Archive | June 2nd, 2015

Black Bus Driver Endured Slurs at Brooklyn Jewish School, Suit Says

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Willis Baker, 56, is suing for some $2 million in damages. NEWSWEEK/ VICTORIA BEKIEMPIS

The only African-American bus driver at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Brooklyn was routinely referred to with slurs such as “monkey” and “blackie” while doing his job, a new federal lawsuit alleges.

Willis Baker worked for the United Talmudical Academy of Boro Park Inc. from July to December 2014. He was hired by Yanke Schaefer, who called Baker his “monkey friend” in front of him and other people, the lawsuit charges.

“I just thought to myself, I really got myself into one hell of a pickle here,” Baker says about hearing Schaefer’s alleged use of the epithet.

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Schaefer denies all of the suit’s allegations.

While Baker, 56, drove the bus, students would call him “monkey,” “blackie” and “stupid,” the suit states, and they would hurl “candy, spit balls, paper and solid hard objects.” But no teachers on the bus would step in to stop them.

Baker is suing United Talmudical Academy and Schaefer for $2 million, among other forms of relief, says Alexander M. Dudelson, Baker’s lawyer, confirming the lawsuit’s demands.

The suit, filed recently in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, also claims Baker was denied back wages and overtime pay.

Baker’s employer also told him to clean and service buses that were driven by non-African-American drivers—and he was the only employee ordered to do so and didn’t get additional pay for the extra work, the suit claims.

During his time at the school, Baker drove some six runs per day. He also cleaned and fueled vehicles and transported multiple buses to maintenance. The Brooklyn resident worked 13 hours a day, Sundays through Thursdays, and seven and a half hours on Fridays, totaling 72.5 hours per week, the lawsuit stipulates. Baker received a flat salary of $600 weekly from July to August, and then a flat weekly rate of $850 from then until December.

When Baker complained about extra work and being called a “monkey friend,” the suit maintains, Schaefer retorted that he should “shut up and appreciate the fact that [he had] a job in the first place.”

Schaefer then assigned Baker an additional bus route in November. The route ran from Seagate, in Coney Island, to Borough Park, from 8 to 10 p.m. daily—upping his workweek to 82.5 hours. The other bus drivers didn’t have to work “Seagate” or do cleaning or maintenance, so Baker told Schaefer this, and also told him he was “illegally withholding compensation for overtime,” the suit alleges. Baker received a paycheck for $1,100 on November 21 and asked Schaefer for “the proper amount of $1,700,” due to his prior pay increase.

Schaefer retorted, “You are lucky to have this job. Try to find work somewhere else,” the suit claims.

On two separate occasions, Schaefer told Baker that he had caused an accident with an automobile, telling the bus driver that damages for each accident would cost him $1,500. For an alleged accident on August 5, 2014, Schaefer docked $500 from three paychecks (for a total of $1,500), the suit claims.

Baker maintains in the suit there was never an accident, nor damage to the bus indicative of a collision. Schaefer never gave Baker proof of the accident, the bus driver maintains in the lawsuit.

Baker had a similar experience on December 5, 2014. This time, it led to his termination, he contends in the legal filing. On that date, a car made a wayward turn at an intersection near the school and scraped its right side against Baker’s bus, he says.

Schaefer told Baker the owner of the other vehicle also claimed $1,500 in damages, the bus driver maintains in the suit. Baker insisted the accident wasn’t his fault, pointing out that the bus was insured and that he couldn’t take another pay deduction. He also reminded Schaefer that he never received proof of the $1,500 in damages from the alleged August 5 incident, the suit says.

Schaefer nonetheless demanded that Baker’s pay be docked by $1,500. Baker told Schaefer that the school needed to pay him back wages and overtime he alleged were owed to him. Rather than do that, Schaefer told him to bring back the bus and said he was no longer a driver for the school, the suit charges.

Schaefer denies all the allegations. He says he got to know Baker when the latter worked at a wedding hall next door. He was unhappy with his job there, and Schaefer says he encouraged Baker to apply for the bus driver’s job, giving him a great opportunity. But Baker “did a lot of unsafe things” behind the wheel, Schaefer alleges.

“I took him in as a driver, so there’s no discrimination,” he says, explaining the school has Hasidic, Russian and African-American drivers in the fleet. “We have an African-American driver who was driving the same time as him who told [Baker] he was unsafe [and] ‘you’ve got to be good.’”

“He made me, like, five accidents,” Schaefer added.

Schaefer says Baker agreed to quit if there was video proof of his most recent alleged accident. When Baker saw the video, he left as promised, Schaefer says.

Baker vehemently denies Schaefer’s response, saying he never agreed to quit but was fired.

After speaking with Newsweek for some 20 minutes, Schaefer deferred further comment to his lawyer. When asked for accident reports, his legal representatives did not provide them.

A spokeswoman for Jeffery Meyer and Jeffrey Ettenger, counsel for United Talmudical Academy, said in a statement to Newsweek, “Yanke Schaefer and the United Talmudical Academy strongly refute all employment discrimination allegations made by Willis Baker and believes them to be factually and legally unsubstantiated. We intend to vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

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Man brutally bashed 82-year-old Sikh with a pipe

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for looking like one of ‘those people’

82-year old Sikh man was victim of a hate crime (Screen capture/KFSN)

82-year old Sikh man was victim of a hate crime (Screen capture/KFSN)
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The man who committed a hate crime against an elderly man in California is believed to have misidentified the victim’s religious identity, KFSN reports.

Gilbert Garcia, Jr., a resident of Fresno, California, bashed 82-old Piara Singh two years ago. He has admitted to his crime but his sentencing has been delayed three times.

“It’s not acceptable to attack an old, 82-year-old, person minding his own business outside our temple,” said Sikh community advocate Ike Grewal.

Garcia had used a metal pipe to beat the elderly man just outside his Sikh temple in Southwest Fresno, where he’d been preparing free meals for the hungry. Garcia was silent during the attack, but according to investigators, he had shouted that he hated“those people” and wanted to bomb their temples after being arrested, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The attack left Singh with two dozen stitches on his head, a punctured lung and broken ribs. The physical injuries have healed but Singh is still dealing with the mental trauma left by his attack.

“He has made good progress,” Grewal told KFSN. “He is doing fine, but he too is anxious. He’s so afraid now. That has affected him and he is traumatized by the event.”

Garcia was charged with attempted murder and he pleaded “no contest” in February, admitting to elder abuse and a hate crime. The Sikh community in Fresno believes that Garcia had misidentified Singh’s religious identity and misdirected his hatred towards people of another faith to the victim.

“The Sikhs have been attacked all over the United States after 9/11 and this is not acceptable because we have been mistaken as radicals when we are not,” Grewal said.

Many men in the Sikh community grow beards and wear turbans. People like Garcia who acted on their hatred towards another faith may misidentify Sikhs’ religion because of their appearance. Nevertheless, as long as the violent crime is motivated by hate, it is a hate crime even when the victim is attacked due to mis-identification, according to KFSN legal analyst Tony Capozzi.

“His hatred was the focus, the driving force, towards that belief,” Capozzi said. “And the fact that the victim wasn’t of the religion he thought it was is of no consequence.”

Garcia is facing a maximum of 13 years in prison, including the hate crime enhancement — an added maximum of 3 years. Delayed for three times, he’s sentencing is pending, and the Sikh community is still waiting for their closure.

 

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Erdogan threatens Turkish editor-in-chief: ‘He will pay a heavy price’

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‘He will pay a heavy price’: Erdogan threatens Turkish editor-in-chief for scandalous report

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has publicly threatened the editor-in-chief of a Cumhuriyet daily for publishing a report, which showed police discovering weapons ready to be sent to Syrian rebels in trucks belonging to Turkish intelligence.

“This slander and this illegitimate operation against the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) are, in a way, an act of espionage. This newspaper got involved in this espionage activity, too,” Erdogan told the TRT public broadcaster.

The video published on the Cumhuriyet news website on Friday showed Turkish gendarmerie and police officers finding weapons due for dispatch to Syria on trucks belonging to the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).

The Cumhuriyet report said the footage was dated January 19, 2014, and described the arms in the trucks as weapons and ammunition.

The Turkish president said the arms shown in the footage were transported to Turkmens in Syria. He added the numbers of weapons were provided toCumhuriyet by a “parallel state” – political enemies determined to discredit his government.

“What only matters to them is casting a shadow on Turkey’s image.”

Erdogan promised sanctions against Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dundar.

“I suppose the person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price for this… I will not let him off lightly,” Erdogan said, apparently referring to Dundar.

Dundar responded to the Turkish president’s lambast on Twitter: “The person who committed this crime will pay a heavy price,” he wrote, adding a link to theCumhuriyet’s story about Erdogan threatening him.

Reuters also investigated the incident and showed testimony from the gendarmerie and officers. The latter claimed they discovered rocket parts, ammunition, and semi-finished mortar shells that were being transported in trucks accompanied by the country’s state intelligence agency (MIT) to parts of Syria under Islamist control.

At the time of the incident, the Syrian side of the border in Hatay province, neighboring Adana province, was controlled by Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist group.

The prosecutors said the trucks were searched in several raids by police and the gendarmerie – one in November 2013 and three others in January 2014 – on the orders of prosecutors acting on tip-offs that they were carrying weapons.

“Our investigation has shown that some state officials have helped these people deliver the shipments,” prosecutor Ozcan Sisman, who ordered the search of the first truck on November 7, 2013 told Reuters in May.

Sisman and Takci, another prosecutor, have been arrested and now face charges of carrying out an illegal search. They both deny the charges.

About 30 officers involved in the search on January 1 and the incident on January 19 also face charges, including military espionage and attempts to overthrow the government, according to an April 2015 Istanbul court paper.

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Nazi forces demolish 3 houses in East Jerusalem

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Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem,Sr

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Zio-Nazi forces demolished three Palestinian homes in the Silwan neighborhood and Salah al-Din street in occupied East Jerusalem early Tuesday morning.

They were told that the houses were demolished because they had been built without necessary licenses from the municipal council.

Nidal Abu Rmeila said bulldozers under Zio-Nazi army escort had demolished two apartments, totaling 140 square meters, that he had been building in Silwan near the Moroccan Gate of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Abu Rmeila said he had not been able to obtain a license from the Jerusalem municipality as the building was located close to the Al-Aqsa compound in an area he claimed the Zio-Nazi antiquities authority is “greedily” interested in.

He began construction in late 2014, after which the municipality inspectors ordered him to stop, issuing a demolition order.

Abu Rmeila said the order was postponed several times, adding that bulldozers had arrived two weeks ago to demolish the house, but left after it became clear they were too big to access the building.

Tuesday’s demolition was only possible, he said, after the Zio-Nazi “used a lift to carry small excavators and bring them close to the site.”

Abu Rmeila said Zio-Nazi troops had assaulted members of his family when they evacuated the home before the demolition.

He said that relatives Hashim Abu Rmeila, Izz al-Din Abu Rmeila and Nur al-Din Abu Rmeila sustained bruises, while his 70-year-old mother was injured when soldiers fired tear gas canisters into the house.

Separately on Tuesday, Zio-Nazi forces demolished the upper story of a house on Salah al-Din Street near the Old City belonging to Rafiq al-Salayma.

A relative of the owner Abu Jabir al-Salayma told Ma’an that Zio-Nazi troops raided the house at 6 a.m. and forcibly evacuated the family before workers set about demolishing the upper floor.

The family house was built long ago, al-Salayma said, but “because the house was too small” they had added a new floor and roofed it with clay tiles.

The demolitions come less than a week after another house was demolished in Silwan.

Silwan is one of many Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem witness to an influx of Zio-Nazi settlers at the cost of ongoing demolition of Palestinian homes and eviction of Palestinian families.

While Jewish residents frequently take over Palestinian buildings with the protection of Zio-Nazi forces, government policies make it nearly impossible for Palestinian residents to obtain building permits, according to Israeli rights group the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

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The I$raHell war crime that goes unmentioned

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By Jonathon Cook 

Here set out in black and white in the Israeli media is a moral conundrum that western politicians, diplomats and international human rights organisations are resolutely failing to address – and one I have been highlighting since 2006.

It was then that Israel implemented for the first time its Dahiya doctrine – turning Lebanon back to the Stone Age. It launched an horrific assault that wrecked Lebanon’s infrastructure, killed 1,300 Lebanese – most of them, as ever in Israel’s wars, civilians – and made refugees of more than a million inhabitants of the country’s south. The exercise has been repeated in Gaza on a regular basis ever since.

Last month the New York Times kindly published an Israeli press release masquerading as a news report that the Israeli army had photographic evidence that Hizbollah was moving its military bases into villages all over south Lebanon. The evidence was paltry to say the least. And the New York Times, quite bafflingly, said it had not been able to “independently verify” the information, as though it lacked reporters in Lebanon who could visit the sites named by its correspondent in far-away Tel Aviv.

The clear implication of the story was that, when the next war with Lebanon arrives, as the Israeli army keeps promising is just around the corner, Israel will be able to blame Hizbollah when its attacks kill mostly civilians.

As Israel’s Haaretz newspaper pointed out – possibly inadvertently – in a headline, the New York Times was doing Israel’s propaganda work for it: “Israel’s secret weapon in the war against Hezbollah: The New York Times”.

Although the NYT’s propaganda role was noted by several observers, no one seemed to make the point that, if Hizbollah is only now moving its bases into these villages, how can one make sense of the prominent justification for the high civilian death toll in Lebanon in 2006? Then Israel argued – and was backed by the UN and others – that the civilian deaths were a result of Hizbollah’s “cowardly blending” with the civilian population by firing rockets from built-up areas, though no evidence was produced at the time.

Look at what Amos Harel, Haaretz’s military correspondent, writes now:

The [New York] Times reports that Hezbollah, as part of the lessons it drew in the Second Lebanon War, in 2006, moved its “nature reserves” – its military outposts in the south – from open farmland into the heart of the Shi’ite villages that lie close to the border with Israel. That in itself is old news.

Tell that to Jan Egeland, who was the United Nations Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs at the time (and later joined Human Rights Watch), as well as all those who echoed his accusation against Hizbollah of “cowardly blending”.

There is another, even more vital point unnoticed by most observers but highlighted in Harel’s report for Haaretz. One of the problems for those at the receiving end of these savage Israeli attacks has been: how to respond. Or rather: how to respond within the confines of international law. While Israel has been doing most of the killing, western politicians, diplomats and human rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been more exercised by the efforts of Hizbollah and Hamas to retaliate in kind.

The international law argument supposedly goes something like this: Israel has the right to defend itself and so long as it is aiming for military targets with its precision armaments and acts proportionately then it is within its rights to launch attacks, whether civilians are killed or not.

The argument’s flip side goes like this: However terrible the suffering endured by their respective populations under this barrage, Hizbollah and Hamas have no right to respond with their imprecise rockets, whether they are aiming for a military target or not, because they cannot be sure their rockets will not hit civilians. In short, anything they fire over the border is a war crime by definition.

If that sounds problematic to you, check out my own public engagement with Sarah Leah Whitson of HRW back in 2006 debating this very issue.

The problem when dealing with asymmetrical confrontations is that traditional interpretations of international law are rigged to the advantage of the stronger, better-armed side.

So how does the Israeli army feel about Hizbollah’s efforts to improve its rockets to avoid this international law problem. Haaretz’s Harel explains what his military contacts have been telling him:

Israel is apparently deeply concerned by Hezbollah’s effort to improve the accuracy of its rockets. The organization has in its possession vast numbers of missiles and rockets – 130,000, according to the latest estimates – but upgrading its capability is dependent on improving the weapons’ accuracy, which would enable Hezbollah to strike effectively at specific targets, including air force-base runways and power stations.

In other words, Israel is “deeply concerned” that Hizbollah might soon be able to operate within the terms of international law as laid down by official arbiters like the UN and HRW.

How is Hizbollah trying to upgrade its rockets? Its allies, Iran and Syria’s Bashar Assad, are trying to deliver more sophisticated weapons to it through Syrian territory. How does Israel feel about this? Harel reports: “Israel is upset at the smuggling of weapons by the Assad regime in Syria to Hezbollah.” In fact, we know Israel is “upset” because it keeps violating Syria’s sovereign air space to launch attacks in Syria to stop convoys it claims are transporting such weapons reaching Hizbollah. It is similarly blockading Gaza to make sure upgraded, precise weapons do not get into Hamas’ hands.

So who will be to blame when Israel gets the next war with Lebanon or Gaza it wants and Hizbollah or Hamas respond by firing their imprecise rockets in retaliation? When Israeli civilians die under those rockets, will Hizbollah and Hamas be responsible or will it be Israel’s fault?

We will doubtless hear the answer from the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times soon.

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Nutcase Jews try To Prevent Christians From Praying At Site Of Last Supper

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... Jewish settlers armed attacks on a number of villages to the south of

Hardline Jews barricade inside flash-point religious site, attempting to prevent Christian prayer service.

Haaretz 11:57 06-01-15

A violent confrontation broke out Monday morning on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem’s Old City when a group of Jews tried to prevent some 100  Orthodox Christian worshipers from praying in the complex housing the tomb of King David.

Access to the compound, whose upper floor houses the traditional site of the Last Supper, has been a source of friction in the past.

The Orthodox group was celebrating the holiday of Pentecost.

The Jews holed themselves up in the complex for a long period until police and Border Police removed them by force, so as to maintain the status quo at the site and allow the Christians to commemorate the holiday. Police also used force against journalists at the scene.

In negotiations that preceded their eviction, Jewish worshipers on the premises – including Rabbi Shalom Arush, head of the Kiseh Rahamim yeshiva, from the Bratslav Hasidic sect – presented a series of conditions for allowing the Christian service there. The terms were conveyed to the Orthodox worshipers via the police.

In the wake of the agreement that was struck, and unlike previous years, the Christians were not allowed to bring incense to the site, their bishop was not allowed to bring in a ceremonial rod with a crucifix, candles were not lit, and the number of persons allowed to reach the site of David’s tomb was limited to 10.

Pentecost is observed on three different dates by the various Christian denominations; the Orthodox Church marked it this year on June 1.
The service on Monday, led by Bishop Dorotheus and a group of clergymen and women and other worshippers, was more highly charged than the other denominations’ observances.

In response to the arrival of the Orthodox group on Monday, Rabbi Yosef Berger, who presented himself as one of the “rabbis of the tomb,” told the police, “Here at David’s tomb, [people] will not enter with a cross. It’s idol worship,” he said, and “an abomination.”

In addition, before the incident, a group of Jews dedicated to what they called “saving King David’s tomb” had called on members of the public to come to the site to prevent “idol worship” there.

On Sunday, a group of Jews unsuccessfully sought to disrupt a small procession of Armenian Orthodox worshippers in the Old City, but police also intervened. In the afternoon, Orthodox Christians began praying, under the watchful eye of security forces.

The official arrangements at the site, established by Israel’s Interior Ministry, allow Orthodox visitors, unlike the Catholic and Armenian worshipers, access not only to the upper chamber but also to the lower one, which Jewish tradition says is the site of King David’s tomb. The lower level is used by Jewish worshipers throughout the year.

Pentecost ־ a Christian holiday that shares some elements associated with the Jewish festival of Shavuot – is one of the very few occasions throughout the year in which Christians are allowed to pray at the site on Mt. Zion.
Last Sunday (May 24), when crowds of Jews marked Shavuot in the Old City, was also the date on which the Catholic Church marked the Pentecost. The Catholic media reported that some Jewish individuals shouted curses at the Christian worshipers, and the two groups had to be separated by Israeli police.

Custodian of the Holy Land, which oversees Christian holy sites in Israel for the Vatican, issued a statement in response to the incident, which read “these are ceremonies that occur every year, commemorating Christian holidays, and for hundreds of years have been part of the status quo in the area. In recent days, extremists have been trying to sabotage these ceremonies by using violence against worshipers. We find these events very troubling, and call on the state of Israel and the police to continue using all methods necessary in order to allow for prayer serves to be held, as they have been for hundreds of years.”

Last year, ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Israel, police arrested 26 demonstrators for disturbing the peace at the complex. At the time, some 150 right-wing activists arrived at the complex and began demonstrating, allegedly attacking police officers with stones and bottles. Some of them entered the compound and barricaded themselves inside.

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KOSHER SUTRA – RABBI SELLS KOSHER SEX TOYS ON-LINE

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The-Kosher-Sutra

YNET – Rabbi Natan Alexander of Elazar gives online sex counseling to the faithful and sells kosher sex aids permitted by Jewish law.

Their inspiration may be exotic — the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Rome’s Colosseum — but Rabbi Natan Alexander’s vibrators have a distinctly domestic goal: giving Orthodox Jewish couples gratification without the guilt.

Alexander, 34, was born in Sydney and now lives in a Jewish settlement in the illegally occupied West Bank.

After studying religion and becoming a rabbi in ‘Israel’, he turned his hand to online sex counseling in a mission to spice up the love lives of the faithful.

“Giving pleasure to one’s wife is a religious obligation,” he told AFP. “Religious couples should be helped to better live their sexuality.”

He founded the Better2gether website where observant couples can peruse and purchase all sorts of sex aids, safe in the knowledge the products are kosher.

“Jewish law permits the use of these objects that can best help fulfill the commandment to give pleasure to one’s wife,” Alexander said.

“Better2gether is here to help couples enhance and strengthen relationships both emotionally and physically,” the website proclaims. “Our approach provides modesty, sensitivity, and confidentiality.”

Its online catalogue has an architectural flavor, offering vibrators modeled on landmarks including London’s Gherkin skyscraper, the fronds of Palm Island in Dubai and the spires and domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square.

Alexander is not the first cleric to publicly address sex and eroticism in marriage among Judaism’s deeply conservative community.

American Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach had a blockbuster success with his 1999 book “Kosher Sex” and his 2009 follow-up “The Kosher Sutra” was also a bestseller.

“I think in our culture we suppress and deny a woman’s true erotic nature,” he said in a video promoting his 2014 work, “Kosher Lust”.

“Women today are loved but they’re not lusted after. They’re appreciated but not desired,” said Boteach, 49, whose website says that he has nine children and two grandchildren. “They’re complimented but their husbands aren’t ripping their clothes off.”

‘Proud to be a pioneer’

Alexander’s West Bank business has proved successful, counting satisfied customers in Israel but also as far afield as the United States, Britain, Australia and South Africa.

In spite of sales of approximately five items a day and more than 20,000 views of the website a month, he insists his online sex venture isn’t all about profit.

“I want to offer these services to allow religious couples access to pleasure without breaking religious laws,” he explained.

While the products are the same as those offered by sex shops everywhere, they are supplied in packages without the kind of racy illustrations that offend Orthodox sensitivities.

The site offers online counseling by what it says are professional sex therapists, couples counselors and gynecologists on issues which many couples find hard to raise with their rabbis.

Questions on premature ejaculation, penis size, orgasms and sexual positions are answered using language “respecting the rules of religious life,” Alexander said.

“Judaism gives an important place to sexual pleasure but it is still too often a taboo subject,” he added. “I am proud to be a pioneer in this field.”

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Debate Over the Rabbi and the Sauna

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By  and 

Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, in 2009, is the leader of the Riverdale Jewish Center.CreditDavid Karp/Associated Press

For years, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt, the leader of an affluent Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx, did something unusual with the boys in his congregation.

He took them, some as young as 12, to the gym to play squash or racquetball, then showered beside them and took them into the sauna, where — often naked, and with them often naked — he engaged the boys in searching conversations about their lives, problems and faith.

Some liked talking to the rabbi. But others felt uncomfortable. At the time, the late 1980s, people at Rabbi Rosenblatt’s synagogue, theRiverdale Jewish Center, quietly urged him to stop. He said he would. They believe he eventually did. And because the rabbi was not accused of sexual misconduct, and because this was a time less attuned to issues of clerical impropriety, not much more came of it.

As Rabbi Rosenblatt, an accomplished scholar who married into rabbinical royalty, grew to be one of New York City’s most prominent Orthodox leaders, he took older squash partners to the sauna: college students, rabbinical interns, young men from his congregation.

Rabbi Rosenblatt. CreditDavid Goldman for The New York Times

Many enjoyed the sauna discussions. Rabbi Rosenblatt acquired a reputation as a great mentor. He told several people the sauna talks — in the Jewish tradition of men enjoying fellowship in the shvitz, or steam baths — were a key to his success.

But some people objected to the practice. They said the rabbi was using his authority and position to see his disciples naked. Major Jewish institutions told Rabbi Rosenblatt that inviting his charges to the sauna was not appropriate rabbinical conduct.

The nation’s leading seminary for Orthodox rabbis stopped placing interns with him. The Rabbinical Council of America, which oversees American Orthodox rabbis, later made him agree to a plan to limit his activities with his own congregation.

Because these steps were taken behind closed doors, the broader community did not know about them.

But last fall, decades after the first complaints, a man whom Rabbi Rosenblatt once took to the sauna learned that the rabbi had spoken to sixth graders at the school the man’s son attends.

The father posted an email to a Jewish discussion group with about 500 members, who turned out to include at least six veterans of the sauna sessions. Their accounts, along with others that have emerged, paint a disturbing picture. According to the boys involved, who now are grown, the rabbi openly gawked at a naked 12-year-old. He invited a 15-year-old over for intimate nighttime conversations, during which he frequently put his hand on the boy’s leg. He invited himself into a 17-year-old’s living room and tried repeatedly to persuade him to change into a bathrobe.

The email thread — private, but later shared in part with a reporter — focused new attention on Rabbi Rosenblatt and raised questions that linger still: What lines did Rabbi Rosenblatt’s behavior cross, if any? Did institutions that dealt with him endanger anyone by acting so quietly? And what should a community do with a religious leader — one beloved by many — whose conduct seems troubling?

Rabbi Rosenblatt did not respond to numerous requests for interviews. Seven past and present officials of his synagogue also declined to be interviewed, did not respond to requests or declined to speak for publication about Rabbi Rosenblatt and the sauna talks. The rabbinical council said in a statement, “The leadership of the synagogue has assured the R.C.A. that Rabbi Rosenblatt has acted in accord with the plan” — the plan limiting his interactions with his congregation.

Rabbi Rosenblatt, now 58, with a silver beard and a commanding presence, remains an important figure in Modern Orthodoxy. He was considered for the post of chief rabbi of Britain several years ago, is a visiting scholar at Harvard this year and is often invited to speak to and teach young people.

His case is hardly the typical stuff of clerical scandal; parsing it is an exercise in ambiguity.

From a legal point of view, said Linda Fairstein, the novelist and former sex-crime prosecutor, similar conduct could be construed as endangering the welfare of a minor, a misdemeanor that includes knowingly acting “in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical, mental or moral welfare of a child less than 17 years old.”

“I see it as entirely inappropriate behavior for any adult mentoring kids,” Ms. Fairstein said.

From a religious standpoint, said Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Judaic studies at New York University, the Talmud does not specifically forbid a rabbi from appearing naked before his disciples.

“But happening to see someone in the shower or bath is a very different thing from hanging out and socializing with no clothes on,” he said. “That is not exactly a Jewish way of doing business.”

Jonathan Rosenblatt was 28 or 29 years old in 1985 when he assumed leadership of the Riverdale Jewish Center, an angular structure of glass and concrete and tawny brick on a broad avenue. A Baltimore native with a master’s degree in comparative literature, Rabbi Rosenblatt is a great-grandson of a famed cantor, Yossele Rosenblatt, known as the Jewish Caruso. His wife is descended from both Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a giant in modern American Orthodox Judaism, and from the Twersky Hasidic dynasty.

Very soon, the new rabbi began inviting the local boys to gyms in the area. “It was sort of a rite of passage in Riverdale,” recalled one man, now in his 40s, who, like almost everyone else who spoke about Rabbi Rosenblatt and the sauna, asked to be anonymous for fear of professional or community repercussions. “Pretty much everyone I know that was of that age, you played racquetball with Rabbi Rosenblatt.”

The man recalled that the rabbi paused to take in the sight of him naked. “In the shower, and as I got into the tub, I remember him gawking,” he said. He was 12 at the time.

Parents began to talk to one another, and Sura Jeselsohn, a synagogue member with a penchant for note-taking, started a journal. On Nov. 29, 1988, she wrote, she dropped in on Rabbi Rosenblatt to share her worries and those of friends.

“He was very calm and said that he had agreed to stop taking the kids to the shvitz,” she wrote, “but it was quite clear that he could not see what kind of judgment error this was. He kept trying to tell me that he found it ‘part of a package’ to achieve closeness with these kids.”

The rabbi did not appear to have stopped in any case. Another man said Rabbi Rosenblatt took him to the sauna and hot tub more than a dozen times from 1986, when he was 13, until about 1993.

The nudity, he said, always made him uncomfortable. “We’d be 15 minutes in the shower, then 15 minutes in the sauna, then 15 minutes in the hot tub,” he said. “There was no rush.”

The conversations in the sauna and tub were wide-ranging. Sometimes the rabbi would compliment the boy’s athleticism. Sometimes they would talk about the boy’s conflicts with his parents.

The rabbi, the man said, would usually buy him a soft drink at the end of the session.

The Riverdale Jewish Center, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Bronx.CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times

“I remember focusing and fixating on the soda I’d get at the end,” he said.

Another former congregation member said that at the ritual immersion bath known as the mikvah, when he was about 15, “I remember getting out of the water and him watching me.” He asked the rabbi why. “He said, ‘I had to make sure that the whole body went underneath,’ ” the man recalled. “I just remember that as being so wrong.”

Rabbi Rosenblatt, the man said, often had him over to his house in the evening to chat.

“Let’s say I was talking about an issue in my life — when you’re 15 or 16 there’s so much going on,” the man said. “You’re sitting next to him, and he had this way of talking to you and at the same time putting his hand on you to console you.”

The routine was always the same: “Always the hand on the shoulder or the leg, always the hand touching some part of your body.” The man said the rabbi never touched his genitals.

The rabbi’s touch “was very seductive and it was very manipulative in a way,” the man said.

Some who were older when they went to the sauna found the nudity only a minor annoyance.

“I never liked that part of it,” said one man who was about 18 when the rabbi took him to the gym. “But to me it was an add-on to the squash, which I did enjoy. The concept of spending time one-on-one with the rabbi of the community for me was a positive.”

Ms. Jeselsohn’s notes portray synagogue members and officials who were struggling to deal with Rabbi Rosenblatt but fearful of smearing his reputation or bringing shame on the synagogue.

In 1989, she urged Marvin Hochberg, then the synagogue’s president, to have Rabbi Rosenblatt get counseling. Mr. Hochberg told her there was no need to involve “outsiders,” she wrote.

“The strange thing is that he kept saying, ‘The rabbi promised, the rabbi promised,’ and that hardly sounded like an appropriate professional way to deal with it,” Ms. Jeselsohn wrote. Mr. Hochberg died in 2007.

Ms. Jeselsohn’s journals end in 1990, when complaints tapered off.

But through the 1990s, Rabbi Rosenblatt often took young guests to a gym at Columbia University, where he was earning a doctorate in British literature.

Around 2002, several Columbia graduate students who attended an Orthodox synagogue near campus complained about Rabbi Rosenblatt’s sauna invitations, said a former official of that synagogue. Rabbi Rosenblatt promised the synagogue’s rabbi that he would stop taking Columbia students to the sauna, the official said.

As time went on, Rabbi Rosenblatt became known as a trainer of fledgling rabbis, many of whom went on to prominent positions. He combined an attentive personal style with the pedigree and connections that could launch a career. The squash-and-shvitz sessions were a well-known part of his process.

“I knew a lot of people who made the decision to be a rabbi based on his intense mentorship, which included sessions in the shvitz,” said a man who added that Rabbi Rosenblatt told him after a trip to the sauna that he would be a good fit for his synagogue’s internship program.

Rabbi Rosenblatt regularly employed rabbinical interns from his alma mater, Yeshiva University, whose seminary is the nation’s largest for Modern Orthodox rabbis.

But some Yeshiva alumni found the link between going to the shvitz with the rabbi and advancing professionally to be uncomfortable.

“I avoided pursuing opportunities to learn from him and to be mentored by him,” said one graduate who is now a practicing rabbi. “I thought it was inappropriate for a leader to be putting students in that position, so I just stayed away.”

Eventually, someone complained: Yeshiva University said in a statement last month that after “particular allegations” of “inappropriate behavior” arose, it had contacted the Rabbinical Council of America.

The council brought in a psychiatrist, who reported that the rabbi “did not represent a danger to young men in that no physical boundaries had been crossed, or no inappropriate physical boundaries anyway,” said Rabbi Basil Herring, who was then the council’s executive vice president.

Rabbi Herring said Rabbi Rosenblatt had agreed to stop taking Yeshiva interns to the sauna.

Yeshiva University said it “discontinued sending interns to that synagogue,” but continued to allow students to “independently elect to pursue an internship” with Rabbi Rosenblatt. And they do: Since 2012, he has had at least six interns from Yeshiva. Two of his recent interns said they had not been invited to the sauna by Rabbi Rosenblatt.

One of his congregants, Sura Jeselsohn, was among a group concerned about the rabbi’s practice of inviting boys to steam baths to talk with him, often naked. CreditRichard Perry/The New York Times

In about 2008, still bothered by the rabbi’s conduct, Ms. Jeselsohn contacted Rabbi Herring, who she said told her that Rabbi Rosenblatt was under the council’s psychological supervision.

Sauna talks continued, though. Around 2010, Rabbi Rosenblatt befriended a married member of his congregation who was in his early 20s and took him to play squash, the man said.

After the game, as they sat wrapped in towels in the steam, Rabbi Rosenblatt urged the man to talk about anything that was on his mind, including “marital issues.”

The conversation grew halting. Then the rabbi said to the man, “You know, I’ve had my eye on you since” — and named the program where the rabbi first saw the man when he was about 15.

“I’m thinking, ‘What the hell do I say back to that?’ ” the man recalled.

He has since left the congregation.

In December 2011, Rabbi Herring said — three years after Ms. Jeselsohn’s complaints — Rabbi Rosenblatt reached an agreement with the council to stop taking his congregants to the sauna.

It was one of the rabbi’s former squash partners who started the most recent discussion. Yehuda Kurtzer, the head of a Jewish research center, was a 19-year-old Columbia student around 1997 when Rabbi Rosenblatt invited him to play squash. Mr. Kurtzer was “horrified and embarrassed” when the respected rabbi stripped and invited him into the sauna, and further troubled to learn that it was a standard invitation from the rabbi.

Last October, Mr. Kurtzer read that the rabbi had just spoken at Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, a Jewish day school that Mr. Kurtzer’s son attends.

Mr. Kurtzer complained to the school principal. And he posted an essay to the email list of the Wexner Foundation, a Jewish leadership group, asking, “What should I and we do about this rabbi in question?”

The list was flooded with responses. A small number defended Rabbi Rosenblatt, but the vast majority condemned his conduct, Mr. Kurtzer said. And five men described sauna experiences they had found unsettling to varying degrees. One of them was the man for whom Rabbi Rosenblatt had bought sodas after each session.

A sixth man wrote of an encounter with Rabbi Rosenblatt when he was 17, in 1988. He had felt sick after school the day he was to meet the rabbi, so the rabbi offered him a ride home. “We had a great conversation in the car, so much so that I still remember some of what he said,” the man wrote.

Then the rabbi invited himself in.

“When we got inside — he and I alone in a big house — he immediately asked me, ‘Would you like to change into a bathrobe? Sometimes if you’re sick it’s good to wear something comfortable,’ ” the man wrote. “I demurred, but in the span of a few minutes he asked me 3-4 times to change into a bathrobe.”

One man who went to the sauna with the rabbi several times wrote that he had shrugged off his discomfort with the nudity until reading the email thread “with mounting disquiet and recognition.”

Among his 20-something peers at the synagogue, the man wrote, being invited for a squash match with the charismatic rabbi “was seen almost as a mark of honor.” Many of them, he said, “just considered it to be the rabbi’s own personal shtick, without imputing any sinister motives.”

“But I imagine,” the man continued, “that if you asked these same people in the abstract, what their thoughts would be about a rabbi who maneuvered himself into situations where he could see his congregants naked on a regular basis, none of them would hesitate about condemning such behavior and taking steps to sever ties.”

The email thread was intended to be confidential, but copies of some messages were provided to The New York Times. Mr. Kurtzer and the man with the bathrobe story provided their messages directly. In other cases, other people provided the emails to The Times, which secured permission from the authors to quote from them.

Today, among Rabbi Rosenblatt’s former squash partners, opinions are deeply divided.

Yaacob Dweck, an assistant professor of Jewish history at Princeton University who often played squash with the rabbi as an undergraduate at Columbia, called the discussion on the Wexner email list a smear campaign.

“I think this is character assassination of someone who has spent his entire life in the service of the Jewish community, full stop,” he said, describing Rabbi Rosenblatt as “an incredible rabbinic presence in my life” who introduced him to some of his closest friends through the game of squash. He said the rabbi had never invited him to the sauna.

But the man who recalled Rabbi Rosenblatt often touching his leg said the rabbi had caused lasting damage. “He destroyed Orthodoxy for so many of us because he just confused everyone,” he said.

And the man who said the rabbi ogled him in the shower when he was 12 feels torn. “I think those behaviors he did are definitely inappropriate,” he said. “I would not let my child step into the shower with a grown man.”

He added, however: “I have to tell you, he spoke at my mother’s funeral, my grandmother’s funeral — he’s helped me through the years with different difficulties that I’ve had, he’s been nothing but a help to me.”

Rabbi Rosenblatt’s contract at the synagogue is up for renewal in a few years. After an unrelated 2012 sex scandal involving Yeshiva University rabbis, some concerned synagogue members offered to buy out the last few years, said a person who was briefed on the offer.

The rabbi, that person said, refused to consider it.

Correction: May 29, 2015
An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of a man who played squash with Rabbi Rosenblatt. He is Yaacob Dweck, not Yaakov.
 

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Miami Beach rabbi charged with molesting 11-year-old girl

NOVANEWS

By: TUT

deuteronomy

Steve Karro denies wrongdoing, tells police touching was for ‘cleansing’ purposes because child exhibited ‘negative energy’

ed note–a few things worth noting here–

1. He is a SEPHARDIC Jew, meaning a Jew of genuine Middle Eastern descent. We are forced to point this out due to the incessant crowing by certain individuals in this ‘movement’ about how the Ashkenazi ‘Khazar’ Jews are ‘imposters’ and ‘fake’ Jews because of the fact that they have no racial lineage to the Jews/Hebrews/Israelites of the Old Testament, yet another glaring example as to why the it makes no difference whatsoever whether today’s Jews are ‘real’ or ‘fake’. A jew is someone who follows the dictates of Judaism as related in both the Torah (Old Testament) and its follow-up editions, meaning the Talmud and Kabballah.

Next–as much media play as this is getting and may get, what we must remember is that this rabbi is doing what his cohorts do on a daily basis, and I am not only speaking specifically about physically molesting young people, but what is done to the minds and hearts of young people through the Jewish control of media. In a much more subtle yet dangerous and damaging way, the youth of the West are molested on a daily basis, using as the proxy means of doing it individuals such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and all the rest whose job is to molest the minds of the youth in order to rob them of their innocence and true self-worth.

And perhaps it was this particular activity perpetrated by the religious leaders of that time that Jesus referenced when He said ‘anyone who would bring harm to one of these little ones should be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their necks’.

Times of Israel

A rabbi from Miami Beach, Florida, was arrested and charged Thursday with molesting an 11-year-old girl at his art gallery last month.

Police said Rabbi Steve Karro, 55, placed the child on his lap last month and kissed her on the neck, then touched her bottom. Karro admitted to police during questioning that he inappropriately touched the child for “cleansing” purposes because she exhibited “negative energy,” the Miami Herald reported Thursday.

After questioning by police, Karro proclaimed his innocence. “There was nothing inappropriate, nothing that violated anybody’s right,” he said, according to CBSMiami.com.

A substitute rabbi at Miami Beach’s Shaare Ezra Sephardic Synagogue Congregation, Karro was charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a child under 12, and lewd and lascivious conduct on a child under 16.

Karro told CBS: “It was not touch, it was hug and the way I hug everybody, the way I hug all the kids, the way I caress them, the way I give everybody love. It was the same like everybody else.” Asked if there was kissing, he added: “There was plenty of time kissing, hugging, yes.”

He also gave the girl a bag of candy and told her not to tell her mother about the incident.

Police had no indication of any suspicious behavior by Karro while he was officiating as rabbi.

“It’s something very simple — love, harmony, cleansing, nothing else,” Karro said after leaving jail on bond Thursday night. He went on to tell reporters that the candy he gave to the victim was intended to be a surprise birthday present for her mother.

Several people who know the rabbi supported him, CBS reported. Rosa Haimov said, “I’ve known Rabbi Karro for many years, and I do not believe he could do something like this. He only does good things to people, only helps people.”

Karro’s only previous brush with the law, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, was for domestic violence in 1999, the Herald reported. His female partner was also arrested during that encounter, in what was described then as a “knock-down, drag-out fight.”

Miami Beach police on Thursday couldn’t explain the nature of the relationship between Karro and the 11-year-old girl, and said the child’s parents were informed of the allegations after she returned home the day she was alleged to have been fondled.

Karro, who was born in Russia and raised in Jerusalem, opened KARRO International Fine Art gallery three years ago. Its website says the gallery specializes in Judaic art paintings and that Karro studied art at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. His biography says he graduated from Yeshiva College as a rabbi and a scribe in 1979.

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US accuses Assad of backing ISIS Aleppo advance

NOVANEWS

isis

YNET

The United States has accused the Syrian military loyal to President Bashar Assad of carrying out air strikes to help Islamic State fighters advance around the northern city of Aleppo, messages posted on the US Embassy in Syria’s official Twitter feed said.

Islamic State fighters pushed back rival insurgents north of Aleppo on Sunday near the Turkish border, threatening their supply route to the city, fighters and a group monitoring the war said.

Fighters from Levant Front, a northern alliance which includes Western-backed rebels and Islamist fighters, said they were worried Islamic State was heading for the Bab al-Salam crossing between Aleppo and the Turkish province of Kilis.

“Reports indicate that the regime is making air strikes in support of ISIL’s advance on Aleppo, aiding extremists against Syrian population,” a post on the US Embassy Syria Twitter account said late on Monday, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Syrian officials have previously dismissed as nonsense allegations by Washington and Syrian opposition activists that the Syrian military has helped Islamic State’s fight against rival Syrian insurgent forces.

“The Syrian army is fighting Islamic State in all areas where it is present in Syria,” a military source said.

The United States suspended operations in its embassy in Damascus in 2012 but still publishes messages on the embassy Twitter feed.

The account said Assad had long lost legitimacy and “will never be an effective counterterrorism partner.”

Assad and Syrian officials have frequently called for international cooperation to fight jihadists in Syria. Damascus has described all insurgents fighting against it as foreign-backed “terrorist organizations.”

State news agency SANA said on Tuesday the military had “eliminated” a number of Islamic State fighters in the Aleppo countryside and that air strikes had destroyed some of the group’s vehicles.

But the US Twitter feed said Damascus had a hand in promoting Islamic State, an al-Qaeda offshoot which has seized land in Syria and Iraq.

“With these latest reports, (the military) is not only avoiding ISIL lines, but, actively seeking to bolster their position,” it said. Syria has accused its regional enemies of backing hardline insurgent groups.

The Syrian military has carried out recent air bombardments in the province, including inside Aleppo city and on the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab to the northeast, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Some rebels have questioned why US-led forces bombing Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have not focused on bombing the jihadists around Aleppo city.

In rebel-held Aleppo, a local council that helps run civilian affairs called on fighters to be ready for battle with Islamic State, the Observatory said on Tuesday, citing a statement.

It called on “all mujahideen” to respond to Islamic State fighters which it said were receiving “air cover from the regime.”

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