Professor Yisrael Aumann is a Nobel Prize-winning Israeli mathematician. He is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has held visiting positions at Princeton, Yale, Berkeley, Louvain, Stanford, Stony Brook, and NYU.
In last week’s Torah reading, Moshe Rabbeinu commands us to choose life — “Uvacharta Bachaim.” From this, the Talmud Yerushalmi in Kiddushin derives that a father must teach his son a trade and thus provide him with a livelihood. In this Talmudic passage, Rabbi Yehuda puts it bluntly: “If a father doesn’t teach his son a trade, it’s as if he taught him highway robbery.”
So it should come as no surprise that, as a frum Jew, I believe that our yeshivas should provide robust secular studies alongside an uncompromised Torah education.
hen my family fled from Germany to the United States in 1938, they enrolled me in a religious elementary school in Boro Park. When it was time to choose a high school, I decided on the Rabbi Jacob Joseph Yeshiva (RJJ) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
After finishing university in the 1950s, I made aliyah to Jerusalem, and since then have pursued an academic career; but I’ll always remember my yeshiva experience as an exceptionally positive one that had a lasting impact on my life. For that reason, when the lawyers of Agudath Israel asked me for an affidavit describing my experience in yeshiva to urge the New York State Education Department not to intervene in the dual education provided by yeshivas like RJJ, I was glad to provide it.
As I wrote in my affidavit, “The immersive, time-consuming experience of deep Talmud study in an educational setting such as RJJ is absolutely necessary for the continuity of Orthodox Jewish life and practice. We were taught not merely a religion, but a way of life. And in that way of life, we were taught — and to this day I repeat daily — ‘Talmud Torah Kenneged Kulam’: the study of Torah is as important as all other religious observance put together.”
Shortly after news of the affidavit was reported in the Yeshiva World News website under the headline “INCREDIBLE: Nobel Prize Winner & Yeshiva Graduate To NYS Education Dept: ‘Talmud Torah Knegged Kulam!’” I got an email from a Chasidic yeshiva graduate that I found deeply upsetting. He informed me that he himself had received no secular instruction at all; and that most Chasidic yeshivas teach only a few hours a week of sub-par secular studies in elementary school and none at all in high school.
The picture that was painted for me — and later confirmed by other Chasidic graduates and parents of current students — is of young men who often graduate without even the basic skills to operate professionally. In many cases, this leads to poverty, and also to a sense of insuperable handicap.
Having left New York well over 60 years ago, all this was a revelation to me. Despite the distance, I find it impossible to ignore the genuine distress of the young men with whom I corresponded and the grave wrong being perpetrated on generations of children.
I stand behind every word in the affidavit; but knowing what I know now, I ask the public to read it with an emphasis that is perhaps a little different. Namely, that “I had wonderful experiences with BOTH secular and Jewish studies at RJJ. … The credit for my academic success belongs to Mr. Joey Gansler and to the mathematics he taught at RJJ. … If I were asked today to advise Jewish teens who have been admitted to both Stuyvesant and a yeshiva high school about which to attend, I would absolutely recommend that they attend a DUAL-curriculum yeshiva such as RJJ.”
We must continue vehemently to oppose government oversight and intrusion in yeshivas. The government has no right to dictate how we run our schools. But as my affidavit indicates, it does have a right to see to it that all children get a basic secular education that will enable them to be productive members of society. And that is also the Halacha.
Published in its entirety from the blog of Larry Noodles. Thank you for picking this up. Sorry we missed it! Folks, if you will not donate to us, Noodles asks for assistance for his blog, a tax deductible donation. We do not gain by providing him a window for support. His reporting detailed what the rest of us seem to have missed. We will pick up this one and the next, in their entirety and with permission.
The silence of Jewish religious and lay leaders, rabbis and Jewish news reporters, of all political persuasions, on the Goat verdict is deafening.
It is very rare for members of the Jewish tribe to agree on anything these days. There is a large spectrum of political and religious viewpoints among American Jews, from the right wing Haradi to the far left Bernie Bro’s. Liberal Jews are just as outspoken and opinionated as Jews who support the Donald. Secular Jews do not mince words when they describe Orthodox Jews as misogynistic narrow minded bigots. Haradim have no problem referring to secular Jews as self hating Jews. You never hear such venom exchanged between civilized Christians.
The Jewish world has found common ground with the guilty Goat verdict. Jewish leaders of all stripes and denominations have all refused to publicly comment on the Goat verdict. The unified vow of silence is deafening. The Goat has managed to unite the Jewish people just before the Jewish New Year. Moshiach is supposed to arrive on a donkey, not a goat.
Not one leader from any Jewish Federation located in the entire United States has spoken about the Goat verdict. Not one pulpit Rabbi from any denomination in the entire country has spoken about the Goat verdict. Are they saving their comments for their grand Rosh Hashanah speeches that they are currently preparing to read to their followers in shuls, synagogues and Temples throughout the country on Monday? I don’t think so.
The mainstream media and the Jewish media has not reported on the Goat verdict. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Vosizneias, Hamodia, The Forward, and the New York Post all reported on the Goat when he was first arrested, yet they now have asserted their First Amendment right to remain silent, just as the Goat did during his criminal trial. The Associated Press ran a very small blurb today.
The only logical explanation for Jewish radio silence on the Goat verdict is fundraising bucks. Fundraising for the Catholic Church dropped when pedophile priests were exposed and arrested. “It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby” as State’s Attorney Roberg argued in closing arguments to the Goat jury. Roberg tore apart the Dow’s argument that Mirlis was in criminal court because he wanted money. Roberg told the jury that Mirlis already got his civil judgment. Mirlis didn’t have to return to Connecticut and tell everyone in the world the excruciating details about how he got repeatedly raped by the Goat.
Jewish non-profits and religious organizations would not have any problem raising money if these organizations were transparent, efficient, and honest and not mired in waste, hypocrisy, insecurity, and nepotism. Providing a warm, stimulating and engaging place for Jews to pray, learn and interact would also attract and keep new members. News of the Goat would have no impact on fundraising.
The only Rabbi brave enough to make any kind of statement about the Goat, on Facebook no less, was Modern Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier. Zuckier was the Rabbi at Yale Hillel for a year or two. I first met Zuckier after I got out of Otisville prison. He let me pray at the Yale Hillel even though he knew of my criminal record. I’ve been kicked out of many shuls because of my blog. The first shul I was kicked out of was the prison shul in the Otisville prison. The Jewish inmates got mad because I was sending my blogs to Paul Bass at the New Haven Independent. Fortunately I had two prominent inmate Rabbis doing long bids in Otisville who lobbied for me to be readmitted to the shul. In New Haven a local Rabbi said I couldn’t get an aliya because of my blog about the Goat. I wonder if this idiot would give me an aliya now. He should sponsor a kiddush for me. I probably saved his children from getting raped by the Goat.
I am still waiting for that kiddush the Goat’s son Dov Greer promised me on the first Shabbos that I got out of Otisville prison. Some people think that my anger towards the Goat stems from the kiddush that Dov failed to deliver. I went to the Goat shul on my first Shabbos out of Otisville and Dov Greer was nowhere to be seen. All I saw was Avi Hack and the Goat. Dov reneged on the kiddush. This incident reminds me of the story of Kamsa and Bar Kamsa. I was invited to a kiddush by the son of the Goat, ie., Bar Goat. When I got to the kiddush I realized that I wasn’t invited and Bar Goat was nowhere to be found. I offered to pay Papa Goat for the kiddush. Papa Goat refused. I then went to the authorities and helped the State of Connecticut get the Goat convicted on four felony charges of risk of injury to a minor. I never ratted out the Goat to the Caesar, ie., the Feds, unlike Bar Kamsa. I never blemished one of the Goat’s ducks, chickens or goats who live in his barn on West Park Ave. I did not cause the exile of the Jews. The Jews are already exiled in their cul de sacs in the American suburbs with their 55″ flat screen televisions.
Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier is the first and only American Rabbi, of any denomination, to write about the Goat verdict, on Facebook no less. If the President of the United States can make proclamations to the masses on Twitter why can’t Rabbi Zuckier speak to his followers on Facebook? These are the brave words of Rabbi Shlomo Zuckier: “Even A horrific Chilul Hashem and perversion of the Torah, now confirmed with this judgement. As a practicing rabbi in New Haven when these now-confirmed allegations came to light, and as someone who knew some of the victims, I felt the repercussions of this atrocity personally. Hoping this decision leads to some degree of Nechama for the victims; at the very least it should prevent any further wrongdoing.”
I encourage all readers, fans, followers, felons and stalkers of Larry Noodles to congratulate Rabbi Zuckier for standing up for truth and justice. Please be polite and do not stalk Rabbi Zuckier. And please do not use foul language, even if you think you mean well. And please use spell check and do not write to Rabbi Zuckier in all caps.
A man was selected, preferably a Kohen, to take the goat to the cliff in the wilderness and he was accompanied part of the way by the most eminent men of Jerusalem. Ten booths had been constructed at intervals along the road leading from Jerusalem to the steep mountain. At each one of these the man leading the goat was formally offered food and drink, which he, however, refused. When he reached the tenth booth those who accompanied him proceeded no further. When he came to the cliff he divided the scarlet thread into two parts, one of which he tied to the rock and the other to the goat’s horns, and then pushed the goat down. The cliff was so high and rugged that before the goat had traversed half the distance to the plain below, its limbs were utterly shattered. Men were stationed at intervals along the way, and as soon as the goat was thrown down the cliff, they signaled to one another by means of kerchiefs or flags, until the information reached the high priest. During the forty years that Simon the Just was High Priest, the thread actually turned white as soon as the goat was thrown over the cliff: a sign that the sins of the people were forgiven. In later times the thread did not always turn white: proof of the Jew’s moral and spiritual deterioration, that was on the increase, until forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple, when the change of color was no longer observed.
For G-d, For Country, For Yale, For Rabbi Zuckier. Yechi Noodles!
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We are often accused of taking a one-sided approach to the issues involving the Hasidic (Chasidic) community, of ignoring that there are two sides to every story and of crossing the line from factual information to hate speech. For that we apologize. It is during those times when you will see breaks in publication. There is a fine line between opinions and facts and the message they send (perception is everything) and it is not always walked as cleanly as it should be or frankly as intended.
Here at LM we admire with significant emphasis, those like the Rabbi from New Jersey who commented on prior pages of this blog. His comments are important in the debate of how a community can live together, religious and non-religious, Jew and non-Jew together in harmony.
It takes courage to speak out.
We admire Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone (mentioned in the article below) for his tutorials and opinions or Chabad.org, some of which have graced our pages, whether we agree with them or not. We most admire people like the nurse, Blima Marcus mentioned below, who has gone on a virtual crusade to “debunk vaccination myths”. We don’t express our admiration enough.
We take issue, however, with the belief, expressed below and in the continuation of the Algemeiner article, that it is acceptable for an entire community to be groomed to study ancient texts. While their knowledge, ability to understand and parse out the details of the Jewish texts, and carry that kowledge to the next generation is, indeed, important; it cannot be to the exclusion of all else. Many of these people do not speak the language of the land, and we feel there is no legitimate excuse for that. If that same Jewish scholar is going home, having 9 children and then expecting non-religious, secular or non-Jewish members of society to foot the bills for those 9 children, he is imposing his religion on others. There is a fundamental unfairness to the rest of us, which perpetuates resentment and hate. Those who get angry and resentful should be understood in the context from which that is generated as well.
There must be a balance struck between study for the sake of study and contributing to the economic and financial continuance of that society. In the United States, we refer to the greater US. When living in London we refer to the greater UK and when living in Canada, we refer to the greater Canada. It is all well and good to be a scholar, but when you take money from society to study, you breed resentment. This blogger, for one, would love to return to study, a government and philosophy student who spent years editing translations of the scrolls of Elephantine Island for a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But it is unrealistic to do so if a family must be fed, taxes must be paid and children must attend school. We are not living in a vacuum.
Within the writing of some of the most scholarly rabbis, there was a clear understanding, if not an outright demand of the Jewish people, that we be self-sufficient. However we chose to establish our society, the religion demands that we not rely on others for support. When religion starts to encroach upon the lives and livelihoods of others, it is an imposition and unacceptable. To deem those not religious as not even Jewish or as lesser humans, which can be found in multiple teachings throughout the religious (and perhaps fundamentalist Jewish world – yes… every religion has its kooks), then the balance gets tipped and damage is done.
We, with admiration, agree wholeheartedly that there must be a way forward that provides for mutual respect, mutual tolerance, global sensitivity and a measure of love for those notable people on all sides of the debate and political divide. We thank Algemeiner for the published opinion and those highlighted within the article.
We ask that you please read the Algemeiner article below and that you consult its original sources. It tells a different story then most that grace our pages, but one that should be read without a passive indifference or active criticism.
The Orthodox Jewish community of New York is under attack. In just a few days, a 63-year-old Hasidic grandfather was beaten with a brick, another was made to strip off his yarmulke at gunpoint, a gang attacked a truck, and more. Then a shocking campaign video was posted by Republicans in Rockland County, depicting Hasidic Jews as a threat to their fellow Americans.
Those behind the video refused to apologize, and as The New York Post revealed, they had deviously plotted their modern-age blood libel months in advance.
As Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, social media editor at Chabad.org, puts it, Hasidim “are described as all things except for the one thing we are the most: human beings trying to make it in this town like everyone else.”
An example of the way these people have recently been picked on is the public reaction to the measles crisis that recently swept New York. With a health ban that was placed only on yeshiva schools, many began to blame the Orthodox for not vaccinating their children. Never mind the fact that most of the schools with unvaccinated students weren’t even Jewish, or arguably that the common denominator between those who refuse vaccinations isn’t religion but being white, rich, and well-educated.
Regardless, by painting the vaccination crisis in New York as an Orthodox Jewish issue, the national conversation is skewed away from the reality that nine percent of Americans (30 million people!) are reportedly anti-vaxxers. Furthermore, it is an Orthodox nurse, Blima Marcus, who is leading the way in teaching healthcare clinicians how to effectively debunk vaccination myths for the American public.
The problem is that this bias leads directly to the short-sighted and dangerous “us vs. them” mentality that pits public opinion against minority groups. In her New York Times article “Is it Safe to be a Jew in New York?” Ginia Bellafante points out that the societal intransigence to take action against the blaze of anti-Orthodox bigotry stems from stories like these that carelessly stoke the “existing impressions of backwardness.”
I believe the flames of insidious bigotry must be quenched with the soothing waters of public education.
Mayor Bill de Blasio recently appointed Deborah Lauter, previously of the Anti-Defamation League, to run the new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. They should follow the advice of Elan Carr, US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, who recently remarked that fighting antisemitism must include “philosemitic education” about positive Jewish contributions to society.
Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman, arguably the most politically active Hasidic Jew in New York City, laments the ignorance surrounding the contributions his community offers the general public. “I think most New Yorkers would be surprised to discover that our non-profit, United Jewish Organizations (UJO) of Williamsburg, provides social services to anyone, regardless of religion, race, or creed.”
Although most of Niederman’s clientele are Hasidim, he advocates for fellow New Yorkers of all backgrounds who are referred to UJO. “We help anyone who walks in the door,” Niederman says, “it could be food stamps, housing assistance or whatever else they need.”
This public service ethos is derived from Jewish spiritual theology, which places a moral mandate on its followers to engage in “Chessed,” colloquially translated as “acts of loving kindness.” As Professor Jack Werthheimer writes in his article “What You Don’t Know About the Ultra-Orthodox,” the Orthodox have made “Chessed” into an “art form” by creating hundreds of aid programs, known as “Gemachs” — a Hebrew acronym for “Gemilut Chasadim,” literally, “the giving of loving-kindness.”
In the marketplace of ideas, cultural contributions from these most visible Jews should be cherished and protected as a national resource. In these communities, young men are expected to dedicate their post-high school years to studying at Kollelim, yeshivas of higher learning, where they pour over the ancient texts from morning until night. The purpose of this higher education model isn’t to obtain a degree but to engage in study for its own sake.
Lakewood, a Test Case for Other Areas of New York and New Jersey, but Not Unique
The below article is being reposted without permission, in its entirety from New Jersey.com. We ask that you kindly click here to view the post in its original format as well as to avail yourselves of the advertising of that paper. We have not reposted the video which starts the article.
We note that NJ.com is a subscription service so, if asked to remove this post or any portion of it, we will do so. There is no intent to violate any copyrights. It should be noted that the author of the article is Mark Pfeiffer, a non-Orthodox Jew. He is assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers. The rest of the credits for the article can be found at the end of the post.
We make one single criticism of the article. Lakewood is mentioned as a unique situation, one not contemplated by our government’s founding fathers. We believe that Lakewood is not unique. A similar pattern can be seen throughout New York and New Jersey and likely in other parts of the country, like areas of Pennsylvania with students who attend the Lakewood Yeshiva. Insofar as Kiryas Joel is now the first religious town in the country, it also should be viewed in terms of a possible endpoint for Lakewood, except perhaps to the extent that Lakewood straddles a finer line between modernity and insularity.
Kiryas Joel or “Palm Tree, New York” has been for many years one of the poorest towns in the country. It is and will continue to represent one of the heaviest burdens on public resources throughout the United States.
Editor’s note, Part 9: Over the past nine days, NJ Advance Media has been taking a closer look at Lakewood, one of New Jersey’s fastest-growing and most complex towns. Lakewood is home to a huge Orthodox Jewish community and the rapid growth has engulfed the town, igniting tensions between the religious and secular societies on many levels.Each day, we have explored some of the major issues in the community, including the welfare fraud investigation, housing problems and the strains on the education system. Today, a look ahead.
Newcomers move in. Old-time residents leave. Stores open and close. Politics shift.
Such is Lakewood, fast growing and changing faster, dramatically transforming the Ocean County township that’s already eclipsed many New Jersey cities in population.
But where is it headed?
A pair of Orthodox teens share a ride on a bicycle on the sidewalk outside of Georgian Court University in Lakewood. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
Lakewood found itself in the glare of unwanted attention this summer after 26 members of the Orthodox community were accused of lying about their income to collect more than $2 million in Medicaid and other public assistance.
Even before that, however, there has been turmoil and controversy, from a financial crisis brought on by school busing to private yeshivas, to unchecked growth and development that chokes the town daily with traffic, to basic questions about the separation of church and state.
Nearly 1,00 members of the Orthodox community listen during a meeting organized by the Vaad, Lakewood’s religious council. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
1) Why is this place different from all other places?
Marc Pfeiffer, the assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University and a former deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services, said what is happening in Lakewood is unique.
“It is effectively a religious community bound together by religious and social traditions that basically started small and has exponentially grown and is now large enough and powerful enough to assume control of the political process,” he said.
The effect of that, he said, “has created circumstances that arguably our laws and rules did not contemplate.”
A flyer that put out by Lakewood’s Vaad prior to the recent primary election, telling members of the Orthodox community how to vote. (Photo courtesy of Lakewood resident)
2) Can a religious community take over a town?
“There are lots of communities in New Jersey that you could call insular and who vote the same way. Newark is one that comes to mind,” noted Matthew Hale, who teaches political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University. “A Republican couldn’t get elected in Newark if he was standing on a corner handing out $1,000 bills. You could argue places up in Hunterdon and Warren counties are pretty insular with similar voting patterns also.”
The Orthodox community in Lakewood votes as a block and represents more than 50 percent of the population. It effectively controls the votes to hold sway over the township council and school board.
“The fact is, New Jersey is a machine politics state,” said Hale. “Little machines control votes and voting lines all over the state.”
Students of the East Ramapo School District hold a sign during the One Voice United Rally in Albany in 2013, protesting about the decade-long control of the East Ramapo public schools by the Orthodox community, which do not use the public schools but made deep cuts in teachers and programs. (Shannon DeCelle | AP file photo)
3) Have the issues in Lakewood played out anywhere else?
The East Ramapo Central School District in New York, 30 miles north of Manhattan, has gone through a similar transformation.
There, the Orthodox turn out to vote in strong numbers to defeat school budgets that could increase taxes, while electing members of the Orthodox community to the board. Parents of children in the public schools have accused the school board of making cuts in classroom education and extracurricular activities, to divert public resources to private Orthodox schools.
As in Lakewood, Ramapo residents opposed to the Orthodox control complain about the forces propelling what was a quiet New York suburb into a one of high-density living.
The fight in East Ramapo was documented on This American Life, the public radio show, which described a “volatile local political battle” that erupted after Hasidic residents, who have to pay local property taxes like everyone else—even if their kids did not attend the local schools— took control of the school board.
Elsewhere, there is similar anger over the influx of Orthodox families into parts of Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, Bloomingburg in New York, and a group of Hasidic families moving into an African-American neighborhood in Jersey City.
Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles, left, sitting alongside Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
4) What are the politics of Lakewood?
Lakewood swings Republican. Trump won with 74 percent of the vote. Christie won with 84 percent. The town is run by a five-member committee serving three year terms. Three are Orthodox Jews. There are three Republicans and two Democrats. All are white men.
But some believe the true power in town is the Vaad, a religious council of Orthodox men, headed by Rabbi Aaron Kotler, which serves as an unofficial advisory group to the community. They unofficially endorse candidates and push for town policies to benefit yeshivas, school owners and private developers.
Critics say Lakewood has outgrown the five-member town committee form of government, which appoints its own mayor and has at-large members. They say it needs a city government (like Newark and Jersey City), with a direct-elected mayor and wards, so one dominant ethnic group can’t dominate the government and smaller neighborhoods get representation.
Students get off the bus at the Yeshiva K’tana on 2nd St. in Lakewood. (David Gard | For NJ Advance Media)
5) What has been the impact of the Orthodox community on Lakewood?
The biggest hit has been on the school budgets. Under New Jersey law, communities are required to bus kids to private schools more than two miles away. But with 30,000 kids in private yeshivas in Lakewood, the costs of busing have grown out of control.
The state is giving $2.4 million a year to Lakewood until 2018 to solve the busing problem under legislation signed by Gov. Chris Christie. In 2014, the state appointed a fiscal monitor to oversee Lakewood’s school district and its budget deficit. But the cost of courtesy busing is keeping the district in the red, say critics.
Questions have also been raised about whether local construction and housing ordinances have been ignored to make room for Orthodox growth, in a town where the government is also controlled by the religious community. Lakewood has approved 1,200 new houses and 400 units in two years.
6) If others in the township are being affected, why doesn’t the state step in?
New Jersey law does give the state the ability to go into a district like Lakewood, and it has appointed a monitor who has oversight and ultimate say on how the money is spent.
“The problem in New Jersey is even when you have the monitor, the politics are intense,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which advocates for the education rights of public school children.
With a board that is controlled by a constituency that supports private education, he said Lakewood should not have control of busing and special education expenditures. At the same time, he complained that the Christie administration has been “hands off” on Lakewood, even though the monitor is there.
“The monitor might exercise his authority, but he has to have the backing of the governor and legislature. There’s going to be political pushback,” he said.
The Lakewood Board of Education provides courtesy busing to private schools, but with 30,000 kids in those schools, costs have spiraled out of control. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
7) What, if anything, should the state do?
Sciarra said Lakewood needs to stop diverting funds to pay for an extraordinary number of children using private school transportation.
“The monitor should stop the subsidization of transportation out of the schools’ budget because it’s diverting funds out of public education,” he said.
If the state wants to subsidize private transportation, then the state should provide state funds, Sciarra suggested.
Michael Azzara, the fiscal monitor appointed by the state to oversee Lakewood’s finances, did not return calls to comment.
The next step, Sciarra said, depends on the political will of the next governor, noting that the state Supreme Court has made it clear over and over again that the state has the final say in insuring that children receive a “thorough and efficient” education.
“The state has the ultimate responsibility, which cannot be undermined by local school boards and the local political process,” he said. “In Trenton. That’s where the power lies.”
A new housing development off Broadway Ave. in the south part of the town. The town has approved 1,200 new houses and 400 units in two years. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
8) How will Lakewood’s rapid development growth play out?
Pfeiffer said continued tensions among the communities, both within Lakewood and the surrounding municipalities, are likely.
“The outcomes of the current law enforcement investigations, school interventions, and land use concerns may contribute to new policies that respond to the pressures the yeshiva has introduced on the region,” he said. “Yeshiva leadership may feel it necessary, that despite its influence, to reconsider its growth plans as public resistance to continued growth may come at too great a disruption to the region’s civic environment and risk to the institution’s reputation.”
That said, he said it seems clear that continued, unabated growth will create new challenges for the region that will continue to stress political, civic, economic, and cultural institutions and systems, “the outcomes of which cannot be predicted today.”
In the hallways of Beth Medrash Govoha. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
9) How does the Orthodox community see the future in Lakewood?
What brings so many Orthodox families to Lakewood is Beth Medrash Govoha, which opened with 15 students in 1943 and has grown into one of the biggest yeshivas in the world, in part because of its distinctive teaching style.
Rabbi Kotler, president of the yeshiva, sees parallels to the Orthodox presence in Lakewood and to Princeton University.
“We kind of watch what they do and how they do that. What has really changed for us here in Lakewood, unlike Princeton, is that so many of our alumni and their families are living in Lakewood and setting up their businesses here,” he said. “Lakewood kind of became a destination in and of its own way.”
(Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)
10) Where is the next Lakewood?
While many see parallels of Lakewood in Rockland County’s East Ramapo, where many of the same issues have played out in recent years, the community in Lakewood is expanding beyond the town’s borders.
People in Toms River, Jackson, Howell and Brick have complained about getting harassed by Orthodox real estate brokers who knock on their doors and encourage them to sell their houses because Haredi Jews are moving in. Several towns have “no-knock” ordinances because of it.
Further to the north in Mahwah, meanwhile, residents are fighting the installation of an “eruv.” A physical line that is often a line or thin piping along utility poles, an eruv symbolically extends the private domain of Orthodox households into public areas, allowing activities within it that are normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath, such as pushing a baby carriage.
Comments on a petition circulating on-line, some overtly anti-Semitic, suggest the opposition is not so much to the presence of the eruv, but that Mahwah would be transformed into another Orthodox-dominated community, such as nearby Monsey, N.Y.
Staff writer Kelly Heyboer contributed to this report.
NEW CITY — Tuesday night’s county Legislature meeting turned into a venting session for distressed community members, with speakers letting loose about legislators Aron Wieder and Laurie Santulli, unsustainable growth, anti-Semitism, a proposed summit to address divisiveness in Rockland and more.
“You want to fix the anger?” speaker Lauren Marie told the legislators. “Do your jobs!” She was later removed from the room for shouting at another speaker while many spectators rose and cheered for her.
The atmosphere was intense from early evening, with hundreds waiting on line outside to get into the 7 p.m. meeting. The Legislature’s auditorium quickly reached its capacity of 220 people, though, and officials estimated that another couple hundred people remained outside, behind locked doors. Sheriff’s deputies were all around, one with a police dog.
The Legislature, with 13 members present, opened the meeting by moving directly to public comment. The audience included several Orthodox and Hasidic men and women, but the overwhelmingly majority appeared to be non-Orthodox.
Many speakers began their remarks by noting that they were not anti-Semitic or that their concerns were not about religion. Speakers who warned against over-development and called for fair treatment for all received applause. Several speakers who tried to defend Wieder or the Orthodox community were interrupted or booed.
The Legislature wound up not officially discussing its two agenda items, which were moved to committee. One called for praising those who condemned a controversial video shared by the Rockland County GOP last week, which many condemned as anti-Semitic, and the second called for a community summit in 2020 to address the county’s tensions.
Several speakers did comment about the lack of a resolution requested by Santulli to censure Wieder. Santulli wanted Wieder censured for calling a Clarkstown blogger “the anti-Semite of Rockland County” after an Aug. 23 press conference and for comments Wieder made about state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee at an Aug. 15 Ramapo Town Board hearing related to development.
Granddaughter of Rabbi Elisha Levi outraged to see a photo of him illustrating Yisrael Beytenu campaign spot; ultra-Orthodox MK blasts ‘incitement’
Avigdor Liberman was forced Friday to remove a campaign ad by his Yisrael Beytenu party calling on ultra-Orthodox Israelis to enlist to the military, after coming under fire for including footage of a rabbi who had fought in the Six Day War in 1967.
Yisrael Beytenu has been focusing its campaign on criticizing the ultra-Orthodox community and presenting his party as right-wing and secular, after a disagreement over a law regulating the drafting of seminary students into the IDF prevented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a coalition in the wake of the April elections. This led to another round of Israeli elections scheduled for September 17.
In the campaign spot published Friday morning, various photos of ultra-Orthodox men are seen with slogans such as: “We’re not demanding that you enlist to [elite commando unit] Sayeret Matkal, only that you enlist,” and “We’re not demanding that you work extra hours, only that you work.”
However, Facebook user Michaela Levi was outraged when she recognized one of the people in the clip as her grandfather Rabbi Elisha Levi, who served in the IDF in the 1960s and took part in the Six Day War against invading Arab armies.
“How ugly can this election cycle be?” she asked in a post. “This morning I saw the video Avigdor Liberman published. Probably without thinking too much about the people behind the photos, he allowed himself to drag my grandfather’s name through the mud… How do you allow yourselves to generalize like this?!
“My grandfather, who served and fought in the Six Day War, worked all his life in education and dedicated every free moment he had to volunteer work, and thousands of graduates of kindergartens and schools around Jerusalem can testify to that,” Levi added.
As the leading targets of hate crimes, Jews are routinely being attacked in the streets of New York City. So why is no one acting like it’s a big deal?
The incidents now pass without much notice, a steady, familiar drumbeat of violence and hate targeting visibly Jewish people in New York City.
Early on the morning of June 15, a Saturday, two men in a white Infiniti drove around Borough Park, a vast, traditional Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in central Brooklyn. Surveillance footage posted on the local website BoroPark24 showed a man jumping out of the car’s passenger side as someone in a shtreimel and long black jacket walked down the sidewalk in their direction. As the car idled, the passenger approached the Jewish stranger, lunged at him in a linebacker-like stutter-step, and then darted to the waiting vehicle, which promptly sped away. Levi Yitzhak Leifer, head of the Borough Park Shmira neighborhood patrol, said there were at least six and as many as nine reported incidents that night involving the same vehicle. Beresch Freilich, a rabbi who serves as a community liaison with the NYPD in Borough Park, said that some of the targeted individuals sensed a violent intent: “The car passed by going back and forth, and they felt it was trying to run them over.”
On a Saturday night in mid-January, Steven, a student and member of the Chabad Hasidic movement in his late teens, was returning to his apartment on Empire Avenue after a trip to the gym. (Nearly all victims interviewed for this piece asked to be identified by first name only, due to their involvement in ongoing legal cases). Steven saw what he described as a “rowdy group” of between six and eight “older teens” gathered on the sidewalk on a poorly lit stretch between Schenectady and Troy avenues. One of the teens sucker punched Steven in the back of the head as he walked past. “At first I honestly thought a car ran into me—it was such a blow.” Steven was then struck in his right cheek and fell to the sidewalk. He realized he was outnumbered but some irrational part of him couldn’t accept the insult.
“I charged towards them like in a frenzy, with blood on my hands and my face, and I started trying to give him a thing or two,” he remembered of his run toward his main attacker. They exchanged a few blows before the entire group fled. The teens made no attempt to rob Steven, and there was no clear motive for the assault. In retrospect, given the force of the first strike against a vulnerable spot on his head, Steven thinks the attack could have gone much worse for him. “I was very, very lucky,” he said.
Steven’s attackers can be seen on surveillance footage entering and leaving the area in which the ambush took place, although the attack itself was not recorded, making the case difficult to pursue as either a hate crime or an assault. Steven said he talked to the NYPD’s hate crimes unit, which is called in at the discretion of a precinct’s commanding officer or a borough’s on-duty executive officer when a crime has a suspected hate motive, but that no elected officials reached out to him. It had been months since he had heard from law enforcement about the case.
The attack had made Steven anxious and moody in the months after, but one of his grandfathers was a Talmudic master who had spent seven years in Stalin’s gulag after World War II and only escaped the Soviet Union in the 1970s. “Me getting punched in the face—I think of it almost comically,” Steven said. “It’s a part of being Jewish.”
On May 1, at the corner of Carroll and Albany in Crown Heights, a property manager named Jack Blachman heard a woman screaming and saw two Jewish girls, whose ages he estimated at 14 or 15, running down the sidewalk. Behind them was a “big, tall dude” who Blachman described as “very agitated” and later identified as Hispanic—apparently the girls had not moved out of his way. “I asked him what was going on and he started screaming at me, accosted me, yelled, ‘you Jews, you’ve created this cult,’” said Blachman. “Then he spit in my face.” Blachman recorded the incident—including the spit—and the video eventually ended up on Twitter. There is generally great viral potential in footage that appears to capture acts of bias, yet Blachman’s video currently sits at a mere 479 retweets.
Chayyim, a Satmar Hasid, was struck as he was walking home from synagogue in south Williamsburg with his 11-year-old son on a Shabbat night in late November of last year. “It was a very good punch to the back of my head,” he recalled, a blow that sent his shtreimel and yarmulke tumbling to the sidewalk. “It threw me off balance—it took me even a couple seconds to get my vision back. He hit me pretty hard. It felt like initially it might have been a glass bottle falling from the top of a building or something like that.” The street had been “pretty empty,” and the punch had no obvious motive.
Chayyim ran after his attacker and was able to get a close view of him, quick thinking that helped the police identify and apprehend the assailant a few days later. The suspect turned out to be a Hispanic man in his early 30s who had recently been arrested for lashing out at paramedics treating him after an apparent overdose on K2, the dangerous synthetic marijuana alternative sold throughout Williamsburg and Bushwick. The attacker was charged with assault, but the punch was so inexplicable that a hate motive could not be proven.
Like Chayyim, Yehuda, a Satmar Hasid living in Williamsburg, did not try to draw attention to an attack against him in the neighborhood in early May, when a teenager punched him in broad daylight. “He was silent, he didn’t say anything before and after. I cannot say what his motive was,” Yehuda said. He explained there is a sense of fellow-feeling between Williamsburg’s Jews and their neighbors that one shouldn’t lose sight of. He recalled that the day before our conversation, in early July, he observed a young African American man attempting to hop a subway turnstile. A Hasid approached the barrier and helpfully swiped the man into the subway system.
The increase in the number of physical assaults against Orthodox Jews in New York City is a matter of empirical fact. Anti-Semitic hate crimes against persons, which describes nearly everything involving physical contact, jumped from 17 in 2017 to 33 in 2018, with the number for the first half of 2019 standing at 19, according to the NYPD’s hate crime unit. Jews are the most frequent targets of hate crimes in New York City, and have been for some time (although this number is somewhat skewed by the fact that swastikas, which are by far the city’s most common hate incident, are automatically categorized as an anti-Jewish hate crime).