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Monday, December 31, 2012

Jewish congregation pitted against US’s oldest synagogue in battle over ceremonial bells

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island  — A disagreement over the ownership of a set of Torah finial bells from Colonial times that is worth millions has led to dueling lawsuits between leaders of the nation’s first Jewish congregation and the nation’s oldest synagogue.

The dispute started after leaders of the nearly 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, agreed to sell the bells, called rimonim, for $7.4 million to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The sale is opposed by leaders of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, who say it owns Touro and the rimonim.

They argue the sale violates religious practice and will remove ownership of the bells from the Jewish community. They’re seeking to remove the Newport congregation from practicing at Touro, which was named a National Historic Site in 1946 and is visited by tens of thousands of people every year.

Both sides have sued and countersued in federal courts in Rhode Island and New York. U.S. District Court Judge William Smith in Providence is scheduled to hold a settlement conference Thursday.

Congregation Shearith Israel, which overlooks Central Park in New York City’s Upper West Side, was first established in 1654 by Jews of Spanish and Portuguese descent. It is the nation’s first and oldest Jewish congregation.

The nation’s second Jewish congregation, also of Spanish and Portuguese origin, was established in Newport four years later, drawn by the religious tolerance established in the colony by Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams.

A century later, the Newport congregation bought land and constructed a synagogue, which was dedicated during Hanukkah on Dec. 2, 1763. It was named for Isaac Touro, a Dutch Jew who became the congregation’s first spiritual leader.

George Washington visited Newport in 1790, and later that year wrote a now-famous letter to the city’s Jewish community affirming the new nation’s dedication to religious tolerance, saying it “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” The letter is now read annually at Touro.

By the early 1800s, the city’s Jewish population had dwindled as Newport’s importance waned. The city’s last Jewish resident left in 1822. In the decades to come, Touro fell into disrepair. Some items, including Torah scrolls and possibly the finial bells, were transferred to the New York congregation.

Touro’s leaders claim in its lawsuits that Congregation Shearith Israel became trustee for the Newport synagogue, while Congregation Shearith Israel says it took ownership of the synagogue, its cemetery, Torahs, rimonim and other objects. Touro reopened in the late 1800s, and the Newport congregation ultimately signed a lease in 1903 to rent Touro from Congregation Shearith Israel for $1 per year.

The finial bells were made in the 1760s or 1770s by Colonial silversmith Myer Myers, a Jewish contemporary of Paul Revere’s, who operated out of New York. They are placed on the handles of a Torah scroll when not in use. Touro has two of them.

Leaders of Touro in 2010 asked the auction house Christie’s to find a buyer for one of its sets, said David Bazarsky, former president of Touro Synagogue and a third-generation member of the congregation there. Their aim was to raise money to ensure Touro will always be maintained, have services and have a rabbi in residence while also finding a place that would allow the public to see the finial bells, he said.

At the time, the MFA was about to open a new Art of the Americas wing, which included a Newport room. The bells have been on display there since 2010, and the museum in 2011 offered to purchase the bells permanently, Bazarsky said.

“Our goal is really to take the money, put it into a trust, and endowment fund, and secure the future while having the opportunity to display the finial bells. We think it’s part of history, it’s part of the culture of America, and it’s overwhelmingly positive,” he said.

The MFA’s offer has since been rescinded until the ownership dispute is resolved, a spokeswoman for the museum said.

Touro’s lawsuit, filed in November, asks Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to intervene because he administers charitable trusts. Spokeswoman Amy Kempe says the office is reviewing the case.

Representatives for Congregation Shearith Israel declined to comment on the record about the lawsuit, but in court papers, they say they learned about the proposed sale in June and had hoped to settle before Touro sued. The New York congregation says Touro is bound to follow its religious traditions, and such a sale violates them.

It suggests a long-term lease of the bells to the museum, something Bazarsky said Touro is open to and has discussed with the MFA but which they can’t pursue until they resolve the question of who owns the bells. Still, he said, he is hopeful the two sides can work out an agreement.

Israel Police - 83-year-old woman raped in south Tel Aviv

An 83-year-old woman was raped in the yard of her Tel Aviv apartment bloc, a gag order lifted Monday revealed.

On December 21, the elderly woman was found by her nephew sprawled and bleeding in the yard of her building. From her physical state it was evident that she had suffered extreme violence.

Police have arrested an Eritrean man in his twenties on suspicion of committing the rape.

The elderly woman was found by her nephew after family members arrived at her home, situated near the old Tel Aviv central bus station, for a visit. When they did not find her there, the woman's family began searching for her nearby.

The relatives who arrived at the site noticed a man fleeing, but did not attribute any importance to him at the time. After finding the woman, the family took her for medical treatment and to file a complaint to the police.

A special investigation team from the Tel Aviv police's Yiftach district took evidence from the woman, who related that the attacker arrived at the building where she has lived for many years, forcibly dragged her into the rear yard and beat her there for hours.

The woman received medical treatment and her physical condition is now said to be stable.

The investigation team collected evidence from the scene and recordings from security cameras in the area so as to assist the search for the suspect, and, early last week, an Eritrean resident of south Tel Aviv was arrested. The suspect, who has a criminal record, remained silent during questioning, but police said DNA evidence links him to the act.

Police have said that they expect violence to erupt in south Tel Aviv in response to publication of the incident, and that, while extra forces have already been deployed ahead of New Year's Eve celebrations, they are also prepared to deal with anti-migrant protests should they occur.

Judge Dorit Reich Shapira criticized Israel Police's decision to reveal the ethnic origin of the suspect at such an early stage. "It would have been fitting for the investigative unit to consider the danger to public safety that revealing the ethnicity of the suspect would have, when he hasn't yet been issued an indictment," said the judge.

The court forbade publishing the name of the suspect, who is being held in police custody and whose remand has been extended until Thursday.

Kiryas Joel - Given Sweetheart Grant

Included in the list of last week’s announcement of state economic development grants was $594,000 for the Village of Kiryas’ Joel’s.

According to the award, funds are to be used to “undertake improvements to [Kiryas Joel's] waste water treatment plant to correct conditions resulting in violations of its State Pollution Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) permit.”

“This is the furthest thing from economic development,” said Assemblyman-Elect James Skoufis. “The list of projects for the Mid-Hudson Region is tremendous: attracting commercial and residential improvement, renovating historical sites, and creating jobs. Then, there’s a grant to bail KJ out for violations against its pollution permit.”

Skoufis continued, “Any other municipality that faces environmental violations is on the hook to fix the problem. The same clearly doesn’t apply to Kiryas Joel – state taxpayers are footing their bill yet again.”

Assemblyman-Elect Skoufis vowed to continue pursuing how the state’s Economic Development Council could possibly justify the grant.

הסודות של גומא אגייאר נחשפים

הוא זכור לרובנו כמולטי-מיליונר שהשקיע מיליונים בבית"ר ירושלים ורצה להפוך לפילנטרופ מכובד. אבל לגומא אגייאר – אחת הדמויות המיסתוריות והצבעוניות שנחתו בארץ הקודש עם כיסים תפוחים ממזומנים – היו גם צדדים אחרים. מאחורי תדמת הבליין שאוהב את החיים הטובים הסתתרה נפש פצועה, רדופה ומסוכסכת. תחקיר "עובדה" שהתחקה אחר השנים של אגייאר בישראל מגלה מי הגורמים השונים – פוליטקאים, רבנים בכירים וגם אנשי העולם התחתון – שידעו לנצל היטב את מצבו. "הוא הגיע לישראל עם לב פתוח", אומרת רעייתו, ג'ימי, בראיון ראשון מאז היעלמותו. "אבל אנשים שם גנבו ממנו ברגעים הכי קשים שלו".

נתיב חייו של אגייאר יכול היה לפרנס תסריט של סרט הוליוודי: הצעיר שהתחיל את דרכו כמאמן טניס, החליט להיכנס להרפתקה עסקית והרוויח בענק. החברה לחיפושי נפט שהקים נמכרה תמורת 2.5 מיליארד דולר כשאגייאר עוד לא היה אפילו בן 30.

אבל ההצלחה הפתאומית הזו הביאה איתה גם לא מעט קשיים: אגייאר, כך מספרים אשתו וחבריו לצוות "עובדה", התמודד במשך השנים עם מחלת המניה-דיפרסיה, שהשפיעה לעיתים על אופן קבלת ההחלטות שלו. אגייאר החליט לעלות לישראל – ולא ידע שהחלום לבנות בית בציון יהפוך במהירות למלחמה על השפיות.

אגייאר שהה בארץ במשך שנתיים, שבהמלכן תרם עשרות מיליוני דולרים לעמותות וארגונים שונים, וגם השקיע כמה מיליונים בקבוצת הכדורגל בית"ר ירושלים. תחקיר "עובדה" חושף כעת לראשונה מי היו האנשים שדאגו לנצל את המצב הרגיש של אגייאר ואיך: הפוליטיקאים שלא התביישו לקחת תרומות, גם כשהיה ברור לסובביו שההתנהגות של אגייאר הופכת יותר ויותר קיצונית, הרבנים שניטפלו, והעבריינים שניסו לחדור לחשבונות הבנק שלו ולגנוב מהם מיליונים. אנשי צוות האבטחה שהיו צמודים אליו בימיו בישראל מספרים לכתב "עובדה", ניר שחק: "גומא, בתקופות מסוימות, היה כמו חיה פצועה שהעורבים באים אליה", הם אומרים, "והיו מסביבו הרבה עורבים". "הוא נתן כל כך הרבה לאנשים, וראיתי הרבה מאותם אנשים חוזרים ולוקחים ממנו, וגונבים ממנו, דווקא ברגעים בהם הוא היה הכי פגוע", מוסיפה אשתו, ג'ימי.

ב-19 ביוני, 2012, יצא גומא אגייאר מאחוזתו שבפלורידה עם סירתו הפרטית אל הים הסוער. כמה שעות לאחר מכן נפלטה הסירה חזרה אל החוף, קילומטרים ספורים בלבד מביתו, אבל גומא כבר לא היה בה. הוא הוכרז כנעדר, ואיש אינו יודע בוודאות מה עלה בגורלו.

Orthodox Jewish inmate wins court victory against state that denied him free religious food

An Orthodox Jew who was jailed for murder has won the right to be served kosher meals in prison.

A federal appeals court ruled that Max Moussazadeh, who was sentenced in connection with a fatal shooting in Texas, U.S. in 1993, should not be denied free kosher meals because to do so would infringe upon his 'sincere religious beliefs'.

Moussazadeh, now 35, who initially sued in 2005 after the state denied his request for a kosher meal plan, had said at the time he feared he would be 'punished by God' for not practising his religion correctly.

A lower, district court dismissed the inmate's case and ruled that his commitment to a kosher diet was insincere, according to the Houston Chronicle.

That judgement has now been reversed by the ruling of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which said that the state of Texas was infringing upon the prisoner's beliefs by failing to provide him with food in keeping with his religion.

Moussazadeh's argument was based around the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act, which prevents the government from restricting the religious rights of an institutionalised person, the report said.

The inmate, who was jailed after acting as a lookout while three accomplices shot a man to death during a Houston robbery in 1993, was transferred to a facility in the Stringfellow Unit in Rosharon, Texas, in 2007, which had established a 'kosher kitchen' to cater to Jewish prisoners.

But he was then moved to the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, Texas, which offers basic kosher products for inmates to purchase but does not provide free kosher meals.

Lawyers representing the Texas Department of Criminal Justice had argued that Moussazadeh sometimes chose to queue for a regular meal while he was a prisoner at the Stringfellow Unit, even when he had the option for a kosher meal.

Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped to represent Moussazadeh in his legal battle, has described the decision as a 'great victory' for human rights and religious liberty.

'Even prisoners retain their human rights, and the state cannot sacrifice those rights on the altar of bureaucratic convenience,' Mr Goodrich said.

A kosher diet is based on Jewish teachings and forbids certain foods including pork, some seafood, and mixing of dairy and meat products.

In order to remain kosher, a meal must be prepared in containers that are untainted by non-kosher food.

The prison system in Texas provides inmates with a choice between pork-free, meat-free and regular trays at most units - none of which would be regarded as kosher.

Confessions of a Russian-New-Year's-celebrating Orthodox Jew

"You know, New Year's is a Christian holiday." I say this as my mother chops onions and throws them into a frying pan.

"Kakoi Christian?" she shakes her head. "You think we knew anything about Jesus when we lived There? Do me a favor, fetch me two more onions."

I sigh and go to the pantry. It had been the same argument every year, as my yeshiva teachers continually taught us that New Year's was most definitely a Christian holiday, and as my Soviet-born parents continued to insist that we would be celebrating the holiday regardless.

For my family, 'Noviy God' was a time of tangerines wrapped in gold foil and imported from Elsewhere, a time to attend the Young Communists' annual dances and to sing guitar ballads about love, life, youth -- while in school, I learned that New Year's Eve was nothing less than a Sodom and Gomorrah erupting as people took to the streets to celebrate.

"It's the beginning of a new calendar year, that's all," my parents would say, shrugging off my complaints. Every time I told them that it was forbidden, they'd tell me simply, "It's the one holiday we had, don't you understand?" And that was that. Every year I surrendered, joining my family for their celebrations though I was sure I was guilty of utter idolatry.

It became my reluctant secret: I was a crypto-New-Year's-celebrating Orthodox Jew. On December 31st I'd come to school with a velvet dress and party shoes in my backpack, smiling uneasily to my classmates and knowing that in a matter of hours I'd be sinning and also probably enjoying it.

After classes ended, I'd run to the bathroom, change out of my long skirt and into my dress, and slip out to meet my parents and sisters waiting in the back.

Off we'd go, Brooklyn, Queens, wherever that year's celebration was being held, to loud affairs of smoked fish, beets, fried potatoes with mushrooms, catered platters of sushi and wine and vodka, too.

Violin concertos, karaoke competitions, Russian Jewish families crowding together to sing about "accidental waltzes" and short nights, "for on my palm lies your unfamiliar hand." There was a religious zeal to the way with which we celebrated the most secular of holidays, a passion which I both admired and feared.

And I knew my friends had it quite different. I knew to keep quiet, because even those girls who came from the more liberal homes didn't acknowledge the holiday, beyond perhaps watching the Times Square ball drop on television.

The few friends who knew about my celebrating the holiday looked at it with curiosity, wondering at the immigrant family pouring glasses of champagne for their young children, reading aloud Moscow's latest anecdotes and roaring with laughter over the punch line.

I don't even remember when exactly our celebration shifted. We barely noticed when suddenly our skirts grew longer, our prayer times became more regular, and somehow my parents began hosting New Year's parties for their fellow Orthodox Russian-speaking friends. It's the same loud affair of smoked fish, beets, fried potatoes with mushrooms, platters of sushi and vodka, but now, the food is kosher, the men are in kippot, and we're reciting benedictions and giving toasts that are curiously punctuated with a sly 'Shana Tova'.

By now, I've come to terms with this balance of Soviet culture and our rediscovered religion, this strange dichotomy which traditional Russian Jews maintain almost effortlessly. Perhaps it's inevitable, because if New Year's was simply a party, it would be easier for us newly-Orthodox to leave it behind.

But it's far beyond a celebration; this holiday is a glimmer of nostalgia which brands us as eternally Diaspora Jews, holding on to a relic of another place and time that we're unable to give up, as we saute our onions and prepare our anecdotes.   Whether we want to or not, and no matter how often we pray, we still find ourselves playing those violins and dancing those accidental waltzes.

NYC - Three Dead In Suspicious Early Morning Fire

NEW YORK  – An early morning fire tore through a Bronx building this New Year’s Eve.

The fire broke out at about 5:45 a.m. and grew quickly to three alarms at 733 Beach Avenue and Lafayette Avenue in the Soundview section.

Fire tore through the roof of the three-story building and spread to adjoining homes.

Three people were killed in the fire.

“Two adults, approximately in their 70s. They were found on the second floor,” Assistant Chief Ron Spadafora told 1010 WINS reporter Gene Michaels. “And one young teenager, a boy, found in the rear on the third floor.”

The names of the victims haven’t been released.

The second and third floors collapsed and the roof is gone. Fire officials are now talking to people who lived in the house, as well as neighbors, to find out what they saw.

Three tenants also suffered injuries, authorities said. They were taken to Jacobi Hospital for treatment.

The fire was brought under control around 7:20 a.m.

Fire officials deemed the blaze suspicious and are investigating the cause.

Sam Lewis told CBS 2′s Drew Levinson he woke up, smelled smoke, and tried to rescue his family.

“I brought a ladder from my building, and pulled it up to help the old lady, but it was too late,” Lewis said.

Neighbors described the victims as good, hard working people.

“They are a nice, tight family, very nice,” said Desherma Lang. “They never bother nobody, and they just got along with everybody.”

“I am devastated,” said Milagros Gutierrez. “I can’t even cry no more.”

The Red Cross is helping tenants in the building and nearby who were forced to evacuate.

NYC Couple busted with cache of weapons, bombmaking explosives

Morgan Gliedman

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

Morgan Gliedman — who is nine-months pregnant — and her baby daddy, Aaron Greene, 31, also had instructions on making bombs, including a stack of papers with a cover sheet titled, “The Terrorist Encyclopedia,’’ sources told The Post yesterday.

People who know Greene say his political views are “extreme,” the sources said.
Cops found the stash in the couple’s West Ninth Street home Saturday when they went there to look for Gliedman, 27, who was wanted for alleged credit-card theft.

A detective discovered a plastic container with seven grams of a white chemical powder called HMTD, which is so powerful, cops evacuated several nearby buildings.

Police also found a flare launcher, which is a commercial replica of a grenade launcher; a modified 12 gauge Mossberg 500 shotgun; ammo; and nine high-capacity rifle magazines, the sources said.

Cops also allegedly uncovered papers about creating homemade booby traps, improvised submachine guns, and various handwritten notebooks containing chemical formulas.

The couple’s arrest Saturday was a sharp turn from their privileged backgrounds.

Gliedman, who grew up on Park Avenue, graduated from Dalton in 2002. Her dad, Dr. Paul Gliedman, is director of radiation oncology at Beth Israel Hospital, Brooklyn Division.

Paul Gliedman — who was included in New York magazine’s list of top doctors in 2011 — received his medical degree from Columbia University.

Morgan’s mother, Susyn Schops Gliedman, is a realtor with Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Greene attended Harvard as an undergraduate and did his graduate work at the university’s Kennedy School of Government.

He has five prior run-ins with the police, with the charges including, assault, and weapons possession, sources said.

Tour bus crash on icy Oregon highway kills 9, injures 20

The stretch of rural Oregon interstate where a tour bus crashed through a guardrail and plummeted 100 feet down a steep embankment is so notorious that state transportation officials have published a specific advisory warning of its dangers.

Nine people were killed and more than two dozen injured when the charter bus veered out of control around 10:30 a.m. Sunday on snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon, according to the Oregon State Police.

The bus crashed near the start of a 7-mile section of road that winds down a hill. It came to rest at the bottom of a snowy slope, landing beaten and battered but upright with little or no debris visible around the crash site.

The East Oregonian said it spoke with two South Korean passengers, ages 16 and 17. Both said through a translator that they were seated near the rear of the bus when it swerved a few times, hit the guardrail and flipped. They described breaking glass and seeing passengers pinned by their seats as the bus slid down the hill. Both said that they feared for their lives.

The paper said that the teens, one of whom injured a knee and the other suffered a broken collarbone, were staying at a hotel arranged by the Red Cross.

More than a dozen rescue workers descended the hill and used ropes to help retrieve people from the wreckage in freezing weather. The bus driver was among the survivors, but had not yet spoken to police because of the severity of the injuries the driver had suffered.

Lt. Gregg Hastings said the bus crashed along the west end of the Blue Mountains, and west of an area called Deadman Pass. The area is well known locally for its hazards, and the state transportation department advises truck drivers that "some of the most changeable and severe weather conditions in the Northwest" can lead to slick conditions and poor visibility. Drivers are urged to use "extreme caution and defensive driving techniques," and warned that snow and black ice are common in the fall through the spring.

The bus had been carrying about 40 people. St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton treated 26 of them, said hospital spokesman Larry Blanc. Five of those treated at St. Anthony were transported to other facilities.

Blanc did not elaborate on the nature of the injuries but told the Oregonian that the hospital brought in additional staff to handle the rush of patients and did a lot of X-ray imaging.

I-84 is a major east-west highway through Oregon that follows the Columbia River Gorge.

Umatilla County Emergency Manager Jack Remillard said the bus was owned by Mi Joo travel in Vancouver, B.C., and state police said the bus was en route from Las Vegas to Vancouver.

A woman who answered the phone at a listing for the company confirmed with The Associated Press that it owned the bus and said it was on a tour of the Western U.S. She declined to give her name.

A bus safety website run by the U.S. Department of Transportation said Mi Joo Tour & Travel has six buses, none of which have been involved in any accidents in at least the past two years.

The bus crash was the second fatal accident in Oregon on Sunday morning. A 69-year-old man died in a rollover accident on I-84, about 30 miles west of where the bus accident took place.

A spokesman for the American Bus Association said buses carry more than 700 million passengers a year in the United States.

"The industry as a whole is a very safe industry," said Dan Ronan of the Washington, D.C.,-based group. "There are only a handful of accidents every year. Comparatively speaking, we're the safest form of surface transportation."

Sunday's Oregon bus crash comes more than two months after another chartered tour bus veered off a highway in October in northern Arizona, killing the driver and injuring dozens of passengers who were mostly tourists from Asia and Europe. Authorities say the driver likely had a medical episode.

Hillary Clinton rushed to hospital with blood clot just three weeks after suffering concussion

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was undergoing emergency treatment for a blood clot Sunday night at a Manhattan hospital.

Doctors said the clot stems from a concussion she suffered this month when she fainted while battling a stomach bug and hit her head. Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines said doctors discovered the clot while conducting a followup exam Sunday.

She was admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia, where she was being treated with anti-coagulants.

Clinton has a history of blood clots. In 1998, a clot was found behind her right knee and she was put on a blood thinner, but stopped when her health improved.

“That was the most significant health scare I've ever had,” Clinton told the Daily News in 2007.

Reines said Clinton, 65, will stay in the hospital for at least 48 hours so her medication can be monitored closely. He said physicians are worried about “other issues associated with her concussion” but declined to elaborate.

Clinton is in the same hospital where former President Bill Clinton underwent heart-bypass surgery in 2004.

Idalina Feliz, 39, whose mom is recovering from a stroke on the hospital’s eighth floor, said she saw a lot of activity there.“We saw Secret Service everywhere,” she said.

Clinton had been recovering at her Chappaqua, Westchester County, home. She planned to return to the State Department this week to finish up her tenure. President Obama has nominated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to succeed her.

Clinton’s concussion forced her skip testifying Dec. 20 before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Sept. 11 deadly U.S. Consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya. Her setback prompted some conservative Republicans to suggest she was faking it.

“When you don’t want to go to a meeting or conference, or an event, you have a ‘diplomatic illness,’” John Bolton, the former U.N. Ambassador under President George W. Bush, said on Fox News last week.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Yemen: Al-Qaida offers bounty for US ambassador

SANAA, Yemen — Al Qaeda's branch in Yemen has announced that it will pay tens of thousands of dollars to anyone who kills the US ambassador in Sanaa or an American soldier in the country.

An audio produced by the group's media arm, the al-Malahem Foundation, and posted on militant websites Saturday said it offered three kilograms of gold, worth $160,000, for killing the ambassador.

The group said it will pay 5 million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) to anyone who kills an American soldier inside Yemen.

It did not say how the bounty could be collected, but said the offer is valid for six months.

The bounties were set to "inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad," the statement said.

Washington considers al Qaeda in Yemen to be the group's most dangerous branch.

Ultra-Orthodox Extremists Mount Anti-iPhone Campaign

A flyer distributed in synagogues throughout Betar Illit Friday declares "war" on the increasingly common practice of entering synagogues with smartphones.

"Needless to say," it says, these people will not be given 'aliyot' – i.e., they will not be invited to recite blessings during the Torah readings, and will not be invited to lead the prayer, "even on their parents' yarzeit.

" It even warns that the children of transgressors will not be allowed to study with other children.

The flyer was signed by a group calling itself "Saving the Generations" that claims to be operating under the guidance of Torah greats. It did not rule out all cell phones, but focused on smartphones, or "unapproved" phones.

In a very long sentence, the flyer explains that, "Since the plague of iPhones, Blackberries and the likes has unfortunately spread in our camp, despite their being banned by all the Greats of Israel, to the point that those who hold these instruments do not feel ashamed to enter the congregation of G-d, and even take it out in full view in the shtibalach (prayer halls) and other public places, and no one says anything, we have therefore decided upon the advice of rabbis to create an action committee for a great campaign and to fight fiercely against this danger in every way possible."

The organization announced that it will appoint "supervisors" in every community, whose job will be to approach whoever enters the synagogue with a smartphone, and demand forcefully that he leave the premises.

Jew attacked outside Paris synagogue

Police in Paris reportedly arrested a man on suspicion that he participated in attacking a Jewish man outside a synagogue.

The suspect was apprehended shortly after he and the other three attackers, who escaped, allegedly attacked the 47-year-old Jew on Dec. 20 as the victim was coming out of a synagogue in the French capital’s 19th Arrondissement, the French daily Le Parisian reported.

The officers were stationed outside the synagogue because of frequent attacks on Jewish institutions and individuals in and around Paris.

The culprits continued to hit the man as he was on the ground, the report said. It quoted a source as saying that it was not certain that the attack was anti-Semitic in nature but that this was being investigated.

Let our Jewish wombs go

A new protest has surfaced on my Facebook feed these days. It isn’t over the high cost of living or election nonsense; it's a different kind of fight.

It is a fight by those who've decided to take on the aggressive advertisements of Efrat, a non-profit organization whose purported aim is to help young women struggling with an unwanted pregnancy.

Efrat's ads are ubiquitous: On the radio, they ask, “Pregnant and need help? Call Efrat.” The group's billboards are even more misleading:

They depict a secular young woman, with a blond ponytail and a smile, offering help to women in crisis. In reality, though, any woman who thinks she’s been lucky enough to find help in discreetly getting an abortion instead discovers a fleet of volunteers aggressively trying to convince her not to have one, telling her it's an un-Jewish act that endangers our very existence here.

Visitors to Efrat’s website are greeted by a four-minute video that plays automatically and shows Dr. Eliyahu Schussheim, the physician who heads Efrat, persuading a young woman not to have an abortion, while a banner featuring dozens of smiling babies hovers at the top of the webpage.

A few months ago, as part of a nauseating campaign, booklets were placed in the mailboxes of Tel Aviv apartments (not for the first time) depicting the development of a fetus from the moment of conception until it is fully formed, crying out to its mother from the womb: “Mom, don’t kill me! Today I grew fingernails and developed other essential organs.”

I experienced this firsthand a few years ago, and I can confirm that a single woman in Israel seeking an abortion experiences a bureaucratic tangle of dizzying proportions that is nothing short of Kafkaesque.

Again and again, you must prove your pregnancy to a number of professionals whose approval you seek. First, you must undergo an ultrasound as the technician gawks gleefully and gives you the first photograph of your unwanted fetus.

Then you must fill out dozens of forms and questionnaires and appear before a medical committee that decides your fate. If the medical establishment sees that you don’t regard your pregnancy as sacred, they react with disbelief.

Almost every physician on the committee – and there are quite a few – pokes and prods around your body and soul to determine how a strong and healthy Jewish uterus can inflict such an injustice on its people. A series of painful probes takes you up a humiliating chain of command.

The state needs your uterus, daughter of Israel, and you feel this need even more when you try to refuse this decree.

Of all the examinations and personal questions I had to endure about the status of my relationship and the quality of the condoms I bought, the meeting that stands out the most is the one with a social worker.

The pleasant woman who chose the most 'giving' profession on earth tossed questions at me from an official form. She could not understand why a healthy, educated young woman of 24 would not want to continue her pregnancy.

“Why do you want to have an abortion?” she asked in astonishment. “Because even though I want to keep on living with my partner and have children with him eventually, I’m still studying for my bachelor’s degree and working part-time, so I don’t see any way I can raise this baby.” Surprised at my honesty, she asked what my partner thought.

“He feels the same way I do,” I answered. “We want to live together without children at this stage in our lives.” Just let her think I’m sane, I thought to myself.

Even though I wanted to sound as clear-headed as possible, there was a storm raging inside me.

I imagined myself and my partner climbing up the four flights of stairs in our filthy building in south Tel Aviv, standing in our tiny apartment and trying to decide where to put the crib of the baby we were coerced into bringing into this world. Maybe we could build a shelf for it, I thought.

The social worker brought me back to reality by pushing the approval form toward me. I stammered my thanks and got out of there.

But what happens to women who don’t get approval to abort? While waiting in one of the endless lines during the process, other good Jewish women carrying unwanted pregnancies told me that married women never get authorization.

They have to prove nothing less than insanity or significant physical disability to get approval for an abortion.

By what right do these committees and non-profit organizations decide whether I can or cannot be a mother? How is it that another person besides me can decide such a thing? It’s inconceivable that the state should invade our souls and our wombs in this way.

Two years ago, at a racist, right-wing demonstration, we stayed silent when signs reading “The Jewish womb belongs to the Jewish people” were hoisted.  

Now, let us shout to the heavens, go out into the streets and destroy Efrat's misleading and humiliating billboards. Let us raise our voices in opposition to the humiliating medical committees and be the masters of our fates. We have worth – and not just when we are pregnant.

Israel - Cop indicted for seeking to sexually harass girls online

The police's internal investigation department on Saturday filed charges against a cop arrested as part of a crackdown on pedophiles trolling for victims on the Internet.

The police detective is accused of trying to sexually harass a minor.

According to the indictment, about two years ago the defendant engaged in lewd conversations with an undercover agent posing as a 13-year-old girl over the Internet and on the phone.

"I imagined you naked," he told the agent on one occasion.

"Tell me what you want me to do to your body? I'm horny for you. Please," he said on another.

"Do you want to be my girlfriend?" He propositioned. "If you'll be my girlfriend we will hug and kiss."

The cop was arrested and suspended soon after making the advances.

According to the prosecution, he also accessed police records to learn about women he met online.

This past summer, an extensive undercover police investigation exposed a large online pedophile ring operating in Israel.

According to the police, more than 30 suspects were arrested as part of the investigation, which was described as the first and largest of its kind to ever take place in the country.

"I told them I was 12 and that I was shy, but it didn’t even deter them," an undercover agent involved in the operation said at the time. "They went to great lengths to try to get me to meet with them.

The conversations were very sexual in nature. It was appalling."

Rav Ovadia Yosef: Yeshiva Students Should Break From Torah To Help In Israeli Elections

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox, predominantly Sephardic Shas party, has called on all yeshiva students who support Shas to take a break from Torah study and start canvassing ahead of the January 22 elections, Army Radio reported on Saturday.

“I’m turning to all students to get up from their Torah [studies] and begin going door-to-door to make a difference,” the 92-year-old rabbi was quoted as saying. “The more votes we have, the more we can bend the prime minister. He won’t have a coalition without us.”

Yosef’s statement comes in the wake of a heated exchange between former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu list and Aryeh Deri, who’s second on Shas’s Knesset slate.

On Thursday, in a fierce excoriation that brought Israel’s subterranean racial tension to the surface for the first time in this election season, Deri lashed out at Liberman, claiming that he and Likud-Beytenu were on a crusade against Sephardi politicians.

“Once the people’s party, Likud-Beytenu has become an arrogant and smug party that represents Russians and white people,” said Deri, responding to an interview in which Liberman derided Shas and asserted that the Interior and Housing ministries wouldn’t remain in the hands of Shas’s top MKs, but would rather be given to Likud-Beytenu parliamentarians.

Liberman — who recently resigned as foreign minister to fight corruption allegations but remains No.2 on the joint Likud-Beytenu list — had reserved a special barb for the ambitious Deri, a charismatic ex-convict who’s in the midst of a political comeback, remarking: “Aryeh shouldn’t be a minister. It’s beneath him.”

Deri later retracted his comments, claiming the racial references were made in the heat of the moment.

“I apologize,” he said. “That’s not my style. I never speak like that. They [immigrants from the former Soviet Union] are my brothers.”

Shas and Yisrael Beytenu, arch rivals on the issues of state and religion, have been stepping up rhetoric against each other as next month’s elections near. Yisrael Beytenu, which represents the largely secular Russian-speaking population, wants to change certain policies currently guided by religious concerns, like marriage and mandatory military service.

Priest and rabbi: Giants need an act of God

Keep the faith, Giants fans.

With the team needing a win today and help from above to make the playoffs, Father Peter Colapietro and Rabbi Dovid Cohen are praying for a holiday miracle:

Another postseason for Big Blue.

“That’s why we’ve got Saint Jude,” said Father Pete, referring to the patron saint of lost causes.

“It’s for this specific situation. Hey, it worked for Mickey Rourke,” he said, noting the deeply depressed actor prayed to Saint Jude in 1995 before resurrecting his career.

Cohen was similarly confident in a higher authority.

“In the Talmud, it’s forbidden to give up hope. Even when they have a sword on your neck, God can still save you.”   The two Manhattan holy men believe prayer can help lead this team to the promised land.

“When things are dire, one speaks to God in his own words,” said Cohen, who, as rabbi at Young Israel of the West Side on West 91st Street, serves a congregation packed with fans of the defending Super Bowl champs.

“If you’re a Giants fan, I can imagine saying something like: ‘Please, God, let the Giants make the playoffs. I will be so thankful.’ ”

Or you could strike a deal with the Almighty.

“Some people will make an offer, like a promise to attend services more often, if their team wins,” Cohen said.

Father Pete, pastor at the Holy Cross Church in Times Square, knows the gridiron like he knows the scriptures. He’s attended 17 Super Bowls, two of them won by the G-men.

His game-day ritual?

“Simple sign of the cross,” he said.

But he acknowledges that this team — which lately has stunk to high heaven — could use divine intervention.

“It’s not only a win” they need, the priest noted. “It’s three other things.”

At 8-7, the Giants can only make the playoffs if they beat the Eagles today at home (1 p.m. kickoff, Ch. 5) — and if Dallas, Chicago and Minnesota all lose.

If all those stars do not align, they’ll miss the chance for the team’s first back-to-back Super Bowl titles — and to move into a tie with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys for second-most Vince Lombardi trophies.

“Now is the time to pray,” said Cohen.

US plane reportedly made emergency landing at Iranian airport 3 weeks ago

TEHRAN, Iran – An Iranian semi-official news agency is reporting that a small American commercial plane made an emergency landing in an Iranian airport earlier this month.

The Sunday report by Mehr quotes Mahmoud Rasoulinejad, who is head of the state-owned Iran Airports Company, as saying the plane landed some three weeks ago in the airport of the southern city of Ahvaz due to technical failure.

Rasoulinejad says three passengers left Iran for Arab countries in the Gulf, but the plane is under repair in the airport. He says it will soon be ready.

He did not elaborate. It was not clear why the announcement was not made earlier.

Iran and U.S. are at odds over Tehran's controversial nuclear program. The West suspects it is aimed at weapons development, a charge Iran denies.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dawn Nguyen Arrested in Rochester, NY Firefighters Ambush Incident

GREECE, N.Y. -- A 24-year-old woman was arrested Friday in connection with two of the firearms used in the Christmas Eve shooting of four volunteer firefighters east of Rochester.

Around 1:40 p.m., New York State Police, Webster Police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives descended on the home where Dawn Nguyen and her mother, Dawn Welsher, were staying. Nguyen was taken out of the home in handcuffs.

Senior Investigator James Newell of the state police said Nguyen was charged with offering a false instrument for filing.

Nguyen is also facing federal charges for allegedly lying about the purchase of the semiautomatic .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle, equipped with a combat-style flash suppressor, and the .12-gauge Mossberg shotgun used in Monday's slayings of two first responders and the wounding of three others.

Nguyen is not connected to a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol also recovered.

U.S. Attorney William Hochul Jr. said at a 4 p.m. ET press conference that Nguyen bought the guns on June 6, 2010, from a Gander Mountain store in Henrietta, south of Rochester.

He said William Spengler Jr., a former neighbor in Webster who ignited an inferno and ambushed first responders before dawn Monday, picked out the guns and Nguyen bought them.

As as a convicted felon, Spengler was banned from owning guns. He served 17 years in state prison for killing his grandmother with a hammer in 1980. Nguyen lived next door to Spengler for about five years, in the house where he killed his grandmother.

"It is sometimes referred to acting as a 'straw purchaser' and that is exactly what today's complaint alleges," Hochul said.

Hochul indicated that in his rambling suicide note, Spengler revealed how he got the guns.

Police interviewed Nguyen late on Christmas Eve and she told officers she had bought the guns for personal protection and that they were stolen from her vehicle, but she never reported them stolen.

On Christmas, Nguyen texted an off-duty Monroe County Sheriff's deputy and referenced the killings, the Associated Press says. Later, police said, she called the deputy and admitted she bought the guns for Spengler.

Nguyen's lawyer, Dave Palmiere, said Friday that his client "purchased the weapons legally, and they were stolen," but that she doesn't recall whether she reported the theft to police.

Several neighbors described Nguyen's home in Greece, west of Rochester, as quiet, but said there was constant traffic in and out. There were five or six cars parked in the driveway Friday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, Welsher's son said the weapon actually was stolen from Nguyen's car.

"They think they sold him the guns, but he stole them," said Welsher's 18-year-old son, Steven Nguyen, in the doorway of the family's Seneca County, N.Y., home.

In the doorway of a home in Greece, Welsher said her lawyer advised her not to speak to the media. "All I can say is, I'm being set up," she said.

In a voice message recorded earlier Friday, Welsher told a Democrat and Chronicle reporter she wanted to talk.

"This is nuts," she said in the recording. "I never supplied this man with nothing. My daughter never supplied him with anything. He's setting us up."

Nguyen said his mother was questioned by police Monday. She left her home early Friday morning and went to her daughter's residence, her son said.

"She said she wanted to go up there before there was an arrest," Steven Nguyen said.

Law enforcement sources said Thursday that an arrest in the case was imminent.

Spengler shot four firefighters, killing two — Lt. Mike Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka — and severely injuring two others before shooting himself fatally in the head. The fire burned for hours unchecked because of the danger Spengler posed. It destroyed seven houses and seriously damaged two others.

Welsher and her son said they are former neighbors of Spengler. They lived one house east of Spengler's address, for about five years. The family moved to Seneca County last year, the son said.

Steven Nguyen claimed that at least one gun that belonged to his sister, Dawn Nguyen, was stolen from his sister's car several years ago. The gun was taken from the trunk as it was parked at the family's home, he said.

"I think there was only one gun," said Steven Nguyen, who added that he did not know if his sister reported the theft to law enforcement.

He said Spengler was "nice, but he was a little crazy."

"He always had holes in his jeans. He used to come over every day to talk to my mom," said Steven Nguyen, the youngest of Welsher's seven children.

"I think he had a crush on her," the son said.