Religion v. Education and the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community

Battle Over Role of Religion in Schools Plays Out in Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community

 

Ultra-orthodox Jews in BrooklynUltra-orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, September 14, 2007. (Photo: diluvi, Flickr)

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Citizen Truth.)

“Some people leave precisely because they have been deprived of an education, and they feel betrayed.”

As public school education has become increasingly secular over the years, private religious schools have pushed back by focusing their curricula on more intense religious studies, often at the expense of instruction in secular subjects.

While the role of religion in schools has been a controversial topic since the early days of the American education system, the divide over the role of religion in education seems to be widening. One of the most obvious examples of the conflict can be seen in the educational institutions of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, where instruction in secular subjects is almost non-existent.

Schools that Don’t Educate

According to activists Citizen Truth spoke with, students at some of these ultra-orthodox educational institutions don’t even know that dinosaurs once walked the earth, or that one of the bloodiest wars in human history occurred as a result of the battle over slavery.

This knowledge is essential to be a rational, reasonable member of modern American society, which is what education in the United States is supposed to prepare its youth for. By denying these aspects of education to their students, ultra-Orthodox schools and other conservative religious institutions are not only doing these children a disservice; they are declaring war on modernity and reason.

Ultra-orthodox Jews are also known as Haredi, which can also be translated from Hebrew as “anxious.” This extremely conservative sect of Judaism is characterized by its anxiety towards the outside, non-Jewish world: fear of assimilation, doubt regarding scientific principles and complete trust in the religious leader of one’s specific community, known as a rebbe.

Throughout this article, the words ultra-orthodox and Haredi will be used interchangeably. However, remember that the majority of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the United States belong to Hasidic sects, which is an even more conservative group of communities within the larger Haredi community. All Hasidic Jews are part of the larger Haredi movement, but not all Haredi Jews belong to Hasidic communities.

Advocating for Fair Education

One of the groups leading the fight in support of better educational practices in Haredi religious institutions is Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED), whose executive director is Naftuli Moster.

Moster was educated in an all-male Haredi school or yeshiva in Borough Park, Brooklyn, which is one of the epicenters of ultra-orthodox culture in the city. He decided to start YAFFED after realizing how incomplete the education he and his friends had received at yeshivas and other ultra-orthodox schools actually was.

Yeshiva in Brooklyn, NY. Photo: [mementosis} via Flickr.

Moster is quick to point out that “receiving a Judaic education has its benefits. It’s not like lying in bed and doing absolutely nothing. But it’s no substitute for a secular education that includes English, math, science, and social studies.” Religious instruction may have its benefits, but only if it is properly integrated into a curriculum that also includes subjects like science, math and history.

YAFFED, PEARLS and a Battle Over Education

YAFFED recently released a 90-page report entitled Non-Equivalent: The State of Education in New York City’s Hasidic Yeshivas which gave a detailed account of the amount of time spent on secular studies in ultra-Orthodox schools. The report also provided comprehensive data on the government funding that yeshivas receive and included recommendations from the New York City Department of Education and the New York Department of Education.

YAFFED and other concerned groups have made repeated attempts to remedy the massive problems existing in religious educational institutions in New York. But the attempts at legislation by the New York State Education at YAFFED’s behest have been met with strong legal and political opposition, and as a result, have failed.

At the forefront of the opposition to YAFFED and similar groups is a group called Parents for Educational and Religious Liberty in Schools, or PEARLS. Though the name makes allusions to freedom in education, it’s essentially a pro-Yeshiva organization created to oppose YAFFED and stop any government initiatives to improve education in ultra-Orthodox schools. To date, they have spent nearly one million dollars in their effort to prevent students at Hasidic schools from having access to secular knowledge.

PEARLS has friends in high places. The public relations firm who represents the group is Global Strategy Group, one of the most sought-after public relations firms in politics. They have assisted many prominent American politicians, including former New York governor Elliot Spitzer and current governor Andrew Cuomo. One of the leaders of PEARLS, Rabbi Isaac Sofer, is also a former fundraiser for current New York mayor Bill de Blasio. Given that Cuomo and de Blasio are some of the most prominent politicians charged with regulating the educational practices at Haredi institutions, this cozy relationship should be at least somewhat troubling.

Ultra-Orthodox Community’s Political Clout

Yeshivas are male-only education institutions, and since the intended goal of a yeshiva education is to become a rabbi, these schools offer less secular instruction than their female-only counterparts. As a result, girls educated at ultra-Orthodox schools tend to have an easier time as they transition to adulthood and attend college or join the workforce.

Moster also points out that these girls are no less Jewish or Orthodox than their male peers. He explained to Citizen Truth that “this goes to show that you can provide a full Judaic and secular education without compromising one or the other.”

 

To continue reading click here.

Measles in NYC Spreads Outside Community – Sunset Park

Measles spreads to Sunset Park as confirmed cases rise to 466

The measles outbreak has spread to Sunset Park with three non-Jewish individuals, including two public school students, contracting the disease. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

2 public school students among those infected

New York City’s measles outbreak, mostly contained to the Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, has now spread to Sunset Park as three people outside the Orthodox community — including two students — have contracted the disease.

Neither child was vaccinated, but they were allowed to attend school due to religious exemptions, according to the Health Department. They did not, however, go to school while infectious, and both had spent time in areas rife with measles.

Deputy Commissioner Dr. Demetre Daskalakis sought to assure the community that public school students are not at an increased risk of getting the disease.

“We are confident there is no increased risk of exposure at New York City public schools both because the recently diagnosed children from Sunset Park were not in school while infectious and because of the high vaccination rates of students in these and all NYC public schools,” Daskalakis said.

“This is the time to act. Measles is a highly contagious disease. If you are spending time in Williamsburg, Borough Park or other areas with measles activity in or around NYC confirm that you are immune to measles by looking at your vaccination history or by consulting with your healthcare provider.”

Daskalakis urged anyone living, working, studying or playing in areas with measles like Williamsburg and Borough Park to get vaccinated.

The total number of confirmed cases across the city has risen to 466 — 43 more since April 30 — and an additional 181 since Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency on April 9.

To continue reading click here.

Jacob Daskal – The Satmar Owned … Time to Sunset the Shomrim

Daskals minions

It’s time to sunset the scandal-ridden Shomrim

Does New York City — with its once-unimaginable record-low crime rates — still need private (but city-funded) citizen-patrol groups?

The question became more pressing with the arrest Thursday of Jacob Daskal, politically wired president and co-founder of the Boro Park Shomrim, on charges he repeatedly raped a 15-year-old girl over a period of months in his home.

It’s not the Brooklyn group’s first brush with the law, either.

Last year, Shomrim official Alex “Shaya” Lichtenstein was sentenced to 32 months in prison for bribing cops on a regular basis to get hard-to-obtain full-carry handgun permits for paying clients, including some with criminal records.

The group itself has been accused of violently beating suspects it apprehends. And Daskal reportedly was able to arrange for Orthodox Jews arrested for minor crimes to avoid being booked through the system.

Shomrim faced a round of criticism — including from then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly — in 2011 when it waited three hours before notifying the NYPD of the disappearance of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was later found murdered.

Yes, it can be useful for police to establish a rapport with local residents, especially in a community as insular as Borough Park. And a citizen patrol can be an asset in discouraging graffiti and vandalism.

But the Boro Park Shomrim were born during the out-of-control crime wave of the pre-Giuliani era. And those days thankfully are long over.

To read the remainder of the article click here.

The Satmar Ruled Brooklyn Part V – From a 2016 Article, The Shomrim and their Unbridled Power

Shomrim.1

Time to Bridle the Shomrim’s Ability to Behave with Impunity – Sunset

To our Readers: We have taken the blow from a 2016 post on another blog “Haemtza”. There is nothing in our use of the below post that should indicate that the blogger who wrote the piece endorses our site. Please click to the original to read it in its original format.

We believe the piece has value, even more today than on the date it was written because, amongst other things, it predates the arrest of Yanky (Jacob Daskal) on sexual assault charges, which we believe was an arrest that characterizes the impunity with which the Shomrim behave.

We feel that today, more than in 2016 when this piece was written, there is reason to be concerned by the unbridled power of the Shomrim.

We feel that the Shomrim is a dangerous enterprise, not governed by the same rules, guidelines and hierarchies that govern law enforcement proper; and for that reason, if no other, it represents lawless vigilantism.

We believe that it is time to dismantle New York’s Shomrim forces for “Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely” Lord Acton, and the Shomrim have outgrown the ability of any other police force to properly enforce its activity. It is a form of government sanctioned control over a community and control over others from within that community and is dangerous. It will only become more dangerous if not reined in now.

Emes Ve-Emunah

A Forum for Orthodox Jewish thought on Halacha, Hashkafa, and the social issues of our time.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Shomrim – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There is much that is good about the Chasidic world. It is a brotherhood like no other. It is that sense of brotherhood that in my view was the impetus for forming the Shomrim Society back 1977. Shomrim are a group of usually Chasidic Jews that are volunteer neighborhood watchmen. Kind of like Curtis Slewa’s Guardian Angels. They patrol Jewish neighborhoods in order to provide protection against things like vandalism, muggings, assault and domestic violence.

The Shomrim Society has spread beyond its original borders of Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Boro Park, and Flatbush . There are now branches in cities like Baltimore, Miami, Lakewood, and London.

The fact is that a lot of Jewish residents in those areas are happy that they exist. They seem to have political support and some (if not universal) police support – who are happy to have some of their burden relieved by them. Shomrim even has some government funding. They not only add an extra layer of protection to those Jewish neighborhoods, they are often seen by Jewish residents as a first line of defense against crime. Their response time is generally a lot quicker than the police.

There is not a doubt in my mind that there has been more than one occasion where an elderly victim was spared a mugging or an assault because of their quick response. And not all of the people they help are Orthodox Jews. According to a 2014 story in the Hackney Gazette:

…around 70% of the victims (in London) they help are not from the Orthodox Jewish community, usually just local residents from any race or religion.

Although I tend to doubt whether that 70% figure is anywhere near in a Chasidic enclaves like Williamsburg, I do believe that if a caller in distress is not Jewish, they will respond to them just the same.

But that is not the end of the story. I have had my issues with these self appointed watch groups. While there may be a benefit to having that kind of protection by one’s own people, there is a definite downside that makes me question their ultimate value.

The truth is I never liked the idea of volunteer neighborhood watch groups. My feeling has always been that despite the fact that theywere created to protect their communities, many of them were basically police ‘wannabes’ looking for adventure but untrained to do police work.

True, they do not carry weapons (thank God). But a lot of damage can be done with a fist. Or a foot. Or a stick. In their zeal to protect the innocent, they will sometimes go overboard. And in some cases hurt innocent people – mistaking them for a perpetrator. Now this can happen to police too. We all know what has been happening on this front these days. Ask the families of mostly black victims unjustly killed or beaten by the police in cities all over this country.

The difference is that the police are trained to know when and how to react – and how much force to use. So that hopefully – as bad as the recent cases of police brutality have been – they are a very small minority of the police department. As a percentage of the whole, the numbers are probably miniscule. There are bad apples in every group. But Shomrim have no such training. Certainly not on the level of the police department.

 

So, although I am happy that many people have been spared great tragedy as a result of quick response by Shomrim – preventing for example violence against an elderly Jew –  it comes at a terrible price. A price that can best be described in a Forward article by attorney, Michael Lesher. If it were up to him, he would abolish these groups entirely. And with good reason:

The Brooklyn Hasidim accused of beating a young, gay black man named Taj Patterson back in 2013 are reportedly about to get a plea deal so sweet, they won’t serve a single day in prison. Patterson, who was beaten so badly that he was left blind in one eye, and who had homophobic slurs hurled at him throughout the ordeal, is surely having a hard time understanding the aftermath.

I don’t know the details of this case. But it surely smacks of something way beyond protecting fellow Jews. I don’t think that beating and blinding a suspect while hurling homophobic insults at them is what protecting fellow Jews is all about. And this is not the first nor only case where excessive force was used. More from Mr. Lesher:

For too long we’ve allowed a system of Jewish-run patrols to dominate the heavily Orthodox Jewish enclaves of Brooklyn, usurping the role of the official police force (with key support from vote-hungry politicians), despite their record of violence toward non-Jews. And for years we’ve held our tongues as the patrols’ unchecked behavior carried on… When retired police captain William Plackenmeyer told Newsday in 2003, “In Brooklyn, it almost seemed like there were two penal codes, one for the Hasidic community and one for everyone else…”

When Michael wrote an article in the New York Post exposing some uncomfortable truths about Shomrim this was in part the response he got:

To continue reading click here.

The Satmar Run Borough Park, NY, 66th Precinct Retirement Celebrated – Where Lines Get Blurred

VIDEO

 

Detective Joe Vitella, the Longtime Community Affairs Liaison at the 66th Retires and Borough Park’s Satmar Offer a Celebration

Det. Joe Vitella, the longtime community affairs liaison at the 66th Precinct, retired today after 27 years in the NYPD

Detective Joe Vitella has been credited with taking down Shaya Lichtenstein, the Shomrim member who pleaded guilty in a gun-permit scandal. Vitella had been asked to testify in the trial of former Deputy Inspector James Grant who was ultimately acquitted. https://nypost.com/2018/04/26/feds-want-cop-in-bribe-string-to-testify-at-nypd-trial/. Vitella himself was not implicated and we make absolutely no suggestion that he should have been.

He has retired with a string of laudatory credits to his name. But the majority of his praise comes from the Satmar community covered by that precinct.

For us, what remains disturbing is the gray area that characterizes the lines drawn between the police department, the community boards and the Shomrim of Borough Park.

We are concerned lest a private community be favored by a police department, not in how that department protects its precinct but in how they handle the badly behaved within that precinct. 

We fear that it may be the roosters running the hen-house and wonder why the Borough Park papers offered Vitella praise in painstaking detail but his retirement is really not mentioned elsewhere. We begrudge Retired Detective Joe Vitella nothing. Mazel Tov on your retirment.

We do ask, who is running whom within the walls of that community and the doors of that precinct.

Worst Measles Outbreak in Decades, Rockland County, New York, Hardest Hit

New York Confronts Its Worst Measles Outbreak in Decades

Borough Park, Brooklyn, has seen 35 cases of measles in an outbreak affecting more than 200 people in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in New York and New Jersey.CreditCreditBryan Thomas for The New York Times

Through the fall, traveler after traveler arrived in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities of New York from areas of Israel and Europe where measles was spreading. They then spent time in homes, schools and shops in communities where too many people were unvaccinated.

Within months, New York State was facing its most severe outbreak of the disease in decades, with 182 cases confirmed by Thursday, almost exclusively among ultra-Orthodox Jews. Health officials in New Jersey have reported 33 measles cases, mostly in Ocean County, driven by similar conditions.

In 2018, New York and New Jersey accounted for more than half the measles cases in the country.

Alarmed, health officials began a systematic effort to bring up vaccination rates and halt the disease’s spread.

But while there has been progress, the outbreak is not yet over. Health officials said part of the problem has been resistance among some people in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to fully cooperate with health workers, get vaccinations and promptly report infections

“Sometimes they hang up and they don’t want to open the door,” said Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert, the health commissioner of Rockland County, northwest of New York City, where the worst of the outbreak has been, with 116 confirmed cases. “It’s hard to break an outbreak if you are not getting cooperation.”

Dr. Ruppert said that health officials discovered that some religious schools, or yeshivas, in ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County had vaccination rates as low as 60 percent, far below the state average of 92.5 percent. Audits found that some schools were overreporting vaccination rates, she added.

Delayed vaccination also helped fuel the outbreak in the Orthodox communities of Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn, which had reported 58 cases as of Thursday, said Dr. Jane R. Zucker, head of the city health department’s Bureau of Immunization.

There have been no deaths in the outbreak, but there have been a few serious cases in young children that required hospitalization.

Measles is one of the most contagious infections and can live for up to two hours in the airspace where an infected person breathed, coughed or sneezed. It usually affects children, and symptoms include high fever and a rash of red spots all over the body, as well as a cough and runny nose. Some 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed in proximity to an infected person will get it.

But the vaccine, when given in two doses — typically around age 1 and age 5 — is about 97 percent effective.

Health officials and sociologists say the reasons for low vaccination rates among the ultra-Orthodox are complex.

In part they are tied to the wider anti-vaccination movement globally, including concerns that the measles vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella, causes autism or other diseases. The idea has been widely debunked but persists in some circles.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder of Darchei Noam yeshiva in Monsey in Rockland County, said that some parents considering admission to his school agonized over giving their children vaccines because they had heard they were dangerous. His yeshiva insisted on them, he said, though he knew of others that did not.

“Good people, great parents were terrified,” he said. “They felt that I was asking to give their children something that would harm them.”

Alexandra Khorover, general counsel for Refuah Health Center, one of the largest health providers in the Rockland community of Spring Valley, said her health workers had encountered “a small pocket of people who are anti-vaccine who have been peddling this information, fostering confusion and fear.”

Part of the reluctance to vaccinate or allow a government health worker to enter the home, though, is cultural.

Samuel Heilman, a Queens College sociology professor who studies the ultra-Orthodox, said that there is a “fear of interference from the outside” rooted in the community’s origins in pre-World War II Europe. More recently, the ultra-Orthodox have fought back against other health department efforts, such as New York City’s efforts to limit a controversial circumcision practice, metzitzah b’peh, because of warnings from health officials that it causes herpes in infants.

“They have accepted the idea that they live by different rules than others in the outside community,” Mr. Heilman said.

While this insularity allowed the measles to spread, it has also had a protective effect on wider public health, at least so far. In part because ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to attend their own religious schools and patronize their own shops and restaurants, the disease has remained in Orthodox circles, save for several infections among non-Jewish workers linked to their communities, health officials said.

The outbreak in New York and New Jersey can be traced to the rise of measles in Israel, where some 2,700 cases and two deaths were reported in 2018, centered in Jerusalem.

In Europe, which was the source of at least some of the Brooklyn infections, some 65,000 cases were reported in the year ending October 2018, with high concentrations in Balkan countries and Ukraine.

A flier distributed in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities by the New York City Health Department.CreditNew York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene
A flier distributed in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities by the New York City Health Department.CreditNew York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

As measles spread in New York, public health officials swung into action. Some 40,000 fliers were printed in English, Yiddish, Spanish and other languages warning of the Israeli outbreak and calling for people to be vaccinated. Health officials met with rabbis and pediatricians, who sounded the alarm to their congregations and patients.

“We are telling people the health department is looking out for your health,” said Rabbi David Niederman, a community leader and executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. “They are the experts and you should take the vaccinations.

In Rockland County, which includes the large ultra-Orthodox community of New Square, the authorities put 59 schools under “exclusion orders,” forbidding unvaccinated children to attend even if they had a valid religious or medical exemption to the vaccine. The orders are lifted when a school’s vaccination rate reaches 95 percent, which state authorities consider protective of public health. Eighteen schools have had the orders lifted, officials said.

In Brooklyn, some children have been out of school for months because of similar exclusion orders by health officials, said Rabbi David Zwiebel, the executive director of Agudath Israel, an ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization. Tensions are high, with some parents still refusing to vaccinate because of health fears, and others relenting.

“There has been some harsh language exchanged on both sides,” Rabbi Zwiebel said.

To read the remainder of the article click here.

Borough Park Shomrim Member, Moshe Steinberg, Aiding and Abetting a Scofflaw – on Video… oh…and the racism

Group of Brooklyn Residents Help Motorist Escape NYPD Tow Truck (VIDEO)

A group of Brooklyn residents helped a motorist escape a tow truck operated by the New York City Police Department (NYPD) on Thursday. Video of the incident made its way to social media on Friday when a Twitter user posted the footage in order to apparently help the NYPD identify some of the culprits.

Brooklynites can be heard shouting in the video as the driver guns their minivan to break out of a set of tow bars previously deployed in the Borough Park neighborhood at the corner of 44th Street and 15th Avenue.

Much of the off-camera commentary is in Yiddish but some of the taunting becomes racial–clearly directed toward the NYPD traffic agent, who is black.

“You’re in the wrong precinct,” someone says. “He should work in Harlem. They’ll kill him over there.”

Another voice is somewhat more sympathetic.

“Oh this is so bad,” a man says, “the guy worked his ass off for a half hour.”

The incident also made waves on the Kensington Brooklyn NY Facebook group where the post’s author noted:

“Scofflaw motorist” HAS 37 VIOLATIONS including 3 School Zone Speed Camera Violations🤬
… Boro Park Shomrim member Moshe Steinberg Unit-22 caught on tape assisting scofflaw motorist flee from NYPD. Steinberg is also seen harassing NYPD officer as bystander taunts the officer with racist remarks.

Both the Twitter and the Facebook post identify the Shomrim–a Jewish neighborhood watch volunteer group–as taking part in helping the motorist dodge the tow truck’s grasp.

“I thought Shomrim was suppose to assist the NYPD?” the Twitter user asked out loud in a separate post.

The NYPD issued a stinging rebuke of the crowd’s behavior.

“We will not tolerate our traffic agents being subject to abuse in any form, not the least of which is the ugly example we see in this video,” NYPD spokesman Lt. John Grimpel told the New York Daily News.

“NYPD Traffic Enforcement Agents responded to the area at the request of community members and local representatives who were concerned about illegal parking conditions that impede the flow of traffic, including emergency vehicles. This is disgusting behavior against an agent who was doing his job to keep New Yorkers safe while exhibiting restraint and professionalism.”

The traffic agent had reportedly already completed all the necessary paperwork and thus the driver’s information was collected so they are still expected to ultimately pay the necessary fine at least. They could also face additional charges.