Rabbi Hillel Handler enjoyed a rare moment in the glare of mainstream media this week when he addressed an anti-vaccination crowd in a heavily Hasidic town in suburban Rockland County.
The member of the Satmar Hasidic sect riled up the crowd of a couple of hundreds of people with a diatribe that accused liberals in and out of government of using a still-spreading measles outbreak to target observant Jews.
Handler called Mayor de Blasio a “nasty German” and claimed it was “in his DNA” to hate Jews.
”Like the Fuhrer, he says: ‘Blame the Jews. They’re contaminating the whole city,’ ” Handler told the Daily News Wednesday.
De Blasio shot back that Handler was spouting “dangerous and irresponsible lies.”
“Rabbi Handler is putting at risk the lives he claims he’s trying to save,” said Miranda Marcy, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
At the rally in Monsey, Handler focused mostly on measles, although he did veer off into an anti-immigrant diatribe claiming that undocumented immigrants pose a more serious health threat.
Little did the crowd or the reporters covering the event know that Handler has a long history of supporting radical causes on the far right-wing fringes of Jewish opinion.
Handler has fiercely attacked observant Jews for reporting child sex abuse to police, claiming such accusations should be handled by rabbinic authorities. He once even defended a rabbi who was convicted of raping his own daughter, saying the girl was lying about the abuse.
Handler also opposed efforts to regulate metzizah b’pei, a controversial circumcision rite that health officials say can spread deadly herpes to newborn boys.
He even opposes Israel’s existence.
“There’s a lot of half-crazies like him in America,” said Alexander Rapaport, who runs a network of kosher soup kitchens and recently recorded a pro-vaccination public service video. “It’s the price of freedom in America.”
Rapaport, who happens to be a neighbor of Handler, shrugs him off as a phony who has no pulpit and no real following.
Others see him as a powerful danger in his ability to link different hateful causes. Shmarya Rosenberg spent several years chronicling abuse and corruption in the ultra-Orthodox world but has since left the blog called Failed Messiah.
“He’s an extremist, and he’s amoral,” said Shmarya Rosenberg. “He’s appears to be a gun for hire in the ultra-Orthodox community.”
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To the People Who Organized this Travesty of a Gathering, to the Owners of this Hall Who Allowed It, You Should be Paying the Bills for Anyone who Gets Sick!
To our readers:
If a person carrying the HIV virus knowingly has sexual relations with someone without first informing that person of the risks, it is a crime. HIV is spread through blood transfer and the interaction of certain bodily fluids. It is not airborne and is generally not contagious.
However, a family can choose to not vaccinate themselves or their children for measles and can walk into a crowded Costco or onto a cruise ship, infected with the measles and it is not a crime? The measles is highly contagious, is airborne and does not require a live host to pass from one person to another. Why are the actions of this family not viewed as criminal?
Perhaps the difference is what it takes to spread the disease? HIV requires intimate contact, generally speaking and measles only requires that you go out in public. Is that the difference?
A family that chooses not to vaccinate its children, that then infects others should be held fully and completely accountable for the damage to those who become ill. The measles is life threatening. It has financial implications. It has health implications. It is now costing the United States health insurance industry millions of dollars. It is costing public welfare like Medicare and Medicaid in the tens of millions.
In the year 2000, the Measles was virtually eradicated from the United States.
We have moved centuries backwards and Rabbis, attorneys couching their arguments in fundamental freedoms and wayward knuckleheads named Bigtree are preaching the virtues of anti-vaxing and its already debunked theory of a connection between the vaccine and autism.
What about the fundamental rights of the rest of the population to be able to travel out in public and feel safe. What about new mothers with children who are too young for the vaccine? And what about people who are finding that the vaccines from the late 60’s are not protecting them. And finally, what if the virus mutates, a very real possibility.
The priorities here are upside down and it has nothing to do with illegal immigrants!
Hundreds of Orthodox Jewish families gathered in a catering hall Monday night in the Rockland County hamlet of Monsey, where they heard anti-vaccine crusaders claim that inoculations are the real health risk, and that measles can help produce growth spurts and prevent everything from cancer to heart disease.
Dr. Larry Palevsky, who runs the Newport Wellness Center in Long Island, a practice that specializes in “holistic pediatric services,” asked onlookers to question whether there was actually a measles outbreak, or if people were actually catching measles from the vaccine itself. Or, perhaps, doctors have been misdiagnosing other illnesses as the measles.
“Is there a bad lot of vaccines?“ Palevsky asked the crowd. “Is it possible that these lots are bad? Is it something other than the unvaccinated children?”
The symposium, hosted by a group calling itself the “United Jewish Community Council,” was advertised through robocalls and fliers sent around WhatsApp groups. Getting wind of the rally, Rockland County officials sent out a desperate message urging people not to attend.
“This type of propaganda endangers the health and safety of children within our community,” County Executive Ed Day, Ramapo Supervisor Michael Speech, and Rabbi Chaim Schabes wrote in a joint statement. “It is unfortunate that these outsiders are targeting our community and attacking our right of self-determination…We urge our residents to continue to ignore these attempts to exploit our differences and ask that they stand together.”
But the message did little to dissuade hundreds of people from showing up, mostly Orthodox Jewish families from all over the region; some bussed into Monsey from as far away as Brooklyn and Lakewood, New Jersey.
Crowds trickled in at first, but by 8:30 p.m. the ballroom was packed with hundreds of spectators, with women and men separated by a cloth partition. (The podium was in front of the men’s side, while women initially had to make do with a video projection. After some protest from non-Orthodox women there, organizers pulled back the curtain a few feet so women could see the stage.)
Just one of the event’s five speakers, who were introduced as “distinguished personalities” and the “cream of humanity’s crop,” was from the Orthodox community. Rabbi Hillel Handler, who has likened vaccination to “child sacrifice” in the past, told the crowd that according to “medical research,” if you catch “measles, mumps and chickenpox, your chances of getting cancer, heart disease, and strokes goes down 60 percent.”
He also said that Hasidim were being scapegoated by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who he called “a very, very sneaky fellow” and a German.
“The Jews are our misfortune,” he said, bringing up how Jews were stigmatized in Nazi Germany. “We Hasidim have been chosen as the target in order to distract from the virulent diseases that are sweeping through the city from illegals.”
The other speakers were figures from the national secular anti-vaccination circuit, who traded in long-debunked and fraudulent claims that vaccines cause autism or other autoimmune disorders, while painting measles as a trivial childhood illness that can give children a growth spurt or protect them from cancers.
D.C. lobbyist Greg Mitchell took the stage after Rabbi Handler. Mitchell has pushed for such causes as the First Step Act, the criminal justice reform bill signed into law late last year by President Trump. Mitchell, according to a report from the Daily Beast, was booted from those efforts when organizers found out he was also lobbying for the Church of Scientology, and that the church was potentially trying to convert formerly incarcerated people through a nonprofit it runs.
“I will be your voice in Washington, I’ll make it will help you carry your message; I will stand next to you,” Mitchell said, admitting not to know much about the vaccine safety issue and deferring to the expertise of other speakers. “I’m your lobbyist, I’m here to help you.”
Palevsky then questioned the reality of a measles outbreak, while warning the crowd about the measles vaccine. “Hundreds of thousands if not millions of mothers…have witnessed children regressing after they get the MMR…the children stop talking, they don’t look at you, they start flapping their arms, they start banging their head,” he said.
According to New York City and Rockland Health Departments, the vast majority of people who’ve gotten sick with measles have been unvaccinated. In Rockland County, 92 percent of people were either completely unvaccinated or had an known vaccination status, according to the county’s health department. In New York City, 92 percent of children who got sick and 72 percent of adults were unvaccinated as of April 24, according to a city Department of Health advisory sent out to health care providers.
The final speakers were two of the biggest names on the anti-vaccination circuit. Andrew Wakefield, the author of the fraudulent 1998 paper published then retracted in the Lancet that claimed there was a link between the Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine and autism by looking at 12 autistic children, spoke to the crowd via videoconference.
“I want to reassure you, I have never been involved in scientific fraud,” he said. “What happened to me is what happens to doctors who threaten the bottom line of the pharmaceutical companies and who threaten government policy in the interest of their patients and that is what happened.”
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After Wakefield’s study was found to contain factual inaccuracies and ethical violations, investigative journalist Brian Deer revealed that Wakefield had also been receiving payments from an attorney trying to sue the vaccine manufacturer.
Finally, Del Bigtree, TV producer-turned-anti-vaccination YouTube host, addressed the crowd.
“This could destroy our species…They wanna talk about the measles,” Bigtree shouted to the exuberant crowd. “I wanna talk about autism, I want to talk about the greatest epidemic of our lifetime and all the other chronic illnesses that are skyrocketing in this country.”
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An investigation paralleling I-Team coverage found slumlords with illegal subdivisions and “rooming houses” are repeatedly failing local building codes and laws
A new battle is brewing in Rockland County amid accusations of overdevelopment and illegal conversions.
Months ago, State Senator James Skoufis, who represents part of Rockland, launched an investigation into building code enforcement. His investigation parallels continuing coverage by the I-Team.
“We’re finding illegal subdivisions where walls appear where they should not be. We’re finding illegal rooming houses where slumlords are renting to vulnerable Spanish-speaking immigrants,” Skoufis said.
The I-Team submitted Freedom of Information requests for nearly two dozen properties in the town of Ramapo and the Village of Spring Valley. The locations were identified by members of the county’s illegal housing task force and building insiders as being persistent offenders for failing to follow local building laws and codes.
Many of the files in Spring Valley were incomplete or missing, according to Gordon Wren, the retired Director of Fire and Emergency Services, and a former Ramapo building inspector.
“Slumlords are doing whatever they want. It’s out of control,” Wren said. He added, “Firefighting is dangerous under any conditions. Then when you have these illegal conversions, it’s extremely dangerous.”
“It’s the wild west, and getting wilder,” said Justin Schwartz, chairman of the task force. “The bad guys are doing whatever they want with impunity.”
The I-Team obtained recent photos taken by a fire inspector at a private home in Monsey. The inspector noted an “obviously illegal yeshiva dormitory operating in basement with up to 6 beds per 4 overcrowded rooms, insufficient or blocked rescue and escape openings, missing smoke alarms, no CO alarms, and open/dangerous electric.”
The owner refused to comment on the photos the I-Team wanted to show her. A town spokesman said the violations have been cleared.
Critics say that property illustrates a systemic pattern of failure to enforce building code laws.
JOINT STATEMENT RELEASED FROM ROCKLAND DEMOCRATIC DISTRICT ATTORNEYS CANDIDATES – ALFIERI, GUNNING, AND WALSH.
Zebrowski Tries to Boot Democratic Opponents from Election
In an effort to distract from the issues, Ken Zebrowski and his campaign filed objections to the petitions of the only two former prosecutors in the race to be Rockland District Attorney. Zebrowski supporter and neighbor, Ronald Hanna, filed objections to both Patricia Gunning and Victor Alfieri’s Democratic petitions to get on the ballot for the June election. Despite Zebrowski’s self-professed legal experience and skills, even his petition challenges are replete with mistakes, duplications of objections, and frivolous claims. So despite paying out-of-county canvassers for many of the signatures and strong arming Democratic committee members to collect the rest of the signatures on his behalf, Ken Zebrowski is seeking to throw out hundreds of valid Democratic signatures, all in an effort to reduce the field of qualified candidates. In filing these frivolous challenges, weaponizing the very election law loopholes he’s helped shape in Albany, Ken is seemingly displaying a remarkable level of contempt for the very voters whose support he seeks.
“I am not a politician. I entered the race with the hope that the campaign would be about the merits – each candidates’ qualifications, each candidates’ vision for the office,” said Patricia Gunning. “When I announced my candidacy, I had respect for my rumored and announced opponents. Now, I know that respect was misplaced.”
“The Office of District Attorney is not a place for legal lightweights. This is a job that demands experience and expertise,” said Victor Alfieri. “As someone who does not even practice criminal law in his private practice, Ken Zebrowski would need to be taught the ropes and is simply unprepared to be District Attorney. That is why he wants two candidates with real world experience in a courtroom as prosecutors off the ballot.”
“As the first woman to run for District Attorney, Ms. Gunning is clearly a qualified candidate who deserves to be on the ballot.
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SET ASIDE for a moment the public-health danger posed by the return of measles, and focus on people, because that is where the problem lies. Declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, measles is having outbreaks in six locations; this year already marks the second-highest case count in two decades. That’s because some people made a decision not to get vaccinated or not to vaccinate their children. It was a negligent decision, and in many cases also an inexcusably ignorant one, that endangered neighbors and strangers alike in quotidian public spaces — schools, stores and airports.
Preventing the spread of measles requires about 95 percent of a population to be properly vaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, usually starting with the first dose at 12 months through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years old. The vaccine has proved safe and highly effective. But when pools of people neglect to get immunized or fail to stay up to date, they become vulnerable. According to public-health officials, measles is one of the most contagious viruses on Earth; you can catch it just by being in a room where a person with measles has been, up to two hours later. One alert that just went out in Rockland County, N.Y., listed an Uber, two taxis and a supermarket as potential exposure sites.
The outbreak in Rockland County was first met with an executive order barring unvaccinated children from schools, then when the outbreak progressed, it was followed by a state of emergency that bars children and teenagers who are not vaccinated from public places. This measure, which has been temporarily blocked by a local judge, is drastic but arguably necessary. As of last Wednesday, there were 161 confirmed cases, and 83.2 percent of them were unvaccinated individuals. This single outbreak is larger than the total number of cases that occurred in the United States in 2017. The total U.S. case count so far this year, 387, has surpassed last year’s nationwide total of 372.
In many cases, measles outbreaks are traced to travelers from elsewhere in the world where the disease is still endemic. In 2018, three outbreaks in New York state, New York City and New Jersey happened largely in unvaccinated Orthodox Jewish communities,triggered at first by travelers who brought measles back from Israel, where a large outbreak has been underway. Orthodox Jewish leaders said there was no religious edict against vaccination but that some people in the community may have become susceptible to anti-vaccination hysteria that has cropped up elsewhere, based on unfounded fears that vaccines cause autism.
To continue reading in the Washington Post click here.
ARUTZ 7 – Israel
Health commissioner supports push to end religious exemptions for vaccinations, says measles outbreak one of ‘most challenging’ crises.
Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the health commissioner of an outlying New York suburban county, is feeling”overwhelmed.”
Since October she has been waging an uphill fight to quell one of the worst US measles outbreaks in 20 years.
Among her daily battles: having to constantly repeat that the vaccine does not cause other diseases, that it does not lead to autism, and that the practice of using fetal tissue to produce the vaccine ended decades ago.
Pushing back against such “junk science” absorbs a good deal of her energy as she works to educate and persuade the 300,000 residents of Rockland County to cooperate with health authorities and alert them to any new cases of disease.
In 27 years of practicing medicine, Ruppert said, this is “one of the most challenging health crises I have had to deal with.”
As of Friday, measles — officially eliminated from the United States in 2000 — had struck 167 people in this county along the Hudson River, including nine new cases this week.
Among the six regional outbreaks of measles reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the leading public health institute in the US, Rockland County’s is the most concentrated.
And yet the county has not skimped in throwing resources at the problem.
Since October, each case has been systematically investigated to determine how many people have been exposed to the ultra-contagious virus.
Those exposed are then contacted to ensure they have been immunized, and if they haven’t been, they are then vaccinated.
Dozens of free vaccination clinics have been organized around the county — including one Friday in the town of Haverstraw — with 17,654 doses of vaccine administered to date.
The objective is to raise the vaccination rate from the current 72 percent, Ruppert said. A 95 percent vaccination rate is considered necessary to prevent epidemics.
On Monday, county executives will meet with legal and health professionals to identify more possible new strategies to tackle the outbreak.
It comes after the county took the unprecedented measure on March 26 of banning unvaccinated minors from schools and public places for 30 days.
Several public health specialists saluted the county’s decision.
But a dozen parents of public-school students sued the county, arguing that the measure was disproportionate to the danger, particularly as there have been no deaths to date.
On Friday they obtained a partial victory: a judge issued an injunction requiring county officials to drop the ban against any child with a “religious exemption,” at least until April 19.
“Religious exemption”: for many county residents, the words have become central to the debate over the resurgence of measles and the rise of the anti-vaccine movement.
Like most American states — all but three, including California — New York requires a series of vaccinations for school-age children but grants exemptions on both medical and religious grounds.
In Rockland County, the local Jewish community represents about one-third of county inhabitants, including a large number of Orthodox Jews.
That fact places this community at the heart of the vaccination debate, raising the risk of fueling anti-Semitism, said Gary Siepser, president of the Jewish Foundation of Rockland County.
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