First Read For Aug 3


Charedi move into Jersey City draws opposition

A recent influx of chasidic Jews into Jersey City, attracted by affordable housing prices, has drawn criticism from some residents of the heavily African-American neighborhood, the New York Times reports.

These families are “pioneers in a demographic and religious shift that is reshaping communities throughout the region,” according to the paper.

“Skyrocketing real estate prices in Brooklyn and Queens are forcing out young ultra-Orthodox families, which are establishing outposts in unexpected places, like Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, the Willowbrook neighborhood on Staten Island and in Bloomingburg, N.Y., in the foothills of the Catskills.”

“Residents complain that investors or real estate agents representing the ultra-Orthodox community have been ringing doorbells persistently, offering to buy properties at ‘Brooklyn prices.’” The Times reports. Jersey City, Toms River and Jackson have all passed no-knock ordinances barring such inquiries.

Gillibrand withdraws support for anti-BDS bill

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand D-NY), has withdrawn her sponsorship of an anti-BDS bill, JTA reports. Her spokesman, Glen Caplin, said Gillibrand remains opposed to the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, but is concerned that some provisions of the bill would impinge on civil liberties.

Gillibrand said her principal concern was that the bill could be read as targeting individuals who participate in the BDS movement. Critics, including the ACLU, say the bill, which expands 1970s era laws targeting the Arab League boycott to include boycotts initiated by international organizations, would inhibit free speech.

Finally, some hometown respect for Rodney Dangerfield

The late Jewish comedian and actor Rodney Dangerfield will get some respect from the Queens neighborhood where he grew up.

A plaque honoring Dangerfield (nee Jacob Cohen), a Kew Gardens native who died at 82 in 2004, will be unveiled Friday in a garden next to the building in which he lived as a child.

A local historian and teacher, Carl Ballenas, said a group of his students in the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica Estates came up with the idea to honor Dangerfield when they worked on a book about the history of Kew Gardens.

The plaque will include a reference to his catch phrase, “I don’t get no respect!”

Cleanup sought for Grossinger’s site

The owner of the iconic former Grossinger’s Resort in upstate Liberty is seeking state help to clean soil contamination for what could become step one in building a 300-room hotel and 500 housing units, the Times of Israel reports. Representatives of Sullivan Resorts, LLC, a subsidiary of owner Louis Cappelli’s Valhalla-based Cappelli Enterprises, have applied for the state Department of Environmental Conservation to designate the former resort site a brownfield and offer clean-up assistance.

Over the next month, Cappelli hopes state officials will help pay to remove contamination his environmental consultants say came from old underground fuel tanks, dry-cleaning chemicals and other resort-related sources. Redevelopment of Grossinger’s also could include a spa/wellness center, spaces for conventions and live music, indoor and outdoor pools and tennis courts, an assisted-living component and improved trails on the site’s undeveloped land.

Philadelphia Synagogue hires first female African-American rabbi

Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum, a black convert to Judaism, has become the spiritual leader and educational director of Temple Har Zion in Mount Holly, N.J., according to the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. It makes her the second known female African-American rabbi in the country.

Rabbi Berenbaum, who previously worked at a Reconstructionist congregation in Milwaukee, grew up in Massachusetts with Southern Baptist parents, yet was drawn to practice Jewish traditions. “When I was about 11, I started keeping Shabbat on Saturdays instead of Sundays and celebrating the new year in September. I didn’t know any of that was particularly Jewish.”

She received her rabbinic ordination and master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew College in Boston in 2013, holding “a strong interest in the Jewish Renewal movement that values chanting and music in a back-to-the-roots approach to Judaism.”

The first black female rabbi in history, Alysa Shallow, made international headlines for leading a Reform congregation in North Carolina, although she stopped working there in 2011.

96-year-old Nazi prison guard declared fit for prison

A 96-year-old former Auschwitz guard is fit to serve a prison sentence, according to prosecutors in the German state of Hanover.

Oskar Groening was convicted and sentenced in July 2015 to four years in jail for his role in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at the concentration camp in Poland. A federal appeals court rejected his appeal in November.

A doctor who examined Groening found him fit to go to prison with appropriate medical care. A date for him to enter prison has not yet been set. He has remained free for the appeal and the decision on his fitness for prison. Full story here.

Israeli singer challenges taboo on Wagner performances

Israeli-born singer Netta Or, who has spent much of her life in Germany, will perform some works of composer Richard Wagner, a noted anti-Semite, during this summer’s Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, according to the Times of Israel.

Israeli artists for decades have avoided Wagner’s work. For Or, it was “a challenge to reconcile that she is singing in an opera written by a composer who had nothing but contempt for Jews, and whose most ardent devotee is none other than Adolf Hitler.”

The musical performances at the festival will be accompanied by a series of lectures and discussions that under the title “Discourse Bayreuth” will also address Wagner’s anti-Semitism. This year’s festival closes on August 28.

Sydney synagogue banned because of terrorism threat

Construction of a synagogue in the Bondi section of Sydney, Australia, has been vetoed by the city’s Land and Environment Court because it could be a terrorist target, Australian media reports. Jewish leaders said the has caved in to Islamic extremism and created a dangerous precedent.

The Court’s decision backed an earlier decision by the city’s Waverley Council to prohibit the construction of the synagogue a few hundred yards from Australia’s most famous beach because it was too much of a security risk for users and local residents.