. WalMart apologizes, claims to have pulled item from stores and website. WalMart still found to be selling items with Nazi insignia. WalMart's previous brushes with Nazi imagery.


Deal Gone Sour

I had seen reports of the great pickle lawsuit, but I was surprised to see the story featured on the front page of the NY Times Metro Section:
What is in a name? Or, for that matter, a pickle? And would a pickle by any other name taste as garlicky, as sour, or, yes, as sweet?

Those questions, and more, are being raised by a lawsuit recently filed in Manhattan federal court. At stake is the ownership of the name and recipes of Guss’s Pickles, the venerated pickler and Lower East Side staple since 1920, when the neighborhood teemed with kosher butchers, clothesline-ringed tenements and immigrants on the make.

On one side is Patricia Fairhurst, a relative newcomer to the pickle scene, who took over the tiny Guss’s Pickles store on Orchard Street near Broome Street in 2004. She may be found there six days a week, wrapped in an apron, topped by a newsboy cap and spouting Brooklynese, selling the briny little cucumbers and other pickled delights from bright orange barrels that line the sidewalk and lace the air with salt.

On the other side is Andrew N. Leibowitz, scion of a pickle empire, who in 2002 opened a Guss’s Pickles store in Cedarhurst on Long Island. Mr. Leibowitz insists that the name is his alone, because, his lawyer says, he purchased, from the owner who preceded Ms. Fairhurst, the Guss’s Pickles “trademark, name and good will,” along with rights to its pickle formula and customer lists, around the time he opened his shop.

Orthofamily's thought on the matter: Thank God for the local Guss' Pickles. We are regular patrons of the Cedarhurst location - and are especially partial to the half-sours, sours, and pickled tomatoes.

Post-Shabbos GG Update

I would have been happy to shelve my coverage of the Gourmet Glatt drama, but I saw something in this week's Jewish Press that made me sit up and take notice. In a short "article" on page 41 about the store losing its Vaad certification, an attorney who identifies himself as "representing the Bolender family" says something that I found extremely interesting:
"There was never an issue of kashrus in the store," stated Martin Cohen, Esq., representing the Bolender family. "The store was and remains kosher." He explained that the actual problems stemmed from the Vaad's growing stringencies and additional requirements over the last few years, which co-owner mark Bolender felt went beyond the necessary requests. "He felt that the Vaad was adding and changing things that were considered okay for all the previous years. The Vaad maintained that either Gourmet Glatt listen to all their requirements or they must sell the business."
Pardon me??? Basically, the spokesman for the Bolender family admits that the owners of Gourmet Glatt "felt" that when it came to Kashrut, the Vaad's "growing stringencies and additional requirements...went beyond the necessary requests"????? Hello? Does anyone, after reading that, any more believe the Bolenders' original allegation against the Vaad, that this was all simply a matter of a "personality conflict" gone terribly wrong? I have to say, if there was a choice to be made between what aspects of Kosher supervision are "necessary" and what aren't, I am far more inclined to trust the judgment of a group represented by almost every Rav in the community than that of a local store owner. And the arrogance of any store owner that thinks otherwise is simply astounding.

Perhaps someone should mention to the Bolenders that their attorney seems to have done them more harm than good with his statement.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gefilte is Good

A few weeks ago, the Orthofamily packed up to spend Shabbos at the home of old friends who have settled in another neighborhood, let's call it neighborhood X. In many ways, the neighborhood was similar to mine: overpriced homes inhabited by hordes of young professionals and their children and a shul on every other block with masses of strollers parked out front. In other ways, it was very different: In my neighborhood, there is a dumpster in front of a house on almost every block - there were very few in neighborhood X. In my neighborhood, SUVs outnumber minivans as the car of choice among the well-heeled. In neighborhood X, almost every driveway held a minivan. In my neighborhood, the strollers parked out front olf the shuls are tricked-out luxury models, competing with the fully-loaded aforementioned SUVs. In neighborhood X, women came to shul dressed in Shabbos finery, but they as a whole did not look over the top. In my neighborhood, people-watching the getups at the shul kiddush rivals sitting front-row at Fashion Week.

And though I love my neighborhood, and would not give up the positives that I get from living here, part of me was wistful at the fact that neighborhood X was just so much more...low-key.

I would love, just once, to show up at a neighborhood friend's house, and be served simply, without all of the bells and whistles that lunch in the Five Towns has come to mean. I mean, who doesn't love a plate of salmon all gussied up with a puff-pastry shell, topped with mushroom-spinach sauce, and artistically laid out on a bed of (pre-checked) mixed greens? But I have to tell you, it was refreshing to have my neighborhood X friend's version of a fish appetizer - a slice of gefilte fish topped with a carrot and a side of horseradish.

5TJT Gourmet Glatt Update

Larry Gordon has some updates on the Gourmet Glatt story. His take:
Would there never have been a Gourmet Glatt crisis to begin with if those involved hadn’t inflamed the situation by talking to newspapers instead of to each other? Well, that seems to be the opinion of several of those who have been involved in the two-week crisis that has been allegedly brewing for the last six years.
It's an interesting view, and might explain why things got so out of control so quickly. I guess if the allegation that both parties spoke to everyone but each other is true, it makes a good case for keeping the lines of communication open in a dispute such as this.

Rabbi Kravitz is also given an opportunity in the article to defend himself against last week's claims by a community Rav that he acted in disrespect of the Vaad by taking on the hasgacha of Gourmet Glatt:
As for K-1, the new certifying agency for Gourmet Glatt, Rabbi Kravitz called the Five Towns Jewish Times last week to say he also felt that he was not being dealt with fairly and wanted to clear up several points about how he came to provide certification for Gourmet Glatt. As reported in last week’s paper, a Vaad HaKashrus member accused Rabbi Kravitz of attempting to undermine the local Vaad by moving in on Vaad territory during a crisis. Rabbi Kravitz said that in his original meetings with the Gourmet Glatt owners, also present at the meeting were two rabbis from the community who encouraged him to supervise the kashrus at Gourmet Glatt and that, had they not encouraged him to do so, he never would have taken the job. It’s expected that, as part of any settlement between the parties, agenda item number one will be the cancellation of the K-1 kashrus contract if and when the Five Towns Vaad returns.
I think everyone who lives here in the 5 Towns would be very happy to close this chapter.

Dumbfounded Over Davidic Dynasty

I've been seeing huge ads in the Jewish papers for a while now proclaiming the new foundation called the Davidic Dynasty. I find the whole thing a bit bizarre, so maybe some of my readers can help me out. Apparently, those who have a oral family tradition of being descendants of King David are joining together to...join together??

The website doesn't make clear what the objective of the foundation is - though it does make some amorphous references to sovereignty over Israel:
At this critical time when the world questions
Jewish sovereignty in Israel

The Eshet Chayil Foundation

announces an Historic and Majestic event
to declare our Eternal Right to our Homeland
and restore Jewish Pride
in our Glorious Past
and in the promise of our Future...
I just don't get it.

Apparently, this Jewish version of a blue blood, white shoe, members-only club even has levels of membership based on having the correct lineage:
Join the Davidic Dynasty through these distinguished membership categories:
1. Royal Membership
If you have an oral tradition (mesorah) and/or genealogical data showing that you’re a Jewish descendant of King David, and you want to support the historic reunion of Jewish descendants of King David in Jerusalem, the City of David in May of '07, then you are invited to become a

2. Loyal Membership
If you are of the Jewish faith and appreciate the importance of uniting the living descendants of King David in order to send a vital message of Jewish pride and unity to all Jews as well as to all nations of the world and to declare our Eternal Right to our Homeland, then please join us as a
Let me get this straight. If you have a family tradition of being descended from King David, you get to become a full member, otherwise, those not as well-born can become one of the loyal minions.

Of course, in this era of litigiousness, what would a new venture be without a page of small-print disclaimers. And the Davidic Dynasty doesn't disappoint. A taste:
1) "Davidic Dynasty" cannot confirm or deny the accuracy of a claim to Davidic descent, In fact, "Davidic Dynasty recognizes that there is no irrefutable proof of claims to Davidic Descent.

... 2) Research may show that certain families claiming Davidic descent are not in fact descended from King David in the manner which they claim.. "Davidic Dynasty" reserves the right to present such research even though it may contradict the claim of a particular family

3) While the team of genealogy research advisors will do its best to examine claims of families to Davidic descent, no responsibly is taken for the veracity of such claims.

4) "David Dynasty" will attempt to present the various opinions of genealogy researchers as to the means of descent of families claiming descent from King David but will not specifically endorse any of them.

5) In the event of conflict between the opinions of genealogy researchers, or sources, the opinion expressed by "Davidic Dynasty" is that of its committee of genealogy advisors. Should there be disagreement among the members of the committee, the chairman will make every attempt to arrive at a consensus, but in the final analysis, the chairman retains the right to use his discretion as to what will be presented on the site and at the Reunion.
Ok, we get the point. You guys are a club, and we have to have be descended from the "right people" to join. Even if we have one of these names, you guys can decide that we aren't really up to the snuff of being royal instead of piddling loyal members.

The group is even trying to create a DNA test that would prove that someone is in possession of Davidic bloodlines.

But seriously, what is the objective here? A large family reunion? I don't personally see why being a co-descendant of a man who walked the earth more than three thousand years ago (King David) is any more of a strong connection than being co-descendants of a man who walked the earth more than five thousand years ago (Adam). Is this about declaring a new king? According to this, clearly not (from those disclaimers again):
7) Individuals claiming the right of succession to the throne of King David or the restoration of the Davidic Monarchy will not be endorsed or acknowledged in any way by "Davidic Dynasty".
So what is this all about? Can someone please enlighten me?

Lack of Accommodation

YMedad points us to this article:
Last spring, a local YMCA in Montreal installed four frosted windows in one of its exercise rooms to accommodate a neighbouring Hasidic synagogue and religious school. Its devout members complained that their teenaged boys were being distracted by the exposed flesh of women doing their Pilates, aerobics and other activities.

But now the windows have opened up a rift over whether the institution went too far to accommodate a minority. Some Y members have circulated a petition demanding the opaque windows be removed because they not only deprive the room of light, but allow a religious group to impose its ways on the majority.

“It's like getting us to wear a veil. Since we represent temptation, we're being asked to hide,” Renée Lavaillante, who started the petition, said yesterday. “We shouldn't have to hide in order to exercise in Quebec. We're a secular state, and shouldn't hide ourselves for religious reasons.”
Oh, please. I can understand resenting an accommodation if it any way deprives the ones doing the accommodating of something tangible. But what is this small, respectful accommodation depriving the irate exercisers of? The right to exercise in full view of passers-by? I can't take their claim of the diminished sunlight very seriously - anyone who has a frosted window knows that plenty of daylight gets through. The obvious objective here is the complaint that the Orthodox community is attempting to "allow a religious group to impose its ways on the majority". Which in this case, really means "why give anything to anyone else if I don't need it myself". And in my opinion, people who find accommodating the sensitivities of another segment of the community in such a negligible manner to be such an abhorrent notion have a lot to learn about living in a community.

This reminds me of a woman I once worked with. When we worked together on a project, we had the opportunity to deal with a visibly Chassidic man. When he came to a meeting and was introduced to everyone present, my coworker, a Jewish woman who was affiliated enough to know that the last thing this man wanted to do was shake her hand, stuck her hand out, making him and everyone else present (non-Jews who somehow all knew that this man was not comfortable touching a woman) extremely uncomfortable. When I said something to her later, she was extremely indignant. She knew he preferred not to touch women, but somehow felt that his attitude was an affront to her and all womankind, and said she would continue to stick her hand out to every Orthodox and Chassidic man she met in the future. (Yes, you can imagine how unpleasant it was to work with this woman when it came to other issues as well). I ended up in a heated argument with her over the fact that I felt she was refusing to make this small accommodation to respect this man's sensitivities because she had her own ideas about the way things should be done. Nevertheless, true to her word, the next time the man came to the office, she put him in the same uncomfortable position.

Which goes to show you, I guess. Some people just can't be argued with.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More "Protests"

It only gets worse:
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski was pelted with stones Tuesday evening during his visit to the ultra-Orthodox Me’a Shearim neighborhood in the city.

Haredim hurled rocks at a function hall in Mea Shearim while Lupolianski and his deputy were inside in protest of the plans to hold the Gay Pride Parade in the city on Friday.

Police forces arrived and rescued the two from the building. Nobody was injured.

The mayor arrived at the Bnot-Yerushalayim hall to celebrate a “Seven Blessings” with Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, head of the Lithuanian sect and one of the most prominent Ashkenazi figures in Israel.

Despite the fact that Lupolianski has called out against holding the parade in the city, many in the haredi community hold him directly responsible.
Can someone tell me how stoning someone, and potentially causing him great injury, on the pretext that he hasn't done enough to prevent the parade can be considered anything but a huge Chillul Hashem?

Oh, and before the comments begin, a few notes to my readers:

1. Before you tell me how much "worse" of a Chillul Hashem the Gay Pride parade is than what's going on, please keep in mind that we are discussing the behavior here of people who ostensibly hold themselves to much a higher standard. The disdain the Charedi community has shown for those marching in the parade has been made clear. Do they really consider themselves at all comparable in terms of observance as the much-vilified marchers, that we should be comparing their acts on a scale of moral equivalence? Bad behavior is bad behavior.

2. Before you tell me that YNet is biased against Charedim- feel free to read the versions of the story that have been published in JPost and Haaretz.

Happy Election Day (and All the Dirty Tricks That Go With It)

Ben Smith, whose blog is basically the clearinghouse for all news on local election day politics, put up two interesting posts that might be of interest to the Jewish community.

In the first, he posts an image of an ad (left) from this week's Charedi daily Hamodia, where US Senate candidate and Hillary Clinton opponent John Spencer hilariously dubs himself "effectively the Orthodox candidate", and attempts to explain why:

My candidacy for US Senate is rooted in values shared by all of us in traditional religious communities. I am an underdog, but I imagine traditional Jewish families understand that it is often worth standing up for your beliefs even as the underdog. The Torah is designed as a foundation for good living, and is the basis for the traditions. Our politicians, in both parties, have begun to lose sight of many of these values that we share. Values like protecting life, encouraging family, supporting the role of religious schools and hospitals, and committing to strong positions on the support of our allies. I am running because I do not want to raise children in a community that does not uphold proper family morals. In my conversations with Netanyahu, I have reaffirmed my commitment to Israel's right to defend itself against its enemies, and have stood by our allies strongly. I consider each vote a demand for attention to our core values on November 7th. I hope and pray you will support me election day and together we will fight to defend our traditional values.
In my opinion, the only think that seems Orthodox about Spencer's ad (or Spencer, for that matter) is the mangled syntax that seems more in place in a Charedi, Yiddish-as-a-first-language kind of neighborhood. If that's what he's going for, the wording of this ad is right on target. Otherwise, I find his references to shared Torah values and religious traditions to be a bit...condescending. I also find it difficult to take flowery talk about family values from a man who had two children with the woman who subsequently became his third wife (who also happened to be his mayoral chief of staff at the time), while still married to his second wife. But hey, that's just me. Maybe this ad got him lots of votes. It certainly didn't get mine. This Orthodox voter cast her vote for Hillary, with not much in the way of reservations.

In the second, he mentions a robo-call for a candidate which, in my opinion, uses anti-Charedi sentiment to try and get votes:
A source sends on a Sue Kelly robo-call informing Hudson Valley voters that the Chasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel went for John Hall, and offering a theory for why:

"KJ wants a mammoth new 13 mile pipeline to siphon water out of our acqueduct, and Sue Kelly said no."

The call seems to give the Times Herald-Record, the paper up there, as its source for that theory -- but I don't see it anywhere. Not, honestly, that anybody thinks the endorsement is about some kind of higher partisan principle.

Click here to listen to the call.
The commenters over at Ben's blog seem to agree with my take.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Tomorrow is Election Day. Get out and vote. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz makes a very compelling argument in this essay:
If we don't vote, we don't exist. Those words, spoken with passion and conviction by my dear chaver Rabbi Yechiel Kalish, stopped me in my tracks during an enjoyable dinner that we were sharing recently.

Rabbi Kalish ought to know. He serves as Coordinator for Agudath Israel of America's Commission on Government Affairs and as their Midwest Director. He is charming, engaging, and extraordinarily knowledgeable in the ways and means of how government operates.

Rabbi Kalish and many other dedicated officers in Jewish communal organizations represent you in governmental matters that are important to your life. Securing financial support for mosdos Hatorah. Getting government grants for chesed organizations. Lowering your taxes. Protecting your rights in the workplace. Equally important are the initiatives that the leadership of Agudath Israel and other Jewish organizations are working tirelessly to actualize. School vouchers. Tax credits for yeshiva tuition payments. Financial aid for parents of learning disabled or handicapped children.

It is exceedingly difficult to understand why so many members of our community don’t feel the obligation to vote in each and every election. In this malchus shel chesed (benevolent country), we ought to be model citizens and exercise our civic duty by voting on Election Day.

Perhaps equally as important, voting allows each of us to be heard. Which candidate you vote for doesn't matter much in the broader scheme of things. Just that you vote regularly. Rabbi Kalish points out that the level of sophistication in today's data collection allow elected officials to track voting patterns and almost effortlessly find out how many voters he represents each time he advocates for us. Not how many people, but rather how many voters.

Because if you don't vote, you don't matter. If you don't vote, you don't exist. If you don't vote, you don't have an elected official caring about your existence or needs. Rallies and protests get headlines, but they are a merely sideshows. Elected officials direct their attention to the main event, Election Day.

Especially now, with the very real and terrifying threats faced by our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel, I feel that it is almost pikuach nefesh (a life-and-death matter) for each of us to vote and be heard.

I was only eight years old in 1967, but I clearly recall the raw fear that gripped the adults in my life during the build-up to the Six-Day War. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the President of Egypt, fashioned a coalition of the Arab states. Egypt, Jordan and Syria massed their troops on the borders surrounding Eretz Yisroel and announced their intention to Push the Jews into the sea. And by all accounts, they seemed to have had the ability to do just that, Hashem yeracheim. Russia, then in its heyday, was supplying the Arabs with seemingly limitless numbers of tanks and weapons, and the Arab troops combined outnumbered the Israeli soldiers by many multiples of ten.

Here in America, things were far from normal during those days and weeks. Survivors of the churban in Europe (most of the adults in those days) cried unabashedly in shul during davening as they pleaded with Hashem to spare the lives of our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Mass tefilah gatherings, not a common thing forty years ago, were held.

My most vivid memories from those frightening weeks was awakening each morning and seeing my parents huddled around the kitchen radio with drawn faces, listening to the reports of events in Eretz Yisroel. There was a tangible feeling of an existential threat to Klal Yisroel one that, with the chesed of Hashem was removed with the stunning victory that became known as the Six-Day War.

Sadly, history is repeating itself once again. Our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel were subjected to horrific destruction and terror with thousands of rockets rained on all of Northern Eretz Yisroel this past summer. A sea of enemies sworn to our destruction surrounds us. The leader of Iran, who is attempting to create a nuclear arsenal, repeatedly calls for the eradication of Israel, and publicly stated that, Israel's destruction is the solution [to the conflict]. The vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic rhetoric emanating from many leaders in the Arab world and most of the Arab Street is at least equivalent to that of the Nazi propaganda machine in the late 1930's. The vast majority of nations would deny us the right to return fire and protect our women and children by any means possible.

We hope that Hashem will be merciful to us and remove these threats to our existence. But if there is chas v'shalom another war in Eretz Yisroel; Rabbi Kalish, his colleagues at Agudath Israel, and dedicated leaders of other Jewish organizations will be called upon to rally support from elected officials in every level of government to support the defense of our brothers and sisters.

With the burgeoning Arab population in the United States and Europe, elected officials have many voices whispering in their ears. They will rightfully wonder how many voters Rabbi Kalish and his colleagues represent. Remember not how many people, but how many voters.

So I ask you; will you exist, should Klal Yisroel need your help? Only you can answer that question on Election Day, Tuesday, November 7th.

Please, please take the time to vote; for yourself, for your community, and for Klal Yisroel.

Vote as if Jewish lives depend on your involvement. Because they may.
Or, as I posted last year on Election Day, in the words of the great poet and humorist Ogden Nash:
Election Day Is a Holiday

People on whom I do not bother to dote
Are people who do not bother to vote
Heaven forbid that they should ever be exempt
From contumely, obloquy, and various kinds of contempt.

Some of them like Toscanini and some like Rudy Vallée
But all of them take about as much interest in their right to ballot
as their right to ballet.
They haven’t voted since the heyday of Miss Russell (Lillian)
And excuse themselves by saying What’s the difference of one vote in fifty million?

They have such refined and delicate palates
That they can discover no one worthy of their ballots,
And then when someone terrible gets elected
They say There, that’s just what I expected!

And they go around for four years spouting discontented criticisms
And contented witticisms,
And then when somebody to oppose the man they oppose gets nominated
They say Oh golly, golly, he’s the kind of man I’ve always abominated
And they have discovered that if you don’t take time out to go to the polls
You can manage very nicely to get through thirty-six holes.

Oh let us cover these clever people very conspicuously with loathing,
For they are un-citizens in citizens’ clothing.
They attempt to justify their negligence
On the ground that no candidate appeals to people of their intelligence,
But I am quite sure that if Abraham Lincoln (Rep.) ran against Thomas Jefferson (Dem.),
Neither man would be appealing enough to squeeze a vote out of them.
Please, everyone. Vote tomorrow.

More on Jerusalem Riots

Shmarya, in discussing the Jerusalem anti-Gay Pride parade protests, makes a good point. It is along the lines of one I made a few months back, in the wake of the Brooklyn "Cell-Phone Riots". Back then, when Charedi leadership claimed that some members of the community were simply out of control, and there was nothing to be done, I wrote:
The question is, somehow most of these teenaged boys can be prevented from going online, going to movies, or talking to girls, yet why does no one seem to have any control over them when they decide to go on a destructive rampage?
Now Shmarya provides us with this quote, from JPost, to make a similar point:
The ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit leadership said Sunday night that although it opposed violent demonstrations against Friday's planned Gay Pride march, it could do nothing to stop them.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbach, head of the Eda Haredit Rabbinic Court, said he had specifically ordered his followers not to use violence.

"I said 'don't give blows,' but the public is really angry and cannot control itself."

Shmuel Poppenheim, editor of Ha'eda, the mouthpiece of the Eda Haredit, said that the rabbis called on their followers to [do] everything in their ability to disrupt citizens' lives.

"But everyone knows not to do anything prohibited by the Shulhan Aruch [the compilation of codified Jewish law]," said Poppenheim.

Poppenheim said that blocking roads was legitimate but other tactics that have been used by haredim in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh, such as pouring oil on roads, burning trash bins and throwing rocks, were all prohibited.

"Most of the public listen to the call to wear sackcloth and smear ashes on themselves [signs of mourning], pray that the abominable march will be canceled and scream gevalt. There is nothing we can do about a few people who lose control."
Crazy. Charedi leadership admits that the violent nature of the protests is prohibited by Halacha. Yet, they are willing to accept that there is nothing they can do to control these protesters, and make excuses for the fact that he protesters are unable to control these urges to violently protest. Yet, there are no similar excuses made for those with homosexual urges - in quotes taken from the same interview:
Asked what is done with haredim who are homosexual, Poppenheim said that they must be ostracized and removed from the community. He rejected the claim that homosexuals had no control over their sexual desires.

"I believe God gave each person the strength to overcome his bad qualities if he wants to," he said.
Right. I agree completely. No matter how angry the hordes may be over the Gay Pride parade, "God gave each person the strength to overcome his bad qualities if he wants to". I think, however, that the disparity in the way these two different "urges" are treated in the Charedi community comes through loud and clear. I guess we all have different definitions of what qualifies as an "uncontrollable urges".

Now, I don't personally believe that Charedim who cannot control their urges to break halacha should be automatically " ostracized and removed from the community", as Poppenheim suggests above. But if he does, why no call for these violent protesters who are so clearly breaking halacha as well?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Jerusalem Riots

What to even say about this:
Hundreds of haredim took to the streets of Jerusalem Saturday night, setting fire to everything flammable, uprooting a traffic light and assaulting both policemen and civilians. One policeman was lightly wounded and substantial damage was caused to public and police property. Six haredi youths were arrested.

...The Shabat Square was yet again the staging area for Saturday's riots as Israel's ultra orthodox community takes its protest of the upcoming pride parade up a notch. Haredim set fire to large garbage containers and bus stops, uprooted a traffic light, threw firecrackers and rocks at inter-city traffic along routes one and four, damaged several police cars by stretched metal cables across streets and pelting them with rocks.

Jerusalem police arrested four haredi youths after they overturned a garbage container onto the street near the Shabat Square, forcing policemen out of their squad car to be met with a hail of rocks. Two additional haredi youths were arrested in Herzl boulevard for setting bus stops on fire.
Sounds like things are way out of control. I think peaceful protests against the Gay Pride parade would have been absolutely in order here. Hafganot are a way of life in a country with political and religious divisions that run as deep as they do Israel. That said, we could always hope for relatively peaceful and non-violent protests in Israel - I guess those days are over.
The worst part about all of the violence is that it might actually work:
The police are expected to announce their decision regarding the future of the parade on Sunday. Jerusalem police chief, Maj. Gen. Ilan Franco, stated that further deliberations are expected Sunday morning and afternoon. Police commissioner Moshe Karadi will weigh in on the matter. A senior source in the Jerusalem police spoke with Ynet and divulged that if the situation remains as it is, the police will recommend the parade, in its current venue, be cancelled and moved to an enclosed space.
Are we supposed to now believe that the ends - the cancellation of the parade, as reprehensible as it may have been to the Charedi community - justify the means of arson, violence, and destruction of property, not to mention the risk to life and limb to both protesters and police? Unless I hear a convincing denouncement of this dangerous and violent behavior by Charedi leadership, I expect most in the Charedi community will think that this type of behavior is acceptable as long as they get what they want. To what end?

This is also upsetting:
"The Nazis are coming, run!" was the catchphrase of the night, with haredi youths warning each other in Yiddish of advancing police officers trying to restore order to central Jerusalem.

...On Friday posters were hung in a number of synagogues around the capital with harsh invectives aimed at Franco. One slogan charged that he was the grandson of notorious SS officer in Treblinka Franz Stangl. Police said they viewed the offenses with severity and opened an investigation into the matter. Maj. Gen. Franco addressed the issue: "I see it as worthy only of my contempt. We won't be intimidated, we will do our job with integrity devoid of corruption. Speaking of things one Jew does not do to his fellow Jew, then this is one of the things."
Sick. Is it suddenly OK for Charedi Jews to invoke the Nazis when showing contempt for their fellow Jew? More so than when another group does it? Are we somehow supposed to think that it is justified - because the police are doing their job in the face of an extremely violent and dangerous situation? And I can't wait to hear the charges of police brutality from the Charedi community. They want to avoid a firm, decisive, and potentially injurious reaction from local law enforcement? It's simple. Don't commit arson, throw stones, and wreck police cars.

UPDATE: The Yeshiva World tells us that the Badatz has called for a halt in protests until the Police make a decision on whether the parade is to go on.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Trash Collection Clash

The NY Times City Section has an item on the Brooklyn Orthodox community and their Shabbat trash collection issues:
The city collects the area’s trash on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, and the Saturday collection day presents a problem. On that day, the Jewish Sabbath, observant Jews refrain from activities like carrying items on and off their property, and that prohibition includes moving trash cans to and from the curb. As a result, Orthodox families there must put their trash cans out before sundown on Friday, and they cannot retrieve them until Saturday night.

The city, however, has its own rules, and some residents have complained of receiving summonses for putting out their garbage too early. The problem, which was reported in The Kings Courier, a local newspaper, is likely to worsen soon; in December, the Sabbath can start shortly after 4 p.m. on Friday.

...Most complaints, though, center on the empty cans that spend all day Saturday at the curb. In the winter, Ms. Weinstein said, “the cans are sitting there in the snow, maybe covered with snow, being blown around, becoming a hazard to people in the street.”

A Sanitation Department spokesman does make it clear in the article that summonses are not issues unless the trash cans are not taken in until Monday. So it seems the real problem here is the inconvenience suffered by non-Jewish or non-Observant neighbors in that neck of the woods, who have to see garbage cans set out at the curbs all weekend. I guess, though, that if it bother them that much, they can always do what this guy's neighbor does:
Mr. Treitel is one of the fortunate ones. “I happen to have the luck of a next-door neighbor who’s not Jewish, and he’s a nice guy,” he said. The neighbor sometimes brings in both families’ cans. But it is an imperfect solution. “Eighty families on a block, you’re going to have the two gentiles running around cleaning up?” Mr. Treitel said. “Not everybody is that nice.”

I can't imagine having trash cans set out on the curb bothers most people enough that they would want to start dragging their neighbor's trash cans back to the side of their house. Nah. And hey, it's so much easier for the ones who are really bothered to just file a complaint.

Some Random Recommended Reading

1. Go. Read this. trust me.

2. Started and finished the book The World To Come over the weekend. I highly recommend it. It's a compelling read that fictionalizes a historical event (the 2001 theft of a painting by Marc Chagall, worth millions, that disappeared during a cocktail party in NY's Jewish Museum). Worth picking up.

3. Some perfect devices for all of us (germophobes, unite!) who use a paper towel or article of clothing to open and close doorknobs in public restrooms.

4. Sick stuff:
British respondents who were asked who in their opinion is the man that most endangers world peace placed Bush as the second most dangerous man, only second to al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

An international poll published in the Guardian found that Bush is perceived to be more dangerous than dictators like North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
5. Couldn't have happened to a nicer person:
Ann Coulter may face jail time for not voting in the right place

NYT on Lawrence, NY

The NY Times features Lawrence, one of the villages that make up the Five Towns of Long Island, in today's Real Estate section. The article makes sure to mention the amenities that the village has to offer - especially to Orthodox Jews:
With its elegant homes, golf, tennis and yachting facilities, vast wetlands along Reynolds Channel, quick access over the Atlantic Beach Bridge to ocean beaches and easy commute to Manhattan, Lawrence has long been a beacon to those seeking the best of suburban living.

It has also been a Jewish bastion. The newest influx is far more traditional in dress and observance than two generations ago.

Synagogues are plentiful, and so, increasingly, are shtiebels — private homes where followers of a particular rabbi gather to pray.

“Communities undergo change, and Lawrence is no different,” said Dr. Jack Levenbrun, the village’s mayor. A family-oriented neighborhood with 1,600 homes and 600 apartments, Lawrence draws both newlyweds and empty-nesters, who buy so that their adult children can visit.
The article also mentions

“For someone who is observant,” Dr. Levenbrun, “all the amenities are there,” including mikvahs, or ritual baths, and an eruv, a boundary built under rabbinic supervision, inside which Orthodox Jews are allowed to push strollers or carry essential items on the Sabbath.

Lawrence’s shopping district, a stretch of Central Avenue between Rockaway Turnpike and Washington Avenue, is dominated by kosher markets and restaurants, along with a barber shop, furniture store and bath products store that are closed on Saturdays and open on Sundays.
The article mentions the local school board tensions:
The public school population today, Dr. Karant said, is 20 percent African-American, 30 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Asian and 43 percent white, while the nonpublic student body is almost exclusively white.

These changes, along with a decline in test scores at public schools, have many longtime non-Orthodox residents worried. An additional source of concern for them: In July, Orthodox candidates won four seats on the seven-member school board, even though most Orthodox children do not attend public schools.

“It’s not a public school board,” said Asher Mansdorf, the board president. “By law, it’s a school board that controls all educational monies in the area.” Dr. Mansdorf, whose children attended yeshivas, says the board has both the religious and the public schools’ interests at heart. By law, private school students receive busing, textbooks, special education services and nurses from public school funds. Fields and buildings, if available, may be used by private school students after hours.

Dr. Mansdorf said his board was focused on “improving outcomes” for public school students and making capital improvements to the school buildings. At Lawrence High School, for instance, the auditorium’s ceiling, unstable from moisture, is being repaired. And an outside consultant will be brought in by January to help improve public school scores.

“Nothing would please me more than to have two incredible school systems, public and private,” Dr. Mansdorf said.

But some parents are apprehensive about having private school parents decide what is best for public school students. Lisa Gray, a 1980 Lawrence High School graduate who now heads its PTA, said there had been a “huge flight” from the district. “There are a lot of people that are concerned about the education of the children,” said Ms. Gray, whose two children attend Lawrence schools. “So they are moving out of the district.”

Ms. Gray, who has lived in the area her whole life, has thought about becoming one of them.
I did learn something from the article that I didn't know about the district:
What We Like

Yeshivas and public schools in District 15 are beginning to work together. Students from the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach branch known as the Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere are mentoring elementary students in the English-as-a-second-language program at the public No. 6 School. And the Peninsula Public Library is working with local yeshivas, some of which lack large libraries, to train students on online data bases.

I would say that those examples of cooperation between the public and private school segments of the population to be a step in the right direction.

All in all, a fairly accurate piece.

And at least they didn't mention the Gourmet Glatt affair.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hate Crime Craziness

This story is just unbelievably distressing:
Five Jewish teens were arrested on hate crime charges Sunday for assaulting a Pakistani-American man, which they called a “terrorist,” police and Kings County prosecutors alleged this week.

...Officials said that the assailants, who range in age from 15 to 17, jumped 24-year-old Amber Shahid as he tried to enjoy an ice cream cone outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts at 1524 Avenue M in Midwood at 8:15 p.m. on October 29.

Prosecutors allege that 17-year-old Yossi Friedman of the [address redacted], 16-year-olds Shulomi Bitton of the (address redacted] and Benjamin Wasserman of the [address redacted], along with two unnamed 15-year-olds plus a handful of un-apprehended others approached Shahid and began shouting at him, calling him a “terrorist motherf—ker.”

“You f—ked our country,” they allegedly screamed. “Why are you here?”

The suspects allegedly yelled, “Go back to your country” before lunging at the 24-year-old, striking him repeatedly in the face and about the body, officials said.

According to a criminal complaint filed with the Kings County District Attorney’s office, one of the assailants, who was armed with a pair of brass knuckles, broke the victim’s nose as he pelted him with punches.

The teens are also charged with holding the victim’s arms behind his back, leaving him defenseless against their continued assault.
Sick. Truly, truly sick.

What's even sicker are the following comments from the totally disgraceful Dov Hikind defending these kids:
While the hate crime charges stand, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who represents Borough Park and Midwood, said that he believes that the incident wasn’t fueled by bias.

“Based on what I heard, this shouldn’t be classified as a hate crime,” he said. “Some of the kids involved in this were the ones that called the police. When was the last time you had a bias incident when those who were there stuck around and waited for police to come?”

Hikind heard that Shahid started the fight, by pushing one of the teenagers out of the doorway.

“He [Shahid] said, ‘Get the f—k out of the doorway,’ when the teen wasn’t in the doorway,” said Hikind. “Then the teen said something like, ‘Why don’t you talk to me like a mensch.’”

Shaid sparked the fight by shoving the teen a second time, Hikind alleged.
Ugh. Where do I start. It's one thing for Hikind to plead with his constituents not to judge until all of the facts come out. But that's not really what he's doing here. He's pleading that these kids "didn't start the fight". He's explaining to us that the fact that these common street thugs beat a man up with brass knuckles, holding his arms behind him so as to leave him defenseless, was somehow justified because the victim shoved them. I guess that's just what we should expect from someone I consider a complete racist. Anyone remember these comments, made last year by Hikind in support of racial profiling?
"The individuals involved look basically like this," Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said yesterday, brandishing a printout of the FBI's most wanted terrorists - all with Arabic names, most with facial hair, some wearing turbans.

"Why should a policeman have to think twice before examining people of a particular group?" Hikind asked. "They all look a certain way. It's all very nice to be politically correct here, but we're talking about terrorism."

I guess we now know. When an elected official that purports to be a leader and a role model for a community talks in such a reprehensible manner himself, how can we expect such an attitude not to filter down to our youth? When an adult they are supposed to hold in high regard teaches them that every person of a certain ethnic group is a terrorist, what do you expect?

And then Hikind goes on to add insult to injury by defending the same youths.

I am horrified by this whole miserable story.

(hat tip)

UPDATE: The NY Daily News reports on the story.

5TJT on GG

The Five Towns Jewish Times has a comprehensive article on the Gourmet Glatt situation. There are a few interesting new tidbits in the piece.

1) I wondered about the two concessions that have recently opened up in Gourmet Glatt - Korn's Bakery and Ossie's Fish Market, both originally from Brooklyn. The article gives us some information as to their fate:
An added dimension to this latest event is that two concessions—that are, in effect independent businesses—have been sorely impacted by the Vaad’s move.

Ossie’s Fish, which functions in Brooklyn with three hashgachos (OU, Star-K, and Rav Yechiel Babad) maintained a fourth hashgachah in Cedarhurst with the Five Towns Vaad. Ossie’s owner, Robbie Schonfeld, had decided not to open on Sunday until his relationship with the Vaad HaKashrus could be clarified, although Ossie’s itself is well-supervised and is only physically located in Gourmet Glatt. Korn’s Bake Shop, on the other hand, decided to open as scheduled on Sunday morning and has remained open. At press time, a solution to the Ossie’s problem was being worked on, whereby all work on fresh fish would be done in Brooklyn and sold already packaged at their concession in Gourmet Glatt with Five Towns Vaad approval. Some of those involved said that no such plan had been proposed.
Though I would be inclined to have sympathy to these victims who seemed to have just stepped into a mess that they had no idea was in their path, Rabbi Ginzberg, the Rav of Chofetz Chaim Torah Center in Cedarhurst, is quoted in the article saying something quite interesting:
As for the situation with Ossie’s and Korn’s bakery, Rabbi Ginzberg related that at the time that both companies opened their concessions in Gourmet Glatt they were told that there may be a problem in the near future with the hashgachah and that they should take that fact into consideration before opening. That assertion could not be corroborated by the parties involved, and, as of Wednesday evening, the Ossie’s Fish department at Gourmet Glatt was not open for business.
2) Speaking of having the impression that someone had just stepped into it, I think that is how most people viewed the actions of Rabbi Kravitz, the new Rav Hamachshir employed by Gourmet Glatt. However, this quote belies that:
On the issue of the new hashgachah at the store, Rabbi Ginzberg said that the group feels that by coming into a community with an organized and efficient vaad hashgachah, Rabbi Kravitz has “demonstrated a blatant lack of respect for the rabbinical leadership as well as for the community.”
Though Rabbi Ginzberg's asessment may seem harsh, I am sure he did not make it lightly, and I am quite sure it is warranted.

3. Yours truly gets a mention:
While there is at this point in time a great deal of uncertainty about how the situation will ultimately be resolved, the sentiment on some blogs has been somewhere between wild and out of control. One observer commented that the way people are behaving on one blog in particular—the Orthomom blog—seems to be “emotionally perverse.” The words with which the integrity of some of our kashrus personalities and rabbinical leaders are being vilified is beneath the dignity of any civilized community. On Tuesday night, the blog master at Orthomom asked those submitting comments to tone down the rhetoric or be subject to having comments censored.
Not flattering, but I'll take it. I guess.

4. Gourmet Glatt put a full-page ad into the same edition of the 5TJT:
Being very incisive, I picked up on the thinly veiled reference to the anonymous commenters in the blogosphere who have been less than charitable to the players in this drama:
An Open Request to the Community:
To the entire community:
Gourmet Glatt would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our dear friends and supporters in the community. While we appreciate the support, we firmly request that no Loshon Hora be spoken about anyone - in our name and for that matter in anyone's name (including anonymous).
We get it.
I do think that this point is a bit disingenuous:
An Open Letter to the Vaad and our esteemed Rabbis:
To the Vaad Harabonim:
We at Gourmet Glatt want to express our sincere regrets at the present situation. Yes, we added a new Certification. However we never intended to create any rift. We were merely doing our best to ward off rumors and provide our customers with the best possible products. Gourmet Glatt would like to take this opportunity to humbly ask of you to please let us know if there is anything we can do to be recertified.
Though I can appreciate the sentiments expressed in this letter, I do not appreciate its "open" nature. It's one thing to present a letter to the public that is open, as that would be the only way to reach all of Gourmet Glatt's customers, past and present. But in terms of a letter to the Vaad - why does it have to public? The Vaad, as well as the various local Rabbanim who serve on it, all have addresses and phone numbers. This request could just as easily have been extended to them in a private fashion, and for some reason that was not done. This leads me to believe that this plea for some sort of rapprochement (which I think we all can agree seems a but late in the game) is more about PR than about peacemaking with the Vaad.

More of this as it comes, people.