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April 24, 2014 / 24 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Upstate New York’

A Closer Look at Bill de Blasio’s Record

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Bill de Blasio, the current frontrunner in the Democratic primary for mayor, has been running his second television commercial of the campaign, titled “Dignity,” since Monday. Fact checking the ad, Michael Barbaro of the NY Times found it quite misleading. Mr. de Blasio argues he’s the only candidate pledging to end the way the Police Department carries out the stop-and-frisk tactic. The problem with that claim is that his opponents have all, in one way or another, pledged to reform it, too.



Nor is Mr. de Blasio, per his claim, the only candidate proposing an income tax on the rich to pay for education. John C. Liu, the city comptroller, has proposed raising the city’s marginal income tax to pay for after-school programs, among other things.

“Dropping the misleading word ‘only’ from several of his claims, or using it more carefully, would do wonders for the accuracy and credibility of his commercials,” Barbaro concludes.

Bill de Blasio’s exaggerating his role as an advocate for the issues he believes are at the top of voters’ concerns is nothing new. In fact, his record of representing the outer-boroughs, as he now promises not to let down any New Yorker, is far from exhilarating.

Back in 2001, when he first ran for City Council in the 39th district, Mr. de Blasio was examined for mismanagement and controversial ties that had put in question his credentials at the time. “[Bill de Blasio] carries a lot of baggage as well,” The Village Voice wrote in a profile on the race for council.

“De Blasio was elected to School Board 15 in 1999, and his tenure has been rocky. Many public school parents charge that de Blasio was stubbornly supportive of Frank DeStefano, the former superintendent of District 15 who resigned in the winter amid allegations of overspending and mismanagement. Reports first surfaced in the fall of 1999 that DeStefano had begun to run up big deficits, taking himself and other school officials on several expensive junkets costing a total of more than $100,000. One year later the school deficit topped $1 million, leading to the cancellation of a popular after-school reading program while DeStefano maintained an expensive car service.

“De Blasio still defends his decision to stick with DeStefano for as long as he did. “He was a visionary and a great educator, but he was a horrible communicator,” de Blasio says of DeStefano. “I was deeply concerned, but I was not going to make a final decision until I saw the evidence.” In the end, de Blasio says, “he could have made better decisions, but I don’t think the spending was wildly excessive. Both of my parents were victims of the McCarthy era. I do not take lightly the idea of ousting someone. You have to have the evidence.”

“De Blasio has also been linked to the flap over New Square, the Hasidic village in upstate New York that has been mired in pardon scandals. Candidate Clinton assiduously courted the small Rockland community last year, winning the town by the whopping margin of 1400 to 12. Six weeks after the election, Israel Spitzer, New Square’s deputy mayor, met with the Clintons at the White House, where pardons for four New Square civic leaders convicted of fraud were discussed. In January, Bill Clinton commuted their sentences, leading to a probe by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in which several Hillary Clinton campaign aides were called in for questioning. At a Manhattan fundraiser for de Blasio in December, Spitzer made a $2500 donation, the largest permitted under the city’s Campaign Finance Board. De Blasio refused to comment on that matter, including the issue of whether he was questioned by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. De Blasio would only offer this comment: “I’m waiting to hear what’s going to happen with that.”

in 2007 as councilman, Mr. de Blasio was lambasted for not living up to his promises and for a lackluster performance as representative of his district.  In a hard hitting piece by a local blogger named “Parden Me For Asking,” Mr. de Blasio was criticized for running a dysfunctional office and keeping himself distracted from the issues that mattered to the neighborhoods he represented, going back to his time he served on the Board of Education before his run for council.

KKK Member Tried to Sell X-Ray Weapon to Kill ‘Israel’s Enemies’

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Two New York residents, one of them identified with the Ku Klux Klan, tried to sell to Jewish groups a deadly X-ray radiation device that one of them described as “Hiroshima on a light switch” and which he designed to zap people to death, according to the FBI, which unsealed its complaint in Albany on Wednesday.

The FBI charged Glendon Scott Crawford, 49, who is an industrial mechanic with General Electric in Schenectady, and alleged co-conspirator Eric J. Feight, 54, who works for an electronics company in Columbia County, with material support to terrorists, including use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Crawford told undercover FBI agents dujring a year-long investigation that he is “a member of the Ku Klux Klan, specifically, the United Northern & Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.”

His device was designed to be mounted on a truck and remotely controlled with the capability of aiming a laser beam of radioactivity at people.

He searched for a source of radiation and found supposed a ready supplies who actually were FBI agents, working after apparent tip-offs from two Albany synagogues Crawford approached.

He approached one synagogue in April 2012 and “asked to speak with a person who might be willing to help him with a type of technology that could be used by Israel to defeat its enemies, specifically, by killing Israel’s enemies while they slept,” the FBI complaint says.

The “enemies” referred to by Crawford are Muslims and enemies of the United States to whom he referred as “medical waste.”

Crawford contacted a second Albany area synagogue the same day with a similar offer.

The FBI complaint states, “Crawford also told the (FBI source) that the target of his radiation emitting device would be the Muslim community. Crawford described the device’s capabilities as ‘Hiroshima on a light switch’ and that ‘everything with respiration would be dead by the morning.’”

He ended his meeting with the agent by stating, “How much sweeter could there be than a big stack of smelly bodies?”

The investigation advanced to the point that in December, the FBI requested and received a search warrant enabling agents to monitor Crawford’s and Feight’s cell phone calls, emails and text messages.

Crawford had successfully tested the remote triggering system, without a radiation supply, which could work from a little less than a half mile away from the weapon, according to the complaint. The suspects met in Albany on May 20 with the device in hand, and they planned to test it in a dry run out at a hotel, without a radiation system.

Crawford and Feight met again last Wednesday, when Crawford was to have been provided with an unfinished radiation system.

FBI agents, posing as South Carolina Ku Klux Klan members, who were interested in buying the device and financing the plot, arrested them on the spot.

Milking the System, Legally

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

An article in lohud (Journal News) once again brings to mind the poverty of Hasidic communities like New Square. It appears that the poverty rate in New Square is so high that it is considered one of the poorest places in the nation. That means that most of its residents qualify for section 8 housing which a Journal News analysis has apparently shown to be the case.
New Square has the highest proportion of section 8 housing in the area. There are several technical reasons for this. But I don’t think it is arguable that this community is basically a poor one. 58% of its residents qualify for that dubious distinction. Nearby Kaser has an even larger percentage of poor people: 70%!

While the article focuses on section 8 housing and how it is apportioned, I think it is more important to focus on the reasons why this is the case. I believe it essentially boils down to the following 3 important factors: Large family size; the more expensive lifestyle of being an observant Jew which include additional expenditures on things like Kosher food and school tuitions; and education.

Hasidic enclaves more than any other segment of Orthodox Jewry have the largest families by far. 10 or more children per family is not uncommon.

The reason for that is the emphasis by Judaism on procreation. This is a Mitzvah in the Torah. We are required to fulfill the biblical commandment of pru u’rvu – “be fruitful and multiply.” Although the sexual act is not limited to procreation – it is certainly the primary purpose of it. How we fulfill that commandment (i.e. how many children… or whether we need one of each sex or not) is the subject of dispute among the poskim.

The question arises whether contraceptives may be used before or even after after one fulfills that obligation. And if so what kinds of contraceptives are permitted and what kind are not. I am not here to paskin, but there are many poskim that permit it based on various considerations. One should ask a competent posek whether their personal circumstances apply. The permit can range anywhere from universal permission when health (both physical and mental) is an issue to varied and eclectic personal situations where poskim will differ. Some are very lenient. Some – not so much.

It is no secret that Haredi – and even more so Hasidic communities are the most stringent in their application of such permits. It is relatively rare to find Hasidim that use contraceptives. I believe that Hasidic poskim rarely allow the use of contraceptives except in cases where the mother’s physical health is in danger. Hence the large families.

I am not here suggesting that Hasidim start looking for new poskim. I am only stating what I believe to be a contributing factor to the poverty among them. A typical family of 12 (10 children and the 2 parents) is pretty expensive to feed, clothe, and house.

Kosher food is certainly an increased expense for all observant Jews. I don’t see that as a primary factor in their poverty. But it is contributing one.

Tuition for Jewish education is a problem for every observant family as well. In fact I would say the reverse is true. The Hasidic schools are a lot less expensive than the non Hasidic ones. By far Modern Orthodox schools are the most expensive. But still, Hasidic schools aren’t free. And even though the per child expense is a lot less than other Orthodox denominations, the total per family cost may actually be greater if you compare the typical size of the Modern Orthodox family to the Hasidic one.

I doubt that those 58% of New Square and 70% of Kaser families that are below the poverty line pay full tuition. If you don’t have the money how are you going to pay it? How those schools function in communities that are so poor is beyond the scope of this post (except for one… more about that later). Suffice it to say that the schools are subsidized by a combination of wealthy donors, government programs, and much lower salaries for their teachers – who are probably also below the poverty line.

That brings me what I think is the biggest reason for their poverty – education. Or more correctly the lack of it!

I have been one of the loudest critics of the lack of education in the world of the extreme right wing of Haredim of the Yeshiva world. They eschew any secular studies in high schools so as to maximize their time on Torah study. This is the across the board view of the vast majority of Haredim in Israel and has increasingly become the attitude here.

They do not see working for a living as the primary function of a Jew. To the extent that one can, one should stay in the Beis Hamedrash full time for as long as possible. Preparation for the work place is not allowed to take away one’s time from Torah study. If one ‘doesn’t make it’ in ‘learning’ then he can go out into the workplace and earn a living as a second class citizen. Let him get training then. That is the attitude.

Ironically that is not the attitude of Hasidim. They do encourage their people to work for a living and support their families. They only encourage full time learning for the elite – those who will contribute to the klal via the Torah knowledge they gain – by becoming rabbis, poskim, teachers. For everyone else, supporting the family comes first. In the Hasidic world the average Hasid is encouraged to stay in kollel for only a short time and then to go find a job.

The problem is that many Hasidic leaders discourage any real preparation for a job. With rare exception – they do not allow their Hasidim to go to college. And their secular high school education is well below average. Many do not get any real training for the workplace. They are also discouraged from going into the outside world to look for jobs. They are instead encouraged to find jobs in their own community. So afraid are they of outside influences. In order to perpetuate this system they glorify the sacrifice of poverty as an ideal way of life – calling it living modestly.

I have no problem with living a ‘modest lifestyle’… or extolling its virtues. My problem is that people still need to eat, and pay rent. That requires more money than their impoverished lifestyles give them. The way they handle that is when it becomes a problem.

The Hasidic glorification of the ‘modest lifestyle’ requires too many to utilize every single means of support that the government gives to the poor. Whatever program is out there, they will find it and use it to the max. They milk the system albeit legally. Which is what section 8 housing is doing for the people of New Square.

They need the money to live and use whatever legal means they can to get it. Sometimes bordering if not crossing the line on fraud. As was recently reported in the media with e-rate.

Even if legal lines are never crossed – what kind of message does it send to the world that our vaunted Jewish minds are put to use to milk the welfare system for our own benefit? Is this how we are supposed to enlighten the world about the beauty of Torah?

And I only wish there was no fraud. We all know about the rabbinic leaders that have knowingly crossed serious lines of fraud to pay for the ‘modest’ lifestyles they demand of their people.

How many money laundering schemes will it take to realize that preventing people from learning how to support themselves is the single biggest contributing factor to the Hilul HaShem of fraud?

How many ‘perp walks’ by Kipa wearing bearded Jews will it take before this community realizes that their flock needs to be better educated in order to support their families?

How many years in prison by a prominent rabbinic leader or Hasidic Rebbe will it take in order to realize that encountering the outside world is a ‘necessary evil’ and the education must be provided so as to encounter it and make a living in it?

Is living the impoverished lifestyle that the demands of insularity entails really worth the Hilul HaShem of milking the system even legally, not to mention the almost certain fraud that all too often results from it?

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah.

The Whole World Is Jewish

Friday, February 17th, 2012

I make my way through New York City’s busy diamond district with my children in tow. With only a few days in the city every two-years on a return visit from our home in Hong Kong, our days are packed with catching up with friends, taking in the sites and of course running errands.

My five-year-old tugs my arm as he pauses and breaks our brisk pace. “Mama, look that man is Jewish,” he yells out with genuine glee as he points to a bearded stranger in a black hat, long black coat and peyot. I glance back, a bit embarrassed and smile, trying to pick up our pace. Barely a second passes by and again he announces, “Mama, look that man is too!” again he points, stares and yells. “And there is another Jewish man. And another.”

Again I can only smile in sheer embarrassment.

I pull my small brood over to the side of the street in an attempt to avoid the sea of lunchtime foot-traffic rushing by. I bend down and whisper to my son, “Sweetie, look around and please don’t point. You don’t need to. Everyone here is Jewish.”

He surveys the passers-by skeptically but then looks up at me and concludes, “You are right. Just like in Hong Kong.”

I fight the urge to laugh and decide I will instead focus on the task at hand and clear up the misconception later. I am somewhat perplexed. He is an astute child and generally quite a keen observer of details for his age. Then I try to see his world from his viewpoint.

Erica and Her Family

Our synagogue in Hong Kong is a five-minute walk from our home. Our children attend an Orthodox Hebrew day school that is also minutes from our home. Our next-door neighbors and their four children go to our synagogue (though they always manage to make it there before us) and attend the same school.

On a typical Saturday, we pass by another synagogue on the way to ours and cross paths with various neighbors as they make their way to the synagogue of their choice. “Shabbat Shalom,” we greet one another in the streets.

Our Jewish world is small but from his five-year-old perspective it is large, perhaps all-encompassing. The fact that in a population of over 7 million people in Hong Kong (95% of whom are ethnically Chinese) we as Jews collectively account for only about 4,000 or 0.05% of the population can be seemingly irrelevant. Large numbers and statistics don’t play into his worldview.

Interestingly, neither does race. He sees divides between people in terms of linguistics and his ability to communicate with them, a very practical and real dividing line rather than the arbitrariness of racial classifications. When he labels somebody as Chinese, or in his words “a Chinese,” he explains it is because they don’t know English. Having lived his entire life in Hong Kong, he does not have a racial consciousness. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from this.

While (after the fact) I find his outbursts in the Diamond District of New York City endlessly entertaining, it is also an interesting insight to his view of the world. I recall a similar incident years ago when my now teenage cousin went to New York City’s Chinatown with her parents. Also Hebrew Day School educated, though in Upstate New York, she had but one Chinese child in her school, a girl that had been adopted as an infant. When my then five-year old cousin walked through the crowded and bustling Chinatown streets and surveyed the new and unfamiliar, seemingly exotic landscape, she exclaimed, “Look Mommy, everyone here is Jewish.” My aunt surveying the same scene was confused and saw only Chinese faces. She asked her daughter where she saw other Jews. Matter-of-factly, my cousin responded, “Everywhere. Everyone here is Jewish just like Leah in my class.”

While in Hong Kong expatriates often poke fun at one another for living in a bubble, this is not altogether a falsehood. Though we do thoroughly explore our adopted home and, almost on a daily basis, increase our understanding of local culture and mores, truth be told, just as my son did in New York City and my cousin in Chinatown, we do look out for and gravitate toward the familiar. We do this when forming our closest associations and we tend to always make sure we are closely tied to our own faith and traditions.

Viewing life in Asia, even always through our own Jewish lenses, does allow us adults the opportunity to expand our own perspectives. As for my son, there will be plenty of time for him to gain perspective on his place in the world. He will likely, inevitably, develop a racial consciousness that extends far beyond the practical boundary of language. He will one day grow to appreciate just how very small we as Jews are in terms of numbers in the world. He will understand what it means to be a minority. There is plenty of time for this. For now, I am warmed by the fact that we have managed to carve out a very safe space in a very big world for him to grow up in.

It’s My Opinion: Woodstock

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

    The infamous Woodstock Music Festival, which took place in the summer of 1969, was a historic counterculture event in America.  Over 500,000 hippies and hippie wannabees crowded a 600-acre farm area in Upstate New York for three days. 

 

    Despite romanticized musings of some who are now old enough to know better, the affair was a huge disaster.  Toilets, bathing facilities, food and water were in incredibly short supply.  Drugs were readily available and abundant.  Unrestrained debauchery was the order of the day.  Kids overdosed and hurt themselves.  In reality it was a reeking, shameful event.

 

   It was with great surprise that I noticed an advertisement in our local Miami Herald. A local synagogue, Temple Israel of Greater Miami, was hyping a “Woodstock Shabbat.”  They wished to “Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock,” spun as “the summer of love, peace and rock n’ roll.”  Attendees were encouraged to “dust off your bell bottoms and tie dyed shirts.”  A festive dessert reception was featured.

 

   There are many anniversaries that would be appropriate for celebration by a Jewish congregation.  There are many days and times that deserve recognition and acknowledgement.  This is not one of them.

 

   The days before the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah are traditionally used for reflection and soul searching.  A “musical service and tribute to Woodstock” seems out of line, especially at this time of year.  

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community//2009/08/26/

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