Mid-Atlantic Media Honored by MDDC

Cover by Ebony Brown

Cover by Ebony Brown

The Baltimore Jewish Times added to its publishing honors last month at the MDDC Press Association’s Editorial Awards luncheon, held May 13 at the BWI Westin hotel in Linthicum.

Besting publications such as The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, the JT’s interim managing editor, Melissa Gerr, won Best in Show for arts and entertainment reporting for her profile of cellist and Peabody Institute instructor Amit Peled, which appeared in the March 6, 2015 issue. She also won divisional first place for arts and entertainment reporting, divisional first place for religion reporting and divisional  second place for feature multimedia  storytelling.

JT art director Ebony Brown took home a Best in Show award for her front cover design for ‘City Council Conflict’ (Jan. 23, 2015). Brown also won divisional first place for front cover design and divisional first place for feature page design.

The accolades continued with  Custom Media art director Lindsey Bridwell, who won divisional second place for front cover design, and Baltimore’s Child art director Jennifer Perkins-Frantz, who won divisional first place for news page design.

Washington Jewish Week, JT’s sister publication, also received honors with former reporter Suzanne Pollak winning divisional second place for sports  feature reporting.

Fed Live! Honors Members, Celebrates Community

This year’s Jewish Federation of Howard County’s Fed Live! Stars & Stripes is sold out, and with good reason. On June 9, more than 400 attendees will enjoy the witty “we put the mock in Democracy” entertainment of The Capitol Steps and also have an opportunity to Give for Good.

Fed Live! is about honoring the dedication of its community members, said Michelle Ostroff, the federation’s executive director. Honorees are  distinguished for their activity in the Jewish community,  their positions held at Jewish organizations and their contributions to federation.

“They’re nominated by the community,” Ostroff said. This year’s honorees and awards  include Rob Freedman, business professional; Marvin Hoss, medical professional; Sara Magden, young leadership; Jill Oletsky, community builder; and Ellen Strichart, woman of valor.

“An element that’s new this year is the Give for Good live auction,” Ostroff said. “The concept is, instead of community members bidding up one another for Ravens tickets and designer purses,” they can bid on and donate services the federation provides, she said.

“A bunch of people can bid $180 for an hour of social services for someone,” for  example, Ostroff said. “It draws attention to the services we provide and is a way for  attendees to direct their donations to a specific program or service.”

Janet Davidson Gordon,  a Howard County Jewish  community member, will be gracing the stage that night with The Capitol Steps, with whom she has performed for 24 years. She also serves on the board of Toby’s Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts. She and her husband, Neil, who is a former federation board member and still serves on committees, are two of several major sponsors of the event.

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Unable to ‘Do Everything,’ Hiller Finds Her Passion

Sarah Hiller: “Nonprofit advocacy work is what I want to be doing.” (Justin Katz)

Sarah Hiller: “Nonprofit advocacy work is what I want to be doing.” (Justin Katz)

It was during college that Sarah Hiller found herself questioning the impact she could have on the world.

“I was learning about all of these things wrong with the world, all of the problems faced by different communities, and I was just struck by my own perceived inability to do anything about it,” says Hiller, a 22-year-old Baltimore native.

When she participated in the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington in 2013, she got a partial answer. In place of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she listened to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

“We cannot let our inability to do everything undermine our determination to do something,” she remembers him saying.

What Booker said “really struck a chord with me and made me realize if I want to make any impact, I need to find an area I’m passionate about,” Hiller said, “even if I’m passionate about a hundred other things, and really try to make an impact there.”

In September, Hiller will join a small group of Jews from around the world on a 10-month stay in Israel. She will be a fellow in the Israeli government through a program sponsored by the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, a state-sponsored project in memory of the former Israeli prime minister, and Masa Israel, which offers Jewish young adults post-college and volunteer experiences.

“I’ve always wanted to go live in Israel for an extended period,” said Hiller, who visited Israel after her bat mitzvah and participated in the March of the Living in Poland during high school. “[I’ve had] the desire to live abroad and learn other cultures, but Israel specifically. I grew up in a Zionist household where my connection to Israel was always something that was emphasized.”

I’ve had the desire to live abroad and learn other cultures but Israel specifically. Being Jewish I grew up in a Zionist household where my connection to Israel was  always something that  was emphasized.” — Sarah Hiller

 

Hiller recently completed a four-month internship at the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington that promotes fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to affordable health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.

“We’re very proud of her,” says Rachel Lyons, Hiller’s  supervisor and the senior government affairs manager at the NPWF. “She can take some of what she knows about the U.S. government, having worked with us, [and] I think it’ll be an excellent opportunity to expand her skill set.”

Hiller helped the NPWF track the remarks of presidential candidates on issues, coordinated lobbying days with the organization’s partners, reached out to members of Congress and maintained fact sheets, Lyons said.

Hiller’s work at NPWF was not her first experience tackling social issues. During her  undergraduate years at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., she wrote a thesis about parental leave policies and childcare and how they impact motherhood and equality in the workplace. The work at NPWF was her chance to take her theoretical work and apply it to getting policies passed.

“I think it definitely solidified that that kind of nonprofit advocacy work is what I want to be doing,” says Hiller.

The fellowship begins with an orientation and an intensive Hebrew language study. Following the orientation, fellows will begin working in their respective positions in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

Throughout their stay, fellows meet weekly to hear from  Israeli public figures and leaders in fields such as economics,  social policy and political problems facing the country.

“It doesn’t feel real yet, even as I’ve been telling people and saying it more,” Hiller said. “I’m excited. It’s going to be challenging, but I have a close friend who lives in Jerusalem who I’ve been in touch with through the process, so I know I’ll have people [who I know] there.”

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

Painting by Numbers: 32B, 34C, 36D

Betsy Rascoe (left), who modeled to support a friend, asked artist Sandie Heiss for something “whimsical, happy.” (Toby Tabachnick)

Betsy Rascoe (left), who modeled to support a friend, asked artist Sandie Heiss for something “whimsical, happy.” (Toby Tabachnick)

At first, most were shy that afternoon last September, modestly folding their arms over their bare breasts. But it wasn’t long before the 23 women who volunteered to have their chests painted to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer abandoned their inhibitions and joined together in what many described as an “empowering” experience.

Organized by Hadassah Greater Pittsburgh, “Painting by Numbers: 32B, 34C, 36D,” culminated May 19-22 with a photographic exhibition of the artwork painted on the 24 models — which included one man — at Jask Gallery in Lawrenceville, Pa.

The models were painted by 14 female artists and then photographed by two female photographers. The identity of the models is confidential, and their faces are not shown in the photographs.

Several of the models were survivors of breast cancer and had undergone mastectomies; some also had reconstructive surgery.

But many of the models that joined together last fall at the Wexford (Pa.) Health and Wellness Pavilion volunteered their time and their bodies in solidarity with, or in memory of, a friend or family member who had suffered from breast cancer.

Such was the case with Betsy Rascoe of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., who has not had breast cancer, but who has been diagnosed as “high risk” and who has had multiple associated surgeries.

“My friend [Gerrie Delaney] had just been diagnosed with breast cancer when I heard that Hadassah was looking for models,” Rascoe said at the opening reception for the exhibit. “I said to her, ‘This is something we can do together.’”

Prior to the event, Rascoe contacted the artist who would be painting her to discuss the design she wanted on her chest.

“I told her, ‘I want whimsical, I want happy, uplifting, fun,’” Rascoe recalled.

The end design was a Peter Max-inspired, vibrantly colored, spacescape, with which Rascoe was thrilled.

During the painting and photography, each model was in her own private room in the health center, but soon the models joined together in the hallway, which was closed that day to the public.

“We brought appetizers and wine,” Rascoe said. “It was such a fun environment. People were running around half naked, chatting away, sharing their stories with each other. It was very relaxed.”

Sandie Heiss, the artist who painted Rascoe, admitted it took her awhile to get fully comfortable with the idea of painting a woman’s bare chest.

“I was more inhibited than the models were,” she said. “I didn’t know how they would react to me putting my hands on them. But they were very open. We talked more than we painted. I was very honored to be asked to do this.”

The paintings varied in subject and style, with each model choosing her own design after consultation with her artist.

“This is the first thing I have done with Hadassah,” said photographer Melissa Shontz, adding that she had been recruited to volunteer her services by member Miriam Quast.

A 23-year survivor herself, Shontz decided to be painted as well.

“The general tone was almost joyful,” Shontz recalled. “It was almost liberating, revealing yourself bare-chested, but for a good reason — not to be prodded or given a diagnosis.”

Artist Jasmine Karnavas agreed that the atmosphere the day of the painting had been one of strength and  camaraderie.

“It was very empowering,” Karnavas said. “Most of us [artists] had never painted anyone. But it ended up being a collaborative effort, listening to the story of the model.”

Francine Surloff, who modeled in memory of her sister who died of breast cancer, said that although she was nervous at first, Karnavas put her at ease.

“It was an unbelievable day,” Surloff said. “There were women of all ages and all builds.”

Surloff is “not uncomfortable at all,” she said, having her bare, painted breasts on display at the exhibition.

“It’s worth it if even one  person would get a mammogram because of this,” she said. “My sister waited, and when she finally went, she was  stage 4. She inspired me to do better things. I want to make a difference.”

The printed photographs are available for purchase framed and unframed. One hundred percent of the sale’s proceeds will go to breast  cancer research.

Similar events have been sponsored by other Hadassah chapters across the country in the last few years.

“I am thrilled beyond words,” said Barb Scheinberg, president of Hadassah Greater Pittsburgh. “We will definitely be doing this again.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers, with about 12 percent of women in the United States developing the disease during their lifetime. The risk of developing breast cancer is slightly higher among Jewish women than among other women due the high prevalence of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations in Ashkenazi Jews.

Toby Tabachnick writes for The Jewish Chronicle. She can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

Anthony Weiner Lets It All Hang Out in New Documentary

Anthony Weiner's surprising and scandal-ridden New York City mayoral campaign is the subject of a new documentary film. The campaign was designed to be redemptive but instead was plagued by another sexting scandal. (Photos Courtesy of Sundance Selects)

Anthony Weiner’s surprising and scandal-ridden New York City mayoral campaign is the subject of a new documentary film. The campaign was designed to be redemptive but instead was plagued by another sexting scandal. (Photos Courtesy of Sundance Selects)

It’s just before Rosh Hashanah in 2013, and New York City’s mayoral campaign is heating up. Disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner, who in a surprise move had thrown his hat in the ring a few months earlier, is doing one of those obligatory photo ops at a Jewish bakery in Brooklyn.

All is going well. Weiner has picked up an order of cookies laced with honey — sweets for the New Year — and even insisted on paying full retail. As he is leaving the store, though, a man wearing a kippah calls him a “scumbag” and a “deviant.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the combative politician loses his cool and gets into a verbal confrontation with the heckler — “takes one to know one, jackass” — that makes the evening news.

Such scenes are captured in unflinching detail in “Weiner,” a film that won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the Sundance this year. The film follows the campaign from its late but implausibly plausible start — the other candidates had been campaigning for months — to its headline-making flameout.

The punchline is true about me. I did the dumb thing. But I did a lot of good things, too.” — Anthony Weiner

 

It offers an insider look at Weiner’s mayoral run. Take, for example, the bakery incident: What the news cameras did not pick up — but the filmmakers’ mics did — was that the heckler also issued a racial slur, noting that the pol is “married to an Arab.” (Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is not Arab. She’s half Indian, half Pakistani.)

But by the time the insult became public, the news cycle had moved on. The damage was already done, further contributing to Weiner’s decline both in the polls and the public’s esteem.

As anyone who read a tabloid or watched a late-night talk show in 2011 likely remembers, Weiner was a scrappy, popular Jewish congressman from New York who gained infamy after he was caught sending an explicit photo to a female Twitter follower. Instead of sending a private message, however, Weiner sent it via his public account, visible to the world. First he denied it, suggesting his account was hacked. Eventually, however, he admitted sending photos to “about six women” and, disgraced, resigned from Congress.

But two years later Weiner tried a comeback.

Weiner2“I hope that just as my wife has forgiven me, that I get a second opportunity to talk to New Yorkers about the challenges they face,” he said at the time.

When Weiner announced his unexpected run for mayor, Josh Kriegman, a former Weiner staffer turned filmmaker, and his co-director, Elyse Steinberg, were given permission to document his campaign.

“He had been reduced to a punchline, a caricature,” Steinberg said in a telephone interview. “We wanted to have a film go behind the scenes and create a human portrait. That was our intention.”

At first it seemed that was what they were going to get. In a crowded primary field — there were nine candidates running — Weiner defied expectations and took a commanding lead.

“He rose to the top of the polls and we thought we were filming a comeback story,” Kriegman said.

But as the film documents, what happens to Weiner is deja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra. In July, just two months after he entered the race, revelations of a new scandal emerged: Even after his resignation from Congress, Weiner was at it again, using the nom de plume Carlos Danger and adding phone sex to his list of offenses.

Ultimately, the documentary creates the human portrait the filmmakers were aiming for — but the portrait is of a deeply flawed human, one with an ego so large and needy that he uncomprehendingly risks everything for long-distance sex.

On the surface, the filmmakers should have been pleased about the second scandal, as it seemed certain to add a level of buzz to the doc. But as Kriegman points out, “It was a pretty exciting story before the scandal broke out again.”

But even as the news broke, Weiner allowed filming to continue. Why?

“It’s a good question,” Kriegman said. “And I don’t know the answer.”

Steinberg believes it was an extension of Weiner’s original motivation going into the filming.

“When the scandal broke again, his desire was to have an opportunity to tell a complete, nuanced story,” Steinberg said.

“The punchline is true about me,” Weiner tells the camera, early in the film. “I did the dumb thing. But I did a lot of good things, too.”

“Weiner” is most compelling when Abedin, a longtime Hillary Clinton staffer, is on screen. From the beginning, it appears as though she is not an eager participant — neither in the campaign process nor the making of the film.

“It took a while, lots of work and a whole lot of therapy before I could forgive him,” she says to the camera before Scandal 2.0 broke.

But once Carlos Danger is set loose, watching Abedin put on a brave face for the camera feels like passing a car accident on the highway: You know you probably shouldn’t look, but you can’t turn away. As a viewer, you almost feel dirty for intruding in what should be private moments, such as her refusal to appear in a campaign commercial.

The approach by Kriegman and Steinberg is more fly-on-the-wall than journalistic — in fact, at one point, Kriegman asks Weiner a question about continuing his run for office, and the ex-congressman tells him flies on the wall are not supposed to speak.

Eventually the filmmakers get a Q&A session with their subject, at one point asking why he felt compelled to sext. In response, a subdued Weiner offers some long-winded psycho babble about his need for affection and how people go into politics because of their inability to connect with others in the real world.

“Weiner” is a political junkies’ dream, a fun behind-the-scenes view of a campaign that’s somewhat similar to “The War Room,” the documentary about Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign for president that ran into a sexual stumbling block of its own — Gennifer Flowers. One major difference: Clinton went on to win.

According to the filmmakers, Weiner has not seen the film and has no plans to do so — which reveals he is capable of making a wise decision.

“Weiner” is now in theaters in select cities.

Suggs Appointed to Middle East Commission

Madeline Suggs, director of public affairs at the Baltimore Jewish Council, was recently appointed co-chair of the Governor’s Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs.

The post, to one of several state ethnic committees, serves as second-in-command to the chair, Mehtap Sendur, a small-business owner on the Eastern Shore.

“It was a surprise, a very pleasant surprise,” Suggs said. “I’m very excited about it.”

The commission serves to make sure the governor is in touch with the state’s Middle Eastern community. In addition to their day jobs, Suggs and Sendur will represent the commission around the state at various community meetings and look for ways the commission and the governor’s office can be of service to the community.

The commission will also host several events a year to raise cultural awareness of the Middle Eastern community and connect the community to various resources, and Suggs said they hope to gather small-business owners to connect them to  resources as well.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Modern Orthodox Dating Gets a Close-Up in New Web Series

Leah Gottfried in a scene from the first episode of "Soon By You," a Web series she created and directs. (Dignity Entertainment)

Leah Gottfried in a scene from the first episode of “Soon By You,” a Web series she created and directs. (Dignity Entertainment)

NEW YORK — “There’s no such thing as a bad date — there’s just a funny story,” said Jessica Schechter, a 28-year-old modern Orthodox woman who teaches acting in New York City and lives on  Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

There’s the guy who took her to the action figure section of a Toys “R” Us after dinner and ranted about why Batman was the best superhero. Or the one whose panic attack in the elevator at a hotel in Times Square forced her to walk him down 42 flights of stairs — while he farted the entire time.

But these aren’t just tales Schechter collects to share with girlfriends over cocktails, a la “Sex and the City.” She and fellow actors Leah Gottfried and Danny Hoffman are busy writing, producing and acting in a web series on the subject.

“Soon By You” — the phrase is one of well-wishing — is generating considerable buzz in New York City’s modern Orthodox community. A pilot episode, originally devised as a short film, garnered over 30,000 views on YouTube in its first two weeks online. It won for best short at the Washington Jewish Film Festival and was played at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival last month.

The trio is squeezed together on a crowded couch in the lobby of the Ace Hotel in Manhattan, a dimly lit spot that could be summarized through the smartly dressed hipster couple making out a couple of couches away. The “Soon By You” team fits right in with the other twentysomethings packing the joint — well, those who aren’t kissing or fondling each other — which doubles as a happening happy hour spot.

“Now I’m like, if [a date] is good, that’s great — but if it’s bad, that’s even better,” Gottfried says. “Because then I get a story.”

The series’ first episode, titled “The Setup,” follows Hoffman’s character, David, through the streets of New York City into a kosher restaurant, where he is supposed to meet a blind date named Sarah (played by Gottfried). In a rush, David mistakenly sits with another Sarah, who is expecting a blind date of her own — and, well, comedic consequences ensue.

It’s an entertaining take on the perils of the insular, high-stakes world of modern  Orthodox dating — one that resonates deeply with the series’ creators along with a large portion of its audience.

“For a lot of [young modern Orthodox Jews], they’re not dating for fun — they’re dating with a specific goal of marriage in mind,” says Gottfried, 25. “A lot of people have a checklist of things. And there’s pressure from family members and friends, especially when all  of your friends are getting married at a really young age.”

Plus, within the community, “there’s a little bit of a stigma attached to single people at  a certain age if you’re not  married,” she adds.

Gottfried, the initial creator of the series and its director, came up with an idea for the show a few years ago after graduating from Yeshiva University, where she initiated the school’s first film studies major. For one scene in the first episode, in which one of the Sarahs tells her date she’s a painter and gets an insensitive response, Gottfried drew upon a real-life experience — just substitute film for painting.

Gottfried met Hoffman, a 29-year-old actor who also works in marketing at the WE cable channel, on the set of a Jewish parody of “The Office.” Schechter, who met Gottfried at an arts conference, initially didn’t land a part in “Soon By You,” but she stayed on as a production assistant — and Gottfried eventually wrote a new character into the show with her in mind. The three now develop and write all the episodes together.

With an initial five-episode run, the team hopes to gain a significant online following — but the aim is to get a deal with a network or streaming service like Netflix or Hulu.

For now, “Soon By You” is brought to you via grassroots fundraising efforts, including a campaign through the Jewish Entertainment Network LA, a networking and support group for Jews in the industry. The team is also looking for product placement deals — it’s already inked one with Shabbat.com, which runs a Jewish dating app that will be featured in  future episodes.

Gottfried, Hoffman and Schechter have finished filming a second episode and are in the process of editing it, but their fundraising efforts and busy schedules will largely dictate when subsequent episodes are produced.

“Soon By You” has received an unexpectedly warm reception. Hoffman, the only married member of the team, says he’s already being recognized by people in his Washington Heights neighborhood, which is home to a sizable modern Orthodox population.

The group points to “Srugim” — a short-lived but wildly popular Israeli show about five single Orthodox characters, which had a second life in the U.S. through Hulu — as a main source of inspiration. In fact, as “Soon By You” got going, Gottfried reached out to “Srugim” creator Laizy Shapiro, who imparted some sage advice: Don’t explain Orthodox Judaism to a broader audience. Instead, focus on creating nuanced characters.

As Hoffman explains, “Srugim” uses concepts like Shabbat restrictions and a “tefillin date” — a romantic sleepover that involves laying tefillin the morning after — that would seem like insider knowledge to some. But the show allows viewers to figure out the concepts on their own and, more important, even if a religious theme goes over most viewers’ heads, the show remains entertaining to a more secular audience.

“As far as modern media and pop culture go, you don’t really see much modern  Orthodox,” Hoffman says. “You either see ‘the Orthodox,’ which people associate with Chasidic stuff, or you see the more secularized [people] and not so much the people who are in between.”

The next episodes of “Soon by You” will follow the four characters introduced in the first episode, plus two new ones. There will be plenty more funny dates, but the team wants to use that premise to showcase other aspects of authentically modern Orthodox characters, such as their professional and spiritual aspirations.

“As much as this show is about dating, we want to show also that this world isn’t just about that,” Gottfried says. “There’s really more to everybody. It doesn’t define them, even though for a lot of people it feels like it does.”

Sense of Siege in Kiryas Joel Amid FBI Raids, Scrutiny of Yeshivas

Kiryas Joel in Orange County, New York has been the subject of two FBI raids in two months, lending to a sense of siege in the insular community. (Uriel Heilman)

Kiryas Joel in Orange County, New York has been the subject of two FBI raids in two months, lending to a sense of siege in the insular community. (Uriel Heilman)

NEW YORK — Even before FBI investigators descended last month on the Satmar Chasidic village of Kiryas Joel, there was a growing sense in this insular community that it and its unique way of life were under attack.

Two months earlier, the FBI had been in the village investigating alleged fraud of a government program, and community leaders also have been facing a mounting campaign by dissidents to increase state oversight of yeshiva curricula.

“We need to know what kind of danger we’re in,” the Satmar rebbe in Kiryas Joel, Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, said in a widely publicized May 4 speech about the threat of closer state supervision of yeshiva curricula. “These are bad times for us Jews, terrible. We need to pray to God that they should not interfere with the upbringing of our children.”

In the most recent FBI raid, investigators confiscated computer equipment and boxes of documents from the village’s  Department of Public Safety and its main yeshiva, United Talmudical Academy.  An unnamed law enforcement source  interviewed by a local newspaper, the Journal News, said the raid was related to the publication on social media two weeks ago of a leaked hidden-camera video that appeared to show a principal of the yeshiva kissing and grasping young boys in his office. Some 6,000 students are enrolled in the school.

Publication of the video, which generated a firestorm in Orthodox circles, came the same week that a New York state  legislator, Ellen Jaffee, introduced a bill that would bring better enforcement of state rules that require nonpublic schools, including yeshivas, to ensure they are  providing education that is “substantially equivalent” to that offered in public schools. Yeshivas like those in Kiryas Joel, located about an hour north of Manhattan in New York’s Orange County, long have flouted state standards on secular subjects, foregoing even basic subjects like English and math in upper grades.

For a long time, Teitelbaum said in his speech, there’s been an implicit understanding between state authorities and the leadership of Chasidic communities such as Kiryas Joel that the state wouldn’t  interfere in communal affairs.

A sign welcomes visitors to the Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, New York, and urges respect for local traditions. (Uriel Heilman)

A sign welcomes visitors to the Satmar Hasidic village of Kiryas Joel, New York, and urges respect for local traditions. (Uriel Heilman)

But that implicit agreement may be breaking down as it becomes more difficult for authorities to ignore abuses  — sexual, educational or financial —  allegedly taking place within these closed communities. The prospect of outside interference threatens one of Kiryas Joel’s raisons d’etre: Chasidic control of the community’s affairs.

“Until now there were also strict laws, but because we live in a kingdom of benevolence [a reference to government authorities] to put it bluntly, they simply turned a blind eye to what’s going on by the Jewish children,” Teitelbaum said in his speech, which was delivered in Yiddish and then translated into English for widespread dissemination. “They didn’t want to look, the benevolent kingdom. Now too they’d continue doing that, the government would have continued, they’re happy not to look and not to know. But these worthless people are stirring up in various ways and are demanding in court, forcing the government that they should take a stance.”

The newfound scrutiny is being pushed largely by dissidents, in some cases  ex-Chasidim, who say they are acting in the best interests of the community — whether to protect children from sexual abusers or to give them the basic educational skills necessary to succeed in life.

“I’ve been to those yeshivas, I know  exactly what the effects are,” said Naftuli Moster, executive director of Yaffed, an organization he founded that lobbies lawmakers to force Orthodox yeshivas to offer quality secular studies in addition to Torah studies.

“You’re not gaining anything by depriving people of an education. The very Satmar rabbi that made that speech also encourages people to earn a living, to his credit, but at the same time he’s the one who has jurisdiction over the yeshivas that are depriving Chasidim of the very tools necessary to earn that living,” Moster said. “So what do people end up doing? Oftentimes they resort to criminal activity and other shenanigans to earn that living.”

About two months ago, FBI investigators were in Kiryas Joel, nearby Rockland County and Brooklyn investigating  alleged fraud by Chasidic institutions in the federal government’s E-rate program, which funds the purchase of technology equipment and internet service by schools and libraries. Authorities reportedly are looking into whether the yeshivas actually spent the money they obtained from the federal government for technology in the schools.

Adding to the pressure, on May 17, the New York Daily News and WNYC public radio published and broadcast a joint investigative story scrutinizing the outsized number of low-income, Section 8 housing vouchers that have gone to the Chasidic community in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn — a Satmar neighborhood with close ties to Kiryas Joel.

The WNYC story attributed the voucher aberration to Chasidic “self-dealing that’s impenetrable to outsiders” and cited lawsuits arguing that the Chasidim obtain housing vouchers through unfair or unlawful means. The story also noted that Chasidim are taking the vouchers with them to places outside the city, like Kiryas Joel.

This perfect storm of scrutiny has community leaders on edge. In his speech, Teitelbaum  expressed fury that fellow Jews are the source of much of the pressure.

“Due to our many sins, it’s very painful to talk about it, there stood up several worthless people from our own who have studied in Chasidic yeshivas, and sadly they arrived I don’t want to say where. They decided to wage war against the whole ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of New York,” the rebbe said. “They went and snitched to the governments of New York City and New York State with complaints that the students of the yeshivas, of all yeshivas (elementary and middle school) are not learning enough general studies as required by law.”

Yaffed’s Moster is a Brooklyn native who grew up in Chasidic institutions. The sex abuse video presumably was recorded by an insider at United Talmudical Academy and was posted on Facebook by Boorey Deutsch, an Orthodox activist against sex abuse in the community. The alleged E-rate fraud was the subject of investigative stories in 2013 by the New York Jewish Week and Forward.

Joseph Waldman, a longtime Kiryas Joel community leader who heads a local welfare organization, said the  unprecedented assault on the Chasidic community stems from local non-Jews’ fear of its rapid growth — just as the biblical Egyptians feared the rapid growth of the Israelites in Moses’ time.

“That’s the reason they were trying to make the trouble for the Jews in Egypt: The first thing they were afraid was the Jewish families growing so rapidly,” Waldman said. “Here, they are fearful that they’re going to be overwhelmed either by the growth of the environment or by political clout through the bloc votes.”

“They want to stop the community from growing,” he said. “That’s the reason for all the problems.”

Pro-Israel Heavyweights Press for Two States

Alan Solow, pictured here with President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011, is part of a reinvigorated effort among  Washington decision-makers to advocate for a two-state solution. (Pete Souza/White House)

Alan Solow, pictured here with President Barack Obama at the White House in 2011, is part of a reinvigorated effort among Washington decision-makers to advocate for a two-state solution. (Pete Souza/White House)

WASHINGTON — In a rare and sharp split with Israeli government policy, a group of Jewish community leaders want to get a proposal for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the next president’s desk.

Two complementary U.S. and Israeli working papers to be launched next week propose immediate actions Israel can take to prepare the ground for two states and a longer-term security structure that aims to satisfy Palestinian ambitions for sovereignty and Israeli  security needs.

Elements of the proposals, including dismantling some settlements now and preparing for Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem, are radical departures from the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government, perhaps the most right wing in Israeli history. Tactically, getting the next president to kick-start new talks is also anathema to Netanyahu, who regards outside pressure as counterproductive.

The organization behind the push, the Israel Policy Forum, is not new to such initiatives. It was established in the early 1990s at the behest of then- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who went over the head of what was then a hawkish  pro-Israel establishment to seek U.S. Jewish backing for his peace talks with the Palestinians.

This time, however, the party doing the reaching over is not the Israeli prime minister but Jewish community heavyweights who have helmed major Jewish organizations, from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to the Anti-Defamation League.

In the last 18 months or so, the Israel Policy Forum has signed to its board Alan Solow and Robert Sugarman, past chairmen of the Presidents Conference, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group. Sugarman also is a past president of the ADL.

On board, too, are Robert Elman and Robert Goodkind, past presidents of the American Jewish Committee, and Susie Gelman, a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and an early major funder of The Israel Project. Solow, Sugarman and Gelman, with Israel Policy Forum staff, met last week for a joint interview.

The Israel Policy Forum has never disbanded, but the new heavyweights represent the kind of clout it hasn’t seen in years.

The initiative will formally launch at a conference here on May 31, showcasing proposals for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from veterans of the Israeli and American diplomatic establishments — represented by Commanders for Israel’s Security and the Center for a New American Security, respectively.

Mainstream Jewish groups have long been resistant to openly challenging Israel on security issues. Solow said that was less of a consideration in Israel’s volatile political climate.

“One doesn’t know what  Israel’s government is going to look like in a week,” he said.

Both likely presidential nominees, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, have said they would like to address Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Every time a new administration comes into office, these issues get a fresh look, that’s a historical fact,” said Solow, probably the Jewish leader who has been closest to President Barack Obama.

The board members lend the initiative political clout in an election year in which much media attention on  pro-Israel voices is focused on Republican mega-donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and hedge funder Paul Singer, who have sharply hawkish outlooks. Adelson, who endorsed Trump this month — reportedly to the tune of $100 million plus — is often depicted in the media as the bellwether of the “pro-Israel” donor class.

Adelson is close to Netanyahu and has called a Palestinian state a “steppingstone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.” He broke with the American Israel Public  Affairs Committee in 2007 when he discovered it was tacitly backing then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s peace initiative.

While Trump says he is eager to see if he can bring about a two-state solution, most of the Republicans he defeated had all but abandoned the idea in the near term —  a skepticism that still  prevails among congressional Republicans.

David Halperin, the Israel Policy Forum’s director, said he had secured meetings with Republicans to discuss the project, but with more difficulty than he had with Democrats.

“In the current political  climate, we would like to make this more bipartisan,” he said.

So is this initiative, at least in part, about making it clear that the pro-Israel buck does not start and stop in Adelson’s suite at his Las Vegas Venetian?

“You’re not going to get  disagreement from us,”  Sugarman said.

Solow said the polling demonstrates that the “overwhelming number of American Jews support the position we’re taking.” The fact that members of the IPF board have held significant leadership roles in American Jewry “will provide additional credibility” to the initiative, he said.

The Israel Policy Forum is planning private and public presentations for Jewish community leaders and members of Congress. The board members will be a key presence.

“We are the connector to the American Jewish community on all of this,” Gelman said.

Sugarman said the plan for two states would couple with a robust and detailed effort to keep Israel secure, a commonplace posture in Israel — at least on the center and left — he said was missing from the American Jewish conversation. Much of Israel’s right now  rejects the two-state solution.

“It’s never been pushed here the way IPF is pushing it,” he said.

AIPAC in principle is in favor of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but the prominent pro-Israel lobbying group would never consider getting ahead of the Israeli government in advancing how to define two states as these plans do. For J Street, the  organizing principle is two states, and since its 2008 founding the more liberal lobbying group has made inroads among Democrats. But its tough criticisms of Israel have alienated the same Jewish  institutions that the IPF board members have on their resumes.

The emphasis of the proposals is on preparing Israel  psychologically, politically and militarily for two states while countering what the authors of the Israeli plan describe as “fear mongering” from those who  oppose Palestinian statehood.

‘Seeds of Love’

Shirley J. Shafran (Jerri to all who know and love her) has relinquished the reins as  Congregation Kneseth Israel’s  pre-school director.

Jerri is known for her laughter and giving hugs. She is as beloved by her staff as she is by the children. Her caring, friendship and boundless love for the children is evident by their love and devotion to her.

Although the leadership reins will change hands, the seeds of love, knowledge and learning that Jerri has sown will continue to grow. She will not be forgotten.