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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Poll: Giuliani NYC's Best Mayor Of Last 50 Years

New York - New York City’s best mayor of the last half-century? A new poll says city voters rank Rudy Giuliani tops.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found 31 percent of city voters said Giuliani did the best job. That compares to 25 percent for Ed Koch and 24 percent for incumbent Michael Bloomberg.

David Dinkins and John Lindsay got 6 percent each. One percent chose Abe Beame.

A Giuliani spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a call. Giuliani served from 1993 to 2001. He was widely praised for his leadership after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The poll shows 53 percent of voters approve of how Bloomberg is doing the job now. Forty percent disapprove.

The poll surveyed 1,017 city voters. Its margin of error is about 3 percentage points.

Woman Dead, Girl Stabbed in Rockland County

Police in Rockland County say they found a woman dead and a 7-year-old girl with several stab wounds after a relative called to report a possible suicide.

Clarkstown police said they were called Thursday afternoon to a home in New City.

They would not identify the victims or detail their relationship. But they said the 911 call came from another family member who was at the home.

A police spokeswoman said the woman was dead when police arrived. She said the girl was taken to Westchester Medical Center.

The spokeswoman said police had not determined whether the death was a suicide.   All aspects were under investigation, she said.    


KIRA TREVINO CASE: Murder charges against husband

ST. PAUL, Minn.  - Murder charges were filed Thursday morning against Jeffery Trevino, the husband of missing St. Paul woman Kira Trevino.

Trevino, 39, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in a case that is complicated by the fact his wife's body has not been found. Bail was set at $1 million.

Trevino called St. Paul police on Sunday, Feb. 24 to report his wife missing. He said Kira, 30, left to run errands on Friday morning and didn't show up for work Saturday at Mall of America.


Trevino was booked into the Ramsey County Jail on suspicion of murder Tuesday -- one day after his wife's car was discovered in a mall parking ramp with her purse and cell phone inside.

According to the criminal complaint, blood was found in the trunk of the car, and also in the bedroom of the couple's house on Iowa Street.

"Based on the amount of blood found in her home and the vehicle and based on the fact that it is highly uncharacteristic of her to be missing for nearly a full week without any contact with friends, family or coworkers, there is probable cause to conclude that she is dead," the criminal complaint said.


According to the charges, Trevino said Kira had been suffering a mid-life crisis and that she had been leaving him for two to three days at a time, often staying with friends. He also said he recently learned his wife was lying about where she had been staying, and friends and family both told police they were aware of the couple's relationship problems.

When interviewed by police, Trevino said he and Kira agreed to work on their relationship, planning a date night for Thursday, Feb. 21. He said they met at Mall of America, had dinner and went bowling before splitting ways in separate vehicles.

Trevino said they met at home later that night and watched a movie, then got ready for bed together. He said he last saw his wife at 8:30 a.m. Friday, when he assumed she left to go work out at the gym and go tanning before reporting to work at the mall.


Mall of America security found Kira Trevino's white Chevy Cobalt in a remote part of the parking ramp early Sunday morning -- the same car a friend told FOX 9 he worked on recently because she'd had a flat tire, a cut brake line and cut transmission line within the last month. Once he learned Kira Trevino was missing, that friend said he worried someone may have been stalking her or sabotaging her car.

When police ordered the car be towed, the tow truck operator found blood near the trunk opening. Police also found a blood-stained trunk liner near the car.

Investigators searched the couple's St. Paul home and found evidence of a gruesome crime scene in the master bedroom: blood on the floor, box spring, mattress, bed frame, bookshelf, closet door, baseboard trim and the wall.

Crime scene investigators also cut-out a large section of carpet in the bedroom, finding a blood stain in the shape of a body on the backside.


Processing of the home found "evidence of extensive cleanup efforts," including furniture moved to hide evidence, a basket of freshly-washed towels, a spray bottle of bleach solution and a carpet cleaning machine.

Investigators found large amounts of blood in the main floor living room, hallways, bathroom and stairs leading down to the basement laundry room. Testing also revealed blood on the wheels and brushes of the carpet cleaner.


On Feb. 27, Bloomington police recovered Mall of America surveillance video showing Kira Trevino's car entering the parking lot at 9:45 a.m. The video isn't clear enough to establish identity, but it shows the person throw an item consistent with the trunk liner before getting in an Airport Cab near the Nordstrom entrance.

GPS tracking showed the cab traveled from the mall to the 600 block of Iowa Street in St. Paul – less than a block from Trevino's home.

kira Trevino Missing

Ammar Harris, Las Vegas shooting suspect arrested in L.A.

LAS VEGAS — Police say a felon sought in a shooting and crash that killed three people on the Las Vegas Strip is in custody in the Los Angeles area.

Las Vegas police Capt. Chris Jones says Ammar Harris was arrested Thursday by a team of police and federal agents in North Hollywood.

The 26-year-old is a self-described pimp who was the subject of a multi-state manhunt following the Feb. 21 gunfire and chain-reaction crash that killed three and injured at least five.

Police say he fired at least five shots into a Maserati sports car, killing a self-promoted rapper who he argued with earlier in the valet area of a Las Vegas Strip resort.

The Maserati slammed into a taxi, killing the driver and a businesswoman from Washington state.

A week after a shooting and spectacular fiery crash on the Las Vegas Strip, police said Thursday they have found and talked with all three women who were in an SUV with driver and accused shooter Ammar Harris.

Harris, 26, a felon and self-described pimp whose Internet posts show him with fists full of money and boast of a high-rolling lifestyle with prostitutes, had been the subject of a multi-state manhunt following the Feb. 21 gunfire and chain-reaction crash that left three people dead and at least five people injured.

Late Wednesday, police found SUV passenger Tineesha Lashun Howard in another state, and Las Vegas police Capt. Chris Jones said for the first time that police previously found and interviewed two other women who were with Howard in Harris’ black Range Rover SUV during the shooting.

The gunfire killed a self-prompted rapper driving a Maserati, and the sports car slammed into a taxi that burst into flames, killing the driver and passenger.

Jones wouldn’t release the names of the other passengers in Harris’ SUV, but said none had been charged with a crime. Police are concerned about their safety, the police captain said.

“There is no other person wanted in this case other than Harris,” Jones said. “No one else faces charges.”

Howard, a 22-year-old from Miami with a history of prostitution arrests, also uses the names Yenesis Alfonzo or Yani. She was identified by police on Tuesday as a person of interest in the case who might have been in danger. Jones wouldn’t say Thursday where she was found.

Las Vegas police also sought Thursday to stop the circulation of several photos the department issued Tuesday and Wednesday in the search for Harris. Police said they depict people other than Howard.

Harris was arrested last year in Las Vegas in a 2010 prostitution case using the name Ammar Asim Faruq Harris. He was charged with robbery, sexual assault, kidnapping and coercion with a weapon, and police sought charges of pandering by force and felon in possession of concealed weapon. Court records show that case was dismissed last June.

Harris was convicted in South Carolina in 2004 of felony possession with intent to sell a stolen pistol and convicted that same year in Atlanta of a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.

‘Obama will cancel visit if no new Israeli coalition by March 16′

President Barack Obama will call off his imminent visit to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not managed to form a new governing coalition by March 16, an Israeli television report claimed on Thursday night.

Obama is due to arrive in Israel on March 20 for a working visit, his first as president. March 16 is the legal deadline for Netanyahu to successfully complete coalition negotiations, or inform Israel’s state president, Shimon Peres, that he has failed to do so.

Confirming the trip almost four weeks ago, Israeli and US officials made clear that the president was timing the visit so as to ensure Israel would have a new government in place by the time he arrived. Israel held elections on January 22; Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu emerged as the largest slate, and Netanyahu was formally charged with the task of building a coalition on February 2. The assumption was that he would have mustered a viable majority ahead of the president’s arrival.

But Netanyahu’s efforts to cobble together a stable coalition have been immensely complicated by an alliance between the Jewish Home and Yesh Atid parties, which are working together to demand new legislation to draft most ultra-Orthodox males into military or national service. The ultra-Orthodox parties are opposed to so drastic a change, and Netanyahu has thus far been unable to resolve this and other differences between his potential coalition parties. His chief negotiator, David Shimron, said Thursday that Yesh Atid stated flatly in their latest talks that it saw “no place” for the ultra-Orthodox in the next government.

On Saturday night, Netanyahu will have used up the 28 days he was given by Peres to form a government, and he has scheduled a meeting with the president at which he will be granted a 14-day extension, taking him through to March 16. No further extension is legally permitted.

If Netanyahu has not managed to form a coalition by then, Israel’s Channel 10 news reported quoting unnamed American sources, Obama will cancel his visit, set to start four days later.

The same report also claimed that the US hoped to see Yesh Atid’s leader, former TV news anchor Yair Lapid, take the post of foreign minister in the next coalition.

The enforced cancelation of Obama’s first visit to Israel as president would be hugely embarrassing for the Jewish state, whose leaders have long urged Obama to come. Israel’s alliance with the United States is by far its most important international partnership. The two leaderships have said they would consult on efforts to thwart Iran’s nuclear drive, the instability in Syria, ways to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, and other vital issues.

Beyond the implications for the presidential visit, a failure to form a coalition by March 16 would require Peres to charge a different politician with the task of forming a government. If that proved impossible, Israel would have to hold another round of elections.

As of Thursday night, with his various potential coalition partners deeply at odds, Netanyahu had signed up only Tzipi Livni’s six-seat Hatnua party to his coalition, and the differences between the other parties appeared very hard to reconcile. But were Netanyahu to decide to exclude the ultra-Orthodox parties, however reluctantly, his Likud-Beytenu party (31 seats) could expect to finalize coalition terms with Yesh Atid (19 seats) and Jewish Home (12 seats) fairly rapidly, and thus gain a governing majority. In that way, he would safeguard both his prime ministership and the Obama visit.

AG, Eric Holder and FBI director used luxury jets for personal travel

WASHINGTON – Two high-tech luxury jets that the FBI convinced Congress were needed for the fight against global terrorism have instead been used to ferry around Attorney General Eric Holder and his predecessors, as well as FBI Director Robert Mueller, according to a government report released Thursday.

Those officials -- which included Holder and Mueller, as well as former Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales -- racked up nearly 700 "nonmission" trips between 2007 and 2011, at a cost of $11.4 million, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Those officials are required to use government aircraft, and in some cases reimbursed the government for a portion of the expenses. But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said given the cost they should either not use the expensive Gulfstream V jets or cut back on their miles.

“These luxury jets were supposedly needed for counterterrorism, but it turns out that they were used almost two-thirds of the time for jet-setting executive travel,” he said. “Nobody disputes that the Attorney General and the FBI Director should have access to the secure communications, but, for instance, there’s no reason they can’t take a less expensive mode of transportation, or cut their personal travel."

FBI spokesman Christopher Allen tells that counterterrorism and weapons of mass destruction operations are the "first priority for all FBI aircraft," and adds,"The GAO report confirms that the Department of Justice always adheres to these priorities in scheduling use of its aircraft."

The cost attributed to attorney general travel was $5.8 million; the FBI director's travel cost nearly as much. Roughly 70 percent of the AG flights were for business, and 28 percent were for personal reasons.

The findings in the report come amid a highly publicized fight over spending cuts set to take effect Friday.

The Obama administration has repeatedly painted a dismal picture of what could happen if across-the-board spending cuts are allowed to take place under the process known as sequestration. The $85 billion in cuts are scheduled to go into effect on March 1 unless Congress can reach a compromise, which is unlikely.

“I’m really interested in how the Attorney General can claim that federal law enforcement agents will be cut, knowing that over the last five years the Department has allowed for millions of dollars to be spent on personal travel. It’s ludicrous,” Grassley said.

According to the report, from 2007 through 2011, 61 percent of the flights were aboard one of the two Gulfstream V aircrafts, and 25 percent of the flights were aboard the FBI’s Citation (CE-750). The remaining 14 percent of flights were aboard another FBI aircraft.

FBI officials told investigators that the Gulfstream Vs and the Citation were used because they have “secure communications, larger passenger capacity and the long-distance range that is necessary for their required use travel.”

The report also points out that the government should be reimbursed for any personal travel at the full coach fare between cities. The reimbursement amount, or equivalent commercial fare, usually ends up being less than the cost of operating a government aircraft.

In November 2010, a personal trip taken by the attorney general to New York on the Gulfstream V had an estimated flight cost of $15,894, but the reimbursement at the equivalent commercial fare was $420.80.

The report said that for 88 of the trips, the attorney general reimbursed for a total amount of $47,000. The FBI director reimbursed roughly $4,500 for a total of 10 trips.

FOX News

Johannesburg - South African Police Drag Man, Who Later Dies

OHANNESBURG — His hands are tied to the rear of a van while his body lay behind it, on the ground. The van speeds off, dragging the slender taxi driver along the pavement as a crowd of onlookers shouts in dismay and at least one videotapes the scene. The man is later found dead.

It’s a gut-wrenching video, made all the more disturbing by the fact that the men who abused the Mozambican man were uniformed South African police officers and the van was a marked police vehicle.

The Daily Sun, a South African newspaper, posted video the footage Thursday and it was quickly picked up by other South African news outlets and carried on the Internet. It sparked immediate outrage.

Some of those in the crowd who watched the scene unfold in a township east of Johannesburg shouted at the police and warned that it was being videotaped. The police did not seem at all concerned as they tied Mido Macia, a 27-year-old from neighboring Mozambique, to the back of a police vehicle, his hands behind his head. At least three policemen participated in the incident. Macia was found dead in a police cell late Tuesday in the Daveyton township east of Johannesburg.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the police watchdog agency, said Thursday that a murder probe is underway and that Macia suffered head and other injuries, including internal bleeding.

The graphic footage renewed concerns about brutality, corruption and other misconduct by a national police force whose reputation has suffered in recent years amid reports that many officers lack training. Some have been charged with committing the crimes they are supposed to prevent, including rape and murder.

“We are going to film this,” several onlookers shouted in Zulu as the police tormented Macia. One bystander can be heard on the videotape shouting in Zulu: ‘’What has this guy done?”

At first, Macia, dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt, is dragged along the road by the vehicle at slow speed, the footage shows. He awkwardly tries to keep step even though he is almost horizontal above the ground. Then the van stops, two policemen pick up the legs of the taxi driver and drop them to the ground as the van picks up speed and drives off, beyond the view of the camera.

The police watchdog agency said the incident started just before 7 p.m. on Tuesday when the cab driver was allegedly obstructing traffic with his vehicle. Then, Macia allegedly assaulted a constable and took his weapon before he was overpowered, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate said in a statement.

Macia was found dead over two hours later by another policeman, according to the watchdog agency.

In a statement, the police force said National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega “strongly condemned” what happened. The statement said people are ‘’urged to remain vigilant and continue to report all acts of crime irrespective of who is involved.”

Phiyega has sought to upgrade the reputation of the South African police. Last month, Phiyega told a group of police officials the standing of the force ‘’has been severely but not irreparably tarnished over the past several years.”

NY - Woman watches $11K fall from Brink's armored truck onto road — and she hands it all back

What would you have done?

When $11,000 in coins and bills dropped onto mom-of-four Pat Wesner's car, she decided honesty was the best policy — and handed it all over to cops.

The upstate New Yorker was driving to work in her Toyota Sequoia on Tuesday morning when an armored Brink's armored security truck hit a bump in the road and showered her with the cash.

With the driver unaware of his "gift," Wesner stopped at the scene, just outside of Salem.

She immediately dialed 911, and then helped state trooper Kevin Saunders scoop up every last penny and bill.

The pair later posed for a picture alongside the bounty.

"We were both laughing, picking up money off the ground, and I said, 'I can't even put $1 in my pocket without feeling guilty about it,'" Wesner told Fox 23. "It's not my money."

Wesner, who has a daughter and three sons — one of whom is mentally disabled and lives at home — said most people would have done what she did. She also manages the not-for-profit Pember Museum in Granville.

Coincidentally, she admitted that she had fantasized about "money pouring out" as the truck passed her on the empty stretch of Route 22.

But at no point did she ever consider taking any of the loot, which Brinks admitted they didn't even know had gone missing but thanked her for returning.

Al-Qaeda members detained in Istanbul, planned to attack synagogues and churches

11 al-Qaeda members have been detained in Istanbul following a raid by Turkey’s special forces, reported Sabah newspaper on Thursday.

The terrorists reportedly planned to launch attacks on the U.S. embassy in Turkey in addition to a number of synagogues and churches in the country.

Some 22 kilograms of explosives, five guns and five handguns were seized from the detained terrorists.

A full investigation is yet to be launched.

February saw an attack take place against the U.S. embassy in Ankara. The explosion, which took place on Feb. 1, killed an embassy security guard and left one visitor injured.

The leader of the subversive operation, a member of the Marxist terrorist group Turkish People’s Liberation Party-Front, Ecevit Shanli was also killed.

Elba Esther Gordillo, charged with organised crime

She is known simply as The Teacher, a union boss of such legendary influence that she was credited with putting a president in office and, until this week, so untouchable she flaunted her apparently dubious wealth with abandon. Now Elba Esther Gordillo is behind bars over the alleged embezzlement of stratospheric amounts of union funds.

Gordillo, leader of the 1.5 million-strong national teachers' union in Mexico, was arrested on Tuesday evening after the private jet in which she had travelled from California landed at an airport near the capital. She spent the night in a Mexico City jail before appearing in court where she was formally read the charges of "operations with resources of illicit origin" and "organised crime".

She appeared with two other detainees linked to the case and was told she was not eligible for bail. Visible only vaguely through bars separating the prison from the court, and, when asked if she had any questions, she shrugged and said: "No."

The judge in the case has an initial period of 72 hours to determine whether to indict Gordillo, although this could be extended for a further three days.

With the aid of complicated diagrams, the attorney general, Jesús Murillo, laid out a triangulation scheme in which nearly 2,000m pesos (close to £100m) was funnelled out of union bank accounts in Mexico into other accounts at home and abroad of three associates and a business, and then used to finance Gordillo's legendarily expensive tastes, from luxury homes to plastic surgery.

The money allegedly includes up to $3m (£2m) spent in the luxury US department store Neiman Marcus, and tens of thousands of dollars spent on plastic surgery in California.

The smoothness of the arrest contrasts with the drama of the fall that is being interpreted in Mexico as an assertion of authority by the incoming president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his Institutional Revolutionary party, or PRI, returned to the power it lost in 2000 after 71 uninterrupted years at the helm.

It is also seen as a message of caution to other so-called de facto powers, ranging from feudal-style governors to television giants, who had filled the power vacuums left by the weakened presidency of the intervening 12 years.

"Peña Nieto chose [Gordillo] first, I think because of her emblematic nature, and because it is politically convenient. That's valid, but it shouldn't be limited to that," former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda told MVS radio.

One of the few public figures now prepared to admit a friendship with Gordillo, Castañeda added that the union leader's "excesses, bad taste and sometimes offensive behaviour" should not lead to the presumption of guilt.

Gordillo is an ideal target. The 68-year-old was not only mounting active opposition to a key education reform largely designed to deal with sub-standard teaching by prising the sector out of union control, but had also accumulated a battery of enemies across the political spectrum and among the intellectual and journalistic elite over her 24 years at the head of the union.

At the same time, she had become a national figure of ridicule. Her extravagant designer outfits lay uneasily with the low salaries of the teachers, and she was mercilessly mocked for her, at times rather odd, personal appearance, born of repeated plastic surgery and chronic illness.

The Teacher's near mythical reputation for subterfuge also provided fantastic stories, including the claim that she once held off an imminent attempt to depose her in the late 1990s with the help of a witchcraft ceremony up a Nigerian mountain in which she was clothed with the pelt of a white lion that had been skinned alive.

In her most recent interview, earlier this month, a television news anchor usually known for her soft interviews asked her how she felt about being "the most hated woman in Mexico". Gordillo responded: "Nobody is more loved by their own."

The union did not immediately respond to the arrest of the woman named its leader-for-life several years ago. While she has always had to face dissidence, Gordillo maintained support through adept negotiations of above-average improvements in wages and conditions for teachers.

She also kept a tight hold on the leadership in ways that reputedly ranged from a network of female spies charged with seducing collaborators she suspected of disloyalty, to extravagant gifts. During a conference in 2008, she distributed a fleet of hummers to regional bosses.

Gordillo was made head of the union in 1989 by then president Carlos Salinas, at a time when her predecessor and former mentor was struggling to control a wave of dissidence after 17 years in the job. She struggled through the next administration headed by President Zedillo, but came into her own in the weaker governments of the post-PRI period.

Gordillo became a personal friend and trusted adviser of Vicente Fox of the National Action party, or PAN, after he became president in 2000. At the same time she cemented her independent political power base with the creation of the New Alliance party, or Panal, which is credited by many with helping Felipe Calderón, also of PAN, win a wafer-thin victory in the 2006 presidential elections. This allowed her to negotiate further quotas of power during his administration.

With the 2012 elections on the horizon, Gordillo's party negotiated an alliance with the PRI, but when that broke down many predicted her days were numbered. The voices of doom got louder when Peña Nieto kicked off his administration with an education reform proposal. Gordillo was arrested a day after the president signed the reform into law.

Few analysts take seriously the repeated official denials that politics played any part in the decision to go after Gordillo, who clearly suspected something was brewing herself, if not exactly what.

At a speech delivered on her 68th birthday earlier this month, she said: "I want to die with the epitaph: Here lies a warrior. She died like a warrior."

The allegations

Mexican authorities are investigating the alleged embezzlement of 1,978m pesos ($154m at today's exchange rate) of union funds by Elba Esther Gordillo and close associates between 2008 and early 2012. It claims to have incontrovertible evidence linking the cash to:

• $3m in numerous transfers to the luxury US department store Neiman Marcus.

• $2m transferred to bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the name of a company 99% owned by Gordillo's mother. The company bought two properties with the money in California.

• $1.4m in transfers to a private jet company called Ademex.

• $17,260 to plastic surgery clinics in California.

Gordillo's reported income from 2009 to2012 was 1.1m pesos ($86,000).

Off-duty sheriff deputy shot in Newark

NEW YORK  - An off-duty Essex County sheriff deputy was shot outside a nightclub in Newark early Thursday morning.

The officer was trying to leave the club at about 2 a.m. after gunfire erupted when he was shot, said Essex County officials.

The officer returned fire in front of the Mercedes and Mink nightclub striking two suspects, added officials.

The deputy was rushed to University Hospital. His injuries were not life-threatening. He is expected to be treated and released later Thursday.

The conditions of the suspects remains unclear.

A police investigation is underway.

The identity of the officer had not been made public.

2 killed in Rishon Lezion car blast

Two people were killed Thursday in a car blast in Rishon Lezion. Police estimate the event was criminal in nature. On Thursday morning, a car exploded in a building's parking lot near the city's magistrates' court.

The blast killed one man in his thirties and another in his forties. A man apparently associated with the victims was detained for questioning at the scene. Several suspects were arrested in Tel Aviv. Police claim the two victims are members of the Abargil crime family.

According to witnesses, the blast occurred as the two men were getting into their Mazda car. A Magen David Adom official said the men died Instantaneously.

Police have been arresting suspects in two criminal cases in the Rishon Lezion-Holon-Bat Yam area in the past weeks. A gang war involving the Abargil and Mosly crime families has claimed the lives of at least 10 people since 2011.

The victims are usually shot at close range with the assailants fleeing the scene on a motorbike.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Orthodox Rabbis Rule Seculars Can Visit Family On Shabbat

If you're a secular Jew and have religious friends, you've probably been invited by them occasionally to "do Shabbat in our house."

Up until now, if you accepted the invitation, you would have had to arrive at their home before the start of Shabbat, but a new halachic ruling aims to change that.

The ruling, obtained by Yedioth Ahronoth, was not written by Conservative or Reform rabbis but rather by 170 Orthodox rabbis from the Beit Hillel organization, which fights radicalization among the religious public.

Today, if you're an observant Jew and you invite a secular person to spend Shabbat with you, you must make sure that he arrives before it begins so as not to desecrate the holy day of rest.

Beit Hillel rabbis decided to change this situation in order to allow religious parents whose children have become secular to invite them over on Shabbat, even if they arrive by car.

The organization's director, Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth, explains the logic behind the halachic ruling: "When your intention is for the sake of a mitzvah, for example to introduce your guest to a proper Shabbat, it changes the picture."

According to Beit Hillel Chairman Rabbi Meir Nehorai, "We feel responsible also for torn families which have children who have left religion, or seculars seeking to get closer. We're not looking to violate halachic tools, but to stretch the band as far as the Halacha lets us.

"A Shabbat meal, with the surrounding atmosphere, has great value. I recently heard about a former religious man who would return to his parents' home on weekends, and the kindergarten teacher at the kibbutz said to him, 'Be careful, your child is about to become religious.'"

Haredi man jailed for 13 years for rape

The Jerusalem District Court sentenced Simcha Kaikov, 44, for 13 years in prison for raping an eight-year-old girl. Kaikov, a haredi father of five, encountered the girl in 2008 on the street, used his haredi appearance to gain the girl's trust and raped her in her building's bomb shelter.

The judges noted in the sentence that the actions were premeditated.

Hasidic Rebels Find Home in Brooklyn Chabad Congregation

NEW YORK (JTA) -- On a freezing Friday night in Brooklyn, a group of 18 Crown Heights residents scurry through the crowds of Jews leaving synagogue and make their way to a second-story apartment on Rogers Avenue for Shabbat dinner.

Inside, hippie art and vintage John Lennon photos share wall space with drawings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late leader of the Chabad hasidic sect, and a yellow “Moshiach” flag, the symbol of the movement's messianic wing. A large glass table holds the evening's spread: sauteed vegetables, kale salad, vegan cholent and a challah so perfect, attendees say, “only a gay man could have baked it.”

After a ceremonial blessing over wine and bread, the guests get to talking. A disc jockey, graphic artist and rabbi are having a heated discussion about Chabad’s influence on Indian meditation, while a photographer is explaining to a pregnant lady why Mitzvah Tanks, Chabad's outreach vehicles, are the most brilliant thing to happen to planet Earth since Miles Davis.

This is not your typical Shabbat dinner in Crown Heights, the worldwide headquarters of the Chabad movement.

While nearly all the participants were raised in hasidic homes, most have strayed from strict religious practice. Yet rather than flee the neighborhood, they have chosen to remain in the heart of the Chabad community.

“The way I grew up, you had to either be 100 percent committed to religion or you're out. There was no picking and choosing,” said Shmuley Toron, the 25-year-old gay man from Cincinnati responsible for the perfect challah. “But there are parts of the religion that I love, which is why we’re still here in Crown Heights. And I know I can be as religious as I want to be without having to leave completely.”

MONSEY - Rockland County DA: Family Of Child Slapped By Rabbi Unwilling to Cooperate

SPRING VALLEY - Rockland County's district attorney says the family of the child allegedly slapped by a rabbi is unwilling to cooperate in the case.

District Attorney Thomas Zugibe says the family is making its case against Rabbi Meilech Spitzer difficult.

Spitzer, the principal at United Talmudical Academy in Spring Valley, is accused of slapping a boy across the face numerous times. The boy allegedly had done some damage to the school bathroom.

Spitzer is charged with assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Zugibe says his case needs a firsthand account from a family member of the victim or someone with direct knowledge of what happened. If the district attorney's office cannot obtain this within 60 days, the charges will be dropped.

2 California police officers shot dead while investigating alleged sexual assault

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Two police detectives were fatally shot when they tried to question a man over a report of a sexual assault, and the man later died after a brief chase, authorities said.

Sgt. Loren Butch Baker, who was married and the father of two daughters, and Detective Elizabeth Butler, who also had two sons, were shot and killed Tuesday during an altercation at the home of the man, according to police and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's office.

They were shot while following up on allegations that 35-year-old barista Jeremy Goulet made inappropriate sexual advances on a co-worker at her home, authorities said. Goulet was arrested Friday, and The Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that he was fired the next day.

Baker, a 28-year veteran of the force, and Butler, a 10-year veteran, had gone to the house where Goulet was living to follow up on the case, authorities said. They were subsequently fired upon and called for backup, and responding officers found Goulet, who died in the gunfire that followed, the sheriff's office said.

"There aren't words to describe this horrific tragedy," said Police Chief Kevin Vogel. "This is the darkest day in the history of the Santa Cruz police department."

The shootings prompted the lockdown of two schools and an automatic police call to nearby residents, warning them to stay locked inside. The ordinarily quiet residential neighborhood echoed with a brief barrage of gunfire that killed the suspect about a half hour after the officers were shot.

A store clerk a few buildings from the shooting said the barrage of gunfire was "terrifying."

"We ducked. We have big desks so under the desks we went," said the clerk, who spoke on condition of anonymity and asked that her store not be identified because she feared for her safety.

After the shootings, police went door-to-door in the neighborhood, searching homes, garages, even closets, to determine whether there might be additional suspects. Law enforcement officers filled intersections, and helicopters and light aircraft patrolled the neighborhood about a mile from downtown Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

The city's mayor, Hilary Bryant, said in a statement that the community about 60 miles south of San Francisco was "heartbroken at the loss of two of our finest police officers who were killed in the line of duty, protecting the community we love."

"This is an exceptionally shocking and sad day for Santa Cruz and our police department," Bryant said.

Goulet, a barista at a coffee shop in the Santa Cruz harbor, was previously convicted in Portland, Ore., in May 2008 of peeping on a 22-year-old woman who was showering in her condominium and of carrying concealed weapon, according to a Portland newspaper, The Oregonian. He was on probation but was sentenced to two years in jail after a dispute with his probation officer.

The shootings came amid a recent spike in assaults, which community leaders had planned to address in a downtown rally scheduled for Tuesday. That, along with a city council meeting, was canceled after teary-eyed city leaders learned of the deaths.

The recent violence included the killing of a 32-year-old martial arts instructor who was shot outside a popular downtown bar and restaurant; the robbery of a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was shot in the head; a 21-year-old woman who was raped and beaten on the UC campus; and a couple who fought off two men during a home invasion.

The "War" Against Purim LOL

Anti-Semitism up 30% in Belgium

A Belgian government agency has confirmed that complaints of anti-Semitic abuse and violence rose by 30% in 2012, with 88 documented complaints compared to 62 in the previous year.

The cases included 11 incidents of vandalism, 15 verbal assaults, 13 Holocaust denials and 28 online attacks, and because many victims do not complain, the actual number of incidents may be far higher.

France faced one of the most serious waves of anti-Semitic incidents last year, after extremist Mohammed Merah killed a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren.

The country saw a significant increase in the number of anti-Semitic incidents year-to-year, with 614 attacks in 2012 compared to 389 the previous year.

In another recent attack, Rabbi Daniel Alter was assaulted in Berlin as he walked down the street with his daughter, with the incident being just another example of the growing trend of anti-Semitism across the continent.

New lead in 1994 case of missing girl sends Israel Police on wild goose chase

Alexandra Brandt

A police manhunt for an Ashdod woman whose daughter was said to be identified as Alexandra Brandt, a girl who mysteriously disappeared in 1994, turned out to be a wild goose chase.

A DNA test conducted overnight Tuesday has dispelled hope that the two-decade-old missing persons case would finally be resolved.

Brandt, 11 at the time of her dissappearance, was last seen at a public park in Ramat Gan on her way to school.

Last week, Channel 10 reported that her mother, Tehila Brandt, formerly known as Svetlana, recognized her at a wedding in that city.

The woman identified as the missing girl, who would now be 30, has denied being Tehila Brandt's daughter and agreed to undergo a DNA test to rule out the possibility.

When Tehila Brandt refused to provide a DNA sample, the police resorted to collecting a sample her other daughter, Lilach Talia – Alexandra Brandt's sister. But the results were inconclusive.

The police then launched a search for the mother of the woman spotted at the wedding.

The investigators were initially unable to locate her, but after two days managed to collect a DNA sample and conduct a test that confirmed the woman is genetically linked to her own mother, and not Alexandra Brandt's sister Lilach, putting the probe back at square one.

Lilach Brandt, the missing girl's sister, has said in a Facebook post that her mother had been in touch with the woman she believed was Alexandra.

"My mother spoke to the woman on the phone and when she asked her if she was Alexandra, she hung up frightened," Lilach Brandt wrote. "A few months later my mother called again.

This time they talked for an hour and a half. During that time she said she knew she was my mother's missing daughter. She also asked about me."

When she learned of the encounter and conversations, Lilach Brandt called the woman, who is married and lives in Ashdod, and her husband answered.

"I explained who I was and he wouldn't let me talk to her," wrote Lilach Brandt. "I went to see her and she said she could not talk.

"This is a woman with her own sad story, and maybe she isn't not my sister. But the tests will give us the complete answer," she said.

Brandt's story made headlines about a decade ago when two brothers, Shlomi and Oren Korido, were arrested for sexually assaulting minors.  

The two admitted to murdering Brandt, detailing their process. But when the police failed to find the girl's body, the two recanted, saying that they made the story up to get better imprisonment terms.

Outrage at US Congress staffer Aharon Friedman over 'get' refusal

Members of Washington’s Jewish community are scheduled to protest on Thursday against congressional staffer Aharon Friedman’s ongoing refusal to grant his wife a get, a Jewish divorce document.

Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, divorced his wife Tamar Epstein in a civil court in 2010, but has thus far not granted her the Hebrew document that would give their status a Jewish legal confirmation.

From the standpoint of Halacha, or traditional Jewish jurisprudence, Epstein is currently considered an aguna, or “chained woman,” who cannot remarry.

The controversy surrounding Friedman, an adviser to Rep. Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has become a matter for concern for the Jewish community in Washington.

Camp’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter. Friedman has retained his position on the congressman’s staff despite pressure by Jewish religious leaders on Camp to fire him.

Thursday’s rally will not be the first to be held as part of a concerted campaign by groups such as the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, which advocates for chained women.

“We are rallying now to continue our efforts to convince Aharon Friedman to give Tamar Epstein a get,” Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the executive director of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, in charge of the demonstration.

“His sadistic refusal to do so is in clear violation of Jewish Law and constitutes domestic abuse. He is an embarrassment to the Jewish community, and it is therefore incumbent upon us to stand together and state clearly that we will not tolerate this abuse in our midst.”

“[Friedman’s] recalcitrance is a form of domestic abuse,” Stern said.

The demonstration, to take place outside the Longworth House Office Building in downtown Washington, is intended “to make it clear to Aharon that we will not relent in our fight for Tamar’s freedom,” Stern declared in an email to supporters.

After asking for a divorce in 2008, Epstein took the couple’s then-two-year-old daughter and moved back in with her parents in Philadelphia. A custody battle ensued and in the final civil settlement, Friedman was granted three weekends a month to spend with his child.

However, as these weekends begin on Friday evening, Friedman, as a Shabbat observer, can only begin his visitation on Sundays.

Yisrael Belsky, a prominent New York rabbi associated with the Orthodox Union, told The New York Times in 2011 that he considered the custody arrangement “a joke,” seemingly taking Friedman’s side.

“The court decided in a bullheaded way not to respect the Shabbos,” he said at the time.

The visitation schedule was subsequently changed so that Friedman could start his visits on Thursday evenings.

However, several months later, Belsky, along with other prominent American Orthodox leaders, changed his tune, signing a document called a seruv which classified Friedman as “One who does not heed Jewish law.”

The seruv, issued by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, declared Friedman “in contempt” of the Beit Din, or rabbinical court, and called on “any person who has the ability or opportunity to influence [Friedman] to free Tamar Epstein from the chains of her aguna status.”

Another document, issued in October 2011 by the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, effectively excommunicated Friedman.

  J Post