Monthly Archives: June 2012
Remember the fundraising event last month for Nechemiah Weberman whose defense claims that the sexual molestation allegations against him are pure fabrications? Now it turns out that the money wasn’t intended to defend him. You obviously don’t need to convoke the entire town and solicit thousands of contributions for defense alone –even if he is guilty, let alone if innocent. It turns out the “defense fund” was intended to buy a dismissal of the case. DNAinfo.com reports that four men offered a cool half million dollars as hush money to persuade the victim to drop the charges. The victim bravely refused and had the men arrested!
So the question is: if he’s innocent why bribery? why hush money? We all remember Nixon’s hush money and we all know that Nixon was as guilty as sin. This should serve as a cautionary tale for Williamsburgers. Wake up! this is 21st century. Bribery in New York City is so 70′s! (Watch Serpico to learn more –oops, y’all don’t watch movies, my bad). It doesn’t work anymore; get a life!
And congratulations to Boory Deutsch for declining the hush money. This case needs to proceed to trial at which Weberman ought to be convicted as charged and sent to prison, lemaan yishmeu veyirau, so they hear and fear!
Ubiaarta hara miqqirbekha! Get rid of him, Williamsburg, Stop protecting child molesters!
UPDATE: It turns out that the four arrested are Berger brothers, sons of R. Shmuel Berger, the dietary supervisor and endorser of the Old Williamsburg Cafe. It seems that their father, after receiving a great deal of pressure from elements in the community to revoke his kashrut certificate decided that he would get involved in this alternative initiative to make the problem go away and make everyone happy.
Kosher Delight, the decades-old popular Kosher eatery in Manhattan (Broadway between 36th and 37th Streets) closed this week for good after 28 years in operation amid suspicious circumstances.
Ostensibly they were unable to meet their financial obligations. Customers are circumspect, however. After being in business for so long and with a steady stream of customers, it being one of a select few kosher restaurants in Manhattan, and with no recent risky capital outlays, the claimed financial distress is perplexingly inexplicable. Foul play is suspected; something along the lines of the famous Allou Health Care scandal of 2004 in which the Hasidic importer of beauty products deliberately scuttled its business after extensive borrowing on fictitious merchandise and continually transferring money out of the enterprise through phony bills.
In the case of Kosher Delight, it is claimed that the owner was looking forward to retirement on the plentiful riches he accumulated over the years from his highly successful enterprise and in his eagerness to liquidate his business with the maximum profit he reneged on his lease and supplier bills in the months and years leading up to its closure. (It is normal for it to take over a year in court proceedings before the eviction of a delinquent tenant, which would save a typical Manhattan shop over $100,000 for the year).
On a recent blog discussing the closing one regular customer reminisces that:
Sure, it was dirty. And a meal there always seemed like it came with the risk of infection. And the bathrooms looked like a set from a low-budget horror film. But it was home
The Manhattan store was reportedly owned by the same proprietor who operated the Borough Park store on 13th Avenue and 46th Street. That store closed down about a year ago under the same ploy, it is suspected.
The Kosher Delight on Ave. J in Flatbush, however, is owned by a different entity and is in full operation.
About one year after a Carlebach-style shul was first opened on Penn Street in Williamsburg, the inchoate movement picked up some steam and expanded this week with the opening of an additional synagogue, called The Shtiebel, in Borough Park — Williamsburg’s less devout sister neighborhood in Brooklyn. The Carlebach movement is known for its ecstatic liturgy and an emphasis on communal singing of the Psalms and prayers in an egalitarian setting and an unconditionally accepting ambiance, though segregation of the sexes is strictly maintained during prayers.
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (d. 1994), a talented Rabbi, composer, singer and guitarist, stemmed from a Lubavitch family. When in the course of an emissary outreach mission he persisted in holding concerts in front of a non-segregated crowd, the Lubavitcher Rebbe revoked his mission and he thereafter embarked on his own initiative to rekindle the Jewish flame among estranged populations through an exuberant, trance-like engrossment in music, dance and song. His audience was adamant that they not be segregated by the sexes and he reluctantly relented, viewing it as a worthwhile halakhic concession for the sake of the greater good of outreach to estranged Jews.
On account of his permissiveness regarding gender segregation and even mixed dancing, hugging and kissing, he was shunned by the bulk of haredi jewry of his time. His prolific compositions, however, have been indelibly preserved in dozens of cassettes and, later, CD’s.
While Rabbi Carlebach was dismissed in his lifetime by the mainstream Hasidic body as a lascivious oddball, our current generation Y and Millenials see in him as an authentic and viable alternative to a mainstream that has become jaded, stoild and “corrupt” — a term numerous congregants at The Shtiebel (as the congregants call it) have used to describe their frustration with mainstream Williamsburg Hasidism.
The Williamsburg Shtiebel, in quintessential hippie tradition, was not launched in a top-down planned and organized fashion. A number of young men in their 20′s and early 30′s started getting together a bit over a year ago on weekday evenings for a study group in private homes. Unlike typical shiuurim (Jewish lectures), which are led by an expert, this study group was completely peer-driven, spontaneous and free-wheeling. They decided upon a tripartite study of mishna berurah, ayin yaakov and shulhan arukh. When they had a question or needed further inquiry a discussion would erupt between the participants and would continue until the matter was settled. To illustrate, when the group arrived at the verse in Exodus “and I shall you carry you on the wings of eagles…” a debate was launched over whether it was meant literally or metaphorically. “And the matter is still not settled”, says Moshe B. T., one of the leading figures of the group.
The group’s eagerness to ask questions and engage in Jewish traditions on a visceral, free-spirited level soon extended beyond the cerebral. A member suggested they use a derelict basement owned by a relative as a shtiebel (- small synagogue; cognate of “chapel”) for shabbat prayer services if the group can manage to remove the rubble and fix it up. Sure enough, after several group sessions of removing debris, installing insulation, sound-proofing, sheetrock and air-conditioning, the basement was ready for service.
The group had one thing in common: they all knew that they would not pay tribute or take orders from any leaders in the community. They were not going to conform to prevailing standards merely because it’s what the Rabbi says or to uphold a reputation for the purposes of doing business in the community or being able marry off in the community. Undaunted and uninhibited, they were determined to define Judaism for themselves and find relevant meaning in their religious studies and practices. Another core value laid down early on was that all were welcome. Unlike mainstream congregations who would oust “disreputable” members of the community in order to uphold their image, they were going to welcome everybody. As Mr. B. T. put it: “the only rule in our shtiebel is that there is no rule which violation would ever constitute grounds for expulsion”.
Beyond disregard of prevailing contemporary authority, though, there were some divergences in their membership base. Some had a predilection for the religious Zionism of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (d. 1935). Others had a penchant for singing and dancing in the Carlebach fashion. Still others espoused the Breslov forgiving approach to Judaism which mirrored the shtiebel’s creed of unconditional inclusivity and an emphasis on rejoicing in our very essence, despite our sins and indiscretions. Many in the crowd also had more traditional leanings of admiration for the doyen of Ultra-orthodox Hasidic-style Judaism in post-WWII America, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum (d. 1979) the first Satmar Rebbe.
The stark differences in observance between some of those Judaic streams are perhaps difficult to reconcile. But, contends Mr. B. T., “R. Carlebach was known to keep the Oroth Olam (by R. Kook) alongside the Vayoel Moshe (by R. Teitelbaum)”, pointing to a possible acceptance of both. Indeed, it is possible that R. Teitelbaum’s vehement opposition to religious Zionism was directed primarily or exclusively at the Agudists; those who were willing to “sell out” to the secular Zionists in exchange for certain concessions. The Mizrahists, on the other hand, who vigorously strove to shape the new state in accordance with traditional Jewish precepts, may have been acceptable to R. Teitelbaum, argues Mr. Moshe B. T.
Notwithstanding the aforementioned variations in overall approach to Orthodoxy, the group agreed to adopt the Carlebach nusah (liturgical formula) at the shtiebel. Accordingly, most of the liturgy is sung in unison by the congregants with relish and exuberance, a practice alien to other Hasidic synagogues. At last Friday night’s services, not a peep was heard from the designated leader of the services throughout the Reception of Shabbat Psalms until barekhu (bless ye) was proclaimed, at which point the crowd had to be hushed and alerted so that they can respond “blessed is the Lord, the one eternally blessed”. For one of the Psalm the congregation rose on its feet locked arms and danced together. Others were dancing back and forth, wedding Mitvah Dance-style.
In The Shtiebel normal Hasidic Williamsburg rules for conduct in the shul do not apply. Many members remove their shtreimels from their heads at one point or another during the services. Mr. Moshe B. T., wearing an oversized Yarmulke and long smooth peyos (sidelocks), the right one flowing freely and the left one redirected behind his ear, never had his shtreimel on throughout the entire prayer services. One young adolescent who arrived late, and appeared “bummish” with a trimmed beard and dandy appearance, initially kept his hat on but neglected to tie his bekisheh belt. By the time veshameru rolled around he was girded according to custom but his hat had disappeared. Nonetheless, with a contracted face and with hands raised towards heaven he seemed to achieve communion with God and find genuine meaning in the liturgy. Another yungerman (young lad) sat sprawled out shtreimel-less in the oyvenun (front row) while the congregation was on its feet enthusiastically chanting magen avos. One middle-aged man, lost in a reverie, was already facing west during the yamin usmol when the congregation was still facing east as customary.
Non-judgementalism, which seems to be the overarching and unifying credo of the shtiebel, is a truly newfangled phenomenon. In the American shtetel of Hasidic Williamsburg, not having to constantly look over one’s shoulder to ensure that nobody is following your tracks and ascertaining that you are in complete conformity with the norms is a marvelously new trend. Coupled with the full complement of “Breslov” educational institutions founded by Yoely Roth, in which the inclusiveness policy is likewise boasted, Williamsburg is evincing telltale signs of coming of age: the age of individualism, libertarianism and self-determination.
Welcome to America!
Footsteps, the organization that serves the needs of recent haredi expatriates, is recently seeing explosive growth. An unprecedented crowd showed up for its annual “Footsteps Celebrates” event, whose purpose is to celebrate achievements in the lives of Footsteps community members — individuals who have been aided by Footsteps in their quest for education, career training, counseling, fashion, art, courting and more.
The opening act after a half-hour of socializing was the Footsteps choir, a newly organized group of singers, harmonizers and composers. They sang a rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” in partial Yiddish and a specially composed song that poses the question “Which God” do you believe in to drive home the message of plurality and choice in religion. The lyrics were composed by Shauli Grossman, an ex-belz Hasid, who was an accomplished composer and singer in the Hasidic world before he left it for the free world. The theme of the “I’m Still Standing” song was that Foosteppers (aid recipients) are still standing on their two feet after leaving their highly strictured and structured past, having found alternate ways of living their lives without recourse to their erstwhile communities.
LYRICS OF “WHICH GOD”? (by Shauli Grossman)
In what god do u believe in, mine loves us both the same
Tell me which air you breath in, that you can’t just feel the pain
Don’t you hear the silent screaming, desires locked within
Scriptures can be twisted, and pictures cropped in
If you care, how I fare, if my soul really mattered to you
Would you stare, compare, would it matter what I do
If you walk, instead of talk, if you helped me all along
If you reach out like you preach about, I wouldn’t sing this song
Opening remarks were made by Mark Goldberg, chairman of the board, who is more accustomed to speaking before small groups of Footsteppers and prospective donors. At the gala event on June 7, however, he faced a crowd of about 300 ranging from Rabbis to reporters to donors to friends and family of Footstppers and of course the Footsteppers themselves whose accomplishments were being feted.
Later, the eminent writer (–unpious.com, and a memoir scheduled for release next year) and recently orator Shulem Deen talked about what it takes to dispel the myth that ex-haredi individuals are invariably “screw-ups”, as posed to him many years ago by someone in the community wary of leaving due to the bad rap system drop-outs were getting in the community.
Amy Klein, who alongside Mr. Deen recently engaged in a 92nd Street Y Friday night meal discussion regarding their religious pasts, spoke next. Mrs. Kelin is an accomplished journalist and presenter and is ex-orthodox but is not a product of a an Ultra-orthodox community.
Leadership awards were then meted out to Footsteppers. In the weeks leading up to the event Footstepppers got a chance to submit nominations for a slew of awards including impact within Footsteps, impact without Footsteps, mentoring & tutoring, welcoming newcomers and advancing voice and literature. Footstepper committees were then formed to choose the winners in each of the categories, which were awarded on June 7 by previous year’s recipients in the respective categories.
Closing remarks were made by the tirelessly dedicated executive of the organization, Lani Santo, who is involved in multiple initiatives to revitalize and reorient the organization to meet the burgeoning demand by people from all over the globe for its services.
The 2012 Footsteps Celebrates will be remembered as the first Footsteps event in which social media promotion by members and journalists was encouraged, as per a recent rejiggering of the organization’s policy. This, curiously, coincides with the Haredi community’s recent imposition of new, draconian strictures on everything Internet, banning social media altogether.
Footsteps Website: http://footstepsorg.org/
Lani Santo on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lanisanto.footsteps
A congressional subcommittee finally took up the plight of Jacob Ostreicher, a Hasidic Jew imprisoned in Bolivia on allegations of complicity in drug activity. The charges are believed to be without substance, orchestrated by Bolivia’s unscrupulous and corrupt government in order to grab hold of the millions of dollars in capital and profits Ostreicher’s company stood to gain off its rice harvesting operations in Bolivia.
Two days ago, the United States congressional subcommittee on human rights discussed Ostreicher’s ordeal under the auspices of Rep. Crhis Smith (R) who represents Lakewood, New Jersey — a locale where Ostreicher once lived. Along with Smith, New York Democratic congressmen Velasquez and Nadler were also present on behalf of their Haredi-saturated districts in Brooklyn.
The congressmen heard testimony from Ostreicher’s wife and daughter regarding Ostreicher’s condition in the Bolivian prison and the circumstances leading up to his arrest and its aftermath. Ostreicher’s wife –dressed modestly, including a wig, in accordance with Ultra-orthodox Jewish custom– recounted a detailed chronology of events, many of which were scheduled court dates that had been cancelled for no apparent reason thereby causing anguish and hardship on family members and prolonging the trial process. Ostreicher’s married daughter took the micerophone afterwards and immediately burst out in tears while reading prepared remarks regarding her father’s suffering in lawless prison conditions (where there are no guards inside the prison complex and some prisoners are killed or commit suicide).
The most poignant testimony, however, emanated from a former FBI agent by the name of Steve Moore who had extensively researched Ostreicher’s case, including visiting him in prison and even being forced to pay an additional bribe in order for Moore’s prisoner tour guide –who had only killed one person– to “protect” him. Moore gave expert testimony that there isn’t even a smoking gun pointing to any crime having been committed, let alone evidence that Ostreicher’s is the perp. According to Moore, the charges of money laundering are merely a ruse to justify the confiscation of private property and curry favor from the Bolivian masses who are sympathetic to socialist forms of government.
Upon prodding by a congressman whether a touch of anti-semitism may be at play, Moore responded that the President of Bolivia may be trying to ingratiate himself with the Brazilian president who in turn is in good terms with the “anti-semitic” Iranian government. He added that Ostreicher’s socio-ethnic attributes –white, Jewish, American– make him a convenient target.
While the hearing seemed to be bipartisan, there was a subtle overtone of partisanship with Smith emphasizing repeatedly that the Democratic State department under Hillary Clinton’s administration declined his invitation to appear before the committee. Smith accused the state department of not doing enough to help Ostreicher achieve a speedy and fair trial. As aptly elucidated by Moore, the state department was not willing to get itself involved too deeply in this case at the expense of more pressing matters that are higher up on its priority list. Diplomatic officials are not rewarded for solving problems, said Moore. They are told to strive to avert or ignore such pitfalls as Ostreicher’s that may lead to a worsening in diplomatic relations.
FailedMessiah.com suspects that Smith and the Ostreicher family are coordinating their actions with the intent to embarrass the Obama administration. The infamous 5WPR firm seems to have been hired for this purpose and they reportedly solicited paid attendance at the hearing on Craigslist to generate buzz about it. Analysts agree that there is little the subcommittee hearing will accomplish to actually free Ostreicher, since the state department has already done everything it reasonably can to help Ostreicher, short of escalating the case into open hostility, an act which wouldn’t be warranted following routine protocol. The United States does NOT have regular diplomatic relations with Bolivia.
A coach bus was hired by friends/family of Mr. Ostreicher to ferry folks from Brooklyn to Washington for the hearing. The coach left Borough Park at 4:00 a.m. in the morning and made a stopover in Lakewood before arriving in Washington at 10:00 a.m. barely in time for the hearing. A tour of the Holocaust Museum and other sites in Washington was promised to travelers but wasn’t quite delivered due to time constraints.
Audio of the hearing may be accessed on Failed Messiah: http://failedmessiah.typepad.com/failed_messiahcom/2012/06/live-ostreicher-hearing-10-am-eastern-456.html