New York

Chasidim stop bike lanes

By Paul Berger, December 10, 2009

For some New Yorkers, cycling is a religion.

So, when the city’s department of transport removed a bike lane that cut through the Chasidic area of Williamsburg last week, it was seen as a sacrilege.

“They illegally sold out the citizens of New York,” said Baruch Herzfeld, a modern Orthodox Jew who owns the Traif Bike Geschaft repair and rental shop on the southern edge of “hipster”, or bohemian, Williamsburg.

Mr Herzfeld and other bikers are enraged because, it appears, New York’s mayor Michael Bloomberg struck a back-room deal with Williamsburg’s Satmar community.

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Lubavitch reopens debate on messianic beliefs

By Paul Berger, December 3, 2009

A Lubavitch website has reopened a debate over the exclusion of some Chabad rabbis from an Orthodox rabbinical organisation.

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which is the main association of Orthodox rabbis in the US, inserted a clause in its membership application some years ago that barred rabbis “with messianic beliefs” from joining the group.

The clause refers to the belief among some in the Chabad movement that the last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994, may one day return as the messiah.

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Suicide newlywed 'was sex-abused'

By Ellen Tumposky, November 19, 2009

A report that a Brooklyn man who committed suicide two days after his wedding was a victim of sex abuse has riled the Orthodox community.

Mordechai (Motty) Borger, 24, jumped from the seventh-floor terrace of his hotel on November 5. His bride, Mali Gutman, whom he married on Nov 3 after they met through a matchmaker, was asleep in the room.

A spokeswoman for the NYC medical examiner’s office said the death has been ruled a suicide.

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Trial of kosher meat plant owner opens

By Paul Berger, October 15, 2009

The former CEO of America’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant went on trial this week.

Shlomo Rubashkin, formerly of Agriprocessors, Inc, faces almost 100 charges relating to falsifying financial papers in order to secure advances on a $35 million loan.

In a separate trial, due to begin after the close of this one, he faces 72 charges relating to immigration violations.

If convicted, Mr Rubashkin, 49, could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Agriprocessors, in Postville, Iowa, was the scene last May of the largest immigration raid in American history.

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Orthodox 'shielding sex abusers'

By Paul Berger, October 15, 2009

A New York State Supreme Court judge has criticised the Orthodox community for shielding perpetrators of sexual abuse while persecuting victims.

Judge Gustin Reichbach lamented the community’s “circle-the-wagons attitude” as he sentenced Yona Weinberg, a barmitzvah tutor and social worker from Brooklyn, to 13 months in jail for molesting two boys.

At the sentencing earlier this month, the courtroom was filled with Weinberg’s supporters. Almost 100 members of the Orthodox community wrote letters to the judge defending him.

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'Gods Hates Fags' extremists target synagogues

By Paul Berger, October 1, 2009

Members of one of America’s most reviled religious groups, Westboro Baptist Church, picketed two New York shuls in the run up to Yom Kippur.

A group of Westboro congregants, including young children, brandished signs last Saturday that included slogans such as “Jews Stole The Land”, “God Hates Jews” and “The Jews killed Jesus”.

The Westboro Baptist Church’s message of hate is usually aimed at homosexuals. It pickets soldiers’ funerals, claiming that military deaths are god’s punishment for America’s acceptance of homosexuality.

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In New York, rabbis take on bohemians in a bicycle war

By Ellen Tumposky, September 10, 2009

On one side of Broadway — a main street in the New York suburb of Williamsburg — bohemian 20-somethings in sunglasses and shorts work on laptops at an outdoor café.

Across the street, Satmar Chasidim in black hats stroll outside the office of Der Yid, the Satmar Yiddish language weekly.

Tensions between the two communities, living cheek by jowl but rarely interacting, have recently risen to boiling point over an unlikely issue — bike lanes on avenues that run through both their sides of the neighbourhood.

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Orthodox women offer de-licing service at $200 a head

By Paul Berger, September 10, 2009

To most people, the beginning of the school year in New York means bright September days, shiny new lunch boxes and meeting friends.

But to Dalya Harel it signifies one thing above all else — the start of head lice-hunting season.

Mrs Harel, 48, is founder of LiceBustersNYC, one of a dozen or more lice-removal businesses in the New York area run by Orthodox women.

Her competitors include Adele Horowitz’s Licenders, Susan Sherman’s LiceBGoners and Abigail “The Lice Lady” Rosenfeld.

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Shul security and the rabbis with guns

By Paul Berger, September 3, 2009

They call themselves The International Security Coalition of Clergy.

But you can think of them as The God Squad — armed rabbis and priests ready to leap from the bimah, or the pulpit, to tackle and kill terrorists.

The coalition is led by Rabbi Gary Moscowitz, 52, a fast-talking martial arts instructor and former New York police officer, who says he can transform the average synagoguegoer into a fighting machine, trained in unarmed combat and weapons.

“Jews are not like Christians,” he says. “If we turn our cheek, we are spinning around to make a kick.”

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Colonel Gaddafi? He ruined my fence

By Paul Berger, September 3, 2009

Nothing can stop Colonel Gaddafi from visiting New York in a couple of weeks’ time to address the United Nations General Assembly.

But the Libyan leader is having one heck of a time trying to find somewhere to stay.

Mr Gaddafi often travels with an air-conditioned tent on foreign trips. His first reported request, to camp in Central Park, was turned down. Now, an apparent attempt to stay in the garden of a mansion owned by the Libyan government, in Englewood, New Jersey, has also been blocked.

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