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Bklyn Residents May Get Reduced Toll on Verrazano Bridge if Bill Passes in NYS Assembly

According to a NY1 report, Brooklyn residents who regularly drive across the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island may soon get a discounted toll. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

According to a NY1 report, Brooklyn residents who regularly drive across the Verrazano Bridge into Staten Island may soon get a discounted toll.

By: Andrew Jones

Under a bill passed by the State Senate this week, Brooklynites who make more than 10 trips a month and use EZ Pass would pay $6.88 to cross the bridge.

NY1 reported that that’s the same amount Staten Islanders pay. The current toll for EZ Pass users who don’t live on Staten Island is $12.

The bill still needs to be approved by the Assembly before going to Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Back in April, the Jewish Voice reported that a $2 rate hike went into effect on the Verrazano. The non-E-ZPass toll to travel on the storied bridge is now the most expensive in the country, at $19.

The toll to travel along the two-and-a-half mile bridge is $1 more than to travel across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia, which is 23 miles long.

“My God — $19 without E-ZPass! I mean, you’re going to Staten Island! It doesn’t seem worth it,” Bay Ridge resident Gloria Padron told The New York Post.

The E-ZPass toll under the new rate hike is $12.24.

Staten Island residents won’t be subject to the rate hike, however, and will only pay $5.50 as part of a rebate program put in place by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Gov. Cuomo and the state legislature decided to put up $6,000,000 per year in a bid to keep tolls low for Staten Island residents.

“My boyfriend lives on Staten Island and pays like $5 with E-ZPass. When I go to Staten Island now, it’s over $12,” 21-year-old Caitlyn Kelly, who lives in Bay Ridge, told The Post. “It is too much and unfair to Brooklyn residents. My boyfriend will have to come to Brooklyn if he wants to see me.”

Democratic Councilman Justin Brannan fumed at the fact that the reduced rate isn’t offered to Brooklyn residents.

“Last time I checked, a bridge has two sides. It is RIDICULOUS that the discounts offered to Staten Island residents have NEVER been offered to Brooklyn residents,” Mr. Brannan, who lives in Bay Ridge, said Sunday on Twitter.

State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) hit back against Mr. Brannan defending the special rate for one side of the bridge.

“That bridge is our only way to connect. Staten Island is absolutely deserving of the credit. It’s part of what government should be doing,” she said, according to The Post. “I’m also advocating for Brooklyn residents, because no one should be paying $19 to drive over a bridge to go to work.”

Other borough bridges and tunnels have also seen rate hikes, including the Queens Midtown Tunnel, the Throgs Neck Bridge, and the Robert F. Kennedy bridge.

“It’s getting crazy. The tolls just keep going up and up. The service doesn’t get any better,” New York resident Karen Sklar told The Post on Sunday as she prepared to go through the Queens Midtown Tunnel. “The entrances are constantly closed or overcrowded.”

New York state police officers along with two bystanders saved an elderly man this weekend after he attempted to jump off the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. The man was eventually taken to a nearby hospital to be evaluated.

Nazi Germany and the Farhud in Iraq

Group of young Jews who fled Iraq for Eretz Israel following the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Baghdad. They reached Eretz Israel after considerable difficulties, including arrest, trial and imprisonment by the British authorities as well as deportation. Photo: Moshe Baruch, Ramat Hasharon. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Moshe Baruch.

The most traumatic event in the collective memory of Iraqi Jews — the Farhud — took place during Shavuot 1941. During these violent riots in Baghdad thousands were raped and/or wounded, Jewish shops and synagogues were plundered and destroyed, and a staggering 180 people were brutally murdered. This unprecedented attack on the theretofore flourishing, peaceful Jewish community of Baghdad is generally thought of as triggering Iraqi Jewry’s Aliyah to Israel.

Platoon of soldiers in the compulsory military service that was imposed on high school students by the Iraqi army, Baghdad 1940. 25 percent of these conscripts were Jewish. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Sehayek family, Israel.

Seldom do we ask how such a pogrom could have occurred in a place where Jews had lived quietly for centuries, in a country that had not, up until that moment, been known for anti-Semitism.

A closer look at the historical background of the Farhud reveals a complicated web of factors that led to the pogroms — the opposing interests of the Iraqi government and the British Empire; Nazi Germany’s underlying influence; varying Arab movements; and internal struggles between groups of Iraqi intellectuals. The unfortunate Jews were caught in the middle of this growing conflict.

In his research on Iraqi Jewry, historian Nissim Kazzaz puts the Farhud in historical context. Until the 1920s there were no significant recorded demonstrations of anti-Semitism in Iraq. In fact, in the early 20th century, restrictions from the Ottoman era were abolished, and, following World War I, the establishment of the British mandate improved the situation of Iraqi Jews.

The war, however, had other consequences. The Iraqi elite was introduced to the protocols of the Elders of Zion, texts that had been partially translated from Russian into Arabic. New and conflicting movements were rising in Iraq. Some believed that, as long as the Jews did not hold national aspirations, they were a part of the Iraqi nation. Others, such as the Al Istiklal, felt differently. Perceiving the Iraqi nationality to be Muslim Arab, they refused to accept religious minorities. Formally, after Iraq became independent from Britain in 1932, Jews were citizens of Iraq. There were voices, however, that spoke out against their integration.

Otniel Margalit collection, photo archive, Yad Ben Zvi

At the same time, the world was experiencing profound changes. Fascist leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini were on the rise in Europe and had significant supporters among the Iraqi elite. The British expected certain privileges following Iraqi independence, such as the ability to transport goods through Iraq, which Iraqi nationalists would not concede. The nationalists insisted that Iraq establish close ties with Germany rather than be exploited by Britain.

The Germans encouraged Iraq’s support. “Mein Kampf” and Hitler’s speeches were translated into Arabic, and German educators came to Iraq to spread anti-Semitic propaganda. Iraqi newspapers became vocally pro-Germany, especially post-1939. They asserted that Iraqi Jews and Zionists were one and the same, that the world’s Jewry was scheming to ruin the glorious nation of Iraq and that Iraqi Jews must be banished from public life. With help from the Germans, and inspired by the Hitler–Jugend movement, the extremist Al-Fatwa movement was founded, calling for strict Islamic adherence by all Iraqi citizens. Eventually all students and teachers were forced to join the movement, including Jews. In 1939 the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, settled in Iraq and began promoting a pro-German agenda while spreading damaging anti-Semitic propaganda.

The tension broke on April 1, 1941. Until that day Iraq had refrained from assisting the British, but also from directly assisting Germany. But Iraq’s Prime Minister, Rashid Ali, had decided it was time to change alliances. He led a coup and overthrew all pro-British officials. He then announced that Iraq would no longer provide Britain with airplane fuel, and even set Iraqi forces loose on British bases in Iraq. By the end of April the British attacked the Iraqi army. By then the Iraqi air force was manned by German Luftwaffe pilots.

In May, with help from the Irgun in Palestine, among others, the British fought the German-Iraqis forces. Finally, with support from India’s army, the British were able to defeat their foes, and on May 30th all pro-German Iraqi officials escaped to Iran. Their successors signed a surrender agreement.

Jews lining up at the synagogue waiting to waive their Iraqi citizenship in order to emigrate to Israel, Baghdad, Iraq, March 1950. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of David Petel, Tel Aviv.

From that moment, the Jews were in imminent danger. The surrender agreement stated that the British would enter Baghdad within two days. The Al Fatwa saw a window of opportunity to incite the masses and take their anger at losing to the British out on the Jews. They marked Jewish houses in red, and on June 1st an angry mob rioted against the Jews for the first time in Iraqi history. From the newly born to the elderly, no Jew was safe. The rioters used all manner of weapons, including running people over with their vehicles. Some Jews were rescued by Muslim neighbors who refused to join the mob. These Muslim resisters hid Jews, at great risk to their own safety. The massacre only ceased when the British entered the city and stopped it. Sadly, the British knew about the pogrom a day prior, but made no attempt to prevent it. Just like the local authorities, they preferred to let the masses take their rage out upon the Jews.

After the Farhud, the Iraqi authorities held an investigation, blaming nationalistic elements and even executing a few army officers who were involved in the incitement. Haj Amin al-Husseini was named in the investigation, and Germany’s involvement was eventually recognized. Despite the erecting of a monument in Baghdad in honor of the victims, the Farhud triggered mass Jewish emigration from Iraq. Ten years later, as part of Operations Ezra and Nehemiah (1950-1952), some 120,000 Jews — 90% of Iraqi’s Jewry — chose to leave Iraq for the young state of Israel.

             (Beit Hatfutsot)

Further reading: Nissim Kazzaz, “The Influence of Nazism in Iraq and Anti-Jewish Activity, 1933–1941″ (In Hebrew)


Trump Treated Like Royalty in UK; Calls London Mayor “Stone, Cold Loser”

Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in UK history, hosted President Trump, First Lady Melania & all of the adult Trump children at Buckingham Palace in a lavish state visit. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

President Trump got down to business on Tuesday, as he spent the second day of his visit to the United Kingdom talking trade deals with embattled Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street.

By: Fern Sidman

During the joint press conference that the two close allies held, Trump deployed a mix of diplomacy and barbs.

Trump said the U.S. is committed to a “phenomenal trade deal” with Britain as the country prepares to leave the European Union, he saw “no limitations” on future intelligence sharing despite disagreements over the threat posed by China tech giant Huawei, and he praised the outgoing British prime minister saying May has “done a very good job.”

According to a VOA News report, thousands of demonstrators have thronged central London to protest Trump’s visit to London. When queried on Tuesday about his reaction to the demonstrations, Trump said he saw only a single small protest and media reports of much larger crowds are “fake news.”

A protestor is holding up a sign greeting President Donald Trump and his wife Melania to the United Kingdom on a state visit. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

On that note, on Monday, upon his arrival in England, Trump commented on Twitter that television news from the United States was only available from CNN International. He asked his Twitter followers to pressure AT&T, which is CNN’s parent company to either have the network offer factual news rather than what he has termed “fake news” or else choose to boycott the Atlanta based cable news network.  

Prime Minister May praised the relationship between the two countries, but acknowledged some differences over climate change and Iran. Britain still supports the Paris Climate accord, which Trump has rejected, and supports the Iran nuclear agreement that the U.S. has withdrawn from, according to a VOA report.

May spoke days before she is scheduled to resign after failing to secure a deal to complete Britain’s exit from the EU. That process will be inherited by her successor, with no clear path to a resolution among sharply divided parties.

Trump, who has publicly backed former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, predicted an agreement for Britain to leave the EU “will happen and that it should happen.” He also suggested that the UK not be responsible to pay an almost $50 billion “divorce bill” just for the opportunity to pry itself loose from the EU in the Brexit mandate.

Ahead of his trip, Trump told the Sunday Times of London that, “If you don’t get the deal you want, if you don’t get a fair deal, then you walk away,” The commander-in- chief had previously been critical of how May handled the Brexit negotiations after the British people had voted in favor of the split.

Trump described UK opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has been critical of Trump, as a “negative force” and said he would not meet with him during his Britain visit, according to a VOA report.

Trump has publicly backed former foreign secretary Boris Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party to succeed May, as was reported by VOA. He told reporters before departing the White House late Sunday he may meet with Johnson and Brexit party politician Nigel Farage while he is in London, potentially creating an embarrassment to the outgoing prime minister.

What is certainly not on his agenda is a meeting with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who wrote in The Observer newspaper that welcoming Trump for a state visit is “un-British.” He cited Trump’s sharing of tweets from a “British far-right racist group,” the president’s rejection of scientific evidence of climate change, and Trump “trying to interfere shamelessly” in the race to replace May.

When asked if he would be open to meeting with Khan, Trump said Sunday, “No, I don’t think much of him” and likened him to New York mayor Bill de Blasio, a Trump political opponent, “only shorter”.

VOA reported that upon landing in London, Trump continued his attack on Khan via twitter, calling him a “stone cold loser” who “has been foolishly ‘nasty’ to the visiting President of the United States, by far the most important ally of the United Kingdom.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt criticized Khan for his “great discourtesy”. But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the office of the mayor of London should be respected in the same way one respects the office of the president.

At a business roundtable event on Tuesday morning, Trump said he thinks the U.S. and Britain will reach a “very, very substantial trade deal” that is “very fair.”

May said Britain and the United States could expand their economic partnership with a bilateral trade deal and that her government believes in “keeping markets free, fair and open,” as was reported by VOA.

Trump has pursued new trade arrangements with a number of major U.S. trade partners, including China, with a stated goal of making terms more friendly to the United States.

Later in the day on Tuesday, Trump and first lady Melania dined with the heir to the throne, Prince Charles of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the grand Duchess of Cornwall.

On Monday, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in history greeted Trump and wife Melania after they arrived on the lawn at London’s Buckingham Palace on the Marine One helicopter on a day that was replete with pomp and circumstance. Subsequent to a welcoming ceremony that included a 41-gun salute, and inspection of the Royal Guard of Honor, the Trumps headed inside for a private lunch with the queen and members of the royal family.

Absent from the proceedings was the Duchess of Sussex, American actress Meghan Markle, who is married to Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, Prince Harry. On May 6th, Ms. Markle gave birth to their first child; a boy named Archie Harrison. She is currently on maternity leave at their country residence at Frogmore Cottage near Windsor Castle.

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex did indeed attend the Queen’s lunch for her guests from the US, despite the fact that due to an alleged comment from Trump, his wife’s  name was bandied about in the UK tabloid press.

Prior to leaving Washington, a controversy of sorts emerged when responding to a question from a British reporter, Trump said that Markle was “nasty.” The interviewer asked him if he was aware of critical comments Markle has made about his presidential run in 2016 and her statement at the time concerning her intent to move to Canada if he was elected. He then said that he is sure Markle will do “excellently” in her role as the Duchess of Sussex and that he hopes she succeeds.  Trump denied that he had called Markle “nasty.”

The queen gave the president and the first lady a tour of the picture gallery of the Buckingham Palace. The artifacts on display include an 18-century map of New York and a pewter horse statuette that the president gave Queen Elizabeth on his working visit last year, according to a VOA report.

The Queen presented Trump with a first edition of Sir Winston Churchill’s book “The Second World War,” from 1959, with gilt decorations and hand-sewn bindings in the colors of the US flag. He was also given a three-piece Duofold pen set decorated with an EIIR emblem, in a design made exclusively for the monarch.

Mrs Trump received a specially commissioned silver box with a handcrafted enamel lid, decorated in royal blue with roses, thistles and shamrocks to represent the ceiling of Buckingham Palace’s music room.

The rest of the day included a tour of historic Westminster Abbey, and afternoon tea with Prince Charles and his wife Camilla at his London home, Clarence House.

Trump and the first lady met Prince Andrew, the Duke of York at Westminster Abbey, where they laid a wreath at the grave of the unknown warrior. Prince Andrew is Queen Elizabeth’s second oldest son.

The president signed the distinguished visitor’s book in his customary black marker pen, describing the 13th Century church as a “special place”.


The highlight of the day was the white-tie-and-tiaras state banquet dinner at Buckingham Palace. Besides the queen and her husband Prince Philip, other royals in attendance included Prince Charles and Camilla, and Prince William and his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, according to a VOA report.

Each of the president’s adult children and their spouses — Eric and Lara Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, and Tiffany Trump — attended the banquet. Several White House aides also joined, including counselor Kellyanne Conway, national security adviser John Bolton and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In his speech at the banquet, Trump praised the courage of the British people during World War Two and called the Queen a “great, great woman”.

“In that dark hour, the people of this nation showed the world what it means to be British,” he said, adding that their bravery ensured that the destiny of the country “remained in your own hands”.

Trump ended his speech with a toast to “the eternal friendship of our people, the vitality of our nations and to the long-cherished and truly remarkable reign of Her Majesty the Queen”.

The Queen praised the two countries’ role in creating an assembly of international institutions that would ensure “the horrors of conflict would never be repeated”.

On Twitter before the banquet, Trump praised the welcome from the Royal Family as “fantastic” and said the relationship with the UK is “very strong”.  

Sleepless in Safed: A Shavuot Custom Continues at Its Source

The historic Abuhav Synagogue is one of 60 in Safed where the “Tikkun Leil Shavuot” will be recited on the first night of the festival.

More than 60 synagogues will be open until dawn for the Tikkun Leil Shavuot service

The first night of the festival of Shavuot is not one for sleeping in Jewish communities around the world. It is the night when Tikkun Leil Shavuot (rectification of the night of Shavuot)—a specific text comprising written, oral and mystical aspects of the Torah—is recited, followed in many places by study and classes until dawn.

In the holy city of Safed, Israel, where the text of the Tikkun originated, the electric aura of the holiday is almost palpable.

“There are approximately 60 synagogues here in Safed, from every nusach [prayer tradition]—Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Lithuanian, etc.,” notes Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi ShaulLeiter, director of the Ascent Institute of Safed, which he co-founded more than 30 years ago with Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles and

Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky. “After the evening feast at around 10 p.m., you can see all the men leaving their homes on their way to begin the Tikkun, which will continue throughout the night, along with other Torah study until around 5 a.m., when they make their way to purify themselves in a mikvah [ritual bath] before heading back to the synagogue for the morning prayer service.”

Several of the most famous synagogues in the world are located in Safed. There is the Ari Synagogue, named after Rabbi Isaac Luria, the preeminent Kabbalist; the Beit YosefSynagogue, named for Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch (“Code of Jewish Law”); the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue, located in a field where Rabbi Luria would bring his students out to greet the Shabbat Queen; the TzaddikHaLavan, the oldest of the Sephardic synagogues in Safed; and the Abuhav, named after

Rabbi Yitzchak Abuhav, a renowned 15th-century Spanish rabbi. Tradition claims that he designed the synagogue while still in Spain, incorporating Kabbalistic symbols into the structure.

“The Abuhav Synagogue is even more unique in that it has a 500-year-old Torah scroll that is still kosher,” notes Chaya Brocha Leiter. “This is parchment and ink. The parchment is gray, and the ends have fringes. And what is so miraculous here—aside from it still being in existence at all—is that each and every letter is still whole and kosher.

“There are only three times a year that this Torah scroll is taken out for reading: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot. If one is lucky enough to actually merit to kiss this Torah, one actually can feel a surge of electricity enter oneself,” she continues, “and it so moves the person that they are overcome. People often find themselves weeping.”

Services and classes will also take place throughout the night at these sites, and at Chabad of the Old City, where Rabbi Gavriel Marzel will lead study sessions for dozens of residents, students and visitors from around Israel and abroad.

More than 100 guests are expected to join the Leiters at Ascent for night-long study. Chaya Brocha Leiter, program director of Ascent—who leads classes and tours throughout the year on the “who’s, where’s, what’s and why’s” of Safed and its history—explains why the Tikkun is associated with the city.

A version of the Tikkun was also formulated by the Arizal, Rabbi Isaac Luria, and conveyed by his disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, in Shaar HaKavvanot. Later, the renowned scholar and Kabbalist Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, known as the Shelah HaKadosh, changed the order somewhat to include readings from all the books of the Tanach and the Talmud, as well as made other minor changes. This basic order established by the Shelah stands as the text of Tikkun Leil Shavuot used today in almost all Jewish communities.

“This was the Golden Age of Jewish mysticism,” explains Chaya Brocha Leiter. “There were 300 of our greatest sages in Safed. When Rabbi Yaakov Beirav, the leading sage of Safed, passed away, Rabbi Yosef Caro was regarded as his successor. Together with Rabbi Moshe of Trani [the Mabit], they headed the Rabbinical Court of Safed. At this point, the Rabbinical Court of Safed had become the central rabbinical court in all of Israel, and of the Diaspora as well. And so the Tikkun was adopted by virtually the entire Jewish world.”

Learning is not confined to men. According to Leiter, a group of women always comes to learn—not the whole night, but for a while. “It matters not if you are a Torah scholar, per se. Even saying and learning about the Ten Commandments is fundamental, she says. “In our group, we not only recite the verses, but I also distribute pages with explanations of these verses that the women take turns reading aloud. Thus, they all actively participate in their own preparation for the main event of receiving the Torah the following day.”

Rabbi Shaul Leiter concluded by saying that all Chassidim say the Tikkun. He then offered an explanation from one of the Sichos of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory—from the summer of 1940:

“The spiritual service of Shavuot is the saying of the letters of the Torah—the bona fide way to say the letters of the Torah on Shavuot is the Tikkun on the first night. The rectification that is accomplished with the saying of these letters of the Torah is the most important preparation for the receiving the Torah.”

“Rabbi Yosef Caro was just 4 years old when his family left Spain in 1492, due to the Expulsion, and went on to Portugal. Just two years later, Portugal expelled its Jews as well. His family then wandered from city to city, from country to country, until they found safety in Constantinople [Kushta], Turkey. He married young, but due to poverty and disease, lost his wife and both of his children. He then remarried and started to learn with Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz, a Kabbalist and poet, whose ‘Lecha Dodi’ is recited each Friday night to usher in the Sabbath.”


Alleged Victims of Harvey Weinstein Receiving Reduced Damages

Harvey Weinstein’s alleged victims will have to face the fact that, despite bringing their cases to court and being willing to testify, any damages they would receive are being significantly reduced by legal fees, including Harvey Weinstein’s, none of which he has to pay himself. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

In October of last year, Harvey Weinstein, former film producer and co-founder of Miramax, a major entertainment company, became embroiled in scandal when he was accused of sexually harassing, molesting or raping numerous women over a period of 30 years. The political repercussions of the case are still being felt in the current increased awareness of sexual harassment and abuse that women face in the workplace and in society in general.

Now, his supposed victims will have to face the fact that, despite bringing their cases to court and being willing to testify, any damages they would receive are being significantly reduced by legal fees, including Harvey Weinstein’s, none of which he has to pay himself. Mr. Weinstein’s attorneys are looking to make as much as $14 million. The entire supposed settlement for those who’ve brought Mr. Weinstein past behavior to light is $44 million, with a majority of those victims apparently receiving an average of only $60,000, according to a report by the New York Post.

Among the alleged victims of Harvey Weinstein’s advances are actress Paz de La Huerta, who appeared on the HBO show “Boardwalk Empire” and Alexandra Canosa, a producer with Netflix. They, and as many as 150 other women, are reportedly going to have to divide what will remain of the legal settlement once fees for legal services for both the defendant and plaintiff have been paid off. As one supposed victim stated about the low settlement money that will be paid out, “It’s insulting. It’s particularly insulting that he doesn’t even have to pay his own lawyer’s fees. He gets to walk away without any consequences.”

Harvey Weinstein will not have to pay either his legal fees nor any of the money for legal settlement, with the fees coming out of the damages settlement, and that being covered by insurance agencies who provide coverage for both the Weinstein Co. and Miramax, the entertainment company he once ran.

With $14 million of the legal settlement money being allocated to pay off defendant’s legal costs and another $8 million to plaintiff’s legal fees, the remainder of the money will have to be distributed to 150 different women who are involved in the class action lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein.

According to an anonymous source close to the negotiations being held, “The defendants are using what could be victim funds to pay their legal fees despite many of them being billionaires.”

It’s also been revealed that women who filed single lawsuits themselves against Harvey Weinstein, as opposed to the class action lawsuit previously mentioned, will receive up to $500,000 each. There are up to 18 of these supposed victims located in the U.S. United Kingdom, and Canada.

The balance of the legal damages will total $9 million after all is said and done, which will have to be split up among the remaining 150 women involved in the class action lawsuit.

Real Estate Broker Robert Futterman Speaks Out After “Drug” Firing

Robert K. Futterman, aged 60, was the Chairman and CEO of RKF, a major commercial real estate agency in New York City, until he was fired “for cause” late May this year due to his acting “erratically.” Photo Credit: YouTube

Robert K. Futterman, aged 60, was the Chairman and CEO of RKF, a major commercial real estate agency in New York City, until he was fired “for cause” late May this year due to his acting “erratically.” His supposedly volatile conduct included rudely intervening into a presentation being made by Barry Gosin, current CEO of Newark (part of Howard Lutnick’s BGC) which purchased RKF in September of last 2018. According to an anonymous source within the company, ““They were worried he would do something that would reflect badly on the company.”

Mr. Futterman was also arrested on a drug charge in April of this year in Texas. An incident which also preceded his termination. Robert Futterman repudiates any notion that he has a drug addiction, instead saying that he was merely depressed due to his breaking up with Hollie Watman, a clothing designer who he had been his girlfriend for ten years. Indeed, Mr. Futterman states that his “drug arrest” was for medical marijuana, not any other illicit substances. As he told the New York Post in an interview, “I was falsely accused of using [illegal] drugs and alcohol, which I don’t use.”

Newmark has previously attempted to have Mr. Futterman placed into an esteemed drug rehabilitation center in the Hamptons, along with other similar treatment centers, but he was routinely rejected for lack of drugs or alcohol in his bloodstream, according to a different anonymous source within the real estate company. As the source stated, “They couldn’t find a rehab to take him.”

Robert Futterman continued protesting his termination by saying, ““This is an injustice not just to me but to our entire industry and I don’t think the industry should sit back. I certainly do not plan on sitting back. My dad was a fighter, he fought in World War II. [I’ve been] unjustly persecuted for just being the person that I am.” Because of a clause in a contract he signed when RKF was purchased by Newmark, he is now prevented from being involved in the real estate industry for a period of 11 years, as well as disallowed from using his own initials, RKF, the name of the original company he was head of.

The drug arrest in Texas, which so disconcerted the heads of the real estate company, occurred when Robert Futterman was found in possession of “soft drugs,” among which was marijuana that had been made into “edibles,” a form of the drug which can be chewed and swallowed. He was originally approached by airport officials in Dallas/Fort Worth due to his leaving his bag unattended. According to the official arrest report, Mr. Futterman, “threw his bag to the floor,” while speaking to officials. A package of Cheeba Chews fell out, one of the ingredients of which is THC. CBD Oil and other edible marijuana products were found in a further search of his bag. CBD oil is a controlled substance in the state of Texas.

Nation of Israel Mourns the Passing of Nechama Rivlin, a’h, Wife of President Reuven Rivlin

Beit HaNasi has announced with deep sorrow the passing of Nechama Rivlin ז"ל, the wife of President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, on Tuesday 4 June / 1 Sivan at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. She was 73 when she died, shortly before her 74th birthday. Photo Credit: GPO

Beit HaNasi has announced with deep sorrow the passing of Nechama Rivlin ז”ל, the wife of President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, on Tuesday 4 June / 1 Sivan at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. She was 73 when she died, shortly before her 74th birthday.

Nechama underwent a lung transplant three months ago on Monday 11 March 2019 / 4 Adar II 5779, an operation she needed due to the pulmonary fibrosis from which she suffered in recent years.

The president and family members expressed their heartfelt thanks to the entire staff of Beilinson Hospital for the dedicated, sensitive and professional treatment she received over the last few months, night and day, with an open heart.

“Unfortunately, all the doctors’ efforts to stabilize her during the complex rehabilitation process that followed her transplant failed,” hospital officials said.

“The medical teams of the chest, lung, cardiology and intensive care units did not leave Mrs. Rivlin’s bed the whole time… This is a sad day for all of us at the medical center. The hospital staff is mourning,” the staff said.

In addition, the Rivlin family expressed profound thanks to “the citizens of Israel and the heads of the communities who have continued to ask after Nechama’s health, to send letters and wonderful children’s drawings to the hospital and to Beit HaNasi, and to pray for her every day, every hour. Their love and concern gave the president and all members of the family strength and support that cannot be described in words.”

The family also expressed tremendous appreciation to the Halabli family, who donated their late son Yair’s lung, for their inspiring nobility and wonderful deed.

Leading the tributes to the life of Nechama Rivlin, a’h was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said, “Along with the citizens of Israel, my wife Sara and I would like to express our deep sorrow over the death of the president’s wife, Nechama, We have all been praying for her recovery these past weeks, as she was bravely fighting for her life. We send our condolences to the president, his family and to the entire country. May her memory be blessed.”

Nehama Rivlin ז”ל–biography

Nechama was born in 1945 in Moshav Herut in the Sharon region.

Her parents, Drora (Keila) and Mendy Shulman, immigrated from the Ukraine and were among the founders of the moshav. Nechama studied from kindergarten until the end of the elementary school in the area.

Her father died when she was five and her mother was left to work the farm. “I remember her working hard and fighting like a lioness for the right to work the land, despite the objective difficulties entailed in choosing such a demanding way of life. She never sank into debt – no small feat in a cooperative farming settlement,” Rivlin wrote in Haaretz in 2016.

Nechama completed her high school studies at the Emek Hefer Ruppin Regional School, and due to back surgery, she received a postponement of her army service.

In 1964 she began studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying natural sciences. She graduated with a BSc in botany and zoology and holds a teaching certificate in these departments.

In 1967 she began working at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a researcher in the Department of Zoology, and then moved to the Department of Ecology and the Department of Genetics. In addition, Nechama studied the history of art in the fields of modern, classical and ancient art.

In 1971 she married Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and settled in Jerusalem. Nechama had three children–Rivi (Rivka), Anat and Ran. She was grandmother to Matan, Ziv, Shai, Karni, Maya, Daniela and Yahav, and sister to Varda.

In 2007 Nechama retired and then discovered that she had an incurable lung disease that required her to use a portable oxygen device. When Nechama moved to Beit HaNasi, she chose to focus on art, activities for children with special needs, the environment and nature, through compassion and love of people.

In a post she wrote about the book Paddington Bear Nechama wrote: “How often do we pass an injured animal or bird and look away, just so we do not have to take on the burden of caring for it?” Later, she even voiced a character in the film based on the book.

Nechama set up a community garden in the garden of the President’s Residence, where children from all over the country came to plant and plant plants, spices and flowers on a regular basis.

Nechama was a regular visitor to Israel’s cultural institutions, particularly those in Jerusalem, out of true love for art in all its forms. Nechama was particularly fond of the Cinematheque and Smadar cinemas in Jerusalem, where she used to watch films regularly.

Nechama’s fondness for Hebrew literature and art led her to write from time to time about writers and artists who particularly appreciated the posts she published on the official Facebook page of the president. She generally began her posts with the words “Hello everyone, Nechama here,” and signed them “Yours, Nechama.” They became especially beloved to followers of the page and to lovers of culture and art in Israel.

In 2018, Nechama established the President’s Award for Hebrew Poetry. On the committee’s announcement of the winner Amichai Hasson, Nechama said: “I congratulate the lovers of language and words, the writers and poets who make magic with them and wish that our world will always have people in it who make poetry from it.”

She was popular with the Israeli public. “People loved me a great deal. I don’t know why,” she said in a radio interview last year, inadvertently revealing part of her charm.

May her memory be a blessing.

יהי זכרה ברוך


What It’s Like to Be the Rabbi on the Beaches of Normandy 75 Years After D-Day

Lewin with students at the Jewish section of the military cemetery

Exactly 75 years ago, Normandy was the site of one of the largest military invasions ever staged. Forever known as D-Day, June 6, 1944 marked the turning point of World War II, in which 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of fiercely defended beaches in northern France.

This week, U.S. President Donald Trump will headline a flurry of ceremonies, presentations and memorials that will commemorate the 75th anniversary.

Among those present will be Rabbi Mordechai and Zlata Lewin, co-directors of Chabad ofCaen since 2014.

In an interview with Chabad.org, Rabbi Lewin shares what it’s like to serve as the only rabbi along the beaches soaked with blood and hallowed with bravery.

Q: To start with, can you tell us a little about the local Jewish community?

A: Normandy is a large area served by five Chabad couples, each in a different community. My wife and I are in Caen, which is on the coast, the site of the D-Day invasion.

Historically, the Jewish community was Ashkenazi, from Alsace, the birthplace of French Jewry in the Middle Ages. Most of them have since passed away or moved on, and the current community, approximately 100 strong, are Sephardic immigrants from Algeria and their descendants.

There is a synagogue here with services every Shabbat. Our Chabad House serves as a center for classes, communal events, women’s programs, kosher catering and activities for kids. We operate a small day school for children from throughout Normandy and a Gan Israel day camp, where we expect 50 children this summer.

Q: Who else do you serve?

A: Caen is home to 30,000 students distributed between four public universities and 20 recognized private schools. Of course, there are Jewish students among them, and we operate a Chabad on Campus for them.

And then there are the tourists. Caen has dozens of museums, memorials and educational programs dedicated to D-Day that attract Jewish visitors from all over the world.

Shortly after we arrived, we set up a kosher catering facility so that Jewish groups are able to come here and enjoy a full Jewish experience. With time, we educated ourselves more and more about the history of the place, and we now offer our own tours.

We began with synagogue groups and senior clubs, and have since expanded to include school groups as well.

Q: What’s it like to show people around the site of so much death and destruction?

A: It’s actually quite touching. No matter how many times I see and say the same thing, it hits me again. These were young men—boys, really—who traveled 8,000 miles away from home and willingly put themselves in grave danger for the greater good. Jew or non-Jew, they all put their lives on the line.

Knowing full well that they might be taken prisoner of war, many Jewish soldiers chose to keep their Jewish identification and carry their siddurim (prayer books) and tefillin with them.

We have a collection of artifacts that we share with visitors, including a siddur that an American soldier carried with him during the invasion.

Q: What more can you tell about the siddur? How did you get it?

A: I received it from the Rabbi Shmuel Lewin, the Chabad rabbi in Deauville, another city in Normandy. There was an abandoned building there that had once been a military hospital for Allied troops. They were renovating the building, and the workers found the siddur. Recognizing it as a Jewish artifact, they gave it to the rabbi, who passed it on to me.

You can see that the soldier had marked off the pages for Tefilat Haderech(Traveler’s Prayer) and Havdalah, which marks the end of Shabbat.

Q: With the big 75th anniversary around the corner, what are you planning?

A: For one thing, there will be a group of American chaplains present who asked us to help them with kosher food and other accommodations, which we are glad to supply. In addition, we hope to be present at the ceremonies, representing our fellow members of the local Jewish community and Chabad.



NJ Suing Sackler Family Over Lethal Toll of Drugs Made by Purdue Pharma

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in Superior Court in Essex County, NJ, says the Sackler family “built a multi-billion-dollar drug empire based on addiction. Despite knowing the harms that would result, the Sacklers drove Purdue to pursue deceitful sales campaigns for OxyContin and other highly addictive opioid painkillers.” Photo Credit: The Daily Caller

More tzooris for the Sacklers.

The state of New Jersey is taking eight family members to court because of the drugs manufactured by the family business, Purdue Pharma.

The lawsuit, filed last Thursday by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in Superior Court in Essex County, NJ, says the Sackler family “built a multi-billion-dollar drug empire based on addiction. Despite knowing the harms that would result, the Sacklers drove Purdue to pursue deceitful sales campaigns for OxyContin and other highly addictive opioid painkillers.”

Sackler representative Nikki Ritchie told the press that the family called the lawsuit ‘baseless.” The four-county lawsuit names former Purdue CEO and President Richard Sackler, along with Jonathan D. Sackler; Dr. Kathe Sackler; Ilene Sackler Lefcourt; Mortimer D.A. Sackler; Beverly Sackler; Theresa Sackler; and David A. Sackler.

“Purdue sells the prescription painkiller OxyContin and is owned by members of the Sackler family, who have made at least $4 billion in the last decade from the drug company, according to court documents made public in Massachusetts earlier this year,” explained the Associated Press.

For those keeping count, New Jersey is one of a dozen states involved in lawsuits aimed at family members “over the toll of opioids, prompting Purdue Pharma to announce in March it was considering legal options including bankruptcy that could upend the ongoing lawsuits against the company. Several states have announced similar allegations against the Sackler family in the past month,” AP added. “About 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued Purdue or other drug makers and distributors over opioids. Most of those suits have been consolidated under one federal judge who is pushing for a settlement.”

Just weeks ago, as reported by The Jewish Voice, The Metropolitan Museum of Art said it would not rename its Sackler Wing — but instead would say no to any future donations made by the family, once again due to its connection to OxyContin.

The politically calculated decisions were a direct result of the popular fury concerning the family’s part in the ongoing opioid crisis. “The museum takes a position of gratitude and respect to those who support us, but on occasion, we feel it’s necessary to step away from gifts that are not in the public interest, or in our institution’s interest,” Daniel H. Weiss, the president of the Met, told the New York Times in an interview. “That is what we’re doing here.”

Not wanting to be left out, the state of Vermont is also suing the eight members of the Sackler family. The lawsuit makes the claim that family members violated the state’s Consumer Protection Act, were unjustly enriched, and created a public nuisance.

Medical Marijuana Businesses Set for Massive Expansion in NJ

New Jersey residents suffering from painful ailments that marijuana may alleviate may soon benefit from their home state allowing greater access to marijuana for medical purposes after long having one of the most restrictive policies towards it in the country. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

New Jersey residents suffering from painful ailments that marijuana may alleviate may soon benefit from their home state allowing greater access to marijuana for medical purposes after long having one of the most restrictive policies towards it in the country. The New Jersey Department of Health has just recently unveiled its intention to open and license up to 108 new businesses specializing in medical marijuana. This would be in addition to the 12 medical marijuana providers already present in the state, only half of which are licensed and operational.

For patients looking to take advantage of this however, they may have to deal with a long waiting period, as it may take months for any of the most recent medical marijuana industries to become fully operational. Nevertheless, it has been noted that current New Jersey Governor, Phil Murphy, has made it his intent to make medical marijuana more available for those in need. This is especially important considering the current medical marijuana program in New Jersey has both seen a scarcity of supply, and extensive numbers of patients waiting to take advantage.

Further difficulties to this effort had been noted with the New Jersey state government efforts to add marijuana businesses creating more and more “red tape” slowing the entire process down. This has led Governor Murphy to use his power and authority to move things along. According to Shereef Elnahal, the New Jersey state Health Commissioner, “We are at a point where patients just cannot wait any longer for easily accessible, affordable therapy. This request for applications allows for specialization of businesses to increase medical product in our state.” The Department of Health in New Jersey will begin allowing applications for licenses to dispense medical marijuana in that state as early as the first of July of this year, continuing to accept them throughout August 15th. They declined to say when they will make it public who has received a license.

The New Jersey Department of Health is expected to authorize up to possibly 38 new businesses to engage in the dispensation of medical marijuana in the northern part of New Jersey, along with as many as 38 in central New Jersey, and another 32 in lower New Jersey. With as many as 108 licenses being given out, the Health Department desires 24 of those licenses to be possessed by marijuana growers while 30 licenses will go to processors of marijuana plants. New retailers of medical marijuana with fresh licenses will number up to 54.

New Jersey Governor Murphy has been noted for his wish to see patients who would benefit from using medical marijuana be allowed greater access. He has talked about the, “rapidly growing patient need” for pain alleviating medical marijuana in his state. As he explained at a news conference at Hackensack, “Our goal is to ensure a medical marijuana program that is as robust as it is compassionate.”

Barrymore Film Center Set for 2020 Debut in Fort Lee, NJ

Fort Lee, NJ was the original Hollywood, so they say, which makes last week’s beam-signing event for the Barrymore Film Center a logical occurrence. The new 21,500-square-foot, 260-seat, “retro-futuristic” cinema/museum/movie archive building is scheduled to debut in October 2020. Photo Credit: Barrymore Film Center

Fort Lee, NJ was the original Hollywood, so they say, which makes last week’s beam-signing event for the Barrymore Film Center a logical occurrence.

The new 21,500-square-foot, 260-seat, “retro-futuristic” cinema/museum/movie archive building is scheduled to debut in October 2020. It was designed by renowned architect Hugh Hardy.

The official ground-breaking saw engraved ceremonial shovels in the hands of Mayor Mark Sokolich, accompanied by members of the Fort Lee Film Commission and Borough Council members.

The Barrymore Film Center (BFC), established by the Borough of Fort Lee, NJ, is dedicated to the borough’s significant history as the birthplace of American film. “Fort Lee is the first American film town where studios,” the Center says on its web site, “including Universal (1912), FOX (1915), and Solax (1912) — the first studio built and operated by a woman, Alice Guy Blaché — were established.” The stars of the day included Will Rogers, Mary Pickford, Dorothy and Lillian Gish and Lionel Barrymore.

Along with exhibitions on Fort Lee and world cinema history, the group continues, programming at the BFC will include major film retrospectives, and annual silent film event, film festivals, foreign film screenings, and showcases for emerging filmmakers. the center is being built by the Borough of Fort Lee and will be operated by the Fort Lee Film Commission.

Memorable motion pictures filmed in Fort Lee have ranged from “The Musketeers of Pig Alley” in 1912, to Universal’s first horror film, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” in 1913. “Filmmaking continued even after the industry moved to Los Angeles, and Fort Lee was the setting for the 1947 noir classic “Kiss of Death,” noted the New York Post.

The history goes all the way back to 1900, when Broadway actor and Coytesville resident Maurice Barrymore threw a benefit to raise money to build a firehouse for Company #2 on Washington Avenue in Coytesville, and Center relates. “His son, John, age 18, makes his acting debut at this benefit. Barrymore also ran another fundraiser for the purchase of uniforms for Company #2.”

In 1907, Thomas Edison’s Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest shot on location on the Fort Lee Palisades. “Film features D.W. Griffith’s first starring role as an actor, having appeared in bit parts in several films now identified.” Just a year later, early “slapstick” comedy, Biograph’s The Curtain Pole (directed by D.W. Griffith and featuring Mack Sennett), shot on streets of Fort Lee (Main Street). “IMP (Independent Motion Picture Company, which later joined with other independents to form Universal) shot first film on location in Coytesville, Hiawatha.”

Parshat Bamidbar–”Elite by Commitment”

We learn that the Levites are to substitute for the firstborn Israelites and will serve in their stead in the special roles of maintaining the Holy Tabernacle. Finally, the Torah describes the division of the tribe of Levi into three and names the leaders of each of those three divisions. It is only at this later point in the parasha that we are informed about the central position of the Levites in the nation’s march through the wilderness. Photo Credit: nigun.info

Scholars have had a lot to say about the role of aristocracy in the course of human history. Those of us who grew up in the United States of America were taught about the advantages of democracy and thus developed a prejudice against the very word “aristocracy.” We were convinced that aristocracy meant government by a select group of people who earned their right to govern by virtue of their birth.

Along with the virtues of democracy, we were taught to value meritocracy. Individuals should be granted positions of authority on the basis of their merit. If they prove themselves to be expert in business, they should be given control of the economy. Those who successfully prove their administrative experience should run the government.

As our formal education proceeded, we learned about the danger of another philosophy; namely, elitism. Somewhere in our attic storage room, there remains a copy of a paper I wrote as a sophomore in college. It was based upon a book by the eminent sociologist C. Wright Mills, entitled The Power Elite. In it, the author cautions against the development of a small group, or “inner core,” controlling all the institutions in power in a given society. A more recent book by David Rothkopf makes a similar point and speaks of a “super-class” that dominates contemporary American society. Personally, I suspect that we can detect in the present presidential elections a revolt, by a substantial portion of the populace, against “the power elite” or the “super-class.”

In my rabbinic teaching experience, I have found that students tend to question, or at least wonder about, the existence of aristocracy or elitism in the society prescribed by our Torah. This tendency is especially common among students who have been raised to value “the American way.” I have discovered that it is this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bemidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), which evokes these questions more than any other.

This week’s parasha begins with an enumeration of the leaders of each tribe. The leader of the tribe of Reuben is named Elizur son of Shedeur, and so are named the leaders of every tribe. That is, every tribe but Levi. The Torah then proceeds with the details of the results of the census that Moses conducted. The total population of each tribe is listed, beginning with Reuben and ending with Naphtali. Again, the tribe of Levi is not recorded. The Torah itself remarks, “The Levites, however, were not recorded among them by their ancestral tribe.” Indeed, the Almighty specifically commands Moses: “Do not on any account enroll the tribe of Levi, or take a census of them, with the Israelites,” (Numbers 1:47-48).

The Torah continues to describe the configuration of the tribes as they marched through the wilderness: Three tribes in the north, three tribes in the south, and three tribes, each in the east and west. The glaring omission from this formation is the tribe of Levi.

It is only when we reach the third chapter of this week’s Torah portion that we learn of the special treatment that the tribe of Levi is to receive. It is then that we learn that the Levites are to substitute for the firstborn Israelites and will serve in their stead in the special roles of maintaining the Holy Tabernacle. Finally, the Torah describes the division of the tribe of Levi into three and names the leaders of each of those three divisions. It is only at this later point in the parasha that we are informed about the central position of the Levites in the nation’s march through the wilderness.

It is no wonder that students often ask about elitism. Their question is usually phrased along these lines: “Aren’t the Levites being designated by the Almighty Himself as a “power elite” or “super-class?” Are we not to be concerned that the rest of the Israelites will experience the resentment typical to victims of discrimination? Wasn’t the Levites’ special position in this parasha accorded them only because they were born Levites, having done nothing to merit their special distinction?”

The Sages of the Talmud and Midrash respond emphatically to these questions. Here is an especially poetic example, to be found in the Midrash Bemidbar Rabba, chapter 3: “It was the tribe of Levi who were heroes and blossomed forth with their deeds at the time that the Israelites crafted the Golden Calf. It is written, ‘Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come here!”‘ And all the Levites rallied to him. Therefore, the Holy One, Blessed Be He raised them above the Israelites. Like the cedar which is taller and higher in the forest of Lebanon than all other trees, so too are they elevated above all of Israel. Thus, it is written in the book of Psalms (92:14), ‘Planted in the house of the Lord, they flourish in the courtyards of our God.'”

The point of this Midrash, and of many similar rabbinic passages, is this: The elite position of the Levites was not merely a function of their privileged birth. Rather, they earned their position because of their firm commitment to God. They merited their special role because of their courage and dedication.

In the classes that I have led, however, these rabbinic passages do not suffice. Questions persist: “What about nowadays? Can any person not born a Levi gain access to that tribe’s privilege by virtue of his commitment and courage? Or, is membership in this special group closed to non-Levites forever?”

The response to such questions was given centuries ago by none other than Maimonides: “It is not just the tribe of Levi alone, but each and every person from all of the world’s inhabitants, if his spirit but moves him and his intellect matures, can distinguish himself from the masses and stand before God to serve Him and to worship Him. He can come to know God, and if he walks upright in the manner in which God fashioned him and is willing to discard all the many considerations which other humans naturally seek, such a person is sanctified as the holiest of holies. He too can become God’s special portion and heritage forever and ever.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, concluding paragraph of the Laws of the Sabbatical Year and Jubilee)

Simply put, Maimonides is teaching us that every human being can become a Levite.

Not many of us are familiar with Maimonides’ astonishing remarks.

But there is a statement, spoken daily by every regular synagogue attendee, which symbolically transforms each of us into a Levite. For near the conclusion of the morning service every day of the year, weekday or Sabbath or Festival, we recite a psalm. The psalm differs from day to day, but there is a brief prelude that we all utter: “Today is the first day of the week (or second, or third day, as the case may be) on which the Levites used to say this psalm in the Temple.”

Why do we recite this formula? The customary answer is that we want to retain some memory of the Holy Temple in our religious consciousness. But I like to think that we recite it to connect in some fashion to the Levites in the Temple of long ago. And we recite it whether we are Levites by birth or not. We assert that in some sense we can all become Levites.

Maimonides insists that in Judaism elites are made, not born. Authentic elites are not about power. They are about courage and commitment. And conviction.

(Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb is the Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union)

Parshas Bamidbar – Discover Your Flag

Torah is our very life, an elixir that renders us unique among the nations and has enabled us to survive the centuries. This Shavuos, embrace the Torah with love, commitment, and engrave it upon your mind and heart.

In this week’s parsha, we begin the 4th of the Five Books of Moses. This Book is also known as Sefer HaPekudim–the Book of Numbers, for G-d commanded that a census be taken of the Jewish people. You might ask what the purpose of that census might be, especially since census had already been taken in the Book of Exodus, and surely, G-d knows our numbers.

The Hebrew word for Census–counting, is so oh, which literally means lift up the heads for through counting, G-d demonstrates His love for us–how precious we are to Him that we are all a part of His master plan endowed with a special purpose that only we can fulfill. That awareness, that G-d loves us, that we count and that we have a tachlis–a purpose in life, should fortify us in our commitment, in our Torah study, in our observance and in our life struggles.

In the beginning of the parsha, the Torah mentions that starting from the second year after the Jewish people left Egypt, whenever they traveled, they had to go in a specific formation with the twelve tribes divided into four group of three with each tribe stationed in its location either north, south, east or west…each carrying its own flag which identified their group.

One might ask–Why did the tribes not travel in this formation when they left Egypt?

A flag is symbolic of one’s nationality, and if each tribe had its own flag, it could have destroyed the unity of the nation. Indeed, history is replete with examples of this….people going to battle in the name of their flags. Therefore, our tribal flags were given to us only after we constructed the Tabernacle which stood in the center of the camp, unifying and coalescing us into one in our worship of HaShem. This teaches us that every one of the 12 tribes had a unique mission in service of G-d. There were rabbis, Torah scholars and financial supporters of Torah, etc., but they were all united around the Tabernacle, and that neutralized all differences and made them one.

Even as each tribe was endowed with a unique mission–its own flag, similarly, each and every individual is special, created by HaShem for a specific purpose that only he or she can fulfill…. and the flags are symbolic of that. G-d created all people with eyes, noses, ears, etc., yet no two people look exactly alike. Similarly, no two souls are exactly alike. Every individual is custom made by G-d and has a purpose that only he or she can fulfill. Therefore, he must carry his own flag, know his own identity, and thus fulfill his task. But even if he carries his flag he must at all times remember that at the core of his being, is the Tabernacle, the Torah, and that knowledge unites him with his people.

Have you ever considered what your mission might be? What your flag might be? Why G-d gave you life? Your answers can be found in the Torah ヨ study it, probe it, pray for Divine Guidance….know the meaning of your Jewish name, the passage that corresponds to it, and discover your own flag fulfill your tachlis your purpose in life. Join us at Hineni and discover the energy in Torah study.


What is Shavuot? Shavuot is called “The Festival of Weeks.”

We count the Omer from Pesach until Shavuot just as a bride counts the days to her wedding. Our wedding was sealed in eternity at Sinai as we, the Jewish People proclaimed those immortal words, Na`aseh V`nishma–We shall do it and we shall study it. Thousands of years have passed since that awesome moment at Sinai, but the Torah is as new and as holy to us as it was to our ancestors in days of yore. Torah is our very life, an elixir that renders us unique among the nations and has enabled us to survive the centuries. This Shavuos, embrace the Torah with love, commitment, and engrave it upon your mind and heart.


Experiencing Shavuot as We Spiral Through Time

Torah study like what is pictured in this scene at the Kol Torah yeshiva in Jerusalem is typical of the first night of Shavuot. Photo Credit: jns.org

We experience life through the medium of time. Each new moment brings with it new opportunities as we move along the spectrum of time. Amidst the constantly moving wave of time, the chagim are specific, unique points in time that carry with them special energy. Each holiday is a chance to tap into the theme inherent to that point in time. Before we can delve into the specific theme of Shavuot and what this unique point in time holds for each and every one of us, we must first understand time on a larger scale.


The Nature of Time

The assumed and widely accepted understanding of time is that it moves in a straight line. Hashem created our world of space and time, and since its inception time has been moving inexorably forward. Along this line of time is the past, present, and the future. If we were to move backward on this line of time, we could peer through history and find Avraham Avinu at the Akeida, Moshe Rabbeinu receiving the Torah, and the Rambam writing the Mishneh Torah. Our current experience is taking place in the middle of the line, and if we could move forward along the line we would see events that have not yet happened. However, there is a major challenge to this theory.

There is a piyut in the Pesach Haggadah (U’vchen Va’amartemm) which states that Avraham Avinu served matzah to the three angels who visited him because it was Pesach at that time. Rashi quotes this opinion on the Pesukim in Bereishit (Bereishit 19:3) and says that Lot did the same for the malachim who came to Sedom. How can this be? The mitzvah of matzah originates from the event of Yetziat Mitzrayim–an event that would not occur for another few centuries!


Circles in Time

To understand why Avraham and Lot served their guests matzah before Pesach even occurred we must develop a deeper understanding of time. Time does not move along one continuous, straight line; it actually circles around in a repeating yearly cycle. As the Ramchal explains, Hashem created thematic cycles of time, where each point in the year holds unique spiritual energies. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and all the chagim are each associated with their own unique spiritual themes in time.

This deep understanding transforms our perception of time. We don’t celebrate freedom each year on the 15th of Nissan because that’s when the Jews were freed from Egypt, rather the Jews were redeemed from Egypt on the 15th of Nissan because that is zman cheiruseinu, the time of freedom. That power of freedom is what allowed the Jews to escape the slavery of Mitzrayim. This is why Avraham and Lot ate matzah long before the actual geulah. Matzah represents freedom, and Avraham and Lot tapped into the spiritual waves of freedom that were inherent at that point in time. They were not commemorating a historical event, they were tapping into the deep energies of time inherent at the point in the circle. So too, we do not simply commemorate a historical event as we experience each holiday, but rather, we tap into the deep energies inherent at that point in time. Thus, it is clear that time not a continuous line, but a circle.


Spirals in Time

However, even the circle analogy is limiting. If time were indeed a circle, each point of the year would simply be a recreation and repetition of that point from the previous year, from the previous time around the circle. That would be pointless. We do not seek to re-experience the past each year. Our goal is to expand upon what we have created year by year, so that this year, when we return to that same point on the circle from last year, we are in a fundamentally different place. Each Rosh Hashana should be higher than the previous one, each Pesach, a new Pesach, each Shavuot, a new Shavuot. Through our growth and ascension we are able to convert the two-dimensional circle into a three dimensional spiral, traversing along the same circle at ever greater heights. We maintain the circularity while achieving ascension.


Re-Experiencing Shavuot Every Year

Now that we understand the concept of time, and the importance of tapping into the unique theme of each point of time in the systematic process of ascension, we must delve into the specific theme that Shavuot presents. What is the power and potential inherent in this time of the year, and how can we harness it to grow along our ascending, spiraling path?

On Shavuot, there is a custom to stand during the Torah reading. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that we stand during Torah reading on this day because we are recreating the experience of Matan Torah, when the entire Jewish People stood around Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. On Shavuot, we do not simply remember what once occurred, we relive the experience as we tap back into the power of kabbalat ha’Torah, receiving and accepting the Torah. We do not simply repeat this process each year, rather we reaccept the Torah on an entirely new level, as fundamentally higher beings, growing through each revelation of Torah from years past. Kabbalat haTorah this year is at the same point along the circle as last year, but one rung higher on the spiral. In a true sense, we are receiving the Torah anew, in a new dimension of time and spiritual energy.


What is Torah?

If Shavuot is the time of kabbalat Ha’Torah, to truly understand what we are trying to experience on Shavuot we must first understand what Torah is. Scholars may refer to it as a history book, others may think of it as a book of laws, or a source of Jewish wisdom, while still others see it as an object of myth and delusional reverence. However, the Torah is something deeper than all of these things, and to truly understand the importance of kabbalat ha’Torah we must understand the Torah’s depth and power.

Torah is not simply a guide to living a life of truth within the world that we live in, it is actually the blueprint and DNA of this physical world. In other words, our physical world is a projection and emanation of the deep spiritual reality described in the Torah. This is the meaning behind the famous midrash that says, “Istaklah b’Oraisah u’barah almah,” Hashem looked into the Torah and used it to create the world. Torah serves as the blueprint of the world–the physical world is an emanation and expression of Torah, the spiritual root of existence. To illustrate this concept, imagine a projector. The image that you see on the screen emanates from the film in the projector, so that everything you see on the screen is simply an expression of what’s contained within the film. So too, every single thing that we see and experience in the physical world stems from the spiritual root–the transcendent dimension of Torah.

Similarly, the trees you see outside originally stemmed from a single seed. Each and every one of us as well originated from a zygote, half a male and half a female genetic code. From that single cell ultimately manifested a fully developed and expressed human being. You are the expression of your original seed, just like the world is the expression of its original seed and root- the Torah.

Thus, the world in which we live is, in fact, an avenue to the spiritual–we can access the spiritual, transcendent world through this one because the two are intimately, intrinsically connected.

To illustrate this concept, think of the way in which other human beings experience and understand you. All they can see of you is your physical body. They cannot see your thoughts, your consciousness, your emotions, your soul. All they can see is your words, actions, facial expression, and body language–meaning, the way you express yourself within the world. They cannot see your inner world, but they can access it through the outer expressions that you project. The same is true regarding human beings trying to experience Hashem and the spiritual. We cannot see the spiritual, we cannot see what is ethereal and transcendent, only that which is physical. However, we can use the physical to access the spiritual root, we can study the Torah’s expression in this world to understand its spiritual root.


The Gift of Torah

Hashem gave us the Torah in order to guide us on our spiritual journey in this world. Shavuot is therefore not a call to be transcendent, angelic beings, lofty and perfect, beyond the struggle innate within the human condition. This is not permission to deny our humanity and restrict our sense of self. This is a calling to be human, to be the ultimate human, to bring transcendence and spirituality into this world. We don’t aim to escape this world, we aim to transform it. Kedushah in not transcendence or escapism, it’s marrying transcendence with the immanent. This is what Torah comes to teach us, how to uplift our physical experience and connect it to the spiritual. When done right, Torah enables us to uplift every aspect of our worldly experience to something higher, holier, and more meaningful.


This Shavuot

Our job is to make this Shavuot the next step in our evolutionary spiral through time. We must not only reaccept what we have already accepted, we must take it to the next level, the next rung up. We don’t simply remember, we build; we don’t repeat, we ascend. Let us think about how we can make our acceptance of Torah this Shavuot the very greatest yet.

RAA Applauds Gov Cuomo for Taking Action Against Anti-Semitism

Left to Right: Borough President James Oddo; Congressman Max Rose; COJO-SI CEO and Executive Vice-President Scott Maurer; District Attorney Michael McMahon; COJO-SI President Mendy Mirocznik; Councilman Joe Borelli; and Assemblyman Mike Reilly.

The Rabbinical Alliance of America – Igud HaRabbonim, with a membership of over 950 Orthodox Rabbis across the United States – extends its appreciation to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on condemning the anti-Semitic writing on the Jewish Children’s Museum located in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York. The statement, “Hitler is Coming,” was drawn on the museum’s large mural for good resolutions.

Governor Cuomo stated, “I am disgusted by the anti-Semitic message scrawled in front of the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn….We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism, discrimination or hate of any kind in New York, and no person should ever feel threatened because of their religious beliefs.”

Cuomo added, “I have visited this great museum, built in honor of Ari Halberstam who was tragically killed in an anti-Semitic terror attack on the Brooklyn Bridge, after it received threats in the past. It’s all more distressing for this institution built to bring together children of all faiths and backgrounds to foster tolerance to be targeted.”

Cuomo emphasized that, “In the wake of a rise in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes in our nation, it is more important than ever that we stand united to condemn these despicable acts of violence and root out hate in all its forms…To ensure those responsible for this heinous act are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, I am directing the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to immediately provide the NYPD with any resources needed to assist in the investigation of this incident. Now and always, there is no place for hate in our state.”

Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America stated, “On behalf of our member rabbis, we applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo’s condemnation of the anti-Semitic scrawling on the Jewish Children’s Museum large mural for good resolutions. It takes leadership, courage and a determination to do what is right to defeat the epidemic and scourge of anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry plaguing our nation. Governor Cuomo leads by example and has these three attributes. We applaud the Governor for taking a strong stand on combating anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry, and pray that the Almighty grant Governor Cuomo the ability to make this world a better place through the complete eradication of anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.”

In a related development, less than a week after hate speech was written on a yeshiva wall in Meiers Corners, nearly 100 Staten Islanders, including religious and community leaders, gathered at a unity rally recently to denounce hate and encourage peace and kindness.

The unity rally was organized by Staten Island District Attorney Michael E. McMahon and his Hate Crimes Task Force which is Co-Chaired by Scott Maurer, the CEO and Executive Vice-President of the Staten Island Council of Jewish Organizations. The press-conference was held at the Chabad of Staten Island.

The graffiti was discovered on the side of the building on the eve of Lag B’Omer, a Jewish holiday celebrating unity and freedom from persecution.

The words, “Synagogue of Satan,” were written on the Chabad of Staten Island, while across the street, the letters “SOS” were written on the Yeshiva Zichron Paltiel of Staten Island, referencing the aforementioned phrase.

Residents and members of the Jewish community were joined by local elected officials, NYPD Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey, borough commander of Staten Island, and the Staten Island Hate Crimes Task Force.

Rabbi Moshe Katzman told the crowd that when he first learned of the graffiti on the Thursday morning of Lag B’Omer, he wanted to keep the vandalism quiet, and not make it a big deal. After people started to reach out to him, and photos of the hate speech began to appear on social media, he made the decision to use this hateful crime as a way to spread kindness.

“Every act of evil, we need to redouble our acts of kindness,” Rabbi Moshe Katzman said. “And this is the only way we can continue in life. “Rep. Max Rose, District Attorney Michael McMahon, Borough President James Oddo, Assemblymembers Michael Cusick, Nicole Malliotakis, and Michael Reilly, and Councilmembers Joseph Borelli and Steve Matteo, spoke at the unity rally as well as COJO CEO and Executive Vice-President Scott Maurer to encourage kindness and push back against hate.

Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, president of the Staten Island Council of Jewish Organization thanked District Attorney Michael McMahon for putting together this important press-conference. “In these trying times the key is communication and confidence building.” Mirocznik added, “We at COJO value the direct line of communication that we have with District Attorney McMahon, Chief Kenneth Corey and members of the broader Staten Island community. We at COJO appreciate that both District Attorney McMahon and Chief Corey are taking a strong vigilant stand against hate and anti-Semitism and these measures are giving the residents of Staten Island the fortitude and courage not to surrender to fear and hate. ”

He added: “May He who makes peace in Heaven make peace on earth. We pray that the world should no longer know of the evil of anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.”

Shavuot for Kids: Giving a New Generation the Gift of Torah

Young children seen at a celebration for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot at Kibbutz Yifat in the Galilee, in northern Israel, on June 4, 2014. Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90

“Even if children don’t get all the complexities, just by feeling the specialness of staying up late, and imagining what it must have been like to stand at that mountain and hear the Ten Commandments all together—that and a piece of cheesecake, and altogether they’ll get a sweet taste of what it means, a new family tradition they won’t forget,” says Meredith Lewis, director of content, education and family experience for PJ Library.

It’s one of the most dramatic scenes in the Torah, as amazing as the splitting of the sea.

Imagine the Master of the Universe coming down to Earth in an astounding fireworks display of thunder, lightning and smoke (see Exodus 19 for the exciting details), singling out a ragtag bunch of escaped slaves to receive nothing less than the master plan of the universe: the Torah.

Not to mention the job description as G-d’s agents tasked with serving the boss and making the world a better place.

But whereas most Jews know how the sea split and the Israelites crossed over on dry land from years of reading the Passover Haggadah, far fewer realize that the holiday of Shavuot, 50 days later, marks the equally miraculous giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

But to make sure that the next generation doesn’t miss out, Shavuot activities, child-friendly celebrations and books bring to life this 3,300-year-old miracle for you to share with your kids and grandkids.

For Sarah Rabin Spira of Washington, D.C., when Shavuot rolls around (this year, it’s Saturday night, June 8, lasting two days, through Monday, June 10, and one day in Israel), she pulls pillows and blankets into the center of the living room and spreads out a feast of books for a late-night readathon with her 6- and 8- year-olds, often inviting over friends for a pot-luck dinner and plenty of ice-cream as well.

“Several years ago, we hit on the formula of gathering up all their favorite books, especially the Jewish ones—everything they could possibly read in one night—and letting them stay up late,” says Spira, who runs the PJ Library (a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, a North American Jewish nonprofit organization based in West Springfield, Mass.), and family education and engagement for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “As parents, we can get behind any holiday where you are encouraged to stay up late, eat dairy and read books. It makes for a special time.”

‘Laws are a great Jewish innovation’

Shavuot, the “Festival of Weeks”—sometimes called Chag HaKatzir (“Harvest Festival”), Yom Habikurim (“Day of the First Fruits”) or Zeman Matan Torah (“The Time of the Giving of the Torah”)—was originally an agricultural holiday marking the first of the harvest. But it’s long been recognized as the day the Israelites stood at the foot of Sinai and heard the Voice of G-d declaring the Ten Commandments (at least the first two, until we got good and scared and begged Moses to take over for the remining eight).

Today, Jews around the globe celebrate the momentous experience of revelation in the desert by staying up late (or for the stalwart, all night) learning Torah, and indulging in such dairy delights as cheesecake and blintzes.

In Israel, the traditions include harvest-welcoming festivals and feasting on native fruits, as well as parades, dances, skits and girls with wreaths of wildflowers in their hair. And each year, tradition has it that a farmer will officially present a basket of fruit and vegetable samples to the president.

“It’s absolutely my favorite holiday,” says Meredith Lewis, director of content, education and family experience for PJ Library. For one, Shavuot offers parents the chance to explore some deep Jewish concepts with their kids, she says. “What does the idea of bikkurim, first fruits, mean to us in our lives? How does the wisdom and loyalty of Ruth [the book of Ruth is traditionally read on the holiday] speak to us today?”

The holiday also represents transitions, she adds, “from school to summer, from being a little kid to a big kid who can stay up and learn with the grownups and have ideas about what the Ten Commandments mean to them.”

When it comes to Shavuot and Torah in general, “I’m a big fan of interactive Torah,” says Rabbi David Fohrman, founder of Aleph Beta, a program of animated videos around Torah and Jewish holidays that he describes as “Netflix for Torah.”

For Shavuot, the rabbi is hoping that the videos “inspire conversation around the table, which often take a turn you’d never expected.” One of them, “The Hidden Structure of the Ten Commandments,” for instance, challenges the viewer to explore how the first five commandments differ from the last five and what they come to teach us today. (For instance, not coveting might mean to us not being jealous of someone with a nicer house or more prestigious job.)

And Shavuot also gives us an easy entrance “into a discussion of why it’s wonderful to have laws, what our world would be like if there were no laws and how they bring us closer to G-d, and what we’re supposed to do as Jews in this world to serve G-d and not some human master. Turns out these laws are a great Jewish innovation.”