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August 5, 2015 / 20 Av, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Williamsburg’

New York, High-End Dealers Cater To Jews Seeking The Perfect Etrog

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

Naftali Berger’s quest for perfection ends in victory when the 24-year-old kollel student enters Tsvi Dahan’s trailer on Wallabout Street in the Haredi Orthodox Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“Find something wrong with it — find it!” a glowing Berger exclaims Monday as he holds his treasure: a bumpy, lemon-like fruit.

In open-air markets and on tables unfolded on sidewalks in Jewish communities throughout the world, many Jews preparing for Sukkot look for lovely etrogim, the fruit that constitutes the centerpiece of the biblically mandated four species to be blessed during the weeklong holiday.

Many celebrants will take the basic etrogim commonly sold by synagogues, Jewish schools and shops for about $50 for a set that also includes a lulav, myrtle and willow.

Then there are men like Berger, who think nothing of dropping hundreds of dollars on an especially beautiful etrog, which they believe enhances their fulfillment of the mitzvah.

No sooner does Yom Kippur end than such customers seek out Dahan, 38, a resident of Jaffa who owns three hotels in Tel Aviv but has trekked to New York City the past 15 autumns to hawk his high-end etrogim. They are rippled and slightly smooth, hefty and slim, shiny in hue and subdued — in etrog selection, as in life, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Above all, though, Dahan’s etrogim are symmetrical and close to blemish-free — and are pure, ungrafted.

All come from the 200 trees on a half-acre plot of land Dahan leases in Dumdir, a village in southern Morocco, his parents’ homeland. Dahan visits four times a year to monitor their growth and consult with his one full-time employee.

His last visit there preceded Rosh Hashanah, when Dahan selected the crop’s 2,000 best. In a Moroccan hotel room, he categorized the 200 most pristine specimens promising top dollar, examining each for texture, shape and, above all, the slightest of flaws.

He’s not alone catering to the market in Williamsburg, where the primarily Hasidic community is dominated by the Satmar sect, with smaller pockets of Bobov and Vizhnitz. In the weeks before Sukkot, several other storefronts and trailers pop up in the neighborhood, with dealers and growers offering premium etrogim from Israel and Italy, along with Morocco.

Some of the merchants, like Dahan, also market to the haredi Orthodox community in Monsey, a town northwest of New York City.

In the trailer, Berger slides his eyeglasses down near the tip of his nose, the better to inspect the etrog he’s grasping. He takes a cotton swab from a box and dabs at the surface surrounding the pitom, as the stem is known, trying to discern if the pinhead-sized speck he spots is merely a wayward dirt particle or a blemish.

Ten minutes into the inspection, Berger phones his rabbi, detailing his observations in Yiddish. He hangs up, calls again, then returns the etrog to a foam-lined box that he sets aside on a table.

“I’m going to have a cup of coffee and think about it,” Berger says.

Ten minutes later, he returns, seizing another etrog and examining it.

This one is smaller than many others displayed, and the pitom is angled slightly, but Berger is smitten.

“It’s clean — perfectly clean. For me, that’s the most important,” Berger pronounces of the $200 etrog that he calls “a bargain.”

He’ll also take the one he’d reserved earlier — and two more besides for his brothers. He leaves a $200 deposit for the four etrogim, which he takes away for his brothers to examine.

Six blocks down Lee Street, Dahan sits in a vacant storefront, his other temporary outpost in Williamsburg. Two tables host four reading lamps to help customers scrutinize the merchandise. A man who inspects for 45 minutes leaves without purchasing.

NYC Drops Suit against Hasidic Stores over Dress Code

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

New York City has dropped a lawsuit against Hasidic-owned stores that posted a dress code for shoppers.

The New York City Human Rights Commission reached a settlement with the seven Hasidic-owned shops in a lawsuit the city had filed alleging that the stores’ posted dress codes implied gender and religious discrimination, according to the New York Daily News.

On Tuesday, the day before a trial was to begin, the city dropped the fines it had proposed, and the shop owners agreed that any future signs requesting modest attire would indicate that all people are welcome.

Attorneys for the stores, located in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, argued that the modesty codes are no different than dress codes in upscale establishments.

Reward Increased in Search for Menachem Stark’s Killers

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

The family of murdered Brooklyn landlord Menachem Stark has contributed $50,000 to what is now a total reward to $72,000 for information leading to the killer of the Satmar Hasidic real estate developer. The New York Police offered $20,000 and the NYPD Crime Stoppers program pitched in with $2,000.

“We have increased the reward in the hopes that anyone and everyone who knows anything comes forward,” Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the central planning and social service agency for more than 200 organizations in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said in a statement, “There are seven orphans in Brooklyn, and a loving grieving wife – and we hope and pray there will be justice. We thank the law enforcement community for their hard work, and echo Commissioner Bratton’s call for the public’s assistance in solving this case.”

Stark’s body was found last Friday on suburban Long Island some 16 miles away from his office in the heavily Satmar section of Williamsburg, from where he was kidnapped the previous evening. He reportedly was suffocated before his body was placed in the dumpster outside a Great Neck gas station and burned, according to police.

Video footage taken from his office showed Stark being taken into a van after a struggle outside his office.

Police on Wednesday released a surveillance video showing a suspect in the kidnapping and believe Stark may have been squashed to death when kidnappers sat on his chest to subdue him after he was abducted.

Police also believe Stark, 39, was already dead when his body was set alight in a dumpster.

Kill the Quest for ‘Chill’

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Single frum male seeks female who is chill. That’s the description that plagues a particular stack of resumes found in the homes of matchmakers throughout every Jewish community. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about Flatbush, Crown Heights, Williamsburg, the Upper West Side, Toronto, Miami, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Israel, etc. This desire to find a “chill” girl is everywhere.

When examined, this seemingly vague description can really be a code for many things. Unfortunately, these things are primarily irrelevant and some are just completely unrealistic. More importantly, if this is you, then you need to take a step back and put on your safety goggles because I am about to burst your bubble. Here goes. No female, young or old, is “chill” after marriage. Final answer.

Ouch – did that snippet of reality sting? Are you in disbelief? Now, I will say that many women are clever and can easily appear to be “chill.” Why? We can multitask – it’s our superhero power. We get things done and we handle our responsibilities. Hence, we begin to grow into our own unique manifestation of our husband’s Aishes Chayil.

What kills the chill? Some married men may believe that they married someone who began as very chill. So, what killed the chill? For new wives, the post-marriage non-chill mode may stem from the self-imposed pressure to perfect their ability to prepare their husbands shabbos favorites while learning how to coordinate an open home for regular visitors and random guests.

What originally seems like fun can quickly turn into a buzz kill. Hence, there is nothing glamorous about coping with the responsibility of balancing everything that one takes on in marriage: maintaining a home, dealing with in-laws and navigating your community as a couple. Scheduling conflicts for new couples can be tricky as well.

For the slightly post newlywed couple, this “non-chill” trigger can mean kids. You, BH, iy”H, have them but then you have to balance them. Then when you, iy”H, have more of them you must strive to somehow keep your world together while doing everything else (work, cooking, cleaning – oh, yea and actually talking to your spouse). Then as the years of your relationship goes on, more pressure is added.

So, again, let me say – basing your search for a partner on their ability to be “chill,” is definitely wrong. Warning: This may be you or it may be the hang-up of your otherwise perfect-catch that keeps their status set to single. Searching for a “no pressure” mate is something that may seem to make sense until you actually examine the thought process behind it and what you would really get if you accomplished such a task.

What’s behind the chill? “Chill,” that’s the word. That’s the term that acts as a crutch. It’s an easy was to say I want to be married but I need to find someone who will put no pressure on me.

What’s the big problem here? There are many big problems here. What is one big problem? The feeling of “pressure.” This feeling, like all feelings is a person’s own reaction to a situation. In life, Hashem gave us a big blessing. He gave us free will. In this case, it means that we get to choose our own reactions. This includes the feeling of pressure. You feel it, because you perceive a situation in a particular way. However, your perception is an opinion and not a fact. And, as we all know, opinions can be changed. If you can’t escape the feeling of pressure then embrace it as the blessing it is.

New Jersey Jewish Student Sues NY Cops over Immodest Frisk

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Bard College student Samantha Rosenbaum is suing the New York Police Department for carrying out an immodest search while she was walking on a Williamsburg street on  the way from the post office back to her place of work at a store last year.

The suit, reported Thursday by The New York Post, comes amid controversy over Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charge that the police are carrying out a disproportionate number of frisks on white people. A New York Daily News survey published today revealed that the mayor is wrong, but more troubling is the reason for frisks, whether on blacks or whites.

Rosenbaum, age 22 and from Essex, New Jersey, told the newspaper that she loves animals and stopped to pet a cat she noticed in an alley. The plainclothed police, sitting in an unmarked car, apparently did not look at it that way.

“Hey, stop!” a man yelled from his parked car. “He was really aggressive,” Rosenbaum recalled. “I had no idea who he was, [so] I just kept walking.”

That was the obvious tip-off for the two police officers that she was a criminal, and they ran after Rosenbaum and threw her against the car, asking her if she had drugs.

“This whole time, I didn’t know who these people are,” she told the Post. “Finally, after a few minutes, they tell me they are police. My face and stomach were on the hood. I don’t think anyone, no matter what color you are, deserves to be treated like that.

“I offered to show them the cat. They had two people on top of me, and my arm was really hurting.”

Her lawyer Michael Goldstein added,  “She thought she was getting kidnapped. This is a very nice young lady. This was a false arrest and imprisonment. It’s assault.”

The suit alleges that a policewoman who was part of the search-and-frisk team opened her clothing and peeked underneath at private parts of her body.

According to Rosenbaum, the police finally let her go when she started crying after they threatened several times to haul her off to the police station and charge her with a crime,

“They told me they didn’t want me to have a bad impression of cops so they were going to let me go,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

Why would anyone even think of such a thing?

There are plenty who would think so.

The New York Civil Liberties Union found in a survey two years ago, quoted by Slate, “Only 11 percent of stops in 2011 were based on a description of a violent crime suspect.” The rest of them were carried out at random, and most of the victim was found to be innocent.

The numbers are astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of people are stopped every year for frisks that turn out to be needless but which the police justify when they file forms after each search. All a police officer has to write is that a person was “carrying a suspicious object” or “wearing clothes commonly used in a crime,” or was wearing “inappropriate attire for season.”

Or, “The suspect was petting a cat.”

NY Officials Claim Chasidic Dress Code Violates Human Rights

Monday, April 29th, 2013

New York City’s Commission on Human Rights has served notice on owners of seven Chasidic stores in Williamsburg that posting a sign that does not allow service to women with “low-cut necklines” is a violation of their human rights.

But what about all the “no shorts, no shoes, no service” signs that are a favorite among the snob crowd?

That’s okay because it is a dress code, the commission general counsel Cliff Mulqueen explained to the Jewish Week.

And prohibiting low-cut necklines is not a dress code?

Of course not, he reasons. That is a religious decree, and telling someone they have “to abide by certain rules of the Jewish faith crosses the line into [establishing] a protected class,” according to his logic.

God says that the Jews are the Chosen People, but now New York rules we are the “protected class.” Maybe human rights officials also think that the designation of a Chosen People denies human rights to others.

Regardless, a restaurant presumably can post a sign telling patrons not to enter with immodest dress without worrying about a human rights violation, but if an orthodox Jew, especially a Chasidic Jew, puts out a sign like that, he is in trouble.

The New York Post pointed out that no one really is refused service in a Chasidic-owned store because of his religion or gender. A Christian, a Muslim a Buddhist and even an atheist could enter, so long as he or she obeys the sign stating, “No Shorts, No Barefoot, No Sleeveless, No Low Cut Necklines Allowed in the Store.”

The commission last summer told the newspaper that the signs are legal, but now seven stores have been cited for violating human rights. A top law firm, Kirkland & Ellis, is representing the shop owners on a voluntary basis.

What would the city say if a snotty WASP country club were to post a sign, “No shtreimels?

It probably would say nothing because, after all, that is only a dress code.

Solving One Problem, Sort of…

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

My issues with Satmar notwithstanding, I must give credit where credit is due. The Williamsburg area where Satmar Hasidim live has quietly created a trend of development that is somewhat counter culture – in a good way. In an era where gentrification has become standard for urban renewal Satmar has had its own – much more affordable version of that going on in its outer edges.

Gentrification is what happens to slums (or at best neglected neighborhoods) where the poor live when a city council and developers get together to try and eliminate those slums. Developers will buy out dilapidated buildings and either demolish them to build new upscale living quarters or rehabilitate existing structures that in their hey-day were quite upscale themselves.

When the original tenants moved to the suburbs (what used to be called white flight) and the poor started moving in these neighborhoods became neglected – some of them turning into slums. The residents could not afford to keep up the buildings and they became run down. That is an oversimplified – but I think fair description of what has happened.

Developers – seeking to attract singles or a working couple with no children whose incomes are well above average and expenditures far less that the average family would build housing suitable for this demographic… making them unattractive for most families and too expensive in any event. These dwellings are steeply priced. As an article in the New York Observer points out – in the trendier section of Williamsburg, a half a million dollars will barely buy you a studio apartment.

Satmar developers, ever mindful of the need of their growing community, have taken a different track. They have lobbied government officials successfully and have received zoning variances enabling them to build housing on what were once commercial and industrial zoned areas of Williamsburg. And they have built brand new and affordable housing for Satmar families where that same half million will buy a three-bedroom condo in a new elevator building.

True these structures will not win any architectural awards. “Strolling down Bedford Avenue, you’re greeted by a solid wall of new six-story brick buildings” says the New York Observer. They are obviously more functional than aesthetic. But they do have a clean and new functional look to them. In an area where a modest lifestyle is promoted, this type of housing is ideal. And again from the Observer (here comes the good part): “the ultra-Orthodox have succeeded in building thousands of units and keeping the neighborhood affordable for families—on private land, and without public money!”

I have been to these neighborhoods and seen these buildings. They are a far cry from the impoverished conditions I used to see there just a decade or so ago. It appears to be populated entirely by Williamsburg Hasidim.

And yet, I can’t help but feel that there is something missing from this seemingly idyllic picture. For one thing a half million dollars isn’t pocket change. The ‘modest’ incomes of most Satmar Hasidim doesn’t seem like enough to buy one of these units. Even if you factor in low down payments – there remains the very high mortgage payments. Which begs the question, where do these families with 6, 7, 8 or more children get the money to pay for that? It would therefore appear to be that only a more upscale (by Satmar standards) family can afford these units. Either that or some of these families must be getting subsidized. And if so, where is that money coming from? Philanthropists? Government welfare programs?

The building boom also had some controversy attached when public land was bought along with private land. From the New York Observer:

Black and Latino leaders claimed that the affordable housing complex—to be built on city-owned land, some of which would be seized by eminent domain—would give a disproportionate number of units to the ultra-Orthodox, as traditional public housing projects nearby had in the past.

Rabbi David Niederman, leader of the United Jewish Organizations, begged to differ, saying that both the public and private aspect of the rezoning are needed. “We believe in supply and demand,” he said. “Imagine if 200 people are fighting for one unit”—something that New Yorkers outside of Hasidic Williamsburg won’t have to try very hard to do. “Prices are going to go up like crazy.”

I personally see no problem with what Satmar did. They lobbied for the land and they got it. Black and Latino leaders could have done the same.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/haemtza/solving-one-problem-sort-of/2013/04/11/

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