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Stella’s Sephardic Table: Jewish family recipes from the …

Posted By on July 3, 2018

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Stella's Sephardic Table: Jewish family recipes from the ...

Birmingham Public Library: Jewish American Heritage Month

Posted By on June 30, 2018

by Mary Beth Newbill, Southern History Department, Central LibraryMay is Jewish American Heritage Month and the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and several other government agencies are joining together to honor and celebrate Jewish Americans. First proclaimed by President George W. Bush on April 20, 2006, each successive president has declared the month of May to be a time when we reflect on the accomplishments and contributions of Jewish Americans. President Donald Trump issued the 2018 proclamation on April 30.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) will be streaming interviews with three Holocaust survivors this month. The first interview took place on May 3 and the other two will be on May 9 and May 10. Viewers can watch them live or stream them later at their convenience on the USHMM website.

The Birmingham Public Librarys Southern History Department has plenty of resources for those researching their Jewish ancestry. In addition to books on genealogy, we also have many titles relating to the Jewish experience in the South, histories of Jewish congregations in Alabama, and fun titles like Shalam Yall and Matzoh Ball Gumbo. Check out our newest subject guide on Jewish Heritage for links to these titles and many others.

The popular genealogy database, has a special section on Jewish genealogy. Their Jewish Family History Collection contains numerous databases that are available for free. For those that require a subscription, the library edition of is available at all of Alabamas public libraries.

Follow the links below for more information on Jewish genealogy and history:American Jewish ArchivesBirmingham Holocaust Education CenterDouglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy CenterIsrael Genealogy Research AssociationJewishGen

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Birmingham Public Library: Jewish American Heritage Month

Where are Ashkenazi Jews from? Their Origins May Surprise …

Posted By on June 27, 2018

Ashkenazi Jews are a Jewish ethnic group who have their earliest ancestors from the indigenous tribes of Israelat least on one side of the family tree. A study published in 2013 in Nature Communications has shown their maternal lineage comes from a different, and possibly unexpected, source.

The research shows the origins of the matrilineal line for the Ashkenazi Jews comes from Europe. This goes against the common belief that Jewish people first arrived in central Europe after the ByzantineSasanian War of 602628 and only began settling in Germany in the Medieval period.

Ashkenazi Jews is the term used today to describe these Jewish people individuals who built religiously-based communities centuries later in Central and Eastern Europe. One of the things they are recognized for is the use of Yiddish a High German language written in the Hebrew alphabet and influenced by classical Hebrew and Aramaic.

The Yiddish calligraphic segment in the Worms Mahzor. ( Public Domain )

The 2013 study co-author Martin Richards, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Huddersfield in England, said that while Ashkenazi Jews have lived in Europe for many centuries, the results of the study using DNA samples show that most European Jews descend from local people who converted to Judaism, not individuals who left Israel and the Middle East around 2,000 years ago.

Ashkenazi Jews were declared a clear, homogeneous genetic subgroup following a 2006 study. Ashkenazi Jews come from the same genetic group, no matter if their ancestors were from Poland, Russia, Hungary, Lithuania, or another place with a large historical Jewish population. They are all in the same ethnic group.

How could it be that Ashkenazi Jews are just one genetic group? The answer is a relatively simple one: they didnt reproduce at a noticeable level with others outside their group (not even with other Jewish people). Researchers have shown Ashkenazi Jews were a reproductively isolated population in Europe for about 1000 years.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch ben Yaakov Ashkenazi (1714). ( Public Domain )

Previous studies have found that 50-80% of the Ashkenazim DNA from the paternal lineage originated in the Near East. It is not surprising that there was a common belief that Israel and the Near East was their ancient homeland.

But the 2013 study showed 80% of Ashkenazi Jews maternal line comes from Europe - only a few people had genes originating in the Near East. As Professor Richards said at the time, This suggests that, even though Jewish men may indeed have migrated into Europe from Palestine around 2000 years ago, they seem to have married European women.

A Jewish couple from Worms, Germany, with the obligatory yellow badge on their clothes. The man holds a moneybag and bulbs of garlic, both often used in the portrayal of Jews. 16th century. ( Public Domain )

It appears that the majority of the European converts to Judaism during the early years of the Diaspora were women. That helps explain why the Ashkenazim can trace their female lineage to southern and western Europe.

In conclusion, Richards said , The origins of the Ashkenazim is one of the big questions that people have pursued again and again and never really come to a conclusive view.

Top Image: Detail of Ashkenazi Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) Source: Public Domain

By April Holloway

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Where are Ashkenazi Jews from? Their Origins May Surprise ...

B’nai B’rith UK Home – B’nai B’rith UK

Posted By on June 27, 2018

Welcome to the Bnai Brith UK website. I am delighted that you want to find out more about Bnai Brith and what we can offer you.

We are a division of Bnai Brith Europe, which comes under the umbrella of Bnai Brith International, founded in 1843 in New York.

I am certain you will find many things of interest to you as you look through our website, Bnai Brith has a long and well-established history which focuses on advocacy, human rights, charitable work and Jewish Culture and Heritage. Not only in the United Kingdom, but also in Europe and worldwide. Our social activities play an important part in the life of our Lodge membership (Lodge is the historic name we give to our groups) and provides the basis for our wider activities.

Bnai Brith offers a warm welcome to those who join our family, whatever your age, be it younger or older or whether you are single or married or just good friends. We are an inclusive membership organisation that brings together Jews from across the whole spectrum whether they are observant or secular.

I hope that our website will interest you and will inspire you to join us.

I look forward, with much pleasure, to welcoming you into the worldwide family of Bnai Brith.

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B'nai B'rith UK Home - B'nai B'rith UK

The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel …

Posted By on June 26, 2018

"In certain circles, the cause of Christian Zionism has acquired a bad odor. Some would-be sympathizers cringe at its history of dubious end-times speculation, while others want to avoid blessing the government and military policies of Israel. The theologians and historians included in this volume propose, as its titles suggests, a new Christian Zionism, grounded not in the belief that Israel is 'a perfect country' or 'the last Jewish state we will see before the end of days,' but in sound biblical theology and common-sense political wisdom." (Matt Reynolds, Christianity Today, September 2016)

"In this exciting and extraordinarily important work, Gerald McDermott and his contributors point us toward a fresh way of understanding the relationship between Christianity and Judaismone in which Israel is not regarded merely as a voice from the past or a transitional entity consigned to a passing dispensational role, but regarded instead as an essential and enduring presence at the heart of the church's ongoing life. In their view, the 'scandal of Zionism' is an instance of the 'scandal of particularity' at the very core of the gospelthe paradox that the biblical God has conveyed a universal message by means of a particular people and a particular land whose particularity is never to be effaced or superseded. If they are right, the implications are enormous for Christians and Jews alike." (Wilfred M. McClay, G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma)

"This book is rigorous in its scholarship and speaks with thoughtfulness and passion about an understudied and widely misunderstood subject. This important book is both learned and provocative. It is clearly written and argued throughout and displays a wealth of historical understanding, theological richness and exegetical savvy. This book is a must-read for all who are interested in the truly big questions of our day." (Byron R. Johnson, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University)

"The essays here offer a fresh perspective on Christian Zionism, one based on careful biblical exegesis and in dialogue with the historic traditions of the church. A paradigm-challenging volume." (Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University, general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture)

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The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel ...

Ealing Liberal Synagogue

Posted By on June 25, 2018

About Liberal Judaism

Liberal Judaism references Jewish tradition, and seeks to preserve the cultural and religious values of religion,while giving them contemporary force and meaning. We aspire to a Judaism which is an active force for good in the lives of Jewish individuals, families and communities,and equally makes its contribution to the enhancement of the wider society.

We are an accepting liberal community which actively welcomes people from all types of Jewish backgrounds,or those drawn to Judaism, who want to come together to participate in a Jewish way of life.

We welcome interfaith partnerships and families.

We welcome families who want to help their children explore their Jewish heritage as part of their cultural identity.

Along with the Rabbi, members try to be supportive of one another and offer emotional and practical help where we can.

Younger and older members also flourish by learning from one another and appreciating what each other can offer.

We are currently accepting new members, and have a sliding scale of membership to encourage particpation:

Full membership

Associate membership (for non-Jewish partners)

Young person's membership (18-25 years of age)

Membership includes full burial rights.

For an application form or more information please complete the contact form.

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Ealing Liberal Synagogue

Center for Senior Services – B’nai B’rith International

Posted By on June 21, 2018

A Record of Leadership

Few contemporary issues are more critical than the aging of the population. Recognizing that senior citizens remain valued members of our community, B'nai B'rith has a leading role in senior services.

B'nai B'rith International is a leader in the Jewish communitys approach to aging issues through the B'nai B'rith Center for Senior Services. With our first housing partnership with HUD launched in 1971, and with 38 buildings in 28 communities, we are the largest national Jewish sponsor of subsidized housing in the United States.

Working with our members and supporters throughout the United States, our Senior Advocacy Initiative advances B'nai B'rith's agenda on a range of seniors' issuesincluding Social Security, Medicare, stem cell research, and funding for the aging services network and minimum wageto policy makers in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

We work directly with seniors through forums and programs on issues such as aging in place, healthcare for all, identity theft, and others.

We also send out "Action Alerts" to let people know what is going on with legislation and how they can contact elected leaders quickly and easily.

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Center for Senior Services - B'nai B'rith International

Against Holocaust Denial –

Posted By on June 20, 2018

Recently I read an anti-Zionist Internet rant posted by a person who questioned the historical accuracy of the well-known and heavily documented fact that many millions of Jewish people were genocidally murdered by the German Nazi Third Reich.

The rant-maker was on solid empirical and moral ground in denouncing the despicable behavior of the United States-backed Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) towards Palestinian people in the Israeli-Occupied Territories and particularly in Gaza.Israels abuse of the Palestinians recently including the open sniper-slaughter of unarmed protesters on Israel-Gaza border is one of the most egregious human rights atrocities of our time. Its hard to fathom the murderous immorality of how Israel molests the people trapped in the open-air prison that is Gaza and how Israel mistreats the Palestinians more broadly.

But the anti-Israel Internet poster made a critical mistake by combining his moral outrage at Israels sickening offences against the Palestinians with denial of the Nazisghastly campaign to eradicate European Jewry. The two crimes are intimately bound up and inseparably linked with each other. Israels leaders and defenders have made little effort to hide their belief that the Jewish state is entitled by the Nazi experience to do whatever Israel believes it must to make sure it Never Happens Again. If Israel thinks that means brutally uprooting, displacing, terrorizing, subjugating, bombing, torturing, oppressing and otherwise harming Arabs to guarantee the safety of the Jewish people, so be it.

Forget the question of whether Israels unconscionable Palestinian policies and practices really work to protect Jewish people within and outside Israel. The point is that the authentic historical horror of the highly organized and largely industrialized Nazi effort to eradicate European Jewry has given Israel a lethal, blank-check sense of entitlement to commit their own different but hideous crimes against Arab and Muslim humanity in the Middle East. The Palestinians and other Arabs and Muslims who have been murdered, maimed, and otherwise abused and oppressed by Israel have also been victims (once or twice removed) of German fascism and European anti-Semitism. Between nations and ethnocultural groups as within families, victimization and the intimately related sense of entitlement that fuels and justifies victimization recycles and repeats across generations. Its a vicious, self-fulfilling circle wherein vctims become victimizers.

Choose your enemies carefully, an old proverb counsels, for you shall become like them. The Jewish pioneers of the Israeli settler and apartheid state did not choose for themselves and their ethnoreligious cohorts to face extermination by spiritually dead Nazis. Contrary to the unfortunate anti-Semitic comments of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas(who wrote a doctoral thesis at Moscow University that cited the writings of Holocaust-deniers to question the number of Jews killed by the Nazis) earlier this week, moreover, European Jews did not cause the Holocaust with bad social behavior. Sadly, however, the Holocaust is a big part of how and why Israel has behaved and continues to act like a spiritually dead fascist state (behavior that has included denying the real number of Arabs it has displaced and killed) towards the Arab people it uprooted and separated to build its Never Again garrison state in the Holy Land.

Acknowledging the reality of the Nazi Holocaust does not mean that one supports Israels reprehensible behavior towards its subjects and neighbors. But any serious opponent of that criminal behavior should want to understand what they wish to effectively fight and undo. Nazi Holocaust denial and Jewish victim-blaming only deepen Israels commitment towards Nazi-like conduct to those whose humanity it denies.

The Nazi genocide is not the only Holocaust in world history, of course. Other Holocausts and large-scale atrocities include the eradication of untold millions of indigenous people in the Americas by European predator-settlers, the mass murderous enslavement and torture of many millions of Africans in the Americas, the Belgian genocide in the Congo, the Turkish Armenian genocide, Indonesias U.S.-approved rape of the East Timorese, the U.S.-enabled Rwandan genocide, the long US rape of Iraq (1991 to present), the current U.S.-backed rapes of the Sudan, Congo, and Yemen, the U.S.-fueled Syrian War, and the terrible plight of the Rohingya in U.S.-backed Buddhist Myanmar.

The U.S. today is homeland and headquarters of a geocidalcrime that threatens to make past genocide perpetrators look like small-time criminals by comparison: the fossil-fueled extermination of life on Earth. The Republican Party and petroleum and coal corporation-led movement to turn the planet into a giant Greenhouse Gas Chamberis advancing what could be the mother of all Holocausts the destruction of organized human life and perhaps homo sapiensitself along with countless other species.

This great capital-generated crime-in-the-making reminds me of something written in 1848 by a thirty-year old German ethnocultural Jew and atheist named Karl Marx, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated this Saturday:

The history of all hitherto existing societyis the history of class strugglesFreeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-masterand journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes(emphasis added).

Common ruin rooted in capitals never ending, profit- and accumulation-addicted ruination of the commons indeed.

Freedom, Marx wrote near the end of the draft third volume of Capital, can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature (Karl Marx,Capital,vol. 3: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole[New York: International, 1976, p. 820], emphasis added). How haunting those words sound today, with the capitalogenic climate crisis speeding us like a runaway train towards 500 carbon parts per million (so long, Antarctic ice sheets) by 2050 if not much sooner.

The working men, Marx wrote in 1848, have no country. Neither does livable ecology, which requires the cross-national abolition of the profits system with (preferably) or without the proletariat finally validating the Old Moles prophecy that it would emerge as the gravedigger of the bourgeoisie. The uncomfortable truth, Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 17 years ago, is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself. Its eco-socialism or mere barbarism if were lucky at this stage of capitalist and state-sponsored ecocide. Anything less is Holocaust Denial.

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Against Holocaust Denial -

Hasidic leaders sharply limit members’ web, smartphone use …

Posted By on June 16, 2018

Community in Conflict: Hasidic Jews & Tech

Part 2: Many Hasidic Jewish communities in New York and neighboring New Jersey forbid the use of smartphones, social media and technology. Why? The answer may come from a watershed moment in the Hasidic culture, where ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders held a summit in Citi Field to condemn technology.

This is the second of a three-part series on insular enclaves of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the struggles they face and the controversies that follow them.

The father of five was summoned to a meeting with leaders of his ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect in Kiryas Joel, N.Y., a village of some 22,000 about 50 miles north of New York City.

The Satmar Hasidic leaders, a council known as the Vaad -- wanted him to understand they knew he was on the internet, even though he was posting messages under a fictitious name.

The point: No matter what he did, the Vaad was on top of it. The father got a warning familiar to many in Hasidic communities: If you do not abide by the rules governing nearly every facet of your life, your children will be denied enrollment in our private Jewish schools (yeshivas).

Within this deeply religious community, families send children to yeshivas, where they are taught traditional religious texts. Yeshiva expulsion virtual excommunication - would bring intense shame to a Hasidic family.

Its the Vaad. They don't let you have smartphones, computers, laptops, DVD players," said the man, a Kiryas Joel resident who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "I wasn't even saying anything bad on social media. I was asking a question. But you are not to question anything" concerning Hasidism.


In many Hasidic enclaves, such as this one in Brooklyn, signs warning about smartphones and the Internet are common.(Benjamin Nazario)

Many Hasidic communities, though not all, are highly insular, determined to shut out as much of the outside world and its perceived deviancy as possible. Education at yeshivas emphasizes the Torah and other religious teachings, particularly for boys, who are being prepared for possible futures as rabbis. This faith-centric instruction doesn't leave vast amounts of time for math and English.

For the rabbis, who can wield enormous influence over the smallest details of followers' lives -- including such intimate matters as the use of contraceptives, which is nearly always prohibited -- technology is a threat: It enables personal connections and access to views and information from non-Hasidic sources.

Five years ago, a rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, sponsored a seminal event for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at Citi Field stadium in New York that drew tens of thousands of people. Speakers emphasized the filth and evil of the internet.

The spokesman for the event, Rabbi Eytan Kobre, told reporters at the time that the internet and smartphones posed the most difficult spiritual challenge for Orthodox Jews, not just those who are Hasidic.

Watch:Community in Conflict: Hasidic Jews & Education

Kobre, who is not Hasidic, told Fox News in a recent interview that quite simply, to Orthodox Jews, there is no need to surf the Internet or explore a marketplace of ideas, because the truth is right there in the Torah.

Kobre said that technology is doing damage to relationships, privacy, human dignity, the ability to succeed in school and at work.

Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sects typically see technology and electronics as doorways to destructive behavior and forbid their practitioners from having such things as television, smartphones, and computers.(AP)

The environment of the digital age is far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in their history, said Kobre, who writes about the issue for Mishpacha magazine, a leading publications for Orthodox Jews worldwide.

As a result, many Hasidic communities have developed rules specifically banning the possession of electronic devices, making exceptions only under special circumstances like, say, needing these tools in order to run a business. Even then, use is tightly restricted and closely monitored.

Take smartphones, for instance: These handhelds are allowed for men as long as they are inspected by rabbis and registered by what some call, with sarcasm that is considered a major act of insubordination, the "technology police" or "thought police."

Women are allowed to have basic or flip phones, but not smartphones.

The Vaad deactivates web browsers and installs filters on phones to inhibit access to such things as Google, YouTube, many Wikipedia pages and porn websites, among other content.

"It's like we're in North Korea or China," said the Kiryas Joel resident, who has a second phone that Vaad enforcers do not know about.

On at least one occasion, in 2015,rabbis from Kiryas Joel sent parents a contract to sign, declaring that their phones are in accordance to the rules of the community and yeshiva, and adding, We also confirm that we do not possess in our home another cellphone/smartphone, except for the ones mentioned above.

Another nearly-all Hasidic town, New Square, N.Y.,makes parents vow to obey bans on technology in writing when they register their children for school.

Hasidic communities' tech limitations are not just in small towns like Kiryas Joel and New Square that are situated far from big cities, though.

In Brooklyn, for instance, posters blamed "mothers with smartphones" for teens who have strayed from Hasidic life.

Of the more than a dozen Hasidic rabbis and yeshiva officials Fox News reached out to for comment, none responded. One man, working at a front booth at a small building in Kiryas Joel where smartphones and other gadgets are checked for compliance with the restrictions, took a message from a Fox News team that made a personal visit. But there was no subsequent call or email message.

Orthodox leaders outside the Hasidic enclaves have defended the consequences that schools impose.

They consider technology to be an area of danger which requires limits and standards, Kobre, the rabbi, said of the school leaders. If we just limit the availability of technology for students, and say, You cant have a smartphone but your folks can have them, what are we really saying? Do as we say, not as we do? It would be educationally inappropriate. It would backfire.

"We have to have the appropriate home environment, otherwise were setting ourselves up for failure and hypocrisy.

He rejected any suggestion that enforcing standards --whether they be about dress codes or having a television set or the internet -- are oppressive. Critics, he said,seem to want "educational anarchy."

Another rabbi who is Orthodox but not Hasidic said avoiding temptations that lurk on the internet is best accomplished by not wading into the technology pool at all.

Its not easy for us, its a sacrifice, said the rabbi, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Were holding on tight; we have to have the moral courage" to steer clear of tech.

Whatever I dont want to do, Im going to leave out of my arms reach, Im going to remove the temptation, he said. As far as our community leaders, they feel an enormous responsibility to use the wisdom that they have, and which guided Orthodox Jews for thousands of years, to see through this infatuation with this untested medium.

Nuftuli Moster, who grew up as one of 17 children in a Hasidic home in Brooklyn and now advocates for more secular studies in Hasidic schools, said the perceived overreach by community leaders stuns even him.

"I myself am taken aback," Moster said, adding that he gets calls from parents who have received letters, delivered to them by their children, informing them that having internet access on their computer, or a telephone without the filter, puts the youngsters' yeshiva enrollment at risk.

"They force you to use their filtering system. They make it challenging for parents, they have a grip on them when it comes to the children and schools. Parents say the [leaders] sent them a letter that said they don't have a filter on their phone.

"Parents ask me: 'How do they know? What do I do?'"

Moster, who founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) six years ago to push for more secular studies in yeshivas, said: "It's ridiculous how far they go with it. They know how to manipulate people and force them to do what they want."

Technologys numerous and alternative sources of information threaten the nearly absolute power that rabbis and the Vaad are accustomed to having, experts say.

The internet poses an unprecedented challenge, said Samuel Heilman, chairman of Jewish studies at Queens College in New York and author of "Who Will Lead Us? The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America.

But this is violated all the time," he added. "Its like the three staircases in the Jewish play Fiddler on the Roof, where one staircase was just for show but went nowhere.

Heilman said that many Hasidic people have a rabbi-approved phone "for show," but also an unfiltered one they regularly use. He also said he has often seen Hasidic men in public libraries going on the internet or reading books that are forbidden by their religious leaders.

When I walked in, they quickly look at me to make sure I am not someone spying on them.

For Kobre, an ordinary ride a few days ago on a New York City train summed up the perils of technology.

The rabbi stood in the crush of humanity on the packed train and looked around him.

Every single person, without exception, whether they were sitting down or standing, was looking down at their devices, Kobre recalled.For me it was a scene out of a horror movie, a zombie movie. What could they possibly be looking at that is more important than their own thoughts, about their families, their life goals?

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for, and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.


Hasidic leaders sharply limit members' web, smartphone use ...

Insular Hasidic Jews struggle to preserve customs as legal …

Posted By on June 16, 2018

Community in Conflict: Hasidic Jews & Education

Part 1: Some Americans may not realize that Hasidic Jews shun many common secular practices widely accepted across cultural and national borders, including the basics of education. For example, there are several yeshivas, or Hasidic Jewish schools, in the New York area that only teach subjects in Yiddish. Previous yeshiva students share the impact of these practices in their lives.

This is the first of a three-part series on insular enclaves of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the struggles they face and the controversies that follow them.

It is, by choice, an intensely isolated and insular group, in which a Hasidic family with 10 children doesnt raise an eyebrow.

The big family units help explain why some communities they inhabit become among the poorest in the country, according to federal statistics on rates of welfare assistance, subsidized housing, food stamps and Medicaid.

Indeed, the U.S. town with the highest rate of people on food stamps is the all-Hasidic New York village of New Square, north of New York City, where 77 percent of residents rely on the program to eat, according to a new report.

Yet for all that need, the group is alternately courted, feared and vilified by politicians and businesses for its power to deliver huge, uncontested blocs of election-altering votes, donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to causes of its choosing, spark seismic shifts in real estate markets, public school budgets and city planning, and even hold hostage the countrys second-largest state budget.

This particularly strict group of Orthodox Jews, entrenched and concentrated primarily in a few communities in New York and New Jersey, has generated more indifference than curiosity -- until now.

That is because Hasidic communities have been outgrowing their enclaves and pushing to establish outposts in new towns, leading to pitched battles all over the New York region.

Hasidic residents and leaders say that bigotry is at the root of the battles -- many of which have ended up in court, which often have ruled in the religious community's favor. Their critics deny bigotry, and say it's a matter of sudden changes to towns that end up adversely affecting the quality of life.

A familiar pattern

"[Our critics] are insane. ... Our education system doesn't have a metal detector you have to go through, we have zero tolerance on drugs."

Critics of the Hasidic groups say development in many towns has followed a familiar pattern: The group moves into a community, then begins to overwhelm local government and social services with explosive population growth. Thats accompanied by rapid construction of low-cost, densely packed housing units -- typically townhouses -- though even these, eventually, cant contain the growth. Hasidic leaders or developers with ties to them then buy up nearby homes, gain control of the local school board, ultimately gut public school budgets and divert funds to private Jewish schools.

There have been echoes of this pattern in places includingBloomingburg, a once-rural upstate New York town, and Toms River, N.J., to name but a few examples.

All this, while Hasidic households with very modest incomes collect millions in federal benefits, often because of large family sizes.

They know how to game the system, said Samuel C. Heilman, a sociology professor at Queens College of the City University of New York. They know the ins and outs, or they get professionals and find out how to apply for things like Section 8" housing subsidies. "Their leadership is intertwined with the political system in order to get favorable entry.

"It's usually done legally," said Heilman, author of the book Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America, in reference to how Hasidic Jews so expertly navigate the system.

The depiction of their use of government programs as "gaming" the system exasperates many Hasidim.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, the director of public public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella organization for Hasidic and other ultra-Orthodox groups, told Fox News that characterizations such as "gaming" are pejorative ways to describe a talent for perceiving opportunities that, for these communities, can yield government services.

"Thats not gaming the system," Shafran said, "its utilizing the social services net as it is intended to be used.

The residents of Monroe, N.Y., another town north of Manhattan where the suburbs meet rural upstate, refer to tensions between themselves and Hasidic residents by just an innocuous pair of initials: K.J.

Thats the acronym for Kiryas Joel, a village within Monroe that is home to one of the most concentrated communities of the Hasidic sect called Satmar. The nearly all-Hasidic village population grew so much over the last few years by about 6 percent each year, with the community's average age at about 13 -- it sought to annex hundreds of acres outside its borders to build hundreds of new units to place its residents. A decades-long battle between Monroe and K.J. ended in a referendum vote in November allowing the Hasidic village to secede, with a settlement giving it more than 200 annexed acres.

We moved here 19 years ago for more space, a perceived quality of life, said John Allegro, a Monroe resident. "It became an untenable situation.

Watch:Community in Conflict: Hasidic Jews and Backlash

As for the Hasidim, they have a desire and need to stay together, the women traditionally dont drive, the men have to pray together in groups of 10, said Allegro, who was part of a group of residents who brokered an agreement with K.J. officials over annexed lands. The fact is, this packet of high-density housing in the middle of a rural and suburban community, it doesnt fit, its a different aspiration from the way that people outside their community want to live.

Isaac Abraham, advocate for Hasidic communities(Benjamin Nazario)

Monroe residents saw bloc votes from Kiryas Joel and Hasidic Jews in annexed lands in town help deliver victories to candidates who represented the religious communitys interests, which were diametrically opposed to their own.

Theyll do what rabbis tell them to do, Heilman said. They will because theyll get assistance.

At a hearing on secession last fall in a packed auditorium in Monroe, Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus described the power struggle with Hasidic residents as a political Chernobyl thats spilling over into other towns.

Recently, under pressure from his Hasidic constituents, a single state senator, Simcha Felder, held up passage of New Yorks $168 billion budget until he was promised the state wouldnt interfere with the educational approach of yeshivas -- despite laws requiring all students to receive an education equivalent to that of public schools.

Naftuli Moster, who grew up in a Hasidic home and is one of 17 children, said that for the sake of votes, too many political leaders have turned a blind eye to the education standards at yeshivas.

"Some of the most knowledgeable and vocal opponents of the eruv are our [non-Hasidic] Jewish residents. ... No one feels they should be forced to live within the symbolic enclosure of another religious group, no matter what the religion."

Moster calls it a near-crime that breeds high poverty levels -- particularly when combined with the large families typical in the community and the lack of academic preparation to support them.

"I find it astonishing," said Moster, who founded a nonprofit, Young Advocates for Fair Education, to improve ultra-Orthodox schools. "One of the things we address is the impact on the taxpayer. A lot of people don't realize that non-public schools, even though they are called private and even if they are religious, get millions of dollars in government funding."

The Orthodox leaders help them get as much as possible from government programs, but what they should be doing is helping them to become self-sufficient."

Shafran praised Felder.

Simcha Felder, laudably, did what he felt he should for his constituents," the rabbi said. "Thats what representatives are supposed to do."

Claims of prejudice

Hasidic Jews and their supporters balk at any notions of a backlash, and accuse critics of anti-Semitic views.

"If these little towns want to putz around with racism, no problem. We have and we shall overcome them. ... They'll be running for cover, because the lawsuits will be coming."

These are none other than racist low-life bastards, is how Isaac Abraham, a leader in the Satmar sect in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, bluntly described the communitys critics. I have no other words for them.

Abraham argues that whatever the government allows in benefits, Hasidic families are doing it legitimately.

Theres nothing wrong with that," said Abraham, a son of Holocaust survivors who was born in Austria and moved to Williamsburg when he was 2. "We [hear the] claim that illegal immigrants work and they pay taxes. But theyre still costing the government money and theyre illegal. Here we have [Hasidic Jews] who are legal, pay taxes, were born here, so whats the problem? So youre helping him live here so he can pay your taxes.

Others say that Hasidic Jews are simply tapping into a system, flaws and all, that has been used to good effect by other special interests.

"Every group looks for political clout," Heilman said. "Lobbying is as American as apple pie. It's inherently corrupt, it's for special interest, not for the good of the larger society."

Shafran countered that it is right and noble to push forward in a community's best interests.

Advocating for the needs of ones community is not corruption," the rabbi said. "It is precisely what ethnic, religious and neighborhood groups are expected and encouraged to do in a democratic system.

Many Hasidim say they would like to have more secular subjects, and note that girls in the community have more hours of non-religious English-language instruction and get a more well-rounded education.

But many other Hasidim take offense at portrayals of their schooling as deficient.

Some members of the East Ramapo Central School District Board of Education(AP)

"New York State law says that private schools must provide a substantially equivalent education to public schools," said Rabbi Joseph Kolakowski, whose children attend Hasidic yeshivas in Kiryas Joel and Bloomingburg, N.Y. "My argument is that the study of Jewish religious texts are not only equivalent, but superior."

"The Talmud contains high-level aspects of history, science, culture, language arts, mathematics, etc.," Kolakowski said, "as well as ethics, morals and critical thinking skills that are too often ignored in public schools. It isn't just sitting around all day singing hymns."

To Kolakowski and many other Hasidim, the community is singled out unfairly.

"The Hasidic community is the canary in the coal mine of [the issue of] religious freedom in America," he said. "There've been a lot of attacks on religious freedom against Orthodox Jews, Christians and Muslims. America was built on religious freedom."

The larger picture

Critics say its a matter of looking at the bigger picture that the efforts by Hasidic leaders on behalf of their communities too often come at the expense of other residents who live in the same area.

Brooklyn Legal Services has complained that in this borough, Hasidic residents inundate government agencies with applications for such things as Section 8 housing the minute they become available, preventing other needy families from having access to such subsidized rentals, critics say.

Theyre masters of the application process, said Martin S. Needelman, the executive director of Brooklyn Legal Services. The part that is amazing is the amount of preparation [that goes into] applications. They clear peoples credit and make sure to address anything that could raise a red flag.

Critics also accuse Hasidim of masking their income. Needelman said that much of the community operates in a cash economy, enabling some people to claim that their income is much less than it actually is. At the same time, he notes that a staggering number live at the poverty level, despite public assistance benefits, because of their large households.

Your salary might be $40,000 or $45,000 a year, but if you have 12 children, that makes them very poor, Needelman said.

Last year alone, clashes erupted in New York towns such as Monroe, East Ramapo and Bloomingburg, and in New Jersey towns including Mahwah, Jackson, Upper Saddle River and Montvale. Reasons for the friction vary: There is, for instance, the growing political power that Hasidim have gained at what others say is at the expense of the larger community.

Theres also the appearance of eruvs a religious boundary sometimes fashioned out of wire affixed to utility poles -- Hasidim set up so that they where activities -- such as pushing a baby stroller or carrying canes and walkers -- may be carried out on the Sabbath, when they are not allowed to drive.

An eruv was erected on our utility poles clandestinely in the middle of the night and without the towns permission in order to extend the size of their existing religious enclosure, said Erik Friis, a businessman who lives in Upper Saddle River, N.J., where council members recently settled with an Orthodox group that filed suit when the town demanded the removal of the religious perimeter. (Under the settlement, reports said, the group can expand its eruv through town, but it was to be rerouted as close to the New York State line as possible, and use less-obtrusive black piping, not white.)

The Bergen Rockland Eruv Association argued in court documents that it secured permission from utility companies and that assertions that it acted covertly are inaccurate.

We have nobody in our three towns who wants or requires an eruv, Friis said. When somebody comes from another state and starts installing things that have a certain religious significance around hundreds of telephone poles without the boroughs approval, and some of it was done at night, people get extremely upset. We have no forewarning of this, nor the ability to weigh in.

Friis and other town opponents of the eruv argued that officials of the town, which has no Hasidic community, had capitulated to the eruv group, which asserted in a lawsuit that Upper Saddle River sought to undermine its religious freedom.

Some of the most knowledgeable and vocal opponents of the eruv are our Jewish residents who aren't Hasidic, said Friis, who founded the group Citizens for a Better Upper Saddle River. A common complaint is that no one feels they should be forced to live within the symbolic enclosure of another religious group, no matter what the religion.

Yehudah L. Buchweitz, who served as pro bono counsel to the Bergen Rockland Eruv Association, told Fox News the law was on the side of the Hasidic community.

The recent lawsuits in New Jersey ... ensure that families are able to enjoy the same religious freedom as so many others throughout Bergen and Rockland counties and beyond," Buchweitz said. "The ... settlements preserve and protect the peoples right to an eruv, which has been repeatedly endorsed by state and federal courts in every case to have considered the issue."

"There is an eruv in 23 of the largest 25 cities in the United States," he asserted. "In almost every instance, the eruv is constructed without controversy and is viewed positively by the community as a symbol of diversity.

Beware 'the next East Ramapo'

Residents of many towns where Hasidic Jews have moved in say the group tends to take control of local politics and undermine the quality of life for those outside its religious enclave.

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in November against the East Ramapo, N.Y., school district and the State Department of Education alleging that the election system controlled by Hasidic Jews denies minority citizens an equal opportunity to have a voice in the future of their communitys public schools.

The district, once a high-performing one, has suffered, many residents say, since Hasidic Jews became a majority of the nine-member school board in 2005, cutting funds for public schools and diverting them to their private schools. The district cut 445 positions and reduced full-day kindergarten as well as sports and arts programs. The cuts, the NYCLU asserts, have resulted in four out of five public school children in grades three through eight lacking proficiency in math and English.

The late Rabbi Mordechai Hager, who was leader of one of the largest Hasidic sects in the United States, was said to have been unhappy about Orthodox Jews who did not use public schools dominating the East Ramapo school board.

The New York Times said the rabbi, whose Hasidic village, Kaser, is part of the East Ramapo school district, "viewed the situation as unnecessarily provocative."

He did not believe in public confrontation with the secular world," Yosef Rapaport, a media consultant for Agudath Israel of America, told The Times.

East Ramapo school officials didn't return calls and emails from Fox News.

In towns that have fought Hasidic Jewish political power, the saying that they dont want to be the next East Ramapo has become a familiar mantra.

Some East Ramapo families, saying they're exasperated and feel powerless, have moved or plan to do so.

Yolanda Maya reluctantly moved to Suffern from Spring Valley two years ago after what she said was a dip in educational quality at East Ramapo schools, particularly for special-needs students.

I was there since my daughter was born, Maya said. My daughter had only one good year; that was kindergarten. They cut programs she needed, like the integrated classes they have special-needs children with other children in the same class. And kids with special needs really benefit from art and music programs, and they cut them.

Maya said her daughter, who has learning disabilities, is gradually improving because of the resources in her new district, but that she remains scarred by the deficient education and support in East Ramapo.

My daughter used to have a healthy self-esteem, she said, but the school system made her feel not smart, worthless.

Steven White, who was educated in the district and sent his two sons there, recalls when the schools were among the best in the state. The district, he recalled, had cutting-edge programs and groomed students to qualify for the nations best colleges. His youngest son graduated in 2012, right when the district was hit hard by deep cuts in staffing and programs.

We had a school board that was under the control of people who didnt use public schools for their own children, and who themselves had not gone to public schools, White said.

Though his kids are out of the school system, White has become involved in campaigns to put people who want to strengthen public education on the school board, and he frequently went to Board of Education public meetings to voice concerns. Other former East Ramapo students, now adults, formed a group to try to bring back quality education.

White said he often encountered indifference and silence when he asked questions or raised a concern.

We were treated with derision by the school board, White said. The school budgets were always voted down; they vote in blocs. You can boil it down to the fact that they dont value public education."

The idea of public education is to make sure that all children are prepared for tomorrow, and we all benefit from that. The kid you educate might be the doctor that saves your life one day, or the one who creates the next great app.

Isaac Abraham, an advocate for the Hasidic community, said that others should accept that the group is growing and will look out for its own best interests.

He also takes exception to the idea that Hasids must explain why they live as they do.

Theyre not seeing what were seeing, Abraham said. If we got to their schools, from town to town, Ill give you a low number, 10 percent are on drugs, 5 percent are in the system, already as criminals. Our education system doesnt have a metal detector you have to go through, we have zero tolerance on drugs."

With this in mind, he said, the less Hasidic kids know about the outside world, the better.

"If these little towns want to putz around with racism, no problem," Abraham said. "We have and we shall overcome them. ... They'll be running for cover, because the lawsuits will be coming."

This article has been edited since its publication earlier this week to incorporate new information and quotations.

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for, and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.

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Insular Hasidic Jews struggle to preserve customs as legal ...

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