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Posts Tagged ‘Crown Heights’

So Different Yet Similar

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

Music played loudly while the men danced. On the women’s side of the mechitzah, we tried to speak over the sounds. I leaned over the table to hear what my co-worker’s wife was saying.

“Well, because we are both Belz, it just made sense,” Zeldy said with a smile, then continued picking at the chicken on her plate.

“The Belzer Rebbe even had a hand in our shidduch; he told both of our parents that it was a good idea.”

“By the time a young couple meets,” another woman, Toby, piped in, “the families know so much about each other. All that remains is for the couple to meet. They sometimes even get engaged that night. I remember when my brother was about to meet a girl for the first time, I caught my mother buying candy for a party, and I said, ‘Ma! You’ve already decided they’re getting engaged?’ But they actually did. They got engaged that night!” Toby said with a laugh.

Wow, I thought to myself. We come from such different worlds.

When I arrived home that night after the bar mitzvah of my boss’s son, I thought to myself how interesting it had been to interact with other Jews – but how strange it was not knowing much at all about their lifestyle.

Growing up as a second-generation Lubavitcher in Houston, the only chassidim to whom I had been exposed were the Chabad rabbis in my community. (And I never met the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who lived in New York from 1941 until his passing in 1994.)

My hometown community is an eclectic mix of observant Jews from various backgrounds, and as a child I was exposed to secular ideas and curriculums. Then, while attending a Lubavitch seminary in Israel, I observed other chassidim from afar.

I soon moved to Crown Heights to live near friends while attending university, and picked up the concentrated Lubavitch culture fairly quickly.

It was only four years later, when working alongside Belz, Satmar, and Bobov chassidim for a magazine based in Boro Park, that I developed an intense curiosity about the customs and lifestyle of these chassidim that seemed so different from my own.

Everything from their pronunciation of the holidays to the different ways they each curled their peyos to the mayonnaise-packed dishes for sale every few shops made me dizzy.

The chassidim around me at work periodically gave me a glimpse into their culture, but all I could see was how vastly theirs differed from mine. Still, I continued to observe them from a distance, figuring they valued their privacy.

Earlier that week I had attended a Satmar wedding. Everything seemed so new and exciting to me, but there was something that bothered me. These are my fellow Jews, I thought. Why do their ways seem so foreign to me?

Separate seating I was used to. The chuppah was traditionally Jewish. The fathers swayed back and forth in deep concentration as the bride approached the groom, stepping to the side as she encircled him seven times. The women looked radiant, angelic.

But some of the customs were, well, different. The mothers walked the bride down to the chuppah with an extra covering on their heads. The bride came down to the wedding reception with a wig on, her hair nowhere to be seen.

I had seen some of the customs before, of course. But there was a certain innocence, a purity I sensed, that made me yearn to know these people better. I looked at the girls around me and I ached inside; I didn’t quite know my own sisters, whom I loved nonetheless.

I decided to spend a Shabbos in Boro Park.

* * * * *

After lighting candles on Friday night, I left the house where I was staying to walk quickly through the raindrops to my co-worker’s house. Every person I passed rushed by me, looking in the other direction.

Soon I realized they were all men, so I should not expect a greeting nor should I offer one – of any kind. Men and women keep to their own gender in this neighborhood, I reminded myself. Greetings cannot be called out like in my hometown. Finally I spotted a woman and called out, “Good Shabbos,” to which she smiled and wished me the same.

Sunday Rematch: Frum Soccer Winners and their Caribbean ‘Victims’

Saturday, March 24th, 2012

The Crown Heights Caribbean soccer players who were destroyed last year by a team of Orthodox Jews are seeking revenge this Sunday. Of course, this is all about good sportsmanship and harmony, as the organizers of “Soccer for Harmony” keep repeating, because in Crown Heights it’s better to repeat those things, just to be on the safe side.

But the truth is that since two Caribbean soccer teams were whipped by a team of Yeshiva students (many of them Israelis, which clarifies the miracle just a bit), the losing teams have been sizzle-itching for this rematch.

Caribbean team Coach Frank Nicholas told the Daily News he’d never known of Jews being involved in soccer at all, much less outplaying their athletic neighbors. “We figured it might be an easy game,” he confessed. “We figured they’re probably not as good. But we got surprised. My guys can learn a lot from them.”

And the Jewish team is ready to teach some more. Sponsored by Mendy’s Crown Heights delicatessen, they’re ready to do some damage Sunday. Nathan Abikasis, 29, told the News: “We are small and skinny, and they’re bigger,” but “we’ve got the technique.”

Come watch this Sunday, at Hamilton Metz Field (Albany/Lefferts Ave.), 2 p.m. – and register for spring soccer beginning in April. Co-ed and girls only/boys only available.

Oprah Winfrey Impressed by Religious Jews

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

After touring Jewish homes and communal institutions in the New York neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Borough Park and Brooklyn Heights, as part of her new “Oprah’s Next Chapter” show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, the popular host appeared impressed by what Judaism had to offer the people of the world.

Winfrey told Chabad.org that reliance on popular entertainment has caused society to lose focus on what really matters. In stark contrast to that trend were families like the Ginsbergs of Crown Heights, who, Winfrey notes, were not only not “plugged in,” but were just as happy as their secular counterparts.

“It’s amazing to me that you can raise children in this world and not” let them consume hours and hours watching television or texting friends or playing videogames, said Winfrey. “What’s gonna happen when people see this family and see that it’s possible that in the United States of America, in Brooklyn, you can have nine children and none of them are watching television, and none of them are on computers all day long, and none of them are sassing their parents, and they’re well-mannered and live in harmony with their families.”

During her visit to New York Winfrey sat down with two Jewish families, enjoyed a traditional meal, discussed communal affairs with five women and toured a Chabad-Lubavitch run Jewish ritual bath, known as a mikvah, in Brooklyn Heights.

“The moment I walked into the Ginsbergs’ home, I felt welcomed and I felt a sense of warmth, and I felt a sense of family and comfort and values,” explained Winfrey. There’s a “sense of reverence for acknowledging that there [is] the power of God that is greater than yourself.”

Who Was To Blame For The Crown Heights Riots?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Two decades after the Crown Heights riots of August 19-21, 1991, the focus in much of the reporting on the anniversary of the violence centered on the importance of healing racial tensions, with the clear implication that the rioting was the culmination of long-simmering tensions between the black and Jewish communities.

Yes, healing racial tensions in Crown Heights is imperative. Both groups certainly need to engage in more dialogue and interracial activities. Both groups share a history of persecution and need to stand together. In fact, on August 25, 1991, right after the Crown Heights riots, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, in looking toward the future, told then-Mayor David Dinkins that the black and Jewish communities are “one side, one people, living in one city.”

With that said, there was no mutual culpability for the riots. Gavin Cato was killed in a tragic automobile accident that had nothing to do with his race. Nevertheless, leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton equated Gavin’s accidental death with the 1963 murders of four young black girls in a church in Alabama and made wild accusations that the Brooklyn DA had a pro-Jewish bias.

To Sharpton’s credit, he recently expressed regret for making such inflammatory references. A grand jury, composed mostly of minorities, saw no cause to indict Yosef Lifsh, the driver, finding that what occurred was an accident even though a tragic death resulted.

This is not to say there aren’t racists in the Jewish community. There have been instances of racially motivated mistreatment of blacks by individual Jews but, as the evidence clearly showed, the untimely death of Gavin Cato was not one of them.

Even if Hatzolah had failed to treat Gavin, as witnesses on the scene contended, that was no excuse to cast collective blame on the Jewish community. Gavin’s parents could have brought a claim against Hatzolah if in fact the ambulance service was negligent in not treating him, though media reports at the time indicated that the police blocked Hatzolah from treating Gavin and that Hatzolah had to attend to the driver of the car, who at that point was being threatened by a mob yelling anti-Semitic epithets.

By all accounts volunteers from a second Hatzolah ambulance helped Gavin’s sister, who was injured, until a second city ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital. Given the circumstances, there is no basis to believe Hatzolah purposely refused treatment to Gavin.

But the tragic accident that left young Gavin dead is not the moral equivalent of the vicious stabbing of Yankel Ronsenbaum by a marauding mob shouting “kill the Jew.” One case is negligence or an accident, the other is an intentional hate-based homicide.

It is disturbing that the murder of Yankel is equated with the horrible accident that took Gavin’s life. Representing the story as a race riot between blacks and Jews is inaccurate and irresponsible. Of the 152 police officers and 38 civilians injured, how many were hurt by Jews? How many Jews were involved in the looting or burning of stores? How many of the 27 vehicles destroyed were trashed by Jews? Of the 225 cases of robbery and burglaries, how many were committed by Jews?

A Jew was murdered by an anti-Semitic mob, and similar mobs then spent the next two full days rioting and pillaging because of a tragic accident. The responsibility is fully on the shoulders of the rioters, not the Jewish victims.

Eliyahu Federman is an executive at an e-commerce company. He is a graduate of the City University of New York School of Law, where he served as an executive editor of the law review. He resides in Crown Heights with his wife and daughter.

The New York Times And Shariah Law

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

The Jewish Press has regularly noted the efforts of the politically correct crowd to place concerns about Muslim fundamentalism beyond the reach of normal discourse. Thus we had something to say about New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s claim that any questioning of the efforts to build a mosque at ground zero was ipso facto bigoted and violated the sponsors’ right to free speech.

 

We have also contrasted the tendency of some in political and media circles to resist linking Muslim perpetrators of various violent crimes to the teachings of Islam with the haste exhibited in presumptively tying non-Muslim perpetrators with right-wing or Christian zealotry.

 

And we have expressed dismay over efforts to delegitimize as incendiary the investigative hearings of Congressman Peter King into the possible role of American Muslim insularity in promoting homegrown terrorism.

 

We haven’t yet addressed the growing concern across America with attempts to insinuate Sharia (Muslim religious) law into our legal system. To be sure, our courts have occasionally sought guidance from other legal systems in analyzing problems and they enforced decisions of religious courts sitting as arbitration panels when agreed to by the parties as long as the legal rules do not violate fundamental American values.

 

Although Shariah law is often profoundly inconsistent with U.S. law and values, there is a growing phenomenon of courts applying Sharia law to Muslim litigants without prior agreement – and this has created a firestorm of debate.

 

Perhaps not unexpectedly, The New York Times has now weighed in with a major story not addressing the issue but instead pooh-poohing its significance.

 

This past Sunday the Times ran a front page story headlined “Behind an Anti-Shariah Push/ Orchestrating a Seemingly Grass-Roots Campaign.” Centrally pictured was one David Yerushalmi, replete with yarmulke and beard. The caption read, “David Yerushalmi has quietly led a national movement.”

 

In pertinent part, here is what the Times story had to say:

 

Tennessee’s latest woes include high unemployment, continuing foreclosure and a battle over collective-bargaining rights for teachers. But when a Republican representative took the Statehouse floor during a recent hearing, he warned of a new threat to his constituents’ way of life: Islamic law .Similar warnings are being issued across the country as Republican presidential candidates, elected officials and activists mobilize against what they describe as the menace of Islamic law in the United States.

 

Since last year, more than two dozen states have considered measures to restrict judges from consulting Shariah, or foreign and religious laws more generally. The statutes have been enacted in three states so far .

 

A confluence of factors has fueled the anti-Shariah movement, most notably the controversy over the proposed Islamic center near ground zero in New York, concerns about homegrown terrorism and the rise of the Tea Party. But the campaign’s air of grass-roots spontaneity, which has been carefully promoted by advocates, shrouds its more deliberate origins.

 

            In fact, it is the product of an orchestrated drive that began five years ago in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in the office of a little-known lawyer, David Yerushalmi, a 56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah .

 

The Times story went on to opine (and remember, this is a news story, not an editorial) without any substantiation:

 

           Yet, for all its fervor, the movement is arguably directed at a problem more imagined than real. Even its leaders concede that American Muslims are not coalescing en masse to advance Islamic law. Instead they say, Muslims could eventually gain the kind of foothold seen in Europe, where multicultural policies have allowed for what critics contend is an overaccommodation of Islamic law.

Shomrim In The Face Of Danger

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

    Shomrim, volunteer citizen patrols, established in Jewish communities to handle quality-of-life issues, have been in existence for many years and are credited by local police forces for their key role in reducing crime. Not only are there active Shomrim patrols in Brooklyn’s religiously concentrated neighborhoods of Boro Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, but also thriving patrols in the Jewish communities of Baltimore, Northwest London and more. While these patrols are designed to monitor suspicious activity and report any potentially dangerous activity to the police, the recent shooting of four Boro Park Shomrim members in September is a chilling reminder of the inherent danger these dedicated volunteers face on a daily basis.

 

   Chaim Deutsch founded Flatbush’s Shomrim Safety Patrol 20 years ago at a time when crime was so prevalent in the area that according to Deutsch, “If you stood outside for a reasonable amount of time, you knew you would see something happen.” The 40-man Flatbush Shomrim team works closely with Brooklyn’s 61st, 63rd and 70th Precincts and they receive training from both Shomrim and the local police department. They patrol their 40-block district every night, keeping their eyes open for suspicious activity, which they then report to the police. Deutsch believes in quality, not quantity, and limits his team to 40 well-trained men, each of whom commits to patrolling one night a week and carrying a radio at all times, except on Shabbos and Jewish holidays.

 

   Boro Park’s Brooklyn South Shomrim Patrol, originally known as the “Bakery Boys,” also began 20 years ago, when a group of bakery deliverymen banded together to prevent the crimes that seemed to be prevalent in the area in the late night and early morning hours when bread deliveries were being made. Since then, the patrol has grown to include approximately 100 volunteers, encompassing all of Boro Park, Bensonhurst and Kensington. They work closely with the 62nd, 66th and 70th police precincts and have a close relationship with Brooklyn South Police Chief Joseph Fox.

 

   “We don’t stop anyone and we don’t put ourselves in jeopardy,” said Deutsch. “If we see something suspicious we call it in to the police. We are basically the eyes and ears of the community. Our responsibility is not to put ourselves in danger and if, G-d forbid, someone gets hurt it is a scar on our organization. Sometimes we do have to hold someone down if there is imminent danger but most of the time we just let the cops do their jobs. They have the guns, not us.”

 

(L-R) Chaim Scharf, Flatbush Shomrim task force coordinator; Noftoli Rosenberg, coordinator;

Chaim Deutsch, founder of Flatbush Shomrim; Akiva Klein, search and rescue coordinator

 

   Boro Park Shomrim coordinator, Simcha Bernath, follows a similar plan of operation. “We try not to have any contact with the perpetrators. We follow suspicious individuals and, if need be, we call the police. Let them come and apprehend the perpetrator.”

 

   What happened in September was an anomaly, according to Bernath. “Unfortunately we were in major danger and what happened, happened. We look at it as simply patrolling and trying to keep the neighborhood as safe as possible, but we found out that you never know. This particular perpetrator, no one would have ever thought he would pull a gun and start shooting in the streets of Boro Park.”

 

   In the wake of the recent shooting, New York State Senator Eric Adams provided Boro Park’s Shomrim with bulletproof vests but the Shomrim are still trying to decide whether or not to wear the vests while on patrol.

 

   “They have a lot of ups and downs,” explained Bernath. “We are looking into what our policy will be in the future.”

 

   The Flatbush Shomrim will not be wearing bulletproof vests any time soon.

 

   “I am against the vests for two reasons,” said Deutsch. “First of all, you might think you can put yourself more at risk because of the vest. We shouldn’t feel untouchable. We don’t carry weapons and we don’t expect to get into shootouts. A policeman’s job is to protect and they are armed. For them a vest is a second layer of safety. Second of all, a perpetrator who sees you wearing a vest will assume that you have a gun and will be more likely to shoot at you.”

 

   Volunteers are carefully screened and their references are scrupulously checked to ensure that Shomrim members are able to deal with the varying situations that they may encounter while on patrol. Aside from being ever alert for suspicious activity, Shomrim members are also trained to deal with non-medical emergencies, missing persons, children at risk, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

 

   In the aftermath of September’s shootings, Deutsch reports that no new safety measures have been enacted, as the wellbeing of the Flatbush Shomrim team has always been of paramount importance and as always, frequent meetings are held to ensure the safety of all volunteers. In Boro Park, while no major changes have been made, Shomrim are being provided with more training and encouraged to be even more vigilant and careful than usual.

 

 

Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various Jewish newspapers, magazines and websites in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full-scale productions.  She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.

‘Unity For Justice’ Premiere

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

An unparalleled musical production featuring 39 Jewish music superstars made its worldwide debut Thursday at the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights. “Unity for Justice” is a unique display of solidarity for the family of incarcerated Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, whose sentencing of 27 years in federal prison last year has led to a thunderous outcry by the Jewish community and a number of government officials. The project serves as an innovative campaign for financial support of the Rubashkin Defense Fund, drawing mounting online interest by the hour.

 

From knitted kippot to lange peyos, and beards of all lengths, popular artists all across the religious Jewish spectrum converged in Brooklyn over the summer to record the heart-warming song entitled “Unity” by Mordechai Ben David, which topped Jewish music charts in 1987.

 

Leah Rubashkin, wife of the former vice president of Agriprocessors, calls the project “a very important extension of the theme of togetherness,” a theme evident in the Jewish community of Postville, Iowa, surrounding the meat-processing plant. “We have been very involved in trying to create togetherness in our small town,” she added.

 

Singers Mordechai Ben David, Avraham Fried, Lipa Schmeltzer, and Yaakov Shwekey are among the artists, from Gerer Chassid to Sephardic Israeli, whose voices are recorded on the soundtrack. In addition to clips of the vocalists recording in the studio, there is also footage of Rubashkin’s wedding and of Sholom Mordechai smiling with his special needs son.

 

The video, Leah said, left her speechless. “I am overcome with the warmth and love shown for another Jew, whom most of these people don’t even know,” she commented.

 

            An in-depth documentary showcasing those affected by the Rubashkin family will be released before the start of 2011 and will feature a rare peek inside the personal lives of the Jewish music stars who contributed to the “Unity for Justice” project.

 

 

The assembled crowd at the “Unity for Justice” debut in the

Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights

 

 

“The Rubashkin name has always been synonymous with charity as the Rubashkins gave of themselves, both financially and otherwise, to help those in need,” recalled Yaakov Shwekey. “In fact,” he added, “Sholom Mordechai is so widely known for his acts of kindness that literally anyone who was approached to contribute to this project jumped at the chance to return the favor and do whatever he could to help the man who has helped so many.”

 

“Unity for Justice” was born when producer and director, Danny Finkelman, heard MBD’s song while in his car one day. “I had seen and was impressed with the ‘We Are The World’ video,” he said, referencing the viral YouTube video created to raise funds for Haitian earthquake relief. The remake of the original that was created to bring relief to Ethiopian famine victims showcased 80 of music’s greatest stars.

 

Sitting there in his car, Finkelman said, he thought to himself, “I wish the we had something like that – a gathering of Jewish artists for a worthy cause.”

 

“Rubashkin has united such a diverse community,” he continued; formerly, by creating an atmosphere in Postville where representatives of many Jewish lifestyles live and certify Kosher meat for their respective communities; and presently, with the surge of united support across religious communities worldwide. “There is no greater cause than this,” Finkelman stated.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/unity-for-justice-premiere/2010/10/13/

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