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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tehillim Request and Open Cholim Thread

A four-year-old girl is in need of a Refuah. Please keep the following name in mind during your Tefillot:

Rina Shifra bat Rivka

Also, please treat this comment thread as an open one, to post any other names of Cholim that might need some extra Tefillot said on their behalf.

Antisemitism on the Beach?

I was suprised to see the allegations that were raised in this piece in today's NY Times:
For decades, the elite Jones Beach lifeguard corps has presided over the renowned stretch of Long Island shoreline as an unwavering symbol of safety and courage. With their tanned, toned physiques perched atop their stands, the lifeguards are seen as models of fitness and efficiency on team rescues, protecting bathers, enforcing safety rules and working together to save lives.

But this summer their ranks have been roiled by a growing controversy over complaints from a group of Jewish lifeguards who say they have been harassed, unfairly disciplined and made the subject of a police investigation instigated by beach administrators.
The article goes on to enumerate various claims of discrimination that are being made by a group of Jewish Jones Beach lifeguards.
At least six Jewish lifeguards say they have been seized upon by administrators who have fabricated petty infractions and used the State Park Police to “appear to intimidate and persecute lifeguards the state wants to get rid of,” said Roy J. Lester, a weekend lifeguard who is also a leader of the lifeguard union at Jones Beach and nearby Robert Moses State Park.

Two Jewish lifeguards, he said, were being investigated by the State Park Police regarding the legitimacy of their CPR certification.

Two other Jewish lifeguards were accused of insubordination and threatened with arrest after they walked into an administrator’s office without shoes on Memorial Day weekend to complain about a lack of lifeguards on a section of Jones Beach, Mr. Lester said. Another Jewish lifeguard, a 68-year-old captain and union activist with 49 years on the job, said that because he was denied leave for a medical condition, he failed to complete his lifeguard recertification test this spring, and was not allowed to work this summer.
The Jewish lifeguards claim that something other than coincidence is at work here. That may well be the case. But it just seems strange to me that a beach that serves New York City and Long Island - locales with extremely high and very visible Jewish populations - would attach any sort of significance to the religious persuasion of their lifeguards. Though I am well aware that discrimination can rear its ugly head anywhere, it just seems likely to me that there is more to the story than simple antisemitism.

For example, some of the charges leveled at the Jewish lifeguards are allegations of falsifying CPR certifications. Now, if this charge proves true, that's quite a serious charge, and certainly worthy of investigation. And while it does seem coincidental, if, as the Jewish lifeguard group claims, these charges are only being made against the Jewish lifeguards, I think we need more information. Are there other, non-Jewish lifeguards who have possibly falsified their certifications yet have not been charged?

To me, there just seem to be other issues here - a labor dispute is mentioned in the article, but not expanded upon. The article is actually quite short on clarity altogether.

Honestly, from what I can decipher from the article, the claim seems spurious to me. What really amazes me, though, is that the NY Times actually printed these hazy allegations.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Religious Racism Redux

YNet has a story that updates a painful topic I posted about a few months ago - the discrimination against Sephardi students by Charedi schools in Israel. Apparently, despite the recent publicity the practice of Yeshivas and seminaries severely curtailing their acceptance of Sephardi students has received, the active discrimination has not abated. According to this story, a man was so distressed about his daughter's lack of placement in a seminary that his health was affected and he suffered a fatal heart attack:
Thus far, it sounds like another sad but familiar story of a forty-something man passing away before his time. However, the Haredi-Sephardic community in Jerusalem is convinced that the reason for his early death is a problem that plagues hundreds of the community's families.

"He ate his heart out that he couldn't get his daughter into the seminary of her choice," said one of Sofer's close friends. "In recent weeks, he was informed that his daughter could not study in the seminary that she desires. He kept saying that he couldn't handle it, that it would kill him – that's exactly how he expressed himself – that he couldn't bear his daughter receiving Torah instruction like the average girl."

Work colleagues said that, on the afternoon of his death, he spoke to them about the issue and appealed for their help: "I have no energy. You have to help ensure that my daughter gets into a good seminary."
While I would imagine that it would be hard to prove that this specific disappointment was the final cause of this man's death, I do not doubt that the stress of his daughter's rejection did not help matters. As the article goes on to point out, the problem of discrimination continues to plague the Sephardi Charedi community. As a lawyer who helps parents gain their children's admission states:
In Eitan's opinion, the reason Sephardic students are not accepted to the schools is a result of explicit racism. "Principals say clearly: 'we've filled the Sephardic quota'. This is open racism, they're not even trying to hide it, and it's one of the greatest injustices in the Haredi community," he says.
Whether or not this man's tragic death is determined to be a direct result of his daughter's denial of admission, this sad story of his resulting stress and disappointment in the weeks before his death will hopefully increase publicity for the plight of Sephardi students and the disgusting discrimination that continues to be perpetuated against them.

The YNet story of the young father's death is titled "Died of a Broken Heart". Whether or not that is the case, he certainly seems to have died with a broken heart.

NYT on Kiryas Joel Population Explosion

Little piece in today's NY Times about the baby boom in Kiryas Yoel, the Satmar Chasidic megavillage north of NYC :
KIRYAS JOEL, N.Y., Aug. 22 — As the administrator of this village in southern Orange County, Gedalye Szegedin knows that much of his job revolves around a simple equation: the number of girls who get married is roughly equal to the number of new homes this community will need to accommodate its rapid growth.

Last year, Mr. Szegedin oversaw the construction of 200 houses and apartments, mostly on the outer-lying lots along the eastern edge of this 1.1-square-mile community, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclave about 60 miles north of Midtown Manhattan. By the end of this year, he said, the village will most likely have 300 new homes.

“There are three religious tenets that drive our growth: our women don’t use birth control, they get married young and after they get married, they stay in Kiryas Joel and start a family,” Mr. Szegedin said.

“Our growth comes simply from the fact that our families have a lot of babies,” he added, “and we need to build homes to respond to the needs of our community.”
But the overdevelopment of the village has residents of neighboring communities predictably panicking about a potential influx into their towns of Chasidim who are getting crowded out of Kiryas Joel:
But developable land is a finite resource here, and not much of it is left. And as Kiryas Joel pushes up against its borders, nearby neighbors in the towns of Blooming Grove and Woodbury are moving aggressively to prevent the community from expanding by incorporating into villages of their own.

“We still have huge tracts of open land in Woodbury, and we want to keep it that way,” said Woodbury’s supervisor, John P. Burke, who grew up in the Bronx and moved to Orange County in 1969.

“We want to make sure that no outside community is able to completely transform the character and the look of our town,” he said. “If we need a village to do that, so be it.”

...“We just don’t understand why they have to keep pushing their expansionist ideas on us,” said Charles J. Bohan, who is the supervisor of the Town of Blooming Grove and a resident of the new village, named South Blooming Grove.
I completely suport the residents' of Kiryas Joel's right to live and procreate as they wish. I am also sympathetic to their problems of lack of space for their exploding population numbers. That said, I can fully understand the feelings of those residents in neighboring villages who feel that the choices of the Kiryas Joel residents are being foisted on them, and their resistance to having the housing and living styles of the Chasidim encroach upon their homes - free country or not.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Breaking News: Orthos Make Tough Real Estate Customers

NY Magazine tells us something many of us already know: Orthodox Jews make tough real estate customers. It isn't news that observant Jews have some very specific criteria when it comes to looking for a home, as the piece notes, such as formal dining rooms (to facilitate Shabbat entertaining), large kitchens (the better to fit two sinks, dishwashers, and sets of dishes), low floors in apartment buildings (or, as the article notes, a Shabbat elevator) and close proximity to shuls, apartments with terraces large enough to build a Sukkah, etc. It's actually interesting to drive through Williamsburg these days, as it is very easy to spot the buildings built for and marketed to Hasidic Jews, just from the staggered terraces on the facades of the structures (In contrast with more typically architected NYC buildings, where the terraces are genrally stacked one atop the other, terraces to be used for Sukkahs need to be open to the sky).

It's also not news to anyone who has ever tried to buy into a burgeoning Orthodox community that proximity to Shuls is a major selling point, to make walking to Shul on Shabbat less of an ordeal - and that houses that are closer to a Shul can sometimes be considerably more expensive than homes with similar amenities that lie further from a shul. That becomes less of an issue as an Orthodox community grows, generally along with the number of shuls. In a popular community such as mine, if a shul isn't close by at the time of purchase, it's simply a matter of time until one crops up. Another criteria I often hear about from my house-hunting Orthodox friends is a guest room with its own bathroom (Shabbat guests like to have their privacy), a basement playroom (the better to banish all the children of the frequent Shabbat guests), and a separate bedroom in the basement (for the ever-popular live-in domestic help). I am also quite sure that a house with a greater number of smaller bedrooms will appeal to a young, growing Orthodox family more than a house with fewer, but larger bedrooms.

That's a good reason for the success in many Jewish areas of Orthodox real estate agents. What might seem a quirk to a nonobservant broker (as can be seen by the NY Mag piece), is more de rigueur to an Orthodox broker - who likely has many of the same requirements. One only needs do drive through the streets of my community to see "For Sale" signs with identifiably Jewish (and in many cases Orthodox) names as the listed brokers. I've even seen signs around lately for a real estate agency that goes by the name of "Gan Eden Realty".

I guess it's just easier for Young Turks (or Williamsburg Chasidim) trolling the real estate market to get the rundown on questions like "Where can I put the Seforim Shrank", or "Is there plumbing hookup in the basement for a Pesach kitchen" - from someone who actually knows what these terms mean.

Heroine of the Day

This week's NYJW has a piece about Clara Bauer, a woman who rescued and gave refuge to Jews during the holocaust. She was honored this week by Israel:
Mrs. Ambrus-Baer, second from left, received Yad Vashem’s designation as a Righteous Gentile during a ceremony Friday at the Israeli Consulate General in Manhattan. Her husband of 60 years, Julian Ambrus, left, was a member of the Hungarian resistance in World War II. The couple, who moved to the United States in 1950, live in Buffalo, where they worked in the medical field.

The Baer family saved several hundred Jews during the Holocaust, Julian Ambrus said. When German soldiers came to the Baer home, they would be warned that the family’s dogs “were very vicious.” Which they weren’t. The lie bought time for the Jews inside to hide.

The family also bribed German guards to bring Jews to safety.

“I never expected this,” Mrs. Ambrus-Baer said. “I took it for normal that somebody saves people’s lives.”
Definitely earns her the Heroine of the Day designation.

Are We "Already Over"?

According to Gawker, Jews are "already over". An excerpt:
We're not talking about Judaism overall (that's still rock solid); this is about the Jewish culture, and the culture's long been co-opted by the goyim. There was a time when being a member of the tribe helped you work the system and climb the ladder; nowadays, even all the non-Jews are so Jewish that the ladder's collapsed under their collective weight. Look around you. Everyone New York is Jewish, even the anti-Semites -- especially the anti-Semites! There's got to be an anti-Semite Jewish mafia out there. You just know it.

Yes, we know that this item offends practically everyone who matters -- but that's just the point, isn't it? Not only are we everywhere, but we also have to get all Abe Foxman about every. little. thing. Jews have been running the show for so long now: we've got New York, Hollywood, Boca -- isn't it time to relax a little? Even Jesus knew it was time to move on, and that was 2000 years ago.
Thanks for the pronouncement, Gawker. Truth is, I do think I liked things better before every Tom, Dick and Madonna (Esther) tied the red strings on, before we showed up as characters on a daytime soap opera, and before we had to read in mainstream publications about the lavish celebrity Bar Mitzvah du jour. But that's just me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


If a 75-foot-high retaining wall suddenly collapsed without warning, crushing and burying your parked car for upwards of a year, and then, when the car is finally unearthed, you're told that you have to foot the cost of towing the ruined car - wouldn't you be seething mad? Yeah, I have a feeling I would too, if this happened to me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I mentioned below that it seems nigh impossible to win a war against an enemy that embeds itself among its own civilians. But this development makes me even more hopeless about the nature of the enemy we face:
These are the twisted young British parents who planned to sacrifice their precious baby in the evil cause of jihad by mass murder.

Fanatical terror suspect Abdula Ahmed Ali, 25, and his wife, Cossor, 23, are among those being interrogated by police as suspects in the massive plot to attack trans-Atlantic flights in midair.

What the outwardly normal couple had secretly plotted is almost too horrifying to consider, cops said.

The Alis planned to use 6-month-old son Zain's baby bottle as a liquid bomb, blowing themselves and their child up, along with hundreds of others aboard the flight.
What can even be said in the face of such fanatical resolve that has parents willing to sacrificie their own child in the name of their cause?

I'm Back

It has become painfully obvious that it is impossible to win fully a war with an enemy that embeds itself among civilians. When I say "fully", I mean win on all fronts - the military front as well as the PR one. But we are truly in a bad place. I think everyone prays that the cease-fire is the answer to the bloodshed that had been going on on both sides of the border. I am still unable to compute the terms of the agreement, however. Two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. Israel goes to war. Shows a modicum of strength by declaring that she would not back down until the missing soldiers are recovered. Then agrees to a cease-fire that does not incluse any provisions to have the soldiers returned - not even a condition to have them seen by an impartial party, such as the Red Cross?

I. Don't. Understand.

Don't get me wrong. I am far from sure that continuing force would have been the answer here - I had no clarity that it was the best response at the start of this war either. But I can't help thinking that there has to be a decision made, one way or the other, and that it must be stuck to. Decide to attempt to handle the hostage situation diplomatically? Not sure it can be done - but do so. Decide to go to war, and declare that your soldiers will not back down until they recover their kidnapped brothers? Do so. But this...this just makes us look alternately bullying and weak.

My heart goes out to the families of the kidnapped soldiers who must feel hope slipping away. My heart goes out to the families of the soldiers who sied in this war, who must feel frustrated in their grief at the lack of resolution their sons' heroism and ultimate sacrifice was able to bring about.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


You know how sometimes you just need a break? Yeah. Like that.

Be back soon.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

More SD 15 Stuff

As some of my regular readers may know, I live in an area that has seen an unfortunate level of discord between different segments of the community over the local School District. On this Monday, August 7, there is a referendum vote on the sale of an empty district school building, where the community decides whether to accept the highest bid of $27 million from a developer who has plans to build a condominium development.

$27 million being as high a figure as it is, one would think that any district would jump at the chance to accept the offer. But as the old saw goes, two Jews, three opinions. Last week, I picked up the local Jewish paper, the 5 Towns Jewish Times, and I was suprised to see a prominently placed front-page article titled "Schools Yes, Condos No!". In this piece, a local community member makes his best case that every community member should vote "no" on Monday so that a local Yeshiva can get a chance at purchasing the property. This week, I was surprised again by another front-page article pushing for the same outcome, though this article didn't make any case at all - except for the use of scare tactics that somehow allowing condominium development on the site will turn this community into a haven for drug dealers and the like. (Seriously. Read the whole deranged piece).

Now, I certainly do not argue that ideally, it would be wonderful if the building were to be used as a school, as opposed to being razed - especially with the large population of school-aged children in the district. As the article points out, there are quite a few Yeshivas in need of a building in which to house their rapidly growing student bodies. However, the decision is not quite so simple.

In the first article, the author points out that taking a lower bid from a Yeshiva would be negligible in the face of the benefits a school could bring to the community. He also cites the negative effects he feels condominium development could bring, such as congestion and sewer capacity problems.

I won't debate the merits of whether his points are valid. I'm sure many people would love to see a former school building being used once again by students. I am equally sure that there are many people who fear that a condominium development will only add congestion and traffic to our community.

Be that as it may, the article neglects to take into account one very salient point: The School Board is obligated by law to put the highest bid up for a vote. The leading case on the issue states as follows:
[T]he Education Law contemplate[s] that the electors may exercise their judgment and discretion in good faith concerning what is the best price at which a schoolhouse can be sold, but where a higher offer from a responsible bidder is already in their hands, there is not room for the exercise of discretion concerning it. The higher offer must be accepted if it is for a use that may be conducted pursuant to law.
Which means that if this bid of $27 million is voted down, either the rejected bidder will use the courts to force the district to go forward with the sale or the next-highest bid will be the one accepted. Either way, it is nearly inconceivable that a Yeshiva will get the building and the risk is that the district will end up with less money.

But legal issues aside, I think the high bid of $27 million must be voted in on Monday in the interests of fiscal responsibility. As much as the thought of a
school returning to that spot, with the classrooms being reclaimed as places of learning truly warms the heart, in my opinion, it is a pipe dream. I have used the battle cry of fiscal responsibility since I started covering this topic - and I won't drop it now.

Vote "Yes" on Monday. It's the fiscally responsible move.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Urgent Tehillim Request and Open Tehillim Thread - UPDATED (Sticky post)

Note: This post has been moved up to stay at the top (a "sticky" post), as the baby mentioned is in dire need of a Refuah Sheleima. New posts will appear below this post.
Please daven for Liora Rivka Bat Raizel, a baby who is very ill and needs our Tefillot. Also, please treat this as an open comment thread to submit names of any other Cholim who may be in need of our Tefillot and Tehillim.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Some Links

- An update to the incident I posted about here where a Brooklyn building flying a resident's Israeli flag was vandalized with red paint:
The paint represented the “blood of the Palestinians and Lebanese killed by Israeli terrorists,” a letter found at the scene – possibly written by the vandal – said.
Unfortunately, the resident who had displayed the offending Israeli flag chose to remove it, "out of respect for his neighbors and landlord". And so bigotry and criminal vandalism win this little battle.

- More Mideast war spillover: It's made it to the NYPost's Page Six gossip column, of all places:
THE waitress who got into a late-night bar brawl with restaurateur Brian McNally has come forward to say she was "violently assaulted" by the man behind such culinary hot spots as Indochine and 150 Wooster.

Marianne Vitale tells Page Six she was having dinner at Lucien on the Lower East Side last Thursday night with a group of friends that included writer Anthony Haden-Guest and artist Dennis Oppenheim when McNally, who was alone at the bar, joined their table.

In our story on Sunday about the dust-up, McNally admitted he might have "inadvertently" struck Vitale when he blocked a glass she threw at him during an impassioned argument about the war between Israel and Hezbollah. He said Vitale had made "anti-Semitic" statements, which she vigorously denies.

- Tzemach Atlas has been photoblogging the funerals of IDF chayalim. Truly heart-wrenching. Check them all out.

- Heat Emergency declared in New York, with triple-digit temps hit today and more of the same expected tomorrow. PLEASE make every attempt to check in on elderly or disabled neighbors. Every year, shut-ins die due to extreme weather. Oh, and don't forget all of the usual tips to avoid the heat and prevent power outages like:
  • Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible (no problem there)
  • Drinking plenty of clear liquids (Except for that pesky fasting thing)
  • Only use appliances that have heavy electrical loads (dishwashers, washers, dryers) early in the morning or very late at night. (no problem with washer/dryer usage during the Nine days - but this heat wave had better be over by the time I'm allowed to do laundry again)
  • Set your air conditioner thermostat no lower than 78 degrees; a 75-degree setting uses 18 percent more electricity and a 72-degree setting uses 39 percent more electricity. (Yeah, right. Does anyone ever do that? Well, yes. Guess what happens if you sign up for the LIPA Edge program that supplies you with new, energy-efficient thermostats in exchange for a nice little credit on your next power bill? LIPA gets to call into your A/C system through your fancy newfangled thermostat so that it won't cool your home below 78 degrees. Yeah. You can lower the thermostat all you want - but LIPA keeps your house at a somewhat sticky 78 degrees. So the OrthoFamily is doing their energy-conservation duty - if not by choice. Anyone else?)
- And from the not-entirely-unexpected-news front:
ABC Cancels Holocaust Miniseries Deal With Mel Gibson's Company