Page 1386 – The Jewish Voice
74.1 F
New York
Wednesday, July 6, 2022
Home Blog Page 1386

Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, 95, the Last American Rebbe Born in Pre-War Europe

Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, the Skulener Rebbe.

Among the last Chassidic Rebbes born in pre-war Europe, the passing of the Skulener Rebbe at the age of 95 on Monday afternoon draws ever closer the conclusion of a torturous era in the narrative of Jewish history—the dispersion of Chassidic courts from the Eastern European villages, towns and cities where they had shaped Jewish life for centuries. Known for his kindheartedness and prolific composition of Chassidic melodies, Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal, of blessed memory, was a beloved fixture of Brooklyn’s Boro Park neighborhood.

Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom was born in 1924 in the village of Sculeni (Skulen in Yiddish) on the border of present-day Moldova and Romania, and moved to the Ukrainian city of Chernowitz shortly before World War Two.

Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal, the first Skulener Rebbe.

His father, Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal, the first Skulener Rebbe, was a prominent follower of the Shtefanesht Chassidic group, itself a branch of the famed Ruzhiner dynasty, and only became a Rebbe in his own right later in life.

Prior to World War II, Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom assisted his father in caring for Jewish orphans. Shortly after the war, they were able to relocate to the city of Bucharest, Romania, managing to take a number of orphans with them.

In Bucharest they expanded their activities, opening an orphanage and encouraging the children to practice Judaism scrupulously. Romania was by then a Soviet-satellite Communist republic, and their work raised the ire of the Communist authorities. Starting in 1949, Rabbi Eliezer Zusia was arrested on several occasions, although each time his release was secured with minimal effort. However, in 1959, the regime arrested both the father and Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom, himself a 35-year-old leader, charging them with treason.

An immense international effort ensued to secure the release of the Rebbe and his son. Instrumental in these efforts were Mr. Harry Goodman, vice president of Agudath Israel; Rabbi Eliezer Silver, President of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. Rabbi Silver traveled numerous times to Washington to intercede on their behalf, but was unsuccessful. However, after a personal telephone call from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, he agreed to travel one last time to Washington. A short while later, the Skulener Rebbe and his son— and eventual successor—were released.

The bond between Chabad and Skulen did not end there. When the Skulener Rebbe and his son reached the shores of the United States in 1960, they opted to reside in the neighborhood of Crown Heights, close to the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbi Eliezer Zusia had numerous audiences with the Rebbe and attended farbrengens led by the Rebbe on various occasions.

When he would visit the Chabad synagogue for morning prayers, the Rebbe would insist that Rabbi Eliezer Zusia be called to the Torah in his place. Indeed, in a private audience with the Rebbe in 1974, the Rebbe contended that the Skulener Rebbe had the power to actualize the final redemption. When the Skulener Rebbe resisted, the Rebbe remarked, that he was displaying “uncalled-for humbleness.”

When, due to rising crime rates, the broader Jewish community of Crown Heights started to flee, the Lubavitcher Rebbe strongly encouraged the local Jewish population to stay. In deference to the Rebbe, and even after most of his followers had already moved away, the first Skulener Rebbe stayed put. In his last years in Crown Heights, Chabad students would ensure he had a minyan for prayer.

After settling in the United States, the first Skulener Rebbe continued his work on behalf of Romanian Jewry. He struck a deal with British businessman Henry Jakober—for $2000 a head, the Romanians would grant exit visas for Jews. The Skulener Rebbe needed to raise a significant sum, fast. He asked the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (“The Joint”) for assistance, but they were reluctant to come onboard, fearing that the Romanians would not keep their word. The Skulener Rebbe turned to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, asking him to pull any strings he could. The Rebbe called Rabbi Binyamin Eliyahu Gorodetsky, head of Chabad in Europe and enlisted his help. Rabbi Gorodetsky was able to meet with Moses Leavitt of the Joint, eventually convincing him that they could trust the Romanians to follow through. These efforts of the Skulener Rebbe together with Chabad activists facilitated the rescue of thousands of Jews from Romania. This project was eventually taken over by the Israeli government and resulted in the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Romania.

After the passing of the first Skulener Rebbe in 1982, his son Rabbi Yisroel Avrohom Portugal took over the mantle of leadership, becoming the second Skulener Rebbe. He continued in the ways of his father, running the charity Chesed L’Avraham that his father had established for disadvantaged children.

After the passing of the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Skulener Rebbe paid a shiva call to the Rebbe. The Rebbe remarked on the special bond between Chabad and Skulen.

The Skulener Rebbe was laid to rest on Wednesday with tens of thousands in attendance at his funeral.


Passover: Making it Personal

At Passover Seders each year, we recite the Haggadah’s timeless instructions to regard ourselves as having personally lived through the events of the Exodus

How can we identify with the Jewish slaves today?

“In every generation each individual is bound to regard himself as if he had gone personally forth from Egypt.” – the Passover Haggadah

At Passover Seders each year, we recite the Haggadah’s timeless instructions to regard ourselves as having personally lived through the events of the Exodus. The Seder itself is designed to help us envision our participation in the story. We dip parsley into saltwater to remember the tears we shed in Egypt, and we munch on spicy, bitter horseradish in an attempt to replicate a little of the misery we experienced as slaves.

But how far can saltwater and horseradish really take us? For most of my life, when I pictured ancient Egypt, I thought of the 1956 epic film, The Ten Commandments. The sets were opulent, and I loved Anne Baxter’s gorgeous robes and headdresses as she played Nefertiti, queen of Egypt.

Years later, when I caught the traveling King Tut exhibit, my preconceptions of ancient Egypt were confirmed. The craftsmanship of the artifacts was breathtaking. I knew that ancient Egypt wasn’t good for my ancestors, but it was hard to picture it as something really unpleasant. To the contrary, it seemed fascinating, advanced and beautiful.

That changed recently, after my family and I spent an eye-opening afternoon viewing ancient Egyptian artifacts at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History. I don’t think I’ll ever think of ancient Egypt the same way again.

“And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigor. And they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick.” – Exodus 1:13

The first artifact we beheld was a magnificent tomb, transported from Egypt. We were able to see the provisions that had been packed for the tomb’s wealthy occupant: foods, moneys, cosmetics…. and pictures of the hundreds of household slaves who had been massacred, so that their souls could accompany their master on his voyage to the afterlife. Each time a nobleman died, their household of slaves was murdered en masse in this way.

As I peered at the faces painted on those walls thousands of years ago, I tried to imagine that they were each somebody’s son or daughter, somebody’s father or mother. Tears began to well in my eyes.

Next in the exhibit we saw a fascinating array of everyday items: pots for food, scales and weights for measuring transactions. And then we learned of the horrific punishments meted out to merchants and slaves who were thought guilty of shortchanging their masters: gruesome tortures, maimings, public punishments such as beatings, impaling, the gouging out of eyes…. The list went on. The upper-classes were protected, but lower-class people in ancient Egypt were considered fair game for the most terrible treatments imaginable.

My family and I were getting a little discomforted, but we continued on with our visit. We viewed examples of ancient Egyptian dress. While the more prosperous wore long, flowing robes of white, the clothing shrunk the lower you went on the social scale. Lower-class workers and slaves went completely naked, battling the hot Egyptian sun, as well as snakes and scorpions.

Finally, we saw pictures of public fights. I’d always associated gladiatorial displays with ancient Rome, but hundreds of years earlier, in ancient Egypt, slaves were forced to fight wild beasts such as lions, in what was, apparently, a very popular spectacle.

As I wandered out of the Field Museum, completely shaken by the gruesome displays I had seen, I wondered: How can I, who live in comfortable, 21st century America, possibly imagine what it was like to be a slave, the lowest of the low, in a cruel, sadistic society such as ancient Egypt? Afraid that at any moment my work would not be considered enough, that at any moment I or those I loved could be arbitrarily tortured, or beaten or killed?

“And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown up, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian smiting a Hebrew, one of his brethren. [Moses] looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.”–Exodus 2:11-12

The Torah provides us with a remarkable example of how we can overcome the distance between us and our ancient ancestors who were slaves in Egypt: Moses.

We all know his story: Seeking to destroy the Jewish people once and for all, Pharaoh decreed that all Jewish baby boys be drowned at birth. The Torah explains, however, that the Jewish midwives defied Pharaoh, and secretly saved and hid the Jewish babies. One of these very midwives, Yocheved, gave birth to a baby son during this terrible time. She kept his birth a secret, placed him in a basket of reeds, and set him afloat in the Nile rather than let him be killed by Egyptian soldiers. Pharaoh’s daughter Batya found the basket, rescued the baby inside, named him Moses, and raised him as her own son.

Moses thus grew up in the confines of the palace, enjoying all the comforts and opulence of life in the highest caste of Egyptian society. (Think of those King Tut treasures!)

Yet, the Torah teaches, Yocheved was fortuitously hired as the wet-nurse for baby Moses. Throughout his early years, Moses’ own mother was thus able to teach him, whispering to him the truth that he was a Jew.

The message profoundly shaped Moses. Years later, when this strapping young man, the adopted grandson of the Pharaoh, looked at the lowly Hebrew slaves, he saw them not as vermin, but as his “brothers.”


Passover Question Round-Up

Chametz is any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their derivatives, which has leavened (risen).


The OU-P symbol means that the OU has certified a product bearing that label as Kosher for Passover. To receive such a certification, an extremely high level of supervision is required including hashgacha temidit (constant supervision), and proper kashering of equipment. Every ingredient used in an OU-P product is scrutinized to make sure that it is 100% chametz and kitnityot free. View a list of OU certified kitniyot products. Companies may print either an OU-P symbol or accompany their existing OU symbol with the words Kosher for Passover on their Passover products.



It is common for companies to print disclaimers that a product may contain traces of milk (as well as wheat, peanuts, etc.), even though the label identifies the product as parve or chametz-free. This appears contradictory, but in fact companies provide this information about traces for people with allergies, who often react to parts per million. Trace ingredients may be air-born particles from a different part of the plant, or residue that is left on equipment even after a thorough wash and kashering. Halachically, trace ingredients at infinitesimal levels have no significance, and are most certainly batel beshishim (nullified in sixty parts). A product bearing an OU-P symbol is halachically kosher for Passover, irrespective of trace-ingredient declarations.



All bottled water and unflavored seltzer are acceptable for Passover, even bottles without kosher certification.



It is generally accepted that items that are not fit for canine consumption (eino roi l’achilat kelev) do not need special Passover certification. However, with regard to lipstick, mouthwash and toothpaste, there are varied opinions among rabbinic authorities. We recommend seeking guidance from your local Orthodox rabbi.



Again, if the cream is not fit for canine consumption, the ingredients do not make a difference.


Due to the frequent application of glazes to raw fish, it should be purchased only with reliable kosher certification. However, Kirkland Frozen Wild Salmon is acceptable after washing it off, while the Kirkland Atlantic (farm-raised) Salmon is acceptable as is for Passover when it bears the OU symbol.



Meat and poultry in their raw state are inherently chametz-free year-round, and should not require any additional extra supervision for Passover. However, contemporary production methods could invalidate the Passover status of any butchered raw meat. Please consult our directories for a listing of approved Passover meats.



Most infant formulas contain soy products. Restrictions against kitniyot on Passover don’t apply to infants. However, you must take care to keep bottles, nipples and formula away from the general kitchen area. Any mixing or washing should be done elsewhere, such as in the bathroom sink.



The restriction of kitniyot does not apply to children or the infirm when there is a need. However, most prepared baby food can be problematic as it may utilize chametz preservatives and ingredients. Even 100% vegetable and fruit baby food may be produced on chametz equipment.



There is possible chametz in most baby rice cereals, so the OU can’t recommend them for Passover use. However, there is no problem owning rice and making your own cereal from non-enriched rice or domestic rice over Passover. As with all kitniyot, separate pots should be used.



Unfortunately, we cannot recommend this.



Lactaid tablet production is likely to involve chametz. This renders chewable Lactaid tablets problematic.However, Lactaid milk is permissible if purchased before Passover since any chametz contained within Lactaid milk would be nullified (batel) before Passover.



Milk contains added vitamins that contain a slight chametz risk. Therefore, it is best to purchase milk before Passover at which time chametz will be nullified.



Soy and almond milk can be problematic and are not recommended for Passover. In the situation that it might be needed by the young or infirm, please refer to page 92 for a list of acceptable soy and almond milks.



Since it is forbidden to own or benefit from chametz during Passover, food that contains chametz may not be fed to pets. However, it is permitted to give pets food that contains kitniyot.



Ground spices need special Passover supervision as they are commonly processed on equipment that contains chametz. Additionally, they may be adulterated with kitniyot or chametz.



According to the Shulchan Aruch, dough made from flour mixed with fruit juices or eggs will not become chametz no matter how long it stands, provided no water is added. However, Ashkenazic custom is that egg matzot may only be used by the elderly and the infirm. Furthermore, all the precautions associated with ordinary Passover matzot apply to egg matzot. The egg matza must be baked thin, in specially-heated ovens for less than eighteen minutes and must be carefully guarded from becoming chametz during production.



Stores and distributors that are Jewish-owned must cease the purchase and sale of chametz products on Passover. Those who do not do so, and also do not have a valid mechirat chametz (sale of chametz), render their products as forbidden. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l wrote that it is permissible to purchase chametz from a supermarket at the point in time when there is a 50-percent possibility that the supermarket purchased the chametz after Passover. Since chametz she’avar alav haPesach (leavened products that were left over Passover) is a rabbinic injunction, one can rely on a principle known as safek derabbanan lekula.

However, the real question is when can one legitimately say there is a 50-percent chance that the chametz on the supermarket shelf was purchased by the store after the conclusion of Passover? It is difficult to give a precise cut-off date. Communal rabbis generally tell their congregants when they feel comfortable purchasing chametz, and our impression is that Lag B’Omer, twenty-five days after the conclusion of Passover, is a safe time.

Parshas Metzora: Reflections on a Road Not Taken

We experienced what Robert Frost has described in his poem, The Road Not Taken, which begins with that famous line, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” Like the poet, we saw a choice before us and, for any number of reasons, either chose or were guided by circumstances to pursue one path and not the other.

Most of us have experienced a phase earlier in our lives, perhaps in high school, during which we dreamed of some specific career. It sounded glamorous to us, interesting, rewarding in many ways, and consistent with the value system in which we were raised. Then life intervened, we “grew up” and made different choices.

We experienced what Robert Frost has described in his poem, The Road Not Taken, which begins with that famous line, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…” Like the poet, we saw a choice before us and, for any number of reasons, either chose or were guided by circumstances to pursue one path and not the other.

The dream I had during my own adolescence was to become a journalist. The yeshiva high school that I attended had published a prize-winning newspaper, and the editors and contributors to it were enrolled in a special elective course entitled “Twentieth Century Journalism.” Our teacher was a marvelous pedagogue named Mr. Joe Brown.

I loved his class and rose to become copy editor of the newspaper. A great deal of what I learned about writing I learned from Joe Brown. Besides all that he taught us about the art of writing and its technicalities, he also emphasized the ethics of journalism.

I can no longer remember many of the specifics of those long discussions we had about ethics and how it applied to the career of journalism. But I do remember how he insisted that a journalist had ethical obligations and that they included discovering truth, reporting it faithfully, and avoiding malice and negativity. “There is so much good to write about,” he would say. “Why spread schmutz?”

Much later in life, I became fascinated with the writing of John McPhee, a non-fiction writer who was able to interest his readers in the most obscure topics by writing about them in great detail, objectively but with measured enthusiasm. I remember, for example, a book he wrote about oranges and orange juice. Not a topic, one would think, to engage a reader’s attention for 300-plus pages. But he was able to do so descriptively, accurately, besmirching no one, with neutrality and verve.

I never pursued a career in journalism, although writing remains one of my great interests and I do a lot of it. But I frequently wonder if, had I chosen the path of a journalist, I would have been able to live up to the ethics of the profession as they were espoused by old Joe Brown. Would I be able to resist the temptation of exposing scandal after scandal, consciously ignoring the whole story, and slipping into exaggeration, distortion, and sometimes blatant untruth?

It is at this time of year, when we read this week’s Torah portion, that I especially become preoccupied with these thoughts. This week’s parsha is Metzora (Leviticus 14:1-15:33). On the surface, it deals with the laws of purity and ritual uncleanliness, and especially the purification rites prescribed for the metzora, usually understood as the leper, as he recovered from his symptoms. But our rabbis have traditionally seen in these passages as a deeper message, one much more relevant to our troubled times.

The Talmud (Arachin 15b) discusses the root cause of the condition from which the metzora suffers. They identify that cause as the sin of verbal abuse. The very word metzora is defined as a contraction of the Hebrew words “motzi shem ra”, “he who spreads the bad name.” That is, he who speaks, or writes, malicious gossip, or harms others through their use of language.

There is a passage in the book of Proverbs, which delineates the sins of the metzora eloquently, and which employs a vocabulary of stunning contemporary relevance:

“There are six things which the Lord hates, and seven which are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked thoughts, feet that are swift in running to mischief, a false witness that breathes out lies, and one that sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:15-19)

It seems quite clear to me that these are the sins which characterize our time in history, and it is downright frightening that these are the very things which God hates and which are an abomination to Him.

What makes our age so distinct is that everyone is today a journalist, not just someone who works for a newspaper. The electronic media have allowed everyone access to the entire world. Every e-mail, every blog, every variety of social media can be used by anyone, with no qualification, no credential, no official position, and worst of all no accountability, to say anything he or she wishes about anyone.

Reputations can be ruined in an instant, and the victim has no recourse to due process or to any semblance of self-defense. Truth is no longer an honored value, and decency is mocked. All the humane values of discretion, compassion, moderation, tolerance, and honesty have been utterly discredited. The very phrase “ethics of journalism” evokes a cynical smile at best and more likely results in outright derision.

Our rabbis have also written extensively about the possible cures for this despicable tendency. They struggle to reverse our proclivity to defame and malign other human beings. Their suggestions, practical seem tame and impotent in the face of force of the evil we now confront.

For example, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that the Torah’s prescription that the metzoraspend time in seclusion is designed to compel him to engage in introspection, reform his antisocial tendencies, and return to society constructively. Alas, introspective contemplation is not only out of style nowadays, but history has provided us with more than one example, Hitler being the most notorious, of individuals who have used times of solitude to hatch even more diabolical schemes.

How necessary nowadays are courses such as the one Joe Brown gave to a small group of teenagers many years ago, which instilled an appreciation for the power of the pen, and these days for the power of the blog, and which prompted reflection upon the ethical use of the tools of language.

How important it would be to study those writers, secular and religious—and John McPhee is just my own personal example—who can write effectively about all sorts of topics, with nary a negative word about another human being, without ever breaching any ethical code.

We must recoup the traditional values which underlie the denigration of the metzora. We must attend to passages such as the one from Proverbs quoted above. Then we can at least begin to diminish the verbal bullying which infects the social media. Then we can at least temper the malevolent phenomena which have come to characterize our age of electronic communication.

#SayNoToAntiSemitism: Ten Thousand Int’l Youth to Join March of the Living in Call to End Anti-Semitism

Students tour Auschwitz ahead of the March of the Living, an annual tribute to all victims of the Holocaust, an event regarded as one of the greatest tragedies in Jewish and human history.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to Head Delegation of US Ambassadors and White House Representatives Joining 31st International March of the Living, Which is Set to Highlight the Launch of Youth-Led Anti-Semitism Campaign and Commemoration of Greek Holocaust Victims

On Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoah), Thursday, May 2, more than 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish youth from around the world will participate in the 31st annual International March of the Living to pay tribute to all victims of the Holocaust and call for an end to anti-Semitism. This year, for the first time, the event’s main ceremony will honor Greek Jewry, which was almost completely annihilated by the Nazis and their collaborators, and will include a performance by singer Yehuda Poliker, the son of Holocaust survivors from Salonika, Greece, who recently marked 30 years since the debut of his album “Ash and Dust.”

In response to the torrent of anti-Semitic events and growing trend of hate crimes against Jews around the world over the last two year, the March of the Living will host the first-ever ‘Emerging Leadership Conference’ in Krakow ahead of the march for hundreds of youth from around the world who have been impacted by anti-Semitism. During the conference, 20 youth representatives – Jewish and non-Jewish – will sign an official declaration to launch the campaign, a rallying and defiant call to other youth to commemorate the Holocaust and help put an end to anti-Semitism before history repeats itself. The youth leaders will then heavily promote the campaign via social media platforms under the hashtag #SayNoToAntisemitism.

“Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has been rearing its ugly head quite a bit lately. To make things worse, studies have shown that about half of US and European youth have never even heard of Auschwitz before, which stands as a symbol of the destructive power of anti-Semitism,” said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, Founder and Co-Chairman of the March of the Living. “One of the March of the Living’s longstanding goals is to combat anti-Semitism by promoting Holocaust education. We are here to say in a clear voice: ‘Never again.’ We march to remind the world of the horrors that occurred during the Holocaust and to lead a global movement to combat anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

A special delegation of US Ambassadors and White House representatives headed by the US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and including US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher, and Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr, will join the thousands of young international participants and dozens of Holocaust survivors on the 3-kilometer march from Auschwitz to Birkenau. To honor Greek Jewry, Greece will also send a distinguished delegation to the march, headed by His All-Holiness Bartholomew I Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, the leader of tens of millions of Orthodox Christians around the world, and the Speaker of the Greek Parliament, Mr. Nikos Voutsis.

Other high-profile participants will include Prime Minister of Romania and President of Council of EU Viorica Dăncilă, Holocaust survivor and Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Lau, who has accompanied every march since 1988, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog, who will be leading the Jewish Agency delegation behind a far-reaching international campaign against anti-Semitism, and the New England Revolution, an American professional soccer club proudly supporting the #SayNoToAntisemitism campaign.

The International March of the Living is an immersive Holocaust education experience – the largest of its kind – that brings tens of thousands of individuals to Poland every year to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred. Since its inception in 1988, more than 300,000 participants from 52 countries have marched down the same 3-kilometer path leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Memorial Day as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust. Over the last 30 years, high-profile participants have included Israeli Prime Ministers, Presidents, Members of Knesset, Chiefs of Staff, and Ministers, as well as Presidents, Ministers of Education, intellectuals, and educators from around the world.

Prior to the march on Holocaust Memorial Day, the participating youth delegations – comprised of both Jews and non-Jews – will visit ghettos, monuments and death camps to learn about life in Europe prior to World War II, the Holocaust and the suffering of its tens of millions of victims. Following the march, more than 6,000 participants will continue on to Israel for a week of study that will culminate in Israel’s Independence Day celebrations.

The International March of the Living ( is an immersive Holocaust education experience that brings individuals from around the world to Poland to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance and hatred. Since its inception in 1988, more than 260,000 alumni from 52 countries have marched down the same 3-kilometer path leading from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) as a tribute to all victims of the Holocaust.

Edited by: JV Staff

Explore the Land of Israel with a Hiking Group

A group with Romy Urban Nature Tours exploring the open fields just beyond Tel Aviv in Glilot. Photo: courtesy

A growing number of organized hiking groups help you hoof it into nature, whether a self-guided one-day trek or a 65-day chauffeured hike

Visitors to Israel looking for an outing slightly more adventurous than another museum, archeological site or outdoor market can take advantage of the growing number of organized hiking groups.

Erez Speiser of Israel by Foot hiking in Israel’s Zin Valley. Photo: courtesy

There is no shortage of organizations to help you hoof it into nature, whether you’re looking for a self-guided one-day trek or a 65-day chauffeured hike on the 1,100-kilometer (683-mile) Israel Trail.

Israel by Foot, launched last year by Erez Speiser, is the latest go-to site for intrepid trekkers. The website offers free hiking resources as well as maps, GPS track files and Google Maps with coordinate links that you can download for $5 each, all in English.

Speiser, a mechanical engineer by day, has added paid “inn-to-inn hikes” that include nights in local beds and breakfast and, optionally, a live local expert as a guide.

The inn-to-inn trek idea has caught on in Europe, but hasn’t made it big in Israel yet, Speiser says. “It’s a great concept if you don’t want to carry everything on your back and you want to sleep in decent places but still get the feeling of a trek.”

Israel by Foot will initially offer a Trans-Galilee Trek that takes six days to meander from Safed to the Banyas River in the Golan Heights; an 80-mile hike along the Golan Trail; and the classic Israeli coming-of-age “Sea to Sea” hike starting at the Mediterranean and ending three days later at the Sea of Galilee.

Mataylim beSababa organizes free hikes on Friday mornings. Photo: courtesy

The Jerusalem Mosaic Hiking Club is more a social endeavor. The group, which has been hiking monthly for more than 25 years, welcomes visitors and Israeli residents alike. Some of Mosaic’s hikes are for the day; others include a Shabbat getaway. There’s usually a guide (and a fee) and members who can drive are asked to share in gasoline costs.

Italian-born immigrant Moshe Haiym Polacco runs the Mataylim be Sababa (roughly translated as “Joyful Hiking”) group which, over the past four years, has organized 100-plus free hikes, mostly on Friday mornings (the start of Israel’s weekend). All its hikes are accessible by public transportation. The majority of the hikers are immigrants, Polacco tells ISRAEL21c, although there are Sabras, too.

Computer engineer Ronit Slyper, a member of Polacco’s group, was so inspired by the hikes she took with Mataylim be Sababa that she wrote a book. “Tripping out of Tel Aviv” lists short treks accessible by bus and train. There are 30 day-hikes included in the volume, which has colorful graphics indicating travel and hiking times, directions and maps.

Romy Urban Nature Tours are for the whole family. Photo: courtesy

“We’ll get you there and back again, with plenty of time to get the kugel in the oven before Shabbat,” Slyper says. The book is available at Steimatzky and Tzomet Sfarim book stores in Israel as well as on Amazon.

Romy Chillag is a licensed tour guide studying for her master’s degree in urban planning. She combines her two passions in Romy Urban Nature Tours focusing on the natural beauty lurking within our cities. Chillag offers two tours, once a month or so (check the Facebook page for dates): one is in Tel Aviv’s Old North neighborhood, the other is to the open fields just beyond Ramat Aviv Gimel in Glilot.

Chillag has an ulterior motive for giving her tours, which are free and operate on a tips-only basis: to generate greater awareness of the need to preserve green space within an urban environment. The Glilot area is slated to become a massive housing complex, for example, yet it “is full of flowers and ancient caves dating back to the Samaritan period,” Chillag tells ISRAEL21c.

Romy Urban Nature Tours have been only in Hebrew up until now, but Chillag plans to add English-language outings after Passover.

Hikers in Ein Prat Stream, Wadi Qelt. Photo by Hadas Parush/FLASH90

Like Chillag’s tours, Haifa-based New Age Trekking offers outings for free (with tips welcome) primarily to the Galilee and Golan Heights regions as well as the Negev desert (mainly in the winter). Operated by Ori Reiss and Idan Attia, treks take place every Friday, with some continuing over the weekend.

New Age Trekking also has paid tours with a professional guide, transportation and food. “We have many English-speaking participants and we try to translate everything to English,” Reiss tells ISRAEL21c. “The aim is to give tourists the opportunity to mingle and explore Israel by foot on their own budget and with locals in the same group.”

If you have time for a more intense trek, the Israel Trail can’t be beat. Walk About Love organizes two treks, one in fall and one in spring, each lasting two-and-a-half months. Each group can take a maximum of 50 people.

Everyone meets up at the campfire at night where the Walk About Love team is waiting with a trailer that’s transported your equipment for the day, mattresses for sleeping, musical instruments, firewood, charge spots for your cell phone, a portable truck shower and, of course, food. Meals are vegetarian; Shabbat is observed. Pricing is based on how many days you hike – from ₪190 for four days to ₪104 if you commit to the full 65-day trek. Private tours are also an option for groups of at least 15.

New Age Trekking also has paid tours with a professional guide, transportation and food.

If you’d like to put together a do-it-yourself group hike, there are plenty of resources online to point you in the right direction. Start by checking out ISRAEL21c’s hiking guides: our top 10 list of the best hikes in all of Israel, our top 10 water hikes, our guide to the best hikes in the Jerusalem area, and descriptions of the coolest hikes around the Dead Sea.

One of our favorite outside resources is Hiking in the Holyland, part personal blog, part hiking instructions, and growing rapidly with a new hike posted every week. It’s a labor of love from Susannah Schild, who provides detailed images, downloadable Google Earth maps and Waze instructions, all at no cost.

“The site is designed to provide people with the tools they need to plan hikes on their own and to give them a complete picture of what each hike looks like before they head out the door,” Schild tells ISRAEL21c.

An older resource, Attractions in Israel, is filled with good information we’ve used ourselves, but it hasn’t been updated in a few years. Tour Adumim offers hikes to Ein Mabua, the middle spring of the Ein Prat spring.

If your Hebrew is good enough (or you don’t mind reading using Google Translate), Tiuli has detailed descriptions of dozens of hikes around Israel; the site is part of the LeMetayel chain of backpacking and outdoor supply stores.

However you handle it, happy hiking!

            (Israel 21C)

Diagnostic Test from Israel Aims to Stop Superbug Surge

Illustration by Lightspring via

Nanosynex is an Israeli startup working on a novel approach to help physicians prescribe the correct antibiotic for each case

The Nanosynex team in their Haifa office. Photo: courtesy

The rise of so-called “superbugs” is reaching epidemic levels. Today, nearly 700,000 people around the world die not from the illness for which they went to the doctor or a hospital but from an infection resulting from contact with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In the United States alone, 2 million patients contract infections from superbugs; 23,000 people die from those infections. Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill estimates that by the year 2050, more people will die from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections than from cancer.

One of the ways superbugs develop is when a patient is prescribed the wrong antibiotics. The bacteria “learn” from that incorrect treatment and can share their newfound resistance with other bacteria.

“The body becomes an incubator for resistant bacteria,” explains Diane Abensur Bessin, CEO of Nanosynex, an Israeli startup working on a novel approach to help physicians avoid mis-prescribing antibiotics.

“If we give a patient the correct treatment at the right dose, then no resistance will be created, the patient will be cured faster, and other patients won’t be infected by resistant bacteria,” Abensur Bessin tells ISRAEL21c.

Nanosynex’s microfluidic array. Photo: courtesy

Nanosynex’s solution is a diagnostic test that determines which bacteria in a patient’s body are resistant to which antibiotics – all in just four hours. That compares favorably with the day or two or more required for traditional diagnostic tests. The result: physicians can more quickly prescribe the antibiotics that will work.

This will entail some change in behavior among doctors, who tend to prescribe a broad-based treatment rather than taking blood or urine and waiting for results. It’s not that physicians are in cahoots with the bad bacteria; their patients come in suffering and doctors want to provide fast relief.

“But every minute counts when you’re dealing with resistant bacteria,” Abensur Bessin tells ISRAEL21c. If you don’t get your test results back for a couple of days, it may already be too late to stop resistance from developing.

Antibiotic overprescribing is a particular problem in primary care, where it’s viruses – not bacteria – that cause most infections. About 90 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions in the US are issued by general practitioners.

Nanosynex is creating a kit that will be sold to laboratories; it contains disposable cards, a fluorescent reading device and software to do the analysis.

The technology is based on “microfluidic” features, requiring a smaller quantity of bacteria than other testing technologies, Abensur Bessin explains. The sample is mixed with a fluorescent dye; the intensity of the fluorescent signal is proportional to any bacterial growth.

Diane Abensur Bessin with the prototype Nanosynex test kit. Photo: courtesy

Abensur Bessin came up with the idea for Nanosynex along with her co-founder, Brazilian native Michelle Heyman, while both were studying for their MBAs at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The two approached the university’s technology transfer office and asked which researchers had technologies that were mature enough to be turned into a company.

“We met with five different professors,” Abensur Bessin tells ISRAEL21c. “We wanted something that had a short time-to-market – five years or less.”

That’s how the two were introduced to Prof. Shulamit Levenberg, dean of the Technion’s biomedical-engineering faculty. Levenberg and her team had already been working for several years on the microfluidic “chip” that would become the basis of the Nanosynex kit.

Paris-born Abensur Bessin was particularly interested in identifying a medical technology to build a company around. Her father has a firm in France that distributes diagnostic tools across Europe. With the marketing channels already in place, Levenberg’s invention was a match.

“We knew there was a huge potential,” Abensur Bessin says. “There was no debate on the need to create this.”

Nanosynex incorporated in 2017 and has raised $1 million with another $500,000 pledged from the Israel Innovation Authority. The five-person company is operating out of the Technion’s in-house accelerator but will be moving to its own offices soon.

In 2018, Nanosynex was one of 10 companies accepted into IBM’s Tel Aviv-based accelerator for healthcare startups. The company receives blood for testing from Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa and Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The head of Rambam’s microbiology department is on Nanosynex’s scientific advisory board.

Abensur Bessin says when Nanosynex results were compared with those from existing diagnostic devices, “they were exactly the same but done in half the time.”

Slowing the rise of the superbugs is just the start of what Abensur Bessin hopes will be a “long-lasting business that will grow internationally.”

In the meantime, if your doctor tells you to wait a few hours before he or she prescribes an antibiotic, don’t become too anxious: it will be for the good of your health — and the wellbeing of the entire planet.

            (Israel 21C)

Rabbi of West Side Synagogue Sued for Allegedly Fixing Election

Congregation Emunath Israel in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Rabbi Yechezekel Wolff of Congregation Emunath Israel in the Chelsea section of Manhattan is reportedly being sued for allegedly fixing an election last December so he could effectively take control of the historic sanctuary.

By Pat Savage


         Wolff was sued last year by his own congregants, according to an article in the New York Post, “for trying to freeze out elderly members in the winter.”


          Reports say that the synagogue’s former Vice-President Ira Glauber and three other members are claiming that Wolff used an unfair and illegal election Dec. 4, 2018 and tilted the scales of justice in order to get rid of board members. The Post story also claims Wolff was once allegedly caught in a recording saying his congregants “should go to hell.”

The people behind the lawsuit want its result disallowed.  “They wanted to take over this synagogue and their Rabbi Wolff has been trying to take over the building for the last four or five years,” Glauber told The Post. “They weakened the congregation and then held a rigged vote to take over the synagogue.”

         Bruce Kirschner, the congregation’s president and also a co-defendant in both of the lawsuits — reportedly said this to the Post: “The entire board and vast majority of community members support the present leadership of the Congregation and Rabbi Wolff, who work tirelessly on behalf of the Congregation.”         

An attorney for Wolff named Christopher Milito is quoted in the same Post article as saying, “This is just round two of Ira Glauber’s vendetta litigation. Is it motivated by sour grapes that Mr. Glauber was not elected to the board of trustees? Almost certainly. Is there any merit to his claim? Certainly not.”

         London’s Daily Mail provided additional depth to the story, reporting that the synagogue’s congregants were accusing Wolff because he “allegedly turned the house of worship into a disco…” It add, “The suit alleges that Rabbi Yechezekel Wolff reneged on an agreement whereby he would lease the building housing the synagogue on West 23rd Street in exchange for paying operating expenses and covering repairs. Instead, Wolff ripped out old pews from the 100-year-old building and turned off the heat in the winter time in order to ‘kill off the congregation,’ the lawsuit alleges.”

Congregation Emunath Israel, or “The Chelsea Shul,” was built in the 1850’s as the Third Reformed Presbyterian Church,” its web site relates. “The Emunath Israel Congregation, originally founded in 1865, took over the building in 1920. The Shul installed stained glass windows as a tribute to their Judaism, along with other Jewish symbolism. In its establishment, the Shul primarily serviced the working Jews in the garment industries. Rabbi Leifer, who served as the Rabbi for 42 years from 1958-2000, reminisced about its nickname as the “Yartzeit Synagogue”. Rabbi Leifer shares:” Close to 800 congregants would come to say Yizkor on Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Passover. The line would snake around to 8th avenue with police barricades controlling the crowds. The Shul serviced everyone, with up to 15 different Yizkor sessions per holiday.”

NGO Seeks to Sway Israeli Elections by Busing in Bedouins

Zazim, financed by the New Israel Fund, wants to bus Bedouin to the polls. (Flash90/Hadas Parush)

An Israeli human rights group asked Israel’s State Comptroller to investigate an NGO which plans to bus in Bedouin voters residing in illegal settlements in the Negev to sway the Israeli election.

By: Sheri Oz

Israeli human rights organization, Betzalmo, petitioned the State Comptroller of Israel yesterday requesting an immediate investigation into illegal activities on the part of non-governmental organization Zazim.

Zazim has been running a campaign to collect funds and recruit volunteers to transport Bedouin residents residing in illegal villages in the Negev to polling stations for the April 9 elections. The Bedouin are legal voters and residents of Israel.

Zazim was founded with funds from the New Israel Fund, which together with associated organizations, provides 60 percent of the NGO’s annual budget. The New Israel Fund has developed a reputation for funding controversial groups in Israel. It is registered in the United States.

In his petition to State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, Betzalmo CEO Shai Glick argues that a foreign organization is interfering in Israeli elections, something that is forbidden by Israeli law.

On its website, Zazim says it works toward social and political change without partisanship. However, in an email sent by Zazim to recruit volunteers and donations for its transport project, it states that its aim is to bring 50,000 Bedouin to the polling stations and build an obstructive block in the Knesset against ‘incitement to racism’ and to work against those unwilling to cooperate with the Arab political parties.

Another Israeli nonprofit, Im Tirtzu, requested that Israel’s Central Elections Committee intervene last week. Its request was denied on April 4, because only parties with representatives in the Knesset or participating in the elections have standing before the committee.

Zazim Deputy Director Maayan Dak told Israeli paper Makor Rishon that Zazim does not operate outside the law.

Following Betzlamo’s petition to the State Comptroller, Zazim submitted a statement to World Israel News, in which it said: “Just when the Likud has spent a million shekels on Facebook [ads] this past week, the prime minister attacks a civilian initiative that cost 75,000 NIS  [New Israeli Shekels] of small donations. This is part of his ongoing attack against the Arab minority and attempts to silence their voice and deny them access to their basic democratic right to vote.”

New Israel Fund spokesman Idan Gadot told World Israel News that “all Israelis have the obligation to encourage voting in elections, Jews and Arabs alike. We are proud that Zazim has taken this important step to allow each citizen to participate in the election.”

In addition to Betzalmo’s petition to the State Comptroller, the Likud Party submitted a petition on Sunday evening to the Central Elections Committee arguing that Zazim is “unlawfully intervening in elections in favor of the Blue and White Party, run by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.” (World Israel News)

Prosecutors In Sex Cult Case Mistakenly Duplicate Child Pornography


Prosecutors involved in the Nxivm sex cult investigation messed up big time as they had to admit in court last week about how they replicated child pornography, the New York Post reports. It is always a crime to have child pornography.

By: Emma Daniels

After the leader of the cult told a federal judge about a “technical issue” that arose during the discovery process, it became clear that prosecutors accidentally included a bunch of child pornography, something which leader Keith Rainere stands accused of manufacturing.

“There was an issue regarding one of the discovery devices,” defense attorney Marc Agnifilo said to the court, and then he turned his time over to Assistant United States Attorney Moira Penza.

“We did not know there were child pornography images on the device,” Penza said. It wasn’t clear what device it was. “We reproduced the device,” she said.

“The FBI is working to create a new device,” she said as she tried to downplay the severity of what happened.

Brooklyn federal court Judge Nicholas Garaufis had already nixed a plan proffered by leader Rainiere that reportedly included his being guarded by former agents of the Secret Service.

“Raniere is now trying to convince the judge he deserves to be out based on a nearly two-page explanation of Nxivm’s teachings, complete with a bibliography and YouTube links, the New York Post reported a few months ago.

Raniere’s reported conditions are said to include a $1 million bond secured by three properties and their anonymous owners, home confinement and electronic monitoring.

“Just as Socrates challenged the young people of Athens to question sacrosanct beliefs of the time, and indeed was executed for his disruption of a closed-minded system of government, Nxivm challenges participants to question, rather than blindly accept, the fundamental content of their lives,” one paragraph in the legal document said.

“Why, for example, are we practicing the religion we are? Do we really believe its precepts or is it just easier to not disappoint our parents? Do we have the relationships with our parents or our children that we really want? If not, why not? What can we do to have better relationships with the people we love?”

Britain’s Daily Mail reported in October that rare audio of Raniere telling members of Nxivm about how men need constant sex and will ‘do it with anything’ had come out in the wake of his arrest of federal sex trafficking charges. The audio was featured in the CBC podcast Escaping Nxivm and offers a glimpse into the man who went on to command at least 150 ‘slaves’ in the cult’s sex group DOS.

NXIVM is a multi-level marketing company based in Albany, which offers personal and professional development seminars through its “Executive Success Programs”. The group has been branded a pyramid scheme, an alleged sex-trafficking operation, and an alleged sex cult. A report for the Ross Institute described its seminars as “expensive brainwashing”. It has also been accused of being a recruiting platform for a cult operating within it in which women were forced into sexual slavery and branded.

Earlier last year, NXIVM founder Raniere and associate Allison Mack were arrested and indicted on federal charges related to DOS, including sex trafficking.

In Historic Move, Trump Designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as Foreign Terrorist Organization


The Trump administration officially labeled the Iranian military as a foreign terror organization on Monday — in the latest escalation in the war of actions and words between Washington and Tehran.

By: Harry Cherry

Monday’s designation — the first time in which a foreign military has been labeled a terror organization — was a controversial issue between Mr. Trump and several advisers, with Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advising against the move.

“This designation will be the first time that the United States has ever named a part of another government as a FTO,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “It underscores the fact that Iran’s actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments.”

“It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC,” he continued. “If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism.”

“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” he added. “We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior.”

The designation imposes far-reaching sanctions against individuals and companies with ties to Iran.

“The IRGC has been wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East and is a direct arm of the Ayatollah’s hateful policies,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “Secretary Pompeo and President Trump have rightfully put enormous pressure on Iran.”

Senior Pentagon officials argued against the move, saying that it would let Iran justify deadly attacks against American forces stationed overseas.

Following the president’s announcement, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said that it was designating U.S. Central Command as a terror organization.

“The State Department intends to designate as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in its entirety, including the Qods Forces,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Orgatus said in a statement. “This is a historic step to counter Iran-backed terrorism around the world.”

“On April 15, the IRGC will be added to the State Department’s FTO list, which includes 67 other terrorist organizations including Hizballah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Kata’ib Hizballah, and al-Ashtar Brigades,” Ms. Orgatus added. “The IRGC FTO designation highlights that Iran is an outlaw regime that uses terrorism as a key tool of statecraft and that the IRGC, part of Iran’s official military, has engaged in terrorist activity or terrorism since its inception 40 years ago.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later thanked Mr. Trump following the announcement.

“Thank you, President @realDonaldTrump for your decision to designate the Islamic revolutionary guards as a terrorist organization. Once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism,” Mr. Netanyahu posted on Twitter.

Is Michael Cohen as “Guilty” as Some Believe? – The Jewish Voice Takes a Deeper Look

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen was indicted last year by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York on charges of tax evasion and making unlawful campaign finance violations.

“Michael Cohen is a lawyer who, rather than setting an example of respect for the law, instead chose to break the law, repeatedly over many years and in a variety of ways,” Robert Khuzami, the Acting United States Attorney at the time, said last year in announcing a plea agreement with Mr. Cohen. “His day of reckoning serves as a reminder that we are a nation of laws, with one set of rules that applies equally to everyone.”

These televised words, following the hearing, were carefully chosen by Prosecutors to be both rousing and impactful. Unfortunately, they also were not true or accurate.

Over roughly the same time periods in question, several high-profile public figures such as Christopher Tucker, Willie Nelson, and Floyd Mayweather have had tax evasion-related matter settled; ALL through civil means as opposed to criminal charges. The Internal Revenue Service regularly employs a variety of tactics to go after those who violate U.S. tax law, before referring cases to the Criminal Enforcement section of the agency, such as wage garnishment and levying liens against certain individuals.

As of 2014, according to the New York Times, MSNBC anchor Al Sharpton owed the federal government over $3.7 million in back taxes. Two of his now-defunct businesses, Revals Communications, and Raw Talents, each owed the Internal Revenue Service hundreds of thousands of dollars at one point in time. Due to federal privacy laws, it is currently unknown how much in back taxes Mr. Sharpton has paid back to the government, and whether his two defunct businesses ever made payments to the federal government.

The National Action Network, an organization ran by Mr. Sharpton, owed the Internal Revenue Service $813,000 in back taxes as of Dec. 2012, according to Fox Business. And in 2006, the National Action Network owed almost $2 million in back taxes.

“You’ve made a career out of dividing people by race, you’ve been a race hustler your entire career,” former Trump staffer Corey Stewart said to Mr. Sharpton last year, in an interview while he was running for the U.S. Senate. “You’ve made a lot of money at it, you haven’t even bothered to pay your taxes at it, and all you do is divide Americans by race. And frankly, people are tired of it.”

Actor Nicolas Cage told People Magazine in 2010 that he owed the Internal Revenue Service $14 million dollars and that the nation’s premier tax agency impose a $6.8 million lien on his real estate holdings.

“Over the course of my career I have paid at least $70 million in taxes, unfortunately, due to a recent legal situation, another approximate $14 million is owed to the IRS,” Mr. Cage told PEOPLE at the time. “However, I am under new business management and am happy to say that I am current for 2009, all taxes will be paid including any to be determined state taxes.”

Marc Anthony, a famous Latin singer, also at one point in time owed a hefty amount of money to the reported many years ago that Mr. Anthony, Jennifer Lopez’s ex-husband, owed a total of $3.4 million in federal and state back taxes. Mr. Anthony ultimately paid $2.5 million in back taxes, after repeatedly ignoring the federal government, but was never criminally prosecuted or threatened with jail time like Mr. Cohen.

Kyle Tessiero, One of Mr. Anthony’s former accountants, admitted to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York that he stole over $9 million from the singer over a period of eight years. Mr. Tessiero, as part of the alleged fraud, racked up millions of dollars on Mr. Anthony’s American Express credit card, purchasing fancy meals and vacations, prosecutors said.

The IRS said that actor John Travolta owed them $1.1. million dollars for fiscal years 1993 thru 1995. Mr. Travolta ultimately settled with the tax collection agency for $607,400.

Approximately  40 individuals wrote letters to the Judge on Mr. Cohen’s behalf; some who knew him for 40 minutes; others who have known him for almost 40 years. “Michael’s friends attest to his aid and generosity in assisting them with their own business endeavors,” a sentencing memo from Mr. Cohen’s attorneys said. “Kelly Gitter recounts that when she was struggling to make a living as a real estate broker in the aftermath of the financial crisis, “Michael was the first one to help me by putting me in contact with a friend of his,” eventually resulting in a successful purchase.”

“As an initial matter, Michael did not find himself in the criminal justice system facing tax charges after audit, an unsatisfied or obstructed demand by the IRS, an investigated history of sophisticated tax maneuvers and deceptions, or the discovery by the government of offshore or nominee accounts or bogus deductions,” his attorneys added in his sentencing memo. “Nor was there any meaningful pre-charge process in this case.”

Mr. Cohen’s attorneys stressed in his legal sentencing memorandum that none of the commonly seen indicators in criminal IRS cases were present in his case, such as unreported cash transactions, offshore bank accounts, or fraudulent deductions. Mr. Cohen had no offshore accounts, no nominee accounts or fake wire transfers. In fact, all funds were deposited in New York banks with almost all being in his joint checking account located in the building he resides. Moreover, Mr. Cohen continuously filed his tax returns timely, had never been audited and paid what was determined as the tax due by his Certified Public Accountant.

“To be sure, Michael, as a prominent American and attorney, may have been selected for criminal prosecution to set an example,” Mr. Cohen’s legal counsel, Guy Petrillo and Amy Lester wrote in his sentencing memo. “In cases of unsophisticated means such as this one, even when the taxpayer is a well-known public figure, the government routinely makes its point through IRS administrative, not criminal, action.”

Mr. Cohen’s previous counsel, who once ran the office charging his client, also stressed that although he did make a false statement to a bank, that in his opinion, no financial harm was caused to the bank because the property in which the Home Equity Line of Credit was taken out on was worth 80% more than the amount of the credit line.

“At the time, the unencumbered equity value in the residence was more than 10 times that amount,” his sentencing memo says.

In this high profile, politically charged case, 2 plus 2 is just not adding up to 4.



With an upcoming vote on Tuesday, April 9, the New York City Council will decide if Councilman Kalman Yeger should be removed from the Immigration Committee for saying “Palestine doesn’t exist.”

“In all my years of public service, I can’t recall an instance of an elected official being punished for stating a historical fact,” said former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind. “The issue here is two-fold: first, they shouldn’t be penalizing speech that is free of hatred or incitement like stating facts (regardless of how unpopular they may be); second, if one political party is going to do so, they are expected to act in a balanced manner and apply their standards equally across the spectrum. Therefore, with the vote on Yeger’s dismissal tomorrow, the Democrats in New York City have a choice: protect free speech and show consistency in application of your principles, or commit a double-sin of limiting free speech (of an elected official no less!) while becoming the party of hypocrisy, double-standards, fecklessness, and an all-proud embracer of the oldest hate-speech. The ball is in their court. I urge our lawmakers to choose wisely.”



Mark Levin host of FOX News Channel’s Life, Liberty & Levin and host of the third largest nationally syndicated radio program in America, The Mark Levin Show, which airs on over 300 stations across the country and satellite radio, and is heard by millions of listeners every week, dedicated eight minutes of his show this morning to publicly endorse Prime Minister Netanyahu for re-election, calling on his Israeli listeners to get out and vote for the “historic leader” whom he compared to Winston Churchill.

You can listen below, by clicking the link

Mark Levin: ‘If I DID vote in Israel, I’d vote for Netanyahu and the Likud party!’

COJO-SI Coordinates With NYPD, FDNY & DSNY: Passover Preperatiobns


On April 5, 2019, The Council of Jewish Organizations of Staten Island in conjunction with the NYPD and the Shomrim held its Annual Pre-Passover Briefing. In addition to engaging in holiday preparations with the Uniformed Services, NYPD, FDMY and DSNY, COJO also presented Certificates of Appreciation to members of the NYPD, FDNY and DSNY.

COJO Officials and top brass of the NYPD, FDNY and DSNY were in attendance to discuss the holiday and preparations were made to help facilitate a smooth holiday experience. Also participating in the holiday preparations and awards ceremony was District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, Congressman Max Rose and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

Mendy Mirocznik, President of COJO thanked Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey, the Commanding Officer of Patrol Borough Staten Island for coordinating security, FDNY Borough Chief Richard Howe for coordinating bread burning and DSNY Borough Chief Stephen Montanino for coordinating sanitation for the Passover holiday.

Mirocznik praised and credited New York’s Uniformed Service People as great public servants who’s around the clock dedication to public safety and general welfare allows the residents of Staten Island to enjoy a great quality of life.

Mirocznik, thanked Scott Maurer, the CEO and Executive Vice-President of COJO; and Ari Weiss, COJO Security Chair and Coordinator of the Staten Island Shomrim for organizing a great security briefing.

COJO is proud to advise the community that on April 19, 2019, there will be barricades at all Bread Burning/Biur Chometz locations and FDNY together with SISP-Shomrim will be present to supervise each location from 8AM to 12PM. The Bread Burning/Biur Chometz will be taking place at Young Israel of Staten Island, and at Khal Agudas Shomrei Hadas of Staten Island. COJO further advises that Sanitation besides having their dumpsters at Young Israel of Staten Island from Thursday, April 18, from 4PM to 11PM and Friday, April 19, from 6AM to 1PM there will be additional Sanitation dumpsters at Khal Agudas Shomrei Hadas of Staten Island.

The following members of the NYPD, FDNY and DSNY received medals for their service.


Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey
Deputy Chief Scott Henderson
Inspector Thomas Delahanty
Inspector Robert Bocchino
Inspector Vincent Patti
Lieutenant Rafet Awad
Detective Danielle Nunez
Detective Mary Kelly


Borough Chief

Stephen Montanino

Superintendent Fred Tuzzolino
Super of District SI-2
Deputy Chief Thomas Sica
DC in SI Borough Office


Assistant Chief Richard J. Howe

Staten Island Borough Commander

Deputy Chief Brian Gorman

Division 8 Commander

Deputy Chief Dave Maj

Division 8

Deputy Chief PhilipSolimeo

Division 8



The Health Department today announced it has issued Commissioner’s Orders to all yeshivas in Williamsburg affected by the school exclusion mandate. This means that any school out of compliance will immediately be issued a violation.

In December, the Health Department ordered yeshivas and childcare centers serving the Orthodox Jewish community in the affected ZIP codes in Brooklyn to exclude all unvaccinated students from attending school or daycare until the outbreak is declared over.
In January, one yeshiva in Williamsburg fell out of compliance with the Department’s exclusion mandate, allowing unvaccinated children back into school or daycare. This single yeshiva is connected to more than 40 cases, resulting in a large increase in measles cases and the continuation of the outbreak.
The Health Department has since issued Commissioner’s Orders to all yeshivas in Williamsburg to comply with the mandatory exclusion of unvaccinated children or face violations subject to fines and possible school closure.

The measles outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish community continues to increase at an alarming rate. To date, 285 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of the outbreak in October, with many of these new cases being confirmed in the last 2 months. The vast majority of cases are children under 18 years of age (246 cases), and 39 cases are adults. Most of these measles cases were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals. There have been no deaths associated with this outbreak, although there have been complications, including 21 hospitalizations and five admissions to the intensive care unit.

Ahead of Passover, the Health Department is urging all New Yorkers—especially those in the Orthodox Jewish community—to get the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to prevent further spread of the virus. Individuals traveling to areas with ongoing large outbreaks, including Israel, Europe, Upstate New York, and other parts of the United States should make sure they and their children are appropriately vaccinated with MMR.

“As a pediatrician, I know the MMR vaccine is safe and effective. This outbreak is being fueled by a small group of anti-vaxxers in these neighborhoods. They have been spreading dangerous misinformation based on fake science,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot. “We stand with the majority of people in this community who have worked hard to protect their children and those at risk. We’ve seen a large increase in the number of people vaccinated in these neighborhoods, but as Passover approaches, we need to do all we can to ensure more people get the vaccine.”

Most cases have been reported from Williamsburg and Borough Park, Brooklyn. Five cases, including the initial case of measles, were acquired on a visit to Israel, where a large outbreak of the disease is occurring. Two people contracted measles from the U.K. and one from Ukraine.

Measles is a highly contagious disease and can cause pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and death. Measles is easily preventable with the safe and effective MMR vaccine. Newborns, pregnant individuals, and those with weakened immune systems cannot get vaccinated, so it is important that everyone around them be vaccinated in order to protect them from contracting the virus which can have severe complications in these susceptible populations. While the MMR vaccine is the safest and most effective method of prevent measles, it is only 97 percent effective, so population wide immunity is a key component to protecting our most at risk New Yorkers from measles. Pregnant women – even if they have received the MMR vaccine – are still at risk of complications including birth defects or loss of pregnancy.

In February, the Department expanded vaccination recommendations for providers serving the Orthodox Jewish community to include an early, extra dose of the MMR vaccine for children between the ages of 6 months to 11 months who live in Williamsburg and Borough Park.

Measles Background

Measles is transmitted by airborne particles, droplets, and direct contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person.
Symptoms usually appear 10 to 12 days after exposure to measles, and in some cases, symptoms can start as early as seven days or as late as 21 days following exposure.
Early symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes.
Rash and fever are the typical symptoms of measles and usually occur four days following the early symptoms. The rash usually starts on the face and proceeds down the body. The rash lasts several days.
Infected individuals are contagious from four days before rash onset through the fourth day after rash appearance.
Anyone can contract measles but the virus is more severe in infants, pregnant women, and people whose immune systems are weak. Complications include:
Ear infections
Pneumonia (swelling of the lungs)
Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
Premature birth or low birth-weight
About 1 out of 1, 367 children < 5 years developed a late, fatal complication of measles, subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), an average of 9.5 years after recovery from measles infection.

Precautions New Yorkers Should Take

Measles can be prevented through vaccinations. New Yorkers should call 311 to access a list of facilities that can provide MMR at low or no cost.
There are large outbreaks of measles in Europe and Israel, as well as in countries in South America, Africa, and Asia. New Yorkers should make sure they have been vaccinated with MMR vaccine before traveling to Europe or Israel. Infants ages 6 to 11 months should also be vaccinated prior to international travel.
New Yorkers who believe they were exposed to measles or who have symptoms of measles should contact their health care provider before seeking care to prevent exposure to other patients.
For more information, New Yorkers can visit the Health Department’s Measles page.

Skip to content